Why does God allow persecution and heresies?

Years ago I was watching a news show about casinos in Las Vegas and the shady (often mafia connected) people who ran them. One such individual was being interviewed and was asked the question “what does it mean that ‘the house always wins.’”

The gangster explained that when people come to Las Vegas, most of the people who come to the casino lose all the money they came with in the various games of chance. He added that contrary to what people might think, the best thing which can happen to a casino is for someone to win a large jackpot there, because when that happened, word quickly spread about it and thousands of people would flock to that casino, thinking that if someone else could win a big jackpot there, maybe they could too. Those people, the gangster concluded, would leave far more money in that casino than the casino had paid out in the jackpot. So, even when “the house” lost a lot of money by someone winning a jackpot, in the grand scheme of things, it still won.

Although God’s Kingdom isn’t a casino and He certainly isn’t a gangster, I think the principle that “the house always wins” applies to God’s Kingdom as well. 

Because even when things appear to be going very badly for the Kingdom, such as when times of great persecution against Believers come, that’s usually the time when the Kingdom experiences the greatest revivals and growth. When GREAT persecution comes, as it recently did here in the Middle East while the Islamic State terrorist group was on the march, that is when you see large numbers of people coming into the Kingdom. There’s something perverse about Human Nature that we are most likely to respond favourably to the Gospel during times of great hardship. This can be seen all through the Bible, as in the Book of Judges, when people “cry out” and otherwise turn to God only as a last resort in times of great distress.

God knows that for many people, this is the only way they’ll ever realize their need for Him, so that’s why He allows times of persecution to come. One can regret that human beings are built that way, but it’s hard to deny it.

Turning to the question of “why does God allow heresies” this for me is one of the most difficult questions. Living in Jerusalem I meet people on a nearly daily basis peddling all kinds of heresies and nonsense, much of it quite bizarre. After years of this and watching all the effects it has, I’ve come to the conclusion that heresies can be compared to the multiple choice tests we all took in school. As you might recall, there were four answers, one was correct and the other three were wrong to varying degrees of obviousness. The more familiar one was with the material, the more obviously wrong (even silly) the incorrect answers were. 

The more familiar one is with Scripture, the more obviously wrong heresies and nonsense one hears being peddled by false teachers will be, and the easier it will be to stay on the straight and narrow path described in Matthew 7: 13-14 that leads to salvation.

So God allows heresies for the same reason our teachers allowed multiple choice tests, to motivate us to study the material and get familiar enough with it so that we’ll know the difference between the correct answer and all the lies and nonsense.

The recent scandal over Linda Sarsour’s assertion that “Jesus was a Palestinian of Nazareth” demonstrates this principle as well. At first I was scandalized and disgusted by it but then I was shocked and delighted to see the many Jewish and Israeli commentators react to this absurd lie with statements asserting that Jesus was Jewish, in many cases using passages from the New Testament to prove their point. All I could think about while reading all these statements was the curiosity this situation would prompt among ordinary Jewish people about the true identity of Jesus. Also, it moved me to hope that it would make some people think to themselves that if it’s okay for their rabbis to read the New Testament and quote from it maybe its okay for ordinary Jewish people to do the same thing.

In any case, it’s a great source of peace and joy for me that I serve a God who always wins and whose plans and purposes always succeed, even when things look really bad. For as Romans 8:28 reminds us, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”