Short Meditations on The Bible and Peanuts by Robert L. Short
Comments by Gary Amirault
Those who have been raised on the Peanuts comic strip or watched the holiday specials featuring the Peanuts characters know that Charles M. Schulz, the originator of that comic strip, had a strong spiritual side. Many people do not know this, but Charles M. Schulz believed that all mankind would ultimately be saved through Jesus Christ. Robert L. Short, a good friend of Mr. Schulz, who received permission to use his characters in several of his books to me this. Robert L. Short authored The Gospel According to Peanuts, The Gospel from Outer Space, The Parables of Peanuts, Something to Believe in, and A Time to Be Born, A Time to Die. He expects to publish another book in early 2007 through Harper/San Francisco.
Short Meditations on the Bible and Peanuts is a wonderful way to introduce people to the abundant grace of Jesus Christ. The book teaches that Jesus Christ will ultimately save all mankind. Charles M. Schulz and Robert L. Short stand in the good company of many other famous people who have embraced the universalism found in the Bible -- greats like Abraham Lincoln, William Barclay, Karl Barth, Origen, Gregory of Nissa and many more thoughout the centuries.
Robert L. Short also believes in universal salvation through Jesus Christ. He was a Presbyterian Minister for a number of years and has been a widely sought speaker in churches and colleges around the country. His Gospel according to Peanuts sold many millions of copies.
Below is chapter 20 of Short Meditations on the Bible and Peanuts which is available on our Tentmaker Resources page at:
The Problem of Evil, or What's the Last Word?
(Chapter 20 of Short Meditations on the Bible and Peanuts by Robert L. Short, Westminister/Knox Press, Louisville , KY. )
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” —Revelation 22:21, REB
The problem of evil is simply this: Why does an all-loving and all-powerful God allow evil in his creation? Why is there sin and death and all kinds of suffering? Well, of course if we don't take this question too seriously we can always tell ourselves that evil is the fault of people. People always bring these things on themselves. But this of course is nonsense, because we can immediately see that people don't always cause death and other natural evils, like California 's earthquakes and Chicago 's weather. And anyway the Bible tells us that "sometimes the just person gets what is due to the unjust, and the unjust what is due to the just" (Eccles. 8:14, REB). As a matter of fact the Bible, rather than seeing people as the ultimate cause of evil, actually tells us that this is God's department:
I am the LORD, and there is none else.
I form the light, and create darkness:
I make peace, and create evil:
I the LORD do all these things.
Isaiah 45:6-7, KJV
Well, then, that's the problem of evil. Why does God create this, too?
When we talk about faith's response to evil, it's possible to divide faith into two general types: childish and childlike. Childish faith is really a form of paganism. It says, "I'll believe in God as long as he meets my expectations and doesn't let me down. Otherwise he's out." In this scheme of things, God's purpose is to do our will, rather than our purpose being to do God's will. God had better be careful, or we'll dump him so fast it'll make his head spin. So a childish or pagan faith looks like this:
Childish faith, then, isn't really worship of God at all, as it turns out. It's worship of some material payoff that God is supposed to make. And when God doesn't pay off, he's dropped as the provider of what we really worship. God is just a means to this material end, the material end being our real god. A childish faith knows exactly how God is supposed to act. It will tell us for instance that "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." But this naïve thought is from a sentimental eighteenth-century English novel, 40 not from the Bible. The Bible is a supremely realistic book. It knows that this is very often not the way things work out.
Childlike faith, on the other hand, actually trusts in God and not in those things we want God to give us. It is childlike precisely because of this element of simple trust that goes beyond material payoffs and appearances. And, rather than being turned away from God by evil, childlike faith is turned to God by evil. Childlike faith says, "I've got to trust in God. Everything else has either failed me or is in the process of failing me. God is the only hope I have." But this childlike hope, this "faith no bigger even than a mustard seed" (Matt. 17:20, NEB ), finally is infinitely more satisfying to the human heart than all of the so-called "good things" we can accumulate in a life without hope in God.
And so real faith, rather than being threatened by evil, is strengthened by evil. Faith wouldn't even be faith without evil staring it in the face. Without evil, it would be knowledge. Faith knows what it knows in spite of appearances to the contrary. This is exactly what makes it faith and not knowledge. If we had a provable answer to the problem of evil, we wouldn't need faith. It is the very existence of evil that makes it necessary for us to live "by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). For "faith gives substance to our hopes, makes us certain of realities we do not see" (Heb. 11:1, NEB ). And this is exactly the way God wants us to live. For faith is heart knowledge, not head knowledge. And God wants our relationship to him to be a relationship of the heart.
But faith, we must remember, is not just a kind of mental OK we grant to what we believe. It's active obedience on the basis of this belief, or else it's not really belief at all. What kind of "belief” or "faith" or "trust" in something would we have if we merely said OK to that something but didn't do anything about it? And so it is with faith in God. It's not really faith in God unless we obey God's command: to make known the love made known through Christ. And this means that faith's response to evil, if it really is faith, is to fight it, to resist it, to defy it, to seek to overcome it. Paul puts it this way: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). Snoopy puts it this way:
This is how Christians resist or overcome evil. They react to the negative with the positive. They resist with the love they've found in Christ, which very often means—as far as this world goes—not to resist at all. Quoting the Old Testament, Jesus tells us:
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:38-39
In this way Christians witness to the only power finally strong enough to overcome evil: God's love.
But now, one more word about the quality of God's love revealed in Jesus. If this love is not finally victorious over all evil, then God finally is not a God of grace, all-loving and all-powerful. If the purpose and plan of God are not finally fulfilled, then obviously God has failed. Finally, God's will has not been done. And in this case, what kind of God is this? Certainly not the God of grace claimed by the entire New Testament. And when God is so disgraceful, we're left with an alternative: either the threat of a meaningless hell, in which people can choose to be tortured for all eternity to no good purpose; or else, rejecting a meaningless hell, a meaningless life without any God—a life that may follow "the paths of glory"4' for a very little while but then finally ends only in the grave. If death and the grave have the last word, then life—by definition—is meaningless. It isn't going anywhere. And a meaningless life makes people mean. Ultimately having no future, we may as well get all we can while we can. Thus meaninglessness doth make vicious little vermin of us all. Rats, in other words.
In our sillier moments we may try to tell ourselves that the gift of life should be satisfying enough for anyone who has known it, and that it's selfish of us to want more. Save this beautiful thought. Save it for the four-year-old with leukemia you may run into. And in the meantime, take note of this from
How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there be no resurrection, then Christ was not raised; and if Christ was not raised, then our gospel is null and void, and so is your faith. . . . If it is for this life only that Christ has given us hope, we of all men are most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:12-14, 19, NEB
But of course in this case everyone is to be pitied. For the more beautiful life may have been, the sadder it'll be to leave it. And this sadness is easy to feel long before the end. It really isn't very good news to tell someone, "It just doesn't get any better than
But Christians are a people who believe firmly in God's grace, and therefore they are persuaded that God's purpose and plan will finally be fulfilled. And that plan and purpose is good news—the best possible news—for all. Once more, the words of Paul:
In Christ our release is secured and our sins are forgiven through the shedding of his blood. Therein lies the richness of God's free grace lavished upon us, imparting full wisdom and insight. He has made known to us his hidden purpose—such was his will and pleasure determined beforehand in Christ—to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, all in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ. Ephesians 1:7-10, NEB
This is faith's final answer to evil, then, the answer that the universe, everything and everyone in heaven and earth, will finally be brought into a unity in Christ. This answer doesn't really clear up the question of "Why evil in the first place?" But if we knew the answer to that one "we would be in eternal life," as Bonhoeffer could say.42 Nevertheless this answer does assure us that finally all evil—all sin, death, and suffering—will be overcome. And therefore faith can also say with Paul, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).
The late William Barclay, the great Scottish Bible teacher and scholar, tells us in his autobiography, "I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God." And he goes on to point out that in supporting this case, "The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all."43 Especially in Paul's writings there are plenty of places where he can't seem to cram enough "all's" into what he wants to say. For example, he looks forward to the time when God has put all enemies under [Christ's] feet; and the last enemy to be deposed is death . . . and when all things are subject to him, then the Son himself will also be made subject to God who made all things subject to him, and thus God will be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, 28, REB
So all in all, the Bible tells us we know through faith in Christ that God will finally be all in all. The Bible's last word is "all." Sin, evil, suffering, death, and a literal hell are finally conquered by this literal "all": "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all" (Rev. 22:21, REB). That's the Bible's punch line. Or, as another translation has it, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone" (TEV). God has promised to answer this prayer of his
people. And surely we can expect at least as much from God as God expects from us. Again, the words of Jesus:
But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who causes the sun to rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the innocent and the wicked. . . . There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father's goodness knows no bounds. Matthew 5:44-45, 48, REB