The Personal Problem of Evil
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” – Jesus (Matthew 12:33-35)
In Matthew 12:34, Jesus, calling the Pharisees “brood of vipers,” disputes their ability to say good things because they are “evil.” He further explores their predicament saying, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Speaking in this verse is to be understood as a representative act of the heart; in that we are to understand that all of the Pharisees’ acts (not just speaking) are expressions of their evil hearts.
The acts of these Pharisees, and their speaking, is symptomatic of the “evil” condition of their hearts. If only their symptoms where to be treated, though their condition might appear to be improved or even cured, the malady remains unchanged; in that, whatever is done or communicated is the expression of evil, being the product of an evil heart.
Consider this in the light of how Jesus addressed the crowd that was listening to the sermon on the mount in Matthew 7:11, saying, “you being … evil.” Jesus is here disclosing His understanding of the nature of mankind. It is not just Pharisees, but mankind as a whole, that was corrupted by the evil Jesus speaks of.
Again, Jesus says to a young man seeking the means to eternal life in Luke 18:18, “no one is good.” In the estimate of the Christ, mankind, excluding Himself, was evil; as in not good. (John 2:24-25)
Of course the evil spoken of, since all of mankind is comprehended in it, must be defined in contrast to the goodness of God; so in Luke 18:18, Jesus goes on to say, “no one is good but One, that is, God.”
But in Matthew 12:33, Jesus holds out hope for all who would not be evil, saying, “Either make the tree good …, or else make the tree bad …;” implying some kind of hope for those who by nature are evil; implying some means by which we may apply ourselves toward good.
In this verse the tree is representative of the heart in verse 34, and the fruit is representative of the act of speaking.
Consider the phrase in this verse, “make the tree good and its fruit good.” Notice that the quality of the fruit follows the quality of the tree. Our solution then lies in what we “make” the tree; or as it is clarified in verse 34, what we “make” the heart.
But how does one change the nature of the heart? Perhaps it is possible that people can change their behavior in some way, but how is the nature changed? Therefore Jesus says to the Pharisee Nicodemus, “you must be born again;” that is, “born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)
The idea of being born again is not just a concept to mentally comprehend and accented to, but rather an actual occurrence whereby a person is given a new nature by means of the creative power of the Holy Spirit; so that the “making” of the tree (heart) must actually be the immediate work of God. (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17)
What then can man do, towards a change of nature from evil to a goodness in the likeness of God? As Nicodemus asks of Jesus, “how can a man be born again …?”
We find Jesus’ answer in John 3:14-17, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
It is in the possessing of eternal life that the heart is changed from a source of evil to a source of good; and the whole part of man is to believe in God’s “only begotten Son,” the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is Jesus’ perspective on the matter.
Responses may be posted at www.thechristianmind.org
Rev. George T. Frey, Jr.