Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"But the Lord was not in the wind....."

What shall we say as Christians about the recent devastation in New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulport, Mobile, Hattisburg and various other cities? Shall we just chalk it up to 'mother nature' gone haywire? Shall we say, with the insurance companies it was "an act of God"? If we see it as an act of God, should we see it as some kind of judgment on 'sin city'--- aka Nawlins? But if we take that tact then we are hard pressed to explain why the destruction was indescriminant, affecting the good, the bad, and the wicked. Why in the world did it destroy so many homes of seemingly undeserving persons, and why in the world were churches destroyed, even in one case by a floating casino coming in and leveling things in its path? Clearly enough pat or glib answers are no answers at all, and in any case offer cold comfort to the suffering who want a solution to their current problems far more than an answer to their questions.
Without doubting that God can sometimes use the fury of his creation to judge wicked persons, it is a precarious theology that sees the wrath of God in every major instance of the fury of nature, especially when we are talking about an indescrimant fury like hurricane Katrina. We might do better to blame ourselves for global warming, because it is human beings who have messed up the ozone, which in turn raises the temperature of the ocean, and melts the polar caps, and engenders many more hurricanes, even before hurricane season, in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere. It is humankind that has despoiled our environment, not God. And in any case, the Bible has something else to say about such things, whether we are talking about natural disasters, or the loss of life due to human accidents, or birth defects or human beings being malicious. Consider the following:

1) 1 Kngs. 19.11-13-- On the surface of things it may seem that the destruction that Elijah witnesses is directly intended by God since it is God who is passing by according to vs. 11, but then the text says "then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart...but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there as an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a conflagration, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper/light breeze/ or some render it still small voice." At the very least, this text tells us that God's will cannot be determined just by observing natural phenomena. But the text even says that God was not "in" these phenomena, which is saying more than just his will cannot be discerned in such events. It suggests that while nature reacts when its Maker comes down in theophany, God is not engendering these things in such a fashion that we could call them intelligible acts of God.

2) When Jesus is asked in Jn. 9 if the man born blind is that way because either he or his parents sinned the answer is no, but that God will use this malady to reveal his grace and glory. In other words, one cannot always correlate sickness or physical deformity and sin. Sometimes the most robust sinners are also the ones most robustly healthy. Sometimes great saints like Blaise Pascal die early deaths due to the ravages of a deformed and sickly body. There is no infallible spiritual logic to be deduced by analyzing who is sick or handicapped and who is not.

3) When Jesus is asked about a human tragedy or disaster, in this case the falling down of the tower of Siloam on unsuspecting and undeserving victims (Lk. 13.4-5), and whether the victims were worse sinners than others, his answer is a flat NO! In fact he had just said in Lk. 13.1-2 that the Galileans who were victims of deliberate human maliciousness of Pilate could not be said to be 'getting what they deserve', for Jesus insists they were not worse sinners than all the others in Galilee. In short there is no one-to-one correlation that can be drawn between sickness, natural disaster, human accident, human maliciousness on the one hand and sin on the other. And it is repeatedly said in the Bible that God judges sin.

What then should we say to those who are suffering from hurricane Katrina, or any of the other things that plague us quite unexpectedly? I would suggest that we be wise enough not to make snap judgments and glib pronouncements. Sometimes, but only sometimes, it is clear that human beings get themselves in a mess and are allowed to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Paul in Rom. 1 tells us that 'God's giving up the notorious sinners to their own wicked choices and the consequences of their actions' is indeed a form of the wrath of God against unrighteousness (see particularly Rom. 1.18-34, which even speaks of experiencing in one's own body the penalty for sexual immorality). But most of life's tragedy do not fall into this category, and hurricane Katrina certainly does not. Most events are a bit less transparent than that when it comes to connections between sin and judgment or between disasters and the Judge of all human beings.

At the end of the day we would probably do better to follow the wisdom of Korrie ten Boom. When asked by a Jewish violinist who had had her fingers smashed in the death camp called Ravensbruck "How can you believe in a God of love who would allow this to happen to me?" Corrie reflected and told the woman she did not know why that hideous thing had happened to her. But then she said "But what I do know is that no pit is so deep, that God's love is not deeper still."

Our faith in a good God is not based on what we do not understand about life, much less in our ability to make logical sense of it all. Our faith is based on grace moments that do indeed reveal God's character, and perhaps most of all we know that God can turn the worst disaster or tragedy into a triumph-- look at the cross and remember "God works all things together for the good, for those who love Him" (Rom. 8).

68 comments:

Steven Ingino said...

Come on Dr. Witherington. We both know there are various passages on God's sovereignty that you are not taking into account. Amos 3:6, Isaiah 14:25ff., 45:7, Jer. 6; Acts 2, 4:28, Eph. 1, etc., etc. We are not deists!

Eph 1:11 ...also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works ALL things after the counsel of His will...

I can imagine there were many people in Israel during the destruction caused by Assyria, or Babylon, or Rome who did not see it as a form of God's judgment. They were wrong. I'm not saying this is God's judgment, I am just saying that "natural disaster" and "mother nature" should not be in a Christian's vocabulary.

J said...

Steve, it’s unwise, I think, to suggest because God is sovereign He is therefore the direct cause of every single event in life. I hope you weren’t suggesting God is the author of evil.

In terms of sovereignty it was God prior to creation who saw it fit to actualize this possible world. He could have created a different world, one with different people and consequences but he saw it good to create the one we know. Steve, there are better ways to discuss sovereignty than to attribute all events to God. It seems like you're conflating the Hebrew usage of the term sovereignty. Sovereignty is not synonymous with causation.

In Hebrew thought they have this extraordinarily strong sense of divine sovereignty in which everything that happens in a sense can be attributed to God. But they don’t see this as antithetical or exclusive of human freedom by any means. A beautiful illustration of this is the story of Saul’s suicide in 2 Samuel and Chronicles. In Samuel it describes Saul as he sees the Philistines about to take him and so in order to avoid capture by the Philistines Saul falls on his own sword and commits suicide. In the Chronicles account we have the same story with Saul committing suicide but the Chronicler adds this commentary, “thus the Lord slew Saul” (1 Chronicles 10:14). And so there is this sense that both Saul and God are responsible for the suicide - Saul more directly of course.

J said...

I won't assume too much about God. It's best, I think, to rest in his goodness. I'm fine with that. JM

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Ben Witherington said...

The sovereignty of God is of course an important subject in the Bible, as my mentioning of Rom. 8 at the end of this blog ought to show. But it is a huge mistake to equate God's sovereignty with causation when it comes to a whole host of events. The issue is not whether God is almighty, but rather how does God exercise his sovereignty. The problem with John Piper and other scholars who read the Bible as if it were written by Augustine or Calvin rather than by early Jews, is that they do not understand how early Jews thought about these subjects, which as blogger "J" says involves allowing there to be more than one source of causation in the universe. The alternative is indeed to make God the author of what God in fact calls evil repeatedly in Scripture--- which is a huge besmirching of the character of God. It is equally problematic to make God's sovereignty the heremeneutical key by which then one tries to fit God's other attributes into a procrustean bed. For example God's love or God's desire that none should perish but all have everlasting life (see e.g. Jn. 3.16-17; 1 Tim. 2.6) do not fit the Augustinian understanding of sovereiegnty. And while we are at it, Ephes. 1.11 simply tells us that God is almighty to save. It is in no way a commentary on the cause of evil and tragedy in this world.

But perhaps the greatest failure of the Piper model of sovereignty is that it gets wrong the whole nature of God's love, which involves freedom not only on the part of God but also real freedom of response on the part of those he is wooing and loving. It is a case of "freely you have received, freely give". Love is not something that can be predetermined and still be love. Automata are not capable of love. And as 1 John reminds us in so many ways God is love. This I would suggest must affect the way we think about God's sovereignty or else we are actually Moslems, not Christians with a belief in pure fatalism, all things predetermined. The alternative to Augustinianism is not Deism-- it is rather a full orbed view of all of God's attributes including God's love. God is not the only actor in the universe whose will matters, and this is because God chose for it to be otherwise from before the foundations of the universe.

Sean du Toit said...

WOW! Thanks so much for these helpful comments. As one who grew up in the Augustinian model and was harassed for trying to figure out if there was another way to understand these issues, I am finally at peace that sovereignty does not equal causation, and that God being almighty doesn't make him responsible for evil.

AMEN to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the KING!

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TheBlueRaja said...

Hopefully the following won't be read while picturing flared nostrils, furrowed brow and heavy breathing; instead read it picturing puppies frolicking, daises blowing in the wind, and Norman Rockwell smoking a pipe standing in the window of a lighthouse within a Thomas Kinkade painting. Or something.
----------------------------
When it comes to Christianity I certainly hope I've got some options between soft deism and . . . being a Muslim? In some ways I just can't see, philosophically, how postulating free creatures that sin excluplates a God who could have created differently. If the existence of evil is necessary for a love relationship, a sin-free new heavens and new earth seems like an unrealistic hope.

All that to say neither a free-will theism nor an Augustinian determinism seem to escape the appearnce of God's culpability for evil. Both views, in their most accepted forms, rigorously eschew any causual connection with evil that would impugn God's character. Unfortunately what gets lost in the debate are the ACTUAL views of both parties instead of a demonized logical extension of them. Thus Arminians are guilty of emasculating God's sovereignty (which they actually seek to preserve in a different form) and Calvinists are guilty of making God the author of evil (which most strenuously deny and all attempt to cast in a way that frees God from moral guilt).

Further, while I respect the need for plausible historical interpretations of the biblical text, to say that compatibilist views of God's sovereignty (which typically put God as the ultimate cause of everything) are completely anachronistic seems too strong a claim to me. If it were perfectly clear what "early Jews thought about this subject" there wouldn't be such a palpable tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility within the Old Testament. Unless there are some relevant extra-biblical texts I'm not aware of that completely explain this tension, it may be unfair to dismiss the other view as historically ungrounded. Even if there were a uniform opinion on this matter in extra-biblical texts, who is to say that this militates for such a view in the biblical witness? Obviously there are times when the Bible dissents from cultural consensus. The point is that this wouldn't be fiercely debated for centuries, with a lot of proof-texting on both sides, if there wasn't some tension (dare I say 'mystery') wihtin the biblical text itself.

With that said, there's nothing wrong with arguing about it! While we do, here's something to think about from G.K. Chesterton's autobiography about his brother Cecil: "I am glad to think that through all those years we never stopped arguing; and we never once quarrelled. Perhaps the principal objection to a quarrel is that it interrupts an argument."

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Mark Porter said...

Great Post! Never thought of applying that passage to this sort of thing, I like the poetic aspect of it too.

philosapologist said...

I'd like to briefly address a couple of the comments theblueraja made, but I realize this is not a debate thread and I don't want to step on Dr. Witherington's toes.

First, Calvinism and Arminianism are NOT the only two plausible views, nor are they inspired. We do not read Scripture with one of the two in mind and try to fit it to such systems. Second, there is no reason to think evil is necessary for a love relationship.

Now you are quite right that Calvinism leads logically to God being responsible for evil, which is biblically unacceptable. Granted there are some who try to avoid this conclusion, but I think they do so unsuccessfully. Even R. C. Sproul has admitted that God must have created evil. That is why Calvinism is such a minority view today.

Now I won't speak for Arminianism, because I am not altogether familiar with its teaching or that of Arminius.

There is no logical reason to think there is any causal connection between God's creating the world and evil existing. Could God have created a world containing less evil than the actual world does in fact contain? Possibly not... For more on this I'd suggest reading "God, Freedom, and Evil" by Alvin Plantinga.

Now I personally find a Molinist or Middle Knowledge approach to these issues to be the most fruitful. (Incidentally, a good work on theological fatalism, which includes a section on Middle Knowledge, is William Lane Craig's "The Only Wise God"). What MK basically does is it explains omniscience in such a way that God's knowledge of free actions is contingent. Because he possesses counterfactual knowledge of creaturely freedom, he is able, by virtue of actualizing states of affairs, to bring about his divine purpose utilizing human free agency in the process. Much more could be said, but I'd recommend the above resources for further reading.

Finally, I don't think there is centuries-old debate because we just can't know the mystery behind it. Remember that Calvinism/Arminianism/whateverism really rose out of the reformation, in a time where tradition seemed to be at it's highest. I'd argue that the fathers of these "isms" may have done some things right in steering away from some of the Catholic problems, but that their mindsets were still heavily ruled by tradition, which ended up just creating other problems. The Bible may not be explicit in these matters, however it does not follow that reponsible Christians should just appeal to mystery rather than attempt to explain how the obscure ideas work. This is the task of Christian philosophers.

Ken said...

Dr. Witherington: I found your discussion interesting and quite appropriate.

Without entering the Calvinist v. Armenian debate, I would like to add some comments on God and evil though, especially in response to the individual who have so far commented.

I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I, Yahweh, do all these things.
Isaiah 45:7


N.B. The Hebrew word translated "woe" is ra' (the primary word for evil in the HB), which here stands in contrast to "weal" (Heb: shalom), i.e. peace, welfare, or wholeness. Thus, "woe" is the opposite weal; God creates disunity, evil, and devastation. This poetic stich is a development of the light-darkness contrast in the previous poetic stich and both are examples of hendiasys. Hendiasys means that the author expresses a totality by two opposites. The meaning of Isaiah is clear then; all things originate in God.

We also know that God enticed King Ahab with a lying spirit (2Chr 18:18-22). We know also that Judas' betrayal of Jesus was, at least in part, a deliberate and predetermined event. Let's remember too that God created the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Other pertinent examples abound throughout Scripture.

Point being... let's dispense with the rose-colored glasses and acknowledge that God is, indeed, the author of evil insofar as all things originate in him. This is biblical. Denying this is making God palatable to contemporary human standards of spirituality and divinity. The ancients did not share our pressing need to disassociate what we perceive as "negative" actions from the gods that they worshipped. Not only do we know this from other ANE religious text but the Bible testifies to this well. The prophetic books, especially one such as Ezekiel, makes this so very obvious. What contemporary Christian author would even dare to write the allegory of Oholah and Oholibah (Ezk 23)? He would be called a heretic for such a barbarous description of sadomasochistic gore as is there commissioned and ordained by God.

That said, what the Bible does tell us too is that God is not complicit in evil or guilty by it; the creation of evil is not an evil act and God uses evil justly and remains holy.

He transcends human standards of morality. Consequently, he can ask Abraham to sacrifice his son; indeed, he demands the sacrifice of his own son for our redemption. He can receive praise in a psalm that expresses David's desire that the babies of his enemy be smashed against the rocks. He can speak about the terror and horror that his mere presence creates. Our God is the Fear of Isaac (Gen 31:42). He is a god who asks why his children "seek further beatings" when they are already wounded beyond measure (Isa 1:5-6). He is a god who promises that everyone will be brought low and will "enter into the rock and hide in the dust from the terror ... and the glory of his majesty" (Isa 2:9-10).

We may not like these images of God in the Bible but we do a tremendous disservice to our theology when we ignore them or trivialize their force. In grace, we have access to our god, who is otherwise presented as a great and terrible father. If we diminish the latter then we diminish the former. In giving humanity choice and freedom, he created his adversary, who is also our adversary, i.e. Satan. Without an adversary, there is no choice. What's more, Satan remains always under the control of the one who created him and consequently, whether we are Calvinist, Arminians, Open Theists, or something in between, we must acknowledge and accept that God created evil and uses it for his purposes in this world. Whether we have a choice in our eternal salvation or salvation and condemnation are predetermined is really quite irrelevant to this point. At least, I don't see how we can avoid this testimony.

J said...

Ken, thanks for your quintessential work of wooden literalism and exegesis that allows words to define context. I’m almost speechless. It’s this type of exegesis that concerns me the most. God Bless you Dr. Witherington and David. Keep up the good work! J

philosapologist said...

Not only is it possible to alleviate God of responsibility for creating evil, it is actually theologically necessary to do so. There is an abundance of scripture which confirms there is no evil at all in God, nor does he tempt. Likewise there is probably even more which speaks of his goodness. Sin is effectively disobedience to God, so it makes no logical sense to say God created it because that would be to say God rebelled against himself! There also seems to be some misunderstanding in what exactly evil is. Evil should not be assigned any metaphysical properties. It is not a being of any kind. Nor is it a material object. There is no need for God to create it at all. It simply arises from a free choice.

I'd also disagree with the idea that God transcends our morality. I think this is a misguided way of understanding such passages. Our morality derives its source from God's very nature - that is, his attribute of goodness. Moral law is the way it is because it is "good." So it doesn't seem to make much sense to assert that God transcends it.

Finally, no valid argument can be formed to show that God, by virtue of creating men who sin, created evil. This conclusion simply does not follow.

James Petticrew said...

Its so good to hear serious discussion about these subjects. I did some of my theological training in Scotland, Calvinism of a very deterministic strain was often assumed and anything else was written off as "unscriptural" there was no grappling with the issues and the texts, acknowledging problems and limits of knowledge. Maybe that is why I am loving being at Asbury I was predestined to find my way here?? Now that is an interesting question to put to some of my previous lecturers!!!

Ben Witherington said...

Ken's post is an interesting one, but it involves some false assumptions. The first of these is that evil is a created thing. This is false. Evil is a cancer on the good, not a thing in itself. If we want to quote the OT then by all means lets start with Genesis 1-2 which makes clear: 1) that God created all that is; 2) as he created it, it was good. Evil was not created by God.
As for Is. 45, it is of course poetry, and it is not making the claim that God creates evil. Darkness is not the same as evil. And woe, is not evil, it is God's righteous judgment on sin or evil. You seem to miss both the context of this discussion in Is. 45.
I would suggest as well that you look at the Hebrew of 2 Chron. 18 and its parallel. This text is not claiming that Yahweh sent a lying spirit into the King.

Ken said...

The first of these is that evil is a created thing.

Certainly, evil is derivative and parasitic but that doesn't mean it doesn't have an origin and in its origin, ultimately God is responsible. One really can't get away from that. In creating choice, God 'created' evil. I think this is clear in Gen 2-3 and I really don't see the proofs for your argument, Dr. Witherington, other than the traditional desire to exonerate God of any association with evil.

As pertains to my exegesis of Isa 45:7 for which I've received some flack in the thread generally, I did note that the juxtaposition is with shalom or peace and consequently "woe" in this context is more nuanced than its primary meaning. But, as an expansion and development of the previous stich (and taking into account the broader poetic context), I see little doubt, contextually or otherwise, that Yahweh attributes to himself the totality of origins[ the hendiasys and the function of the verse as a culmination of that first poetic verse (if you will), I think, only strengthen this. God is accountable and responsible for all things, the good and the bad; the buck stops with him and he will let no other claim that. Indeed, I think one finds throughout the prophetic books and also Psalms, the notion that complaint must be directed towards God because he is ultimately responsible for the good and the bad, which is not to deny moral agency only to recognize that it is precisely that... agency.

To further defend my reading, I think it is important to note, contra Dr. Witherington, that the context, that is part of the argument against God in Isaiah (and also other prophetic books) to which God is responding is that he is being indiscriminate, brutal, and unfair. God's response can be typically broken down, crudely, into either (a) who are you to question my wrath, (b) you deserved it, or (c) it's my way and doing this proves that I am God. Part of the problem of monotheism in a book such as Isaiah is that evil can no longer be explained cosmologically as conflict between many gods. Instead, God must subsume into himself these different aspects which leads to the somewhat schizophrenic portrait of God that Isaiah betrays almost right away. The eschatological utopias repeatedly juxtaposed with eschatological nightmares and notably the people of God as also the 'enemies' of God are often presented as subject to both. Isaiah, strikingly, does not shy away from a negative portrait. Prophets such as Ezekiel, especially in the allegory chapter, radicalize it even further.

Ken said...

Our morality derives its source from God's very nature - that is, his attribute of goodness. Moral law is the way it is because it is "good." So it doesn't seem to make much sense to assert that God transcends it.

This would be true if any given moral law were absolute but almost none are. The only absolute moral law, at least the only one I see truly and consistently identified that way in Scripture, is "Love the Lord your God".

Moreover, goodness is not an attribute of God so much as it is something God actively defines by his thoughts/conduct.

'Moral Law' as you speak of it then is a human construct, inspired or uninspired, that tries to approximate or even predict that conduct.

This is why I say God transcends moral law. If he did not, he would be defined by it rather than the definer of it.

Ken said...

I would suggest as well that you look at the Hebrew of 2 Chron. 18 and its parallel. This text is not claiming that Yahweh sent a lying spirit into the King.

I'd appreciate if you could explain what you mean... I'm especially confused by your last sentence. I think the text is clear that God commissions a lie in this passage.

TheBlueRaja said...

David,

Thanks for your helpful comments! I'm not sure how you may have come to the conclusion that I was asserting Calvinism or Arminianism as the only two solutions (doubtless I misspoke someplace), but I certainly don't think this is the case. I agree that Molinism has a great deal of potential (its one variety of compatibilism I mentioned), and I'm very much drawn to it myself, though this too has some philosophical problems (such as exactly how God knows counterfactuals of freedom).

As for Plantinga's free will defense, I'm roughly familiar with it; yet this too is problematic in that it only covers the willful evil of sentient beings, not manifestations of evil such as the calamity whcih sparked this thread. Theological problems also attend the free-will defense, such as the concept of sin as pandemic enslavement and the concept of Adamic headship, etc. Moreover if our postmodern friends were to be heard on the subject, there are other factors of situatedness that limit our freedom such as socialization, etc.

In any case, my point wasn't to support a position; it wasn't even to say that it is an "insoluble problem frought with mystery that we should just leave to God's mind". My point is that discussions about this topic are frought with mischaracterization because both sides attribute logical extensions of one anothers views as if Arminians don't want God to be sovereign and Calvinists want God to be guilty of evil, when in fact both parties would recoil from those characterizations.

In admitting that the Biblical witness leaves a great deal of mystery on this topic isn't to say it isn't worth pursuing (I thought I was saying that this is an issue to be argued and worked out . . .), but it is to say that here's no such thing as a watertight explanation of "how it works.", Because we are left to our own devices to put it together (and there may be multiple cogent solutions) we should be cognizant of the *extremely distantly derived* authority which attend our explanations; we should also be honest about problems with our views.

Obviously Calvinism may have come out of the Reformation, but theodicy and tensions between divine sovereignty and human responsibility have been around a lot longer, and the conversation is older than just a few centuries! That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but it should give us pause.

That's honestly all I was trying to say. I am in substantial agreement with the original post (I even cite it on my own blog) - I was just reacting to the interchange between Mr. Ingino and Dr. Witherington.

Hope that helps to clarify! Now let's all get some Krispy Kreme doughnuts, rent Seinfeld season 4, and unbuckle our pants.

philosapologist said...

blueraja,

Thanks for the clarification. It appears there may just have been some miscommunication. I think I agree with you more than I thought at first. Perhaps I misunderstood where you were coming from. Sounds like you're workin hard. Keep it up brotha!

Dave

TheGoodWord said...

I've followed this blog with interest and I find myself still questioning. I, too, have always been of the school which denies God as creator of evil. But lately I am questioning. Why not? The creation of evil doesn't seem to imply that God IS evil (He did, after all, create an OPTION for sin--the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for instance.)

I am not bothered by God as the source of evil as much as I used to be because I have come to understand God as a supreme "Father", with a mind and ways beyond our ability to understand. For instance, is it not possible that God creates/allows evil, suffering, etc, because He knows in His supreme wisdom that these things will benefit His children? He is absolute love, and will always act in love toward His children. But--just like a human father--He may do things which appear "evil" to his kids in order to benefit them, cause them to grow, etc.

For instance, is it not also possible, given this, that passages like Romans chapter 9 and its discussion of God's activities toward pharoah (et al) are, in fact, able to be understood literally? (I’ve been reading that one lately!)

Before I continue, let me say that (given the strong opinions here), that I am NOT a Calvinist, and find the world of Calvinist thought to be false and even borderline heretical. Please don't box me up!

I think Ken brings up a point which deserves valid discussion. While I don't agree with the proofs Ken stated (sorry Ken--Isaiah 45:7 is not a good example) HOWEVER, "ra" IS used as a synonym for evil elsewhere in the OT. So, while allowing for context to dictate meaning, Isaiah 45:7 may not be a good example, still the use of "ra" deserves discussion.

But I digress. I'm just a little confused about why God would NOT be seen as author of evil if Scriptures like:

Colossians 1:16 "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."

or

John 1:3 "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."

These seem to imply that ALL things--including invisible forces, cause/effect, etc, were created by God.

So if God is, indeed, the source of all things, all systems, all cause and effect, and if evil is a thing (in the sense that it DOES exist and that it is nameable and identifiable), then why is God NOT the creator? To say that he is not you would have to say:
a) Evil is not a thing (which doesn't seem plausible, given the definition of "thing")
or
b) Evil is a thing that was NOT created by God (which seems to deny Scripture)

Ben--would you be willing to approach this issue of God as author of evil from a good logical viewpoint? I really would love some clarity from a man I trust. I would like to hear some good Theo-Logical and Philosophical reasoning. Quite frankly, I would rather NOT see God as the author of evil. I am willing to learn!

TheGoodWord said...

Disregard what I said about the use of "ra" in the OT--I wasn't thinking straight. It may be used as "evil" in other places, but in Isaiah 45:7 the context would dictate that "ra" means something more like "discomfort" or "disasterous events" (as per Ken and the juxtaposition against "shalom"). Since this is the only reference to God creating evil, the rest of the uses of "ra" are moot.

That being said, I would still love to hear a good argument for why God cannot be the author of evil--apart from the "he just CAN'T!" variety .

Sorry...and thanks

Leo Wong said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Leo Wong said...

Georges Bernanos said in his Last Essays,

"The scandal of the universe isn’t suffering but freedom. God made His Creation free—that’s the scandal of scandals, for all others proceed from it."

This may relate to some of what Dr. Witherington wrote; but I don't want to join the debate about whether or not a good God can cause evil. Rather I point to Bernanos' use of the word "scandal," and ask, Do tragedies like the Lisbon earthquake, the Holocaust, the recent tsunami, and Sunday's hurricane and aftermath prevent belief in God? I say no, at least for the persons most immediately affected (I should like to know more about the Jewish violinist). A believer would be more like Job, not denying but wanting to be even more acutely aware of God. A non-believer might think his non-belief reinforced, but should he ever approach belief, he would not find tragedies a stumbling block.

Are you Ben Witherington III, who wrote a book I enjoyed, The Jesus Quest?

J said...

The proof texting is getting quite dismal. I wish there was more explanatory scope for these stories.

Why is there this notion the tree of knowledge of good and evil has any intrinsic moral property anyway? People… it’s a tree! Last I checked (I just checked, by the way =)) trees were amoral objects, which is to say they lack a spirit and soul. I’m befuddled as to why this example is repeatedly used as the proof for how God has created evil. God simply commanded Adam and Eve to refrain from the tree and I think the discerning reader recognizes this. God’s command to refrain from the tree seems no more significant than the command to refrain from sex outside of marriage. There is nothing inherently wrong with sex; likewise there is nothing inherently wrong with the tree. God has good reasons for his commands. We ought not to read our ideas into the text. There’s a cute word for this called eisogesis!

What I think needs to be understood is this Jewish understanding of sovereignty. I discussed earlier the account of Saul’s suicide and it was clear the Jews understood it was Saul who committed suicide but it was God who permitted it. And so it seems obvious there is a Jewish understanding of God’s directive will (a will in which he is the effective cause of an event) and also his permissive will (a will in which he permits the acts of his creation).

There are countless Jewish examples of this in scripture. We might remember the Joseph story where he acknowledges both the will of men and God. And I quote, “"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). I don’t think we want to interpret the Jewish understanding of sovereignty in such a way as to obliterate human free agency and therefore relieving men from responsibility. The Jews didn’t, why should we? Joseph seemed to understand that it was his brothers who sold him into slavery and that God allowed it… what the heck is our problem?

In so far as there are difficult passages which seem to suggest God is creating evil, I think the discerning reader knows the difference between judgment passages and those that are not. Now if we allow words to define context we’re going to have some problems as we have seen. Christians need to think. I think some philosophical training might be helpful.

Dr. Witherington, you really need to put together some OT commentaries. Get to work! =) Seriously… who do you recommend for the OT? So far I have enjoyed the Asbury crew. I need some solid brothas to read.

Jon

BigFerret said...

You might be interested in an alternative Hegelian theodicy "Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job", and the website of the same name. Using Job's Oath of Innocence, it asserts God may be morally responsible for evil, but not blameworthy.

philosapologist said...

I find it absolutely incredible that these silly Augustine/Calvin/Edwards ideas are still circulating. They're so preposterous that they are hardly worth discussing. I mean come on you got contemporaries like Craig, Plantinga, N. T. Wright, and Witherington out there who crush these old school muddleheaded guys with their fanciful ice cream illustrations. If you want to posit a correction to the attributes of God which none of the church fathers for the last 2000 years have done, then the burden of proof is on you to explain why there is any good theological or philosophical reasons to accept it. ;-)

philosapologist said...

By the way, most theologians seem to be in agreement that God's being wholly good excludes even the possibility of his desiring evil to exist at all. So this exit labeled "God is responsible for evil, yet free from sin," seems to be closed.

Moreover, there is no logical connection between God's creating creatures with a will to disobey him and their disobeying him. We have the ability to self-cause actions. That is why we are said to have a will. It does not follow from this that God is responsible for our actions.

Steven Ingino said...

No, Dr. W, I am not equating sovereignty with causation. HOWEVER, there are some clear logical conclusions/deductions we have to deal with when we say God is all powerful, and completely sovereign, and yet tragedies occur. I am NOT saying God is the cause of sin or evil. These are the result of human rebellion. Yes, God allowed that to happen, He could have stopped it, but He didn't. What I am saying, is to say that God "allowed" a storm, or to speaks in terms of the Westminster Confession which talks of secondary causes, STILL doesn't solve the issue as to WHY God allowed something to happen, WHY He didn't stop it, etc. If you don't allow for this, then we are saying that the weather is more powerful than God or that He has no control over it? I don't think so. I'm not concerned with causation - whether God works directly, or through the devil (Job 1-2) or through people (believers or non-believers such as Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, etc.) the iss ue is that we must wrestle with God's rule, and the events that occur in history.

I have read your material on the Jewish view of sovereignty, predestination, etc. in your Romans commentary and in other writings. My thesis is on election, and I've read over 100 books, articles, essays, etc. on the subject. I still think the Piper view does the most justice to the Biblical text and actually is closer to the Jewish view. It is the modern, post-enlightenment mind that does not like the idea of God's total sovereignty (even violating our so-called free will, as in the case of when Jesus saved Saul. When He broke into Saul's life with a bright light, etc. Acts 9, we don't read, "But Jesus stopped because He wanted to honor Saul's free will, the all powerful idea that all must bow to and center of the universe."
=)
No, that is not how God worked. Nor did He ask for the permission of those who died in the Exodus if He could send plagues and violate their "free-will" as He killed them. I could go on, but I am not denying compatabilism- I am only fixing the pendulum that in our age has swung too far to the side of human freedom, process theology, and denial of God's sovereign rule in the world. In short, most Christians are deists and not theists. The Jewish view, actually is on my side, not the Arminian view.
=)

The exegesis of Eph. 1 and various passages as I skimmed through the other responses are superficial. I hope these readers will check out Peter O'Brien's or Hoehner's commentaries. I suspect at the end of the day you will stay a Wesleyan, and I will stay a Calvinist, but I hope many will be open to reading other views. Ware and Schreiner's work, "Still Sovereign" is a great work and should be read. Sproul never said that God caused evil. In addition, the responses below show the lack of training (if I may say so) of the writers - don't make a charicature or write based on rumors. Calvinists do not say God caused evil, this is not the logical conclusion, and those who say so merely reveal their ignorance of the subject. In fact, after reading much of Arminius' work, I submit that most Arminians don't really know what Arminius taught and if they did, would probably have a lower view of man's ability and a higher view of God's sovereignty, grace, and His work in election, etc.

At the end of the day, on this issue of Katrina, we must deal with the biblical texts which speak of God's control of the weather. While I am not denying the issue of causation, I AM saying that we must lean towards the Biblical texts (the causation texts are to some degree, few and as you showed in your Saul example, there are usually complementary texts that do not "get God off the hook" or show His involvement, either by "omission" or commission - He did it or allowed it, etc.)

I HOPE AND PRAY YOU AND YOUR READERS WILL SERIOUSLY DEAL WITH THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES FROM SCRIPTURE.
I only want to be biblical, and I realize this means taking into account, cultural and historical studies, grammar, Hebrew, Greek, etc.
Blessings and thanks for your response
Steve
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If there is anything the Old Testament says God is in control of - it's the weather...Numerous
passages talk about His creation of the skies, water, land, His control of them, and His ongoing
care of them.... Hebrews 1 talks about Jesus carrying creation along, upholding intimately
creation, every atom, etc. is under His control....

It's ALL over the Psalms, Job, and other passages.... (not to mention the Red Sea, Jonah, and other miracles involving creation [not "nature"].)

PSA 83:15 So pursue them with Your tempest And terrify them with Your storm.
PSA 107:25 For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea.
PSA 107:28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, And He brought them out of their distresses.

PSA 107:29 He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed.
PSA 65:7 Who stills the roaring of the seas, The roaring of their waves, And the tumult of the peoples.
PSA 89:9 You rule the swelling of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.
MAR 4:39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.
PSA 29:10 The Lord sat as King at the flood; Yes, the Lord sits as King forever.
PSA 104:6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains.
PSA 104:7 At Your rebuke they fled, At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
PSA 104:10 He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains;
PSA 104:13 He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
PSA 104:14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
PSA 104:20 You appoint darkness and it becomes night, In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about.
(we just think it's "natural" it just happens, it's part of the system, but that's not what the Bible teaches...The bible says
it's God that creates night and day, sustains the universe, creates food, etc. I'm not saying there isn't an order, etc. but He is in control)

PSA 148:8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
PSA 148:9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars;
PSA 148:10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl;

PRO 8:29 When He set for the sea its boundary So that the water would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
NAH 1:4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither.
AMO 4:13 For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind And declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness And treads on the high places of the earth, The Lord God of hosts is His name.

PSA 66:6 He turned the sea into dry land; They passed through the river on foot; There let us rejoice in Him!
JER 18:7 "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;
JER 18:8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
JER 18:9 "Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;
JER 18:10 if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.


JER 31:35 Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name:
The issue people aren't facing, and which needs to be faced in order for Christians
to present a logical and Biblical argument is - Is God all powerful and sovereign or not?
If so - we can't use language such as "natural disaster" or "mother nature"
because then we are saying the weather is more powerful than God
or that God HAS NO control over the weather. Again, we're not deists.
We believe God is in control of the weather, and that He could have stopped this
if He wanted to. If we don't believe that, then we're going back to
the Greco-Roman times when the gods and goddesses had limited power, we
at the whim of some of the elements, etc.
If this sounds too much, I apologize, but I think we are sending the wrong message
(from stuff I've read) when we say "It's just a natural disaster" and God had nothing
to do with it. Wait. I thought He was all knowing and all powerful. If that is true,
then obviously He has something to do with the weather - He either caused it
or allowed it. I feel it is better to say God is sovereign, He is in control, HE always
is in control, and He allowed this for a reason. God uses suffering in a positive way.
If He knows every hair on our head and when a sparrow dies, then surely
He knew about Katrian and is still on the throne, etc.
Let us not be like the deceieved Jews who, when they were attacked by Assyria or Babylon, thought it was just the affairs of men, but didn't see God's call for repentance.
Those in Joel's day thought it was JUST a locust storm, but it was the from God (He called it the Day of the Lord) and He did it for His purposes. God DOES have something to do with the weather and I won't be a deist or Arminian and say it's just mother nature, a natural disaster, nature, an accident, or chance.
Christians don't believe in chance or luck, or bad luck. God is KING and Lord, sovereign, in control and doing all things according to the counsel of His will (ALL) - Eph. 1.
Doesn't "The Lord reigns" echoed throughout Scripture mean anything?

Steven Ingino said...

p.s. no I'm not denyinh human choice, but the issue I was writing about was not human choice - you wrote "But they don’t see this as antithetical or exclusive of human freedom by any means."

I was talking about Katrina and the weather - something that has nothing to do with human freedom. (By the way, the idea that humans have caused global warming and have caused hurricanes is not true at all.)
Thank you again for your time and comments. I love your work on 1 Cor., Gal., etc. but I'm a bit saddened that you've fallen for the New Paul perspective in your Romans commentary! Still, your work is great and has been a HUGE help!

J said...

Steve… you said, “p.s. no I'm not denying human choice, but the issue I was writing about was not human choice." Great! You don’t deny human freedom. Instead you say God is the direct cause of all natural events. Steve, are you positively sure? Well… now it’s your duty to explain why it is that natural processes are necessarily attributable to God either biblically or philosophically. Your best bet is a philosophical argument!

As Dr. Witherington said earlier, “the issue is not whether God is almighty, but rather how does God exercise his sovereignty. No right minded Christian denies God’s power. God can do whatever he wills - floods, tornados, hurricanes, etc. This is not in question. If your massive proof texting accomplished anything it demonstrated how God does what he will whenever he wills. We knows this, we should all agree. Can I get a witness? =)

What you don’t seem to understand is that it doesn’t follow that if God has manipulated his creation once, twice, or however many times, he is not therefore obligated to manipulate his creation always. Your reasoning reminds me of the charismatic who reads the miracles of Christ and then attempts to make them a normative thing for today. God is not obligated to manipulate nature to satisfy our systematic theologies… shucks! =)

But I do have a question. Isn’t it possible the earth suffers because of Adam’s sin and that this would in some sense explain natural disasters and so forth to at least some degree? It seems to me that if this is biblical, (read Romans 8) it flies in the face of your idea. It would make humanity responsible for nature’s pains and not God. In so far as it’s possible and I think biblical that man is responsible for nature’s pains your attempt at making God always responsible seems far fetched.

J

J said...

Steve, how is it you find coercion in Saul's road to Damascus experience? It's obvious God rocked Saul's world, yes, but Saul still responded. Be careful not to thrust your system into the text.

What's up with you Dallas people? That place sure seems to dish out carbon copies ;)

J

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Steve:

Another thoughtful post by you. I don't have any objections to any of the weather posts that you have listed. All they show is that God uses the weather on various occasions to accomplish the divine purposes. This is far from proving that every so-called natural occurence is engineered by God. It seems to me a very strange thing to argue, "what God allows or permits, he therefore must endorse".

Of course you deny this for things like sin and evil, but then you affirm this when it comes to what we call natural disasters. By what criteria do you say no to the first category and yes to the second?

It is a good thing to have thought through all these passages but, I would trust you not ignore that Rom. 8 does tell us that all of creation is groaning and longing for liberation from the effects of the fall, just as we are. This means that there are epiphenomenon that happen that reflect the fall, not God's good and loving will for his creatures.

In November my book The Problem with Evangelical Theology comes out, in which I point out that there are problems with Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Weslyeanism in their distinctives. The area where Calvinism is clearly weakest is in regard to the issue of apostasy/ perseverance of the saints. But like so many systems of thought if you take out one key link, the other distinctive elements become invalid as well--- in this case irresistible grace and predetermination.

Again the issue is not, can an Almighty God have done things like Calvin thought--- of course he could have. The point is that the Bible says he did not, and so we ought not to think so. There are many things God permits, that he certainly does not desire or will to happen. Here is the nub of your problem. The question is why, and which ones.

As for the conversion of Paul, all this shows is that sometimes grace may indeed be overwhelming. You can't globalize from that story to say it always is so, and as another person said in this thread, thereafter, Paul still had to respond positively to what had happened to him.

Just for the record, I basically disagree with the new perspective on Paul and the Law, if that's what you are referring to, so you have either misread my work on Galatians or Romans or both.

Blessings on your thesis work.

philosapologist said...

For the record, the conversion of Saul does NOT indicate that the Lord violated his will. Saul simply believed when he saw the revealed Lord. There is no indication whatsoever in the text that Saul couldn't have said "Nah, sorry God, I'm going to take my blindness and go the other way. Forget you!"

TheBlueRaja said...

Maybe I'm misssing it (I confess to reading through these posts very quickly), but do the "free will" people in this thread ever get around to dealing with the fact that an omnipotent God who COULD prevent terrible things like Katrina from happening chooses NOT to do that? How is a sympathetic but powerless-to-prevent-evil God better than an all-this-evil-is-a-part-of-my-plan God? Is the fact that our world is the best possible world just obviously true, or would God throw things completely out of whack by subverting one person's free will to prevent a child from getting raped? If he could prevent it that time and still have "the best possible world" why couldn't he do it a fair bit more often?

I caught Ben's statement: "It seems to me a very strange thing to argue, 'what God allows or permits, he therefore must endorse'". If I permit my children to rebel, I'm disqualified from leadership, because they are my responsibility (I made them!) - if I let my kid run out into the street even though i see a car coming, and could have stopped him, I'm either responsible for evil or stupid negligence - neither of which something we (presumably) would want God to be guilty of. I'm sure someone dealt with this and I just missed it - but some reiteration might be helpful.

TheBlueRaja said...

By the way, it strikes me as odd that some of you are talking of Calvinism as though its a dying breed or outmoded theology - is this just rhetorical flair, or do you really believe that? Have you ever heard of a Southern Baptist? I think they're still the largest evangelical group in the country. Just found it curious.

philosapologist said...

"Rhetorical flair." ;-)

The question about evil and omnipotence is a good question and a complicated one. I think the underlying question is "what exactly does omnipotence mean?" Most theologians have sort of limited God's power to exclude non-logical propositions. For example, God if he exists, does not have the power to bring about a state of affairs in which he does not exist. Since it would require a lengthy post to address (like a full paper), I digress to Plantinga, only because I do not like to give short, simple answers to complex questions.

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steven Ingino said...

Thank you for your response.

I am not saying
"what God allows or permits, he therefore must endorse".

Clearly God allows things that humans or satan does in Scripture that he does not endorse.
However, your example with Saul (or I could site the example with David and the census) always seems to point more to God's interaction or allowance, or "sovereignty" in these issues. In my opinion, God's will to have Saul killed must have preceded Saul's fall in battle. Did God send someone to shoot him (I think the ARROW was more a problem and cause then him falling on the sword.) Did God put it on his heart to fall on the sword? We don't know, but your example seems to make my case, not disprove it. What LOOKS like the will of people, choices, etc. we see being attributed to God. How all that works is certainly a mystery.

In terms of Paul's conversion - many people disagreed with me about how God saved him and if that should be "universalized." I submit that ya'll read 1 Timothy 1 where Paul does essentially say that his conversion IS a paradigm of salvation for all. This is, to some degree the conclusion of people like Seyoon Kim and others who have done extensive studies on Paul's conversion. Since Romans 3/8 states that sinners do not seek God, do not have the ability to please God, nor the desire to do so, and Eph. 2 says we are dead in sin, I am thankful that God does draw us to Him, does change our heart, and does cause us to believe, etc. I used "violate" to get people's attention, but the Calvinistic view does not believe God saves people kicking and screaming into the kingdom. We do believe He transforms the will so that they do desire to know God, see that they are sinners in need of a Savior, trust in Christ, etc. which is why the Reformed position states that regeneration preceeds faith. However, whether one holds to that or not, I believe the issue is whether one is elect or not (if so, the order matters very little.). I do think faith is a gift (see 1 Cor. 4:7, Phil. 1:29, 1 Tim. 1:14) but that's another story.

In terms of the weather, I don't believe those passages merely say that God is sometimes is in charge of the weather, etc. It shows that He is when He wants to be and when He's not directly behind it, He does have power over it - to change it, stop it, etc. Yes, I just wrote an article about Romans 8, the fall of creation, and how the world is not working as it should. But that still leaves open the question in times of disaster "Ok, so the world is fallen. But still, why didn't God stop the Tsunami, etc." I don't think every disasters is God's hand of judgment, or discipline, or that He can use that to purify a nation (this week WAS supposed to be "the week of decadance" gay parade in New Orleans, and God certainly would be justified in judging that city since He would be justified in judging one sin, and has graciously "overlooked" the ongoing sins of witchcraft, occultism, gambling, sensuality, drug and alcohol abuse, and such for decades in Mardi Gras and just the ongoing behavior of those in New Orleans such as the witchcraft which goes on daily there). However, since we don't have revelation from God on that, we can't rule it out or say with confidence that this is the case. I was born and raised in NY and to see how they were humbled from 9-11 may have been used for the salvation of many and other good purposes however horrible the event was. The same may be true in the Gulf.

In terms of God's sovereignty in some issues, but not like sin and evil, I see no problem with this dichotomy. This is what the Bible states (clearly over and over again that God is not the cause of sin, or evil, and so forth, James 1:17, etc.). Sin and evil comes from the rebellion of creatures. In addition, there is an issue which many do not understand.


Some skeptics have argued:
1. God is absolutely perfect.
2. God cannot create anything imperfect.
3. But perfect creatures cannot do evil.
4. Therefore, neither God nor his perfect creatures can produce evil.


Augustine and Thomas Aquinas rightly countered:
1. God is absolutely perfect.
2. God created only perfect creatures.
3. One of the perfections God gave some of his creatures was the power of free choice.
4. Some of these creatures freely chose to do evil.
5. Therefore, a perfect creature caused evil.


Theists distinguish between the primary cause of a free action (God) and the secondary cause (a human being).
God gave the power of choice. However, God is not responsible for the exercise of that free choice to do evil. God does not perform the free action for us.

Theists reject dualism. Evil is not a coeternal principle outside of God. Evil has not always existed. For not all opposites like good and evil are first principles. This wrongly assumes that just because something can be essentially good (God), something can be essentially bad. But once dualism is rejected, one has great difficulty explaining the reality of evil. If evil is not something outside of God, and it cannot be anything inside of God, then what is it?

The problem can be summarized this way.
1. God is the Author of everything.
2. Evil is something.
3. Therefore, God is the Author of evil.

THIS IS KEY +++++++++++++++++++
The theist responds that evil is not a thing or substance. Rather it is a lack or privation of a good thing that God made. Evil is a deprivation of some particular good. The essence of this position is summarized:

+++++++++++++++++++++++
1. God created every substance.
2. Evil is not a substance (but a privation in a substance).
3. Therefore, God did not create evil.
Evil is not a substance but a corruption of the good substances God made. Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree. It is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself. Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth-holes in a garment. It exists only in another but not in itself.

This holds true whether we speak of human sin or rebellion, or angelic rebellion which happened before creation.

The Biblical response to the problem of evil can also be summarized this way:
1. God is all good and desires to defeat evil.
2. God is all powerful and is able to defeat evil.
3. Evil is not yet defeated.
4. Therefore, it will one day be defeated.

The Bible teaches 5 things that offer the only real explanation for evil, and one that no other religion explains in the same way:
1. God created the universe without any evil or suffering. It was completely good.
2. God created humans perfect.
3. God created people with a perfect ability to freely choose between staying in harmony with God or rejecting God. In order for love to be authentic, it must involve a choice. God did not create robots.
4. Humanity freely chose to turn away from God and to rebel against His love and care.
5. Sin, evil, and suffering entered into the world as a result of this separation from God.

p.s. it seemed to me from your Romans commentary that you were very much in line with N.T. Wright's view or the new paul perspective but I will have to re-read it.

IN RESPONSE TO J
I did not say God is the direct cause of all natural events.
I did say that it is possible that He has something to do with those events and that we shouldn't be deists who see nature separated from its creator. I wasn't saying that God IS directly responsible for EVERYTHING (I acknowledged human sin and fallen creation), I was MERELY saying that people wonder "If God is all powerful, why didn't He stop it" which leads people to logically conclude - He could have, didn't therefore, He allowed it. I would agree with that statement to some degree.

As far as your pot-shot at DTS - I find it quite unChristian, and while you disdain DTS your disdain reveals your own spiritual immaturity. You're more spiritual or have a better understanding of the scriptures, etc. and yet you mock or put down other brothers? Wow, take the log out of your eye, please. In terms of your assumption, I do not agree with everything DTS teaches, I came from a VERY different tradition when I entered DTS and while I agree with much of what DTS teaches, I actually serve in a church that I would never see myself in, but that is where God led me and opened up a door for ministry. So before you categorize me, please know that you probably are WAY off on what I believe, what I've learned from DTS, what I've accepted from DTS, where I minister and so forth. My suspicion is that you're thinking about how DTS was 40 years ago - A LOT HAS CHANGED and you would do well to actually visit a class, or speak with professors and students before you make such offensive statements. You've probably never even been to Dallas and yet you made a pretty rude comment. That, again, is not Christ-like. The seminary has changed in many ways recently in terms of hermeneutics and theology to some degree (ever heard of progressive dispensationalism??)
Grace and peace
STEVE

Steven Ingino said...

Also for J -
I'm not denying human impact on creation, I'm sure that our sin and our treatment of the earth has a negative affect on the world, BUT if you read Romans 8 carefully you will see that the issue there is not about how humans or sin negatively effect the creation, but rather that it was GOD WHO subjected creation to fultility.

For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. "
There is nothing in here that talks about humans affecting creation here. Like in Genesis 3 where God "curses" the ground, Romans 8 talks about God's work in creation not human effect.

Please Read Romans 8 again and then your comment -

"It seems to me that if this is biblical, (read Romans 8) it flies in the face of your idea. It would make humanity responsible for nature’s pains and not God. In so far as it’s possible and I think biblical that man is responsible for nature’s pains your attempt at making God always responsible seems far fetched."

Ken said...

Why is there this notion the tree of knowledge of good and evil has any intrinsic moral property anyway? People… it’s a tree! Last I checked (I just checked, by the way =)) trees were amoral objects, which is to say they lack a spirit and soul. I’m befuddled as to why this example is repeatedly used as the proof for how God has created evil. God simply commanded Adam and Eve to refrain from the tree and I think the discerning reader recognizes this. God’s command to refrain from the tree seems no more significant than the command to refrain from sex outside of marriage. There is nothing inherently wrong with sex; likewise there is nothing inherently wrong with the tree. God has good reasons for his commands. We ought not to read our ideas into the text. There’s a cute word for this called eisogesis!

As I believe I first brought this into play in this thread, I'll comment. Your response here doesn't reflect my views on what Gen 2-3 means or how I've tried to use it. I, at least, am not arguing that the tree had any moral properties; heck, I doubt the tree ever existed. From my standpoint Gen 1-11 is an example of Yahwistic mythography, probably written sometime between the period of the Assyrian exile and the end of the Neo-Babylonian period. It draws on motifs and stories from the Mesopotomian religious world and syncretizes them to a Yahwistic worldview.

As authoritative Scripture, it is the theology of these stories that is normative. What I argue, therefore, is that the story of the Garden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as well as an overhwhelming number of passages in the HB show that God is ultimately responsible for the creation of the world and the laws by which it operates; this includes the creation of choice and agency whereby created agents could refuse God and consequently do evil. In this sense, God 'created' evil and God, throughout Scripture, accepts responsibility for this. Indeed, I think it is presented as an integral part of salvation history and his final eschatological purposes for humanity.

What I have also attempted to argue is that the Bible often presents a capricious image of God who uses evil and/or disaster in a way that the biblical writers even present as indiscriminate, brutal, and unfair. The God of the prophets and of history is often a great and terrible Father and his wrath falls upon both believer and unbeliever just as his grace and mercy does.

On this latter issue, I find Bruggemann's recent theology does one of the best jobs I've seen in a long time at acknowledging and respecting the negative images, the "counter-testimony" of which I am speaking.

jean said...

to Dr. BW III: Back to the original post re Katrina and divine wrath--I found your post helpful and used some quotes from it in my sermon this morning--with appropriate credit, of course.

I am an M. Div. student at Ashland Seminary (they still miss you) and have found your socio-rhetorical books very halpful. I appreciate you blog, and although I have strong opinions on the Calvinist-Arminian--open theism debates, I will not clog the blog with them.

graham old said...

I think it's a shame that this fantastic post ended up with a comment thread that simply rehashes the old (and somewhat boring!) debate on Arminianism vs Calvinism. (Are we really still that polarised?)

Anyway, I just wanted to say, David, that you're mistaken when you write: 'I find it absolutely incredible that these silly Augustine/Calvin/Edwards ideas are still circulating....I mean come on you got contemporaries like Craig, Plantinga, N. T. Wright, and Witherington out there who crush these old school muddleheaded guys with their fanciful ice cream illustrations.'

Wright holds, essentially, to a Calvinist position. He has explicitly accepted the label in the past (some awful book that he wrote a chapter for) and his Romans commentary sticks pretty much to the song-book on that topic.

philosapologist said...

Well, Craig pretty much burries everyone on the planet, so try debating him on the will...

TheBlueRaja said...

Here here, Graham.

J said...

graham old: Norm Geisler calls himself a Calvinist. For what reason? Who can know. J

J said...

Steve, you missed the winky face. I was kidding. I have a few friends from Dallas who share your ideas. I do apologize.

Ken said: “What I argue, therefore, is that the story of the Garden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as well as an overwhelming number of passages in the HB show that God is ultimately responsible for the creation of the world and the laws by which it operates; this includes the creation of choice and agency whereby created agents could refuse God and consequently do evil. In this sense, God 'created' evil and God, throughout Scripture, accepts responsibility for this.”

I agree that God is responsible in the sense that he permits evil, but this is quite different from saying he is the direct cause of evil acts. God’s directive and permissive wills are not synonymous. Maybe you think creaturely freedom is the evil?

J

Steven Ingino said...

Apology accepted. I just get frustrated when people pre-judge or categorize me. I work hard to stay abreast of various views. I read a ton, I've taken online classes from seminaries like Regent in Vancouver and other places to hear other views. In addition, I've found that the scholarship at DTS is superb, and the professors there are well aware of divergent views, teach us about them, tell us to think through the issues, and are far from a monolithic, cookie-cutter faculty. Anyway, it's been fun debating all of this. Hot issue.

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ken said...

I agree that God is responsible in the sense that he permits evil, but this is quite different from saying he is the direct cause of evil acts. God’s directive and permissive wills are not synonymous.

There is more than a permissive engagement with evil reflected in the biblical texts.

Maybe you think creaturely freedom is the evil?

No.

J said...

I think a Jewish understanding of sovereignty (one that maintains human responsibility) coupled with a middle knowledge perspective would be helpful for this discussion.

I'd like to recommend William Lane Craig's, "The Only Wise God."

J

J said...

Steve, you said:

“The idea that humans have caused global warming and have caused hurricanes is NOT true AT ALL.”

Um… but then you said,

“I'm not denying human impact on creation, I'm sure that our sin and our treatment of the earth has a negative affect on the world.”

Which statement did you mean?

Then you said:

“If you read Romans 8 carefully you will see that the issue there is not about how humans or sin negatively effect the creation, but rather that it was GOD WHO subjected creation to futility.”

Well… do you think the creation would have been subjected to futility if man did not sin?

Iron sharpening iron,

J

Ben Witherington said...

In order to bring this rather surprisingly lengthy discussion to a close a couple of exegetical notes are in order, sinced there are some false assumptions being made about a couple of the texts under discussion. Amos 3.6 is the first of these. This text is addressed to Israel, not to human beings in general, and it is making a statement about God's specific judgment on his own people. This is especially clear from Amos 3.2 and 3.11. Amos 3.11 further makes clear that the subject is the conquering of an israelite city by a foreign power, as vs. 9 indicates. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a 'natural disaster', nor does it suggest anything about indiscriminant disasters not specifically targeted at the people of God. If hurricane Katrina had only singled out churches and synagogues, then maybe remotely this text would have something to say to us in this discussion since it is operating on the principle that judgement begins with the household of God. Since that is not the case, this text is irrelevant to this discussion.

2 Chron. 18.18-22 is an interesting text with a parallel in 1 Kngs. 22. One of the things that is most interesting in doing a synoptic style parallel comparison between these two sources is that the later of them emphasizes viable secondary causes, for example Satan and his lying spirits, while the former of these sources is less clear on this subject. Much depends also on how one views the issue of progressive revelation. In light of texts in the NT like Heb. 1.1, or 1 Pet. 1.11-12 it is perfectly clear that a proper hermeneutic from a NT perspective involves having an undestanding that the revelation of God and the divine nature was "partial and piecemeal" as the author of Hebrews puts it, before Christ came, and only fully given in Christ. In other words, one needs to give a more critical eye to OT texts in the matter of what they reveal about the divine character, especially when we are talking about a conversation between God and a lying spirit in heaven! At the end of the day, this text only really indicates that God permitted a lying spirit to act. The text does not explain why God allowed this to happen, any more than we can explain why God allowed hurricane Katrina to happen. But in any case this text again tells us nothing about natural disasters like hurricane Katrina. It is dealing with personal agency, not impersonal forces like hurricanes.

Finally, something needs to be said about Rom. 8. If one has been paying attention to the flow of the argument in Romans, one will know that Adam was introduced into the discussion in Rom.5.12-21, and he was again the subject of discussion as late as Rom. 7.7-25 (see my Romans commentary). Thus when we get to Rom. 8 and here about creation being subject to futility, we actually must decide whether 'ktisis' refers to 'creatures' or to 'creation' more broadly. Various commentators thing the reference is to God's subjecting the human species to frustration-- disease, decay, death as a result of original sin, and certainly this is a possible conclusion. But let us take the other view for a moment. Let us suppose what we are talking about is creation more broadly, bearing in mind the Adam story. If we know our Genesis story we know that the fallen couple was expelled from Eden. Why? The story suggests that God could not allow fallen persons to live in a perfect environment, particularly one where they would have access to the tree of eternal life. Romans 8 seems to build on the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, and it suggests that God decided at that primeval moment to subject all of creation to the same futility of disease, decay, and death. The verb here, "subjected" in Rom. 8.20 is referring to a one time event in the past--- not God's ongoing doing of anything in relationship to creation. Furthermore, it was subjected in hope, because God intends the liberation of both creature and creation when Christ returns, the dead are raised and there is a new heaven and new earth. Its no good having new creatures in an old and dying creation. Imagine resurrected persons in a dying world--- now that would be futility. It is this larger story on redemption from the Fall that helps us understand what is going on in Rom. 8.19-20. Selecting isolated verses to prove a particular view of God's sovereignty can boomrang on the selector, since a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean. In this case, none of these texts suggest that we should attribute to God what in this case lesser forces such as nature was responsible for. We do bear some responsbility for screwing up the environment and we also bear some responsibility for building cities in eco-systems and coastal marshlands and wetlands where they never should have been built.

The question of why God allows such things to happen is largely an imponderable one, and it cannot be sorted out by proof-texting. It is the better part of wisdom, when the Scripture is not clear about such mysteries that we simply say "I do not know why God allowed that to happen."

J said...

That was solid!!! I'm late for work... I'll have to read that again later. Thanks Dr. Witherington for the post. J

J said...

Dr. Witherington... I'm home from work and I just love the way you discussed 2 Chron. Dangit! I wish I could have worded it that way. hehe =)

Steve, I don't think we're worlds apart on this issue. I love your thoughts here... "I did not say God is the direct cause of all natural events. I did say that it is possible that He has something to do with those events and that we shouldn't be deists who see nature separated from its creator. I wasn't saying that God IS directly responsible for EVERYTHING (I acknowledged human sin and fallen creation)."

God Bless You,

J

Steven Ingino said...

Hey J,

WHat I was saying in the FIRST statement is that certainly human sin and behavior has impacted the world and the environment (sewage and toxic dumps can't be good, etc.)
However, I was denying the theory which has become so popular since movies like "The Day after Tomorrow" that say people are the cause of global warming which create hurricanes. It is utterly false and created by left-wingers who want to blame Bush for EVERYTHING. You can google some sites on this issue and you'll see that it is a complex matter and that every statistic points to the fact that mankind has not caused hurricanes or floodings, etc.

I agree with Dr. W's exegesis of Rom. 8 and creation, etc. I don' think I used that as a proof text.

In terms of my other statement, I meant that the creation is FALLEN because God has subjected creation to futility (decay, etc.). If He didn't do that, we'd be living in a different environment. I guess I'm saying that Adam could have sinned, and yet, that does not mean that God HAD to subject creation to the fall. Yes, mankind sinned, but it was God who punished the creation for that for good reasons as Dr. W stated. So yes sin was involved in this subjugation, BUT that set in motion a world in which there was decay and terrible disasters, etc. which wouldn't have existed before the fall. So, I'm saying that every storm, tsunami, etc. is not a result of human sin. How did a human sin cause the tsunami to happen? I'm not talking about judgment, etc. I'm saying meteorologically - a human cannot cause a tsunami. That is part of fallen creation (and in my view, God does have something to do, directly or indirectly with the weather, etc.). This CAN happen because the world is fallen.
God does care about the earth and it's clear that humans have had and will have a terrible effect on the creation.
See - REV 11:18 "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth."

However, creation acts in a certain way, or has the possibility of doing things that WOULD NOT HAVE EXISTED (such as a tsunami, etc.) BEFORE THE FALL BECAUSE GOD SUBJECTED THE CREATION TO THE FALL. One sin did that. Not ongoing sin, as if each time humans sin we create the possibility of bad stuff from creation. So, it's a both/and. Yes, humans negatively impact creation. But, creation acts in a certain way because it is fallen and is not doing what it was designed to do, just as humans, when they sin, are doing what they weren't designed to do because they are fallen. How all that works in terms of God's control, or lack of control of the weather, allowing or causing a storm, allowing people to die from that, etc. is what we're arguing about. But I think we can both agree that humans hurt the environment (i.e. pollution, dumping oil into your lawn, etc.) and that God is the one who subjected creation so that it does operate in a way that is not the same as it would've operated before the Fall. Adam and Eve did have something to do with this but regardless of their sin which led to the fall of creation, creation would STILL be acting in this way, even if every human was wiped off the face of the earth. Until God creates a new heaven and earth, this present world will be fallen. People on it or not, there will be conditions that are not ideal because it's fallen. Hope that makes sense. So, the issue for me is not the cause - sure, creation wouldn't be fallen if there was no fall. The issue is that it is fallen, God chose to do that, and there is nothing we can do to make it un-fallen now.

J said...

Steve, I don't have a problem with your post. But I do think this discussion assumes far too much. Direct or passive involement, who can know? I'll rest in God's goodness. Blessings, Christian =)

J

philosapologist said...

I think the confusion here is due to conflation of moral evil and suffering from natural disaster. I don't care to argue about whether or not God is responsible for certain natural disasters or not, but in any case, I don't think they qualify as moral evil. It seems we've been talking about two different things here. As Dr. Witherington pointed out earlier, God's righteous judgement on mankind is not evil. He is sovereign over life and has the right to take it whenever he wants. The wages of sin is death.

RonMcK said...

When discussing Hurricane Katrina, many Christians are quoting Luke 13:1-5 to prove that natural events are not judgements. This view does not fit with the context. In Luke 12:54-56, Jesus challenged Israel to understand the times in which they were living, because they are significant for the nation. He then goes on to discuss the two awful events that had just occurred in Galilee and Siloam. He is clear that these people were not worse sinners than the rest of the nations. He is equally clear that the events are warning events for the nation.

The deaths of the Galileans and the people of Siloam were warnings of what would happen to the nation if it did not receive him. These two events were types of a real judgement that would come later, if they continued to reject what God was doing in their midst. Jesus warning was fulfilled in AD 70, when the walls of Jerusalem were smashed and the blood of many Jews was spilled.

I suspect that Jesus would say that the people of New Orleans and the people in Twin Towers are no worse sinners than the rest of the United States; but the whole nation should take note. If it does not change its path, it may experience similar events on a scale that would wreck the entire nation.

New Orleans is not a judgement, but it might be a warning event for the entire nation. More here.

Steven Ingino said...

Thanks bro...blessings to you too

J said...

Amen!

J

Gargoyle said...

Please, there's no such word as 'indescriminant'. The word is 'indiscriminate'.

Mister Trevor said...

Let us not forget that in times of great turmoil, and disaster, people will come together in the name of the Lord and in Brotherly Love.

J. R. Miller said...

But are we not in a season of grace where there is no judgement on sin until the return of Christ? If we truly believe there are dispensations (seasons) of God's work among creation, then the OT examples would not have bearing on this time of grace, right?