Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Religion in the News--- God gets Sued!!

God, according to the Bible, is omnipresent. This means, according to State Senate from Nebraska Ernie Chambers, God can be sued, since he resides in all the U.S. of A. Specifically Senator Chambers is suing God for what the insurance companies usually call 'acts of God'-- namely natural disasters, such as the tornadoes that recently struck Kansas and Nebraska. Here is the story link for you to mull over---


By all means launch the video attached to the story to hear what the Senator has to say. Lest you think that this is purely frivolous, actually it is not. Ernie Chambers is rather famous (or infamous) for his snide remarks about Christians, and presumably the Christian faith. Of course the Senator is going to have a difficult time getting God into court, one would think. In fact, God will have a much easier time getting Senator Chambers into court, in due course. But the story raises an important point. To what extent should God be blamed for what might be called random natural disasters? I am not talking about specifically targeted judgments like those depicted in Exodus or Revelation. I am simply talking about your average generic twister that causes mayhem for God's people and everyone else in its path. Think of hurricane Katrina and the mayhem on the Gulf coast, not just on sin city in New Orleans, but also on the First Baptist Church in Biloxi.

John Piper on his website of course recently had a post about the disastrous collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis. His view was that however random it might seem to us, that actually this was the will of God, and in essence we should just suck it up. God is sovereign and he disposes things as he will, and according to his sovereign pre-ordained plan. If you just happened to be on the raw end of the deal, so much the worse for you. Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, actually God has a right to judge the whole world now, if he so chooses. The fact that he spared some shows God's mercy, according to Piper, but he was under no obligation to spare anyone. 'There but for the grace of God go I", so to speak. This doesn't sound much like an attempt to mourn with those who are mourning. It is interesting that Senator Chambers and Rev. Piper would seem to agree on the source of this sort of mayhem.

My question for them would--- is God the author of sin as well? Is God responsible for all that goes wrong in the world? Do these folks really have no clear sense of secondary causes which, while we can say God allows them to happen, we certainly would not want to say God causes or ordains them to happen? Is there no such thing in their vocabulary as God's permissive will? And even if there is-- what good is it for them to talk about God's permissive will, if in fact they think that God pre-ordains both what he permits as well as what he does directly?

I would suggest that there are some significant theological flies (or gadflies) in this whole ointment. Let's start for a second with the book of Job. There is this little story about Satan being allowed to tempt or test Job using a whole slew of disasters, natural or otherwise. Now clearly enough God allows this to happen, but do you really want to claim that God predestined the Devil to do his work? Isn't Satan's work evil? Is God the author of evil? I think not.

Or think for a moment about the Beelzebul controversy in Mark 3. Jesus is accused of being in league with Satan. Now notice how Jesus responds to this charge. He doesn't say, "I couldn't do otherwise, because God foreordained me to do this, whether in league with Satan or on my own." No, Jesus calls it blasphemy! To attribute the work of God to the work of the Devil is 'blaspheming the Holy Spirit' who only does good always. Now the corollary of this is also true. To attribute the work of the Devil to the work of God is also blasphemy. Careful Rev. Piper, you might being falling under this warning Jesus gave here to his interlocuctors.

Who is it that really wants to wreak havoc in human lives? Who is it that really seeks to destroy and devour all that is good, and true and beautiful about human life? Does the Bible really lay these sorts of things at the doorstep of God or not? Why is it that Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly? Why does it say that God so loved the world (not the elect notice, but the world) that he sent his Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to redeem it? Is God chiefly life giving or death dealing? And while we are at it-- how did death come into the human equation in the first place? Was it God's will? If so, why does Paul call death the last enemy that must be overcome by God in Christ, the last result of human sin and the Fall to be overcome in 1 Cor. 15?

Oh yes and one more thing. Consider James 1 for a moment. Here James reminds us that when we are tempted, we should never say 'God is tempting me', because not only can God not be tempted to do anything wicked or evil, God himself tempts no one! Did you catch that? No one. But the Bible is clear enough that Satan does tempt people and yet it does not come from God. And here in James 1, James says that actually the ultimate source of the rot in this cases is the sinful desires of the human heart that lead humans to misbehave. This is interesting because it implies that James thinks there are other viable actors in the human drama besides God, and that God has not rigged the drama such that angels, demons and humans will inevitably dance to a pre-ordained divine script. Indeed, he thinks that some behavior of humans, and the Devil, and others, is antithetical to the will of God, whether revealed or hidden. Falleness and its effects was not a part of God's perfect plan for his relationship with human beings.

Doubtless Senator Chambers hasn't thought through all the theological ramifications of his lawsuit against God carefully enough. But this cannot be said of Rev. Piper, I am afraid. He's just guilty of having an unBiblical view of God, that ironically is closer to the fatalistic one found in the Koran, than the Biblical one found in the New Testament.

As Forrest Gump once said "well hush my mouth--that's all I have to say about that!"


Leslie said...

Dr. Witherington, I always appreciate your entries - they allow me to think and are often encouraging. Thanks for that.

I particularly like here that you point out Job. It seems so interesting to me that clearly the adversary is the one bringing adversity upon Job, yet in chapters 2 and 42 God obviously takes responsibility for it. That's how I see God's sovereignty - not that he directly causes all things, but that he is so powerful that all things come back to him. Even our greatest enemy gets his authority from God! It's too bad chambers doesn't see this. But I suppose it's easier to blame God than to worship him and admit you need his grace.

Josh Bentley said...

Thank you for this post. Greg Boyd's work has been a great resource for me on this issue ("God at War" & "Satan and the Problem of Evil").

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Leslie:

What you say is true. But without a clearly developed sense of secondary causation we do indeed end up making God the author of sin, death, and evil in general, and that, rather than honoring a sovereign God besmirches his character which is holy and righteous and loving, and would never countenance, never mind cause evil.


Ben W.

Duke of Earl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duke of Earl said...

The Biblical doctrines of the Fall and the Curse adequately explain both the presence of moral and natural evils. It all comes down to our rejection of God's authority and our enduring punishment.

Chambers has no more chance of successfully suing God for natural disasters, than a murderer does of suing for being put on death row.

God Himself has no qualms about His responsibility for some punishments, I make peace, I create calamity, etc... but as Dr Witherington points out, God also specifically identifies the crime and the punishment. If we don't receive notification prior to the event then it's just one of those random occurances.

sorry, editting involved

James Pate said...

I think there was a Touched by an Angel episode about a town suing God.

What do you make of Exodus 21:13? The passage distinguished an intentional homicide from an accident (as far as I can see). The accidental death seems to be blamed on God.

Ben Witherington said...

Exodus 21.13 reads "however if it is not done intentionally but God allows it to happen, that person is to flee to a place I will designate." This is a reference to the permissive will of God, something God allows to happen. Nothing here about God being blamed for an accidental death.


Jeremy Myers said...


What's this? Someone who disagrees with Piper? I was beginning to think that everyone in Christianity today was following the Pied Piper down the same path.

Nance said...

Thanks for that post Dr. Witherington. I agree 100%, and am glad that at least some it seems would not point to myself as the one with the unBiblical worldview.

Matt said...

Although the theological things going on here are important and of great interest to me, my first exposure to this story was on the Dilbert blog. Funny!

J. Clark said...

Never doubt the power of imagination to reconcile an inconsistency with a person's presuppositions (systematic theology of a particular person of history) at any cost. They have done it and will do it. Hence we have a new doctrine, "double predestination." Men would rather have their system impenetrable than allow God in it.

Joe Rigney said...

Dr. Witherington,

I'm interested in your use of Job. While I certainly agree with you that we must have a robust theology of secondary causes (which Piper does by the way), even holding that God merely allows (rather than ordains) evil doesn't fully get God "off the hook." If God could have prevented the bridge from collapsing, and he didn't, then he still ordained it in some sense. The fact that God brings evil to pass through secondary causes doesn't undo the fact that he is still sovereign over Satan, sin, and suffering.

Which brings me to Job: Satan clearly is the one afflicting Job. He leaves God's presence and Job's camels and horses get stolen and his children are killed. But isn't it significant that God sets the boundaries of what Satan can do? "You can take his stuff and his family, but you can't touch the man." And then, when Satan returns for round 2, God once again says, "You can touch his body, but you can't kill him." Even Job doesn't ascribe his suffering ultimately to Satan. "The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." "Shall we accept good from the LORD and not evil?"

So my question is this: Should we talk the way that Job does here? Acknowledging Satan's role, should we still say when Dad dies of cancer, or Mom doesn't make it home, or Brother is killed in Iraq, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD?" Or is this attributing evil and suffering to God and making him the author of evil?

And if you agree that we can and should talk this way, how are you ultimately differing from Piper?

Thanks for your thoughts. Very stimulating.

Nick Norelli said...

I've noticed that Dr. Piper and those of his theological ilk like to have their cake and eat it too. In their view God has sovereignly decreed all things except for some reason sin which man is responsible for although according to their theological framework sin is the only thing that man can do apart from first being regenerated to then believe the gospel and repent.

In a similar vane, C. Michael Patton has recently been blogging about what he calls the 'tension' between unconditional election and human responsibility on Parchment and Pen ultimately concluding that it's a 'mystery' (like the Trinity of all things!) -- and rather than admit that it's contradictory and inconsistent with the Biblical witness he has sought to take the route of saying, 'who am I to answer back to God?'

I thank you for your rational approach to the subject and your consistency with what the Bible say regarding the issue. The James text seems key for this discussion.


Alex Chediak said...

Dr. Witherington,

I've been blessed by the commentaries you've written. Thank you for your ministry of scholarship.

I agree with Joe.

Are you sure, Dr. Witherington, that you are not making a caricature of Piper? You suggest Piper's response to the bridge collapse "doesn't sound much like an attempt to mourn with those who are mourning." Yet in that very response Piper notes, "Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city."

There is no internal contradiction between mourning with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15b) and attributing natural disasters to God. As Joe argues, whether we say "God allowed it" or "God caused it", either way we acknowledge that God could have decided to prevent it, and chose not to. And we can believe that in the face of catastrophe, and still weep with those who weep. In fact, this view of God allows us to weep with hope. Hosea 6:1 “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up."

Yes, Satan is a murder who wants to wreak havoc. But he is on a leash whose length is established by God, as the book of Job teaches. Amos 3:6b reads: "Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?" Also note Psalm 105: 16-17: "When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread, he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave." The text unambiguously says God "sent" the famine.

Respectfully in Christ,
Alex Chediak

Jeremy Myers said...

Here's more on Piper, but with different themes:

Brothers, We are Not Professionals

and this one just came out today:

Trinity Foundation

Keelay said...

In reference to the Minneapolis bridge Dr.Witherington says of Piper, "His view was that however random it might seem to us, that actually this was the will of God, and in essence we should just suck it up."

If you read Pipers actual blog, it doesnt say exactly that. He does say God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge and he does say that we should look at the event as a reminder of our mortality and reliance on God, which is quite different than 'sucking it up'.

It seems you go way overboard when calling Piper's view unBiblical. I dont think I am being Piper apologist here, it just seems Dr. Witherington had an agenda and went out of his way to promote it.

Ruud Vermeij said...

Greg Boyd has a great blog item about this:


CJW said...

Ben, thanks for your post. While proposing interesting 'answers', it does raise even harder questions, specifically: the difference between 'God-authored' and 'God-allowed' suffering (as other comments) and a further category I see of 'God-directed' suffering. I wonder how the flood, the passover and exodus, occupation of Canaan and exile are to be understood according to these categories? I'm not sure that these are the best categories, and wonder if you might propose a better approach?

Perhaps, too, in the same way that I may have not fully understood your approach - seeing implications (real or otherwise) beyond what you intended, and not perceiving connections between ideas that you do - you may have not fully understood John Piper's. Or, his approach may be entirely unsatisfactory (it certainly is no help to me). And if

BTW: being a film buff, you may want to see if you can get your hands on this Aussie movie. I'd have thought it wouldn't be readily available in the US, but you might try Nebraska.

Ben Witherington said...

Greetings all:

A very good discussion. First of all, it is not correct to say in any way that "what God permits, he also wills". This is to ignore that it is one thing to say God is sovereign, quite another to talk meaningfully about how God exercises his sovereignty which is always for good. God of course could have pre-ordained all things. Had God, who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all, done this. the world would certainly look like a very different place than it does.

God instead chose to create a world in which his will is not the only will in play. There are other actors in the drama and they are responsible for their own moral actions. Why did God do this, when God knew that there would be those who exercised their will at least on some occasions in ways that violated God's will for their lives? Why did God create a world where sin and evil was possible? One answer, but by no means the only one, is that God wanted a world in which loving relationships were possible between God and those created in God's image. And if love, which must be freely received and freely given, and can never be coerced or forced or predetermined, is possible in that world, then also its opposite is possible. Read again the heartache of God in Hosea 11 because of Israel's rejection of God Does this sound like a God who preordained for Israel to sin and reject him? I think not.

The more profound question is, why would God not intervene and stop that disaster in Minneapolis? This is an excellent question, and simplistic answers will not do because: 1) sometimes God does intervene and stop disasters for his people; and 2) certainly God has not run out of power. My answer to this question is a more philosophical one, taken from the arena of parenting. What happens to a child where the parent always hovers, never allows the child to grow up, never allows any risk to enter the picture for that child. Does the child ever learn to become a responsible moral adult, a person who will take responsibility for his or her own choices? No, they do not, I am afraid. If you want to have a world where love and human virtue is actually possible, then you have to allow more than one moral agent to be acting in that world, and sometimes even at odds with God's will. Doubtless God could have predetermined all things, but once he chose to create a world where love between higher beings, and real moral virtue and real free choices were possible, then sin, and evil became possible as well.

Think for a moment about Jesus himself. When Jesus submits to God's will in the Garden of Gethsemane, could he have done otherwise? Well, Jesus seems to think so, indeed he struggles here because his personal will is actually at odds with God's in this case. Did he freely choose to obey and do God's will, or was it a situation where he could not do otherwise? Now if you say the latter, then you actually have removed part of your Bible from existence, namely the stories about Jesus enduring real temptations from Satan whether at the beginning or end of his ministry. Temptation by definition is only as temptation if you are inclined to do it, and there is actually a possibility that you might do so!

Think of a text like Rom. 8.28 which we might translate "God works all things together for good for those who love God..." this does not in any way suggest that all things in themselves are good, or willed by God, even indirectly. It does suggest that an almighty God can intervene and weave things together for good for those who love God. That is frankly a different matter.

So back for a moment to Job's theology. It is an imperfect, and indeed inaccurate one, not one that a Christian should affirm. It wasn't God who plagued Job, but rather Satan. It was God who put limits on what Satan can do. Now of course there is some mystery to this. I do not full understand a universe in which there are multiple viable free agents, and yet God is still almighty and can intervene. I do not fully understand why God heals in some cases and not in others. Why God intervenes in some cases and not in others. What I do know is that God is consistently good and loving, and in God there is no darkness at all. If Christ is the perfect revelation of God, then we must look to Jesus when we want to know God's character, not to Job.


Ben W.

Unknown said...

Dr. Witherington, thanks for a fascinating post and to all the others for a stimulating discussion.

I'm going to ask an atheist friend of mine to read this as he has been hammering away at me to defend something like the Piperian viewpoint for quite some time!

Mike Edwards said...

Dr. Witherington

Thank you for your post. However, in reading your most recent comment, I actually fail to see where you differ from Piper on these very issues!? He asserts the same truths about the active and passive wills of God when he preached his message entitled, Are There Two Wills in God?

No one can deny God allowed this to happen and I do not believe that Piper asserts that God actively broke the bridge, but there is no doubt that in God's plan, this was allowed to happen and in that sense, it was destined to be, right?


Jason said...

I don't mean to sidetrack a really important (and interesting) theological discussion, but in fairness to Senator Chambers, I don't think he really cares about the "theological ramifications" of his lawsuit. In fact, I'm pretty sure this lawsuit really isn't about God at all.

Now back to God's sovereignty and the problem of evil ...

Falantedios said...

From the other Nick:

I do not think God needs us to protect his reputation in things where he has not.

Who sent the "evil spirit" to plague King Saul?

Who caused David to take a census of Israel?

Who sent the thorn in the flesh, the "messenger of Satan" to humble Paul? SURELY Satan does not desire godliness from Paul.

God's theology of suffering is echoed in Ecclesiastes 7:14 - "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him." Is Q'oholeth equally misled as Job? Where does Jesus or an apostle correct the "imperfect and inadequate theology?" of either Ecclesiastes OR Job?

Our own broken and fallen American system of justice recognizes "negligent homicide." Are they wrong, or have we fallen into the prosperity pit of equating suffering with evil? It is not God's sovereignty, but our definition of good that needs to be examined.

When a parent CHOOSES to allow their child to suffer consequences, does that parent not agonize precisely because they ARE responsible for that suffering?

Simply, I believe that the question of primary / secondary causes (and the higher problem of pain) is not one which the Bible seeks to answer. Almighty God often wills things that we do not think are good, and that does not change His nature (but it should change ours). Just ask a leper who understands his illness how badly he would love to have pain back.

in HIS love,

PS - Jim McGuiggan's 'Celebrating the Wrath of God' and NT Wright's 'Evil and the Justice of God' offer multi-faceted, somewhat differing and passionately challenging Biblical ideas about this question.

Joe Rigney said...

Dr. Witherington,

Thanks for your clarification. I'm still, however, unclear on a couple of things.

1) You claim that Job's theology is imperfect and inaccurate and that Christian's should not affirm it. So when tragedy strikes the Christian, we should not say, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Is this your contention?

Further, how do you square this with the fact that the writer of Job claims that in saying what he said, "Job did not sin, nor charge God with wrong"? I take that to mean that though Satan was active, he was not ultimate and Job rightly recognized this fact.

2) You use the analogy of parenting to give a greater-good defense. It seems that Piper is doing the same thing. Both of you are offering greater-good defenses. Right?

3)One thought on this question in light of Job: It seems that theodicies often get phrased in terms of God's justice or goodness. If God (given that he could prevent evil if he desired) were good or just, then this sort of evil would not exist. Piper seems to argue that this is no the right way to think about it. God has the right to give life and take life (Deuteronomy 32:39). He has Creator rights over his creatures. Thus, when tragedy strikes, you can't impugn God's goodness. You can't put him in the dock. The question then becomes one of God's wisdom. Is it wise for God to govern the universe in the way that he does?

This, incidently, seems to be the flow in the book of Job. Job asserts his own righteousness over against God and demands an audience with the Almighty in order to question his justice. Job's friends counter that Job must have done something wrong, thus vindicating God's justice while impugning Job's.

When God finally arrives on the scene, he doesn't even address the question of justice; but he does assert his wisdom over against Job. "I made the world and I know how to run it better than you do, Job." So Piper's conversation with his daughter asserted both of these: it was not wrong for God to let this happen and he has wise and good purposes for it.

Finally, you eventually appeal to mystery and for that I'm glad. The relationship between an infinite Creator and his creatures is unique and thus we encounter difficulties in trying to understand it.

Given that mystery will always be involved, I believe that we should affirm two realities and firmly hold them.

First, that nothing occurs anywhere in reality except by God's will, either his active or his permissive will. He is absolutely sovereign over all things. Disaster does not come to a city unless he does it. Sparrows (or bridges) don't fall to the ground apart from him. Even great evils, like selling your brother into slavery, or the crucifixion of the Son of God, are ordained by him for good purposes.

Second, we should affirm with all our hearts that human beings are responsible for their actions. "God made me do it" defenses will not fly on judgment day (not even for Pharaoh). Satan is real and active and dangerous.

My burden in my teaching then is to help people see THAT both of these truths are taught in the Bible and only be secondarily concerned with HOW they fit together.


Anonymous said...

The problem with talk about God's "permissive will," of course, is that it makes it sounds like God makes a decision to either permit or not permit each event as it happens.
Job's introduction notwithstanding, I think this is a bad way to think about things. We shouldn't speak of God being sovereign over events (since this brings with it the mental picture I mention above). Rather, we should speak of God being sovereign over Creation (which simply means he rules over Creation--without the implication that everything on Earth happens according to his will--which would directly contradict the Lord's Prayer).

Perhaps one could argue that by the sheer act of creating the world God has chosen to create, there are limits and boundaries between various agents and the domains of their responsibility. Evil then, happens when some agent goes against God's will in his or her sphere of influence.

When God's will IS done on Earth as it is in heaven, it will look like Genesis 1 or Isaiah 11. Since that's not the case right now, I think it's safe to say God's will isn't being followed to the T...

My two cents.

Ben Witherington said...

No Mike, we do not agree at all. I am not saying that it was destined to be by God, or anyone else. I am saying it happened due to human neglect, and that's all. God's foreknowledge of something is something very different from his predestining of something.

Ben W.

Ryan said...

Ben wrote... "God's foreknowledge of something is something very different from his predestining of something."

I don't think God's foreknowledge and His predestining disaster are mutually exclusive as though what He permits He didn't predestine to permit. It seems to me that it is precisely because of His foreknowledge that He predestines things to occur, whether by permitting them to happen as a result of the sinful acts of man or angels, or by directing such as His agents of judgment.

How they end up being carried out in the end doesn't change the fact that He predestined them to occur. At issue here is really the fact that we don't see the future laid out before us like a scroll, and because of our limited understanding, our mouth is shut (like in the case of Job) before God who by Himself stretched out the heavens and holds the winds in His hands.

Ryan said...

Ben, Nick (the other one) has made some very important comments that I think need to be addressed to provide a balanced view on this subject.

For instance (adding to his list), what do we make of the account in 1 Kings 22:19-38? In v20-22 we read: "The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ The LORD said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’" Ahab met his end by a "stray" arrow that founds its way between the pieces of his armor. But this account demonstrates that God is ordering things to occur just as He pleases. He says, "who will entice Ahab," and He appoints a lying spirit.

And while we grieve and mourn when disaster befalls people, our primary response is to focus on eternal issues as Jesus did when He said the following:

"Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'" (Luke 13:1-5)

Ryan said...

Ben, here's another one:

"The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (Isaiah 45:7)

How do you understand this verse?

Azul said...

Why does God let bad things happen? That is THE GREATEST question of all.

I find it interesting in Luke 13:3-5, that Jesus doesn't give us an answer, rather he said that we need to get our act together. or rather, sh@t happens, now what're you gonna do about it?

If we use the parenting analogy...
I let my kid spend a year in in a house full of pedophiles, I have the foreknowledge that he/she will be molested.

Or if I allow my kids to play cops and robbers with real knives and guns, someone will get killed.

I didn't force either to happen, but I still allowed it to happen. In the laws of our land I would be guilty of negligence and/or endangerment.

Obviously as a loving parent I would never allow such a thing to happen, but if God is love, then how can love the innocent to get hurt?

Or worse yet, he predestines, i.e. causes them to be hurt!

Either way, if that's supposed to be some great mystery on reconcliling pain & love, then how can we ever really understand or know God?

If he is the El Supremo, then we are pitiful, because our God doesn't have full sovereignty over this world, or he doesn't care about us.

If God allows children to be raped, and abused, yet he is "all powerful" and doesn't prevent it from happening then he must take joy in our suffering.

If this place is merely some kind of "hell" until we die and go to heaven, then why don't we all commit suicide and get there now?

Either god is all loving, doesn't exist, or isn't "omni-" when it comes to this world. Take your pick. Jesus chose for himself to die, the people on that bridge didn't.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ryan:

Once again you need to understand that the OT stuff, especially the early early OT stuff is written for an audience, and by authors who do not reflect any profound concept of secondary causation. In their view God is the direct cause of everything, but then when you get further into the OT canon you discover that they get further light on this subject. For instance Ryan, compare the very same material that you quote in 1 Kngs. 22 to its direct parallel in Chronicles. Notice that the perspective has changed.

Without a clear conception of progressive revelation in the canon you are liable to make all kinds of mistakes in reading the earlier remarks in the OT about such subjects. The understanding of causation developed over time with the Biblical authors.

As for Isaiah, Isaiah is simply saying that God is the ultimate creator of all things and indeed he judges the world directly when he has a specific reason to. This is not a generic statement explaining the causation of all catastrophes. The context in Isaiah is an attempt to explain why Israel is now in exile, God having judged them. It is not even talking about 'natural disasters' in any case.


Ben W.

Unknown said...

Just to leave my brief opinion in an already long list of replies, this event is one of the many reasons why I am not a calvinist. It's all well and good to speak of the greater plan, and God's absolute power and freedom, but these are poor consolations to those who has experience these tragedies. I am a critical care physician, and so theodicy is no new issue to me. If all I has was the above response, I would have little other than "suck it up" to my patients as well. I believe that the only way to aproach these is via the way of the story of scripture, culminating in the cross. It's not that God is not powerful, nor that he "permits" calamities to further some inscrutable purpose. Rather, he has been active throughout the story of scripture as a redeemer king attempting to fix this broken world, and in Christ, God said that he'd rather die than let the creation fall apart. In my view, the only truly christian answer to this question comes from the perspective of the cross and resurrection. Without that, we have nothing else to offer. A book I recommend is David Bentley Hart's "The Doors of the Sea," which addresses this issue rather spectacularly.

Aleksandra said...

Dr. Witherington, can you explain what is meant by first/second causes?

By background always taught me not a hair can fall off my head except by the will of my Father. So, everything that happens must be "god's will," right? So confusing!!

ryan said...


You said, “Notice that the perspective has changed."
Are you saying that the early writers of the OT had a different inspiration then the later ones? So the Holy Spirit, who is part of the Trinity, changed His view of God? Ben, come on man, you can not really think that the HS would inspire authors differently on the sovereignty of God. I don't know your view of Scripture but, if you think Scripture is the inerrant/ inspired word of God saying the HS changed his perspective takes inerrant out of the definition. It sure is nice of the Holy Spirit to be correctly inspiring the passages you choose to use.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Alexandra:

You are quite right that this is confusing. Which is why equally sincere, devout, Bible-believing Christians can disagree on this matter of theodicy. I will be posting a poem shortly by Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy, a WWI chaplain medic in the trenches of the Maginot line in France. He saw the worst of what humanity could do, and he asked all the proper why questions. I believe his answer is the one most nearly correct.

Firstly, it is absolutely false to say that everything that happens is God's will in this world, if by that one means God desires it to happen or causes it to happen. This makes no sense at all of the Lord's Prayer for example, where we pray that God's will be done on earth as in heaven.

There is no point in praying such a prayer if:1) God's true will is already being done on earth; 2) or it inevitably will be done on earth due to predestination. The beseeching of God that his will be done is a crying out for God to intervene in a fallen world that is emphatically not following or doing his will.

Once more, God is not the only actor, nor is God the only actor who matters and determines outcomes, in the human drama. This is simply false, and it is always false to say God is the author of sin and evil. The Biblical writers do not say so. What they do say sometimes is that something that they experienced or felt to be a calamity came from God, which is true enough. God sometimes chastens those that he loves.

But in regard to the issue of causation, the idea is as follows, Secondary causes are those which by definition are the direct cause of something happening-- for instance the cause of the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis. This was caused by human failure to maintain the bridge, and if we want to get material about, it was caused by a stress failure in the materials themselves.

In what sense is God the first cause of this? Firstly, not in the sense that he desired or wanted it to happen. Secondly, not in the sense that he predestined it to happen. Many things happen in this world that are not only not predestined by God's will, they are categorically opposed to, and in rebellion against God's will.

Thirdly, not in the sense that God is careless, and he allows terrible things to happen due to oversight, or not caring or a lack of goodness etc.

God is the first cause of everything in only this sense-- that he set up the universe and its rules, and so ultimately it all goes back to him. Nothing was created, and nothing would ever have transpired if God didn't set up creation in the first place. There would be no human drama.

The question then becomes, by what set of rules has human history been governed and set up? Are there other free agents in the human drama other than God, who could cause mayhem and destruction and the violation of God's will. The answer to this is yes--- this is so, and I have spoken already about why God allowed the world to be this way, in my earlier response about God's love and desire to have children of virtue.

In the end the problem with Calvinistic theology is that it cannot escape the charge that it makes God the author of sin and evil. The problem for the Arminian on the other hand, is that we have a hard time sometimes explaining why a loving God did not intervene and stop something on some particular occasion. In my view, the latter view does much more justice to the whole Biblical witness, and leaves me with less questions about the character of God. If God is like Jesus, both great and good, and not merely sovereign, then in fact Calvinism has a problem, namely 'calling evil good and of God'.


Ben W.

RBerman said...

It really won't do to say "Earlier OT books show an unsophisticated view of God causing bad things to happen, but later OT books refer only to secondary causes." Isaiah has already been mentioned as a counterexample. Amos 3:6 is another. "When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?" Habakkuk 1 says that the Lord is "raising up" the Babylonians to smite Israel in a sinful fashion. Exodus says both that Pharoah hardened his own heart and also that God hardened Pharoah's heart.

So sure, sometimes the OT refers to secondary causes through which God works. And sometimes it focuses on God as the ultimate cause of all things. Piper has written extensively on how God can be the ultimate cause of everything without Himself sinning or being evil, and those who would criticize Piper would do well to understand where he's coming from. He's offering a much-needed antidote to the Manichean-style, Perretti-inspired dualism that rules so much of the evangelical church today. As Martin Luther said, "He may be a Devil, but he's God's Devil."

Joe said...

Some Good resources for this topic are as follows:

C.S. Lewis - The Problem of Pain

Peter Kreeft - a wonderful Christian Philosopher
A talk on the above book by Lewis

Or a great talk on Suffering

D said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am glad to see this timely post. Unfortunately (for your sake), once you open this Pandora's Box, it is difficult to bring to a close.

I think we need to make a distinction here between 'moral evils' and so called 'natural evils.' The Bible seems very clear that God does not cause moral evil. It seems a bit more ambiguous about natural evil. That being said, I agree that God does not determine every (or even most) natural evil that takes place, but still I think it is less problematic than moral evils, e.g. the Holocaust.

Thanks for standing up to Piper, by the way. I think he gets a free pass too often. Baylor prof, Roger Olson, has also commented on Piper's view of the bridge collapse (see his article at the Baylor Lariat online).

For anyone interested, I have been involved in an extended discussion on this issue on my blog as well (http://cramercomments.blogspot.com).

Keep up the good work.



Kevin Jones said...

Did God just "allow" Satan to attack Job (because Satan wanted to) or did God happen to be origination of the Job discussion with Satan? It seems to me that God bruoght up Job with Satan and Satan did not even come up with the idea to begin with (Job 1:8). So, if God had not brought up Job to Satan, then who are we to assume that Satan would have even brought up Job in the discussion?

My point is...God started the conversation (not Satan) and thus the whole thing could have been avoided. In fact, Satan may have not even complained about the "hedge" about Job and all he had.


Ben Witherington said...


I certainly do believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and tells the truth, however it was not written by the Holy Spirit! Which part of 'there were human authors with human understandings and human personalities and human languages who were nonetheless inspired by the Spirit to tell the truth don't you get? God did not write the Bible and is not its direct author!

And the human authors were not simply taking dictation either! Look at the prologue to Luke's Gospel. Luke 1.1-4 says he did research consulted human sources etc. In other words, there were normal human processes involved in the writing of these various books and yes, they reflect the character, personality, and understandings of their human authors, not simply of the mind of God, though that is certainly revealed as well if you are reading the Bible comprehensively.

There is in the Bible a whole host of issues in which there is clear enough evidence of God revealing gradually the truth to his people-- a good example would be afterlife theology which does not come to full revelation until the NT. You simply cannot treat the Bible as it it all speaks at the same level of discourse and understanding of God's revealed will for humankind, because it doesn't! The human author of 1 Samuel has nowhere near the understanding of the afterlife that the author of Revelation does. He operates with a theology of Sheol, not heaven and hell.


Ben W.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Dave:

Nice to hear from you. One of the things to be said about natural disasters is that frankly they are not inherently evil anyway. By this I mean that if there is an earthquake on some uninhabited remote island which affects no one, no one will be calling it a disaster. The disasters happen when human beings choose to live on the San Andreas fault line etc. That's just getting in the way of the normal processes of nature, frankly. I am not saying that God cannot and never uses nature to accomplish things, because the Bible is clear enough about that, but I would not want to create a category of 'natural evil' either, as I don't think earthquakes etc. fall into that sort of moral category.



Ben Witherington said...

Mr. Rberman:

This word just in-- neither Isaiah, nor Amos represent the latter part of the OT period! Try Job or Ecclesiastes perhaps, so yes the developmental approach makes good sense, especially of the apocalyptic literature which really is later, like that in Daniel.


Azul said...

can you reccomend any readings on how we graduated from "sheol" to "heaven/hell"?

If we believe in Jesus' resurrection, is it important that we believe in our own? Jesus sayings resonate with me more when I look at them from a "there's this life, and that's it" point of view.

Kevin Jones said...

Dr. Witherington,

You said above:

"Firstly, it is absolutely false to say that everything that happens is God's will in this world, if by that one means God desires it to happen or causes it to happen. This makes no sense at all of the Lord's Prayer for example, where we pray that God's will be done on earth as in heaven.

There is no point in praying such a prayer if:1) God's true will is already being done on earth; 2) or it inevitably will be done on earth due to predestination. The beseeching of God that his will be done is a crying out for God to intervene in a fallen world that is emphatically not following or doing his will."

So, you are saying that prayer is of no use if God's will is going to be done whether we pray or not?

What about I John 5:14-15?

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

It seems that the only prayer that we know for sure God is going to answer is one that is according to His will to begin with.

Are you implying that God will be controlled by our prayers and let some things happen if we do not pray for them? It seems that your view leaves the running of the universe in our "prayers" (to an extent).

I see prayer as an act of God's grace as well. If we are given the burden (by God's grace) to pray for someone and this burden is non-ceasing and according to the revealed will of God in the Bible then we can be confident that God's will is going to be done according to our prayer ( a gift of God's grace).

But, who knew to be praying for the bridge to not collapse? Noone...because we are not God.

May God bless you richly with His grace,


Ryan said...


I didn't write that last post by small 'r' "ryan." But he did raise a good point.

You wrote... "I certainly do believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and tells the truth."

So was what the OT authors wrote the truth?... or just what they thought the truth was at the time (and were proven wrong by some later author)?

RBerman said...

I'm not sure if I'm reading you correctly, Dr Witherington. Are you citing Job as a later book which shows development of Theodicy? Because Job teaches both (1) Disaster comes through secondary means such as Satan, disease, falling houses, and marauding Sabeans, and (2) Such things are still in a sense "from the Lord." This goes along with Jesus' comments in John 9 about the man who was born blind for God's purpose of being healed by Jesus.

Just to clarify, I'm no enemy of the concept of progressive revelation. We who have the whole of Scripture know much more about Messiah or about the Holy Spirit than Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, or John the Baptist did. That's not to say that later revelation will contradict the earlier, but it frequently adds detail.

D said...

Dr. Witherington,

I agree that 'natural evil' isn't inherently evil (which is why the distinction is necessary); I was just using common terminology.

Another interesting reading of Job 1-2 (defended quite well by one of my OT profs at TEDS, Dr. Magary) is that 'ha-satan' in Job is not really the being 'Satan', of whose name is developed in the inter-testamental period (cf. similar usage of 'ha-satan' in Nu. 22:21-41). In this case, ha-satan would be a messager of God, and the bad things that happened to Job (N.B.: 'bad', not 'evil') would have been approved by God. Thus, God is not literally giving commands to Satan (who, by the way, hates God), but rather, is doing a little experiment with one of his angels over whether Job's commitment to God is truly unconditional or merely 'bought.'

I'm not sure if this would solve some theological problems here or simply make more, but I think there is good textual reason to read 'ha-satan' as someone other than Satan (i.e., the devil). Any thoughts?


CP said...
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Ben Witherington said...

Dear Ryan:

As I said before, the revelation to the OT folks, especially the earliest one's was partial, only a part of the truth, rather like the parable of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and describing that individual part well, but not understanding its relationship to the whole or the other parts.

These folks had a rudimentary understanding of things like theodicy and the afterlife. Elementary is not necessarily bad or wrong, just very incomplete, and if you try to build a theology on the basis of that partial light without interpreting it in the light of the later fuller revelation in Christ, you have made a tragic mistake.

It is not wrong to say God is the first cause of all things in some sense, but the question is, in what sense? The oldest of the OT writers did not yet have a concept of viable and genuine secondary causes. It wasn't even on their radar screen. It is indeed interesting then that what is attributed to God in earlier texts, is attributed to Satan, and indeed is even seen as not from God, in some later texts.

God chose to reveal the truth gradually, not all at once, and furthermore, God took into account where his people were in the trajectory of understanding and learning, not to mention receiving the Holy Spirit, which did not happen as a general or permanent possession for all God's people until after Pentecost.

Before that, inspiration and revelation came sporadically, and sometimes even infrequently and only to some.

Long story short, you can't treat what you read in the earlier part of the canon as on equal footing with what comes later. The later saints knew more, understood more, and had the Spirit more permanently to guide them into all truth.

In regard to the request for some reading material on the afterlife and the eschaton in the Bible see my Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World


Ben W.

omakase said...

It would be interesting to take note of Arminius' own words in this discussion:

“Beside this, I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it; only we must observe a distinction between good actions and evil ones, by saying, that "God both wills and performs good acts," but that "He only freely permits those which are evil." Still farther than this, I very readily grant, that even all actions whatever, concerning evil, that can possibly be devised or invented, may be attributed to Divine Providence Employing solely one caution, "not to conclude from this concession that God is the cause of sin." This I have testified with sufficient clearness, in a certain disputation concerning the Righteousness and Efficacy of Divine Providence concerning things that are evil, which was discussed at Leyden on two different occasions, as a divinity-act, at which I presided. In that disputation, I endeavoured to ascribe to God whatever actions concerning sin I could possibly conclude from the scriptures to belong to him; and I proceeded to such a length in my attempt, that some persons thought proper on that account to charge me with having made God the author of sin.” (The Works of James Arminius Volume 1: Sentiments of Predestination, Arminius).

Notice here that when ascribing evils to God's permissiveness even Arminius was accused of making God the author of sin.

Now take a look at Calvin's Institutes, book 1 ch. 18:

"This last chapter of the First Book consists of three parts: I. It having been said above that God bends all the reprobate, and even Satan himself, at his will, three objections are started. First, that this happens by the permission, not by the will of God. To this objection there is a twofold reply, the one, that angels and men, good and bad, do nothing but what is appointed by God; the second, that all movements are secretly directed to their end by the hidden inspiration of God, sec. 1, 2. II. A second objection is, that there are two contrary wills in God, if by a secret counsel he decrees what he openly prohibits by his law. This objection refuted, sec. 3. III. The third objection is, that God is made the author of all wickedness, when he is said not only to use the agency of the wicked, but also to govern their counsels and affections, and that therefore the wicked are unjustly punished. This objection refuted in the last section."

Furthermore, I think its interesting that some of the Calvinists responding are stating that Dr. Witherington's post is making a caricature of Piper's view and in reality Piper's view of permissiveness would not be distinguished from Witherington's, while other Calvinists are vehemently opposing the same statements. Food for thought.

Thanks for your post Ben.

omakase said...

Just to clarify, my point here was to show that many Calvinists do not understand the level of Arminian understanding for God's sovereignty. At the same time, many (Calvinists and Arminians) do not understand the view of Calvin himself.

I think there is a disconnect in many minds that Arminians somehow do not have a concept of God's sovereignty and providence.

Also, in that chapter of Calvin's Institutes, Calvin wishes to unlimit himself from a merely permissive view of God's willing. So I think the individuals disagreeing with Witherington, at least, have the right view of their Calvinism.

Jake Knotts said...

Dr. Witherington,

Joe asked quite a few questions a long ways back that I was hoping you would answer, namely, should we say "the Lord gives and the Lord take's away, blessed be the name of the Lord" after calamity strikes?

Pastorally, not theologically, what should be said to someone who loses their family to natural disaster? They are hurting and don't give a rip about secondary causations or anything of the sort, they need to know what to think and how to feel.

As a missionary, I enjoy the theological debate but want to see how one stance would actually flesh it self out in real life.

I would hope that the people I serve would respond as Job did with, "blessed be the name of the Lord" after suffering and loss.

Ryan said...

I think the problem here is with what we define evil as. If we define evil as the destruction of life, then by our definition, God is the cause of evil because the scripture is clear that He creates life and puts the spirit into people, and He also has by Himself the ability to destroy life in Hell. And this is the theology of Jesus who is God, so you cannot claim that it is not fully developed.

Rather, if we define evil as going against the will of God, then I think we can resolve all these issues. Many times God brings calamity through secondary causes (the Chaldeans who unjustly killed Job's children), but He also brings it through primary causes (ie. Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt, etc.). This is clear and it comes through direct revelation of the words of God in the OT. If it is evil to take life, then why would God command Israel to completely destroy the Canaanites? Here we have a secondary cause, but it is by the commandment of God and not through His permissive will. But God is just and we know that until that point He has been very patient with the Canaanites and has given them time to repent. Now His judgment comes, and He is just in judging people.

Concerning natural disasters that occur without the revelation of a true prophet of God telling people what will happen if they do not do this or that, all we can conclude is what Jesus said: "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

So, to respond to Jake and Anya Knotts, yes -- if God spares us to allows things to happen to us, He knows what He is doing. It is an act of faith for the righteous to say, "God gives and He takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Why? Because we trust in His character and that whatever He does is right even though we may not fully understand or see the end result of what He allows.

The general message to unbelievers who survive is this: are you in right relationship with God? If not, you better not delay. Respond while there is still time. God is gracious and slow to anger, but one day your life will come to an end and you do not know the time or the hour.

Ben Witherington said...

Ryan you still haven't resolved anything. The same God who said 'thou shalt not kill' is the God you are talking about, and of course 'thou shalt not murder' is at the heart of the OT commandments. It honestly doesn't much help to redefine evil, when God has already defined it in the ten commandments.



P.S. to Jake and Anya, I did answer that question, in one of the longer responses. The words of Job are not the opinions of God in that famous quotation. It was not God who took those things away from Job, though certainly he permitted it. It was also not God who came up with the idea to try Job in the first place. That was Satan's idea.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

Ben wrote... "Ryan you still haven't resolved anything. The same God who said 'thou shalt not kill' is the God you are talking about, and of course 'thou shalt not murder' is at the heart of the OT commandments. It honestly doesn't much help to redefine evil, when God has already defined it in the ten commandments."

Ben, I am not redefining evil; rather, I am conforming my understanding of it to what God's intent is. If the sixth commandment meant "never take another's life" and that doing so was the definition of evil, then how would the Israelites carry out the law which stated that they were to stone to death someone who rebelled against the commandments? And in the same law of Moses, God also designated cities of refuge to provide for someone who swung an axe (for example) and, as the situation might be, the head flies off and strikes his neighbor and kills him. It is clear from the text that he is innocent of the sixth commandment. If he wasn't innocent, why would God provide a refuge for him?

So I think we can conclude that terminating life is not a sin contrary to the 6th commandment, but unjustly doing so is.

It is amply clear that God is the primary cause of disaster and death in a number of situations. Tell me... who rained down sulphur and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah? Who held the waters of the Red Sea up and let them go on the Egyptian army, destroying them all? Who opened up the earth causing Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their households to fall alive into Sheol? Was it not the Lord Himself: "...if the Lord brings about something new..." (Num 16:30)? When fire came out from the Lord in Num 16:35 and consumed the 250 men holding the censors, who did this? Surely it is clear to you that these were not natural disasters. Was an agent of evil responsible for all these? Then who created Hell? Satan? Clearly not. And if God created Hell by Himself, why do you insist that He cannot be the primary cause of at least some disasters?

Azul said...

So as a secondary cause, how much emphasis & responsibility should we place on Satan and demons?

M. Jay Bennett said...

I commented on this article here

Evan said...

Dr. Witherington,

I'm afraid you infer too much from the verses you cite. I mean... you got from "God does not tempt" to "God does not preordain" out of James 1. While it may have seemed logical to you (as indeed it even seems to me now) I think the simple fact that the Bible disagrees with you is enough to make me disagree as well.

"Falleness and its effects was not a part of God's perfect plan for his relationship with human beings."
- God hates sin, to be sure, but based on this statement of yours, how is it possible to incorporate Rom 11:32 into your worldview: "For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all."?

That's not to say that I had the easiest time accepting this truth. I thought much in the same vein you outlined here! But for what it's worth, I don't think Jesus Christ was plan B.

2 Tim 1:9 - [God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

CuriousSaint said...


jontsai said...

Not here to dissect every argument, but I disagree with (at least) one thing you said: "Now the corollary of this is also true. To attribute the work of the Devil to the work of God is also blasphemy."

Corollaries, by definition (as used in math or logic), are true. However, your statement, "To attribute the work of the Devil to the work of God is also blasphemy," given immediately after the "axiom" from Luke 12:10 is not a proper corollary. You're going to have to do some more work to justify that point. As it stands, I don't think it is valid. One would be hard-pressed to say with absolute certainty that "natural disasters" happen as a direct "work of God" or "work of Satan."

The Biblical definition for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, occurs only in one direction--attributing the work of God to the work of the Devil.

It may be blasphemous, not in the sense of the unforgivable sin, to say that the work of the Devil is the work of God (e.g. someone is tempted to commit adultery, or kill someone, like Cain killed Abel).

However, I don't think Pastor John Piper is doing that--I think he is saying that God is sovereign over all, and these events serve as a reminder: for believers, we can trust that God works all things together for the good of those who love him (Rom 8 and also Joseph's story in Genesis), but for unbelievers, such events is a reminder that death is imminent and that if they do not repent, they will "likewise perish" (Luke 13, Tower of Siloam, Galileans' blood mixed with their sacrifices).

I don't remember exactly what Piper said in his article, but I remember that this is his stance on such issues, which is also the view I hold after studying the Scriptures. God has every right to send whatever natural disasters to wipe out the entire earth again save for one family (e.g. Noah), if not for the Noahic covenant; He would neither violate His character nor His word if He actively sent natural disasters.

This is very much so mourning with those who are mourning--which, by the way, takes precedence with believers, because by COROLLARY, how can we rejoice with those who rejoice, if they are unbelievers--an unregenerate person takes no pleasure in the things of God and his every act of "righteousness" are like filthy rags. Mourning with those who are mourning doesn't have to come in tears and saying false words of comfort, "Everything will be alright," or "Here's some charity money to help rebuild, recover, etc"--because that is a lie, and a band-aid trying to cover a shot-gun wound of sin and eternal judgment.

Instead, the thing we (all humans, believers and unbelievers) ought to mourn for most--and the only thing we can legitimately mourn over--is our sin (James 4:4-10). Again, I think you are using the term mourning in the worldly sense, not the Biblical sense.

Would I say it with such harshness to an unbeliever who is going through such difficulties? No. I would say it with gentleness and love, but also disclose to them the full truth (e.g. "Sorry to break it to you, buddy, but your mom who died in the bridge collapse is in hell now because she did not repent for her sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ").

As for your (rhetorical?) question, "My question for them would--- is God the author of sin as well?"--I don't think that this can be covered sufficiently in one blog post or its ensuing comments. I would recommend anyone who has a question and who desires to seek the truth about this (short of reading the whole Bible and certain passages in depth) would be to browse through a Systematic Theology text (Culver or Grudem).

Lastly, I am offended by one of your closing paragraphs:
"But this cannot be said of Rev. Piper, I am afraid. He's just guilty of having an unBiblical view of God, that ironically is closer to the fatalistic one found in the Koran, than the Biblical one found in the New Testament."

That accusation/charge comes from the presupposition/hypothesis that John Piper has the stance that God is the author of sin, which he clearly does not.

My friend, I don't frequent your blog, and this is only my first visit due to a blog reader of mine referring me to this post, but I feel that you present a skewed and one-sided view of God (feel-good, love of God) almost so-skewed that it's disgusting, as if making God to say, "I gotta save them, these humans, because they're so adorable!"

God is very much a God of wrath and justice and righteousness as He is a life-giving God and loving God. I hope that, in posing the question, "Is God chiefly life giving or death dealing?" among the onslaught of questions you give in one paragraph, as it sets up this caricature of God, is not used as a strategy to deceive others into thinking that God is only "love."

My friend, let me ask you this question: Who killed Jesus Christ? Why? If you can answer this faithfully according to Scripture (starting with Romans 3:21-26), then we can revisit the other topics discussed in this post.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, but the Bible clearly teaches an all sovereign God who is in control of all things, good and bad that go on in the world. Nothing happens in this world without him ordaining it. Check out 1Chronicles 21:1 and 2 Samuel 24:1. When God ordains something, He uses the means to accomplish them.

Azul said...

Goodness gratious!
I really have to laught at those folks on here and try to post about how the good Dr. Ben Witherington is wrong. It's ok if we don't agree with him or one another, but to claim he's wrong is ludicrous. He has the creditials, he has the scholarship, not to mention he is very well respected by his peers (even those in different denominations).

Also, the Dr., and for that matter the rest of us, are a little more sophisticated than to base an entire doctrine on 1 or 2 "proof texts", especially those from the OT.

Obviously, the poster didn't read, and digest where the Dr. is coming from in his previous commengts up above.

J. K. Jones said...


Interesting post. Some questions you all might consider:

If God did not pre-ordain sin and suffering, how did they come about? Please don’t give the “man’s free will defense.” Blaming it all on Satan leads to the same issue: If God knew that men / angels would fall and did nothing, is that not the same as causing it to happen in a certain sense?

Does your view fall victim to the type of reasoning used to sue for negligence? God had a duty to perform (prevent evil), he failed to perform that duty, and damages have resulted. Is there some sense in which God’s justice does allow Him to punish all sinners?

If God does not pre-ordain suffering, then how can it have ultimate meaning? God can work in it for our good, but does suffering ultimately have meaning in and of itself? If suffering is a result of something bad, how does it have meaning?

D said...


It sounds like the issue you are wrestling with is how any event under the sun could possibly be meaningless. I think if you read through Ecclesiastes, you will notice that much that takes place in this world is indeed meaningless, which thus directs us to find meaning in the Lord himself.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Witherington:

I have posted comments on the recent exchange concerning the I-35 Bridge Collapse at ericredmond.wordpress.com. I am contacting you directly out of courtesy so that the blogsphere does not make the comments seem adversarial once others add their comments.

Thank you for your continued scholarship. I am enjoying your commentary on Acts.