Archive for the 'Problem of evil' Category

Should Christians love their enemies by using guns?

Monday, April 11th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

[The shooters’ Ford Expedition SUV, involved in the shootout. Released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, photo courtesy Wikipedia]

How do you think the USA or any other country can prevent or stop mass shootings? Is it possible to live peacefully with others, without having guns for defence?

What provoked this kind of discussion was the horrible massacre of people at San Bernardino CA, USA. Fourteen people were shot dead and 21 were wounded on December 2, 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times article, ‘San Bernardino shooting victims: Who they were’ (17 December 2015). Those who shot the victims were a Sunni Muslim couple who lost their lives in the massacre, shot by police. See ‘They met online, built a life in San Bernardino — and silently planned a massacre’ (Los Angeles Times, 5 December 2015).

It should not be surprising that someone would start a thread on a Christian forum with this title, ‘How Can The U.S.A. Reduce Mass Shootings?’[1]

Standard pro-guns responses

Related imageSince my family and I have lived in USA and Canada for 7 years, we learned how much some Americans love their guns. Some of our Christian friends had guns and would not live without them.

Here are some of the pro-gun responses on that Christian forum:

clip_image002 ‘Gun control will take guns from those who abide by the law. Do you really think bad guys, felons, creeps will say “o i cant (sic) have a gun it is against the law” do you really?’[2]

clip_image002[1] ‘Well I see it like this; If there are 20 people in a place and 10 have a concealed weapon on them and three or four terrorist come in the terrorist are going to lose. if one wont stand and fight they do not deserve liberty and freedom’.[3]

clip_image002[2] ‘While I do agree that we should “fight” it, in some ways, spiritually – we can’t win this without fighting back, in a few ways, that are not spiritual but physical’.[4]

clip_image002[3] ‘Remove legally owned guns from law-abiding citizens, and the criminals still have the guns, with access to more. The same goes for ammo’.[5]

clip_image002[4] ‘It’s all about power. The powerful prey upon the weak. If you have a gun then one type of predator will avoid you but another one will seek to destroy you.
In America 4.5 out of 10 (at a minimum) have a firearm. (There are some that do but refuse to admit that they have one.)
So about half the citizens are armed’.[6]

Massacre at San Bernardino

What happened at San Bernardino CA in the late morning of 2 December 2015? The Los Angeles Times reported on 2 December that a male and a female who were dressed in black masks and tactical gear – armed with long guns and pistols – ‘entered a holiday party for county health workers in San Bernardino as it was in full swing. Before they fled, they had killed 14 people and wounded 17[7] others’.

Four hours later, as fearful residents were ordered to stay home and scores of officers swarmed the streets, authorities chased a black SUV carrying two suspects from a home in the nearby city of Redlands. As TV news stations broadcast live overhead, the chase spilled back onto San Bernardino’s streets, where authorities and the suspects traded gunfire.

When it was over, a man and woman connected to the assault were dead. One body lay in the street, blood pooling. Another was recovered from the vehicle. A police officer also was wounded in the firefight but is expected to survive (Serrano 2015).

The New York Times reported that the perpetrators of the terrorist act, ‘Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik met online and married two years ago, after he presented himself on a Muslim dating site as a devout young man who liked to fix cars and memorize the Quran’ (Nagourney et al 2015).

After the shooting, the couple escaped in a rented vehicle but four hours later police located them and they were killed in a shootout. ‘They died in a crush of bullets in a brutal face-off with the police’ The husband (Farook) was born in Illinois and raised in Southern California. His wife (Malik) was born in Pakistan and recently was living in Saudi Arabia’ (Nagourney et al 2015).

This slaughter and injuries have reignited the USA debate over guns.

Enter an Aussie with the Port Arthur solution

Tasmanian town locator PortArthur.gif(location of Port Arthur where majority of killings occurred, map courtesy Wikipedia)

 

It was on 28-29 April 1996 that there was a massacre of 35 people at Port Arthur, a former prison colony, and now centre for tourism on the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, Australia. Also, 23 other people were wounded. A 28-year-old, Martin Bryant from the Hobart suburb of New Town, was found guilty and received 35 life sentences. There is no possibility that he will be paroled (Hester 1996; CNN 1996).

 

 

 

Image result for photo of gun buyback Australia public domain

(photo of guns bought back, courtesy news.com.au)

As a result of this massacre, the Australian government led by Prime Minister John Howard at that time implemented a buyback of guns. ‘A  national firearm buyback scheme was progressively implemented from September 1996 and ran for 12 months. This was supported by a national firearm amnesty in which people in possession of illegal firearms could hand them in without penalty’ (Ozanne-Smith et al 2004). This buyback took in 660,959 firearms (Hope 2014).

As many USA folks on the forum were discussing the need to obtain and use guns, I dared to raise another perspective that was not much appreciated.[8]

Why don’t you take a read of this article in The New York Times from 4 December 2015, ‘How a Conservative-Led Australia Ended Mass Killings‘.

There is a way to fix most of it, but the sinful human heart will constantly challenge it.

A biblical answer is found in Romans 13:1-7 (ESV):

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.?

If the USA government had the will like the Australian government has, it could implement anti-gun laws like we have. But the gun lobby will resist like they did in Australia. But we’ve had no massacres since we implemented these laws.

Nevertheless, ISIL could change that with its suicide bombs.

Predictably, someone came back with a view that

1. Gun control is a flawed policy

He linked to the article, ‘Australia: More violent crime despite gun ban’ (Nemerov 2009). This article claims:

It is a common fantasy that gun bans make society safer…. In 2002–five years after enacting its gun ban–the Australian Bureau of Criminology acknowledged there is no correlation between gun control and the use of firearms in violent crime: “The percentage of homicides committed with a firearm continued its declining trend since 1969.”

Even the head of Australia’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, acknowledged that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime: There has been a drop in firearm-related crime, particularly in homicide, but it began long before the new laws and has continued on afterwards. I don’t think anyone really understands why…. gun control is a flawed policy.

Will Oremus (2012) has responded to this kind of reaction:

What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August [2012?], homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.

There have been some contrarian studies about the decrease in gun violence in Australia, including a 2006 paper that argued the decline in gun-related homicides after Port Arthur was simply a continuation of trends already under way. But that paper’s methodology has been discredited, which is not surprising when you consider that its authors were affiliated with pro-gun groups.

Live peacefully with everyone

Let’s examine Rom 12:18 (ESV) in context: ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’.[9]

In Rom 12 we are dealing with living life in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2), how to demonstrate gifts of grace (Rom 12:3-7) and how to live out the Christian life (Rom 12:8-21). Rom 12:18 is in this latter section that includes ‘bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse’ (Rom 12:14) and ‘repay no one evil for evil’ (Rom 12:17). Romans 12:18 (ESV) states, ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’.

The close connection of Rom 12:17, Rom 12:18 and Rom 12:19 should be self evident. These verses exhort believers not to engage in behaviour that has a negative impact on them. From v. 17 we learn that ‘no one’ should be paid evil by us for evil done by them. In v. 18, we are to live peaceably ‘with all’. What did Jesus urge upon us according to Matt 5:9, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’?

Image result for peace public domainFrom the context of Rom 12:18, we don’t know the specifics of whether there was a situation in the church of Rome that caused the kind of teaching of Rom 12:18, but Rom 12:14 is clear enough that we should be blessing those who persecute us. Could these Roman believers have been experiencing persecution and needed this instruction? Could be!

Jesus made it clear that ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). Paul in Rom 12:18 is acknowledging that for the Christian, conflict is not possible to avoid, but he adds this double qualification, ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you’ – leave peaceably. I, as a believer, have a responsibility to live at peace with those who oppose me.

The application is that Paul is saying that persecution is inevitable but he doesn’t want Christians to use this certainty of opposition to them and their faith to be an opportunity for them to engage in behaviour that needlessly inflames the conflict. He doesn’t want us to see the unavoidable persecution and opposition as a reason for giving up on a positive witness to those who are opposing us.

It may be impossible for the Christian to live peacefully with all people. Christians may be attacked by evil people for their proclamation of the Gospel, truth and the good. In those circumstances, ‘if possible’ the Christian is to be a pacifist while he or she may be an activist for Christ and the truth. The Christian is to start no strife or hostility. It is the sinful flesh that initiates discord. Yes, the Christian will become involved when another initiates a brawl.

I cannot see Rom 12:18 being used as justification for opposing a gun wielding person by using your own gun. The context in Rom 12:14 indicates that the Christian is to ‘bless those who persecute you’.

Surely the next verse is a stunning answer to the issues some raise with regard to v. 18, ‘ Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”’ (Rom 12:19).

Using guns amounts to avenging ourselves. God’s instruction to us (my paraphrase) is: Don’t do it with a gun. Leave vengeance to the Lord. The Lord will repay with his own retribution.

Works consulted

CNN World News 1996. Australian gunman laughs as he admits killing 35 (online), November 7. Available at: http://archive.is/WAYM3 (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Hester, J 1996. Aftermath of horror death toll climbs to 35; Tasmaniac is charged. New York Daily News (online), 30 April. Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/aftermath-horror-death-toll-climbs-35-tasmaniac-charged-article-1.724745 (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Hope, E 2014. Kaechele tunes in to help old home with massive gun buyback. The Mercury (online), October 12. Available at: http://www.themercury.com.au/news/tasmania/kaechele-tunes-in-to-help-old-home-with-massive-gun-buyback/news-story/f9d774827cbb5da6d3bd26294f941efd?nk=447736ec10caab2ce01813e7aaf44ad7-1460416786 (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Lenski, R C H 1936. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (this was originally published by Lutheran Book Concern, assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House. This is a limited edition assigned to Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, second printing 2001).

Moo, D J 1996. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. N B Stonehouse, F F Bruce & G D Fee (gen eds, each over various years). Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Nagourney, A; Lovett, I; Turkewitz, J; and Muellerdec, B 2015. Couple Kept Tight Lid on Plans for San Bernardino Shooting. The New York Times, December 3. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/us/san-bernardino-shooting-syed-rizwan-farook.html (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Nemerov, H 2009. Australia experiencing more violent crime despite gun ban. Free Republic (online), 8 April. Available at: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2225517/posts (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Oremus, W 2012. After a 1996 Mass Shooting, Australia Enacted Strict Gun Laws. It Hasn’t Had a Similar Massacre Since. Florida Sportsman (online), December 16. Available at: http://forums.floridasportsman.com/showthread.php?89618-After-a-1996-Mass-Shooting-Australia-Enacted-Strict-Gun-Laws-It-Hasn-t-Had-a-Simila&s=cca9dffd2606b6f1e87d455f8e3d0d21 (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Ozanne-Smith, J; Ashby, K; Newstead, S; Stathakis, V Z & Clapperton, A 2004. Firearm related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform. Injury Prevention 10(5), 280-286 (online). Available at: http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/10/5/280.full (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Serrano, R A 2015. Authorities identify couple who they believe killed 14 at San Bernardino holiday party. Los Angeles Times (online), December 2. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-up-to-20-shot-in-san-bernardino-active-shooter-sought-20151202-story.html (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, December 6, 2015. iLOVE#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/how-can-the-u-s-a-reduse-mass-shootings.62365/ (Accessed 19 December 2015).

[2] Ibid., reba#5.

[3] Ibid., Roro1972#9.

[4] Ibid., Pizza#18.

[5] Ibid., AirDancer#25.

[6] Ibid., JohnDB#55.

[7] This has been updated to 21 others (Nagourney et al 2015).

[8] This content is at Christian Forums.net, OzSpen#43.

[9] I posted this to Christian Forums.net, OzSpen#238. I gained some assistance from Moo (1996) and Lenski (1936).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 April 2016.

 

Do bad things happen to good people?

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Image result for "Do bad things happen to good people" Truth Challenge

(courtesy theheadandtheheart.edublogs.org)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This is a familiar topic in secular and Christian discussions. It’s the classic objection to Christianity. I sometimes encounter non-Christians on Christian forums who engage in bashing of Christian values and pooh-poohing ideas of an authoritative Scripture.

Michael Cohen explains it in his Christianity Today article, ‘Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

I met one such person in Jim with this approach on a Christian forum.

God’s sovereignty and free will

The topic was God’s absolute sovereignty and I made this statement:[1]

The sovereign Lord God has given human beings free will and in that free will they choose good and evil actions.

The consequences of those actions are worked out in history but there will be an ultimate accounting at the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).

Sadly, those evil actions have resulted in September 11, Hitler and the Holocaust, what is happening in Iraq and Syria today, and the Ebola outbreak.

If God were to step in to stop the ISIL slaughter and Ebola, he may have to do it for all free will decisions. Would you like all free will choices taken out of your life? I wouldn’t like it to happen to me. I enjoy my occasional barramundi or whiting fish fried and cold salad (especially coleslaw).

Jim’s response was thoughtful:

And that option makes some sense when you’re talking about human evil.

But where’s the human evil in the Ebola outbreak?

Where’s the human evil that specifically determined who died in the World Trade Center and who survived?

How is "human evil" relevant when you’re talking about a seemingly impersonal tragedy such as someone being killed in an earthquake?

You asked a simple question:  how does one deal with God’s sovereignty in the face of various atrocities, and I can certainly accept that human free will plays a big part.  But the bigger question isn’t simply about human-caused evil, but why Bad Things Happen to Good People, which was the question posed by a wonderful book in the 1980’s, and I agree with the author’s conclusion that it’s because God is not absolutely sovereign.[2]

Are there any ‘good’ people?

My response[3] was that this is the error of considering that ‘bad things happen to good people’. There are no such people who before God are able to be called ‘good people’. Don’t you understand the horrible infection of sin that has contaminated all human beings and all nations since sin entered the human race by an act of a person’s free will (Genesis 3)?

The fact is that God is absolutely sovereign but that sovereignty includes, (1) The actions of sinful human beings, and (2) the consequences of the Fall into sin.

Evil will be eliminated at Jesus’ second coming. Are you ready to meet him and bow in humble submission to him?

This person’s reaction as a non-Christian was predictable:[4]

clip_image002 Spencer: ‘This is the error of considering that “bad things happen to good people”. There are no such people who before God are able to be called “good people”’

clip_image004 Jim: ‘Spare me. I’ve heard that nauseating nonsense too many times:  bad things happen to good people, because "there are NO good people". So a child today in the ghetto is struck and killed by a stray bullet because HE is sinful, or because Adam and Eve sinned against God?  How precisely does it work?

clip_image002[1] Spencer: ‘Don’t you understand the horrible infection of sin that has contaminated all human beings and all nations since sin entered the human race by an act of a person’s free will’.

clip_image004[1] Jim: ‘I understand that many people have believed that throughout the ages, and I thoroughly, utterly reject it’. 

My response was:[5] I’m sure glad that I don’t seek your advice for accuracy on the human condition – from conception to old age.

Your worldview is diametrically opposed to that of God’s. How do I know? He has told us in Scripture, but you don’t seem to have any time for God’s view on the condition of all human beings. None of us is God. This is the God’s eye view:

Psalm 51:5, ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’.
Mark 10:18, ‘"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good – except God alone’.
Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (NIV).
Romans 6:23, ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

Mark 2:17, ‘On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners"’.

If you don’t accept God’s diagnosis while you have breath in your body, you’ll come face to face with God’s diagnosis one second after your last breath. I urge you to interact with me or any other Christian here, before it’s too late.

Predictably, Jim did not like this reply. To my statement that I’m pleased I don’t seek his advice on the accuracy of the human condition, his reply was,[6] ‘I guess it’s just as well from my standpoint, too, since I’m not particularly interested in giving any advice on that subject.  That said, I’m just as capable as you or anyone else to comment on the ‘human condition’.

As for my saying that he has no time for God’s view on the condition of all human beings, he said, ‘Wrong.  I simply don’t consider Scripture to be the final word on "God’s view"’.

He seemed to act dumb when I asked about his rejection of God’s diagnosis when he takes his last breath and comes face to face with God at death. His evasive word was, ‘Meaning……?’

My further response was[7] that he was as capable as I in commenting on the human condition, but up to this point I have not seen him being sympathetic to God’s view of the sinful human condition. Is that true or not?

To his statement, ‘I simply don’t consider Scripture to be the final word on "God’s view"’, I asked: What is the final word on ‘God’s view’ of the human condition? Where do I go to find it?

He asked about the ‘meaning’ of my statement about coming face to face with God’s diagnosis of the human condition at death (one second after his last breath).

My meaning was this: Up to this point on this forum, I’ve read your hostility and rejection of God’s diagnosis and solution for the human condition that is revealed in Scripture.

This is what he and I will face at death: ‘Just as it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died only once as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people’ (Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT).

I called on him to dialogue with us on this forum about what will prevent him from experiencing God’s judgment one second after his last breath.

This is a serious business.

Mother nature

Blue Swirl. Artistic Texture...

(courtesy shutterstock)

To another poster, Jim made the comment: ‘And we’ve come a long way in that department [to predict and know what to do with natural disasters], but Mother Nature will always be inherently unpredictable to a degree’.[8]

My reply[9] was that he wants to place the blame on ‘Mother Nature’ and its ‘inherently unpredictable’ degree is a L-O-N-G way from the subject of the original post that I started, ‘Is God absolutely sovereign?’

The sovereign Lord God is not ‘inherently unpredictable’, based on his nature of perfection, it is ‘inherently unpredictable’ to you because you place the blame on a nebulous cause, ‘Mother Nature’.

The all-knowing, omnipotent, omniscient Lord God Almighty acts according to his just nature. Second Chronicle 19:7 exposes God’s nature: ‘Let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes’ (ESV).

He’s the One who is sovereign LORD of the universe. You and I have to answer to Him and not to ‘Mother Nature’.

Do human beings create suffering?

Jim asked at another point,[10] ‘Does Man create ALL of his suffering?  Are people responsible for the deaths that result from natural disasters?’ My reply was, ‘Who caused the universal flood in Noah’s day? Why did it happen? Was it a ‘natural disaster’ according to your definition?’

So is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ was Jim’s request?

This is my view.[11] I have attempted to provide and answer these two questions in a more detailed way in my article, ‘Does God send cyclones?

There are basic answers to these 2 questions, but he doesn’t like it when I present Bible answers. In my article I provide the biblical material with practical ramifications, but the basic answers are:

1.  There is much suffering that is caused by human beings and their sinful condition. I’m thinking of domestic and child abuse (including paedophilia), corruption in governments, murder, lying, stealing, and even those who build houses in cyclone and flood prone regions of my country.

The Fall into sin by Adam & Eve (Genesis 3) explains how this began and infected the entire human race. But he doesn’t like that explanation.

We can face consequences of this in the here and now with abuse in families, corrupt govts, break and enters, murder, earthquakes, tornadoes, typhoons, cyclones, floods, wars, etc.

2. God can cause disaster for His reasons. He doesn’t always tell us the whys. Isaiah 45:7 provides this statement from the Lord, ‘I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD who does all these things’ (ESV).

Why did God cause the calamity at the time of Noah? He told us: ‘The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart’ (Gen 6:5-6).

As a result, God wiped out the entire human race, except 8 people, through the flood at Noah’s time. Therefore, the evil of people caused God to act in judgement.

Resistance to God’s view

At last this person began to respond to my statement: ‘Up to this point I have not seen you being sympathetic to God’s view of the sinful human condition. Is that true or not?’ His reply was that this is[12]

impossible to answer, since I don’t accept the premise on which the question is based.

There really is no point in continuing this so long as you persist in framing questions in such a way that presumes I accept the underlying premises.  I don’t.

Reasonable people can disagree about most things, including questions of faith.  But to persist in asking questions in this manner conveys an utter lack of respect and regard for the person with whom you’re corresponding.

As for my question, ‘So what is the final word on ‘God’s view’ of the human condition?’ he was at least to give his view that ‘There is none’. As for my statement about his hostility and rejection of God’s diagnosis and solution of the human condition revealed in Scripture, he was prepared to admit:[13]

Rejection, yes.  Hostility, no.  I’d challenge you to find a single word of mine that conveys ‘hostility’.

As for my citing, Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT), he said,[14]

This is a good example of what I mentioned above.

If you’ve understood any of what I’d written, you’d know that I don’t believe something is "God’s word" simply because it appears in the Bible.  Obviously, you strongly disagree, and I respect that.  But to persist in writing as if it’s simply ‘understood’ that the Bible IS God’s word is to convey a simple lack of respect in return for me.

My request for him ‘to dialogue with us on this forum about what will prevent you from experiencing God’s judgment’, met with this response:[15]

Please elaborate as to what you think will happen to me as a result of this judgement.  (Now, before you respond, try to keep in mind that a simple verse from Scripture isn’t going to cut it with me.) 

We[16] have a difficulty with obtaining common ground about that nature of God’s judgment, because I don’t know his position on the existence of God. Can we start there?

Do you believe in God? If so, what is his/her nature?

Are you an atheist or agnostic? If so, what causes you to accept that position?

I explained further:[17] You don’t have to accept the perspective I’m espousing that God’s view of the human condition is contained in Scripture, but would you please tell me what Scripture teaches about the human condition? You are the one talking about ‘reasonable people’ who can disagree. Please demonstrate to me that you are a reasonable person who demonstrates the evidence of God’s view of the human condition as stated in Scripture.

Since you don’t accept the underlying Christian world and life view that I espouse, please provide the evidence to me (and us) why you don’t accept such. Let’s start with the subject of the human condition.

You claim that ‘to persist in asking questions in this manner conveys an utter lack of respect and regard for the person with whom you’re corresponding’. No it doesn’t Jim. You have come to this Christian Forum and you DON’T want to deal with the Christian issues I raise. Who is the one showing disrespect for the Christian values espoused by me on this forum? You are the one who is guilty of this. Over and over on this forum you have ‘bashed’ Christian values. Who is the disrespectful one who comes to a Christian forum to castigate Christian values?

The human condition

Related image

(courtesy www.buddycom.com)

 

There are many Scriptures that teach about the common human condition. This one summarises it: ‘When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned’ (Romans 5:12 NLT).

clip_image004[2] Jim had stated:

‘Maybe NO scripture teaches about the human condition.  More fundamentally, maybe God doesn’t HAVE a view of the human condition.

OTOH (On the other hand), maybe there are multiple views of the human condition from literally hundreds of sources.  How are we to know which is the true view?[18]

Yes, there are multiple explanations of the human condition – humans explaining what they THINK caused it. How do we know the true view? That’s why I’d like to introduce you to the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – God himself in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). But you won’t be able to consider that option until you are open to examining the trustworthiness of Scripture. At this stage I haven’t seen that you are open to such.

When you are, you might like to consider some of the sound reasons for accepting the Bible as a trustworthy, reliable book. At the popular level, I have attempted to address these in:

clip_image002[2] Spencer: ‘Please demonstrate to me that you are a reasonable person who demonstrates the evidence of God’s view of the human condition as stated in Scripture’.

clip_image004[3] Jim: ‘I’m not at all certain what you’re asking’.

clip_image002[3] Spencer: Simply, if you want to know God’s view of the human condition, a reasonable person will go to Scripture to discover it. I ask you to go to the Bible to discern God’s view on why human beings act the way they do in some horrible actions of evil from lying and stealing to Hitler’s Holocaust and what ISIS is doing today. I’m happy to provide some biblical guidance if you don’t know where to start in searching the Bible for God’s explanation of the origin of evil.

clip_image004[4] Jim: ‘The burden of proof is not on me to disprove Scripture; it’s on YOU to prove it, or explain why it’s authoritative.  This is something you can’t do, of course; nobody can.  It has to be accepted or rejected on faith’.

clip_image002[4] Spencer: This statement is laden with his presuppositions:

(1) The burden of proof is on me as a Christian to PROVE Scripture.

This is not so when you make a statement against Scripture and you provide no evidence to prove your statement.

(2) Evidence needs to be presented by only one side – the Christian.

This again is not the case. The evidence needs to be examined by both of us – you the non-Christian and me the non-Christian.

(3) Nobody can prove Scripture as authoritative.

This is false and the links to my articles above should provide ample evidence to disprove your claim. The essence is that I demonstrate that the Bible is a reliable historical document and then I go to that reliable document to discover what it states about its own authority. We use the same mechanism to discover how reliable the writings are of Julius Caesar and what he says about himself and what he wrote.

(4) The Scripture has to be accepted as authoritative, based on faith.

This is false again, based on the information I’ve already demonstrated in the 4 articles for which I’ve provided links: ‘Can you trust the Bible?’

clip_image004[5] Jim:

And the fact that this is a Christian Fellowship Forum is beside the point.  There are constantly disagreements here among Christians over matters of faith, doctrine and politics.   Some of the language gets quite heated and vitriolic; more than any language I use.

But to continue to invoke Scripture as a source for your statements even after I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t consider Scripture authoritative is either:  1) intentionally disrespectful;  or, 2) evidence that this is only a one-way conversation on your part and you really aren’t reading or considering what I’m saying.

Disagreement over faith, doctrine, politics, etc. is to be expected in any kind of interpretation by sinful human beings (as you and I are discovering in our conversation).

I hope that my providing you with links to ‘Can you trust the Bible?‘ will demonstrate that there are sound, rational reasons for regarding the Bible as authoritative. Citing from the authoritative Bible (in spite of your objections) should encourage you to investigate the reasons for regarding the Bible as trustworthy. To continue to quote the Bible is not disrespectful by me; it is quoting a reliable source.

Bashing Christians

Image result for clipart hammer public domain

(courtesy www.clipartlord.com)

 

I responded: I am open to hearing what you are saying and responding accordingly, but you do have a bad habit of putting people down who have good reasons for regarding the Bible as trustworthy and authoritative.

Jim: ‘Which specific Christian values have I bashed? Again, Spencer, there is far more ‘bashing’ that goes on here directed from one Christian to another than anything I’m ever involved in’.

clip_image006 I am dealing here with the way you oppose (bash) Christian values. You have done it here with me when you slam dunk the fact that I support the authoritative Christian Scriptures. Take your statement, ‘Nobody can prove Scripture as authoritative’. That’s a deliberate slamming of a Christian value – the authoritative Scripture. ‘Nobody can prove’ is Jim’s absolutistic statement against a Christian value of the trustworthy Scripture. You surely have not investigated every attempt to demonstrate the authoritative Scripture for you to say emphatically, ‘Nobody can prove’. Here in this post you give an example of how you engage in bashing a Christian value.

clip_image006[1] Here is another example in your post of slamming a Christian value.

clip_image002[5] Spencer: ‘So what is the final word on ‘God’s view’ of the human condition?’
clip_image004[6] Jim: ‘There is none’.

clip_image002[6]Spencer: ‘Who said? Jim?’

clip_image004[7] Jim: ‘Of course.  I’m the one you’re talking to.  Who else would it be?’

The topic is ‘Who has the final word on God’s view of the human condition?’ Jim’s slamming of this value was, ‘There is none’. My come back was: ‘Who said? Jim?’ and your response was that you’re the one I’m walking to. ‘Who else would it be?’

But you seem to have forgotten the question: ‘So what is the final word on ‘God’s view’ of the human condition?

I didn’t ask for Jim’s view of the human condition but God’s view. Do you understand how you slam Christian values and you don’t seem to realise what you are doing?

clip_image006[2] Another example of Jim’s ‘bashing’ Christian values was his response to my statement,[19] ‘This is the error of considering that ‘bad things happen to good people’. There are no such people who before God are able to be called ‘good people’.

His reply was, ‘Spare me. I’ve heard that nauseating nonsense too many times: bad things happen to good people, because "there are NO good people”. So a child today in the ghetto is struck and killed by a stray bullet because HE is sinful, or because Adam and Eve sinned against God?  How precisely does it work?’. ‘Nauseating nonsense’ is clearly Christian bashing.

clip_image006[3] An additional example of his put down of Christianity is his response to my question, ‘Don’t you understand the horrible infection of sin that has contaminated all human beings and all nations since sin entered the human race by an act of a person’s free will?’[20] His reply was: ‘I understand that many people have believed that throughout the ages, and I thoroughly, utterly reject it’.

clip_image006[4] Another put down of Christianity by Jim:[21] ‘But the bigger question isn’t simply about human-caused evil, but why Bad Things Happen to Good People, which was the question posed by a wonderful book in the 1980’s, and I agree with the author’s conclusion that it’s because God is not absolutely sovereign’.

For a refutation of this, see my article, Is God absolutely sovereign?

 

Notes


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Is God absolutely sovereign?’ ozspen#18. Available at: http://forums.compuserve.com/discussions/Christian_Fellowship_Forum/_/_/ws-fellowship/123619.11 (Accessed 19 October 2014).

[2] Ibid., Jim Odom#21.

[3] Ibid., ozspen#23.

[4] Ibid., Jim Odom#24.

[5] Ibid., ozspen#38.

[6] Ibid., Jim Odom#43.

[7] Ibid., ozspen#46.

[8] Ibid., Jim Odom#30.

[9] Ibid., ozspen#42.

[10] Ibid., Jim Odom#44.

[11] Ibid., ozspen#64.

[12] Ibid., Jim Odom#48.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] This is my response at ibid., ozspen#65.

[17] Ibid., ozspen#53.

[18] Ibid., Jim Odom#55.

[19] Ibid., Jim Odom#24.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., Jim Odom#21.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

Does God create all of the evil in the world?

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

(courtesy BibleGatewayBlog, 14 November 2015)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Let’s put it another way: Did God know human beings would create evil or did He decree that evil would take place according to God’s will?

With the slaughter of about 129 people in Paris on 13 November 2015, this causes Christians to ask further questions about evil and the manifestation of evil in our world. It was on the evening of 13 November that there was a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks across Paris with mass shootings, suicide bomb and hostages taken. For details of where the Paris killings took place, see The Telegraph [UK] article, ‘Paris terror attack: Everything we know on Wednesday evening’ (18 November 2015). This report states that there were seven co-ordinated attacks in Paris.

Andy Rau asked this series of solemn questions:

One of the oldest and toughest challenges for Christians is finding a way to understand the existence of terrible evil in a world that is ruled by a loving, all-powerful God. It’s not an easy question to answer—if it were, we wouldn’t be struggling with it thousands of years after Christ—but the Bible does offer hope in the face of violence and evil.

We’ve talked about terror and the question of evil here in relation to terror attacks in past years. Most of those reflections are still relevant today in the wake of the Paris attacks; if these latest terror attacks have you wondering why a loving God could let this happen, take a few minutes to read through these reflections:

The terrorist group, Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for the slaughter in Paris.

(Islamic states (dark green), states where Islam is the official religion (light green), secular states (blue) and other (orange), among countries with a Muslim majority, courtesy Wikipedia)

Australia’s ABC News reported:

’Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, saying its fighters carried out the operation in various locations which were carefully studied.

In a statement posted online, IS said the attacks were a response to France’s campaign against its fighters and insults against Islam’s prophet.

It said “eight brothers wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles” conducted a “blessed attack on … Crusader France”’ (‘Paris attacks: Islamic State claims responsibility, French president Francois Hollande calls it “act of war”‘, ABC News, Brisbane Qld, 15 November 2015).

I ask, “Doesn’t God’s sovereignty include human beings’ genuine, free choices? If not, they are forced to act and they do not have genuinely free choices’.[1]

One response I received was: ‘“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1 NASB). How free is the king’s will?’[2]

This Paris attack raises a number of issues regarding the allowance or cause of evil in our world.

 

(In front of restaurants Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge on 16 November 2015 after terrorist attack, Paris, courtesy Wikipedia)

A. How free are governments under God’s decrees?[3]

Let’s check out some examples from our recent history and in the contemporary world.

If the government leader’s (king’s heart) is turned wherever God wishes, how does that account for the following?

I asked: Are you saying that Adolph Hitler, the leader of Germany, according to your theology, was turned by God himself to slaughter 6 million Jews during the Holocaust? Is that your practical application of Prov. 21:1 in your theology? Did God know or did God cause this to happen by his decretive will?
‘Seventy years too late: Russia finally admits slaughter of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn was on Stalin’s orders’ (Daily Mail, 26 November 2010). So was Stalin’s slaughter according to God’s decree?

To whom do we attribute this evil, God or sinful, free will human beings? ‘Was the London killing of a British soldier “terrorism”’ (The Guardian, 24 May 2013)? This article begins:

Two men yesterday engaged in a horrific act of violence on the streets of London by using what appeared to be a meat cleaver to hack to death a British soldier. In the wake of claims that the assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the killing, and a video showing one of the assailants citing Islam as well as a desire to avenge and stop continuous UK violence against Muslims, media outlets (including the Guardian) and British politicians instantly characterized the attack as “terrorism”.

That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term “terrorism”, it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence?

See also,

If God decreed (foreordained) all evil, what are the implications? Are Calvinistic Christians going to state that this is according to God’s ‘decretive will’? That was the language used on Christian Forums for God’s relationship to evil as applied to Proverbs 21:1: ‘Free to do God’s decretive will’.[4]

What about the many perpetrators of sexual abuse including the rape of children? Were their criminal and sinful acts decreed by God?
How free were Hitler’s and Stalin’s free wills? That is determined by the living God and he has given us teaching on this that is not in accordance with the Calvinistic imposition on the text (see below).

I affirm the view that God’s decrees are not inconsistent with freedom of choice, which could be called free agency. They do not eliminate human responsibility and do not make God the author of sin. God’s decrees involve His eternal purposes that are based on His holy, wise and righteous (just) nature. So God, to promote His own glory, decreed or foreordained everything that happens in our world. He does this effectively either by absolute decree (as in creation) or by permission (as in the moral evils I have raised).[5]

Biblically, we see these examples (not comprehensive) in Gen 1-2; Isa 14:24; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8.

We have it revealed in Scripture that God permitted sin in the world and did not necessitate it when we have the revelation of the threats of punishment for sin (Gen. 2:17; Ex 34:7; Eccl 11:9; Ezek 18:20; 2 Thess 1:7-8).

  • What do we read in Psalm 78:29? ‘And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved‘ (ESV).[6]
  • Again from the Psalms: ‘He gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them’ (Ps 106:15 ESV).[7]
  • In Acts 14:16, Paul taught, ‘In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways‘ (ESV).[8]
  • Acts 17:29, ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (ESV).[9]

B. Free will and God’s decrees

This is my understanding of free will (volition) in ‘Did God know?’ Yes, God did know (his foreknowledge), and it is authentic free will because God,

  • ‘gave them what they craved’;
  • ‘gave them what they asked’;
  • ‘allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways’;

All these dimensions are included in God’s wonderful gift of free will. He decreed the free will that all human beings received and this means that some will do horrific evil in the choices they make, including:

(Hungarian Jews are selected by Nazis to be sent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz concentration camp, May/June 1944, courtesy Wikipedia).

  • Kill 6 million Jews;
  • Slaughter people;
  • Rape children,
  • Kill 129 people in 7 co-ordinated attacks in Paris, 13 November 2015, etc.

Let’s get it very clear! God did not cause all of these sinful choices. He permitted them because he gave all human beings genuine free will that allows them to make authentic volitional decisions about a whole range of issues, including Adam and Eve’s choice to sin and inflict sinful natures on the whole human race, and for people to serve the Lord or not:

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15 ESV).

Romans 8:28-30 confirms this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good[10] for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (ESV).

C. Conclusion

I praise God for giving all people the risky gift of free will. This does not make God into an evil tyrant who decrees horrific moral evil such as the Holocaust and the rape of children by paedophiles. The almighty, living God, revealed in holy Scripture, does not decree this evil to take place through dictatorial imposition. He permitted it as demonstrated by the scriptural statements that some people ‘crave’ certain things and how God permitted some nations to live ‘in their own ways’.

For a refutation of how some Calvinists see God being responsible for decreeing all evil in the world, see my article, ‘Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

(Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims, Cambodia, courtesy Wikipedia)

Notes


[1] I asked this question on Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Did God know…’, OzSpen #73. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7743521-8/ (Accessed 25 May 2013).

[2] Ibid., Hammster #79.

[3] The following is from my response at ibid., #93.

[4] Ibid Skala #80. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7743521-8/ (Accessed 25 May 2013).

[5] Some of this information is from H C Thiessen 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 153-154.

[6] Emphasis added.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The footnote at this point in the ESV stated, ‘Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good’.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1o April 2017.

Did God create evil?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


Indonesian tsunami (image, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

If God created everything, does that mean that He created all the evil in the world, including the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed about 230,000 people in a number of countries? What about the Joplin, Missouri, twister that killed over 120 people? Can God be seen as the cause of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York City and Washington DC? If God created everything, where do these disasters fit in God’s agenda?

Down through the centuries, people have blamed God for creating evil, supposing that because God allows evil to continue, that God is responsible for all of the evil in the world. If God created evil, then it is He who is responsible for the murders, world wars, adultery, rape of children, abortion, etc, etc.

This is a blasphemous statement to blame God for all of the evil in the world.

How do we respond, biblically? Perhaps it will be helpful to examine Isa. 45:7 to try to gain some light on this challenging topic.

The KJV translates as, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things”.

The ESV reads, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things”.

According to the KJV, God creates good (light, peace) and evil (see also Jer. 18:11; Lam. 3:38; Amos 3:6). But there are other Scriptures that state that there is no darkness in God (e.g. 1 John 1:5). Hab. 1:13 states that “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil” (ESV). James 1:13 confirms that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one”. So where does this leave us?

We know that God is morally perfect (see Deut. 32:4; Matt. 5:48). God cannot sin (Heb. 6:18). But there is more to the attributes of God, including his absolute justice that requires that sin be punished by Him. So, there will be judgment by God in this life and eternally (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15). So, in this life, when God executes justice we sometimes call this “evil” because from our human perspective, God seems to be committing evil against these people and nations. Were the Indonesian tsunami and the Joplin MO twister examples of God’s “evil” actions?

However, the Hebrew ra, evil/calamity in Isa 45:7, does not always mean moral evil. In the Isa 45 context, the ESV demonstrates that it should be translated as “calamity”, which is how the NKJV also translates it. The context supports this translation. So God is seen as the creator of “evil”, not in the moral sense directly, but as the one who brings judgment/calamity. [1]

God can be seen indirectly as the author of moral evil, but only in the sense that he created moral human beings who had the power of free choice and it is this free choice by us that brought moral evil into the universe. We see the beginning of this in Genesis 3. God created moral beings who had the ability to perform moral evil – and they did. God created free human beings and it is they who made evil real.

God’s making human beings with the possibility of free choice is a good thing. Surely we agree with the idea that human beings can choose one kind of clothing over another, one type of food over another, is a good action by God. Living in a world without choice would seem strange indeed. But the power of choice or free will comes with other consequences – the power for human beings to perform evil actions such as murder, rape, theft and many other evil things.

Thus, we can say that God created only good things and one of those good things was free choice. Moral, but free, human beings produced the evil in our world. Yes, God made the moral universe and indirectly created the possibility of evil in our universe. So, evil is permitted by God, but God does not produce or promote this evil. We know that ultimately a greater good is coming (see Gen. 50:20; Rev. 21-22).

Some want to promote the use of the Hebrew, ra, in Micah 2:3 as meaning God created evil against the family [clan, extended family or nation]. Yes, God allowed for the tempter, Satan, to enter the world, but the tempter does nothing that God hasn’t approved of as the Book of Job shows.

This is not congruent with that demonstrated by the Hebrew scholars involved in these translations:

1.  Therefore thus says the LORD:behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster (ESV).

2.  Therefore the Lord says this: “Look, I am devising disaster for this nation! It will be like a yoke from which you cannot free your neck. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of catastrophe (NET).

3.  So Yahweh says this: Look, I am now plotting a disaster for this breed from which you will not extricate your necks; you will not hold your heads up then, for the times will be disastrous indeed (New Jerusalem Bible).

4.  Therefore, the LORD says:  “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity (NIV).

For what purpose did God create the world? This is a summary from www.bible.org:

The Bible teaches us God created both the angels and man with volition, or the freedom of choice. He created both as holy and without sin that they might not only serve Him as the Creator, but bring Him glory. In particular, man, being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26f), was created to have fellowship with God through the exercise of that image. Man was created to glorify God through the exercise of his personality—mind, heart, and will. With his mind he was to know God, with his heart he was to love God, and with his will, in response to his understanding and love of God, he was to choose for God in obedience. But God did not create robots. That would have brought very little glory to God. Because His creatures were not robots, there was the risk of a negative choice. But God, by His sovereign will, purpose, and foreknowledge, determined to allow this, indeed, He ordained it by His own eternal wisdom without Himself being the cause.

Many struggle with this, but in the process of all that has occurred, God’s glory is supremely revealed in all His Holy attributes—His holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, and love, veracity, truth, etc. God did not cause the creature to sin. If the creature was to really have the freedom to know, love, and choose for God and respond in worship and obedience as a free and independent agent, he had to have true freedom of choice. Thus, compare the temptation of Eve by the devil. He attacked her knowledge and understanding of God to get her to doubt God’s love, etc. The race fell because of Adam and Eve’s negative response to the grace of God. But in the process, God’s character and glory is [sic] revealed in a more total or complete way. So, through the cross, man’s sin, like diamonds reflecting the light against the backdrop of black velvet, reflects God’s love, mercy, grace, holiness and justice in infinite ways.

It is an heretical doctrine of Gnosticism that claimed that God created evil. It was refuted over and over by the apologists in the early centuries of the Christian church.

I have been helped in providing the above information by Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe 1992. When Critics Ask. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, pp. 271-272 (the new title is, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties). Geisler & Howe summarised:

GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF EVIL:

  • In the sense of sin
  • Moral evil
  • Perversity
  • Directly
  • Actuality of evil

GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF EVIL:

  • In the sense of calamity
  • Non-moral evil
  • Plagues
  • Indirectly
  • Possibility of evil (Geisler & Howe 1992:271)

Footnotes:

[1]  Micah 2:3 The same Hebrew word can mean evil or disaster, depending on the context

Evil Chases

(image courtesy ChristArt)

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 April 2017.

designBlue-smadesignBlue-smadesignBlue-smadesignBlue-smadesignBlue-smadesignBlue-smadesignBlue-sma

Why does God allow floods to devastate Australia?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Marcia 2015-02-19 2032Z.png

Severe Tropical Cyclone Marcia at peak intensity on 19 February, 2015 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Why does God allow such devastation as we are seeing in Queensland with Cyclone Marcia through central Queensland (ABC News, 23 February 2015) and the floods of December 2010 – January 2011? Here are some photos of the flood devastation in Queensland from the Bundaberg News-Mail.

image

Bundaberg, Qld. floods, December 2010

The secular media blame it on “mother nature”. The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 8 January 2011 (NSW’s towns bracing for floods), stated:

MOTHER nature has unleashed its fury in the state’s north with 18 rivers expected to break their banks by tomorrow night as the Queensland floodwaters run south.

ABC News, Australia, 5 January 2011, “Qld floods damage Australia’s economic performance”, reported:

The Queensland floods are hurting the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by wiping as much as $9 billion off export revenues.

Operations at at least 40 coal mines in central Queensland’s Bowen Basin have been disrupted because of the floods, crops have been damaged and grazing lands are under water.

The state is responsible for more than half of Australia’s coal exports, 45 per cent of meat and a quarter of fresh food exports.

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) senior strategist Sue Trinh says the economic impact of the floods could be the biggest of all the natural disasters Australia has experienced.

But who’s to blame for this? Federal politician, Joe Hockey, opposition treasury spokesman, told  ABC news that

“Australia is a rich-enough nation to be able to handle the worst of mother nature – floods, droughts, you name it, all the horrible events that occur on a regular basis at this time of year.”

Some pointed things have been stated about “mother nature” and disasters around the world, but especially amidst the Queensland floods of early 2011:

Who sends the rains? Is it “mother nature” or God Himself? God is very clear about telling us in the Christian Scriptures.

This raises the theological issue of theodicy – a defence of the goodness and omnipotence of God in the midst of evil.

Here are some of my thoughts to point towards a conclusion:

  1. God sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).
  2. There is the problem of evil and disaster that originated in Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve and the fall into sin. All of creation is suffering from this disobedience. Are flood disasters the outcome of evil in our world? Does God send the cyclones, tornadoes and typhoons to remind us of judgment to come?
  3. God sends the rain, but human beings in their desire for prosperity (or greed), cluster around rivers and build houses in low-lying areas. Could it be that God sends the rain and human beings create the human conditions  so that floods devastate?

I posted comment #3 on Christian Fellowship Forum and Richard W. responded (#37):

Though not theologically satisfying, I think this is a huge part of the problem.

When you build on a flood plain you can expect to be flooded out from time to time. Smart people don’t build in flood plains. Smart insurance companies charge a mighty premium to insure anything in a flood plain. Smart governments do not zone flood plains for residential or commercial industrial purposes. But people still build there, and insurance is cheap backed by the government, and the snow melts and the rain comes.

Floods are often classified as hundred year floods, or five hundred year floods, or thousand year floods. Somehow the hundred year floods are now commonplace and I’ve seen some five hundred year floods and a thousand year flood. Pretty good for being only a little over half a century old myself.

I’m pretty sure the cause of these ‘rare’ floods is that marshes have been drained, farms have been turned into malls with massive parking lots, and every house has a paved driveway and a sidewalk. The water has to go somewhere. The marsh that once held the surplus is no longer there. The water flows downstream. Each upstream city or town or hamlet puts up a levee to protect itself from the flood, pushing the water downstream faster. Who’s to blame? Farmers want higher yield on more acres, so they install drainage ditches. Not so much now as this unsustainable practice now has legal roadblocks that restrict drainage a bit. But almost everything built in the past 100 years has been done at the expense of natural habitat that would soak up considerable water. We have inadvertently engineered floods to be worse than ever.

A flood from 100 years ago could still be quite an event. But now it’s a human made problem. New Orleans was an inevitability. Big floods down the Mississippi this spring are another inevitability. Fargo, on the Red River (which runs North into Canada) looks like it will also an inevitability. At least Fargo is looking at a solution of diverting the river into areas where it has more space to spread out. And they have forbidden rebuilding in many parts of the city. Fargo downtown flooded out a few years back and most of it burned when electrical fires started and spread uncontrollably. Crazy city, but at least they are looking for higher ground AND looking to let the river expand as it wants to, and the government is trying to force the reversal of many old drainage ditches. This are is vital because it is prime wheat growing land that feeds hundreds of millions of people.

The wake up calls have been given. Some people are actually waking up. Rain needs to soak in, and the little bits of excess need to go downstream. We screwed that up and it’s time to fix that before we see too many more thousand year floods. Theologically, God makes the rain to fall on the good and the evil, but the evil have not been good stewards of the land, causing misery and pain and death. Had we been good, we would have farmed with nature, not against nature, and we would not be blaming God for terrible floods.

Another respondent to Christian Fellowship Forum, Jim Parker (#50) also made some interesting, but similar, points to Richard. Jim was responding to my question, “Why does God allow such devastation as we are seeing in Queensland with the floods of December 2010 – January 2011?”

Perhaps it would be more to the point to ask why people insist on building cities on flood plains.

San Francisco was destroyed by a massive earthquake because it is built on a major earthquake fault. So they rebuilt it on the major earthquake fault.

People build homes along the Russian River north of San Francisco. About every 5-7 years their homes are destroyed by floods. They rebuild.

I have a friend who lives in the Florida Keys. The houses there have no ground floor because when huricanes come through they would be flooded. The first floor is 12 feet in the air resting on stilts.

People know the dangers of the places where they build cities and they choose to rebuild them after they are destroyed by “natural disasters” which, having happened once, should be sufficient data to decide to move somewhere else.

But when they don’t and another flood or earthquake just like the last one happened they ask, “Why did God allow this?”

“Watermark” in New Farm Park is red steel sculpture commemorating the 1974 Brisbane flood (courtesy Wikipedia)

I remember when my wife and I lost all that we owned in the Brisbane flood of 1974. I was in theological college and we were living in our caravan (called a trailer in North American lingo), 20 feet long on the banks of the Brisbane River at Graceville, a western Brisbane suburb, where the College was located. The entire college was located in a very low-lying area on the river bank and was devastated. As a result, we lost car and caravan which were parked alongside the College. But it was because of our stupidity of having a caravan and car in a flood-prone zone that we lost it. Never again have we built or located near a flood zone.

4.  We do know that there will be an increase in disasters as we approach the second coming of Christ (we don’t know when that will be). Luke 21:23-30 (NLT) states:

“How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near” (New Living Translation).

5.  Does God send judgment to people and nations in this life because of the sinfulness of humanity in those nations?

What happened in Noah’s day? The description was that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11 ESV). When God saw this corruption, he told Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13).

God’s judgment happened in this life because of the corruption of humanity in Noah’s time. Why should God think any differently of Haiti’s earthquake or Australia’s floods? What have these countries done to promote sinfulness and corruption?
I think there is enough biblical evidence to support God’s judgment of people and nations.

6.  Tragedy may cause us to re-evaluate priorities.

Tragedy, whether through cyclones, floods, earthquakes or other devastation, may jolt us to rethink and change priorities. If we build in flood-prone zones near a river, losing many possessions may cause us to see the damage that a materialistic philosophy can do. I’m reminded of that Jesus said about wealth on earth:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21 NIV).

7.  There are reasons why God allows Christians to suffer.

To understand this biblical teaching, I recommend the article, “Ten reasons for suffering in the Christian life”. I’m not convinced that all suffering is caused by sin or disobedience. The Christians who have suffered persecution, whether in the southern Sudan, under Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin, etc., did not commit sin but suffered for being Christian believers. What happened to them is what Jesus predicted:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19 NIV).

As a personal example, when I was a child at age 6, 10 and 12, I suffered 3 bouts of rheumatic fever that left me with a leaking mitral heart valve. Since 1983 I have had five open-heart surgeries (1983, 1987, 1988, 2003, 2013) to insert mechanical valves to correct this abnormality. To my knowledge, the rheumatic fever was not caused by my personal sin, but is a consequence for my being born in sin as a result of Adam & Eve’s fall into sin (Genesis 3).

8. Does the Book of Job shed some light?

On Christian Fellowship Forum, I shared some information about the Queensland floods of 2010-11 and received this reply on the topic, “Why does God allow floods to devastate?” from lrschrs (Chris) at #5 (I have corrected his spelling errors):

I think that the book of Job gives us the best answer to the question, that is, We Do Not Know, but God does know what He is going on about, and we should be silent before Him in worship, wonder, and praise.

That God has ordained the weather to be what it is is true, there are no things outside His loving providence and thus we can be confident even when all around us fails, as Habakkuk noted, no mad molecule, no runaway nature, He does have the whole world in His hands, and He holds us, and holds us dear. [Hab. 3:17-19].

That sin has entered the world is true, though how it effects such things I think is more indirect, for while all nature groans in an effect of sin how this is so is not revealed to us, Rom. 8:18-22.

One aspect of sin in the world is the lack of wisdom that builds things on flood plains or in denial of the common droughts of an area, and then wonders why we have wet or dry weather as usual. We build below sea level and wonder why things get wet at times.

Another reason can be divine judgment and blessing on a society, though here we are told not to be hasty and judge by appearances, for we don’t know all in any case, Luke 13:4. Here we need to avoid the twin errors or naturalism, an impersonal cosmos, on one hand, and moralism, or a world of simplistic this for that, on the other. The world is not a mechanical system but a system of mechanisms that is open to the personal providence of God and directed toward the ends He has appointed for all things.

I think all talk of ‘mother nature’ is foolish, for nature does not do anything, that is, act on choices it makes, but it only happens in accord with its construction and direction.

But in the end I think we have to rest in God and in what can be called the ‘mystery of providence’, we simply do not know why some things go as they do and others as they do, Maybe we can see some hints at times, like buildings in foolish places leave us good grounds to consider human folly at work, but in the end we must be silent before His works, adore the Lord even in hard times, for He knows what He is doing, and get on with our calling to comfort the afflicted and help the neighbor

I responded to Chris (I’m ozspen #12):

I agree that the Book of Job causes us who believe in the sovereign Lord to say that we do not know the answers for the Haiti earthquake, the Pike River mine disaster in New Zealand and the floods in Australia.

You and I can understand this as believers and accept this from the sovereign hand of the Lord. However, unbelievers see this as a God who is an evil so-and-so who would bring such devastation.

How do you respond to unbelievers? To say, “We do not know the answers”, could be cause for them to not believe in this kind of God – become agnostic or atheistic towards him.

What is your response to Aussies who say, “Your God doesn’t give a damn about ordinary people. Look what he has done with the floods at Chinchilla, Dalby, Theodore, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Gympie. He’s a monster”.

To say, “Go to the Book of Job and you will see that we do not know”, is hardly a satisfactory answer to questioning Aussies who want to know the nature of this horrific God who would do this to people.

How would you reply?

 

Trapped woman on a car roof during flash flooding in Toowoomba 2.jpg

A woman trapped on the roof of her car awaits rescue during the Toowoomba flash flood (Dec 2010-Jan 2011, courtesy Wikipedia)

What if Mother Nature’s fury is the curse?

If there is no God and the devastating floods that are happening in Queensland are due to the inanimate Mother Nature, why are we bad-mouthing Mother Nature? Qld premier, Anna Bligh, has stated that “Mother Nature is unleashing something shocking” in the Toowoomba disaster.

If this devastation is to be blamed on Mother Nature, whatever he, she or it might be, if there is no God then why is she and others griping about these things? If God is not in charge of these things, then he must be just as frustrated as we are.

Surely, the floods in Qld should be pointing us to a higher purpose in life than what we are acknowledging. I haven’t heard or read this kind of response: “We have been ignoring God, kicking Him out of our lives for so long. It’s about time He got our attention to focus on ultimate issues in life”.

God has promised that he will not strike the earth again like he did in Noah’s day (see Genesis 8:21). Jesus Christ warned us that before Christ’s second coming  there would be strange signs in the sun, moon and stars, along with roaring seas and strange tides. People would be terrified by what they see on the earth (see Luke 21:25-28).

If there is no God who sends the rain on the just and the unjust, why are we kicking up such a stink about the actions of Mother Nature?

These  floods should be a wake-up call about ultimate issues for all, not just Queenslanders. This kind of a response to a “Mother Nature” cause, will not be appreciated by those who interpret life emotionally.

Disasters and God’s judgment

I received an email with the content of this blog (below) under the heading, “Japan denounced Israel exactly 1 year before earthquake and tsunami”. This blog appeared at Armageddononline.com #257:

Ron Reese from 5 Doves has discovered that ON MARCH 11TH, EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, JAPAN DENOUNCES ISRAEL!!! http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/annou…3/0311_01.html

Exactly 1 year ago March 11, 2010…The exact day of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan hit a year later in 2011.
Genesis 12:3 “I will Bless those who Bless (Israel), and Curse Those Who Curse you.”

Remember, America forced Israel to remove 8,000 Israeli’s from their homes in Gaza, then came Katrina where America lost 800,000 houses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.

Japan demanded that Israel not build 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem. After the 9.0 earthquake Japan may have to rebuild 1.6 million homes.

God is not mocked! Pay attention America!

A more detailed comment by Ron Reese is in, ‘Ron Reese (15 March 2011) “On March 11th, exactly one year ago, Japan denounces Israel!!!

What are we to make of those who want to link Japan’s actions (sins?) against Israel with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March 2011?

Jesus will not allow us to draw the conclusion that the Japanese, because of their response to Israel, are any more sinful than we are. This is clearly stated in Luke 13:1-5:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them,  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (ESV).

To paraphrase Jesus for Aussies today, based on Luke 13:1-5: There are people present today who speak about the Japanese who denounced Israel one year before the tsunami. Jesus answers these who see this as judgment against Japan: “Do you think that these Japanese are worse sinners than all Australians because they acted in this way? No, says Jesus. I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

We do not have the right to pronounce that the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown are God’s judgment on Japan – based on Luke 13:1-5. Providing judgment is God’s job and he will do it in our time. God has told us (Luke 14) that we all are sinners who need to repent and the Japanese crisis should be a reminder that all sinners need to repent.

One of the ways of responding to doubters of the biblical text and its teaching is to use …

The Judo Technique

I learned this when I was studying Jim Kennedy’s gospel presentation in Evangelism Explosion.

Often as you begin presenting the gospel, the person will say something like, “I don’t believe the Bible.  You’ll have to convince me some other way than referring to the Scriptures.”  Many people are devastated by this objection.  What happens to them?  Their attempt to share Christ fizzles.

This need not be the case.  I want to encourage you to use this objection as a springboard into the gospel itself.  The Apostle Paul, when he preached in Greek cities that had no background in the Bible, appealed to the Scriptures even though the people who listened to him did not believe the Bible.

He proclaimed to them and the Holy Spirit used the proclamation to save some who then came to believe the Bible to be true.  When we witness, our primary function is to proclaim the gospel, not defence of the Bible.  BUT when people object to the Bible, we DO NEED good answers to respond.  And there ARE EXCELLENT answers.

The judo technique works like this.  The objection, “I don’t believe the Bible,” is quite an easy one to deal with.  Don’t use the approach of a boxer who meets the blow head on and tries to overwhelm the opponent with counter punches.  Instead use the technique of the judo expert. The force of the opponent’s blow is used to throw the opponent.

Here’s how it works in presenting the gospel.  The person who objects, “I don’t believe the Bible,” usually has some university education, or has been exposed to some course in the Bible, or biblical criticism or something like that.

There is often some intellectual pride that says or infers something like this: “I used to believe those fairy tales when I was in kindy, but now I am an educated person and am far above believing those things.”  It is this intellectual pride that can be used to turn this objection into an opportunity for presenting the gospel.  I suggest this kind of dialogue with the person who objects.

“You don’t believe the Bible, John?  That’s very interesting and it certainly is your privilege not to believe it, and I would fight for that right on your part.  However, if the Bible is true then obviously you must accept the consequences.

“But I would like to ask you a question.  The main message of the Bible, which has been unquestionably the most important literary work in human history, is how a person may have eternal life.  So what I would like to know is: What do you understand that the Bible teaches about how a person may have eternal life and go to heaven?”

He may say that he does not believe in eternal life.  To this you might say, “I’m not asking you what you believe, but I am asking you what you understand.  It would be a rather unintellectual approach to reject the world’s most important book without understanding even its main message, would it not?  What do you understand that the Bible teaches as to how a person may have eternal life?  What is your understanding about what the Bible teaches on this subject?”

My experience is that over 90% will respond by saying that it is by keeping the Ten Commandments or following the Golden Rule or imitating the example of Christ, doing good, or something like that.

You might respond something like this: “That is just what I was afraid of, John.  You have rejected the Bible without even understanding its main message, for your answer is not only incorrect, but it is diametrically opposite to what the Bible teaches.  Now, don’t you think that the more intellectual approach would be to let me share with you what the Scriptures teach on this subject and then you can make an intelligent decision whether to reject or accept it?”

Now the tables have been completely turned.  Instead of being superior to the Scripture and even above listening to it, he now finds himself ignorant of even its basic message.  Now he must decide whether to listen to the message of the Scriptures or be found to be not only ignorant but also some obscure person who opposes intellectual advancement — and wants to remain in his ignorance.

This is the last thing in the world that his intellectual pride will allow him to be.  So, very often he will give you permission to tell him the gospel.  It is at this point that you pray with vigour that the Holy Spirit will take the gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, and use it to awaken him from the deadness because of sin.

Bundaberg, Qld. floods, December 2010

image

 

God is sovereign. As the Creator of all things visible and invisible, He is the owner of all, has an absolute right to rule over all, and He exercises this authority in the universe (Henry C. Thiessen 1949:173).

See: 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 45:9; Ezekiel 18:4; Daniel 4:35;  Matthew 20:15; Romans 9:14-24; 11:36; Ephesians 1;11; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 4:11.

Works consulted

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 June 2016.
.

Why does God allow pain and suffering?

Monday, December 29th, 2014

File:Ebola virus virion.jpg

Ebola virus virion (image courtesy commons.wikimedia)

By Spencer D Gear

If you are suffering from heart disease, cancer, epilepsy, or the beginning stages of dementia, perhaps you have questions like I have. Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? During 2014 we have seen around the world some horrific evil and suffering. I’m thinking of:

clip_image001The Peshawar school slaughter in Pakistan

In this slaughter by the Taliban, 145 people were killed in this military-run school on 16 December 2014. NBC News in the USA reported in ‘Death “All Around Me”: Victims Relive Pakistan School Massacre’:

Pakistan was plunged into mourning Tuesday after Taliban militants in suicide vests laid siege to a school, massacring 132 children and 10 teachers during eight hours of sheer terror. In total, 145 people were killed, including three soldiers, officials said.

Peshawar government high school (photo courtesy Commons.wikimedia)

clip_image001[1] The Ebola outbreak in West Africa

BBC News Africa reported on 23 December 2014, ‘Ebola: Mapping the outbreak’:

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March 2014, and has rapidly become the deadliest occurrence of the disease since its discovery in 1976.

In fact, the current epidemic sweeping across the region has now killed more than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined.

Up to 21 December, 7,580 people had been reported as having died from the disease in six countries; Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the US and Mali.

(image courtesy commons.wikimedia)

clip_image001[2] Malaysia Airlines MH370 disappeared off the face of the earth on 8 March 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. BBC News reported on ‘Missing Malaysia plane MH370: What we know’.

File:Malaysia Airlines MH370 origin destination atc radar water bodies.png

Malaysia Airlines MH370 original destination (image courtesy commons.wikimedia)

clip_image001[3] Then terrorism came to my home country of Australia with the siege and deaths at the Lindt Chocolatw Café, Martin Place, Sydney. See: ‘As it happened: Tributes flow for Sydney siege victims killed in Martin Place Lindt cafe shootout’ (ABC News, 16 December 2014).

File:(1)Lindt Cafe siege two days later 008a.jpg

Lindt Cafe siege two days later (photo courtesy commons.wikimedia)

But we could tell of much more evil and suffering in our world.

Does suffering have a purpose?

A Christian medical doctor wrote this on a Christian forum in the UK to which I once was contributing:

Suffering teaches us what it feels like to suffer so that we are better able to understand and help others when they are suffering (II Corinthians 1:3,4).

As a doctor, I have theoretical knowledge about many illnesses; but actually being ill gives you a completely different kind of knowledge. Instead of being a spectator, you become a patient and suddenly you can see and understand things that were previously invisible or incomprehensible to the professionals trying to help you. And so for almost every significant medical condition there exists a patient support group, through which people can share their experiences and give each other practical and emotional help.

In the UK, many charities have been started as the result of an individual going through a period of suffering, and thus becoming aware of a need. When it comes to motivation, there is nothing like personal experience!

Dr Mary Verghese (1925-1986) was training to be an obstetrician in India when a road accident left her paralysed from the waist down. As a result of this, she became acutely aware of the lack of help for the many disabled people in India, and she went on to become one of the country’s first specialists in disability and rehabilitation. (You can read her story in the book Take my hands by Dorothy Clarke Wilson).[1]

My personal encounter with pain

My response was:[2]

Sometimes the reason for pain and suffering is not always readily discernible. I suffered 3 bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10 and 12 – the most excruciating pain of the knees and ankle joints I have ever encountered. The memory remains today and I’m approaching older age. It was so severe that the hospital had to put a metal hoop over my legs so that not even a sheet could touch my legs as that would exacerbate the pain. I was not allowed to sit up. Now that was a challenge for a child.

As a result I have had leaking mitral and aortic valves of my heart all my life. I now have had 5 open heart surgeries since 1983 (the last in March 2013) to insert mechanical mitral and aortic valves, and repair the tricuspid valve. I’ve had to deal with multiple medications, including warfarin, and regular INR blood tests since 1983.

The primary biblical help I can get for this suffering is in James 1:2-4,

Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (ESV).

It is designed to bring me as a Christian to maturity and faithfulness in my Christian faith. It is not designed to make me angry with God, but I sure understand the consequences of original sin. Oh, how I long for that sweet relief that ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ will bring.

I know the purpose is maturity. But I do have moments when the going gets so tough with breathlessness as I walk.

File:Mitral Karboniks-1 bileafter prosthetic heart valve.jpg

Mitral artificial (prosthetic) heart valve

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

It’s a tough call

What is the origin of evil? If God is sovereign, does He cause it or allow it? You may have a loved one who suffered or is suffering. You may be suffering personally. These are important questions to you and to me. I don’t find a lot of churches addressing them as there are some tough issues here.

God did not create the world the way it is today. His original world was perfect (Gen. 1:31; Eccl. 7:29). The repulsive evil in our world came about by the fall of Adam into sin (Gen. 3). We cannot blame God for the ugly sin in our world. God gave Adam the free will to choose: ‘You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’ (Gen 2:17 NIV). He chose evil. See Genesis 3:4-7:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (NIV).

I’ve written elsewhere on the issue of pain and suffering. Why don’t you take a read?

clip_image003 God sovereign but not author of evil

clip_image003[1] Did God create evil?

clip_image003[2] Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

clip_image003[3] Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

clip_image003[4] September 11 & other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

clip_image003[5] Can God do anything and everything?

clip_image003[6] Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4)

Ukraine 1922 (image ‘Human suffering’,courtesy  commons.wikimedia)

Notes


[1] Deborah#15, September 23, 2014, UK Christian Web, ‘Reasons why Christians suffer’. Available at: http://www.christian-forum.co.uk/index.php?topic=12674.15 (Accessed 2 October 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#17, 2 October 2014.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 May 2016.

Does God send cyclones?

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Satellite image of Cyclone Yasi (off north Queensland intensifying on 1 February 2011 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

On the evening of 3 February 2011, I sat and watched the extended TV news coverage of the devastation caused by cyclone Yasi as it crossed the North Queensland (Australia) coast in the very early morning of 3rd Feb, and devastated that region.

Tears came to my eyes as as I saw on film how house roofs were ripped off like rubble. Large trees were torn up by their roots and thrust across houses, cars, streets and whatever else was in its path by the force of the 300km per hour winds at the core of the cyclone. The main streets of Mission Beach (where the cyclone first reached land), Tully, Tully Heads, Cardwell and Innisfail looked like a napalm bomb had hit them. It was like a war zone. Only one person was reported as dying from generator fumes and not directly from the cyclonic destruction. Three babies were born to mothers who were affected by Yasi.

Why, oh why, Lord do you send or allow such horrendous winds, torrential rain to cause such destruction were among the thoughts that came to my mind? A better question would be: Do you, Lord God, send cyclones like this? It is you who sends the rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Therefore, is it You, God, who creates and delivers cyclones?

A Christian friend said that my statement is a non sequitur (it does not logically follow) to state that God sends the rain, therefore God sends the cyclone. I agree with his judgment. However, is there other evidence that it is the Lord Almighty who creates disasters like cyclones?

What happened in North Queensland looked like a very angry God unleashing his wrath on that region. I ask of you, Lord: Please help me to understand it. I know of the link between the fall into sin and the devastation unleashed on human beings (sin) and the curse on nature that followed (see Genesis 3; Romans 5, 8).

But I’m finding it hard to comprehend the horrific nature of what has happened in north Qld. How does the goodness of God integrate with what looks like such evil? I’m not being blasphemous, Lord, but this horror is beyond my feeble mind to understand.

1.  This was the projected path of cyclone Yasi, as indicated by the US Navy.

2. Here is some film of the destruction: (a) Tully residents reveal horror of cyclone’s wrath; (b) Cyclone Yasi; (c ) Record disaster strikes Queensland; (d)  Devastated by cyclone Yasi.

Christian friends, how do you understand and justify the horrors of cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes? About ninety percent of Australia’s banana crop was annihilated by this cataclysm near Tully.

An Expensive pile of debris at Hinchinbrook Marina in Cardwell, Qld (caused by cyclone Yasi 2011, photo in public domain)

When we think of the horrific tsunami in the Indian Ocean at the end of 2004, Australia’s Yasi cyclone caused a pittance of damage. This tsunami was precipitated by a gigantic earthquake under the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004.  The United States Geological Survey stated that

“in total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa”.

Cyclone Yasi’s devastation is only a glitch when compared with this catastrophic destruction of the tsunami.

There were devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010. One report stated that there were 1700 people dead. This same report indicated that the damage was estimated as US$43 billion. Australian ABC radio reported that the number who died in the floods was about 1500. The floods affected 20 million people and damaged 1.7 million houses. This item stated that 6 months after the floods there were still 170,000 people living in makeshift camps. Here are some pictures of these Pakistani floods.

Cyclone Yasi is small in comparison with the devastation of these other two major events. But it still requires an answer to the question: Does God cause or allow this?

The Christian view of Providence

For an explanation, we need to go to the Christian view of God as creating the universe with all of the powers accompanying the running of that universe. God is preserving his creation with his holy, benevolent (wanting to help others), wise and powerful Person. Over this universe, God exercises sovereign control through what is known as His Providence. The basic etymology of “providence” is foresight and from this understanding we know that God provides for the future.

“Providence means that continuous activity of God whereby He makes all the events of the physical, mental, and moral phenomena work out His purposes;  and that this purpose is nothing short of the original design of God in creation. To be sure, evil has entered the universe: but it is not allowed to thwart God’s original, benevolent, wise, and holy purpose” (Thiessen 1949:177).

When we look at the horrors of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Pakistani floods, and the Queensland cyclone, Yasi, how are we to understand the providence of the good and benevolent God and the presence of such devastation? Let’s look to the insight provided by God’s revelation in the Scripture.

God did not create the world the way it is today. His original world was perfect (Gen. 1:31; Eccl. 7:29). The repulsive evil in our world came about by the fall of Adam into sin (Gen. 3). We cannot blame God for the ugly sin in our world. That is the outcome of Adam’s disobedience (see Romans, chs. 5 and 8). Other Scriptures provide further insight:

Job 1:12, ’The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD” (NIV).[1]

Job 9:5-7, “He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars”.

Psalm 22:28, “For dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations”.

Psalm 103:19, “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all”.

“Proverbs 16:1, “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue”.

Matthew 5:45, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

Acts 14:17, “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy”.

2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way”.

Please also note what Jesus said about the Galileans and the people who died when the tower of Siloam fell:

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

These verses indicate that the Lord God is in sovereign control of what is happening in our world, at the human level (e.g. Job), the nations (Ps. 22:8), providence over all people (Acts 14:17), and the end of the world (2 Thess. 2:7).

These disasters, whether they be the tsunami, floods, cyclones, tornadoes and earthquakes, are all designed to get the attention of the people of the world so that they will repent (Luke 13:1-5). They should be asking, “Am I ready to meet God when I die? I need to repent or I will perish”. Is that what will happen as a result of cyclone Yasi? It should.

When we examine these verses, we conclude that the good, benevolent, holy Lord God Almighty has all of the evil acts of creatures under his control and that nothing can occur without His permission and sovereign superintendency. Thus, God overrules the evil acts of human beings to for His ultimate good purpose.

God works all things in the universe, whether they be designated as disasters or good acts, for his ultimate good outcome. Remember these Old Testament events: the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers towards Joseph, the resistance of Pharaoh, the action of the heathen nations in invasion of Israel, and then there was the sinless Christ’s death on the cross. Since then, there has been horrific persecution of the church, wars and rumours of wars.

For the people of God, we know God’s purpose is achieved this way: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s ultimate aim is for His glory through whatever he does in our world: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (Isaiah 48:11).

What else can God do to get our attention, if it doesn’t happen through floods, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes, etc?

I consider that evangelical systematic theologian, Wayne Grudem, made a sound, concluding assessment:

“Every believer who meditates on God’s providence will sooner or later come to a point where he or she will have to say, ‘I cannot understand this doctrine fully.’ In some ways that must be said about every doctrine, since our understanding is finite, and God is infinite. But particularly is this so with the doctrine of providence: we should believe it because Scripture teaches it, even when we do not understand fully how it fits in with other teachings of Scripture (1994:336).

Does God create evil?

When we examine the damage done by the cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes, some are tempted to refer to God as an evil being for doing or allowing these things. Is it possible for God to create moral evil?

How do we respond to what God said in Isaiah 45:7? “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (KJV, emphasis added). So, God does create evil according to the KJV translation. How do we explain this when God is said to be good and righteous?

The Hebrew word for “create” is bara, the same word used in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NIV). The Hebrew ra, translated as “evil” (Isa. 45:7 KJV), can have a breadth of meaning as demonstrated by these various Bible translations:

Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, writes concerning ra:

“The word can be used to apply to natural disasters such as these words imply. But there is no compelling reason to restrict it to natural disasters, for the word is an extremely common word used of evil generally: It is used of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9), of the evil among mankind that brought the judgment of the flood (Gen. 6:5), and of the evil of the men of Sodom (Gen. 13:13). It is used to say, ‘Depart from evil and do good’ (Ps. 34:14), and to speak of the wrong of those who call evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20), and of the sin of those whose ‘feet run to evil’ (Isa. 59:7; see also Isa. 47:10, 11; 56:2; 57:1; 59:15; 65:12; 66:4). Dozens of other times throughout the Old Testament it refers to moral evil or sin. The contrast with “peace” (shãlôm) in the same phrase in Isa. 45:7 might argue that only “calamity” is in view, but not necessarily so, for moral evil and wickedness is (sic) certainly also the opposite of the wholeness of God’s “shalom” or peace. (In Amos 3:6, rã’ ãh is a different but related word and has a similar range of meanings.) But Isa. 45:7 does not say that God does evil (Grudem 1994:326 n7, emphasis added).

There are a couple of parallel verses to Isa. 45:7. Amos 3:6 states:

When a trumpet sounds in a city,
do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
has not the LORD caused it?

Lamentations 3:38 reads:

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

The Hebrew for “calamities” in these latter two verse is rã’ ãh and it has similar meanings to ra. The NIV has translated rã’ ãh in these two verses as “disaster” and “calamity”. So, God creates disasters and calamities! Can this be applied to cyclones Yasi, Larry and Tracy in Australia, the Indian Ocean tsunami, hurricane Katrina and other disasters? Isa. 45:7, Amos 3:6 and Lam. 3:38 confirm this.

We know that God performed one massive disaster in sending the flood in Noah’s day that wiped out the entire human race except Noah and his family (Genesis 6) because of the earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). God did it again by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). God has demonstrated that He can bring disaster through judgment.

But is God responsible for creating sin – moral evil? We turn to the Scriptures and hear from James 1:13-14:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.

It is clear from these two verses in James that God never causes evil temptation. Human beings are personal agents who are responsible for yielding to temptation. But how do we apply this to Isa. 45:7? The KJV translation could send a wrong message about the Lord God: “I make peace and create evil”. “Evil” is a legitimate translation but there are other options. We cannot assign what is morally evil to God. H. C. Leupold notes on Isa. 45:7:

“It is not the morally good and the morally evil that are being attributed to Yahweh, but things good and bad are said to lie totally in his power, as far as their physical aspects and consequences are concerned. The RSV version does full justice to the issues involved when it says: ‘I make weal and create woe.’ Note similar statements in Amos 3:6b; and Isa. 14:24-27. ‘I am the Lord who does all these things’ aptly sums it all up” (1971:122).

We cannot conclude that God does evil because that would mitigate against who God is – the good, righteous God. To say that God does evil would be to create another kind of god. Of Yahweh, the only true God, we know:

The goodness of God is revealed in Scripture: “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19); the Psalms proclaim “He [the Lord] is good” (Ps. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1). David exhorts us: “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8).

The righteousness or justice of God is made clear in passages such as Deut. 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he”. Even King Nebuchadnezzar got it correct: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just” (Daniel 4:37).

When we say that God is righteous or just, we mean that God’s actions are always right and His nature is the final standard of what is right and just. Wayne Grudem explains from the life of Job and God’s bringing calamity to Job:

In answer to Job’s questioning about whether God has been righteous in his dealings with him, God answers Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?…Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (Job 40:2, 8). Then God answers not in terms of an explanation that would allow Job to understand why God’s actions were right, but rather in terms of a statement of God’s own majesty and power! God does not need to explain the rightness of his actions to Job, for God is the Creator and Job is the creature. “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (Job 40:9). “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place…?” (Job 38:12). “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, “Here we are’?” (Job 38:34–35). “Do you give the horse his might?” (Job 39:19). “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south?” (Job 39:26). Job answers, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:4).

Nevertheless, it should be a cause for thanksgiving and gratitude when we realize that righteousness and omnipotence are both possessed by God. If he were a God of perfect righteousness without power to carry out that righteousness, he would not be worthy of worship and we would have no guarantee that justice will ultimately prevail in the universe. But if he were a God of unlimited power, yet without righteousness in his character, how unthinkably horrible the universe would be! There would be unrighteousness at the center of all existence and there would be nothing anyone could do to change it. Existence would become meaningless, and we would be driven to the most utter despair. We ought therefore continually to thank and praise God for who he is, “for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4) [Grudem 1994:204-205].

Disasters and God’s judgment

I received an email with the content of this blog (below) under the heading, “Japan denounced Israel exactly 1 year before earthquake and tsunami”. This blog appeared at Armageddononline.com #257:

Ron Reese from 5 Doves has discovered that ON MARCH 11TH, EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, JAPAN DENOUNCES ISRAEL!!! http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/annou…3/0311_01.html

Exactly 1 year ago March 11, 2010…The exact day of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan hit a year later in 2011.
Genesis 12:3 “I will Bless those who Bless (Israel), and Curse Those Who Curse you.”

Remember, America forced Israel to remove 8,000 Israeli’s from their homes in Gaza, then came Katrina where America lost 800,000 houses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.

Japan demanded that Israel not build 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem. After the 9.0 earthquake Japan may have to rebuild 1.6 million homes.

God is not mocked! Pay attention America!

A more detailed comment by Ron Reese is in, ‘Ron Reese (15 March 2011) “On March 11th, exactly one year ago, Japan denounces Israel!!!

What are we to make of those who want to link Japan’s actions (sins?) against Israel with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March 2011?

Jesus will not allow us to draw the conclusion that the Japanese, because of their response to Israel, are any more sinful than we are. This is clearly stated in Luke 13:1-5:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them,  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (ESV).

To paraphrase Jesus for Aussies today, based on Luke 13:1-5: There are people present today who speak about the Japanese who denounced Israel one year before the tsunami. Jesus answers these who see this as judgment against Japan: “Do you think that these Japanese are worse sinners than all Australians because they acted in this way? No, says Jesus. I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

We do not have the right to pronounce that the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown are God’s judgment on Japan – based on Luke 13:1-5. Providing judgment is God’s job and he will do it in our time. God has told us (Luke 14) that we all are sinners who need to repent and the Japanese crisis should be a reminder that all sinners need to repent.

Use your mind in discerning where to live.

To understand the impact of floods and cyclones, God has given us minds to discern which areas of Australia are the most prone to floods and cyclones. If we want to avoid being victims of floods and cyclones, we can choose to avoid living in those areas.

The Australian government’s, Attorney-General’s Department, Emergency Management for Schools, has compiled this graph of the most cyclone prone areas in Australia as Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

www.crikey.com.au has located this range of maps to show the flood prone areas of Brisbane and District after the January 2011 floods.

May the Lord help us to be wise in making decisions about where we live in Australia.

Conclusion

  • Does God send cyclones, tsunamis and tornadoes? Yes, he does create disasters and these acts of “mother Nature” must be put down as acts of God.
  • We cannot state that certain acts of God – calamities – are specific judgments against certain sins in contemporary society. God does not reveal that to us so Christians dare not pronounce such judgments when disasters happen.
  • God, by his very nature (good, just, righteous), cannot create moral evil.
  • Human beings cannot make the judgment of associating catastrophe with God’s judgment (see Luke 13:1-5).
  • God’s actions in sending woes should be a wake-up call to the world of sinners to repent or perish. Human life is temporal.

For further consideration, see my articles:

Also see John Piper’s articles: “Don’t waste your cancer”; “Where is God? The supremacy of God in an age of terror“.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Leupold, H. C. 1971. Exposition of Isaiah (vol 1, chapters 1-39). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The first edition of this article was on Friday, February 4, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 May 2016.

Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4)

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Litter Disposal Clip Art

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Pollster George Barna in the USA ‘was commissioned to inquire of people what one question they would ask of God if they had the opportunity. By an overwhelming margin, the most urgent question was: Why is there so much suffering in the world?’[1]

Amongst some Christians I’ve heard comments like: If you are an obedient, growing and sanctified Christian who seeks to do the will of God, you will not experience horrible suffering. But I ask: What happened to Job, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul? If bad things happened to them, why can’t they happen to you and me? Ron Rhodes tells the story of a Christian leader who was sledding and ran into a barbed wire fence he didn’t see. He was decapitated. A pastor got into his car and backed over his infant son on the driveway, killing him instantly. A Christian woman saw her husband and child killed when hit by a car. Surely these examples tell us that Christians are experience some of the tragedies of the world around us.[2]

As I was finishing preparation of this message, I received an email from a friend in the UK. He didn’t know I was preparing a sermon on this topic and he said that he had had a disagreement with his wife a few days ago and asked, ‘Why are relationships so difficult?’[3]

Have you ever asked?

clip_image002

(image courtesy lookseekblog.com)

Now let’s read for some answers.

James 1:1-4 (NASB)
Testing Your Faith

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brethren [brothers and sisters], when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A. Sit up & take notice: This must sink in

We could miss this emphasis in the biblical text, because our English translations begin James 1:2 with something like this: ‘Consider it’ (NIV, NLT, NASB, NET); or ‘Count it’ (KJV, ESV).

This word is addressing these Christians as a group[4] (2nd person plural) with point action for themselves.[5] But what does it mean? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that the verb[6] means to ‘think, consider, regard, deem it’.[7] Kittel’s Greek word study says it means ‘to regard as particularly important’.[8]

So, in down-to-earth Aussie lingo the Greek means: ‘Sit up & take notice. You must think about it to the point where it must sink in daily’. I ask you to sit up and take notice of what will bring you the greatest maturity in your Christian life now and in succeeding years.

What must we think about? The Greeks put the most important part of the sentence at the beginning.

The NASB starts, ‘Consider it all joy’. The Greek word order literally states, ‘All joy you consider (it)’.

B. Think on all the joy or the pure joy it brings

Is this saying you are to have all kinds of happiness when the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in footie or the Aussies beat the South Africans in cricket?

Is this happiness when the bank balance is comfortable and there are not too many bills to pay? Is James 1:2 talking about being happy when your health is good or manageable and the kids are behaving themselves?

What on earth is joy in a world of strife in Ukraine and Crimea? What about being a Christian in Syria or the South Sudan today? How can there be joy when a large aeroplane is lost on a flight and we don’t know its whereabouts?

What about being a Christian in the midst of the Holocaust, Soviet Gulag, the persecution of Nero? How about with a husband or wife who abuses you? Children who are rebels? Bullies on the job?

What does it mean to have ‘joy’ in the midst of those kinds of circumstance? This is chara in the Greek and related to the verb ‘to rejoice’.

Joy is more than a matter of mood because 1 Thess 3:9 asks: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (NIV) We know that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22. It is fruit that the Spirit grows in believers.

It’s a paradox: The idea of joy in suffering came from Judaism. Take a read of the Book of Job. See also 1 Peter 2:20-24 and 4:12-14 where suffering is given a Christological perspective. These latter verses read:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Paul regularly reminded his readers of the source of joy. Its source was beyond human happiness or human joy. It is ‘in the Lord, and therefore outside of ourselves’. That’s why Paul reminded his readers of the origin of joy and exhorted them to manifest it. In Phil 3:1 he said, ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice [i.e. have joy] in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you’ (NIV).[9]

Happiness is based on good outward circumstances. Joy is based on your inner relationship with the Lord and He causes joy to grow in you in your contentment in your relationship with Jesus.

We need to make something clear before we proceed:

C. Ladies: You are not let off the hook

In many translations, James 1:2 in English is addressed to ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’. Does this exempt the ladies? Is the Book of James sexist and only addressed to blokes and the women can tune out and nod off for the next half hour?

In the NT, ‘adelphos’ can refer to a male brother. But Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives examples of how the plural form ‘can also mean brothers and sisters’. In Matt 12:50, Jesus said, ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’. We have examples of the plural term ‘adelphoi’ (brothers) being ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ – see Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 5:11; Eph 6:23; 1 Tim 6:2; Rev 1:9; and 12:10.[10]

So for the book of James, you ladies are not left off the hook. James is addressed to ‘brothers’ who are male and female. That doesn’t sound too good in English. But in the Greek we can say that all Christians, male and female, can be addressed as adelphoi.

What happens to the Christian? You are living the daily Christian life and

D. Trash – the horrible stuff – comes into your life

Scrap YardThe ESV translates as ‘meet trials’, NIV as ‘face trials’, NKJV ‘fall into various trials’, and NASB ‘when you encounter various trials’. So you can ‘encounter’ trials.

Is this like joining an ‘encounter group’ from the 1960s, 70s to deal with the trials and tribulations of life? These groups were gatherings of about 10-20 people where there was an opportunity to open up and share the emotional side of what was going on in your life as you experienced it with other group members. There was open sharing – and some had very emotionally charged encounters. It was hoped people would get in touch with their feelings, receive support from others and become more aware of the feelings of others.[11]

Is this what James is talking about? Those groups were a place where many secular and some Christian people went to encounter others and try to gain healing for their emotional ills. Is that what James is dealing with? I hardly think so.

‘Encounter’ or ‘meet’ or ‘face’ or ‘fall into’ is from the verb, peripipt?[12] which means to ‘become involved in’[13] or ‘to come on something accidentally … to be innocently involved in something … In James 1:2, … we have the figurative … emphasis on the swift and unexpected way in which [people] can be involved in temptation’.[14]

Because it is the subjunctive mood, in general, according to Greek guru, John Wenham, it ‘is the mood of doubtful assertion. In nearly all its uses there is some element of indefiniteness in the sentence’.[15] This means that it may happen or may not. This is accentuated by the use of ‘when’ or ‘whenever’ (hotan), which is a conjunction of uncertainty. And because it is the aorist tense it may happen suddenly – point action.

Has this happened to you? Difficulties in your life have come with no notice. It is doubtful and not certain when they come and they can come on you suddenly? That’s what James is communicating to us with that simple verb, ‘encounter’ or ‘fall into’.

Would you agree with Job’s friend, Eliphaz?

Job 5:7 states, ‘Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ (NIV)

Job said in Job 14:1, ‘Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (NIV)

We have lots of examples of evil and suffering in the Bible.

  • Job lost his family & all of his possessions;
  • David was pursued and persecuted by the jealous and angry Saul for a long time (1 Sam. 20:33; 21:10; 23:8);
  • The wife of Hosea was unfaithful to him (Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 4);
  • Joseph in the OT was badly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28);
  • Herod’s step-daughter asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate (Matt. 14:6-10);
  • Paul, the apostle, was jailed several times, was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25).[16] According to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul wrote: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (ESV);

These examples show that those who obey God and seek to be faithful believers still may experience horrible suffering. This is suffering for God’s purpose in their lives!

But what are you encountering? The NASB calls them, ‘trials’.

1. Are you experiencing all kinds of life’s ‘garbage’?

I’ve heard Christians say to me, ‘I wish God wouldn’t send all of this junk into my life. It’s garbage and I want to get rid of it. I hate it’.

‘Trials of many kinds’ is the NIV translation. NKJV agrees with the NASB and calls them ‘various trials’. The ESV reads, ‘trials of various kinds’. Would you agree that the trials you experience in your life are just like that – many and varied? And they can come on you suddenly?

I was in the midst of preparing this message in November 2013 when I had another job to do and climbed a ladder in an attempt to clean the leaves from my house gutters, leaves from my neighbour’s trees. But the ladder collapsed and the back of my head slammed onto the concrete at our front door. I became concussed and ended up in Redcliffe hospital. Two weeks later I collapsed with a heart issue when taking a walk and landed head first into the gravel and into hospital and had an ICD implanted in my chest to regulate my heart rhythm. Two weeks later in the early morning while sleeping, I had a grand mal seizure and then into hospital. Talk about trials of various kinds happening suddenly.

J I Packer wrote a wonderful book, A Quest for Godliness, in it he stated: ‘Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do’.[17]

Many of you know what I’m talking about. God allows these various trials into our lives, but what’s the purpose of them?

Before we get to the purpose or reason for trials for the believer, we need to talk about what they are. Are they …

2. Trash, garbage or something else?

Many English translations call them ‘trials’ (NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV), ‘troubles’ (NLT, CEV), or ‘temptations’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, RV).

But what are these trials, troubles or temptations? Peirasmos can mean a ‘test, trial’ or a ‘temptation, enticement to sin’.[18] All of them can be involved. I know that you and I can give examples of what seems like trash through trials and temptations coming into our lives.

In this passage from James 1, God has something special to teach us about the trials of trash in our lives. They are:

E. Horrible stuff with a BIG purpose

(image courtesy vector.me)

James 1:3 tells us exactly why God allows the trials and temptations into our lives. It is for the ‘testing of your faith’. Of what kind of stuff is your faith in God made?

How are diamonds formed? I read an article online from geology.com which stated,

The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressures. These conditions occur in limited zones of Earth’s mantle about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the surface where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).[19]

Remember that precious diamonds are made through pressure and very high temperatures.

What about expensive pearls? Science from ‘How stuff works’ tells us that

the formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.[20]

Precious and expensive pearls are caused by an irritant.

God uses a similar process in helping Christians grow to maturity in Christ. Let’s

F. Get in step with God’s plan for you & me

https://i1.wp.com/2.bp.blogspot.com/_YjcJAeRzX-4/TUR2Orsk0ZI/AAAAAAAAAZA/NhxnPY-5WOg/s1600/Image11.jpg?resize=143%2C162

(image courtesy Google, public domain)

How will the diamonds and pearls of sanctification come in our lives? Let’s follow these steps carefully to see how God brings you and me to maturity in the Christian life:

1. You need to know it (1:3)

Verse 3 begins, ‘for you know’ (ESV) or ‘knowing that’ (NASB). This is present continuing action of experiential knowledge.[21] You need to have this knowledge as a continuing experience in your Christian life. Knowledge of what? You will not be able to count it all joy when trials come into our lives unless you continually know by experience what God is up to with your life.

What is God up to? Stay tuned because the reasons are about to unfold.

This is what God is up to in every Christian’s life by allowing trials and temptations to come into your life at ANY time. God is engaged in the task of

2. Refining rubbish (1:3)

It is trash with a purpose in every Christian’s life.

The language in the English translations is that God uses trials in ‘the testing of your faith’ (ESV, NIV, NASB, NET, NKJV, RSV, NRSV), ‘trying of your faith’ (KJV), ‘proving of your faith’ (ASV).

We know from an examination of the papyri that this word, to dikimion, is a noun that means ‘testing’ or ‘means of testing’.[22]

How does that apply to trials as a ‘means of testing’ our faith? It is the …

3. Refining your faith (1:3)

How do you refine gold? Put it in a furnace. It is purified by the use of the fire of refining. To get purer gold, you put it through the fire of testing. This is the analogy James is using with this word. Your faith is like gold that stands the test of fire to examine its genuineness.

How genuine is your faith? You will know through the testing of the fire of trials.

Note God’s purpose for trials:

4. Trash that produces staying power (1:3)

The word ‘produces’[23] or ‘works’ is again continuing action in your life. It’s the middle voice, so it is referring to what happens for you. So trash is continuing to produce what?

Hupomon? is an old Greek noun that means ‘staying power’.[24] Our English translations will use language such as ‘steadfastness’ (ESV), ‘perseverance’ (NIV), ‘endurance’ (NLT, NASB), ‘patience’ (KJV). But the meaning is stickability, staying power. Oh for people in the church who have staying power, even through the most difficult times? Are trials going to make you or devastate you? Do you know God’s purpose in trials is to refine your faith and produce staying power in your Christian life?

Alister Begg wrote a book, Made for His pleasure. In it he stated something that resonates with James 1, ‘The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter’.[25]

This staying power means, according to James 1:4, that

5. Trash brings the perfect result (1:4)

Notice how v. 4 puts it, ‘And let endurance [staying power] have its perfect result’. ‘Let’ is a present tense imperative – ‘let it keep on having’[26] what? It’s a ‘perfect result’ or ‘perfect work’. The thought is that trials, the trash in our lives, are to ‘carry on the work to the end or completion’, just like John 17:4, where Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said that he had ‘accomplished the work that you gave me to do’ (ESV).

Here’s the issue that we have to keep on knowing in experience and acknowledging: To get to the end of life and accomplish God’s perfect result or work for us, we need trials to refine our faith.

For what purpose?

6. Trash brings the ultimate result: Maturity & completeness (1:4)

Here we have a purpose clause in the Greek, which is the goal of trials in your life. Trials are for the ultimate purpose of refining us, through staying power, and bringing us to being ‘perfect [or mature] and complete’ (ESV). Greek exegete A T Robertson put it so well: we will be ‘perfected at the end of the task (telos) and complete in all parts…. “perfected all over”’.[27]

This will lead to …

7. Imagine it? Lacking in nothing (1:4)

What could this possibly mean that you are ‘lacking in nothing’ (1:4)? This is really a ‘negative statement of the preceding positive’ one.[28] James uses this kind of technique where he’s make a positive statement and then gives the negative side of it. You can see it in 1:6. To lack nothing is another way of saying we are mature and complete.

G. Practical responses for trials

(image courtesy sharefaith.com)

For Christians who are going through trials, there is a special ministry of the body of Christ that I want to emphasise as I draw to a close. It’s a dynamic that is missing from many churches in this country:

6pointLight-small Romans 12:14-15 (ESV) puts it very clearly, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.

This ‘one another’ ministry is so critical for other believers who are experiencing trials of various kinds:

6pointLight-small ‘Bearing with one another in love’ (Eph. 4:2);

6pointLight-small Eph. 4:32 (ESV), ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’.

6pointLight-small Eph. 5:20-21 (ESV), ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’.

6pointLight-small Col. 3:13 (ESV), ‘bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 3:12 (ESV), ‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 5:11 (ESV),’Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.

6pointLight-small Heb. 3:13 (ESV), ‘But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.

There is much more to this ‘one another’ ministry but we must be there with it for those experiencing trials. Those who are going through trials desperately need this. That’s enough for now, but I do find it in short supply in today’s evangelical church in this country. But it’s also a challenge to me to be more vigilant in this ministry to others.

H. Conclusion

There are times when I’ve thought: Lord, why did you allow me to have three horrific bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10, and 12 that left me with lifelong leaking heart valves and now 5 open-heart surgeries. Why, oh why, Lord do you allow for such suffering?

How do Christians get to become mature and complete in the Christian life? These are the steps that James gives that we must know and practice daily. It is not a politically correct message. It is not a message that goes down well with the heal-wealth false theology. In fact, many evangelical Christians have lost this perspective on the Christian life. These are God’s steps to maturity and completeness in the Christian life.

Consider it pure joy

clip_image004

Trials with a BIG purpose

clip_image004[1]

Trials for refining faith

clip_image005

Trials for staying power

clip_image004[2]

Trials for the perfect result

clip_image004[3]

Trials for maturity & completeness

clip_image004[4]

Trials clip_image007 lacking in nothing

 

That’s the message of James 1:1-4. Will you receive it now and for the futuer?

  • Material prosperity will not do it.
  • Obedient, well-behaved children will not cause it to happen.
  • Even good health is no guarantee more joy will be in your life.
  • What will it be for you?

I read a story by Amy Anderson in Forbes magazine online that was titled, ‘Trials should make us better, not bitter’.[29] It began with this story:

I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story.  She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.

She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why do I have to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”

I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW!  That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”

Will you

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Joy of the LORD

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Anderson, A R 2013. Trials should make us better, not bitter. Forbes, 10 April. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/04/10/why-me/ (Accessed 11 March 2014).

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[30] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Begg, A 1998. What angels wish they knew. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Begg, A 1996, 2005. Made for his pleasure: Ten benchmarks of a vital faith. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Bennett, W H n.d. The general epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude (The Century Bible: A modern commentary). H H Rowley & M Black (eds). London: Blackwood, Le Bas.

Beyreuther, E & Finkenrath, G 1976. ?????, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2, 356-361. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Brown, C (ed) 1976, The new international dictionary of New Testament theology,[31] vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Büchsel, O 1964. Egeomai, in Kittel, G (ed). Tr by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2, 907-908. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Michaelis, W 1968. Peripiptw, in Friedrich, G (ed). Tr G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 6, 173. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1990. A quest for godliness: The puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Rhodes, R. 2004. Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good?  Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and the Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Ropes, J H 1916/1973. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Notes:


[1] In Rhodes (2004:8). The footnote indicated: ‘Cited by Lee Strobel, “Why does God allow suffering?” Message delivered at Saddleback Valley Community Church, El Toro, California, February 26, 2000’ (Rhodes 2004:265, n. 1).

[2] Based on Rhodes (2004:12).

[3] Email received on 16 March 2014.

[4] 2nd person plural.

[5] Aorist, middle, indicative.

[6] Hegeomai.

[7] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:344).

[8] Büchsel (1964:907)

[9] This paragraph is based on information from Beyreuther & Finkenrath (1976:361).

[10] Arndt &Gingrich (1957:15-16).

[11] Based on ‘Psychology glossary’, AlleyDog.com, 1998-2014, available at: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Encounter+Groups (Accessed 9 March 2014).

[12] Peripes?te, 2nd person pl, aorist active subjunctive.

[13] Arndt & Gingrich 1957:655.

[14] Peripiptw (Michaelis 1968:173).

[15] Wenham (1965:160).

[16] These scriptural illustrations were suggested by Rhodes (2004:12).

[17] Packer (1990:22).

[18] Peirasmos (A&G 1957: 646).

[19] ‘How diamonds form’ 2005-2014, geology.com, available at: http://geology.com/articles/diamonds-from-coal/ (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[20] ‘How do oysters make pearls?’ 1998-2014. Science, How stuff works, available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/question630.htm (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[21] ‘Knowing’ is ginwskontes, present active participle from ginwskw. For experiential knowledge, A T Robertson calls it ‘experimental knowledge’ (Robertson1933:12).

[22] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:202).

[23] Katergazetai, present middle indicative.

[24] Robertson (1933:12).

[25] Begg (1996:106).

[26] Robertson (1933:12).

[27] Robertson (1933:12).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Anderson (2013), emphasis added.

[30] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev and aug edn. 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[31] This is translated with additions and revisions from the German, Theologisches Begriffenslexikon zum Neuen Testament, original German 1971 (Brown 1976:3-4).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

God sovereign but not author of evil

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

By Spencer D Gear

clip_image002

Auschwitz-Birkenau (flickr)

Bill Muehlenberg is a Christian social commentator – a cultural apologist – based in Melbourne, Australia. His incisive assessments of cultural and Christian issues have earned him a solid reputation among many evangelical Christians for exposing what is happening in our culture. See his ‘Culture Watch‘ website.


In a recent post, Muehlenberg stated:

I actually had a guy recently send in this comment: “God cannot be ‘forced’ to do anything, you reprobate heretic.” Suffice it to say I did not bother to print this guy’s comment. So what was he on about here? Earlier I had written an article about God’s rejection of Saul

In it I said, “Overall, the biblical message is that God is indeed sovereign, but he is not directly the author of evil. This passage is one of many texts that must be examined in this light. And it serves as a strong warning to us all as well. God may well use a person for his purposes, but it is also possible for that person to reject God, forcing God to reject him.”

And for daring to say that, I am now a “reprobate heretic”! Do I laugh or cry at this? Obviously my point was that God felt compelled to act, in light of Saul’s bad choices and rebellion. Of course God is not forced to do anything in one sense. But this person leapt to an unwarranted conclusion about what I had said, and was ready to at least tar and feather me.[1]

It really is a sad state of affairs in the Christian church when Muehlenberg is called a ‘reprobate heretic’ for stating that God ‘is not directly the author of evil’. This, of course, relates to the Arminian-Calvinism debate where Arminianism allows for the manifestation of evil and some Calvinism supports God’s decreeing evil (as a general statement).

There have been others who have made claims about the difficulty of the problem of evil for Christianity:

  • ‘The most serious challenge to theism was, is, and will continue to be the problem of evil’, according to Ronald Nash (Nash 1988:177).
  • ‘How can evil be compatible with the concept of a good God who is actively ruling this world? In the past these have been called “acts of God”’ (Boice 1978:229-230).
  • ‘The Bible is clear that both good and evil cannot stem from one and the same essence (God). God is light, and “in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John1:5; compare Habakkuk 1:13; Matthew 5:48). First John 1:5 is particularly cogent in the Greek, which translates literally, “And darkness there is not in Him, not in any way.” John could not have said it more forcefully’ (Rhodes 2004:47).
  • Paul Little offered this penetrating analysis: ‘If God were to stamp out evil today, he would do a complete job. His action would have to include our lies and personal impurities, our lack of love, and our failure to do good. Suppose God were to decree that at midnight tonight all evil would be removed from the universe – who of us would still be here after midnight?’ (Little 1975:81).

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how this conflict plays out theologically.

1. God causes all evil: Calvinists

Johnpiper3.jpg

John Piper (Wikipedia)

a. John Piper, a Calvinist, stated:

‘So every spin of the roulette wheel … you know Las Vegas … every roll of the dice in your family board game, every reaching of the hand for the scramble of the letter, is determined by God’.[2]

Piper‘s view of the Sept 11, 2001 disaster in the USA was: ‘God, by his very nature, cannot or would not act to bring about such a calamity. This view of God is what contradicts the Bible and undercuts hope’.[3]

This kind of message is nothing new for Calvinism.

b. John Calvin agreed with such a sentiment:

Let us suppose, for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye of God, but had been fixed by his decree. For it is said, not that he foresaw how far the life of each individual should extend, but that he determined and fixed the bounds which could not be passed, (Job 14:5).[4]

Is this what Calvinists want to affirm with God as the author of such evil?

Highlights of the Holocaust

 

AND,

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon.

September 11, 2001 (Wikipedia)

AND,

Daniel morcombe.jpg  

Murder of Daniel Morcombe (Wikipedia) and Brett Peter Cowan (public domain), convicted murdered of Daniel Morcombe

So all of this is from the hands of God with God as the author of evil, according to the Calvinists cited above? Such a view is obnoxious and abhorrent, making God the sinner as the perpetrator of sin.

2. Norman Geisler’s response to a Calvinist, ‘God killed my son’

In his seminal book, Chosen but Free, Norm Geisler illustrated the illogical nature of the Calvinistic view of God and evil:

Not only does extreme Calvinism tend to undermine personal responsibility, it also logically lays the blame squarely on God for the origin of evil.  Many years ago, when the late John Gerstner and I taught together at the same institution, I invited him into one of my classes to discuss free will.  Being what I have called an extreme Calvinist, he defended Jonathan Edwards’ view that the human will is moved by the strongest desire. I will never forget how he responded when I pushed the logic all the way back to Lucifer. An otherwise very rational man responded to my question ‘Who gave Lucifer the desire to rebel against God?’ by throwing up his hands and crying, ‘Mystery, mystery, a great mystery!’  I answered, ‘No, it is not a great mystery; it is a grave contradiction.’  And this is because on the premises of extreme Calvinism, only God could have given Lucifer the desire to rebel, since there is no self-determined free choice and Lucifer had no evil nature.  But if this is so, then logically it must have been God who gave him the desire to sin.  In short, God caused a rebellion against God. Perish the thought!

The second example is also tragic. A well-known conference speaker was explaining how he was unable to come to grips with the tragic death of his son.  Leaning on his strong Calvinistic background, he gradually came to the conclusion: ‘God killed my son!’  He triumphantly informed us that ‘then, and only then, did I get peace about the matter.’  A sovereign God killed his son, and therein he found ground for a great spiritual victory, he assured us.  I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what he would say if his daughter had been raped?  Would he not be able to come to grips with the matter until he concluded victoriously that ‘God raped my daughter?’  God forbid!  Some views do not need to be refuted; they simply need to be stated (Geisler 1999:133).

3. God does not cause all evil: Arminians

Dr. Olson

Roger E Olson (Baylor University)

a. Roger Olson, an Arminian, disagrees with John Piper’s perspective:

I am not willing to rule out the possibility that God might send judgment on a city with a seemingly natural disaster. Who knows? (But I don’t believe God causes people to do evil as in the case of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.) God is God. He may very well have reasons I can’t even fathom. And, of course, in the end, we are told God will intervene in history and defeat his enemies. I’m sure that won’t be pretty. However, EVEN IF GOD TOLD ME a natural disaster that caused untold suffering was his judgment I would not announce it publicly. Unless, of course, he told me to. Does Piper claim God has told him to proclaim these things? Or is he just speaking out of his theological convictions? I’m not sure about that.

I think it is the height of insensitivity to target calamities in which husbands, fathers, mothers, children have died horrible deaths and pronounce them “God’s judgment.” I would urge Christians not to do that unless they are certain God has called them to do it and given them the reason that particular disaster was his judgment. And I would urge people like Piper not to do it unless they are also willing publicly to proclaim that a kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered child was also targeted by God and why. It’s all part of a package deal in his and their case (i.e., Calvinists). So, my challenge to them is to bite the bullet and not just proclaim natural disasters or even man-made disasters “God’s judgment” but also to explain that they believe every child murdered, tortured, raped is also suffering because God willed it.[5]

4. Jacobus Arminius on determinism, free will and evil

Jacobus Arminius

Jacobus Arminius (About.com)

At the time of Arminius’ ministry in the Netherlands (he lived 1560-1609), there were certain theological articles distributed extensively that accused him and Adrian Borrius, a minister of Leyden, of suspected ‘novelty and heterodoxy, of error and heresy, on the subject of religion’. He responded with a defence against these. One of those stated: ‘God has not by his eternal decree determined future and contingent things to the one part or the other’ (Article 7).[6]

In this response, Arminius stated that ‘a calumny … lies concealed under ambiguous terms’ that are ‘capable of inflicting deep injury’ but when these terms are explained the slander is exposed and loses its force. Calumny means ‘a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone or something’ (dictionary.com).

The ambiguous term in Article 7 is ‘determined’. In explaining this word, Arminius exposes his understanding of the origin and continuation of evil. His assessment was that ‘determined’ could be used two ways:

  1. Firstly, the determination by God that something shall be done and it is fixed, but its ‘power, remains free either to act or not to act, so that, if it be the pleasure of this second cause, it can suspend [or defer] its own action’. So, by application, this understanding of God’s determination does not exclude the free acts of human beings in performing evil acts.
  2. The second understanding of ‘determination’ is that when something should be done, it is fixed and ‘the second cause (at least in regard to the use of its power,) remains no longer free so as to be able to suspend its own action, when God’s action, motion and impulse have been fixed; but by this determination, it [the second cause] is necessarily bent or inclined to the one course or the other, all indifference to either part being completely removed before this determined act be produced by a free and unconstrained creature’. This means that God’s determination is fixed and there is no free act for the person involved. So, by application, God is the cause of evil in the past and present.

Arminius supports the first understanding of ‘determined’. He explained:

For I am aware that it is said, in the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, ‘Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against Jesus, to do whatsoever God’s hand and counsel determined before (or previously appointed) to be done.’ But I also know, that Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Jews, freely performed those very actions; and (notwithstanding this ‘fore-determination of God,’ and though by his power every Divine action, motion and impulse which was necessary for the execution of this ‘fore-determination,’ were all fixed,) yet it was possible for this act (the crucifixion of Christ,) which had been ‘previously appointed’ by God, not to be produced by those persons, and they might have remained free and indifferent to the performance of this action, up to the moment of time in which they perpetrated the deed. Let the narrative of the passion of our Lord be perused, and let it be observed how the whole matter was conducted, by what arguments Herod, Pontius Pilate and the Jews were moved and induced, and the kind of administration [or management] that was employed in the use of those arguments, and it will then be evident, that it is the truth which I here assert.

However, if the second understanding of ‘determined’ is accepted, he stated,

I confess, that I abominate and detest that axiom (as one that is FALSE, ABSURD, and preparing the way for MANY BLASPHEMIES,) which, declares that ‘God by his eternal decree has determined to the one part or to the other future contingent things.’ By this last phrase understand “those things which are performed by the free will of the creature’. He regards this second position as ‘falsehood’ because God in the administration of his Providence conducts all things in such a manner that when he is pleased to employ his creatures in the execution of his decrees, he does not take away from them their nature, natural properties or the use of them, but allows them to perform and complete their own proper motions. Were it otherwise, Divine Providence, which ought to be accommodated to the creation, would be in direct opposition (emphasis in original).

Arminius goes even further to ‘detest it as AN ABSURDITY: Because it is contradictory in the adjunct, that “something is done contingently,” that is, it is done in such a manner as makes it POSSIBLE not to be done; and yet this same thing is determined to the one part or the other in such a manner, as makes it IMPOSSIBLE to leave undone that which has been determined to be done’ (emphasis in original).

Arminius’ point was that human beings have been made (by God) with the ability for contingency, liberty and to be able to ‘freely act according to nature’ and that ability is impeded. It finds it a position of ‘insanity’ that it has been conferred ‘at the creation a power on the creature of acting freely or of suspending its action, and yet to take away the use of such a power when the liberty comes at length to be employed’.

He abhors such a position as it is

CONDUCING TO MULTIPLIED BLASPHEMIES. For I consider it impossible for any art or sophistry to prevent this dogma concerning “such a previous determination” from producing the following consequences: FIRST. It makes God to be the author of sin, and man to be exempt from blame. SECONDLY. It constitutes God as the real, proper and only sinner: Because when there is a fixed law which forbids this act, and when there is such ‘a fore-determination’ as makes it ‘impossible for this act not to be committed,’ it follows as a natural consequence, that it is God himself who transgresses the law, since he is the person who performs this deed against the law. For though this be immediately perpetrated by the creature, yet, with regard to it, the creature cannot have any consideration of sin; because this act was unavoidable on the part of man, after such “fore-determination” had been fixed. THIRDLY. Because, according to this dogma, God needed sinful man and his sin, for the illustration of his justice and mercy. FOURTHLY. And, from its terms, sin is no longer sin.

I never yet saw a refutation of those consequences which have been deduced from this dogma by some other persons. I wish such a refutation was prepared, at least that it would be seriously attempted. When it is completed, if I am not able to demonstrate, even then, that these objections of mine are not removed, I will own myself to be vanquished, and will ask pardon for my offense. Although I am not accustomed to charge and oppress this sentiment [of theirs] with such consequences before other people, yet I usually confess this single circumstance, (and this, only when urged by necessity,) that “I cannot possibly free their opinion from those objections (emphasis in original).

I have provided this detailed explanation from Arminius because it explains in some detail why Arminianism refuses to give up free will given to human beings at creation and to refuse to accept the Calvinistic view of determinism / determination with regard to the origin of evil and the contemporary problem of evil. I recommend that you read this section online.

Arminius provided logical and biblical reasons why Calvinistic determinism should be rejected because,

(1) It makes God the author of sin, which is an absurdity for the sinless, perfect, holy Lord God Almighty;

(2) God is the one who transgresses his own law and makes him a sinner – which is a blasphemous concept;

(3) God, to demonstrate his justice and mercy, needed human beings, not to perform the acts of evil, but to be vehicles for God to perform original sin and contemporary acts of sin – this is blasphemy;

(4) How can sinful actions in society (September 11, 2001 tragedy; Holocaust slaughter; murder and rape of human beings) be regarded as sinful if God is the originator of such evil? God is the sinless, righteous Lord God who cannot commit sin. Calvinism makes God an evil monster by redefining who this God is and how he acts in society.

God’s attributes include:

  • ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ (Isaiah 6:3 ESV).
  • ‘Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?’ (Psalm 71:19).
  • ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5).
  • ‘This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 18:30).
  • ‘He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!’ (Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT).

That God should be accused of being the originator of evil and to be the contributor to causing evil in our contemporary world flies in the face of the very nature of God and his attributes.

But have a guess what is accused of being the real heresy? It is Arminianism. Did you realise that? Take a read of Pastor Pribble now:

5. Arminianism as a heresy

 Google (public domain)

 

a.  Stephen Pribble, pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Lansing, Michigan regards Arminianism as a heresy, writing,

Arminianism is indeed a heresy, a serious departure from the historic faith of the Christian church…. Is Arminianism a heresy? Yes.

Are Arminian preachers heretics? In a sense, yes, though most have not been condemned as such by a church council having the authority to make such a determination.

Can an Arminian preacher be a “damnable heretic” who preaches a false gospel of man’s free will instead of the true gospel of God’s sovereign grace? Yes, surely….

Is Arminianism a damnable heresy? Yes.[7]

That is an example of the kind of antagonism towards Arminianism by one Calvinist. However, he is not alone.[8]

b.  Phil Johnson, the executive director of ‘Grace to You’, the John MacArthur organisation, wrote:

But let me be plain here: Simple Arminianism doesn’t fall in that category [heresy]. It’s not fair to pin the label of rank heresy on Arminianism, the way some of my more zealous Calvinist brethren seem prone to do. I’m talking about historic, evangelical Arminianism, of the classic and Wesleyan varieties — Arminianism, not Pelagianism, or open theism, or whatever heresy Clark Pinnock has invented this week — but true evangelical Arminianism. Arminianism is certainly wrong; and I would argue that it’s inconsistent with itself. But in my judgment, standard, garden variety Arminianism is not so fatally wrong that we need to consign our Arminian brethren to the eternal flames or even automatically refuse them fellowship in our pastors’ fraternals.

If you think I’m beginning to sound like an apologist for Arminianism, I’m definitely not that. I do think Arminianism is a profound error. Its tendencies can be truly sinister, and when it is allowed to go to seed, it does lead people into rank heresy. But what I’m saying here is that mere Arminianism itself isn’t damnable heresy. It’s just grossly inconsistent with the core gospel doctrines that Arminians themselves believe and affirm.[9]

6. A mediating position: Sin and God

Andrew Wilson has proposed a conciliating position between Calvinism and Arminianism. I recommend a read of his article at it provides an exposition of these two summary points on a mediating, biblical position between Arminianism and Calvinism, ‘Piper and Olson: Does God ordain all sinful choices?’[10]

1. Firstly, ‘the purpose of God in ordaining that Joseph be sold into slavery, and that Pharaoh harden his heart, and that the Assyrians attack Israel, and that Jesus be executed despite his innocence, is explicitly redemptive. All of those evil things happen because through them, in the providence of God, the redemption of the world is ultimately being accomplished. God uses Joseph to save many lives, and Pharaoh’s stubbornness to show his power and demonstrate his support of Israel, and the Assyrians to drive Judah to repentance, and so on, right through to the cross. In all of these examples, the sinful human choices are part of God’s plan to bless the world through the seed of Abraham’.

2. Secondly, ‘clarifying that God ordains some sinful human choices but not all of them enables us to engage in theodicy with integrity. As I have said here before, many high Calvinists answer like Arminians when asked about the problem of evil, displaying a fatal inconsistency which indicates either that their Calvinism doesn’t work, or that they haven’t really thought about it properly. If you believe that God ordains all sinful choices, from the fall to the Holocaust and beyond, then saying that Auschwitz was a tragic result of God giving humans freedom is simply not an option; Nazis killed Jews because God ordained that they would, even if they remain morally culpable for it. But if you believe, as I do, that God ordained some sinful choices in the history of his people and his Son, but always with redemptive purpose, then the classic answer to the Holocaust question is the right one: God allows human beings to make evil choices, even though it grieves him when we do. And this, if we’re honest, is much more compelling on an Alpha table than saying it was all pre-planned for God’s greater glory. Especially when the Bible doesn’t actually say that’.

7. Conclusion

The Calvinistic position that God is the author of evil and the one who decrees evil in our contemporary world – as applicable to all circumstances – cannot be supported from the Scriptures. The holy, righteous, good, perfect and sinless God of light cannot be the one who creates evil. To use Arminius’ words: ‘It is an absurdity’ to promote such a view as it makes God a sinner.

The Arminian position with its emphasis on the God who made human beings free will persons and what God decrees can be accepted or rejected, has many positives.

However, the mediating position of Andrew Wilson seems to have the considerable weight as a theological position. It demonstrates that there were times when God ordains some sinful human choices, but mostly he does not. However, it does have the challenge that on those occasions, the holy, righteous God does decree sin. That leads to Arminianism as being the preferred position.

However, I have grave concerns over Arminius’ view that Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Jews could have chosen not to crucify Jesus, in spite of the fore-ordination of God. It makes God’s eternal plans putty in the hands of the fickle perpetrators of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Idi Amin.jpg    Rwanda Massacre    Victims of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia

Idi Amin (Wikipedia)   Rwanda massacre 1994 (BlackPast.org)    Victims of Pol Pot & Khmer Rouge, Cambodia (The Holocaust explained)

Who was the author of these gross sins? Human beings or God?

 

Here are some more of my articles for your consideration:

Conflict over salvation
Calvinist misrepresents the Reformed
Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

The injustice of the God of Calvinism

Blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by Calvinists

Is a Calvinistic God a contradiction when compared with the God revealed in Scripture?

 

Works consulted

Boice, J M 1978. The sovereign God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Little, P E 1975. Know why you believe. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Nash, R H 1988. Faith and reason: Searching for a rational faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Rhodes, R 2004. Why do bad things happen if God is good? Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.

Notes:


[1] Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, ‘On heresy hunters’, 9 April 2014, available at: http://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/09/on-heresy-hunters/comment-page-1/#comment-354036 (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[2] ‘John Piper addresses God’s sovereignty amid calamity’, August 30, 2012, The Wartburg Watch 2014. Available at: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2012/08/30/john-piper-addresses-gods-sovereignty-amid-calamity/ (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[3] John Piper 2001. ‘Why I do not say, “God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good”’, Desiring God, September 17, 2001. Available at: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-i-do-not-say-god-did-not-cause-the-calamity-but-he-can-use-it-for-good (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[4] Institutes of the Christian religion 1.16.9. (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[5] Roger E Olson 2012. ‘My response to John Piper’s recent statements about God and tornadoes’, March 8. Patheos, available at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/03/my-response-to-john-pipers-recent-statements-about-god-and-tornadoes/ (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[6] Arminius, J 2013. The works of James Arminius, vol 1, The apology or defense of James Arminius (online), Wesley Center Online, Northwestern Nazarene University, available at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/the-works-of-james-arminius/volume-1/the-apology-or-defense-of-james-arminius/ (Accessed 12 April 2014). All of the following Arminius’ quotes are from this website. The Works of James Arminius may be accessed at the Wesley Center Online, available at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/the-works-of-james-arminius/ (Accessed 13 April 2014).

[7] Stephen Pribble n d. ‘Is Arminianism a damnable heresy?’ Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Lansing, Michigan, available at: http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/pribble/damnable.html (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[8] David J Stewart is another example in his article, ‘Arminianism’, in which he tried to demonstrate that ‘Arminius taught heresy’ at jesus-is-savior.com. Available at: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Doctrines/Arminianism/arminianism.htm (Accessed 12 April 2014).

[9] Phil Johnson, Executive director, Grace to you 2008. ‘Why I am a Calvinist, Part 1’, available at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/articles/10194 (Accessed 12 April 2014; emphasis in original).

[10] All of these Andrew Wilson citations are from his article, ‘Piper and Olson: Does God ordain all sinful human choices?’ Thinking Matters, 15 October 2012. Available at: http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/does-god-ordain-all-sinful-human-choices (Accessed 12 April 2014).
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

‘I will beat the hell out of God’

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

#

OpenClipArt

It is not unusual to read of or hear about someone who turns off or away from God after a traumatic experience.

A fellow who was hurting deeply started a new thread on Christian Forums that he called, ‘lost all faith in a god’. He wrote:

My world has crashed down like a ton of bricks these last few weeks after watching my 16 year old son die a slow painful death of cancer, he suffered so much and as i am a single parent dad i was the only one to be with him and i never left his side. my faith is smashed now as i think if there is an all loving god who saves people then why not save my son ? my son was the kindest kid in the world always thinking of others and even to the end was thinking about me.

there is just no sence (sic) to this and my feeling of anger is such that if there is a god then when its my turn to die i will beat the hell out of him and make him or her or it suffer like my son did i grew up to belive (sic) in being good kind and help others in this cruel world as it is today my son was so loved and yet this kind of thing happens to many people its just all so unfair to watch others live a good happy life never knowning (sic) what its like to suffer why on earth does this go on why carnt (sic) we just leave in a peaceful world without the suffering ? and when we die then just let us die of old age without suffering ? if god is all powerful and loving and kind then surely he would have to the power to grant that to us all ? hence my faith now is smashed as i dont have the answers and never will have.[1]

How does one respond to a hurting individual, especially when he is blaming God for his teenager’s painful death from cancer? I replied:[2]

I know you are hurting deeply and nothing I can say will ease that pain.

You say that you don’t mean to anger or upset anyone, but what did you say about my Lord God?

Please consider three points:

  1. When the Lord Almighty made the universe (see Genesis 1), did he consult with you and me as to how the world is to be run? And,
  2. When Adam and Eve fell into sin (Genesis 3), they did it for you and me. They were our representatives. If we had been there, we would have disobeyed God just as they did. And what happened?
  3. What was unleashed on your son were the consequences of sin entering into the world. I have lived with a rheumatic heart condition all of my life and have had 5 open-heart, mitral and aortic valve replacement surgeries, along with a tricuspid valve repair. I know the pain of 3 bouts of rheumatic fever as a child that left me with heart problems. I cannot begin to tell you about the excruciating pain I experienced with attacks of rheumatic fever at ages 6, 10 and 12. The pain was so bad that a hoop had to be placed over my knees and ankles to prevent a sheet from resting on them. My father dropped dead of a heart attack at age 57. My dear friend suffered a massive stroke recently and entered the presence of the Lord through death. I am not immune to pain in my life, but I am not blaspheming God like you did.

Why? It is my view of God that is based on biblical revelation. God has told us why your son could experience cancer and why I suffered attacks of rheumatic fever. It is a direct consequence of Adamic sin.

Besides, you and I spend so little time during our earthly journey when compared with eternity. Where will you be spending eternity with your current view of God? Why are you blaspheming him? Do you know God personally and do you have a relationship with him?

I then encouraged him to send me a private message on the Forum and asked if he had had any grief counselling to deal with his son’s death.

Sadly, he did not respond to what I wrote and did not engage much further with others on that Forum.

How do we explain evil in our world?

See my articles:

blue-arrow-small  Did God create evil?

blue-arrow-small Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

blue-arrow-small Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

blue-arrow-small September 11 & other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

blue-arrow-small Sinful nature or sinful environment?

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘lost all faith in a god’, desypete #1, 3 June 2012, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7661562/ (Accessed 4 June 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #11.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.