Archive for the 'Sovereignty of' Category

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.

Is God absolutely sovereign?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear

When we see the wickedness in our world, we could be tempted to say that God, the Almighty One, is not in absolute, sovereign control of our world. I’m thinking of:

How do we deal with God’s sovereignty and these kinds of atrocities? One way to process these abhorrent events is to state that….

A.  God is not absolutely sovereign

I met a fellow on a Christian forum who stated, ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’.[1]

His comments were made in a theological context in which his context was that

all of the five points of Calvinism were deduced from the concept that God became absolutely sovereign when Adam sinned in the garden and man lost his free will.

God is NOT absolutely sovereign.

All five points of Calvinism are based on a false premise.

Indeed, in previous … posts I have used the example of Joshua 24:15 to document that man retained his free will after the fall.[2]

Joshua 24:15 states, ‘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’ (ESV).

In my view, there is a better alternative:

B.  God’s sovereignty and free will

I disagree with this fellow’s perspective.[3] I consider that the biblical teaching is that God is absolutely sovereign and that sovereignty includes the free will decisions of human beings. This is a brief overview of God’s sovereign attributes:
clip_image002God is before all things (Ps 90:2; Col 1:17);
clip_image002[1]All things were created by God (Jn 1:3);
clip_image002[2]God sustains all things (Heb 1:3);
clip_image002[3]God is above and over all things ( Eph 4:6);
clip_image002[4]God is all knowing (Ps 139:4-6; Heb 4:13);
clip_image002[5]God is all-powerful (Gen 18:4);
clip_image002[6]God’s sovereignty implies that He does what He wills (Isa 14:24, 27).
This sovereignty means that
clip_image002[7]God is the ruler over all things (1 Chron 29:11-12);
clip_image002[8]God does whatever He pleases (i.e. is in control of everything) (Ps 115:3);
clip_image002[9]Earthly kings are controlled by God (Prov 21:1);
clip_image002[10]God’s control extends to human events (Isa 55:11);
clip_image002[11]Good and evil angels are under God’s control (Col 1:15-16; Eph 1:21; 1 Ki 22:19-22);
clip_image002[12]God controls Satan (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev 20:10).

C.  The most difficult concept to grasp

This is the one we find most difficult to understand:

clip_image004God sovereignly controls our free choices, including our salvation (Eph 1:4, 11; 1 Pt 2:8). Yes, he is sovereign, but that does not eliminate human free will decisions.

God’s sovereignty does not make free choice and human responsibility to be fakes. God is not a sovereign Puppet Master who pulls the strings of life for all people and nations. One of the great mysteries of God’s sovereignty is that He is absolutely sovereign but human responsibility is genuine in the midst of this mystery.

The apostle Paul affirms the depth of the riches in God’s wisdom and knowledge in Romans 11:33. Long before Paul, Moses stated it profoundly,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law (Deut 29:29 ESV).

Therefore the person who stated that he does not believe in God’s absolute sovereignty sounds like a promoter of open theism. Open theism is defined by one of its promoters, Clark Pinnock, as,

a relational view of God. [pause] Because the thing is that, in the past, with a high doctrine of predestination and timelessness and changeability, it’s hard to see how God was relational….

So our view is not that God knows everything that can be known and is therefore omniscient without qualification, but that some aspects of the future are settled and other aspects are not settled. The world is such that certain things are still being settled by the agents in the world, by us and by God, so God knows things as possible as well as certain.

Traditionally, God knows everything that will ever happen certainly, so it must happen exactly that way. Whereas we’re saying that God appears in the Bible to know some things for certain because he planned them or because they’re going to happen definitely, but aspects of the future may surprise him.

I think that’s a point that’s gotten people scared, the idea that God takes risks and is vulnerable. The same thing with the impassibility of God….

We’re saying that omniscience doesn’t mean that the future is exhaustively foreknown because God’s made a world the future of which would be decided by himself and human agents. So it’s really the reality of the human agents as to whether they make any difference for the future. If they do, then it means that certain things are not yet settled, because they haven’t made their choices, or done their thing (from Clark Pinnock’s interview with Homiletics online, ‘Does Prayer Change Things? Yes, if you’re an Open Theist’).

D.  Conclusion

I can conclude that some people can and do refuse to do God’s will. However, that is to be understood as included in a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God.

Therefore, I cannot accept this person’s statement that ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’. God is absolutely sovereign and in that sovereignty human beings take responsibility for various issues in their lives.

Suggested for further reading

Notes


[1] PrincetonGuy#12, 8 October 2014. Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Question arising from the Calvinism/predestined threads’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7843483-2/#post66437993 (Accessed 8 October 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

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.