Friday, March 31, 2006

Workplace Tracts

In my meanderings thru the workplace, I recently came across some tracts and booklets that you would find at your local church for the purpose of some quick info and for passing them out to folks you witness to. I looked thru them to see what subjects they addressed and who the authors were. One booklet in particuliar caught my eye due to it's title, "Where Is God When You Hurt?". Due to the title, I figured that it would try to address the "problem of evil" and a quick scan of the opening page confimed my suspicion. The booklet was written by a fellow named Richard W. Coffen. I had never heard of Mr. Coffen so I looked him up on the web and found that he is associated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Since I know someone who is a member of the SDA church, I was curious to see how someone from that denomination would handle the subject. So I sat down to read. But, as you might guess, I was less than impressed and would like to briefly address some of the things written by Mr. Coffen. I will limit my discussion to the way in which Mr. Coffen handles and interprets certain verses mentioned in his booklet.

First up is Mr. Coffen's handling of Luke 13:16. He sets up his comments on this verse by relating real life examples of suffering and evil and trying to establish that God does not will evil of any kind and that since Jesus was here to do only the Father's will, He didn't will evil either. Now this all sounds well and good but the issue is how Mr. Coffen handles Luke 13:16 in relation to other verses that bear on the same subject. In other words, is Mr. Coffen guilty of ignoring verses that contradict his reading of Luke? We shall see...

Luke 13:16 reads thus:

And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day? NASB

Here is Mr. Coffen's remarks:

Did you notice whom Jesus blamed for the woman's condition? Satan had crippled her for 18 years. But Jesus came to our planet to show us what God wants.

With these comments, Mr. Coffen attempts to show that Satan was "the lone gunman" so to speak, and that the Father and the Son had nothing to do with it.

Now, when I first read this I immediatly thought of Job and God's interaction with Satan in regards to Job's afflictions. But I'll hold on Job for a moment in order to discuss another verse that sprang to mind that bears on Mr. Coffen's interpretation of Luke 13:16. The text is John 9:3 which reads:

Jesus answered, "it was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him". NIV

This verse comes on the heels of the disciples asking Jesus about a blind man they had met. They wanted to know the reason for his blindness which they assumed was the result of sin. Jesus' answer is eye opening to say the least. Jesus states that this man was not struck blind because of sin at all but that he was blinded for the purpose of God showing his power and mercy to this man thru Christ. The implicit statement here is that there was divine purpose in this man's condition irregardless of Satan being named as the direct cause of the woman's infirmities in Luke. How can I say that you might ask? I readily concede that there is not an *explicit* statement in John 9:3 that names God as (ultimately) causing this man's blindness for that specific purpose on that specific day in time. But I can answer this objection by stating that the *implicit* is there and that I can show elsewhere the *explicit* statement that God is (ultimately) the cause of, not only blindness, but all infirmities that afflict man. My prooftext will be Exodus 4:11 which reads:

The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? NASB

This verse provides us the *explicit* statement that God makes man mute, deaf, and blind. I believe it clearly establishes the Calvinistic interpretation of John 9:3 and disproves Mr. Coffen's contention that God had nothing at all to do with the woman's infirmities in Luke 13:16. But what about the mention of Satan and Not God in Luke 13:16? Without getting into a drawn out discussion of the theological distiction between primary and secondary causation, I will simply take the reader to the book of Job for the answer to the question concerning Satan's involvment with the woman in Luke (incidentally, this is where Mr. Coffen goes as well).

After trying to establish that Satan is solely and ultimatly the cause of evil by appealing to Luke 13:16, Mr. Coffen takes his readers to the book of Job and relates the tragic events in Job's life as recorded in the opening chapters. This is, I believe, where Mr. Coffen is at his worst. Let's pick up with his comments...

During Job's depression after having lost livestock and children and health, his wife muttered something about cursing God and getting it over with. But Job retorted, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
(Job 2:10)
That's a rather puzzling affirmation, because the implication is that we should actually expect both good and bad to come from God's hand. But we really shouldn't construct theology on the musings of someone wallowing in the slough of despond. Deep depression is hardly the crucible for deep theology. And even Job himself later admitted that he really hadn't known what he was talking about.

Now, the first thing I would point out is the glaring lack of any mention of the "conversation" between God and Satan concerning Job. This is significant because God explicitly gave permission to Satan to inflict all the suffering that Job experienced. Indeed, it was God himself who mentioned Job to Satan in the first place. But of course, Mr. Coffen does not even hint at these things because they are detrimental to his assertion that Satan is the cause of man's woes and acts solely apart from God's will in such matters. I also believe that this bears heavily on Mr. Coffen's interpretation of Luke 13:16 as mentioned above.

The second thing to mention here is Mr. Coffen's handling of Job 2:10. Coffen only quotes *half* the verse and proceeds to tell his readers that Job was depressed and simply talking out of his head. But is this the case? Here is the full verse:

But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. NASB (emphasis added)

The part of the verse that Mr. Coffen did not quote states that Job did not sin by saying that man recieves both good and adversity from God. It hardly needs to be pointed out how the very mention of this half of the verse refutes Mr. Coffen's assertion that Job was merely depressed and saying things that are not accurate. If this were true, the text would agree with Mr. Coffen and affirm that Job did indeed sin by implicating God for his woes. Further, the second half of the verse brings out even more the relevance of God's granting permission to Satan to afflict Job. Why? Because often the argument is made that God only gave permission to afflict Job and thus is not responsible (that is, being the cause) for the evil that befell Job. But again, the text itself refutes such an assertion by stating that Job did not sin in saying that men recieve both good and ill from the LORD. It is therefore very telling as to why Mr. Coffen did not completely quote Job 2:10. This kind of cut and paste handling of God's word is saddening and inexcusable.

I could go on reviewing Mr. Coffen's booklet but I think that I have made my point. The problem of evil cannot be dealt with by holding up certain verses and ignoring others. There are many verses in the Bible like those I've brought forward and they must be dealt with by those who profess to love truth. I can only hope that Mr. Coffen is not representative of the way Seventh Day Adventists handle the word of God.

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