Saturday, May 06, 2006

God's Relationship to Evil

In almost any conversation about Calvinism, there is the accusation that Reformed theology makes God responsible for sin and/or evil. The Calvinist will usually answer this charge by denying that God is responsible in the sense of being held accountable by His creation and that He is not the author of sin by making a distinction between primary and secondary causation. However, the Calvinist at some point must admit that Reformed theology affirms God as the ultimate cause of all things and that nothing occurs but by His will. Through all this theological wrangling lies the main issue, which is, what scripture says about God's relationship to sin and evil. I will review several sections of scripture that speak directly to this issue without going through all the theological considerations just mentioned.

The first verse I would like to briefly discuss is Isaiah 45:7 which reads:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. KJV

The obvious point to make about this verse is that God, thru the prophet, states that He creates evil. The King James translators chose to give the most literal rendering of the underlying Hebrew which is why you would see other, less pointed, translations in the NIV or NASB. But even with other, less literal translations of the underlying Hebrew, the meaning changes little, if at all. The terms employed by other translations such as adversity, disaster, catastrophe, etc. are all synonyms. So, in light of these considerations, what does the non-Calvinist do with this verse? How does the common assertion that God only *permits* evil to happen but has nothing to do with it otherwise, do justice here? How does the non-Calvinist point an accusatory finger at Reformed theology for making God the "author of evil" when you have God's own testimony that He creates it? These questions will become more weighty as we continue with the Biblical testimony.

In the book of Lamentations we read:

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Lamentations 3:38 NASB

Here we have the prophet Jeremiah stating that both good and ill come from God. The NASB's rendering is a bit interpretive in comparison to the KJV which again has translated the underlying Hebrew as "evil". But do the implications not remain the same? Is not the prophet trying to communicate that both sides of the moral spectrum come from God himself? If not, what other possibilities are there that can do justice to this verse as it reads?

Next, we have the prophet Amos stating:

When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Amos 3:6 NIV

The prophet Amos states that when a disaster strikes a city, the LORD has caused it. Again, the KJV renders the underlying Hebrew as "evil" versus the NIV's "disaster". But I again point out that the meaning is the same. Moreover, this statement by the prophet has modern implications. Do not modern disasters such as 9/11 or hurricane Katrina not fall under God's hand and will according to Amos? If this be admitted, is it not true that the terrorist attack on the twin towers was "caused" by God Himself? Was this act of terrorism not evil? I believe that many non-Calvinists would still be reluctant to state that God had anything to do with 9/11 even if they conceded the above reasoning. But what about hurricane Katrina? Many non-Calvinists have stated that Katrina was an act of punishment from God. But is not a natural disaster a kind of evil? If the non-Calvinist answers in the affirmative, what does this do for his criticism of Reformed theology?

Next is Job 2:10 which reads:

But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. NRSV

Here, Job has just answered his wife by saying that men receive both good and bad from the hand of God. Again, the KJV translators chose to render the underlying Hebrew term as "evil" versus the New Revised Standard's "bad". The most important thing to notice concerning this verse is that it explicitly states that Job did not sin by the comments he made. In modern discussions of this topic, it is the non-Calvinist that accuses Reformed theology of "making a monster out of God" by stating essentially the same thing as Job. But notice it is scripture itself that defends the Calvinist's assertions against this criticism. I have commented previously on one non-Calvinist's handling of this verse. His solution to how the verse read was to simply not quote it in full and to state that Job was suffering from some sort of dilusion due to his afflictions. As I noted before, this attempt at censuring the word of God in order to save one's theological presuppositions is inexcusable.

The next verse I would like to briefly discuss is 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? NIV

In this section of Exodus, Moses himself is complaining about being God's mouthpiece. God's answer is very interesting in that He states that it is He that makes men mute, deaf, seeing, and blind. Now, I do not believe that these are the only infirmities that God can be said to be the cause of. I mean, why would God only be the cause of blindness and deafness and not of, say, cancer or diabetes? Either way, disease is considered a kind of evil amongst those on both sides of the debate on the problem of evil. If it be admitted by the critic of Calvinism that disease is a kind of evil, then what is his explanation of this verse? How does this fit into his system of theology?

The last verse I would like to discuss has to do with what theologians have called the single most evil act man has ever commited. This act being the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The book of Acts has this to say:

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. Acts 4:27, 28 NASB

This text states that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish people and the Gentiles did whatever the "hand and purpose" of God predestined them to do. As all Christians know, these people were all involved with the execution of our Lord and though the crucifixion is how our salvation is made possible, this was an act of pure evil on the part of the parties named. So if it be admitted that all those involved in the crucifixion were predestined by the hand and purpose of God to the roles they played, and it be admitted that they commited evil, what can be said against the Calvinist who affirms that God is the ultimate cause of all things? In the case of this particuliar verse, the non-Calvinist will try to slip in their concept of "foreknowledge" in order to distance God from what is plainly stated. But the Calvinist only need respond by pointing out that the term foreknowledge is not mentioned here or in the immediate context. So what else is left?

In all the verses that we've looked at, nothing is at all stated that God merely "permits" or "foreknows" evil. In fact, four of the verses bluntly stated that God creates or causes evil. So for the non-Calvinist who takes the view that God only permits evil and does not in no way cause it, what does he do with these verses? How will he continue to criticise Calvinism for affirming what the text of scripture so plainly states?

4 comments:

Mike Ratliff said...

Nice post. I know a lot of Arminians who would like to strike you for posting it, but what you said is exactly right. They put God in a box, Calvinists seek to know the real God the way He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

J. Matthew Cleary said...

Thanks for the kind words Mike!

Pelagius said...

Matt: I laud you for your intellectual honesty even though I am a Finney Presbyterian and disagree with your theology. As you point out in your post, most Calvinists deny that under their system of theology; which is predicated on the Eternal Decree; God is according to Reformed theology - the author of sin.

Calvinism is a system of necessity and precludes any liberty, free will, free agency or second causes. When theologians attempt to get around this logical truth, they create a host of philosophical and logical problems and inconsistencies. Surprisingly Hodge's Systematic Theology is full of contradictions and errors - all because he wants to maintain the concept of free agency and free will; again impossible under a system of necessity such as Calvinism. I must admit, the scriptures that you have quoted do not charge God with sin.

Kudos,

Pelagius

alpha said...

Thank you for allowing me to respond to your post. I am not a Calvinist or
Reformed Doctrine follower but perhaps we both can learn from one another.
I will conserve space the best I can and address the areas that were in
question. I list below a very clear section of scripture from the Lord in
Jeremiah 19. Verse 5 clearly refutes the reformed position and the following
claim within your earlier post-

“However, the Calvinist at some point must admit that Reformed
theology affirms God as the ultimate cause of all things and that
nothing occurs but by His will”.

Jer 19:1 Thus saith the LORD, Go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take
of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests;
Jer 19:2 And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the
entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee,
Jer 19:3 And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and
inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;
Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his
ears shall tingle.
Jer 19:4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and
have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their
fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with
the blood of innocents;
Jer 19:5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with
fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it,
neither came it into my mind:

Mat 23:37, Acts 7:49-52, and Proverbs 1:22-31 are additional scriptures to
support that not all things are authored by the Lord. I maintain that GOD
permits all things for HIS ultimate GLORY. He has ultimate control of that
which comes to pass but the Bible also reveals HIS character. Translations
that contradict HIS know character indicate a false premise. The Bible says he
changes not:

Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Deu 4:31 (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

Deu 10:17 For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:

Deu 32:4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

2Ch 19:7 Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.

Job 34:10 Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.

Job 36:5 Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any: he is mighty in strength and wisdom.

Psa 5:4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.

Psa 92:15 To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Jer 2:5 Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?

Now to address the verses in question. First we look at Isa 45:7. I have also gone to the liberty of listing Strongs Concordance with definitions listed.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. KJV

STRONGS CONCORDANCE

Isa 45:7 I form3335 the light,216 and create1254 darkness:2822 I make6213 peace,7965 and create1254 evil:7451 I589 the LORD3068 do6213 all3605 these428 things.

H7451
ra‛ ra‛ah
rah, raw-aw'
From H7489; bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: - adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil ([-favouredness], man, thing), + exceedingly, X great, grief (-vous), harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief, (-vous), misery, naught (-ty), noisome, + not please, sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. [Including feminine ra’ah; as adjective or noun.]


Isaiah 45:7 is contrasting opposites. Darkness is the opposite of light. However, evil is not the opposite of peace. The Hebrew word translated "peace" is shalom, which has many meanings, mostly related to the well being of individuals. Ra‛ah, the Hebrew word translated "evil" in the KJV often refers to adversity or calamity. There are two forms of the word. Strong's H7451 a most often refers to moral evil, whereas Strong's H7451b (the form used here) most often refers to calamity or distress. Calamity is a more accurate antonym of "peace" than "evil." Likewise it does not contradict GODS nature (Psa 5:4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee).

The next verse was Lamentations 3:38:
Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? KJV
I realize that you chose to use the NASB but the implication as you freely admitted was the same. I have listed the additional verses to bring further clarity:

Lam 3:31 For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
Lam 3:32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
Lam 3:33 For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
Lam 3:34 To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
Lam 3:35 To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
Lam 3:36 To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
Lam 3:37 Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Lam 3:38 Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Lam 3:39 Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
Lam 3:40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
Lam 3:41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.


STRONGS CONCORDANCE

Lam 3:38 Out of the mouth4480, 6310 of the most High5945 proceedeth3318 not3808 evil7451 and good?2896
ra‛ ra‛ah
rah, raw-aw'
From H7489; bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: - adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil ([-favouredness], man, thing), + exceedingly, X great, grief (-vous), harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief, (-vous), misery, naught (-ty), noisome, + not please, sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. [Including feminine ra’ah; as adjective or noun.]
EXPLANATION
The King James Version of Lamentations 3:38 seems to suggest that God speaks both good and evil. However, if one reads the verse in context, the preceding verses indicate that God does not do or approve of evil. Once again we can cite the known character of God revealed elsewhere as clarification. This section of scripture is trying to convey that people should not complain in view of their sins. God decrees times of good things as well as times of judgment. Lamentations was written by Jeremiah during a time of judgment, when Judah had gone off into exile. Jeremiah was chosen by God to be the prophet to tell Judah to reform or be judged. The people did not believe Jeremiah, and, therefore, fell under God's judgment. In Lamentations 3:38, the word translated "good" is tob (Strong's H2896). The word usually refers to good things as opposed to bad things. Again, ra‛ah does not refer to moral evil, but calamities, within this context. God does bring judgment and calamity (either directly or through human authorities) on those who rebel.
The next one listed was from the book of Amos 3:6. You chose to render the NIV version with the same implication.

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? KJV Amos 3:6


STRONGS CONCORDANCE

Amo 3:6 Shall a trumpet7782 be blown8628 in the city,5892 and the people5971
not3808 be afraid?2729 shall there be1961 evil7451 in a city,5892 and the LORD3068
hath not3808 done6213 it?

rah, raw-aw'
From H7489; bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: - adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil ([-favouredness], man, thing), + exceedingly, X great, grief (-vous), harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief, (-vous), misery, naught (-ty), noisome, + not please, sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. [Including feminine ra’ah; as adjective or noun.]

Again we see the same word (raha) referring to calamity or disaster. The Context in question is not referring to a moral evil. The judgments of a righteous GOD could not be a considered moral evil. I also would like to give my opinion with regard to the following statement made within your post- “But I again point out that the meaning is the same. Moreover, this statement by the prophet has modern implications. Do not modern disasters such as 9/11 or hurricane Katrina not fall under God's hand and will according to Amos? If this be admitted, is it not true that the terrorist attack on the twin towers was "caused" by God Himself? Was this act of terrorism not evil? I believe that many non-Calvinists would still be reluctant to state that God had anything to do with 9/11 even if they conceded the above reasoning. But what about hurricane Katrina? Many non-Calvinists have stated that Katrina was an act of punishment from God. But is not a natural disaster a kind of evil? If the non-Calvinist answers in the affirmative, what does this do for his criticism of Reformed theology”
What was perpetuated on 9/11 were evil acts of evil human beings. To implicate GOD as the author of such behavior given what scripture ( those I listed earlier for a start) reveals of GOD would be in gross error. Yes, our GOD could have stepped in at anytime and stopped this wicked event but HIS word also promises that even the worst of situations such as Katrina, or the Tsunami, and 9/11 will be used for good for those who love and serve the Lord (Romans 8:28-30). I have lost three siblings to evil acts of murder and in no way, shape, or form do I implicate that it was HIS decretive will that they be slaughtered. Yes, the Lord I serve permitted this to pass and as hard as it may have been for me to understand that HE allowed such, I have faith that these events have shaped my own Christian growth and indeed have drawn me closer to HIM.

Next we have Job 2:10. Again, I have listed the KJV with the same
implications listed in prior posts.

Job 2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.
Job 2:2 And the LORD said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
Job 2:3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.
Job 2:4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
Job 2:5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
Job 2:6 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
Job 2:7 So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.
Job 2:8 And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.
Job 2:9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
Job 2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Job did not fault GOD for his afflictions. GOD allowed Satan to bring affliction on a blameless and integrity filled man. GLORY was brought to GOD by the steadfastness of JOB. Your post stated: “Here, Job has just answered his wife by saying that men receive both good and bad from the hand of God. Again, the KJV translators chose to render the underlying Hebrew term as "evil" versus the New Revised Standard's "bad". The most important thing to notice concerning this verse is that it explicitly states that Job did not sin by the comments he made. In modern discussions of this topic, it is the non-Calvinist that accuses Reformed theology of "making a monster out of God" by stating essentially the same thing as Job. But notice it is scripture itself that defends the Calvinist's assertions against this criticism”.
IF GOD has authored all of this scenario and authored all the events, what GLORY does JOB’s steadfastness bring the LORD? I myself see the GLORY that JOB brings to GOD by his standing firm during this horrible time.That was precisely the point of the entire exchange between Satan and GOD. “Try JOB and you shall see Satan”? Job trusted the LORD and that is what his retort to his wife reveals. My only charge to the reformed or Calvinist position is that the beauty of this chapter seems to be lost on because of their fixation on GOD as author of all things.
Next in line from your post was Exodus 4:11:

And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh
the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?

Your post cited was- “In this section of Exodus, Moses himself is complaining about being God's mouthpiece. God's answer is very interesting in that He states that it is He that makes men mute, deaf, seeing, and blind. Now, I do not believe that these are the only infirmities that God can be said to be the cause of. I mean, why would God only be the cause of blindness and deafness and not of, say, cancer or diabetes? Either way, disease is considered a kind of evil amongst those on both sides of the debate on the problem of evil. If it be admitted by the critic of Calvinism that disease is a kind of evil, then what is his explanation of this verse? How does this fit into his system of theology?”

I am in agreement with you here that GOD creates us for the scripture tells is so throughout Genesis 1, Genesis 4, Ecclesiastes 7 and 12, Zechariah 12, Ezekiel 18, Isaiah 42, and Hebrews 12 as examples. I reject that sickness is evil for the simple reason that through ones afflictions, GODS glory can be manifested. I speak from experience as a leukemia survivor. I don’t see my sickness and three years of treatments as any form of evil. Again I affirm the truths of Romans 8:28-30. In all honesty and sincerity, I have not witnessed a fellow Christian qualifying sickness as any form of evil. An outcome to a choice or antecedent behavior would be reasonable to conclude that GOD’S judgment was enacted. AIDS as a result of homosexuality would be an example.

Finally, the last verse in question from your earlier post was ACTS 4:27-28.
Act 4:27 For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,
Act 4:28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

I cite your post- “The last verse I would like to discuss has to do with what theologians have called the single most evil act man has ever commited. This
act being the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. This text states that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish people and the Gentiles did whatever the "hand and purpose" of God predestined them to do. As all Christians know, these people were all involved with the execution of our Lord and though the crucifixion is how our salvation is made possible, this was an act of pure evil on the part of the parties named. So if it be admitted that all those involved in the crucifixion were predestined by the hand and purpose of God to the roles they played, and it be admitted that they commited evil, what can be said against the Calvinist who affirms that God is the ultimate cause of all things?

I would remind anyone that maintained that GOD is the ultimate cause of all things that scripture affirms that there are things that GOD does not author:
Jeremiah 19:4-5

Jer 19:4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and
have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their
fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with
the blood of innocents;
Jer 19:5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with
fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it,
neither came it into my mind:

I would also provide known scriptures that reveal GODS character which can not be contradicted as I have done so contained within this post.


Continuing with your post- “In the case of this particuliar verse, the non-Calvinist will try to slip in their concept of "foreknowledge" in order to distance God from what is plainly stated. But the Calvinist only need respond by pointing out that the term foreknowledge is not mentioned here or in the immediate context. So what else is left? My reply to this is statement is to turn your Bible to Acts 2:23 and see emphatically where through GODS foreknowledge the cast of characters you listed earlier would crucify our beloved Jesus.

Act 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Act 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
Act 2:23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Act 2:24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
Act 2:25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
Act 2:26 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
Act 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Act 2:28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.




Jesus HIMSELF said in John 18:37:

“Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou
sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into
the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the
truth heareth my voice.”

Jesus death was and is the sacrifice decided through determinate counsel for
the sins of the world. The scriptures affirm such.

I also wish to thank you for allowing me to post on your blog. I realize that it
may stretch very long but it was necessary to clarify and perhaps enlighten
others in the future. It is my hope that what I have offered is of help. God
Bless You… alpha