Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Questions and Answers

I received an email recently containing some questions regarding my previous post on God's relationship to evil. I would like to address those questions here for the benefit of any curious readers out there.

The first question reads thus:

What do you mean when you said that a natural disaster and evil are the same thing?

This question refers to my comments on Amos 3:6 regarding the prophet's statement that God causes disaster to befall the cities of men. The first thing I would point out for the questioner is that the translators for the NIV chose the word "disaster" over the more literal term "evil" meaning that they themselves saw these terms as synonymous. The second thing to point out is that a natural disaster is considered a kind of evil by both sides of the debate on the problem of evil. Just because natural disasters are beyond the control of man doesn't mean that they are not a kind of evil. I believe that the questioner would agree that whatever causes suffering and death can be considered evil, be it man or hurricane.

The next question reads as follows:

Isn't evil a man's action?

Yes it is. But as I pointed out above, evil is not limited to the actions of man. For instance, is it an evil thing or a good thing that thousands died when the tsunami struck a few years back? As stated above, suffering and death result from natural disasters. Surely suffering and death are not morally neutral things.

And God being responsible for 9/11?!?!?

I wouldn't say that God is "responsible" for 9/11 but I would say that this event happened according to His will. In my article on God's relationship to evil I made mention that Calvinism does not say that God can be responsible for evil in the sense of somehow being held accountable to His creation. The notion that creation can hold it's Creator accountable for His decrees is absurd. Can man really sit in judgement on God himself? I believe to ask this question is to answer it. But I do understand where the questioner is coming from. For the non-Calvinist, it is difficult to see how God can have anything to do with the decisions of evil men. I mean, how can God have "caused" the terrorists to do what they did? The best way to answer this is to show from scripture what God has done in similiar situations in the past. Case in point:

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him agaisnt a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Isaiah 10:5,6 NIV

In Isaiah chapter 10, we find that the Jewish nation has fallen away from God and that God intends to punish His people by sending the Assyrians to invade and destroy. The thing to note here is that God is the One bringing the Assyrians against the Jewish nation and not just allowing them to do what they would otherwise do anyway. This is further evidenced by God's statements that the king of Assyria believed that these events transpired apart from any divine influence. The text of Isaiah 10 further states:

Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? Isaiah 10:15a

Here, God is rhetorically stating that it was He who is the cause of the actions of the Assyrians. He goes on to say that He intends to punish the Assyrians for the arrogant attitude of their hearts due to their belief that they have accomplished these things on their own. Non-Calvinists have had a difficult time explaining how these events fit in with the notion that God only allows things to happen according to the supposed free-will of man. But this issue aside, I would ask the questioner to think of these passages in light of 9/11. If God could bring a heathen nation like the Assyrians against the Jews, why not then can God bring the terrorists against the people of the United States? I mean, what is the fundamental difference between these two events? Does the questioner believe that we as a nation are better than the Jews of Isaiah 10 and should not be punished as God sees fit?

If you hold God responsible for evil then what is Satan for?

Again, I do not hold God responsible for anything. I would not presume to think that I or anyone can call into account God's decrees. As for Satan, I believe him to be on a leash of sorts. That is, he does only what God allows him to do instead of what man allows him to do. But I believe that in light of all the verses I covered in my article on God's relationship to evil, this question about Satan also applies to the questioner's beliefs. In other words, if God Himself claims to create and/or cause evil, what is Satan's role? Does he act contrary to an omnipotent God's decrees or does he act according to those decrees? Can a creature such as Satan defeat his Creator's purpose for him? If so, how does this square with God's omnipotence? I hope our questioner will place as much time and consideration on these questions as I've given to his/hers.


Dennis Clough said...

I wouldn't say that God is "responsible" for 9/11 but I would say that this event happened according to His will.

Typical "fudging" on your part.

Dennis Clough

J. Matthew Cleary said...


Yet again, no attempt at interaction with what I've written. Thus, a typical post on your part.

Enjoy your shots Dennis. You don't have many more left. said...

I'm wondering what a Calvinist Study Book Guide look like...

I'm hoping you could write a blog on the top 10 books that talk about Calvinism - what they believe, etc...


J. Matthew Cleary said...

Hi Edgar,

"I'm hoping you could write a blog on the top 10 books that talk about Calvinism - what they believe, etc..."

Well, any such list drawn up by me personally would be limited to only the books that I am familiar with. Thus, you would get a very limited and subjective list. But if I had to recommend one introductory work out of all the ones I've read, it would be R.C. Sproul's 'Chosen By God'. Also, I would be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have!