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What Shall We Say?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

God and Evil

The following flows out of a discussion taking place over at Evangelical Update. Chris opened a good discussion on the problem of evil in a universe created and governed by a good God. I started to post there but, after reviewing the length of what I wrote, I decided it would be more prudent to post here and invite folks over.

First the declarative: Understanding this question is really a simple matter of taking God at His word. It is our lack of faith (or non-faith as the case may be) that causes us to question God's relationship to evil. What God says about it is pretty clear - what we do with what He said is where the waters get all muddied up.

Now the subjective: It is easy for me to say this right now because times are relatively peaceful in my life. It will not be as easy to keep this perspective when pain and evil enters in a more tangible way and it is at that time I will need my brothers and sisters to remind me of the clear word and the sure promises of God.

Back to the declarative: The Christian does not hope that the omnipotent God can turn all these bad things into good in the end. In other words, we don't say, "God did not have anything to do with this evil that happened, but He can use it for good." Our hope is in the fact that even the bad things that happen are fully under His control and therefore even the bad things, not just the end results, have a purpose. If we say that God is not in control of all things, including the bad, that God is just responding to the bad and making it good, we destroy any hope that they are purposeful and we diminish the glory of God. If there is anything in all of creation that happens outside of God's control we destroy any hope that we may have in the word of God because we cannot be sure that He can bring it about.

We need to step back and let God be God. He is big enough to take care of himself without our helping Him to get out of a jam. And He doesn't shrink back from telling it like it is regarding His sovereignty over:

Plants and animals:

  • Jonah 1:17; 2:10 - And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights... Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
  • Jonah 4:6-7 - So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.
  • Matthew 10:29-29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. "

Weather, natural disaster, etc:

  • Job 37:9-14 - Out of the south comes the storm. . . . [God] disperses the cloud of His lightning. It changes direction, turning around by His guidance, that it may do whatever He commands it on the face of the inhabited earth. Whether for a rod . . . or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen. . . . Stand and consider the wonders of God!
  • Psalm 135:5-7 - The LORD is great. . . . Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth. . . . He makes lightnings for the rain, and brings forth the wind from His treasuries.
  • Psalm 148:7 - Praise the LORD from the earth, sea monsters and all deeps; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word
  • Job 37:6-13 - For He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth'; Likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength. He seals the hand of every man, That all men may know His work. The beasts go into dens, And remain in their lairs. From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, And cold from the scattering winds of the north. By the breath of God ice is given, And the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, That they may do whatever He commands them On the face of the whole earth. He causes it to come, Whether for correction, Or for His land, Or for mercy.

Physical suffering, sickness, etc:

  • Exodus 4:11 - 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? "
  • John 9:1-3 - As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" 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."

All things:

  • Job 42:1-2 - Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted."
  • Isaiah 46:9-10 - Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure . . ."
  • Lamentations 3:37-38 - Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?
  • Proverbs 16:33-33 The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.

Human action:

  • Acts 4:27-28 - 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.

General calamity and prosperity:

  • Amos 3:6 - If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
  • Ecclesiastes 7:14 - In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider - God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

Kings, kingdoms, presidents, republics, despots, nations etc:

  • Romans 13:1 - Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
  • Daniel 2:20-21 - Daniel said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; he removes kings and establishes kings."
  • Proverbs 21:1 - The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever He wishes.
  • Acts 17:26-26 "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings"

Satan and his minions:

  • Mark 1:27 - They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."
  • Matthew 8:29, 32 - And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" . . . And He said to them, "Go!" And they came out and went into the swine.

Life and death:

  • Deuteronomy 32:39 - See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
  • 1 Samuel 2:6 - The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

10 Comments:

  • Fantastic post Greg. A very thorough presentation on God's omnipotence. It is always good to be reminded of these truths in His Word.

    I've also really enjoys your responses to questions at evangelical update. I appreciate how grounded in scripture they are even when the topic is highly emotional.

    By Anonymous tiffany, at Friday, June 24, 2005 10:32:00 AM  

  • Thanks Tiffany. It could be far more thorough too. There is so much more that could be said.

    What matters is what God says about anything. To ignore what He says is to be hopelessly superficial.

    The Word was, and the Word is, and the Word shall be.

    By Blogger g_man, at Friday, June 24, 2005 8:11:00 PM  

  • Greg -
    Thought provoking as always.

    Semantics question: When thinking about the "problem of evil" - do you include in the category of "evil" things that God does? Or are those just "bad things" from a human perspective; not really "evil," just undesirable.

    Reason I ask is that I don't think God acts from evil motives, or does evil - but in His sovereign omnipotence sometimes brings about events that we humans may see as something a loving God wouldn't do. I disagree - everything He does is something a loving God would do by definition; our perspective is too skewed to see it. It is easier to blame God for being "evil" than to face up to our own sin, which truly is evil.

    Not sure if the question is clear, or if I'm playing too many semantics games here.

    By Blogger R. Stewart, at Monday, June 27, 2005 10:31:00 PM  

  • Ron,

    I think it is a very good question - no semantics games at all.

    There are some important clarifications to make on this point which require more than a short reply in the comments. I will try to post a followup a little later today.

    Thanks for the quesiton.

    By Blogger g_man, at Tuesday, June 28, 2005 8:31:00 AM  

  • I look forward to it:)

    By Blogger R. Stewart, at Tuesday, June 28, 2005 11:07:00 AM  

  • Greg,

    Amen to: "If we say that God is not in control of all things, including the bad, that God is just responding to the bad and making it good, we destroy any hope that they are purposeful and we diminish the glory of God."

    Every moment of every day, we can thank God that the atoms that make up our bodies don't simply fly apart randomly in utter chaos. God sets the rules we live by, for sure (the Creator is active in the creation, there can be no doubt of that). So one might be right to attribute the tsunami to the will of God. However, because God is love, we have to then say that the tsunami happened out of God's infinite love for all of us. It's a real stretch for some to accept that. That must be because our minds are so finite compared to God's that we cannot possibly see the trade-offs and judge the net effects of anything that happens compared to alternatives that we cannot see or know. But one other point... God can't expect us to *like* the fact that bad things seem to happen senselessly in the world (back to the fact that we cannot see through God's eyes, and we don't have God's wisdom). But the Bible helps us realize who is really in control here, and it aint us. So we have to accept what happens and move on, and keep making the best of things.

    By Blogger Chris, at Thursday, June 30, 2005 9:05:00 AM  

  • Greg,

    Thanks for the reminder of God's sovereignty and control in every area of our lives, even the difficult ones.

    By Anonymous eryn, at Saturday, July 09, 2005 4:21:00 PM  

  • So are you saying God didn't create evil; Didn't he create Satan?

    By Blogger Toad734, at Thursday, August 04, 2005 1:00:00 PM  

  • Ron - Sorry I haven't gotten back to this. I haven't even looked at this whole thing since that last answer I gave you. I still owe you a response.

    toad734 - I don't think I directly addressed the presuppositions behind your question in my post. That was not exactly the direction that I was going. It would make a very good topic to explore further in the future.

    As a short answer along the lines of my original post, the Bible makes clear the fact that God sustains the existence of all things - and that includes Satan.

    And that is a great comfort to those who belong to God.

    By Blogger g_man, at Thursday, August 04, 2005 5:41:00 PM  

  • Nice post. Have you ever read "God and Evil" by Gordon Clark. Good book. God bless you.

    By Blogger Julianne, at Monday, September 19, 2005 7:44:00 PM  

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