Thursday, January 12, 2006

The problem of evil

Every once in a while you attempt to articulate something and fail so miserably that you wonder if anything is going on in your head. Usually these displays of cogitive impotence are when the stakes are highest. Thus when you confront theologians (who do call themselves Augustinian but seem to resemble Arminians) who do not want to acknowledge that God has for his glory ordained by his providence the sin committed by moral agents, the reason given for embracing this doctrine being that you would not want to tell grieving people of this truth, you get especially frustrated with your inability to dice this kind of theology up. So you go read Calvin, and everything gets better very quickly. Order and beauty and the glory of God are restored to the world; providence is displayed, and you are invigorated to go and preach the good tidings of God's sovereignty to all people--or until you fail again.

Here are some conclusions I have reaffirmed:
1) God is sovereign in the world. If God has by his own pleasure seen fit to orchestrate and cause the death of his Son (Acts 2:23; 4:27), the world's ultimate evil, why should we shy away from attributing lesser evils to him? Not only is the crucifixion of Jesus attributed to the foreordination of God, but the Bible attributes countless such instances. I found that Wayne Grudem laid out all such passages in a very helpful fashion on pp 323-27. Although Job recognized that God is the ultimate cause for these things, for him "to blame God for evil that he had brought about through secondary agents would have been to sin. Job does not do this, Scripture never does this, and neither should we" (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], 325).

2) The relationship between these moral actions we commit for which we are responsible and the sovereign providence of God is inscrutable. We affirm that we are responsible for our willing actions, and that we are guilty for our sin, and we affirm that God is sovereign.

3) God uses all things for his glory. I am not sure how someone can take any comfort in a universe over which God is not providentially controlling all events. What emotional duress is alleviated by our denying God's involvement? If God is not responsible for the evil actions of men, why doesn't he stop them from committing the act when he sees it coming? Why does he still allow it to happen? How does God's merely allowing men to act "freely" better solve the problem of theodicy? In the framework I am advocating, God is ordaining the event to be done for his glory. In the other framework, God is allowing the men to act "freely," and knows that the event will be done (with some kind of "middle knowledge"), but does nothing to stop it. To say that God caused the death of a loved one gives us hope in this One we trust and love that he is control, and has worked all things for the good them that love him and are called according to his purpose.

4) God hardens men by removing the influences (i.e., common grace, the Spirit) that were preventing them from sinning to great extents. God's act of hardening is not a positive act. Jonathan Edwards articulates this well:
He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man's heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin. God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening. Thus God sends his word and ordinances to men which, by their abuse, prove an occasion of their hardening ("God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men").
5) If man's "free will" were really the ultimate determination of the events of the world, they would be in control, not God. Calvin says, "Because we know that the universe was established especially for the sake of mankind, we ought to look for this purpose in his goverance also" (Institutes I.XVI.6 [LCC XX; John T. McNeill, ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960], 204). In other words, if nature is determined by God (and we must affirm this, despite the protests of science), why not man as well, since the world was made for him? Calvin continues, "Let them now say that man is moved by God according to the inclination of his nature, but that he himself turns that motion whither he pleases. Nay, if that were truly said, the free choice of his ways would be in man's control" (Ibid, 204). He cites Jer 10:23, Prov 20:24 and Prov 16:9 as examples of the ways of man "choice and determination" being ascribed to God.

6) We should still pray and plan and take precautions. Calvin cites Prov 16:9, "Man's heart plans his way, but the Lord will direct his steps," and again helps us understand this phenomenon:
"This means that we are not at all hindered by God's eternal decrees either from looking ahead for ourselves or from putting all our affairs in order, but always in submission to his will. The reason is obvious. For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; he has provided means and helps to preserve it; he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies" (Institutes I.XVII.4, 216).
Finally, I offer one more summary articulation of the doctrine by Calvin to conclude these thoughts:
"We do not, with the Stoics, contrive a necessity out of the perpetual connection and intimately related series of causes, which is contained in nature; but we make God the ruler and governor of all things, who in accordance with his wisdom has from the farthest limit of eternity decreed what he was going to do, and now by his might carries out what he has decreed. From this we declare that not only heaven and earth and the inanimate creatures, but also the plans and intentions of men, are so governed by his providence that they are borne by it straight to their appointed end" (Institutes I.XVI.8, 207).

6 Comments:

Anonymous Joel said...

Such "theologians" can leave one in an uncharted wilderness of frustration. You seem to have put the frustration to better use than I did.

1/13/2006 06:10:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Yes, this is more a rhetorical response. I am not sure what the exact position of this individual is, but knew I needed to articulate clearly (or more clearly) my view.

1/13/2006 07:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Thanks for the straightforward Scriptural encouragement.

1/13/2006 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger lilrabbi said...

"Every once in a while you attempt to articulate something and fail so miserably that you wonder if anything is going on in your head."

Only once in a while? I envy you, Ryan!

1/14/2006 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Nathan, thank you for stopping by and your words of encouragement.

Lilrabbi, I assure you that I overstated the way things actually are.

1/14/2006 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger lilrabbi said...

Phew, I still have a chance!

1/15/2006 11:56:00 AM  

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Immoderate: The problem of evil

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The problem of evil

Every once in a while you attempt to articulate something and fail so miserably that you wonder if anything is going on in your head. Usually these displays of cogitive impotence are when the stakes are highest. Thus when you confront theologians (who do call themselves Augustinian but seem to resemble Arminians) who do not want to acknowledge that God has for his glory ordained by his providence the sin committed by moral agents, the reason given for embracing this doctrine being that you would not want to tell grieving people of this truth, you get especially frustrated with your inability to dice this kind of theology up. So you go read Calvin, and everything gets better very quickly. Order and beauty and the glory of God are restored to the world; providence is displayed, and you are invigorated to go and preach the good tidings of God's sovereignty to all people--or until you fail again.

Here are some conclusions I have reaffirmed:
1) God is sovereign in the world. If God has by his own pleasure seen fit to orchestrate and cause the death of his Son (Acts 2:23; 4:27), the world's ultimate evil, why should we shy away from attributing lesser evils to him? Not only is the crucifixion of Jesus attributed to the foreordination of God, but the Bible attributes countless such instances. I found that Wayne Grudem laid out all such passages in a very helpful fashion on pp 323-27. Although Job recognized that God is the ultimate cause for these things, for him "to blame God for evil that he had brought about through secondary agents would have been to sin. Job does not do this, Scripture never does this, and neither should we" (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], 325).

2) The relationship between these moral actions we commit for which we are responsible and the sovereign providence of God is inscrutable. We affirm that we are responsible for our willing actions, and that we are guilty for our sin, and we affirm that God is sovereign.

3) God uses all things for his glory. I am not sure how someone can take any comfort in a universe over which God is not providentially controlling all events. What emotional duress is alleviated by our denying God's involvement? If God is not responsible for the evil actions of men, why doesn't he stop them from committing the act when he sees it coming? Why does he still allow it to happen? How does God's merely allowing men to act "freely" better solve the problem of theodicy? In the framework I am advocating, God is ordaining the event to be done for his glory. In the other framework, God is allowing the men to act "freely," and knows that the event will be done (with some kind of "middle knowledge"), but does nothing to stop it. To say that God caused the death of a loved one gives us hope in this One we trust and love that he is control, and has worked all things for the good them that love him and are called according to his purpose.

4) God hardens men by removing the influences (i.e., common grace, the Spirit) that were preventing them from sinning to great extents. God's act of hardening is not a positive act. Jonathan Edwards articulates this well:
He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man's heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin. God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening. Thus God sends his word and ordinances to men which, by their abuse, prove an occasion of their hardening ("God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men").
5) If man's "free will" were really the ultimate determination of the events of the world, they would be in control, not God. Calvin says, "Because we know that the universe was established especially for the sake of mankind, we ought to look for this purpose in his goverance also" (Institutes I.XVI.6 [LCC XX; John T. McNeill, ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960], 204). In other words, if nature is determined by God (and we must affirm this, despite the protests of science), why not man as well, since the world was made for him? Calvin continues, "Let them now say that man is moved by God according to the inclination of his nature, but that he himself turns that motion whither he pleases. Nay, if that were truly said, the free choice of his ways would be in man's control" (Ibid, 204). He cites Jer 10:23, Prov 20:24 and Prov 16:9 as examples of the ways of man "choice and determination" being ascribed to God.

6) We should still pray and plan and take precautions. Calvin cites Prov 16:9, "Man's heart plans his way, but the Lord will direct his steps," and again helps us understand this phenomenon:
"This means that we are not at all hindered by God's eternal decrees either from looking ahead for ourselves or from putting all our affairs in order, but always in submission to his will. The reason is obvious. For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; he has provided means and helps to preserve it; he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies" (Institutes I.XVII.4, 216).
Finally, I offer one more summary articulation of the doctrine by Calvin to conclude these thoughts:
"We do not, with the Stoics, contrive a necessity out of the perpetual connection and intimately related series of causes, which is contained in nature; but we make God the ruler and governor of all things, who in accordance with his wisdom has from the farthest limit of eternity decreed what he was going to do, and now by his might carries out what he has decreed. From this we declare that not only heaven and earth and the inanimate creatures, but also the plans and intentions of men, are so governed by his providence that they are borne by it straight to their appointed end" (Institutes I.XVI.8, 207).

6 Comments:

Anonymous Joel said...

Such "theologians" can leave one in an uncharted wilderness of frustration. You seem to have put the frustration to better use than I did.

1/13/2006 06:10:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Yes, this is more a rhetorical response. I am not sure what the exact position of this individual is, but knew I needed to articulate clearly (or more clearly) my view.

1/13/2006 07:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Thanks for the straightforward Scriptural encouragement.

1/13/2006 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger lilrabbi said...

"Every once in a while you attempt to articulate something and fail so miserably that you wonder if anything is going on in your head."

Only once in a while? I envy you, Ryan!

1/14/2006 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

Nathan, thank you for stopping by and your words of encouragement.

Lilrabbi, I assure you that I overstated the way things actually are.

1/14/2006 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger lilrabbi said...

Phew, I still have a chance!

1/15/2006 11:56:00 AM  

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