Monthly Archives: July 2013

How Evil and Suffering Are Related

In my last two posts I shared some insights that Job gives into what I called “the problem of evil.”

But what is the problem of evil? Here is how I described it in a paper (“Oh God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?”) that I wrote for a course in 1983: “We claim that God is both omnipotent (for example, Jesus himself told his disciples, ‘With God all things are possible,’ Mark 10:27) and good (for example, God told the rich young ruler, ‘There is none good but one, that is, God,’ Mark 10:18). But if God is omnipotent, He should be able to prevent evil; and if God is good, He should want to prevent evil. Thus, if our assertion that God is both omnipotent and good is true, evil should not exist. However, as nearly everyone admits, evil does exist. Why?”. (To read the paper, see O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?.)

In my June 21 “The Problem of Evil” post I observed: “This fall the Life small group that my wife and I attend plans to study the problem of evil and suffering using a booklet by Randy Alcorn based on his If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). As I did when we studied Ephesians 6:10-20 in May, I’m going to post here comments and questions on what we study. Hopefully the group’s study and what I share of it here will result in our being encouraged by what the Bible reveals about evil and suffering and being strengthened to hold onto our faith when we encounter storms in our lives.”

The booklet is called If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt?. In the first week of our study, we’ll read its first two sections: “Introduction: The Search We All Share” and “How Is Suffering Related to Evil?” They are based on the first three chapters of Alcorn’s If God Is Good book, which consider why the problem of evil and suffering is important, what it is, and how evil and suffering are related. Above I’ve described what the problem of evil is. Below I’ll observe why it is important and how evil and suffering are related, focusing on what the booklet says about them.

Why the Problem of Evil and Suffering Is Important

How people view the evil and suffering in the world affects how they see God and the world around them. Alcorn observes that the commonest reason people give for not believing in God is the problem of evil and suffering. He also refers to a Barna Research poll that asked, “If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The commonest response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” (booklet, page 8)

How Evil and Suffering Are Related

Alcorn observes that although most people today use the word “evil” to describe things that cause harm, the Bible uses it more broadly to describe any violation of God’s moral standards (sin). In committing it, we are essentially rebelling against Him. (booklet, pages 11-12)

Alcorn also observes that although some view evil as the absence of good, just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, it is more than just the absence of good–it is the corruption of the good like rust on metal or cancer in healthy, living cells. (booklet, page 12)

Alcorn also observes that the first human evil, Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden, resulted in suffering by them (and us) and a curse on the natural world. (booklet, page 12) We’ll consider in more depth how evil and suffering originated next week when we discuss the next section in the booklet, “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?”.

Alcorn describes sin as primary evil and suffering as secondary evil, explaining that secondary evils are things that happen to us that we don’t like and that they are caused by primary evils, which are things we do that God doesn’t like. (booklet, page 12) In his If God Is Good book Alcorn goes on to observe that God sometimes inflicts or allows suffering as judgment on sin to bring about ultimate good.

Other writers about the problem of evil distinguish two kinds of evil in addition to moral evil and suffering, natural evil and what some call metaphysical evil. Natural evil consists of diseases and disasters in nature, and metaphysical evil is the finitude and contingency of created things. We’ll consider natural evil two weeks from now when we discuss the section in the booklet called “What Causes Natural Disasters?”

Life Group Questions

Since our Life group won’t begin its study of the problem of evil and suffering until a few weeks from now, the following questions are just tentative ones. In composing them I obtained ideas from Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Study Guide (Multnomah Books, 2010).

We’ll open by discussing this question:
– What current experience of suffering by you or someone you know stands out to you at this time?

After reading “Introduction: The Search We All Share” (pages 7-11), we’ll discuss this question:
– Why do you think that the problem of evil and suffering causes so many people to question the existence, goodness, or power of God?

After reading “How Is Suffering Related to Evil?” (pages 11-13), we’ll discuss these questions:
– How does the way that the Bible uses “evil” differ from the way that most people use it today?
– Why is it important to understand that evil is more than just the absence of good?
– How did / does sin contribute to the origination and existence of suffering?
– Define “evil.”
– Define “suffering.”

We’ll close by discussing this question:
– What questions do you have on the topic of evil and suffering?

In my next post I’ll consider where evil and suffering come from, guided by the section “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come from?” on pages 13-22 of Randy Alcorn’s “If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt?” booklet.

God Addresses and Restores Job

The book of Job tells the story of how a “blameless and upright man [who] feared God and turned away from evil” was afflicted by Satan (chapters 1-2), of how he and his friends reacted to his affliction (chapters 3-37), and of God

responded to Job and his friends’ reactions to his affliction and restored him (chapters 38-42). Last week I considered what chapters 1-2 suggests about the problem of evil, and in this post I’ll consider what chapters 38-42 suggests about the problem of evil. Quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

God Addresses Job

In Job 38:1-40:5 God addresses Job and Job responds to Him. God opens and closes His address with these challenges: “Who is this that darkens counsel without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you will make it known,” and “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” In-between the two challenges, He asks Job in a long series of questions if he knows how He created the earth and how He governs it and its creatures. This seems to be in response to Job’s questioning the justice of what had happened to him, which he attributes to God, and expressing the wish to argue his case before God. In response to God’s challenge, Job puts
his hand over his mouth and pledges silence.

In Job 40:6-42:6 God addresses Job again and Job responds to Him again. God opens His address with this challenge: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” He goes on to show that Job had spoken beyond his knowledge and power to act, illustrating this with descriptions of two beasts created and governed by God, Behemoth (possibly the hippopotamus) and Leviathan (possibly the crocodile). Job confesses that God can do all things and that he had spoken of things beyond his knowledge, and he repents of what he had said.

God’s pointing to Job’s insignificance in comparison to God instead of answering Job’s questions suggests to me that the ultimate answer to the problem of evil is that it is a mystery known only to God and that He wants us to accept it as such rather than to seek rational solutions to it.

God Rebukes Job’s Friends

In Job 42:7-9 God rebukes Job’s friends. He tells them, “My anger burns against you…, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has,” instructs them to make an offering to Him, and promises that He will listen to Job’s prayer for them. They had argued that God is just and rewards and punishes people for their actions and that therefore Job must have sinned and deserved his misery.

This suggests to me that we should be careful about automatically attributing the misfortunes that happen to God’s people to their wickedness. Certainly God sometimes causes or allows evil to happen to God’s people when they do wrong to discipline them and to get them to return to Him. However He may allow it to happen to them for other reasons, as He allowed it to happen to Job in Job 1-2 to demonstrate that he honoured God for Himself not for reward and as He later allowed it to happen to Jesus on the Cross to provide for our salvation. (Other Biblical examples are Abel, Uriah the Hittite, and Naboth.)

God Restores Job

In Job 42:10-17 God restores Job. In fact He blesses the latter years of his life more than He had blessed his earlier years.

This suggests to me that God will eventually make things work out for His people today when they suffer afflictions. We have the assurance that He gave through Paul in Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good,” and the hope of a heavenly home.

In my next post I’ll consider what Randy Alcorn’s “If God Is Good” booklet says about the importance of the problem of evil and suffering and about the relationship between evil and suffering.

Job’s Afflictions

The book of Job tells the story of how a “blameless and upright man [who] feared God and turned away from evil” was afflicted by Satan (chapters 1-2), of how he and his friends reacted to his affliction (chapters 3-37), and of how God responded to Job and his friends’ reactions to his affliction and restored him (chapters 38-42). In this post I’ll consider what chapters 1-2 suggests about the problem of evil, and next week I’ll consider what chapters 38-42 suggests about the problem of evil. Quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

The Source of Job’s Afflictions

Job 1:1-5 describes Job’s character and wealth.

Job 1:6-12 describes God’s asking Satan if in his going to and fro on the earth he’d considered “my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Satan responded by attributing Job’s righteousness to God’s protecting and prospering him and asserting that if God would quit doing so he would curse God. God answered Satan’s challenge by telling him, “Behold all that [Job] has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch your hand.”

Thus the afflictions that happened to Job were brought about by Satan with God’s permission. This suggests that at least some of the evils that happen to God’s people (and others) today are brought about by Satan with God’s permission.

The Kinds of Afflictions That Happened to Job

Job 1:13-19 describes messengers coming to Job and telling him of these things happening:
1. The Sabeans took Job’s oxen and donkeys, killing his servants who were with them.
2. Fire from heaven burned up Job’s sheep and his servants who were with them.
3. The Chaldeans took Job’s camels, killing his servants who were with them.
4. A great wind killed all of Job’s children by causing the collapse of his oldest son’s house where they had been eating and drinking together.

Job 1:20-22 describes describes Job’s distress and his blessing instead of cursing God.

Job 2:1-6 describes God’s pointing out to Satan that Job “still holds his integrity” despite all that had happened to him. Satan responded by claiming that if God would afflict Job’s body he would curse God. God answered Satan’s challenge by telling him, “Behold [Job] is in your hand; only spare his life.”

Job 2:7-10 describes Satan’s afflicting Job with loathsome sores from head to toe, Job’s wife encouraging him to curse God, and Job’s refusing to do so.

Thus the afflictions that happened to Job included evil done by people (the Sabeans and the Chaldeans), evil done by nature (the fire and the wind), and even physical ailments (loathsome sores). This suggests that the evils that God allows Satan to inflict upon God’s people (and others) today can come through other people or through nature and can even include physical ailments.

The Evils That Happen to Us

Job 1-2 suggests to me that although God may protect and prosper His people, He may also allow Satan to test them by using other people, natural events, and even physical ailments to afflict them. Let us pray to God and trust Him that He will enable us to respond to such afflictions as Job did, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” and “Shall we not receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

In my next post I’ll consider what the closing chapters of the book of Job reveal about the problem of evil.

Some Books Opposing Open Theism

In my November 3 “Some Books on Open Theism” post I included comments on two books opposing open theism, Bruce A. Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory and John M. Frame’s No Other God. Since then I’ve used both books extensively in expanding on “An Introduction to Open Theism” and become more appreciative of the former of them. Here I’ll repeat what I said about them in that post and make further observations on them. I’ll also comment on a recent book opposing open theism, Harry James Fox’s CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life.

God’s Lesser Glory

My Initial Comment

book 4Bruce A. Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory (Crossway Books, 2000) passionately opposes open theism. It consists of an introduction, three main sections, and a conclusion. Part One, “What Does Open Theism Propose?”, summarizes the central elements of and support for open theism in two chapters, “The Perceived Inadequacy of the Classical Arminian View of God” and “The Perceived Benefits of Open Theism.” The author said that he sought fairness and accuracy in the description, and I think that he succeeded. Part Two, “What’s Wrong with Open Theism’s View of God?”, critiques the biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments supporting open theism in three chapters, “Assessing Open Theism’s Denial of Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge,” “Scriptural Affirmation of Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge,” and “The God Who Risks and the Assault on God’s Wisdom.” Although I was impressed by the Biblical evidence given by the author for exhaustive divine foreknowledge in the middle of the three chapters, I found his explanations of open theism’s straightforward reading of divine growth-in-knowledge and of divine repentance texts unnatural and thought that his discussion of the open theism view that the future is open and risk-filled misrepresented that view. Part Three, “What Difference Does It Make in Daily Life” focuses on three main areas of practical application of open theism to the Christian life in three chapters, “Harm to the Christian’s Life of Prayer,” “Weakening of Our Confidence in God’s Guidance,” and “Despair amid Suffering and Pain.” The whole section was disappointing to me because it seemed to be basically name-calling.

Further Observations

Although I still think that Ware’s “explanations of open theism’s straightforward reading of divine growth-in-knowledge and of divine repentance texts [are] unnatural” and that his “discussion of the open theism view that the future is open and risk-filled misrepresent[s] that view,” I now have similar opinions of some open theistic explanations of the Biblical texts suggesting exhaustive divine foreknowledge and of their consideration of the classical view that the future is settled and thus unchangeable. I still think that open theism agrees with the Biblical evidence better than either Calvinism or Arminianism do, but I now realize that all views are faced with texts that are hard to explain from that viewpoint. Thus I now have more respect for Ware’s efforts in Part Two of God’s Lesser Glory to counter open theism’s view of God than I expressed above.

No Other God

My Initial Comment

book 5John M. Frame’s No Other God (P&R Publishing Company, 2001) also opposes open theism. It contains 14 chapters, the titles of which indicate their content: What Is Open Theism?, Where Does Open Theism Come From?, How Do Open Theists Read the Bible?, Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?, Is God’s Will the Ultimate Explanation of Everything?, How Do Open Theists Reply?, Is God’s Will Irresistible?, Do We Have Genuine Freedom?, Is God In Time?, Does God Change?, Does God Suffer?, Does God Know Everything in Advance?, Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Biblical Doctrines?, and Conclusion. In its preface, the author says, “I have tried to be fair in my interpretation of their [open theists’] writings, to avoid caricature, to give credit where credit is due, and to acknowledge weaknesses where they exist in the traditional position.” I think that on the whole he succeeded. Thus I found No Other God more credible than God’s Lesser Glory and was enlightened by it about both open theism and traditional theism. My main criticisms of it are that the author often draws unwarranted general conclusions from specific instances and attributes to open theism the personal views of individual open theists and that “Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Biblical Doctrines?” is too speculative and thus unfair to open theism. Despite its having those flaws, I think that any reader interested in knowing more about open theism would benefit from reading No Other God.

Further Observations

I no longer think that Frame succeeded in achieving what he professes in the preface of No Other God to be trying to do. Instead I now think that the whole book, not just “Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Doctrines?”, is unfair to open theism and to writers on its behalf. Thus I no longer recommend No Other God over God’s Lesser Glory as a guide for learning about and evaluating open theism. However I still appreciate the insights that both books have given me about classical and open theism and would recommend either of them to open theists wanting to test their open theistic views.

CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life

book 6Harry James Fox’s CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life (Foxware Publishing LLC, 2013) is a new book that opposes open theism. It contains 10 chapters. Each of Chapters 1-4 identifies a current issue by considering a book that helped bring the issue to the attention of the Christian community; the books considered are Harold S. Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Francis A. Shaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and The Great Evangelical Disaster, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins. The titles of Chapters 5-6 describe their topics well, “A Great Gulf: Calvinism vs Arminianism” and “What Is Time and Why Does It Matter?”. Chapters 7-8 attack open theism. Chapters 9-10 describe Molinism and promote the author’s variation on it, which he calls The Chosen Contingency Model (CCM). Here I’ll devote a paragraph to each of Chapters 7-8 and Chapters 9-10 but in reverse order.

(Chapters 9-10) Molinism was proposed by Luis de Molina in his Concordia (1588-89) to try to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom. It claims that besides knowing what could and what will happen, God knows what would have happened if He had created any other world. Because this knowledge logically occurs between knowledge of what could happen (“natural knowledge”) and what will happen (“free knowledge”), Molina called it “middle knowledge.” According to it, God’s knowing how free agents would behave under all circumstances and being able to control some aspects of the circumstances enables Him to guide free agents to do what He wants them to do while letting them act freely. I view Molinism, and thus Fox’s CCM, as philosophical speculation, whereas I view open theism to be a reasonable way of reconciling what the Bible reveals about God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom.

(Chapters 7-8) Actually Fox begins his attack on open theism in Chapter 6, in which he argues that God’s being eternal means that He is timeless–seeing past, present, and future simultaneously–rather than that He is everlasting as open theists hold. In my February 23 post, “From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God,” I explain why I believe that God’s being eternal means that He is everlasting rather than that He is timeless. In Chapters 7-8, Fox attempts to identify open theism with process theology, a philosophical theory (like Molinism) that views God and the world as being interdependent and thus God as being limited in power by the world. In actuality, open theism has even more respect for the power of God than traditional theism, visualizing God’s being able to allow freedom to His creation while remaining in full control of it. Moreover, discussions in Facebook’s Open View Theists group suggest that open theists in general consider professed open theists who seem sympathetic to process theology to not be true open theists. Other than attempting to identify open theism with process theology, Fox basically follows the lead of God’s Lesser Glory and No Other God in arguing against open theism. Since I’ve already considered those books, I won’t comment here on Fox’s other charges against open theism.

In my next post I’ll consider what the first two chapters of the book of Job reveal about the problem of evil.