Monthly Archives: January 2014

Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They cried out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:9-10, NIV).

Oh, oh! Bob’s memory is failing–he’s started this post with the same Bible passage with which he started last Friday’s post. Yes and no. Yes, I’ve quoted the same Bible passage; but no, my memory isn’t failing. In our last meeting before Christmas the Life group which Leonora and I are part of gave me a daily devotional book by Randy Alcorn, Life Promises for Eternity (Carol Stream, Illinois, 2012). One of today’s Bible verses being Revelation 6:10-11 prompted me to quote it again.

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the group’s weekly meeting. Eight attended the meeting, and we studied the section “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. However not as usual, the meeting was held at Rosalie Lane’s rather than at Roland and Sherry Loder’s; the singing wasn’t accompanied by music, Roger Bragg (and his guitar) not being able to attend; and we had a new attendee, Mary Froude.

I opened the study by reading the introduction to Chapter 35, “Apparently Gratuitous Evil and Pointless Suffering,” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good : Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil book (Colorado Springs:Multnomah Books, 2009). It tells what happened to a young couple, David and Svea Flood, who served as missionaries in the Belgian Congo. Shortly after giving birth to a young girl, Svea died. Disillusioned, David buried her, gave his baby girl to another young missionary couple, and returned to Sweden, blaming God for ruining his life. Alcorn asks, “Why did this happen? What possible good could have come from it?” (Alcorn, book, page 370).

Next I asked another member of the group to read the opening paragraphs of “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” They tell of two incidents so horrible that one’s natural reaction on hearing of them is that the suffering caused by them was pointless. However, as Alcorn observes, our not seeing any point in such suffering doesn’t prove that there is none.

Then, having requested the group in our previous meeting to read “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” in preparation for our studying it, I asked what answers Alcorn gives in the rest of “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?” to the question that it asks. One of his answers was remembered, by Pat Peddle. It is that the experience of suffering may cause us to grieve over the human rebellion that caused suffering and to long for God to complete His plan to redeem the world.

After considering that answer, we read and discussed the other answers given in “Why Doesn’t God Eliminate the Worst Forms of Evil and Suffering?”:
– God promises not to allow anything to happen that He can’t use to bring ultimate good to His people and to glorify Himself. A prime example is His allowing Jesus to be crucified.
– Sometimes suffering causes unsaved people to turn to God and Christians to grow in faith and character.
– 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “He who restrains it [lawlessness] will do so until he is out of the way,” and 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God…will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” indicate that God is restraining the tests and temptations that we encounter. (Both passages are quoted from the ESV.)

I closed by reading the full story of David and Svea Flood as it is told at A Story of Eternal Perspective on Randy Alcorn’s website. It certainly demonstrates that events which seem cruel and pointless at the time may result in eternal good. I encourage you to read it too.

Original Sin

What is sin? Where did it come from? How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us? Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?

During the past week my family and I considered these questions in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of them in Chapter 24, “Sin” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

What is sin?

Sin is the breaking of the law of God. However ultimately it isn’t against God’s law but against God Himself. Thus David says after his committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the murder of her husband, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Moreover it includes not only performing acts but also having attitudes that displease God, this being shown by the Ten Commandments’ including “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 2:17; ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) among its prohibitions. Grudem views “sin” as including failure to conform to God’s law in moral nature as well as failure to conform to it in acts and attitudes, but I can’t find any Bible passages that designate “sinner” someone who hasn’t committed actual sins and so I disgree with Grudem’s view.

Various other suggestions have been made as to the essence of sin. Millard J. Erickson considers two of them, selfishness and sensuality, and concludes that a better alternative is that the essence of sin is putting anything ahead of God (Erickson, pages 529-30; see Bibliography below). His view is supported by the first of the Ten Commandments being “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and by Jesus’ saying that the most important of the commandments is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Despite God’s having created Adam and Eve “in his own image” and viewing them as “very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31), the Bible describes mankind as universally sinful:
– “There is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46; Solomon is praying at the dedication of the Temple).
– “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3; quoted in Romans 3:12).
– “No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 142:3).
– “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
– “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2).
– “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Where did sin come from?

Isaiah 14:12-15 and other Biblical passages suggest that sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion of angels against God, bringing sin into the universe. Later, as described in Genesis 3:1-7, he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and they did so, bringing sin into the world. Thus sin resulted from choices freely made by angels and humans. Being sovereign God could have prevented both angels and humans from sinning but, for reasons known only to Him, He allowed sin to enter the universe and the world despite His personal hatred of it.

Genesis 3:8-24 identifies several consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin on them:
– They were ashamed of being naked and tried to clothe themselves (Genesis 3:7; compare 2:25).
– They tried to hide from God (Genesis 3:8), realizing that their relationship with Him had changed.
– Eve would have pain in the bearing of children and would be ruled over by Adam (Genesis 3:16).
– Adam would experience hardship in working the ground for food and his body would die (Genesis 3:17-21).
– They were expelled from the Garden of Eden (3:22-24).

How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?

According to Grudem, we inherit the sin of Adam in two ways, our being counted guilty because of it and our having a corrupted nature because of it. This inherited sin is commonly designated “original sin,” but Grudem calls it “inherited sin” and its two aspects “inherited guilt” and “inherited corruption.”

Grudem claims that “all sinned” in Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” refers to our sinning in Adam rather than to our committing actual sins. He argues that all members of the human race were represented by Adam when he was tested in the Garden of Eden and so God counted us as well as Adam as guilty when he sinned. Others argue that the whole human race was actually in Adam rather than that it was just represented by him; again God would view us as well as Adam guilty when he sinned. Still others don’t agree that we are counted guilty because of Adam’s sin, their thinking that it would be unfair of God and not believing that Romans 5:12-21 teaches it. Augustus Hopkins Strong provides a table of the main theories (Strong, page 628; see Bibliography below).

However all agree that we do inherit a sinful disposition from Adam. This is clearly affirmed in Psalms 51:5, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And anyone who has raised children knows from experience that we are born with a tendency to sin. This doesn’t mean that we are totally depraved. By God’s “common grace” (I’ll have a post on “common grace” later), people do much that is good. But according to Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” they can’t do anything on their own that will satisfy God.

Are infants guilty before they commit actual sins?

Grudem devotes over two pages to a consideration of this question. His answer is that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins but that God normally saves the children of believers before they are old enough to understand and believe the Gospel. He affirms that they are guilty (1) because he believes that everyone sinned in Adam and (2) because he believes that everyone is born with a sinful nature and that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner. He affirms that God saves at least some children, on the basis of such passages as Psalm 22:10, “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God,” and 1 Corinthians 7:14, “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

However, I don’t believe that everyone sinned in Adam (see “How does the sin of Adam and Eve affect us?”) and, although I recognize that everyone is born with a sinful nature, I don’t believe that having a sinful nature makes a person a sinner (see “What is sin?”). Thus I don’t believe that infants are guilty before they commit actual sins. I view God’s attitude towards infants and children to be the same as that expressed by Jesus in this familiar incident: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 18:15-16).

Bibliography

All my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias and systematic theology textbooks have comprehensive articles/chapters on sin, the topic of this and next Tuesday’s posts. These are the articles/chapters cited from them in the posts:
– Berkhof, Louis. “Man in the State of Sin.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 219-261.
– Erickson, Millard J. “Sin.” Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 511-599.
– Strong, Augustus Strong. “Sin, or Man’s State of Apostasy.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 533-664.

Why Doesn’t God Immediately Bring Evil and Suffering to an End?

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:9-11, KJV).

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine of the group’s ten members attended, and we studied the section “Why Doesn’t God Immediately Bring Evil and Suffering to an End?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. We also had a snack during the after-study singing.

We began our study by reading the opening paragraph of the section and (quoted above) Revelation 6:9-11. Then we read the second paragraph, which suggests these reasons for God’s delaying His final judgment on evil:
– He is giving the unsaved more time to get saved.
– He is giving Christians more time to mature as Christians.
– He is bringing more glory to Himself.

We considered these Bible passages in connection with the above reasons:
– “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient to you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV; all Biblical quotations except Revelation 6:9-11 are from the ESV).
– “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Between the two passages we read two paragraphs from the booklet which explain how experiencing suffering can help Christians grow.
– “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

We closed our study by reading the last few paragraphs of the section in the booklet, which bring out the ideas that God has a purpose for whatever He permits to happen, that He will eventually punish all evil, and that His reason for delaying His punishment of it is to give us more time to share the Gospel with others.

At the end of the study I drew the group’s attention to the address given in the booklet for Randy Alcorn’s website, Eternal Perspectives Ministries.

The Constitution of Man

During the past week my family and I read Chapter 23, “The Essential Nature of Man” in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem considers how many parts there are to man and the origin of the soul. He supports the dichotomist view that man consists of two essential parts–the body and the soul/spirit–and the creationist view that a person’s soul is created by God. On the other hand the systematic theology textbook that I used at Bible college, Henry Clarence Thiesen’s Lectures in Systematic Theology (see the bibliography at the end of the post), supports the trichotomist view that man consists of three essential parts–the body, the soul, and the spirit–and the traducian view that a person’s soul is inherited from the person’s parents. As I did in our family reading, I’ll follow Grudem’s presentation here, but I’ll also draw on the presentations in the books listed in the bibliography.

How Many Parts Are There to Man?

Everybody agrees that we have a physical body. Most people feel that we also have an immaterial part, a “soul,” that will live on after our body dies. Some people believe that we also have a third part, a “spirit,” that relates to God. The view that we have three parts is called trichotomy, the view that we have two parts is called dichotomy, and the view that we have only one part is called monism. Since the Bible is clear that we have a soul that is distinct from our physical body and will live on after we die (Genesis 35:18; Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:43, 46; Acts 7:59; Philippians 1:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 6:9; 20:4), I won’t consider monism here. Following Grudem, I’ll present Biblical evidence for dichotomy and then arguments for trichotomy and responses to them.

Biblical evidence for dichotomy:
– “Soul” and “spirit” are sometimes used interchangeably. For example, Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted) and people who have died and gone to heaven are called “spirits” in Hebrews 12:23 and “souls” in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4.
– The Bible says that at death either the “soul” or the “spirit” departs. Examples of the former are “Her [Rachel’s] soul was departing, for she was dying” (Genesis 35:18) and “This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20; God to the rich fool). Examples of the latter are “Into thy hand I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5; David to God) and “He [Jesus] bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
– Man is said to be either “body and soul” or “body and spirit.” When he sent out the twelve apostles, Jesus told them, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). On the other hand, Paul says, “Deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”” (2 Corinthians 5:5) and James says, “The body apart from the spirit is dead” (James 2:26).
– The “soul” can sin and the “spirit” can sin. According to Grudem, trichotomists usually agree with dichotomists that the soul can sin but generally think of the spirit, when renewed, as free from sin. However such passages as “A stubborn and rebellious generation…whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Psalm 78:8) and “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1) imply that the spirit can sin.
– Everything that the “soul” or the “spirit” is said to do, the other is also said to do. Trichotomists hold that the soul includes our intellect, emotions, and will and that our spirit relates to God. However the Bible also refers to the spirit as thinking and feeling and the soul as praying and worshipping. Examples of the former are “Jesus perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves” (Mark 2:8) and “Jesus was troubled in his spirit” (John 1:21) and of the latter are “I [Hannah] have been pouring out my soul before the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:15) and “To you, O LORD, I [David] lift up my soul” (Psalm 25:1).
Grudem opens and closes his presentation of the Biblical evidence for dichotomy by emphasizing the overall unity between body and soul. When God created man, He “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). When Jesus returns, our bodies will be raised and reunited with our souls/spirits to live with him forever (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).

Arguments for Trichotomy and Responses to Them:
Grudem presents seven arguments made by trichomists and then gives his responses to them. I’ll give his responses with the arguments.
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” clearly speaks of three parts in man. Grudem suggests that Paul could be giving synonyms (“spirit” and “soul”) for emphasis as Jesus does in Mark 12:30, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” However, although in Mark 12:30 all four terms are synonymous, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “body” is clearly not synonymous with “spirit” and “soul,” suggesting that perhaps “spirit” and “soul” are also not synonymous.
2. Hebrews 4:12, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow,” clearly speaks of the separateness of the soul and the spirit. Grudem responds as he did to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 by suggesting that “soul” and “spirit” are just additional terms for our inner being rather than separate parts.
3. 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 identifies three kinds of people–“people of the flesh” (3:1), “the natural person” (2:14), and “the spiritual person” (2:15)–with “the natural person” and “the spiritual person” seeming to refer to Christians dominated, respectively, by the soul and by the spirit. Grudem responds that in the context “spiritual” seems to mean “guided by the Spirit” rather than “dominated by the spirit.”
4. 1 Corinthians 14:14, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful,” implies that Paul’s mind does something different than his spirit does. Grudem argues that nothing in the passage suggests that Paul regards his spirit as different from his soul and that he could just as easily have said “my soul prays but my mind is unfruitful.”
5. Many trichotomists claim to have a spiritual perception of God that they know is different from ordinary thinking and feeling. Grudem concedes that Romans 8:16 confirms that we have a “spirit” within us with which we perceive God but argues that such passages as Luke 1:46-47 (quoted above) show that we could just as easily refer to it as our “soul.”
6. Some trichotomists argue that both humans and animals have a soul and that it is our having a spirit which makes us different from animals. Observing that our souls and bodies relate to God in ways that animals can’t, Grudem suggests that what makes us different from animals is the spiritual abilities that God gives our souls and bodies rather than a separate part called a “spirit.”
7. Trichotomists argue from Romans 8:10, “If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness” (RSV), that when we become Christians are spirits become alive. Grudem cites such Bible verses as Deuteronomy 2:30, “the LORD your God hardened his [Sihon the king of Heshbon’s] spirit,” to show that unbelievers have a spirit and argues that in Romans 8:10 Paul means that when we become Christians we as whole persons become alive rather than that just one part of us becomes alive.

Although admitting that the arguments for trichotomy have some force, Grudem concludes that they aren’t strong enough to overcome the evidence given in “Biblical evidence for trichotomy” (above) that “soul” and “spirit” are often interchangeable and/or synonymous. He also hypothesizes that by identifying the spirit with relating to God and thinking of it as distinct from our intellect, emotions, and will trichotomists could come to rely on “spiritual” discernment rather than on Bible study for guidance. However he doesn’t give any evidence to support his hypothesis.

One of the questions which Grudem asks at the end of the chapter is which view the reader held before reading the chapter and which he or she held after reading it. Before reading the chapter I held the trichotomist view, but now I realize that there is Biblical evidence for each view.

Where Do Our Souls Come From?

Two views have been common in the history of the church–creationism and traducianism. Creationists believe that a person’s soul is created by God and sent to the person’s body sometime between conception and birth. Traducianists believe that a person’s soul is inherited from the person’s parents at conception.

Biblical evidence for creationism:
– “Children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).
– “The spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
– “God…gives breath to the people on it [the earth] and spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5).
– “the LORD…formed the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1).
– “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9), referring to God.

Biblical evidence for traducianism:
– “God created man in his own image…and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,'” (Genesis 1:27-28).
– “He [Adam] fathered a son in his own likeness, after his own image” (Genesis 5:3).
– “Levi…was still in the loins of his ancestor [Abraham] when Melchisedek met him [Abraham]” (Hebrews 7:10).

Creationism accounts better for Jesus’s being born without sin, but traducianism accounts better for our being born in sin. If you’d like an explanation of the preceding statement, please ask for one in a comment on this post and I’ll give it in a reply to your request.

Louis Berkhof concludes: “The Bible makes no direct statement respecting the origin of the soul of man, except in the case of Adam. The few Scriptural passages that are adduced as favoring the one theory or the other, can hardly be called conclusive on either side. And because we have no clear teaching of Scripture on the point in question, it is necessary to speak with caution on the subject” (Berkhof, page 200; see the bibliography below). I agree.

Bibliography

Considerations in systematic theology textbooks that I found especially useful in my personal study of the constitution of man besides Chapter 23, “The Essential Nature of Man,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology are:
– Berkhof, Louis. “The Constitutional Nature of Man.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 191-201. Berkhof supports dichotomy and creationism. He provides surveys of views held in the history of the church.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. “Essential Elements of Human Nature” and “Origin of the Soul.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 483-497. Strong supports dichotomy and traducianism.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. “Man’s Psychological Constitution” and “The Origin of the Soul.” Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Pages 159-162 and 164-167. As observed above, Thiessen supports trichotomy and traducianism.

Is God’s Love Limited?

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. All ten of the group’s members attended, and we studied the second of the two parts which we’d planned to study last week in the section “Doesn’t the Reality of Evil and Suffering Expose God’s Limitations?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010)–“Is God’s love limited?”. As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. An innovation was members’ accompanying the after-study singing with a tambourine, a pair of cymbals, and a pair of spoons as well as with a guitar.

We opened our study by reading the last paragraph of the section that we’d studied the previous week, “Is God’s power limited?”. It cites these New Testament passages which show God to be all-powerful. They, and all other Bible passages quoted in this post, are from the ESV.
– “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; the angel Gabriel to Mary).
– “With God all things are impossible” (Matthew 19:26; Jesus to his disciples).
– “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
– “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'” (Revelation 1:8).

I pointed out that in the next two parts of the section Randy Alcorn presents Biblical evidence that God is all-knowing and all-good as well as all-powerful. A few of the passages which he cites are:
– “Do you know…the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:16; Elihu to Job).
– “God…knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
– “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:68; cited in Alcorn’s book but not in the booklet).
– “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).

I observed that often when bad things happen to Christians who believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, they start to doubt that God loves them. I gave as examples Job’s asking God, “Why do you hide your face and count me as an enemy?” (Job 13:24), and Jesus’ asking His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Then I had the first paragraph in “Is God’s love limited?” read, its responding to such doubts by referring to passages like Psalm 51:1 which speak of God’s “steadfast love.”

I went on to observe that some people claim that if God really loves us He wouldn’t treat sin so strictly and harshly, even threatening Hell. A member of the group observed that the answer to those people’s claim was Jesus’ dying on the cross for us. Then I had the rest of “Is God’s love limited?” read. It g9ves the answer, bringing out that God is both holy / just and loving and explains how the two were united at the cross, concluding, “By giving his Son to die for us, God gave us the most compelling proof possible of the infinite greatness of his love” (booklet, page 59). We spent some time discussing what the cross meant to God and to us.

Postscript

In preparing for our reading of “Is God’s love limited?” I revisited a topic that I’d considered in an earlier post, my December 29, 2013, “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” post. I reread the chapter in John M. Frame’s No Other God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2001) that I’d focused on in the post, “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” (pages 49-56). Since Frame wrote the chapter in response to the claim by some open theists that love is God’s most important attribute, I also read what two open theists say about the topic: Richard Rice in Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994) and John Sanders in his The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998); I read pages 18-22 and 175-81 of those books, respectively. I also read a section called “God’s Love and Justice–A Point of Tension?” in Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013; pages 267-68). Erickson concludes, “Love and justice are not two separate attributes competing with one another. God is both righteous and loving, and has himself given what he demands” (Erickson, page 268).

I didn’t share any of what I read on the topic with the Life group, feeling that Alcorn had demonstrated sufficiently that in Jesus’ dying on the cross for us God showed that His love for us is such that we can trust Him even when we can’t understand such things as why He allows bad things to happen to us.

Man as Male and Female

During the past week my family and I read Chapter 22, “Man as Male and Female” in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem argues that God’s creating man as male and female shows God’s image in personal relationships, equality in personhood and importance, and differences in roles and authority. Unfortunately it seems to me that he exaggerates the resemblance between man’s being male and female and God’s being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in order to provide Biblical support for his view that, although males and females may be equal in personhood and importance, males should exercise authority over females in marriages (Chapter 22) and in the church (Chapter 47). Nevertheless in our family reading we read his entire presentation and here I’ll share from all of it.

Personal Relationships

In making us in His image, God made us so that we could attain interpersonal unity. This can be especially deep in our physical and spiritual families. Between men and woman, it finds its fullest expression in marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). In quoting the passage, Jesus describes a husband and a wife as “what…God has joined together” (Matthew 19:6).

Grudem claims that God created two distinct persons as male and female rather than just one man because it reflects the plurality of persons in the Trinity. He responds to two objections that might be made to his claim, (1) that God is three persons but Adam and Eve were only two persons and (2) that not only were Jesus and Paul unmarried but also Paul discouraged others from marrying in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. However he doesn’t refer to the more serious objection that God is one being but Adam and Eve were two beings.

Equality in Personhood and Importance

When God created man, He created both male and female “in his image” (Genesis 1:27) and “in his likeness” (Genesis 5:1-2). If men and women are equally in God’s image, they must be equally important to God.

The equality in which men and women were created is emphasized in the new covenant church by the Holy Spirit’s being poured out on both on the day of Pentecost, by both being baptized in water (in the old covenant only men received the sign of the covenant, circumcision), and by Paul’s assertion that there is neither male nor female in the church.
– “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel, ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy'” (Acts 2:17-18, quoting Joel 2:28-19).
– “Those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
– “For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

Thus when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:7, “He [man] is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man,” he isn’t denying that woman was created in the image of God. He is simply saying that there are differences between men and women that should be reflected in their appearance, such as having their head covered or uncovered in public worship. He goes on to emphasize woman’s independence of man (and man’s of woman) in verses 11-12. Proverbs 31:10-31 makes it clear that godly women should be honoured.

Differences in Roles and Authority

In my November 4 and 5, 2013, “The Trinity – Distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” posts I showed that although the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal in deity they have different functions and are different in authority. Similarly although males and females are equal in importance to God, there are differences in roles and authority between them. Paul makes the difference in authority between them clear in 1 Corinthians 11:3, saying, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Just as the Father has authority over the Son although they are equal in deity, a husband has authority over his wife although they are equal in personhood.

Although several writers have advocated that the difference in authority between male and female resulted from the Fall, there are indications of a difference of role between Adam and Eve even before the Fall:
– Adam was created before Eve was created (Genesis 2:7, 18-23). Paul uses this as a reason for his restricting some roles in the church to men, saying “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12-13).
– Eve was created as a helper for Adam (Genesis 2:18-23). Paul uses this as a reason for his having different requirements for men and women in head coverings during public worship, saying “Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head” (1 Corinthians 11:8-9).
– Adam named Eve. “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). However he didn’t give her the name “Eve” until after the Fall (Genesis 3:20).
– God named the human race “man” rather than “woman” or a gender-neutral term. “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man” (Genesis 5:2).
As well, God’s speaking to Adam first after the Fall indicates that He thought of him as head of his family. “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)

Grudem suggests that the Fall resulted in a distortion of the relationship between Adam and Eve, pointing out that the word “rule” in “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:18) implies dictatorial exercise of authority. He also suggests that redemption in Christ reaffirms the original relationship, Paul’s telling wives and husbands, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19; see also Ephesians 5:22-33).

Application to Marriage

Although husbands and wives are equal in His sight, God intends husbands to show leadership within their families and for their leadership to be recognized by their wives. The husband’s leadership is to be done with love and consideration for his wife, and her recognition of his leadership is to be done joyfully as to the Lord. Paul concludes his address to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 with, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

Bibliography

Only one of my systematic theology textbooks besides Grudem’s deals with females or women, Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013). In “Both Sexes” (pages 498-501), he emphasizes the equal status with men that women have in God’s sight and the important role that they have played in the work of the kingdom of God.

However two of my dictionaries/encyclopedias have articles on them which I found useful:
– Edwards, Ruth B. “Woman.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4 volumes. Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979-88. Vol. 4, pages 1089-97.
– Nicole, Roger. “Woman, Biblical Concepts of.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.” Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1984. Pages 1175-80.

Is God’s Power Limited?

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine of the group’s ten members attended, and we studied one of the two parts which we’d planned to study in the section “Doesn’t the Reality of Evil and Suffering Expose God’s Limitations?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010)–“Is God’s power limited?”. The study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

Alcorn opens his consideration of “Is God’s power limited?” by referring to Harold S. Kushner and his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People? (New York: Schoecken Books, 1981). After having Alcorn’s first paragraph read, I read the Reader’s Digest condensation of the book. Then I had read Alcorn’s second paragraph, which notes and comments on the success of Kushner’s book, and asked for the group’s thoughts about Kushner’s view of God. Finally I had read Alcorn’s fourth paragraph, which cites an Old Testament passage which shows God to be all powerful. I’d planned to also have read Alcorn’s fifth paragraph, which cites New Testament passages which show God to be all-powerful, and ask the group why it is important for us to recognize that God’s power has no limits. However, our discussion’s having reached a climatic point, I decided to leave those activities for our next meeting.

Kushner was a Jewish rabbi whose son, Aaron, had a condition called progeria or rapid aging. On learning of his son’s condition, Kushner felt a sense of unfairness at this happening to him, who was following God’s ways and doing His work, and his son, an innocent child. As a result he thought much about why bad things happen to good people. Finally, shortly after Aaron’s death at 14, he wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People? to encourage others in similar situations.

Kushner’s basic message is that our suffering isn’t caused by God, either as punishment for our misbehaviour or as part of His grand plan. Some is caused by bad luck and bad people and some is a result of our living in a world of inflexible natural laws. God can’t do anything about it and is as upset about it as we are. However He can help us handle our feelings about it and inspires people to help others in similar situations.

Although we appreciated how Kushner felt and his message, we disagreed with his conclusion, our maintaining our trust in the Bible’s teaching that God is all-powerful. Some Bible passages which show that God is all-powerful are:
– “I am God, and there is none other; I am God, and there is none other like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of pray from the east, and a man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11, ESV; all Bible passages quoted are from the ESV).
– “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; the angel Gabriel to Mary).
– “With God all things are impossible” (Matthew 19:26; Jesus to his disciples).