Category Archives: D – Creation and Providence

Prayer

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, this is the prayer that Jesus gave his disciples as a model of how they should pray. I’ve given it in the form in which I memorized it as a child, the KJV version of Matthew 6:9-13. Other Bible passages quoted in this post will be from the ESV.

In this post I’ll consider what prayer is, why we should pray, how prayer works, how we should pray, and unanswered prayer, guided by but not limited to Chapter 18, “Prayer,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), which my family and I are reading in our family Bible reading time.

What is prayer?

Prayer is talking to God. The acronymn ACTS is often used to summarize the main kinds of prayers:
– Adoration
– Confession
– Thanksgiving
– Supplication

Why should we pray?

We don’t pray to tell God what we need because He already knows that, Jesus’ telling his disciples, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Rather we pray because prayer expresses our trust in God to provide for us in the way that parents provide for their children. On the same occasion in which Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples he told them, “Which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Two other reasons suggested by Grudem for why we pray are that it brings us into deeper fellowship with God, which is something that He wants, and that it allows us to be involved in activities that are eternally important, an aim expressed in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

How does prayer work?

Prayer can change how God acts. For example, God told Moses that He was going to destroy Israel because they made and worshipped a golden calf, Moses implored God not to destroy them, and “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:7-14; verse 14 quoted). James tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2), implying that we’d receive more from Him if we’d ask.

Because God is holy and we are sinful, we can’t come into His presence on our own. However because we have Jesus as our mediator (“There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:5), we can come to Him. Grudem considers whether believers in the Old Testament and unbelievers, neither of which had/have Jesus as mediator, can come to God. He concludes that God accepted the sacrifices of the former on the basis of the future work of Jesus and that He may but hasn’t promised to accept the prayers of the latter.

Jesus told his disciple to pray “in my name” (“I chose you…so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you,” John 15:16). This doesn’t mean ending our prayers with “in Jesus’ name.” It means coming to God on Jesus’ authority and in a way consistent with his character and will. Of course there’s nothing wrong with our ending our prayers with “in Jesus’ name.”

As Paul observes in Romans 8:26-27, the Holy Spirit helps us in our praying: “Likewise the Spirit himself helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” The commentaries which I consulted disagree on whether the groanings referred to are the Holy Spirit’s own or ours which the Holy Spirit makes into effective prayer.

How should we pray?

Prayers may be offered in any place, at any time of day, and in any posture. The Bible encourages both secret prayer (“When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” Matthew 6:6) and united prayer (“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers,” Acts 1:14). Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10), but Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), suggesting that although it is good to have regular times of prayer we should be in personal communication with God all the time. In the Bible people generally stood or knelt when praying, Solomon’s doing both during his prayer of dedication of the Temple: “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven…Now as Solomon finished offering all of this prayer and plea to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven” (1 Kings 8:22, 54).

Grudem suggests several conditions for praying effectively. For each condition, he explains it fully and and provides several relevant Bible passages. Here I’ll just list the conditions and give one relevant Bible passage for each of them. If you have a question about why Grudem suggests any of them or about what it involves, ask me in a Reply to this post and I’ll try to answer your question.
– Praying according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15.
– Praying with faith. Mark 11:24.
– Obedience. 1 Peter 3:12 (quotation of Psalm 34:15-16).
– Confession of sins. Matthew 6:12.
– Forgiving others. Matthew 6:12.
– Humility. Luke 18:9-14.
– Continuing in prayer over time. Luke 18:1-8.
– Praying earnestly. Hebrews 5:7.
– Waiting on the Lord. Psalm 130:5-6.
– Praying in private. Matthew 6:6.
– Praying with others. Matthew 18:19-20.
– Fasting. Joel 2:12.

What about unanswered prayer?

I haven’t received everything that I’ve prayed for, and I’m sure that you haven’t either. Why haven’t we? Maybe God wants us to wait for our answer, as the souls of the martyrs whom John saw under God’s throne in heaven were told to do in answer to their prayer for God to avenge them (Revelation 6:9-11). Or maybe God intends something else for us, as Jesus recognized when he closed his prayer that God remove “this cup” from him with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Or maybe we haven’t met the conditions for praying effectively listed above under “How Should We Pray?”

What should we do? We should make sure that we’re meeting the conditions for praying effectively. We should accept God’s answer as David did when the child for whom he was praying died, resuming his normal life with the explanation that “while the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). And we should continue to trust God, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

Bibliography

Works about prayer that I found especially useful in my personal study of prayer, besides Chapter 18, “Prayer,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, are:
– Calvin, John. “Prayer….” Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Volumes 20-21 of The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia, Westminster, 1960. Pages 850-920. Besides containing material helpful in considering the questions posted in this post, this chapter contains an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer by one of my favourite commentators (Calvin).
– Liefeld, Walter L. “Prayer.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4 volumes. Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979-88. Vol. 3, pages 931-939. Besides containing material helpful in considering the questions posted in this post, this article contains a survey of prayer in the Bible.
– Smith, Charles W. F. – “Prayer.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 4 volumes. Edited by George Arthur Buttrick. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1962. Vol. K-Q, pages 857-867. Besides containing material helpful in considering the questions posted in this post, this article contains a survey of prayer in the Bible.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. “The Means of Grace: II. Prayer.” Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Pages 302-305.

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Miracles

What are miracles? What is the purpose of miracles? Are miracles for today? These are the questions that my family and I (or at least I) looked for answers to as we read Chapter 17, “Miracles,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 1994) in our after-breakfast Bible reading time during the past few days.

What are miracles?

Many definitions have been given for “miracle,” several of which Grudem considers the adequacy or inadequacy of. However here I’ll give just one compiled by me from the definitions for “miracle” given in my dictionaries: “an extraordinary event which cannot be explained by the known laws of nature and is attributed to God.” The definition identifies three characteristics of a miracle: it is extraordinary, it cannot be explained by the known laws of nature, and it is attributed to God. Let’s see how these characteristics fit with how the Bible describes the miracles it records.

It is extraordinary. An extraordinary event is one that is so uncommon that it arouses awe and amazement. The terms commonly used to refer to miracles in the Bible–“sign,” “wonder,” and “miracle” or “mighty work”–suggest this characteristic. As well miracles in the Bible often aroused people’s awe and amazement.

It cannot be explained by the known laws of nature. “Laws of nature” are the rules of behaviour imposed by God on the parts of the physical world which enable us to predict how they will behave. Many of the miracles connected with the Exodus, such as the dividing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15-25), or performed by Jesus, such as his walking on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45-51 and parallel passages in Matthew and John), certainly couldn’t have been predicted.

It is attributed to God. Illustrative of this are Elijah’s calling fire down from heaven demonstrating to those watching that the LORD was the only true God (1 Kings 18:30-39) and Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44).

Should answers to prayer be considered miracles? Yes, if they have the above characteristics. No, if they don’t. However even if they don’t qualify as miracles, we should remember to thank God for them.

What was the purpose of miracles in the Bible?

Although the Bible records numerous miracles in connection with the Exodus from Egypt under Moses, the struggle with Baalism under Elijah and Elisha, and the trials of Daniel as well as those worked by Jesus and the early church, Grudem concentrates on the latter because of their implications for the whole church age and thus for us. He identifies these five purposes of the miracles described in the New Testament:

To authenticate the message of the Gospel. This is brought out clearly in Jesus’ response when John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus if he was the Messiah–he healed many people and told John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22, ESV; all Bible quotations from the ESV). Miracles performed the same function in the ministry of the early church, as is demonstrated in Philip’s ministry in Samaria: “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7). That their paying attention to him included their believing is indicated by their being baptized (8:12) and receiving the Holy Spirit (8:17).

However Jesus refused to work a miracle for scribes and Pharisees who asked him for one as a sign: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth'” (Matthew 12:38-40). His answer to them suggests that authenticating his message wasn’t his primary purpose in working miracles. It also points forward to the great miracle that would authenticate his message, his resurrection from the dead.

To bear witness that the kingdom of God has come. Jesus told the Pharisees, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).

To help those who are in need. When a crowd came to Jesus in a desolate place, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick” and later multiplied bread and fish to feed them (Matthew 14:13-21).

To remove hindrances to people’s ministries. “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1:29-31). Jesus and those with him probably went to Peter’s house to be ministered unto by Peter’s mother-in-law and she wouldn’t have been able to do that if Jesus hadn’t healed her. However I suspect that Jesus’ primary reason for healing her was to help her rather than to enable her to minister to them.

To bring glory to God. When the crowds saw Jesus heal a paralytic, “they glorifed God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). Grudem observes that all the other purposes of miracle contribute to this purpose.

Are miracles for today?

Because miracles are not distributed uniformly throughout the Bible and because some think that miracles in the early church were limited to apostles and those closely connected with them, some scholars conclude that miracles occur only at special times of crisis in the history of redemption and that they are not for today.

The main reasons why some think that miracles in the early church were limited to apostles and those closely connected with them are that there are indications that there was an unusual concentration of miracles in their ministry (see, for example, Acts 5:12-16 and 19:11-12, quoted below) and that they interpret 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:3-4 (quoted below) as implying such.
– (Acts 5:12-16) “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they…even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”
– (Acts 19:11-12) “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”
– (2 Corinthians 12:12) “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” They equate “signs of a true apostle” and “signs and wonders and mighty works.”
– (Hebrews 2:3-4) “It [such a great salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles.” They identify “those who heard [the Lord]” as the apostles.

However the unusual concentration of miracles in the ministries of the apostles doesn’t prove that others didn’t work miracles too. In fact Stephen’s doing “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8) and Philip’s doing “signs” in Samaria (Acts 8:6) demonstrate that ones other than the apostles worked miracles in the early church. As well 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and Galatians 3:5 indicate that miracles were occurring in the churches those letters were addressed to although Paul was no longer there. As for 2 Corinthians 12:12, careful reading of the passage shows that Paul distinguishes “the signs of a true apostle” from “signs and wonders and various miracles.” Grudem gives a long list of things that Paul indicates elsewhere in 2 Corinthians were signs of his being a true apostle (Grudem, pages 363-64). And as for Hebrews 2:3-4, not only did many besides the apostles hear Jesus but also the passage doesn’t indicate that the preaching of ones who hadn’t heard Jesus wasn’t accompanied by miracles.

Thus the working of miracles in the early church was not limited to the apostles and there is no reason to think that the working of miracles in the church would cease with their death. However that miracles might occur today doesn’t mean that we should ask God to perform miracles today. Under what circumstances would it be appropriate for us to do so? Certainly it wouldn’t be appropriate if we just want entertainment, as Herod did in Luke 23:8, or to advance ourselves, as Simon the magician did in Acts 8:18-19–in both cases their request was denied. However surely it would be appropriate if our purpose is one of the purposes that I listed above under “What was the purpose of miracles in the Bible?” Accordingly, if we see a serious need in people’s lives which only a miracle can remedy, let us not hesitate to go to God in prayer for it, always remembering how Jesus closed his prayer when he had such a need, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Bibliography

Works about miracles that I found especially useful in my personal study of miracles besides Chapter 17, “Miracles,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology are:
– Brown, Colin. “Miracle.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 4 volumes. Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979-88. Vol. 3, pages 371-381.
– McCasland, S. Vernon. “Miracle.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 4 volumes. Edited by George Arthur Buttrick. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1962. Vol. K-Q, pages 392-402.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. “Miracles as attesting a Divine Revelation.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 117-133.
– Williams, J. Rodman. “Miracles.” Renewal Theology. 3 vol. in one. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. Vol. 1, pages 141-168.

The Decrees of God

The doctrine of the decrees of God is similar to the doctrine of providence. Wayne Grudem distinguishes between the two in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), which my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, thus: “Here we are thinking about God’s decisions before the world was created, rather than his providential actions in time” (page 332; the italics are his). His consideration of the doctrine being brief, three paragraphs on pages 332-33, I consulted Evangelical Dictionary of Theology and my other systematic theology books on it in preparation for our family reading of what he said. Although I didn’t share anything from them in our family reading, I’ll share a bit from them here.

Each of these systematic theology books devotes a full chapter to the decrees of God:
– Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939.
– Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
When I quote from or refer to Grudem’s Systematic Theology or them, I’ll give just the author’s surname and the book’s page number.

Definition of the Decrees of God

Strong defines the decrees of God as “that eternal plan by which God has rendered certain all the events of the universe, past, present, and future.” He says that he prefers “plan” to “decrees” because it excludes the ideas of plurality, shortsightedness, arbitrariness, and compulsion (Strong, 353). Erickson has the same preference and even calls his chapter on the topic “God’s Plan” instead of “The Decrees of God.” Although I agree that God has a plan that includes the events which He foreordained, I don’t think that it includes all of the events of the universe because I don’t think that the Bible teaches that He foreordained everything.

Biblical Evidence for the Decrees of God

Grudem quotes these Bible passages as evidence for the doctrine of the decrees of God (Grudem, page 333):
– “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, very one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16, ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV).
– “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; the speaker is Peter).
– “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 plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28; the speakers were friends of Peter and John).
– He [God] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).
– “For we are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Erickson, Strong, and Thiessen also provide Biblical evidence for the doctrine of the decrees of God:
– Erickson, “The Old Testament Teaching” and “The New Testament Teaching,” pages 320-23.
– Strong, “Proof of the Doctrine of Decrees – 1. From Scripture,” pages 355-357.
– Thiessen, “The Content and Order of the Decrees,” pages 104-10.

Characteristics of the Decrees of God

Erickson gives these characteristics for the decrees of God (Erickson, pages 323-26):
1. They are from all eternity. Thus they don’t have a chronological sequence although they have a logical sequence and are enacted in a temporal sequence.
2. They are free on God’s part, not being caused by any internal compulsion or external influence.
3. Their purpose is God’s glory.
4. They are all-inclusive.
5. They are efficacious.
6. They relate to God’s actions rather than to His nature.
7. They relate primarily to what God does in creation, providence, and redemption.
8. They include human actions.
9. They are unchangeable.

Each of the other systematic theology books listed above also identifies and describes several characteristics of the decrees of God:
– Berkhof, “The Nature of the Divine Decrees” and “The Characteristics of the Divine Decrees,” pages 102-05.
– Strong, “Definition of Decrees,” pages 353-55.
– Thiessen, “The Definition of the Decrees” & “The Proof of the Decrees” & “The Bases of the Decrees” & “The Purpose of the Decrees,” pages 100-03.

Objections to the Doctrine of the Decrees of God

Berkhof (pages 105-08) and Strong (pages 359-68) state and reply to these three objections which are made to the doctrine of the decrees of God:
1. It is inconsistent with the free agency of man.
2. It takes away all motive for human exertion.
3. It makes God the author of sin.
I think that the objections are valid if God’s plan includes everything that happens in the universe.

Practical Uses of the Doctrine of the Decrees of God

In his article on “The Decrees of God” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), F. H. Klooster suggests these values of the doctrine of the decrees of God:
– “Scriptural references to God’s decree are generally set forth in concrete relation to historical situations for the purpose of promoting comfort, security, assurance, and trust.”
– “The eternal decrees of God also provides the explanation of predictive prophecy.”

Strong observes that the doctrine of the decrees of God not only inspires humility before and confidence in God but also warns sinners of their decreed and threatened penalty and urges them to accept the appointed means of salvation (Strong, 368).

Government, Applications of the Doctrine of God’s Providence, and the Arminian Position

Providence is God’s activity in preserving and governing His creation. My family and I have been studying it in our after-breakfast Bible reading time guided by Chapter 16, “Providence,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem examines three aspects of providence–preservation, concurrence, and government–from a Calvinist perspective and then presents and responds to the major alternative evangelical position, the Arminian view. So far I’ve reported here on our reading of what he says about preservation and concurrence. In this post I’ll report on our reading of what he says about government, applications of the doctrine of God’s providence, and the Arminian position.

Government

This aspect of providence indicates that God has a purpose in everything that He does in the world and that He governs or directs all things so that they accomplish His purposes. Some relevant Bible passages are:
– He does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35, ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV; the speaker is Nebuchadnezzar).
– “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
– “Who [God] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
– “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it [the new Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3; the passage points to God’s ultimate purpose).

Applications of the Doctrine of God’s Providence

Realizing that the doctrine of God’s providence may make us think that our actions don’t make much difference, Grudem considers these points about them:
– We are responsible for our actions, as Adam and Eve found when they tried to blame someone else for their disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)
– Our actions have real results and do affect what happens.
– Prayer is a specific kind of action that brings results. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Jesus is speaking to the Twelve), and James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask,” make this clear.
– We must act. Joab’s words to David’s army in 2 Samuel 10:12, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him,” illustrate the combination of vigorous action and trust in Him that God expects of us. Grudem gives more examples on pages 335-36 of his Systematic Theology.

Grudem goes on to make these points:
– Do not be afraid, but trust in God.
– Be thankful for all good things that happen.
– There is no such thing as “luck” or “chance.” Not believing that God foreordains everything, I disagree with him here.

The Arminian Position

Arminians claim that God’s giving us free will means that He doesn’t cause everything that we do. Thus His plan doesn’t include everything that happens. Instead He responds to our actions as they occur in such a way that His purposes are ultimately accomplished in the world.

Grudem presents the arguments put forward by Arminians for their position under these four points:
– The verses cited by Calvinists as examples of God’s providential control are exceptions and do not describe how God ordinarily works.
– The Calvinist view makes God responsible for sin.
– Choices caused by God aren’t real choices.
– The Calvinist view encourages fatalism.

Grudem responds to each of the arguments and then makes some additional objections to the Arminian position. Because of their length, my family and I didn’t read either in our family reading despite my original plan for us to “read everything that Grudem says in the order that he gives it” and thus I won’t share them here. However if anyone reading this article would like to know how Grudem responds to a specific argument, just ask in a comment on this post and I’ll tell you in a reply to your comment.

God and Evil

Their belief that God foreordained everything poses a problem for Calvinists. Wayne Grudem, whose Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast family Bible reading time, presents the problem in this way: “Does God actually cause the evil actions that people do? If he does, then is God not responsible for sin?” (Systematic Theology, pages 322-23). How serious Grudem considers the problem is indicated by his devoting almost nine pages (pages 322-31) to it. This post follows the order of and draws on the content of his fine (from a Calvinist viewpoint) presentation.

Bible Passages Indicating God’s Bringing about Evil

Below is a small selection of the extensive list of Bible passages quoted by Grudem indicating that God brought about some evil. All Bible passages are quoted from the ESV. Note that although God may prompt evil to be done, it is not done by Him but is done by people (or demons) who choose to do it.
– “Joseph said to his brothers…’Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life'” (Genesis 45:4-5; note that what Joseph says is from him, not from God).
– “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharoah all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let my people go'” (Exodus 4:21; a chart in the <i>ESV Study Bible</i> shows when God hardened Pharoah’s heart, when Pharoah’s heart was hardened, and when Pharoah hardened his heart; cf. Romans 9:17-18).
– “It was the LORD’s doing to harden their [the Canaanites’] hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed” (Joshua 11:20).
– “The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 24:1; after having the people numbered, David realized that he had sinned in doing so and accepted God’s punishment for his doing so [2 Kings 24:10-17]; 1 Chronicles 21:1 indicates that God used Satan in inciting David to number Israel.)
– “I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
– “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:38).
– “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6).
– “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; note that what the speaker, Peter, said is from him, not from God; however I personally view it as inspired by the Holy Spirit.)
– “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 plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28; note that what the speakers, friends of Peter and John, said is from them, not from God).
– “Therefore God send them [those who refuse to accept the Gospel] a strong delusion, so that they believe what is false [the message of the AntiChrist], in order that they may all be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Analysis of the Passages

Although I said earlier that my family and I would read all of Chapter 16, “God’s Providence,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, we read just part of his analysis of the Bible passages which he’d quoted to show that God brought about some evil. He drew these conclusions in what we read:
1. God uses all things, even evil, to fulfill His purposes. Relevant Bible passages are Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”; Genesis 45:4-5, quoted above; and Romans 9:7-8, referred to above.
2. God never does evil and shouldn’t blamed for evil. Relevant Bible passages are Luke 22:22 (similar to Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 quoted above), “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed,” and James 1:13-14, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
3. God rightfully blames and judges people for the evil that they do. A relevant Bible passage is, “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”
4. Evil is real and we should never do it, for it will always harm us and others. Accordingly, we should pray, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

The Problem of Evil at Open Theism

For more on the problem of evil at Open Theism see these posts:
– “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” (January 26, 2013)
– “The Problem of Evil” (June 21, 2013)
– “Job’s Afflictions” (July 12 and October 17, 2013)
– “Job’s Friends” (October 24, 2013)
– “God Addresses and Restores Job” (July 19 and November 7, 2013)
– “How Evil and Suffering Are Related” (July 26, 2013)
– “If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? – Introduction” (November 14, 2013)
– “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?” (August 2, 2013)
– “Natural Disasters” (August 16, 2013)
– “The Most Common Explanations Given for Evil and Suffering” (August 23, 2013)

“O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” reflects on the death of my first wife from complications following successful open-heart surgery in 1971. It is based on a paper that I wrote in the summer of 1984 while working on a M.A. in Humanities with California State University Dominguez Hills and on shorter and longer versions of it that appeared as articles in the February 1998 issue of Good Tidings (the official publication of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador) and a few years later in Bob’s Corner at Suite101.com.

The June, July, and August posts were posted in preparation for the study of the problem of evil that the Life group which my wife and I attend was planning to begin in September. The group is one of a number of Life groups that meet under the auspices of Windsor Pentecostal Church (www.wpcnl.ca). They meet at various places and times. Ours meets in a home on Thursday evenings.

The October and November posts are reports on that study. We began with three studies from the book of Job and are now working through a booklet by Randy Alcorn based on his If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). A new post should appear each Friday based on the previous evening’s meeting until we finish working through the booklet except when a meeting is cancelled.

Concurrence

Concurrence is the aspect of providence in which God works together with created things. Like preservation, which I considered in my last post, it isn’t clearly shown in the world around us and so I’ll give some Bible passages that show it, starting with inamimate creation and going on to animals and finally to human beings. Most of the passages are ones cited by Wayne Grudem in considering concurrence in Chapter 16, “Providence,” of the book that my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

Inanimate Creation

Some Bible passages which indicate that God works together with His inanimate creation are:
– “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” (Job 38:31-33, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV; God is speaking to Job; the Pleiades, etc., are constellations; the whole chapter is relevant).
– “You [the LoRD] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).
– “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Psalm 135:6-7).
– “He [the LORD] gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow” (Psalm 147:16-18).
– “He [the Father who is in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45; the speaker is Jesus).

The passages indicate not only that God has set the rules by which natural phenomena function but also that He can direct their operation. However unlike Calvinists, who believe that God foreordained everything that happens, I don’t believe that God foreordained everything that happens in nature. If I did, I’d have to believe that He foreordained the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. On the contrary I think that He is as unhappy over it as we are. Why then did He allow it to happen? Because such events are part of the curse that the world fell under when Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Knowing that God can and sometimes does intervene, my family naturally prayed for the safety of my wife’s family in the Philippines when we heard of the typoon. However we did so knowing that God doesn’t generally interfere with how nature operates and that it is only when we’re with Him in the New Jerusalem that we shall be free of all such catastrophes. For an explanation of the difference between the Calvinist view and my view of providence, see my January 12, 2013, post, “General Rather Than Meticulous Providence.” Note that the Open Theism Information Site referred to in that post is currently not available.

Animals

Some Bible passages which indicate that God works together with animals are:
– “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, or wander about for lack of food?” (Job 38:39-41; God is speaking to Job).
– “These [creatures on the earth and in the sea] all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust” (Psalm 104:27-29).
– “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26; the speaker is Jesus).
– “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29; the speaker is Jesus).

Human Beings

Some Bible passages which show how God works together with human beings are:
– “The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1; illustration of how God sometimes influences rulers in their decisions, in this case prompting Cyrus to help the Jews to rebuild the Temple).
– “Kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28; recognition by David that God works together with nations as well as with individuals).
– “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:6-7; assertion by God that He will ultimately bring judgment on “the boastful” and “the wicked”).
– “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 6:9; comparison between what a person may plan and what God may cause to happen).
– “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5; affirmation by God to Jeremiah that He had plans for him even before he was born).
– “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11; part of the prayer that Jesus told his disciples to pray like which appeals to God for help in providing for their physical needs).
– “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 1:7; reminder by Paul to the Corinthians that the ultimate sources of their abilities, etc., was the Lord).

However God’s providential direction does not take away from the reality of our choices. As the Bible clearly shows, God has given us a free will to choose what to do and thus holds us responsible for what we do. Because Calvinists believe that God foreordains everything and yet realize that He isn’t responsible for our bad deeds, they hypothesize a special kind of free will in which both God ordains what we do and we choose freely to do those things. Thus, they say, we should be held responsible for doing those things even though God ordained that we would do them. However, as David recognized in 2 Samuel 16:10-11, we should not be responsible for doing those things which God ordains that we do. When Abishai wanted to punish Shimei for cursing David, David replied, “If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’…Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to.” We are responsible for our actions because we, not God, determine that we do them. However, as the Bible passages quoted above, He is always ready to work together with us

Preservation

According to the Bible, God not only is creator of everything but also preserves and governs everything. We call this activity of God His providence. Chapter 16, “Providence,” of the book that my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), observes that by accepting the doctrine of providence we avoid four common errors in thinking about God’s relationship with what He has created: the belief that He created the universe but isn’t involved in it or in the lives of human beings now (deism), the belief that everything is Him or a part of Him (pantheism), the belief that events are determined by chance (randomness), and the belief that events are determined by fate (determinism).

In the chapter Grudem examines three aspects of providence–preservation, concurrence, and government–from a Calvinist perspective and then presents and responds to the major alternative evangelical position, the Arminian view. In our family reading we’ll read everything that Grudem says in the order that he gives it, noting as we do so how what he says corresponds with or doesn’t correspond with what I understand the Bible to teach. On the other hand, in my posts I’ll present what I understand the Bible to teach about a topic and then note alternative views on that topic. For a comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism, see my November 17, 2012, post, “Calvinism and Arminianism”; and for a summary of how the view which I hold (open theism) differs from them, see my October 27, 2012, post, “An Introduction to Open Theism.”

Some Bible passages which indicate that God preserves what He has created are:
– “You [the LORD] have made heaven…the earth…the seas…and you preserve all of them” (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV; the speakers are some Levites).
– “If he [God] should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15; the speaker is Elihu).
– “In him [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28; Paul is quoting a Greek poet).
– “By him [Jesus Christ] all things were created…and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).
– “He [the Son of God, Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

God’s preserving what He has created includes their maintaining their properties. Grudem points out that this provides a basis for science and technology.