Category Archives: Problem of evil

“Against Calvinism,” a counterpoint book by Roger E. Olson

Against CalvinismI believe someone needs finally to stand up and in love firmly say “No!” to egregious statements about God’s sovereignty often made by Calvinists.  Taken to their logical conclusion, that even hell and all who will suffer there eternally are foreordained by God, God is thereby rendered morally ambiguous at best and a moral monster at worst.  I have gone so far as to say that this kind of Calvinism, which attributes everything to God’s will and control, makes it difficult (at least for me) to see the difference between God and the devil” (p 23).

I’m not one to go out of my way to either belittle or cause a fight between Christians, but the fact that I bought and read this book is a testament to the harsh treatment I’ve received from (at least some) Calvinists.  From my understanding of God and scripture, the “new Calvinist” belittling of other Christians and fighting with them publicly is not of Christ.  The author of Against Calvinism is like minded, but has had even worse unChrist-like jewels thrown at him than I have, presumably because he is a professor.  He had students, anonymously and not, tell him he wasn’t a Christian and that he was going to hell – simply for not believing their interpretation of scripture.  Whenever I come across this behavior – insulting people personally instead of addressing the parts of scripture they point to for consideration – it raises a big . . . red . . . flag.  (And, of course, it’s a very bad witness for Christ.)

I’ve encountered this with the proponents of post-tribulation rapture as well, and after looking into the scriptural arguments for pre- mid- and post-tribulation raptures, the post-tribs seem to have the least going for them in my view.  And so they make personal attacks, saying that those who don’t go along with them are just wimps who can’t stomach the idea of going through the tribulation.   Me: “rolls eyes and is reminded of cults.”  But “new Calvinists” do the same thing.  Instead of making an effort to understand where non-Calvinists are coming from, they make incredibly insulting claims towards them that are very far from the truth.   They even have the audacity to call everyone who doesn’t agree with them Arminians (and the name calling has had the impact of turning that theology into a bad label), even though it’s obvious that they don’t understand that theology, and the additional audacity to make it seem that if you are Reformed, you are Calvinist.   This whole scenario should make anyone wonder how (or how well) they assimilate their own theology.

I have no interest in man-centered theology; I am intensely interested in worshiping a God who is truly good and above reproach for the Holocaust  and all other evils too numerous to mention.  Too many Calvinist authors misrepresent non-Calvinist theologies as if they are all man-centered, humanistic, less-than-God-honoring, and even unbiblical without ever acknowledging the problems of their own theology.  Too many young, impressionable followers have not yet figured out what those problems are.  I write this to help them (p 24).

I will argue throughout this book that high Calvinism is not the only or the best way of interpreting Scripture.  It is one possible interpretation of isolated texts, but in light of the whole witness of Scripture it is not viable.  Furthermore, I will argue that high Calvinism stands in tension with the ancient faith of the Christian church and much of the heritage of evangelical faith.  Some of its crucial tenets cannot be found before the church father Augustine in the fifth century, and others cannot be found before a heretic named Gottschalk (d. circa 867) or from him until Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza (p 24).

As a note, it’s good to keep in mind that both Calvinism and Arminianism are theologies that do not fully reflect their namesakes – they both were altered some after Calvin and Arminius died.  Olson doesn’t cover all the aspects of this in his book, as they are not all necessary, but he does show clear evidence that Calvin did not write about, believe in, or adhere to “limited atonement.”  This is the “L” in “TULIP,” the acrostic for the five points of modern high Calvinism:  Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance.  “Four point” Calvinists do not adhere to limited atonement, but as limited atonement logically follows from the other four points and would be needed for the whole theological scheme to work, four point Calvinists are criticized both by high Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike for being inconsistent.

As I’ve seen in other written works, Olson points out that many persons who call themselves Calvinists are not actually Calvinists; in particular, many Baptists churches maintain traditional orthodox doctrine that is not Calvinist, yet they still seem to want to call themselves that.  There aren’t even any Baptist churches represented in the international organization, World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).  It’s good, then, to see that another book I have here, which I’ll write about later (God willing), is written by a Baptist (C. Gordon Olson):  Getting the Gospel Right: A Balanced View of Salvation Truth (the cover shows a balanced scale with Arminianism on one side and Calvinism on the other).  A small book published by the Calvary Church group also presents a middle-ground approach, which that semi-denomination adheres to:  The Five Points of Calvinism: “Weighed and Found Wanting” (George L. Bryson).  Many of the books that Roger Olson uses and recommends are listed at the end of this post.  Three links for further reading now are also provided.

In the title of this post I wrote that Against Calvinism is a counterpoint book.  I used that term because Zondervan published For Calvinism first, and this book is the good or evil twin of that one – but Zondervan doesn’t appear to have a name for these related books (like a counterpoint series or something along those lines).  Olson calls his book little, but it’s not, really.  It has fairly small print and lots of details, though it is smaller compared with the other Olson book mentioned above (Getting the Gospel Right appears to cover more verses, passages, and various interpretations more specifically).

The point is, it has a lot in it, and it’s been hard to decide what to include in this post.   First, I’ll do the obvious thing and briefly outline the main points of high Calvinism, together with counterpoints.   Second, I’ll provide statements and/or questions that typical “new Calvinists” make, with Olson’s responses (some truncated).   And lastly, I’ll include Olson’s mini instructive scenarios that illustrate the different views of salvation grace as they are found in Semi-Pelagianism (it’s a person’s choice), Monergism (Calvinism – it’s all God’s choice), and Evangelical Synergism (Protestant Arminianism – it’s both a person’s choice and God’s choice).  Of course, for the detailed information with all the technical terms, read Olson’s book.

Main Points of High Calvinism with Counterpoints, Briefly Stated

T = Total Depravity.  This refers to humans’ total spiritual depravity, or their spiritual deadness.  Since we are spiritually dead, God needs to intervene in order for us to be regenerated.  Non-Calvinists don’t have much argument with this in general – it is the method and timing of regeneration that is at issue (see the other letters in the TULIP).

U = Unconditional Election.  This refers to being elected by God to salvation, and the believer being predestined.  All Christians believe in election, but not all believe that God chooses people and passes over other people only because God decided specifically.  Calvinists believe people have nothing at all to do with it – they don’t respond to the Gospel themselves – and that it is only God’s choice.  This logically leads to the doctrine of double predestination: there are people chosen by God to go to heaven and the others are chosen to go to hell.  This abrogates human responsibility and so is deemed immoral by non-Calvinists.

L = Limited Atonement (or particular redemption).  Non-Calvinists and some Calvinists (four-pointers) reject the idea of limited atonement outright as being unbiblical.  It denies the plain and supported meanings of  verses like 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10, and others, that convey that Christ’s blood was and is enough for all (if the whole world accepted Christ’s work and God’s gift, Christ’s sacrifice would be enough to cover everyone).  Calvinists of course use other verses to support their theology, and try to explain away verses that say that Christ died for all.  They claim that God intended Christ’s blood for the elect only; as such, they cannot preach to an open crowd that “Christ died for your sins.”  Olson goes into detail about this (in chapter six).  As Olson wrote, “To paraphrase John Wesley, this seems to be such a love and compassion as makes the blood run cold” (p 49).

I = Irresistible Grace (or effectual or efficacious grace, or Monergism).  This seems to be the most flagrantly or glaringly contradictory claim of the lot.  While Calvinists say that God draws the elect – only – and they cannot resist it (it’s irresistible), they also claim (somehow) that it’s not forced on those chosen.  Huh?  Well yes, in Calvinism it is forced on them.  God changes their hearts without their permission; it’s only after God does this that they respond to him, in fact.   Since people are dead spiritually and can’t respond in any case, in Calvinism, it is all God’s doing.  In non-Calvinistic theologies, God has provided a type of grace that draws all people first – some accept this draw and some reject it.  “The ordinary message of the gospel for most evangelical Christians is ‘believe and be saved,’ based on Scripture passages such as John 3:1-21, in which Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again and that belief in him will accomplish that (v. 14).  There is really no way to reconcile this passage with belief that regeneration precedes faith” (p 52).

P = Perseverance.  This doctrine is the least controversial and is not really discussed much by Olson.  He points out that Lutherans and Free Will Baptists reject it, but that Arminius hadn’t made up his mind about it.

Excerpts from “Responses to Calvinist Claims” (pp 188 – 192)

“1.  Any other view of God’s sovereignty than Calvinism diminishes the glory of God; only ‘the doctrines of grace’ fully honor and uphold God’s glory.  It all depends on what “God’s glory” means.  If it means power, then perhaps this is correct.  But power isn’t glorious except when guided by goodness and love.  Hitler was powerful but obviously not glorious.  Jesus Christ revealed God as ‘our Father’ and therefore as good and loving.  In fact, high Calvinism (TULIP), wrongly labeled ‘the doctrines of grace’ by Calvinists, diminishes God’s glory by depicting him as malicious and arbitrary.  Furthermore, if Calvinism is correct, nothing can ‘diminish the glory of God’ [including real or perceived views of him] because God foreordained everything for his glory.”

“2.  Non-Calvinist theologies of salvation, such as Arminianism, make salvation dependent on good works because the sinner’s decision to accept Christ is made the decisive factor in his or her salvation.  It seems more the case that Calvinism makes salvation dependent on good works or something good about person elected to salvation, or else how does God choose them out of the mass of people destined for hell?  It’s either something God sees in them, or else God’s choice of them is arbitrary and capricious.  Furthermore, Arminian theology does not make salvation dependent on good works; all the ‘work’ of salvation is God’s.  The sinner is enabled to repent and believe by God’s prevenient grace and the bare decision to accept God’s salvation is not a good work; it is simply accepting the gift of grace. . . . ”

“5. Only Calvinism can account for God’s sovereignty over nature and history; unless God foreordains and controls every event, down to the smallest puff of existence and down to every thought and intention of the mind and heart, God cannot be sovereign.  This is not what ‘sovereignty’ means in any human context.  A human sovereign is in charge but not in control of what goes on in his or her realm.  God can steer the course of nature and history toward his intended goal and assure that they reach it without controlling everything.  God is like the master chess player who knows how to respond to every move his opponent makes.  There is no danger of God’s ultimate will not being done.  In fact, Calvinism cannot explain the Lord’s Prayer that teaches us to pray, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ which implies that God’s will is not already being done on earth.  According to Calvinism, it is!”

“7. Reformed theology, Calvinism, is the only solid foundation for conservative, biblical Christian theology.  All other approaches, such as Arminianism, a man-centered theology, inevitably lead to liberal theology.  Arminianism is not a ‘man-centered theology’ but a God-centered theology.  It is driven entirely and exclusively by a vision of God’s unconditional goodness and love.  The one main reason Arminians and other non-Calvinists believe in free will is to preserve and protect Cod’s goodness so as not to make him the author of sin and evil.  Calvinism makes it difficult to recognize the difference between God and the devil except that the devil wants everyone go to hell and God wants many to go to hell.  Arminian theology does not lead into liberal theology.  If anything, Calvinism does that.  Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern liberal theology, was a Calvinist!  He never even considered Arminianism; he moved right from conservative, high Calvinism to universalism while holding onto God’s meticulous providence even over evil.  Most of the nineteenth-century liberal theologians were former Calvinists who came to abhor its vision of God and developed liberal theology without any help from classical Arminianism. . . . ”

8. God has a right to do whatever he wants to with his creatures and especially with sinners who all deserve damnation.  His goodness is shown in his merciful rescue of some sinners; he owes nothing to anyone.  Those he passes over deserve hell.  While it may be true that everyone deserves hell, although even many Calvinists hesitate to say that about children, God is a God of love who genuinely desires all people to be saved, as the New Testament clearly testifies in 1 Timothy 2:4 ‘who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’  There is no way to get around the fact that ‘all people’ means every single person without exception.  The issue is not fairness but love.  A God who could save everyone because he always saves unconditionally but chooses only some would  not be a good or loving God.  He would certainly not be the God of 1 Timothy 2:4 and similar passages.’

“11. Non-Calvinist theologies such as Arminianism believe in something that is impossible: libertarian free will–belief that free decisions and actions simply come from nowhere.  Calvinism and some other theologies, as well as many philosophers, know that ‘free will’ simply means doing what you want to do and people are always controlled by their strongest motives, so being able to do otherwise–libertarian free will-is an illusion.” [Apparently, these people never make tough decisions based on multiple choices, like over which house or car or whatever to buy, where to go to college, which job to take, etc. etc.]   “If ‘free will’ only means doing what you want to do even though you couldn’t do otherwise, how is anyone responsible for what they do?  If a murderer, for example, could not have done otherwise than murder, then a judge or jury should find him not guilty–perhaps by reason of insanity.  Moral responsibility, accountability, and guilt depend on ability to do otherwise–libertarian freedom.  The Calvinist view of ‘free will’ isn’t really free will at all. . . .”

Mini Scenarios that Illustrate Different Views of Saving Grace (pp 172 -173)

First, imagine a deep pit with steep, slippery sides.  Several people are lying broken and wounded, utterly helpless [reflecting our fallen and depraved nature], at the bottom of the pit.

  • Semi-Pelagianism says that God comes along and throws a rope down to the bottom of the pit and waits for a person to start pulling on it.  Once he does, God responds by yelling, “Grab it tight and wrap it around yourself.  Together we’ll get you out.”  The problem is, the person is too hurt to do that, the rope is too weak, and God is too good to wait for the person to initiate the process.
  • Monergism says God comes along, throws a rope down into the pit, and climbs down it, wrapping it around some of the people and then goes back out of the pit and pulls them to safety without any cooperation.  The problem is that the God of Jesus Christ is too good and loving to rescue only some of the helpless people.
  • Evangelical synergism says that God comes along and throws a rope down and yells, “Grab onto it and pull and together we’ll get you out!”  Nobody moves.  They are too wounded.  In fact, for all practical purposes they are “dead” because they are utterly helpless.  So God pours water into the pit and yells, “Relax and let the water lift you out!”  In other words, “Float!”  All a person in the pit has to do to be rescued is let the water lift him or her out of the pit.  It takes a decision, but not an effort.  The water, of course, is prevenient grace.

*       *       *

Thanks for reading, and let me leave you with some verses worth considering.

“My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13).

““My [Jesus’] prayer is not for them alone [those living at that time]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, emphasis added).

With how divisive and divided Christ’s church is today, how can those looking in from the outside see that God sent Christ?  Can our lack of unity, and sometimes vicious acts toward one another, actually imply that God cannot accomplish what Jesus prayed for (so they are basically false)?  I don’t know the answer for sure, since it’s all too obvious that Christians have chosen men to be leaders in the faith over Christ as the head; I don’t know how that can change in actual application.  And, considering what Paul had said (in the quote above), it seems it may be true that the great apostasy already had started in the early church.  Pray for more unity as well as guidance from the Holy Spirit for all.

*       *       *

For further reading on this subject right now, go to Molinism vs Calvinism, at Reasonable Faith (if you read this to the end then know, too, that some Calvinists have altered Molinism to fit into Calvinism more, and Olson has a small section on this in his book),  Confessions of an Arminian Evangelical, and Calvin’s Comeback? The Irresistible Reformer (in The Christian Century – you need to register to read it).

*       *       *

Recommended readings from “Against Calvinism” (in alphabetical order by title, excluding The and A):

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Roger Olson, InterVarsity Press 2006).

The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (David Bentley Hart, Eerdmans 2005).

The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit (James Daane, Eerdmans 1973).

God’s Universal Salvific Grace (Vernon C Grounds, Bethany 1975).

The Great Debate: Calvinism, Arminianism, and Salvation (Alan PF Sell, Baker 1982).

Is God to Blame? (Gregory A Boyd, InterVarsity Press 2003).

A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God (E Frank Tupper, Mercer Univ. Press 1995).

The Transforming Power of Grace (Thomas Oden, Abingdon Press 1993).

What the Bible says about God the Ruler (Jack Cottrell, Eerdmans 1991).

Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (DL Allen and SW Lemke, editors, Broadman & Holman 2010).

Why I Am Not a Calvinist (J Walls and J Dongell, InterVarsity Press 2004).

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Open Comment to US Representatives Regarding Gun Control

I’m not a member of the NRA, the Republican party, or any such so-called group of nutty control freaks.  I do, however, want my right to own a firearm preserved.  I deserve the right to protect myself and those around me from others who threaten or attack with a firearm.  And making them illegal will not stop violent people from having them.  Nor will it stop nutty violent people from killing others.  Men in China have slaughtered children in schools with knives . . . bombs are apparently easy to make . . . .   People who are bent on killing others will find a way to do so.  The problem is partly or mostly a social-cultural one (the rest is a problem of individual psychiatric imbalance) (as a Christian, I believe in the forces of evil, but this is not a post to get into how that ties in here).

Our culture promotes aggression and greed – selfish behavior.  It’s all about self and money.  Do things YOURSELF, do it ALL YOURSELF.  Also, we are into letting people do things all by and of THEMSELVES, so we don’t do anything about crazy people.  We just leave them be until they go totally nuts and kill people.  The guns the shooter used in Newton were and are inanimate objects.  They are dangerous, to be sure, but not evil in themselves.  It was the shooter’s evil that caused the deaths of all those innocent people.

When are we going to start being a more community-oriented country, instead of one where everyone has to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (even if they have some bad disease or ailment)?  Where so many people can’t pull themselves up, anyway, because there are fewer and fewer full-time jobs, and most things are more expensive while we make less, and where executives and do-nothing investors keep making more money while we make less?  It is kind-of amazing to me that more protesting, rioting, and violence hasn’t occurred.  Keep people too tired, worried, but also entertained with sports and games, and not too much happens . . .

Anyway, I have the right to defend myself, and many persons with firearms in this country have indeed stopped violent attackers from harming themselves or others.  When shootings like Newton occur, it’s so awful and tragic that people have a knee-jerk reaction to gun ownership.  Maybe there’s a way to make it harder for unstable people to use or acquire guns, and I would be for that.  In the case of the Lanza’s, would any new regulations have helped?  There is not enough known yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, I have my doubts.  We need to be more proactive, as people and a nation, in addressing the needs of those with mental health issues in our communities.  Quit ignoring THAT, and maybe we’ll all be a bit safer (yes, it’s OK to butt into other people’s business if it means saving lives).  More so than if you take away good folks’ defense against armed criminals and deranged folks.

We need to be more community-oriented, period, which means being more socially loving and showing concern for our neighbors.

(Imagine the change in this country if corporations actually started acting this way . . . we need to start fixing our cold, aggressive, greedy, selfish hearts, rather than taking people’s rights away.)

[A little bit of food for thought:  Obama sheds fake tears]

A PS:  Is anyone else seriously tired of all the conflicting “news” in the news (like, the shooters mom worked at the school, but now she doesn’t, and no other info is given?  Or that his dad was found dead, but then he wasn’t?)?  All day I’ve been checking back to see what the motive of the killer was, since early on it was reported that investigators had good evidence for the motive.  But now, I’m seeing new articles (like in the Huffington Post), that say they don’t know the motive . . .  So tired of US media and whatever goes on with censoring.  If you want to know some more detailed news, or any news at all, check out foreign sources.

A PSS:  “The victims of the shooting were shot multiple times by a rifle, a medical examiner said Saturday . . .”  Yet no rifle was found in the school; Lanza killed himself (apparently) in the school at the time police arrived – he didn’t run back to the car, dump a rifle, and then go back in and kill himself.  Quote (not my commentary) from: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/12/16/at-least-26-dead-in-shooting-at-connecticut-school/#ixzz2FF4cyFTf

Gun Control at Just the Facts

Is God ever the author of evil? Does God cause evil acts?

The light shines through the darkness. By Mattox at stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1134104).

As a Christian, I believe John’s statement:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5).  Yet, there are verses in the Bible—mostly in the Old Testament—where God says He causes calamity, the hardening of hearts, even sinful behavior.  Critics and skeptics ask about these, and in light of the evil and suffering in the world, wonder at the goodness or even existence of God.

So which verses are we talking about?  Here are some of them:

Exodus 9:12:  But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had told Moses.

1 Kings 22:23:  You see, the Lord has put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has pronounced disaster against you.

Isaiah 45:7:  I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

Mark 4:11-12 (verse 12 is from Isaiah 6:9-10):  He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been granted to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that ‘they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back—and be forgiven.”

So does God really, purposefully, harden people’s hearts to that they won’t listen to Him or come to Him, tell people or spirits to go and lie for Him so that they (or others) do the wrong thing, and/or simply cause disasters?

The basic answer to all of these is that since God is sovereign and He made everything, He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.  That’s how the Hebrews saw it and that’s how they wrote, though to us today it seems odd or unsatisfactory.  The Hebrews knew that persons and spirits were responsible, yet they emphasized God’s role.  As is stated in Hard Sayings of the Bible, “What is reflected here is the lack of precise distinction in Hebraic thought between primary and secondary causes.  Since God is sovereign, human will and freedom to decide for or against God were often subsumed under divine sovereignty” (Kaiser et al, 620).

Let’s look at each of the above verses separately, while keeping in mind the general explanation already stated by Kaiser et al.  Regarding Exodus 9:12, MacDonald briefly writes:  “The more Pharaoh hardened his heart, the more it became judicially hardened by God” (96).  The concern is recognized in Kaiser et al.:  “. . . it appears God authors evil and then holds someone else responsible.  Did God make it impossible for Pharaoh to respond and then find Pharaoh guilty for this behavior?” (142).  No, since Pharaoh hardened his own heart  during the first five plagues (Ex 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15).  After this, as MacDonald so concisely stated, God helped the process along since it was already what Pharaoh had decided himself.

1 Kings 22:23.  In considering this verse and its context, the Hebrew habit of ignoring secondary causes is significant.  There are other verses in the Bible where a command is given, but it is an affirmation of permission – as is the case when Jesus tells the demons to enter a herd of pigs (Matt 8:31), or when he tells Judas to get going with his plans (John 13:27).  In the case of 1 Kings 22, King Ahab was listening to false prophets and the false prophets were responsible for their own lies; God allowed it and used it for His plans, and God even warned Ahab.

. . . the passage in question is a vision that Micaiah reveals to Ahab.  God is telling Ahab, “Wise up.  I am allowing your prophets to lie to you.”  In a sense, God is revealing further truth to Ahab rather than lying to him.  If God were truly trying to entrap Ahab into a life-threatening situation, he would not have revealed the plan to him!  Even so, Ahab refuses to heed God’s truth, and he follows his prophets’ advice (Kaiser et al, 231).

In conclusion, “Without saying that God does evil that good may come, we can say that God overrules the full tendencies of preexisting evil so that the evil promotes God’s eternal plan, contrary to its own tendency and goals” (Kaiser et al, 230).

Isaiah 45:7.  Much has been written on Isaiah 45:7, since part of the problem is that the King James Bible incorrectly used the word “evil” instead of disaster or some like word.  The verse refers to natural “evil” (destructive forces) and not moral evil.  God permits these things, and in fact natural destructive forces are a normal and necessary part of the earth’s balance and being.  The verse is a strong declaration, however, that God is THE creator and that He is ultimately in control of all things, and not some other being.

Mark 4:11-12 (Isaiah 6:9-10).  After having reviewed the other verses/passages, the meaning of this passage can almost be inferred.  It may sound mean and controlling of God, but it is a reality that there are those people who go after and accept views and actions that are contrary to God.  For those like this, God lets them continue; they have chosen their way, their path, and God does not force anyone to follow Him and accept Him as savior and Lord.  (Interestingly, the author of the section on this verse in Kaiser et al. [417-419] does not agree, providing a minority interpretation that is something of a 180˚ turn.)  MacDonald provides a generally accepted interpretation:

Verses 11 and 12 explain why this truth was presented in parables.  God reveals His family secrets to those whose hearts are open, receptive and obedient, while deliberately hiding truth from those who reject the light given to them. . . . we must remember the tremendous privilege which these people had enjoyed.  The Son of God had taught in their midst and performed many mighty miracles before them.  Instead of acknowledging Him as the true Messiah, they were even now rejecting Him.  Because they had spurned the Light of the world, they would be denied the light of His teachings (1330).

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5b).  God is not evil and does not do evil, but He does “work around” the evil in this world to further His plans for human redemption.  God loves us, and sent His son for us, so that we may have new life in Him (to not be controlled by the evil in the world).  If you want that, you will find it.  You will find God and He will know you.  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10); “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7); “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12); “But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor 8:3).

____

Sources:  James Dunn and John Rogerson, ed.s, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Pub Co 2003); Tim Jackson, Did God Create Evil?; Kaiser, Walter et al, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1996); MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub.s 1995).

Where is God? God’s whisper to Elijah

God reveals Himself over and over again in the Old and New Testaments (and yes, there is much cumulative evidence to believe this is so), but Elijah’s encounter with an angel and with the Lord in 1 Kings 19 is one of the most interesting. Perhaps this is due to its poetical as well as enigmatic nature.   Some commentators provide that we do not really know why this story is in the Bible. But what can we learn from it?

Elijah was one of the most extraordinary prophets of God in the OT and he appeared in the NT “as” John the Baptist (Matthew 17:9-13; Luke 1:17) and in the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). Since Elijah seems to show so much human weakness in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, it can provide encouragement to anyone who has fears or has become depressed. But why did Elijah become so fearful and depressed? To answer that question, some background is needed.

In Chapter 18, God conducted a (very) dramatic demonstration through Elijah to show the people that He was the real thing and not Baal, a god whom many Israelites were worshiping. Indeed, Yahweh, the only creator God and the God of Israel, was becoming thought of in the same terms as Baal, and from the site Kuntillet Ajrud, dated to this same period, Yahweh was even being associated with Asherah (a mother goddess). Not only was idolatry rampant, but paganistic syncretism. So, on Mt. Carmel Elijah called on God, and He rained down fire and consumed a huge water-drenched sacrifice.  But the 450 prophets of Baal could not get Baal to do anything. To rid Israel of this idolatry and all that resulted from it–besides the syncretism, all the prophets of God in Israel were being killed–the Baal prophets were executed.

Chapter 19 starts with Queen Jezebel, a Baal worshiper and killer of the prophets of God, refusing to believe the undeniable demonstration of God at Mt. Carmel. She said to Elijah, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow if I do not make your life like that of one of them [the prophets of Baal]” (interestingly enough, her curse on herself becomes fulfilled). Despite the miracle that God just did through Elijah, and God’s other works through him, Elijah is terrified and runs away, far away, in fear.

In despondency and what seems to be humility, Elijah prays, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” After this an angel provided food and water for him twice, saying to Elijah that the “journey is too much for you.” Since he hadn’t started his journey yet, it appears that the angel already knew where Elijah planned on going; nothing had been said about Elijah going to the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb) previously. Elijah leaves for Mt. Horeb, a journey taking 40 days and nights, with no other food than what the angel had already provided him. The following takes place the day after his arrival:

“The word of the LORD came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

Does Elijah change his tune after this demonstration by God? No, and he answers the Lord with the same exact statement he provided at the beginning, “I have been very zealous . . .”. One problem with this answer is that he seems to be ignoring what a devout man told him shortly before, that 100 prophets were in hiding and had not been killed by Jezebel (1 Kings 18:1-15). In any case, Elijah seems to think he’s alone; after the angels’ help, and after thinking about things on the long journey, and after God’s amazing demonstration, he still feels despondent and afraid! So the Lord then tells Elijah to leave and anoint two named persons as kings and to also anoint Elisha as his successor.  God also tells Elijah that 7,000 believers will be left after the coming bloodshed. As we find later, one of the anointed kings helps to get rid of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37).

Since Elijah leaves and no longer seems depressed, he must have understood that the Lord was taking care of things . . . right? The Lord let him know that he was not alone, so perhaps that helped his mood. However, Elijah does not seem to have done all that the Lord told him to do, but only anoints his successor, Elisha. We find later that Elisha anointed one of the kings (2 Kings 9:6); the other never appears to have been anointed (2 Kings 8:7-15). So, did Elijah still walk in fear during the rest of his life? It is impossible to say, but Elijah was taken up into heaven bodily and is a major player in God’s future work, so the Lord loved (and used) him despite his apparent disobedience.

But what to make out of the powerful demonstration the Lord made for Elijah at Mr. Horeb? Did Elijah need to learn that God was not in destructive forces of nature? It would seem very odd to think so! Did Elijah need to know that the Lord spoke in a soft voice? That also would seem very odd since the Lord had already spoken to Elijah many times. So . . . why? It seems that the best explanation is that Elijah needed to be reminded, in a real way, that God is the one to be feared, and not others. The demonstration was frightening. The Lord told Elijah to “stand on the mountain” to watch, but by the end, Elijah is inside the cave, no doubt with his knees shaking.

But the Lord is the one who controls things, not people like Jezebel.  When Elijah had prayed earlier, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors,” he seemed to be saying that he didn’t have faith in God, that he didn’t think God was really in control, and that he couldn’t shake his fear of dying at the hands of Jezebel or her idolators. In fact, he didn’t seem to trust God to keep him alive on the mountain while all that destruction was going on.

Since Elijah answered in the same distressed way after the Lord’s demonstration, it almost seems that what God did was wasted on Elijah. However, the Lord gives him work to do, and Elijah shows faith by leaving to do it. He gains strength, as can be seen by his future confrontation with the King Ahab (1 Kings 21), Jezebel’s husband. Later, he is taken up to God in a whirlwind of fire, the powers of which he finally learned he did not need to fear (2 Kings 21-18).

[This is also published at our main site]

Amazing and wonderful post; “God is good always, man is not.” Thoughts on God, evil, and goodness from the Aurora tragedy.

A MINIATURE CLAY POT

July 22 – a note of explanation

I’ve tried to leave this post just as it was originally written because it was a heartfelt response after a very traumatic experience.  But I’m sometimes clumsy with words and even when I think I am writing clearly, there is always the reader who doesn’t know my heart or doesn’t hear the words the way they were intended.

I feel as though a few people have taken what I said and twisted it. When I wrote my post on Friday, I had a grand total of eleven blog  followers. Yes, eleven. I generally post on facebook and have had a loyal little group of readers that numbered thirty or so. That is who I generally write for.  People who know me  know that I dislike talking on the telephone. I’d pretty much rather clean a toilet than spend time on the phone. I…

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