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Posted: December 20, 2012 in believing
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God is good

Comments
  1. I do believe the first two, but do not believe the third one… God gave us free will, and therefore, He (She, It?) is not in control of everything. Due to our human-ness, we make mistakes, and God allows for those mistakes, whether they are HUGE or teeny-tiny.

    • nash says:

      Katie, that happens to be close to my opinion. I actually struggle with all three, at times. I don’t exactly know who God is at this time, so #1 puzzles me sometimes, sometimes not. #2 is strange. Terrible, bad, mean, awful, tragic, horrible things happen all the time. Is it personified? Is it a force outside of us called “evil?” I don’t know. And #3, nope.

  2. Scott Cburch says:

    This is too big a subject to respond to now, but I must ask… Why must we choose just two? It’s not at all clear that all three aren’t true. Throughout history, the greatest thinkers and contemplatives have always accepted all three. So did the Biblical authors and Jesus Himself. And for that matter, so do most Christians in the Third World struggling with appalling hardship. It seems to me this has only been a dilemma in the privileged West since the Enlightenment. Why issue that?

    • nash says:

      It’s a theological dilemma that people have been grappling with for decades. I know for me, if God is in control of everything, that seems to logically mean that everything that happens is what he wants to have happen. (If he didn’t WANT it to happen, and he was in control, he would make sure it didn’t happen.) God being in control of everything basically means that he orchestrates all that happens. This to me ranges from silly (he orchestrated which socks I would choose today) to downright horrible. If God is in control, then it is was his will for kindergarteners to get murdered, millions of Jews get killed, babies to starve to death in third world countries, and more. I also think that the theology that God is in control of everything leads some Christians to inaction…or worse. It leads to James Dobson claiming that those children were murdered because is pissed off about homosexuality.

      • Anis says:

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  3. Scott Church says:

    I believe that for most of us this is a dilemma largely because we assume two things about God’s Will;

    1) That it’s synonymous with His desire—with what pleases Him most.
    2) That it’s a “here-and-now” state of affairs rather than a process—a goal yet to be fully realized.

    Historically (and Biblically) there is little justification for either of these. I would never be so glib as to suppose that I have the problem of evil figured out, but it seems to me that a realistic view of it must consider a few rarely acknowledged things.

    First, God suffers with us. Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb. He cleared the temple. He railed against the Scribes and Pharisees. And then… He went to the cross, despising the shame, but obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2). It’s revealing that the Bible holds the suffering and shame of God Incarnate side-by-side with His obedience. It’s difficult to see how any of this can be squared with 1) above.

    Second, we must remember that what God ultimately desires is our fullest wholeness and humanity… fulfillment in Him, and in each other. It’s difficult to see how anything remotely approaching this could be achieved, even in principle, apart from our own freely made choice to enter into relationship with Him and embrace His Will. The very idea of this precludes the possibility of our being denied the ability to choose the opposite—not only for each of us as individuals, but corporately for us as a global society. God didn’t shoot up a Connecticut elementary school—a deranged individual who said “NO” to Him did. That individual didn’t get his weapons from God—he had access to them because he dwells amidst a people of unclean lips who, although they would angrily deny it, believe that access to their own personal weapons of limitless lethality is ultimately more important than the safety of their society and their children.

    Likewise, natural disasters occur because of natural law, but the devastating nature of their impacts is often due to human choice as well. Earthquakes and landslides kill tens of thousands in impoverished areas where human wealth distribution has led to communities with inadequate earthquake-resistant structures, unsafe locations driven largely by poverty, tsunamis impact communities that have not planned for them, flood devastate regions like the American Midwest and Pacific Coast estuaries where careless logging, real estate development, and other land use activities have all but eradicated nature’s erosion control, etc. etc. And we haven’t even gotten yet to climate change…

    None of this is God’s doing. Sometimes He spares us the consequences of such things. Other times he allows our individual and corporate choices to impact us, as well as our societies. It’s not at all clear (to me at least) that any of this is inconsistent with His goodness, His justice, or His loving kindness.

    As for James Dobson? He’s an idiot… plain and simple. I generally avoid such labels, as they’re usually simplistic and destructive. But there are times when the statements and actions of others are so egregious that no other terminology fits. There will always be people like him who think, and say the things they do, even at the gates of Heaven. And that isn’t God’s fault either.

    • Jeff says:

      What an amazingly coherent post on such a complex topic. Thank you.

      • nash says:

        Hey Scott – thanks for your post. Good job. I strongly disagree with some of your main points, but it’s very well stated. I guess it’s about how you define “control.” There’s no way I can get my head around a “loving” God who could stop 20 kindergarteners from being slaughtered, yet chooses not to in order to respect our free will.

  4. Torger Helgeland says:

    Why two? torg

    • nash says:

      Hey Torg – we need to get together…sorry it didn’t work out last time.
      OK – why two?

      The way I see it:

      If God is in control of EVERYTHING (and people are always saying that God accomplishes His will), then the things that happen are the things he wants to happen…or at least the things he’s OK with. And if he “allows” (or as Calvinistic Christians would say, actually ordains) children to be slaughtered and people to starve to death or women to be raped and murdered and more, then he’s not good or loving. So, in this scenario, he is in control of everyone, evil exists, and he is not good or loving.

      If we try to disguise this with a lame “people have free will” argument, that basically says that God is not in control. The argument goes “terrible stuff happens, because we actually do have free will.” Evil exists. And God is good…like Scott says above, he suffers with us. BUT, in this scenario it makes no sense to me to say that God has the power to stop these things, but “chooses not to.” If that were true, he would not be good. So, scenario #2 – God is good, evil exists, and God is not in total control.

      Third scenario – God is good, God is in total control, and evil things don’t happen. This one is for idiots. 🙂

  5. Scott Church says:

    Thanks Mike. I know (of course) that my thoughts don’t resolve all questions regarding God and evil… or for that matter, even most of them. Would that it were that easy! I only meant to draw attention to a few realities that (in my experience at least) are commonly sidestepped in discussions like this;

    First: God’s Goodness is not the same thing as “niceness.” It is grace, kindness, and mercy to be sure, but if we take the Bible seriously at least, it is many other things as well… Justice, Holiness, sanctification via trial by fire if need be, and more. No, this is not to say that the gunning down of innocent children is in any sense just! Nor that it is easily explained away with sanctimonious platitudes as Job’s friends and so many others these days would have us believe. It’s merely recognition of the messy and uncomfortable fact that there is fierce side to God’s Goodness.

    Living as we do in a Western consumer society, where feel-good pop-psychology, Oprah, and fragrant New-Age opiates are the order of the day, it goes without saying on the street that God is little more than a kindly grandfather in the sky—a divine, sweet-natured Mr. Rogers dufus whose job it is to guarantee responsibility-free sugar, spice and everything nice. The Living God with whom we must contend is a far different reality. He’s as likely to confront us out of the whirlwind as the easy chair, if not more so, and when He does there’s no guarantee that the end result will always be pretty and bloodless… or that the burden of proof for anything and everything will be on Him.

    Which brings me to the second point: Free Will is not the same thing as License… And being God’s children is not the same being His infants. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus tells us, “For they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:10). “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house…” (Matt. 5:12-17). “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” says Paul (Rom 8:14). “What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:4-6).

    Peacemakers… Sons of God… Rule over… Under [our] feet… Salt and light… (Remember that in Biblical times, before refrigerators, salt was a preservative—the one thing that prevented rot and poison, and allowed the world to be fed—and light is that which illuminates, insuring clarity and vision)… Little less than God… It’s difficult to see how words like these could ever be meaningful in any sense that matters, yet involve no individual or corporate moral responsibilities of any kind whatsoever. And where there is responsibility, there is accountability, and real consequences for dropping the ball… accountability not to the Angels, not to Creation, not to Karma or Manifest Destiny, not even to God… but to US.

    Over the years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel the Third World. I’ve been to sub-Saharan Africa, to impoverished regions in the Republic of Kiribati in the South Pacific, to poor regions of China. Interestingly, for all the people I met in these places… people who have spent their lives on the receiving end of the worst suffering and injustice the world has ever dished up… not once did I ever hear any of them question God’s goodness or demand answers from Him as to why their world is the way it is. Not once. Without exception, virtually everyone I’ve ever encountered who demanded such answers (myself included) was richly blessed with a comfortable, Developed World life and had the luxury of doing so. This does not make the questions irrelevant or meaningless, of course. Nor does it mean the burdens that lead us to ask them aren’t real, or that the answers are unimportant. But it does make me wonder… These people, who live their lives far closer to the front lines of suffering and gross injustice than I ever will—why are they not as troubled by these things as I am? What do they know about God’s Will and life in a fallen world that I don’t?

    Years ago I read an essay by Jim Wallis (in Sojourners magazine if memory serves me) in which he told of meeting a poor black man on the streets of Johannesburg years before the fall of Apartheid. “Do you believe there will ever be an end to Apartheid in South Africa?” Wallis asked him. “Yes!” he said, without missing a beat, and standing a little taller. “I will see to it!

    Consider these words. Consider the man who said them. Here is someone who had none of the rights, privileges, or power we in the Developed World take for granted… unable to vote, without a voice of any kind in his society, barely able to feed his family no doubt… a man who had likely been beaten senseless by police and military personnel on multiple occasions… a man who, unlike that vast majority of us, had lived his entire life living with the very suffering and injustice we in America demand that God answer for. Yet when confronted with this question he said “I…” not my government, not the Angels, not the U.N. or America, not even God… but “I” will see to it! When was the last time any of us heard something like that said here at home during an election year? At a Town Hall meeting…? From a Fox News commentator or talk show host…? From a condescending, brandy sipping atheist in the lounge who felt it was his job to “enlighten” us about questions of theodicy and belief in God…? From James Dobson…?

    Mike, I understand all too well why you cannot get your head around a “loving” God who didn’t stop 20 kindergarteners from being slaughtered. I can’t get my head around it either… And for that matter, few things in life worry me as much as people who actually CAN. But the older I get, the more I find myself running into other questions I can’t get my head around first …

    What if there is more to being a Son or Daughter of God—to becoming “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13)—than helpless, responsibility-free infancy?

    What if being the Sons and Daughters of God means that it is WE who dropped the ball? WE who have been called to be Peacemakers… to be salt and light… to be responsible for actually (God forbid) obeying Him… yet instead deliberately chose to build a society that is willing to set aside the safety of our children for paranoia and MY responsibility-free “right” to Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistols and laser-sited Tek-9’s with fragmentation rounds for “home defense” against “leftists” and U.N. black helicopters… and that despite ceaseless, and strident commands in God’s Word and the words of His prophets to do otherwise? I came across a parable recently in which a little girl asks, “God, why do you allow violence in my school?” to which God answered, “I didn’t Sweetie. I’m not allowed in your school.” Valid questions of Church/ State separation aside, in the larger picture, what if there actually is something to that?

    What if the God who is in control didn’t intervene in Connecticut, not because He “respected my free will,” but because the responsibility to intervene had been entrusted to ME as His Son? To US as a society?

    What if I dispensed with demanding “Why?” of God and instead came before Him as His Son saying, “Here I am Lord! I will see to it!”…?

    What if…?

    Was it wise of God to entrust that much responsibility to the likes of us… we who in fact DO choose “home defense” against the “gummint” over our children’s safety? I don’t know. But for whatever reason, it seems to me that He has. Call me old-fashioned or naively idealistic if you will, but to me this is anything but “lame.” It is the dignity, and responsibility of Sonship. And the consequences of that go with the job… MY job… of being “Little less than God, and crowned with glory and majesty” (Ps. 8:4-6).

    Does any of this make questions of suffering and God’s Will go away? Hardly. Would choosing such a path cleanse the world of all evil and injustice? Probably not. But I guarantee you… it would make it a damn sight better than it is, and the Kingdom of God would be that much closer for all of us.

    Best.

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