BEN: Unpack for us why a righteous God would abandon the sinful nations (i.e. the non-Israel nations) to lesser elohim rulers. This doesn’t seem much like either the righteous or merciful God whose original intent was that all his creatures would be part of his family. This seems to be one of your major ideas in the book, and I agree that there is some evidence for it, for example the discussion of the princes in Daniel or angels of nations. Doesn’t this raise questions about God’s character?
MIKE: This is easy for us to say, isn’t it? (!) God has the right to punish as he wills. That doesn’t make him unloving or unmerciful—especially if he has allowed his intelligent creatures freedom and shared his attributes with them. God is also omniscient. He knows when the heart of one of his creations is hardened to the point that redemption isn’t going to happen—and God won’t step in and overrule (essentially, eradicate) free will at that point. To do so would mean the imager is no longer an imager. So we shouldn’t blame God for being a bully or unmerciful if he allows people to choose what they will and then holds them accountable for it. If God just changed the rules every time he suffers the loss of one of his creatures, that would tell us that the rules were a dumb idea in the first place and an omniscient God should have known that. God knows it all and still made things (us) the way he did. He of course knew there would be failure, because (drum roll here) we aren’t him. While we are imagers and share his attributes, we do not have his perfect nature. And yet God deemed that risk—and with it the necessity of judgment—as preferable to not having humanity at all. God works through his Spirit, other imagers (human or divine) to influence his human imagers to choose him, to choose life. But he knows not all will do so. And letting this situation be what he knew it would be DOES say something about God’s character. He could have chosen to wipe humanity out at the first rebellion and then told his council to shut up and not judge his wisdom (!) but he didn’t. Instead, the omnipotent God, knowing it would come to this, provided a means for rebels to embrace redemption. It shows God “so loved the world” – that’s what it shows about his character.
BEN: You seem to not like the idea of progressive revelation, unless I’m misreading you, especially in its ‘evolution of ideas’ form. It seems to me that any good Biblical theology will have to conjure with some concept of progressive revelation, not just because there is a before and after to revelation in the Bible as we work through it (including ideas of types and antitypes), but because clearly enough what some key ideas mean in the OT is not what they mainly mean in the NT. Take the term salvation which never in the OT means ‘the gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus’. No, it means rescue or deliverance from disease, decay, death, peril etc. It has a much more mundane sense much of the time in the OT. The same can be said in regard to the OT understanding of the afterlife. Sheol is there, but its neither heaven nor hell as we know them from the NT. So, have I misunderstood you when I sensed an allergic reaction to the idea of progressive revelation? It seems to me that a good illustration of what I’m talking about is that as one works through the OT chronologically it’s only in the later apocalyptic exilic and post-exilic stuff that we begin to see a viable afterlife theology by Christian standards, for instance the beginning of resurrection thinking. Or again texts like 1 Kngs. 22.16-23 suggest no viable understanding of secondary causes, but when we get to Chronicles what has previously been ascribed to God, is now ascribed to the Nefarious One. Their understanding of the spiritual realities is becoming more clear and detailed.
MIKE: Yes, you’re misreading me here. I have no problem with progressive revelation. That comes through in the book, for example, when I talk about the development of the satan figure. I’ve also blogged extensively about Sheol and the development there (though I reject the idea that there was no positive afterlife hope in the OT). One example where I think the progress of revelation idea is an unnecessary retreat is when it comes to polytheism developing into monotheism. It would be child’s play to simply assign such a thing to progressive revelation (“God didn’t tell each of the biblical writers exactly how to think about himself or other members of the heavenly host in the spiritual world; he waited to get more precise”). But I reject that evolution because it is so incoherent from the get-go. It omits so much data and uses circular reasoning at so many turns. This was a central point of my dissertation (at a secular institution no less). Your readers should read my BBR articles for what I mean (one in vol 18 and one in vol 26), plus my Tyndale Bulletin article on divine plurality in the Dead Sea Scrolls (I guess the Jews at Qumran didn’t get the memo about rejecting divine plurality after Isaiah … or maybe the Qumranites were liberals or pagans!)
God can use deception to judge evil. I see no need to divorce him from the judgment of Ahab. God did that by giving Joshua instructions on how to deceive the men of Ai (Josh 8). He allowed Samuel to use misdirection against Saul’s men in 1 Sam 16. I think we too often try to distance God from doing things he’s allowed to do. God did and can use deception to judge the wicked.