There was quite a bit of negative reaction from this post, from being called a “cage-stager,” bearing a false gospel, being childish, unloving, lying, heretical, carnal, closed-minded, and even had an Open-Theist jump in for debate. I know that my writing is quite firm at many points; I choose my words carefully because the goal is to cause a reaction. Paul is infamous for his use of satire, sarcasm, polemics, and much else with regard to correcting doctrine. Though I am not even remotely Pauline, I can faithfully say I don’t like to mince words when it comes to certain doctrines, and there is good reason for that in the paragraph below. There are times when it is appropriate to call a spade what it is.
The Doctrines of Grace are one of those doctrines because they are integral to one’s understanding of the gospel, and intimately tied into the act of worship (that is, one’s life – not Sunday morning singing). What you understand about the doctrine of salvation will invariably inform how you live your life and your concept of God. If this wasn’t all that big of a deal, theologically, and in respective manner to worship, the debate would have ceased long ago. However, when the charge against Calvinism is that depicting God as an utterly sovereign Lord is evil, negligent at best, unworthy of praise, the author of evil, the tempter of mankind, and so forth, I refuse to mince words. These sound more like the words of Richard Dawkins than a professing believer.
This is at the heart of the rejection of the Doctrines of Grace for many.
In lieu of this, today I wish to approach the most troubling thing lofted at me through what is called a Theodicy, which is simply a theological defense on why God allows evil. This is one of the areas where I don’t believe Arminianism offers much hope or peace in the midst of a broken world. If God is indeed in complete control of all things, that is, He ordains all things and causes them to pass, then even evil acts, disobedient Christians, unbelievers, Satan, demons, and literally everything else that is/acts evil, are completely under His control. We do not serve a God who is surprised when humanity is acting wickedly; we do not serve a reactionary God who scrambles to adjust and turn evil into good; we do not serve a God who allows evil to simply happen as if He is unable to stop it, or chooses not to interfere, because of free will; we do not serve a God who is unable to compel one to action or a change of heart and mind.
1 Kings 21:21 is a clear passage to demonstrate this, where we find that the Lord explicitly says that He will bring evil upon Ahab and Jezebel. While some versions render the Hebrew as “calamity” or “disaster,” a brief look in a concordance will reveal these are derived from the same word.
Another excellent example of this would be found in the book of Habakkuk, where the Lord promises the prophet that He will raise up the wicked, God-hating nation of Babylon to punish His own people for their disobedience. Just to put it in perspective a little bit, Babylon made Hitler look like a newborn kitten, hence why we see the historical city figuratively used in the book of Revelation to depict the great evil and wickedness of those within the last days. Thus, when we see Habakkuk’s dismay in how the Lord could use such a wicked people to judge Israel, it isn’t all that shocking.
Yet the Lord’s response is not what one might think, as He pronounces judgment upon the nation whom He will use to accomplish His punishment against His own people for the reasons of blasphemy, idol worship, robbery, cruelty, and murder of the Israelites. So not only will He use this people to accomplish His judgment against them, but He will also punish them for what they do, according to His will. Remarkably, the prophet doesn’t flip out and ask how the Lord can be a loving, judicious, and good God; he moves to praise. Interestingly, he stops saying what the Lord ought to do on the basis of His character and accepts that God will use the means He has seen fit to judge His chosen people.
We see this throughout the Old Testament in 1 Kings 14:10 against Jeroboam; 2 Kings 24:2 against Judah; Jeremiah 8:10 against the tribe of Judah, 21:7 against Jerusalem; Ezekiel 21:24-32 against Jerusalem, 28:7 (against the king of Tyre) – and what is even more frightening is that we saw all of this promised for their disobedience before Israel even entered into the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. What’s more than this – they had another prediction of their rebellion and promise of punishment in Deuteronomy 31:14-22 that Moses taught them in song to remember in the manner of a dirge. In all of these references, it is the Lord who promises to bring this disaster upon them.
How does a God who allows free will do such a thing? Well, sorry to burst the proverbial bubble, but He bends their will to accomplish His own. Notice how every one of these references speak of what the Lord will do. He will bring wicked Babylon to punish the Hebrew nation; He will deliver the wicked nation over to others skilled in destruction; He will also bring those wicked nations to justice. Just look at how many times the Lord hardens the heart of Pharaoh: Exodus 4:21, 7:4, 7:13, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 11:10, 14:8. When He promised the land with milk and honey, it was He who delivered the nations into the Israelite’s hands, partially through hardening the heart yet again (Joshua 11:20).
But what about unbelief of the hypocrites in the days of Christ? John 12:40 gives us another clear example of this, yet so did the prophet Isaiah in 6:9-10, which we find Matthew 13:11-15 reference as fulfilled prophecy against His chosen nation. Proverbs 16:4 references the wicked ones set for the day of evil (or calamity), whom the Lord made for His purposes. But don’t worry, there are more: Jude 1:4 speaks of those whom the Lord has set apart for condemnation long ago who have crept unnoticed into the church to lead others astray. We also find this same exact thing with respect to those whom God has appointed for eternal life in Acts 13:48, 15:17-18; those whom were called in Ephesians 1:4-12; those whom were written in the book of life before the foundations of the earth in Revelation 13:8. The point being, it is He who guides mankind for His purposes. As Lord says, “When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:13). Perhaps another way to phrase this would be found in Psalm 127:1.
For the simplest reason as to why all of this is done, we can look to Psalms 115:3, 135:6, Daniel 4:35, Job 9:12 in short to see that He does what pleases Himself. Believers are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11), because He is the One working all things according to the council of His will. All things submit to His authority and power; they cannot do a single thing without His causing it to happen. Joseph recognized this quite clearly, attributing his brother’s evil deeds to the Lord (Genesis 45:7). Notice, it does not say He re-purposed or re-worked this for good, but that He meant it for good. There is a fundamental difference in that terminology.
Likewise, Job did not correct his wife when she told him to curse God and die by saying, “God didn’t do this to us! It was Satan and those marauders! He had nothing to do with this!” Instead, he spoke quite firmly to her: You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? In all this, scripture records that Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).
Job also gives a simple, yet profound statement in saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Notice in the story of Job, it is not Satan who considers Job so as to put him through the crucible; it was the Lord (Job 1:8-12). It is also not Satan who Job attributes as the source of who took these things from him. The Lord instructed Satan what he could do to Job – and then gave him the authority to do more (Job 2:3-6). Scripture again reveals in Job 1:22, In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Parallel this with Peter’s betrayal of Jesus in Luke 22:31; Satan asked, God gave, yet Christ interceded for him so that he would not fall away entirely, but return to strengthen his brothers (v. 32). What was meant for evil, God meant for good.
One simply cannot get around this if they read the Bible faithfully and submit to the scripture’s authority. They may not like it – and I think almost every Calvinist started off this way, but the reality of it is that the text simply doesn’t allow for a God who is passive in the allowance of evil and passive with respect to mankind’s will. He is active in every bit of His creation, ultimately, to continually demonstrate His glory. He doesn’t need you to believe this for the sake of His glory – He simply exudes abundant glory because of who He is. For this reason, we ought to simply recognize that at best, we are rebellious children deserving of wrath were it not for Christ.
It is man who has been opened to the knowledge of good and evil, and in so doing, desired to become like God. Recognize that statement, become like God. God has always had full knowledge of good and evil. He has always been in full control of it. What seems to elude many is that when God handles evil, it isn’t evil because by His very nature, He is exceedingly good and all that He does is bound in this same goodness. Ask yourself: what is evil? Is it not rebellion to, mindlessness of, and rejection of the goodness of God? Is it everything you do – or is it what you are? It is not some mystical force that usurped God’s power in the garden and continues to restrain His hand. Rather, it is man’s desire for autonomy from God which begat our current predicament of being sown in sin.
So why does all of this matter? Why do we battle over what God has done in salvation? What is the purpose of God not simply allowing evil, but bringing calamity upon the earth for His purpose – and how can God remain good? Why then does He ordain calamity and evil on this earth – and give Satan the ability to go to and from creation, seeking whom he may devour? If we commit evil and God had ordained all things in the entire history of creation, past, present, and future, why are we still judged accordingly for sin? What about my breakfast? Do I even still have choice in the matter of the clothing I buy at the store?
We will pick back up on this within the next couple of days…
Image Credit: Lauri at the Wheel by Kellinahandbasket; CC 2.0