Tag Archives: evil

Is God a “God of wrath”? Several reasons why He isn’t.

A rather interesting discussion on Facebook began when a friend of mine posted the following:

The Prince of Peace also is the holy, righteous, and just God of wrath.

Justice is the reason for wrath

Justice, not wrath. In order for God to be a “God of wrath” there would need to be something for God to display his wrath to for eternity, making sin a necessity, which would entail dualism.

Peace and wrath are incompatible as eternal states of being. Wrath may be displayed in order to bring about peace, but in that case it is merely a means to an end, namely a just or peaceful state of affairs.

Further, wrath, like hatred, is nowhere stated as being a part of God’s character. Presumably because before God chose to create, when there was naught but the trinity in a state of complete perfection, there was no need for God to hate or display his wrath to bring about a just state of peace.

But doesn’t the Bible say that God is also wrathful?

Hebrews 1:9 says, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” God’s attributes are perfectly balanced in His divine perfection. The wrath of God is always perfect just as is His love, always. Man has a hard time understanding this because man’s wrath is almost always compromised by the presence of sin, therefore they cannot place that attribute upon God. The word says, and I believe it.

This is not something you can make an appeal to mystery for and then just walk away and pretend as if you’ve avoided the issue. The fact remains that if wrath is a part of God’s character as opposed to merely something God employed in time in regards to finite beings, there would need to be a timeless, infinite object of God’s wrath. That would raise such an object of wrath to a position of sharing other attributes God alone possesses. Namely being a necessary as opposed to contingent being.

So just as wickedness is not eternal, neither is the need to punish it. Justice, and love, however, are.

Let’s approach this from another angle: If wrath is a part of God’s character, who was God displaying wrath to for eternity past? Sinners? Are we willing to say that men and angles are uncreated eternal beings?

There is a difference between God’s actions in time vs. character traits that are a part of God’s nature. So no, God is not jealous in that He was jealous before time began since that would also require there to be something God is jealous of.

I suppose a point of difficulty for us1 is our notion of time and God’s relation to it. I would maintain that God is not immutable in the sense that most reformed people view Him as (which would also make it impossible for God to think, act, speak, etc.) but that God entered into time when He decided to create so that there are some tensed truths we can say of God now that have not always been and will not always be true. Being wrathful is one of those truths, as is being jealous.

And as fine a point as it may be2, I believe it is important to make a distinction between the means and the ends. God’s wrath is not an end in itself but rather a means to an end. The same goes for God’s jealousy.

Isn’t wrath an integral part of justice? Who did God display justice to before man was created?

Wes, your first response to the “God of wrath” statement was, “Justice, not wrath. In order for God to be a “God of wrath” there would need to be something for God to display his wrath to for eternity, making sin a necessity, which would entail dualism.”

Under your hypothesis, Wes, how could He be a God of justice, because as you later stated, “Let’s approach this from another angle: If wrath is a part of God’s character, who was God displaying wrath to for eternity past? Sinners?”

Let’s approach it from your angle, Wes. If you deny the God of wrath because there were no sinners in eternity past for His wrath to be displayed upon, why can you freely accept the God of justice prior to the need for justice under the same conditions? Who would He need to display justice to? (emphasis mine)

Himself.

Justice is indeed needed, but there can be a just state of affairs without the need for anything to be done to maintain that state of affairs.

God is wholly just and therefore complete in Himself. The question of God’s character including wrath has a direct bearing on His aseity or completeness within Himself.

The key here in my estimation is to remove man from the equation completely lest we get sidetracked by immaterial issues when discussing what constitutes the character of God.

So in the case of wrath, we should ask how that character trait was expressed before man was ever created. When we talk to others about God being a God of love, for example, we gain a distinct advantage over those who also claim God is love but do not accept the trinity (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, etc.). In this case we can say that God was, in eternity past, in a loving relationship in the trinity so that love and community itself become necessary character traits of God and not merely derived character traits that only come into existence after other agents were created.

Conclusion

I’ve found that people who are intent on portraying God as a “God of wrath” are bad philosophers who are often unaware of the problems, the mental time bombs, they create for others. Many times I’ve found people who adopt a view of wrath being a part of God’s character are, themselves, quite bitter and otherwise unpleasant people. In those cases it appears that the attribution of wrath to God is little more than a projection of themselves.

However we must, if we are serious about maturing and become approved workmen in the Kingdom of God, examine this issue carefully. We must pay close attention to the implications of our assertions.

God does display his wrath to sinners. But that wrath is not an end in itself. Wrath is something God uses in relation to the justice and holiness that make up God’s character.

  1. By “us”, I mean those who prefer to picture God as being eternally wrathful. []
  2. At this point, some were whining about this being a pointless argument. A tactic that is taken by those who wish not to think too deeply about an issue. []
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The Death and Resurrection of Debbie

[HT Frank Turek]

Does a Good God Exist? Dembski vs Hitchens

[HT Eye on Apologetics]

Does God give people cancer?

A section out of this story caught my eye recently:

A Baptist of Calvinist leanings, Chandler believes everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand. As he’s tried to stay well, he’s continued to preach to his youthful audience that they should get ready for suffering, and trust God will walk them through.

Trusting God to bring us through difficult circumstances is one thing, praising God for giving us a life-threatening disease is quite another.

We trust God to sustain us through difficult hardships, and we might even praise Him for bringing about good in spire of those hardships. However when we praise God for giving us those hardships we begin to raise some potentially faith-destroying questions about evil and suffering and how God fits in with it all.

Many are reluctant to address this subject because of the deep emotions that it often illicit, especially from those who are suffering through these circumstances. And while I recognize there is a time and a place to discuss this issue in a more objective sense, I believe that sloppy theology around the questions of natural evil like this cause many to run, not walk, away from the faith every year.

Natural evil

First lets examine what natural evil is.

Evil and suffering exists within a fallen and broken world. This includes not only man-made evil like rape, murder, and infidelity. It also includes the state of affairs we should expect to find in a less than perfect world. Things such as tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, etc.

Also diseases.

The one thing that all of these have in common is death. And we know from Scripture that God not only did not create death but came and volunteered to taste death so we wouldn’t have to, thereby defeating it.

Now it would be wrong to say that God never causes the death of others. He does many times in Scripture. He uses disease, war, and famine to chastise nations. However these occasions were 1. proclaimed ahead of time 2. only done as a result of punishment and 3. they had as their aim correction for the purpose of reconciliation, that is, they were not vague in the least.

So the logical conclusion here is that if God is sovereign in the sense that Matt claims He is, that is “everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand”, then God must have given Matt the brain tumor and is therefore must be punishing Matt.1

Denying the logical conclusion

Some might object,

Chandler’s videos have often addressed the difficult questions of suffering, including whether it’s God’s will.

During a break at his most recent visit to Baylor hospital, Chandler said, “At the end of the day, I don’t believe God gave me this cancer, but I do believe he could have stopped it and didn’t. … God is not punishing me, but somehow, for my joy and his glory, he’s let me endure this and walked me through.”

Chandler is the first to acknowledge that he’s balancing Christian resignation with a flat-out effort to stay alive.

Why would their be a need to balance “Christian resignation with flat-out effort to stay alive” if the “Christian resignation” is not based on the belief that God ultimately gave him cancer?

Matt Chandler is a wonderful guy and it pains me to watch him struggle not only with a physical disease, but also with a theological disease.

As I pointed out above, Chandler’s view of God’s role in nature is causal (“everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand”). That is, God causally determines all things to come to pass according to His will (this is a belief shared among many Calvinists like Piper, Sproul, Voddie Baucham Jr., etc.). So if you combine this causal view of God’s role in nature with his last statement which follows a traditional compatabalist position, you end up with the logical conclusion that God gave him cancer. What is sort-of amusing (if it weren’t for the fact that it has the potential to completely destroy a person’s faith) is that he recognizes this conclusion as the logical outcome, and like a man jumping in front of a train in a valiant (but utterly futile) attempt to stop it, he issues the statement cited above. However, like a train, the logical force behind the earlier view of God’s sovereignty (interpreted to mean causal determinism) steamrolls right over this attempt to prevent the logical conclusion from following. The simple fact remains that no amount of convoluted reasoning can help him avoid the ugly logical conclusion his theological system forces him to.

Beliefs like this one are toxic.

It is the #1 reason people walk away from or are discouraged from pursuing Christ is that pastors like Matt call into question God’s character with their sloppy theological systems.

Matt has cancer because he lives in a fallen world. Period.

If any lesson is to be gleaned from his tragic situation it is that this world is broken and fallen and is in desperate need of a savior.

  1. If this sounds familiar, it should. This line of reasoning is exactly what many of Job’s friends followed. []

What about those foreskins?

This is part of my “dispelling the notion that the Bible contradicts itself” series.

Saul asking David for 100 foreskins for the hand of his daughter, hardly loving your neighbour eh?

Saul’s request was not for the foreskins of just any old person, but Philistines, who were under judgement of God for crimes He outlined and charged them with long before He directed Israel to be the nation to go and punish them.

I would argue that the punishment of wrongs is among the most loving thing that can be done for others. It is certainly more loving than allowing them to continue in their wayward ways.

Now we might disagree in whether God had the authority to enact judgement or whether His standard is just, but to say that the upholding of a standard (which also happened in the NT to Jesus for the sins of the world) is unloving is not a valid criticism.

Additionally, such punishment at the hands of other nations came on Israel as well when they continued to disobey God and ignored repeated warnings and admonitions to repent. This stands in stark contrast to the charge that the God of Israel was tribalistic even in the old testament.

From thebricktestament.com

How not to answer the question of evil

Here is Voddie Baucham Jr.‘s treatment of the question of evil:

A couple of things need to be observed here:

  1. Voddie completely dodges the question.
  2. Voddie turns the question around to be about the questioner.
  3. Voddie derides the questioner by assaulting their intelligence (his preamble regarding first year philosophy students is not only uncalled for but a clear appeal to authority, namely his own)

Man does not put God under a standard by asking the question. The problem with Voddie’s approach, which seems typical for most Calvinists, is that it attempts to avoid the real and serious question by attempting to turn it around to be all about the questioner. This attempt at trivializing a weighty subject is the paramount of both arrogance and ignorance in my estimation.

The issue is this: If God causally directs all events “for His glory” as men like John Piper have often claimed in the past, then

  1. How can we say that evil really exists (since all things are causally directed by God)
  2. How can we hold any other creature accountable for something they have no causal control over (beating a dead horse is the phrase that comes to mind here) and
  3. How are we to make sense of God claiming to be at war with something he secretly causes to bring about his ends.

You see, none of the above issues..

  1. ..depend on a standard of holiness that is independent of God (though I’m sure you’ll take the time honored tradition of redefining words in a desperate attempt to further weasel out of this problem) or
  2. ..have anything to do with the questioner, these issues would still exist even if all men (and angels) were wiped out in the next instant.

As one person pointed out in an earlier conversation regarding this issue. This does not have to be an issue that does great damage to Calvinism. Afterall, many Calvinists like Alvin Plantinga have long since accepted the fact that only by upholding the limited freedom of other causal agents such as men and angels, as the Bible clearly teaches, can we avoid the horrible implications raised in a causally closed universe. However this is a very damaging challenge against a particular brand of hyper-Calvinism which depends on a causally deterministic view of God in relation to His creation.

For any answer to the problem of evil to be considered even remotely good it needs to satisfy the following criteria:

  1. It needs to recognize the pain and suffering in the universe.
  2. It needs to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the question. Flippant appeals to sovereignty, mankind’s depravity, or anything else simply will not do here.
  3. It needs to actually show how it is logically possible for evil to exist in a world created and sustained by an thrice holy God. This means showing both
    1. How evil can even exist and
    2. How God is truly separated from that evil

For a good example of how to answer the question of evil I recommend this material from Dr Little, this debate between Michael Brown and Bart Ehrman, and this lecture by Dr William Lane Craig.

Now because I don’t want you to form the opinion that all of Voddie’s material is worthless. Here is an excellent clips of him dealing with the issue of marriage and how men ought to love their wives:

Death according to Buddhism

I’ve recently come across an author for American Thinker, Robin of Berkley. I absolutely love her work and story telling style. Here is an ex-script from her post titled “Tiger, the Buddha, and me”:

Here’s my favorite story about the Buddha: A grieving young mother from a poor background begged him to revive her dead son. Not only was she heartbroken, but she feared her husband’s wealthy family would punish and shun her for the child’s death.

The Buddha promised to bring the boy back to life if she returned with a mustard seed from a home where death had never visited. She thanked him profusely and set off for town.

The young mother knocked on door after door and heard heartbreaking stories of loss. Finally, she grasped the Buddha’s teaching: that sorrow is a part of life. She returned, bowed deeply to the Buddha, and asked him to help her bury her child.

It’s too bad that the mother didn’t visit Jesus’s home. While He may not have given her a mustard seed, He might have given her faith of about the same size1. That faith might have been large enough to move mountains, including the mountain of death that we all face2. She might have also realized that while the Buddha is right, death has touched every house3, he was wrong in that death is not just a natural part of life. That we should just dispassionately accept it and move on.

Death is not natural4, it is the result of evil5. Not everyone has tasted death6, and even those who have are not without hope of having their condition reversed.7

The good news is that death will one day be defeated.8. Then, those of us who have decided to stand with Jesus will say:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
-Isaiah 25:8, 1 Corinthians 15:55

  1. Matthew 17:20 []
  2. Romans 6:23 []
  3. Including God’s own house. []
  4. Genesis 2:17 []
  5. James 1:15 []
  6. Hebrews 11:5 []
  7. John 3:16 []
  8. 1 Corinthians 15:26 []

More thoughts on the problems with the greater good theodicy

Here are some additional thoughts from a conversation that ensued following my previous post on this subject:

God does not create states of affairs and thus such we are under no compulsion to claim such states of affairs as having to have some sort of “greater good”.

I think the greatest difference here is in how we view the will and sovereignty of God. You see, evil does exist but the person who holds to a “greater good theodicy” often does so out of a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty wherein God MUST be the cause and initiator of all events that take place. Which, consequently, must be either directly or indirectly willed by such a sovereign God since, as this definition of sovereignty goes, God always gets his way and is always glorified in all that comes to pass).

Under this view of God’s sovereignty it is actually impossible to call anything evil since, if all is both willed by a God who is the definition of good and if all is for the glory of this God who is the definition of good, then it logically follows that nothing is really effectively evil. In this case we manage to not only destroy the language of good and evil but we end up rendering large swaths of Scripture completely incomprehensible as well.

Therefore, the reason I would side with Dr Little’s assessment that a greater good need not automatically and inextricably flow from every evil is because I believe evil actually does exist and is in no way compatible with a holy, just, and good God.

This does not negate God’s ability to use evil, but it does decouple good from evil and thus destroy the dangerous duality setup by adherents to the greater good theodicy wherein evil is rendered necessary (implicitly or explicitly) for the ultimate attainment of good.

Finally, I would reject entirely the notion that Ephesians 1:11 has as it’s focal point all events that have occurred throughout human history (including and especially all of the sinful ones). While God does account for and work into his plan the sinful actions and choices of men, to charge God as the initial or causal agent behind such sinful choices and actions is to do violence to God’s holiness.

Further, no amount of equivocating on the word “good” will allow you to escape the plain and simple fact that either 1. God caused sin/evil/death/unrighteousness and is therefore culpable and marred by it or 2. God created a world in which he allows other causal agents limited freedom in choosing either according to or contrary to his will thus rendering God blameless for the freely chosen sinful acts of his creation.

Is morality better grounded in atheism or theism?

Sean McDowell recently debated James Corbett on the question of whether morality is better grounded in atheism or theism. (MP3 here)

Some highlights include:

  • We require a transcendant source of morality in order to judge other cultures. We require a “Law above the law”
  • Objective moral standards require a God
  • Without objective moral standards, all we are left with are preferences.
  • Any valid explination of morality needs to account for free will. Where does it come from?
  • Materialism relieves us from all culpability

Does the Bible Provide an Adequate Answer to the Problem of Suffering?

[HT Apologetics315]

Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Bart Ehrman debate the topic: Does the Bible Provide an Adequate Answer to the Problem of Suffering? at Ohio State University on April 15, 2010. More information about this debate can be found at the debate website.

Full Debate MP3 Audio here. (2 hr 10 min)

This was a fascinating debate between, as the moderator put it, “two men who are deeply convicted in their hearts of their respective positions”.

It has often been said that of all the objections to theism in general and Christianity in particular, the question of evil is far and away the hardest one to answer. However this debate shows how Christianity not only offers an adequate answer, but also offers something that no other system, particularly atheism/agnosticism, can.

Hope.