Where Have All The Boys and Girls Gone?

jesus the teacherNothing is ‘black and white’ any longer it seems. The lines have all been blurred. Even in places where the lines could never be blurred, they have been blurred: the sexes. I recently watched an interview of a lady—a psychologist no less—who was raising her child to be neither boy or girl. When the child would ask if he/she was a boy or a girl, the mother would reply, “Whatever you want to be.” We live in a time where gender-lines are as blurred to the point that you never know whether to say yes sir or ye ma’am. The gender-lines are so blurred that US magazine’s woman of the year was a man. No, it’s not the Twilight Zone; it’s the 21st Century. And, in many cases the church is not combating the problem, it is embracing the culture.

Wayne Grudem writes, “The church has been called to counter and bless the culture, not to copy and baptize it. All too often our churches reflect, rather than constructively engage, worldly culture.”[1] Christian Headlines reports that the Baptist church has ordained its first openly transgender pastor.[2] CNN reported in 2010, that the Episcopal Church had ordained its first openly lesbian bishop.[3] Writing in 2006, Grudem simply did not know how true his words were, and would become.

Homes are broken often leading to single parent situations where the child may not have role models of the sex opposite the parent with which he/she lives. Some children are brought up by two parents of the same sex. Television shows flaunt and glamour these alternative lifestyles. And the church, the lighthouse, the guidepost, for the world has all too often has bought into society instead of acting to show society a better. Little Johnny can be all that he can be, and he might just be doing it in a dress, with mutilated genitalia, in a church near you, unless the church steps up and teaches biblical manhood and womanhood.

While the Western church seems willing to allow societal norms to change its stance on many issues, the African church seems to be prepared to take a stronger stance. Father Raphael Adebayo from the Catholic church of Saint Agnes in the Nigerian city of Lagos asserts, “It is impossible for the Church to support something that does not please God. It is clear that homosexuality is an abomination.”[4] We needn’t read further than Genesis 1 to see God’s intended sexual order for his creation: Male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). And, in Genesis 2 we also see God’s intended picture of marriage: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, ESV). God created man and woman. And, they were created for each other.

God created both male and female. He created them for each other. And, he did not create male for male, or female for female. Nor did he create male to become female or female to become male. Yet, in western society there seems to be an abandonment of absolute truth in favor of a relative truth which allows that anything goes. Corradi writes that the new societal delusion is “that gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact. This is the notion that there are no biologically determined characteristics of either sex.”[5] Corradi goes onto to write, “In fact there are no ‘opposite sexes,’ only a gender spectrum between femaleness and maleness (hence the prefix “trans-” in “transgender”), and one may choose to identify oneself with any point on the continuum, or to remain undecided.”[6] Rubano argues that argues that a pastoral sensibility should take into account research into ‘gender creativity’—a term coined by Diane Ehrensaft, adapted from Wincott’s phrase ‘individual creativity’—which would allow for children places of worship to be better sanctuaries for authentic living. He writes, “One way this pastoral sensibility can be expressed is through a gender-creative reading of scripture as a model for advocacy on behalf of gender-nonconforming children.”[7] But, we abandon the created order and throw out biblical manhood and womanhood considering Romans 1:18:  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (ESV)? Do we change the word and give approval of such practices in light of Romans 1:32: Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (ESV)?

What does this mean for the church? I worship in what most would call a medium size church, The Church of the Redeemer Anglican Church in Camden, North Carolina. To our east is Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and to our south, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Both host gay pride events. So, while our church is not in some great metropolitan city, these issues knock at our door, as it knocks at the door of a good many churches. We handle it by making sure with our most vulnerable to fall to deceptive doctrine, we start early teaching biblical manhood and womanhood. Grudem writes, “If we write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, then we are bound to do so with everything the Bible teaches.”[8] In this era where gender confusion runs amok we cannot afford to do anything less. As schools become more liberal in teaching ‘alternative’ lifestyles and genders on a daily basis, the church has to step up and teach biblical lifestyles—through all of its flawed characters—on its one day a week. It is essential that while preach/teach the way of salvation there be discipleship among all the church members. And, we bring them all back to the order of creation.

Former Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright asserts, “The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.”[9] Our teachings of the generations that will follow us has to be based on the goodness of the original creation. But, we have to be teaching and countering the teaching that comes from the world with the teaching that comes from above. As Wright wrote, “We need to let Paul remind us, precisely when major cultural change is upon us, that our confidence is not in the solidity of Western culture or the basic goodness of modern democracy. Our confidence is in Jesus and him alone.”[10] We have to teach as in many ways society has taken a head start in the indoctrination race.

We pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in Heaven,” but is the church acting in such a way that God’s will is being done? In our quest to bring more people into the Kingdom are we allowing the church to mirror society as opposed to changing the world to look like a Kingdom that operates by God’s will? To accept both the homosexual lifestyle and the transgender lifestyle into the church is to change God’s word and to change his bride into what God intended as sin. As these issues become more common place in society, and as the western world tries to change countries in the East to be more like the West, maybe it’s time for the church in the West to look to the church in the East for a biblical understanding of these not so tough issues.

 

Until next time May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), Kindle Location 173.

[2] http://www.christianheadlines.com/blog/baptist-church-ordains-first-openly-transgender-preacher.html

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/15/episcopal.lesbian.bishop/index.html

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/little-support-by-african-churches-for-gay-rights/a-16408405.

[5] Richard Corradi, “Transgender Delusion,” First Things 256 (October 2015): 17.

[6] Corradi, 18.

[7] Craig Rubano, “Where Do the Mermaids Stand? Toward a Gender Creative Pastoral Sensibility,” Pastoral Psychology 65 (2016): 822-823.

[8] Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), Kindle Location 178-179.

[9] https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/06/n-t-wrights-argument-against-same-sex-marriage.

[10] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), 185.

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WAS BATHSHEBA A PAWN OR THE CHESS MASTER?

david_balcony-1As Daily Rite 1 continues, this week the story of David and Bathsheba comes up. A chess master is always thinking several moves in advance; in the “opening” alone he may be thinking seven to ten moves in advance. A mere pawn is only moved one space at a time, always straight ahead unless it is moving to capture. Yet, for the chess master the pawn can be a most dangerous piece as it can become a queen. Was Bathsheba a chess master, skillfully planning her moves well in advance? Or, was she a pawn in the hands of David, being moved one space at a time?

The key to answering the question lies in two places. First, how one interprets II Samuel 11:2 has a direct influence on the answer: One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful. For Bathsheba to be a chess master, here in the opening moves the skill of knowing the opponents next move would show. She would be opening with a Gambit knowing which piece would be sacrificed. She would have to know the following. First, David would get up and walk around. Second, he would notice her bathing. And lastly, that he would send for her. And, the last point is where the waters get muddied with calling Bathsheba a chess master.

David could have been in the habit of getting up in the evening and walking on the roof and Bathsheba could have been well aware of this habit, be the habit daily, weekly, or monthly. As the skilled chess master she could have set the trap that would eventually lead to checkmate. The problem with this theory is that Bathsheba would have no way of knowing that David would have taken the bait. Unlike the chess pieces that have certain set moves for different positions on the board, the human piece is not as predictable. While David’s schedule could be predicted, his actions upon seeing Bathsheba bathing could not be quite so predictable. While it is the position of this paper that Bathsheba was no chess master, it has to be remembered that the human, in this case David, is unpredictable. As well it must be remembered that sexual sin has been the downfall of a many a man “after God’s own heart.” It should also be noted that whether one takes Bathsheba to be a pawn or a chess master, David’s actions constitute sin.

The second avenue that needs to be explored lies in the Book of James: each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:14-15). It seems a more plausible conclusion that David was a victim of sin in much the same way Achan was (Joshua 7:21). As David walked he saw Bathsheba. He coveted Bathsheba. He got Bathsheba.

Bathsheba was a pawn in the game of life. David saw Bathsheba’s beauty and was “lured and enticed by his own evil desire.” David’s “desire was conceived” causing him to inquire as to who she was. The desire gave birth to send after David found out who she was and “sent messengers to get her” (II Samuel 11:4).

While it could be argued that Bathsheba was a chess master, and as a skilled master she set a trap which David fell into, the Biblical evidence doesn’t give enough information to make that assertion. No one can doubt that David’s actions following the event were those of a guilty man. But, guilt could come from either conclusion: Bathsheba being a chess master or being a pawn. It seems much more plausible, and the Biblical record seems to be more in support of, that David followed the sin pattern of Achan and the progression into sin laid out by James 1:14-15: David saw Bathsheba; He coveted Bathsheba (tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire); He took Bathsheba (desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin).

 

A Collect for today:

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Until next time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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HERE’S THE DEAL JOB!

job5Job chapter 8 brings in one of my favorite characters: Bildad the Shuhite. It was always the running gag in seminary to ask the incoming freshmen who has the shortest character in the Bible. Of course they would always answer together, “Zacchaeus!” We would correct them right away that it was Bildad, as he was only a Shuhite—a Shoe Height—[insert groan]. But, as chapter 8 seems to bear out, Bildad was short—short in his dealing with Job’s circumstance.

Bildad begins with a technique familiar to Israeli wisdom literature: attack that last speaker’s speech. And in true form and fashion Bildad attacks and does not seem to let up until possibly at the end. If it was thought that Eliphaz was easy on Job, after reading chapter 8 no-one will make that assertion about Bildad.

“How long will you say these things and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” Bildad could have well said, “Come on Job, how much longer are you going to continue speaking all this nonsense?”  Job follows it up with a question—possibly a rhetorical question—asking, “Does God pervert justice?” Yet, that is not exactly Job’s complaint. Job’s lament was that God was treating him rather harshly.

Bildad differs from Eliphaz though in his appeal is to past history and nature to justify his message 8-10. Eliphaz justified his message recanting a dream. Then, in verses 11-19, Blidad launches into a series of rhetorical questions (11-13) and answers/explanations (14-19) to begin closing out his speech.  The bottom line of Bildad’s speech however, is summed up in verse 20: Behold, God will not reject a blameless man [remember we have been told that Job is blameless], nor take the hands of the evildoers. If we think of Israel as the legalists that they have always been made out to be, this might bear some weight. But we have to actually see Israel as they were; they were never ones who believed their salvation was in perfect Law keeping. There was atonement for sins in Israel. Yet, it must be remembered that this story comes before the Law and possibly Israel. So, while we have been told that Job is blameless, there were none who were blameless before God. And, this statement by Bildad, in all his bluntness and shortness sets the stage for Job’s reply in chapter 9.

COLLECT FOR TODAY:

Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new Jerusalem: Grant that we, who have this day given thanks for his resurrection, may praise you in that City of which he is the light, and where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep you!

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GOD, SAY WHAT?

Looking at Job Chapter Seven

 

saywhatJob begins chapter 7 continuing his discourse; yet the recipient will seem to change. While chapter 6 had Job responding somewhat to Eliphaz, chapter 7  Job’s peroration will become aimed at God. While verse 2:22 asserts, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong,” the reader now has to determine if the same can be true after reading chapter seven.

            The first pericope of chapter 7 (vv.1-6) begin with the parallelism that is common to Hebrew poetry and has been a feature of the book of Job. Verses 1 and 2 form individual parallel lines while verse 5 and 6 perform the same. Yet, tuck neatly in the middle of all the parallelism are verse 3 and 4. They are written in another vice of Hebrew poetry: chiasm. And, their place in the middle points to Job’s emotional state—because of the misfortunes mentioned in the surrounding verses [this is brought out by the use of conjunction ‘so’ beginning verse 3] (1-2;5-6).

Verses 3 and 4 and their chiastic structure:

             A1                                 B1

V3. so I am allotted         months of emptiness

              B2                                                  A2

      And nights of misery      are appointed me.

 

The center of the chiasm points to emptiness and misery as the emotional components of Job’s current life. Job interestingly forms the next pericope of 7 (7-10) into 2 chiasms—7-8 form the first while 9-10 form the later.

 

 

Verses 7-8:

              A1                                                                              B1

7 Remember that my life is but a breath   my eye will never again see good.

                B2                                                                           A2

8 The eye of him who sees me            will behold me no more.

 

For Job, a man whose life is emptiness and misery, his eyes will never see good again, nor will the eyes of him who sees him—while many attribute the ‘eyes of him who sees me’ as being God, it almost seems a better interpretation to see the ‘eyes …’ as anyone who now sees job including his friends who are taking part in the discussion. If we believe to be able to see all then we would have to concede that God would be able to see Job in sheol—see him anymore, his life is but a breath and will be no more. While it is tempting to want to make an appeal to James 4:14 when interpreting  ‘life is but a breath,’ we should refrain from using the New Testament in interpreting Job—a case could be made however when handling James 4:14 to make an appeal to Job 7:7.

Verse 9-10’

             A1                                                                                  B1

  1. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to sheol does not come up,

             B2                                                                                  A2

  1. He returns to no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.

 

 

We now have a man whose life is misery and emptiness, whose eye will never see good any longer, nor will anyone see him any longer because when one goes to sheol—this is not hell but simply the place of the dead—he does not anymore return [This predates resurrection theologies]. Because of this Job feels unrestrained in addressing God at t he beginning of the final pericope of verse 7: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth.”

            For Job, all of his problems are coming from God, and God does not—in Job’s eyes—want to let up. Job makes this clear in the last pericope of chapter 7.  Job, for all of his problems simply needs a break. He can’t sleep because—in his opinion—God sends bad dreams (v.14). Job just wants God to back off for long enough for him (Job) to swallow his spit (v.19).

            But, what is very interesting in this final passage is this man Job, who is upright and blameless, who is so upright that he makes sacrifices on behalf of his children in case they might have sinned, has now to come to the conclusion that he has sinned and that is the reason for his problems. He seems to have taken Eliphaz’s cause and effect theory to heart: Verse 20- Why do you not pardon my transgressions and take away my iniquity?

            Job has come from being upright to believe he has sinned so bad that God now is tormenting him. And for Job this torment will go on until death—For now I shall lie in the earth, you will seek me, but I shall not be (v.21).

            While we always speak of the “patience of Job,” as we read more into Job that patience seems to have been replaced with bitterness. Job sees himself as man tormented by God. As a result, he lives a life of emptiness and misery—remember this is a man who sum five chapters earlier had it all and was upright before God—he will go to the grave in this condition and all he wants is just a break for the amount of time it would take to swallow his spit.

            We have all been in that situation where it seemed that the ‘bad’ would not let up. It is at that time that cheerful hymns just do not seem to comfort. And, like Job, we seem to feel like the good and gracious God has it out for us. As well, we have all probably been angry at God. And Job is not the only person in the Bible who has felt betrayed by the almighty. Jerimiah said:

 

 

            O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived;

                You over powered me and prevailed.

            I am ridiculed all day long;

              Everyone mocks me (Jeremiah 20:7).

 

Bad things happen in a good world and to good people. There are not always, though they definitely can be, the result of cause and effect. And, we will at times get mad at God. As I have been meditating on this chapter, over in England baby Charlie Gard is dying—as a result of a genetic condition [there have been many court cases about him receiving help that would not help him], and it would be safe to assume that his parents, if they are Christians, might have a bit of anger directed towards God. Why would you God not step in and heal this genetic problem; why would you God not allow him to cross the big pond for treatment in the USA; Why would you not step in and let him come home and be well; why would you not step in and let him come home to die? The questions could go on and on, but the point is we all can get angry at God. Some people might not express it as forcefully as Job, while others might express it stronger. But, not matter how it is expressed, we have to see God as sovereign over all creation. We have to remember the word’s that Job has seemed to have forgotten, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [at this point he has not attributed the evil to God] (v. 2:10)? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord (1:21).

We serve a good God in an evil world. We, like Job, will receive good. But, like Job, we also will receive bad. While we love God, just like the family member we love, we will at times feel angry his way. But in all things we should remember, blessed be the name of the Lord.

 

Collect for today:

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the good Lord bless and keep you!

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BEGIN THE BEGUINE:

 

The Cycles begin and Job dances with the theodicies of his friends.

 

job picChapter 4 begins cycle 1—many commentators will argue that the 1st cycle begins with Job’s speech in chapter 3, but that doesn’t fit the pattern of the rest of the cycles. Beginning with chapter 4 balances the cycles— and the meat of the book of Job. Job’s friends entered the story in chapter two, yet up to this point none have spoken; they sat and mourned with Job at their entrance.[1] Job’s speech of chapter 4 then sets the stage for the first cycle to begin.

The first person to address Job and offer reasons as t why all this trouble had come upon Job is Eliphaz. Not much is known about Eliphaz, but we do know he is a Temanite. This most likely means he was an Edomite. And, Eliphaz is most likely the oldest of Job’s friends that are gathered at the beginning of the cycles. The custom would have been for the oldest to speak first and then follow the same pattern through the rest of the speakers.

It should also be noted that the poetry of Eliphaz’s speech is true to the form of Hebrew poetry. Where we may look for rhyming words—Roses are red, violets are BLUE, sugar is sweet and so are YOU—the Hebrew poetry has rhyming thought patterns:

Your words have upheld him who was

stumbling,

and you have made firm the feeble knees.

Job’s speech is replete with this type of rhyming.

After asking permission to speak, Eliphaz uses what we pastoral counselors, and people in conflict management,  would call  the sandwich method to address Job. As Bullock asserts, “He commenced courteously and ended gently.”[2] Eliphaz begins with words of encouragement and praise for Job 4:3-4. And, as well, He ends as well on a peaceful note, Job 5:24-27.  Yet, it is the middle ground where Eliphaz gives his thoughts on Job’s problems.

In verses 5-11, Eliphaz puts forth the theory of cause and effect. This comes out well in verse 8: As I have seen those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. While this is a plausible theory, we know from chapter 1 this is not the case with Job. Yet, for Eliphaz things do not happen without a reason. Thus—according to Eliphaz, when something bad happens to us it is because we have done something bad to warrant its happening: retribution. And while Job 1 tells us that Job was blameless, for Eliphaz, mortal man cannot be right before God (v.17).  This was revealed to him in a dream that he relates.

Eliphaz puts forth another reason for Job’s suffering. In chapter 5: 17-18, Eliphaz suggests that suffering may be viewed as the chastisement of God with the purpose of correction and healing. Now, while he puts this forth as a slightly different idea, it could be seen to go along with his first cause and effect theory.

  1. We do something bad.
  2. God enacts some form of punishment on us.
  3. The reason God does this is to bring us back in line.

 

Job 5:17-18—Blessed is the one whom God

reproves;

therefore despise not the discipline of

the Almighty.

For he wounds, but he binds up;

He shatters, but his hands heal.

 

Cycle one begins with a great speech by Eliphaz. He delivers to Job his ideas for the calamities that have happened to Job. His theory is either ‘cause and effect’ or God’s chastisement in order to bring the person, in this case Job, back into right living. Yet, we know from the first chapter of Job that Job does live right—[Job] was blameless and upright, one who feared God (1:1).  So, while cycle one begins with a nice speech and good idea of what might have caused Job’s problems, as readers we have information that Eliphaz does not have and we know that his theories are wrong.

 

Until Next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] Some years back a friend of mine, and a preacher, had a son that was run over and killed. He told me that he had many visitors come to the house and per usual they had the wrong things to say—“God needed him;” “There is another angel in Heaven now” … But the one person he told me that helped him the most said nothing. One person from his church came and sat in a chair behind him. He put his hand on the grieving father’s shoulder and said, “I am here if you need anything.” Then there was silence—silence never broken. But, ever so often he would lean forward and put his hand on the grieving dad’s shoulder reassuring him that he was still there with him. This silence, no wrong or right theories on death, just the reassurance that a friend was there if needed; the friend sat quietly and mourned with the mourning father (Job 2:11-13).

[2] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1988), Kindle Location 1996.

GOD’S INFINITY: QUALATATIVE OR QUANTATATIVE?

handsIt is understood that God is all powerful as well as all knowing. The question that has to be answered is ‘how,’ in what capacity is God’s infinity to be understood?

No scripture confesses that “God does not know all things,”[1] wrote Ron Highfield. This statement while seemingly true, and I believe it is true, seems innocent. But, when we say God knows all things, the question that comes to mind is what “all” does God know and when does he know? Did God know of the Paris or San Bernardino terrorist attacks before they happened? Or, did God know about them perfectly as the unfolded, whereas man knew of them in some partial form as they transpired?

What needs to be separated and understood is do we speak of God’s infinity as quantitative or qualitative?  But can God’s perfect knowledge be limited to ‘what can be known at a given time.’ This allows God to respond to man’s actions and God’s infinite knowledge can remain intact. Right now it is 12:40 am. God has perfect knowledge of 12:40 am. But there is no knowledge of 12:41 as it is not yet 12:41. Thus God’s knowledge is perfect and up to date. Hmmm? God has perfect and infinite knowledge of everything that is; but can/does he have knowledge of what is not? 12:41 is not yet here so can there be any knowledge of it? God knows all things that can be known at any given time.

Psalm 147 states, “… his understanding is beyond measure.” But the question that has to be answered is this quantitative or qualitative? Can God know what is yet unknown, when he created beings with free-will? It seems that God’s infinite knowledge is best to be seen as qualitative. God can and does know everything at any given point perfectly. He knows everything there is to know about whatever there is to know at any given time. But, being as the future is not a point in time (the future is not anything, nothing is anything until the time it comes into being), in fact the future may not even come to pass, God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite in what can be know. His infinite knowledge is in regards to what is, as what is not cannot be known; the minute it become known it is.  It is unlimited in that God can and does know everything that can be known—what is knowable. It is infinite in quality in that God knows perfect. He is not bogged down in his knowledge with pre-conceived notions. The Apostle Paul wrote that now he—in essence mankind—knows ‘in part’ but at some later time the ‘partial things will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).  God’s knowledge is not partial as is man’s. Everything that is ‘knowable’ God knows and perfectly whereas man only knows in part and even then that knowledge is clouded. There is a difference in the quality of the knowledge. This allows for man’s free-will and God’s infinite knowledge—qualitative—both to remain intact.

Important for understanding evil is understanding God’s providence. It has to be understood that God can know infinitely everything that is knowable; he can do infinitely everything that is logically doable. Yet, man’s free-will choice is something not known even when man commits to it—though the intent can be known, it is only knowable when man engages his free-will choice. God’s immanence— immanence means that God is present to and in the natural order, human nature, and history[2]—has to also be kept in the equation. Understanding God’s infinite knowledge as qualitative as opposed to quantitative keeps God’s immanence in proper check for to venture to far along the lines of quantitative can led on to pantheism. Feinberg asserts, “As Barth frequently reminds us, in Christ God both draws near to us but remains also hidden. God is veiled in his unveiling and unveiled in his hiddenness”[3]

It can be argued then that God cannot control every event, as wells, it can be argued that God does not control every event. Both lead to their own particular conundrums. If it is argued that God cannot control every event then the conclusion can be drawn that God is not all powerful. If research then concludes that God does not control every event then it could be argued that God does not care. It would be hard to see a symbol of a benevolent God a God that does not care. Yet, if the free-will defense is factored into the equation the results change.

If man acts upon his own free-will it does not limit the power of God for God can act in response to what is knowable. It also sets up the premise that it is not God who does not care but man. For God has set his ways in the heart of man; man chooses to act contrary to God’s ways. Yet, when man engages a plan of evil God can and does act. There is an immense difference in the fact that God does not control every event and in that God cannot control every event.

King writes, “The Christian religion, in the modern period has been its failure to deal adequately with the problem of evil. Innocent suffering both as a result of natural calamity and human malevolence is presumed to count decisively against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God. A ‘God of Love’ such as Christians profess to worship, surely would not permit such wanton destruction of human life as represented by the Lisbon earthquake or the Holocaust.”[4]

Yet, when God’s omnipotence is seen as qualitative as opposed to quantitative this situation does not exist. God has the power to work in everything that is logically doable—it is not logical to stop a tsunami before it happens as it is not known until it happens, until it becomes known. Yet, God can, and does, work in all these situations.

The free-will defense keeps man’s free-will intact and as well keeps God’sinfinite knowledge and power both intact. As Plantiga asserts, “A world where creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil: and he can’t give these creatures their freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”[5]

While Bonting believes in the existence of evil, it is creatio ex nihilo where he has the problem. “In my view the commonly accepted creation theology, creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), is at fault because it implies that God created everything, including evil.”[6] Geisler combats this problem writing, “God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.”[7] He continues, “Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will.”[8]

With God controlling everything can there be free-will? With God controlling everything can there be real love for God, or is simple forced, built in, robot love? God created man with free-will; with free-will cane the possibility of man doing evil. For God to stop man from doing evil would be to go against the very order, free-will, that God created. With God’s infinite knowledge he can know everything that is knowable, and know it perfectly. With his infinite power he can do everything that is logically doable. God (1) cannot know evil until it happens because before it happens it is not knowable and (2) God cannot not stop the evil of man—even when it is knowable—because to do so would be to go against what he created and called good—freewill-beings.

For Plantinga, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”[9] Geisler sums it up well writing, “So more properly speaking, omnipotence means God can do anything that is possible to do, not what is impossible or contradictory. Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will. There are some things even God cannot do. He cannot force anyone to freely accept Him. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms.”[10]

Collect:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world
may be peaceably governed by thy providence; and that thy
Church may joyfully serve thee in confidence and serenity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1]William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield;  Gregory A. Boyd, Paul Kjoss  Helseth, Four Views on Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), Kindle Location 2788.

[2] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 29.

[3] Feinberg, 31. Referencing Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), pp. 368-372.

.[4] Robert King, “Review of Diogenes Allen’s The Traces of God,Princeton Seminary Review, vol. 3, no. 3 1982, 336.

  [5] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 30

[6] Sjoerd L. Bonting, “The Problem of Evil,” Sewanee Theological Review 47, no. 4 (2014):405.

[7] Geisler, 31.

[8] Geisler, 37.

[9] Plantinga, Chapter 4 under The Free Will Defense.

[10] Geisler, 38.

Tale as Old as Time: The Problem of Evil and the Book of Job

job “Tale as old as time, true as it can be, true as it can be,” wrote Howard Ashman in the theme song from the musical “Beauty and the Beast.”[1] In another form the story of “Beauty and the Beast” is a tale as old as time: the battle between good and evil. Even at this writing the word is reeling from terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of good people. Scarcely into the Holy Bible the statement is made, “And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:4 ESV[2]). It could be argued that for the ‘light’ to be called good, bad, evil, had to exist at the same time to provide the contrast. Throughout the scriptures the battle between good and evil occupies the pages. At one time the prophet Habakkuk asked of God, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (Habakkuk 1:3). The story of evil continues through the scriptures from the beginning unto its end in the Revelation. But nowhere does the problem of evil get addressed in the same way as it does in the book of Job; the entirety of the book is addressing this problem.

Most likely one of the earliest books of the Bible—probably from the time in around the patriarch Abraham—Job faces many catastrophes in the course of a few days. He has come to be remembered for his patience. He loses the measures of his wealth, his children, and lastly, he loses his health. Yet, through all of the character of Job remains faithful to God, in spite of being told to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). For Job it is the understanding that if people are given good then they should also expect bad (Job 2:10) and “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).

The question that arises from Job is why do good people suffer? Job is an “upright man.” He has wealth, measured by the goods he has as wells as the size of his family. He is “blameless.” Yet, being blameless does not exempt Job from trials and tribulation, all which seem to come at the same time giving validity to the old saying “when it rains it pours.”

If God is good, and most people will not argue that he is not, why does he not do something about the problem of evil? The reader of Job has information that Job does not have, the fact that God has allowed Job’s suffering. But, the question is still left unanswered.  And, with the righteousness of Job the bigger question, as Bullock puts it, “The most obvious issue in the book is the suffering of the righteous”[3] For McKenzie, “”We have no answer to the problem.”[4]

Accepting that there is no answer has not slowed the plethora of books and articles written on the subject. As well, for some, it has been this very issue that has caused some to renounce their faith in a good God, the God of the Bible, and take agnostic and atheistic positions. Kaufman has pointed out, and rightly so, that “the suffering of the righteous leads inevitably to the larger question of whether there is a moral order in the world at all.”[5]

Can the very existence of God, a good and benevolent God, rest on the problem of evil in the world? While Job’s friends do not proffer that there is no God, in modern times that argument has been put forth. As Geisler has noted many thinkers have come to the conclusion that evil must be co-existent with good, Augustine was a proponent of this theory.[6] And, while Geisler’s comment is correct, it does not argue against the existence of God, not that God is good. Geisler puts forth the following syllogisms:

  1. God created all things.
  2. Evil is a thing.
  3. Therefore God created evil.[7]

While there are fallacies in the preceding premise, Geisler also writes, “Evil is a real lack, privation, or corruption of a good thing. That is, evil does not exist in itself: evil exists only in a thing or substance – and all things God made are good. In short, there has to be some good thing in order for evil to exist in it as a lack, corruption, or privation of it.”[8] While in Job the main character does not turn evil, or even do evil, evil befalls him.

The problem of evil, theodicy, is as real today as it was during the time of Job, as it has been at least since Genesis chapter 3. And, while the explanation of it may never be fully understood, there are some points about evil and its use(s) that can be made on the positive side and not infringe on the fact that there is an all-powerful and benevolent God.

 

Retribution

 

Eliphaz comments to Job, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). This seems to point forward to Galatians 6:7. But, can all evil be said to come from sowing evil? And, even at that, what about people who it is known sew evil and yet still seem to reap good? While Simundson writes, “Maybe it was the result of human sin, a rebellion against God’s commands,”[9] it has to be remember that the reader is given knowledge that Job is upright, staying away from evil. Yet, for Job and his less than comforting friends it has to be remembered that for the most part their belief was that Job’s problems came as Divine retribution for something Job had done. And as Simundson points out, “Most of the biblical efforts to explain suffering try not to blame God without abandoning belief in God’s power to control events.”[10]

Evil has been used by God to bring about his judgment. Throughout the scriptures God is seen using evil as a way to bring Israel back into rights. Habakkuk questioned God on how loing he would have to watch the sin of his own people, Israel. And God answers Habakkuk’s petion saying, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1: 5-6). That God does get justice and that God does use the evil in the world to enact that justice and cannot and should not be argued against. Yet, this does not seem on face value to be the case in Job; even if the dialogue between Satan and God were totally omitted it would be hard to make the case that in Job’s case divine retribution was involved.

New Testament scholar, and former Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright asserts that the struggle in Job is not between Job and God, only the readers can understand this point, but it is a struggle between Job and Satan. Wright writes, “Satan is trying to get Job in his power, to demonstrate that humans are not worth God’s trouble, while job for his part continues to insist both that God ought to be just and that he himself is in the right.”[11] While Wright points out that it was sin that led God to exile Israel, God using other nations—and evil, to bring about his purpose, he also points out that that is not the case in Job. “The whole point of the book of Job is that Job was innocent. The normal analysis of the exile was that Israel thoroughly deserved it; the whole point of Job is that Job didn’t.”[12] Wright asserts that “Satan is trying to get Job in his power, to demonstrate that humans are not worth God’s trouble, while job for his part continues to insist both that God ought to be just and that he himself is in the right.”[13]

While it has to be understood that all sin, and all have sinned, retribution seems to be ruled out in Job. If the evil visited upon Job was simply due to evil he had committed would the author have gone to such pains to make the case that Job was a good man? As well, God says to Satan, “Although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3, emphasis mine); and Job’s own comment, “For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause” (Job 9:17, emphasis mine), seems to totally rule out retribution. The text from Job’s point of view supports a non-retribution theory. Apart from Job’s point of view, the reader also understands that Job is not suffering a punishment for sins committed.

Neiman has argued that understanding the theodicy in Job has changed through the years. “Earlier writers identified with Job’s friends, the theodicy makers who found justification. Later ones identified with Job, who found none.”[14] But this does little to address the problem as the solution has to take both sides of this equation in to account. God’s side and the position of Job, as well as his friends, have to harmonize. The understanding of Job has taken different positions during different eras and does not solve the problem. In all eras God is God and in all eras bad things have happened to good people.

Many have suggested that Christianity is a religion where the people all prosper and do not suffer. Many take John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” as foundational that good things will not happen to good people. If this be the case then retribution could easily be argued. Yet, throughout the Bible good people suffer so the context of John 10:10 cannot apply to the situation of Job. Even then it would have to be asked, do we serve God for what he can do for us?

 

Serving God for God’s Sake

 

Mahn writes, “The question of whether Job serves God for naught comes back to haunt all Christians. Do we serve God for the rewards (that is, for our sake) or do we serve God for “nothing {that is, for the sake of God and the other). Can we worship God truly—that is, in Meister Eckharts phrase, without a why or a wherefore.”[15] Mahn makes the statement, “How do we know Job doesn’t fear God for the kickbacks involved—a fence around his house, productivity in work, increasing possessions (Job 1:8-10)?”[16] Do Christians serve God for the stuff or do they serve God simply for God’s sake?

It is hard to make a case that anyone serves God for the stuff. Job lost his stuff yet continued to serve God. And, in modern times it would be hard to make the case that people serve God simply for the stuff when terrorist groups such radical Islamic terrorists group ISIS is beheading Christians. Yet a look at many modern churches could lead to that opinion. Many present day churches are full of the so called stuff. Many church grounds look like Six Flags Over Heaven and have sanctuaries that could easily qualify to be the Taj Mah Jesus. Even in these churches though, bad things still happen to presumably good people: Recently in South Carolina several people were killed while having a Wednesday night Bible study.

In the book of Job God finally responds to Job’s petitions. It is here that the reader comes to believe God will clear up the problem. But as Burleson writes, “God speaks as a poet. One would think that since toe theodicy question had been raised, and this is the Bible’s opportunity to solve toe [sic] mystery, God would take the opportunity to clear things up. But God does not. It is not preacher, philosopher, politician that is given the microphone; God speaks as a poet.”[17] God not only speaks as a poet, he speaks in the form of rhetorical questions.

Carney writes, “In this familiar speech, God’s booming voice shouts a question that puts it all into perspective: who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”[18] Job has only knowledge of the earthly events that have transpired; he has no knowledge of the Heavenly dialogues. He has coupled the earthly events with the help—or lack thereof—of his friends. Job does not know/understand the ways of God. It may be as Mahn writes, “The God of the theodicists is one capable of some abstract attributes.”[19]

 

Faithfulness

 

The essence of the problems Job faces is will Job walk away from God?  Wright asserts, “[Satan] doesn’t exactly tempt job to sin, though perhaps part of the point is that he’s tempting him to curse God, and Job refuses.”[20] Job is even encouraged to curse God by his wife. This leads to the question of when someone is told to come to Christ and have life to the fullest are they being misled? Noted atheist Christopher Hitchens thinks so. Hitchens he insists that more deleterious to religious faith than its unfounded claims is the false consolation that it offers.[21] Yet, it seems if Christianity was ‘made up’ the founders would have made up a religion without the conundrum of evil having to be explained. But, the idea of making up God is not a foreign idea to philosophers. Voltaire believed if God did not exist it would have been necessary for man to create, make up, God. But would man not do a better job than making up a God full of pitfalls to have to explain? Yet, Voltaire concluded, “all nature cries out that he must exist.”[22]

.

 

 

God Uses Evil

 

As it has been alluded to earlier God has used evil as punitively for the disobedience of Israel. Israel is sent into exile due to the fact that it disobeyed God almost from the beginning. Yet, with the advent of Christ the exile is over. God has begun the process that sets the world back right. Christ fulfills what Israel cannot fulfill. Both Israel and Christ are called God’s son. God’s only begotten Son will do what God’s chosen son, Israel, did not do. But under the New Covenant it has to be ask is any country, in the same way as Israel was, God’s chosen country? Is any one nation of people God’s chosen people? Will God, no matter what Dr. Falwell or Pat Robertson have declared earlier, bring a nation—a nation never prophesied as being God’s chosen nation—back to the foil by using the evil that exists in the world? It would best be seen with the coming of the long awaited Messiah that Israel’s special place has given way to a special place for all under the New Covenant. If Israel still has a special place then all under the N.C. occupy that same space regardless of geographical habitation. Gentiles who confess the Christ are grafted into the same tree as Israel. So to argue that God is using evil to bring countries under control seems to be a weak response at best to the problem of evil in today’s world.

But even with the advent of the Messiah evil still exist. So, as Bullock writes, “The assumption of this [existential] mode is that the experience of Job is paradigmatic of what others, regardless of time in history, have suffered. They, therefore, find their experience in Job and identify with him.”[23] The experience of evil in today’s world is one in which the world can identify with Job and not the children of Israel. As Bullock asserts, “In Job the suffering saint has one with whom to identify.”[24] After a round of bad luck so to speak the author of Job writes, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20, emphasis mine).  Could it be that the point of the Job is not why evil happens, but a better way to look at Job is a proper response to suffering? In Jobs words, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil” (Job 2:10)? Ngwa writes, “’ The Prologue explores the reality of disaster not primarily through the prism of human piety, but largely through the tripartite nexus of the causal theory of suffering (with an underlying ethical uncertainty), the reality of suffering (with its overt horror and ethical crisis), and the reception theory of suffering (with its perspectival ethics).”[25] Ngwa continues, “Curiously, it is not escape from suffering that distinguished the noble religious Job. Rather, it was Job’s ability to endure suffering, and this ability was referred to as ‘blessed’ (Jas 5.10-11). Apparently unaware of the text of Ezekiel or desirous of highlighting a different tradition about Job, the writer of James directed his audience to an oral tradition according to which Job endured suffering.”[26]

 

Conclusion

 

Evil has been around as long as man, and it seems it will continue to be around as long as man is around. Currently evil seems to rear its ugly head more days than not. While the problem of evil in Job does not answer the question of evil the book declares two things that can be stated with certainty. Everyone no matter of social status or state of righteousness will suffer at some time during their lives. Some it seems suffer more than others. The other point, and probably the main point, that should be taken from Job is that Job lets the reader know that it is okay to question God when happenings are not understood and Job also provides the reader with a proper response to evil: remain faithful to God no matter what situation one finds him/herself in.

 

Until next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] Howard Ashman, Beauty and the Beast, 1991.

 

[2] All verses Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[3] Hassell C. Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), Chpt 3, under The Central Issue of Job.

 

[4] John McKenzie, The Two Edged Sword (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2009), 237).

 

[5] Yahezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, trans. Moshe Greenberg (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960), 334.

 

[6] Norman Geisler, If God Why Evil? (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 17.

[7] Geisler, 17-18.

 

[8] Geisler, 19.

[9] Daniel Simundson, “What Every Christian Should Know About Job,” Word and World 31, no. 4, (2011): 350.

 

[10] Simundson, 350.

[11] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove: IVP Press, 2006), Under Job.

 

[12] Wright, under Job.

 

[13] Wright, under Job.

 

[14]  Susan Neiman, Evil In Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002) 17.

[15] Jason Mahn, “Do Christians Serve God For Naught? Job and the Possibility of ‘Disinterested Faith,’” Word and World 31, no. 4 (2011): 389.

 

[16] Mahn, 390.

[17] Burt Burleson, ‘Out of the Storm,” DaySpring Baptist Church Website, 22 October, 2010, accessed 11 December, 2015, http://www.ourdayspring.org/documents/sermons/2006.10.22_Out_of_the_Stormpdf.

 

[18]Josh Carney, “Holding the faith: Lessons on suffering and transformation in the book of Job,” Review and Expositor 111, no. 3 (2014): 284.

 

[19] Mahn, 391.

 

[20] Wright, under Job.

 

[21] Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007), 3-11.

[22] Voltaire quoted in John Dietrich, “Thoughts on God,” Relig Hum 23 (Summer 1989): 110.

 

 

[23] Bullock, Chapter 3.

[24] Bullock, chapter 3.

 

[25] Kenneth Ngwa, “Did Job Suffer for Nothing? The Ethics of Piety, Presumption and the Reception of Disaster in the Prologue of Job,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 33, no. 3 (2009): 361.

 

[26] Ngwa, 370.