Culture’s Bipolar View of Violence

 Our culture has a bipolar view of violence.  On the one hand, we are completely against it.  The media is constantly pointing out all the violence in our culture: rape, shootings, homicides, etc.  Our culture is always speaking against these things and the media highlights them as bad news.

On the other hand, our culture doesn’t mind violence.  Hollywood puts out movies and TV shows full of shootings, rape, and homicides  – and we watch them for entertainment (often paying money to do so).  Video games are produced where the main goal is to shoot and kill as many people as possible – and we buy these games and play them for hours.  We finish a movie or video game like this and we think, “That was cool and entertaining.”  Our culture has a bipolar view of violence: we condemn it and enjoy it.

Scripture, however, isn’t bipolar when it comes to violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. …So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (Gen 6:11, 13 NIV).

Psalm 11:5 says that the LORD hates the one who loves violence.  Ezekiel prophesied that disaster would come to Israel because the city (Jerusalem) was full of violence (7:23). There are quite a few references in Scripture that talk about the sin of unjust violence, brutality, and bloodshed.  Commenting on the 6th commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism says it requires the preserving of life by “just defense thereof against violence” and it forbids unjustly “striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any” (Q/A 135-136).  In a word, Christians should not delight in violence, but take a stand against it.

I appreciate Kent Hughes’ words on violence:

“What the Bible prohibits is the cultivation of a violent heart.  In Scripture’s language, God is opposed to ‘the one who loves violence’ (Ps. 11:5) – those whom ‘violence covers …as a garment’ (Ps. 73:6), and those of whom it is said, ‘the desire of the treacherous is for violence (Prov. 13:2).  The Bible rejects those who glory in violence as did Lamech (Gen. 4:23-24), and Simon and Levi, whose genocidal spree earned them a curse (Gen. 49:5-7)….

“In effect, the Scriptures declare an ominous ‘woe’ to violent hearts that glory in violence and promote it in the world.  There are no beatitudes for the violent.  Only ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Mt. 5:9).”

Hughes later writes about violence in the media and notes a study that said an average child sees around 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts on the screen before finishing elementary school – and these numbers more than double for a teen graduating high school.  Hughes speaks a blunt word to Christians: “Woe to those in Christ’s church who passively view it [violence] – who fail to protect their homes and their children from its degenerating effects.  Woe to a church culture in which Christian young people view violence at the same rate as the rest of the culture.”

Even if we think Hughes’ “woes” might be too harsh, I think the point stands.

The above quotes are found in chapter 5 of Kent Hughes’ Set Apart.  (Note: this is a revamp of a blog post from June 2016.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Evil: An Unjustifiable Mystery (Blocher)

 I really appreciated Henri Blocher’s book Evil and the Cross.  It’s a helpful discussion about the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.  I’ve blogged about it before so I won’t go into details.  However, reading through parts of this book again today I found one section I highlighted – it’s worth sharing.  Right before this quote, Blocher was talking about how in many ways we can’t understand evil.  There’s mystery involved.  Here’s Blocher:

If we bowed to the incomprehensible as a way out every time that we found ourselves in difficulties, there would be grounds for suspicion about such a procedure – it would be sheer irresponsibility, the abdication of reason.  People are too ready to fall back on the action of ‘mystery’, and also to confuse mystery with the absurd – which Scripture never does.

But we would argue that the mystery of evil is the one unique inscrutable mystery, as unique as evil itself, sui generis.  Far from being absurd, it corresponds precisely with the experience of evil, with its two facets: unjustifiable reality.  Engraved in the decree of God, evil has a certain reality; but being contrary to his precept and his will, it is unjustifiable.  As we have said, it does not imply contradiction.  All the other mysteries that transcend our understanding, those of the Trinity, the union of the two natures of Christ, created freedom, are all luminous mysteries: if the mind tackles them biblically, it simply revels in them.  Only the ‘opaque’ enigma of evil causes it pain.

If the solutions put forward in place of the scriptural response were capable of satisfying the human mind and spirit, they would be unquestionably superior.  But surely it is the opposite that we have shown from a broad enough selection.  Analysis reveals that what are called solutions turn out to be so many attempts to gloss over one or other of the aspects of the problem, to deny evil, or to ‘forget’ the initial, more reliable apprehension of the reality of evil that everyone experiences with indignation and shame.

Scripture alone is free of that.  Surely such purity is nothing short of miraculous.  No discourse strips the guilty of excuses like this Book.  Water down one of the three affirmations (the evil of evil, the sovereignty of God, and the goodness of God) and evil to some extent becomes excusable, as we have demonstrated.  Would Scripture be so true to reality if its origin were solely human?

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1994), 102.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

What Does the Bible Teach About Satan?

Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community) Although some critics and skeptics say that Christians made up a figure like Satan to scare people into morality, the truth of the matter is that Satan is real.  Even some non-Christian religions talk of evil beings and spirits, and a leader of these evil beings.  So what does the Bible teach about Satan?  Sydney Page has a nice summary in chapter nine of Fallen: A Theology of Sin (edited by C. W. Morgan and R. A. Peterson).  Here’s an edited outline of his excellent essay:

1) Satan is a created being.  Evil has not always existed, nor has the Evil One.  Scripture clearly represents Satan as being on the creature side of the Creator/creature distinction (Col. 1:15-20, etc.).

2) Satan is a fallen being.  Not only does Scripture present Satan as a created being, but also it presents him as a fallen being.  The first chapter of Genesis makes clear that God’s original creation was good, but Satan is undeniably evil.  See 1 Tim. 3:1-7 (esp. v 6), John 8:44, Rom. 16:20, Rev. 12:9 and 20:2.

3) Satan’s roles include:

a) The tempter in sexual sin (1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Tim. 5:14-15), b) tempting to withhold forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:5-11), c) tempting to anger (Eph. 4:26-27).

a) The deceiver and liar (John 8:44; cf. Gen. 3:13), b) deceiver and robber of the Word (Luke 8:12), c) deceiving and blinding the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:3-4, 15), d) deceiver and sender of false apostles (2 Cor. 11), e) deceiver to extreme asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-5).

a) The accuser of our brothers (Rev. 12:10), b) the accuser in Job, c) the accuser in Zech. 3:1-2.

a)  The one who afflicts: Satan afflicts Job and Satan afflicted a crippled woman (Luke 13:15-16).

4) Satan as the opposition: a) he opposed Jesus (Jn. 8:37-44, Luke 22:3-4), b) he opposes the followers of Jesus (Luke 22:31-32, John 17:15), c) he opposed the early Christian movement (1 Thes. 3:5, Rev. 2:10).

However, despite the fact that Satan is Christ’s chief and powerful opponent, the Bible also teaches of his defeat:

1) His past defeat (Heb 2:14-15, John 12:31-33, Col. 2:15), 2) his present defeat (Rom. 16:20, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9, 1 John, 3) his future total defeat (Mt. 25:41, Rev. 20:7-10).

Page says much more about these topics and also lists more Scripture references.  I thought it was a helpful piece because I’ve not come across very many articles that give a nice, systematic summary of the Bible’s teaching about Satan.  We should know our enemy, the Devil – and also rejoice that God will one day crush him under our feet (Rom. 16:20).  His days are numbered!

Sydney Page, “Satan, Sin, and Evil” in Fallen: A Theology of Sin.

shane lems

Good, Evil, and God’s Providence

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grudem) I appreciate Wayne Grudem’s discussion of providence in his Systematic Theology (ch. 16).  At one point, after discussing the doctrine of God’s providence, Grudem wrestles with the topic of good/evil and how they relate to this doctrine.  Here is an abridgment of Grudem’s analysis of the Bible’s teaching.

1) God uses all things to fulfill his purposes and even uses evil for his glory and for our good.  Thus, when evil comes into our lives to trouble us, we can have from the doctrine of providence a deeper assurance that ‘God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28 NASB).   We can realize that God is glorified even in the punishment of evil (Prov. 16:4, Ps. 76:10, Rom. 9:14-24).

2) Nevertheless, God never does evil, and is never to be blamed for evil.  In Luke 22:22, Jesus combines God’s predestination of his crucifixion with the moral blame on those who carry it out (cf. Matt. 26:24, Mark 14:21, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).  God uses evil for his purposes, but he never does evil and is not to be blamed for it.  There is such a thing as secondary causes; human beings do cause evil and are responsible for it.

3) God rightfully blames and judges moral creatures for the evil they do.  Many passages in Scripture affirm this (Is. 66:3-4, Ecc. 7:29, Rom. 9:19-20).  The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature, whether man or demon, who does it, and the creature who does evil is always worthy of punishment.

4) Evil is real, not an illusion, and we should never do evil, for it will always harm us and others.  Scripture consistently teaches that we never have a right to do evil, and that we should persistently oppose it in ourselves and in the world.  We are to pray, ‘Deliver us from evil’ (Matt. 6:13).  See also James 5:19-20 and 1 Peter 2:1.

5) ‘The problem of God’s relation to sin remains a mystery,’ as Berkhof said.  In spite of all the foregoing statements, we have come to the point where we confess that we do not understand how it is that God can ordain that we carry out evil deeds and yet hold us accountable for them and not be blamed himself.  We can affirm all these things are true, because Scripture teaches them.  But Scripture does not tell us exactly how God brings this situation about or how it can be that God holds us accountable for what he ordains comes to pass.

These are helpful statements.  Again, you’ll have to read chapter 16 for the unabridged version.  The Bible for sure does tell us some things that we have to believe and other things we have to reject about God’s providence, good, and evil.  And at the end of the day, we sing Paul’s doxology in Romans 11 that magnifies God’s sovereignty as well as the fact that we are finite creatures and he is the infinite Creator.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 327-330.

shane lems

God Owes Us A Good Life?

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Many people today assume that God owes them a life of health, wealth, and happiness.  Since God is good, they say, he should bless us in many ways and keep us from all harm and danger.  I appreciate Timothy Keller’s answer to this false belief.

“When we stand back to consider the premise – that God owes us a good life – it is clearly unwarranted.  If there really is an infinitely glorious God, why should the universe revolve around us rather than around him?  If we look at the biblical God’ standards for our behavior – the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount – and then consider humanity’s record against these norms, it may occur to us that the real riddle of evil is not what we thought.  Perhaps the real puzzle is this: Why, in light of our behavior as a human race, does God allow so much happiness?  The teaching of creation and fall removes the self-pity that afflicts people with the deistic view of life.  It strengthens the soul, preparing it to be unsurprised when life is hard.”

Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, p. 115.

shane lems
hammond, wi

A Sorry State of Moral Illiteracy

 Os Guinness’ Unspeakable is one of the best books on evil and suffering that I’ve read.  Here are what Guinness calls four troubling facts which make up the challenge to rethink evil and suffering in our times.  Many people today have a distorted view of evil, so these things give us cause to pause when we think about evil and suffering.

“First, the scale and scope of evil has increased in the modern world.  To anyone who thinks deeper than the morning headlines, the atrocity of  September 11 forms part of the wider record of the dark catalog of human evil in modern history and pales beside the worst of the evils.”  For example, consider the Ottoman massacre of one and a half million Armenians in WWI, or the Rwandan and Sudanese massacres in the 1990s, or the Ukraine terror famine, Auschwitz, the rape of Nanking, the Burma railway, the Soviet Gulag, the Cambodian killing fields, etc.  “Leaving aside the one hundred million human beings killed in the century’s wars, more than one hundred million more were killed by their fellow human beings in political repression, massacre, and genocide.”

“Second, modern people have demonstrated a consistently poor response to modern evil.  Part of the uniqueness of our time is that we are the first to live when it is possible to know of almost all the world’s atrocities as they happen.  Yet a sad feature of the horrendous evils of the last century has been that strong leaders and decent people knew what was happening when it was happening, but did little or nothing.  More than we like to admit, we are all bystanders now.  We often know enough to know that it is better not to know more.”

“Third, modern people have shown a chronic inability to name and judge evil and to respond effectively.  Deeds such as the terrorists attacks of September 11 caught the Western world as much off guard intellectually and morally as they did in terms of national security.  An act that was flagrantly evil – exposed the paralyzed confusion of many who were uncertain whether it was evil, or how to say so, or at least how to justify their saying so in public terms. …A combination of forces over the past century did their damage and created the sorry state of moral illiteracy and intellectual cowardice in which we find ourselves.”

Fourth – and most controversially – the worst modern atrocities were perpetuated by secularist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals and in the name of secularist beliefs.  This fact runs directly counter to today’s ruling orthodoxy in educated circles in the West.  Many actually make the opposite claim.  …More than one hundred million human beings were killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in the last century.  Secularists, and particularly secularist intellectuals and opinion-makers in the press and media, owe the public debate a larger dose of humility as well as candor” (p. 4-9, 42).

Obviously these points are part of Guinness’ larger discussion about evil, suffering, goodness, and God.  I’ve edited them a bit to keep them brief.  If you want to read the entire argument, and if you’re looking for a thoughtful, historically informed, and biblical reflection on suffering and evil, get this book: Unspeakable.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Tear-Jerking Goodness

Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil In his excellent book, Unspeakable, Os Guinness reflects on the heroic efforts of the French Huguenots who hid Jewish children from the Nazis during WWII.  Philip Hallie wrote about this account in his book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.  When Hallie first read about the Huguenots’ compassion, he was moved to tears by “the rarity of pure goodness” that he saw in the story.  Guinness comments on this:

“Eleonore Stump …argues that the same faculty of intuition that allows us to recognize the difference between degrees of evil also allows us to discern goodness.  ‘We recognize acts of generosity, compassion, and kindness, for example, without needing to reflect much or reason it out.  And when the goodness takes us by surprise, we are sometimes moved to tears by it.’

“Stump points out that we have no words to describe the different grades of goodness as we do for evil, so she uses the words, ‘true goodness’ to capture the contrast with real ‘wickedness.’  Repeatedly we weep when we are surprised by such true goodness.  Partly we weep because of the surprise.  Partly we weep because of the unexpected grace of the gift.  But mainly we weep because of the sheer heart-stopping wonder of the beauty of true goodness itself.”

Guinness reflects:

“Could it be that there is a mystery to goodness that is even deeper than the mystery of evil?  Certainly, like a diamond flashing in a pile of dirt, it is often set off even more brilliantly in contrast with surrounding evil.  In the topsy-turvy relativism of our modern world, there are those who turn everything upside down, inside out, and the wrong way round.  Good they make bad, right wrong, and true false, until many people are so confused they cannot tell the difference and see everything as gray or a matter of spin.”

“Can goodness be made fashionable again, not discounted as prim, uptight, and puritanical?  There is comfort, if slim comfort, in the knowledge that when we begin to reap the harvest of evil that such relativism is sowing, goodness will once again be seen for what it is” (p. 225-226).

Well said!  And by the way, used copies of both books listed above (by Guinness and Hallie) are under $5 shipped on Amazon.  Recommended!

shane lems