It Is The Lord Who Sends Afflictions (Chrysostom)

 I ran across this great quote from Chrysostom on God’s sovereignty in affliction.  These are his comments on Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?” (Geneva Bible).  It’s worth reading a few times!

This text means that if we actually experienced only misfortunes, we would still need to bear them. God is Master and Lord. Does he not possess the power to send us anything? Why did God provide us with our goods? He did not do so because we deserved them. God was absolutely free to send us only afflictions. If he has also granted us goods, why do we complain? Notice how [Job] does not speak anywhere about faults or good actions but only says that God has the power to do whatever he wants. Recall your former happiness, and you will have no problem in bearing the present difficulties. It is sufficient, as our consolation, to know that it is the Lord who sends them to us. Let us not speak about justice and injustice.

 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds., Job, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 13.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Evil and God’s Sovereignty (Blocher)

 Some of the more difficult texts in Scripture include those verses that seem to say God is involved in evil.  For example, in 1 Samuel 16:14 we read, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him” (NET).  Of Eli’s wicked sons we read that they “would not listen to their father, for the LORD had decided to kill them” (1 Sam. 2:25 NET).

What are we to make of these kinds of texts in light of Scripture’s clear teaching that God hates evil, is perfectly and perpetually good, and is too pure to look on sin (cf Prov. 6:16-19; Mk. 10:18; Hab. 1:13, etc.)??  I appreciate how Henri Blocher explained this based on God’s sovereignty, which Scripture also teaches:

The Augustinian and Reformed tradition maintains that in one sense God ‘wills’ evil, he decides that evil shall occur.  Calvin, though he at times uses it, objects to the term permission; he considers it to weak, suggesting a God who is a mere spectator.  In reality, he declares, God goes so far as to move the will of those who do evil.  Many are scandalized at this.  Journet blames Calvin bitterly for speaking of ‘willing.’ He can tolerate only the language of ‘permission.’  Berkouwer criticizes his own tradition on the same points: even Bavinck, he argues, ought not to have stated that God in a certain manner ‘wills’ evil.

We are obliged to refute the accusation: first of all because the audacity of writers of Scripture, such as Paul or Ezekiel, puts the boldest of Calvin’s expressions in the shade; our quotations above [from Scripture] bear that out.  And then why should we argue about words?  ‘Having the authority to prevent, and the power, when God allows it, is that not as good as if he did it?’ (Calvin).  There is little to gain in rejecting the verb ‘to will’ so long as you do not deny divine sovereignty.  Berkouwer is obliged to concede that sin is never committed ‘outside (praeter) the will of God’; is that not the admission of a certain will?  In vain does Journet attempt to pit Calvin against Augustine on this point.  One may as well take one’s position from the stern candor of Scripture: if evil occurs under the rule of God, then his will is involved.

The assurance of the absolute sovereignty of God contributed to ‘the fear of the LORD,’ which is so rare amongst people, even Christians, in our day.  It fostered humble faith, it poured the balm of consolation. Racked with illness, Calvin repeated, ‘You are crushing me, Lord, but I am content that it comes from your hand.’  It [the fear of the Lord] alone can bring peace, beyond that of forgiveness, for having done irreversible wrongs, for even that is in the hand of God, etiam peccata (‘including sins’).  By including that in his plan, he relieves us of the intolerable care of having the final responsibility (cf Gen. 45:8).  He is the First and the Last. Our God reigns.

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, p. 95-96.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

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