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

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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