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

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

The Mystery of Evil

This section of Christopher Wright’s fine book, The God I Don’t Understand has cause me to think (which is part of the reason I like it!).  In fact, I’m still thinking about it.  Here it is:

“…God has revealed to us vast amounts of truth in the Bible – about God himself, about creation, about ourselves, our sin, God’s plan of salvation, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the future destiny of the world, and so on.  Thus, in light of all this abundant revelation, the Bible’s silence at this point on the ultimate origin of evil seems all the more significant, and not merely accidental.  It’s not as if God were now saying, ‘Oops, I forgot to mention that point, but never mind, they can figure it out for themselves.’  No, the truth is that God has chosen in his wisdom not to give us an answer to our questions about the ultimate origin of evil within creation.  It is simply not for us to know – and that is God’s sovereign decision, the prerogative of the one who is the source of all truth and revelation in the universe.”

Later in this chapter (chapter 1) Wright continues:

“God, with his infinite perspective, and for reasons known only to himself, knows that we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not ‘make sense’ of evil.  For the final truth is that evil does not make sense.  ‘Sense’ is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us.  So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.”

“Evil has no proper place within creation.  It has no validity, no truth, no integrity.  It does not intrinsically belong to the creation as God originally made it nor will it belong to creation as God will ultimately redeem it.  It cannot and must not be integrated into the universe as a rational, legitimated, justified part of reality.  Evil is not there to be understood, but to be resisted and ultimately expelled.  Evil was and remains an intruder, an alien presence that has made itself almost (but not finally) inextricably ‘at home.’  Evil is beyond our understanding because it is not part of the ultimate reality that God in his perfect wisdom and utter truthfulness intends us to understand.  So God has withheld its secrets from his own revelation and our research.”

“Personally, I have come to accept this as a providentially good thing.  Indeed, as I have wrestled with this thought about evil, it brings a certain degree of relief.  And I think it carries the implication that whenever we are confronted with something utterly and dreadfully evil, appallingly wicked, or just plain tragic, we should resist the temptation that is wrapped up in the cry, ‘Where’s the sense in that?’  It’s not that we get no answer.  We get silence.  And that silence is the answer to our question.  There is no sense.  And that is a good thing too.”

“Can I understand that?  No.  Do I want to understand that?  Probably not, if God has decided it is better that I don’t.  So I am willing to live with the understanding that the God I don’t understand has chosen not to explain the origin of evil, but rather wants to concentrate my attention on what he has done to defeat and destroy it.”

If this brief discussion has piqued your interest, I recommend getting this book so you can read the rest of the chapter and other such discussions.  Here’s the full title: The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith by Christopher Wright.  I appreciate how Wright approaches these tough areas of the Christian faith with humility and a solid grounding in Scripture.  The book is a good one to have when considering answers for the real, tough, and deep questions we ask about the Christian faith.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Pascal on Justice, Evil, Truth

Here is number 699 of Pascal’s Pensees.

“When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as on board ship.  When everyone is moving towards depravity, no one seems to be moving, but if someone stops he shows up the others who are rushing on, by acting as a fixed point.”

And here is Peter Kreeft’s commentary on it.

“Since ‘everything flows,’ everything is relative.  This is Einsteinianly true of all physical things.  Relative to the sun, the earth moves, but relative to the earth, the sun rises and sets.  This is not a problem but a principle in physics; but it is a problem in ethics.  Clearly Pascal’s description of the whole ship sailing down into depravity describes our society; but it also describes history as a whole.  Only a fixed point above the flow of time and history can judge the flow.  Concretely, these fixed points are the saints, who navigate not by the waves of history and the winds of fortune but the fixed stars of Heaven.  Therefore we windswept, sinking relativist call them ‘religious fanatics,’ all because of the principle of relativity Pascal describes here: to a cold-blooded reptile, 98.6 degrees is a high fever.”

As I said earlier, this book is great.  Even though I don’t always agree with every point, it is brilliant and thought-provoking.  Highly recommended: Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees, Edited, Outlined, and Explained (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1993).

shane lems

God, Injustice, and Mercy (Anselm)

 The deep philosophical, theological, and practical question has been uttered for countless years: “If God is good, why is there evil and injustice.”  A better and more humble question was asked by Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109): “How do You spare the wicked if You are all-just and supremely just?”  He asked this and similar questions in a prayer-like manner, which is found in chapters 9-10 of his Proslogion.  Here’s a small part of it.

“For though You are all-just and supremely just You are, however – precisely because You are all-just and supremely just – also beneficent even to the wicked.  You would, in fact, be less good if You were not beneficient to any wicked man.  For he who is good to both good and wicked is better than he who is good only to the good.  …And though perhaps it is apparent why You should reward the good with good and the bad with bad, what is indeed to be wondered at is why You, the all-just One who wants for [lacks] nothing, should bestow good things on Your wicked and guilty creatures.”

“O God, how profound is your goodness!  …It is from plenitude of goodness that You are gentle with those who sin against you….  O mercy, from what abundant sweetness and sweet abundance do you flow forth for us! …When You punish the wicked it is just, since it agrees with their merits; however, when You spare the wicked it is just, not because of their merits but because it is befitting to Your goodness.”

That is the prayer of faith seeking understanding, the prayer of the man who was humbled before the majesty, goodness, and justice of God.  Rather than put God on trial by asking him “why injustice and evil?” we should follow Anselm and put ourselves on trial and ask “why mercy and grace?”  Or, in other words, we should pray Psalm 8 in light of Titus 3.5 every day.

shane lems

sunnyside wa