Thursday, October 27, 2005


Is God the Author of Evil? (Isaiah 45:7)
The assertion in this passage is so bold that Marcion, an early Christian heretic, used this text to prove that the God of the Old Testament was a different being from the God of the New. Thus the nature of this hard saying is simply this: Is God the author of evil?
Numerous texts flatly declare that God is not, and could not be, the author of evil. For example, Deuteronomy 32:4 declares that “his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. [He is] a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Similarly, Psalm 5:4 notes, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil.” If we read the Bible in its total canonical setting, it would seem that God is without evil or any pretense of evil.
The text in question refers to physical evil. As does Lamentations 3:38, it contrasts prosperity and adversity. Thus the good is physical goodness and happiness, while the evil is physical distress, misfortune, calamity and natural evil, such as storms, earthquakes and other disasters.
Even though much of the physical evil often comes through the hand of wicked men and women, ultimately God permits it. Thus, according to the Hebrew way of speaking, which ignores secondary causation in a way Western thought would never do, whatever God permits may be directly attributed to him, often without noting that secondary and sinful parties were the immediate causes of the disaster.
The evil spoken of in this text and similar passages (such as Jer 18:11; Lam 3:38 and Amos 3:6) refers to natural evil and not moral evil. Natural evil is seen in a volcanic eruption, plague, earthquake and destructive fire. It is God who must allow (and that is the proper term) these calamities to come. But, one could ask, isn’t a God who allows natural disasters thereby morally evil?
To pose the question in this manner is to ask for the origins of evil. Christianity has more than answered the problem of the presence of evil (for that is the whole message of the cross) and the problem of the outcome of evil (for Christ’s resurrection demonstrates that God can beat out even the last enemy and greatest evil, death itself). But Christianity’s most difficult question is the origin of evil. Why did God ever allow “that stuff” in the first place?
Augustine taught that evil is not a substance. It is, as it were, a byproduct of our freedom, and especially of our sin. The effects of that sin did not fall solely on the world of humans. Its debilitating effects hit the whole natural world as well. Nevertheless, it is not as if God can do nothing or that he is just as surprised as we are by natural evil. Any disaster must fall within the sovereign will of God, even though God is not the sponsor or author of that evil. When we attempt to harmonize these statements we begin to invade the realms of divine mystery.
What we can be sure of, however, is the fact that God is never, ever, the originator and author of evil. It would be contrary to his whole nature and being as consistently revealed in Scripture.
Kaiser, W. C. 1997, c1996. Hard sayings of the Bible . InterVarsity: Downers Grove, Il

Calamities Come from God? (Lamentations 3:38-39)
This text involves the problem of evil being linked with God as its sponsor or author. Judah faced the destruction of every clear evidence it had ever had that God’s promise to the patriarchs and David was valid. Jerusalem and God’s own dwelling place, the temple, had been destroyed. Was not God the author of these events?
An alphabetic acrostic (a means of presenting ideas by beginning each line or group of lines with successive letters of the alphabet) marks Lamentations 3:37–39 as the strophe unit (that is to say, poetic paragraph) in which this hard saying occurs.
The preceding strophe, Lamentations 3:34–36, forms one long sentence. Each of its three members opens with an infinitive that depends on the main verb, which comes last, in verse 36. Thus the sentence asks the question, Has not the Lord seen the three injustices mentioned in the three infinitives? Indeed, he had! He knew about the cruel treatment of war prisoners (Lam 3:34), the disregard of basic human rights (Lam 3:35) and the malpractice in the halls of justice (Lam 3:36).
Abuse of prisoners outrages God, as we are also told in Psalms 68:6, 69:33 and 107:10–16. Likewise, God is offended when a person receives no justice in the halls of government (Ex 23:6; Deut 16:19; 24:17; Prov 17:23; 18:5). God never approves of such distortions, and he has noted the sources of our grief (Lam 3:36). This is the context of the strophe in Lamentations 3:37–39. Whatever successes evil persons may have are only temporarily permitted by God for his wise purposes.
Lamentations 3:37 appears to have Psalm 33:9 in mind: “He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” Everything must be permitted by the hand of God. However, woe betide the individual, the institution or the group by which evil comes! Though God may permit temporary success of such evil and even use it for his glory, that does not negate the responsibility of wicked people for what they do and how they do it.
Accordingly, God used Assyria as the rod of his anger against Israel (Is 10), as he later used the Babylonians to chastise Judah (Hab 1–2), but he also heaped harsh words on both these foreign nations for the way they did the task. God judged them with a series of woes (see, for example, the end of Hab 2).
Note that Lamentations 3:38 does not contrast moral good and evil but calamity and good. Furthermore, it does not ascribe these calamities directly to God but says that they cannot occur without God’s permission. Those claiming that this is unfair should look at Lamentations 3:39, “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?” As the theme of this section declares, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lam 3:22). Thus, the Israelites’ very existence bore evidence that God still cared for them.
God, however, is angry with mortals for their sin. This whole question of divine anger has been sharply debated over the centuries. It became known as the debate over divine passibility (the quality or aptness in God to feel, suffer or be angry).
Marcion, a second-century Gnostic heretic, demanded that his God be impassible, incapable of taking offense, never angry, entirely apathetic and free of all affections. Though the early church expelled Marcion and anathematized his doctrines in a.d. 144, the struggle continued over whether God could be angered by sin and unrighteousness.
The cause of anger, according to Aristotle, is our desire to avenge harm done to us. Thus anger came to have a connotation of a “brief madness” and lack of self-control. This definition did not fit our Lord’s anger or any righteous anger, and it was rejected by the church.
Late in the third Christian century the church father Lactantius wrote a classic book entitled De Ira Dei, “The Anger of God.” For Lactantius, emotions and passions were not inherently evil if they were controlled. But it was evil for someone to be in the presence of evil and not to dislike it or be angered by it. To love the good was by definition to hate the evil. Contrariwise, not to hate the evil was not to love the good.
That is why we affirm that God’s anger is never explosive, unreasonable or unexplainable. It is, instead, a firm expression of displeasure with all wickedness and sin. In God, anger is never a ruling force or passion; it is merely the instrument of his will—an instrument he handles with deftness and care. But however he may use his anger to punish or teach, he will never shut off his compassion from us (Ps 77:9).
Kaiser, W. C. 1997, c1996. Hard sayings of the Bible . InterVarsity: Downers Grove, Il

No comments: