Archive for the ‘God’ Category

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Charles Stanley on Walking with God Daily…

October 24, 2012

 

Noah walked with God, how do we walk with God today? 

This is a list of six points from Charles Stanley[1] regarding how we walk with God, I think that each point could easily be related to the Noah narrative. I have listed the points and then in parenthesis have included points of connection for the Noah narrative.

1. Commit to discovering and obeying the Father’s will. (Noah was favored by God and obeyed God when asked to do the seemingly impossible.)

2. Begin with faith—believing that God exists and that you have a new life in Christ. (Noah could have easily have written off God, and could have declined to build the ark, think of all the excuses he could have offered up, ‘you want me to build what?’ ‘what is rain?’ ‘but we’re not near any water?’ etc. but instead Noah believed that God existed and that there was life in obeying God.)

3. Pursue continual fellowship with the Lord, and seek to live in His presence daily—even when difficulties arise. (Think of the difficulty experienced by Noah and his family, the ridicule from the world as he built the ark and followed God. and yet he continued to walk with God.)

4. Walk in truth, obeying Him cheerfully, and your relationship with Him will grow more intimate. (You can not get anymore intimate than being one of the last eight people left on earth to have a relationship with God.  There is no sign from Noah of complaining or rebellion, he followed where God led and as a result received a covenant form God.)

5. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within you to bring peace, confidence, security, and joy into your life. (Following God may be difficult, but think that it always brings peace amid chaos, confidence in the face of complaint, security from danger, and ultimate joy.  Each one of these was experienced by Naoh and his family because they walked with God, they experienced peace confidence and security amidst the flood and ultimately the joy of salvation.)

6. Separate yourself from sin, and strive to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Rely on the Spirit to help you live in a way that pleases God. (This is what Noah excelled at, he separated himself from sin and followed God, even as the whole earth was under the sway of evil, Noah stood strong and separated himself following God, he called others to repent and believe, tried to make a difference.)


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The Heart of a Prayer Warrior…

October 8, 2012

When considering prayer in general and the Lord’s Prayer in particular, we should consider what kind of heart utters this prayer, and what kind of heart refuses to pray.

What Kind of heart prays this prayer?

An obedient heart. Jesus begins the passage by saying, “When you pray, pray like this…” it is an assumption that we will pray, and that we should pray. Paul encourages us in Thessalonians to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing give thanks in all circumstances…” An obedient heart asks how it should pray and when given the answer, it prays accordingly.

A humble heart. Jesus instructs his disciples that there are two ways to pray, you can pray like the Pharisees, who stand on a street corner, praying for the benefit of other people, in being seen, they have their reward. The other way, is not ‘me’ centered but God centered. Jesus says, in verse 6, “when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done is secret will reward you.” It takes humility to ask for the basic necessities of life. To admit that you need food, or clothing, or the basics. And yet we’re commanded to ask, and promised that when we do our Father who knows our needs, will meet those needs.

A servants heart. Do we ask merely for ourselves? Or do we ask that we might be enabled to serve Him, who gives so much to us? If we meant the first part of our prayer that God’s will be done on earth, then we must be ready to serve His will, and so we ask that he give us the time to work, and the sustenance necessary to live and serve.

What kind of heart doesn’t pray this prayer?

A proud heart. Some people have a difficult time asking for help. Implicit in this prayer is the fact that the person praying must put aside his/her pride and admit that they need help. They are asking for the most fundamental elements of life; a day to live, and food to eat. Often we do not have because we do not ask. James records as much in James 4:2,6,7a when he says “you do not have because you do not ask…God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble, submit therefore to God…”

A self-sufficient heart. “I don’t need God. I earn my bread, I don’t receive any handouts.” This is when I proud heart meets the means to supply ones needs. Often when we have been blessed with a lot, or we enjoy the fruits of many years of hard work and labor we begin to feel very self-sufficient. It becomes very difficult to admit that while we may work very hard, all we have comes from God, “he owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Ps. 50:10)

A selfish heart. When we ask that God give us our day and our daily bread, we are admitting that what we have comes from God, that it belongs to Him. But we are possessive, our stuff is our stuff, our bread is our bread. If you have children, or have been around children you will quickly see the human tendency toward selfishness. They can not get food apart from their parents, but give them a cookie, and then try and take it away and see what happens. One second they had nothing, the next they receive their gift, and they completely forget that they RECEIVED it. And you hear the word so common to children. MINE. We have to realize that we are children asking our Heavenly Father for bread. And when we receive it, we must acknowledge that it came from Him.

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The Necessity of the Word to Salvation: Inclusive vs. Exclusive…

September 2, 2012

 

One of the enduring mysteries of the Christian faith surrounds the nature and rational behind God’s revelation of Himself to His Creation.  “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork,” (Ps. 19:1) and yet God’s action of revelation did not cease with the heavens and the earth.  Nor did God rest solely on the bearers of His image in creation.  God spoke this creation into existence by His Word.  He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden, issuing commandments from day one, precepts to secure the prosperity of His creatures within His creation to and for His Glory.  When that creation fell, God spoke the words of both judgment and promise.  Pain would come and toil would increase with enmity toward the speaking serpent, but salvation also was declared from the inception of sin.  God continued to speak directly to His creation, revealing callings, covenants, and commandments for His people with an eye toward their salvation and end toward His Glory.  That we know any of these facts in detail is due to their record written in the Word of Holy Scripture.  The testimony is clear that these things were written so that “we may know that we have eternal life.” (I John 5:13) God chose the Word  displayed, spoken, and written as the means of revelation of purpose and glory to those who bear his image.

The issue here in this effort shall be to focus on the extent to which, in light of natures testimony, the scripture is necessary to salvation. Due to the immediacy of spoken and written word, the objection has often been made; How can souls be saved who never hear?  In accordance with God’s declared will that none should perish but all should have eternal life, has He not engineered creation to speak of not only His glory but also His salvation?  We are told that there is no place where natures voice, “day to day pouring out speech,” is not heard.  The stars, planets, streams and mountains cry out “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature,”  If creation speaks it speaks of God; what it says and to what extent its testimony is effective for salvation shall be our focus here.  We shall examine the two most prominent positions on the issue:  The inclusive position which appeals to the efficacy and need of “general” revelation for salvation vs. the exclusivist position which holds to the necessity of special revelation to a chosen people for the purpose of salvation.  We shall attempt to address how each position differs in form and purpose, and to what end each works consistently within God’s plan of redemption.  It shall be our position that; while creation declares His Glory, it is His word and His word alone which must be received for Salvation.  The belief must be affirmed that Jesus alone is the way to the Father, and that no other road, path, or revelation exists by which one may be saved.  While the word is implanted within our conscious and witnessed in creation, it still must be received with meekness, for it and it alone is able to save men’s souls. (James 1:21)

POSITIONS

INCLUSIVISM

God sent His son so that those who believe in Him should not perish but should have eternal life.(John 3:16)  The gift of His son came as a result of His love for the entire world.  Would God love the world, send His son for that world, provide salvation for those who believe and not give that same world, in its entirety, the opportunity to believe?  This question frames the problem Inclusivism attempt to address.     That God has prescribed a method for salvation is not up for debate among ‘inclusivists.’  The question, rather, is absent access to that method, can salvation occur?  Inclusivism is an attempt to address the issue of the un-evangelized, those who will never hear.

When one considers further the nature of salvation one is instinctively drawn to the apparent hurdles that exist in its path.  There is the immeasurable gulf of sin that has separated man from God since the fall; and the effect of that sin on the human mind, both in terms of comprehension and the will to listen.  There is the issue of access to the message by which one is saved.  If it is God’s desire that all be saved, has he not provided the means for salvation to all, regardless of location or access to the gospel?  Not surprisingly, believers and non-believers approach these questions differently, and reach diverse conclusions often from the same texts.  Even within the Christian community opinions as to these questions differ.  Inclusivism agrees that “Jesus is the only way to salvation,” only “one does not have to believe the Gospel to be saved.”[1]  They simultaneously affirm Jesus’ claim to exclusive access to the Father, but solve the dilemma eluded to above by allowing multiple and even “extra-biblical” routes to Jesus.

On the conservative side of this spectrum there are inclusivists who claim general revelation in addition to special is salvific.  Broader definitions of salvific intent can be found on the liberal side, which can and has affirmed, in addition to general and special revelation, the ability of other religions to lead to the one God able to save.[2]

Scripturally Inclusivists point to certain key texts to bolster their case for broad salvation.  First and foremost are God’s declarations of “universal love” for the world.  John 3:16-17 provide a fitting example of God’s intent; God loved the world, he gave his son that those who believe in Him shall not perish.  According to verse 17, God did not send the revelation of his son to Judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him.

Psalm 19, a psalm of David which begins by extolling the act of creation as it bears witness to its maker God.[3]  Key to their understanding of this psalm as it relates to the efficacy of general revelation is verses 2 through 4; Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. [4]

These heavens and sky are said to be revealing knowledge, and that knowledge proceeds throughout the entire creation, “to the ends of the world.”  Inclusivists claim that in accordance with God’s mercy and His love he provides a “witness in creation and providence that God uses for human good.”[5]  This witness is echoed in Psalm 8 in which David declares that the works of God in the heavens and throughout the earth makes His name majestic “in all the earth.” (Psalm 8:9)  Jesus seems to allude to such a witness in Luke 19:40.  When approaching Jerusalem, the crowd began to proclaim His Lordship as they did the Pharisees demanded Jesus rebuke them and he replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Any attempt to limit general revelation to merely a means of rudimentary knowledge or a testimony to render one without excuse and thereby eliminate the defense of ignorance, is flatly rejected by inclusivism.  General revelation is on par with scripture in its ability to provide saving knowledge and both testify of the saving love of one God.  “saying that the God known through creation condemns while the God known through the Bible saves, sounds as though there are two Gods– one damning, one saving. There is one God [however] whose Holy Spirit is actively seeking the lost wherever they may be.”[6]  Greater than the apparent proclamations of the Gospel’s necessity to save, God’s love seeks to save those who are lost regardless of their access.

EXCLUSIVISM

In contrast to inclusivism, those who subscribe to a belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel and salvation see the questions surrounding these topics as present but not particularly troublesome in light of scripture.  God’s method of salvation is exclusive in terms of means as well as in terms of scope.  Exclusivists claim that God created the world and is displayed throughout that creation.  That He loved the world, and sacrificed His Son for the world. They differ however in the method and means by which one obtains salvation.  They would agree that, “scripture nowhere indicates that people can know the gospel, or know the way of salvation, through such general revelation.”[7]  Jesus alone is the way to the Father, unto salvation.  Therefore knowledge of Jesus, and belief in Him, even confession of Him as Lord is essential for Salvation.

Scripture correspondingly proclaims that there is a particular method of revelation, designed by God, that leads to salvation.  Romans 10:9-15 demonstrates this in typical Pauline directness.  There is an individual task for personal salvation but that task is in response to a particular subject and specific method of revelation:

9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heartthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;for the same Lord is Lord of all,bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

4How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hearwithout someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Those who would believe, must first hear; and those who hear, to be saved, must confess; moreover they must confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  These components of God’s plan of salvation do not seem up for debate according to scripture.  “God has prescribed the way of salvation which is faith in Jesus Christ in special revelation ordinarily through the hearing of the gospel message through a human messenger in this life.”[8]   Scripture affirms that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Furthermore, Jesus while on earth, proclaimed the exclusivity of God’s salvation in that “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

God’s salvation is not only exclusive in terms of means, but also in scope. God, through special revelation, by his eternal will, has revealed himself to a select group alone.  That this is the case is not troublesome for those who subscribe to an exclusivist position.  Rather God’s special revelation to some and not all is demonstrated and defended throughout the entirety of scripture.  God chose one man to form a nation, one people out of many.  They were to worship one God, and by Him be saved.  God sent one son, a shepherd to a particular ‘special’ flock.  God said of Israel, “you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ezekiel 34:31)  Jesus proclaimed that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  These passages stand in start contrast to the idea of universal access to Christ apart from His revealed ordained will in His Word.

Further proof of the differentiation between those who simply know of Him and those who have received revealed knowledge of Him unto salvation, is found in Matthew 7.  This text attests that mere knowledge of God from whatever the source is not adequate for salvation.  There will be those who will come to Christ on the last day and claim to have known Him and acted in His name; but it will be made clear that while they had a ‘general knowledge’ of God and even Christ, Jesus will be right in saying depart from me for I never knew you.  (Matthew 7:23)  We maintain that while general revelation and special revelation work in concert to proclaim God’s glory and testify to His existence; the special revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of the same, is the divinely chosen exclusive method that God has ordained to effect salvation among the lost.

In the next post we shall focus on the scriptural support for this position.


[1] Peterson, Robert A. and Christopher Morgan ed. Faith Comes by Hearing. (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press. 2008.) 12.

[2] Catholic Scholar Hans Kung demonstrates this in “The World Religions in God’s plan of Salvation,” in Christianity Revelation and World Religions, ed. Josef Neuner (London: Burn and Oates, 1965.)  Stating “Since God Seriously and effectively wills that all men to be saved…A man is to be saved within the religion made available to him in his historic situation.”

[3] “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

[4] Emphasis mine.

[5] Pinnock, Clark, “An Inclusivist View” in Faith Comes by Hearing, ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (45)

[6] Sanders, John cited in Faith Comes by Hearing.46.

[7] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. 1994) 123.

[8] Strange, Daniel. “General Revelation Sufficient or insufficient.” In Faith Comes by Hearing. 54.

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The Comforted Heart Still Trembles…

August 30, 2012

 

“At this also my heart trembles
and leaps out of its place.
Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
(Job 37:1-2 ESV)

Job chapter 37 has some powerful insights about God and His meticulous control over all of creation.  It comes at the end of Elihu’s speech to Job and his friends, right before God’s appearance.  Elihu often gets a bad rap, mostly because he is portrayed as unfeeling toward Job’s plight and arrogant toward the elders gathered around Job.  Despite these flaws, he does proclaim some glorious truths about God which deserve our attention and are worthy of our meditation.

Let’s look at some brief background to the book of Job.  There are six main characters in the book of Job; there is God, Job, Job’s three “friends” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and then 2/3 of the way through the book a young man named Elihu arrives on the scene.  He is young and arrogant and many commentaries on Job simply exclude Elihu’s 5 chapters, for the feeling that whatever benefit they have is mitigated by their source.  I am thankful that his chapters are here, and I am grateful that god used a flawed arrogant young man to profess timeless truths about His character, that we can examine today.

My hope is that you will be encouraged by this passage and know that it is God who is in control.  He commands His creation to instruct, to control and does it all for his purposes.  And where there is fear seen in this passage, there is a great hope here that extends to us today.

I. God commands creation to instruct… vss 1-5

  1. Gods voice is likened here to Thunder, imagine when you here this sound which causes your knees to buckle and your heart to skip a beat, that this is what the voice of God who created the universe is like.  Throughout scripture we see this description Ps. 29:3-4 “the glory of G thund”, Ps. 77:18 “voice of thunder” Rev 14:2 “voice from Heaven, voice of great thunder”
  2. Lightening to see and thunder to hear, creations display informs our senses, it is an audio/visual display our eyes see and our ears hear.
  3. Our lack of understanding does not denote a lack of His control

II.God commands creation to control… vss 6-10

  1. “He says”, “he sends” the seasons and winter and rain
  2. He seals the hand of men; this is very instructive to us.  All that man can control, all that seeks to control and work toward can cease when winter comes, and he is sealed up in his home (ice storm analogy) this happens for a reason and should not be wasted time. “So that all men may know His work.  When we are sealed up, forced to rest and stay in we should reflect on Him who sent the snow.  Even the animal’s activities are curtailed.  So too the mighty waters, the most powerful rivers that in the height of spring will rush and flow free carving the landscape are frozen still by the breath of God as His creation freezes in its place.  Matthew Henry has said that “this is an instance of Gods power  that if it were not so common it would be next to a miracle”

III. God commands creation for His purpose… vss 11-24

  1. God guides the un-guidable, we see the moisture in the clouds and the wind scatter them, we see the whirlwind and it appears to be utter chaos, with no order in it at all, and yet it whirls about “being turned by His guidance”
  2. These activities do whatever He commands over the face of the whole earth, the phrase here in focus in the “whole globe of the earth” all of creation he commands, not one molecule of particle exists or whirls about apart from His knowledge and divine providence.
  3. These all occur for His purposes, and this is the focus point the power point that I would want to emphasize that these occur for correction, possibly judgment, for the “land “which is to say for provision, and for mercy, for it is by the mercy of God that he created a world that fresh water is Provided by the rain, and crops are nurtured in their season.

Conclusion: This is a fine passage but it is limited I feel, for Elihu in his Old Testament understanding fails to communicate the comfort and peace that a God in control should inspire.  He says in verse 24 “Therefore fear Him” This to me seems incomplete, but praise God that what is incomplete in the old testament is made whole in the New, turn with me to Matt. 10:29-31 and hear the words of our Lord in addressing the fears of His disciples, He points to nature and Gods sovereignty over creation to inspire confidence and vanquish fear.

Here we see a God who commands his creation, in that even the minutest of creatures has his eye, how much more should we then fear not for God has set us apart from creation and chosen us before the foundation of the world.

*The same God who sends the storm which thunders like his voice, quiets the same with a rebuke, the same God who sent his son to die 2000 years ago, commanded creation three days later, the by His word the body rose, the ground quaked and the stone rolled away.  This is the hope that we have, and we see displayed in nature and made evident in our hearts and through this we should fear not for it is this God who commands the whole of creation who has the hairs on our heads numbered,  Fear not for He commands creation to instruct and control and does so for His purpose, fear not brothers and marvel at His Grace “for are we not of more value than these”.

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Casting upon a Caring God…

August 27, 2012

1 Peter is one of my favorite books in the Bible, so rich and so full of powerful applicable theology.

One of the most powerful verses or sets of verses in the book come as Peter is concluding his letter to the elect exiles in Pontus, Galatia, Capadoccia and Bythinia, Chapter 5:6-7.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.”

Believers must humble themselves under God’s might hand, regardless of how that hand is made manifest.  They might experience that hand in judgment through persecution, or deliverance through protection.  Regardless of how His hand is experienced, the believers response is one of humility.  They accomplish this act of humility by casting their anxieties on God.  Peter has provided the reader with the “what” (humility), and the “how” (casting), but now he moves in short order to provide the “why.”  Believers approach God and rely on Him because He cares for them.  This simple profound truth animates the entire text of 1 Peter, indeed it is seen through out the scriptures.  This type of care is seen in the gospel of John 10:13; where Jesus tells of the hired hand that abandons the sheep because he does not care for them.  In contrast, the shepherd would leave the flock to pursue even one lost sheep.  This caring and concern is in view in this passage.

God cares for His people from beginning to end, throughout all circumstances.  We do not rely on an unsympathetic God, or one who is distant or emotionally uninvolved.  No, Peter systematically displays the myriad of ways in which God cares for His people.   Listing them below grants us the ability to grasp the scope of Peter’s depiction of God’s manifold care for His people:

-1:3 God has caused us to be born again to a new hope.

-1:4 God has given us an inheritance

-1:5 God guards us

-1:9 God grants us the salvation of our souls

-1:18 God ransoms us from futile ways

-2:5 God Builds us up

-2:8-9 God calls us out of darkness and into marvelous light

-2:10 God makes us His people and gives us mercy

-2:21 Christ suffered for us, providing us an example

-4:11, 13 God allows us to take part in the glory of Christ

-5:4 God will give us an unfading crown of glory

-5:7 God cares for us

-5:10 God will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.

In the face of this litany, Peter asks his readers to cast their anxieties on God; this is an ultimate act of humility.  We are to be humble because God cares for us.  We are to display our humility by casting our anxieties on Him.  These truths form the essence of 1 Peter.

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A Will to Live: The Free Will Theodicy in Job…

July 10, 2012

The existence of evil and suffering poses a problem to many who profess a belief in the God revealed in the Bible.  God has revealed himself to be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving; God cannot be the author of evil and still be the God He has declared Himself to be.[1]  When evil is made manifest in suffering the sufferers cry out for restitution to those responsible.  If God has made all things, and made all things good, why then is there evil?  Is He not responsible?

The free-will defense postulates that God is indeed good; and that his creation is good.  One of the good things created within God’s universe was the freedom of the individual will.  Free will makes evil possible, or rather God made evil possible by creating free will; but it is the incorrect exercise of free will that makes evil actual.[2]  Evil actions then are solely a result of human choice.  God is hence removed from responsibility for evil acts.  While they happen under His sovereign purview, He is bound to allow them for he must respect human free will.  Without free will, mankind would lack the capability to choose freely and would be relegated to a world of determinism and would be incapable of making good moral choices.[3]  Mankind, too, would lack any culpability for the choices it made since acts would not be the result of free choice but some other compulsion.

Key to this understanding is the realization that in this system of thinking, suffering can be seen as consequential to the acts of evil freely chosen by the will of others.  In this system, misfortune is a consequence of free choice; God is removed as the responsible party and man is left with little recourse but to plea that God will deal mercifully with His creation based on their choices, whether good or bad.

When considering the full ramifications of the free will defense, one cannot help but view God in a somewhat limited capacity.  God is the creator of the universe, including freewill, but seems somehow restricted in the exercise of His power.  Maintaining man’s ability to exercise a will free of coercion is paramount.  In the words of Harold Kushner, “God gives us room to be human.”  There is little room in this view for a divine sovereignty who arranges everything in advance.[4]  How we act determines whether or not evil occurs.  The evil that we do, we do freely, otherwise we could not justly face punishment for our acts.[5]   God is left to react to our deeds and either redeem them or condemn them.  So how does this explanation for evil and suffering interact with the text of Job?

Free-will in the Prologue

Within the created order on display in the prologue of Job there are many competing wills.  Job wills to be upright and chooses to flee evil.  His children will to eat and drink, perhaps to excess; as a result Job seeks to atone for them.  The Adversary wills to roam about the earth and question the motives of God’s creatures.  The Sabines and Chaldeans will to gain property via theft.  These separate free wills collide and impinge upon each other resulting in the drama of the text.  Absent the divine council, we would be left to sort out the disparate wills and watch how they interact; attempting to determine where, if anywhere, God is in the mix.  However, within the text we have an unprecedented picture of how God interacts with his creation in the image of the divine council.  Job’s exercise of his righteous will has gained God’s notice.  But it is unclear as to whether Job is righteous due to his actions, or because God declares him to be so (1:8, 2:3).  Satan’s desire (or will) is directed toward Job[6], in an attempt to see if Job can be made to curse God and renounce his righteous position.  It is hard to escape the ramifications of the chain of events that follows.  God grants the Adversary permission to strike Job; the Adversary in-turn uses the Sabines and Chaldeans as well as natural forces to do just that.  While Job, his family, the Sabines and Chaldeans all appear to have free will, it is undeniable that they are being orchestrated by the foreknowledge and permission of God through his instrument, the Adversary.  The wills of the attackers seem reliant on the Adversary; the will of the Adversary is reliant on God; and the will of Job, rather than being rewarded, is frustrated by suffering loss.   Job has willed nothing to incur judgment yet, suffer he does.  We are left at the end of prologue with an unsatisfied Adversary and an undeterred Job.

If suffering within the free-will defense is seen as consequential, it is difficult to identify the freely committed evil acts of Job, his servants, livestock or children, that merited the consequences of suffering and death they incurred.   Job himself, will argue as much in the following chapters as he seeks to defend himself against unmerited disfavor.  The reactions of his friends illuminate for us the prevalence of the free-will defense within the ANE world.

Free-will in the Dialogues

The dialogues begin with Job’s lament over his situation as well as an indictment of the way the world appears to operate.  Job’s tirade in chapter 3 seems to bring all of creation under critique and question why life is given if it is not honored according to ones actions.  “Why is light given to a man whose way is darkened?”[7]   Each of his friends assume the position that suffering is consequential, the result of man’s will given over to sinful action.  Perhaps the sinful action is hidden in Job, but it is assumed by his three friends that sin is present in his life and he is suffering the due recompense for his actions.   If you have not sinned you should not be suffering.  This is part of the human condition; those who are innocent have nothing to fear as Eliphaz states, “He sets on high those who are lowly…and saves the poor from the hand of the mighty.”[8]  He goes on to ask mockingly in chapter 22, “is it because of your reverence that He reproves you, that he enters into judgment against you?”

It is assumed by the parties that Job’s “wickedness is great, and (his) iniquities without end.”[9]  To each reproach Job will maintain his innocence and protest his state.  Suffering, under the free-will defense and within the arguments of Job’s friends, is seen as a punitive measure taken by God to repay sin.  There appears to be very few other explanations offered other than Job is receiving his just deserts for sin.[10]  Furthermore, they argue, he should cease his protest, confess and accept the world the way it is.  In the Divine speeches God will effectively confound this man-centered defense and reorient Job’s view to take into account God’s control over creation and the comfort that brings.

Free-Will in the Divine Speeches

If Job has exercised his free will up to this point in questioning God and demanding answers, God immediately challenges Job’s will by in essence asking, “who are you to question me without knowledge.”  God does not disprove the existence of man’s free will, rather he renders that free will as almost inconsequential within his creation.  Whether addressing the creation of the cosmos, the stars in heaven, or the rain on uninhabited lands, God seeks to explode upon the mind of this man a vision of a world far more complex and glorious than previously considered.  Indeed God validates Job’s innocent will, by failing to attribute to him any specific sin and restoring his lost possessions and health.  So it would seem that Job’s sufferings are not the consequences of his actions.

The free will defense maintains the absolute need of free will within God’s created order.  However, God displays in His speech a control over nature that is absolute.  His control extends even to those feared forces outside of man’s ability to control, behemoth and leviathan.  Both creatures from the perspective of man seem to go where they please, it has been argued that leviathan is a representation of the Adversary himself.[11]  Hidden for some thirty-nine chapters, he reappears immune to the will of man.  God asks, concerning leviathan, “will you take him as a servant forever?  Will the traders bargain over him?”[12]  What man longs, in vain, to control God understands and overpowers.

That evil arises from man’s God-given ability to will freely; and that God is somehow subservient to the necessity of that will’s existence, seems ludicrous in light of the awesome display of the divine presence in Job.  God arrives at the time and in the manner of his own choosing; in a storm which “cloaks the fierce otherness of the presence of God in his fullness in the midst of the world of human experience.”[13]  God communicates the message that the only free will that is inviolable is His own, as He withholds light from the wicked and breaks the uplifted arm.[14]  We must conclude then that the free-will defense is lacking as an explanation for evil’s existence and suffering’s meaning.  We shall next consider the privation defense; evil as a privation of good and evaluate it as it relates to the book of Job.


[1] We know that no one should call God evil, for He tempts no one, nor does he insight anyone to commit evil. See James 1:13

[2]Norman Geisler. If God, Why Evil. Grand Rapids: Bethany House Pub. 2011. 29, 31.

[3] Geisler, 38.  Geisler states that the existence of free will is absolutely necessary in a moral universe, for “all moral choices are free choices.”  To remove free choice would be to remove both praise and blame for any act committed.

[4] Douglas John Hall. God and Human Suffering. Minneapolis: Augsburg. 1986. 151.

[5]Hans Schwarz. Evil: A Historical and Theological Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1995. 103.

[6] (See footnote 11.)

[7] Job 3:23

[8] Job 5:11,15b

[9] Job 22:4-5

[10] This is the only meaning for suffering offered by the free-will defense, that those who suffer do so necessarily due to their sin or the sin of others. Marilyn McCord Adams. Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God. Ithica: Cornell Univ Press. 1999. 34.

[11] Fyall, 20.

[12]Job 41:4,6

[13] Bartholomew, 145.

[14] Job 38:15

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An Evil Job Well Done: The Book of Job, an introduction…

July 6, 2012

One might wonder why we should seek an answer to the existence of evil in the world.  In attempting to find an answer it is impossible not to deal with some very difficult concepts and even painful, corrupt imagery.  However as rational beings created in the image of an orderly God we seek orderly explanations for the chaos which confronts us.  So into the darkness we peer; but as theists, furthermore as Christians, we learn most about the darkness by studying the attributes of light.  To put it into different terms we are best served to gain an understanding of evil through gaining an understanding of the God which evil opposes.  Fundamentally we seek to answer the age-old question of compatibility and consistency: how can the God revealed to us in attributes of love, kindness, mercy, justice and fairness co-exist with the mystery of lawlessness at work in this world?[1]  There are many approaches to this question.  Atheists, by their very nature, must simply deal with the evidences of evil laid out before them without the slightest ability to define, contain or confront the problem absent the contrast of God.  Absent the God of light, atheists have only shadows amid darkness.   Thus evil must and can only be answered, with satisfaction, by theists.

Among theists there exists a number of theories attempting to reconcile the existence of God with the presence and activity of evil.  For Christians the task remains to examine their world in light of God’s revelation to them in His word.  Within the pages of Scripture is revealed the character and attributes of the God who created all things, all things were created by Him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.[2]  The truth underlying that statement is easy to gloss over, but one does so at great peril to his understanding of God and the created realm.  One must bring against the existence of evil and suffering the recorded truth that God created all things in existence.  This may be done with cool reflection in the pages of commentaries and systematic textbooks, but when this truth intersects human life and experience the task becomes painfully difficult.

When seeking to understand evil against the backdrop of God’s recorded character few venues exists with the relevance of the book of Job.  This obscure book about an little known man from an unknown time provides the Christian with perhaps the greatest opportunity outside of the gospels to gain a picture of God in relation to the activity of evil and the result of man’s suffering in the world .

The reader of Job is provided with an outsiders perspective “that a sophisticated story-teller is at work, teaching us something about the nature of human life: while life for Job on the inside is hell, life viewed from above seems to have some kind of structure and purpose.”[3]  We shall now examine the books structure and purpose.

Overview

            The book of Job does not lend itself to concise review.  While not the longest book in the Old Testament, its complexity and depth of meaning and form have defied consensus.  Is it a narrative? Yes.  Is it a book of ANE poetry? Yes.  Does it belong in the genre of Biblical wisdom literature? Yes.  Is it Hebrew in origin? This is unknown, “the atmosphere of the book is non-Israelite and patriarchal.”[7]  There is a strong Aramaic flavor to the vocabulary and more hapax legomena and rare words than any other book in the Bible.[8]  For some, the book is an indispensable tool for addressing theological/philosophical issues such as suffering and pain.  For others the book is merely a story of a man, his loss, his search and his discovery.[9]  Regardless of the viewpoint or interpretation, there lies within Job a truth which seems to connect with the human condition.  Moreover, Job gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of God’s interaction with the created order that is unequaled.  In light of this we shall proceed to outline the book for our purposes.  Job can readily be broken into three segments of dialogue: the prologue (1:1-2:13); the poetic dialogues (3:1-37:24) and the Divine speeches (38:1-42:6).[10]

The Prologue

In the prologue we meet Job and learn of his situation and meet most of the characters of importance.  Job, his wife, children, and servants occupy the earthly realm.  God, the sons of God, and the Adversary occupy the divine council presumably in the heavens.  From the opening lines evil begins to factor into this story.  Job is described by the narrator, and later by God, as a man “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”[11]  Despite Job’s efforts to flee evil, evil is in pursuit of him.  When the divine council convenes in chapter 1, we see the one called the adversary come among the sons of God into His presence.  The Adversary or “הַשָּׂטָ֔ן”[12] is addressed by God and posed with a question, from this we learn that the adversary goes to and froe about the earth.  The next question is all the more relevant to the story,” הֲשַׂמְתָּ  לִבְּךָ  אֶל־עַבְדִּי אִיֹּוב ” literally ‘have you set your heart on my servant Job.’[13]  God seems to be inquiring about the desire of the Adversary, not merely about his consideration.  We are not informed as to whether or not Job has been desired previously by the adversary;  but it is now clear that Job is in his sights and the game is joined.  In a very crucial step, God grants the adversary permission to strike Job’s possessions.  Which the Adversary does, eliminating via murder Job’s servants (1:15; 1:17); theft Job’s livestock (1:14; 1:17); fire from heaven for Job’s sheep and servants (1:16); and wind for Job’s family (1:19).  Here we see the proliferation in Job’s life of three elements of what is considered evil; metaphysical evil, moral evil, and natural evil.

Metaphysical evil was manifest in the out-stretched hand of the Adversary, who un-benounced to Job and all surrounding parties was manipulating the various hardships befalling him.  Moral evil was present in the acts of theft and murder committed by the Sabines and Chaldeans who raided Job’s flocks and killed his servants.  Natural evil was present in the fire, which consumed Job’s sheep and the great wind which obliterated his children.  This triad of trauma leaves Job with only four servants and his wife.  The testing is continued and escalated in the next chapter.

The prologue concludes in chapter 2 with a resumption of the divine counsel, a second inquiry concerning Job and a second permission granted the adversary to advance Job’s suffering just short of death.  The adversary strikes Job with what are literally “evil sores” covering his entire body.[14]  Job, despite his loss and affliction has yet to curse God, and as a result, has maintained his character.  That character will be tested and show signs of strain as he begins, intellectually, to come to grips with his condition and interact with the next four characters entering the scene.  The prologue sets the stage for the dialogue to follow in the subsequent chapters.  In an ironic twist the reader is made aware of facts that Job and his friends will struggle in vain to discover.  The reader enters chapter 3 and the poetic dialogues knowing three pertinent facts, One. Job is blameless; Two. All suffering “falls within the sweep of God’s sovereignty;” and Three. Some suffering is related to sin and some suffering is “not directly related to any sin.”[15]

The Poetic Dialogues

Chapters 3 through 37 contain, next to Isaiah, the greatest concentration of biblical poetry outside of the Psalms.  The poetry is embedded in a series of speeches.  These speeches form a verbal interplay between Job, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and the young man Elihu.  Having been denied access to the heavenly court envisioned in chapters 1 and 2, Job essentially sets up a tribunal sitting at the city gate, surrounded by his friends, holding court.[16]  But if it was his intent to try God, he soon finds that he himself is the defendant.  His friends rather than coming to his defense serve as witnesses for the prosecution; and Elihu seems more than willing to offer some unsolicited closing arguments indicting Job and his friends while defending God.

If we gained an insight into the Divine interaction with evil in the prologue then the poetic dialogues will provide an illuminating picture of human conceptions of evil, wickedness and suffering.  Job initiates the dialogue with a critique of creation and his placement in it.  Job’s lament in the face of such meaningless suffering is the manifests itself in the cry to be uncreated.[17]  In the midst of these cries and demands for justice, Job repeatedly affirms God’s existence and His character.  Job’s lament is that his own experience is not lining up with the way God is supposed to act toward the righteous.  D.A. Carson in his book, How Long O Lord, describes Job’s speeches in this way:

Job’s speeches are the anguish of a man who knows God, who wants to know Him better, who never once doubts the existence of God, who remains convinced, at bottom, of the justice of God–but who cannot make sense of these entrenched beliefs in the light of his own experience.[18]

While Job attempts to reconcile reality with God, his friends are determined to redefine that reality based on the human condition.

Each of Job’s friends seeks to educate him on the human condition and the proper response to misfortune. In regards to this condition, Eliphaz addresses the role of the innocent in chapters 4-5.  Zophar follows in chapter 11 with a discussion on judgment that rightly befalls the wicked, and resumes in chapter 20 affirming that suffering awaits the wicked.  Bildad continues in chapter 13 describing the necessity of punishment and in chapter 25 the depravity of man.

Each also addresses the proper human response to what appears to be the judgment of God.  Bildad argues for repentance in chapter 8.  Eliphaz promotes a healthy fear of God in Chapter 15 and the necessity of humility in chapter 22.  Throughout this barrage of instruction Job listens and responds.  Rather than capitulating to their reason he uses their arguments to build his case for his own innocence.[19]  These speeches serve as stepping stones amidst the stream of Job’s thought; he will use each to slowly make his way to a right understanding of God.  But before he can achieve closure, he must contend with Elihu.

Elihu provides a lengthy and nuanced, if not original, line of reasoning.  He is above all concerned with two things, establishing his own authority to speak and defending God against charges of injustice.  For Elihu, God is blameless and sovereign able to do as he pleases for loving-kindness or correction.[20]  In this line of reasoning he is slightly more Theo-centric in his arguments than the previous speakers.[21]  But overall his purpose seems to be as a lead up; setting the stage for God’s appearance and a general change in tone during the divine speeches.

The Divine Speeches

Few passages in scripture are more profound, and from the standpoint of the reader more anti-climactic, than God’s dialogue with Job in Chapters 38-42.  As with all trials the judge is the last to speak and His words carry the greatest weight.  What is often found objectionable by readers of this book, is the apparent lack of empathy and lack of justification God provides in His address to Job.  “God does not answer Job’s questions about the problem of evil and suffering, but He makes it unambiguously clear what questions are unacceptable in God’s universe.”[22]  God, in a series of eighty rhetorical questions[23], gives Job a glimpse of the universe which far exceeds his capacity to understand.  Job did not have National Geographic, most likely very little understanding of the world outside his own region.  Yet God uses the world as His schoolroom, granting Job a greater knowledge of himself, his world and of God.[24]  The “poem that God speaks out of the storm soars beyond anything that has preceded it in the book.”[25]  God displays his mastery of the heavens above in chapter 38; and the earth below in chapter 39.  God describes his mastery of what is feared on earth through the taming of Behemoth in Chapter 40.  And He assures Job that that which is not seen in the chaos of the sea, leviathan likewise, is under His control in chapter 41.  This display reduces the once proud and verbose Job to the simple confession of repentance.  Whether Job gained a point-by-point refutation of his complaint or not seems meaningless to him.  That God has spoken is enough for Job.[26]  Job is subsequently renewed by God, his friends are rebuked, and Elihu is relegated to silence.

Ultimately the book closes by proving of God’s intent to show “that a human being can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving prompt reward.” [27] Indeed the pursuit of God may occur and may be made all the more meaningful through the experience of evil and suffering.  Through all God is sovereign and in control over the suffering that man experiences and the evil which instigates it.

In part Two of the introduction we shall continue our discussion of evil in the book of Job by exposing the book to three forms of theodicy, with the purpose of gaining a clearer picture of God’s purpose behind evil and suffering.


[1] The Mystery of Lawlessness as described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. “for the mystery of lawlessness is already at work…”

[2] John 1:3

[3] Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd. Old Testament Wisdom Literature: a Theological introduction. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. 2011. 135.

[4]The belief that the source of evil is the given ability man possesses to choose freely, and that suffering results consequently from the sinful exercise of the free-will.

[5] The belief that source of evil is found in the lack of God’s good creation, evil itself does not exist but rather is merely the absence of good, suffering is then seen as merely an incidental part of God’s creation.

[6] For our purposes the text of Job can be broken down into three primary segments: the prologue (1:1-2:13); the poetic dialogues (3:1-37:24) and the Divine speeches (38:1-42:6).  Bartholomew, 136.

[7] William Dumbrell. The Faith of Israel: a Theological survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2002. 254.

[8] Ralph L. Smith. Introduction to the book of Job. Southwestern Journal of Theology 14, No. 1 (1971): 6.

[9] Francis Anderson. Job: an Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP 1976. 64.

[10]Bartholomew, 136.

[11]Job 1:1; 1:8; 2:3 The evil mentioned in each is the Hebrew word ” רע ”  rah’ which appears 15 times in the book of Job, 6 times within the two chapters of the prologue. “ רע   ” among its 663 different uses it is translated some 442 times in the Old Testament as “evil” including Genesis 2:9 in the “tree of knowledge of Good and evil”  the discovery of which heralded the fall of man and the beginning of sin on earth. (BDG)

[12]Much has been written on whether or not this is in fact the one described in the New Testament as Satan.  The fact that the noun has the article would seem to suggest that it is in fact a definite title rather than a name.  However, the actions of this adversary speak much larger than his title.  For he seems to thrive on opposing God and His creation, seeking to see the creation renounce its creator, which is consistent with the role of the serpent in Genesis 3.  Even his movements seem consistent with that of the devil who is also described as roaming about the earth seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

[13] The interrogatory phrase ,לִבְּךָ   הֲשַׂמְתָּ  or “Have you set your heart?” is often translated “have you considered,” combining the two words into one abstract meaning.  However, לִבְּךָ or ‘leb’ is translated some 508 times in the Old Testament as heart.  It seems more literal to see this as the workings of the heart rather than the conideration of the mind.  Seeing the adversary’s apparent relishing of his task in returning a second time into the divine council and provoking God yet a second time, seems to point perhaps to some desire on his part to see Job curse God.

[14]  “מִכַּף רָע ” Here ‘ra’ is used again, translated literally as ‘evil boils’.

[15] D.A. Carson. Job; Mystery and Faith. The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 4 No.2 (Summer 2000): 41.

[16] Robert Fyall in his book  Now my Eyes have seen You: images of creation and evil in the book of Job. (Downers Grove: IVP. 2002.)  posits  that there exists within Job a host of legal imagery which serves as a major “literary device which integrates the narrative procession and theological motif.” (31)

[17] “Chapter three is Job’s lament: like Jeremiah (20:14-18), he wishes he had never been born.” Carson, Job. 41.

[18] D. A. Carson. How Long of Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 1990, 2006. 146.

[19] One could argue that by the end of their dialogue they had reached such an impasse, as “the three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (Job 32:1)  Carson, How Long… 147.

[20]Job 37:13

[21] Even though Elihu appears to be more orthodox in his arguments, the irony is that his arguments “continually contradict the threefold affirmation in the prologue (1:1, 8, 2:3) and God’s confirmation of Job in 42:7” Bartholomew, 143.

[22] Carson, How Long.. 151.

[23] Bartholomew, 144.

[24] Anderson, 269. The two, knowledge of self and of God, “always go together in the Bible.”

[25] Robert Alter. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic. 1985. 87.

[26] Anderson, 269.

[27]Carson, Job., 43.