Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

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All That Glitters: The context of the Golden Rule…

July 27, 2012

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“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

There are some verses in scripture that seem to transcend the bounds of the body of Christ. Matthew 7:12 is one of these texts that could most likely be quoted by anyone the street regardless of their religious affiliation. Known as the “Golden Rule” it serves to guide discussions from the playground to the boardroom; but what does this verse, which claims to be the sum of Biblical teaching, really mean in its context?

Charles Quarles, in his book The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church gives some invaluable insight into the power of this text within its context.

“Strong evidence suggests that the “therefore” [in verse 12] looks both to and beyond the immediate preceding verses. The mention of “the law and the prophets” in both 7:11 and 5:17 intentionally form an inclusio that brackets this major section of the sermon. Consequently 7:12 summarizes and concludes Jesus’ interpretation and application of the law (5:17-48), His instruction related to deeds of righteousness (6:1-18), and His instruction for life in this world including both one’s relationship to possessions (6:19-34) and to people (7:1-6), as well as 7:7-11

[“This principle is known to many as the ‘Golden Rule’ a name for the principle that dates to at least as early as the end of the middle ages. Contrary to popular opinion, this name was not inspired by the preciousness of this important moral principle. This name relates to accounts claiming that the Emperor Alexander Severus had Matt 7:12 inscribed in gold on the wall of his throne room.”]

“Jesus described this principle as “the law and the prophets.” The point is that verse 12 is the summation of the essence of the character God required of His people in the OT. THis statement is similar to Matt 22:34-40 in which Jesus answered the question, ‘Which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus pointed to Deut 6:5 and Lev. 19:18, which called for love for God and love for others respectively. Jesus then concluded, “all the law and the prophets depend on these two commands.”(Matt 22:40)”

The Christian life is not easy, and we as Christians are not called to do easy things. The admonition to do unto others as we would have them do unto us is a mission that embodies the whole of the Bible’s teaching on the way we should live. And this mission is surrounded by verses that testify to its difficulty. Verses 7:11 teach the necessity of our persistent reliance on God for the good things necessary to accomplish what He has called us to. Absent His aid, and absent His good gifts we are incapable of fulfilling Matthew 7:12. This is the beauty of the life that God has called us to, in that He has not called us to a life that He will not equip us to carry out. John Broadus noted, “the real novelty of Christian ethics lies in the fact that Christianity offers not only instruction in moral duty, but spiritual help in acting accordingly.” “Jesus not only commanded His disciples [and by extension us] to live in accord with the Golden Rule; He also empowered them to do so through the new exodus, the new creation, and the new covenant.” Verses 13-14 testify to the difficulty of the Golden Rule in that so few actually carry it out. It is much easier to ignore others and live an inconsistent life, pointing out specks in others despite the logs in your own life, but God has called His disciples to the narrow road, a “way that is hard” but leads to life. Few choose His road, few find it. And as we look around we can see ample evidence that few have chosen the narrow Golden road of obedience, most are comfortable on the freeway of selfish desires that leads to destruction

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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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On the Catholic ‘Sacrament’ of Baptism…

July 8, 2012

The following is a brief consideration of the Catholic understanding of Baptism:

From the mission of ministry of Christ the Catholic church defines seven instituted sacraments of the new law, which are seen as necessary for the Christian to fulfill. These sacraments touch all stages of life and are meant to resemble the natural stages of life with spiritual acts.[1] Within the Catholic sacramental economy there are three stages of sacraments, sacraments of initiation, sacraments of healing and sacraments of service of communion and the mission of the faithful. [2] The most foundational of these stages is the stage of initiation, consisting of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Through these the faithful are born into the new life of Christ, confirmed in that life and then blessed by the receipt of His body and blood given for them in sacrifice. The initial part of initiation essential to all the rest is that of baptism.

It is through baptism that the faithful are incorporated into the church; they are reborn as sons of God.[3] This is an initiatory right in which the participant is regenerated through water in the word.[4] Baptism is called baptism to display the way in which the sacrament must be acted out. To Baptize is to “immerse” or “plunge” underwater. This symbolizes burial into Christ’s death and being raised into a new life in Him. This is to be accompanied by the enlightenment of catechesis. An adult can only be baptized if that adult is a catechumen, one receiving the teaching of the Church; infant baptism necessitates a post-baptismal catechumen.[5]

The Catholic Sacrament of baptism, is celebrated in several stages. First comes the sign of the cross, then the proclamation of the word of God, a confession of faith to serve as an exorcism, the baptismal water is then purified by epiclesis, then triple immersion into the water or the pouring of water of the head three times. The adult or infant is then anointed with oil or chrism.[6] Who can receive this sacrament?

Both adults and infants can be baptized in the Catholic Church, and each type of baptism carries with it certain demands and significance. For Adults any one not yet baptized can receive baptism. As long as the catechumen is seeking to bring their faith to maturity, and be in union with the ecclesial community. Adult Baptism has been occurring since the beginning of the church in the Gospels. Infant Baptism is seen as a way of displaying grace to children and removing from them the taint of original sin.[7] Baptism is necessary for the faithful Christian. Christ was baptized, commanded his disciples to baptize others in his name, and baptism is seen as necessary for salvation to whom the gospel has been proclaimed.[8]

All though baptism is seen as a necessary element of the Christian life, the church does maintain a number of scenarios in which those who are not baptized will experience salvation. Baptism is seen as an assurance of salvation, whether it occurs in infancy or adulthood. Absent this assurance one may still experience the benefits of salvation. If one is undergoing catechesis, and dies prior to baptism, one will still have access to Heaven, through their repentance and charity. Even those outside the faith, are seen as able to access salvation through the churches belief in the possibility that even those ignorant of God’s truth may still have access to its benefits. If they are pursuing truth, and doing the will of God according to their understanding of it, they would most likely have been baptized had they know of it, so they receive the benefit of God’s grace, even though they did not experience the new birth of Baptism.[9]

The church sees baptism prefigured throughout the recorded history of scripture. Baptism is seen as early as Noah, prefigured in the flood of Genesis 9 is the concept of sin being washed away by water. Likewise the crossing of the Red Sea by Israel represents the people of God moving from bondage into new life through water.[10] Baptism, including infant baptism figures prominently in the New Testament as well. John the Baptist baptizing those who confessed their sins, Jesus’ own baptism, and the baptism of entire household in act. The baptism of households in act is seen as possible justification for infant baptism going all the way to the apostolic period.[11] The church sources its beliefs concerning baptism to the Scriptures but also makes appeals to tradition and official teaching as well. The Catechism of the Catholic Church along with Vatican II documents Lumen Gentium and Saccrosanctum concilium speak to the issue of baptism. All speak with equal authority and weight informing the church as to its stance on this sacrament. Few issues between the Catholic and Evangelical communities are as divisive as that of baptism, both the form of baptism and those who can participate.

There is much to commend in the Catholic church and in their dedication to the great commission of our Lord to make disciples and to baptize. Fundamentally, though, the common conception of baptism on the part of the church is greatly flawed both in its method and effect. While immersion is the preferred form of baptism for Catholics, pouring and/or sprinkling has become the dominant form of baptism, contrary to the meaning of the word in Scripture. Chief among the disagreements between evangelicals and Catholics regarding baptism is the issue of infant baptism. Both in terms of its method and its perceived effects, infant baptism as practiced by the catholic church seems to have little explicit grounding in scripture. The New Testament gives the picture of baptism as something which follows an express statement of faith in Christ and a confession of sins. It is an outward sin of an inward reality, that the old has passed away and been buried and that the new believer is raised from the water into a new life, in Christ. There is no notion explicitly present in scripture that denotes the efficacy of baptism to remove the “taint of original sin” of infants or adults for that matter. One thing alone mitigates the effect of sin, the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, both of which are pictured beautifully in the protestant rite of baptism.

A second critique is found in the necessity of baptism put forth by the catholic church. While baptism is seen as necessary, their inclusiveness represented in the Catechism, especially section 1260, which allows for non-baptized and even the non-believing to gain access to God’s salvific grace, seems to mitigate their stance on the necessity of baptism. If one need not hear the gospel but merely do the will of God “in accordance to his understanding of it” then there seems to be little teeth in the call to ‘be baptized.’

With regard to mystery or fascination, there seems to be little presence of either within the evangelical protestant community concerning infant baptism. Of course with in mainline Protestantism, infant baptism is practiced. But it is viewed differently not as a sacrament, necessary to salvation, but a mark of the covenant of God. The Catholic understanding of sacramental baptism seems to be inconsistent and un-biblical. Inconsistent in its both being a necessity within the sacramental economy and not necessary if one exists outside that economy but is “pursuing truth.” And un-biblical in the force with which they endow baptism as salvific, even removing the taint of sin.

Glossary

Baptism: the sacrament of immersion, denoting one’s initiation into the family of God, for adults a vehicle into the community of Christ; for infants the experience of grace and the removal of original sin.

Sacraments of initiation: there are three, baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Through these believers are initiated, confirmed and blessed into the family of God.

Epiclesis: the calling upon of the Holy Spirit to move upon the baptismal waters and bless the waters, allowing the baptized to be born in both the water and the Spirit.

Chrism: The oil which the priest uses to anoint the newly baptized believer.

 

Bibliography

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ligouri: Liguori

Publications. 1994. Sections 50-141 the Revelation of God and Sacred Scripture.

 

Lumen Gentium. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Nov. 21 1964)

Sacrosanctum Concilium: The constitution on the sacred liturgy (Dec. 4 1963)

 

 


[1] Catechism Sec. 1210

[2] Ibid. Sec 1211.

[3]Lumen Gentium (LG) Ch. 2:11

[4] Catechism Sec. 1213

[5]Ibid Sec. 1231

[6]Ibid Secs. 1234-1243.

[7] Catechism Sec. 1250

[8] Ibid Sec. 1257

[9] Catechism, Sec 1258-1261

[10]Class Notes Dr. Gregg Allison, Roman Catholic Theology, SBTS Fall 2011

[11] Acts 16:15, 18:8, Catechism Sec. 1252

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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.

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Et Tu Absalom?…

May 26, 2012

Part 3: Absalom and David…

The story of Absalom’s rebellion, for our purposes, begins in 2 Samuel 15.  David is king over Israel.  Absalom has a desire to become judge over the people of Israel. (15:4)

-Absalom deceives his father, gaining permission to go to Hebron, ostensibly to make an offering, but his goal is to have it proclaimed throughout the land that “Absalom is king.” (15:10)

-Once Absalom leaves, the King (David) flees Jerusalem, crosses the Kidron valley, and arrives on the Mount of Olives to weep and pray. (15:23,30)

-Chapters 16-17 describe Absalom’s efforts to curse, pursue and kill David as well as David’s flight from his son.  In Chapter 18 David raises an army, led by Joab, and defeats Absalom’s forces. (18:7)

-Absalom flees, his head is caught in a tree and he was hanged. (18:9)  Joab arrives, pierces Absalom with the sword and buries him in a obscure pit covered with stones. (18:15, 17)

-Absalom’s revolt is unsuccessful and David returns as King, arriving at the city gate, and all the people came before him. (19:8)

All the threads of evil opposition are present within this story.  There is one to be opposed, a type of the messiah, in this case King David; and there is one actively engaging in opposition.  Absalom’s action is rooted in pride, and manifests itself in self-exaltation, deceit, and murderous desire.  In these actions he displays opposition to God’s anointed king and implicitly opposition to God Himself.  This opposition is his end, both in practice and in fact.  He succumbs to a bruised head, is cast to the ground, and denied the burial reserved for those of royal pedigree.

In isolation within the biblical text this story would seem exciting but rather benign.  But what I hope to show is that there is far more at work in this narrative in light of two other biblical texts.  The evil represented in the actions of Absalom is nothing less than Satanic opposition of God’s anointed, which points forward to the ultimate act of opposition against Christ.  To bolster this claim it will be helpful to look at the Absalom narrative in light of a chief text used to describe Satanic opposition, Isaiah 14:12-20; and later to examine in it relation to Christ’s betrayal by Judas.

In the Next Post, Part 4 we will examine evil opposition as outlined in Isaiah 14.

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The Character of Evil…

May 25, 2012

 

The character of evil opposition to God and His anointed is marked in the narrative of scripture by a source, a means, and a certain end.  The source of evil opposition to God is seen in pride.  Pride is the root of evil.  Those who oppose God and his anointed are in essence saying that they know better, and that God’s way is not good enough.  This is seen in the opening chapters of Genesis, where the “crafty” serpent puts forth an alternative command to God’s law.  Creation was given the best and utmost good to worship in God, when that good was rejected for the lesser worship of self, pride appears.  “Pride lies behind all transgressions,”[1] and is the key indicator of evil’s presence.  Good angels, and arguably the good man Adam (pre-fall) remained free of sin and evil as long as they would, “cleave to Him who supremely is.”  “If we ask the cause of the misery and of the bad, it occurs to us, and not unreasonably, that they are miserable because they have forsaken Him who supremely is.”[2] It was pride that led Eve and Adam to trust in their own judgment rather than to listen to God.

God curses the Serpent and prescribes a curse that will dictate the course of history.  Enmity will exist between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.  This enmity or opposition will be rooted in pride, but will be carried out in a number of ways.  While source of evil opposition is singular; the means it uses to accomplish its mission are many.

For our purposes we are going to focus on three means by which evil opposes God and His creation: self-exaltation, deceit, and murder.  One could argue that within chapters 3-4 in Genesis we see all three of these played out.  Adam and Eve seek to exalt themselves and be like God, knowing good and evil. (3:5) The Serpent deceives Adam and Eve. (3:4,13)  Cain succumbs to sin, seeking to avenge his honor (exaltation), and murders his brother (4:8), and then attempts to deceive God. (4:9)  We see these same means at work ad nauseum before the flood as the whole of mankind became irreconcilably wicked.  After the flood, in the persons of Nimrod (exaltation; Gen 11:4); Jacob (deceit; Gen 27:30-35); Joseph’s brothers (murder, deceit; Gen 37); Pharaoh’s opposition to God’s people (murder Ex 1:16; exaltation 14:1-31) to name just a few.  Evil is sourced in pride, it is carried out by means of self-exaltation, deceit and murder, and it has as its end the opposition of God.

If the chief end of man is glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then it should of little surprise that the chief end of evil is to oppose God and to rob His creation of joy.[3]  This end, however is two-fold; it is a goal and a destination.  It is a goal in that from pride comes the desire to exalt one’s self, to deceive others and murder to achieve the goal of opposing God.  But this end is also a destination as all those who oppose God’s anointed are cursed and destined to be crushed.  Those whose end it is to oppose God, will in fact, meet their end in the process of opposition.

God prophesies as much to the serpent about its seed.[4]  God promises as much about those who oppose Abram.[5]  God displays as much to the wicked in Sodom, Pharaoh in Egypt, Dathan against Moses; the Philistines in Canaan etc.[6]  Those who act in pride, through self-exaltation, deceit, and murder to oppose God, will be crushed and meet their end. These threads of action are woven throughout the bible.  At times, as in the above examples, only one or two threads are present.  But when multiple threads are present a specific picture of opposition emerges and evil can clearly be seen.  Nowhere in the Old Testament text are more threads present than in the narrative of Absalom’s opposition of David.

In the next post, Part 3, We will focus on the David and Absalom narrative and pick at the threads to unravel the story.


 

[1] Schwarz, 117.

[2]  Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 7298-7300.

[3] The Westminster Shorter Catechism 1647, Question 1:. What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God,  and to enjoy him for ever.

[4] Genesis 3:15 “He (the seed of the woman) will bruise your head, and you shall bruise him on the heal.”

[5]Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.”

[6]Genesis 19; Exodus 14;  Numbers 16; 1 Samuel 4

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Evil Opposition in Scripture: A Series…

May 25, 2012

Part 1. Introduction…

From the moment of the Fall there has been a tension present in history.  Adam and Eve felt it and hid themselves in response to it.  God described it in the curse of the serpent and the promise of the Seed.  Cain displayed it with the murder of his brother.  From Cain on, there were a long line of those who embodied it and fell victim to its effects.  The “tension” in question is presence of evil opposition to God’s anointed.  The tension of messianic opposition is rooted in Genesis 3, and branches out through scripture.  Present along with the proto-euangelion in Genesis 3 is also a proto-opposition that bears witness to the type and fate of those who will seek to oppose the seed of the woman.

Where the allusion to the messiah is present, so too is the specter of His opposition.  The presence of these two forces together creates a palpable tension that pulses through the narrative of the Bible.  Each side is marked by characteristics that point forward to their ultimate fulfillment.  Messianic characteristics found in individuals within the text point us to Christ as judge, lawgiver, king, and Immanuel.  Likewise the characteristics of the opposition point us to their ultimate fulfillment in Satan as adversary, deceiver, self-exalting murderer, and defeated one.

This evil opposition and its characteristics can be seen in individuals throughout the text as they seek to oppose the will of God, often as they oppose His chosen people Israel.  As the types for Christ become more pronounced and specific within the text so does the type for Satan.  Our purpose here is to examine this character of evil opposition, its source, its mean and its in end the text.  We shall attempt to prove that there is a link between three passages of scripture that inform our understanding of the presence of evil opposition to anointed of God.

First we will examine the story of Absalom and his rebellion against his King in II Samuel.

Second we shall center on the figure represented in Israel’s taunt of Isaiah 14, “the son of the dawn” and I will argue that Isaiah has Absalom in view in this passage.

Third we will see how both of these Old Testament texts point forward to Judas’ opposition to the Messiah King in the gospels.

Finally we shall draw these texts together and try to make sense of their common characteristics.  By looking at these texts we desire to increase our understanding of both the opposition; Satan, and the One being opposed; Christ.  To that end, as we peer into the darkness may the marvelous light of God may be more pronounced; that we might gain hope by seeing the futility of those who oppose God.

In the Next Post, Part 2, we will discuss the characteristics of evil in Scripture.