Posts Tagged ‘Theodicy’


Concluding thoughts on Theodicy in Job…

August 1, 2012

The book of Job “anticipates the Christian witness.”[1]  The reality of suffering and the pain of death is reflected in both Job and the New testament.  But Job lacks a certain measure of fulfillment and completion because it lacks the eschatological reality of Christ.  In Christ, “the greatest evils, the betrayal and crucifixion of the Son of God, become, and are now, the greatest good for all mankind.”[2] Job experiences evil according to the foreknowledge of God, as does Christ.  But Job in his lament, lacks the power to overcome the evil; he simply begs for relief and redress.  “Jesus own life was marked by suffering with loud cries and tears.”[3]  Jesus serves as the ultimate extension and realization of the Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy.  Christ experienced evil, suffering and death all according to God’s foreknowledge, delivered into the hands of evil men, and he simply proclaims that “it is finished.”  The futility of evil was finished and suffering ceased to be final and became instrumental.

Job reflects back to all its readers the familiar pattern recognizable to anyone who has experienced suffering and God’s grace.  We face an unseen Adversary who seeks our harm.  Evil exists and manifests itself in suffering.  When we experience suffering we cannot help but be inspired to question why.  God in His grace provides a revelation of Himself which both answers our questions and exceeds our capacity to understand.  That revelation necessitates a response.  It is God’s will that those who have received His light, will darken his counsel with words of knowledge and respond in repentance.  What awaits all who respond in repentance is a restoration, exceeding their previous state of being.  This is the hope of the gospel, that beyond the cross and the grave lies a new birth into a new life where sin and evil are no more; a picture of evil redeemed and instrumental in the hands of a loving God, to and for His Glory.

Here are links to the entire Series on Theodicy in the Book of Job

Darkened Counsel

Introduction: An Evil Job Well Done…

The Free Will Theodicy: A Will to Live…

The Augustinian Theodicy: Privation in Job…

The Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy: God’s Instrumental Use of Evil…

[1] Long, 108.

[2] Anderson, 69

[3] Long, 108.


Redeeming Evil: God’s Instrumental Use of Evil…

August 1, 2012

We have been evaluating various theodicies present in the book of Job, we now propose a theodicy which differs from the Free-will defense, and departs from the Privation defense.

Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy

We have already stated that the book of Job is a singular book with a multitude of meanings. It does not represent just one perspective, nor does it have just one focus. It is not just the story of a man’s individual hardship and an example of God’s providence in Creation. It serves as a comfort to readers, as well as a conundrum to intellectuals and philosophers. Regarding the topics of suffering and evil, the book is enormously on point and helpful to Christians who approach it. There is an undeniable comfort in knowing that whenever one undergoes trial and one groans in despair that, Job still walks at the side of the race and guarantees that there is victory.”[1]

The book of Job goes beyond what evil is, its source, its being and its function. Job illuminates for the reader the role of evil and suffering within God’s creation as an instrument of Divine purpose, wholly controlled and wholly utilized by God. Evil and suffering are not foils to God’s sovereignty, but rather elements over which He frequently and freely exercises dominion; and does so to the realization of His Glory. God’s dominion is demonstrated in His Lordship over all creation, including evil. God’s Lordship is essential to rectifying the existence of evil with His declared being of Love.[2] This Lordship is on display throughout the book of Job and in the Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy.

Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy (RIT) posits that God redeems the existence of evil by utilizing suffering in an instrumental fashion to transform creation and orient his elect toward repentance. Where “free will” sees suffering as the consequential result of human choice, and privation sees suffering as incidental to the matter of creation; RIT sees suffering as instrumental to God’s purposes for mankind. This lends meaning to what is seemingly chaos within the book of Job. The myriad of tragedies Job experiences and the profound suffering he endures, is for him an inscrutable mystery.[3] If there is a theme for this book, which carries more weight than the rest, it would be the theme of spiritual transformation.[4] God is sovereign over a set of circumstances which cause Job great suffering, but the suffering is redeemed in the transformation of Job to his repentance and recognition of God’s glory in Himself. How that glory is manifest throughout the book, and how RIT is presented throughout the book will be our focus now.

RIT in the Prologue

Few passages in Scripture give us greater insight into God’s relation to evil and suffering than does the prologue in Job. God elects Job for this challenge. It is God who first draws the Adversary’s attention to Job. God who places Job into the Adversary’s hand; and God who prescribes the extent to which the Adversary may test Job. Job experiences suffering, not because of the acts of his free will; for he is called righteous by both the narrator and God himself. Job experiences suffering due to the act of the will of God, “if God reigns then God reigns in the midst of evil.”[5] God is not surprised by evil, nor is he limited by its character. He uses evil in Job to accomplish his purposes.[6] We see in the prologue that “God has become the agent of specific suffering and death.”[7] While suffering is used by God to punish, here we see an echo of a common theme in Scripture, that God can use for good what some meant for harm.[8] This nuance is lost on Job’s friends as they attempt to reconcile Job’s suffering with what they know of God’s character. It is worth examining Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy in the poetic dialogues as well.

RIT in the Poetic Dialogues

As we have described Job’s friends seem particularly focused on the punitive role of suffering; that suffering can only the necessary consequence for evil existent in a persons life. Failure to recognize the instrumental purpose behind God’s activity leaves Job’s friends with very little to say in terms of comfort. Job acknowledges the role suffering has in punishing the deeds of the wicked. He just consistently maintains his innocence.[9] Job’s vision throughout these dialogues is unclear due to his own vexation.[10] Yet in response to the myopic perspectives of his friends, Job does outline a purpose for his suffering beyond their cries of punishment.

In chapter 17, Job endures the gaze of mockers and confesses that his spirit is broken. (vs.1) This condition has prompted him to call into the darkness for his hope. “Where is my hope? And who regards my hope?”(vs. 15) In chapter 19, we learn the focus of Job’s hope. Job’s hope is in his redeemer. In a passage worthy of the psalms Job proclaims,

25 As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,

and at the last He will take His stand upon the earth.

26 Even after my skin is destroyed,

Yet from my flesh I shall see God.

27 Whom I myself shall behold,

and whom my eyes will see and not another

My heart faints within me.

Pregnant in this passage is the telling recognition by Job that there exists a greater purpose for his suffering. A greater purpose that will be revealed, if not now, then in the future. While Job may not fully understand his circumstances he does possess a greater understanding of character of God than his friends. The Redeemer in view here must not be confused with just any objective concept of mere vindication or legal representation. For Job, this redeemer is to be as “Yahweh himself; to be everything the friends have failed to be.”[11] God reveals himself to Job in the divine speeches, in such a way as to confirm and exceed Job’s understanding of His character. It is to those speeches we now turn, to examine the existence of Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy in God’s address.

RIT in the Divine Speeches

Amid the chaos of Job’s experience God appears to address Job and reveal His character. That God Speaks out of a whirlwind or storm is illustrative. Something that appears completely out of control is in fact orderly and congruous with God’s divine cosmic scheme. From the chaotic storm God will describe a scene of purposeful order. In fact what God offers Job and the reader is the opposite of chaos. God provides a “vision that staggers the imagination, a vision of only order, of everything — even that which must be called evil — gathered into the hands of a just God.”[12]

Job asks early on in chapter 3 why light is given to a man whose way is hidden. God’s appearance provides an answer. Job has darkened God’s counsel “by trying to justify himself at the expense of condemning God; and Job is in no position to do that.” Even though Job’s way is hidden for a time, light is given to him so that he might see God in the midst suffering and repent.[13] That the revelation of God has resulted in personal transformation and repentance is by no means accidental; nor is it unique within Scripture.[14] God’s description of creation not only communicates His control over that creation but also His “maternal care for His creation.” This care is displayed in Job’s life against the backdrop of his suffering. “If an innocent person suffers, then, it will be because a good God, a loving God involved face to face with his creatures, produces out of his suffering a good meant for that person which in the circumstances couldn’t have produced, or produced as well, without the suffering.”[15] Suffering rather than being merely punitive, as envisioned by Job’s friends, is utilized instrumentally to transform Job and bring him to repentance.

Though many complain that God does not explicitly address Job’s individual complaints, and perhaps seems cold and distant; one cannot argue with the image of God’s care pictured in Job’s final restoration. An additional picture is present in the Job story that when seen in the full counsel of scripture gives credence to the Redeemed Instrumental Theodicy.

[1] Soren Kierkegaard. Edifying Discourses. Translated from the Danish by David F. Swenson (Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. 1944. Vol. II pp 7-26. Reprinted in the Voice out of the Whirlwind: The Book of Job, ed. Ralph E. Hone. San Francisco, 1960. 140.

[2] I John 4:16 “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”(emphasis mine)

[3] Carson, Job…, 43.

[4] “Stephen Mitchell observed that William Blake, Who created a series of engravings on Job, “is the only one who seems to understand that the theme of this book is spiritual transformation.” Thomas G. Long What Shall We Say?: Evil, Suffering and the Crisis of Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2011. 96. Susannah Ticciati likewise argues that Job’s integrity is “not about being or becoming anything… but about being transformed. Job’s integrity is constituted by his ongoing transformation.” (Bartholomew, 164.)

[5] Johnson, William Stacy. The Reign of God in Theological Perspective. In Interpretation: a Journal of Biblical Theology. Vol 47. No. 2 April 1993. p135. Also consider these scripture texts as evidence of God’s sovereignty in the face of sin: Gen 31:7, Ex. 21:12-13, Mark 5:12-13, Acts 14:15, 16:7, I Cor. 16:7, and Heb 6:3. (Ware106-107) See also Deut. 32:39 “”‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Also Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these [things]” (KJV)

[6] A foreshadowing of what is to come with Christ. Acts 2:23.

[7] Dumbrell, 261.

[8] Genesis 50:20

[9] Dumbrell, 256.

[10] Job 17:7

[11] Fyall, 47. Fyall also writes concerning the “go’el”, “Throughout the Old Testament is a legal and relational term referring to Yahweh as champion and kinsman of Israel, and the term applied to him and sees them operating essentially as Yahweh’s representatives.” (47)

[12] Long, 108.

[13] Job confesses in 42:5-6, “now my eye sees you, Therefore I retract and I repent in dust and ashes.”

[14] One can consider Isaiah’s vision in Isa. 6 or even Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road. Acts 9

[15] Eleonore Stump. “Faith and the Problem of Evil.” In Seeking Understanding: The Stob Lectures 1986-1998, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. 524


It Ain’t No Thing: Privation in Job…

July 31, 2012

Section Three

This is part of my series on Theodicy in the book of Job.  In Part one we introduced the book, in part two we evaluated the presence of the Free-will theodicy in Job, Now we will examine and evaluate the presence of the Augustinian ‘privation’ theodicy in the text.

The Privation Theodicy

If God is holy and good, then how can evil come out of His good creation?  In a sense this is the question that Job poses in his lament.  As it relates to suffering, Job seems to recognize that what has befallen him is a calamity without a cause.  “Is there injustice on my tongue?” He asks, “Cannot my palate discern calamities?”[1]  For those who advocate for the privation theodicy, Job’s calamites do not arise out of what he receives but rather out of what he lacks.

The privation in view here within this explanation is the lack of goodness we experience within God’s good creation.  Evil is not a substance rather it is the lack of good substance from God.  The root of this defense is found in the writings of Augustine.  Who writes in the City of God,

Let no one, therefore, look for an efficient cause of the evil will; for it is not efficient, but deficient, as the will itself is not an effecting of something, but a defect. For defection from that which supremely is, to that which has less of being, — this is to begin to have an evil will.”  [2]

Creation is able to defect, able to foster evil because it is not eternal.  God alone is eternal and unchangeable.  Creation, is created from nothing/ex nihilo, and as such has the capability to change (and sin) because it is deprived of God’s eternal being.   God is therefore removed from liability under this defense because He has not created evil.

Privation focuses more on the substance, or lack thereof, than on the actions of mankind.  At their very essence, men and created beings are lacking the full measure of divine goodness.  As a result, sin occurs causing evil and suffering to follow.  Unlike the free will defense, suffering is not seen as a consequence of free will but rather as incidental to the nature of creation.  Evil and suffering follow after creation rather than being a response to man’s exercise of will within that creation.  For Augustine, evil is not about our freedom to will but rather the object of our love.[3]  Man still wills, but evil arises not because man has the freedom to choose it; evil arises when man loves that which is less than good.  Evil then is fundamentally “self-defeating and absurd for the extent to which it succeeds it can only destroy that upon which it lives.”[4] So how does privation manifest itself in the book of Job?  And is it a valid explanation for the suffering Job is experiencing?

Privation in the Prologue

The prologue of Job is permeated with privation.  One could even describe the suffering Job undergoes as being defined by privation.  The Adversary is seen seeking the removal of all that makes Job’s life outwardly good, all that he possesses.  And God allows this activity.  Job is deprived of God’s protection (1:12); he is deprived of his flocks and servants (1:15-17); he is deprived of his children (1:19); and finally deprived of his health (2:7).  Job’s affliction could easily be described in terms of what he lost rather than on anything that he received.  All of this is removed from Job’s life in order to create vulnerability, so that the Adversary may deprive him of the one thing that made him righteous; his character and fear of God.

Any reader of the text could argue that it is in fact God who has instigated the privation.  It is God’s hand that is extended his hand against Job (1:11) and God himself claims credit for the first round of calamities to befall Job. (2:3)   To critique this view we note that it would appear that there is an active, substantial element to the existence of suffering in Job’s life.  Even though this evil has taken the form of privation; the existence of God’s action in this passage seems to do a disservice to the elements of privation.  We now turn to examine privation in light of the poetic dialogues.

Privation in the Poetic Dialogues 

Job has lost all that is dear to him and in the dialogues he will even lose those who have come to comfort him, his friends.  Job complains in chapter 3 that the evil he has experienced has not gone far enough.  He longs that the world be deprived of the day of his birth, even the night of his conception.  If there is any redemptive purpose to such suffering it is lost on Job.  Indeed all of creation seems flawed in light of the misfortune that he has experienced.  His question in 3:23 gives some further support to those who would advocate a privation defense.  He states, “Why is light given to those whose way is hidden?”  Put another way, a hidden way (life) is a life deprived of purpose and focus.  If one’s life lacks purpose, why is he given life to begin with?

Job’s friends add insult to injury by depriving him of their support and lending him their criticism.  But beyond their withdrawal of support, there is little evidence that Job’s friends subscribe to a privation explanation of evil.  While they might acknowledge that evil and suffering sometimes occur in the form of privation, the deprivation of God’s favor, the loss of wisdom etc.  For the most part they all seem to be focused on the will of Job and on how his actions, hidden or exposed, have derived negative consequences.

Zophar appears, at one point, to define evil in terms of privation.  In chapter 11, he posits that Job is in fact morally defective due to hidden wickedness.  Here he is arguing against Job’s innocence in terms of what he must do to make a mends with God and forget his troubles.[5]  According to Zophar, the wicked lack sight and Job has previously confessed to having lost his sight due to his malady.[6]  The wicked also live for their final breath, Job too has been robbed of steady breathing.[7]  Job appears to be the picture of one effected by a privation of goodness.  But Zophar does not see this as merely incidental, rather he sees Job’s affliction as being a consequence of wickedness, and therefore aims to convince Job to confess thereby remitting what has befallen him.  So there appears to be little support within the dialogues for a privation view.  It is not necessarily a detriment that this perspective is not present in the dialogue of Job’s friends.  For their methods and views will later be rebuked by God in the Divine speeches.  We will now examine privation in the divine speeches.

Privation in the Divine Speeches

Interestingly enough, God’s proclamation of his ever-present sovereignty against the smallness of man, lends itself to a privation defense.  God is all-powerful, the master of all the created universe.  Able to observe the remotest star and the loneliest animal giving birth.  Man by contrast is limited; unable to discern the scope of God’s creation much less the purpose behind it.  It is just this creaturely construction that makes mankind prone to evil and susceptible to suffering.  Key to the notion of privation is that man is capable of flaw do to the fact that he is not God.  God does not respond to the actions of Job’s will, rather he objects to Job’s lack of understanding.  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”[8]  God gives added to idea of evil as privation when he restores Job at the end.  Good comes to Job when he is restored, surpassing his former state of goodness.

It would be incorrect though, to read the divine speeches solely in the light of the privation defense.  Superintending this defense is a larger message of God’s purpose for allowing the evil to occur.  For the speeches take place against the backdrop of the book in its entirety, including the prologue.  One of the points that can derived from reading the prologue and the speeches together is that God, in responding to the Adversary’s prompting, was determined to validate what Job had rather than what he lacked.  Namely God wanted to affirm the presence of Job’s righteousness.  Job’s righteousness was not based, as the Adversary assumed, on the existence of the creature comforts of life.  Job’s righteousness was rooted in his fear of God.  Carson describes God’s motive in this way,

“God’s intent is to show that a human being can love God, and pursue righteousness without receiving any prompt reward.  This pursuit of God is therefore independent of material comfort; it may be in defiance of material comfort.  Satan’s thesis, that all religious interest is ultimately grounded in self-interest, or worse, in mercenary commitment, is thus shown to be false.[9]

While there are some elements that ring true regarding the privation defense, in and of itself proves somewhat lacking in tackling the evil and suffering we encounter in the book of Job.  So if “free will” fails, and privation is inadequate is there a satisfactory system to account for the evil and suffering that Job experiences?  We shall now in the final section propose such a system, define it, evaluate it against the text and draw our conclusions.


[1]Job 6:30

[2] Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Kindle Electronic Edition: Book IX Chapter 1, Location 7221-24.

[3] Charles T. Matthewes. Evil in the Augustinian Tradition. Cambridge: CUP. 2001. 15

[4]John Hick. Evil and the God of Love. San Francisco: Harper and Row. 1978. 48.

[5] Job 11:14-15 Zophar states, “do not let wickedness dwell in your tents; then indeed you could lift up your face without moral defect.”  Removing the wickedness allow Job to “be steadfast and not fear, for you would forget your trouble.

[6] Job 7:7-8

[7] Job 9:18

[8] Job 38:2

[9]  Carson. Job…, 43


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


Walking in the Light: The Context of Evil within the Psalms…

August 6, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Pt 5.


In the previous posts we have examined how the Israelites acknowledged evil and described the purveyors of evil in the Psalms.  Now we will look at the context in which evil was placed, and what role the contextualization of evil played in providing comfort for a people often oppressed by its effects.

The children of God throughout the Psalms navigate the deep darkness before them with the light of their salvation — their God –Yahweh.  His word and promise to them are literally described as a light unto their feet and a lamp unto their path.[1] They have an individual God of promise whose presence sustains them and banishes their fears through every valley, even those valleys whose very shadow bodes death.

As we have seen the Israelites were prolific in acknowledging evil’s presence.  But while evil is continually present, they fear it not, for Yahweh is with them.  If evil and those who practice evil are on one side and God and Israel are on the other, then Israel is right to find comfort in God’s presence.  For God is seen as the one in complete control, and whose character and Holiness consume all those who act wickedly.  Yahweh’s character in relation to evil is explicitly described in two key passages both of which we will now examine.

Psalm 5:4-6 provides a telling glimpse into God’s perception of evil:

4. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;

evil may not dwell within you.

5. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;

you hate all evildoers.

6. You destroy those who speak lies;

the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

The activity of God, who hates the wicked, is recalled frequently in the Psalter.  And His actions toward His people speaks volumes as to His dominion over evil and evildoers.  These unique people of Jacob[2] are often under a God-anointed king; they have been chosen, delivered, saved and stand in the promise of the coming King to whom all the nations shall bow.[3] God offers protection; He is their refuge and their rock.  All of these conditions exist because of God’s mercy and faithfulness and are in no way due to the perception of “righteousness” in Israel.

In Psalm 103:8-9, the psalmist describes God’s character by recalling the epiphany experienced by Moses in Exodus 34.  He states: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Hesed)[4] He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.”  This is the God of the faithful promise who, though often rejected by His own, is steadfast in His love because of His promise.  Evil seen in light of this promise begins to pale by comparison.  The contrast could not be any clearer; while evil and the wicked are compared to chaff to be blown about in the wind; God’s love and those who have sought refuge in Him are promised to endure forever.  Once evil has been placed in its right context, the psalmists begin to look toward evil’s end during the reign of the promised anointed king, the messiah.

It is important to note that “there is no attempt in scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering.”[5] Indeed these naked acknowledgements of evil and the wicked in the Psalms, within the context of a sovereign loving God, have served to gird and inform the suffering people of God throughout time.  This context was never more apparent than when the promise met the present in the person of Christ.  In Jesus, the prophetic psalms were made flesh and dwelt among God’s people in a manner unparalleled in human history.

Found within the Psalms is a promised end to evil, an end occurring at a time of God’s choosing.  This promise, made sure by His steadfast love, provides comfort throughout Psalter from its inception to its inclusion within the canon.

In the next post of this series we will look at how the Psalms predict evil’s fall; and how the fulfillment of the Psalms, by Jesus, conveys certain promise and provides enduring comfort.

Click here for part 4 of the series, A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms

[1] Psalm 119:105

[2] The use of Jacob denotes God’s chosen nation of Israel.  Jacob is mentioned 34 times in the Psalms; almost all such references refer to God’s covenant with Abraham, which was continued through Isaac and on to Jacob. Who, while he was not the first-born received, by the foreknowledge and plan of God, the birthright and promise to carry the seed of the covenant.

[3] Psalm 77-78 are helpful here. 78:5 God establishes Jacob, 78:70 chooses David as King.  Psalm 2 and 22 both speak to the coming King who will receive the praise of all the nations.

[4]Hesed  is a multifaceted word with an expansive definition.  It occurs 147 times within the psalms and it can mean “loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, love and mercy” (Clines 126) Psalm 48 is illustrative of the relationship the people of Israel had to the idea of Hesed.  They would meditate on it in the temple and reflect on what God had done to establish them in that place. Hesed “describes God’s fundamental character.  As the experience of the exodus and deliverance revealed God’s fundamental character; so the present experience in Jerusalem puts the worshippers in touch with God’s Historical (past) and enduring (future) essence.” J. Clinton McCann. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. (Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press. 1993) 149.  Psalm 136 might as well be known as the hesed psalm as the psalmist systematically recalls God’s faithful action toward Israel over time, ending every recollection with “His steadfast Love endures forever.” Whenever God seemed absent in the psalms the Psalmist would call the people to remember that they served a God who acted faithfully in the past and based on that past action, His love was viewed as Steadfast in the face of whatever sin the people committed.  God would love them through any circumstance to accomplish His purpose in their midst for His Glory.

[5] D.A. Carson. How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. (Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House. 1990) 73.