Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Are Catastrophes God’s judgments?

posted by xscot mcknight

Here’s my simple contention: if you believe God is in control of all, then you are driven to think either (1) that catastrophes are divine judgments or (2) that God has surrendered “control” to cosmic or human forces. When 9/11 occurred, many of us watched with horror, pondered, and prayed, but very few of us had the moxie to think we “knew” what God was doing. When the tsunami devasted the Pacific coastlines, when the earthquake jolted Iran, or when Katrina buckled the knees of New Orleans, was God judging or has God surrendered the world to cosmic forces? Steven Keillor, in his new book God’s Judgments, takes on this theme, takes on Christians for their lack of nerve, critiques “worldview thinking” (more later), and proposes a Christian theory. We’ll look at this book for awhile.
I begin with an admission. 9/11 shook me and I gave a response to a small audience at NPU about “God’s presence in his seeming absence” as we sought answers from under the rubble. I stated in my classes that OT prophets would “know” what was going on; I didn’t. I also yearned — and still yearn — for discernment or a method for knowing how to make meaning of historical events like this. I wanted — maybe you did too — a prophet to stand up and tell us what God was doing, to make meaning out of a horrible event.
I joined left, right, and center in being repulsed by the quick responses of Falwell and Robertson.
But, if we believe God is in control, what can we know? That is the question Keillor asks. Are we afraid to press to the conclusion that our theological logic leads? Do our humility that we might be wrong and the politically-insensitive reality or public discourse combine to silence the Church? Do they eviscerate from the Church a conviction that the Christian faith — with its Old Testament and New Testament sense of history — involves a philosophy of history? Are we surrendering our concept God is control?
Keillor, in three quick chps, shows that the media had theories but none of them had to do with God, that right-wingers and left-wingers as well as centrists were quite confidently united in the view that 9/11 was not a judgment from God, and that the Christian worldview (next week) actually prevents Christians from entering into the biblical sense of God’s control of history and the Christian’s confidence to come to terms, by faith, with what God is doing in history.
The conservative patriot sees markets and military as consistent with God’s design for the USA and that “prophetic cries of judgment” are unacceptable because they are “unpatriotic” (41).
Centrists fear the use of exclusivist religious language will destroy the conversation of democracy.
Leftists, with “its version of the Enlightenment utopian project” seek “a people, idea or force to being justice to history: the proletariat, socialism, science, revolution, diversity, multiculturalism” (43).
Keillor’s question is this one: Why was the nation attacked? He does not seek to answer why specific individuals were in the symbols that the attackers struck.
There has been a yearning for a book like this one to be written; no one seems to want to write it; will anyone agree with it?
NB: I’ve read two chps and the spine has already snapped and pages have begun to fall out; I hope the arguments are more stable.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(80)
post a comment
Paul

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:59 am


I wonder how much this has to do with our notion of God being “in control” actually is. With our modern flick of a switch lifestyle do we picture God having the power to flick a switch so that he’s as you say he’s responsible for either doing it or not doing it or we write him off as powerless?
McLaren in a new kind of christian wonders what if control as referenced in the bible, at least, reflects a more ancient view of the world – in the same way that say a farmer is control on his crops or flocks, or a parent is in control of their children? What if rather than a mechanistic cause/effect God we have a more organic infused God – if a parent raises their children well, gives them good instructions and plenty of evidence of care and they grow up and decide to get drunk and drive – who is responsible when the former child ends up in court on a drinken accident charge?
It also reminds me of Lk 13 when Jesus references a disaster of his day, a collapsing tower and seems to be saying its not so much the disaster that happened for these folks, its not whether God is or isn’t in control but how we ourselves respond to our lives, in this case in LK Jesus is asking us to rethink/repent…



report abuse
 

bruce madeiros

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:20 am


Scot
Without a doubt when Christains are wondering about whether catastrophes are divine judgments or that God has allowed cosmic or human chaos to determine events on this earth they fall into the two classic camps, the Arminians and the Calvinists.
Both camps have their “straw men” and words of wisdom and I feel that truth is somewhere in between. I found Greg Boyd’s book “ Satan and the problem of evil “ very helpful however his conclusion are somewhat scary as he suggest that we are in a war zone which is certainly much bigger than 9/11 .
bruce



report abuse
 

Mark Congdon

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:48 am


Scot,
I was confused by your post from the first sentence. You wrote: “if you believe God is in control of all, then you are driven to think either (1) that catastrophes are divine judgments or (2) that God has surrendered “control” to cosmic or human forces.”
First, why is this discussion limited to catastrophes? Anything bad, hurtful, or negative causes the same theological questions. Did God cause me to get the flu last week? Was it a judgment for something that I did wrong? Was it a tool being used to teach me something or help me grow in some way? Or did God surrender control to something other than himself? How do we reconcile God’s sovereignty with a fallen world?
Second, why is your first point limited to “judgments”? I would state that point more generally: “catastrophes are divine actions, serving some purpose God intends”. Must that purpose necessarily be a judgment? I’d say that the story of Job clearly tells us that God’s reasons for inflicting/allowing suffering could be more complex than that.
Third, why limit it to just those two extremes? Aren’t there a great many intermediate views that are plausible and have been suggested to explain why suffering exists in the world even while God is sovereign? That is the question here, and I don’t think our answers are limited to the two options you have suggested.
I think an answer to this question needs to focus on what the Bible has to say about God’s sovereignty and the nature of suffering in our fallen world. There aren’t any easy, obvious, or clearcut answers, but the Bible is far form silent.
Mark



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:39 am


After 9/11 Udo Middleman had some profound things to say about it. What I remember is we are not to take things like that as the muslims do as all is allah’s will. Because we know we live in a world broken by the Fall, on this side of the Fall, and that horrific things happen because of it. Because of knowing horrific things happen because of the Fall we can raise our fist and vent our anger at the evil that brings it.
I walked away bringing in my brain the distinction he made between as christians taking the stance as muslims as all is allah’s/God’s will, but remembering we stand on this side of the Fall.



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:44 am


And to post a Schaefferian, again, he said God’s sovereignty and human’s significance, that is, human’s creating influence in the world, are like 2 trees intertwined at the top. It need not be an either/or, but that both exist. Both make sense, conflict arises when we try to make both blend and make sense. Yet, what is true, is that both do exist.



report abuse
 

lammert

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:56 am


this very morning my 6 year old girl asked the following question at the breakfast table: “daddy, we pray to Jesus to provide for us (food, safety, etc.) and he does. Why does Jesus care for us and kill the people in Africa?”
My wife and her mum is currently in Sudan to help fight a meningitis epidemic…
thanks for your post. it is good to wrestle with these things. I know we can “answer” these, but somehow I feel rather than answer we need to stop, ponder and ponder some more.



report abuse
 

Brett Jordan

posted February 27, 2007 at 5:01 am


This question is one that bothers me on a regular basis.
With issues like AIDS, it seems to me that too many Christians have opted for the ‘politically correct’ tack… uncritical compassion… when a more informed (and dare I say biblical) response would be to ask if this awful modern plague is at least linked to sinful behaviour.



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 27, 2007 at 5:05 am


I apologize for not thinking of all these things to put into one post. At a conference in a discussion time, one woman said that if there was a God he was a sadist because of all the suffering in the world. The response to that was that to take that position was to ignore all the grand and beautiful things that humans and God have created and are creating. That has stayed with me for decades.



report abuse
 

Keith Schooley

posted February 27, 2007 at 6:41 am


I too have been troubled at most Christians’ (including my own) lack of nerve when it comes to dealing with things that the OT prophets would have seen quite clearly as the direct hand of God. Not only does this eviscerate our view of God’s sovereignty, but it also places the OT prophets at an even further remove from us in terms of trying to understand what they were saying and apply their message today.
The problem comes in because those who do want to “go there” and assert that an event is God’s judgment most often assert that it is His judgment against someone else’s sin. It’s abortion and homosexuality and pornography and drugs. Rather, we should recognize all these things, and the catastrophes as well, as symptoms of our collective failure to follow God as we should.
It’s interesting to me that Daniel included himself in his prayer in Daniel 9 confessing the sin of Israel and attributing God’s judgment on Israel to that sin. And that was his response to reading Jeremiah and realizing that the time of judgment was about to come to an end! Perhaps if we had more of that type of humility, we would have more discernment in reading “the signs of the times.”



report abuse
 

tricia

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:33 am


If we follow our theological starting points to their logical conclusions then we are going to be forced to answer some very tough questions when it comes to tragedies like 9/11, etc. I’m thrilled someone is willing to have the discussion. It does have implications as to how we live out our lives.
However, on the flip side the immediate response to 9/11 specifically that I most appreciated was seen at our local midweek gathering. 3000 of us showed up and were led in affirming what we did know about God and in prayer for those specifically affected. We did not even try to analyze it.



report abuse
 

ron

posted February 27, 2007 at 8:07 am


A number of people are killed by lightning strikes each year. In the absence of data showing a clear preference for adulterers, homosexuals or corrupt politicians among the victims, we should assume that these incidences can be fully explained by considering the frequency of lightning strikes around the world, their lethal radius, the population densities in the areas where they occur, and the laws of statistics. Judgment has little if anything to do with it.
9/11 was brought about by people, but the victims of it were no more guilty than someone who is struck by lightning. On the other hand, human actions and attitudes brought about 9/11. Among these are radical Islam and its response to a repressive society in league with foreign interests that dominate culturally and economically. If 9/11 was a judgment, it was a judgment of this situation.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 27, 2007 at 8:10 am


Mark,
Thanks for this… but I have to say the topics I chose right up front are:
Because that is what the book is about, and how the author sets up the book. It’s that simple.



report abuse
 

Lukas McKnight

posted February 27, 2007 at 8:21 am


I’m surprised no one has brought up NT Wright’s latest book on evil as he speaks directly about 9/11.
His statement (if I recall correctly) is that we in the (post)modern world only notice evil in large, catastrophic events and then go searching for the answers. We have to understand that evil doesn’t have to smack us across the cheek for it to be there.
Why does this happen? I don’t know, nor have I heard a good answer. I don’t know that I ever will, either.



report abuse
 

Dan Brennan

posted February 27, 2007 at 8:47 am


Scot,
Sounds like a good thought-provoking book with some depth to it. Is there a redemptive hermeneutic on this issue? Ultimately, the end comes with God’s judgment. What about events during the already but not yet?



report abuse
 

Rob

posted February 27, 2007 at 9:01 am


I’m wondering if anyone has read another book on this topic by the EO theologian David Bentley Hart called “Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?”. I had to read it for a theology II class last semester at Biblical. I thought it was a good book…tough reading, but good. In essence, it’s “negative” theology, i.e. we don’t what God’s role is in natural disasters, but we do know what it’s not.



report abuse
 

Brian

posted February 27, 2007 at 9:02 am


Scot,
I want to point out a connection between this and the Poythress’ discussions. In both of them we are faced with the Bible describing events in ways that are becoming less and less acceptable to contemporary thought.
Fundamentalism and unbelief provide the simplest responses, but in different ways each of them are unpalatable.



report abuse
 

Phil

posted February 27, 2007 at 10:39 am


I’m working from memory here… and that’s dicey for me. Disclaimer aside though, some of Elizabeth Achtemeier’s work on the OT prophetic literature might be helpful on this topic. Also, it seems to me that Lewis has some relevant observations in “The Problem of Pain.”
I remember hearing a lecture by Achtemeier wherein she recounted a story of a man she knew who once told her he believed in God; he just didn’t believe he did much in the world. She contrasted this (arguably common) view of God with the view held by the OT poets and prophets. She noted that most American Christians no longer believe in a God who works through nature. Nor do we believe in a God who judges the nations (most especially our own).
One of Scot’s comments resonated strongly with my own thinking. I also wish there were a modern-day prophet who could illumine God’s working in his creation today. Given though the lack of success the OT prophets had in getting anyone to really listen to them, if we did have a modern-day prophet, I wonder if I would be receptive to his/her words.



report abuse
 

Jason Powell

posted February 27, 2007 at 12:01 pm


So I’ve been dipping my feet into Greg Boyd’s “Satan and the Problem” of evil. Now Boyd is a self described “limited open theist” and his major tenant is that we don’t respect the huge gift and risk found in what is classically refered to as “Free Will”. Boydd contends that FW is neither
A)revocable nor
B)eternal
In Boyd’s work all sentient creation (angels/humanity) are free to choose wheather or not they will submit to God’s will or whether they will rebel. God does not “force” compliance. This means our choice truly matter. We are..and I’m cautious here…co-creators of reality. Boyd also is a proponent of Christus Victor and sees a very “The Present Darkness” to our world. We who have submitted to God’s Lordship through following Christ are, as Paul so often reminds us, “not battleing against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities”. For Boyd the battle is real andwe have a significant role in it. Prayer, submission to God, and worship are our weapons and regardless of the choices of free beings God is in control and working towards his ultimate desre…the reconcilliation of the world to himself. This is where Boyd parts company with traditional open theism in some ways…God is fully capable of working his ultimate will regardless of the choices we make….it’s sort of like a choose your own adventure book. Now I’m not philosophically brilliant engough to counter opposing views to this kind of thing but there is a certain amount of merit to it nonetheless. If nothing else it fires me up to reinvision the neccesity of prayer! Why it changes things, and why when we fail to be a people of prayer we live stunted lives and our world becomes more debase.
Anyways, I’m just the messenger
Jason



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted February 27, 2007 at 12:26 pm


I appreciate this post and conversation. While we can figure in factors towards events like 9/11, I think the question of “why?” is not answerable by us. This goes into every circumstance and reality that has existed since the beginning of creation.
We understand generally that creation/fall/redemption/new creation/judgment are at work and factors in the world. And we may have a pretty good idea of what might come if certain things are done. But to know God’s mind in all of this, directly, I think is beyond us. We can be sure he is at work in ways revealed in Scripture. But to pin it down, and speak with any authority, I think is an error….



report abuse
 

CPM

posted February 27, 2007 at 12:45 pm


My mind goes in many directions with this topic. Some of what immediately comes to the front is found in scripture. Joseph tells his brothers that what they meant for evil, God meant for good. We read in Romans that “all things work together for good…” With this in view, it is very hard for me to listen to human opinion as being the window into how I should view God’s/people’s actions.
It is interesting that when humans speak of judgment, it is most often presented in a negative sense. What I read in scripture shows that man sometimes looked forward to this judgment.
I’ve been told that in an apple orchard, the farmers will beat against the trunks of the trees with chains in order to stress them. This stress results in an increase of fruit. Do we picture the farmer engaged in this activity as having a hatred/anger toward his orchard? On a larger scale, would it be possible to see natural/man-made disasters in the same way? Instead of God angry with His creation, we have a God giving His creation the opportunity to grow, mature, bear more fruit.
As for 9-11, I’ve heard some say God is judging us (U.S.), and others say God allowed it in order to use us (U.S.) to judge Islam. Does it have to be either/or? What about “none of the above?” I confess that I don’t have the answers, but I am still in a place of trusting that God always does what is right and has the ability to prune/stress His creation as He sees fit.
CPM



report abuse
 

Mark Congdon

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:04 pm


Scot #12:
My apologies… by your first words, “Here’s my simple contention”, I presumed that you were stating your own views, and I was responding from that perspective.
My comments, then, from #3 can be redirected to the book itself, and to your interaction with it. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
Thanks,
Mark



report abuse
 

Daniel

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:26 pm


Excellent conversation.
The Old Testament here may only be directly relevant if we think the U.S. is the modern day equivalent of ancient Israel. Methinks it’s not.
Nevertheless, we can’t be blind to the fact that nature, God’s moral universe, only forgives for a while. After going ‘against the grain’ for too long, something’s got to give. Hence the ‘wrath of God’ against Israel, manifested by the destruction of ethnic Israel and the temple in 70AD. Hence the ‘wrath of God’ against Rome and its empire in later centuries.
As long as we don’t adopt a meticulous view of providence, is it that unreasonable to claim that 9/11 was judgment on the U.S.’s pride and greed? This doesn’t make it any less tragic, heart-wrenching, or ‘right’ for the terrorists to have behaved in such an evil way, but in our universe, despite its fallenness (through its fallenness perhaps), the oppressed will eventually rise up and be an agent of judgment on the oppressor.
And if in rising up, the oppressed become violent (which is itself a form of oppression), then they too will be judged.
Rather than use this as an excuse to blame others, it is, as it always is in the prophetic tradition, a call to don sackcloth and ashes, and to repent, personally and collectively, for our ‘sins’.
If I were to cast something like 9/11 into ‘prophetic’ light, that’s how I would do it (though whether the same logic is applicable to tsunamis and hurricanes… is worth debating). An alternative approach (my default) is to say: skubala happens (there’s a profound theological truth there).
My two cents.
-Daniel-



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:27 pm


I’ve been told that in an apple orchard, the farmers will beat against the trunks of the trees with chains in order to stress them.
Do you have a source for this?
I have never seen any orchardist attacking his trees. It reminds me of the legend that a good shepherd would break a lamb’s leg and then stay close as the leg healed. This one is debunked for sure.
Not trying to be overly picky, but it is a dramatic image, that of God beating on his trees with chains. I can’t think of any scriptural parallels to it.



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:29 pm


The comment in #25 is addressed to CPM #22. It escaped before I could tackle it and correctly brand it.



report abuse
 

Daniel

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:46 pm


Matthew, one might add that with the scope and depth of evil that happens in the world, a better analogy would be if the orchard planters started stabbing their fruit trees and randomly hacking at them with axes and chainsaws.
A mild ‘beating’ may produce more fruit (though with you, I’m skeptical), but the kind of evil that happens in the world (e.g. the genocide in Darfur) in hardly comparable to what, for a tree, is merely a vigorous massage…
-Daniel-



report abuse
 

Phil

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:52 pm


#24: “The Old Testament here may only be directly relevant if we think the U.S. is the modern day equivalent of ancient Israel.”
Really? Why is that so? The only relevance the OT has, the only theological rubric under which it applies, is if one accepts that every OT prophecy must have a modern analog?
I would think that the OT might very well be instructive in evaulating (with application to the conversation here) God’s nature, the manner in which he sometimes deals with his people and his creation, etc. Furthermore, if prophecy is more forthtelling (identifying where and when God is specially at work in his creation, and then interpreting what that action means to God’s people) than it is foretelling — what better place to look for answers to our modern questions than the prophetic literature of the bible?
Not being gifted in such discernment, I find myself simply trusting God to work all things for good according to his purposes. But, I do also wrestle with the problem of evil and profound suffering in the world.



report abuse
 

Brad

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:57 pm


Here’s my simple contention: if you believe God is in control of all, then you are driven to think either (1) that catastrophes are divine judgments or (2) that God has surrendered “control” to cosmic or human forces.
Scot, what of the possibility that God is in control but that disaster falls not necessarily as a divine judgment but as the means to a better end? If God works all things for his good, why then can’t evil be just merely a tool that is wielded and harnessed for a greater good that we usually do not immediately see or may never see?
Example: God punished his own Son, by means of the greatest of evil ever to been seen, for an even greater glory which even Jesus’ most closest associates did not immediately see, and sadly many never see.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted February 27, 2007 at 1:58 pm


Evil – as in 9/11 or genocide in Darfur or chocolate grown/harvested by children who were trafficked into slavery or …? Is this simply a consequence of the Fall and some people will suffer “innocently”? Is the evil arising from the actions of others a judgment on individuals or community? Tough questions.
I actually find the example of the tsunami or a tornado or eathquake much harder to wrestle with. Is this actually evil? Is death in the sense of physical death of an individual actually intrinsically evil – whether from old age or other natural catastrophe?



report abuse
 

Bryan Riley

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:07 pm


God lets it rain on the “good” and the “evil.” The sun shines on both. Many are the plans of man’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Why is it not simply His purpose (even when we don’t understand, like 9/11), and to ask why is like Job and his friends doing so, thus resulting in those amazing passages of Job 38-42??



report abuse
 

CPM

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:17 pm


Matthew,
My source is my father-in-law, and a friend’s father (who, the friend said, had practiced this). I looked on snopes to see if it was an urban legend, but couldn’t find anything there. If I’ve spread false info, I apologize. I do think you will find pruning to be a scriptural parallel. Perhaps this is as close to a biblical picture as we will find? Cutting away part of a tree could be every bit as dramatic an image as beating against it’s trunk, IMO.



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:22 pm


During one very difficult time, I read through Job. I felt I could identify with some of his anguish, if only on a small scale. Something God told Job really comforted me. Job presented some questions about how life isn’t fair. In Job 39, http://net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Job&chapter=39 God mentions the life-cycles of mountain goats and wild deer. The fact that those goats have existed for generations, yet I know nothing about where they sleep each night, what they eat, when they mate, when they give birth, etc. God has been over it all and will continue to be.
It doesn’t stop me from asking questions or from struggling sometimes when I can’t answer. But I am comforted that he is in control. God didn’t answer Job’s questions directly. And I don’t expect him to answer all of mine, either. At least, not in the timeframe of this fallen world. One more reason to long for heaven.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:38 pm


Brad,
The problem with that thought,of course, is that it combines Deism with Theism/Christian God. That is, God is in control but has allowed some things to happen but he overwhelms them with good. Is that what you are saying?



report abuse
 

Ari

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:41 pm


I left my thoughts on my blog, I couldn’t get the trackback to work.
http://www.swingingfromthevine.com/2007/02/27/gods-judgment/



report abuse
 

Daniel

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:56 pm


One might wonder if there is a meaningful difference between tragedy and evil. The terrorists actions on 9/11 were evil. The guards’ actions at Abu Ghraib were evil.
Is a tsunami evil? … … Tragic, of course, but evil?
Philosophers of religion puzzle over ‘natural evil’ (mudslides, typhoons, etc.–Boyd’s Satan and the Problem of Evil attributes these to dysfunctional spiritual agents)… but isn’t the point already conceded by calling it ‘evil’?
What if the possibility for tragedy is a necessary corollary of having autonomous existence? Tragedies may happen in this world not because God or Satan willed them, but because the world is not God and is impersonal (and perhaps also to a lesser extent because we have not ruled it as we should).
The Christian hope is that it will someday be set right, when the veil between heaven and Earth is finally torn.



report abuse
 

Robert E. Mason

posted February 27, 2007 at 2:58 pm


Scot, this is such a large topic, and so many thoughts clamoring for expression.
Here are some musings on 9/11, which I wrote several years ago. The first question that I often hear is where was God on 9-11? My answer to this question takes us straightaway into the heart of a great doctrine of the church—the doctrine of divine providence. In the words of Georgia Harkness, Divine providence is the belief that “in every human situation however stark, bleak, and evil it may actually be, God in his compassionate love offers guidance and strength and seeks to make good come out of evil.”
The Theologian J. I. Packer adds: The doctrine of providence teaches Christians that they are never in the grip of blind forces (such as fortune, chance, luck, or fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice, knowing that all is for one’s spiritual and eternal good (Rom. 8:28).”
So where was God on 9-11? He was with the uniform services in New York City—the firefighters, the police officers, the EMS workers, the first responders—who rescued 25,000 people from the towers before they came crashing down. The evil intent of the 19 terrorist was to do harm, but God’s gracious intent was to save many lives. The terrorist killed upwards of 3,000 in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania, but God transformed their evil intent into a gracious good, working through the uniform services, He saved many lives, about 25,000.
The second question is like the first, why didn’t God prevent this great evil from happening? How could he let it happen? He could have foiled the hijackers’ plan by causing them to have stomach cramps when they pulled out their box cutters. I think that William Sloan Coffin, Jr. gets it exactly right when he responds to this question with these words: “It’s clear to me, two things: that almost every square inch of the Earth’s surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent, and it is not God’s doing. It’s our doing. That’s human malpractice. Don’t chalk it up to God. Every time people say, when they see the innocent suffering, every time they lift their eyes to heaven and say, “God, how could you let this happen?” it’s well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: “How could you let this happen?” So we have to take responsibility.”
We ought not to displace onto God our own malpractice. We are responsible for foreign policies, economic and political, that foster hatred of us and breed terrorist. We are responsible for failed intelligence that did not alert us to an impending attack. We are responsible for faulty airport security that allowed men, carrying weapons, to board airplanes. We are responsible—it was our doing, not God’s. How could we let this happen? So the answer to the question why didn’t God prevent 911 is to turn the question back onto the person asking it. Why didn’t you prevent 911? It is time for us to take responsibility and not to displace our malpractice onto God.
That’s all for now.



report abuse
 

C Grace

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:03 pm


A few years ago due to circumstances crashing down on my head I was confronted personally with the very question brought up here. I cried out to God, “Why did you make us like this? Why allow us this freedom if the only thing we can do with it is destroy ourselves?” Either God’s sovereignty or His goodness had to go to make sense of my circumstances and I wasn’t willing to let go of either because if God were not God then there were no answers and I was living in a meaningless universe.
I have realized that when, as Christians, we assert by faith that God is good and in control, we are not providing anyone with an answer. We are simply stating that we believe there is an answer. By hope we wait to see that answer, but only in God’s personal revelation are we really answered. Job says at the end of the book, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eyes have seen you.”
What I have learned through my own experiences is that in Christ, suffering itself is transformed into something beautiful. The pain disappears and leaves nothing but the vision of God behind. Ultimately there will be no answer to human suffering until God justifies Himself in His appearing and makes all things new. Here are some relevant verses that I have come to appreciate.
Hosea 2:6-7
“Therefore behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths. She will pursue her lovers, but she will not overtake them; and she will seek them, but will not find them. Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband, For it was better for me than now!”
Is 38:15,20 I will walk humbly all my years because of the anguish of my soul…Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish.
PSalm 119:67-8 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; Teach me your statutes”
Is 30:18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 22 Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”
I firmly believe that all of God’s action in history, both His wrath and His mercy is all directed toward one purpose -To bring us back to Himself.
His methods can seem violent at times but that is only because we are too identified with the sinful nature that He is out to destroy his efforts to free us. His wrath against sin is really a burning jealousy for us, for our salvation.



report abuse
 

Bryan Riley

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:05 pm


C Grace, I agree. Good comment.



report abuse
 

Jim Martin

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:08 pm


Scot,
Good questions. I look forward to this series. I am uncomfortable with so much of the conversation regarding God and what he is up to. Could 9/11 or any other tragedy be divine judgment? Perhaps. But that “perhaps” is only speculation not revelation.
I am uncomfortable at attempts to read or explain the mind of God. While I have many questions about much of life, I don’t want to reduce God to someone who can be explained.
I look forward to this series.



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:18 pm


Perhaps our understanding of suffering isn’t as important to our relationship with God as is our chosen response to it.
In the catechism of the catholic church, (canon 164) we are told… “we walk by faith, not by sight; we perceive God as “in a mirror, dimly” and only “in part”…”The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised by faith.Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice and death, seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it.
(c.165) It is then we must turn to the witness of the faith of Abraham who “in hope…believed against hope”…



report abuse
 

C Grace

posted February 27, 2007 at 3:58 pm


Paul,
Your comment reminded me of this quote by Augustine.
“For in this abode of weakness and in these wretched days, this state of anxiety has also it’s use, stimulating us to seek with keener longing for that security where peace is complete and unassailable.”



report abuse
 

Linda Mortensen

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:05 pm


Robert #37
“… all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice, knowing that all is for one’s spiritual and eternal good.”
Rather tough luck for the people who died. My response to this would be the response of the Psalmist: How can I praise you if I am in the grave? Perhaps a corollary would be How can I praise you if I never really had the chance to know you?
I resonate with some of what you said about human responsibility in evil. I just don’t think I can accept that God judged the people who died (or their families) on 9/11 because I know full well that there are plenty of other people out there who deserve judgment as much as they did, maybe even me.



report abuse
 

Kate Johnson

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:15 pm


How often I deal with this question… in my own life and the lives of my clients. An example.. I was visiting my son last week. He lives in Lady Lake, half a mile from where the tornados hit a few weeks ago and so much was destroyed. I was talking with him and telling him my concerns for him, we had been through Hurricane Andrew and lost everything and I was concerned this would bring back memories for him. He looked at me with confusion, and then said, Mom, haven’t you realized I’m a disaster magnet? My turn to be confused… then he explained… “First there was Andrew. Where was on on 9/11″ he asked… oh, yeah, Manhattan where he watched the towers fall… “Where did Katrina and Wilma pass?” Overhead… (central Florida)… “And now the tornados…” My heart ached for him. He was saying this half joking, but…
And then as a counselor dealing my clients who want to know why God lets them be abused, hurt, etc. Or in my own life… I believe in God’s sovereignty and that nothing touches us that does not pass through the His hand. But I also believe in His love and mercy… how do they fit? I don’t know. I only know I must trust Him that He knows what He is doing… elst I would be insane with grief. I tell my clients and students to think of a tapestry… the top is beautiful, a complete picture. The bottom, or underside, is full of knots, strings hanging, criss-crossed threads. We look at our lives and what happens on earth from the bottom and see the messes, disasters, traumas and tragedies, God’s looks from above and sees the finshed product.
All that to say it is one of those dichotomies that I do not think we will understand until we stand before Him and the veil is lifted. (and please, no comments about letting you know where my son moves to…)



report abuse
 

Dan Brennan

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:24 pm


Kate, #44
Great observation. I’m wondering though, if we as creatures, will ever truly understand in eternity. I think this will be one of those issues that separate us from God as far as the Creator/creature distinction. God’s presence will still the surpeme comfort and end in this.



report abuse
 

karen

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:25 pm


So 9/11 is either a sign of God’s punishment or his abandonment? Or maybe it’s all about The Secret. The Law of Attraction would say that 9/11 happened because Americans thunk it into happening. Now there’s a secret for sure — it’s our own fault. Mmmm….



report abuse
 

Kate Johnson

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:31 pm


Good point, Dan. Maybe then it will not matter, we will just be enjoying His presence and Glory



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:38 pm


Kate said part of what I wanted to add. I am involved with women who were sexually abused as children, being a survivor of such myself and having much healing in it. One of the questions predicted to come up and necessary to come to some resting place (vs answer) is where God was in it and the responsibility of the human being who did it.
I see no distinction between larger events humans do like 9/11 or Uganda or Bosnia, nor natural events like tsunamis or Katrina. Because I think all come about because the world was broken in the Fall – people and natural world.
The resting place I came to and I find many of the other survivors come to is the perp was responsible for her/his abuse while at the same time having to hang on to God is in control. God is in control but God did not make the abuse happen. I’m not sure we can fully understand what it means God is in control, but for me I can not live as if He is not in control. I resonate with Job in that and bow to God as the Creator and what the hell do I know in that perspective. Yet at the same time I can have comfort and pass on the comfort that when evil happens in the world, God is there with us.
This topic has very personal meaning to me and is not just a theological idea to toss about. I am daily confronted by those with whom this is a reality, and the time I had to make sense of it all.
Tragic things happen because we live on this side of the Fall, humans are responsible for the evil they perpetrate, God is in control.
As to suffering happening so that God’s good can happen, my understanding of that Roman’s verse rather, is hope, that though suffering does happen, in it, God can make some good come out of it. Not that he does it so there can be good from him.



report abuse
 

Brad

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:43 pm


The problem with that thought,of course, is that it combines Deism with Theism/Christian God. That is, God is in control but has allowed some things to happen but he overwhelms them with good. Is that what you are saying?
Well, no, not really. What I’m proposing is more Augustinian, I guess. Rather, I’m asserting: What if God can fully harness, permit and preside over the evil inherent in a fallen world in order to achieve an ultimate good end? The notion is as if God uses evil to eventually defeat itself, such as in the case of Christ, thereby allowing evil to expend itself for his ultimate glory and good purpose which he sees and crafts through the evil – i.e. “God works everything for good.”



report abuse
 

Kate Johnson

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:44 pm


the true meaning of Romans 8:28… God’s redemptive work in our lives… He redeems the bad and it will be used for His glory, good will come



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:50 pm


Brad,
I see what you are saying … and I confess it surprised me when I read your post. Now I see your point.
No doubt, if we believe in God’s control (at a significant level) and that everything comes back to God’s glory — and I think there is a basis for this in Rom 9–11, then clearly God swallows up evil into his glory.
We’re back to Terry Tiessen’s stuff.



report abuse
 

Sam Carr

posted February 27, 2007 at 4:51 pm


RJS #30, that’s a very good distiction, for many things that we call tragic are actually the outworkings of human actions. These evil events should probably call for analysis and soul searching more than earthquakes or tsunamis would. Then there are those that are a bit of both like Katrina!
Human caused evil and the pain and suffering that result do affect innocent people and as we empathise with the victims the message to us should be discernible – we can do something about modern slavery, trafficking… and even unjust acts by our governments.



report abuse
 

C Grace

posted February 27, 2007 at 5:03 pm


Brad and Kate, (49-50)
I completely agree with this, it is something I failed to mention in my own post.



report abuse
 

Brad

posted February 27, 2007 at 5:12 pm


No doubt, if we believe in God’s control (at a significant level) and that everything comes back to God’s glory — and I think there is a basis for this in Rom 9–11, then clearly God swallows up evil into his glory.
Scot, here’s my paradox: Does God swallow up evil into his glory, or does he allow/direct/steer evil to swallow up itself as his ever-present glory is revealed? Is it the case the light swallows up the darkness or that the darkness eventually dispates revealing the light?



report abuse
 

Brad

posted February 27, 2007 at 5:16 pm


RE: 54….
Those questions are not based on some pre-conceived holding, I truly wrestle with the idea and currently have no firm opinion one way or the other.



report abuse
 

Robert E. Mason

posted February 27, 2007 at 6:11 pm


Linda #37
I do not think that God punished anyone on 9/11, and I think this is a most complicated matter, which I have been grappling with for nearly sixteen years since I was knocked out of the labor market by a disabling stroke. Here are some more or less random thoughts.
When God created Human beings in his image, he chose to give up His absolute sovereign control over his creation. As autonomous moral agents we are free both to obey God and not to obey Him and suffer the consequences—however horrific—of our disobedience. I take it that is the force of Roman’s chapter 1 where Paul writes “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” If God were to reach into His creation in order to block a horrific result, He would violate the integrity of the autonomous moral agents that He created. We ought not to blame God for our malpractice.
When we try to put together what scripture teaches about God with what we experience of the world, paradoxes pop up all over the lot. Perhaps, it is time to set aside Aristotelian logic and its principle of non-contradiction in favor of a new logic for theological discourse. In the 20th century, physicist developed a new logic that could accommodate the counterintuitive nature of quantum mechanics. They had to find a way to talk about the two-slit experiment and superposition among other bizarre matters. We need to try something new; we have been grappling with the problem of evil for several thousand years without making much headway. Perhaps our discourse is faulty.



report abuse
 

Jim Hughes

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:04 pm


While reading this post, I had vivid memories of conversations with hundreds of Katrina victims in the days and weeks following the storm, and how many of them attributed it to God’s punishment of New Orleans. I was taken back by their assertions, but as they explained, I could understand why they thought it was true. And I had to honestly admit that I didn’t know the answer, and possibly, I didn’t want to know the answer. Which probably puts me in Jim Martin’s camp…



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 27, 2007 at 7:56 pm


I think that is well said, Robert.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 27, 2007 at 8:47 pm


Brad, seriously, I wish I knew.



report abuse
 

Douglass M.Allen

posted February 27, 2007 at 9:59 pm


Several decades ago American poet Archibald MacLeish, born 1892, wrote a modern version of JOB called J.B. I remember the following lines from an English class circa 1961-
If God is good
He is not God.
If God is God
He is not good.
Take the even.
Take the odd.
I think that one way out of this dilemma is what Robert Mason wrote #56. To this I would add that if and when the Jesus Creed became our creed, there would be much, much less “human malpractice.”
Doug



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 27, 2007 at 10:07 pm


I think when we talk of tragic and horrific things, we must balance things by remembering there are beautiful things in the world from what God and humans have made.



report abuse
 

andre

posted February 27, 2007 at 11:21 pm


I do not know if every catastrophe is God’s judgment but I know for certain that God did not surrender sovereign control to cosmic or human forces.
As crushing as human suffering may be, we cannot abandon the biblical view of a sovereign God. This same sovereign God sacrificed his Son to atone for the sins of a human race. What’s more shocking than that?



report abuse
 

Bryan Riley

posted February 27, 2007 at 11:29 pm


Amen, Andre.



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 28, 2007 at 12:26 am


Neither can we abandon the reality that humans create effect in the world, natural/supernatural. Thus lies the paradox to either accept as a paradox or in trying to figure it out, abandon God’s sovereignty or humans’s significance.



report abuse
 

Greg

posted February 28, 2007 at 2:12 am


Excellent discussion. I wonder if at the end of the day, that is, after our attempts to sort through this crucial issue, we don’t need to move from a speculative mode into a response mode and focus on our actions against evil. Furthermore, perhaps before we delve into the problem of evil maybe we have to deal with the problem of “good?”



report abuse
 

Matt

posted February 28, 2007 at 6:52 am


Yesterday, I happened to be reading a speech by Thaddeus Stevens from 1865 regarding reconstruction after the Civil War. It gave an interesting historical perspective to the question of whether current events might be God’s judgement. In talking about how much encouragement the federal government should give to the conquered southern states in granting rights to former slaves, he says,
“If this Republic is not now made to stand on [the forefathers'] great princicples, it has no honest foundation and the Father of all men will still shake it to its center. If we have not yet been sufficiently scourged for our national sin to teach us to do justice to all God’s creatures, without distinction of race or color, we must expect the still more heavy vengence of an offended Father, still increasing his inflictions as he increased the severity of the plagues of Egypt until the tyrant consented to do justice. And when that tyrant repented of his reluctant consent, and attempted to re-enslave the people, as our southern tyrants are attempting to do now, he filled the Red sea with broken chariots and drowned horses, and strewed the shores with dead carcasses.”
In that section, he was pretty clear that the Civil War could be viewed as a judgment from God on slavery. I don’t know whether he really believed this, or if it was a widespread belief, or if he included it more as a rhetorical device to try to stir up the emotions of his colleagues to complete the work that had begun with the Emancipation Proclamation.
I assume that part of the trouble that most Americans have with saying that 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina was a judgment from God is that the implication that he disapproves of something our country is doing. In 1865, it was easier to say that the war was a judgment on slavery; in the 21st century, it’s harder to say that national tragedies are judgments.
… not that our views change whether these things were, in fact, judgments or not.



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted February 28, 2007 at 8:46 pm


In the views expressed here, I wonder if we’ve misrepresented God’s mercy. Perhaps he has more mercy than judgment. Maybe it’s us who like to see judgment and so look for it label it as such.



report abuse
 

Scott Watson

posted March 2, 2007 at 9:50 am


Why do we want to have all the answers all tied up in a cute little bow.One of the lessons from Job is that’s YHWH’s soverignity (in even allowing the Satan to afflict a righteous man)is beyond the purview of mortal humanity. Jobs friends,armed with a “biblical” theology of distributive justice,dsipleased YHWH with their theological arrogance and wrong assessment of the situation.the Bible clearly asserts aspects of the an “Augustinian” and an “Open” view of YHWH’s working. These things all have to be held in tension as the Bible does,since there is no effort to reconsile them in any way.If there is a tendancy in Second Temple Judaism it seems as if there is a tendancy to question the “Augustinian” type of understanding where you see reinterpretation of OT texts to include Satan or demonic forces as the prime mover.Biblical scholar Walter Wink calls this process the “ethicization of YHWH” as it relates to this process in Jewish texts of the era.WHat we really need is an equally robust theology (and praxis!)of love,mercy and humility–something that Jesus taught and Jobs “righteous” friends had failed to embrace.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted March 2, 2007 at 10:38 am


Good conversation. This is a topic I’ve explored a lot with friends, including fanciful ideas about how the tension appears woven into the fabric of creation. Romans 8:28 is sorta my theme verse. Long before I had decided(?) to follow Jesus, I had encountered Romans 8. And I grasped the staggering claim about this God expressed in that verse. Ours is a God who is in the business of taking the worst that evil can do and transforming or redeeming it into good. The passion of Jesus is the ultimate incarnation of that truth. Our God brings good out of evil. That’s a powerful statement about God.
I find the divisions/lines people build over this fascinating. I approach it this way. First, I hold to the truth expressed probably most beautifully in Colossians. All creation is sourced in and sustained by our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth. It exists moment to moment only through our God. This provides us perspective. God is not the highest order within creation, but vastly larger than that, beyond our categories. There is no battle among equals. Compared to our God, Satan or any other power, natural or supernatural, is a puny, trivial thing. It’s not that God is stronger than any other power or ‘has authority’ over them. It’s that other “powers” only exist and continue to exist through God. God transcends creation — heavens and earth. Personally, I find that a more helpful framework than what usually seems to devolve from discussions that begin with the idea of ‘sovereignty’.
However, for the counter to this reality, I turn apophatic. For this was the truth, the understanding, the realization, the recognition, that sealed my identity as one who follows in the Way of Jesus. One of the clearest and oft-repeated statements I see God making about himself is that there is no evil in Him. Darkness cannot abide the light and God is light. No darkness. No evil. No pain. God may be the personal creator and the sustainer of all that exists, but at the same time, he is emphatically not the source of evil.
How do you “resolve” that? Though it can be entertaining to bat ideas around and nibble at it from various perspectives, I don’t really think you do or even can. God is bigger than we can wrap our minds around. I find I cling to the truth I most need in any given moment.
I will say this, though. It hurts me to see people struggle with trying to understand why God “gave” or even “planned” some evil they have experienced because they have been taught that God is “sovereign”. I’ve encountered it more than once. That is not what God says about himself and his care for us through Jesus (who should always be the lens through which a Christian grapples for an understanding of God). And frankly, whether I consider the horrible evil that can be visited on a single child or the massive suffering from an event like Katrina or the tsunami, any god who wills it is not a god I would ever trust or with whom I would desire the slightest contact, no matter how powerful that god might be. Fortunately, that is not the God I found in Jesus.



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted March 2, 2007 at 11:50 am


If goodness renders grace, should not sin render suffering?



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted March 2, 2007 at 3:56 pm


Paul, I think that’s the way us humans have been raised, that wrong must include pain. But if God’s mercy is greater than we can wrap our brains around, I wonder how his mercy figures into sin. With sin I think there is accountability, but whether it is a suffering or painful or rejecting accountability, I don’t think so. Perhaps mercy comes in, in that it is to draw us to God. Romans says we come to God because his mercy woos us.



report abuse
 

Timotheos

posted March 2, 2007 at 4:59 pm


I’m just wondering to myself after reading this fine discussion if the answer is not more obvious and straightforward than we like to admit, at least on the most basic level of understanding and experience. Is not every calamity, every tsunami, every earthquake, every act of terror perpetrated and suffered, God’s judgment? Is not every death, whether suffered after lengthy illness or dealt momentarily from the barrel of a .45, the just due of sin visited by way of curse upon the whole of creation? Is death – any death – ever truly an accident? or innocent? or premature? Isn’t death always and ever the direct, intermediate and/or indirect visitation of judgment as a consequence of sin? Has not God deliberately, thoroughly damned the whole fabric of existence under His express wrath, judgment and condemnation?
It seems like this truth is serious enough and deep enough to comprehend 9/11, Katrina, Camile (remember that one?), all the World Wars, Pompeii and even the Deluge, to name only a few. Jesus seemed to be able to handle the two tragedies mentioned in Luke 13:1-5, not with a soft-boiled view of sovereignty but an earnest, seemingly “callous,” but pointed, warning to…repent. Isn’t this the crux of the matter?
Without selling such divine jewels as grace, mercy, longsuffering, compassion and love short (they are “givens” in any such discussion), the plain reality of the curse, and a fearful acknowledgment of the One who spoke death and damnation to every sinner, is a sufficient and necessary answer to it all. We, the church, should be saying this, loud and clear. God DID have something to do with all this and it is terrible, and we’d better call for repentance. That’s what Jesus would do.
Timotheos



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted March 2, 2007 at 5:04 pm


Timotheos,
Thanks for this … I’m not sure I agree with everything you’ve said, but your framing of the issue seems to lead to this: Is God then not arbitrary? Why a tsunami then and there? Why 9/11 then and there? Once you ask those questions, you move forward into the issue Keillor thinks “worldview” thinking doesn’t ask or answer but which a “Christian understanding of history” might just answer. Check out our post early next week … he offers insights on what he thinks took place on 9/11.



report abuse
 

Timotheos

posted March 2, 2007 at 5:35 pm


Hey Scot,
From our viewpoint for sure, arbitrary might seem accurate…but then, I know (if I read Scripture correctly) YHWH is anything but arbitrary. The intensity – the holiness – of the deliberate-ness of His work is frightening, so I can’t think there is even the slightest bit of “arbitrary” in Him. Walter Smith’s hymn “Immortal, Invisible” is breathtaking in how it poetically portrays the efficiency of God.
But I still hit the same “wall” you do, and I can manage (at least momentarily) to salve the bruises I get from the wall when (and if!) I stop to ponder why it is that God would, or should, suspend the execution of a judgment already handed down so long ago, and to suspend in such a fashion as He does…and here I can only hear whispers of mercy.
Anyway, I will look forward to more on this from you and Mr. Keillor. Thanks for the thought provoking blog. Have a lovely weekend.
Timotheos



report abuse
 

Christina Hancock

posted March 2, 2007 at 10:03 pm


I do believe it may be a bit of both. God surrenders to the allowence of disasters but does not give up his control. All things good and bad are for His glory only. So to allow things to take course and no matter what the end result may be His glory will shine to those who have the spiritual eyes and ears to hear. We as humans are corrupted and continually being corrupted. God know’s the outcome before it happens he knew us before we were concieved. Eph 1:4 So to view both perspectives you could say that both are correct. It is a devine judgement & allows free will which obviously leads to distruction. But when followed through done for the purpose of God’s grace, mercy and glory…
Humble yourself in the site of the Lord and He shall lift you up. James 5:10



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted March 2, 2007 at 10:31 pm


What I come up against, Timotheos, is that incidence in the Gospels where Jesus is asked what sin a man with an infirmity did and Jesus said it wasn’t his sin.
Jesus wept and raged at the tomb of Lazarus and one way to take that is his sorrow and anger at death. We can weep and rage with the abnormality brought into the world by the Fall. We need not do as the Muslims that all tragedy that comes along is Allah’s will, because we are told in Genesis then throughout the Bible that we live in an abnormal world, where all will be made right in the new heaven and earth.
Yes, death came into the world with the Fall. Yes, all who sin deserve death according to Romans. But then we go onto God’s mercy.
I’ve always had problems with the concept of God as a parent saying “I love you so much that I won’t kill you.” That is not how I treat my child.



report abuse
 

Sam Carr

posted March 2, 2007 at 11:04 pm


It may be worth also remembering that though death and disaster bring home to us the falleness of this world, we actually live with the groaning of the whole world, awaiting our salvation. It helps me to not separate life and death. In a sense as Paul argues, we are either living death or living life, it’s not a comfortable thought at all!



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted March 3, 2007 at 10:27 am


Hi Becky R,
Thanks for your comments about God’s mercy. By the person of Jesus, mercy trumps all.
I understand the reasonableness and fairness of linking sin and suffering. Not that I neccessarily understand it in any of it’s particulars but that, generally speaking, I “get” the connection. Right actions lead to good consequences, wrong actions lead to bad ones. Further still, I think it’s true that sin and hate, like love and grace, transcend the individual. That is to say, that when I love, the grace is communally experienced, when I sin, the community suffers. For good outcomes or for bad, we are all in this thing together.
God’s mercy is the binding presence among us. While reverent awe and respect (fear of God) is a right and proper attitude, particularly in response to the consequences of sin, in our humanity we can be overwhelmed by it’s experience. It can make us too fearful, too despondant; believers in a vengeful God and a wretched self. Seen in isolation, such judgements can draw us away and not too, our Lord.
It is as you remind, in His mercy, that our love of Him and love of self are made manifest. In a very fundamental way we know we are not first loved because of what we’ve done. Something we’ve competed for and won but rather we are loved in spite of our failings, apart from what we’ve done. We are loved, fully and completely, for the simple reason that we exist. We are God’s children and He is our parent.
It is this understanding of God’s perpetual love and perpetual posture of forgiveness that sustains us. In spite of our sins, in spite of our suffering God is always there for us. Always.



report abuse
 

tbone

posted March 3, 2007 at 3:05 pm


Ultimately, all “blame” for good or evil can be laid at the feet of the Creator. For example, if God merely foreknew–but did not cause–that his creation would ultimately experience great harm and evil, and yet he went ahead with the creation anyway, the choice was his. He had the choice to go ahead with creation or not go ahead with it. He chose to go ahead with it.



report abuse
 

Tim Hallman

posted March 3, 2007 at 8:54 pm


RE: Post #18
The comments attributed to Achtemeier are very interesting, especially the point about God working through nature. Sometimes the sense I get when someone talks about the Sovereignty of God is that they mean God totally controls every possible atom-like movement of the natural universe. Is there a way to think of God’s sovereignty that doesn’t exist at that kind of micro-level?
In regard to evil at a personal and tragically global level, can it exist outside of God’s “will”? Does God “control” evil at its tiniest form in the heart of an individual? And at what point does nature just be nature…can God have set nature in motion and let it be without coming across from a Deistic point of view? When a people group build a city in a hurricane/flood zone, how is it a judgment of God? Isn’t that foolishness reaping its sad, sad, sad, harvest rather then a specific judgment of God because of sexual immorality, idolatry or blatant racisim?
Just some thoughts.



report abuse
 

Doug Allen

posted March 5, 2007 at 9:30 am


Trying to understand suffering and evil in the context of an all powerful God seems to cause craziness! A few see every natural and manmade tragedy as God’s judgment. Others (deists and atheists) see none of it as God’s judgment. Those who emphasize the former push me toward the latter. Those who emphasize the former compound the suffering and tragedy by blaming the victim(s) IMHO.
I just drove 1500 miles and listened to the audiobook, A HISTORY OF GOD, THE 4000 YEAR QUEST OF JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM by Karen Armstrong. If I understood her correctly, western Christianity (not Eastern Orthodox, not Islam, not modern Judaism) is the only faith that would attribute natural and manmade tragedies to God.
Doug



report abuse
 

Josh W

posted March 5, 2007 at 1:10 pm


Is it fair for someone to die? Or for something bad to happen to them? If we know the harshest case, and can show it is fair, then whatever else God does is better than fair.
How could it be fair?
Because he is giving people a personal knowledge of good and evil, which Adam asked for?
Although this asks the question of why it is fair that we should pick up from Adam, although that rule has served us well considering that Christ is the second Adam!
Because he is giving them what their action ask for?
Because enough good things happen to them to balence out?
Because it will lead to a better thing for them (difficult to see if an unchanged person dies)?
What if it is not fair for that one person? Then we are in trouble, because God doesn’t show partiality, so presumably if he is unfair to one person, then he is unfair to everyone.
Oh about nature and law, if I put a weight above my head and let go and it hurts me, surely it’s Gods law and my fault? Isaac Newton did not consider the physical laws he was discovering to be separate from the rest of Gods law, and neither should we, as we know in general how water moves through the sky, but it is God who sends rain.
Proverbs 22:3
“A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.”
Lam 3:37-38
“Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, if the Lord has not authorized and commanded it?
Is it not out of the mouth of the Most High that evil and good both proceed?”
Ouch!



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.