Monday, April 13, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 4: What Genesis Teaches Us

We’ve spent the last few posts covering divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and how these two elements are essential building blocks for a sound theodicy. In other words, you can’t defend the righteousness of God in a theodicy if you don’t take into account divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

In this post, I’m back to put Genesis chapters 1-3 into perspective for us, as we proceed with our discussion. What can Genesis chapters 1-3 teach us about the concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility? How can we appropriate these chapters into a sound theodicy – which then makes its way into a sound theology?

We can learn a few things from Genesis 3 about divine sovereignty and human responsibility:

·      God’s sovereignty remains intact – the Lord, as sovereign, comes to the scene of the sin and punishes all parties involved (Adam, Eve, and the serpent). At the same time, however, He proclaims hope in that, despite the sin and stain upon humanity and creation, the seed of the woman (Jesus) would crush the head of the serpent (Satan), Gen. 3:15. Notice that the Lord refers to “He” when discussing the seed of the woman and the “you” and “your” when referring to the serpent. Scripture tells us that Satan is “that serpent of old” (Rev. 12:9). The seed of the woman refers to Christ, “The God of peace” who will “crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). God’s sovereignty can also be seen through the fact that He expels man and woman from the Garden and places a cherubim angel with a flaming sword to guard the Garden.

·      Man’s responsibility remains intact – despite man’s sin, he must still cultivate the ground, even after he is expelled from the Garden (Gen. 3:17-19, 23). Man does gain the knowledge of good and evil in the encounter, but he must now encounter evil – something that hadn’t happened prior to Genesis 3. All the consequences that occurred in the Fall were bad, and man must now live with these consequences while still having to work the ground, produce childbirth, and live in marriage.

·      Man is the author of Sin – Sin enters the world and stains creation because of man. Although Satan was in the Garden that day, it is not Satan (the serpent) who is blamed for the Fall; rather, the ground is cursed “because of you,” which was God’s response in making Adam responsible for it (Gen. 3:17). In addition, the Lord tells Adam that he disobeyed the divine command: “because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’” (Genesis 3:17) God’s statement to Adam shows that the Lord is absolved of guilt because He forewarned Adam about disobeying Him, and Adam listened to the voice of his wife against the word of God (which makes Adam guilty all on his own).

·      Divine sovereignty comes back in full force, even after human responsibility fails – If Open Theists were right, God would have claimed ignorance after Adam and Eve sin in the Garden. Instead, the Lord tells the serpent that, not only will he crawl on his belly for the rest of his life, but that his head will be crushed by the seed of the woman. We know from progressive revelation that this refers to the cosmic battle of the Lord over Satan and his demons (cf. Luke 10:18; Romans 16:20). In the end, the Lord will rule over all, and He would claim the victory over Satan through His death and resurrection on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).

·      Death enters the human family – It’s a sad thought indeed, but Adam and Eve’s sin brings death into the human family. The Lord had forewarned Adam of death (“the wages of sin is death,” Paul said in Romans 6:23), but Adam decided to disobey God in the face of the divine warning. The sentence for not just Adam, but all of mankind, is death (Romans 5). I mentioned in the last post that the Lord forewarns of death despite the fact that death didn’t exist with mankind prior to the Fall, but it reminds us that the Lord, while being the Giver of Life in Genesis, always had the power to take life, too.

·      The environment is cursed because of the fall of man – “Cursed is the ground because of you,” the Lord says to Adam in Genesis 3. Adam’s decision to sin affected not only Adam and Eve, but also their descendants (Romans 5:12) as well as creation, including the ground (Romans 8:19-22). In other words, we see the implications of the Lord making Adam and Eve to “rule over the earth”: their sin would result in the curse of all creation, not just themselves and humanity. Adam and Eve could not have foreseen that their sin would impact their children (Cain and Abel), as well as the remainder of humanity. By the time of the Flood, sin had so pervaded humanity that the writer could say “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). In response to the evil, the Lord could say, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:13).

Even Noah’s name was linked to the curse of the ground: “Now he [Lamech] called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed’” (Gen. 5:29).

When Jesus dies on the cross, Matthew notes that creation responds to the Lord who made it: first, darkness falls upon the land (Matthew 27:45); then, the earth shakes and the rocks split (Matt. 27:51). This was to show that the Lord of creation was dying on the cross and that the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection would have an impact on creation.

These lessons gleaned from Genesis show us that Adam and Eve’s decision to sin had far-reaching impacts that the couple could never have foreseen in Genesis 3. Man’s rule over the earth plunged the earth into the curse when man disobeyed God.

I’ve gone through some basics of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as provided in Genesis, but we’re not done with basic building blocks for a sound theodicy just yet. Next on the list is omniscience, and I’ll start my investigation of this component of a sound theodicy in my next post. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 3-B: Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Continued

In my last post, I started an examination of Genesis and what the first biblical book tells us about divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We see that, in the beginning, the sovereign Lord who creates the world also makes man and gives him “dominion” or “rule” over the animal kingdom and the earth itself. We know this to be true because of what happens in the Fall.

And the Fall happens to be the background for today’s post: that divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet sin in the narrative. How does the Lord handle sin? What role do Adam and Eve play in the sin committed? You likely know the narrative, but we’ll cover it because it shows us in no uncertain terms that sin doesn’t negate God’s sovereignty (contra Open Theism) nor does it negate man’s responsibility. Even Calvinists struggle to reconcile how their theology posits that evil is foreordained by God while still attributing evil to man.

Yes, I am aware of the “primary” and “secondary causes” language that is philosophical in nature; even Arminius used these terms in his three-volume theology (The Works of Arminius, or simply, Works), but even if you posit man is the primary cause of an evil action, you’re still stuck with God as the secondary cause. Any agent in our world today that “drives the getaway car” from a murder of the scene of a crime is still guilty, even if he or she never even touched the trigger of the gun or the dagger that killed the victim. And, if the Lord never approved of aiding and abetting the wrongdoer, why would He not care about being free of evil Himself? 

God as secondary cause is still not enough to free the Lord of the crime of committing evil. And, if the Lord is the primary agent of a noble action, then He must do so in a way that is non-coercive. The Lord does this in the salvation process, when His Holy Spirit convicts a man of his sin and need for Jesus but does not force the individual in any way to make a choice to either receive or reject the gospel. The same happened in the account of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27).

Commands, freedom, and warning

The end of Genesis chapter 2 shows us divine sovereignty and human responsibility in yet another beautiful display of the two concepts. First, we see the Lord, in His sovereignty, gives Adam the responsibility and freedom of naming the animals in the animal kingdom. The Lord creates the animals (sovereignty and divine freedom), and then the Lord allows Adam to name them (again, another display of divine sovereignty). The text even tells us that Adam got free reign over what to name the animals: “and [He] brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19, NASB; cf. Gen. 2:20).

Naming the animals was another responsibility the Lord gave to Adam in creation, along with cultivating the ground and upkeeping it. These were responsibilities, but they were also privileges from the Creator of the universe. Even responsibility is a freedom and a privilege. I need to remember this when I’m paying my bills each month (you know you want to laugh here J)

Adam even gets the unique privilege of naming his companion: “She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). In the same way that the Lord names the sun, moon, stars, and day and night, He now allows man, bearing His image and likeness, to name some of creation himself – the animals and the human female. We find out that Adam names the gender, but he also gives the woman a specific name: Eve (Gen. 3:20), or “Zoe” in the greek (“Zoe,” Grk., means “living”).

As Genesis 2 shows us here, the “rule over the earth” becomes a bit more fleshed out for us to see exactly what ruling over the earth entailed. By Adam working to cultivate the ground, and naming the animals and his mate, Adam was “taking responsibility” for them. And, despite the Lord’s having created everything, he would make Adam “lord” (lowercase, not capital) of the earth. This will play a large role in the Lord’s punishment to Adam in Genesis 3.

In Genesis 2:16-17, we see that the Lord warns Adam that if he eats from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” God speaks about death here, something that, from the text alone, doesn’t seem to have ever existed in the creation narrative until the Lord mentions it here. At the same time, however, God is aware of the concept of death – which explains why He gives this warning to Adam and uses death as a punishment to deter Adam from disobeying His command. And the fact that Eve mentions death to the serpent shows that she is aware of how terrible a consequence the couple would endure if they disobeyed God (Genesis 3:3).

The Fall and Its Consequences

We won’t cover the Fall here except to point out the Lord’s warning to Adam in Genesis 2 and the Lord’s response to sin. Adam and Eve believe the serpent’s lie that on the day they ate the fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
They eat, and their eyes are opened, and they realize they are naked. Once the Lord enters the Garden, Adam and Eve hide because of the knowledge that they have sinned.

The Lord confronts Adam and Eve about their sin, but starts with the serpent since, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” Eve said (Gen. 3:13). The Lord tells the serpent that he will be “cursed...more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field. On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). In other words, the serpent’s days are numbered and he will be the most humiliated creature on earth.

The woman is sentenced to painful childbirth (“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth,” Gen. 3:16), but she will still sexually desire her husband – even if it brings more and more children, and multiple painful childbirths. The husband will rule over her as a consequence of her “leading” her husband into sin.

As for the man, Adam, the Lord sentences him to 1) hard, sweaty labor (v.19), 2) physical death – “till you return to the ground” and “to dust you shall return,” Gen. 3:19). The Lord finally announces death for the human family, but notice that he doesn’t institute death for the animal kingdom. He simply tells the serpent about “all the days of his life,” a claim that some could use to make the case that animal death existed prior to the death sentence upon humanity.

Last but not least, the Lord tells Adam that “the ground is cursed because of you,” or, as some translations of Scripture read, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). The Lord is even more descriptive of the ground’s curse when He says that “both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you” (v.18).” This statement tells us that the ground’s crop and food will be hard to come by because thistles and thorns (weeds) will also grow on the ground. Adam will now have to work by the sweat of his brow because of the intensity of labor required to bypass the weeds and see that a crop grows to fruition.

In my next post, I will tackle some important lessons we can learn from Genesis 3, and use the lessons learned to propel us into further discussion regarding divine sovereignty, omniscience, human responsibility, and evil. God bless.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 3: The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility

You will note throughout this mini-series that I intend to use the terms “divine sovereignty” and “the sovereignty of God” interchangeably. If I do use them in this manner throughout my writing, do know that they are excellent equivalents.

I’m back to begin my work on the building blocks for a sound theodicy. First on the list is divine sovereignty, the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign, in control of all things, and the biblical record bears witness to this.

I’m about to provide scriptural proof, but I want you to understand that this series will not attempt to cover every verse in Scripture about the sovereignty of God. Instead, I intend to cover the basics surrounding this topic – from Genesis, the beginning of the biblical history as we’re told. Genesis is the beginning of it all for our revelation from God, so I intend to cover Genesis as it relates to our discussion.

This post covers the idea that God is in control, He’s the Lord of all creation, the God of the universe, and everything He does is out of His own free will. The Lord doesn’t have to do anything outside of 1) exist and 2) remain true to Himself (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18). Human responsibility is a direct result of the sovereignty and free will of God -- and God's will can't conflict with His sovereignty. 

So, with that said, let’s take a look at God’s power and the divine will. Genesis 1:1 tells us that He created the universe. In Genesis 1:3 the Lord says, “Let there be light,” with the word “let” implying voluntarism. God decides to create the world because He wants to. It seemed right to Him. He was under no impulse to create the world. In every place in chapter 1 where we see “let,” we can rest assured that the Lord creates out of His own free will – with no one or thing forcing Him to do so.

In Genesis 1:26, we see God decides to create man: “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky...” We see that the Triune Godhead, the Trinity, God in three persons, makes man, gives man His image, and then allows him to “rule over...every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (v.26). This “man,” however, refers to both men and women (Gen. 1:27). In verse 28, God says the same thing to them again for emphasis: “rule over...every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God creates the sun, moon, stars, and even vegetation and animal kingdom, but He also has sovereignty over man, too – after all, He creates man and gives Him dominion over the earth. How could a God lacking in sovereignty do that?

When Sovereignty Meets Responsibility: God and Man in Relationship in Creation

What happens when God and man meet in creation? We’ve seen that God creates man in His image, after His likeness, and lets male and female (both genders) rule over the earth as agents made to bear the image of God. Now, however, we’re going to take a look at what happens when God creates man.

If you read works such as Most Moved Mover by Clark Pinnock, or The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence by John Sanders, you’ll find the statement “God limits His almightiness.” This phrase may seem harmless if one is talking about the fact that God doesn’t treat humans like robots and “order them around.” Unfortunately, Pinnock and Sanders do not refer to this idea when using the phrase “God limits His almightiness”; instead, these authors mean that God chooses to throw off His ability to foreknow man’s choices – thereby throwing off His foreknowledge and omniscience. Now, to be fair to the Open Theist position that these authors advocate, they do say that God does know the “possibilities of choices” you will make; it’s just that He doesn’t know which possibility you’ll choose. In their understanding, then, God foreknew that Adam and Eve could either 1) eat from the fruit or 2) not eat from the fruit, but He didn’t know whether they’d choose #1 or #2.

If God didn’t foreknow their exact choice, however, how could God have chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)? To choose us in Christ implies that Christ was the only solution to reconcile us back to God; and, if God had a plan to reconcile mankind back to God, then God had to foreknow that man would sin and thus separate himself from God. After all, where there is no separation, there is no need for reconciliation.

What happens after God makes man? We see that man rules over the earth, a derived rule that comes with God’s permission and blessing (Genesis 1:28). Does the free agency of man negate or conflict with God’s sovereignty? Does the divine sovereignty fall in the face of human responsibility? No; in fact, the presence of divine sovereignty is the foundation for human responsibility (Genesis 1:28-30). God tells man in Genesis 1:28-30 that “I have given you every plant...and every tree,” after he tells man and woman to “fill the earth,” “subdue it,” and “rule over” all of the animal and plant kingdoms.

If you read Genesis 1, you’ll be struck by the Lord’s imperatives in verse 28: “be fruitful,” “multiply,” “fill the earth,” “subdue it” (the earth), “and rule over.” Imperatives, as we’ve learned by way of the English language, are commands. And commands only come from a superior – in this case, God. So, the divine sovereignty remains after He creates rational man in that God commands the man to do certain things that He, God, wants him to do (rule over the earth).

A word regarding human responsibility

If we were to stop here, we’d be giving the Calvinists too much room in theology and their theodicy – and declaring them the winner. The problem with the Calvinist is that he or she only sees one side of the coin, that is, the divine perspective (God commanding man). He doesn’t stop much to consider the other side: that is, what God’s commands mean for man. This is where Open Theists and Process Theists would applaud.

What are the implications of God commanding man to do certain things? First off, we know from Genesis that man is not a robot or an automaton: rather, man is able to make choices because God commands. Why would God command man to do anything if man had no say in the matter? Why would God tell man to “rule over the earth” if man could only lift a finger because God lifted it for him?

The sheer fact that God tells man what to do with his freedom lets us know that man is not autonomous, nor an automaton. In Genesis 1:28, as I’ve said, the Lord tells man to “be fruitful,” “multiply,” and “rule over” the earth. In Genesis chapter 2, God places man and woman in the garden “to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). In other words, man has freedom but, contrary to the views of Open Theists, man’s freedom is not autonomous. First, man has limited freedom in that he can’t be God, he can’t choose not to answer to God (he must answer to God, necessarily so, as the commands illustrate), and he can’t get away with wrongdoing – as Genesis chapter 3 shows us.

For now, this information will suffice. We’ll take a look at divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Genesis chapter 3 in my next post. God bless.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 2

In my last post, I tackled Luke Timothy Johnson’s work on process and liberation theology. I specifically focused on process theology because it’s a theology that I’ve had some amount of curiosity in (as is evidenced by the number of books from Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, John Sanders, and Amos Yong on my bookshelf!).

Johnson disagrees with process theology and liberation theology (rightfully so), but he attacks the general intentions of such theologians as trying to undermine the “mystery and majesty” of God. I said it in my last post but I’ll repeat it here: theologians who work at making sense of the God of Scripture are not undermining God’s majesty and mystery, but declaring it and making it known. God has already revealed it in His Word, but it’s up to us to make sense of the divine revelation. I’d disagree with Johnson by saying that if we don’t do the intellectual legwork mandatory to make sense of the Scriptures, then we’re neglecting our human responsibility. I don’t hold a Calvinist view of divine sovereignty, so I’m going to say that, as an agent of change and choice in the world, God’s not gonna implant understanding into my mind if I choose not to study and comb the Scriptures. Those who seek Him will find Him, Jesus says – and that’s just as true when it comes to the living, breathing, Word of God.

In today’s post, I’m gonna take a step back from examining quotes from Johnson and focus on an issue that is near and dear to my heart: building a sound theodicy.

A theodicy is a defense of the righteousness of God (“theodicy” comes from the Greek word “theodike,” meaning “righteousness” (dike, dikaios) and “theos” (God), and each theodicy postulated in theology and academia attempts to defend God’s goodness in light of the presence of evil, tragedy, and suffering. Evil is in contrast to God, who is light and has no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5), so the presence of evil demands a response from those who seek to defend the goodness of God. Christians should be (if they aren’t) at the forefront of this discussion.

And in many ways, Christians are. The problem comes in when many Christians hold a pious view regarding a theodicy that says that it’s all speculation and that God doesn’t need defending because He’s God – end of story. This view may stand for many a Christian, but atheists and agnostics don’t see this view as relevant in the slightest. In fact, many of the opposing camp to Christians see Christians as anti-intellectual when they say things such as the above statement.

Should the Christian have an answer to defend God’s goodness? Yes. At the same time, however, the theodicy discussion is one that has run amok because a number of individuals have differing views of sovereignty and human responsibility. In fact, there are a number of compatibilist views have arisen that claim to make God’s sovereignty and human responsibility compatible but do nothing more than shroud Calvinism in language that may be more “palatable” than views espoused by James White, R.C. Sproul, Jr., and other Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists.

With that said, I want to clarify something on the front of compatibilism before I go into theodicies.

Most Christians are compatibilists 

This may be a shocker for some Christians, but I’ll say it anyway: most Christians are compatibilists! In other words, most Christians believe that there is a way (even those who believe the answer will never be found here) to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility. So, with the label of “compatibilist,” certain theological systems or theories aren’t named very well. “Compatibilist” is a general term that should never be named for a view that attempts to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

Calvinism, for example, is a “compatibilist” view – since it seeks to place “evil” under the umbrella of divine sovereignty and proclaim that God uses the evil to “bring about a greater good” (hence, the Greater Good theodicy). Molinism is a compatibilist view (my mentor would say it’s a soft compatibilist view) that seeks to recognize true human choice but gives God sovereignty by saying that “we freely choose what God has predetermined.”

The words “freely choose” and “predetermined” aren’t necessarily contradictions, a statement I’ve said a time or two here at the blog. In actuality, “predetermined” is a vague term that calls for qualification: does the “predetermined” used here refer to God deciding what choices you and I will make? Or, does the word “predetermined” refer to God determining that you and I would make choices (the right to choose, not the individual choices themselves? It seems that, in Molinism, however, God decides what choices will actualize in the world – which seems to be nothing more than Shakespeare’s statement that “all the world’s a stage, and all the people in it are players.”

Classical or Reformed Arminianism suggests that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are compatible because the Lord God, in His sovereignty, granted free will to men. The freedom granted, however, is not autonomous. If it were, 1) we would not be accountable to God for our choices, which goes against the biblical record (2 Corinthians 5:10), and 2) we could reach divinity or Godhood – which didn’t go so well when Adam and Eve tried it the first time (see Genesis 3). Also, if we had autonomous freedom, God would never have promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, referring to Jesus Christ who would be born of the virgin Mary (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20). The fact that God had already planned to send Jesus down the line through humanity shows that God foreknew of Adam and Eve’s sin and planned a solution “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

I’ve gotten out my thoughts here on compatibilism. In the next post, we’ll start to examine the building blocks of a sound theodicy. For now, however, it’s clear that many Christians are compatibilists. Those who believe that there is no earthly solution to the answer of the co-existence of divine sovereignty and human evil are “incompatibilists,” those who believe that the two concepts are incompatible. Atheists stand in this camp and argue that due to this incompatibility, God doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, some Christians stand in this camp, who believe that “we’re bringing God down to our level to make sense of Scripture’s words regarding these two concepts.” Do the two concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility exist in Scripture? Yes. If they do, then it is our responsibility to read God’s revelation to us to know just what God has said concerning them. God bless.