theodicy

...now browsing by tag

 
 

God’s Justice & Love (A guest-post by David Gooding)

Friday, January 26th, 2018

“‘What is the answer to evil?’ asks the psalmist.

Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (Ps 98:8–9)

  Don’t you want there to be a judgment? Who wants the evil of the world to go unchecked for ever? The unconverted man with any moral sense would want a judgment; even if he doesn’t believe in it and thinks it is ‘whistling in the dark’ and comforting yourself with fairy tales. But he would hope it is true that evil will not go on for ever, and there is going to be a judgment.

[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)

  Picture the scene with the help of the imagery. ‘The Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool’ (Dan 7:9). Over against this fearful, hideous beast, put the triumph of rationality and wisdom. The books are opened—a perfect record; the thrones are set—perfect justice. The ultimate triumph of rationality, wisdom and justice. Incidentally, notice that it is not one throne, but thrones. We shall come to that again.

  Praise God in your heart that the vision is true and let us preach it unashamedly. It is gospel for our world; let us hold up our heads before the atheist and the humanist. Precisely at this point they have no gospel to preach. The humanist declares that his interest is in humanity. He has got rid of God with all his tyranny and he is on man’s side.

  Let’s take him to visit Auschwitz. Here is a row of cells and the occupants are scheduled to be gassed next Thursday. What shall we say to them?

  When they see us and think we bring hope they ask, ‘What are you doing for us? We want justice.’

  I will say, ‘You will not get justice in this world. You will be gassed, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. But there is hope; this life is not the end. The sense of right and wrong that you have in your heart is not your own imagination. Our Creator put it there; it is not put there to mock you. There is to be a judgment where earth’s wrongs will be put right. For you, there is forgiveness of all your sins right now, if you will have it. The marvellous assurance from the judge himself is that, if you trust him, you will never come into judgment, but will pass from death to life.’

  And what will the humanist say to them? These people want justice, and he is interested in humanity; he has got rid of God in order to improve the lot of humanity. But he will have to say, ‘I am sorry, you are not going to get justice in this life. You are going to be gassed on Thursday, and since there is no God, no life to come and no judgment, you are never going to get justice.’ The prisoners will say, ‘Do you mean that all my hope in justice has been a mocking delusion?’

‘Yes,’ says the humanist.

  And it is not just Hitler’s victims in the gas chambers. Who shall count the multi-millions that have died unjustly in this world? God has an answer to it, our sense of right and wrong is not put there to mock us. It comes from our Creator God and there is going to be a judgment where earth’s wrongs will be put right. The resurrection of Christ is the final assurance of the fact.

Perhaps some of you are saying, ‘You denounce one tyrant and his excessive power; but you seem to substitute one tyrant for another tyrant who happens to have a bit more power, namely almighty God.’

Is that so? The final answer in the great struggle of life is simply who has the greatest power. The beast destroyed other people; now God destroys him. What’s the difference? They both destroy. You wouldn’t say anything so silly, would you? God has anticipated this objection. ‘With the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man’ (Dan 7:13). We know exactly who that person is. It was precisely with reference to that text that our Lord claimed to be the Son of Man. To his judges in the priestly court, he said,

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son . . . And he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:22, 27)

Our Lord is qualified to be judge because he is the Son of Man. The amazing grace of almighty God, he shall judge nobody. It will not be a question of God Almighty, in his position of God Almighty, just crushing his creatures; God himself has decreed that the judgment of man shall be done by a man, a perfect man who isn’t obsessed with power. As he looked over his beloved mother city of Jerusalem and saw the sufferings that must descend upon that city he (the judge in that final day) broke down and wept over it.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matt 23:37)

  The judgment of mankind will be in the hand of that sinless, compassionate, perfect, ideal Son of Man.

It is not a question of who has the greatest power, but who has the greatest love 

  Nobody—not even the devil himself—has ever thought that he could attain greater power than God Almighty. The ultimate question is, who loves man the best? Judgment shall be given to the Son of Man. Not only because it shall be judgment by peer (man judged by man), but because of his worthiness to judge.

I would remind you of that well-loved vision of Revelation 5, where the hosts of heaven proclaim the Lamb worthy to take the book and open the seals. With that the preparations for the judgment of mankind begin. Why is he worthy to do it? It is not only because he is the Son of Man, but because he himself was slain. There shall be no voice raised at this judgment to say it is unfair and he is unqualified. They shall be shown Calvary and how the wild beasts tore him there, with their enmity and jealousy, their envy and spite, their power politics, both religious and civil. Invested with the very power of God, why did he put up with it?

  If you were out walking and a mosquito landed upon you and stung you, you wouldn’t think twice what you would do to it. But to think that a little bit of clay six foot tall should turn round and do insult to God and crucify his Son—why didn’t God smudge out the planet? Because that’s not God! Before the blessed Son of God should mount the throne in judgment, he was first lifted up on the cross of Calvary. He is worthy to execute judgment because he was slain so that men might go free and be redeemed.

  And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ (Rev 5:9–10)

  God is determined not just to destroy creation—he will not thus yield to defeat. Christ is going to make something of it and he will yet make something of human beings. By his redemption not only to forgive them, but to turn them into a kingdom of priests to live and serve God for his eternal pleasure . . .  The answer to the destructive power of the unregenerate Gentile political system is not only that God shall have a judgment; and not only shall the Son, the Messiah, be the judge; but dominion shall be given to the saints.”

David W. Gooding, Daniel: Civil Servant & Saint. (Coleraine, NI, UK: The Myrtlefield Trust, 2017), 41-43. [Italics original.] Read the entire work here.

Mercy in Everyday Tragedies – Or Why I’m thankful For The Lord’s Providential Plans

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

The horrible news of yet another terrorist attack – this time in Paris, the iconic “city of light” – fills the headlines globally. In this age of mass information and communication our screens are inundated with unwanted scenes of carnage and pitiable sorrow. Beyond globally publicized tragedies – some natural and some manmade – there are the innumerable smaller trials that afflict ordinary folks. We all know people that are ill with cancer; or dealing with the loss of a loved one; or struggling with the breakup of their families (divorce, wayward children, private addictions to multiple soul-destroying vices, etc.); or enduring financial reverses such as the loss of a job.

"Kain" by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg

(“Kain” (1917) by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain.) 

Seven Billion Sufferers In Need Of A Deliverer

   What can one say? Such difficulties are endemic in this fallen world and evil is all too real. That’s where the Lord’s faithfulness comes in: He is an inexhaustible salve to heal the wounds of a broken creation, filled with countless sad stories emanating from sinfully defective people. Only the knowledge of His sovereign control over the world, overruling wickedness and its attendant suffering, can give us peace to endure and confidence to overcome. Just as the Man of Sorrows who died on the cross is now the risen Lord of glory, even so this present world of calamity is going to give way to an unshakeable kingdom of glory, righteousness, and justice.[i]

A History Of Violence

   Earlier this week, as I devotionally read through a somewhat obscure genealogy in 1 Chronicles, I was reminded afresh of the Almighty’s providential mercies towards His people. Amidst numerous unfamiliar names, 1 Chronicles 7:20-24 this remarkable vignette appears:

The sons of Ephraim were Shuthelah, Bered his son, Tahath his son, Eladah his son, Tahath his son, Zabad his son, Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead. The men of Gath who were born in that land killed them because they came down to take away their cattle. Then Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived and bore a son; and he called his name Beriah, because tragedy had come upon his house. Now his daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen Sheerah.

The quotidian activities of earning a living in mundane agricultural pursuits were suddenly disrupted by violence. Cattle raiders murdered Ephraim’s sons – his heirs and earthly hope for the future. As a father, I cannot imagine the grief that such an event would bring. No stranger to this type of pain[ii], Matthew Henry writes: “Nothing brings the aged to the grave with more sorrow than their following the young that descend from them to the grave first, especially if in blood. It is often the burden of those that live to be old that they see those go before them of whom they said, These same shall comfort us.”[iii] Indeed, how could a father go on after such a tragedy? The passage offers some help:

  1. Ephraim was comforted by his brothers, 1 Chron. 7:22. In times of sorrow, physical family can offer help and comfort; how much more ought spiritual brothers and sisters offer to one another during trials? 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Col. 4:8, 11; 1 Thes. 5:11, 14.
  1. The Lord comforted him by giving him another son, 1 Chron. 7:23. True, this son was no replacement for the children who were gone – this is evidenced by the boy’s name “Beriah”[iv] – but it did ensure the preservation of his family line by giving him an heir.
  1. The Lord carried on His purposes for the Ephraimites, 1 Chron. 7:24-29. In spite of the murders and opposition, Ephraim and his descendants continued to develop the land and found notable cities like Upper and Lower Beth Horon. They would prosper, just as the patriarch Jacob prophesied.[v]

We’ll Always Have Paris

From The Getty Library, public domain.

(From The Getty Library, public domain.)

  Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a terminal illness, or another type of setback or trial, the believer can rejoice in the certainty of the Lord’s purpose to glorify His people. How ever horrible the catastrophe, the Lord will lovingly carry out His will for those who have received Him through faith in Christ. As Romans 8:28-39 famously expresses it:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Crime And Punishment

   Were the murderers of Ephraim’s children ever brought to justice in this world? The Scriptures are silent on this point. Nevertheless, God’s word repeatedly declares that those who flout the mercy that He offers in Christ will inevitably stand before a higher tribunal: The Lord’s own Great White Throne.[vi] For those who have trusted Christ, He has already suffered judgment in their place.[vii] This is the only way to evade eternal punishment for our sins. One way or another, no one escapes the providential dealings of the holy God.

ENDNOTES

[i] Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15; and 2 Peter 3:10-13.

[ii] Henry’s first wife died in childbirth; he also had three children die in infancy. For more information, see here http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhenry2.html Accessed on 11/17/15; or the excellent biography, Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, available here: http://www.christianbook.com/matthew-henry-his-life-and-influence/allan-harman/9781845507831/pd/507831?event=ESRCG

[iii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 566. [Italics original.]

[iv] The translators’ offer these meanings of the name: “On misfortune” NASmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for misfortune.” NIV’11; “In tragedy” NKJVmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for disaster” ESVmg.; “Beriah sounds like a Hebrew term meaning ‘tragedy’ or ‘misfortune.’” NLTmg.

[v] “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.” Genesis 49:22-26.

[vi] Rev. 20:11-15; see also John 5:17-47; Acts 17:29-31.

[vii] John 5:24; Rom. 8:1.

 

Killing The “God Is Dead” Lie

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

On February 28, 2012 the atheistic theologian William Hamilton passed into eternity. He was best known for co-authoring the book Radical Theology And The Death Of God with fellow liberal scholar Thomas J.J. Altizer. This incendiary tome inspired Time magazine’s famous 1966 cover story “Is God Dead?” That article summed up the issues with which they wrestled thus:

Nietzsche’s thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. The current death-of-God group believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write a theology without theos, without God. Less radical Christian thinkers hold that at the very least God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead, and—in the central task of religion today—they seek to imagine and define a God who can touch men’s emotions and engage men’s minds. If nothing else, the Christian atheists are waking the churches to the brutal reality that the basic premise of faith—the existence of a personal God, who created the world and sustains it with his love—is now subject to profound attack.[i]

Hamilton’s obituary explains that his questioning of God’s existence began with the accidental death of two religious friends, while a third atheistic friend was spared. He went on to cite the Holocaust as a major blow to his belief in God, in his words: “I wrote out my two choices: ‘God is not behind such radical evil, therefore he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by God’ or ‘God is behind everything, including the death camps — and therefore he is a killer.’”[i]

Two Facts That Vindicate God

Of course trite answers to the problem of evil and human suffering will not do. The harsh realities of history and contemporary life demand something more than shallow sound-bytes and Pollyanna-esque platitudes. Thankfully, the Bible devotes a great deal of space to exploring this problem that sooner or later touches every human life.

The struggle of modern radical theologians like the late Dr. Hamilton is largely a product of their prior rejection of the Bible as God’s Word. Two biblical truths in particular give a coherent defense of the Almighty’s character in the face of evil and human pain. The first is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the second is His empty tomb.

Boasting In The Cross

The cross clearly shows that God is interested in human beings, and is no mere spectator to their trials and sufferings. He is not an accomplice to atrocities like the Holocaust or 9/11; rather He is just and deems all such iniquity to be worthy of the severest judgment. If anyone questions whether the Almighty is impassive in the face of evil, they have only to look at the cross where He poured out His unrestrained wrath upon it. No wonder Paul boasted in this great act (see the verse at the top of the page), which demonstrated God’s love and righteousness, while striking a mortal blow to evil and pain. Human suffering is on borrowed time, for the sin that underlies it, has been dealt with by Christ on the cross.

The Creator’s knowledge of human pain transcends the theoretical, because God the Son took on flesh and suffered the death of the cross. In addition to the awful torture of crucifixion that He experienced at the hands of wicked men, He also suffered the unutterable divine wrath against sin. More than any other being He knows what pain is. Unlike men who have no choice about living in a world where suffering is commonplace, everything that the Son of God endured was voluntary. What is more, His substitutionary death on the cross makes it possible for people to escape eternal hellfire.

The Reports Of God’s Demise Have Been Mistaken

The second great truth that kills the “God is dead” lie is the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. After His ignominious and graphic death on the cross people wrongly assumed that that was the last they would see Christ. Nevertheless, three days later the Lord Jesus rose in power from the dead, at once proving His deity and the perfect accomplishment of His divinely ordained work. What is more, this astonishing miracle demonstrated that the grave does not have to have the final victory. Even the unimaginable pain of Christ’s death was overcome by His rising again. That is to say, when He had suffered beyond what any human being has ever suffered, the Lord triumphantly rose again, proving that no pain is insurmountable. Further, if we belong to the Lord, the sufferings of this life will be superseded by eternal blessedness in the future. As He told two of His disciples after the resurrection, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Lk. 24:26.)

In turning away from the true and living God, people mistakenly abandon the only possible ground for hope in the face of human suffering. Among all of the belief systems of man – be they secular or spiritual – only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ offers the certain prospect of taking present sufferings and transforming them into future glories. Paul emphatically described this truth, affirming “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18.) Moreover, he understood that sufferings themselves are tools in God’s hand for transformation into the most beautiful image imaginable: that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. As he said: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17.)  Like a skillful reconstructive surgeon, God applies the scalpel of suffering to cut away the grotesque and unseemly parts of human character and conform the resulting visage into His own glorious likeness. Removing God from the discussion of human suffering only removes all possibility of salvation from unremitting and pointless pain.

[i] “Is God Dead?”, Time magazine, April 8, 1966, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,835309,00.html#ixzz1o4yZ9zPG Accessed on March 3, 2012.

[1i] William Hamilton, from a 2007 interview with The Oregonian newspaper, quoted in his obituary of the Los Angeles Times wire service, March 3, 2012, “William Hamilton dies at 87; theologian questioned God’s existence” accessed here on 3/3/12: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-william-hamilton-20120303,0,1455686.story

TO DOWNLOAD THE ARTICLE IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Killing The God Is Dead Lie