Why I am a Calvinist

Tulip-8

It’s been suggested to me that I back down or refrain from preaching or teaching the doctrines of Grace i.e. Calvinism. I’d like to explain why these doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election/ predestination, limited atonement, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints are so treasured by me that I cannot back away from them even if it costs me my current job or a future job in an SBC church.

 

First, they are precious doctrines because they are biblical. That should be all the grounding that any believer needs. God has saw fit to reveal in his Word these teachings for us to study and to treasure. His word is the standard for all of our beliefs and practices. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

 

Second, these doctrines exalt God and humble men. Salvation is 100% God’s working. We contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation except the sin that makes it necessary. God will share his glory with no one. It is humbling to know that if not for the sovereign grace of God, I would take myself straight to hell. Yet it causes me to shout in praise of God that he took a dead sinner like myself and made me alive. He has lavished his grace upon one who hated him and could not and would not choose him of his own will.

 

Thirdly, these doctrines are exquisite because they reveal the love that God has for his elect. That in eternity past, God the Father chose a people for himself. He chose to reveal his love to his people by sending God the Son to the cross and dying to save them. He died not just to make salvation possible in generalities but to actually save his specific sheep.  And because God is the one who saves then those who are saved can never be lost. Those he predestines he calls, justifies and will glorify. What great comfort and assurance is found in Christ.

 

Fourthly, these doctrines fuel our evangelism and zeal good works. Because God prepared our salvation beforehand, he also prepared our good works as well. He has chosen to use saved and sanctified sinners to take the glory of the gospel into the world to reach his children. Whether I preach in the pulpit or in the street, I can be confident that my job is just to be faithful to his word and that He is the one who is responsible for the results. I can be confident that God has chosen that the power of the gospel can overwhelm the enslaved and dead will of a sinner and cause them to be born again so that they will now freely chose to obey him. I can pray with confidence for God to save my friends and family, knowing that God actually has the power to save them if he so chooses.

 

Fifthly, and related to the last, because I trust in the sovereignty of God, I do not have to resort to merely pragmatic and worse yet emotionally manipulative means in order to try and get a decision while sharing the gospel. I can faithfully preach the commands of God without being embarrassed by things that our culture finds antiquated. I don’t have to rely on half-truths or the nuancing of things to death so as not to offend. I can trust that God is sovereign and that he has determined to use the proclamation of his word to either save his sheep or to drive away the goats. Consequently, I am free to be faithful to share the gospel with my neighbor without fear that if I mess something up or if I am not the greatest communicator that my neighbor won’t be saved because something I said. Salvation is of the Lord and not of the will of man.

 

There are plenty of other reasons I can think of for why these doctrines are so amazing and precious. Hitting home for me is that God has used the preaching of these beliefs to bring me to repentance and faith in him. And because of that there is no way that I can ever refrain from believing, teaching, preaching, and celebrating the doctrines of Grace.

 

 

Additional Sources:
A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon

John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion

Robert Dabney Defends the Five Points of Calvinism

Arminian Errors

 

Creation and the Age of the Earth

 How old are you? Every gentleman should know that you never ask a lady her age. The earth is a different kind of lady and scientists, scholars,and bible believers have been asking her age for a couple hundred of years now. Like any other lady, earth has done a good job of hiding her age, causing quite a lot of speculation. Scientists, like a medical doctor with a patient of unknown age, have inspected the earth looking for telltale signs of age. Bible scholars however have the birth certificate, though there are several disagreements on how to interpret it.

The Issue

For much of history, science and the bible had been agreeable. William H. Jennings, professor of Religion at Muhlenberg College, writes, “In Newtonian science, the universe operates like a well-ordered machine. The spectacular success with which scientists of that day predicted many astronomical phenomena seemed to demonstrate this, and there was a growing confidence that all the created world could be seen as operating in a similar harmonious and predictable way.”i Science was expected to confirm the Bible and it did. Science confirmed the theological assumption that God’s hand was in the world at creation and at work today. “Newtonian science presented a model by which Christianity and science could exist side by side in harmony.”ii This harmony was not to last for in 1859 Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. Jennings says that, “A dramatic revolution in science occurred in the twentieth century, a revolution for which Darwin was a harbinger. From physics to genetics, from astronomy to anthropology and all the other disciplines, science today pictures the world as dynamic and ever-changing, built upon inner energy… a world that in many ways is different from the way Newtonian science had described it.”iii Darwin had ushered in a radically new model of nature, science and even biblical interpretation. With this new development, theologians began looking to the bible for answers. A new look was given to the book of Genesis to see if it could be harmonized with Darwinism. From this return to Genesis has risen a debate over the age of the earth and the timing of creation. At the heart of this debate is the issue over the authority of scripture and the authority of science. To illustrate the importance of this debate, a 2011 Gallup poll found that only 3 in 10 of Americans say that the Bible is to be interpreted literally as the word of God.”iv This was down from 40% of Americans in 1980. While there may be other factors involved in this decline, certainly the evolution-creation debate has played its roll. The passage of scripture at the center of the debate is Genesis 1 and 2. The passage describes God’s creating of the world seemingly in 6 days. However, if this is true then the earth must be much younger than what many modern scientists are saying. In an attempt to harmonize the science and biblical date, new interpretations of the passage have risen. This paper will first describe two of these alternate interpretations, their weaknesses and then affirm that the literal interpretation is still the most faithful to the text and to the question of the age of the earth.

POSITIONS

Because of a so-called discrepancy between the sciences and Bible, several theologians have been hard at work at trying to harmonize the interpretation of Genesis with the sciences. One theory that gained much traction in the 19th century and blossomed in the 1960s is the Day-Age View. This theory states that the days of creation should be not understood as a 24-hour day but as 6 ages or distinct periods of time. Two of the biggest proponents of this theory Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer describe their position in a book entitled The Genesis Debate. “We build our day-age interpretation upon the conviction that we can trust God’s revelation as truth in both the words of the Bible and works of creation including the physical world.”v “Our day-age interpretation treats the creation days literally as six sequential, long periods of time.”vi The obvious reason that the day-age interpretation exists is because scientists have insisted that the universe is billions of years old. Even Ross and Archer admit , “Before English translations were available, animosity over the length of the Genesis days did not exist, at least not as far anyone can tell from the extant theological literature.”vii While those who promote this viewpoint would claim a commitment to “sola scripture” it seems that their first commitment is to have science interpret the scriptures. Interestingly enough it is two proponents of another interpretation, the framework view, Lee Irons and Meredith G. Kline who provide the best advice when interpreting scripture. “In contrast to this science-driven approach, we believe it is best to set scientific questions to the side while exegeting the text.”viii Henri Blocher another proponent of the framework view puts it this way. In the case of the opening chapters of Genesis, it is not plausible that the human author knew what we are taught by astronomers, geologists and other scientists. Therefore we must curb the desire to make the scientific view play a part in the actual interpretation;the interpretation must cling solely to the text and its context. The inescapable comparison with the sciences of cosmic, biological and human origins will not come until after….ix Irons and Kline sum up this constraint as a “Scripture first, science later methodology (that) accords best with the nature and purpose of Scripture, which does not normally speak in scientific terms for the purpose of answering purely scientific questions.”x The Day-Age view has the hermeneutic backwards. It starts with science first and then seeks to interpret the scriptures accordingly.

Day-Age proponents do seem to make some convincing arguments from the text but ultimately are constrained by the current model of science. What if the current scientific viewpoint were to change? Would theologians be asked to change their interpretation once again? Wayne Grudem in his masterpiece Systematic Theology even asserts that the day view has several difficulties within science. The sequence of events in Genesis 1 does not exactly correspond to current scientific understanding of the development of life, which puts sea creatures (day 5) before trees (day ), and insects and other land animals (day 6), as well as fish (day 5),before birds (day 5). The greatest difficulty for this view is that it puts the sun, moon, and stars (Day 4) millions of years after the creation of plants and trees (Day 3). That makes no sense at all according to current scientific opinion, which sees the stars as formed long before the earth or any living creatures on the earth.xi It is safe to say then even by changing the interpretation of Genesis to have long days, that there are still major problems in fitting within modern science.

Another position mentioned briefly above is the framework view of Genesis. In attempting to keep science out of the exegesis, this view holds that the seven-day creation account was never meant to be taken literally but instead is a literary device used to address theological issues. In this view, Genesis is not an explanation of how God made the universe but is a symbol to illustrate the purpose of creation. This theory basically asserts that the creation week can be divided into two sets of three days each. Lee Irons explains, “ the first triad (days 1-3) narrate the establishment of the creation kingdoms, and the second triad (days 4-6), the production of the creature kings.”xii He goes on further to say, “This deliberate two-triad structure, or literary framework, suggests that the several creative works of God have been arranged by Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in their particular order for theological and literary, rather than sequential, reasons. For this reason we believe the days of the creation week are a figurative framework providing the narrative structure for God’s historical creative works.”xiii

While on the surface this may look like a sound approach, it is an artificial structure applied to the text.  J. Ligon Duncan III and David W. Hall explain the real problem with the framework approach in their critique of a framework essay.” The framework essay claims to liberate the text from received interpretations and, serendipitously, to have removed the ‘false expectations that have muzzled the text in the past’ so that the theological message may shine through. By making this claim, framework adherents disenfranchise virtually all earlier exegesis and sport an eccentric view that purportedly rescues the theological message….Moreover, the framework view requires more than anyone may credibly posit about the literary sophistication of (1) the original audience, (2) all subsequent Old Testament epexegesis, (3) New Testament commentaries on creation, and (4) the orthodox understanding of the Christian Church until relatively recent revisions.”xiv The framework view basically asserts that the real interpretation of the passage was hidden for thousands of years and has only been revealed in the past 50 years.

SUPPORT

Since both the day-age and the framework view are lacking, it may do to return to the literal 24-hour view. The 24-hour view states that each day in the Genesis account correlates to one 24-hour day, thus God created in six days and rested on the seventh. This has been the normative view for most of Christian history. Duncan and Hall explain why this is, “The historical Christian tradition, which is rooted in a cumulative history of interpretation, has viewed these days mainly as normal days because it has viewed the Genesis account as historical. No significant debate existed on the matter before the nineteen century because the plainest and most straightforward reading of the text ha no sustained challengers.”xv It is important to realize that the literal 24-hour view was never really questioned until the recent theories of evolution. Even James Barr, a Hebrew scholar at Oxford University and no friend to a historical christian view, comments that: there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience.xvi

History also confirms that the literal interpretation was the norm for most of Christianity. Basil the great, one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, wrote: “And there was evening and morning, one day. Why did he say one’ and not ‘first’?…He said ‘one’ because he was defining the measure of day a night… since the twenty-four hours fill up the interval of one day.”xvii Ambrose another early father writes a description of the creation days echoing Basil: The end of day is the evening. Now, the succeeding day follows after the termination of night. The thought of God is clear. First He called light “day” and next He called darkness “night.” In notable fashion has Scripture spoken of a “day,” not the “first day.” Because a second, then a third day, and finally the remaining days were to follow, a “first day” could have been mentioned, following in this way the natural order. But Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent.xviii Thomas Aquinas said, “The words one day are used when day is first instituted, to denote that one day is made up of twenty-four hours.”xix The reformers also believed in a literal six day creation. In John Calvin’s commentaries on Genesis he describes God’s creation of days, “That is, God willed that there should be a regular vicissitude of days and nights; which also followed immediately when the first day was ended… Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”xx Martin Luther especially was vocal about his belief in the literal six days, “He [Moses] calls ‘a spade a spade,’ i.e., he employs the terms ‘day’ and ‘evening’ without Allegory just as we customarily do, we assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.”xxi One last quote should be suffice to prove that the literal view has been the view point throughout Christian history. Charles Spurgeon ,who was open to the gap theory, was critical of the day-age theory and confirmed, “There is nothing said about long ages of time, but, on the contrary, “the evening and the morning were the first day”, and “the evening and the morning were the second day”; and so on.”xxii

While it is suffice to say that the literal view has been the norm though out Christian history, that still does not provide a complete defense for this view. For that we will now turn to the Scriptures to see if the literal view is truly correct.  The creation account begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (NASB).”xxiii Something that all Christians can believe without argument is that God existed before the beginning and was the creator of everything. Some have proposed a gap of time between this first statement and the next,“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”xxiv It seems more likely that the first verse stands out as the main idea and that what follows is the description of this main idea. For example it would be like saying, “I made cookies. First, I added eggs, Second I added butter and so forth.” The clue to this structure is the use of numbers in a chronological sequence. Verse 2 then explains the “chaos of the first created matter and God’s method of crafting the formlessness and emptiness to the order and fullness which we now experience, even in this fallen world.”xxv

Next, God in His mighty power creates light with His Word. The apostle John tells us in his gospel that this Word was Christ. It is near impossible to image a time before light existed but it is in verse 3 that God through Christ creates light. In a sermon about creation, Louie Giglio says: I hear people say things all the time that they don’t think about, “I would like to have been there when God created the world.” No, you wouldn’t have wanted to be there when God created the world. You would not have wanted to be there the day He said, “Let there be light” because when He opened His mouth, light came flying out the mouth of God traveling 186,000 miles per second. That’s the speed of light.xxvi When God created light it must have been truly remarkable.

God then separates the light from darkness. It is in verse 5 that the word day is first used. Interestingly the word day is defined by God. The light is day and the darkness is night. “Then there was evening and there was morning, one day.” It is exactly what one expects to be a day from a Jewish stand point. The new day begins at evening and lasts till the next evening. Those looking to make the day into ages have a hard time looking past the very definition given by God. Duncan and Hall say, “Those who voice this objection have no reason, other than cosmological assumptions, for construing yôm(Hebrew word for day) to mean anything other than a normal day, the way the passage was understood by audiences from time of Moses to Jesus.”xxvii

Another important thing to look at is the usage of sequencing with the word for day. When yôm is used in the Genesis account is accompanied with a numerical denotation. This is a clue that the word is used to mean a literal day. Francis Humphrey writes,” The fact that for the bulk of the passage, the word yôm is accompanied by sequential numerical denotation and the language of ‘evening and morning’ gives a prima facie case that regular 24-hour days are in view.”xxviii Even those who hold the framework view agree with this assessment of the 24-hour day. “At this point we agree with the 24-hour theorists that at the literal level, Genesis 1 speaks of seven ordinary days, and that the sixfold evening-morning formula signifies the ordinary cycle of sunset and sunrise.”xxix It is quite obvious then that Moses meant six literal 24-hour days when describing creation.

God then creates all of creation in six days. On the seventh day, He rests from His work of creating. Some have argued that this seventh day is still ongoing because God is still not creating and because the description of the seventh day does not end in the usual wording of “And there was evening and there was morning.” There are several reasons why it is not necessary that the seventh day be ongoing. One reason is that the seventh day marks the end of the description of the creation week. The use of “And there was evening and there was morning” was to provide a marker to signify the end of one creation day and the beginning of the next day of creation. It is a clue that there is more to the story of the creation account to come. Since the seventh day is the end of the account there is no need to continue with a description of another day because the description of the creation week is over. For example, if you where to describe your vacation to a coworker, you might describe what you did Monday morning and evening, Tuesday morning and evening, and so forth. When you get to the end of your description and say, “On Friday, I came home”, the description of the vacation is over. There would be no need to describe what happened Friday evening nor would there be an expectation to describe what happened Saturday. You might think the co-worker was a bit crazy if he thought that your Friday continued in-definitely because you did not tell him what you did on Saturday. The Genesis account of the seventh day is just like the Friday description of your vacation. It is the end of the creation description. God also ends the account of that day by blessing and sanctifying it. This is important because God will use this account later to lay out for his people the command of keeping the Sabbath.

OBJECTIONS

There are several objections that others might have about a literal 24-hour day and a 6 day creation week. Most of these objections can be heaped into two categories, objections based on science and objections from the test. We will first look at the objections based on science before taking a look at one objection from the text. When dealing with objections based upon science it is important to remember the principle laid out earlier, “Scripture first, science later.” As argued above, the scriptures are clear about the length of a day. Some will argue then that the scriptures do not agree with what scientists are telling us about evolution and the age of the earth. That may be true. The scriptures might not agree with what some scientists are saying but as Protestant Christians we affirm the authority of scripture over and against the authority of science. That said, the problem is not really with science but with the modern presuppositions behind those scientists. The defining presupposition behind most modern scientists is naturalism. Naturalism is the view that everything can and must be explained in a natural way apart from any supernaturalism. Richard Lewontin famously said, “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”xxx Thus it is a commitment to exclude God that will always keep many scientists from agreeing with scripture. Paul writing to the Romans puts it this way, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”xxxi

The above said, there are still those who work in the science fields who do not have these presuppositions and are working to show that the scientific record is not at odds with a young earth and six 24-hour days of creation. A description to one book published in 2003 entitled In Six Days highlights the work being done, “In this book are the testimonies of fifty men and women holding doctorates in a wide range of scientific fields who have been convicted by the evidence to believe in a literal six-day creation.”xxxii This one book is but just a small example of the many publications being written by Christians working in the many different fields of science, from geology to microbiology. While it is true that much of the creation science has not caught on in the mainstream, it is also not true that science must disagree with a young earth.

The second line of opposition to the young earth comes from those who argue within the text. One such argument is that the days can not be literal 24-hour periods because the events of the sixth day would take more than 24-hours. It is argued that because God created three different types of land animals,created both Adam and Eve, and assigned Adam the task of naming the animals then 24 hours would not be long enough time. “It must have taken a good deal of study for Adam to examine each specimen thoroughly and decide on a suitable name, especially since he had absolutely no tradition in nomenclature behind him.”xxxiii One proposal by young earth proponents is that Adam would have had a superior intellect not corrupted by the fall. While such speculation may provide an answer, there is not much information from the text to prove this claim. The easier answer is that the text does not claim Adam had to have completed this task in one day. It is more likely that part of Adam’s daily life was tending to the Garden and taking care to name the animals as they came to him. The text also does not say that Adam named every creature on earth but that “he gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field.”xxxiv This excludes reptiles, insects, water animals, and so forth.

The second reason that it is argued that the sixth day must have been long is because “apparently, Adam had sufficient interaction and time with both the plants and animals of the garden to realize that something was still missing from his life.”xxxv Once again a careful reading of the scripture will alleviate this so-called problem. Genesis 2 verse 18 says, “ Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” No where is it said or implied that Adam was lonely or complaining. Instead God who is not limited by time and is the very definition of wisdom is the one who knows that it is not good for Adam to be alone. The passage goes on further to explain that the reason God made animals is for the man. More importantly it explains God’s special care in creating the woman. Far from saying that Adam was lonely in one day, this passage shows the love of God in his reasons for creating both animals and the woman. It would be a distortion of scripture to say that God created Adam and then found out after a period of time that He had forgotten or neglected to create Adam a suitable partner. Thus it is not necessary that the sixth day be a long period of time but may be more necessary that the sixth day be a short period of time.

While there may be other objections forthcoming against the literal 24-hour view, this view will stand the test of time. Because the 24-hour view is the view that is most faithful to the text, it also must be understood that the earth must be much younger than billions of years. One important idea that is upheld by a young earth is that death and destruction did not enter this world until man sinned. When man sinned, he corrupted the world. The beauty of this is that by another man, Jesus, death was defeated and one day the world will return to a pure and deathless state.

The question over the age of the earth may still rage on but fortunately we have the birth certificate, the Bible. A belief in the authority of the Bible will help one from being swayed by the arguments of the current age. It will keep one from a slide into naturalism. A belief in the literal six-day creation will uphold the beauty of not only of God’s work at creation but His work in redemption. The young-earth and literal 24-hour day view is the view most faithful to the text and to the witness of Christian scholars throughout time. It has been said that “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”xxxvi By remembering the principles of sound exegesis and a respect for those who came before, one does not have to become a widower when the views of scientists and fanciful theologians change.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

III, J. Ligon Duncan, David W. Hall, Hugh Ross, Gleason L. Archer, Lee Irons, and Meredith G. Kline. The Genesis Debate: Three Views On the Days of Creation. Mission Viejo, CA: Global Publishing Services, 2000.

 

Ashton, John F., ed. In Six Days: Why Fifty 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2001.

 

Brocher,Henri., In the Beginning:The Opening Chapters of Genesis. trans. David G. Preston Downers Grove, IL: Varsity Press, 1984.

Garner, Paul. The New Creationism: Building Scientific Theory On a Biblical Foundation. Webster, NY: GRACE DISTRIBUTION, 2009.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

Jennings, William H. Storms Over Genesis: Biblical Battleground in America’s Wars of Religion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

Articles

Lewontin, Richard (1997), “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review, January 9.


Websites

Calvin, John. “John Calvin Commentaries On Genesis.” John Calvin Commentaries. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/m.sion/cvgn1-03.htm (accessed April 5, 2012).

Giglio, Louie. “Indescribable.” October 4, 2008. Youtube.com. FLV file. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewKtSKbWZUI (accessed April 5, 2012).

Humphrey, Francis. “The Meaning of Yôm in Genesis 14: 1–2.” Creation Ministries International. http://creation.com/the-meaning-of-yom-in-genesis-1 (accessed April 5, 2012).

Jones, Jeffrey. “In U.s., 3 in 10 Say They Take the Bible Literally.” Gallup.com. http://www.gallup.com/poll/148427/say-bible-literally.aspx (accessed April 5, 2012)

Jones, Stephen E. “Letter of 23 April 1984 from James Barr, Then Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, to David C.c. Watson.” Creation/Evolution Articles. http://members.iinet.net.au/…sejones/barrlett.html (accessed April 5, 2012).

Irons, Lee. “The Framework Interpretation: An Exegetical Summary.” Ordained Servant 9, no. 1 (January 2000): page nr. http://www.upper- register.com/papers/framework_interpretation.html (accessed April 5, 2012).

Spurgeon, C.H. The Greatest Fight in the World. N.p.: Pilgrim Publications, n.d. http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/gfw.htm (accessed April 5, 2012).

Van Bebber, Mark. “What Was Martin Luther’s Stand On Creation/evolution?” ChristianAnswers.net. http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-c027.html (accessed April 5, 2012).

 

God’s Sovereignty and the Problem of Evil

(the following is a paper I did for school and I thought I would share it)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

The universe we live in is a peculiar place. The vast majority of the university is empty space with no known sense of life. Yet our planet, an infinitesimal speck among the throng of stars, teems with life. The oceans which make up the vast majority of this blue planet overflow with living organisms. According to an MSNBC report, The National Science Foundation’s “Tree of Life” project estimates that there is 5 million to 100 million species on earth1. Each day on this speck among the stars, billions of new lives begin. Yet in the midst of this thriving, breeding, and living life there is a black stain. Just as a new life excitedly enters the world, another life breaths its last breath. Death is everywhere as is its friend pain.

One does not have to look far or hard to see the harshness of nature. Charles Darwin saw this harshness as he wrote to his friend J.D. Hooker, “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horribly cruel works of nature.2” These horribly cruel works of nature have led many to question the existence of a creator. Charles Darwin’s observations led him to propose a theory that is still having a rippling effect on everything from science, politics, economics, to religion. C.S. Lewis wrote in the introduction of his theodicy The Problem of Pain:

Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me “Why do you not believe in God?” my reply would have run something like this: “Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and

unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one of them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believethat life and happiness were more than a by-product to the power that made the universe… If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit I reply that all evidence points in the opposite direction.3

 

Yet the world is filled with millions who not only believe in a creator but in an benevolent and omnipotent creator. How then does one answer the question that evil asks? How can evil even exist if there is an all-powerful and all-loving God? This is the “Problem of evil” that has plagued theologists, philosophers, and lay-people for years.

THE ISSUE

The problem of evil has been a question that many have striven to answer but what exactly is the problem of evil? The problem of evil really only exists for theists in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition. The atheist worldview would matter-of-factually say that evil does not exist in any absolute way because their worldview does not allow for moral absolutes. The eastern religion of Buddhism also like Atheism teaches that evil does not exist but instead that evil is an illusion. One could simply argue that for the one experiencing this “illusionary evil” that it is a very real evil to them. But for Jews, Christians, and Muslims the problem of evil is a real conundrum because of their belief that the world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good God. In the book Encountering Evil: Live Options for Theodicy the problem of evil is defined as this:

if God is omnipotent he must be able to prevent evil (the state of affairs of there existing no evil seems precisely the sort of state of affairs an omnipotent being can bring about) And if God is perfectly good he must be willing to prevent evil. But if God is both able and willing to prevent evil why does evil exit? Why do children die of inoperable cancer of the throat? Why do innocent people suffer in prison? Why do earthquakes and tornadoes and famines cause pain and death? Thus in an oft-quotes passage, David Hume asks about God: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?4

 

In the problem of evil, God is on trial. His sovereignty is called into question as is his goodness. What is at stake in this question is the nature of God and/or his existence. While this is a question of deep philosophical importance it is also important on a practical personal level. It is here that it would be wise to perhaps have a personal anecdote.

About 12 years and fresh out of high school, I found my self taken up with a girl who I wanted to marry. We had dated for several years though out school and I was so sure that she would be the one I was to marry. I also wanted to be able to attend college and at the same time be able to financially take care of everything. Being young and dumb, I signed up for the military so that I would have the financial means to accomplish my goals. After a tearful goodbye I set off for basic training. It was a long few months away from home and my girlfriend. Cellphones were not as popular as they are today so we wrote each other every day. While I returned home expecting things to be perfect that was not how they were to be. On February 14, Valentine’s Day, she broke up with me for another man. I had never felt so betrayed or heart-broken. Not to say that my pain and suffering was anything great in the grand scheme of things, but to me it was unbearable. It was in the midst of this suffering that I became angry with God. I questioned God’s goodness. How could a good God allow me to suffer like this? It became much easier to doubt God’s existence than to think of a God who would allow this evil to be done to me. Thus the problem of evil was real to me. The purpose of writing about my personal experience is to highlight the intimate and far reaching presence of this issue. There are far more who have experienced worse evil done to them then I who have like King David and Jesus cried out “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

POSITIONS

 

Throughout Christian history many theologians have worked at providing an answer for the existence of evil. While many people have contributed to this issue, three defenses in particular have risen to the top. The three are the open theist/process theology doctrine, the classical free-will defense first put forth by St. Augustine and championed by Armmianists, and finally the reformed compatible free-will argument in which God is the ultimate cause though not the author of evil5. Before proceeding to describe in further detail the three views in might be wise to heed the advice that William Bruce Olstrom offers in his dissertation, “Just because human beings are unable to conceive of a reason for God allowing certain evils does not mean there is no reason. Instead of doubting God’s existence, why not doubt that finite, fallible human

beings could ever discern God’s inscrutable reasons for allowing the awful misery of an

Auschwitz.6” In other words while the question of evil is a big issue and we may be able to come to some conclusions on it, we must remember that we are finite and fallible and can not be expected to ever discern all of God’s intentions as it is written in Isaiah 40: Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?

The first viewpoint that will be briefly discussed is the open theist position put forth by Richard Rice, Gregory Boyd, and others. In open theism, God has chosen to limit his control over the world, granting humans libertarian freedom.7 Open theists argue that in order for God to be truly loving then He must give his creation the complete freedom to do as it pleases. God does not determine the future or even know the future but shares in the living process with humans. In choosing to create this world, God is gambling on the future. If God knew the future, he would also know the certainty of our future choices thus we would not have free will. Dr. Olstrom says that in open theism, “God does not possess exhaustive knowledge of future events; however, we are told that he is competent enough to turn things around in the end. In terms of divine agency and suffering, Open theists admits that some suffering has no meaning. This is because God is often unaware of the tragedy until it happens. Thus, God is not so much the one who “allows” suffering as the one who “observes” suffering.8” Open theologians have removed from the problem of suffering God’s omnipotence thus God is still good and evil still exists. Without going into a lengthy rebuttal of Open theism, there are many faults in this view. Besides being in-congruent with what is taught in the bible, open theism leads to some very fearful questions. How can an open theist be sure that good will win in the end and that evil will not win? How can one trust God to make things right? In the end, open theism diminishes God to a servant of chance and finally to a slave of His own creation.

Open theism is often said to be the logical conclusion of taking the Armmianist position to its extreme. Therefor we will now look at the Armmianist position to see if it adequately answers the problem of evil. Olstrom describes the Armmianism view of God as “general ruler.9” In this view God has voluntarily chosen to limit his sovereignty by giving Adam and Eve libertarian free will. Arminianism unlike open theism affirms God’s knowledge of the future. In this view, God does not cause evil but He does allow it with the ultimate end purpose of good.

In this theory, the important element is libertarian free will. John W. Hendryx defines free will as understood in the libertarian sense freedom in which a “person is fully able to perform some other action in place of the one that is actually done, and this is not predetermined by any prior circumstances, our desires or even our affections. In other words, our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature.10” This means that Gods exerts no control over the decisions of people thus they are free to either choose to love God or to hate him. Armmianists also insist that God is able to accomplish his general purpose because he knows the future and is ready to respond to the choices of his creation. This theory has on the surface seemed to answer the question of evil by seemingly acquitting God of being involved in the process of evil while still maintaining some level of his omnipotence.

Open theist Richard Rice11 is quick to point out that if God possesses complete knowledge of one’s decision then how is one ever free in the libertarian sense to choose otherwise. Also it may be said that if God knows that evil will occur then he is complacent in it. Thus the Armmianist viewpoint does not hold up on several fronts. It still has not answered the problem of evil and is internally inconsistent with its own view of free will.

While the Armmianist viewpoint of free will does not hold up it would be unwise to give up on the free will argument altogether. The free will argument was first developed by St. Augustine. Augustine’s De Libero Arbitrio, or On Free Will, is a dialogue with a historical friend named Evodius, in which he first states the problem: “We believe that everything which exists is created by one God, and yet that God is not the cause of sin. The difficulty is: if sins go back to souls created by God, and souls go back to God, how can we avoid before long tracing sin back to God?12” Augustine first came to the conclusion that evil is not in of itself a thing. Evil is not an object to be touched, held, or gazed upon. It is important to remember this especially when looking at the problem of evil. Because evil is more of a concept than an actual positive object it would not have to have been created by God. Thomas Aquinas agreed with Augustine in that evil is not the presence of something but is the absence of good13. Since God, the ultimate Good, is the source of being from which all else receives its being, evil is simply the lack of being, just as coldness is truly a lack of heat. Augustine was not finished with the problem of evil but still needed an answer to why God would allow this absence of good to happen. This is where the free will defense begins. The free will defense as stated earlier is that God wanted his creation to have the ability to choose to love him or not. He gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose to love him or to reject him. In this freedom, man rejected the ultimate good and thus evil happened. If God is the ultimate source of life, love, happiness, and joy then to choose the opposite is to choose the opposite of life, love, happiness, and joy. It is to choose death and pain.

As mentioned earlier when discussing open theist and Armmianist viewpoints, free will was essential to their arguments. But in their argumentation both viewpoints make it necessary to limit God’s omnipotence in some way. This limit to God is unjustified and certainly not taught in scripture especially within the book of Romans. Can there still be a way then that Adam and Eve were able to have free will and yet God’s omnipotence kept intact.

I believe that the reformed version of free will, compatibilist free will, provides the best answer to the problem of evil while still maintaining God’s omnipotence and goodness. The theory of compatibilist free will allows for man to make choices based upon his own desire but also allows for God to have ultimate control over what happens.

 

 

According to compatibilists, moral agents are free if their choices truly flow from their own nature and desires. People always choose according to their strongest desire at any given moment. In other words, people are free to choose what they wantmost. This explains how God can ordain whatsoever comes to pass, including every specific choice and action of moral agents without violating human freedom. As long as a person’s choice is not forced or coerced, it is free.Based on this explanation of human freedom, compatibilists contend that they too can account for human responsibility and a person’s freely choosing to love God. When people choose to sin and rebel against God, they are doing what they want to do. And when people choose to love and obey God, they too are doing what they want to do. Moreover, this model maintains that in each of these incidents, what a person does complies with God’s sovereign will.14

 

Thus evil enters the world through the choice of Adam and Eve. Yet God still is in ultimate control and nothing happens without his plan.

 

OBJECTIONS

 

Two out of three parts of the problem of evil have been maintained in the compatibilist view but what about the third? God’s omnipotence has been accounted for and evil has been accounted for but what about God’s goodness. One might argue that if God is in complete control and yet evil exists then God must not be good. Some have explained this by saying that God’s goodness is not our goodness. There is some truth in this but C.S. Lewis summed up the problem of that view in his book The Problem of Pain:

 

Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma. On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil. On the other hand, if God’s moral judgement differs from ours so that “black” may be His “white”, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say “God is good”, while asserting His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say “God is we know not what”. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him.15

 

C.S. Lewis then goes on to to explain the kind of goodness that most people want from God.

 

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, “What does it matter so long as they are contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and who plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.16

 

It becomes clear that most of us need a correction in our concept of love and God’s goodness.

If God is good and yet evil still exists then it must follow that God must have some greater plan for evil than we are truly capable of understanding. The bible teaches that it has been God’s plan from the beginning to crucify his own Son Jesus and to love us into the image of his Son. There is much more information on the goodness of God and his plan then I can include here. It will be suffice to say that it is because God is good that He has given us free will which caused the problem of evil and because God is good He has made a way with His Son to fix the problem.

Another objection to be made against this defense is the objection of nature. By this I mean that it makes sense that a lot of suffering and evil comes into the world by human decision but what about the suffering that is outside of man’s choice, namely natural disasters. As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, the world seems a mighty cruel place on its own apart from human intervention. All one has to do is to look at the animal world to see the cruelty of nature. Death is a way of life for so many animals. How did this pain enter the world? The answer lies once again in the human will. The bible explains that nature itself was effected by Adam’s decision to sin. The ground was cursed and now all of nature groans in expectation of its renewal. Why did Adam’s decision effect nature? The bible explains that man was given dominion over the earth and nature. God created the world for man and not man for the world. Thus when man sinned the things under his responsibility also suffered.

The problem of evil has been a tough question for theists for centuries. In my research for this paper, I found many answers and even more questions. In the end however, I have as have many found comfort in knowing that a good God is in control of even evil and one day evil will not survive. We know that God has a greater purpose for good and that in his infinite wisdom He uses evil to bring about this good. We may be like Job of the Old Testament and never fully understand the reason of our suffering yet still worship God knowing He is good.

The problem of evil has led some to devalue God’s omnipotence as in open theism and Armmianism. In order to free God of guilt they have weakened God to a slave of His own creation. They have robbed God of His sovereignty. The problem of evil has led some to claim that God does not exist or worse that God is evil. But for those in the reformed tradition the problem of evil has led to a greater understanding of God’s sovereignty, love, and goodness. We may never receive all of the answers to why evil exists and why it sometimes is allowed to thrive but we can stand like Joseph of the Old Testament and say, “What man meant for evil, God meant for Good.”

 

1 Andrea Thompson, “How Many Species Exist On Earth.” MSNBC.com, August 3, 2007. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20109284/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/how-many-species-exist-earth/#.TrLRH-yLf4V (accessed November 3, 2011).

2 Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2008. 1

3. Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. 567-568

4 John B. Cobb, David R. Griffin, John H. Hick, John K Roth, and Frederick Sontag.

Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy. Edited by Stephen T. Davis. Atlanta: John Knox

Press, 1981.3

5Not to say that these are the only three. There are also various versions of these three arguments.

6. Olstrom, William Bruce. “Divine Sovereignty and the Religious Problem of Evil: An Evaluation of Evangelical Models”. Ph.D. Diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007.

7 Reichenbach, Bruce. “God Limits His Power,” in Predestination and Free Will: Four

Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Edited by David Basinger and Randall Basinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986

8 Olstrom, William Bruce. “Divine Sovereignty and the Religious Problem of Evil: An Evaluation of Evangelical Models”. Ph.D. Diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007.

9 Ibid.

10 Hendryx, John. “Eleven Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will.”www.monergism.com. http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/libertarian.html (accessed November 3, 2011).

11 Olstrom, William Bruce. “Divine Sovereignty and the Religious Problem of Evil: An Evaluation of Evangelical Models”. Ph.D. Diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007.

12 Richards, Steven. “The Freewill Defense (St. Augustine of Hippo): Part 1.” That Religious Studies WebsiteHttp://www.thatreligiousstudieswebsite.com/Religious_Studies/ Phil_of_Rel/Evil/freewill_defense_augustine:php (accessed November 3, 2011).

13 Ibid

14 Olstrom, William Bruce. “Divine Sovereignty and the Religious Problem of Evil: An Evaluation of Evangelical Models”. Ph.D. Diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007.

15 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.567

16 Ibid. 569