Let's be reasonable with one another, shall we?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some questions about Suffering and Evil by Colin Maxwell

A searching GUEST POST by my Irish Calvinist frined, Colin Maxwell:

I am currently reading a very disturbing (secular) book on the Soviet Gulags by Anne Applebaum. Page after page is full of human suffering as millions of people (including many Christians) starved, slaved and were beaten and/or tortured in the Soviet camps, as they endured 12+ hour working days in sub zero temperatures with inadequate clothing. It ain’t happy reading. Tonight’s reading brought me face to face with the children of the prisoners, some of whom were “arrested” with their parents or had the misfortune to be born in the camps and left to the “mercy” of a system which routinely left them to scream unfed, unnourished and unwanted in crude cots in unheated rooms. If I have nightmares tonight, then I will not be in the least surprised.

I haven’t finished that particular chapter. I took a break to write this post and ask a question which must haunt every Christian. Why is there such cruel suffering in the world? We know the stock (Biblical) answer that such cruelty is in the world because of sin. Had Adam not have fallen, then sin, misery and death would not have entered into the world. Christians differ somewhat as to why Adam did fall. However, we but differ in the details and we cannot miss the fact that God easily could have prevented the circumstances that led to the Fall and therefore prevented it from happening and the subsequent effects.

This cannot be seriously doubted.

Although the Gulags are gone, yet tonight there is much cruelty in the world. God could end it all in a single moment of time. We know that there is coming a day when such things will be ended by His power. But He could intervene this very night and end it now. Some people are providentially delivered from such places. Perhaps they are unexpectedly excused from going in the first place, or they are released early or escape. Others go through the full rigour and are only released because the torturer went too far or the untended to sickness ushered in death.

Here are a few uncomfortable questions for Christians from all schools. If God could end it all today (as He will indeed some day) why then does He not do so? What is He seeking to prove by consciously and deliberately letting it all run? Has any point that He wished to make not already been made? We already know that man left unrestrained is a cruel beast. The Bible tells us this and human history bears it out. We already have many contemporary examples (freely available on YouTube in less than half a dozen computer actions) and therefore if it all was ended tonight, we would not lack source material.

Apart from another stock (though Biblcial) answer, that God’s purposes are somehow being worked out in all these things, I don’t think I can go much further. Can you?

-Colin Maxwell

43 Comments:

  • Hi, Rose. I'm glad you've posted this on Colin's behalf.

    Colin, this is really what people think about, isn't it? I've been asked these things with anyone I've witnessed to or studied with, no exceptions. I always pose a question that keeps us from moving forward with an answer, but does allow for some speculation. How would God end it? Some say He could destroy the Earth - or it's evil inhabitants. Some say He could change everyonje to good. I suppose He could.

    I've always imagined someone like Abraham, praying, "God, spare them your wrath if you can even find one good person." My husband says that person is Jesus - both the one praying and the one found to be good.

    I think of how many people would go to hell if all life were to end today. Alternatively, I think of how miserable heaven would be without faith.

    Interesting, and heart-felt post, Colin. Thanks.

    By Blogger Missy, at 5/26/2009 3:12 PM  

  • If one accepts that God elects individuals beforehand whom He will save, then it follows that God will continue to uphold creation in spite of sin, until the last elect soul is ushered into His Kingdom.

    By Blogger Daniel, at 5/26/2009 4:23 PM  

  • Daniel, to quote you:

    "Pfffft!"

    :)

    That answer doesn't answer the question any better than the other pat answers because if that paradign is correct, God could do that just as well while eliminating evil. Why evil? The question remains even within that paradigm.

    But it was fun to read your response :)

    By Blogger Rose~, at 5/26/2009 4:38 PM  

  • sorry for the two spelling of the same word.

    Missy,
    Thanks for your comment. I loved what you said about Abraham's prayer and Jesus being a fulfillment of it! Awesome!!!

    By Blogger Rose~, at 5/26/2009 4:39 PM  

  • Hi Rose!!

    Hi Colin,

    I appreciated this guest post. My first thought was, so that He might be proven just in His judgments.

    My brother in law was talking to me yesterday and he said that he believes that when he stands before God, God will be compassionate even if he hasn't accepted His Son and His work on the cross, specifically. His evangelical friend has been begging him that it simply is not the case.

    Surely, God is compassionate. But this sort of stuff? It makes me long not for grassy-knoll toga Jesus, but Lord of the Swords Jesus, you know what I mean?

    :) Michele

    By Blogger Sanctification, at 5/26/2009 5:57 PM  

  • Another "good un," Rose

    Hi Colin, you're certainly treading on familiar territory for me. The questions you ask relate to theodicy, which is our attempt to vindicate God's goodness in the face of evil. I'm not sure we can even do that, which I suppose is the thrust of your final comment.

    But even if we use the book of Job to try to vindicate God's goodness in light of evil, we find that is not the question the book sets out to answer. The book makes it clear by the end of YHWH's speeches that He is both omniscient and omnipotent, and He could forthwith, if he wanted, end everything (cf., e.g., 34:14-15). Our only choice as those who witness unexplained and unjust suffering from the human vantage is whether we will believe the revealed testimony that He is in fact good, even though we can't prove it from the obvious that we see with our eyes.

    Here is the position I take in my Job commentary: The logically necessary consequence of believing that God is primarily good, while also omniscient and omnipotent in the face of evil, is that he must also be fully redemptive. The denouement of the book of Job---his twofold restoration when he intercedes on behalf of the first three friends---is commonly misunderstood as Job's reward for having persevered through unjust suffering. It is not; it is his reward for obediently accepting God's bidding to intercede on behalf of those whom he found it most difficult to love---the same miserable coots who succumbed to Satan's lie of "proportional retribution in this life," insisting that Job was responsible for his own suffering.

    It is not ours to reason why God allows such inconceivable suffering (Job 34:29; 37:13); it is simply ours to repent of our own rebellion (Luke 13:1-5) and accept God's invitation to participate as His agents of redemption in the task of reconciling a fallen world to its Creator (2 Cor 5:18-2).

    See also my post at:
    http://theologyforum.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/

    (Hey, Rose, how does one insert a hyperlink on these posts??)

    By Blogger agent4him, at 5/26/2009 7:35 PM  

  • Hello Rose! I also thank you for posting this guest post from bro. Colin, whom I am coming to appreciate more & more.

    Good stuff bro. Jim. Also, I see that even in his most abject suffering, Job was able to make some of the most profound statemenst of the grace of God imaginable! 2 that come to mind are 19:25-27 & 23:10. God Bless!

    By Blogger David Wyatt, at 5/26/2009 9:01 PM  

  • @Colin--

    I can't resist :)

    Had Adam not have fallen, then sin, misery and death would not have entered into the world.

    I think this is true, but we should be careful of semantics here. That is, death, as the effect of entropy, is not a consequence of sin. It is the consequence of living in a universe that is limited and temporal. Of course, human experience of misery surrounding death and entropy is a by-product of our rebellion against God, but this not because entropy is in itself sinful or the product of it. Rather, misery from entropy comes because death and entropy are the unwitting harbingers of a deeper consequence of our hatred for God--separation from the divinity.
    However, we but differ in the details and we cannot miss the fact that God easily could have prevented the circumstances that led to the Fall and therefore prevented it from happening and the subsequent effects.

    I think it is a bit presumptuous to assert that God "could have easily prevented the Fall." For starters, the "Fall" as an action is really only a foil for describing the heart of humanity in rebellion toward God: though given every good thing, the sinfulness that consumes humanity causes it to spit in God's face, trading deceit for truth, destruction for goodness.

    So the question is, "could" God really have prevented this? I don't think the answer is as obvious as we'd like to think. Perhaps God could not have prevented the Fall because the Fall was not "something" to prevent. That is, if sin is not "action" but rather the negation of that which is good; and can only be understood insofar as sin is seen as the antithesis of that which God has created (again, that which is "good"), then there is not a moment in time that could be reversed, nor a primal decision that could be thwarted, etc. Rather, sinfulness would arise out of the rebellious will-ing of that which God created in the divine image, a creation imbued with a measure of self-determination that mirrored in likeness (not substance and glory) the creative powers of God. When corrupted by a false willing-ness, this creative power was negated, producing the destructive anti-power of sinfulness that ravages humanity.

    In such a scenario, God can no more "prevent" the negation of that which is good than God can prevent Godself from will-ing that which God wills. However, it is important to understand that the inability of God to prevent such corruption is not because of something lacking in God, as if God's power were insufficient to prevent it. Rather, it is precisely because the nature of sin is inherently unbecoming that it is something that cannot be the object of divine manipulation, for to have power over sinfulness, in its real nature, would be for to participate in the self-negation of God, which would be absurd.

    So obviously, we need an answer to how the problem of sinfulness is addressed. Clearly, sin is not something which can be manipulated, for to do so would produce the ultimate contradiction within the divine being.

    The answer, then, is precisely what @agent4him eloquently outlined. Sin is not overcome by a show of divine power--in fact, for God to meet sinfulness on its own terms (unbecoming) would be to imbue it with reality, and God would be tacitly authorizing its legitimacy. So then, God's answer to the annihilating power of human sinfulness is to restore all of creation to Godself. Where sinfulness undoes the goodness of God, God responds not with greater un-goodness, but with greater goodness: restoring that which has been destroyed, binding up that which has been broken, ushering into intimacy that which has been ostracized. It is this restoration, not a show of divine fury and destruction, which ultimately sounds the death knoll for human sinfulness. In the reconciling work of the Creator, even the annihilating force of sinfulness is swallowed up, its virulence exhausted in the infinity of the goodness of God.

    By Blogger Exist-Dissolve, at 5/26/2009 10:28 PM  

  • My answer.

    The first point I would make is that God is big on time.

    Notice how God always keeps biblical characters waiting. This is often reflected in the lives of believers, where we spend time waiting for the things we pray for.

    If we assume that God is timelessly eternal, then we see that time is part of the created order.

    Time has an intrinsic value in itself. So God has allowed time to lapse between the fall and His ultimate victory over Satan and evil.

    But time for what?

    Time for us to play a part.

    God's purpose is for man to have a role in the restoration of the cosmos.

    God will not be sovereign alone, but He will share it with redeemed humanity.

    This time of strife and suffering is a time for believers to serve and lives of faithfulness.

    We are to redeem the time.

    Then we can share in Christ's divine rule (if we have been faithful) and play a part in establishing a new creation.

    Every Blessing in Christ

    Matthew

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 5/28/2009 12:57 PM  

  • Yeah, Rose and Colin,

    What he said...

    ...that's what I'm talkin' about!

    By Blogger agent4him, at 5/28/2009 1:19 PM  

  • We just do not have enough information and if we did, we would not have enough intelligence to understand this issue.

    I think we should try to accept that we are in a vertical relationship with God rather than a horizontal one.

    By Blogger jazzycat, at 5/28/2009 1:38 PM  

  • Michele,
    I hope youre doing OK with all that is currently going on in your family. Your grandmother is blessed to have you in her life.

    Hi Jim,
    Thank you for your thoughts. You really have studied this issue. You are a welcome voice. I agree with you that Matthew offers great thoughts on these and other topics. He doesn't come around much anymore. There was a time when he would always be the first comment on every post I wrote. I miss those days.

    Matthew,
    Hi! So good to see you. I am glad you got the final draft of your thesis. That is great!!! Congratulations. I imagine that is a great feeling to have it done.

    I have to ask, why couldn't God do away with the evil and suffering and still allow us time to be a part of restoring His creation? I have an answer myself, but if you want to expound further, you are welcome.

    Jazzycat,
    Just saw your comment. Good thoughts. Yes, we aren't God and so we can not truly understand WHY He does things the way he does. I accept that answer too. Thanks for visiting.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 5/28/2009 1:45 PM  

  • Hi Rose,

    Good final question you asked.

    My take?

    A fallen Creation necessarily entails evil (deprivation of the righteousness of God [with a tip-o-the-hat to E~D]) and unexplained/unjust suffering. At the very least, if God "did away with evil and suffering," Creation would no longer be fallen, and we would be "out of a job" that God invited us to do as His chosen agents.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 5/28/2009 2:07 PM  

  • Rose, if God defeated Satan instantly, we would have no part to play in the conflict between good and evil.

    The cosmic war gives us the opportunity to either side with God or His celestial foes.

    Being involved in the cosmic war tests us and gives us opportunities to test our worthiness for a part in God's coming kingdom.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 5/29/2009 7:59 AM  

  • I don't accept the notion that evil is an absence of good, as Augustine held and some people here seem to think.

    Try telling a parent whose child has been murdered that the evil act was an 'absence of good.'

    I think the biblical picture of evil is of an active and determined hostility to God.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 5/29/2009 8:02 AM  

  • Matthew,
    That is similar to the answer that I would have. I believe the situation is as it is because God made man in His own image - with the power to choose - and in order for Him to get the result that He wants in the end, there must be a choice to side with God or with his "celestial foes" as you put it so eloquently.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 5/29/2009 9:19 AM  

  • @Celestial Fundie--

    Great screen name, BTW...:)

    I don't accept the notion that evil is an absence of good, as Augustine held and some people here seem to think.

    Try telling a parent whose child has been murdered that the evil act was an 'absence of good.'

    I think the biblical picture of evil is of an active and determined hostility to God.


    A few things here: First, there are few things that can be said to parents whose child has been murdered that will provide an adequate explanation, much less comfort. So really, that's non sequitur.

    Next, I think you're missing the power of the conception of sin as the negation of good. When one says that sinfulness is the privation, or negation of the good, we must also realize that the negation of good--of God--is annihilation and unbecoming. It is the fundamental twisting and corrupting of God's purposes in creation into an agent of destruction and dissolution. Properly understood, then, it is something that can simply be turned into a safe platitude that carries no power. Rather, sin understood correctly is the most terrifying reality (well, really "non-reality) possibility.

    Also, I should note that such a conception is not opposed whatsoever to understanding the consequences of sinfulness as "active and determined hostility to God." Quite to the contrary, such a definition naturally leads to such a perspective as it is the very privation of the good (here seen as relationailty of humanity with God) that leads to such a consequence.

    By Blogger Exist-Dissolve, at 5/29/2009 1:37 PM  

  • Sorry, typo:

    it is something that can simply be turned into a safe platitude

    Should read:

    it is something that cannot simply be turned into a safe platitude

    By Blogger Exist-Dissolve, at 5/29/2009 1:38 PM  

  • Hi

    I'm away from my virus ridden computer. Can't even read the comments at the moment :o( However, I'll get back early next week.

    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 5/30/2009 5:12 AM  

  • Hi Sis.

    Colin I really appreciate your questions. With respect to the question of why God allowed the fall I find reason in the purpose of Jesus’ prayer found in John 17:21-23. I think this might support Matthew’s proposition though I would really appreciate it if he would provide further scriptural foundation for his position. Concerning why God would continue to allow sin I find reason in 2nd Peter 3:9 though I know that won’t gel with Theological Determinism.

    Still in all I agree with you and Wayne in that any perspective we might have should be tempered by the fact that the scriptures do not provide a full understanding on these things.

    BTW it’s great to see Exist~Dissolve out and about. ;-)

    By Blogger Kc, at 6/01/2009 1:05 AM  

  • Hi Rose/All:

    On reflection – I have since finished the book – there was cruelty long before the Gulags. I don’t suppose that life was all that wonderful (say) pre Noah’s flood when violence filled the whole earth etc., We do not know all the purposes of God and we can only act on faith that the Judge of all the earth always does that which is right – in each and every occasion He acts or (humanly speaking) doesn’t act.

    By allowing such wickedness to continue, there is an ongoing witness to the terribleness of sin and the guilt of the human heart that produces it. Such a witness is a great help to gospel preachers etc., especially when they show the moral sinners, that unless they keep the whole law in every point and on every occasion, then they are as guilty as the vilest sinners. Again, it affords testimony to the amazing grace of God when those who perpetrate such crimes against humanity seek and find the saving mercy of God.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his fact based novel (“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”) set in the Gulags described the Evangelical Christian whom he met as the “happiest man in the camp” and this opens up new thoughts too – the ability of God to keep His people even in the most harrowing circumstances.

    Any more thoughts – keep them sweet and coming

    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 6/02/2009 9:07 AM  

  • Kc, I actually don't think the Bible has much to say about the problem of suffering.

    We see resentment of suffering in Scripture, no recognition of a logical puzzle.

    I think the problem of evil is only a problem if we see God's will as universally prevailing in the cosmos.

    The Bible presents a picture of the cosmos as being in a state of war.

    The Bible identifies active agents of evil in the various cosmic powers at work- Satan, the gods and rulers of this world, fallen angels and the various thrones, dominions, principalities and powers.

    That God's will is not always done is simply assumed in Scripture, hence therefore the problem of evil does not appear as a subject.

    The best book on this subject, in my opinion, is 'God at War' by Greg Boyd.

    Every Blessing in Christ

    Matthew

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 6/02/2009 9:41 AM  

  • E.D., good points.

    I think there is scope for seeing evil as a privation, but I am not sure that language gets us anywhere helpful.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 6/02/2009 9:42 AM  

  • Hi Matthew:

    Perhaps we need to differentiate between suffering in general and the suffering of God's people. Certainly the Psalms and 2 Corinthians 12 gives us plenty of insight.

    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 6/02/2009 10:18 AM  

  • Matthew,

    Open theists don't deal with the tension of unexplained suffering any better than traditional theologians. For Boyd and those of his ilk, either God's power or his knowledge have to be "limited," again, to provide a theodicy that can't really "weather" the metaphysical torque applied. Hence, IMO Boyd's God at War succeeds no better than Kushner's Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 6/02/2009 1:05 PM  

  • Jim,
    I haven't read Boyd's book. But I am curious: is he a recognized open theist? I have read a few articles that Matthew wrote when he was reading the book (on UoG).

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/02/2009 1:10 PM  

  • What happened to E~D??

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/02/2009 1:10 PM  

  • Jason??

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/02/2009 1:10 PM  

  • What happened to E~D??Will E~D phone home?

    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 6/02/2009 1:41 PM  

  • Self reminder:


    Drop at least 3 lines for paragraph.


    Hopefully, like this


    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 6/02/2009 1:46 PM  

  • Hi Rose!

    Yes, I would say most "theologically aware" people would say Boyd is now openly "open" ("out of the closet"), whether he specifically labels himself that or not.

    Colin,

    It's an HTML italic thing. For some reason, if you leave the punctuation at the end of the italicized phrase in regular font, you won't have the problem with the failed "carriage return."

    By Blogger agent4him, at 6/02/2009 3:09 PM  

  • Hey, Rose,

    May I qualify my previous statement on Boyd a bit?

    I personally believe that open theism contributes a badly needed corrective to some of the presumptuous excesses of traditional, particularly Reformed, theology. From a human perspective, for example, a God who "risks" (cf. James Sanders) is exactly what makes the notion of human agency so appealing to me ;-) as the proper corrective to the "I" in TULIP. But this is not the same as saying that God "must" restrict his knowledge of the future in order to "let things happen" in honoring human free will, which is what Boyd posits. Boyd also over-analyzes the book of Job in order to produce an acceptable (to him and many others) theodicy, which, as I have said before badly misconstrues the message of the book.

    See, for example, the following favorable Amazon.com review of Boyd's book God of the Possible:
    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1VCGIY1XGSREU/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R1VCGIY1XGSREU

    The reviewer is helpful in pointing out some of the salutary features of open theism but has to acknowledge Boyd's over-analysis of God and evil in the book of Job. The problem here is the all-too-human penchant for constraining God's attributes to time-and-space bound human dimensions, when the only time-and-space bound person of the Trinity was the Incarnate One. We can generally "see" as much of God as we need to see in the God-made-Flesh.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 6/02/2009 3:53 PM  

  • Jim,

    Surely if God knows beforehand that So-and-so is going to believe, (even if we limit foreknowledge to mean access before to information) then there is no "risk" of So-and-so not believing. What risk can there be, if God saw it all beforehand? He cannot foresee an uncertain event. If it is not uncertain, then there is no risk.

    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 6/02/2009 4:48 PM  

  • I'm here, I'm here!

    Sorry, extremely busy day at work :)

    I have to jump in on the conversation about Open Theism, 1.) because I think there is a lot of misconception about what Open Theism actually is and 2.), well, I just like to type :)

    On the definition of Open Theism, I think it is important to realize that Open Theists do not actually believe that God's knowledge is "limited." This is an important point to make because their antagonists frequently level this charge, arguing that Open Theism must be off its rocker because it clearly denies the "omniscience" of God. In actuality, Open Theists fully acknowledge the all-knowingness of God; rather, the issue is one of semantics.

    For example, a true blue Reformed person will staunchly affirm that God knows everything, including what "will" happen (foreknowledge). An OT, on the other hand, will deny that God knows what "will" happen. In such a scenario, how can both claim to affirm God's omniscience?

    Again, it's an issue of semantics. Because the former believes that the future is something that "exists" and is, therefore, an object of knowledge by virtue of its existence, then it becomes necessary to affirm this as a part of God's omniscience. The latter, however, denies that the future exists, either for humanity or for God. In this construct, as the future is non-existent and therefore not a possible object of knowledge, then God's "lack" of knowledge about the future comes not from any inability in the person or knowledge of God, but rather stems from the fact that the future--to the Open Theist--is not something that exists to be known.

    What I find deliciously interesting, however, is that for all of the semantic wrangling between Reformed and OT's over the idea of God's omniscience, their fundamental conceptions of the nature of God's omniscience are identical. Both agree that God's omniscience de facto requires that God have knowledge of all things that exist. Both agree that God's knowledge about these must be absolute. So then, their disagreement arises not because they actually disagree about the nature of God's omniscience (for again, in this they are identical), but rather because they have different definitions of that which can logically be the objects of God's absolute knowledge.

    By Blogger Exist-Dissolve, at 6/02/2009 4:51 PM  

  • E~D,

    Yeah, man, I'm sympathetic; I agree, as long as we stay within those metaphysical parameters. But doesn't denying the existence of the future then "impinge" on God's supposed sovereignty, which must encompass Biblical categories such as "foreknowledge" and "providence"? That is, when O.T.'s try to "shore up" the omniscience side of the equation, don't they "give away the store" on his omnipotence?

    I think that both the Reformed and O.T. sides go to far in trying to "unscrew the inscrutable" aspects of God's character in seeking to "capture the pawn" of human free will. Similarly, Kushner felt compelled to "capture the pawn" of God's benevolence. Don't these divine categories necessarily entail the expansion of the metaphysical dimensions within which YHWH operates beyond human constraints?

    That's why I hold that, in light of unexplained suffering and evil, the most we can conclude about compatibilism can only be found in the speeches of YHWH (Job 38-41): These demand that God's servants accept without further qualification both His absolute omniscience/sovereignty over all Creation and their own calling as his chosen and free-to-choose agents in redemptively restoring that Creation to God.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 6/02/2009 5:26 PM  

  • I do not agree with Open Theism.

    I think it makes some good points, but I believe Boyd's rejection of Classic Theism is misguided.

    However, I am otherwise almost entirely in agreement with 'God at War.'

    I do think that there are problems with Boyd's interpretation of the book of Job, but I think it does have some strengths that other interpretations of Job lack.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 6/03/2009 2:54 PM  

  • Colin, the word 'risk' is slightly misleading if we allow that God has forknowledge of the future.

    Can I clarify using the example of Abraham being commanded to offer his son Isaac?

    Open Theist view: God did not know whether Abraham would obey. God took a risk in commanding him to do so.

    Augustinian view: God commanded Abraham to do what he had been foreordained to do. God took no risk.

    Middle Knowledge view: God commanded Abraham to do what He knew Abraham would do. Even if God had not commanded Abraham, He would have known the outcome. God took no risk.

    Simple Foreknowledge view: God knew that Abraham would obey, but He only knew this because this outcome occurred. If God had not given the command, He would not have known the outcome. God took a risk.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 6/03/2009 3:01 PM  

  • Matthew,

    Framed in that way (your four views of "risk"), I like the 'simple foreknowledge' approach.

    From within the human realm of time and space, God "took a risk" because he chooses for his redemptive purposes to be contingent on Abraham's (and our) obedience; what he risks is our participation in the reconciliation of a fallen world to God. This is the substance of God's "wager" with Satan in the book of Job; Job's participation in the outcome can only occur in time and space.

    From outside of the human realm of time and space, God risks nothing of his sovereign purposes, which are preordained; God knew that Abraham and Job would obey, because this outcome [occurs?? exists??] without contingency outside of time and space.

    I'd be interested in your assessment of my take on the book of Job:
    http://21stcenturypress.com/wisdombook/unlockingdownload1.pdf

    By Blogger agent4him, at 6/03/2009 3:25 PM  

  • Agent 4, I like the simple foreknowledge view best too.

    It is not very fashionable though. The issue of whether foreknowledge equals determinism is a pretty hotly contested area.

    A lot of people who disagree with both Open Theism and Augustinianism are opting for Middle Knowledge. I find it amazing though, that they do not see the problem Middle Knowledge causes for free-will.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at 6/05/2009 3:15 AM  

  • Hi Jim,

    You write: Simple Foreknowledge view: God knew that Abraham would obey, but He only knew this because this outcome occurred. If God had not given the command, He would not have known the outcome. God took a risk.

    The use of the "if" is, of course, hypothetical. The point is that God did give the command, and He did so, knowing that it would definitely be obeyed. If God knew from before time that it would be obeyed, then it was certain in time, because (as said) you cannot foresee something happening that may or may not happen.

    Regards,

    By Blogger Colin Maxwell, at 6/05/2009 11:54 AM  

  • The use of the "if" is, of course, hypothetical. The point is that God did give the command, and He did so, knowing that it would definitely be obeyed. If God knew from before time that it would be obeyed, then it was certain in time, because (as said) you cannot foresee something happening that may or may not happen.



    I guess I just don't understand why the concept of "foreknowledge" is even considered. We all know, I think intuitively, that it is conceptually and philosophically non-sequitur. God is not bound to the contraints of space/time wherein the notion of "fore" even makes sense. (Of course, I would argue that even in the constructs of space/time it doesn't, but that's another conversation...)

    So if it's patently obvious that "foreknowledge", as a philosophical concept, is untenable, why do we construct such complicated, albeit fruitless, theological positions around it? If the answers that are provided are to questions that have no bearing in the pursuit of a meaningful philosophical and theological understanding of God, it seems rather counterintuitive to expend such effort on these things. Additionally, it seems to pave the way clear for thinking and talking about God's relation to space/time that are not fundamentally rooted in concepts that cannot possibly have any meaningful bearing on the reality of the divine life, regardless of how suspectible human thinking is to running these paths.

    By Blogger Exist-Dissolve, at 6/05/2009 12:05 PM  

  • Yeah, man, I'm sympathetic; I agree, as long as we stay within those metaphysical parameters. But doesn't denying the existence of the future then "impinge" on God's supposed sovereignty, which must encompass Biblical categories such as "foreknowledge" and "providence"? That is, when O.T.'s try to "shore up" the omniscience side of the equation, don't they "give away the store" on his omnipotence?


    I'm don't think that such an approach impinges on God's sovereignty. Sovereignty can only really be impinged upon if it is assumed to be "over-power", which seems to be the de facto conception of the same. However, such presumption is particularly unwarranted, however, when we keep in mind that all of our conceptualizing about God's divine characteristics is necessarily flawed. Rooted in the constraints of space/time, we cannot--either through philosophical thought nor theological language--get at the actual reality of God's eternality, even when we purposely attempt to suspend the limited categories to which we are subject.

    So the question of biblical "language" is an interesting one. While it is true that language such as "foreknowledge" might be used, we must concomitantly recognize that even biblical language is not immune from the previous considerations. This becomes especially poignant when we remember that all theologizing based on biblical language is itself an act of interpretation which is subject not only to the categories to which the interpreter is subject (e.g., the limitations of space/time), but the interpreter's preconceptions as well.

    So while I think it is important to recognize and deal with biblical language in re: "foreknowledge", I also think it is inappropriate to "give away the store" to presumptuous ideas about what this actually is. Yes, the nature of God in eternity is a mystery beyond human comprehension. However, that fact need not lead us to self-contradictory and self-defeating conclusions simply for the sake of preserving unestablished proto-definitions that have been attached to particular pieces of biblical language.

    By Blogger Exist-Dissolve, at 6/06/2009 11:56 PM  

  • E~D

    You seem to be over-reading me; I think you've raised a straw man here. I am simply acknowledging that biblical categories are mentioned in their contexts for a reason, and foreknowledge is one of those categories. I was not laying out a theology of foreknowledge, only responding to Matthew's 4-fold construct in his own terms. Of course such theologizing is going to come off as necessarily reductionistic when viewed against the backdrop of the inscrutable.

    And furthermore, when attempting to evaluate biblical categories like foreknowledge, are you saying there is no value in starting with one's s preconceptions? One of the most important aspects of the hermeneutical spiral is the mutually informing and sharpening character of inductive and deductive reasoning from a set of presuppositions, preferably done in community with conversation partners. You seem to prefer the fiction of the "tabula rasa."

    Also with respect to your last comments, I think you should take another look at O.T. and ask the question of whether some in that camp are not the ones who are guilty of the "self-contradiction" and "self-defeat" you seem to predicate of me; that was the thrust of the comment you quoted from me. I reiterate that while O.T. has made some significant contributions to balance the noted excesses of traditional theology, they also have gone too far in their attempts to "unscrew the inscrutable," which I gather was the main thrust of your reply to me?

    By Blogger agent4him, at 6/07/2009 12:34 AM  

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