Thursday, May 05, 2011

Does God directly cause suffering...

I've noticed that some bloggers, like some preachers, have a tendency to "preach from the same passage" over and over.  I know I have.  There are some topics I'm tired of because I've mentioned them over and over--and I'm sure you are even moreso. I have had a couple of instances these last few weeks, however, that give examples of old topics, namely, that the OT read in context is not yet Christian.

One such occasion had to do with the possibility that a certain external person at some point might teach a course in a non-religion context at IWU on suffering and disability. This person uses a book by John Piper for her theology piece: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.  I have advocated for the Arminian position also being represented if the course ever materializes.

Our position is that God may sometimes cause suffering directly, but that God's normal mode of operation is to allow humans to act freely and, I would say, to allow the creation to follow through its normal course of cause and effect.  As humans act freely and as the creation plays out cause and effect, suffering happens.  God allows it, signs off on it.  Yes, he's sovereign.

But the whole Purpose Driven Life, "what is God trying to tell me by causing me to get a pimple," is narcissistic clap-trap.  Yes, you can probably learn something valuable from breaking your arm, maybe even getting a pimple.  But God doesn't micro-manage his creation.  Grow up, baby head, and take some responsibility for your own actions.

The potential visitor on suffering was quite willing to include the Arminian perspective and apparently already did, but without a real sense of how to justify it.  Three passages were offered with a sense that they were pretty clear to her: Exodus 4:11, Psalm 94:9, and Isaiah 45:7.  Does not God directly decide to make people blind?

My response was that one cannot explain the differences between certain OT passages and other biblical passages unless one supposes a development in understanding on topics like this.  I mentioned James 1:13 which says God does not tempt people, while the OT clearly says that he has led people to evil on various occasions (e.g., 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Sam. 18:10).  The only way to find unity between these two passages is to conclude that these OT passages do not understand God as fully as the NT does.

My standard example of such development is to compare 2 Sam. 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1.  In the first, God incites David to take a census.  1 Chronicles says it was Satan who incited him.  What we see unfolding in the history of ideas is a distancing of God from the direct causation of evil.  In the NT, we have Satan and demons who, in addition to human flesh and desire, tempt and do evil. In the earlier parts of the OT, God is given credit for the whole sha-bang.

A contextual reading of the OT is thus not yet Christian unless it is read in the light of the NT and a mature Christian understanding as it unfolded in the first few centuries of Christianity.  A Christian reading of the OT will filter its application through the NT and not directly apply it.


Kenneth D. Russell said...

Thanks a lot, Dr. Schenck! I appreciate the input you've laid out in your post! Keep 'em coming! :)

Todd Ter Avest said...

Thanks once again for making me think and challenging my perspective. I have read many of your blogs since becoming your student/FB friend and truly appreciate your insight. I have used some of them directly in our men's bible study and they never cease to stretch the group. I never have commented on one of these, so today is the day, so thanks again & I agree with Ken - Keep them coming!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Does this development also mean that the "God/Man" (Trinitarian) development of the man, Jesus of Nazereth is the "Universal Christian"? I mean, that the Church developed theologically in understanding man's responsibility?

Bob MacDonald said...

Well... I think your advice can be read with the same prooftexting that leads to over-simplistic views of the OT. I have no idea what you mean by a Christian reading of the OT. How could the OT be less or more than Anointed since the wisdom of tradition has included it for our learning? I am somewhat suspicious of progress. With whom do we contend? Is there evil in the city and I the Lord have not done it? I am even more suspicious of the independent personification of a force of evil. The accuser gets no mention at the end of Job.

Mind you, I do read and study - mostly OT, and expecting to learn and be formed. You might find my brief notes on psalms 38 and 39 of interest. Psalm 39 was posted yesterday.

I think my main point here as in the comments on psalm 38 which I posted last week, is that we should not use texts or labels to keep us distant from God or keep God at arm's length as if we by our words understand the one with whom we contend. (The meaning of 'Israel' - one who strives with God).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Perhaps, in light of Bob's comment, Jesus was the "Universal Man" he personified what the Christian Church valued, mercy.

The Jewish tradition valued "Law"/wisdom.

All religions claim their superiority of value. Which is more important in this day and age? That is a hard one. Because I don't believe in a "headless mercy" (Utopian, Platonic ideals in idealized "form") or a "heartless law" (politicizing/historicizing "ideal" action in reality)....both evangelicals and legalists qualify for these labels in my book.

"Headless/mindless mercy", or "heartless justice" are not wise in any book.

We compromise at our own demise if we have a headless/mindless mercy. This is why national security is of importance. And we do injustice to our values if we have a heartless legalism, as we take extenuating circumstances into consideration, when our courts judge a case....