Monday, September 12, 2011

Does God tempt? 5

Now returning to my idea of a booklet on Why God Allows Evil and Suffering?

Here are the previous posts:
Where is God?
Questionable Explanations
What is evil?
Pain is not Evil

And now the latest in the series:
Does God tempt?
On the one hand, the answer to this question seems obvious enough.  James 1:13 says, "No one, when tempted, should say, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one" (NRSV).  But we find other comments in Scripture that complicate matters.

For example, in Romans 9:17-18, God is said to harden Pharaoh and whomever he chooses in a way that leads them to do things which God then condemns.  The person who has done evil, when judged by God, asks God why he is finding fault with them when he has made them to do the evil (9:20).  Some Christians take this passage to mean that God more or less directly causes evil.

In Genesis 22, we find Abraham commanding Isaac to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.  Christian philosophers debate whether murder is a good thing when God commands it.  And of course God does not let Abraham go through with it.  But given the full revelation of Scripture, God seems to be tempting Abraham to do something that is solidly wrong.

2 Samuel 24:1 actually speaks of God tempting David to do something wrong, something God will later judge David for doing.  He incites David to disobey him and take a census.  This action by God reminds us of the evil spirits that God is said to send on Saul in 2 Samuel 16:14-15.  In more than one place, Saul tries to kill David when this evil spirit from God comes on him (2 Sam. 18:10; 19:9).

To make matters even more complicated, 1 and 2 Chronicles are basically a revised edition of Samuel and Kings from a post-exile perspective.  One of the key ingredients of Jewish theology that has come into play in the meantime is an understanding of someone that works for God in the "testing" department.  This individual, "the adversary" or "the satan," goes around seeing if people will remain loyal to God.

So in 1 Chronicles 21:1's version of 2 Samuel 24, it is no longer God who tempts David to number the children of Israel.  It is now the satan who does so.  Similarly, in Job, it is not God who directly causes the calamity on Job or who tempts Job but rather, it is the satan.  Arguably none of the earlier Old Testament texts have any conception of the satan (Genesis through Kings, the pre-exilic and exilic prophets).  For this reason, they ascribe to God's direct action things like sending evil spirits on Saul.  The later texts would have said it was the satan.

Even here, the satan of the Old Testament is not yet Satan the fallen angel in the New Testament.  This development in understanding seems to take place in the rise of apocalyptic Judaism around 200BC in documents like 1 Enoch.  The New Testament actually says very little about Satan's origins or who he is.  The general understanding we as Christians have of him as a fallen angel and the one who tempted Adam in the Garden does not actually come from the Bible but from Jewish literature at the time. [1]  This fact does not in any way mean that our Christian understanding is wrong, only that it is late and largely comes from outside the Bible.

Two initial conclusions flow from this discussion.  The first is that we must read individual Scriptures about God and temptation in the light of the whole flow of revelation.  We cannot simply take one verse and assume it gives us the whole story.  We will have to do some heavy theological lifting to conceptualize a biblical theology here.

The second is that while we can draw the elements of our biblical theology of God and temptation from these individual texts, we will need some controlling sense of God in general order to connect them to each other.  We have to choose a "center point" in Scripture to which we can map the other passages and perspectives.  Which center point we choose will depend on our overall sense of God's character.  Unfortunately, these sorts of decisions have to be made from outside the Bible looking in because the individual texts themselves present differing perspectives [2]...

the rest of this section tomorrow...

[1] For example, Genesis 3 does not identify the serpent with Satan because Israel had no conception of the satan at the time Genesis was written.  It is not until the first century before Christ that a writing called The Life of Adam and Eve first identifies the serpent as Satan.  Isaiah 14 in context was not originally about Satan but about the king of Babylon.  And Satan falling from the sky in Luke 10:18 in context has to do with the exorcism ministry of the disciples, not something that happened around the birth of the world.

[2] Part of the reason we argue past each other as Christians is because we do not realize this dynamic.  We throw verses that support our positions at each other without realizing that the tie breakers have to be made outside the text in a theological context.


Scott F said...

Tempted to take a mulligan here. How do you get a general picture of the whole that excludes key elements of that whole.

This is a very slippery (secular) slope. Following the evidence where it leads pulls strongly in the direction of a conception of God that developed over the centuries. Any "center point" will shift with each generation. Each other will have something to contribute concerning the human condition but none will authoritative (no pun intended!)

This is one of the reasons that I - and I assume others - are so comfortable treating the Bible as a thoroughly and blatantly human enterprise, one that may be treated as literature but not as divinely dictated or inspired.

Once this point is reached, discussion of sources or motivations of "evil" become strained. However, it always useful to attend to thoughtful Christians, like yourself, in order to gain a new perspective or insight.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Satan was the "scape-goat" wasn't he? ;-) people in ancient times believed and used "myth" to explain the world.

The Western Church does not believe that man is perfectable, but the Eastern Church does......the problem is in prescribing how that "perfection" is to be understood or "walked out". This is where the individual, in our society chooses.

Today, science understands that there are certain innate tendencies that aren't about temptation, Satan, God, etc. but about medical and psychological science.

No longer do we bore holes n men's heads to let out evil spirits, or do we do lobotomies. We have drugs that stablize chemical imbalances and counselling helps people to cope or change perspectives with their problems in this world.

"Gods" in strategic planning have differences of opinion about how to approach our problems today. And isn't such differences of opinion the basis of political disagreements? No longer do men passively wait for the heavens to declare, or for a heavenly being to appear, but humans take charge and make differences in however they deem appropriate.

So, "gods tempt" in the sense that they create or make certain plans which might or might not work. The "goal" is seen, but how that is accomplished might have to be tempered or re-adjusted.

Ken Schenck said...

This is why over time I have gravitated toward a stronger sense of ecclesiology. Without some sense of trajectory, it becomes very hard to hold everything together for me.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The question is about authority, which n our society, adults have the right to self-governance.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It becomes impossible to "make a claim" in today's world, and in our particular diverse society, doesn't it for a "colletive"?

Collectives are useful to promote collectivism, which has material/economic and political implications about liberty of conscience regarding the transcendental realm and economic theory...itself.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If one wants to promote "love" as the 'perfection model", then, is it "loving" to pre-determine (plan) those that are prescribed "that place" in the collective (organizational structuring)? I thought love was a choice!?! (But, maybe the scientific community wants to play on the "feeling or intuitive" side of man....)

Realistically, choice and self-interest is of primary value, because it protects against and balances power of "the gods". It is called "consent of the governed"!

As I've said before, it is all about politics and to take care of yourself, before another "takes care of you"! That way there can be mutuality, and NOT conformity!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Personally, I think the whole problem is with separating the "sacred/secular", as it makes for arrogance on one side (the gods) and self-righteousness on the other (religious conviction). It is best to let people (individuals) choose n society what they desire within the boundaries of lawful behavior!!!

Scott F said...

@Ken, I guess we are all doing our own ecclesiology whether we know it or not. :) Better to know where your basis is coming from than to stumble around blindly.

I sometimes think that the great divide is not between believer/non-believer but between those who know why they believe/disbelieve and those who never stop to think about it.

davey said...

God may not tempt, but God doesn't seem to think it necessary to make matters plain enough for people, which leads them often to form mistaken ideas about what's happening, resulting in conflicts. This is not thought moral when humans do it.