God Was On the Throne Doing His Will in Aurora

When tragedy strikes, or more appropriately, a heinous crime against humanity is committed, as happened last week at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, it is a time for utmost sensitivity and prayer for the community and those who are mourning the loss of loved ones in a senseless, violent attack. At our small church in the country two and a quarter hours east of Aurora, I personally led prayers for the victims’ families last Sunday, and for the shooter—that God would change his heart. This is a time when people can tend to question the basic fabric of the universe. Does anything make sense when these things can happen? The world as most of us live and experience every day seems to be shattered. We no longer feel safe. If we can’t rest easy at a movie, where can we? So it may be natural to pose the question: “Where was God in all this?” This question was asked today by the people at the CNN belief blog, and as a local church theologian I tweeted appropriately in response, “In short, God was in complete control, exercising His will. I intend to write a blog post for a more detailed explanation.” As one might imagine, my single tweet reposted by the CNN Belief Blog drew no shortage of negative responses from Christians and non-Christians alike.

Well, I promised a fuller response, so here it is:

  1. The only direct response to the question, “where was God in this?” from a consistent Christian point of view is that God was in complete control exercising His will.

It is abundantly clear from the Holy Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments that God is in absolute control of everything that happens in His universe. We read:

Amos 3:6b shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

Daniel 4:35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

Ephesians 1:11c him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

Therefore, when asked the question whether the massacre was according to God’s sovereign will, the Christian must answer, “yes!” He is not permitted to deny it any more than he may deny that God exists.

  1. This does not reduce or mitigate the guilt of the alleged perpetrator.

Providence is not precept. It is basic to an understanding of Scripture that God’s prescriptive will (what He commands and approves by His character) must be distinguished from His sovereign will, by which He secretly directs all of creation including everything that happens here, for His own ultimate purposes. God clearly condemns murder, requiring the death penalty and eternal suffering in hell for unrepentant murderers. (Genesis 9:5, Revelation 21:8) If the reports of what transpired are accurate, and the killer does not receive the death penalty, it will be an egregious injustice. But even the death penalty pales in comparison to what punishment will be meted out by God for murderers forever, (those who never repent of their sin and trust in the Savior.)  Although God was in sovereign control of the events on that night, He retains every right to judge and punish the perpetrator for his wicked sin against God when he killed fellow humans created after His image. In the Bible, God frequently uses evil men to do evil things for His own good purpose, and then later punishes them for their evil actions. Just ask Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar!

And although God is gracious, loving and merciful, He is also Sovereign. What God commands for human beings to follow is not identical to what He does by His hidden providence. There is no injustice in this. He is God and He made us. He has a right to do with His creation as He pleases. (Romans 9:14-24) Now naturally, this biblical teaching of who God is will not sit well with the Me-ology of those folks who would like to construct a therapeutic deity they can call on when they need him, but who doesn’t control much, (like a genie in a bottle they put back on the shelf when done.) But that topic will have to await another day.

  1. God turns evil actions of wicked men, like this murderous massacre, for a good purpose.

Christians believe that God is working all things for a good purpose. Life in this sinful world is messy, and often painful. There are terrible tragedies that just happen and we can’t explain them. Like a beautiful woven rug viewed from the bottom, all the strands (including many painful ones) of human life appear crisscrossed and confused. But God sees the whole picture, on the other side, where a beautifully intricate and breathtakingly splendid rug can be fully admired. On this side of heaven, it takes faith to believe that God is working everything out for good, because we can’t see how all the pain and tragedy in this valley of tears that we call life on earth could possibly work for good. But we believe it just the same. The God who predetermined the sale of Joseph the patriarch into slavery by his brothers to preserve the whole family of Israel, and the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory to save many sinners, is also working out the shootings in Aurora for a good purpose, unbeknownst to us at this point in time.

  1. The surviving victims and the families and friends of all victims are in need of empathy and support in this difficult time.

Although many well-meaning people will tell the victims and family members that this shooting was not God’s will, and they have the best of intentions, they are merely adding salt to the wound in reality. A world which is ruled by chaos, where only the decisions of independent actors hold sway, and God is not actually in control, is a much scarier place to live in than one in which a good God works evil actions for ultimate good. This must be expressed carefully and tenderly to those who have been touched by tragic events. But ultimately, the truth that God is in control working everything for good is a much more comforting thought than the false idea that God was helpless to stop it.

Your thoughts?

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Categories: Current Events, Pastoral | Tags: , , , | 64 Comments

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64 thoughts on “God Was On the Throne Doing His Will in Aurora

  1. “God clearly condemns murder, requiring the death penalty…” I was shocked to read that…your argument fails miserably there. As a Christian and supposed theologian, how can you condone the death penalty even for the most henious of crimes? The 11th commandment instructs you to treat others as you would want to be treated…Christ embraced even the most sinful…He did not call for them to be crucified. Let their judgment be done by the Creator. I’m shocked that a man of faith would promote such a concept. It makes me question the validity and reality of your faith.

    • Michael,
      Why do you reference the Bible (the “11th commandment” as you put it = Jesus’ golden rule of Matthew 7:12)?

    • Kevin

      In the Bible, governments are instituted to enact justice, while individuals are to practice forgiveness. Justice for murder is proscribed for the government in Numbers 35:16. The New Testament message of forgiveness is given to individuals, not the government. God is BOTH love and justice. Neither attribute can be ignored. Murder is evil, because it is not just the taking of a life, but the willful destruction of an “image of God”. In the case of the Aurora massacre, the government should practice justice against the perpetrator, while individuals should forgive him. The death penalty is justice, as defined in the Bible. And God is just, and we as Christians should recognize that.

      • If someone, anyone, breaks into my house, which is a threat to me and my family, I will practice justice, thank-you very much. If you don’t, you are remiss in your duty towards God and your family. This is just one example, there are many others. In these united States, this is, or is supposed to be, a government of, by, and for the people. As one of the people I cannot delegate authority to another person, or group of people (that’s how it works here), I do not posses in myself.

    • justbybelief, There is a duty of self-defense and protecting ones family in Scripture, but the duty of taking vengeance only belongs to the civil magistrate. There is a difference.

      Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

      • “…but the duty of taking vengeance only belongs to the civil magistrate.”

        I would suggest to you that I may defend my life, the lives of my family, and the lives of my neighbors for same reason that our public servants may take vengeance on murderers and it is found in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”

        Let’s suppose that the ‘official’ story from Aurora is correct, which, by the way, I never believed for a second. Nor do I believe the ‘official’ fabrications concerning 9/11, OKC, or Columbine, but those topics are for another discussion. As another aside, it simply amazes me that there were no armed people in that theater–talk about remiss, but then again, the Magistrate (pubic servants, really), has presumed to dictate to us how, when, and where we my defend ourselves. Anyway,To quote the scripture you’ve quoted in the context of a mass murder in which men and women are being killed is a misappropriation of scripture because the victims in this case posses the right and duty, which is given to them by Jesus Christ, to execute judgment on the perpetrator by killing him.

        The scripture you quoted cannot by used as a blanket covering all circumstances, and in the absence of a proper public servant (a jury), whom you call the magistrate, if the circumstances dictate, any person is duty bound to take the life of a perpetrator.

    • Justbybelief, I think you are still failing to distinguish between lawful self-defense and vigilantism. In the Scriptures I previously quoted, God makes clear that vengeance is not to be taken by individual Christians, but only by the civil magistrate. This is not the same thing as protecting yourself or your family by killing someone who is in the act of threatening your life. Both self-defense and lawful vengeance taken by the state are based on the value of human life created in God’s image, but they are not the same thing. If someone broke into your house at night, you’d be justified in shooting him. But if, after murdering one of your family members, he got away and was of no further danger to you, you’d be wrong to hunt him down and kill him yourself instead of going through the proper authorities and seeking that he be brought to trial.

      • “But if, after murdering one of your family members, he got away and was of no further danger to you, you’d be wrong to hunt him down and kill him yourself instead of going through the proper authorities and seeking that he be brought to trial.”

        Who said anything like that?

      • I would also add that the principle of ‘self-defense’ (a term I don’t find in the Bible) and vengeance (one that is) derive from the same passage in scripture, Genesis 9:6. In certain circumstances, one may find themselves in a situation where it is possible that he or she be jury, judge, and executioner.

      • “jury, judge, and executioner.”

        And, all of these derive from man being God’s image.

  2. Michael, the death penalty as the appropriate civil punishment for murder is supported in both Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 9, God made a covenant with all of mankind (not just Israel) which is still binding for all people today that I referenced in my post above. Here we learn that the only just punishment for murder is the death penalty because of the value of human life, created in God’s image:

    Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

    Romans 13:4b reminds us that this punishment is only rightly executed by the civil authorities:

    he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

    The “golden rule” applies here in the sense that I hope and pray that if I ever were to commit a crime worthy of death (God forbid!), I would welcome the death penalty for it.

    The good news is that in Jesus Christ, even murderers can be forgiven and saved from the second death! Thanks for commenting.

  3. Mike

    I didn’t realize you speak for god. I’m sure s/he loves that.

  4. If God is not sovereign, then He is not God.

    This event has brought Romans 1 to the forefront again, and people would be wise to listen to Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5.

    Good article Pastor Fraas.

  5. Pastor Fraas, Thank you so much for sharing with us the plain truth of the Word of God. Though many may reject what you state in the article, our family appreciates how plainly you state the historically held position and more importantly, the Biblical one. Thank you for having the confidence to stand firm when so many are ready to shirk away from it.

  6. Thank you for your encouraging words, Alex and BereanWarrior!

  7. Mark

    Exodus 32:14– Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

    Moses was able to convince God NOT to kill his people. So, God in effect changed his mind. So how can he be considered “perfect” if a mortal can convince him to do other than he had planned? Such facts are why I left religion

  8. Mark, thanks for commenting. I always enjoy hearing from people who disagree with me.

    When it says that God “relented” or even “repented” in one version (KJV), this is what is known as an anthropomorphism. This is a term which means that God is described in human terms in order to make a point and help our simple understanding. In other examples of Scripture (like the Psalms) we find God described as having arms, or even wings, but the clear teaching of the Bible is that God is a Spirit (Jn 4:24.) The anthropomorphisms are there to make a point about God.

    From the text you cited we learn that God is merciful to forgive His people in response to the prayers of the righteous. God did not change His mind, for He is unchangeable. (James 1:17) Rather, it was His will that Moses would intercede in prayer for the people, and that He would show mercy by answering that prayer. And of course God had already promised to preserve Israel and make him a great nation, as Moses brought up right here in this passage. (v. 13) To sum up, God did everything just as He had planned it from the beginning.

  9. Excellent post on many levels. Reminds me of a piece by Gordon Clark where he argued that human responsibility doesn’t require a “free will” as many wrongly suspect, but rather a Sovereign:

    “Let us call a man responsible, then, when he may be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds. That is, the man must be answerable to someone, to God, for responsibility implies a superior authority who punishes or rewards. Now since in theology the crux of the matter is in the eternal punishment of some sinners, we may disregard other elements in the definition and emphasize that by calling a man responsible we mean he maybe justly punished by God. For this definitional truth is the key to the explanation of why a man is responsible for the act God determined him to do.” – http://tinyurl.com/cjthffm

  10. Reblogged this on God's Hammer and commented:
    Stumbled on this from a comment in Wes White’s now defunct blog (I still think you’re making a mistake Wes). This guy nails it.

  11. gigi

    Amen and Hallelujah

  12. …a good God works evil actions for ultimate good. This must be expressed carefully and tenderly to those who have been touched by tragic events. But ultimately, the truth that God is in control working everything for good is a much more comforting thought than the false idea that God was helpless to stop it.

    Amen. Would only add that the gospel also HAS to be ever front-and-center in all our discussions with both believing and unbelieving folk – else we risk sounding too much like Fred Phelps. At least, to this lost world.

  13. Matt

    Pastor Riley, thank you for taking a stand for the unpopular truth of God’s sovereignty. My understanding of this truth has grown a lot in the last couple of years since coming to the Primitive Baptists, who hold to the complete sovereignty of God in all things, including man’s salvation. God bless.

  14. Well done, sir. Well done.

  15. Reblogged this on The Lighthearted Calvinist and commented:
    Please note the tone/content of some of the comments.

  16. I disagree with the expression “God is in absolute control of everything”. This is an apophenic view of divine sovereignty. He is in “ultimate control” and “absolute rule” but not “absolute control”. He gives all free agents freedom to act as they may or will. God does not control them but his sovereignty does rule absolutely and ultimately. And these distinctions must be understood.

    • Alex, I appreciate your sincere and collegial comment.

      Your view seems to be similar to the Lutheran idea of “middle knowledge.” This view does not hold for several reasons. For one, it doesn’t achieve what is intended, because “sovereignty ruling absolutely and ultimately” is not possible if he does not also control all the details. The whole plan is made up of all the details. If one doesn’t control all the details, one doesn’t control the plan. Furthermore, since I think you believe that God has perfect and complete foreknowledge of all the details and their circumstances, and that he created all things out of nothing with this foreknowledge, the only reasonable conclusion is that God also predetermined all the details of the things in the universe and the events that transpire, at creation if not before. Also, this view contradicts the testimony of Scripture, which confirms that even the smallest events are controlled by God to His intended outcome. (Proverbs 16:33, Matthew 10:29)

      Finally, I do recognize such a thing as “free agency” from Scripture, meaning that human and angelic actors given two or more alternatives, will choose what seems best to them, all things considered at the moment the decision is made. Yet this free agency is only possible because God has already determined what they would choose. The creature’s choice depends on the will of the infinite Creator, just as the creature himself does. Our freedom is contingent on God’s freedom. If God hadn’t determined the result of the choice to be made, the choice could never be made. By an absolute view that God has foreordained everything that comes to pass, free agency is not undermined–rather it is established.

      • “For one, it doesn’t achieve what is intended, because “sovereignty ruling absolutely and ultimately” is not possible if he does not also control all the details. The whole plan is made up of all the details. If one doesn’t control all the details, one doesn’t control the plan.”

        I see this being said but not demonstrated. But more so, I believe it is from a humanistic standpoint and not one in appreciation of divine capacity. That is to say, we, ourselves, may not be able to rule absolutely or ultimately unless we control the details but it is clear God permits free agents the exercise of their wills and God does not control them, yet he rules them, he is divinely sovereign in them. And it may be quite a matter of omniscience which makes this possible which we do not have and cannot understand fully or precisely how it works in this construct but it certainly seems to be being ignored in your formula.

        I believe your explanation is sincere but, again, not accepting what is presented prima facie in Scripture, that free agents control themselves, not God, while God ultimately is sovereign, even while permitting such realities due to his divine properties and their exercise, an exercise of which we cannot fully understand with regard to its mechanics.

        In the end I believe you are using a rationalistic/philosophic explanation because you, yourself, simply cannot comprehend how it is possible to be divinely sovereign yet permit free agents, yet the Scripture presents just this. To make your argument requires you to ignore plain readings and contexts of Scripture regarding free agency and accountability for such matters. I believe it is you own limits and not what is being presented in Scripture as the basis for defining and understanding divine sovereignty. Thanks again.

      • Jim S.

        What I fail to understand about this argument is where free will comes into play. If we do not have free will, i.e. if God has chosen in advance everything we are to do and say, then of what relevance or value is faith? I have always believed that faith is something you must choose. If I am incapable of even that then I am little more than a robot put on earth for God’s amusement. I fail to see any value or purpose in that.

    • Alex,

      Thanks again.

      ‘“For one, it doesn’t achieve what is intended, because “sovereignty ruling absolutely and ultimately” is not possible if he does not also control all the details. The whole plan is made up of all the details. If one doesn’t control all the details, one doesn’t control the plan.”

      “I see this being said but not demonstrated.” ‘

      Are you disputing the idea that the sum is made up of its parts? This is a basic tenet of logic.

      ‘But more so, I believe it is from a humanistic standpoint and not one in appreciation of divine capacity.’

      That’s interesting, because I think that’s what you’re doing when you suggest that God cannot control free agents and their decisions, when the Bible plainly states that He does. (Acts 2:23, 4:27; John 19:11; Daniel 4:35)

      ‘I believe your explanation is sincere but, again, not accepting what is presented prima facie in Scripture, that free agents control themselves, not God, ‘

      Where do you find in Scripture that God does not control free agents?

      ‘In the end I believe you are using a rationalistic/philosophic explanation because you, yourself, simply cannot comprehend how it is possible to be divinely sovereign yet permit free agents,’

      God is rational. He has given us reason as a tool to understand the Scriptures. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to have this discussion right now about the Scriptures, or understand anything. I am being rational, but I am not being rationalistic, because I am submitting my reason to Scripture as the starting point.

      I believe that when we interpret the Scriptures, we ought to make use of such tools as the law of non-contradiction because God is rational. To introduce a contradiction in our theology under cover of not being rationalistic is just plain irrational. God’s reason is above ours, but there is no irrationality in Him or His revelation in Scripture. He’s given it to us that we might understand it and know Him as far as we are able.

      ‘yet the Scripture presents just this. To make your argument requires you to ignore plain readings and contexts of Scripture regarding free agency and accountability for such matters. I believe it is you own limits and not what is being presented in Scripture as the basis for defining and understanding divine sovereignty. Thanks again.’

      I appreciate your thoughts. It would help if you provided some references from Scripture that you have in mind. I affirm free agency and accountability, and also that God is in complete control of free agents. Where do you find that Scripture contradicts this? I think that the idea that an agent cannot be at the same time free and absolutely divinely controlled is a figment of human philosophy out of accord with Scripture.

    • Jim, man does make choices. May truly exercises faith. And when he does so, he is exercising it as a creature and not as the Creator. God is the first cause, and in this case man’s own will is the second cause which is dependent on the first. There is nothing unreal about this faith any more than man himself is unreal because he’s created by God out of nothing. God has a purpose for mankind. It’s His own glory.

  17. Steve

    Your explanation is plainly Biblical and certainly true. But isn’t it irrelevant to the pain evident in the survivors’ queries? Doesn’t saying that it was God’s will that the victims of this incident suffer such a terrifying death only impugn the memories of the victims to their loved ones by necessarily implying that the victims somehow deserved such a horrible fate? When my Dad died as an uncertain Christian, I remember worrying inordinately that he would go to hell. The most comforting words I received about his fate came from Scripture: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Why this particular Scripture comforted me is hard to say, since actually it leaves the question of my Dad’s salvation undecided. But that question posed so simply has encouraged me in ways that no other explanation ever has!

    • Steve, I appreciate your candor and excellent question. And thank you for sharing that bit about your personal experience.

      In regards to your question, “Doesn’t saying that it was God’s will…necessarily imply that the victims somehow deserved such a horrible fate?”

      First of all, we all deserve death and much worse for our sins against our Creator. It is a mercy of God that he allows any sinful humans to continue living in His universe for any length of time. Death is a punishment for the sin of the human race (Romans 5:12.)

      If you mean to ask whether they deserve death at the hands of a gunman comparatively more than others in this world, the answer is an emphatic no! Are you suggesting that someone who reads my blog post could think I were saying that?

      (Also keep in mind that this post was not directly addressed to the victims’ families. It was directed toward a more general question from a media outlet representing the sentiments of the general public to this tragedy. The victims and their families should be seeking still more thorough explanations and counsel from those pastors whose care they are under or who are in their vicinity, if they are not church-goers.)

  18. Paul Smith

    may God have mercy on your soul…to say that God made happen the evil committed in camps by Nazi
    soldiers is to read scripture with an sick agenda, worldview, …of course God has permitted free will and evil is not of His doing but exists where there is a lack of God…God is light…darkness (evil) is a lack of light (God)…this is a fallen world..things don’t go according to original plan…to get your mind twisted over the weird thought that God is not all powerful if he is not a puppeteer controlling every action is putting God in a box of human design

  19. Paul Smith

    a sick worldview…if he chooses not to be a puppeteer

  20. Paul Smith

    and to think how scary this world would be if God is not choosing to control everything ..every thought–emotion…that is truly scary. Our God and savior promises to wipe every tear .. to make all wrongs right..for eternity. our God is loving and kind and that does mean that at certain times of his choosing we will be punished but what you describe does not sound like the God of creation.

  21. Paul, what is your agenda/worldview?

    And what is your reaction to the description in Romans 9:14-24 of the potter and the clay?

    In the story “Pinnochio,” we find a puppet that wants to be a real boy. We also find people in this world who would rather be God, independently determining their own destiny. But that is something that we are not, ultimate determiners i.e. God. Best to let God be God.

    He is merciful and loving. And I am afraid you’re not taking into consideration the totality of the Bible’s teaching on God.

    If it hadn’t been for God determining its downfall, the Third Reich might still be around today. Now that is a scary thought, isn’t it?

    • Jim S.

      Parson:

      Communism is still around, and it is even worse than the Third Reich, much worse, and gaining ground every day.

      • True, but God is using it for His own good purpose. The Bolshevik revolution, for example, was a judgment against one of the world’s most anti-Christian churches. We Christians don’t need to fear communism because God is using it. It’s part of His plan. We know who wins in the end.

      • Jim S.

        I have been told that many times by my pastor and others. I still struggle with the idea that God is allowing it. Regarding the “anti-Christian” church, perhaps that is so. Don’t know enough to argue. What I am sure of is that regardless of the state of the church, many God-fearing, devout, people were swept up in that murderous rampage, as were countless innocent children.

        I also struggle with this idea because is it not our Godly duty to protect our families, children and communities from these monsters?

      • Providence is not precept. God rules the world, raising and deposing powers for His own purposes. When it comes to protecting ones family, there is certainly a duty to protect ones life and that of your family. Just because God set up the Bolsheviks doesn’t mean that they should not have been opposed. That would be to confuse the working of God’s hidden providence, which we can only see in retrospect, with His moral instructions. It’s important to maintain a sharp distinction.

  22. Great Article

  23. I don’t know if those attacking your position consider themselves Christians or not, maybe not, but I wonder if they know that a denial of a libertarian free will, or simply man’s sovereignty, was the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps some of your critics need to go back and read Luther’s Bondage of the Will where he praises the great Erasmus for not bothering with trifles like indulgences or the papacy but rather attacks the very core of their faith; the denial of free will.

    On a personal note, last year my daughter, who was 15 at the time, was very nearly killed in a drunk driving accident. She suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain trauma. If it wasn’t for the knowledge that the accident and everything that followed was the direct consequence of God’s will, I don’t know how either my wife or I could survived this trial. And, speaking of providence, only a month prior to the accident I had posted a letter by Guido de Brès (the author of the Belgic Confession) written to his wife shortly before being put to death for professing Christ alone against the will of the Roman state-church. I remember on more than one sleepless night while my daughter was lying in a coma and all those coulda-woulda-shoulda thoughts were tearing at my soul, I would return to de Brès’ letter as he also struggled with those coulda-woulda-shouldas but ultimately came to rest in the wonderful truth of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things.

  24. Ron

    Sean states his daughter’s accident (!) was “the direct consequence of God’s will”. This [in quotes] is a good word choice; something we should all emulate.
    Much good came out of that accident, for Sean and those connected to it, and even for some in the Blogosphere who were able to pray for their enemies.
    I would take the opposite view of Hugh that “…a good God works evil actions for ultimate good” is well-said.
    Just as in God actively created the light, darkness consequently came into being, evil is not created “ex nihilo” per se, but is a result of rejecting Good, and God. This is true also in regard to death, which is the absence of life. Neither evil nor death are ever represented in Scripture as being the result of “and god said”, nor does he ever call it “good” as he does the fiat acts of creation.
    “All evil lies in the abuse of good”, stated John Robinson (pastor at Leyden), and he came closer than most will to comprehending the problem.
    I believe what people stumble at when Theodicy is the topic of discussion is not simply their own bad theology or lack of knowledge, but it can also be the fault of the communicator in being sure to explicitly deny that God is the author (efficient cause) of evil. negations are as necessary as affirmations.
    It would have been good to have plainly stated such convictions in this article as well.

  25. Paul Smith

    my reaction to the loss of my nephew (diagnosed with liver cancer at 19 mos. and passed away at 4.5 years) was the opposite of the above quote: if i thought that God caused this beautiful child to suffer terribly as part of some master plan then i would not be able to handle it. my understanding of scripture is that evil exists in this world because we are fallen creatures and this is because God gave us free will which we abused. i take comfort in the fact stated above that God will one day make all this suffering due to the evil that we –not God– created be banished and that “”thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. you can focus on certain scripture to deny that man has free will but by far most of the Bible states just the opposite. May God Bless!

    • “you can focus on certain scripture to deny that man has free will but by far most of the Bible states just the opposite.”

      Then you should cite them because I can’t think of any Scriptures that teach any such thing (properly understood of course). As Paul said, in God we live and move and have our being and He is the potter and we are his clay. So, while I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, I’d say have at it. Also, I’d be curious how you might square your belief in your own free and undermined will with divine omniscience?

  26. Paul Smith

    Jesus died on the cross for everyone not a select portion of humans. For numerous passages of scripture supporting man’s free will google the ..statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation by pastor Eric Hinkins..My belief in my free will is that God is capable of everything/anything and thus He decided to create man in HIs image which includes free will. God is not limited in any way with what He can do. So, all powerful God can create beings that have free will. Yes I am the clay and He is the potter.. I just don’t believe he made a bunch of robots. Without His Grace there is nothing I can do for my salvation. He sent His only son to pay the price for all of us. It is up to us to respond to His invitation. This reality does absolutely nothing to minimize God in any way…it just shows that He can do anything including giving us free will.

    • Paul writes: Jesus died on the cross for everyone not a select portion of humans. For numerous passages of scripture supporting man’s free will google the ..statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist

      No offense, and as shocking as this may sound, Traditional Southern Baptists are wrong. (Is Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, considered a traditional SB? Because last I checked he is a Calvinist). Nowhere does the Scriptures teach that Jesus died on the cross for everyone. The Scriptures teach “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 1348b). Jesus said:

      “…but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

      Notice, Jesus said the you are not my sheep *because* you don’t believe. Rather, he said they do not believe because they are not his sheep. In John 6 Jesus said; “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Notice, coming to Jesus is premised on the Father first giving someone to His Son.

      In Ephesians 1:4,5 & 11 Paul writes: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” In 2 Thessalonians he writes “God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”

      Now, there are dozens of similar verses, but either Jesus and Paul are lying or Jesus didn’t die for everyone.

      Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation by pastor Eric Hinkins..My belief in my free will is that God is capable of everything/anything and thus He decided to create man in HIs image which includes free will. God is not limited in any way with what He can do.

      That’s a nice theory, and one I once believed too, but prove it from the Scriptures. Also, if man has a free and undetermined will then what of God’s omniscience? If man’s will is free as you say then God must learn by observing what his free and independent creatures do. However, if God learns then He ceases to be God and omniscience is lost. I really don’t know how you can square the two, but maybe Mr. Hinkins does?

      So, all powerful God can create beings that have free will. Yes I am the clay and He is the potter.. I just don’t believe he made a bunch of robots.

      That’s good, because I don’t believe we’re a bunch of robots either. In a piece by G.A. Chan on the Five Points of Calvinism, he makes the following argument:

      At this point I would like to issue a challenge to any free-willers who might still be reading this essay: If believing is an act of free will as the Arminians claim-if believing and accepting, or disbelieving and rejecting, are in the power of free will-then I challenge you to do this: Choose to believe in Calvinism and reject Arminianism. Choose to believe that man has no free will, that God is the ultimate cause of all man’s decisions. Go ahead. Exercise your free will. “But,” you object, “I can’t believe something that’s not true!” I didn’t think so. Thank you for admitting that you cannot believe, that your alleged free will is a product of your imagination, that believing something is completely dependent on whether you think it to be true or not.

      Before we go any further, some definitions are in order. Will is defined as the ability or power to choose. What, then, is free will? What is the will free of? Arminians mean that it is free of God’s control. They do not use the phrase to mean that man’s will is free of physical or chemical causation. They accuse Calvinists of making men to be mere robots or puppets because God controls them. But a puppet or robot has no will at all, and does not make choices. Calvinists affirm that men make choices, but that their wills are not free from God’s control.

      The second accusation is the other side of the same coin: Calvinists make God a tyrant, forcing people against their wills. This is not true either. Almighty God can simply change the will-or more accurately, the mind, so that it now understands to be true what it formerly thought was false, and believes it. This is not “against the will,” because the mind has been enlightened and now believes truth, not falsehood.”

      So, as you can see, it doesn’t follow that a belief in the biblical doctrine of predestination makes men robots or God a monster.

      Without His Grace there is nothing I can do for my salvation. He sent His only son to pay the price for all of us. It is up to us to respond to His invitation.

      How can you respond to His invitation? If you say it’s by His grace, then it’s not by your free will and you have made our point.

      This reality does absolutely nothing to minimize God in any way…it just shows that He can do anything including giving us free will.

      But you haven’t shown He has given us a free and undetermined will. You’ve asserted it, but simply asserting something is not an argument.

  27. Paul Smith

    Sean, thank you for taking time for a thoughtful, informative post. I am new Christian and have much to learn…my self-centered life, lack of humility certainly get in the way. Probably best for me to focus on the most basic concepts at this point. Best regards, Paul

  28. May the Lord bless you in your study of his Word Paul.

    Peace.

  29. Well said. thanks for pointing this blog out Sean.

  30. Pht

    HPP, it’s nice to see someone willing to express an unpopular biblical opinion publically these days.

    People are all so willing to live by what they see, and not by what they understand and believe about God from his revelation… and willing to get mad at anyone who disagrees with them about it too.

    God is sovereign in everything; if he is not “bigger than evil,” able to direct it towards the ultimate good, he is not worth worshiping. God in any kid of a box is not God.

    —-

    I do have a question, though.

    When you say that God has a sovereign and a prescriptive will, do you mean that God actually and really has two wills?

    Or something else?

    • Pht, Thank you for your words of encouragement. Yes, it would be correct to say that God has two wills, if by this you mean that he has a prescriptive (command) will and a decretive (sovereign) will. This does not introduce a contradiction or irrationality in God since we are really talking about two different things, using the term “will” in both. In the case of the former, God is letting us know what most complies with his nature, what is inherently pleasing to him, and giving us a rule of obedience. In the latter, he is secretly working all things toward a common goal, even sin. I hope this answer is helpful to you.

  31. Hugh McCann

    Some folks just ain’t getting it:

    [Lee] Strobel, a former atheist, said he was commissioned to do a national survey several years ago in which he asked people what question they’d ask God if they could only ask one thing.

    He said the number one response was: “Why is there suffering in the world?”

    Turning his focus back to last week’s mass murder, he said, “If you ask me point-blank, ‘Why did God allow the gunman to spray the Aurora movie theater with gunfire just two days ago?’ the only answer I can honestly give consists of four words – ‘I do not know.’

    Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/lee-strobel-probes-why-during-first-sunday-service-after-colorado-shooting-78727/#5cIq4S17uGV1XzqE.99

  32. Pht

    HPP, do you think it would be biblically correct to say that God has one will, but only reveals certain parts of it to humanity, all the while letting us know that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” ?

    Or do we have biblical references that validly amount to God actually and really having two wills?

    I’m just wondering if this is a case of less than helpful language that the church seems to have classically used or my ignorance of some biblical texts.

    I wonder if this might not bleed over into the image of God in man/Man as God’s image.
    —-

    After reading the article you linked, Hugh … well, strobel was doing good, until he introduced the whole “free will” thing.

    I don’t see how people can find it more palatable to have man possessing a sovereign free will which rules over God than it is to have God be sovereign over man…

    Man is still falling for the old deception … “you can be like God.”

    • Pht, it’s true that God is working all things toward one good purpose, but in the meantime, here and now, when we see the parts but not the whole, there needs to be a way to describe whether something is in accord with God’s perfect nature or not. That which goes against His commandments, precepts, and instructions is contrary to His nature. It is not in and of itself pleasing to Him. In this way we may say that the Aurora massacre was not in and of itself pleasing to God, even though He ordained it for an ultimately good purpose. This goes along with verses like the following: “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live:” Ezekiel 33:11b. This has sometimes been expressed as referring to God’s prescriptive will, that which He has commanded and which is in and of itself pleasing to Him, in conformity to His nature. I think it is useful in this sense to distinguish between the two different types or categories of God’s will. Often when people ask whether something was in accordance with God’s will, they mean that which is intrinsically pleasing to Him. But sometimes they mean that which He decreed to come to pass.

      • Pht

        HPP, I think you’ve said it better in your comment here than you did in your original posting.

        People do indeed seem to think God is some sort of weird being who can’t tolerate evil things while working for the greater good, when man does this, all the time.

        I recently had to discuss something in somewhat of the same vein with some church friends who haven’t really grasped the total sovereignty of God… in the course of which I pointed out that the cross was, in a certain sense, the greatest sin of all time; humanity murdered the only sinless lamb of God… but no (well, I HOPE no…) christian would say that the cross was not endured by Christ for the greater good (and for God’s glory). Unfortunately, it seems (IMO) that more and more christians don’t say that God actually planned and intended the cross and the crucifixion…

  33. God Never Says, “OOPS!” by Randy Seiver

    1. God’s master plan encompasses even the most wicked acts perpetrated by the vilest of men and devils.

    2. That God controls all persons and events according to his plan, does not mean he is the direct cause of everything that occurs.

    3. God holds us responsible for all our actions. He will judge us for our violations of his will revealed in Scripture even though those actions are in keeping with his eternal decree.

    4. Since God is in control of all his creatures and all their actions, he is able to cause all things to work together for good to those who love him, to those who are the called ones according to his purpose.

    http://www.new-covenant-theology.org/faithful

  34. Al Mohler blogs / gropes for an answer:

    The Dark Night in Denver — Groping for Answers
    Friday, July 20, 2012

    The news hit the airwaves like a sudden onslaught, and the truth began to sink in. It has happened again. This time, 50 people shot while attending the midnight premier of the last in the Batman sequence, “The Dark Knight Rises.” According to press reports, a 24-year-old man burst into the crowded theater, wearing a gas mask and carrying an arsenal. After deploying what is believed to be tear gas, he opened fire with a shotgun, a rifle, and two handguns. At least 12 people are dead, and dozens are injured, many critically.

    Over 100 police officers responded to the scene in Aurora, just a few miles from Columbine High School, where in 1999 two high school students killed 12 fellow students and one teacher in a rampage that also injured 21 other students. That school massacre became a milestone in the nation’s legacy of violence. Now, yet another Denver suburb joins that tragic list.

    The inevitable media swarm focuses on the data first — the who, what, when, and where questions. Then they, along with the public at large, begin to ask the why question. That is always the hard one.

    The same vexing but inescapable question comes every time a Columbine happens or an Anders Behring Breivik attempts to justify his mass homicide. How could such a thing happen? How could a human being do such a thing?
    There is no easy answer to this question. The easy answers are never satisfying, and they are often based in the confused moral calculus of popular culture. We assume there must have been a political motivation, a psychiatric disturbance, a sociological pressure . . . anything that will offer a satisfying explanation that will assure us. Wave after wave of analysis is offered, and sometimes some horrifying clues emerge. But the moral madness of mass homicide can never be truly explained.

    Christians are driven by instinct to think in biblical and theological terms. But, how should that instinct be guided?

    The Reality of Human Evil

    First, Christians know that the human heart is capable of great evil. Human history includes a catalog of human horrors. The twentieth century, described by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the century of “megadeath,” included a list of names such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, and Charles Manson. But those murderers did their killing from a distance, at least usually. Those who carry out the murders themselves are even more haunting to us. The young man arrested in this case, 24-year-old James Holmes, looks disarmingly normal.

    The Fall released human moral evil into the cosmos, and every single human being is a sinner, tempted by a full range of sinfulness. When someone does something as seemingly unthinkable as this, we often question how anyone could do such a thing. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to this when he lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]

    Human beings are capable of unspeakable moral evil. We are shocked by such atrocities, but only because we have some distance from the last one. We cannot afford to be shocked when humans commit grotesque moral evil. It tells us the truth about unbridled human sin.

    The Grace of Moral Restraint

    Second, we must be thankful for restraints on moral evil. Christians must not underestimate the potential of any human being — ourselves included — to commit moral horror. We know ourselves to be sinners, and we know ourselves to be capable of sins we do not actually commit. Why do we not commit them?

    God restrains human sinfulness. If the fullness of human sin was set loose, humanity would destroy itself. God restrains human evil by several means. First, he has created us in his image, and at least part of this image is what we call conscience. The moral conscience is a powerful restraint on human evil, and for this we must be exceedingly thankful. At the same time, the human conscience is also warped by the Fall and no longer fully trustworthy. We have developed the capacity to ignore the conscience, torture the conscience, and even misdirect the conscience by moral rationalization. Nevertheless, the restraint of the conscience is fundamental, and for that we must be very thankful.

    God has also established institutions and orders that restrain human evil. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13, God gave us the institution of government in order to restrain evil and to punish the evildoer. He has also given us the institution of marriage and the family and the larger order of society in order to restrain evil. We are surrounded by a complex of laws and statutes and social expectations and civic associations. All these function to restrain evil.

    At the foundation of these restraints is the fear of God, which, even in an increasingly secular society, still retains a more powerful force than is often acknowledged.

    Evil Answered at the Cross

    Third, we must admit that there will be no fully satisfying answer to these questions in this life. Christians know that God is sovereign, and that nothing is outside of his control. We also know that he allows evil to exist, and human beings to commit moral atrocities. We cannot allow the sovereignty of God to be denied and evil allowed its independent existence. Nor can we deny the reality of evil and the horror of its threat to be lessened. We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.

    Theologian Henri Blocher explains this truth vividly in these words:

    “Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of good, which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent.”

    We must grieve with those who grieve. We must pray for Gospel churches in the Denver area who will be called upon for urgent ministry. We must pray for our nation and communities. And we must pray that God will guard ourselves from evil — especially our own evil. And we must point to the cross. What other answer can we give?
    ——————————————————————————–
    Reference: Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Kregel, 2005).

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/07/20/the-dark-night-in-denver-groping-for-answers/

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