Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Warfare Worldview

The problem of Theodicy is the problem of evil. If there is a Sovereign God, how can there be evil? Conversely, if there is evil, whether moral or just bad things happening, what does that say about God? Lots of people have taken lots of approaches to this from lots of angles. There is the, "See? Proof that your god doesn't exist" on one end and the "The existence of evil proves the existence of God and, oh, by the way, He intends it for His good purposes" on the other. Of course, most people are somewhere in between.

It is my conviction that most people are in between not by choice, but by lack of it. They haven't considered the ideas, arguments, and ramifications. They just prefer not to think about it. As such, they end up with a rather casual approach holding in one hand "Bad stuff happens" and in the other "God is good" without ever actually putting them together. Probably the most popular view of this middle majority is what I'll call the "warfare worldview". We're stuck in the middle of a royal battle between good and evil. We're pretty sure who will win, but it's quite a tussle getting there.

In this view Satan is bad and God is good and Satan does bad things and God goes around mopping up after him. Good enough. Leaves God off the hook. All well and good. Except it's not. I mean, it's popular, but it's not all well and good. You'll find it in books and movies and the like, even from Christians. It largely fits in with the religious views of many groups outside of Christendom. The titanic struggle of good and evil. The hitch, however, is that it doesn't fit in with the biblical claim of a Sovereign God. And if you start with that claim, the logic breaks down all down the line. As it turns out, then, this popular Warfare Worldview is not an answer, but an evasion. To the question, "Why is there evil if there is a God?", they answer "Because there is evil and there is God." Not an answer. To the question, "What does the existence of evil say about God?" they answer, "Nothing, nothing at all." If they were honest, they'd need to tack on, "He's doing the best He can." As it turns out, evil exists not by God's will, but because God has opted out of ending it once and for all and has surrendered His Sovereignty to the whims of evil. He'll pick up the mess later. And, with that, they subside into satisfied silence. The Bible says, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." (Psa 115:3) But apparently that's not to say that He actually does all that He pleases. Some things (like Man's Free Will) please Him more than others (like His own will), so He goes with the higher priority (Man's Free Will) and is pleased.

I don't know how to hold that contradiction in both hands and consider it good. I know how to find peace in difficult situations because God is actually in control, but finding any comfort in "Bad stuff happens and Satan wins ... a lot" is outside of my grasp. Believing that all authority is given to Christ (Matt 28:18) while affirming the authority of Satan and Man over Christ doesn't work in my head like it does in so very many others'. So this notion of a world stuck in a grand battle between good and evil -- God and Satan -- in which we're pretty sure we know who will win, but ... well, this doesn't work for me logically, emotionally, or biblically. It sells books and movies. Popular Christian authors have done it. I can't. Maybe it works for you.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Detail for us what Satan's role is.

David said...

And we wonder why Christians are falling away. Without the assurance of a Sovereign God, what's the point maintaining any relationship with Him? It's also odd that those very same people you described will turn around and say that God won't give you more than you can handle. Sorry, can't have it both ways. Either He's in control and won't give you more than you can handle, or bad things happen and God will just clean it up. If He's not in complete control, then you can't guarantee that what you receive is the limit you can handle. Sure, He can make it better in the end, but during that tribulation, there's no assurance that anyone is in control.

Josh said...

"But apparently that's not to say that He actually does all that He pleases. Some things (like Man's Free Will) please Him more than others (like His own will), so He goes with the higher priority (Man's Free Will) and is pleased."

If God wanted to prioritize "Man's free will," couldn't he? It seems like you are trying to decide what God could or couldn't do.

Doesn't the Bible clearly state that much of the evil is caused by Satan and evil demons?

Stan said...

I didn't offer an explanation of Satan's role because that wasn't my aim. I offered simply what it was not -- God's equal counterpart. That's not biblical.

Scripture does refer to him as "the adversary", but to whom? Most people think it is God; Peter says he is "your adversary" (1 Peter 5:8). He is portrayed as the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1; cp Rev 20:2). In the book of Job he is in God's courts, presenting himself (Job 1:6; Job 2:1). While there, God (Satan didn't originate the discussion) presented him with a challenge and, when he took it, God laid down the ground rules (Job 1:7-12; Job 2:2-7). There is an account in 1 Kings 22 where the prophet, Micaiah, tells King Ahab, that "the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets" (1 Kings 22:23). In 1 Samuel, Saul was terrorized by "an evil spirit from the LORD." (1 Sam 16:14)

As for humans and sin, "the devil made me do it" doesn't fly in Scripture. That is our own problem. "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death."
(James 1:14-15) The decay in the world? That would be us, too -- God's response to our sinfulness. "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." (Rom 8:20-22) He is "the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). That is, he is the god this world worships. In that capacity he blinds the unbeliever. He "works in the children of disobedience" (Eph 2:2). He has functions, then, with unbelievers. Believers, however, he cannot touch (1 John 5:18). He does tempt, as demonstrated when he tempted Jesus (Matt 4:1-11), and he is the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev 12:10). He requested permission to sift Peter (Luke 22:31) whose outcome was a given -- a return to Christ (Luke 22:32). There is even an account of angels struggling with "the prince of Persia", an apparently spiritual force opposing Michael.

All of Scripture, however, portrays Satan as under God's ultimate control. He is our enemy, but God reins him in and has already defeated him. He has a purpose, but it is not "king of Hell" like so many think. His ultimate outcome is to be locked in eternal torment with the rest. That is, underlying everything, our God reigns. In everything.

Stan said...

Josh, as for Human Free Will, when Human Free Will is in direct contradiction to God's Divine Will -- God's Sovereign Will -- it cannot be that God acquiesces to Human Free Will and have it still be said that He is Sovereign and does as He pleases. Nor can we conclude that His promises are sure since Human Free Will (based on human animosity to God) would certainly counter many of those promises. Ultimately, two cannot be classified as Sovereign. If God "sovereignly surrenders His sovereignty to Man's Free Will", then Man's Free Will is sovereign and God is not. Logical requirement.

Josh said...

How do you get around God telling us people are acting outside of his will?

Any Sovereign can and does surrender an amount of their sovereignty. God only surrendered as much as he Sovereignly decided to. If mans free will is sovereign over God, it is only because God sovereignly allowed it.

Revelation 20:6 and 2 Timothy 2:12 both state that humans will co-reign with God. This seems to show that God has surrendered some of his reign to us.

Stan said...

It appears, Josh, that you are defending the popular idea that Satan and God are equal and opposite, co-combatants that are fighting over the ultimate outcome of the universe. As I said in my piece, "This notion of a world stuck in a grand battle between good and evil -- God and Satan -- in which we're pretty sure we know who will win, but ... well, this doesn't work for me logically, emotionally, or biblically. It sells books and movies. Popular Christian authors have done it. I can't. Maybe it works for you." It doesn't for me.

God clearly has more than one "will". As an example, we know that He laid out His will to Moses in the Law. It was His will that everyone obey that Law. It was equally clear that not everyone (read "no one") would. That would be what we might call His "preceptive will" -- His precepts tell us His will. This will gets violated ... all the time. Or consider the things that God says He hates and loves. These would be considered His "will". Proverbs 6:16-19 talks about six things God hates. Proverbs 21:4 adds to the list. And there are more. And we know "the Lord loves a cheerful giver", for instance. We also know that these things get violated all the time. These are not the "will of God" that I'm talking about, the "will of God" that always happens. These are not the things about which Scripture says God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). This is a different thing, this will. It is His Sovereign Will. It is the will that does not get violated. Or clearly Ephesians 1:11 is mistaken. "Any Sovereign can and does surrender an amount of their sovereignty." If, by that, you mean "God does not work all things after the counsel of His will", we'll have to disagree. If you mean "God allows me liberty to do things that violate His laws and His feelings while still under His ultimate authority", I don't see a problem.

As for reigning with Him, I am somewhat surprised you'd see any question there. I work for a director. I am the supervisor of my group. I "co-reign" with my director -- I rule over those under me -- but I do so under my director. How is that hard to figure out?

David said...

Also Josh, you are equating a human sovereign, ie a king or president, with the Sovereign. All earthly leaders owe their authority to God. God owes His authority to noone. He gives us responsibilities, but He's in ultimate control.

Josh said...

The Bible calls Satan the "god of this age". Notice lower case g, and I do not think they are equal. Satan does carry a lot of power and influence, especially in the world right now. He offered to "give" Jesus power over the nations, and Jesus didn't correct him. Apparently the nations are to some extent under his domain. Satan and man have exactly as much power and influence as has granted them by God.

Your explanation of God's two wills was helpful, and I think we are mostly in agreement. I think I just see the range in which God has allowed us to operate as more open than you do.

David, Two unrelated questions.
Where does it say God won't give us more than we can handle?

What if he gives us responsibilities and we don't do them?


David said...

I didn't say the Bible says God won't give us too much to handle, but that is a common platitude used to "help" people in times of tribulation.

I'm not sure what you're looking for in your second question. If we fail to fulfill our responsibilities then we are sinning. However, if it is a responsibility He Wills for us, then we will accomplish it. It's odd, you seem to agree that there are different levels of God's will, yet continue to debate as if there's only one.

Stan said...

David, I'm not sure Josh is debating. I think he was seeking clarification from me. I think he got it. Now I think he was seeking clarification from you.

Josh, I don't think I see the range in which God has us operating as less open than you. I think that I see the range in which He has us operating as 1) wide open from the human perspective and 2) completely within His ultimate will from His. Take, for instance, the story of Joseph who, in the end, told his brothers, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Gen 50:20) That is, there was no question that the intent of his brothers was evil ("wide open") and there was no question that the intent of God in the same set of events was good ("within His ultimate will").

Josh said...

David, It seemed to be indicating that you were arguing that God is in control, and thus the claim was true.

Personally, I don't think there are different levels of God's will. The different levels of God's will is a human invention to make sense of a God that is in control, and yet acknowledge that in the Bible he regrets things, and states that things happen outside of His will. This is done to prioritize an all controlling God.

I admit that I see a God in the Bible that has sovereignly allowed Man, and Satan for that matter, to operate and affect the world. It was His will to prioritize these free choices. He has chosen to operate within this framework to "work all things after the counsel of his will." He uses his perfect knowledge of man's (and angels, Satan, demons, principalities, powers...Etc) choices to bring about His will.

Stan,
The difference is I see part of God's ultimate will as the prioritization of man's free will. Joseph is a great example. God used the evil actions, freely chosen, of Joseph's brothers to put Joseph exactly where he needed to be. He knew Joseph's heart and the heart of everyone in the story. God used Joseph's faith to bring about his will.

In your view does the faith and works of God's people matter in bringing about God's will?

Stan said...

Ah, thanks, I see, Josh. You do NOT believe in a Sovereign God, but a God who sovereignly deposed Himself in favor of Human Free Will. You do NOT believe in an Omniscient God, but a God who knows as much as anyone can without actually knowing future events. Thus, His "regret" is actual dismay over what happened that He did not anticipate or want. Thus, when Joseph said that God intended his brothers' actions for good, the "good" was merely "that they would make choices" and, fortuitously, it turned out well, because He could neither know it would nor could intend that they would do something for a purpose that He could not limit, control, or intervene in.

Oh, and, yes, I do.

Anonymous said...

Josh wrote, "... and states that things happen outside of His will."

We see decaying logs out in the woods, so we know trees eventually fall over. In December I saw an online article about a tree which fell on a wedding party, killing one of the people. Is it sensible to say that falling trees which don't kill anybody are in the will of God, but maybe those which do kill people are outside of His will? Just wondering what Josh or anyone thinks about this.

Josh said...

Two points. I believe God knows much more than anyone can. He knows the present and past perfectly, including the human heart. He knows completely and has prepared for all possibilities in the future. Everything that could happen God has a plan for, and in the end all possible futures lead to His victory.

Secondly, because of the first point I would argue that God's regret is exactly that. Literal regret. Does that mean he didn't anticipate it? No. For example God tells his people what it will be like if they have a King in Deuteronomy. He anticipates their desire and plainly explains what that will be like. They still ask for a king and God gives them the king they choose, Saul. God eventually says he regretted making Saul king. He anticipated their choice, acquiesced to their decision of Saul as king, and regretted it.

David said...

Anonymous, is it your position that all death is evil and outside of God's control?

David said...

Okay Josh, so you see God as the ultimate chess master? He's able to plan everyone's moves and make His accordingly. The problem is, any chess master could accidently get defeated by the uncontrollable will of his opponent. You can predict the future only so far when it comes to people's actions. I, however, believe in a God that is in total control of this crazy world, never thrown for a loop. You may not agree with the being different types of will, but then you're the one that has biblical contradictions that you need to answer in a single will world. The Bible clearly states that God is never thwarted and that we constantly counter Him. It can't be both, unless there different levels of will involved, or the Bible is wrong and we are to be pitied for our misplaced faith.

Stan said...

Yes, Josh, as any good Open Theist does ... except that it still is not Sovereignty or Omniscience, and certainly not historical orthodoxy.

Josh said...

David,
If I taught my three year old how to play chess, she would never beat me. Not in 1,000,000 games. This is what God is like (only infinitely more so). As I have aleady said...God is prepared for all future possibilities = not thrown for a loop.

David said...

But by your belief, He can never make our sinful actions for good, but only turn them around, completely flying in the face of Joseph. To be accurate Joseph should have said, you meant it for evil, but God turned it around for good.

David said...

There is so much lost when you remove God's Sovereignty. Jesus was only a possible outcome of God's plan for creation (since by your theory it was possible for Adam and Eve to not Fall). He was in fact the backup plan in case we messed up. All of the specific prophecies of the Old Testament were mere luck (or actually just written in hindsight as many detractors would say). Jesus' arrival wasn't exactly when God wanted, the cards merely aligned (and we'll skip right over the forced pregnancy of Mary against her will). God could not have written down any names in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the earth. In your view, He's got His goals, but doesn't actually know how they will come about and can't actually guarantee that everything works together for the good of those that believe (since some of it might actually be bad without any assurance). You give up so much good just to make mankind more important. And you still have far more scriptural problems than someone that believes in His absolute Sovereignty. Our view may not feel the best, or line up with how the world wants it to be, but it guarantees more hope and agrees with more of Scripture. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather align my feelings with Scripture rather than aligning Scripture with my feelings.