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A Good, Bad and Ugly God

A God in control is comforting, but inauthentic. We are happy with this God until “you know what” hits the fan and our world falls like the Tower of Babel. A God in control would have to guide everything—the good, the bad and the ugly. But a God who created a good human race that went bad and ugly is a completely different story. This God isn’t responsible for our mistakes, our suffering or our pain.

Theological Control—Nice, but Absurd

I define theological control as God predetermining the path of the world. This God acts from a distance, deciding the fate of each person and consequently the fate of the world. I oppose this view of God and propose another.

 

 

A Different Brand of God
God created the heavens, the earth and humanity—making chaotic things orderly. He then asked us to bring order to the world, as he did in the beginning (Genesis 1:24–28). But, we rebelled; along with many other powers he created (e.g., demons). In return, we became vessels of chaos, joining the ranks of the fallen ones. The world is now heading its own direction and its only hope is a God who can re-create it—a God who can bring order to the world again. The salvation God brought to the world in his son is the first sign of this (Romans 5–6).

God Will Take Control
God can intercede at anytime because he is the creator. But, he lets us be our own criminals and create our own victims. He is giving us time to choose him back because as soon as his son comes again we will have to face judgment for our crimes—only to be deemed guilt free through choosing his son. He has given us a way out in his son—something he didn’t have to do. Nonetheless, most of the world rejected freedom because sin seemed like more fun.

Our Comfortable but Phony God
In response to the harsh reality of this world, we created our own image of God. We invented a God in control because he made us feel better about the ugliness of humanity. But this God is a façade. God is not going to do everything for us—we have to make our own choices. We got ourselves into this mess, but his son will get us out of it. Until then, you can be a vessel for good.

What do you think an authentic God looks like? What’s your view of God?

Comments

Hi John: You begin your thesis with an assumption that does not resonate with me, so I think I will begin my response with the first six words of your post and see where the conversation leads us.

At the beginning of the post you write: "A God in control is comforting." I can't speak for others, but I am not sure that I find the notion of God in control as comforting. That means that He can give and take away. That he can guide my steps in directions I do not want to go. That he can see beyond my scope and impact my life for my good in ways that appear (in my desire for control, ease and happiness) to run counter to what I believe to be good. He can shape me and mold me and take me outside of my comfort zone. He can use even the worst evil in the world to refine me into the woman I am meant to be even if it feels like I am becoming a woman I do not want to be. He can call me to pick up my cross and follow Him when I am fat, dumb and happy following the world. He can draw me out of my selfishness without my making a choice and keep my path straight when I would prefer to pave my own. This has been my experience of a God that shattered my otherwise happy life six years ago. Years that have been guided by a God and anything but comforting. This, of course, is anecdotal, so we can use it as a case study/stepping off point for discussion...

Joan,

You make some interesting points. Of course, though, my first line is a hook and not part of the syllogism I use to make my case.

My point is that we created a God who has predetermined everything and who will subsequently make everything good. Say a friend of mine dies and someone tells me God will use it for good—he has a purpose in my friend’s death. My argument would be that death isn’t natural. We are created as eternal beings that now have finite lives because of the curse upon the world. Death happens because of the way the world is and humanity’s choices, not because of God’s will. The first idea of God is comfortable, but the second is not.

Any other thoughts on what Joan has said or what I said in the original post?

--John

I agree with you here, but the fact is that God can do something about evil, but he often doesn't, at least not what we want (preventing it). I also don't think that the God who is in control and does evil for his own purposes is comfortable at all, in fact, when presented with the evil in the world, I'm more comfortable with the God of Process Theology who would love to do something about evil but is unable. Both are wrong and oversimplifications. What is attested in scripture is a God who is omnipotently presiding over the evil in the world (either actively or passively) but at the same time came into the world and experienced the worst of it, thus defeating it. I don't really think you can get away with denying either side of that statement.

-John

John,

Thanks for taking the conversation this direction. I see what you are getting at as far as a comfortable (or not comfortable) God goes, and you make some good points. But once again, my argument does not hang on that point.

I don't think you can make the case for a God who is presiding over evil. That is hugely problematic because you are left with one of two options: (1) God is fine with evil, and thus evil is a part of who he is; or (2) God uses evil for his own purposes. Both involve God affiliating himself with evil and essentially being part of it.

When Christ comes into the world, he comes to battle evil. Prophetic typologies point to this (e.g., Zech 3; Isa 53; Dan 6), as well as the gospels themselves (e.g., casting out demons).

God from a distant perspective allows evil, in the sense that he does not intercede to ultimately stop it (at least not yet), but the reasons for him not doing so are clear -- as I pointed out in my original post.

--John

John: I would like to comment on the following from the perspective of God as Father and humanity as children who have stepped out of their parents' will for them...

"I don't think you can make the case for a God who is presiding over evil. That is hugely problematic because you are left with one of two options: (1) God is fine with evil, and thus evil is a part of who he is; or (2) God uses evil for his own purposes. Both involve God affiliating himself with evil and essentially being part of it."

If my daughter does evil, i.e. uses drugs - I am "presiding" over her, but am not fine with evil. Nor is her "evil" part of who I am. If this same daughter is on a path to her own destruction which I am confident will lead to a bottom that has the potential to have her see the reality of this "evil" in her life and recognize the need to turn from it, I might recognize my inability (or lack of desire) to inflict change on her - allowing her to take her own path to possible redemption even as that holds the possibility of her destruction. In that case I would neither be affiliating myself with evil or being a part of it. Instead, I would be allowing her free will to take her down the path of her own humanity - even though my will and desire for her is something different.

Joan,

Thanks for the follow-up.

There are two problems with your analogy:

(1) We are not naturally God's sons and daughters. We are brought into his family when we accept Christ. This is the view of the author of Hebrews at least (read the progression from Heb 1-2 to see this.) We are his children naturally in the sense that he created us, but we do not become his sons and daughters until we accept Christ. This is when we are brought into "his family," per se -- when we become part of the fold again.

(2) There is also a second difference between you being your daughter's parent and God being ours. You didn't create the drugs. You weren't even there when they were manufactured and you don't have the ability to stop drugs at their source. You don't have the ability to take your daughter's choice away to do drugs. Whether you ground her or not, she can still find a way to do bad things. God on the other hand can change any situation because he is not limited. If God is in control of everything and created everything than He also created evil and controls it. Of course, this is the view I am arguing against. I think God created the beings that spawned evil, not evil itself. He gave us and other beings a choice, and we and them chose to do evil things. God is not the creator of evil or in control of it.

--John

Hi John: Not sure I'm with you on this one. There is no doubt in my mind that God has had his hand in my life since the beginning - through years of atheism and overt defiance of Christendom. My conversion in 2003 was not something I neither sought or chose by free will. Quite the contrary, I was shocked, embarrassed and dismayed about the whole thing. Moreover, it was not until about four weeks after my conversion that I actually began to recognize that devoting my life to God would involve my having to accept that He sent Jesus as a sacrifice, something I was wildly opposed to and that I ultimately did as an act of obedience to God rather than intellectual assent or a strong sense of belief. I think that is why I fall on the side of God in control. I cannot defend it with any skill, but I can't deny it either. That said, my life since then has been beyond difficult. Which makes the notion of God in control as comfort a challenge for me as well. My inability to provide a provable argument for this does not change my faith that it is true. I suppose this is where faith and proof diverge for me. I can't explain, but I believe.

Joan,

Thanks -- I really appreciate you sharing.

You definitely don't need proof or logic to believe what you believe. I can't even prove that God exists and I believe he is there. So, I am totally with you on this one.

I define "control" as God predetermining everything -- as I said in my original post. As I have stated a few times in this conversation thread (both below and on other posts), I also think that there is a bit of "and, both" going on in Scripture. What I mean by this is that God is in control of any situation he chooses to intercede in, but is not controlling every situation in the world. The world goes its own way, with God interceding along the way.

So, I do believe God predetermines (predestines to use Paul's terminology) those he seeks out -- like you and I. I discovered my calling in Christ (and through Christ) as a child through a totally unexpected set of events that I cannot explain -- events that logic and reason cannot define. These sort of miraculous occurrences are sacred space where logic fails us, and they should stay that way. God chose to take control of your life Joan and chose to take control of mine as well. God taking control and always being in control are two separate things in my mind. Some people see no break between them -- a view I can sympathize with, but don't agree with entirely. I think we have to draw a line somewhere because of the God and evil issue we have been discussing.

I am glad we found some common ground. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and experience -- it means a lot to me and I think it has completely changed the direction of our dialogue.

--John

John: I think there is much to learn from this conversation that I will take with me into a new endeavor upon which I am currently embarking. I write these posts from Virginia where I am beginning PhD studies in Organizational Leadership that will require me, for the first time, to do some Hermeneutic studies. I am not thrilled about this. I must admit that I am not comfortable with the notion of pulling apart the Bible like it is any other book and presuming that it is not as likely (maybe more likely) for the average person with a 5th grade education to read it, understand it, hear God and be used by God to change the world. That said, this is where I have been called and this is what I have been called to do, so I will follow and trust that I will not become something I am not meant to be.

This dialog has actually been a gift to me at the onset of this program, and I thank you. It has confirmed my suspicion that faith "conversation" without sharing the wonder and mystery of the spirit/personal aspects of our journeys cannot help but devolve into debate. While, I believe, this is fine (and encouraged) for members of academia or those who participate in think-tanks. I also believe it can be destructive to relationships and polarizing in the Body of Christ if our studies - which teach us to be contrarian - are applied in the same manner.

So, I agree with you. It is great that we have found some common ground and I expect I will have many questions for you in coming months and years that I more toward my degree. It will be interesting to see how I fall on these questions as the process of learning continues.

Best to you,
Joan

Quoted from John Barry:
"I don't think you can make the case for a God who is presiding over evil. That is hugely problematic because you are left with one of two options: (1) God is fine with evil, and thus evil is a part of who he is; or (2) God uses evil for his own purposes. Both involve God affiliating himself with evil and essentially being part of it."

John,

Part of this depends on how we define evil. The fact is, though, that there is scripture that seems to show God using evil (or at least allowing it) for his own purposes. Here are some that I'm thinking of, I'd like to hear what you have to say about them:

1 Samuel 15:3 (Samuel speaking for YHWH)
Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.
1 Samuel 18:10
The next day a harmful (ra'ah) spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day.
Really the whole story of Saul seems to be YHWH deconstructing him to show Israel that a human king isn't so great. Saul really seems to be the victim.
1 Kings 22:19-23
And Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, 'I will entice him.' And the LORD said to him, 'By what means?' And he said, 'I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And he said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.' Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you."
Job 1 & 2, where YHWH allows (gives Satan explicit permission) Satan to test Job
John 9:2-3
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."

It seems to me that these show God as presiding over evil and even using it for his purposes.

-John

John Guthridge,

Here are my answers in the sequence of the Scriptures you quoted. I have prefaced my responses with my initials, JDB, so everyone can follow along:

1 Samuel 15:3 (Samuel speaking for YHWH), “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

JDB: God’s wrath and God using evil are actually two separate issues. This passage involves God commanding his people to destroy a nation that had followed after other gods, and in doing so evoked divine war against him and his people. Everything must be destroyed because everything, including the land (until it is purged), is affiliated with those gods. This is the ancient worldview of the biblical authors: Our God against their gods; their people against our people. God destroying things does not entail evil, but in fact the opposite—purging the world of it. The flood, or the destruction of Sodom of Gomorrah are similar events.
1 Samuel 18:10, “The next day a harmful (ra'ah) spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day.”

JDB: There are two things going on here: (1) The Hebrew word we translate as evil (ra’ah) actually is better understood as the English word “bad”—“bad” can be used for good, but inherent evil (e.g., other gods, demons, etc.) cannot. (2) Saul is not the victim. Saul has gone against God and misled his people. In return, God regrets the day he made Saul king (1 Sam 15:10-35). God sends his “bad” spirit to drive Saul out of office. Essentially torment him to the point that he gives up the throne to secretly appointed king David (1 Sam 16:13). This is God using “bad” for the betterment of his people. We have to distinguish here between what the New Testament (which I was referring to in my original post) characterizes as “evil” and what the Old Testament characterizes as “evil” (or “bad”) – they are two separate notions surrounded by different worldviews. Plus, we need to be sure we understand passages like these in light of the surrounding context. In this case, 1 Sam 15 forward.

1 Kings 22:19-23, And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, 'I will entice him.' And the LORD said to him, 'By what means?' And he said, 'I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And he said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.' Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you."

JDB: Here we are dealing with a divine council scene where God is once using divine beings to do his bidding. Check out Psa 82 for a picture of this worldview. If you want more information, take a look at http://www.divinecouncil.com
Job 1 & 2, where YHWH allows (gives Satan explicit permission) Satan to test Job
Ditto, divine council scene. Satan is not inherently evil here. He is “the accuser.” If you know Hebrew take a look at the definite article “ha satan” (the satan – the accuser or prosecutor). With this passage and the above, the ancients did not view these beings as evil, but part of God’s work. He worked with his council to bring about solutions to major problems, and sometimes this involved sending “bad” spirits.

John 9:2-3, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."

JDB: The ancients viewed sin and sickness as directly affiliated. Jesus is making the point that even the evil of the world can be used to show the works of God. It doesn’t mean that God caused it.

--John

I don't disagree with anything you've said here, but I'm starting to wonder what you mean when you say "evil." When I talk about evil, I usually think of it in more of the Hebrew sense, because that is almost all we are concerned with as human beings. Things are "evil" or "bad" when they have bad outcomes for us. All of the examples I gave fit under this. Another possible sense for the word "evil" is that it is something which violates a moral standard, in this case that given in scripture. In 1 Kings 22, YHWH orders and authorizes a member of the divine council to give false prophecy in order to lead Ahab to his death. This seems to directly violate the moral standard we humans are held to, and while it is certainly different for God, if the ability and willingness of YHWH to deceive us for his purposes doesn't cause anxiety, I don't know what will. The final definition of evil that I can think of off the top of my head is going against God, since he defines what is good (he is what is good). God doesn't go against himself, so here I completely agree with you. But, if this is the only thing that you are defining as evil, it has very limited applicability and usefulness in dealing with those who are in pain.

-John

John Guthridge,

In the story you mentioned in 1 Kings 22 Yahweh does this to save his people and to eventually destroy those who have affiliated themselves with other gods. This fits with what I explained in my last response.

I define evil around two categories: (1) Choices; and (2) Beings.

(1) Choices -- We have a choice to follow Yahweh or go against him. Following him involves doing precisely what he commands. In the beginning, this only involved one choice: eating from the tree or not. The Serpent (who may actually have been an angel of light, according to some scholars) rebelled from Yahweh's council and led his people to go against Yahweh. Today, these choices are many. Going against Yahweh in anyway is evil. This is our predicament: We all have made evil choices, which separates us from Yahweh. Because of this we need a savior who can bridge the gap between us and him.

(2) Beings -- Evil beings made evil choices. We are not the only beings who made the choice to oppose Yahweh, as I pointed out above. Other beings, like Baal, and many unnamed "gods" (divine beings) did as well. Yahweh also does not affiliate with these beings. His only affiliation is either in battle or in challenges to war.

Evil choices create evil beings. The Old Testament does not use "evil" in the way I do, but the New Testament does. In the Old Testament, words like "abhor" are used to describe Yahweh's feelings about these matters instead. So the distinction I am really making, in Old Testament terms, is between "bad" things or beings (ra' ah in Hebrew) and "abhorred" things or beings.

I actually think the understanding of God I present is very helpful for people in pain. (I know it has helped me and several good friends.) We must acknowledge where pain comes from -- the choices of humanity and "abhorred" (evil) beings. Then, and only then, can we really understand God's place as intercessor in the midst of this chaotic world.

--John

But does pain really always come from these choices? What about natural evil? Say my whole family is killed in a tornado, how does this understanding help me then?

-John

John Guthridge,

As far as a larger framework goes, pain does come from choice. Whether that is the choice of humans or other powers that preexisted us, the chaos in society and the natural order is because of those who made the choice to oppose Yahweh. Creation was made good but it has gone bad. And the badness of it (e.g., tornadoes and hurricanes) affect all of us.

We live in a fallen world waiting to be completely redeemed by a risen Christ. And it is Christ we need to lean on when pain comes our way.

--John

Hi, John,

I think many believers overlook some important concepts when looking at all the loss, destruction, and death that seem to be overwhelming our world. As I have "listened" to what many people think, I find that most believe that God and humans are the only ones involved in what happens in our world and that any evil that comes to believers comes with God's permission. I have a different understanding than most people, but this understanding is one that makes sense.

First--as many do understand--along with being good, light, and life, God is love, and as noted in I Corinthians 13, love does not seek its own. In other words, God had to give his created beings a real choice, or else He would be seeking His own way. So, before He created any beings, God created an alternative to Himself. To put what happened in understandable terms, God withdrew Himself from a place--so instead of good, there was evil (Isaiah 45:7); instead of light, darkness; instead of life, death; and instead of love, hate.

Now, here is what many miss. Before He created our world, God created the angelic realm in the place where He was. All of these created beings had complete freedom of will and understood truth. Because he wanted to be like God in order to rule over his peers, Lucifer became Satan by deliberately letting go of God to set up his own kingdom in the place of darkness, evil, death, and hate. Then, as Genesis 1:2 says, God went to the place of darkness--Satan's kingdom, the kingdom of evil--and spoke "Let there be light!" (or in other words, "I AM here!). Throughout the process of creation, God made good in the place of evil.

Now, of course, Satan was determined to get rid of the good and reclaim his kingdom, so he pulled the first scam in human history. He went to the innocent human couple (who had never "sinned" on their own) and deliberately lied to them. Since they did not understand what was going on, they fell victim to Satan's murdering attempt; at that point, loss, death, and destruction found a foothold in God's creation.

James 1 tells us not to err by thinking that God has anything to do with evil--to the contrary, God is good and has never been evil nor has He ever done any evil. As Jesus said, the thief (Satan) is the one that steals, kills, and destroys while he (Jesus) is the one who came that we might have the life that is more abundant than anything Satan brings (John 10:10).

When we face the evil that is in our own lives and the world, we need to understand that Jesus made the way for us to cleave to God who is our life(Deuteronomy 30:20), so we can find the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we need to overcome and defeat evil. Anything that causes loss, death, and destruction is from the kingdom of evil, and through Jesus Christ, we are able to overcome and defeat it. We need to seek God and His righteousness with everything we have.

Patricia,

Good point about what happened before our realm was created. The theological discussion about "the divine council" sheds some light on this. Check out: http://www.thedivinecouncil.com for Michael Heiser's thoughts on this subject. He is the world's leading expert on this subject, as well as a good friend who I immensely respect. I highly recommend you and others read what he has to say. It really help to contextualize the discussion we are currently having.

--John

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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.