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I Have a Problem with God

I am troubled because I feel blessed and cursed, simultaneously. Does God bring the good and the bad? If he does, I have a problem with God.

I hear at church, “God is in control. Do not fear.” Really, is he in control? Because what I see is a world out of control. John Calvin is going to roll over in his grave when I say this, but God is not in control. Because that God would have to be fine with evil to be in control of this mess.

Paul says that the creation and our very selves are subject to the corrupt world:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:18–25 ESV)
“[C]reation waits” to “be set free from … corruption.” Likewise, we are waiting to be adopted and reclaimed by God sometime in the future. God is not in control of this corrupt creation, but is waiting to make it whole again. It was once good and will be good again. We hope for what we cannot see—a time when God will permanently reclaim this world by sending back his son.

Evil happens because the world is corrupt, not because God allowed it. Yes, God did place the curse on the world—he is the one who “subjected [it] to futility.” But Adam and Eve made the choice to go against God, and we continue this pattern. Are we then the ultimate reason for the problems? Can we be agents for change?

So I have a problem with this falsely characterized God who is in control of everything. God has let the world go its way, but yet graciously chosen to intercede throughout its history. He brought salvation to the world by sending his son—the greatest intercession of all. When we are blessed, it is God interceding. When we are cursed, we are just witnessing the way the world is when God is not holding back the powers of evil.

With this view, prayer is suddenly taken to a whole new level. Because when we pray, we influence God to intercede—to bless us by holding back corruptive powers. God will take back this world, but until then we should be sure to characterize him correctly and pray to him as if he can act. Otherwise, we might think he is the one behind the evil. Surely he can use evil for good, but he is not reason it exists—we and the other rebellious creations are. But we can work with God to bring order to the chaos. We can bring healing to the corrupt creation and all of humanity.

What do you think? Is God in control of everything? How much control do we have?

Comments

I agree with you. The New Testament makes it clear, in other passages as well, that mankind is storing up God's wrath through sin and corruption, and will either accept salvation from it (their sin and corruption) or die remaining in it. I love how Jesus put it when he said "If you do not believe I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins" (John 8:24) and how Paul said "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). To add to your point, it makes it clear that we can die (or live, so to speak) in only one of two ways, freed from our sins (through accepting God's grace and living as slaves to righteousness; God's worksmanship) or still in our sins (unacceptors of grace, faithless, and still living as slaves to sin).

Joel,

Thanks for your comment -- it is good to hear from you again.

You make some good points. Does someone else want to chime in and follow-up on what Joel has said, or what I said in the post?

--John

Thanks. It's great, as always, to read your insightful posts.

While I appreciate the direction you're going, I don't think you're solving anything. "Evil happens because the world is corrupt, not because God allowed it." Didn't God allow the world to become corrupt? Surely he could have either kept humanity from sinning or avoided creating us in the first place. Even if we have brought evil on ourselves, and I think we have, God still at the very least has allowed us to do that. If God truly created ex nihilo, then everything, including evil, ultimately has its source in him.

I don't have an easy answer to reconcile this, and to my knowledge neither does scripture. This tension between a good God and the existence of evil is one which I think we have to struggle with in relationship with God. It is dangerous to move to simplify matters and say that God only does good (good being defined by us, of course) or that God willfully performs evil, and to do so requires turning a blind eye to some of the scriptural witness. I personally find courage in the courage of Job: "Though he [YHWH] slay me, I will hope in him; still I will argue my ways to his face. (Job 13:15)"

Also, a note on easy answers. Most of the heresies of the early church (Arianism, Modalism, Docetism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism) were attempts to simplify the doctrine of God's nature in order to make logical sense of them. These heresies resulted in doctrines that were easy to understand, internally consistent, and woefully inadequate for describing God. It's always very tempting to want to fit everything together, but we often have to change the parts so they will fit together.

-John

John,

Yes, in some sense God allowed for us to bring evil on ourselves, but we still had the choice. As far as creation ex nihilo (from nothing) goes, I don't think Genesis says that at all. I could go into a long discussion of this, but for now I will just say that the waters were there already, and "beginning" in Hebrew does not have the connotations we associate with it. Just run a search for it in Isaiah and you will see this. Or take a look at how creation in the Psalms is depicted. Genesis is about Yahweh bringing order to the chaos already existing in creation.

Yes, there is no easy way to reconcile this. And I agree, there are divergent views about this in Scripture. It is really an "and, both" scenario. I am with you on the Job quote -- right on the money!

Good point about the heresies as well. For the record, I am not trying to simplify anything. In fact, I am trying to show the other side of the coin -- complicate things a bit, if you wish. The view I am opposing is the common one. It is not completely false, though I think it has large holes. In some ways God has control (e.g., he can intercede at any time) but that doesn't mean he is predetermining everything, or even that he is the source of everything (e.g., he is not the source of evil, rebellious spirits, or our rebellion). Obviously, you have a very different view -- and I can sympathize with that because there is backing for your view as well.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and joining the discussion.

--John

John,

Regarding Creation ex nihilo. I realize that it isn't found in Genesis or anywhere else in the bible, but I have a hard time seeing how you can affirm an infinite God (do you?) and deny creation ex nihilo without going into some kind of dualism, which is (in my reading) clearly contrary to the biblical witness. As you know, just because a doctrine isn't explicitly stated in the bible doesn't mean it is completely unfounded. The doctrine of the Trinity is an excellent example of this.

-John

P.S. I like starting and ending my posts with "John"!

John Guthridge,

I don't deny creation from nothing (ex nihilo) -- I just deny that it is in Genesis, or even in the Bible in general. And yes, of course I affirm an infinite God -- read my other posts if you have a hard time believing that. With the trinity though, there are roots in the Bible -- they are just not as explicit as later doctrines by people like Augustine.

Either way, I do not think we can approach the Bible from a doctrinal standpoint and discover honest answers. We have to read the text for what the text says first -- forming our theology and doctrine around that. This was my point in my original post.

--John

John,

I guess I am a bit wary of any move that tends to make God more palatable and safe. That is not to say that these moves are wrong, but it's really easy to see how these moves could be motivated by our own wants and psychological needs. I know that it has long been out of fashion in many Christian circles to talk of the "fear or God" as anything more than a healthy respect, but the fact is that God as described in the Bible is an unpredictable, terrifying, yet good God. God will not fit into our neat categories, not even our moral categories. I think that, for an authentic relationship with God, it is incredibly important to recognize the wild and unknown (that is, mysterious) nature of God. To paraphrase one of my professors, "Why would Jesus pray 'lead us not into temptation' if he didn't view it as a real possibility?" God will act (and has acted as told in the bible) in ways that make our moral sense uncomfortable. This cognitive dissonance is part of wrestling and having relationship with God.

So to sum up, I'm not sure we really disagree, but I just want to be very cautious that we aren't exculpating (I had to look that word up) God from "moral responsibility" (whatever that means when applied to God) to make ourselves feel better.

By the way, I would recommend that you read The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud if you haven't already. It's Freud's take on the origin of religion as a way of making ourselves feel safe. I think he's dead-on in a lot of things, particularly the ways we like to make God in our image, but the projected God he describes isn't the Christian God. It's a pretty quick read and quite thought provoking.

-John

John Guthridge,

Thanks for your feedback. I'm not taking moral responsibility away from God -- in fact, I think he has the greatest responsibility of all. I am just trying to contextualize what his responsibility entails and in doing so properly understand his relationship to the evil powers.

I have read quite a bit of Freud (I am not a huge fan of his views). I haven't read that particular volume yet -- thanks for the recommendation.

--John

Let's switch gears, if that's alright with you. The evil powers you mention, what do you think those are exactly? Satan is an entity that has confused me for quite some time. Where he appears in the OT, he clearly is not acting as God's enemy (unless perhaps if the serpent in the garden is equated with Satan, but that's more Milton than bible to my mind) but in the NT, Satan seems to take a much more hostile role. So I don't know what to make of demons and powers in the NT, they just seem inconsistent with the OT. Maybe it's just a part of the Apocalyptic worldview, but if it is, how seriously are we to take that worldview?

What are your thoughts on this?

-John

John Guthridge,

To shoot straight, I am still working through the transition into the New Testament. From examining the occurrences of Satan in the New Testament, it is clear that he takes on a much more devious role. He is no longer just testing people, he is now trying to draw them completely away from God. He is God's enemy.

Here's my take on it, though I must admit it is only partially formed at this point. Satan acts as part of God's council in books like Job (long, long ago) but by the time we reach the New Testament he has now gone rogue. He is still doing his normal Job of testing people to see if they will follow Yahweh over him, but he has taken up a new vocation of opposing Yahweh. He has joined the ranks of the fallen ones. Hence Judas is taken over by Satan (although this is still a role of accusation) and Paul regularly discusses Satan as an enemy. No matter where we land though, Satan is clearly the enemy. There are also, of course, a whole host of other powers working against Christians which serve no purpose but destruction.

--John

Are these other powers fallen angels in your view? Or could they be human as well? And even in Paul, there is at least one passage that seems to show Satan as serving a purpose. I'm thinking of 1 Corinthians 5:5 "you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." Here Satan is playing some instrumental role in the salvation of this man. I don't know.

-John

John Guthridge,

The other powers I am referring to are both fallen angels and fallen gods.

In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul is reflecting a first century worldview. The worldview finds its origins in the Israelite view that the land of Israel belonged to Yahweh and all other land to foreign gods. Yahweh's land is holy (set apart) because he is there; the land of foreign nations is ruled by different, lesser gods and is thus an abhorrence to Yahweh, his people and his purposes. This view is re-purposed by Paul in the church (hence why he says things like "you are the temple"). The church belongs to Christ and all other land and people to foreign gods/powers (Satan being one of them). Essentially Paul is saying, deliver him out of the church to areas of the world that belong to Satan. Though his experience there, he will learn the importance of the church and Christ. In other words, outside of the church is so evil and horrible that it can lead someone back to God.

For Paul all the evil and suffering in this world can build us up in Christ and make us better followers of him. Even though the purpose of the powers is purely destruction we can find redemption in enduring temptation and pain.

--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.