Monday, September 8, 2008

God, Suffering, and Theology

I've been reading a book by popular author/editor John Piper called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. The book has various contributors who have suffered in their own ways (including Joni Eareckson Tada & Stephen Saint), and by all means have the "right to write" about suffering because of their personal experiences.

What troubles me in this book, however, is the theological base from which the rest of the book is written.

You may be surprised to find that the theology expressed here is that all suffering exists because God ordains it. And He does this to demonstrate His glory.

God's Foreordination is the Ultimate Reason
Mark Talbot contributes here that "God never does evil. Yet this is not to say that God does not create, send, permit, or even move others to do evil..." In explaining Hebrews 1:3 he goes on to say that "God the Son holds each and every aspect of creation, including all of its evil aspects, in his 'hands' ... where it accomplishes exactly what he wants it to do." His interpretation of Ephesians 1:11 where God "works all things according to the counsel of his will" implies that God is the one working all things -- all things -- by His sovereign will. He "brings about these evil aspects for his glory... This includes -- as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem -- God's having brought about the Nazis' brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child: 'The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil' (Prov. 16:4 NASB)..." And finally, "Nothing that exists or occurs falls outside of God's ordaining will. Nothing, including no evil person or thing or event or deed. God's foreordination is the ultimate reason why everything comes about, including the existence of all evil persons and things and the occurrence of any evil acts or events." (Excerpted from pp. 41-44.)

The Slaughter of His Son
John Piper goes on to lay what he believes is the Biblical foundation for God's purpose in creating the world, planning its sin and suffering: so that He could show the greatness of the glory of His grace by the "slaughter" of His Son. I'll limit myself to two quotes here:

According to this divine plan, God permits sin to enter the world. God ordains that what he hates will come to pass. It is not sin in God to will that there be sin. We do not need to fathom this mystery (p. 85).
"...the aim of creation is the fullest, clearest, surest display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. And that display would be the slaughter of the best being in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners" (p. 83).

Thus, God's intention was to bring about a fallen, sinful, suffering world, so that He could save us from it by the slaughter of His Son. This would demonstrate the greatness of the glory of His grace.

'My Thoughts Exactly'
Exegesis. John Piper and Mark Talbot did a fine job of using many scriptures to lay a foundation for their (traditional) theological position. But at the expense of what other scriptural revelation about God? Obviously, there will always be different theological camps, each one nestled closely to the scriptures that seem to affirm their views. One can do better than this, however, by looking at the Bible (God's revelation of Himself) as a whole. I wonder why a God who planned every evil would say things like this:
"All the day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people" Rom 10:21
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" Mat 23:37
"And they built the high places of Baal ... to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" Jer 32:35 (cf. Jer 7:31, 19:5)
One more important question for Talbot and Piper is: are there any other legitimate interpretations for the references they use to support their theology? Quite so.

Philosophy. Does someone who is supremely good have to create evil contrasts to show how good they really are? I wonder if I should try that with my children.

Additionally, I wonder how the suffering of countless "undeserving sinners" in hell demonstrates "the greatness of the glory of the grace of God". After all, this theology affirms that God specifically did not choose to save them, but has a greater good in choosing to let them suffer the pain of Hell. Maybe "we do not need to fathom this mystery" either.


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