Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Evil: divine instrument or enemy?

Over here, Mandy has started a long conversation (mainly involving students from Moore College in Sydney and Oak Hill College in London) about limited atonement.

For me it has again raised the place and role of evil in God's economy.

God wants things that don't happen. This is either because his plans are opposed by evil forces and human rebellion, or because he wants other things more (or both?). Yet God uses human evil to bring about his good plans (Gen 50.20; Acts 2.23). However, I guess one thing I'm wondering is: does all evil fall into this category? Will all evil one day be seen as the dark threads in God's glorious tapestry? Is all evil to be understood as God's instrument? Or is it his enemy? This is a false either-or, I know. But as a matter of emphasis: is it his instrument, which he will eventually throw away (or keep locked in the cupboard, or 'outside' in outer darkness), or is it his enemy, which in his powerful grace he sometimes judo flips to fall where he wants?
UPDATE: I have since written a six part series that attempts to address some of these issues. It starts here.
Fifteen points if you can name the English cathedral which boasts this lovely sculpture out the front.

28 comments:

Looney said...

Wow! That was amazing. It was like going into a CalTech engineering class and listening to a debate over the possibility of space flight when evidence from GPS, satelite imagery, testimony from astronauts, ... were all banned.

byron said...

Sorry, not quite sure I've got you there.

Looney said...

Now I am remembering back to the late night arguments over Limited Atonement when I moved to a hardcore Calvanistic PCA church after growing up Southern Baptist. In the end, whether or not God's grace is sufficient to cover the sins of those who reject it and are sent to everlasting punishment seems to me to be entirely meaningless.

We argued about whether or not Campus Crusade for Christ's 4-Laws pamphlet which begins with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" would be in error because it conflicted with limited atonement. Perhaps sharing the gospel this way should begin with "God might love you and, if he does, then he has a wonderful plan for your life. Otherwise you are doomed and there is no point talking to me." Lets get all of the fine print in!

Because Hebrews 6:2 already lists eternal judgement (which I understand to be identical to the eternal punishment that Jesus taught), the entire discussion is diversionary at best.

note: On first look, I thought that this was another universalism debate - which is reflected in the first post. That was my mistake. It does seem that limited atonement is problematic for univesalists.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so scrooge like and let them have the pleasure of arguing this through again!

byron said...

Ah yes, that's much clearer, thanks. I too often think that the topic is an argument in search of a reason. However, for me where it does touch on something larger and more interesting is precisely the question of evil which I raised in my post.

byron said...

In particular, drawing distinctions between God's moral and sovereign wills (want he says wants you to do and what he really wants you, as seen in what you actually do: a parody, I know, but run with it for a moment) seems to make evil as instrument the deeper truth underneath the 'official' policy of evil as enemy. Of God, it appears to make power a deeper truth than love. We're more happy for God's goodness to be placed into question and to require vindication at the end when the tapestry of histor is revealed, than we are for his sovereignty to be the issue in need of future justification. I wonder whether it's both that the existence and extent of evil places in jeopardy. That is, the problem of evil can't be resolved until when God actually resolves it. Just a thought: I'll come back to this in my series on eschatology and theodicy (which I do still intend to continue).

Looney said...

Ah, now I might be comprehending the topic!!! Still struggling along. Please forgive me for my slowness.

I have tried to understand God's use of evil for good as being somewhat like a chess game. The bad moves of the lesser opponent being deftly exploited by the master for his grand scheme. (Having been smashed into the tatami numerous times, I also like the parallel with judo that you gave.) There is something in my thoughts along this line that I am not quite comfortable with:

“Remember how the unbelievers plotted against you (Muhammad). They plotted, and Allah too had arranged a plot; but Allah is the best schemer.”

Mohammed's understanding of God is also similar, however, I am not comfortable with the notion of God as a "schemer". Perhaps it is too close to the word deceiver. As God exploits evil to accomplish good, I feel that there is something that I may never grasp with my analogies. There is something about it that can't be reflected in a chess game or a judo match.

byron said...

We're all beginners. And these are just some kites I'm trying to fly and see whether they get shot down or attract from lightning.

I too feel uncomfortable with God the schemer, if that is the primary mode of his relationship to evil. I feel that the weight ought to fall on his opposition to evil; perhaps his 'use' of evil is then to be understood as another way of expressing his antagonism: 'you intended it for evil, but God...'

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
byron said...

That last post by Anon was my first spam comment (a gratuitous link to a commercial site). Here's hoping to not have to do that again!

Joanna said...

erm, I'm a little confused here, but as I know you're quite patient and you're brain is enormous (and I hope you get comments emailed to you), I'm thinking you'll be able to help me out here...

Is sin God's "fault'? At Mid-Year-Conference this year I had many many confusing discussions about the fact that if God is soverign, and this includes soverignty over sin, then then we're not really saved because sin is His fault in the first place, and life kind of seems pointless because the saving from sin thing no longer seems to be about truth and justice, but only part of His plan to glorify Jesus...

Where did sin originate? Does it have an origin? Is our "rebellion" our fault? Or God's? (in some crazy logic...) Please help!

phillip said...

Well now the sin question is fascinating and if we can escape the clutches of those pernicious spokemen of the Church and allow the Bible to define our terms progress might be possible. Let us work bacwards from John's definition that 'sin is the transgreesion of the law' and suggest that sin is therefore an fracture of the Jewish Covenant and thus only those who have been born or voluntarily entered into Moses' Covenant can properly be comsidered guilty of sin, thus 'where there is no law, there is no sin'. Nevertheless 'death reigned from Adam until Moses' well it would wouldn't it for 'God alone as immortality' but He has graciously intended that some of us should indeed be 'partakers of the divine nature' and in Christ receive eternal life. To this end it was necessary that Adam transgress and become like God 'knowing good and evil' for truly what is evil but a negative judgement of the mind, and thus the Law's entire purpose was 'that we might learn to put a difference between the clean and the unclean' for Paul assures us that no Law in itself can GIVE life for only life begets life. It has long been fashionable to see in the O.T. the antitype of the N.T and thus Israel was commanded to route and destroy all the condemned inhabitants of Canaan, as we must drive out all that would destroy our love, but lets be clear here life isn't that precious to God anymore than the flowers you place on the window-sill to perish as they give of their beauty are particularly valuable to you, but of course we are now the bastard children of Humanism and have no real passion and so killing another man for a mere insult or feuding through 7 generations isn't aceptable for our emasculated hearts and lo 'we are satisfied by our arts inasmuch as we are satisfied by them' but to the age of warriors and the the full fountain of love and hate life is only ever the blazing beauty of the comet lighting up in the utter giving of its incandescence the darkness against which the good is seen. 'A violin playing by an open window, utterly giving itself, all this was commission, but were you equal to it?'
So where are we? ah sin, yes it's done and dusted God has declared through the prophet 'It is finished' and affirmed again through John 'Let him that is filthy be filthy still' for Then was the Judgement and despite the wafflings of Augustine, of Calvin the little flock continues knowing the true light has come and all who follow it are of God. Evil becomes then a label used by the powerful to castigate those whom they intend to work evil on. i.e. one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and sure as beer is better than wine the wise thing to do is not listen to them at any time. Seriously the slightest loss is just overdone now but it covers up the reality that life is utterly unimportant witness your politicians talking about the loss of innocent lives while dropping bombs willy-nilly all over other innocents, or the hysteria that allows a man to be locked up for 35 years in the States for smoking a reefer while the murderer gets a mere 8-12 etc and so stupid are the public that they accept a government has the right to restrict the exercise of your freedom while forcing you to slave for longer to pay the increased taxes to defend your freedom hehehe now that's evil. Yes Evil is Government and Government is Evil whether it's the Church hierarcy or a State hierarchy. 'Everyman his own vine tree and fig tree'

byron said...

Joanna: thanks for your question. My apologies for taking so long to find it - I guess you mightn't ever make it back... I think Blogger has been very temperamental about emailing comments for the last month or so. In answer to your question, I've briefly argued elsewhere (and here. See also here for two good quotes on the matter - see also the comments that follow for further explanation) that perhaps it is important for us to avoid finding an origin of evil, since evil is non-rational and alien in God's good creation. If you ever come back here, let me know and I'll have a longer go at saying something.

Phillip: hello again. Thanks for taking the time to comb back through some old posts and inject fresh life. Thanks also for wanting to take the biblical use of terms seriously!
life isn't that precious to God anymore than the flowers you place on the window-sill to perish
What do you make of the commands against murder, and his blessing of his creation? I do agree that life is not an absolute value biblically, but your comment here seems to suggest much more than that!

Anthony said...

I keep wanting to say Winchester, just from the look of the rocks on the ground. I'm sure I'm wrong, of course, but might as well try.

byron said...

Good try. But no.

Michael Canaris said...

Wells?

byron said...

Unfortunately not.

Michael Canaris said...

Gloucester?

Anthony said...

Durham? And that's today's guesses entered.

byron said...

At least for the two of you it is; there are others who might offer a guess too...

Neither of yours was correct, btw.

byron said...

Oh, I see now - that was the end of your guesses for today, Anthony. Fair enough.

Michael Canaris said...

Old Coventry?

byron said...

Good try (the symbolism would be particularly appropriate there), but no.

Anyone know how many cathedrals there are in England?

Anthony said...

There are lots, according to the Wikipedia article, especially if you count in the RC ones.

Unfortunately, they all seem to be newer and/or use different coloured stone to yours.

I'll try Lincoln today.

byron said...

Not Lincoln.

Anthony said...

Ely? I am prepared to go through the list...

byron said...

Not Ely - and I'm seriously considering a cap on total guesses from an individual on a post. Perhaps three strikes and you're out? Still considering it.

Anthony said...

For consistency, Salisbury needs to be nominated today.

byron said...

Fifth time lucky. Persistence pays off. Fifteen points.