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The Goodness of God: The Bible and the Problem of Evil
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burrawang
Jan 23, 2020
Hi ekrause1406, what you have written in your paper is certainly true and those wonderfully familiar Bible passages confirm what you have written. All the people of the world are all able to live their lives in this wonderfully created universe because of the love and goodness of God; it is the injustices and unfairness that are forced upon many less fortunate people by other people, that acts as a stumbling block to the many who do not understand that evil does not come from God. I am reminded of a brilliant book that I have been studying recently that has a wonderful section in it that clearly sets out the events from scripture that the free will of Adam set in motion. DISMANTLING THE BIG BANG by Alex Williams and John Hartnett PH.D 2005 Published 2005 by Master Books Green Forest, AR 72638 The excerpt below is copied from the bottom of page 217 to 224 Reproduced with the kind permission of New Leaf Publishing Group. The Israelites were a light in a dark world. Not because they were in any way superior to any other peoples, but simply because God chose them to be the bearers of His plan of salvation. In the nation of Israel we do not see a race of super humans leading the world out of darkness and into light. What we do see is the Creator God being totally committed to those He loves. The name “Israel” was given by God to the patriarch Jacob. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. God changed his name following a personal encounter when Jacob “Wrestled with God” and would not let Him go until God blessed him (Gen. 32:28; NKJV). The Israelites were also called “Hebrews”(Exod. 1:15—19) and they spoke the Hebrew language. This name is derived from their ancestor Eber, the great-great-grandson of Noah, who outlived all his descendants down to the time of Abraham. In addition, they (along with Arabs) are sometimes called “Semites,” a name derived from their ancestor Shem, one of the three sons of Noah. In later times, King Solomon’s sin of idolatry caused `the kingdom of Israel to be divided in two. The northern kingdom (called “Israel”) was eventually destroyed, and the southern kingdom (called “Judah”) was sent into exile. On return from exile, people from all 12 tribes became known as “Jews” (after Judah), and so it continued into New Testament times and down to our own day. So why did God choose the Israelites? To answer this question we need to go back to the beginning. THE GARDEN OF EDEN, THE FALL, AND GOD’S GREAT PLAN OF REDEMPTION God created man to be like Himself (Gen. 1:26—27). We can reasonably infer that this meant God desired fellowship with man, in a similar way that Adam found fellowship with Eve (he did not find it among the animals, only with another like himself – Gen. 2:18—23). This is confirmed by the Great Commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:28—30). We can also reasonably infer that God wanted this relationship to endure, and thus man would live forever like God does – there would be no death. Biology affirms the idea that we could (theoretically) live forever; our cells have the ability to repair and replace themselves. The only reason we die of old age (even if we had perfect nutrition and were able to avoid all injury and disease) is that there appears to be a genetic program that limits the number of times our cells can divide to replace those that are damaged or worn – presumably a result of the Curse (which we will discuss shortly). Genesis also implies that our physical immortality depended upon continuing access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22—24). The tree of life will also reappear in the new creation (Rev. 22:1—2). Where we will remain alive for eternity. God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed – food, companionship, and fruitful labour in their care of the Garden. They had no immediate need for clothing or shelter as the environment was perfect and their moral character unspoiled. God gave them just one rule – they were not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why did God do that? We suggest that the forbidding of the fruit was a token of dominion. If Adam and Eve had kept the one rule, they would have lived in obedient submission as creatures in a right relationship with their Creator. In breaking the rule, however, they chose to reject God’s dominion so they could decide “good” and “evil” for themselves and become “gods” by their own authority (Gen. 3:5, 22). The penalty for Adam and Eve’s disobedience was immediate death. “. . . in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Gen. 2:17). However, Adam lived for hundreds of years after the Fall and died when he was 930 (Gen.5:5). Some Bible commentators therefore interpret this to mean that the “death” referred to was spiritual death (spiritual separation from God). This may be so, but in fact on that day they did begin to die physically, as well. The Hebrew is literally translated, “Dying, you shall die.” There seems to be something much more fundamental here that comes right from the heart of God. Throughout the Bible we see God being merciful to sinners and giving them time to repent. On rare occasions, sin was judged with immediate death. For example, in Leviticus 10:1—2, two of Aaron’s sons offered “strange fire” to Yahweh that He had not authorised, “and fire came forth from the presence of the LORD and devoured them.” Ananias and Sapphira fell down dead at the words of the apostle Peter as a result of their deception in Acts 5:1 11. In the vast majority of cases, however (considering that everyone who has ever lived is a sinner), God is merciful toward sinners and gives them time to repent. Paul urged his readers not to take God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience for granted, as it was intended to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Peter went even further and said, “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9, emphasis added). In Revelation 6:10, the martyrs cry out to God asking how long until the Judgement comes, and they are told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Then in Revelation 10:6, the mighty angel standing on land and sea announces the dreaded words “There will be no more delay” (NIV). Judgement will be delayed no longer. So, following this line of argument, we suggest that one reason why Adam and Eve did not die physically on the day that they sinned is that God began His plan of redemption by delaying the judgement to give them time to repent. The next thing that God did was to allow Adam and Eve to experience some of the consequences of their actions – not enough to kill them, but just enough to give them reason to repent. This is called “the Curse,” and is outlined in Genesis 3:14—19). If God had not done this, and had allowed them to continue their idyllic life in the Garden, they would have continued in their rebellion, thinking that sin was of no consequence. The Curse made sure that the time during which God was waiting for them to repent would be filled with reminders of their fallen condition. Some may think that the Curse is not a very “nice” idea, but those who understand the horror of sin and its inevitable consequences – eternal separation from God, who cannot look upon sin due to His holy nature – are not so inclined. One Psalmist who obviously understood this declared: “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep thy word. Thou art good and doest good; teach me thy statutes. . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:67—71). So, we suggest that in delaying the judgement, God gave them time to repent, and in imposing the Curse, He gave them reason to repent. We are not told the exact mechanism of the Curse, but we can infer the essential elements of it. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus upholds the universe with His Word of power. We can imagine that in the original perfect creation, part of its perfection lay in its perfect design and construction, but an important part of its ongoing perfection must have been perfect upholding provided by the powerful Word of God. A post-Fall example would be the experience of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3). Because God was with them, they came through the fire without even the smell of burning upon them – not a single hair was singed! In a perfectly upheld universe, there would likewise be no injury, accidents, sickness or mutations. In the resurrection of Jesus we see the perfect upholding in His glorified body. He had paid the penalty for sin, so He was no longer subject to the Curse, and the bones and sinews, heart, blood, flesh and skin were restored, renewed and glorified into the state that He enjoyed before the incarnation (John 17:5 – except now, of course, He had a glorified material body as well). We suggest that by withdrawing just a small amount of His upholding power, God has given mankind a small taste of what life without Him is like – injury, accidents, illness and mutations. Indeed, it is quite possible that in order for man to die, God had to withdraw some of His upholding power. So the Curse may in fact be a necessary consequence of the death penalty. Life without God altogether would be absolute hell, but life under the Curse works well most of the time, yet it is seasoned with just enough suffering to remind us of our fallen condition and our continuing need to repent and depend on God. Some people may be shocked by the idea that God causes suffering. How can this be when the major part of Jesus ministry was devoted to the alleviation of suffering? This apparent paradox is easily resolved. While God may be the immediate cause (That is, He has arranged things so that we will suffer) He is not the ultimate cause. The ultimate cause of our suffering is sin – our own sin, and the sin of others. The reason that God causes us to suffer is that He loves us and wants to restore us to Himself eternally. God is not at all reticent about claiming responsibility for our suffering, so neither should we be reticent about attributing it to Him. When HE pronounced the Curse in Genesis 3:15—16, He said, “I will” twice, thus taking full responsibility for their resulting suffering. Job suffered greatly at the hands of the devil, yet he never attributed any of it to the devil, he attributed all of it to God – and God commended him for it (Job 42:7—8). In Exodus 4:11, God says, “Who makes [man] deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I the Lord?” (NIV). Exodus 15:26; 21:13, and Isaiah 45:7 reaffirm this theme, and in Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28, and Amos 4:6—11 God links His imposition of suffering with His larger purpose of man’s repentance. Earthly suffering, in its extremes, can be horrific, beyond all imagining, yet the conclusion we come to here is that God would rather us suffer terrible things for a short time in His comforting presence (i.e., by faith), than to suffer eternally, separated from Him. The next thing that God did, in His great plan of redemption, was to exile Adam and Eve from the Garden so that they would not eat from the tree of life and their bodies continue to live forever while their souls remained in alienation (Gen. 3:22—24). The result of this exile was that without the divine nourishment of the tree of life, their bodies began to deteriorate and eventually die. This, again, may not appear to be a very “nice” solution to the problem, but it highlights how horrendous sin is, and how awful its consequences. Death was designed by a loving Creator to bring sin and its appalling consequences to an end. The final thing that God did, which lies right at the very heart of His plan of redemption, was to provide a substitute to die in our place (Isa. 53:4—6; 2 Cor. 5:21). We see the beginnings of this in the Garden. God covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness (a sight now corrupted by their guilt, and therefore a symbol of guilt) with “garments of Skin” which God Himself made (Gen. 3:21). The “Skin” referred to is animal skin, so at least one animal must have been slain to provide the covering. God did not need to kill an animal to clothe them – He could have woven linen garments using fibre from the flax plant. Why did God kill an animal? Surely it was to illustrate, in the most graphic manner possible, the horrific consequences of sin. It was a visual aid to show Adam and Eve that the consequence of sin is death. This theme is richly developed in Exodus where daily animal sacrifice at the tabernacle was instituted as the formal acknowledgement that forgiveness of sin was an essential prerequisite for Israel’s enjoyment of their intimate personal relationship with god (Exod. 29:38—46. While animal sacrifice could provide a “covering” for man’s sin (as the skin clothing did), it could never take away sin (Heb. 10:4). It was only meant to be a reminder of the terrible consequences of sin, and to be a symbol of the amazing love and compassion of their Saviour (Heb. 10:1). The real sacrifice was to be God Himself. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; NIV). “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). But Christ did not enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of animals – He entered by His own blood, shed on our behalf (Heb. 9:12). The innocent one died in the place of the guilty. Now these things are very familiar to Christians. Too familiar perhaps. Let’s imagine an entirely different salvation scenario. Let’s imagine that Jesus arrived on earth in a spaceship (or perhaps a time machine) and died on a cross for the sins of the world. What would have been the outcome? Well, no one would have had a clue what He was doing. No one could possibly have ever understood the significance of it. This illustrates the crucial importance of culture. To make sure that we understood what He was doing, God created a context within which Christ could carry out His work of atonement. God created a language, a people, a culture, a history, a sacrificial system, and a written scriptural tradition, so that we could understand who He was, where He came from, what He did, why He did it, and how we can benefit from it. To accomplish all this, God chose a man, Abraham, sent him to the land He had chosen, and made him the father of a nation with all the characteristics listed above. The key promise to Abraham is Genesis 12:1—3; God would (a) bless him, (b) make him a blessing to others, and (c) through him all people on earth would be blessed. When Jesus came, born of Mary, as a descendant of Abraham, He grew up as Jew, in the context of the law of Moses and their divine national history. When He then went on to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, through fulfilling the requirements of the law of Moses (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 10:1—4; Gal; 3:21—29), we today can read about it and understand who He was, where He came from, what He did, why He did it and how we can benefit from it. That is a further reason why scriptures were so important to Jesus, because they explained who He said He was and what He was doing. A critic of Christianity once said that we don’t really know what Jesus believed because He never wrote anything down, but we can see from the line of reasoning presented here that we know exactly what Jesus believed – He did not need to write it down because it was already written down in the Jewish Scriptures. Now we are not suggesting that Moses understood all of this. However, by setting it in this context we can see how essential all the pieces are to the puzzle, especially the foundational pieces in Genesis. Genesis is the foundational history for the person and work of Christ. It is not meant to be poetry or wisdom or prophecy. It contains poetry ( a handful of lines only), wisdom and prophecy, but it is fundamentally a historical account of who Yahweh is and who the Hebrew people are. Moses would have understood the importance of this history for understanding his part in god’s plan – the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. That, in turn, provides the foundation for everything else in the Bible. When Jesus said in John 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me” it was not just a throw-away line – He was there claiming to be God whom Moses wrote about, and He was affirming that the writings of Moses, beginning with Genesis, formed the foundation for His incarnation and atonement. References Williams, Alexander and Hartnett, John PH.D. 2005 "Dismantling The Big Bang". Published by Master Books AR
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