You cannot simultaneously state two things:
1) that God personally causes (directly or though one’s agency) and approves (or wills) everything that happens in the world, including all the evil,
2) and that God is love.
The two are in irreconcilable conflict, and no amount of religious sophistry and verbal calisthenics can make this equation balance out.
The reason that the hyper-sovereignty view of God at the expense of God being love appeals to so many is that humans lust after power and control after their fellow human beings. That’s part of the fallen human nature. Vulnerability is perceived as a general liability, and about the only place one can afford to be legitimately vulnerable in a modern increasingly secular world is on a tear-stained recliner in the psychoanalyst’s office.
One well-known evangelical preacher said this not too long ago:
“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
Wow. Really? Mr. Preacher must have forgotten that Jesus WAS beaten up, hung stark naked on a blood and faeces-stained wooden pole in front of his own heart-broken Jewish mother, in a culture where revealing as much as one’s knees while running was considered shameful for a male. If that’s not utterly vulnerable, I don’t know what is.
In the previous post, we talked about how to differentiate between different active personal forces and their roles in the events that we consider.
How do we apply this to inform our theological worldview?
In the very beginning, God designed things in this world to function in a certain way. If you cooperate with the design, you will reap the rewards deriving from your understanding and correct usage of the system. If you go against the design, you will reap the penalty of your own ignorance. The law of gravity works to keep out feet planted on the ground and prevents us from floating in the air when we walk. We cooperate with the law, and we make it work for us. The very same law works when someone jumps off a tall building. We operate against the law, and now it works against us. Note how in both cases, it works the same exact way, but the results are different.
You can’t blame a designer for misusing his design. The designer is responsible for communicating his design; the user is responsible for familiarizing himself with instructions, and if the designer is accessible – with the instructor. Well, in our case, the design is well-described in the Scriptures, and the designer is very accessible, 24×7!
I want to consider the role of God as a system designer and engineer (or “designer”, for short). A correct understanding of that role is critical in correctly informing our theological worldview.
Let me start off with a simple example that illustrates people using just one agency variable to explain processes involving multiple agencies in multiple roles.
Before creation, God’s sovereignty was absolute and was only circumscribed by the parameters of his own character. At that stage, everything God created – and I quote – “it was good”. Unhindered by anyone else, and his plans uncontested by anyone’s free will, it took him 6 days to create this world (I am not going to argue here about literal years vs. year-epochs – the point of it is that the whole of creation fits in the first 2 chapters of the book of Genesis).
After God created a human and said “Have dominion on this earth”, now the decisions of humans, both individually and collectively, play into the outcomes of things happening on planet Earth.
Subsequently, humans were tricked into sharing their God-given authority with satan, and now we have 3 active agent forces. God, humankind, and satan. At that point God’s sovereignty is not absolute, since humankind can act on their God-given free will. Now not everything is good, and evil is introduced into the world.
The passages below are but one example where God actively doing something (causative sense) and God withholding something (allowing / permitting sense) are often times used in our translations of Old Covenant (or passages referring to OC ideas) grammatically interchangeably to indicate the same thing. There are some (somewhat hard-to-find online) preface notes to Young’s Literal and Rotherham translations that do go into detail on what Hebrew tenses should be translated as allowing vs. causative, but the religious establishment wasn’t too excited about those insights, so as far as I know you can find them only in the prefaces to the early editions (not in the translations themselves), and on the Internet, if you look hard enough. If you have access to Hebrew texts with parsings (anyone knows of an online resource with those? Please let me know if you do), studying out that angle could be a potential goldmine.
When we read a scripture passage where the verbs are in the passive voice – we should never just automatically assume that the agent behind the action is God, unless the text clearly indicates that. In some passages like James 1:12-14, vv. 13-14 clarified that God wasn’t behind “man being tempted”, but you won’t get that helpful hint every time: