reflections on job #2

Scott McKnight has been discussing ‘the third way’ on his blog for a month or so now, using Adam Hamilton’s book as his interlocutor (I like that word). On Dec 29th he posted The Third Way and Determinism in which he espouses the typical ‘God doesn’t send the lemons, he just turns them into lemonade for us’ type theology. Hamilton writes, “God has a way of bringing about his redemptive purposes through the tragic things that happen on our planet, and the terrible things we sometimes do to one another…God’s ordinary way is to clean up after us”.

Also, “I don’t believe everything happens for a reason if, by this, someone means that the evil happened according to the will of God. I consider it blasphemy of the worst kind to attribute such evil [he refers again to the rape of a young girl] to God” (emphasis added).

I’d like to get behind Hamilton’s understanding of ‘attribute’ a little, but my guess is I won’t be able too, even if I read the book – something I don’t plan on doing any time soon. But, it certainly seems Hamilton is out of step with the Bible, particularly (but not exclusively) the book of Job.

After Job had been informed that great tragedy and evil had struck him – including the plundering of his fortune, the murder or his servants and the death of his children through a natural catastrophe – Job declares, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21) Hamilton wants us to see this as blasphemy. God didn’t do it, Satan did. The inspired author of Job disagrees. He comments, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong”(1:22).

Things get worse from Job in chapter two. His own flesh is struck with horrendous sores and he has a nagging wife to deal with. When she encourages him to curse God and die, he responds, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”(2:10a-b). Blasphemy cries Hamilton. Not so says the Bible: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips”(2:10c).

In Job and throughout the Bible we are forced to come to grips with the fact that evil is a tool in God’s hands that he stands behind in some way, but not in any way in which we can charge him with wrong. Take Isaiah 45:7 as another example,
“I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

Or take Amos 3:6,
“Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the Lord has done it?”

Obviously you can look to the cross to see this too. Peter speaks boldly in 2:23-24 when he says “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Also in 4:27-28, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, a to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”

I don’t want to minimize for a second the awfulness of sin in our world. The example Hamilton uses of a young girls rape is emotionally charged (bordering on being manipulative). However, it pales in comparison to the evil done by those who crucified Jesus, and the disciples didn’t blush to say that this was a part of God’s will, his predestined plan.

More personally, I find no real hope in Hamilton’s argument. If God can turn this evil for my good, why didn’t he just stop it from coming. If he could stop it but didnt’, then we must say it was a part of his will. If he couldn’t stop it from coming, then how do I know he’ll be wise enough and powerful enough to turn it to my good.

I think Spurgeon would object strongly to Hamilton’s logic also. I read these word a few years ago preparing for a sermon on Job. I went back to look them up again so I could quote them exactly (but I barely needed too – they are so powerful they’ve really stuck with me):

“It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity”

4 thoughts on “reflections on job #2

  1. Dan, do you not see a distinction between events that are trials/testing those that are judgements and those that are evil?

    James encourages us to see and welcome trials (temporary unpleasantness) for what they are intended – experiences that draw us closer to God, develop our perseverance and mature our character to be more fully Christ-like.

    Judgment has justice and a restoration of righteousness as it's focus and intent.

    Deeds that are evil are intended only to dishonour, corrupt and malign those who experience them.

    Which did Job experience? And from whom?

    Spurgeon would be ENTIRELY be right to find afflictions and bitterness sent to him from someone who didn't have his best at heart 'very sharp and trying'? Maybe then he would more fully appreciate the awfulness and Godlessness of evil as entirely directed and uncompromised hatred and hurt intended him. And be consequence, more fully appreciate Jesus, the cross and the gospel which speak of God's loving intervention to destroy it?

    I'd say there are distinctions between trials, judgements and evil. I'd say your Job, Isaiah and Amos quotes speak more towards trials & judgment. Whereas Hamilton's rape example speaks more to evil.

    Determinism seems to me to sanitize evil. It sands down evil's extreme vileness and tempers its rogue nature by being unable to fully exclude God from it.

    How can you not find hope in Hamilton's argument? That our God can bring good and healing from even the most depraved of abuses and defilements thrust upon us. How can that not inspire hope and love and trust in him? On the contrary, if he has determined and caused such events to happen to us, how do I know that he is truly loving or good at all? And why should I place my faith and trust in him?

  2. Hey Doug,
    Good questions as always. First, the reference to the Isaiah passage should be 45:7, not that it makes a difference to the discussion, just clarifying (i corrected it now).

    I’m sure there is a distinction between trials/testing and things that are evil. Without pondering it at length, I would say if my trial comes from a bad back or a storm flooding my house, it’s hard to call it evil. If it comes from another person stabbing me in the back or burning my house down, it’s evil and a trial.

    I’m agree that James encourages us to endure trials as God given experiences to refine us. I’m not sure that it means those trials aren’t evil. In fact, many of the trials in the book of James seem to stem from the greed and oppression of the poor by the rich. We’d want to call that evil I think.

    I think you see that a deed can be evil when done by a human and at the same time meant for good by God. Obviously the example of Joseph comes to mind. His trials were sent by God and he ‘meant them for good’. Yet he used the evil of his his brother and Potiphar’s wife to accomplish this good.

    I would say the same is true of Job. It was, according to the first chapter, a test. It had a refining good effect at the end of the book, but it also involved human evil. The Sabeans were not intentionally acting as God’s agents of justice when the robbed and murdered. I assume they will be held liable for their wickedness in eternity.

    You see this throughout the Bible. God sends the Assyrians to judge his people, yet Isaiah 10:5-7 God promises to judge the Assyrians:

    “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
    the staff in their hands is my fury!
    6 Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
    to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
    7 But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
    but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few.”

    You could also look at Judas who did what had been appointed for him to do, but Jesus says “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed” (Mark 14:21).

    Whatever we say Job experience he experience BOTH from the hand of Satan with evil intentions AND from God with good intentions.

    There certainly is the danger of sanitizing evil in the determinist’s mind. Yet, if the determinist remains biblical it’s not an option. There is that tension that things are incredibly evil and deserve the judgment of God and yet fit into the sovereign purposes of God at the same time.

    Regarding the hopelessness of Hamilton’s position, it seems to me he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He want’s to say that God isn’t wise enough or sovereign enough to prevent some evil from happening to me (probably because God has limited how he will act in relation to free agents), but that he is wise and sovereign enough to turn this evil into good – though many free moral agents may still be involve. On the other hand, if he says he could have prevented it but didn’t then we must say that it was a part of his will, at least his permissive will – something Hamilton doesn’t want to say.

    Finally, I can still trust a God who sends evil my way (though isn’t guilty of evil himself – can’t say that enough!) because of the cross. There I see his love for me and his goodness on my behalf even to the point of sending evil his own way!

    This is actually something I’m going to post on in a day or two because it strikes me as something missing from Job’s own mindset. He emphasizes the sovereignty and power of God, but little mention of his goodness and kindness. That is a common picture painted of the Calvinist God (even by many Calvinists), but it doesn’t seem biblical or at all attractive to me either. The cross – we gotta stay near the cross.

    Thanks of your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for your reply Dan. We could dance back on forth on this for a long time – no surprises there.

    I think my point is that when you look at Job, Isaiah, Amos you see God acting deterministically – and I don’t. A non-deterministic theology can account for them, as can a Calvinistic one. So they alone are not enough to convince me of your position.

    I’ll wait for whatever you’re planning to post next, before I go on any further. 🙂

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