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”