Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mayberry Theology: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise”


My definition of omniscience is that God knows all that is knowable. In the future being said to be open, it is not that there is nothing to know about the future, but that all the knowledge about it is not available yet. The so-called limits to God's knowledge is not there since all that is to be known is already known by Him. It is never a matter of His choosing not to know something. It is just not there to know yet. When he searches a man's heart, it is not to find something that is there that He does not yet know about, it is to see whether our will is present to the extent not checked out before. God is into sharing things with us and He regularly enjoys to see what we decide by truly giving us things to decide freely about either way. (Jacques More)

 Mr. More is an Open Theist. Here are some verses which I think are contra his assertions.

Isaiah 41:22-23, ““Let them bring forth and show us what will happen; let them show the former things, what they were, That we may consider them, And know the latter end of them; or declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods . . .”

Isaiah 42:9, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Isaiah 44:7, “And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, let them show these to them.”

Isaiah 46:10, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure.’”

Isaiah 48:5, “Even from the beginning I have declared it to you; before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them, and my carved image and my molded image have commanded them.’”

Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

My, what a difference between the Bible's God and Mr. More's! The God of the Bible eternally and exhaustively knows all things past, present, and future. But when it comes to the future, the god of Open Theism is more akin to the loveable mechanic of Mayberry: It's just one surprise after another.
 
A few observations:

1) Verses/passages which speak to God’s knowing the future are abundant and clear (the above list is hardly exhaustive).

2) Notice all of the above verses/passages are didactic not narrative.

 (The scriptures used by Open Theists are consistently narrative, that is, the passages cited deal with God as He relates to man from within a storyline. Such passages should be interpreted in light of the abundant and clear didactic portions of scripture—passages from which we may accurately derive doctrine. *A little rule of hermeneutics: Basing doctrine on narrative is shaky at best and dangerous at worst.*)

3) Isaiah particularly teaches that the ability to know the future is one attribute which distinguishes the living and true God from false gods. Jesus indicates this as well. “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He” (John 13:19).

Obviously, Open Theists have responses to these verses and observations. But are their responses rooted in didactic scripture? Are they overwhelmingly conclusive? (They need to be in order to justify the complete overthrow of classical theism’s historic, and I believe biblical, conception of God.)

I understand the philosophical reasons for Open Theism (without question they are committed to—above all things—the notion of man’s libertarian free will), but I don’t believe that these reasons can sufficiently bear the crushing weight of didactic scripture.

So remember: The mechanic of Mayberry is a work of fiction. Mayberry theology is too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Theodicy & Makeover Magic pt. 2


This week we examine the comments of an Open Theist who it seems purposefully distorts my position concerning God and evil. Notice his remarks are entirely unbiblical and are therefore utterly illogical. Notice too, the undisguised hostility and disdain for the sovereign God who answers to no one.

May God add His blessing to your reading.

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The way I understand Mr. Griffin is that God has no moral obligation to live according to his own prescribed laws, but he acts arbitrarily being accountable to no one and, resistant to scrutiny for his actions...indeed to analyse [sic] the action of God is to invite divine retribution. Did I get it right, Steve?

Let me begin with your question: “Did I get it right, Steve?

No. In fact your statements may contain more errors than words.

First, you allege, “God has no moral obligation to live according to His own prescribed laws but He acts arbitrarily being accountable to no one . . . .”

It is true that God is not “obligated” to some higher “law” than Himself. (Think of it: What Law—and by implication what Law-giver—is above God?) God answers to no “law” or “law-giver” higher than Himself.

Tell us: God is obligated to whom? Who do you imagine calls God into account?

But the notion that God "acts arbitrarily" (because there is no entity greater than Him to which or to whom He is obligated or “accountable”) is wrong-headed. God is perfect in His character and being. Therefore, God cannot act in a manner or from a motive which is inconsistent with His holy character or nature. God cannot violate His own perfections. 

If God—because He is God—cannot act in a manner which is inconsistent with His own holiness; how can He be in any sense “arbitrary”?

You then allege that God must be “resistant to scrutiny” and to “analyze . . . God is to invite divine retribution.”

I don’t remember speaking a word concerning “retribution” divine or otherwise. (I did offer a reference to Romans 9, but did not quote anything from the passage. Perhaps you read this scripture and are thinking of it?)

Nor do I recall speaking of God’s being “resistant to scrutiny.” (I’m not even sure what such a phrase means in reference to God.) But do finite evil men have the moral capacity to accurately or truly scrutinize the infinite, holy God’s person, character, and behavior?

Where exactly—in scripture—do sinful men rightly judge the Judge of the all the earth? Where in the Bible can we find the creature rightly judging and holding to account the Creator of all things?

Isaiah 40:25-26 ““To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. 

Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?’  ‘Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

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The entire discussion can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/257166614399367/

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Theodicy & Makeover Magic


Just prior to the “movie massacre” I engaged a discussion concerning God and evil. The gentleman who initiated the discussion did so out of disdain for what he called "John Piper’s determinism."

I did not listen to Piper’s remarks regarding God’s will and human suffering and death (I’m quite certain I know the gist of them, having heard him on many occasions), but found his critic’s opening question very telling: “How do you explain thoughts such as this to unbelievers?”

Just so you know: Piper’s detractor and my conversation partners (with one exception) are Open Theists. Last week I spoke of the problem of evil and the atheist. It seems the Open theist has a very similar problem. In fact, the objections of Open theists eerily resemble the arguments of closed atheists.

My interlocutors’ words appear bold and italicized.

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"Show me a passage in scripture where God functions as the Grim Reaper and just indiscriminately kills people..."

The wording here is theologically and logically inappropriate. (We should not speak of God as a "Grim Reaper" type of being and for an act of God to be both ordained and "indiscriminate" seems to me to be irrational.)

So, while I would never use such language in reference to God or conflate that which is "ordained" by an infinite mind with that which is "indiscriminate;" there is a passage which deals with God's providence/will as directing or governing that which seems to be the smallest/insignificant events.

Matthew 10:29, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will."

Jesus teaches here that sparrows do not die apart from God's will. In the previous verse (28) He speaks of death. In the following verse He speaks of value (30-31).

Thus, Christ is arguing from the lesser to the greater. Sparrows do not die apart from God's will/ordination; therefore, humans do not die apart from God's will/ordination.

Unfortunately, it is clear that the question, “How can we make God more palatable to unbelievers--and ourselves?” drives conversations such as these rather than biblical exposition. In other words, how can we construe God in such a way as to "take Him off the hook," if you will, for all the evil in the world?

"Isn't 'getting God off the hook' what theodicy is all about?"

“Getting God off the hook” is pretty much the definition of some theodicies yes, but certainly not all.

You see, I don’t believe God is “on the hook” at all. An allusion to C.S. Lewis is appropriate here: God is not in the dock. We are.

I see nowhere in scripture where God is compelled to answer to man or justify Himself to man for the things He does. I do see in scripture where man hasn’t the right to question God’s holy sovereignty (Romans 9).

Sinners are responsible for their sin. Sinners are responsible for moral evil. And these unholy, morally culpable sinners stand in judgment of God? Evil men have the capacity to rightly judge God? No. I don’t think so.

Any theodicy which begins with the premise of construing God in such a way as to make Him appear more morally palatable to evil men is operating from the wrong starting point.

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The entire discussion can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/257166614399367/

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Problem of Evil, pt. 2


What we call homicide or rape or, in fact, even infanticide is very, very common among different types of animals. Lions, for example, commit infanticide on a regular basis because they want to make sure that the little offspring that is being raised by the lioness is their own and not someone else's. Now, are these kinds of acts to be condoned? I don't even know what that means because the lion doesn't understand what morality is, that's for sure. Morality is an invention of human beings. (Massimo Pigliucci)

Nevertheless:
Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot-and General Custer too-have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil.
[All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.
(Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”)

As you may imagine, last week’s article provoked responses from several atheists. Below are excerpts from my exchanges with them.

My detractors’ words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

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“If an atheist says ‘I don't believe in evil as thing in itself’ and you say ‘then how do you account for evil?’ it doesn't make sense.”

Yes, if that’s what I was saying, it wouldn’t make sense. But that’s not what I’m saying.

I’m saying that the atheist who denies true moral evil cannot be rid of his own judicial sentiment. In other words, there is a disconnect between what he professes to believe and his own personal experience of the actual world and his interactions with it. (This is what is meant by: Atheism is unlivable.)

“We can restate the problem as ‘the problem of suffering.’”

Is this all it amounts to? “Restating” things? Is this only semantics then? Are you making a distinction with no real difference? Are you saying that “suffering” is synonymous or univocal to moral evil?

If so, then the problem remains (nothing has changed but the label). If not, then we are speaking of two different things and it’s a non sequitur.

“You seem to be labouring under the assumption that everyone shares the same semantic content when using the word 'evil'.”

I do? Then why do I state in my article:

Certainly, the atheist will use the term “evil.” But he does so with non-moral connotations. “Evil” is not a moral term for him. “Evil,” to the atheist, has more to do with pragmatics than ethics. “Evil” for him belongs in the categories of evolution and/or emotion?

Why would I write such a thing if I was “laboring under the assumption” that atheists use the term “evil” similarly to theists?

Let me try this again. If in fact the “problem of suffering” is synonymous to “the problem of evil” then nothing but semantics has changed. We have a distinction without a difference. However, if “the problem of suffering” is truly a different matter than the “problem of evil” then it’s a non sequitur. You are now speaking of that which I am not addressing.

“I say executing people for adultery is evil, and a muslim [sic] cleric says that failing to execute those who commit adultery is evil. Why are we doing anything other than applying our subjective morality as absolutes, as part of a general human tendency?”

Here you are demonstrating my point for me. Morality, and therefore moral evil, is subjective to the atheist. The atheist has no basis to say that anything is truly, morally evil. At best, all the atheist can offer is, “Well, I personally don’t like such an action.” Hence morality, to the atheist, is little or nothing more than personal preference. Nothing is truly morally evil to him.

The atheist is on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand he cannot honestly deny his judicial sentiment; and yet on the other hand, if he is to be intellectually consistent from within his own worldview, he cannot affirm that that which is horrific to him is truly morally evil. That is, he does not live or experience that which he claims to believe.

Thus, no matter how loudly his heart screams: “This is wrong!” his head must counter-argue, “Morality is subjective. ‘Wrong’ is in the eye of the beholder. I feel this is wrong but my rational mind must always remember: ‘True moral evil’ doesn’t really exist.”

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The entire discussion can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/2204753469/10151065815818470/?notif_t=group_comment