Spectacular Sins Book Club Chapter Four
Okay, girls. Better late than never! Let’s get to it on Chapter Four of Spectacular Sins!
I’m not sure to what extent you enjoy deep theology but I have to admit that my mind wants to shut down when I feel myself beginning to think in circles. For me, the sovereign, He’s-got-the-whole-world-in-His-hands view of God is the blanket I wrap up in when I can’t tie a tidy bow around some deep concept of Scripture. This week, that idea is God’s causative will versus His permissive will. When I read Proverbs 16:4 which says, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble“, the first questions that come to mind are : “Does that mean God creates evil and disease and calamity? Isn’t that against all He is?” And when it gets too much to consider, my faith stamps “GOD IS ALWAYS GOOD” on it and puts it to bed.
And that’s easy enough for me to do because I’ve never faced the devastations many of you have. It’s easy for me to say because I have faith as a background where many people with these same questions do not. I suppose I love this book so because it gives order to the many beliefs I have but don’t quite know how to express to those searching for a true representation of God’s character. As much as I don’t want to voice the words, I am also aware I am not immune to some unimaginable grief. God forbid calamity happen, but if it does, I want an overflowing reserve of Truth to bandage to my tire-ironed heart.
But there are many of you who have faced the worst-case-scenario. The child is gone. The husband left. The money disappeared overnight. What then? Is there a purpose for the evil or are the details of our lives left to random chance? Worse yet, did God cause it by not preventing it? All difficult but valid questions to which there is but one solution: We believe and trust God and we do not accept any answer to any question that in any way degrades His holiness and/or the fact He is FOR His children always.
I’ve said all of this to set up what is perhaps the foundational truth of this chapter as quoted from Frances Schaeffer: God is the God who is there. Page 59 states “We don’t make Him, He makes us. We don’t decide what He is going to be like. He decides what we are going to be like. He created the Universe, and it has the meaning He gives it, not the meaning we give it. If we give it a meaning different from His, we are fools. And our lives will be tragic in the end.”
So considering Proverbs 16:4 already referenced, I back up to page 56 which says, “God has done this (made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble) in His own mysterious way that preserves the responsibility of the wicked and the sinlessness of His own heart. We should humble ourselves if we cannot explain how this can be. We are told that it is so. Beware of bringing to the Bible assumptions that are not taught in the Bible. That is how God’s word is nullified.”
We are told that it is so. When did that stop being enough? God told Eve it was so in the garden and yet she listened to the voice which asked, “Did God really say…?” The most dangerous place in which to find oneself is with one ear to the Word and one ear to the world. The Word says God’s goodness and love and mercy and forgiveness and redemption and justice are so. The world tells us we are closed-minded and weak for swallowing an archaic religion without question.
We are going to approach this week’s discussion a little differently. I know there was much more to this chapter than what I’ve presented but I believe this issue of why bad things happen to “good people” is one that is foundational in our arsenal of answers for those who do not yet believe in Christ. It’s a huge hangup and one which we need to be able to address biblically.
So here is the one scenario I have for you today:
You are in a coffee shop reading your Bible. A stranger sits beside you and asks, “How can you believe in a God who allows terrorists to fly into towers or children to starve and die?”
Based on all we’ve learned so far, what do you say?
I haven’t read this book…or actually heard of it…before today. I have other Piper books, but reading your post today encourages me to seek this one out. Love Schaeffer’s quote. Oh my,can we ever get a skewed view of God. This quote sets us straight in the truth for sure…it’s a keeper!
Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading more book club posts!
Well, gee, Lisa, let’s keep the discussion simple! lol Off to wrestle some more with this scenario. Back with an attempt to answer later.
Have a blessed day!
I’m struggling a little bit here because no matter what I say that person is may be blinded to things of God and would not understand! Is that the chickens’ way out?!!! I as the lady above need to chew on this for a while.
I like the others don’t want to come up with a pat answer… Will be back after work today to see if I can come up with an answer… All this is so new to me, I don’t know if I have come up with an answer yet…
I think God will use any circumstance He can to draw people to Him. His own Son was tortured and crucified to save us, so why should we, as the adopted children of God, expect that life is going to be roses.
Even if our lives were perfect, our own God given will would get in the way. Adam and Eve lived in paradise but it wasn’t enough for them.
God gave us all free will knowing that quite often we would mess up and that there would be some who would turn to their own gods and create havoc for the rest of us but He wants us to give our love freely and that can only happen with free will.
When we see an injustice in the world, God expects us to do what we can to right that injustice, even at the expense of ourselves. I feel that if someone is truly concerned about the starving children in the world then that is God placing the burden on their heart to donate their money/time or whatever they might can to help. Not use it as an excuse to turn away from God.
First of all, I think it's important to distinguish the difference between answering a ridiculing skeptic vs. a genuinely questioning seeker. Obviously, we must follow the Spirit's leading in discerning how much we allow others to engage us in debates. Jesus Himself refused to enter into some conversations that were simply aimed at being inflammatory. I don't know of anyone who has been argued into the kingdom of God! Having said that, with someone who is truly perplexed and trying to sort out this dilemma, it is a conversation that can be entered into with love and humility, yet confidence in God's word.
As Piper pointed out (and Lisa highlights as well), Proverbs 16:4 says "The LORD works out everything for his own ends — even the wicked for a day of disaster." He has an ultimate purpose and plan for everything. Everything. "Even the wicked." He has a plan and a purpose that is greater than anything we can even comprehend. We don't have to understand the "how" to understand the "what."
Revelation 17:17 says "For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled." He has not given up one iota of control. He has allowed Satan to rule in order for His purpose and His words to be fulfilled. We know that one purpose He has is that He (and Jesus Christ) will be glorified. This is seen in several instances in Scripture when "bad things" happen to people. When Lazarus died, Jesus declared that "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."(John 11:4)
With the man born blind – some might claim that to be at odds with a loving God – Jesus said ". . this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:3) When Job lost all, he asked "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:9) when he was urged to curse God & die. And we think nothing could seem as evil as the persecution and martyrdom of believers, yet Jesus even indicated that Peter's horrific death would glorify God. (John 21:19)
I love how Piper puts it on p. 56: "Sooner or later every rebellion comes to ruin and serves to glorify Christ."
In our society of continuous news coverage and the interent that puts the world on our fingers, we can erroneously begin to presume that we should be privy to know what God knows. As if! Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that His thoughts and ways are far above and beyond ours. Yet we can trust Him in faith to bring it all to fruition.
Of course, the ultimate example of a "bad thing happening to a good person" is Job. And yet, after all his confusion and questioning and wondering, God's response in Job 38-41, which basically says "I AM and who are you to dispute Me?" leads Job to say "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures My counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:2-3)
As Piper says, "We do not make him what he is by thinking a certain way about him. . .We don't decide what he is going to be like. He decides what we are going to be like. He created the universe, and it has the meaning he gives it, not the meaning we give it. If we give it a meaning different from his, we are fools. And our lives will be tragic in the end." (p. 57) That's a vital truth that moral relativists and those who preach humanistic gospels need to grasp.
This example pales in comparison, but imagine someone saying to an ill individual: "How can you put your trust in and go to those doctors? They can't really be doctors – they certainly don't care about you. They're out to harm you, not help you. After all, one of them cut you open and took out part of your insides, causing all sorts of pain and putting you at risk for infection. Then when you had barely recovered from that, another doctor started pumping your body full of toxic chemicals that made your hair fall out and made you throw up continuously. Who wants to live like that? I'd find another doctor who was kind and didn't cause me so much misery."
Of course, it's apparent that the "cruel" doctors are simply a surgeon who removed a malignant organ or tumor and an oncologist who administers life-saving chemotherapy to kill off any remaining cancer sells. There is a greater purpose, even though the process resulted in heartache.
How infinitely much more so the plans and purposes of the "God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6) and is working it all out for His glory!
Linda made some very good points. This is weighty doctrine, but also the foundation of truth on which we are to build our house of faith. As Piper says, “Christianity is not a game; it’s not a therapy. All of its doctrines
flow from who God is and what he has done in history. They correspond to hard facts. Christianity is more than facts, but not less. There is faith and hope and love. But these don’t float in the air. They grow like great cedar trees in the rock of God’s truth.” (pg. 57). We should not pick and choose what the truth is, we should not interpret the Bible our way. Instead we should learn from what is written.
I gleaned a lot from the first footnote too. In particular the quote from Steven Charnock: “He wills evil by a private decree, because he hath decreed not to give that grace which would certainly prevent it. God doth not will sin simply, for that were to approve it, but he wills it, in order to that good his wisdom will bring forth from it.” In the verses from Romans 5 that Piper focuses on, verses 20-21 further illustrate this point; “20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So if approached by someone who really wants to know how I can be aligned with Christ, and not just Adam, I hope I would have the wherewithal to tell them of Christ’s amazing grace. That He took all of sin (every bit, including the evil acts yet to come – including the towers, the genocide, the faith-based persecution) and died for it all. He has removed the sin and death from us and promises us eternal life with Him. Our response to these atrocious acts is to break down the walls we build around ourselves and to aid the victims, financially, emotionally, in prayer and with petition. We are to expose the evil and through our loving responses let the glory of Christ be evident to all.
Psalm 119:15 – My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
Romans 5:2b-4 -And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 8:18 – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth
comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Isaiah 61:1 – The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
and Luke 4: 20-21 (that follows the reading of this part of Isaiah) – 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Can there be a harder question? :-) This issue is a stumbling block among unbelievers and believers alike. But I agree that we need to wrestle with it—we don’t want to be wimpy Christians. (And isn’t this issue a kissing cousin to: why does God allow Satan to live?)
I don’t have much new to add to what you ladies before me have eloquently and scripturally spoken already. From what I’ve read in this book so far, would John Piper be pleased if I answered the question with this?
God allows these things to happen for the greater glory of Jesus.
But, honestly, I’m uncomfortable with that answer. (And would John Piper be also?) It sounds uncaring towards starving children and innocent victims. And we KNOW that God is not uncaring.
So my only answer is usually a fall-back to Isaiah 55:8-9, that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.
Am I wimping out? I admit that I do NOT understand and cannot explain. I just rest my faith in the One who DOES understand, and have to leave it there.
I have to believe there is a God who knows; otherwise, it makes even less sense.
I summarized chapter 4 here and here.
I have been asked similar questions by believers and unbelievers alike, and I always counter with another question. What do we deserve and why do we deserve it? It all goes back to the fall of man. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Because of Adam’s sin, we are sinners. Not only sinners, but the bible says that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
So what we deserve is death for our sin, and it’s because sin entered the world through Adam. Every one born deserves the wrath of God…Paul calls us children of wrath in Ephesians. The horrible things that happen in this world—child abuse, murder, rape, terrorism—are a result of our sinful nature. The bible tells us that when people reject Him, he gives them over to their sinful nature (And because they did not think it worthwhile to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, disputes, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. Romans 1:28-32). The logical conclusion is that in His sovereign will, he also restrains people from indulging in the sinful desires of their hearts.
When we hear about the atrocities committed on a daily basis, we should praise God that He restrains men as often as He does. It’s when we see the outpouring of our sinful nature in the form of abuse and attacks, that we can fully see how God does far more restraining than He does permitting. He bears patiently with us, but sometimes uses horrible things to display His glory more fully, and to demonstrate once again how sinful man really is.
“Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Rom. 9:21-24).
So how do I believe in a God that allows such things to happen to “innocent” people? None of us are innocent. Not one. Not children, not a bystander killed by a random bullet, not the millions starving right now. Not even those of us who are saved by grace, but that is the beauty of salvation. We deserve to die, and yet we live by the gracious outpouring of love and mercy at the cross.
I guess the better question would be, “How do you beleve in a God who made a way for you to live, even though the thoughts and intents of your heart are evil continually?”
This was really heavy theology and I hope that I made my point without apprearing callous to the despair and misery of those who are abused, starving and suffering. I only mean to say that we are all deserving of God’s holy wrath.
I really appreciate your comments. They took my mind in a healthier direction with this question. You’re right: how do we believe in a God who lets us live like we do and still blesses us? He’s amazing!
First of all, I just want to thank those of you who have already answered this today/yesterday. I’m writing here my initial reactions to the question, but my peace with this answer has been enhanced by those who dared tread the question early.
Now, I must admit when I sit in public reading my Bible one of my prayers is to NOT be asked such questions. A natural introvert, I find it difficult to engage with those I don’t know. And I find that most people who ask that kind of question are really just trying to pick an argument. But assuming the question is sincere here are some thoughts.
*I first admit that I don’t have all the answers. I believe that Lisa (notes) cited Isaiah 55:8-9 and those are verses of great comfort that I’m not expected to understand it all.
*Secondly, I serve a God who chooses to save me from the absolute sway of a world that has terrorists, hunger and other atrocities. I don’t know why He saved me, but He did and I’m thankful.
*Third, I’d ask for an honest conversation of do we ever allow pain to bring healing. I believe that we see that on a human basis (e.g. the illustration of a surgeon cutting out malignancy given above). Although we must be careful to not make God in our image by giving Him our thought processes, I believe that we can draw some conclusions of how pain and evil can be used to bring about greater glory.
*The hope that we can cope in a world that has such atrocities is that someday they will be revealed to all as being under God’s judgments.
These thoughts do not address the idea of why God permits so much to happen, except that He will be glorified. I can’t say why. But I do not believe that it nullifies His love for the people of the world and His desire for all to know Him, to see Him not prevent all results of sin in the world. Quite the opposite, His love is shown in that He doesn’t destroy me off the face of the earth, because by the time I’ve been up for a few minutes each and every day sin is present–and sin deserves death. His timing will reveal how much more He is glorified in the meantime.
As Piper says on p. 56, “God has done this in his own mysterious way that preserves the responsibility of the wicked and the sinlessness of his own heart. We should humble ourselves if we cannot explain how this can be. We are told that it is so. Beware of bringing to the Bible assumptions that are not taught in the Bible. That is how God’s word is nullified.” I can’t explain it and I choose not to nullify or weaken the power of His word by trying to convince someone else with a circular argument. Although this chapter went a long way to give me peace on this subject, it does not give me an iron-clad answer. *sigh* I’d love pat answers, but evil things in a fallen world do not lend themselves to pat answers.
Thanks for the challenging discussion ladies!
Wow. I think you girls above have said what I attempted to say, only way better.
My answer is in my post, linked below, in which I live blog a tornado warning. Some compelling blogging, I’m tellin’ ya…
Just wow…what great comments each of you have made. Also, this book and your responses each week have been very challenging (in a good way) and strengthening in an area that can be full of many stumbling blocks.
This is a topic over which strong and faithful believers struggle because – as stated in Isaiah – His thoughts and ways are higher than our own.
I would want to answer the question as honestly as I am able, but at the same time offer God’s grace,as well. I have tried for hours to put my thoughts on this matter into a sensible statement but, that has proven futile. So, since it included many of the same points already made I will just let it be. Whether I would be able voice them in a sensible manner remains to be seen.
So, I will close with the main thing I would say to someone with such a question.
I worship God because although God does not owe me anything, He offers me eternal life if I just accept his Son as my Savior.