Saturday, August 08, 2015

Creation, Man, and God's Image

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). So begins the Bible’s description of the creation events.

Science and mathematics tell us the universe is not eternal. If it were, the laws of thermodynamics tell us all the universe’s energy would be long depleted. Even unbelieving scholars insist the universe began to exist. And if it began to exist, there must be a cause, a “cause” sufficient to explain the existence of all there is.  Christians and other theists believe God—a personal, loving, all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent being—is the only sufficient cause.

When you survey the universe in which we live, you can only stand in awe of the creativity and majesty of the Creator. It is not just the myriad of galaxies and star systems which create the sense of awe, the earth itself creates a sense of wonder and amazement.

Moses’ account of God’s creative activity pushes you to come to grips with all he made. The sun, moon, stars, and seven—or is it eight—other planets in our rather insignificant solar system draw our attention to God’s interstellar handiwork. The majestic mountains, dry deserts, and fertile plains remind us our God appreciates aesthetics. Consider the flora and the fauna on the planet—huge creatures, feral cats, devoted canines, and all manner of cattle, insects, sea life, and the smallest bacteria. God created all of it from the depths of his creative mind. And man, male and female he created them—the apex of his creative activity.

Consider, too, the fact he established the universal natural laws—gravity, inertia; even the laws of logic—and put them into place. While he maintained his power to rule over nature, he set the universe in motion governed, for the most part, according to the laws he established. Could he intervene? Of course, he is the Creator and the created is never superior to the Creator.

Think of all the universes he may have considered and could have made. A universe he created did not necessarily have to operate on the physics he established for this one. Writers of science fiction have long written about life forms based not on carbon but some other element. We see their fictional imaginations displayed in Star Trek, Star Wars, and, if you’re my age, the Man from Planet X. Frank Herbert created a completely different world in Dune and all its sequels. None of these imaginings, however, could come close to imagining the variety of possible universes inhabiting the mind of God.
But he chose to Create this universe and within this universe is the Milky Way Galaxy a hidden in that vast space (to us) is a “bright blue dot”—the planet earth.

The psalmist asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him…” (Psalm 8:4). David, the author of the psalm, continues, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands and you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5, 6, ESV). Obviously written after Adam’s sin, this passage reveals God still values much in the being he created. He did not wrest dominion from Adam and he still stands just a tad below the angelic beings. In other words, human beings during David’s reign still possessed something of the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

We all know the story! God placed Adam with Eve in a beautiful garden. They had meaningful work—they were to “dress and keep the garden” (Genesis 2:15). It was a lush and beautiful place in which to live. God expressed to Adam only one caveat or warning, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17, ESV).

Why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Didn’t God know Adam would not obey? Wouldn’t it be better had God left that tree from the garden? Why that tree?

Those who opt for Open Theology hold God may have considered the possibility of Adam’s sin but could not know he would sin. Open theologians believe God can know only that which can be known. He may have goals for the future; goals which he can inexorably bring to pass, but he cannot know precisely how the future will unfold. This is not the place for a discussion of the philosophy of time or what omniscience means. I’m only telling you how the proponents of Open Theology see it. Open theologians believe God is giving Adam true freedom to choose, and Adam made a poor choice!

Arminians among us believe God knew beforehand Adam would choose badly but permitted him the right of truly free choice. For Arminians, Adam’s disobedience was no surprise to God because his foreknowledge informed him of Adam’s choice. Because God valued Adam’s freedom more than he valued keeping him safe, he permitted Adam to make his choice.

Reformed theologians take the view that God not only foreknew Adam’s choice, permitted Adam’s choice, but he actually ordained Adam’s choice. According to the Calvinist, God predetermined Adam’s fall long before creating Adam from the dust of the ground. The Westminster Confession of Faith, the official statement of faith/creed of most Bible- believing Calvinists, says:

God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1)

Reformed thinkers try to get around this statement, but it is hardly clear in itself. If God ordains whatever comes to pass, then Adam sinned because God predetermined he would sin. (See my previous post.) The answer is compatibilism, which says each individual is free to do what they sincerely want to do, but God arranges things so that they want to do what they do. Did you follow that?
Let’s look at one other concern before I quit. The Bible says God created humans “in his image.” What does that mean? It obviously does not mean mankind has omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence. Adam did have sovereignty for God gave him “dominion over the earth.”
What does it mean to be in “the image of God?” At the very least, it means human beings are spirit beings. Humans don’t just “have a spirit,” they “are a spirit.” Humanity’s spiritual nature is not such because each person possesses a “bit of God entrapped in a case of flesh.” That’s Platonism! Not only is man spirit but he is able to communicate in words in the same way God communicates in words. In addition, and most importantly, being in the “image of God” means that human beings are capable of relationships. God, as he exists, is always in relationship. God, the Father, relates to God, the Son, and to God, the Holy Spirit. (I’m not even going to try to explain the Trinity. The nature of the Trinity is way above my pay grade. I believe it because the Bible teaches it.)

When I speak of God’s image in terms of relationship it is insufficient only to speak of relationships with other humans. Being in the image of God means having a “built in capacity for God relationship.” The “image of God” in man makes possible a relationship with God and conveys innate knowledge about God. Human beings have the capacity (form) for a relationship with God (content). The image of God in Adam was complete: he had full form and content prior to Adam’s disobedience in the garden.
What happened when Adam sinned? The Bible says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12). Genesis three describes the result. The relationship between God and Adam fractured and God’s judgment came upon all things. Adam’s relationship and the relationships of all things became different. Adam’s disobedience affected the entire universe. Adam’s relationship with the natural world changed. Adam’s relationship with Eve changed. Adam’s relationship with God changed.
Death (separation) came upon Adam and upon all things. Death is separation! When Adam sinned, he died spiritually—he was separated from God. At the end of his life, he died physically—his spirit separated from his body.
In all ways, Adam’s sin “marred/defaced/damaged” God’s image. Adam did not lose the capacity for relationship with God (form) but he did lose the relationship (content). The potential for relationship remained but as long as Adam remained alienated from God restoration of the relationship remained in place. To illustrate the extent of damage to the relationship, God sent Adam and Eve from the garden.
There was one other effect of Adam’s sin. The “damage to the image of God” created a weakness—or tendency—which passed down to all humanity. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way, “For while we were weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Adam’s sin left humanity weak and sickly and prone to sin. It left humanity depraved in a sense, but this is not total hereditary depravity. Humans are depraved creatures because they sin—because they sin—not because they are sinners. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:27).
What does all this have to do with anything? Salvation is the full restoration of the image of God in man. This salvation is called a “new birth” and the individual “becomes a new creation.” Being “dead in trespasses and sins” does not mean the individual’s spirit is inert or without the potential to respond. It means the “spirit is separated from God” – they are not in relationship. [This truth is illustrated in Jesus’ parables of the lost boy, the lost sheep, and the lost coin. The prodigal, the sheep, and the coin are lost precisely because they were not where they were supposed to be—they were “out of relationship.”]
Reformed theologians argue that the minds of those in sin “ The statement comes from Ephesians 4:18, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In this passage in Ephesians Paul contrasts those who reject Christ with those who enjoy the new life in Christ. I will grant the fact those outside of Christ are in darkness, ignorance, and are lost. I insist, however, they are lost because they choose to be lost not because God so arranged their lives they want to be lost.
What is it that brings light into dark places? I remember being in the depths of Missouri’s Marvel Cave when the guides turned out the lights. The result was total darkness—darkness so thick you could feel it. One small match lit in the darkness expelled the overwhelming blackness. So it is with the Gospel and the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. The truth of the Gospel can penetrate the blackest heart and Christ can draw them if they would only listen. Can you see Jesus looking over Jerusalem and hear his words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34, 35, ESV)
Contrary to the Augustinians or the Calvinists who read my blog, God offers the opportunity to freely (real freedom, libertarian freedom) to make a choice. He takes no pleasure in anyone who rejects him. It is not that he can’t save them in spite of themselves; he won’t save them.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Is the God of the Bible the Originator of Evil

Let me start with a definition—a definition of “compatibilism.” Stick with me, you’ll soon see what I’m about.

Compatibilism: Compatibilism, in contrast to “Libertarian free will,” teaches human beings are free, but defines freedom as “choosing according to one’s greatest desire.”

In other words, according to compatibilism, individuals always choose what they want—and what they want is determined by (and consistent with) their moral nature. Man freely makes choices, but those choices are determined by the condition of his heart and mind (i.e. his moral nature).

Libertarian free will maintains that for any choice made, one could always equally have chosen otherwise, or not chosen at all. This view holds that a free action is one that does not have a sufficient condition or cause prior to its occurrence. In short, choices are undetermined by anything or anyone.

Compatibilism forms the basis for understanding human freedom in Reformed (Calvinism) theology. The rub comes when you begin to understand the whole Reformed system which is based in a faulty concept of God’s sovereignty. Calvinists believe God determines—predetermines or predestines—everything. If so, then even human choices are predetermined—set in stone—by God. Calvinists believe God influences your desires to the point that God has exhaustive control of all that goes on including human choice. In other words, all human choices are expressly the choices God predetermined and predestined to be made.

When you think this through, God becomes the author and cause of evil. He created the universe pristine and pure and set Adam in a beautiful garden. According to Genesis 1, 2 Adam had full access to the Garden and could care for it as he chose except for one undeniable prohibition. God specifically told him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You know the story. Adam disobeyed and the result was immediate. Death passed upon all things!

The question arises: Why did Adam eat of the forbidden fruit? Did he freely—Libertarian freedom—choose to eat or did God’s predetermined will work in such a way that Adam did what he wanted to do? I don’t think there is any question about Adam doing what he wanted to do, but prior to the Fall Adam possessed the full “image of God” and surely he wanted to remain in fellowship with God. Yet he chose to disobey God indicating, according to the Calvinist, that it was in his nature—or God placed it in his nature—to want to disobey God.

I asked a proponent of Reformed theology the following question: Are you saying Adam had Libertarian freedom? In other words, did Adam truly make a free choice?

Here is the two-fold answer I received:

I am saying that Adam had free will. He was created good, and he did not have a sinful nature. Such is not only the Reformed viewpoint, but that of the Fathers and the Medieval theologians. St. Augustine said Adam was "posse non peccare" (able not to sin), but that after the fall mankind was left "non posse non peccare" (not able not to sin), and after our new birth (regeneration) was are returned to the state of being "posse non peccare," and in heaven we shall be "non posse peccare" (not able to sin). God is not the author of evil. Evil requires no author as it is the absence of good just as darkness requires no creator because it is the absence of light. God created light, and God created goodness which is found in perfect form only in Christ and is imputed to us by faith.

This response sounds as if the writer accepts the belief Adam acted as a truly free moral agent in the Garden. It sounds so scholarly and written in the language of the Reformed divines. That was not the complete answer. He followed with this:

The Westminster divines stated the matter thus: "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1)

He is saying Adam acted from (he would not admit this) Libertarian freedom but only as God had preordained it all to come to pass.

The Reformed theologian can’t have it both ways. Adam cannot act with Libertarian freedom if God ordains it to come to pass. Saying an action is preordained means God must cause it to happen either directly or indirectly. It is not a matter of foreknowledge because, according to their view, God determines it will happen. Thomas McCall rightly said:

After any appeals to 'secondary causality' might be made, for the Christian who holds to [the Calvinist account of sovereignty], the answer is clear and unavoidable: if everything is determined, and if God determines everything (even if he determines it via secondary causality), then these things too are determined by God."

The inescapable conclusion is God was directly involved, by what he ordained to occur, in bringing about evil. Whether seen as the absence of good or not, evil is part of our fallen world and it exists because God preordained it. He caused it! Reformed attempts to prove otherwise are inconsistent at best and double-talk for the most part.

I, of course, disagree with the Reformed approach. God, in my view, knew the possibility of disobedience existed when he placed Adam in the Garden with the prohibition regarding the tree in its middle. Desiring creatures who chose to love him, he gave Adam the choice and Adam "blew it." God did not predetermine Adam's choice to prove anything. (Reformed theologians believe God ordained Adam's disobedience so that God could demonstrate his wrath.)

Recognizing the possibility of Adam's sin, God did preordain the life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten son to again make possible human redemption. We do know that! (1 Peter 1:20) Jesus came and died for all who would receive him thus taking care of the problem Adam brought about by his disobedience. Evil came into the world because of the first Adam's disobedience and the obedience of the second Adam took care of the results of Adam's sin (Romans 5) and potentially the results of individual disobedience as well.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Reformation Theology and the Origin of Evil

A satirical Youtube video appeared in Facebook earlier this summer. The video portrayed Adolf Hitler and his henchmen discussing an imagined theological shift from Calvinism to Arminianism. It would be more humorous if the video failed to challenge basic Reformation (Calvinistic) theology. 

Hitler and the Nazi regime, with its murder of 6 million Jews plus millions more, revolts Christians and any civilized person, religious or not. In spite of the fact Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao slaughtered millions, Hitler remains the epitome of evil in the 20th Century. One writer said, "the Second World War has to be one of the most apt metaphoric expression of the evil men can do to one another. 

Why does evil exist? The unbelieving world questions God's existence with that very question. Atheists supposedly prove the absence of a Supreme Being with the following syllogism:

  1. If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and good, then evil would not exist.
  2. Evil exists.
  3. Therefore, either God is not good or he does not exist.
I am not a logician, but the syllogism is valid and the conclusion follows by necessity. To disprove the syllogism one or both of Propositions one or two must be challenged. It is difficult to suggest evil does not exist in the world today. Not only does evil exist, much of it is gratuitous. It may be argued, I suppose, that evil itself is non-existent because it is merely the absence of good. The gas chambers of Buchenwald and the Killing Fields of Cambodia would question such a suggestion as would the rape of an innocent child, the senseless murder of an aged citizen, or the aborting of millions of babies. 

Reformed theologians have difficulty explaining evil. In their view, God not only created the Universe, he sustains it and because he is all powerful moves every atom, controls the movement of the planets, and controls every event which transpires on earth. Not only does he exercise his sovereignty with such control, he predestines every existing and future event and movement even to the determination of every thought and decision of man. Just as God knows every hair on your head, he knows every thought, every decision, every action because he either directly or indirectly predestines them and assures that such things come to pass.

God, then, is the author and originator of evil!  It can be no other way. Calvinists go so far as to believe God so arranges things, controls thought, and so on in such a fashion that the individual does "what he wants to do." Thus, when God placed Adam in the Garden, placed the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden, and told Adam not to eat, he didn't mean it. He had already predetermined Adam's failure even before creating the Universe. Adam made his decision because he wanted to, but he wanted to because God so arranged the circumstances and the thoughts and the actions so that Adam sinned. 

And when Adam sinned, evil entered the world. Not only that, but all future evil occurs at God's direction. Either directly or indirectly, through direct or secondary causes, God is the author of evil. And why? It is because Calvinists believe God must exhibit his wrath toward evil-doers so that he may be fully glorified. Evil exists in order for God to be glorified. 

There is, of course, far more than I've been able to plumb in this essay. I will undoubtedly write more on the subject.