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Posts Tagged ‘evil’

Rejoice in the Downfall of Evil, Not of the Evildoer

Posted by Tony Listi on May 4, 2011

Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezk 33:11)

God takes no pleasure in the death of those created in His image and likeness, whether they turn from their evil ways or not. When an evildoer is justly killed, are we going to imitate our heavenly Father or not?

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4) 

God never gives up on anyone, even someone like Osama bin Laden. God wants everyone to be saved, not just Americans, not just those who call themselves Christians, not just “good people.” And as the parable of the Good Shepherd and Ezk 33:11 reveal, God rejoices when the lost are found, when the evildoer abandons evil.

Jesus was praying for His enemies while on the cross and told us to love our enemies. How can this example and command be reconciled with joy over the death of of Bin Laden?

As always, this is really a matter of Christians (and everyone) needing to separate the sin from the sinner, the evil from the evildoer. We absolutely should celebrate the downfall of evil and increased peace and security that comes as a result of Bin Laden’s death. But taking pleasure in the death itself is not Godly and Christ-like.

Of course, loving our enemies doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t kill them, for our love of them and others may require using potentially lethal means to prevent or end their evildoing and defend others from harm.

Don’t take me for a pacifist. As a concealed handgun license holder, I wouldn’t hesitate to “love” my enemy and others by using potentially lethal force. I would rejoice in the fact that evil had been prevented or stopped, that I had protected myself, my girlfriend, my family, or my friends. But it would be un-Christian to rejoice in the death itself of a criminal or sinner rather than in what the death resulted in.

Lethal self-defense has a double effect: self-defense and the death of the evildoer. The Christian should rejoice in the former and lament the latter, for these are the demands of Love Himself.

Are you unaware of how the earliest Christians cared for their Roman persecutors in the earliest proto-hospitals? Yet another example of Christian love of the enemy.

How many enemies of the faith have come to embrace the faith because of the transcendent Christian love of one’s enemies? We should never doubt the power of God to turn His most vicious enemies into His greatest saints. Just ask St. Paul….

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Did God Create Us with Free Will? Does Our Salvation Depend on Our Free Choices?

Posted by Tony Listi on February 3, 2008

This is not an insignificant question. Calvinists believe in salvation, creation, and predestination in such a way that “God is in control,” complete control. So much control that we human beings have no free will.

Here is the classical controversial excerpt, Romans 9:14-24
What then are we to say? Is there injustice on the part of God? Of course not! For he says to Moses: “I will show mercy to whom I will, I will take pity on whom I will.” So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “This is why I have raised you up, to show my power through you that my name may be proclaimed throughout the earth.” Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills. You will say to me then, “Why (then) does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker,”Why have you created me so?” Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? What if God, wishing to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction? This was to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared previously for glory, namely, us whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.

How are we to reconcile this passage with the notion of free will? It can be done 2 ways:

  1. Directly understand the Romans passage itself more carefully and within context
  2. Provide different verses to oppose this false interpretation against free will and thus show that the Bible assumes the free will of human beings

#1 Does Romans 9 really deny free will?

Protestant apologist James Hardwick (ironically arguing like a Catholic) insisted that we have to read the passage within the Hebrew context:
“What this boils down to is that Paul presents us with a paradox in Romans 9, one which he, as a Hebrew, saw no need to explain. ‘..[T]he Hebrew mind could handle this dynamic tension of the language of paradox’ and saw no need to unravel it as we do. And that means that we are not obliged to simply accept Romans 9 at ‘face value’ as it were, because it is a problem offered with a solution that we are left to think out for ourselves. There will be nothing illicit about inserting concepts like primary causality, otherwise unknown in the text…. The rabbis after the NT explicated the paradox a bit further. They did not conclude, however – as is the inclination in the Calvinist camp – that ‘a totally unalterable future lay ahead, for such a view contradicted God’s omnipotence and mercy.’ They also argued that ‘unless God’s proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alteration’ is nonsensical. Of course the rabbis were not inspired in their teachings. Yet their views cannot be simply discarded with a grain of salt, as they are much closer to the vein than either Calvin or Arminius, by over a millennium and by an ocean of thought…. In this case, taking the negatives in Rom. 9:16 creates a clear contradiction between 9:16 and later passages in Rom. 9, as I show. Calvinists of course solve this dilemma by calling anyone who asks the question heathens and saying they need to give glory to God.”

Here is a VERY persuasive insight by Theodoret of Cyr:
“Those who are called vessels for menial use have chosen this path for themselves . . . This is clear from what Paul says to timothy: ‘If anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.’ ” He is refering to 2 Tim 20-21. Paul uses the same vessel terminology, but it is quite clear that free will and human responsibility is involved!

Church Father St. John Chrysotom:
“Paul says this in order not to do away with free will but rather to show to what extent we ought to obey God. We should be as little inclined to call god to account as a piece of clay is…. God does nothing at random or by mere chance, even if you do not understand the secrets of his wisdom [i.e. reasonableness, rationality]. You allow the potter to make different things from the same lump of clay and find no fault with him, but you do not grant the same freedom to God! . . . How monstrous this is. It is not on the potter that the honor or dishonor of the vessel depends but rather on those who make use of it. it is the same way with people – it all depends on their own free choice.”

Methodist commentator Adam Clarke points out that Paul is harkening back to Jeremiah 18:
“. . . Verse 21. Hath not the potter power over the clay] The apostle continues his answer to the Jew. Hath not God shown, by the parable of the potter, Jer. xviii. 1, &c., that he may justly dispose of nations, and of the Jews in particular, according as he in his infinite wisdom may judge most right and fitting; even as the potter has a right, out of the same lump of clay, to make one vessel to a more honourable and another to a less honourable use, as his own judgment and skill may direct; for no potter will take pains to make a vessel merely that he may show that he has power to dash it to pieces? [Quotes Jer 18:1-10] The reference to this parable shows most positively that the apostle is speaking of men, not individually, but nationally; and it is strange that men should have given his words any other application with this scripture before their eyes.”

Here are some more Scripture verses regarding the metaphor of the vessel:
Proverbs 26: 23-24
“Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross
Are burning lips and a wicked heart.
He who hates disguises it with his lips,
But he lays up deceit in his heart.”
Notice that the individual vessel creates the wickedness in his heart.

Jer 19:11
“Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired….”
As Clarke point out with Jer 18, God uses the metaphor of the vessel to talk of the destiny of nations and peoples, not individual destinies.

Hosea 8:8
“Israel is swallowed up;They are now among the nations Like a vessel in which no one delights.”
Again, the vessel is the NATION of Israel.

Thess 4:3-5
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God….”
Looks like Paul echoes his remarks in 2 Timothy: we sanctify and honor the vessels that we are, at least partially, by our own free acts (or non-acts, abstentions). Free will is what it means to be in possession of one’s “own vessel.”

Clarke continues with what it means for God to harden hearts and whether He doomed the Jews to damnation:
“Pharaoh and the Egyptians were vessels of wrath-persons deeply guilty before God; and by their obstinate refusal of his grace, and abuse of his goodness, they had fitted themselves for that destruction which the wrath, the vindictive justice of God, inflicted, after he had endured their obstinate rebellion with much long-suffering; which is a most absolute proof that the hardening of their hearts, and their ultimate punishment, were the consequences of their obstinate refusal of his grace and abuse of his goodness; as the history in Exodus sufficiently shows. As the Jews of the apostle’s time had sinned after the similitude of the Egyptians, hardening their hearts and abusing his goodness, after every display of his long-suffering kindness, being now fitted for destruction, they were ripe for punishment; and that power, which God was making known for their salvation, having been so long and so much abused and provoked, was now about to show itself in their destruction as a nation. But even in this case there is not a word of their final damnation; much less that either they or any others were, by a sovereign decree, reprobated from all eternity; and that their very sins, the proximate cause of their punishment, were the necessary effect of that decree which had from all eternity doomed them to endless torments. As such a doctrine could never come from God, so it never can be found in the words of his apostle.”
It is worth noting that Scripture explicitly says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart himself: Ex 8:15, 8:32, 9:34; 1 Sam 6:6. Plus there are explicit warnings in the Bible not to harden your own heart: Deut 15:7; Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7.

#2 What does the rest of the Bible say?

Before trying to see what the rest of the Bible says in general, it would be advisable to see what the rest of the book of Romans says! Surely, Paul could not have contradicted himself within the very same book.
Romans 1:18-32 through to 2:8: the famous passage about judgment, clearly highlights the fact that men are at fault for their sin. God’s “wrath” (1:18 ) only comes after the rebellion and sin. So God “gave them up” (1:24,26,28; cf. Heb 3:8,12-13,15; 4:7). God is not to blame for the sins of men (as one would be forced to conclude by denying free will, for blame cannot be assigned to one who is not free to choose between good and evil).

A BibleGateway search of “free will” turns up two entries:
Philemon 1:14 “…but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.”
There you go! Free will must be real! Paul in the Bible says so. He extols the greater value of good works freely done.
Ezra 7:13 “I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites, in my realm, that are minded of their own free will to go to Jerusalem, go with thee.”

Another search engine turned up 72 instances of “free-will,” almost all of them regarding “freewill-offerings” in the Old Testament.

From the so-called Apocrypha (which Luther arbitrarily and with no authority removed from the Bible):
“Say not, It is through the Lord that I fell away; for you ought not to do the things that He hates: nor say, He has caused me to err; for He has no need of the sinful man. The Lord hates all abomination, and they that fear God love it not. He Himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of His counsel. If you be willing, you shall keep His commandments, and perform true fidelity. He has set fire and water before you: stretch forth your hand unto whether you will. Before man is life and death, and whichsoever pleases him shall be given to him” (Sirach 15:11-17).
Again, explicit reference to free choice. Even if a Protestant refuses to accept it as inspired (though the Jews of that time, including the Apostles, thought it was), it is at least an historical example of Jewish belief in free will. This passage is quoted by St. Augustine in his On Grace and Free Will.

Paul claims that others have free wills:
“If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and if a critical moment has come and so it has to be, let him do as he wishes. He is committing no sin; let them get married. The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under compulsion but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to keep his virgin, will be doing well” (1 Cor 7:36-37).
“And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willingly last year: complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have” (2 Cor 8:10-11).
“All that will to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution…” (2 Tim 3:12).
“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings” (Eph 6:5-7).

St. Peter believes we have free will:
“…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God….” (1 Pet 5:2)

Jesus, who was truly man, had free will:
“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22:42).
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38).
“Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (Jn 21:22)

See also , ,

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Jesus Did Not Call Money Itself Evil

Posted by Tony Listi on November 19, 2007

 Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Mammon did not refer to money itself as a physical object or abstract idea. It referred to greed, miserliness, and idolatry.

Mt 17:24-27
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”

Would Jesus use a miracle to create an evil coin? Would Jesus command is disciples to buy things or pay tribute with money if money was evil? 

See also

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Quotes: Faith and the Problem of Evil and Suffering

Posted by Tony Listi on November 19, 2007

“[I]f God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how comes evil in the world?”
-Epicurus, philosopher

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.”
-John Stott, theologian

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too-for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless-I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality-namely my idea of justice-was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”
-C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

“Precisely because [God] is all powerful, he can’t do some things. He can’t make mistakes. Only weak and stupid beings make mistakes. One such mistake would be to try to create a self-contradiction, like two plus two equals five or a round square. Now, the classic defense of God against the problem of evil is that it’s not logically possible to have free will and no possibility of moral evil…. Built into the situation of God deciding to create human beings is the chance of evil and, consequently, the suffering that results…. The source of evil is not God’s power but mankind’s freedom…. The overwhelming majority of pain in the world is caused by our choices to kill, to slander to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

Suffering may be God’s way of defeating the devil.
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
paraphrased from The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“[T]he fact that God deliberately allows certain things, which if we allowed them would turn us into monsters, doesn’t necessarily count against God…. If I said to my brother, who’s about my age, ‘I could bail you out of a problem but I won’t.’ I would probably be irresponsible and perhaps wicked. But we do that with our children all the time. We don’t do their homework for them. We don’t put a bubble around them and protect them from every hurt. [daughter threading needle story/analogy]… So it’s at least possible that God is wise enough to foresee that we need some pain for reasons which we may not understand but which he foresees as being necessary to some eventual good. Therefore, he’s not being evil by allowing that pain to exist. Dentists, athletic trainers, teachers, parents-they all know that sometimes to be good is not to be kind. Certainly there are times when God allows suffering and deprives us of the lesser good of pleasure in order to help us toward the greater good of moral and spiritual education. Even the Greeks believed the gods taught wisdom through suffering…. Courage, for example, would be impossible in a world without pain…. Let’s face it: we learn from the mistakes we make and the suffering they bring. The universe is a soul-making machine, and part of that process is learning, maturing, and growing through difficult and challenging and painful experiences. The point of our lives in this world isn’t comfort, but training and preparation for eternity…. [Twilight Zone story]… The point is that a world without suffering appears more like hell than heaven…. [P]retend you’re God and try to crate a better world in your imagination…. Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom. To prevent all evil, you must remove all freedom and reduce people to puppets, which means they would then lack the ability to freely choose love. You may end up creating a world of precision that an engineer might like-maybe. But one thing’s for sure: you’ll lose the kind of world that a Father would want.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“One philosopher formulated an argument against God this way: First, there is no reason that would justify God in permitting so much evil rather than a lot less; second, if God exists, then there must be such a reason; so, three, God does not exist….
That’s like saying it’s reasonable to believe in God if six Jews die in a Holocaust, but not seven. Or sixty thousand but not sixty thousand and one, or 5,999,999, but not six million. When you translate the general statement ‘so much’ into particular examples like that, it shows how absurd it is. There can’t be a dividing line…. At what point does suffering disprove the existence of God? No such point can be shown. Besides, because we’re not God, we can’t say how much suffering is needed. Maybe every single element of pain in the universe is necessary.”
-Lee Strobel and then Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“One purpose of suffering in history has been that it leads to repentance. Only after suffering, only after disaster, did Old Testament Israel, do nations, do individual people turn back to God. Again, let’s face it: we learn the hard way. To quote C.S. Lewis: ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’ And, of course, repentance leads to something wonderful-to blessedness, since God is the source of all joy and all life…. [S]uffering is compatible with God’s love if it is medicinal, remedial, and necessary; that is, if we are sick and desperately need a cure…. [T]here are no good people…. Yes, we’re ontologically good-we still bear God’s image-but morally we’re not. His image in us has been tarnished. The prophet Jeremiah said that ‘from the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain,’ and the prophet Isaiah said, ‘all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’ Our good deeds are stained with self-interest and our demands for justice are mixed with lust for vengeance. Ironically, it’s the best people who most readily recognize and admit their own shortcomings and sin. We are good stuff gone bad, a defaced masterpiece, a rebellious child. Lewis pointed out that we’re not just imperfect people who need growth, but we’re rebels who need to lay down our arms. Pain and suffering are frequently the means by which we become motivated to finally surrender to God and seek the cure of Christ.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“[A]ll suffering contains at least the opportunity for good, but not everyone actualizes that potential. Not all of us learn and benefit from suffering; that’s where free will comes in…. But just about every human being can reflect on his or her past and say, ‘I learned from that hardship. I didn’t think I would at the time, but I’m a bigger and better person for having endured it and persevered.’ Even people without religious faith are aware of that dimension of suffering. And if we can bring good out of evil even without bringing God into the picture, you can imagine how much more, with God’s help, evil can work out for the greater good.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“God is intimately involved in the act of creating a world of suffering, He didn’t do it-we did it-yet he did say, ‘Let this world be….’ The fact that he went beyond justice and quite incredibly took all the suffering upon himself, makes him so winsome that the answer to suffering is…how could you not love this being who went the extra mile, who practiced more than he preached, who entered into our world, who suffered our pains, who offers himself to us in the midst of our sorrows…? God’s answer to the problem of suffering is that he came right down into it. Many Christians try to get God off the hook for suffering; God put himself on the hook, so to speak-the cross. And therefore the practical conclusion is that if we want to be with God, we have to be with suffering, we have to not avoid the cross, either in thought or in fact. We must go where he is and the cross is one of the places where he is. And when he sends us the sunrises, we thank him for the sunrises; when he sends us sunsets and deaths and sufferings and crosses, we thank him for that…. The closeness to God, the similarity to God, the conformity to God, not just the feeling of being close to God but the ontological real closeness to God, the God-likeness of the soul, emerges from suffering with remarkable efficiency.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
-St. Teresa

“The answer, then, to suffering is not an answer at all. It’s Jesus himself. It’s not a bunch of words, it’s the Word. It’s not a tightly woven philosophical argument; it’s a person. The person. The answer to suffering cannot be just an abstract idea, because this isn’t an abstract issue; it’s a personal issue. It requires a personal response. The answer must be someone, not just something, because the issue involves someone-God, where are you?”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”
-John R. W. Stott, British pastor
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“[I]t’s significant that most objections to the existence of God from the problem of suffering come from outside observers who are quite comfortable, whereas those who actually suffer are, as often as not, made into stronger believers by their suffering. That’s a phenomenon many writers have noted. After wide-ranging research into the topic of suffering, Philip Yancey wrote, ‘As I visited people whose pain far exceeded my own…I was surprised by its effects. Suffering seemed as likely to reinforce faith as to sow agnosticism.’ Scottish theologian James S. Stewart said: “It is spectators, the people who are outside, looking at the tragedy, from whose ranks the skeptics come; it is not those who are actually in the arena and who know suffering from the inside. Indeed, the fact is that it is the world’s greatest sufferers who have produced the most shining examples of unconquerable faith.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“Untold numbers of professing Christians waste their lives trying to escape the cost of love. They do not see that it is always worth it. There is more of God’s glory to be seen and savored through suffering than through self-serving escape.”
– John Piper

“Wisdom comes alone through suffering.”

“People aren’t getting away with [hurting others all the time]. Justice delayed is not necessarily justice denied. There will come a day when God will settle accounts and people will be held responsible for the evil they’ve perpetrated and the suffering they’ve caused.”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“How can a mere finite human be sure that infinite wisdom would not tolerate certain short-range evils in order for more long-range goods that we couldn’t foresee?”
-Dr. Peter John Kreeft
qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

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