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Getting real with God: How to keep the faith

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topical Scripture: Psalm 22

Our spiritual lives are never so tested as when the hard times come. That’s when we need to walk with our Father the most, and are tempted to do so the least. How do we keep the faith when the faith is hard?

Claiming Psalm 22

The problem of evil

Definition of theodicy: “The question of the compatibility of metaphysical, physical, and moral evil in the present world order with the justice and absolute power of God” (Leibniz, Theodicee, 1710).

Statements of the problem:

•Habakkuk 1:3: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

•Boethius: “If God exists, from whence comes evil?” (the classic expression of the problem).

•Schopenhauer: “The shortness of life, so often lamented, may perhaps be the very best thing about it.”

Conditions of the problem:

•God is loving

•God is powerful

•Evil exists.

Epicurus’ solutions:

•God wants to remove evil but is unable

•God is able but unwilling

•God is neither able nor willing

•God is both able and willing; why doesn’t he?

Popular but wrong approaches

The nature of evil:

•Evil is an illusion (“maya”)

•Evil is the product of the material world (Greek worldview)

•Evil always results from our desires (Buddhist)

•Evil is always the result of sin (from Hindu karma)

The denial of God’s love:

•Stoic: all is fated by God

•Greeks: the gods are wicked

•Muslim: Allah wills all that is

•Secular: God doesn’t care

The denial of God’s power:

•Dualism: evil is coequal with good

•J. S. Mill, Rabbi Kushner: God is limited

•Deism: God has limited himself

The denial of God’s existence:

•Logical argument (David Hume):

(a)If God exists, he must be loving and powerful and thus eradicate evil

(b)Evil exists

(c)Therefore God does not exist.

Classical atheism

•Classical agnosticism

•Modern existentialism, chaotic world view

Conclusion: Avoid all simplistic answers to the problem of evil and suffering

Biblical approaches to theodicy

•Suffering and Satan:

a.General: John 8:44

b.Accuser: Job 1:9-11

c.Resists the godly: Zechariah 3:1; Matthew 13:38-39

d.Tempts: 1 Chrononicles 21:1; Matthew 4:1

e.Has power over unbelievers: Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

f.Preys on people: 1 Peter 5:8

•Suffering and freedom:

a.Freedom given by God: Genesis 2:15-17

b.We are created to worship God freely: Matthew 4:10

c.Free choice led to evil: Genesis 3:6,23-24; James 1:13-15; James 4:1

d.All are now sinners by nature apart from Christ: Romans 3:23

e.The creation is fallen: Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22

•Suffering as divine punishment:

a.The law of retaliation: Exodus 21:24-25; Deuteronomy 19:21

b.Retaliation by God: Deuteronomy 28:1-3,15-16; Isaiah 3:11; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 16:19-24; Revelation 20:11-15

c.For repentance: Jeremiah 7:3,5,7

d.For discipline: Proverbs 3:11-12

•Suffering for our good:

a.Some suffering comes from God: Deuteronomy 8:5

b.Can lead to good: Job 23:10; Romans 8:28

c.Refines us: Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-4

•Suffering as our witness: 2 Peter 2:12,15; 3:15-16

•Suffering and faith: 2 Corinthians 4:1,16; Ephesians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 5:7

•Suffering and future hope:

a.Future reward: Isaiah 24:13-15

b.Reward for faithful service: Matthew 25:45-46

c.Makes present suffering bearable: Romans 8:18-19

•Suffering and the presence of God: Deuteronomy 20:1; Psalm 23:4; Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25; Daniel 12:6-7; Acts 16:25-26

•Suffering and present preparations: Proverbs 24:10; Jeremiah 12:5

Theological approaches

The “free-will” theodicy

•Biblical support:

a.God gave us freedom: Genesis 2:15-17; Exodus 32:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21

b.We were created with freedom to choose for good: Matt

c.hew. 4:10; Proverbs 1:10; Proverbs 4:14; Romans 6:13; Ephesians 6:13; 2 Peter 3:17

d.Our free choice for wrong led to evil: James 1:13-15; James 4:1

e.All people are now sinners: Romans 3:23

f.Our sin has resulted in a fallen world: Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:22

g.The fall: Genesis 3

•Historical development–Augustine

a.God created all that is

b.All that is, is good

c.Evil is therefore “non-being”

d.God created humanity with freedom of will

e.Humanity has used this freedom for evil

f.We are therefore responsible for the existence of evil, and God is absolved of all blame

•Advantages:

a.Follows Genesis 3

b.Often appropriate

•Disadvantages:

a.Depends on outdated philosophy (evil as “non-being”)

b.Doesn’t account adequately for natural evil

c.Doesn’t account for innocent suffering and often increases such suffering.

d.Question: if man was created good by nature, why did he sin?

e.Assertion: if God gave man freedom of will, he is responsible for it to some degree.

The “soul-building” theodicy

•Biblical support:

a.Suffering sometimes comes from God: Deuteronomy 8:5; Job 16:12; Psalm 66:11; Psalm 90:7

b.Leads to good: Job 23:10; Psalm 119:67; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:11; Revelation 7:14

c.Refines us: Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:10; Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:17

d.Promised by God: Romans 8:28-29

•Historical development–Irenaeus

a.God created us to develop into perfect relationship with himself

b.God created the world as a place for that development

c.Evil is thus necessary as a means of our “soul-building”

•Advantages:

a.Proposes a model for explaining the existence of evil before man chose it in Eden (vs. Augustine)

b.Realistic re: God’s allowing or even creating some evil

c.Provides hope for purpose in present suffering

d.Often is our practical experience.

•Disadvantages:

a.The “Fall” is not strong enough re: Genesis 3, other biblical materials

b.The amount of evil in the world is disproportionate to present good

c.Hell is not redemptive

d.Latent universalism.

The “future hope” theodicy

•Biblical support: John 14:1-6; Revelation 21:1-5

•Contemporary expression:

a.Evil will be resolved in the future, making present suffering worthwhile

b.This future hope makes present courage possible.

•Advantages:

a.Only completely rational theodicy

b.Offers strong biblical assurance

c.Often experienced today.

•Disadvantages:

a.Not a present theodicy?

b.How does the future give present hope?

The “present help” theodicy

•Biblical support: 2 Corinthians 4:1,16; Ephesians 3:13; Hebrews 12:5; Revelation 2:3; Psalm 23

•Contemporary expression: one must transform the individual problem into victory and a symbol of courage for others

•Advantages:

a.Sometimes all we have at the moment

b.Is realistic with present needs

•Disadvantages:

a.Not a true “theodicy”

b.No future hope in this model

Practical steps

•Understand the existence of natural evil:

a.Moral evil accounts for much of natural evil

b.Much suffering from natural evil is or can be redemptive

c.The biblical materials only promise complete vindication of natural evil and the justice of God in the life to come

d.Personal free-will cannot be utilized except in a stable environment, and such an environment will necessitate some natural “evil”

e.Much suffering in nature is in reality part of the balance of nature

f.Natural evils may be used by God as judgment on sin (examples: Noahic flood, plagues in Egypt)

•Understand moral evil:

a.God limited himself in giving humanity freedom of choice

b.Humanity uses this freedom in such a way as to bring about evil

c.Satan is back of humanity’s revolt

d.Even though humanity’s revolt has caused evil, God continues to be active in our redemptive

e.God deals with evil through judgment, incarnation, and the cross and resurrection

f.God promises final triumph over evil and suffering in the “new heavens and new earth”

•Free-will approach: when the problem is caused by sin in my life

a.I must admit this sin (1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23; Psalm 32:3)

b.I must make restitution as much as possible (Luke 19:8)

c.I must help and tell others (Mark 5:19)

•Soul-building approach: when good can come from the situation

a.Trust God to make this happen (Romans 8:28)

b.Strive to be open to every source from which this good can come

•Future hope approach: when future, even eternal good can result from present suffering

a.Believe God’s promise for that hope (Rev. 21)

b.Allow its future reality to create present strength

•Present help approach: when there is no apparent cause or solution

a.Continue to believe that God is still faithful (1 Cor. 10:13)

b.Expect him to give the ability to withstand the trial

c.Be open to every source by which he can provide that ability.

•Applications:

a.Continue to trust God in suffering because of his identification with that suffering

1)He suffered for us on the cross

2)He suffers with us in our pain (Ps. 23:4)

3)He suffers in us by the Holy Spirit

b.Continue to allow God to give us victory and a developed character, and to use our sufferings to help others.

Conclusion

Where do you need to trust God despite your circumstances?

Make this your prayer:

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Circa 1577

Attributed to Sir Francis Drake

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