Thursday, September 08, 2005

Omnipotence & evil

Tony Campolo has weighed in on Katrina:

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Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/174/story_17423.html

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And why is Rom 8:28 a bad answer? It seems directly responsive to the question.

Whenever we talk about the will of God, we need to draw a distinction between the part in relation to the whole, and the means in relation to the end.

Does God will to kill people? Depends on what you mean.

He doesn’t will to kill them for the sake of killing them. But he does will to kill them for the furtherance of some higher end. And the reasons vary. He kills some people for the sake of justice (Gen 7; 19). He kills other people to spare them a greater injustice (Isa 57:1-2). He kills still others for the sake of the elect (Deut 7:1-8).

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I don’t doubt that God can bring good out of tragedies, but the Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil! (James 1:15) Statements like that dishonor God, and are responsible for driving more people away from Christianity than all the arguments that atheistic philosophers could ever muster. When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.

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I assume that this is a misquotation. He’s really thinking of Jas 1:13. It goes to show how sloppy he is that he doesn’t even get the verse right.

In any event, Jas 1:13 doesn’t say that God is not the author of evil. James does not employ that metaphor. As I’ve said elsewhere, that’s a highly ambiguous metaphor, with a lot of excess baggage behind it.

Campolo is importing a metaphor into the verse, then appealing to the verse to prove his point. This is fallacious.

Scripture doesn’t say that God weeps with us. Jesus weeps with us, for Jesus is God Incarnate, but weeping is a human attribute, not a divine attribute.

The notion of a weepy, chin-quivering deity has become popular in some Evangelical circles.

One of the popular charges leveled against Calvinism is that the God of Calvinism is not a God of love. He’s a God of power, but not a God of love.

That, however, is not where the distinction lies. Rather, what we have is a paradigm-shift from father-love to mother-love. This is nothing new. Roman Catholicism made that shift centuries ago when Mary became the center of gravity for popular Catholic piety.

In Bible times, the father was an authority-figure. A good father was a loving father, but he was no less a disciplinarian. An indulgent father was not a loving father. In that respect, Eli and David are cautionary role-models.

Mother-love is indispensable, but mother-love is not the standard paradigm of divine love in Scripture.

When I’m in pain I go to a doctor. I don’t need a doctor who can feel my pain. I don’t need a doctor who can break out the Kleenex and have a group cry-fest with me. What I need is a doctor who can administer a painkiller.

Surgeons do not perform operations on their own family members. They have too much of an emotional investment in the outcome. A surgeon needs a steady hand, not a bleeding heart.

***QUOTE***

There are still other religionists who take the opportunity to tell us that God is punishing America for its many sins… Furthermore, there are Christians who, in the weeks to come, can be counted on to thunder from their pulpits that Katrina is God’s wrath against the immorality of this nation, pointing out that New Orleans is the epitome of our national degradation and debauchery. To all of this I say, "Wrong."

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There is nothing intrinsically wrong with relating some natural disasters to divine judgment. The flood, the plagues of Egypt the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the destruction of Korah are cases in point.

What is wrong is the presumption that we can speak for God when God has not spoken.

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The God revealed in Jesus did not come into the world "to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:17)

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To cite Jn 3:17 and leave it at that is a half-truth, for the redeemer is also the judge (Jn 5:22; 9:39; cf. Mt 25:31ff.; Acts 17:31; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Rev 6:16).

***QUOTE***

Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible.

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A Greek concept? Was Zeus omnipotent? No.

If Campolo is saying that God did not avert Katrina because he had not the power to do so, then this is an implicit denial of the many nature miracles in Scripture.

Indeed, a God who is unable to stop a hurricane is unable to make the world.

***QUOTE***

Personally, I contend that the best thing for us to do in the aftermath of Katrina is to remain silent, and not try to explain this tragedy.

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Campolo would do well to heed his own advice. He is not remaining silent. He is attempting to explain the tragedy by a denial of divine omnipotence.

Campolo was right to say that there are a lot of bad answers to the problem of evil. And finite theism is one of the worst answers you can offer.

***QUOTE***

Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God’s still small voice.

***END-QUOTE***

What would be best is to seek God’s voice in Scripture.

12 comments:

  1. Apparently God is weaker than we thought AND he doesn't speak clearly.

    the more Campolo talks about God, the more I think he's talking about himself.

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  2. Campolo's essay is lame on so many levels. First, as Mohler points out, why Campolo -- as an ordained Christian minister -- would want to limit himself to the *Old Testament* in order to get his doctrine of God is anyone's guess.

    But second, let's look at that Old Testament testimony. Does it teach that God is just "mighty," or rather that he is all-powerful? Well, sometimes in the Old Testament you just get a straight-out affirmation of divine omnipotence:

    Jer 32:17 'Ah Lord GOD! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! *Nothing is too difficult for Thee,*

    At other times in the Old Testament, what you get are rhetorical questions from the Lord, in which -- because the obvious and implied answer to the question is 'no' -- the doctrine of divine omnipotence is clearly taught:

    Gen 18:14 '*Is anything too hard for the LORD?*'

    Jer 32:27 'Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; *is anything too difficult for Me?*'

    But thirdly, let's cross over to the New Testament which Campolo professes to believe.

    Luk 1:34 And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"... 37 "For *nothing will be impossible with God*."

    Mt 19:26 'And looking upon them Jesus said to them, "With men this is impossible, but *with God all things are possible*."'

    So it looks as if the doctrine of divine omnipotence, and not just God being 'mighty', is taught throughout the Bible, in the most general terms.

    Fourthly, Campolo claims that "Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent." Well, OK, technically speaking *the English word* 'omnipotence' is not in "the Hebrew Scriptures," but we knew that already :-) The question is whether the *concept* is taught there, and I think the above verses bring this out. In addition, it's interesting that our English word 'omnipotence' derives from the Latin 'omnipotens'. And 'omnipotens' is the word used throughout the Latin Vulgate to translate the characteristic title of God as "Almighty," which is something a bit more than 'mighty' :-) In the Latin Vulgate 'omnipotens' translates both 'shaddai' in the Old Testament, and 'pantokrator' in the New Testament (and, indeed, 'pantokrator' translates 'shaddai' in the Septuagint).

    Fifthly, Campolo's position is futile, even for his own purposes. He's writing in the context of the hurricane, but surely even if God is merely 'mighty,' he has power over hurricanes! Ps 148 says that the stormy wind does his bidding. For Campolo's remarks to have any relevance to the hurricane, he'd have to say that God is basically *impotent*.

    Another good reply on these issues is found here

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  3. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to have a god like that, a god that makes mistakes, a god that isn't strong enough to protect me, a god that is learning alongside me... why bother praying? why bother seeking hiim? The only response I'll get is "don't worry, I love you" but there is great cause for worry because there seems to be nothing he can do to demonstrate that love!

    Wow, some people say the craziest things.

    Thanks for a good post.

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  4. Weeping is attributable to the Divine person of Jesus because Jesus is the person who weeps. Natures don't weep, neither human or divine-persons do. To say that God doesn't weep betrays thinking of God the Son as a nature and not as a person. Things true of each nature are attributable to the one subject, who is the divine person of the Logos, God the Son, second person of the Trinity.

    It seems that Compolo isn't the only person who needs a theological education.

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  5. Campolo thinks that "the best thing for us to do in the aftermath of Katrina is to remain silent, and not try to explain this tragedy." Besides not taking his own advice, he overlooks the fact that in times like these a lot of people are asking for, indeed, demanding, explanations. To fail to provide one would be a dereliction of duty.

    I went to Eastern College where Tony was a professor of sociology. He was sort of the "star" on campus and a big reason why a number of people decided to attend Eastern. Back then I believed he was an evangelical, albeit a politically leftwing one. However, as time goes on I am finding that Campolo's theology is rather leftwing as well. Being on the left politically is not incompatible with evangelicalism, but being on the left theologically is. The fact that Campolo is revered in evangelical circles is a bad sign.

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  6. I agree that Campolo is not the only one who needs a theological education. Clearly Robinson is in the same boat.

    "Natures" don't weep, in the sense of abstact properties, but concrete, particularized natures do weep.

    Robinson is also equivocating over the meaning of "attribute," as if the noun, in the sense of a substance/attribute relation, were synonymous the verb, in the sense of predication.

    Notice, moreover, that I didn't frame my remark within a nature/person schema, so Robinson is imposing on me a framework I didn't use, then pretending to derive a difficulty due to the way he chose to recast the remark.

    There are, however, some fine seminaries I could recommend for his remedial education.

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  7. Steve,

    Even concretized natures in terms of particular instances don't perform personal actions because they aren't persons. God is certainly a concrete instance since he exists but the divine nature doesn't exhaust personal existence.

    As to the supposed equivocation, between to attribute as a verb and a noun I don't believe I did anything of the sort. Since the one divine hypostasis exists in both natures, properties of each nature are predicable of the one divine hypostasis-they are *true* of the person of Christ. The state of affairs is the ground for the predication. Jesus the divine person weeps, suffers, dies, etc., not an instance of a type or nature. Uninstantiated or instantiated natures don't perform *acts* because natures aren't intentional agents.

    As to remedial education, I can at least say that I have some in a relevant field. Please inform all of us as to your wonderous educational background that puts you in a position to speak as anything more than an amatuer.

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  8. Of what would God be a property-instance: of some generic property over and above God? An instance of some impersonal nature?

    God is not a concrete instance; rather, God is the examplar of every creaturely exemplum.

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  9. If to exist is to be instantiated, then to deny instantiation to God is to deny that God exists unless of course we equivocate on existence. Isn't God the one and only instance of divinity?

    I suppose if one believes in the anlogia entis and that God is Nous and therefore esse, then sure God is the exemplar of every creaturely exemplum. I suppose where we differ then is over whether God is graspable in terms of essence or not. I employed instantiation as existence with reference to types since that is the notion of existence you seem to be working with. Given that it is such a neoplatonic conception it is rather funny that you employ it.

    In any case, what are your educational qualifications to speak on philosophy and theology?

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  10. To exist is not to be instantiated. To exist as a finite creature is to be instantiated. But God is not an instance of anything non-God.

    You're were the one who brought up the need for further education, not me. Now you're getting hot under the collar.

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  11. Campolo said:

    When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.

    Steve Hays commented:

    Scripture doesn't say that God weeps with us. Jesus weeps with us, for Jesus is God Incarnate, but weeping is a human attribute, not a divine attribute.

    And Perry Robinson replied:

    Weeping is attributable to the Divine person of Jesus because Jesus is the person who weeps. Natures don't weep, neither human or divine-persons do. To say that God doesn't weep betrays thinking of God the Son as a nature and not as a person. Things true of each nature are attributable to the one subject, who is the divine person of the Logos, God the Son, second person of the Trinity.

    Perry, how is what you said in conflict with what Steve claimed? Steve says "Jesus weeps with us, for Jesus is God Incarnate" and you say "Weeping is attributable to the divine person of Jesus because Jesus is the person who weeps."

    You both believe that Jesus is the divine person who weeps. Perhaps you take offense at Steve's notion that "weeping is a human attribute, not a divine attribute". Are you actually denying this distinction between these two kinds of attributes? If so, would you deny it in other cases? Is being hungry a divine attribute? Sitting down? Defecating? Is there just no distinction at all between human attributes and divine attributes on your view? And if there is a distinction, what is it?

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    ReplyDelete