The Ham/Nye debates were my introduction to Ken Ham (and to Bill Nye for that matter). I wanted Ken Ham to be my champion of a biblical view of science, but I just came away unsettled. (See Debriefing the Nye v. Ham Debate)
As I’ve admitted before, I am decidedly not a science guy. I tend to put these things on my back burner and let them simmer, and that is what I did with the debates. Quite some later I came across Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe. He made sense of the science and the biblical creation account in Genesis. He still does to me, though I tend to take all of these things with a grain of salt because I still don’t know what I don’t know.
I have consciously avoided criticizing Ken Ham because so many Christians love him. And again, I don’t know what I don’t know about the science. But, I am changing on that score too. It isn’t the science that I am chiefly focused on at this point, but something far more fundamental to the Christian faith – the Gospel.
I often listen to podcasts in the morning as I shave, shower, brush my teeth and get ready for work. Today I was listening to Dr. William Lane Craig respond to some questions about free will and suffering, and his comments prompt this blog piece.
He made the following statement
“Natural suffering forms the arena in which the drama is played out of people being freely called to come into the kingdom of God and find an eternal relationship with God. It is not at all improbable that only in a world infused with natural suffering would an optimal number of people freely respond to God’s gracious and initiatives and come to enjoy a relationship with God and eternal salvation.”
Dr. Craig represents the Molinist view of the tension between God’s sovereignty, knowledge and power and man’s free will. On the Molinist view, God knows the future, but he does not determine it. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, but he does not determine every aspect of it, including the choices that people make. Knowing the future, God chose to set the universe in motion, and to that extent, He determines the outcome, because He knows the outcome. He does not determine it, however, to the extent of interfering with the free will He gave humans who are created in His image. The fact that he knows the outcome, does not mean that He determine the choices each person makes. Each person is free to choose as they will, but God knows how they will choose from the beginning, and so He wills it.
This is (my simple version of) the Molinist view. It respects God’s sovereignty, while acknowledging the clear implication of free will and moral responsibility to which God holds us that is reflected from beginning to end in the Bible.
I tend to like the Molinist view, but I am always somewhat cautioned in my own thinking not to be overly concerned with doctrinal nuances. I don’t want to die on a Molinist hill other than the Gospel. The Calvinist resurgence in the church today stands in contrast to a more Armenian view of inviolate free will. Many have been the discussions and debates between these two views, and I fear we spend too much time and energy on debating when we should spend more time living out the Gospel. I think Paul might lump these debates in the category of vain discussions.
Still, I think it is good to chew on these things as they may be beneficial to our knowledge and understanding of God. As I thought about Dr. Craig’s comment above, I could not help think that this is a kind of divine utilitarianism – what is optimal for generating the most free will responses of love for, relationship with God and eternal life with God.
Dr. Craig’s thesis is an attempt to explain why suffering exists in the world when God is supposed to be good, all-powerful and sovereign. Why doesn’t God stop suffering if He is all those things? Why does he allow suffering at all?
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
What Paul characterizes here in the first chapter of the first letter to Timothy is something that goes on quite a bit in religious circles today. We may not speculate about “myths and endless genealogies” today, but we engage in similar discussions. I don’t think that myths and genealogies are so much the issue, as the time we spend locked into trying to prove and persuade others of particular points and principles that are peripheral and distract us from “the stewardship of God that is by faith”.
When Paul talks about certain persons teaching a “different doctrine”, I don’t think he is speaking about doctrine in the way we might view the word today. In Paul’s time, there were no systematic theologies. Doctrinal issues focused on the fundamentals – who is Jesus? Did he rise from the dead in bodily form? Must believers be circumcised?
Today, there is no end to the theologies and doctrinal points of view that get so finely debated as to focus on such things as how many angles can dance on the head of a pin without jostling each other. I jest of course; but that is the point. We get into the weeds on issues that may be interesting, but they aren’t central or necessary to the Gospel.
I am reading a book by Clay Jones called Why Does God Allow Evil? I highly recommend it. The “problem of evil” is one of the more challenging questions that we face in life, and difficulties struggling with that question have led many people to abandon or refuse to embrace faith in God.
Why does God allow pain and suffering? If God is good, how can He allow people to suffer? Why doesn’t God stop evil? If God exists, why does He allow evil to exist? These are just some of the variations of the problem of evil.
The problem of evil is a challenge for every worldview. Responses include that there is no God, and that’s just the way it is (a naturalistic world view); evil is just an illusion of unenlightened souls (a Buddhist or eastern view); evil is result of bad karma (Hindu); or evil is the result of rebellsion against God – sin (Christian). We all struggle with the conviction that things simply aren’t the way they ought to be. That Utopian disconnect urges us to ask, “Why not?”
I think, personally, that the Christian worldview makes the most sense of this question. It begins with the story of God and Adam and Eve. Whether the story is allegorical or historical, the answer involves God’s purpose in creating man, man’s finite, corruptible character (compared to God’s infinite, pure character) and a plan to develop this corruptible creature (man) who is created in God’s own image into a pure, loving relationship with God that is defined by God’s pure character, and not the corruptible nature of man.
I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit (I hope) to explain myself a bit. Please forgive me if this gets into a little self-conscious rambling.
I have touched recently on some important doctrinal issues without really addressing them in a doctrinal way. That is intentional, but that leaves me a little self-conscious about it.
I have brushed past many doctrinal issues in this blog, and some of them are themes that I come back to quite often. Recently, I have veered dangerously close to issues like the inerrancy of the Bible and Bible hermeneutics, though I have not used words like that, other than to acknowledge at some points those rocks that exist in the turbulent waters.
I am usually not all that conscious about doctrine in the sense of academic formality or denominational purity. This also is intentional, though it isn’t intended in any rebellious, skeptical or heretic away.
A fellow blogger has written on Paul’s writing in Romans 11:1-6 and The Remnant of Israel where Paul says that “God did not reject His people, whom he foreknew”. Rather, God “reserved” for Himself “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” in the time of Elijah, and Paul says similarly of his time when he wrote the letter to the Romans, “there is a remnant chosen by grace”.
This “dialogue” Paul has with himself in the letter to the Romans continues the theme I have been writing on lately: God’s choosing us (before the foundation of the world) and the choices God gives us. How can they both fit into our theology? How can it be that God chooses us and we choose God at the same time?
Paul’s brief summary of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel has evidence both of God’s choice and the choices He allows men to make. God chose Abraham and His descendants who became the nation of Israel. The history of the nation of Israel is replete with virtually the entire group, but for some outliers, – some of the prophets, a few kings and other nonconformists – continually running after other gods and failing or simply refusing to love God and His commands.
Most of them rejected God, but Paul says God did not reject them – not all of them anyway. God reserved for Himself a number – a remnant.
Is this God responding to the choices made by the people of Israel? Or has God carved out (reserved for Himself) a number of the people who would not turn from Him because He reserved them for Himself? Were the remnant chosen by God? Or did God choose the remnant who chose Him?
God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.
The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]
God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.
But there is another side to this. There is not only what we call faith; there is grace. There is God’s unmerited favor. God chooses us. We call this predestination and attribute it to God’s sovereignty