Reading: Psalm 33
While reading through Psalm 33 this morning, verses 4 and 5 brought to mind a curious question which one of my students asked me last week.
Over the past two weeks I taught Christian Worldview & Apologetics – why do we believe what we believe & how do we defend it rationally & Biblically – and of course such a topic lends itself easily to discussion and debate, much like a match does to being struck. Recently we had discussed the topic of the sovereignty of God and the free-will of man, both so real in the Scriptures, yet so hard to reconcile as leading to a common goal. My view is not to lean to one or another, but to hold both powerfully, just as Scripture so clearly does (thus both Calvinists and Armenians have such ample Scripture to spout-off at each other). My professor in college once put it quite well, I believe, that God’s will and man’s will are not enemies, as we might like to think in our modernistic, logically-deducing minds, but rather “best friends, going hand in hand always”.
This lead us to the crucial issue of the “Problem of Pain“, or as it is often stated: if God is all-powerful and also loving, why does he allow bad things happen to good people? (also known as “Theodicy”). The conclusion, according to many atheists and accusers of God is that God is either not loving or not all powerful, otherwise evil wouldn’t exist. There are many problems with this line of argument, one has to do with the fact that no one is actually good, and that it is God who turns bad into good, whereas the reason He has to do that is because we are the cause of the bad to begin with. In short, our choice is and always has been to sin (and to voluntarily repent), while His is to reconcile and redeem that which we have broken.
Although our discussion led how to God views pain and evil in the world, and how He uses it to reach a greater good, to discipline us, or to call many to His love, it’s point of origin began with a Biblical truth. When people ask why there is evil in the world, we must blame ourselves, but when we ask why God allows it to still exist when He could easily rid the world of it, we must turn to the fact that God is free. While you will seldom find this stated as a characteristic of God, it clearly is, although often Theologians combine it with the greater concept of God’s sovereignty. God’s freedom can be defined in the following way: God can do whatever He wants to do, however He wants to do it, whenever He wants to do it, and no one can do anything about it.
After class that day was when one of my students asked me about this idea, combining our study of God’s will with the problem of pain. Her question went something like this – if God is free, how do we know He hasn’t used or won’t use this freedom to do evil?
Hard questions demand ample answers, and so I discussed some different answers with her. I pointed to the fact that our concept of God always choosing to do what is right, just, and best is based on our trust of the Bible teaching us this. While my answer was varied, and ultimately there is even some mystery surrounding the Biblical teaching, it was a good discussion and I am glad she asked.
That brings me to my reading of Psalms 33, where David says this about God in verses 4 and 5:
For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. (ESV)
When Jonah finally divulges why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh, he tells God accusingly:
And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (John 4:2)
It is a terrible irony that Jonah was upset about the very mercy, grace, and compassion which had spared his life from death not many days before. His patriotism and racist hatred overcame his calling, and yet God still taught him, disciplined him, and ultimately restored him (I would argue that Jonah understood and was restored because otherwise, why did he write the book in such a way and why is it Scripture?).
In the movie Chariots of Fire, while Eric Liddell’s sister is coming out of church and walking next to the pastor, she asks him a very similar question to the one my student expressed last week:
Reverend. J.D. Liddell: Sandy, the kingdom of God is not a democracy. The Lord never seeks reelection. There’s no discussion, no deliberation, no referendum as to which road to take. There’s one right, one wrong. One absolute ruler.
Sandy: A dictator, you mean?
Reverend J.D. Liddell: Aye, but a benign, loving dictator.*
*to be read in a good Scottish accent.