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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ben Witherington/antinomy

- The Raising of Lazarus by Burne-Jones (an example of Jesus intervening?)

I know I said I was over the problem of evil, or at least over discussing it here, but today I was reminded of a past post by Ben Witherington on the book, The Shack, in which he talks about God as an intervening God.

Most people get God off the hook in the problem of evil by saying that because of his respect for our freedom, he doesn't have the power, or chooses not to exercise the power, to intervene and fix the bad stuff (this is the reason given by God to the character in The Shack when he asks why God didn't intervene and save his child from a serial killer).

There are lots of reasons why I think the free will defense to the problem of evil is an easy-out, but I've already gone into that here and here and here ... yikes! :)

Anyway, what I like about what Ben Witherington wrote in his post is that he says there is no easy way out of the paradox of a good and powerful God who allows evil .... that the God of the OT and the NT does give us free will but that he also intervenes with no apparent worries about damaging that free will. Here's some of what Ben wrote .....


[...] One of the major flash points in the discussion of freedom and the reason for an insistence on it is of course that love is not something that can be forced, compelled, compulsed, pre-determined etc. To have a loving relationship with someone requires a modicum of freedom of choice, at a minimum, and the power of contrary choice. I have stressed this elsewhere in this blog, so I will not belabor the point here, but Young is basically right on this point. But how far and to what degree does this characterize the way God relates to us. At one point Jesus in the novel says “To force my will on you…is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful and healthy.” (p. 146). The concept is then broached about how God has submitted himself to our human choices in various ways. The problem with this is it eliminates part of the Biblical paradox. The Bible is all about divine intervention. God is always intruding into our affairs, like a good parent should when his children are as wayward as we are. Is it really the case that God never rescues us against our will? Does God stand idly by, when a normal human parent would leap in and grab the child about to step out onto a highway and be smashed by a sixteen wheeler? ......

But when you once allow that God is busy working all things together for good for those who love Him, whether they realize it or not, then it becomes perfectly clear, as also in cases like when God flattened Paul on the road to Damascus that there are times when God doesn’t wait on our permission to do things on our behalf, and in various cases does things that would have been against our wills at the time. And herein lies the mystery—God, by grace both gives humans limited freedom, but is prepared to intervene and make corrections, redirections etc. for God is free as well, and there is something more important than human beings ‘having it their independent way’ and that is rescuing them. A drowning person can’t save themselves, they require a radical rescue—but how they respond to that rescue thereafter, whether in loving gratitude or with a bad attitude—well that’s another matter and involves human volition.

In other words, the answer to the question of why tragedy happens in the world is not just because God won’t violate our wills, or just because our wills are bent and fallen, and we are the orchestrators of our own tragedies. It’s far more complicated than that. If God’s relationship with us is at all like a relationship between a good parent and petulant child, then yes there are times when the human will is and must be violated to rescue the child from disaster. Thank goodness my parents cared enough about me to do that on occasion. On most occasions loving and leading and modeling was enough. On some occasions it was not.

The God of the Bible is not just a wistful wooer of fallen humankind. The God of the Bible is an intervener and a Lord over all. And while we are at it—the Jesus of the Bible is not Mr. Rogers--- he said he was coming back to judge the quick and the dead, as the Book of Revelation makes so very evident. Nor is the Holy Spirit just the one who gives us holy goosebumps, the Spirit is the Spirit of holiness and a refiner’s fire of sanctifying influence.

In other words, the God of the Bible is both a God of justice and mercy, of righteousness and compassion, of love and lordship, of order and creativity, of hierarchy and equality. Unless you can hold these antinomies in tension, you cannot paint a full picture of the Biblical God .....



Anonymous John McGeough said...

You are right. This is a complicated area of theology. I agree with you completely. This is exactly how I see God; as a good parent. As a result, God must intervene at some points. But then you really cleared up something in my thinking... God does not ordain what we do with his actions. So if I understand you correctly, a child who is brought up right, corrected, and given a right example to follow may still fall off the path by his choices. I would appreciate it if you might reply with your estimation if I've "gotten" the point. Thanks so much...

10:26 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


What you are responding to is what Ben Witherington wrote (which I posted) so I'm not sure what he'd say in response to your question. You can visit him at his blog, though - Ben Witherington on the Bible and Culture - or his website.

1:47 AM  

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