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On October 7, 2005, I interviewed John Piper for an hour about the sovereignty of God and the problem(s) of suffering and evil. (It was printed in the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, pp. 219-241.)

I read for him the famous section from chapter 4 of The Brothers Karamazov from Ivan to Aloysha, including this horrifying paragraph:

There was a little girl of five who was hated by her mother and father. . . . This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty--shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy [outhouse], and because she didn't ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child's groans!

Can you understand why a little creature, who can't even understand what's done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark in the cold and weep her meek, unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted?

I asked Piper for his answer to the question, “Where was God?”

The question where is metaphorical and hardly has an answer. "On the throne of the universe preparing a place for the little girl in heaven that will recompense her ten-thousand-fold for everything she is experiencing." "Preparing hell for her parents so that justice will be done perfectly." And those who look upon both the heaven recompense and the hell recompense will bow in sovereign wonder at the justice of God. Those are possible answers to where he is.

Later in his answer he offered one of the reasons such horrors are allowed to exist in the physical and moral realms: “to display the outrage of sin--the outrage of sin against the holy God.” This is not the only thing that could and should be said, but it’s an important and neglected aspect of the answer:

Let me see if I can help you feel what I'm saying here. When Adam and Eve fell by rebelling against God, God subjected the entire universe to corruption. You might say that's an overreaction. Well, if you bring your brain to the Bible and shape the Bible by your brain, that's what you're going to say. But if you let the Bible describe what's happening and shape your brain by the Bible, the conclusion you should draw is that sin is unfathomably outrageous. To turn your back on the living Creator God and prefer an apple to him is the ultimate outrage.It is infinitely outrageous. It deserves infinite punishment. And what God does in bringing the whole universe into subjection to futility--Romans 8:20--is to create a horrid parable of the outrage of moral evil. So that everywhere I look when I see outrageous physical evil--suffering--I want my response to be, "Oh how infinitely outrageous and repugnant is sin against the holy God." So I understand all the physical horrors of the world as symbolic of the horrors of the moral reality of sin against God.

Let me go a little step further. When Jesus died on the cross, you can come at that in one of two ways. You can say that not only was there Adam and Eve's sin, which was so evil it brought down the entire universe, but there have been in every one of us ten thousand of those sins. And multiply that by the number of people who have lived on the earth, or just take the church and multiply our sins--each one of which is no less grievous than choosing an apple over God--and therefore every sin that is committed should bring down the whole universe on our heads with physical horrors like this. And Jesus Christ hung on the cross and displayed the infinite value of God's worthiness to be treasured, not traded away. And now, stand and wonder at the value of the Son of God, that his suffering could match all of those universe-crushing sins for which he died. Or you could come at it from the side of Christ and see how gloriously supreme he is and how infinitely valuable he is, and then draw the conclusion about how terrible sin is.

What I'm saying in addition to those preliminary things is that every time we see something horrific, some horrible accident, our thoughts should be about the outrage of sin, not the injustice of God. These stories I've heard about people backing over their own children with their car. What would that mean? How would that feel--that bump, and you get out, and everything in you would scream. I knelt beside a man and put my arm around him about three weeks ago whose little girl was in the middle of Eleventh Avenue with a blue tarp over her. She had just walked across the road behind her dad. Hit. Got killed instantly right down the street from our house. And he just sat there staring at her. "I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to," he said.

So we've all tasted this. And when we see the horrific things that happen in the world, what should we feel?

I think instead of calling God into question, we should see them as evidences in our lives of the outrage of our sin and the horrific evil and repugnance of sin to a holy God. And God is displaying to us the outrage of our sin in the only way that we can see it, because we don't get upset about our sinning. We only get upset about the hurt. How many of you lose sleep--well, some of you are good saints and you do--over your own fallenness? Most of us get bent out of shape about things that hurt our bodies, but it's our sins that are the ultimate outrage.

So I think the kind of repugnance Dostoevsky is talking about is a display of how horrifically terrible our own sin is. And then Christ arrives, bears all that outrage, and by his own suffering undoes suffering. I want to summon people to Christ as the final solution to that problem.

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49 thoughts on “Answering Ivan Karamazov: How Should We Respond to Horrible Sin?”

  1. Piper’s statement as to the reason God allows such horrors:

    “to display the outrage of sin—the outrage of sin against the holy God.”

    though followed by a periphrastic explanation is typically, Piperistic. It is a very moralistic and “piestic” appeal but inadequate to the real cause and question which is exactly what his response begs, the real question.

    “Why the need to create humanity in this manner in the first place?”

    I understand, again, such a question typically follows with, “for God’s glory” etc…but that isn’t the answer to the question, why, it only begs another question:

    “Why does God’s glory require this kind of special creation and suffering, was it not sufficient all unto its eternal and divine self?”

    This is a question that many theologians, though sincere, are unable to approach because their theological inquiry and considerations are too limited. A suggestion to those interested in a neglected Reformed source on the answer to the relevant line of questioning about suffering and humanity’s purpose: Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Invisible War.

    1. CG says:

      ^ A concise answer I’ve come across (in response to Alex) is that if God never created this world, only part of his character would be displayed. But his mercy, patience, forgiveness, justice, etc (all worthy of praise) being unexercised, would go unglorified. Since it’s unacceptable that those holy traits go unglorified, yes, God’s glory required this special creation and the fall.

      1. Displayed to whom and for what which brings us back to the question of the cause of this necessity and my pointing to Barnhouse’s neglected work on the matter. Thanks for the response CG.

        1. CG says:

          I have to be honest, I’m not sure my reading list (or my budget) has room for another book… care to summarize Barnhouse’s position?

          1. I believe a comment section is not adequate. Maybe in time you will get an opportunity to get a hold of it. My apologies.

  2. Robert says:

    Hello Justin,

    I am a big fan of Dostoevsky and so hearing that you cited him and used one of his statements so that you could talk about the problem of evil got my attention.

    Unfortunately, you present something that is seriously misleading. At least coming from a calvinist such as yourself (or Piper whom you quote).

    You and Piper both believe that God ordained every event that takes place in history, which means that God **preplanned** every event.

    Which means no events are **merely allowed** (as would be the case in non-Calvinist thinking). No, they are positively pre-planned in their every detail. Unless you deny that God preplans/ordains every detail of history (which is not a claim that you make Justin).

    In the midst of your posting you wrote:

    “Later in his answer he offered one of the reasons such horrors are allowed to exist in the physical and moral realms: “to display the outrage of sin—the outrage of sin against the holy God.”

    Both you and Piper here are positively misleading in what you say here.

    If all events are pre-planned by God (He first conceived of the event in eternity, He then ensures that it occurs exactly as preplanned in history): then the statement that “such horrors are allowed to exist” is misleading.

    He does not merely **allow** events to occur in Calvinistic thinking, he preplans for them to occur in their every detail.

    Now you may claim that he preplans them for some good reason (with the further explanation that these reasons are not always known or revealed to us). But you cannot claim that He merely “allows” them. That is not allowed by your belief that everything is intentionally ordained without exception by God, your own Calvinistic system.


    1. Clarification Dave says:

      Thumbs up. An explanation from Calvinists would be helpful.

  3. Robert Hagedorn says:

    Adam and Eve? For a surprise, do a search: First Scandal.

  4. Derek says:

    Robert makes a good point. And this, I believe, is one of the biggest weaknesses in Calvinist thinking (whose roots partly go back to Augustine).

    Notice the mode of reasoning:

    Depending on what is most convenient a Calvinist says,

    “God predestines that…”


    “God allows that…”

    The depth of Dostoyevsky’s intuition there vastly outstrips Piper’s seemingly meager, wanting, simplistic answer.

  5. Justin Taylor says:

    Just a few quick responses:

    1) To call Piper’s response “moralistic” or “pietistic” seems to me to be a category mistake. He may be wrong, but these categories don’t seem to apply (unless the terms are being used outside their usual sense).

    2) Piper has explained his understanding of God’s ordination of evil here, among other places:

    3) The language of causation and permission is not inherently contradictory. Scripture teaches God’s ordination of all things and it also can use the language of permission.

    Hope that helps.


    1. Robert says:

      “3) The language of causation and permission is not inherently contradictory. Scripture teaches God’s ordination of all things and it also can use the language of permission.”

      I have a problem with this Justin. The scripture does not teach God’s ordination of all things (that is a Calvinistic presupposition **assumed** and **argued for by Calvinists** such as yourself but not proved, and in fact rejected by the vast majority of Christians throughout church history and including most Christians today; Catholics reject this presupposition as do Eastern Orthodox as do most other Protestants).

      God ordaining all things and **simultaneously** permitting or allowing things **is** two contraries that are irreconcilable. They contradict each other, where one is present the other cannot be present.

      The way out of the contradiction is to recognize which premise is biblical and which premise is not. Of these two contrary premises, God ordaining all things is not a scriptural teaching, while God permitting or allowing events is explicitly taught in various places in scripture.

      Take for instance when the bible says that “He permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Acts 16:14). That means that whole nations freely chose to live and act independently of God and His will. And the text says that God allowed all nations to go their own ways. Our contemporary expression for this today is: “doing your own thing.” They “did their own thing” and God allowed them to choose to do so. And their choices were not God honoring and often not pleasing to God at all.

      It makes no sense to say that God ordained all events and **simultaneously** God allowed them all to go their own way and do their own thing.

      It would be like observing a puppet show where the puppets only and always did exactly what the puppet master decided they would do and controlled them to do by pulling their strings. And then saying of that puppet master who completely controls and directs every move of his puppets: “that he **allowed** the puppets to choose to do X, Y, or Z”. No, the puppets had no choices at all in this situation, they simply carried out the plans of the puppet master.

      To assert such a contradiction may be practiced by Calvinists in order to maintain their theology, but logically speaking it is nonsensical as it affirms a contradiction. God is powerful but he is not able to actualize contradictions. I know the bible teaches that God sometimes allows people to make evil choices (because I can directly point to these bible verses). And this contradicts nothing else stated in scripture. It does however contradict the claim that all events are preplanned by God and all events are intended by God to occur exactly as they do occur (i.e. the Calvinistic premise that God ordains all events).

      The bible in fact clearly presents events which God neither intends nor preplanned, events that were not pleasing to Him at all, events that were not His will, events He allowed people to freely choose to do. The problem then is not scripture: but the non-biblical and false calvinistic premise/presupposition that God ordains every event (i.e. that He preplanned them all as part of an exhaustive total plan and then actualizes them all as what we call history). What Greg Boyd calls “blueprint theology” (i.e. everything is decided beforehand as part of a divine exhaustive blue print for every event that takes place in history).

      Justin you brought up the statements made by Dostoevsky as something that calvinism can explain regarding the problem of evil. You set yourself up for a fall as these events are not explained by calvinism but in reality bring out the problems with calvinism and its belief that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. The child in that Dostoevsky story was not real, but there are plenty of others who are real, and their very real and horrible suffering was not preplanned by God as part of a total plan or blueprint. If God did preplan all evil and suffering as calvinists such as you and Piper maintain: that does not explain the problem of evil that only exacerbates it.


      1. Justin Taylor says:

        I believe God’s foreordination of all things is not a presupposition but the result of inductive study on a clear Scriptural teaching. Most of us who hold to it did not grow up in a tradition that taught this, but came to it after careful (and often painful) study.

        1. Arminian says:

          Ok, Justin, but there are many who have studied Scripture inductively and concluded that divine foreordination of all things (in the Calvinist sense) is not biblical. Some have even gone from rejecting it to accepting it, to rejecting it once again and finally on further and more mature study of God’s inerrant word.

          And surely the fact of God’s utter and complete goodness and purity and separation from evil supports those of us who reject the Calvinist view that God unconditionally decreed all sin and evil.

        2. Robert says:

          Justin you made your next move which while predictable does not prove the false presupposition of exhaustive ordination of all events by God at all:

          “I believe God’s foreordination of all things is not a presupposition but the result of inductive study on a clear Scriptural teaching. Most of us who hold to it did not grow up in a tradition that taught this, but came to it after careful (and often painful) study.”

          I have dealt with non-Christian cultists who have made nearly identical responses as you make here (i.e. “I hold X position because of my inductive study of the bible, I did not grow up a X, Y, Z but came to it after careful study of the bible and I have suffered for my new faith and yet am convinced that it is true”).

          **Everyone** (non-Christian cultist as well as believing Christian) claims to base their views on their careful study and interpretation of the bible. Ask an amill why they hold to amillennialism and they will respond: because of their careful inductive study of scripture. The Premill and postmill will say the same thing. Check any in house debate between Christians and you will find the same thing. So virtually everybody makes that claim. The obvious conclusion is that some have properly interpreted the bible and some have not.

          Regarding those who have not, if they are mistaken then their premises/presuppositions are false and their interpretation is mistaken. And in your case the idea that God ordains all things is your controlling presupposition. This presupposition dictates all of your thinking and is the heart of the Calvinistic system which you espouse.

          Something that also needs to be carefully considered as part of the relevant evidence is what the church as a whole has said on this issue. If you look at church history carefully you find that calvinism was not taught by the early church and the first truly Calvinistic notions/concepts are found in Augustine (400’s) which were later systematized by the Reformers most notably Calvin during the Reformation (1500’s). So in regards to Calvinism and its system of theology, if viewed through the lens of church history (the last 2000 + years) it is a minority position rejected by the majority of Christians throughout church history. It was not taught in the early church, and has been repeatedly rejected by the vast majority of genuine Christians (including those in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and most Protestant traditions).

          If calvinism were this **clear scriptural teaching** as you claim, then most if not all Christians would hold it and affirm it.

          All genuine Christians affirm the deity of Christ, the trinity, the inspiration of scripture, etc. and seek to carefully and properly interpret the bible: but the reality is that most end up rejecting calvinism. An inductive study of the bible alone yields things such as the trinity, the deity of Christ, etc.: it does not yield calvinism. It is hard to believe that Calvinism is true when most genuine Christians and bible believing people familiar with the issues reject it as unbiblical.

          It is also a problem to maintain that calvinism is true, because if it is true (and as you want to believe God ordains all things): then God has **intentionally ordained that most of His own people reject the truth of calvinism**!! If calvinism is true and He has ordained all things, he has ordained that most of His own people be mistaken on their soteriology (i.e. rejecting Calvinistic views on soteriology, rejecting unconditional election, rejecting limited atonement, holding false views on free will, etc. etc.). This is hard to believe, that God would do THAT to his own people as He reveals Himself to be a God of truth.

          It makes much more sense to conclude that people have free will and sometimes choose to believe the right things and sometimes choose to believe the wrong things (with God not having ordained that His own people affirm errors and reject the truth/calvinism). That the various positions held by genuine Christians is a result of them having made differing choices concerning what they accept and reject.


    2. Perhaps moralistic and piestic were too proprietary in their meanings and my use of them were not the best for a precise description, I would have opted for “dramatic” and “devotional” to be more precise. In the end and to the large issue Piper succeeds in stating the obvious and failing to answer the question of “why” in spite of his prolix response. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  6. Roberto G says:

    As a Calvinist, I would say everyone’s theological inquiries and considerations are too limited. Whether Piper, Augustine, Calvin, and even Barnhouse. But that doesn’t mean they are not true. The Christian faith in general and the Reformed tradition in particular does have an answer to why God ordains/permits horrors to afflict the least of His creatures. It may not be an exhaustively detailed answer to the specific horrors that one may face, but it will certainly apply to their actual need. This is how Pastor Piper discusses the issue. The answer involves considering God’s sovereignty, His will, His glory, His love, and yes, our good. It involves a grand overarching purpose as well as subsidiary ends. It involves talking about things metaphorically and sometimes technically. But that is how God’s word speaks of it. Pedagogically, poetically, controversially, and scandalously, to produce an effect in us.

    1. No one said Piper’s limited inquiry is not true on the matter, just insufficient. And while it might be true that we all suffer from being less than divine, hence all our efforts will fall short of perfection thereby possessing some limitations, this does not negate the validity of pointing out failings in theological arguments simply because we all suffer such limitations at times. This very point is why we do so, to urge ourselves further.

      As to Piper’s writing and teaching on divine sovereignty, I have read his work extensively and find it wanting in thoroughness and prescriptive consistency as well as its tendency to be filled with stating and restating the obvious. He is, no doubt, a sincere man, but much of his work on the subject reflects a devotional posture with many general statements and not that rigorously investigative one. Thanks for the response.

  7. “… The language of causation and permission is not inherently contradictory. Scripture teaches God’s ordination of all things and it also can use the language of permission… ”

    While I believe this is true, can this same thing be said of Calvinist theology? Determinism has the LORD decreeing all things and I have had numerous Calvinists state to me that there is nothing that the LORD does not decree or determine in some fashion or another. That is considerably different than merely ordaining or allowing an action to occur. The sacrifice of children to Molech as noted in Jeremiah is an example of permissive providence but it is not consistent with the Calvinist theology of decrees e.g. the decretive will of God in bringing about all things as decreed by God. How do you reconcile allowance vs. determination?

  8. Josiah says:

    Mallett I think your Calvinist friends may have mislead you. Calvinists hold to the concurrence of man’s choice and God’s predetermined plan.

    1. I am familiar with the compatibalist argument however it strikes me as wholly inconsistent with determinism. It seems more akin to having a bowl of brussel sprouts and declaring it a slice of chocolate cake.

      Is it your position that there are events that the LORD has not decreed and if so what camp among the Calvinists would that place you in?

      1. CG says:

        How can it be both chocolate and cake at the same time? That is wholly inconsistent!

        Well, the same way that God can be sovereign over the minutiae of history, and yet man is nevertheless a responsible moral agent.

        I’m amazed how many people make this objection, “If God predetermines, how can man be responsible?” apparently unaware that that precise question is in the Bible itself (in Rom 9:19). “Why does God still find fault? For who can resist his will?” Indeed, the fact that Paul inserts the question at all proves to me that he’s asserting God’s sovereignty as Calvinism understands it.

        1. Arminian says:

          That is actually not the question of Rom 9:19 (i.e., “If God predetermines, how can man be responsible?”). There are other understandings of the verse that fit the text better. Here is just one example:

        2. There is nothing inconsistent with cake being chocolate. There is however something truly inconsistent with referring to those brussell sprouts as chocolate cake. I do not think you grasped the analogy.

  9. Let me be very clear–God is good and has nothing to do with evil at all (James 1:13, 17; Isaiah 54:15-17). All the destruction–all the evil that people do to each other–comes from the kingdom of evil, not from God. Christ died on the cross to give us the power to overcome and defeat the kingdom of evil. And, the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we need to do that comes from God.

    If there is one thing that is keeping us from taking our places as sons of God, it is that we do not understand the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil. When we accuse God of destructive behavior, we shortcircuit the effect of Christ’s death. Read John 10:10, Deuteronomy 30:20, Hebrews 2:14, II Corinthians 5:21, and John 16:8-11. Sin is the result of unbelief, Christ became sin and died in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, and the prince of this world is judged (Ephesians 6:11-13).

    1. sam_ihs says:

      God is good…but not tame. And His word is never simple.
      1 Kings 22:22, 1 Samuel 16:14, Judges 9:23
      This list could go on, but I think they make the point well enough.

      1. Look at your scripture references–all before Christ came. None of the people involved in the Old Testament were born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit, so they could not even begin to understand how the kingdom of evil operated. If you look at Job, he thought God had brought all the disasters on him. When God talked to Job, He spoke of the behemoth and the levithan–these are metaphors for Satan, who was the one who brought the destruction into Job’s life.

        Everything changed with Christ’s death and resurrection. We now have the potential to understand the warfare against us–that is why it is so important to seek God for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom because He alone knows where our hearts are at and what the warfare is against us.

        All this competition of doctrinal “truths” produces nothing but bad feelings.

        I have a challenge for you–go through the New Testament and look for definitive statements (ex. God is love) about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. See what you come up with.

        1. Jason says:

          Hebrews 11 makes allot of mention of New Testament application to Old Testament saints, I think. Also, Paul states in Romans 3:24-25 talks about God passing over “former sins”. Whose or What former sins is Paul talking about? And Paul goes to great length to explain that Ambraham’s example of receiving righteousness is the exact platform that it still is. Christ’s work was just as relevant to OT believers as were NT believers.

          And I don’t see this as competition. We need to become a people who can disagree politely and maturely and still communicate or perspectives. This is one way as to how I grow at least.

          and regard to Jobs life, while satan brought the destruction to Jobs life, who was it that gave him permission to do so?

          Your comments are enjoyable and challenging to me. Thanks.

        2. sam_ihs says:

          I agree with Jason’s comment here so I won’t say too much, but I will say a few.
          First, if I have caused bad feelings I apologize, that was never my intention. As Jason said I merely enjoy the challenge of discussing these issues with others.
          Second, while my references did come before the advent of Christ they were about God doing things that many people (myself included) may not be comfortable with. For instance, the passage from Kings isn’t about how the Old Covenant saints interpreted God’s actions, it is about what God actually did. We are told he sent a lying spirit into the world to bring about his desired end. I wasn’t so much making a point as ‘throwing up dust’ as a teacher of mine used to say. We (again, including me) can tend to let our ideas about how God must act interfere with how the scriptures actually say he actually does.
          Third, I’m not sure what you mean by saying that no one in the Old Covenant was born again. Paul speaks of Israel as drinking from the spiritual Rock that is Christ in 1 Cor. 10, Abraham was accounted as righteous, Hebrews 11 gives a staggering list of faithful Old testament believers. But I may be misunderstanding your point here.
          Fourth, the leviathan of Job isn’t Satan. It is a great monster, a real living creature created by God. That is His point, ‘look at what I have made, who are you to question me?’ God doesn’t answer Job by saying, ‘No, its not me you should blame but Satan.’ Instead God rebukes Job for questioning what God shall do with his own creation.
          Finally, God is love and abounding in mercy and goodness. But we can’t let those attributes run roughshod all over his other attributes.

          1. Sam, the bad feeling comment wasn’t directed at you. I’ve been on several blogs where people are actually calling each other out because of their disagreements over supporting details of the main ideas of the Bible (justification and sanctification are two examples).

            The Old Testament was written by people who lived before Christ (I doubt that any of them had any notion that we in 2011 would be reading what they wrote). Since Christ had not died and destroyed the veil that was separating God and the human race, those writers could not begin to understand the spiritual warfare that was coming against them. They truly believed that evil came from God and that all spirits were directed by God. So, they were writing from the context they understood at the time; Christ changed that context for the human race, so our understanding is different from the Old Testament writers.

            None of the people of the Old Testament were born again because no human being could be born again until after Christ died on the cross. While the Old Testament saints could keep the covenant through their obedience to the law and their sacrifices, there was no change on the inside of them. When Christ was conceived, his physical body came from Mary and his inner man came from God. Christ was and is the only human being ever physically born with the inner man of righteousness (freedom from sin or guilt). When he died on the cross, Christ released his righteousness and became sin (II Corinthians 5:21). So, when Christ died, sin died, too! When we “come” to Christ and believe on him who God sent, sin loses its power in our lives and we are born from above as the same righteousness–the same inner man that made Christ the Son of God–is created within us as the Holy Spirit overshadows us. However, unlike Christ (who, until the cross, never experienced sin), we were physically born into a world full of deception and unbelief, so God has provided help for us to manifest our righteousness through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire.

            As far as the leviathan is concerned, here’s Isaiah 27:1, “In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” The words serpent and dragon are used to describe Satan in Genesis 3 and Revelation 12:9, so we can infer that the word leviathan also describes Satan.

            So many people are confused by the story of Job because they have been taught that, at the very least, God allowed Satan to destroy everything Job valued and that God never did answer Job’s question “why?”. Both of these concepts are mistaken. First, Job 1:8 (“Hast thou considered my servant Job…”) reads differently in the Hebrew: “Hast thou set thy heart on my servant Job…” God knew Satan was going after Job to destroy the man, so He engaged Satan in order to limit the destruction. You see, Job had some beliefs about God that made it easy for Satan to attack him. As Job himself said at the end of his trial, everything he knew about God came from what other people had told him (Job 42:5). Added to that, Job based his faith on what he had done as an upright man and not on the character of God. In his “discussion” with his three “friends,” Job was all over the place in what he understood about God.

            Contrary to popular belief, God did answer Job’s question “why?” He sent Elihu to Job to explain why the righteous suffer—Job 36:7-12, and then He came to Job, gave the beleaguered man His hand, and pulled him up on the rock of His character. (The difference between hearing about God and talking to God is like the difference between hearing a description of a banana split and actually eating one.) God also talked to Job about the one who had brought all the trouble upon him. Two very important verses in God’s explanation are that Satan is king over all the children of pride (Job 41:34) and that he (God) that made him (Satan) can make his (God’s) sword (God’s word) to approach unto him. In other words, only God’s word can defeat Satan.

            Through his interaction with God, Job got the message—instead of whining and blaming God for his trouble, he needed to demand knowledge, understanding, and wisdom from Him. Listen to what Job said in Job 42:3-5:

            Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.

            Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

            I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.

            The “moral” of Job’s story: when we don’t understand what is happening, we should go to God and demand answers. Persist in seeking Him.

            Finally, God is love, light, life, good, and spirit. Everything He says and does flows from His character. So, anything that steals, kills, and destroys is from the kingdom of evil (John 10:10). And, the good news is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have the ability to overcome and defeat that same kingdom of evil.

            1. sam_ihs says:

              Patricia, thanks for the follow up. I have just a few things to say then I’m off to enjoy the holiday weekend. We do disagree of the relation of old testament believers to Christ, but that is a topic probably too big for this forum. My only other point is that your interpretation of the Old Testament seems inconsistant. You dismiss the passages I brought up as being the ideas of the men who wrote them, then turn to the book of Job to make a point about the nature of God. Can we trust the Old Testament authors understanding of God or not?
              To your last paragragh I only add a hearty amen. I just think we need to be careful to let God reveal himself to us, and not force our ideas of who he should be on him.

              1. Have a great 4th of July everyone!

  10. Jason Ewing says:

    The mosaic of a stain glass window is beautiful when the sun beams cast their light through the window. What makes these impressive mosaics brilliant is obviously the colored glass that has been carefully placed by the craftsman to create a beautiful work. The craftsman did not select one giant piece of single colored glass. Instead, the craftsman broke large pieces of glass from numerous colors and organized them into an impressive display. But what makes each color of broken glass more brilliantly exposed is when it is fused to another piece of colored glass with some kind of lead (in the old days) or dark grout material. While the the dark grouted material is unimpressive and even unflattering by itself–it is the presence of this grout that enables the broken pieces of colored glass to become most brilliant. The craftsman recognized that the glory and brilliance of each piece of glass is most manifested when the pieces are broken and the darkness of the grout are molded into one work that pleases the craftsman.

    Sin is outrageous, but it is not out of God’s power to will it, control it and use it to create a glorious and brilliant work that is pleasing to Him when he molds all that “yuck” with the broken pieces of my life. With the presence of sin, that God ordains (this is different from what God wills),in my life and around me I think Piper has reminded me well to be reminded of the outrageous offense that sin creates against God. Though God is sovereign over my sin, my capacity to sin exists to my own fault and depravity. My depraved state is what hold me guilty before God for I could not even have the capacity to redeem my sin towards a greater good. The miracle is that even in my condition of sin, God still has the incredible power and creativity to create a beautiful work that brings Him the greatest glory through my life. For what can this piece of clay say to the potter? Or can the stain glass window question the craftsman? I think Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the suffering related to Hosea’s personal life is a good example of how God wills and permits an evil to create a work that glorifies His name, grace, forgiveness AND justice! So that my sin exists, is my fault. But to the degree and measure of evil that it creates in the world is under God’s control. And praise be to Him that He continues to create a glorious mosaic not in spite of my sin but with it.

    1. Jason, consider your contrasting statements:

      “… With the presence of sin, that God ordains (this is different from what God wills),in my life and around me I think Piper has reminded me well to be reminded of the outrageous offense that sin creates against God….”

      “… I think Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the suffering related to Hosea’s personal life is a good example of how God wills and permits an evil to create a work that glorifies His name, grace, forgiveness AND justice! …”

      Does God will sin or allow it? Does God decree (author the sin”) or does he permit his creation to willfully sin? These may seem to be insignificant questions but they go to the very heart of the conflict between Calvinist determinism and Arminian providence.

      1. Jason says:

        I don’t think those are insignificant questions at all. When I say that God “wills” and “permits” I don’t feel that those are contrasting statements. Yes, God plans it (but does not author sin–meaning that He is not the origin and source of sin) and Yes, God permits it based on His sovereign control of sin. Humanity is so depraved that our free will will always choose to deny, reject and rebel God. However, how much we deny, reject or rebel is controlled by God. I like to think of our hearts as full of sin that is closed off by a “dam”. It is God who controls the gates of the dam to determine how much our willful rebellion and rejection of him will be used to accomplish His perfect purpose. One verse that affirms this analogy in my mind is: ESV Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” It is the kings willful intentions that are depraved and it is God who holds the actions of the heart of the king in His hand to accomplish what HE desires.

        1. Arminian says:

          I don’t think you are takinhg the actual Calvinist view into account nor the points that “Robert” has been maing in this thread. According to the view of Piper and Taylor, everything has been unconditionally decreed by God, including the depraved heart and will of humanity. It is not as if in Calvinism God merely allows the amount of sin people do or merely allows what they do from an already sinful heart and will. Rather, according to Calvinism, God decided for people to be wicked and depraved and irresitibly brought it about that they be that way so that they could not be otherwise. Moreover, he decided which impulses they would have, which desires they would have that would lead them to specific sins–everything–he decided everything that would be without influence from anything else, and brought it to pass. That does make God the author of sin in various senses, including its source and origin. Remember, in Calvinism, there is absolutely nothing that happens that God did not first think up to happen, and then decree for it to happen, and then iresistibly brings about by his sovereign working. That includes sin and the very first impulse of sin in man, anything that could ever move man toward sin, etc., every bit of it determined just as God willed it to be.

          1. Jason says:

            I don’t think I’m contradicting “calvinism” or Piper at all. Calvinist would never say that God is the author of sin and yet would still affirm that God decrees sin. Moving toward a “hyper-calvinism” and beyond would validate your point I think if that is what Piper, et el were suggesting but I don’t think so. I know you’ve read plenty but I would recommend that following article by Jon Piper regarding his view of God’s decrees and how God is still not the author of sin–much of his views here are taken from Jonathan Edwards. Here is the link if your interested:

            ps–i enjoy and am benefiting from this dialog. thanks.

            1. Arminian says:

              I was not saying that Piper or Calvinism would say that God is the author of sin, but that its position makes God the author of sin. I.e., while they maintain God is not the author of sin, they are inconsistent to do so in accordance with my comments and those of “Robert” in this thread. So the things I pointed out about what Piper and Calvinism do explcitly teach (i.e. that as with all things, God first thinks up all sin and evil to happen, and then unconditionally decrees for it to happen without any influence from anyone or anything else, and then irresistibly brings it about by his sovereign working, which includes the use of secondary causes that are also just as God thought them up to be and unconditionally decreed for them to be) logically demand that God is the author of sin even though Piper and Calvinism deny this.

              1. Jason says:

                ok, I understand your point now and sorry for the confusion. So the real concern is that Calvinism implicitly and/or explicitly lays the primary author of Sin on God? Which we would both agree is clearly unbiblical. But for Calvinist to hold to the view in its true form MUST accept that God is the author of sin, correct? And if Calvinist cannot address this issue, then it would, in some form or another, dismiss God’s sovereignty in either partial or full measure?

              2. Arminian says:

                Jason said: “So the real concern is that Calvinism implicitly and/or explicitly lays the primary author of Sin on God? Which we would both agree is clearly unbiblical.”

                Yes, and I would say implicitly. Some forms of Hyper-Calvinism do so explicitly.

                Jason said: “But for Calvinist to hold to the view in its true form MUST accept that God is the author of sin, correct?

                Well, not quite. For Calvinist to hold to the view in its true form and to remain consistent, he MUST accept that God is the author of sin. But Calvinists are inconsistent at this point IMO. Their theology is incoherent and unbiblical concerning God’s sovereignty and sin IMO.

                Jason said: “And if Calvinist cannot address this issue, then it would, in some form or another, dismiss God’s sovereignty in either partial or full measure?”

                No; it would dismiss the Calvinist conception of God’s sovereignty, not the biblical/Arminian conception.

              3. Jason says:

                Unfortunately, I well be away from my desk and will continue our dialog soon. Thanks for this fruitful and helpful discussion!

        2. Jason,
          You wrote:

          “… and it is God who holds the actions of the heart of the king in His hand to accomplish what HE desires…”

          If this is true in the context of determinism, then it is God who is decreeing the very sins you state He does not author. How does God “sovereignly control” sin and escape authorship of that sin in the one who transgresses? It seems you have married the concept of sovereignty and control without good reason for doing so. Could not God sovereignly permit His creation to work their own will in opposition to His own? The consistent Calvinist must reply in the negative if God’s will is irresistible and sovereignly determined as such. However, let’s look to scripture to demonstrate how this is can be construed as truth.

          “Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire [for] burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake [it], neither came [it] into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.” (Jer 19:4-6 AV)

          Clearly, the LORD neither willed or desired the actions of Israel in this matter yet these people succeeded in doing what the LORD never decreed. Arminian theology addresses this quandary best, in my opinion, through the comments of James Arminius regarding Providence. It is the ordaining or permitting of sin contrary to the will and desires of God rather than a “sovereign control” of sin that explains the sins of Tophet. Arminius’ comments from his Sentiments follow.

          I consider Divine Providence to be “that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions, in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of believers. In this definition of Divine Providence, I by no means deprive it of any particle of those properties which agree with it or belong to it; but I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance. Beside this, I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it; only we must observe a distinction between good actions and evil ones, by saying, that “God both wills and performs good acts,” but that “He only freely permits those which are evil.” Still farther than this, I very readily grant, that even all actions whatever, concerning evil, that can possibly be devised or invented, may be attributed to Divine Providence Employing solely one caution, “not to conclude from this concession that God is the cause of sin.” This I have testified with sufficient clearness, in a certain disputation concerning the Righteousness and Efficacy of Divine Providence concerning things that are evil, which was discussed at Leyden on two different occasions, as a divinity-act, at which I presided. In that disputation, I endeavored to ascribe to God whatever actions concerning sin I could possibly conclude from the scriptures to belong to him; and I proceeded to such a length in my attempt, that some persons thought proper on that account to charge me with having made God the author of sin. The same serious allegation has likewise been often produced against me, from the pulpit, in the city of Amsterdam, on account of those very theses; but with what show of justice such a charge was made, may be evident to any one, from the contents of my written answer to those Thirty-one Articles formerly mentioned, which have been falsely imputed to me, and of which this was one.

          1. Jason says:

            Your reply is very much respected and well stated. Time does not permit me to continue this dialog so please be patient with me in my slow response. Thanks again!

  11. Simon says:

    Is it just me or are there others? I can’t see the joy in this at all.

    1. Jason says:

      There is joy in “ironing sharpening iron” but I do see where it can look like where inciting an argument might be present but I don’t thinks so.

  12. What should our response to horrible sin be–first, to pray that God would work good in the midst of the evil. Then, to pray that He would give knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to all of those involved.

    God’s sovereignty is a paradox. On the one hand, He is sovereign because no one rules over him. On the other hand, once He created choice (an alternative to Himself), He limited His sovereignty over His creation. That is why Lucifer was free to choose to let go of God. In Ezekiel 28:15 (the King of Tyre represents Lucifer), we read, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” Right there is where sin was created–in Lucifer’s heart (Isaiah 14:13). God had nothing to do with Lucifer choosing to let go of Him–He didn’t egg Lucifer on nor did He stop him. God was neutral in this situation. So, when Lucifer let go of God, he became Satan and set up his kingdom in the alternative that God had created. Before God went to Satan’s kingdom of darkness to create our world, He had in place His plan to send Christ to our world to neutralize and get rid of the destruction that Satan would ensnare our world with. God created our world on the foundation of His absolute love which was manifested through Christ and will be manifested through His adopted sons.

    I Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ, all shall be made alive.” In a real way, through Christ, God will reverse all of what Satan caused in the Garden of Eden.

  13. Philip Chadwick says:

    Ivan’s statement in The Brothers Karamazov has huge emotional appeal. However, I think that what Dostoevsky is doing is revealing the arrogance of Ivan who presents himself as the Great Humanitarian without any objective ground. Does Ivan really have the right to get in the face of God on this point? Not really. He claims he loves children, and never does anything to help them; he claims he can tolerate the sufferings of adults but not of children — who gave Ivan the right to make that distinction? Ivan’s illustration still carries emotional power, but Dostoevsky wants us to question the logical basis for Ivan’s appeal, i.e. who is he to talk back to God. Ivan believes that God cannot understand the girl’s suffering, but surely it’s Ivan who doesn’t understand. It’s incongruous of the novel’s chief antagonist, and origin of murder, to discourse on the moral responsibility of God.
    It seems to me that the purpose of this parable in the novel is to reveal Ivan’s arrogance and hypocrisy: he is deputising the sufferings of an (imaginary) girl in order to justify his theory that “everything is permitted”.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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