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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dealing with the Problem of Evil, Pt 2

Last time we began to look at how to answer an objection to theistic belief called the problem of evil.  The problem of evil notes the apparent incompatibility of several essential attributes of God and the existence of evil in the world.  The objection could be formally stated as follows:
“If God is good and loves all people, it is reasonable to believe that he wants to deliver the creatures he loves from evil and suffering.
If God is all-knowing, it is reasonable to believe that he knows how to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering.
If God is all-powerful, it is reasonable to believe to he is able to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering. 
…But evil exists.”[1]
Some then conclude that since evil exists, the God of the Bible – a good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God – cannot exist.
Today we will continue looking at those attributes of God – goodness, omniscience, and omnipotence.  Are they essential truths of the Christian faith?  Or can we afford to sacrifice one of them in order to deal with the problem of evil?
Last time, we saw that God’s goodness was an absolute essential.  Without God’s goodness, we have no gospel.  So now, what about omniscience?  We actually need to break that question down into two smaller questions: (1) does the Bible teach it? and (2) is it essential to our faith?
There is no question that the Bible teaches that God is omniscient, that is, that He knows all things actual and possible – past, present, and future.  God knows everything that is actual. Job 37:16 describes God as the one who is “perfect in knowledge.”  1 John 3:20 tells us that He “knows everything.”  He knows every bird (Psa 50:10).  He knows every thought of man (Matt6:7-8; Psa 94:11). 
God also knows everything that is possible.  Matt 11:21-23:  21 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  Here Jesus tells what would have been true had circumstances been different.  Consider also 1 Sam 23:11-13 and 2Kings 13:19.
If God knows everything that is actual and possible, that would have to include all things past, present, and future.  However, because of recent debate about God’s knowledge of the future, I’d like to take minute to address that specifically. 
In Isaiah 41:21-23, knowledge of the future is presented as the test of a true God. Speaking to worshipers of false gods, Isaiah writes, Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.  Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.  Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.
In Isaiah 46:9-10, the Lord declares that He alone has this ability: …remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'…
There are nine separate sections of Isaiah 40-48 whose point is essentially the same: the God of Israel is the one true God as evidenced by the fact that He alone knows and declares the future (Isa 41:21-29; 42:8-9;43:8-13; 44:6-8; 44:24-28; 45:20-23; 46:8-11; 48:3-8; 48:14-16). 
Psalm 139 is also a classic text on the foreknowledge of God.  v4: Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  v16b: In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  
There is really is no denying that the Bible teaches that God knows all things.  So now the question is, is the omniscience of God an essential truth of the Christian faith?  This question can be answered by referring back to the Isaiah passages above.  If we take Isaiah seriously, we would have to conclude that if God does not know all things, He is not God, since that is the standard that God Himself presents as the difference between true and false deity. 
So in the end, asking the question “is the omniscience of God an essential truth of the Christian faith?” is like asking “is God an essential truth of the Christian faith?”  Without omniscience, God isn’t God.  Without God, there is no Christian faith.  The bottom line is that like the doctrine of the goodness of God, the omniscience of God is an essential doctrine for us.  We simply cannot sacrifice it in order to deal with the problem of evil.
Next time, we’ll consider the omnipotence of God – does the Bible teach it and if so, how important is it?
Between now and then, I would encourage you to take some time to read and meditate on Psalm 139 and consider how intimately essential God’s omniscience is in your life.

[1]Ronald Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) p178.
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

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