Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don’t Blame God for Calamity

I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
(Isaiah 45:7)
Though it is not always clear in our English Bibles, there is a difference between what God perpetrates and what He merely permits. Concerning this verse, Walter Kaiser notes that physical calamity in the world is a matter of what God permits.
Thus, according to the Hebrew way of speaking, which ignores secondary causation in a way Western thought would never do, whatever God permits may be directly attributed to him, often without noting that secondary and sinful parties were the immediate causes of the disaster.
The evil spoken of in this text and similar passages (such as Jer 18:11; Lam 3:38 and Amos 3:6) refers to natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is seen in a volcanic eruption, plague, earthquake and destructive fire. It is God who must allow (and that is the proper term) these calamities to come...
Augustine taught that evil is not a substance. It is, as it were, a byproduct of our freedom, and especially of our sin. The effects of that sin did not fall solely on the world of humans. Its debilitating effects hit the whole natural world as well...
What we can be sure of, however, is the fact that God is never, ever, the originator and author of evil. It would be contrary to his whole nature and being as consistently revealed in Scripture. (Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 306 s.v. Isaiah 45:7, emphasis mine)
God certainly allows many natural calamities to befall people as a consequence of sin in the world but that does not make him the perpetrator or author of those things.

Given the nature of the Hebrew way of speaking, which often blurs the distinction between what is committed by God and what He merely allows, it is a very tricky proposition to build a doctrine on this and similar Scriptures which makes God the executor of calamities in the world. They are not things God does to us, and we can resist them by prayer and faith without violating the sovereignty of God, for God is not the one to blame for them.

God's promise for His people is, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). How much more this is true for us under the New Covenant, in which all the wrath of God toward sin was poured out fully on Jesus Christ at the cross.

God’s plan for you is not calamity but for a future and a hope, and it is found in Jesus Christ.