Monday, December 24, 2012

Responding to Rick’s Warren’s Response to the Newtown Tragedy


“But many are also questioning what role faith and God play at a time like this, and are looking toward pastors and religious leaders for answers. Warren says that God's will is in heaven, but it is rarely done on Earth because humans are free to make their own choices.” [Christian Post]

These words appeared in the Christian Post recently in an article discussing Rick Warren’s reaction to the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Warren is quoted as saying that “free will” is man’s greatest blessing and man’s greatest curse. While much of what Warren said in the article was true, his basic apologetic on this issue falls far short of biblical revelation on the idea of God’s sovereignty in the Newtown, Conn. tragedy.

I understand what Warren is getting at. I really do. I had another friend of mine refer to a similar conversation he had with another pastor friend on the very same subject. In theology, we call it “theodicy.” It is the age-old problem of reconciling the existence of an all good, all knowing, all powerful God with the present reality of evil.

As this argument goes, if God were all good, he should destroy evil. If He were all knowing, He would certainly know how to destroy evil. Finally, if God were all powerful, he could destroy evil. God knows how to destroy evil, and He is powerful enough to destroy evil, and since He is good, he should destroy evil, but here we are. Evil certainly exists as the Newtown tragedy clearly demonstrates.

Warren’s argument is an attempt to remove God from the dilemma of existing alongside evil. So, the argument goes that God, in order to create the greater good of “free will” must also tolerate the present existence of evil. There is no other way. In other words, God could destroy evil right now, but if He did, He would also destroy the best possible world of “free will .” In other words, while it may feel like the Newtown tragedy points to a lessor world, it actually points to a superior one. “The problem of evil is a serious challenge to the defense of Christianity. Actually there are many problems relating to evil, for example, the problems about its origin, nature, purpose, and avoidability.”[1]

The problem of the existence of evil is a serious problem for the Christian worldview. Serious problems demand serious answers. It would be a mistake to treat the issue with a casual attitude. It follows then that whatever answer we provide to the inquirer, it must be a careful and considered one. The answer must be true. That is to say, it must be grounded, not in human reason, but in the revelation of Scripture. The doctrine of God and of man as revealed in Scripture provide a clear path through this problem. In addition, the Christian view on the reality of evil and its purpose serve the believer very well in being able to deal with this question.

According to Rick Warren’s statement at the outset of this blog, the Newtown tragedy was an incident that occurred outside of God’s will. In other words, this incident happened beyond God’s control. If God willed that the Newtown incident would not happen, then how did it happen? It is one thing to claim that God hates the evil reflected in the Newtown incident and quite another to claim that it lay outside His sovereign will. We go back to the objection of God’s existence with evil. Christians contend that a good, powerful, and wise God exists along with evil. The mystery involves God’s infinite intellect and the existence of evil. Warren, and those like him claim that you cannot have free will without the possibility of evil. However, that argument does not hold true. It does not follow that free will demands the freedom to some form of evil. All that is necessary for freedom of choice to exist is that there be more than one choice. Freewill does not require that one be able to choose the contrary. It only requires choice. For example, if I have the choice to marry one of five women, I am free to marry any one of those five women. There is no evil choice involved. Freedom does not require freedom to do wickedly. If that is true, then God Himself is not free. God cannot sin! But who among us would say that God does not exercise free choice, free will?

“In treating of Evil in relation to Theodicy it is quite impossible to leave out of consideration metaphysics and epistemology. The views of sin will vary as the conceptions of God and man vary. If we view God as infinite, eternal, and immutable in His being, intelligence, and will, and man his organic creation, if we accept the supernatural, grant the need of special revelation, accept the fact of special revelation and the fall of man, we must needs also come to the Biblical view of sin with redemption and restoration. If on the other hand we deny these premises, we must begin with man and experience as we find them, and construct our own views as to the nature of God and man and therefore also of sin, and we come to a fundamentally different theory of Theodicy.”[2]

Van Til gets to the heart of the matter. The problem of evil is really about our presuppositions regarding God, man, sin, and revelation. It is about where begin our answer to this question more than anything else. We either begin with God and what Scripture teaches about God or we begin with man, with experience and construct an answer on that basis. I will spend the rest of this blog proving from Scripture that the kind of God that the Christian worldview teaches, the kind that Scripture reveals, is the God Who is sovereign over all creation. “That the sovereignty of God is universal. It extends over all his creatures from the highest to the lowest. (2.) That it is absolute. There is no limit to be placed to his authority. He doeth his pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. (3.) It is immutable. It can neither be ignored nor rejected. It binds all creatures, as inexorably as physical laws bind the material universe.”[3]

Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” This psalm is really quite clear. God does what God really wants to do. It is important that we distinguish between good desires and actual willing. God does what God wills to do. In other words, nothing happens that God does not first will it.

Daniel 4:35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Yet here we are daring to question God on the Newtown matter or matters that personally affect us more directly. It is never a small matter to hint that maybe God is not in sovereign control of things, that perhaps He has wound up a clock in deistic fashion and is simply letting her run her course. Such a view severely impugns God’s immanence, his involvement with His creation. This is not the God of Christianity. It is a god we come up with when we begin with experience, with our own bias as to how things ought to be.

Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” God is in complete control over all things. There is nothing that He does not control.

Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” God is holy. He is perfectly righteous. Human beings are fallen, rebellious sinners undeserving of the mercy and grace God pours out upon us. God could take all our children in the same manner as the Newtown tragedy and we could not open our mouth for a second in criticism of His action. Why? We have all sinned against God in numerous ways. We have lied, cheated, stolen, committed adultery, blasphemed, etc. We do not deserve the joys that our children bring us. Those joys are an act of grace and loving-kindness by a God who is far more gracious than we could ever imagine. Yet, we have these conversations without facing what feels like this harsh truth. Any other view of the joys that our children bring us either reduces the gift that they are or it belittles the human condition of depravity. Both choices are unacceptable.

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?” Paul quotes this verse to debunk the human argument that would claim that free will must exist in order for God’s punishment to be just. While the argument is slightly different from this one, it does rest on the same foundation of autonomous human reason and it begins, not with God, but with human experience. God, as the potter, can do and actually does whatever He pleases with His own vessels.

Ephesians 1:11 “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” God is working, does work, always works all things according to the counsel of His own will. He does not work some things, like salvation, according to the counsel of His own will. He works all things according to the counsel of His own will.

Romans 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” From God comes all things. To God, for His glory all things exist. Everything is through Him. In other words, nothing exists or happens apart from God.

It would seem then that Rick Warren’s characterization that God’s will is not always carried out on earth is a teaching that runs contrary to the revelation of Scripture and hence to the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith on the subject. In my next blog, I will actually answer the challenge of evil and discuss how we can minister and serve those who are facing tragedies like the one in Newtown.



[1] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 219.
[2] Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, Unpublished Manuscripts of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).
[3] Charles Hodge, vol. 1, Systematic Theology (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 440.

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