Justin Time

Justin kindly left me a comment .

He made some points that I ‘d like to answer in the order given:

The idea of theodicy
– God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
– God is omnibenevolent (all good)
– Evil exists
  1. You claim Bush’s presidency must be God’s will
  2. Can we conclude, then, that you doubt God’s goodness?

Hmmmm, Modern Man strikes again.

I am very happy to look at this, it addresses thinking that undergirds some faulty thinking about God, Christianity, and the Christian approach to politics. Good enough!


First, Justin remarks

Ilona, are you familiar with theodicy? You’ll find discussion at Wikipedia and a brief outline at http://www.faithnet.org.uk/AS%20Subjects/Philosophyofreligion/theodicyintro.htm. At its basic level, theodicy involves three propositions:

– God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
– God is omnibenevolent (all good)
– Evil exists

The catch is that all three can’t simultaneously be true. (Unless you fudge with the terms, that is.) For example, a good and powerful God would not allow evil to exist. Or, if God is good yet evil exists, God can not be omnipotent.

While not familiar with the official name, yes, I have run across these propositions before. In more than one context. Like many theoretical models, it breaks when reality is applied…let me explain.

This idea of God is theoretical with manufactured premises. While true they do not take into the account the person of God, Himself. Big mistake when trying to understand and explain things about God. This particular matter is one that really sticks in the craw of many Modern Thinkers.

The difficulty to explain: that while God is omnipotent, He limits Himself ( because He wants to and because He can). He is limited primarily by His own character and also by His Will. If you want to do something then you can’t do something else. That is the juxtaposition of justice and injustice, of right and wrong, of good and evil. You can’t have it both ways… not even if you are God, and particularly not if you are omnibenevolent.

Many believers in God have no difficulty with the idea that God can do anything He wants, they have trouble understanding whether it is something He wills or not. Understanding what is in line with His character and His will, so they may act accordingly.

Unbelievers have trouble with getting a comprehension of His character. They have no idea about His will.

But if you believe in the God that the Bible describes, you see over and over that God limits Himself….. and many times it is to include us. He wants to work with His human creation. He covenants with Man…. and hurts for it.

Because we are faulty, that means there are lots of detours and offers a partial explanation for that last idea: “- evil exists” and He tolerates it. There are reasons for tolerating it and a timetable involved: God won’t tolerate evil forever. Because He is good, after all.
“For example, a good and powerful God would not allow evil to exist. Or, if God is good yet evil exists, God can not be omnipotent.”

God is all good, and is all powerful. We know this because we have prolific examples of that which is of lesser power in hierarchies and we have a sense of good and evil distinctions. We know there is good partly because we know what is evil ( short definition: the knowledge of good and evil). Was evil necessary? Some say yes…. I hold out for the possibility of evil was necessary, but not its activation. But we all know the reality: it was activated. Evil does exist. True.

Abstractions of the idea of omnipotent? All mind models of our own construction. The fact is this, that God’s power trumps all others. He is, de facto, all-powerful; no matter how you want to define it because you can’t find anything that perfectly fits your definition. Not unless you are God and make it so. And that can only be in your mind model.

The question is whether you have a better God than the one revealed in the Bible to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I say no. So the matter at hand is to know and understand what this God is about. Not think you know through your mind contortions. All reasonable persons insist on being known for who they are and not who someone wants to think they are.

Back to He wants to work with His human creation.. God limits Himself to including us in His plan, to realating with us. This is why prayer matters. Another application of the theodicy model I ran into was to propose that prayer was useless: if God was all-powerful and all-knowing what does it matter what we pray? It matters because He decided to respond to our prayers. He changes the hows and whys, if not the finality of His plan, to accomodate His men and women. Because of Who He is and because He wants to.


Second point from Justin:”You claim Bush’s presidency must be God’s will, which is as good as saying you believe God is omnipotent.”

I don’t think I claim anything like that in the sense I believe you are presenting it. I do believe God is omnipotent, but I am not at all sure that I know exactly what His will is at any given moment. I.E. What if we are due for judgments as just punishment for our sins? Maybe it is God’s will for Kerry to become president, then.

I am being facetious, but you can see why I hesitate claiming that certain people ARE God’s Will for this or that…thus saith me…um… I mean …. The Lord.

This is plain enough, though- on the spectrum of what we know of God and of His will, through His revelation of how He feels about justice and mercy and how we treat each other…. we can discern along the spectrum whether one is more or less in line with either good or evil.

I think we can now figure that Hitler was far along on the evil and that William Wilberforce was farther along the spectrum towards good. But we can get mistaken through circumstances and our own inability to properly discern.

If I look at a candidate and believe that their character and their execution of policy is closer to what God has expressed as good, then I will more likely vote for that candidate and feel that I am following God’s will on that.

But I don’t always know perfectly, and I am often wrong, or vacillate in whether I think I am right or not.

Truth. But I trust God to trump my mistakes and to do what is good for us all. Whether we work with Him or not…. because I know Him to be like that. That’s my Faith.


Third, Justin asked:
“Later, you affirm the existence of evil. Can we conclude, then, that you doubt God’s goodness?”

Have I not made myself clear on that yet? I think I have.

What I don’t have is the whole matter on why there is evil…. I understand some parts, but it is one of those things where I still see “as in a glass darkly”.

I don’t know everything.

But I am OK with that….. because I am making some progress along the way, and I keep seeking. I keep the models loose…..

I may comment some more on some of the points because I recently had an edifying conversation with a fellow Christian along the lines of how God handicaps Himself for us. See, there are many facets to this thing.

3 thoughts on “Justin Time”

  1. I was also being facetious. But I still object to several of your points. A few notes, on which I may elaborate and to which I may add later:

    First, in discussing God’s self-limitation, you say, “If you want to do something then you can’t do something else.” While your statement is elliptical, I sense overtones of Modalism, e.g. God can only be in one place doing one thing at a time. Is this an accurate evaluation?

    Second, I challenge your notion of God’s will. I believe God’s will and character are consistent throughout the Bible and history. To oversimplify, perhaps, I believe God wills peace. I agree completely with Dorothee Solle when she writes:

    “The fact is, we know in our bones what the will of God is. We know what it means to love our neighbors. We know what it means, in the words of Micah, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. To say that we do not know the will of God is a lie.”

    (Full article at: http://theotherside.org/archive/jan-feb01/solle.html)

    It’s not a matter of discerning God’s will “at any given moment,” as you say. Nor is it a matter of determining who is and who is not God’s agent. We know God’s will, and we who believe God’s promises are God’s agents.

    Third, God does not limit himself. God is merciful. The difference between these two is vast.

    Fourth, as others have noted in greater detail, George Bush’s persistent arrogance (and the policy that proceeds from it) voids any claim he makes to represent a Christian ideal. He embraces policies of the religious right (e.g. anti-abortion) but these do not by themselves constitute a Christian character. I doubt that his presidency is God’s will any more than 9/11 was. We must remember the role of sin.

  2. “I was also being facetious” Aha. We mirror each other.

    “I sense overtones of Modalism, e.g. God can only be in one place doing one thing at a time. Is this an accurate evaluation?:

    No, because then He couldn’t be omnipresent. The operative word was “chooses” -God chooses something, and does not choose something else. His limitation is primarily that He chooses to make us instrumental in His plan.

    “I challenge your notion of God’s will. I believe God’s will and character are consistent throughout the Bible and history.”

    Consistant, yes, but He has parameters of change within the unchangebleness of Who He Is. He repents of one action and takes another; He makes His outcomes dependent on what our choices are in specific circumstances.

    “The fact is, we know in our bones what the will of God is”

    I, in turn, challenge this. If we knew this so well in our bones, why does God have to make such efforts for us to understand this? Why does He, daily, have to send prophets? Why does His Spirit need to strive with us? And why is it so easy to become deceived? -If it were in our bones?

    “We know God’s will, and we who believe God’s promises are God’s agents”

    I would insert the word “can” know, but much interferes with the hearing of the agents ears.

    “God does not limit himself”.
    He does. And that is why He waits for us, when plainly it is us that should wait for Him. And you have rightly pinpointed the main reason He does this.

    “Fourth, as others have noted in greater detail, George Bush’s persistent arrogance (and the policy that proceeds from it) voids any claim he makes to represent a Christian ideal.”

    No more than mine would void my claim to represent Christ. It is not our perfection to standard that defines our calling. The calling stands, whether we be defective or not.

    ….and what are you saying about 911? I don’t think anyone is clear on just what 911 was… not on any level. But it does get our attention, and ought to until we get clear and get a proper response.

    And this has lots to do with finding out God’s Will. The sooner the better, I think.

    I appreciate your responses.

  3. Maybe we are not so far off. A distance yet, but not so much as we seemed.

    Another quote from the Solle article: “Where God has no friends, where God’s Spirit has no place to live, God cannot act.”

    If any limit exists, this is it. You say God’s self-imposed limitation rests in the choice “to make us instrumental,” which reminded me of the quote above, and also the so-called St. Francis Prayer, “Make me an instrument of your peace.” We must be willing to be shaped into a form through which God can act. Ilona, I think here we’re in accord. But we differ on the point of how God acts. If we’re unwilling to be shaped — like the rich man unwilling to part with his wealth (camel, eye of a needle) — God cannot act through us.

    I cringe at thoughts of a “plan”. It implies a map at best and fate at worst. It’s like saying that potholes exist according the highway department’s grand Plan — even if we don’t understand the reasons. Until all is revealed, we have to trust that it’s for the best, blown tire or not. The ends justify the means, right?

    “Will” seems a better fit, in that it describes a long-term intention, disposition, or purpose (these still don’t describe my idea… I will keep trying). God wills peace as his end, accomplished by the means of his peace. We give our lives to God’s purpose (again, I’ll find a better synonym): to act in God’s peace as a means of enacting God’s peace. We, like the kings you cite in “God’s Handicaps”, are the shaped instruments.

    And I still object to “limit,” for similar reasons. Limit suggests willful abstention, in the sense that God really has the ability to fix the problems of the world, but is just holding back to let us handle them. Like a father letting his son duke it out with the school bully, when he could beat the crap out of the kid himself.

    It may be true to say God’s power is limited by his agents. But “God makes Himself limited, weak- whatever term you use,” in essence, withholds his true capacity for our sakes? Why would anyone put faith in such a God?

    I should make clear that by “we” I speak exclusively: “we who believe God’s promises”. I understand Solle’s “we” to be the same. In this I also make a claim about belief: it’s not mere intellectual assent — necessary as a first step though it is — but trust.

    We trust God will deliver on the promises God makes. Further, when we see the effect of our sin on the world — one theologian likens this to recognizing we’re part of the problem — we act on this trust, with love, in God’s name. When we act (in trust, in faith, in belief), we are God’s agents in the world. Or, as a professor corrected me, God works through us.

    (In this culture, in a small but meaningful way, we serve God’s will through our votes, through our purchases, through the way we drive…)

    Another quote, this time from one John Garvey. “When Christians stop confessing that they are sinners, unprofitable servants, and to that extent that they are not Christians, the Christian faith ends.”

    You’re right, much does interfere with our hearing. We’re prone to sin. We’re easily distracted, we’re forgetful, and we’re proud. Human, you might say. But though we may stray, we do know God’s will, we know it like our ancestors knew it. It takes our lives — everything we thought we were and wanted — and inhabits our bodies. Yes, in our bones.

    We are in agreement on walking humbly, with the understanding that God wants the same thing for us now and tomorrow as what he wanted before. God wants us on his side.

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