December 29, 2010

Evil & Suffering XIV: John & Jacobus - The Same Chief End

I am still in the process of studying and there are authoritative certainties that I have not quite attained. Every pastor, teacher or expounder of the Scriptures according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones needs to approach the pulpit or their audience with authority and certainty...or they loose them. This is one of those areas where I still remain perched on the fence. I have not fallen fully to Calvinism but I have not abandoned Arminianism either. Perhaps it is the last vestige of sinful humanity within me unwilling to relinquish the ability to control? Regardless of my position I needed to go where the course of thought led me for this thesis and this is one of the avenues I needed to pursue to be intellectually honest in the end. This is one of those areas were the two overlap on common ground and get along like good neighbors.

What I am certain of about this post is this: It will polarize people that come in with a presupposition that refuses to be questioned. I believe that intellectually honest people have dissected their faith and know that it will hold up through a holocaust...because it may be a holocaust that you will need to go through to defend it. I pray that whoever reads this reads it with the understanding that I needed to honestly examine both sides of this and draw conclusions that lead me to me synopsis/summation. Some of these conclusions even surprised me. I am open to discussion on all of them. I am not foolish enough to believe I have figured it all out. Only God is Omniscient.

Perhaps I am over simplifying the debate between Calvinists and Arminians but when it comes to theodicy, the end result seems nearly the same. Evil exists, and we suffer and endure pain as humans for the same reasons according to both sides: To glorify God.

Calvin's theodicy appears to be a theodicy of predestinarian determinism. Calvin preached on Job for nearly 2 years. Calvin’s sermons on the sufferings and loss of Job were and attempt by Calvin’s to answer the problem of human suffering. Through these attempts to find a suitable answer to the problem Calvin ended up resorting to a concept of double justice-That there was a distinction between the revealed and hidden justice of God. According to this idea, this distinction allowed Calvin to give an interim answer to all those that challenged Divine justice. Calvin’s major contribution to theodicy though is when he subsequently goes on to defend the concept of God’s justice and the definitive justice that takes place only on the last day. This is also one of the sticking points between Calvin and Arminius. In the situation of justice, Arminius found Calvin’s predestination to be repugnant because it assured God has absolutely willed to save certain men without regards to righteousness and obedience To me this is cloaked half-truth since God would foreknow whether or not a human would be saved AND also righteous and obedient (de Petris, Abstract)

Along these lines Jacobus Arminius argued that Calvin's predestination is "repugnant" to the justice of God because it affirms that God has absolutely willed to save certain men without having the least regard to righteousness and obedience. As such it has been "pre-determined" that the greater part of mankind shall fall into everlasting condemnation. What I believe we see in this statement is an inability to allow for concurrence or two actions from two different beings to occur simulataneous or overlap in time. To me the simple cut-n-dry “this” or “that” frame of mind of Arminianism does not cater well to the idea of concurrence or overlap of wills from the Divine and mankind (Olsen 51). Although I have my own personal opinions on Calvinism and Arminianism I chose not to air those issues within these posts unless they directly attribute to the outcome of my thesis. Since I lean towards Calvinism and TULIP it will suffice to say for now that I believe man can have free will AND God can still predestine and elect in a manner of concurrence or these things can be coincident. The simplist example is Genesis 50:20. How can I believe both exist and are not contradictory and working against one another? Because I believe that is what the Bible tells me. Just because things appear as a paradox does not a contradiction make. Paradoxes by their very nature appear to be an impossibility or contradictory but are in reality- often a truth. The problem usually arises in a paradox because it forces an alternative way of thinking that conflicts with more normalized modes of thought. It sends people outside of their comfort zone. As I have learned with go where He sends you regardless of how odd it feels. He is usually sending you for a reason.

How does this all play into evil, pain and suffering? Throughout this paper I have pigeon-holed my argument for the sake of clarity and argued for the fact that evil, pain and suffering unavoidably came from and were given rise to by sin and the Fall of mankind. As such, man was judged, cursed and expected to die a physical death. The Creation and God’s intended natural / normal order were distorted. Because it was distorted, it allowed evil, pain and suffering to enter in to the world. Rather than going into His creation and extracting evil in a invasive surgical and mostly dramtic manner, God determined in his justice that man would need to pay the wages of sin through a death(s). Those deaths are elaborated on in the next section they are (1) death to sin or the legal death (2) die to self or the moral death (3) carrying the death of Christ within us or the physical death. Our actions/choices affect these outcomes. In short, Arminius believed it was man’s ability to choose, Calvin claimed a form of predestination that required that God had already decided the fate of all mankind (unbeknownst to them). The commonality of these views is this: The basis for what evil was is still the same. It sprang from an idea of evil being a parasite of good. The discord between these views arise from the notions that Calvinism says that God is in total control and everything in creation is done for the good of the believers. Snap your fingers and everything is fine because you have this theological view. What this fails to take into account is the suffering a person may currently be going through. Change your view to Calvin’s and everything will be alright. On the Arminians side we have the thought that a flawed creation prone to capriciousness is steering the ship and every time this capricious creation steps out of line, God eventually zaps them with punishment like a cattle prod. Frankly, I am struggling with the death of my father regardless of the Calvin/Arminius debate which will rage until the Lord returns. What I can say is this point is where I have serious qualms with Calvinism that I have clung to for so long. This is Calvinism’s Achilles’ heel. Regardless of who is correct, we cannot trivialize an argument or debate like this between what amounts to two pseudo-cults of personality: John and Jacobus. In reality it is really God and his justice behind both of these hermeneutical grids/ways of seeing God and His justice. The bottom-line is that both believe the chief end of man is to bring glory to God and the Westminster Catechism question #1 sums this up nicely. I will attach supporting Scripture.
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catachism, Q. 1)
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Romans 11:36.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. ~1 Corinthians 10:31.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. Psalm 73:24-26.

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one... Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. John 17:22, 24.
The logical implications from this are that even evil, suffering and pain in humanity can and will glorify God. Jacobus Arminius agreed with this statement and added his own in his second oration (Olsen 51).
“In this act of the mind and the will,-in seeing a present God, in loving Him, and therefore in the enjoyment of Him, -the salvation of man and his perfect happiness consist”
Arminus also goes on to state that God’s glory is the supreme purpose:
“That End [purpose, goal] is entirely divine,-being nothing less than the glory of God and man’s eternal salvation”
When it comes to God’s glory and subsequently the purpose of evil, suffering and pain…the Calvinist and Arminian views are the same in terms of an end output (please read that twice). What leads us to the evil (or not) may differ but the end is the same. If the chief end of man or most important factor contributing to mankind’s existence from both points of view is to glorify God, the theological vehicle to get there seems passé and a case of “hairsplitting”. In the end our salvation is by faith not whether or not God allows evil and suffering. Our suffering and evil in our lives is not what saves us but rather our turn away from evil and sin in search of repentance and redemption. The end purpose of everything in creation before or after the Fall according to both sides is God’s glory. We best glorify Him by obeying and loving Him, loving His Creation (both human and non-human) and enduring until the end with faith in Jesus Christ to achieve glorification in His eternal rest. All of this is done Sola Fide - Sola Deo Gloria.

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