Friday, August 15, 2014

Joel 3:3 and Predestination

"And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink" (Joel 3:3).

"They have cast lots for my people — It was customary with conquerors, in those days, to divide the captives, taken in war, among themselves by lot, and so did these enemies of the Jews. And have given a boy for a harlot — By this is meant, that they exchanged, or gave away, Jewish boys, instead of money, for harlots. And sold a girl for wine, that they might drink — For a draught of wine, as it were; that is, at a very vile and low rate. These instances are mentioned, to signify the contempt in which these enemies of the Jews held the worshippers of the true God; they parted with them, when they had taken them captives, upon the vilest terms, as setting little or no value upon them. In Mingrelia, according to Sir John Chardin, they sell captive children for provisions and for wine: see Harmer vol. 2. p. 374" (Benson Commentary).

Think of how often the practice of trafficking children for dishonest gain has occurred throughout history and the practice is still happening. I guess the Calvinists might say that God wills/ordains selling children for sexual favors or wine, and some good is supposed to come out of it. But such a view is hard to square with the Bible and reason. Why would God condemn an action that he ordained/willed, especially if it has some type of ultimate worth? Secondly, why ordain such actions in the first place (whatever Calvinists mean by ordain/will)? Thirdly, couldn't salvation be accomplished without willing an act that wreaks emotional and psychological damage on children--maybe even irreparable damage?

(I am not talking about the logical problem of evil per se, since that is a related but separate question for me.)

The felix culpa view of divine providence strikes me as taking the long way (the scenic route) to get from North Carolina to Florida. Far be it from me to judge the workings of Almighty God; however, Jehovah has given us reason whereby we might judge whether something makes sense or not. Granted, God could have willed that the cosmos would reach eternal blessedness one day by means of turmoil, confusion, harlotry, child abuse, wars, genocide, child sacrifices to false gods and all other forms of evil. Yet that is taking the long way around when one could simply take the shortest route to Florida from North Carolina.

So God could bring eternal happiness (blessedness) without using evil to accomplish his purpose since he is omnipotent. If he could do it, then why would God intentionally decide to use evil as opposed to just taking the most efficient route to get where he's going (metaphorically speaking). Now there is a material difference between permitting evil and actively willing/ordaining it. I have no problem with God permitting evil: I do question a view which argues for more than divine permission where evil is concerned.


Duncan said...

In the Hebraic mind set there was no such thing the abstract term "evil" πονηρός but rather the concrete term רעה "dysfunction" - the things that work correctly (functional) and the things that did not (dysfunctional).

So evil a lack of order.

"AHRC Website Excerpt – Good and Evil

Very few sermons in our Western synagogues and churches would include the passage "I [God] form the light and create darkness, I make peace and I create evil, I am the LORD who does all of these" (Isaiah 45:7) as our Western mind sees these two forces as opposing opposites while the Eastern mind sees them both as equals and necessary for perfect balance. In the Western mind, God is only good and therefore unable to create evil. The Eastern mind sees God as a perfect balance of all things including good (tov in Hebrew) and evil (ra in Hebrew).

It should be noted that the English word "evil" has no Ancient Hebrew equivalent, while most English translations will use the word "evil" it is usually the Hebrew word "ra" which simply means "bad". In the Ancient Hebrew mind there is no such thing as an "evil" person or thing. To understand the words "good" and "bad" from a more Hebraic understanding these words should be understood as "functional" and "dysfunctional". God is both functional (such as seen in the Creation story of Genesis one) as well as dysfunctional (such as the destruction of the flood).

Our western mind classifies all things in two categories, either it is "good" or it is "bad". One is to be sought, cherished and protected, the other is to be rejected, spurned and discarded. Let us take light and darkness as an example. We see light as good and darkness as bad. The idea of light brings to mind such things as God, truth and love. Darkness on the other hand invokes Satan, lies and hate. To the Orientals, including the Hebrews, both are equally necessary as one cannot exist without the other. In the Bible God is seen as a God of light as well as darkness “And the people stood at a distance and Moses approached the heavy darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21). If you stare at the sun, which is pure light, what happens? You become blind. If you are standing in a sealed room with no light, what happens? You are again blind. Therefore, both light and darkness are bad and yet, both are good. In order to see we must block out some of the light as well as some of the darkness.

The two poles of a magnet are north and south. These two poles create balance; they are not morally good or bad, but necessary ingredients of physics that complement each other. Good and bad are more like the north and south poles of a magnet than our Western conception of good and bad.

Can good exist without the bad? Absolutely not, how could you judge something to be good if you cannot compare it to something bad? The same is true for all other concepts. Cold cannot exist without heat, or short without tall, far without near, or large without small. Our western mind usually ignores these extremes and seeks to always find the "good" or the “bad”. The Eastern mind is continually seeking both the "good" and the "bad" in order to find the balance between the two. Even Solomon recognized this when he said “Do not be overly righteous” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).

Throughout the scriptures this search for balance is found, yet ignored by Westerners who do not understand the significance of balance."

For background as to the difference in perspective see "Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek" by Thorleif Boman

Matthew 5:48 - YOU must accordingly be functionally complete, as YOUR heavenly Father is functionally complete.

Edgar Foster said...


Your comments are always challenging, but I must respectfully take issue with the claim that ra cannot refer to moral evil. See Genesis 6:5; 8:21. The evil of humans was so abundant before the Flood that YHWH saw fit to destroy the antediluvian world. Afterwards, he promised not to perform a similar action--not by water--since the heart of man is inclined toward evil from youth onwards.

While ra does not always refer to moral evil, there are times when it does. Here are some comments on Gen 8:21:

"The reason contained in these words is this: Since all men's hearts are naturally corrupt, and from that filthy spring wicked actions will be continually flowing forth into the world; and consequently, if I should be severe to punish men according to their sins, I should do nothing but send one deluge after another" (Matthew Poole's Commentary).

"for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; his nature is depraved, his heart is corrupt, the thoughts of it evil, yea, the imagination of it, and of them, is sinful, and that originally, even from his birth; from the time he is shook out of his mother's womb, as Jarchi interprets the phrase: man is conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity" (Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible)

According to BDB, when ra is used with an ethical sense, it can mean "bad, evil, wicked."

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, you also posted these words:

Can good exist without the bad? Absolutely not, how could you judge something to be good if you cannot compare it to something bad? The same is true for all other concepts. Cold cannot exist without heat, or short without tall, far without near, or large without small. Our western mind usually ignores these extremes and seeks to always find the "good" or the “bad”. The Eastern mind is continually seeking both the "good" and the "bad" in order to find the balance between the two. Even Solomon recognized this when he said “Do not be overly righteous” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).


I once had a long conversation with one of my students about this subject and there may even be a blog post here that addresses the issue, but I'm not so convinced that we need evil/bad to judge something as good. There is a possible world in which God exists--he exists in all possible worlds--and nothing but holy creatures exist. In that possible world, good could be determined although evil/bad would not exist. The fact that God exists in whom there is no moral darkness would be enough to determine or judge what is good.

Furthermore, it doesn't seem that I need a toothache to appreciate my teeth; nor do I need to be enslaved to appreciate freedom. Do I need to see an ugly painting first before I can appreciate a beautiful one? I don't think any of these situations--that I must have Y to appreciate X--are necessarily true. And if they're not necessarily true, then there's a possible world in which good can be judged without bad being a counterpart to the existing good.

Kevin Dulin said...


Do you have any posts that deal with difficult passages such as 2 Kings 2:24, where 42 children were mauled by she bears after Elisha cursed them?

I'm finding it hard to understand why one would have a problem with God willing evil acts for good and glorious ends and yet be okay with God willing acts like this.



Edgar Foster said...


I have not written anything about 2 Kings 2:23ff, but others have. Yes, I do have a problem with the suggestion that God causes or wills moral evil. Aquinas expressed a similar objection, didn't he, although he believed in a strong form of divine providence? The Angelic Doctor seemed to believe that God wills good, but permits evil. Depending on what's meant by that formulation, I can accept it.

It's hard for me to understand how God willed the Holocaust for some glorious end or why he's timelessly willing that ISIS behead journalists. Sure, some good might come from beheading nth journalists, but the same possible good could also likely be produced (brought about) without beading nth journalists. Frankly, it seem highly improbable that God would will all the world's evils to accomplish some glorious good. As I've mentioned before, so we're to believe that God wills child abuse, infaticide, porn films and other evils to fulfill some grand purpose. That seems highly untenable to me.

As for 2 Kings 2:23ff, I believe we're talking apples/oranges. YHWH gives life and takes it away according to 1 Samuel 2:1-6. Many passages in the OT show that God judges the disobedient adversely. Those "kids" were likely not all that young from what I remember.