FIRST PERSON: Open theists, meet Job
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--Did God know 9/11 was going to happen? Was the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and humanity, the God who intervenes in the affairs of man throughout Holy Scripture surprised by the plans and the deeds of evil men who brought terror to America? Did God shift to Plan B in reaction to this terrible assault on our nation?
Thinking back to the early reactions to that horrendous day, many folks -- including some Christians -- were quick to defend the character of God. It was (and still is) suggested that since God is love, He would have prevented the attack if He could have. In the effort to affirm the truth of God's love and mercy, such arguments distort His sovereignty and power.
Without knowing so, some of these folks demonstrate the practical dangers posed by the seemingly academic debate about open theism. That's why we took the trouble of giving major attention to this growing movement in evangelicalism in a Florida Baptist Witness special report, "Open theism: The doctrine of God under assault."
The more I think about open theism, the more amazed I am at its advocates' inability to see the obvious teaching of Scripture concerning God's character: God is love, but He is also omniscient; He has perfect knowledge about the past, present and future.
The motivation that seems to drive the open theism movement is a desire to find an answer to the problem of evil: why would a good, all-powerful God allow evil to exist? The short-hand explanation of their answer is that God is indeed good, but He does not know -- at least not exhaustively -- all the future choices of his free creatures (you and me). Therefore, there are times when God is as surprised by the events of life -- like 9/11 -- as you and I.
At best, this is an understandable, pastoral attempt to help people deal with life's tragedies. Nevertheless, as Mark Rathel of The Baptist College of Florida demonstrates in his series of essays, open theists' answer does nothing to solve this problem, which has vexed theologians from the beginning of time. Further, the answer actually undermines Christian devotion and discipleship.
The problem of evil is not foreign to the pages of Scripture. From the beginning to the end, historical people with all the challenges of life that you and I face also grapple with those tragedies and interact with the God of history. Although open theists affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, it's hard for me to see that commitment when the Bible is so clear about God's character.
When I think about open theists and their claims, I'm left to wonder: Have they read the book of Job? Although many other examples could be cited, the life of Job as revealed in the Holy Spirit-inspired pages of this book provides a compelling argument for a fully orbed understanding of God's character -- both His love, as well as His complete knowledge and power in the affairs of man and the rest of His creation.
If any biblical figure had the "right" to challenge God's character in the face of the problem of evil, it was Job. We are told that Job was a "blameless, upright" man who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1, 8). Although a man of the highest integrity who was greatly blessed by God with wealth and a large family (1:2-5), he eventually lost everything except his wife after the Lord allowed Satan to test him (1:12-2:10).
While Job does question God at length in this book, the Bible reports that he did not sin (1:22), nor did he make God the author of evil (1:22; 2:10). And yet, Job understands that God is in the very midst of these circumstances. Responding to his wife's plea, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" (2:9), Job answers, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (2:10). Indeed, at the end of the story Job's relatives and others also recognize the Lord's involvement in his adversities (42:11). Further, in the midst of the debates with his three infamous friends, Job declares his faith in God's justice and his future vindication: "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth" (19:25).
After a series of encounters with his friends and extended teaching from Elihu, God re-enters the narrative in chapter 38. God challenges Job to teach Him about the very foundational truths of the universe and creation, noting -- rhetorically, of course -- that perhaps Job may add counsel, knowledge and understanding to His own (38:2-7).
What follows in chapters 38-41 is one of the most expansive descriptions of God's sovereignty and power found in Scripture. Reading this passage should end the discussion of open theism -- in fact, the result of God's testimony is that Job's mouth is shut: "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth" (40:4) and he changes his mind (42:6). Further, God praises Job's response and condemns Job's friends because of their false testimony about His character (42:7), commanding them to offer a sacrifice to Him and to have Job pray for them (42:8). In the end, God restores all that Job lost and even doubles his fortunes (42:10).
Like Job's friends, open theists have nothing to offer those who must deal with life's tragedies. Bringing God down and remaking Him in the image of ignorant man is ultimately no comfort to humanity concerning the existence of evil in our midst, any more than the faulty teachings about God's character from his friends were a comfort to Job.
Whether it is the ancient life of Job or the modern-day evil of terrorism, the teaching of the inerrant Bible is that God does indeed know all things and, while intimately involved in the affairs of man, He is not the author of evil. This loving, omniscient God is indeed the God of the Bible. This God is nothing like the god of open theism.
Open theists, meet Job.
James A Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, available online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com