Daniel J. Dyke
"What! Me defend God! I don't defend him, I unleash him!"
Joseph Kickasola, Ashland Theological Seminary, October 1975
The question we are going to first examine is that of theodicy. This is the second most important question that religion deals with. The first is God's existence. If we say God exists then we are confronted with the question of God's goodness. If we say he exists and is good then how do we explain this God as in control of this very hostile world. The nature of God seems to say that he should not allow evil to exist, let alone prosper to the degree that it obviously does.
Theodicy as a theological term comes from theos (God/qe,oj) and diks (just/di,kh). In a nutshell this is the area of apologetics which defends God against charges of injustice. Theodicy deals with the question that comes even from our lips that asks, "How can God, if he exists and is powerful, allow this to happen?" All religions must and do deal with this question, but some do it better than others. Both Testaments of our Bible cover it extensively.
THEODICY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament is not reticent about dealing with this question. But instead of dismissing the question of how a good God is in control of an evil world, the Old Testament embraces the the question and makes it its own. People are pictured as confronting God with the question and demanding an answer. And even getting one, but not usually the one they want.
Let us look at some pertinent stories.
1. Abraham and the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
After visiting Abraham and promising him a child, God announces to him that he is preparing to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. This is overwhelming to Abraham and he he speaks with God concerning the problem of evil as it relates to God's very nature,"Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? . . . Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:23, 25)In the story Abraham tries to bargain with God to save them. Initially in this type of story one gets the feeling, even though he might not want to verbalize it, that man is more merciful than God. This to most monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, etc.) is an unthinkable and unspeakable idea. It is heresy of the first order, but that is the impression the story leaves the reader with.
The story though vindicates God in several ways.a. The first and most obvious reason is brought to light in two passages. The first is Genesis 18:17-21.2. The Book of Job has the lead character Job suffer many things and then demand to meet with God to discuss matters of justice. We will obviously look at this book as the course develops.Yahweh said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness and justice, so that Yahweh may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.Notice that God first identifies his ultimate plan for mankind and that plan is blessing them through Abraham and his posterity. The rest of the context and God's actions in those contexts must be understood in the light of this purpose. His existential or immediate task is that of dealing with these wayward cities and stopping the cry of the oppressed.
And Yahweh said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know."
But what could they have done that would cause God to punish them in this life? The answer is that they have caused an outcry to rise up before God. What brings about this outcry is not stated here in detail. What we do know is that earlier when Abraham had returned from the slaughter of the kings (Genesis 14) the king of Sodom had confronted him and demanded that Abraham hand over the people he had rescued, but that he could keep the goods that had been recovered for himself. He seems to have been a dealer in humanity. The purpose of his desire for wanting these humans is not revealed until Genesis 19. The Hebrew word outcry (hq'['z>/zeaqah ) is used twice (18:20f.) in the text. The reason given for the outcry being heeded by God is that "their sin is exceedingly grave." This word usually appears in contexts of someone being in distress which is caused either by mental anguish or oppression by others.
In chapter 19 the angels' visit to Sodom uncovers one possible answer to the question of the nature of the oppression. The men of the city seek to homosexually rape the angels.
b. The second way the text vindicates God's action is that it shows Abraham as being willing to let the city be destroyed if there were between one and nine righteous people being found in the city. Abraham stopped at ten, but one could argue that he stopped here because he thought Yahweh would find more righteous men than this. "Surely there would be ten" he may have thought. What God did find was one man and God took him out of the city so that he would not be swept away with the wicked. Man was willing to let nine die, but God was willing to let no righteous man die.
3. In Joshua through II Kings the Deuteronomistic historian was living at the time of the exile and saw the horror of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He had also heard and read of that the Assyrians had done worse things to Israel and Samaria. He writes his history to show first of all that it was not unjust to destroy these countries and secondly, that it would have been unjust NOT to destroy them.
4. Isaiah 40-66 sees the Assyro-Babylonian captivity as well and announces that it was deserved, but that God was merciful and would end it. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Isaiah pictures the horrible suffering that would befall God's servant because of the sins of the people.Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
5. Habakkuk argues with God about Justice:
A. 1:1-4 - The Question: Why does God make me see iniquity and yet he does nothing? The wicked in this passage are God's people. This is dated to the early reign of Jehoiakim (609-605 B.C.) when Judah was an Egyptian vassal (paying heavy tribute) and Jehoiakim was building himself a new palace with forced labor.The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw. How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, "Violence!" Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.B. 1:5-11 - God's Rejoinder: I am doing something marvelous I am bringing the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to destroy these wicked people and then he will destroy (hold guilty) the Babylonians."Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told. 6 "For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. 7 "They are dreaded and feared; Their justice and authority originate with themselves. 8 "Their horses are swifter than leopards And keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, Their horsemen come from afar; They fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. 9 "All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. 10 "They mock at kings And rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress And heap up rubble to capture it. 11 "Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god."C. 1:12-17 - Habakkuk Responds with Horror. Even though above in point A. he saw his people as evil and deserving judgment, he could not understand God using someone even more evil than Judah to judge Judah.1. He first appeals to the attributes of God and questions God's actions. (12-14)D. God steps out of the picture and Habakkuk prepares himself to argue further with God. (2:1)
Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, Like creeping things without a ruler over them?
2. He then appeals to the attributes of the Chaldeans and questions God's actions. The Chaldeans are pictured as cruel and idolatrous. (15-17)
The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, Drag them away with their net, And gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net And burn incense to their fishing net; Because through these things their catch is large, And their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net And continually slay nations without sparing?I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.E. God's Sudden Response. He allows no answer from the man. In this passage we run into the basic problem of why people question God's justice: pride and unbelief. Man believes that he (man) is the judge of God's actions and that things must make sense to man for them to be true. Man tries to change God and not allow God to change man. The problem is that the text will discuss the prideful man. The description fits Habakkuk at point and the Chaldeans at others.1. God speaks to Habakkuk about Habakkuk (2:2-4)
Then the LORD answered me and said, "Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.
2. God talks about the Chaldeans [but the identification is not immediately clear (2:5-12)]a. Pride made the Chaldeans self-indulgent so the preyed on others to gratify these. The metaphor for self-indulgence is drinking wine. The ultimate judgment is that God will make the Chaldeans drink from his cup.
"Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, So that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations And collects to himself all peoples. "Will not all of these take up a taunt-song against him, Even mockery and insinuations against him And say, 'Woe to him who increases what is not his-- For how long-- And makes himself rich with loans?' "Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, And those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them. "Because you have looted many nations, All the remainder of the peoples will loot you-- Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, To the town and all its inhabitants. "Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house To put his nest on high, To be delivered from the hand of calamity! "You have devised a shameful thing for your house By cutting off many peoples; So you are sinning against yourself. "Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework. "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence! "Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts That peoples toil for fire, And nations grow weary for nothing? "For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea. "Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, Who mix in your venom even to make them drunk So as to look on their nakedness! "You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor. Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness. The cup in the LORD'S right hand will come around to you, And utter disgrace will come upon your glory. "For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, And the devastation of its beasts by which you terrified them, Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, To the town and all its inhabitants.b. The second area he deals with is idolatry. The idols of the Gentiles are not living beings. In contrast with this is the living God who is not only in his temple but rules the entire world. Idols do nothing, but God silences a tumultuous world."What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, Or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork When he fashions speechless idols. "Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, 'Awake!' To a mute stone, 'Arise!' And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, And there is no breath at all inside it. "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him."
F. The book ends with a cultic prayer by Habakkuk. (3:1)A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
1. In this prayer Habakkuk surrenders and submits to God's plan, but asks for mercy. (3:2)LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.2. Habakkuk Describes a Vision of Judgment. Note that he does not object as he did earlier to God judging but describes in detail the wrath of God. He even describes without complaint some very gruesome parts (3-15)God comes from Teman, And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His splendor covers the heavens, And the earth is full of His praise. His radiance is like the sunlight; He has rays flashing from His hand, And there is the hiding of His power. Before Him goes pestilence, And plague comes after Him. He stood and surveyed the earth; He looked and startled the nations. Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered, The ancient hills collapsed. His ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan under distress, The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling. Did the LORD rage against the rivers, Or was Your anger against the rivers, Or was Your wrath against the sea, That You rode on Your horses, On Your chariots of salvation? Your bow was made bare, The rods of chastisement were sworn.
You cleaved the earth with rivers. The mountains saw You and quaked; The downpour of waters swept by. The deep uttered forth its voice, It lifted high its hands. Sun and moon stood in their places; They went away at the light of Your arrows, At the radiance of Your gleaming spear. In indignation You marched through the earth; In anger You trampled the nations. You went forth for the salvation of Your people, For the salvation of Your anointed. You struck the head of the house of the evil To lay him open from thigh to neck.
You pierced with his own spears The head of his throngs. They stormed in to scatter us; Their exultation was like those Who devour the oppressed in secret. You trampled on the sea with Your horses, On the surge of many waters.7. Psalms: The psalms are filed with passages that deal with theodicy. These passages are usually in the Psalms that are classified as Laments. The individual psalms present to us many problems when it comes to theodicy. The main problem is that in many Psalms the various writers are allowed to display their displeasure with God.3. Even though he does not like it, Habakkuk resigns himself to the the Idea that his country will someday be invaded. He expresses his that they will be saved not from being judged, but after being judged. (17-19)I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places.
For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.
1 O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, And chasten me not in Your burning anger.
2 For Your arrows have sunk deep into me, And Your hand has pressed down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
5 My wounds grow foul and fester Because of my folly.
6 I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long.
7 For my loins are filled with burning, And there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.
9 Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You.
10 My heart throbs, my strength fails me; And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.
11 My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague; And my kinsmen stand afar off.
12 Those who seek my life lay snares for me; And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction, And they devise treachery all day long.
13 But I, like a deaf man, do not hear; And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 Yes, I am like a man who does not hear, And in whose mouth are no arguments.
15 For I hope in You, O LORD; You will answer, O Lord my God.
16 For I said, "May they not rejoice over me, Who, when my foot slips, would magnify themselves against me."
17 For I am ready to fall, And my sorrow is continually before me.
18 For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin.
19 But my enemies are vigorous and strong, And many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 And those who repay evil for good, They oppose me, because I follow what is good.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me!
22 Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
This brief study shows that the question of theodicy was a burning question in the Old Testament and that God allowed people to ask the question.