#5 – Burnt Offerings: Is God For Or Against Them? << PREVIOUS | MASTER LIST | NEXT >> #7 – Which Came First: Animals Or Adam?
Originally posted November 26, 2012.
HE’S JUST MISUNDERSTOOD
Have you ever felt grossly misunderstood? No matter how carefully you word something, it seems like everyone is out to twist what you say to prove their own point of view is true. I wonder if that isn’t how God feels. He sets out to declare who He is, the “extent” (as if He had a limit) of His power, and how it is that He is the ultimate authority, and then we gotta go in and contort His message.
Not that God needs my help, but I’m here again to try to set the record straight.…with a dose of humor, of course.
“LET’S START FROM THE VERY BEGINNING…A VERY GOOD PLACE TO START”
As always, a little background. This series seeks to address a video on YouTube that, while very well made (truly, I laughed at the clever dialogue), claims there are contradictions in the Bible. I definitely can’t say I haven’t run across my own share of Biblical head-scratchers, asking, “How can this be?” In today’s episode, we’ll be examining the argument that God is the author of evil. But wait, doesn’t the Bible say God is love? Indeed!
We’ll be taking a look at a few things to answer this question: 1) The historical context of Isaiah that serves as a backdrop to its account, 2) A few key Hebrew words, and finally 3) a briefing about the four types of love.
GOOD VERSUS EVIL
How can God be all good, yet is the author of evil? Isn’t that self-defeating? That could be a summary of a question asked by any inquiring critic, and it’s a totally legit question if it were true. We don’t like double-standards in humans, so why would we give any credit to a supposedly superior deity with the same flawed character?
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day tried to discredit Jesus with a similar argument (Matthew 12:22-31, 33; NLT), but Jesus was ready for them:
[Jesus heals a demon-possessed, blind and mute man.]
But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder He can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.
“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”
Jesus said a moment later…
“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”
This accusation of the Pharisees did two things: 1) It attempted to make Jesus look like the bad guy, and, by default, 2) it made the Pharisees look all righteous because they were (supposedly) of God. They were obviously against Jesus, so why not label Jesus the Satan worshiper? Jesus didn’t deny that there were exorcists among the Pharisees who drove out demons, too, but surely they didn’t use Satanic powers. (“Isn’t that right?” Jesus asked.) The Pharisees wouldn’t make that claim about their own exorcists, so they stood convicted that they were speaking lies against Christ who was doing the same thing, and ultimately, were against God (there’s a hint of Matthew 1:23 here, too).
We ask again: how can a good God use evil to combat evil? According to Jesus, it’s just not a logical conclusion, for it would destroy the LORD’s own efforts and hinder His goals. How can a good tree produce a bad apple? How can a bad tree produce a good apple? The condition of the tree determines the quality of the fruit.
I CANNOT TELL A LIE…
Okay, now to get digging into the meat and potatoes (or whatever hearty meal gets you salivating)…the two verses that are accused of being contradictory.
Surely, just about anyone has heard this line:
“But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8, NLT, bold mine).
Okay, God is love. The running idea is that He ought to be so good, so holy, He wouldn’t swat a fly or squish an ant. He’s like Fix-It Felix, the all-around nice guy and everyone’s favorite handy-man. People just love him. He can do no wrong (even if He tried) and even if he attempts to wreck stuff, it gets fixed!
But then we get this face-slapper! This is the verse that has all the critics up in arms:
I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the LORD, am the one who does these things.
(Isaiah 45:7, NLT, bold mine)
I can hear the soda erupting from people’s mouths in shock. Yup! God said it. And He isn’t denying it one bit. But…but why? Why would God say something like that?
If you’re not familiar with the Bible (or even if you are), let me ask you to reconsider what everyone’s likely first impression is. Read alone, I don’t blame anyone for thinking that, but is that really the whole story? Is that even the story? Remember, this is the book of Isaiah, chapter 45, and verse 7 of that chapter. People, you don’t need to be a Bible scholar to see that we’re smack-dab in the middle of a larger account. There’s more going on than whatever impression this single verse initially gives.
Please read this carefully: Each of the purportedly contradictory verses above – 1 John 4:8 and Isaiah 45:7 – have a lot of content surrounding them. They are nestled in different topics despite their appearances of being on opposite ends of a diametric theme. So, first up, folks: a history lesson.
THAT’S IN THE BIBLE, TOO
Throughout much of the book of Isaiah, God addresses the frequent rebellion of Judah and Israel (respectively the southern and northern halves of the larger Israelite nation); in this case, all-out acts of idol making and worshiping. But God frequently expresses messages of future grace and redemption when the people turn away from the objects of their sin. That message of hope is precisely what Isaiah 45:7 hangs on, even though you wouldn’t know it by reading the verse singularly.
We often miss the overall historical events in the Biblical accounts. The Bible usually depicts one perspective that, while true, doesn’t reveal all the details. Due to the fact that Isaiah focuses on God’s response to Israel’s sins and His promises of redemption, we don’t readily see the full scope of what’s happening outside this account. This isn’t to say the Bible is lacking…it’s simply that such additional details were not pertinent to the purpose of the writing. Just the same, we can always benefit from some extra-Biblical understanding.
According to the background info from my NLT Study Bible…
By the time of King Uzziah’s death (740 BC), the southern kingdom of Judah face[d] a major crisis. The empire of Assyria, dormant for nearly fifty years, was now on the move again. Assyria’s conquest reached southwestward from its homeland in what is now northern Iraq toward its ultimate destination, Egypt. The small nations of the Mediterranean coast, including [northern kingdom] Israel and Judah, stood in Assyria’s path. Assyria took Galilee and much of Israel’s territory east of the Jordan River. But Assyria would be satisfied only with total control of Israel, Judah, and all other smaller nations in the area.
While Judah’s King Uzziah was still alive, Judah was able to ignore the crisis. Uzziah had a strong army (2 Chr 26:11-15). Overall, Uzziah was a good and effective king, and his people hoped that he could somehow save the nation from the Assyrians. When Uzziah died, however, ungodly rulers succeeded him. During this crisis of leadership, God gave Isaiah the vision that launched his ministry for the next forty years (6:1-13).
…The prophet Isaiah brought a much-needed message: God is absolutely dependable, and it is utter folly to trust in anything or anyone other than God.
Unfortunately, Isaiah’s central message was not always heeded…
Regrettably, God’s people did not remain faithful to Him, As a result, God eventually allowed Judah to be overcome by Assyria’s successor, Babylon (605-586 BC). What would Judah’s destruction and exile to Babylon mean in terms of God’s absolute reliability, which Isaiah had proclaimed? Isaiah answered this as well: God would indeed punish Judah’s wickedness. He would also preserve a remnant that one day would return to the holy land. This return would not be due to any faithfulness on their part; it would be an act of God’s grace.
(The Book of Isaiah: Setting (pgs. 1104-1105), NLT Study Bible, 2nd Ed, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, bold mine)
While this isn’t a traditional history book, we do begin to get a bigger picture of what God’s people were up against, how they responded, and why God was upset with them. A lot of Isaiah focuses heavily on God’s sovereignty and promise of redemption despite Israel’s unworthiness.
When the message of Isaiah 40-45 was initially given, God’s people have not yet been taken into Babylonian captivity, something that wouldn’t happen until shortly after 600 BC. However, God’s grace had already lined up a solution in that Cyrus, king of Persia, would free God’s people from captivity and restore them. This prophesy was made 150 years before it happened (some sources suggest as little as 100 years), ensuring the people would know it was God – not some random fluke nor anyone’s own power – who freed them so they would once again come to know God as LORD and worship Him wholeheartedly.
Cyrus did not know God, but God surely knew Cyrus. Cyrus was born sometime between 600-576 BC, which placed him precisely around the time of Babylon’s conquest of Judah. Though the dates of Cyrus’ life are in some minimal dispute, the close proximity of his birth to the events of Judah’s exile sound much less coincidental given the prophesy Isaiah gave long before Cyrus was a gleam in his mother’s eye.
The LORD chose Cyrus and empowered him to accomplish His goals for Israel’s freedom. Though Cyrus may not had any mind or heart to serve Yahweh (though his political policies showed he had grand respect for the religions of the nations he conquered), Yahweh allowed Cyrus’ power to grow so that he could effectively defeat Babylon in battle, and, as a side-effect, enable a remnant of Israel to be restored to its former glory.
“I’M GOD; NEED I SAY MORE?”
Chapters 40-45 depict a present tense of a future event; how the people would bemoan God with complaints that He had forgotten them. God proclaimed encouragement to the people, “Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? …I carry out the predictions of my prophets! … When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd,’ he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’” (Isaiah 44:8a, 26a, 28, NLT). (The Temple would be destroyed during the pending Babylonian conquest warned of in Isaiah 39.) Earlier He encouraged them, “O Jacob how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?” (Isaiah 40:27, NLT).
At the beginning of chapter 45. God begins addressing Cyrus, personally, in verses 1-6. The first three verses are encouragement to him and promising reward during his efforts. Then, God adds more regarding His use of Cyrus:
“And why have I called you [Cyrus] for this work? Why did I call you by name when you did not know Me?
It is for the sake of Jacob My Servant, Israel My chosen one.
I am the LORD; there is no other God.
I have equipped you for battle, though you don’t even know Me, so all the world from east to west will know there is no other God.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
(Isaiah 45:3-6, NLT)
God is making clear His compassion and authority so the people will understand why He is using (or rather, will use) Cyrus. Though Cyrus will surely be given credit for victory in battle, it is God who will be given glory and full recognition for setting up all the events that would lead to that battle and its aftermath…namely, Israel being freed. It’s in this introduction that the context of Isaiah 45:7 is established: God is LORD.
But more than that, the “bad times” that God mentions in this case happens to be against the evil empire of Babylon. While the people of Babylon would come to praise Cyrus, it would surely be a dark day for the Babylonian leadership.
AN EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE, DEPRESSED, RAGING SMURF WITH A COLD
In response to my other posts in this series up to this point, a staunch critic has vehemently dismissed my arguments, stating I was using semantics to justify my claims of a non-contradictory Bible. It’s ironic because semantics are precisely what make-or-break anyone’s argument, regardless of which side of the debate they’re on. If we don’t consider the meanings of words and the ideas they are meant to convey, then why communicate at all? It may seem trivial and tedious, but this is where some of the fun begins. Allow me to paint you an illustration.
For instance, suppose I stated “I am blue.” If that’s all I said, one could only guess as to what I truly meant without additional info. Am I sad? That’s likely the most reasonable conclusion. “Blue” is sometimes used to describe emotions. Or perhaps I’m saying that I decided to join the Smurfs. Who knows? Maybe both?
Let’s throw more dice into the mix. Moments after I make my blue declaration, I say, “I’m green.” Someone might argue “contradiction!” Perhaps. But semantics matter. Am I feeling sick? Am I signing up for the next Hulk movie (that would be so cool)? A contradiction could be called if I said I painted myself all blue and later said I was all green at the same time. I could be blue (sad) because I’m green (sick). I could even be a green (sick) Smurf or a blue (sad) Hulk (though sadness doesn’t seem to be an outstanding emotion of the big guy). There are several possible options here depending on the context. Semantic shmemantic? Hardly.
In any language, words can hold multiple definitions and uses. Just look in the dictionary. The word “set” has a record of definitions at 464! In the Urban Dictionary, “emo” has an astounding 915!! People, we’ve got to understand what words mean before we go calling contradictions at every moment of seeming impasse. Simply reading the “words on the page” will fail us almost every time.
Going back to Isaiah 45:7, let’s examine the word that seems to be causing all the trouble. The historical context about Isaiah will play a clarifying role in discerning the particular definition of the word we’re to employ.
The word in question is ra. (Not to be confused with the Egyptian god; though I do wonder if there isn’t a real connection between the word and the name…something to study up on later.) Ra can refer to evil in terms of morality, a bad quality or value of something, or calamity or troubles, as well as a few other variances.
Since the word consists of these different types of “evil”, we cannot immediately conclude that the only option is the moral or ethical idea. Even in English, the word “evil” holds a variety of definitions, one of which is “characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: [ie] to be fallen on evil days”. We even consider some things to be evil even though they have no ethical quality on their own.
In the context of the verse, this evil is not a moral issue, but one of circumstance.
THAT WHICH IS NOT
There are a couple of other words we’ll peek at in terms of the Hebrew words they’re translated from, but first we ought to consider a more philosophical matter. That is, the specific issue of evil. In 1 John 1:5 (NLT), we read
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all.
There is a scientific “pun” to highlight a metaphysical point. In a lit room, as far as light particles can reach, darkness is no more; it is overwhelmed. The simple fact of the matter is that darkness is simply a term that relates to where no light exists in that area. Unlike light particles, you cannot hold darkness as a commodity, for it’ll surely be a wasted investment upon the introduction of a light bulb or flame. Darkness has no empirical qualities. In the verse, God is given a trans-literal quality of light. To consist of darkness means that He isn’t there or that He is somehow lacking. (How would they even know?)
The light and darkness is used to illustrate (illuminate) that God is life and truth, themselves (1 John 1:2, 7). The context is made clearer here in the next few verses following 1 John 1:5:
So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
(1 John 1:6-10, NLT)
The distinction here is made by comparing sinful man with holy, perfect God. If God is the light, then we are the darkness. We are the ones lacking in goodness and love without God to fill in the void.
With this understanding, it brings about a much larger view of the accusation that God is the author of evil. God is good. To be void of goodness is the definition of evil, just as darkness is the void of light. God cannot simply erase Himself in order that there be evil. The mistake is to think of evil or darkness as that which we can measure in quantity. Picture it this way: Can you say you have a fully developed human body while lacking arms?
This also brings up the idea of “levels” of goodness or evil. “He’s only a little evil.” “There’s still some good in him.” “I’m mostly a good person.” Oh, how we humans love to justify our iniquities. If I owed $1000, I couldn’t go to my debtor and say, “But I paid some of it back. I should be in the clear.” No bank or creditor would accept that, and certainly neither does God. A room with a little light in the corner still has darkness in the rest of the room.
Thus, logically, it’s a false notion to suggest or question that God is all good yet is also the author of evil. It’s like saying a functioning pen full of ink can write on paper without ink flowing out. When you use the pen according to its purpose, ink will flow and lines will be written. You cannot expect a lack of ink to result when the pen is full of ink. This pretty much defeats any notion that Isaiah 45:7 is claiming that God actually makes or does (moral) evil.
A RECIPE FOR DISASTER
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the wording in Isaiah 45:7 supports that idea. Let’s look at the verse again.
I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the LORD, am the one who does these things (NLT, bold mine).
Notice the words I highlighted. Below a breakdown goes like this when we review the Hebrew that the words were translated from.
HEBREW + definition
King James Version
|I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these [things].
1) to form, fashion, frame
a) (Qal) to form, fashion
2) of divine activity
b) to frame, pre-ordain, plan (fig. of divine) purpose of a situation)
c) (Pual) to be predetermined, be pre-ordained
1) to create, shape, form
a) (Qal) to shape, fashion, create (always with God as the subject)
3) of new conditions and circumstances
1) to cut down
2) to cut out
1) to do, fashion, accomplish, make
1) to do, work, make, produce *
d) to act, act with effect, effect
2) to make *
i) to bring about
( * ) there are several listings which might also be applicable to the context intended
||bara’ – See listing above
New American Standard Bible
|The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.
||yastar – See listing above
||bara’ – See listing above
||`asah – See listing above
||bara’ – See listing above
NOTE: Because I use the BlueLetterBible.com web site for help with cross-referencing words and meanings in the original Biblical languages, I’ll be comparing the KJV and NASB translations since those are what the site uses. They give a brief explanation for their current use of these two translations here if you’re at all curious.
The particular definitions selected from all possible definitions of each Hebrew word are of my best guess according to the known context of the verse. Thus, I have provided links to each Strong’s reference for a complete list of definitions lest there be any question to the accuracy of my analysis. Those stronger in Hebrew linguistic studies are welcome to offer their understanding and correction.
This is what I want you to notice in particular: the words used here all carry with them the idea of taking something and molding it. You can’t mold nothingness. Further, we already know that God is addressing Judah’s upcoming exile as punishment for their evil. We’re not talking about senseless actions against the innocent.
HOW TO ARGUE WITH POTTERY AND OTHER INANIMATE OBJECTS
Come on, who doesn’t love Bill Cosby? In perhaps his most famous solo comedy acts, “Bill Cosby, Himself” (to say “acts” is inaccurate – he was literally being himself), Bill talked about life as a child.
My father established our relationship when I was seven years old. He looked at me and said, “You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, I’ll make another one look just like you.”
I can only imagine the effect that would have on a boy such as Little Bill. But apparently he turned out pretty well!
In light of Bill’s comical take on parenting (from both sides of the topic), I can picture God having a similarly exasperated and comical debate with Israel over the whole matter of God’s authority. Isaiah 45:7 is in the middle of this entire issue concerning God’s authority to punish His people. The people were practically telling God He had no right punish them even though they were the ones sinning, and God is like, “Look! I brought you into this world…I can make another one look just like you!” How appropriate that God uses references to molding clay…
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’
How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’”
This is what the Lord says—the Holy One of Israel and your Creator: “Do you question what I do for My children? Do you give Me orders about the work of My hands? I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With My hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at My command.
I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill My righteous purpose, and I will guide his actions. He will restore My city and free My captive people—without seeking a reward!
(This is where I imagine God is about to bring the boom.)
I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”
(Isaiah 45:9-13, NLT, bold mine)
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE YOU
Behold! A questionnaire.
I ____ you. (Check one.)
( ) love
( ) love
( ) love
( ) love
The first question everyone will ask is, “Uh… What’s the difference?” An excellent question; I’m glad you asked (but I would have told you anyway.)
In English, we have this peculiar word. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The well recognized, “love”. We say we “love” a song as much as we might say we “love” our latest high school crush…or chocolate. We’ll say we love our family and we’ll say we love our spouse, but is the love referenced of the same nature? Would you die for chocolate which you love so much as you would give your life to save your loved one? Probably not.
Then it comes as no surprise that there are different types of love; four, actually, but you wouldn’t know it by the English language…unless you’re passing by the Hallmark cards during Valentine’s Day. Categories read like “For sibling,” “For special someone,” “For spouse,” “For friend”. Even though English only has one word for the different types of love, it’s very obvious that even in our culture, we do generally realize that love comes on different levels and applies to different relationships.
The reason I bring up this seemingly off-topic…er, topic is to address the other “contradictory” verse which says “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We just spent a long time to get up to the understanding that Isaiah 45:7 is not talking about moral evil – that is, the lack of that which is good – but rather about God’s authority. So it ought to make sense that love, too, falls into the same idea: evil, morally speaking, isn’t a separate, opposite notion, but the lack of love (and love is good). But what is love in general, particularly in Biblical terms (we’re studying the Bible, after all)?
CS Lewis, in a profound review on the subject, wrote in his book, The Four Loves, on the different levels of human love relationships. I say human, but, in truth, God holds perfect exclusivity on one of them: agape. It’s that particular type of love we’re called to emulate through the Holy Spirit’s leading. And I say emulate due to the fact that our sinfulness prevents us from loving as God loves in a perfect sense.
To dig deeper into this subject would require an entirely separate article, but I’ll go over each love in brief (thankfully, someone already did the work for me).
# OF OCCURANCES
||Affection; a fondness through familiarity despite most discriminating factors
Ephesians 6:1, 4
The word does not occur, but is present in concept
|Philia / Phileo
||Friendship; a strong bond between people, often due to a shared interest or activity
John 5:20, 11:3
David & Jonathan’s relationship
||Romance; “being in love” or “loving” someone, seeking an emotional connection, separate from sexual love but it can be coupled with it
1 Corinthians 7:1-6
Song of Songs
The word does not occur, but is present in concept
||Charity; given freely without obligation expected from the recipient or payment required, unconditionally given
||John 13:35, 15:13
Romans 5:5, 8:35
1 Corinthians 13:1
Source: The Four Loves
Note: These words are from the Greek language. The New Testament is written entirely in Greek. I have not done a word comparison to find compatible words in the Old Testament (Hebrew and Aramaic languages).
Love in 1 John 4:8 is translated from agape. With that understanding, the verse would be better read this way:
But anyone who does not [give charitably, freely, without demand for repayment] does not know God, for God is [the One who gives freely in all these ways].
This is a rough summary of the four types of love, but it should help clear up the context a great deal. What this means is that we’re dealing with two incredibly different topics here. It should be evident enough to see that 1 John is dealing with how people ought to love each other the way God loves us. The same love which shapes His authority.
HOW TO HAVE A MENTAL BREAKDOWN AND LIVE TO TELL ABOUT IT
The problem critics have with these two verses is, first, they don’t understand the context, and second, the idea that a loving God will purposefully send any kind of calamity fails to register as reasonable.
In truth, a loving God allows calamity for a number of reasons. It might be due to the consequences of willful disobedience, such as an STD resulting from premarital sex. Troubles arise even upon the innocent as God does allow others to make their choices freely. In such troubles, God calls on us to trust in Him to get us through the trials and on to richer blessings. And sometimes God purposefully orchestrates trials for us to help us grow stronger in faith and wisdom. These trials are for our sake so that we can come to know who God is better. The story of Abraham and Isaac is a perfect example. You must understand – we live in a broken world due to our own sins. God operates through such conditions. But He does promise that one day such conditions will be a thing of the past for those who accept Christ’s sacrifice and follow Him.
It’s difficult for us to see how love and God’s use of authority work in tandem, but they must for either one to be expressed properly. It was out of love that God allowed Israel to fall into captivity to Babylon so that they would understand the error of their idol-worshiping ways. It was out of love that God would use Cyrus to later free them.
In the end, God is in control. He blesses the righteous and the unrighteous alike, and He sends the troubles and trials on them, too, all according to His plan and according to what is best. A clay pot may not like the kiln, it may think it’s just fine as wet clay, even if did not falter to form to the Potter’s hands, but the Potter knows when it is right to endure the intense heat, and the pot will come out stronger and more beautiful in the end.