John Calvin was Wrong on Infant Baptism

Contemporary evangelicals continue to feel John Calvin’s theological influence.  This does not mean that some evangelicals do not have significant points of disagreement with parts of Calvin’s theology.  For instance, take Calvin’s teaching on infant baptism.  Baptists (and other credobaptists) vehemently disagree with Calvin (and other paedobaptists) on this point.  I encountered Calvin’s comments on Acts 8:12 in my sermon prep last week.

“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).

Calvin says,

Whereas baptism followed faith, it agreeth with Christ’s institution, as concerning strangers, (Mark xvi.47,) and those which were without.  For it was meet that they should be ingrafted into the body of the Church before they should receive the sign; but the Anabaptists are too foolish, whilst they endeavor to prove by these places that infants are not to be baptized.  Men and women could not be baptized without making confession of their faith; but they were admitted unto baptism upon this condition, that their families might be consecrated to God; for the covenant goeth thus: ‘I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed,’ (Gen. xvii.7.) (Calvin, Commentaries, 18:333; cf. 363).

Some brief observations from a Baptist:

  • The teaching of believing adults being baptized is sourced in Luke’s inspired writings, not Anabaptists.
  • The absence of explicit references to infants being baptized in the NT is sourced in the inspired authors and ultimately the Holy Spirit, not Anabaptists.
  • Calvin employs an OT covenant text to inform a NT church ordinance.   This is consistent with covenant theology but still a larger theological point of division.
  • Calvin affirms the practice of believer’s baptism for the first generation only.  Subsequent generations are “consecrated to God” by the baptized adult.  But why then does the infant truly need to be baptized?
  • Acts 8:12 would have been an ideal place for Luke to use terms that include children or infants, such as nepios or paidion.  Instead, he used “men” (andres) and “women” (gunaikes).

In short, it seems to me that John Calvin is speaking out of both sides of his mouth.  He is advocating for believer’s baptism on the one hand while undermining it by advocating infant baptism on the other.  Moreover, he identifies the rejection of infant baptism as “foolish” and attributes it to the Anabaptists.  The burden of proof rests on him and others who assert that infant baptism is a NT teaching when it is nowhere mentioned in the NT.  The good news is that John Calvin is quite clear on all of this now.

Advertisements

And Their Eyes Were Opened: A Life-Changing Encounter with the Risen Christ

If you are an unbelieving skeptic about the resurrection, you’re not alone.  So were the first followers of Jesus,

But these words [the report of the empty tomb] seemed as an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

Theirs was a raw but open faith.  When they encountered and communed with the risen Christ, their eyes were opened,

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. [31] And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him . . . (Luke 24:30-31)

I pray that many professing Christians’ faith would be strengthened on Resurrection Sunday.

Maybe you are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Arms crossed, as it were, when it comes to embracing the Christian faith as your own.  Naturalism has gripped your sensibilities and so you reject a system of faith that centers on supernatural events like the resurrection of Jesus.  It is true that Christianity is a supernatural religion but it is false to believe that the natural world and this life is all there is.  My prayer for you is that God would take your unbelief and skepticism and grant you belief and conviction in the resurrected Christ by means of repentance and faith,

testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)

If Jesus is not your Savior, He will be your Judge in the life to come.  The resurrection is proof of this, as the Apostle Paul told the Greeks in the Athens,

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31)

Receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Jesus offers–now–while you have breath.  As Jesus Himself said,

to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:18)

and

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

God receives all who come to Him, even if they come seeking the living among the dead,

It is, therefore, an astonishing display of the goodness of Christ, that he kindly, and generously presents himself alive to the women, who did no wrong in seeking him among the dead.  Now if he did not permit them to come in vain to his grave, we may conclude with certainty, that those who now aspire to him by faith will not be disappointed . . . (John Calvin, Commentaries, 17:340).

John Calvin’s comment on the resurrection narrative is nothing more than an echo of what Jesus said in the Gospel of John,

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37)

I pray that you will enter into a personal relationship with Christ.  Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is essential to conversion,

. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9)

Once you have received Christ as your Savior, then you can join the joyful and victorious chorus of millions of Christian voices, who exclaim on Resurrection/Easter Sunday,

The Lord has risen indeed . . . (Luke 24:34)!

Do Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan?

In my ordination doctrinal statement I included this statement, “If Isa 14 and Ezek 28 allude to Satan, we learn of his pride and pride of place in creation.”  Well, the moderator was quick to point out that “if” statements do not belong in doctrinal statements.  Lesson learned.  But more importantly, the “if” statement revealed my ambivalence about applying these passages to Satan’s fall and Satan’s activity prior to the fall, respectively.

A member of our church recently asked me about these passages.  The material in a discipleship book she is working through uses Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 as proof texts for the splendor and activity of the Devil prior to the fall (Ezekiel 28) and the nature of Satan’s fall through pride (Isaiah 14).  Consequently, it provided me an opportunity to take a look at the texts and attempt to finally come to a conclusion on the meaning of these passages.  This post offers you the results of my brief study.

What you will find below is a brief interaction with Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, a survey of theologies, an overview of commentaries, and my conclusion.  I’ve also included some practical helps if/when you use Bible study material that differs with your view.  Here’s the fine print on the post: the investigation is limited by the resources available in my personal library.  The commentaries with an asterisk are those I do not own but referenced.  So I certainly invite you to pass along any resource(s) that contributes to the discussion.

The Passages

Isaiah 14:12-14, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! [13] You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God; I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; [14] I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’” (ESV).

Textual Considerations on Isaiah 14:12-14

In our Greek exegesis class, our professor taught us the “exegete’s cheer”: “Context! Context! Yeah Context!”  The point of the cheer is to keep a very important interpretive principle before us: the context is critical to determining the meaning of a passage.  The context in which Isaiah 14:12-14 is found is a lengthy section of oracles, or pronouncements of doom against nations and kings.  In Isaiah 14, we find an announcement of judgment against the king of Babylon, “you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:4, ESV).  As interpreters, we are faced with an important question now.  What clue in the text mandates that we move from a literal-historical approach to a figurative understanding of verses 12-14?  I do not see any such interpretative license make this shift.  Do we do this with any other nation or king mentioned in these oracles?  We do not.

Concerning the pride manifested in the five “I wills,” is this arrogance ever manifested by oriental kings or only ascribed to Satan?  Ancient kings, by virtue of their exalted position, were quite susceptible and all too often manifested this shameless conceit.  For instance, you find this in Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:30 when he arrogantly boasted, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”  There is nothing alien to a king expressing this kind of egotism, viewing themselves as the supreme figure.  There is nothing in Isaiah 14 that mandates assigning the “I wills” to Satan.

Ezekiel 28:11-15, “Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: [12] “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. [13] You were in Eden, the garden of God every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings.  On the day that you were created they were prepared. [14] You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. [15] You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you” (ESV).

Textual Considerations on Ezekiel 28:11-15

There are some tough phrases to interpret with absolute certainty.  For example,

  • “You were a signet of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty” (v. 12)
  • “You were in Eden” (v. 13)
  • “Every precious stone was your covering” (v. 13)
  • “You were on the holy mountain of God” (v. 14)
  • “You were blameless in your ways” (v. 15)

Some see a double reference in these verses.  It is a reference to the King of Tyre and Satan at the same time.  Is this a legitimate solution to the admitted difficulty of these texts?  Ryrie thinks so as does Charles Feinberg.  To apply some of these phrases to the king of Tyre seem difficult, especially “you were blameless in all your ways.” It almost seems like it takes more interpretive work to make them apply to an earthly king than to Satan himself.  But there are plausible explanations such as the label “blameless” applied to Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Job (Job 1:1) and Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6).  Thus it is possible to have these phrases applied to a human king.  Nevertheless, while these phrases are admittedly difficult to interpret with absolute certainty, we must use the overarching guide of an oracle grounded in a historical setting with some poetic language interspersed.  Would Ezekiel’s readers have clearly discerned Satan in these verses?  I’m not convinced that they would have.

Survey of Theologies

Isaiah 14 and/or Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan:

  • Lewis Sperry Chafer (Chafer, Systematic Theology, 7:284-5).
  • Charles Ryrie (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 141-5).  Ryrie is one of the few theologians that interacts with the interpretative options for concluding that the passages apply to Satan.  A very worthwhile read.
  • Henry Thiessen (Lectures in Systematic Theology, 194-5).
  • Millard Erickson does not address Satan’s fall in his section on angels (Christian Theology, 472).  He does, however, point out that Isaiah 14 contains a picture of the fall of Satan (Christian Theology, 604).
  • James Boice applies Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 to Satan (Foundations of the Christian Faith, 173).

Isaiah 14 and/or Ezekiel 28 do not refer to Satan:

  • Berkhof, Systematic Theology and Dabney, Systematic Theology simply do not reference the fall of Satan or deal with Isaiah or Ezekiel.  However, I take their silence to mean that they do not apply to Satan (though admittedly it is an inference from silence).
  • As best as I was able to discern, Augustus Strong in his Systematic Theology does not apply Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 to Satan.  He only provides passing comments on these passages and does not address the fall of Satan.  He seems to take the approach in the brief remarks on each passage that it is referring to a historical, human figure (Systematic Theology, 450 and 518).
  • Charles Hodge speaks little about the fall of Satan.  Concerning evil angels in general he says, “When they fell or what was the nature of their sin is not revealed” (Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:643).  As far as Satan in particular, he only makes reference to the fact that he is fallen without reference to when he fell or the nature of his fall.  Hodge makes a great point about the pride of Satan, which is alluded to in 1 Timothy 3:6, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”  The connection is “the condemnation which the devil incurred for the same sin [i.e. pride].”  Hodge then goes on to say, “Some have conjectured that Satan was moved to rebel against God and to seduce our race from its allegiance, by the desire to rule over our globe and the race of man.  Of this, however, there is no intimation in Scripture.  His first appearance in the sacred history is in the character of an apostate angel” (Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:643).  So what Hodge seems to be saying is that there are no passages that refer to Satan’s fall.  When he comes onto the Biblical scene (in the garden) he is already a fallen angel.

Survey of Commentaries

Isaiah 14 and/or Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan:

  • I have a scant collection of commentaries on Isaiah and Ezekiel.  But of those that I do have, not one concluded that these passages refer to Satan.  However, I was able to track down a few which hold this view.
  • *W.A. Criswell, Ezekiel, 149.
  • * Lamar Cooper suggests that “the difficulty of the text makes it unwise to insist upon a particular interpretation, but the latter traditional view [that ‘the lament is an account of the fall of Satan not given in Scripture but alluded to elsewhere, especially in Isa 14:12-17’] appears to the present writer to account best for the language and logic of the passage” (Cooper, Ezekiel, NAC, 265).
  • *Charles Feinberg states, “But as [Ezekiel] viewed the thoughts and ways of [the King of Tyre], he clearly discerned behind him the motivating force and personality who was impelling him in his opposition to God.  In short, he saw the work and activity of Satan, whom the king of Tyre was emulating in so many ways” (Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, 161).  This approach parallels Ryrie who views both the King of Tyre and Satan in view in the passage.

Isaiah 14 and/or Ezekiel 28 do not refer to Satan:

  • John Calvin (not surprisingly) is unequivocal in denying that Isaiah has anything whatsoever to do with Satan, “The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance; for the context plainly shows that these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians” (Calvin, Commentaries, 7:442).
  • Edward J. Young, says that Isaiah 14 has the king of Babylon in view, no more (Young, The Book of Isaiah, 1:441).  He contends that the phrase, “how are you fallen from heaven” “is to fall from great political height” (Young, The Book of Isaiah, 1:440).
  • Keil and Delitzsch say that applying the name Lucifer to Satan based on Isaiah 14:12 is “without any warrant whatever” (Keil and Delitzsch, Isaiah, 312).  They contend that Ezekiel 28 is referring to the King of Tyre and no one else (Keil and Delitzsch, Ezekiel, 411).
  • Matthew Henry also sees Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 as applying to the historical kings mentioned in each passage (Matthew Henry, Commentary, 4:67 and 4:721).
  • *John D.W. Watts sees this as a poem as “a simile to picture the fall and disgrace of the tyrant” (Watts, Isaiah 1-33, WBC, 212).  It is general in its scope and references neither the king of Babylon or Satan.
  • *John N. Oswalt concludes that this passage deals with human pride manifested by the king of Babylon (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 1-39, NICOT, 320).
  • *Jan Ridderbos straddles the fence saying, “there is an element of truth in the idea [that Lucifer is Satan]: by his self-deification Babylon’s king is the imitator of the devil and the type of the Antichrist (Daniel 11:36; 2 Thess 2:4); therefore his humiliation is also an example of Satan’s fall from the position of power that he has usurped (cf. Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9) (Ridderbos, Isaiah, 142).
  • *Gray takes this portion to be based on a Babylonian genre of a mythical hero.  Strange as the interpretation is he does not find Satan in Isaiah 14:12-14 (Gray, Isaiah, ICC, 1:256-7).
  • *Block contends that “Ezekiel’s prophecy is indeed couched in extravagant terms, but the primary referent within the context is clearly the human king of Tyre” (Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel, NICOT, 119).
  • *Leslie Allen says that the interpreter who applies “vv 11-19 to Satan” is “guilty of detaching the passage from its literary setting” (Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, WBC, 95).
  • Youngblood quips, “In this case, the devil is not in the details” (Ronald Youngblood, “The Fall of Lucifer,” in The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke, eds. J.I. Packer and Sven Soderlund [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000], 171).

Summary

Both Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are best interpreted in a grammatical-historical context.  Moreover, the larger context in which the passages are found, namely oracles against other nations and kings, provides the reader an interpretive guide to view them in a historical light.  Moreover, there is little problem ascribing the attitudes in each of the passages to ancient kings.  Other biblical data corroborates this, e.g., Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:30

The theologies seem to be divided: Chafer, Ryrie, Thiessen, Boice, and possibly Erickson affirm the position that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan.  Strong and Hodge deny that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan.  I gather that those who do not address the texts in their theologies don’t view these passages as allusions to Satan (Berkhof and Dabney), but I may be wrong.

As far as commentators, it seems that there is greater unanimity that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 do not apply to Satan (e.g., Calvin, Young, Keil and Delitzsch, and Henry).  I discovered in my reading that church fathers and conservative Christians apply Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 to Satan, while the reformers generally did not.  They interpreted these passages in their historical context.  This is significant because commentators are immersed in the text, while theologians are not in the text per se.

Conclusion

These passages are best interpreted in their historical contexts.  Therefore, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 do not apply to Satan.  They are oracles directed at the king of Babylon and the king of Tyre respectively.

Has the doctrine of Satan, or any other Biblical doctrine, been radically altered by not applying Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 to his fall, splendor, and activity before the fall?

My short answer is no.  What we do lose is any knowledge of his activity prior to the fall.  But this is not really “lost” if Ezekiel 28 does not refer to Satan, which I am arguing it does not.  Is there really any question that Satan is a fallen angel without Isaiah 14?  No.  Consider Luke 10:18, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and Ephesians 2:2.  Satan is very clearly a fallen angel.  Is the understanding of Satan’s nature or activity impacted if Lucifer is not among his other appellations?  No.  Ryrie states that Ezekiel 28:15 is the only place that specifically identifies the origin of sin (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 143).  However, that sin originated and is sourced in Satan is easily discerned in Genesis 3:1-7; John 8:44; and 1 John 3:10.

Practical Helps

So what do you do when you encounter a differing position in the curriculum of an evangelistic Bible study or in discipleship material?

  • Don’t embroil them in the controversy.  It is of little value to make them aware of the debate and will probably lead to more confusion than help.
  • Cover the doctrine of Satan using texts that clearly refer to him.
  • Finally, it is a terrific reminder that while we should be disciple-makers, we are always disciples ourselves.  These questions require us to “search the Scriptures” ourselves to ensure we are rightly handling God’s word.

Who Is A Child Of God?

See what kind of love the Father has given unto us, that we shall be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him (1 John 3:1).

After a cursory reading of this verse, one might come away with the mistaken idea that every person on planet earth is a child of God.  John has a specific audience in mind when he uses the word “we.”  It references those who have placed their faith in Christ, i.e. Christians and who have a corresponding change in life (1 John 2:1-2).  In our Kumbaya culture, we are quick to embrace the idea that we are all God’s children.  John, as well as the other writers in the New Testament, show evidence to the contrary.  Here are fives lines of evidence in the New Testament that show that “to be ‘born of God’ was something quite distinct from natural human procreation” (Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 114).

  1. Proponents of the view that we are all the children of God by birth may point to Acts 17:28 where Paul cites “Phainomena” a poem by the Greek poet Aratus: “For we are indeed his offspring.”  One might argue that since we are all God’s offspring that would allow us to conclude that we are all God’s children.  However, because we are God’s offspring, i.e. His creation, He is our Creator but not by necessity our Father.
  2. Jesus tells the Jews in John 8:44 “you are of your father the devil.”  Notice the correlation between action and relationship.  They do what their father does, the same truth that John is teaching in his letter.  1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”  Our actions reveal our parentage.
  3. Paul says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3).  Notice the past tense verb of being ‘were’. It reveals that a change took place at a point in time, following one’s physical birth.  How does this status change take place?  Legally.  It is called justification.  Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified [counted righteous] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 5:9 “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”  Galatians 2:16 “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  Who’s righteousness?  Not ours (Romans 3:10) but God’s (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).  (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 5-6, 9).  So, by birth we are all children of wrath.  Something had to occur to change this, namely justification.
  4. Paul reminds about the vital role of the Holy Spirit in sonship in Romans 8:14-16.  In the same passage, he uses the significant word “adoption” (uioqesia).  The word “indicates a total break w. the old family and a new family relation with all its rights, privileges, and responsibilities” (Rogers and Rogers, Exegetical Key, 330).  We all understand the concept of adoption.  An adopted child was not naturally born into one’s family.  It is actually a precious picture of being chosen.  So we’re reminded that we are adopted children into God’s family; thus we are not naturally children of God.
  5. The distinction between “being” and “becoming” in John 1 is significant, especially in John 1:12-13.  “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus]” (John 1:1).  The verb “was” in 1:1 is the verb of being eimi in Greek.  God the Son always was, is, and will be; without beginning or end.  John the Baptist on the other hand “was” (ginomai).  This verb of being suggests a point in time when he came into being.  It is the same verb of being used for creation in v. 3: “All things were made (ginomai) through him.”  It is even used of the incarnation of Jesus, when the Word became (ginomai) flesh and dwelt among us!  Jesus didn’t always possess a body, he received one just like you and me at His conception (though His conception was one-of-a-kind).  In this way, Jesus became flesh.  So noting the distinction between always being (eimi, e.g., God the Son) and becoming (ginomai, e.g., creation, John the Baptist, and the Incarnated Christ).  John says this in 1:12-13: “But to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become (ginomai) children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Thus showing that one is not a child of God by birth, but rather one must become a child of God by being born again which comes through receiving and believing in Christ.

So, who is a child of God?  Anyone who is born of God, or regenerated, is a child of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9).  Let’s not be carried about by the sentimental theology of our culture.  Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3 that he must be “born again,” referring to a spiritual birth, not a physical one (Nicodemus thought Jesus meant this [John 3:4] and Jesus rebuked him for it [John 3:10]).  Faith in Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6).  It is by trusting Christ and Christ alone that we become a child of God and are adopted into God’s family.  Until then, we are children of wrath.  God is not our Father.  He is our Judge.  God has made it possible for you to become His child.  If you have not, would you place your faith in Christ alone?  Just as Ananias welcomed Saul, who just days before was persecuting the church, with the words “Brother Saul” (Acts 9:17), so I hope I can call you my brother or sister in the Lord and thus we can magnify the grace of God together.

The Virginia Tech Massacre – Some Afterthoughts

The deadliest mass shooting in US history occurred Monday morning, April 18th.  The total deaths as of this post are 33.  The killer is a young man who was deeply troubled, to say the least.  This entire event is beyond perplexing and vexing.  It is perplexing because of the ever-present problem of evil in our world and the existence of a God who is sovereign and good.  It is vexing because one wonders why Cho Seung-Hui felt it necessary to take the lives of so many.

To begin with let me say that pastors do not have a corner on the mind of God.  We ought not pretend to have an answer to the indefatigable, unavoidable, and understandable “why?” question in times like this.  Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that God’s thoughts are infinitely beyond ours: 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. [9] For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Moreover, the “why?” question is not always for us to know and therefore we are wise to restrain curiosity or it will eat us alive from the inside out.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God.

Therefore, we are wise to have humility be the light that guides our intellect and exercise discernment as a rudder that directs our response to this horrendous incident.  It is all to easy to be visceral at times like this; I am certainly no exception.

There are four problems that I’d like to consider on the surface in the aftermath of this profound tragedy.  Perhaps these may lead to more significant discussions.  It is my desire that this becomes a discussion rather than perceived as a lecture.  I invite the reader to engage me as I attempt to work through these profound problems.

First, The Problem of Evil: Evil is ubiquitous.  What transpired on Monday was nothing short of evil.  It is a grim reminder that evil is around us – this is what ubiquitous means, all-around, ever-present.  I suggest that we consider two perspectives in light of this event: A) the evil carried out by this young man in not new.  What happened was shocking, horrific, appalling, catastrophic, etc. but as we look back in history, even recent history, this is not the first of its kind nor will it be the last.  This is in no way intended to minimize these killings; it is instead an observation that cannot be overlooked.  My point is simply that evil is a reality in our world and this is one heinous manifestation of it.  B) Events like this give shape to our worldview.  The word “evil” is defined by this massacre.  The lines of “good” and “evil” are less fuzzy than we might think.  This event challenges us to consider that perhaps there is, after all, less gray area in defining “good” and “evil.”  Let me also say that this is a bleak reminder that evil is not only around us but also in us.  Jeremiah 17:9 teaches us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Beyond a doubt, Seung-Hui had a sick heart, but the Bible tells us that we all do.  This truth is called the “depravity of man.”  This means that every single person (without exception) are affected by sin (cf. Genesis 3:1-7) in all facets of his being: intellect, emotions, and will.  While I make a theological assertion, the anecdotal evidence certainly supports, rather than refutes, my statement.  Indeed, today a man took the life of a hostage and his own at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.  Also consider this incredible account:

“Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur was a witness during the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi ‘final solution’ during World War II. Eichmann presided over the slaughter of millions. ‘The court was hushed as a victim confronted a butcher.’ Suddenly Dinur broke into uncontrollable sobs, and collapsed to the floor. When asked later to explain his actions, he said, ‘I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this…Exactly like he.’ The reporter who interviewed Dinur concluded that the most chilling fact about Adolph Eichmann was that he was normal. ‘Eichmann is in all of us’” (read the artcile here)

It is shocking for you to hear that there is a Cho Seung-Hui in all of us?  We are all depraved, some manifest it to a greater degree than others, but depraved nevertheless.  Having said this, evil in the world is a reality that will remain with us until the Lord rules and reigns in righteousness.  Evil exists, but not forever.  The question is, what has a good and sovereign God done about this matter of evil now? 

Second, the problem of justice: blood shed in vain?  When these incredible tragedies occur, the last life often taken is the killer’s own.  This has been true in several high-profile murders, including the Columbine shootings. This phenomenon raises the question if these killers do this in a cognitive state of sanity rather than insanity – which would undoubtedly be used to defend Seung-Hui.  This final murder (by taking their own life) suggests that they are well aware the consequences that will follow and are too cowardly to face them.  So when or how will Seung-Hui “face the music?”  Did he go out on his own terms or is there an account yet to come? 

Justice is contingent on the existence of a judge.  But what judge can exercise jurisprudence beyond the grave?  What is more, it is presupposed that this judge has observed the externals actions and even knows internal motivation for such an act.  The existence of a holy, righteous God is vital to answering this question.  If one is an atheist, there will be no justice ever brought upon Seung-Hui.  He has spilled the blood of other humans and perhaps ceased to exist.  If one is an agnostic, at best, one can only hope that something or someone exists out there who will make Seung-Hui give an account for his actions.  The Christian however understands that our thoughts, words, and deeds are always beheld by at least an audience of One—the Judge of the earth.  He observes all things” Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  Genesis 18:25 says “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  Who is being referred to here?  It is Jehovah, or the LORD.  Not only is He a judge, God is a righteous, just Judge that does not look upon evil lightly.  Psalm 7:11 states: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.”  Moreover, Psalm 50:6 “The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge!”  His holiness allows Him to exercise judgment without partiality.  Psalm 67:4 declares “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity.”  In other words, from a Christian perspective, Seung-Hui did not go out on his own terms and without having justice carried out.  In the second following his death, Seung-Hui stood before this righteous God with blood on his hands, as it were.  He has received the just reward for his heinous actions. 

Consider for a moment now that because God the Judge of the Universe is holy, He must judge all wrong.  This means that He sees your actions: “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3); your thoughts:  “the Lord—knows the thoughts of man” (Psalm 94:11); and your motives: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:1).  All moral infractions: lying, cheating, stealing, fornication, adultery, drunkenness, etc. require a penalty.  The penalty for sin is separation from a holy God in a place called hell.  We are told in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  Let me put this as plainly as I can put this: sin—all sin—requires a penalty because God’s righteous law has been broken.  How can we stand right before God?  We cannot stand righteous by earning righteous or “making up” for the sins we have committed.  He can a sinful person attain to the standard of a holy God?  It can’t happen.  We require a righteousness which is alien to us.  We can stand righteous, or not guilty, before God only by having the righteousness of God in Christ credited to our account.  How is this credited to our account?  Simply by believing the gospel—nothing more, nothing less (cf. Romans 1:16; 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

So, rest assured, Seung-Hui has given an account for his actions.  The problem of justice is that we too must all give an account to this holy, righteous Judge.

Third, The Problem of God: A Jack-in-the-Box God.  Not too long ago, a now infamous Minnesota Governor stated “religion is the opium of the people” citing Karl Marx.  Taken at face-value there is truth in this statement.  Notice that the statement mentions religion not Christianity.  Perhaps orthodox Christianity is what was partially in view but it was likely more inclusive.  Nevertheless, I would agree that religion is an opiate of the masses.  This is all too evident during events like this.

Think of the recent history of our country: prayer was banned in schools; the Ten Commandments essentially forbidden in governmental centers; students must refrain from mentioning God or Christ in their speeches; and Creation and “intelligent design” are anathema in schools.  All this points to the expulsion of God from the public square.  God is not welcome in our daily lives.  However, when disaster strikes we invoke Him and His comfort and His blessing and the security of knowing that our loved ones are “in a better place.”  Psalm 23 is read aloud; “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” becomes our anthem; and the bagpipes are heard playing “Amazing Grace.”  God has become nothing more than a divine shoulder-to-cry on who we expect to pop-up like a jack-in-the-box when we wind it up.  This is tragic, but certainly a sign of the times.   

Perhaps some of you wonder if God exists (and I whole-heartedly believe He does), why would He allow such tradgedies to occur.  There are two instances where God ordained moral evil for the purposes of His greater good.  You may remember the account of Joseph.  His brothers were jealous of him.  So much so that they threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery.  He was taken off into Egypt.  In time, he found favor with Pharaoh and become a very high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s government.  Joseph eventually meets his brothers again when they are in need of food during a famine.  Joseph says to them: Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers when they fear his vengeance, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”   Furthermore, we have the quintessential example of moral evil when Jesus was subjected to the cruel death of Roman crucifixion.  Acts 4:27-28, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”   These two passages clearly show that God is sovereign over all events in the world.  IN other words God is sovereign.  This quote serves my purposes quite well and indeed, states it far better than I could:

So the answer to the question in the title of this message, “Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be?” is no, just the opposite. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil. The effort to absolve him by denying his foreknowledge of sin (as we saw this afternoon) or by denying his control of sin (which we have seen this evening) is fatal, and a great dishonor to his word and his wisdom. Evangelicals, who are seeking the glory of God, look well to the teaching of your churches and your schools. But most of all look well to your souls.

If you would see God’s glory and savor his glory and magnify his glory in this world, do not remain wavering before the sovereignty of God in the face of great evil. Take his book in your hand, plead for his Spirit of illumination and humility and trust, and settle this matter, that you might be unshakable in the day of your own calamity. My prayer is that what I have said will sharpen and deepen your God-entranced world view, and that in the day of your loss you will be like Job who, when he lost all his children, fell down and worshipped, and said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD”  (I would commend the reading of this entire sermon). 

In short, we must remember that 1) this event did not catch God by surprise for He does not slumber nor sleep; indeed, He ordains all that transpires in the world.  2)  God is most glorified when we realize His full and free sovereignty over the affairs of our lives.  The problem of God is always set before us in a way that cannot be overlooked.  When tragedies like these occur, they point us to a greater reality than our leisure, fishing, hunting, a weekend at the cabin, summer vacations, and fulfilling the American dream.  The point us to a transcendent Reality; a God who ordains everything in this world and one who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  It is likely that in a short time, if not already, we have already pushed Him back down and closed the lid waiting to crank the handle when the next tragedy occurs.      

Fourth, The Problem of Reality: Now what?  The final problem is what do we do in light of such tragic events?  We can quickly set it behind us and move on slightly more fearful of our future.  We might also press on with a greater resolve to not allow such acts keep us from living in a constant state of fear.  Or perhaps it might lead us to ponder a greater reality; one that transcends this life.  I hope the latter option is the path you choose.  If it is, please read this.