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Desiring God Conference - Session Four

The second session of the day will be led by Mark Talbot who will be speaking on “ ‘All the Good That is Ours in Christ:’ Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do Us.” A fact you may not know is that Mark broke his back when he was seventeen years old and walks even today only with great difficulty and while leaning heavily upon a cane.

How God’s will relates to our will when we hurt each other (and ourselves). Open Theism was developed to deal with these questions. It wants to take God off the hook at least for the kinds of evils we want to do. It claims that God cannot prevent the types of suffering we face because He could not do so without destroying our freedom. But God takes our freedom as being so valuable that He will not interfere. Talbot quoted extensively from Boyd’s God of the Possible and his now infamous story of Suzanne. This system of theology is completely unbiblical and cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the question of suffering.

What Are The Issues Surrounding These Kinds of Suffering?

What Scripture says about God’s relationship to evil - We all know that God will always do what is right. God never does evil, but that is not to say that God never creates evil (Isaiah 45:7). It is also not to say that He does not, at least at some times, send evil. For example, in the Old Testament He sent evil spirits to torment men like Saul. We also see in Scripture that God allows others to perform evil acts, such as we see in the book of Job. God does not want to be left off the hook for evil. Nor does He need to be. Everything God purposes happens and nothing happens but what God purposes.

What Scripture says about how what God wills relates to how we will. - We need to understand libertarian free will. It says that a person acts freely only if right before he acts he could still have chosen to act otherwise. I only freely choose to eat chocolate ice cream if at the moment I chose it, I was able to choose between chocolate and strawberry. If there was something to stop me from eating strawberry, even if I were to choose chocolate, I am really not free. We cannot be held responsible for what we do if we do not have this type of free choice. We cannot be held responsible for what we ought to do but cannot do. Libertarians believe it would be unfair for God to command people to do what they cannot do and He can only hold us responsible for what we do when we have this type of free will. But here’s the rub for Open Theists. If God knows what I am going to choose to do, than what I am going to choose to do must somehow be determined. For God knowing now what I will do next week knows that it will come out that way. God cannot know the future if humans are free and responsible.

Scripture holds human beings to be acting freely and responsibly even when it says or implies that God has predestined what will take place (see, for example, Acts 4:27-28). People choose to plot and choose to set themselves against a person, and it is clear that these people are being held responsible for what they do, yet they are doing only what God has predestined to take place. So what God has predestined to take place is not incompatible with human free will. What God wills, will come about through the agency of free will creatures like ourselves. Foreknowledge does not preclude responsibility.

The biblical position is that God has ordained (eternally willed or predestined) everything that happens in our world of space and time and yet human beings still act freely and responsibly. What this means for God’s people as that God even ordains that is really evil for His children’s good. The story of Joseph provides a powerful example, as all that happened to him was revealed to be part of God’s plan to save His people. Joseph understood that “God sent me.” It was God, not his brothers, who had ultimately sent him to Egypt. “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” God is responsible for all that happened to Joseph, both the good and the suffering. Yet Joseph’s brothers played their part and bear the responsibility and blame for this.

“As for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” The act the brothers meant for evil, was meant by God to do good. God meant that very evil for good. This event is being explained in two very different ways and this sort of dual explanation is in evidence throughout Scripture. We learn that what we will is what God wills for us to will, for He is sovereign over our hearts. We see this most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ, that God willed for people to put His Son to death.

We cannot understand how divine sovereignty and human agency are fully compatible, yet this is what the Scripture teaches us. We can understand, however, why we cannot understand. Any attempts on our part to understand this involve our trying to understand the unique relationship between the Creator and His creatures. To attempt to do so would be to make a category mistake. How Creator relates to creature is a whole different category than how creature relates to creature. And so we affirm both while not attempting to understand how. We need to affirm God’s complete and providential sovereignty over all.

What should we be sure of beyond all doubt?

We should be sure that for those who love God all things work together for God for those who are called according to His purpose. Sometimes it seems that things are just too bad for us to believe that they work for our good. Many of the biblical writers experienced such pain. But is it okay to complain?

Is it okay to complain?

We hear many biblical writers moaning and groaning with their pain. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We can complain - this is not unbiblical but is rather affirmed by the Scriptures. But in the end all we can do is affirm God’s promises and wait and He will bring back to us gladness if we give ourselves to Him.

Doctor Talbot received a long standing ovation for a moving and inspired speech.

From the Homefront: My wife wrote me to say that my children were watching a show this morning in which a baby lamb was born. My daughter turned to Aileen and said, “Mommy I wish you had a baby lamb in your tummy instead of a baby.” Laughing, Aileen said “Well that wouldn’t be much fun!” My daughter said, “Yes it is. I’d like a lamb in the house!”