How do you respond to Isaiah 45:7/Lamentations 3:37–38?
The Lord says,“I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7)
“Who can command and have it done
if the Lord has not ordained it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38)
Calvinists often argue that passages such as these attribute both good and evil to God’s sovereign hand (see also Amos 3:6). Some non-evangelical scholars argue that this conception of God represents an early stage of religious development where Yahweh was viewed as morally ambiguous. Only later, they argue, did Yahweh become “all holy” in the eyes of the Israelites and did evil get attributed to Satan and/or other free agents.
In my estimation, the conclusion of the non-evangelical scholars that God is morally ambiguous if he originates both good and evil is irrefutable. Calvinists escape this conclusion only by the mere assertion that it is not so. In their view good and evil originate from God “in such a way” that God remains all good. I frankly find it impossible to ascribe any meaning to the words in the previous sentence. What does it mean to say God is “all good” if it doesn’t rule out the possibility that he could do evil?
Fortunately, when read in context, neither text supports the view that God is morally ambiguous. The Isaiah passage is addressing the future deliverance of the children of Israel out of Babylon (Isa. 45:1–6). As a number of scholars have argued, the “light” and “darkness” of this passages refers to “liberation” and “captivity” (as in Isa. 9:1; Lam. 3:2). The “weal” and “woe,” or “prosperity” and “disaster,” refer to Yahweh’s plans to bless Israel and to curse Babylon. In the words of Terrence Fretheim, this language:
is not cosmic in orientation, but language typical in the prophets for specific (historical) divine judgments….God’s “creating” here is not ex nihilo, but action which gives specific shape to a situation of historical judgment.
Hence he concludes, “no claims are made that God is the all-determinative actor in this (or any other) situation.”*
Similarly, if read in context, Lamentations 3:37–38 does not suggest that Yahweh causes or ordains evil. Indeed, four verses earlier the prophet teaches us that God “does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone” (Lam. 3:33). This passage is not concerned with God’s cosmic sovereign activity; it is specifically addressing prophecy. Both “good and bad” prophecies (viz. prophecies about blessings and disaster) come “from the mouth of the Most High.” Jeremiah is saying this to confront people who only want to believe that prophecies about blessing are from God.
As much as it grieves the Lord (cf. vs. 31–33), he is prophesying judgment on Israel because “[t]he prisoners of the land [a]re crushed under foot” and “human rights are perverted” (v. 34). Far from suggesting that good and evil are part of God’s sovereign plan, the passage highlights God’s unequivocal holiness in coming against evil as something that he does not in any sense will!
*T. Fretheim, “Divine Dependence on the Human: An Old Testament Perspective,” Ex Auditu Vol. 13, 1997, 6–7. See also F. Lindstrom, God and the Origin of Evil: A Contextual Analysis of Alleged Monistic Evidence in the Old Testament, trans. F. H. Cryer, ConBOT 21 (Lund: Gleerup, 1983), 178–99. See also G. Boyd, God at War, 149f.
On Lamentations 3:37–38 and Amos 3:6, see Lindstrom, Origin of Evil, 199–236; See also G. Boyd, God at War (IVP, 1997), 150–52.
Question: You may find this to be an odd question, but is it possible for two Christians of the same gender to remain a couple if they do not engage in sex? My partner and I love each other but our study of Scripture convinces us that having sex is wrong. Now, sex was never…
Question: In Trinity and Process you argue against a “substantival” ontology and instead advocate a “relational,” “process” and/or “dispositional” ontology in which being, being-in-relation and being-in-process are one and the same. In your view, entity x is its relation to entity y (and all other relations) and is the disposition to interact with y (and…
As in Jeremiah 19:5, the Lord expresses his dismay over Israel’s paganism by saying they did this “though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination.” If this abomination was eternally foreknown to God, it’s impossible to attribute any clear meaning to his confession that this…
“For whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” One of the greatest treasures given to believers when they open their hearts to the Lord is the promise that they shall certainly be “conformed to the…
Question: The Gospel of John seems to teach that people believe because God draws them, rather than that God draws people because they believe. If this is true, how can you deny the Calvinistic teaching that salvation is based on God’s choice, not ours? Answer: As you note, many people find support for the view…
God “changed his mind” (3:10) about the destruction he planned to carry out on Nineveh. If all events in history are eternally settled and known by God as such, his word to Jonah that he planned to destroy Nineveh in forty days was insincere as was his inspired testimony that he in fact changed his…