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The God of Prosperity and Evil

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 9, 2023 12:01 am

The God of Prosperity and Evil

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 9, 2023 12:01 am

Does the book of Isaiah teach that God is the author of evil? Today, R.C. Sproul helps us understand a startling declaration from the mouth of the Lord by examining its context.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Sometimes, the preposition the New Testament uses is the preposition into. We believe into Christ. And this is the fundamental thing that happens to us when we're born again, when we're converted to Christ. Our faith unites us to Him. The Spirit unites us to Him. And in that way, we are bound together. And underneath all that is the fact that in everything Jesus did, He was representing us.

And because He was representing us, everything He has done is really ours. None of these things are what we work up in ourselves. All of these things we draw down from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is everything and He fills our nothingness. Tune in with Christ, a teaching series with Sinclair Ferguson.

Visit slash teaching series to learn more. What this passage is communicating, beloved, is the sovereignty of God over the entire creation. Note the refrain, I am the Lord, there is none other. I am responsible for the whole of the creation, for the whole of human history.

It is my divine, sovereign providence that stands over all human events. I bring the abundant harvest. I also will bring the famine. I bring the sunny day. I also bring the storm. I bring the arid desert.

I also bring the flood. Critics of Christianity have searched the Bible in an attempt to find apparent contradictions or verses that seemingly discredit the character of God. But sometimes we come across a verse that even causes genuine Christians to scratch their heads. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.

This week R.C. Sproul continues his examination of some of the hard sayings of the Bible. And today we come to a particular passage that critics have used to point their finger at God. But a passage that when Christians have read it has caused some of us to ask the question, does God create evil? This is important for us to understand rightly, particularly as you and I live in a fallen world and walk through hardships and difficulties.

So here's Dr. Sproul. Well today we're going to turn our attention to a hard saying from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. And this saying is hard in both senses, in the sense of trying to understand its meaning, and second of all in the sense of the apparent severity of it. This hard saying is found in the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah beginning at verse 4 where we read this narrative. For Jacob my servant's sake and Israel my elect, I have even called you by your name. I have named you though you have not known me. I am the Lord and there is no other. There is no God besides me.

I will gird you though you have not known me that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none beside me. I am the Lord and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create calamity.

I the Lord do all these things. Now if you've been following this reading in your Scripture, perhaps you are reading a translation that contains the words that have been so difficult for many believers as they struggled with it, and those words are found in a different translation of verse 7. The other translation reads, I form the light and create darkness.

I make peace and I create evil. It's that translation of the text that has been so problematic because the earlier translation explicitly says of God in this chapter of Isaiah, I, meaning God, create evil. I don't know how many times in the course of my ministry I've had people, particularly students, college students and seminary students, come to me with this text and say, what does this mean?

I thought that we were not supposed to believe that God is the author of sin or that God creates evil. I remember when I was a student in graduate school in Europe studying the question of the origin of evil and having my professor at the Free University of Amsterdam make mention of what he called the biblical a priori, or the biblical a priori. Now that word a priori or a priori may not be familiar to you. It's a technical term that is found frequently in the discipline and the language of philosophy but isn't too often used in ordinary speech. But something that is a priori is innate, fundamental, or foundational.

The word comes from the Latin which basically means before experience. Its antonym or its opposite is a posteriori, which means after experience. But when we talk about a priori, we're talking about basic ideas.

We remember that the Declaration of Independence spoke about inalienable rights that we learn about from nature and so on, which sort of fell back upon the thinking of the British philosophers and even before that the rationalists such as Rene Descartes who was seeking for what he called clear and distinct ideas. In a sense Descartes' search was for a priori truth, truth that is self-evident. You know, we hold these truths to be self-evident. That would be an a priori truth, basic and controlling to everything that you think. Well, when I was in this course in Europe and the professor spoke about the biblical a priori, he said that single biblical a priori that is to govern all of our thinking, foundational to all religious understanding, is this, God is not the author of evil. Now, if that's so foundational, how do you deal with the passage in Scripture that is translated by the words, I am the Lord, there is none other, I create evil. It certainly seems, at least on the surface, that Isaiah has little time for Professor Berkhauer's biblical a priori because he seems to deny it clearly and emphatically by saying that God creates evil.

Well, there are two ways that we need to approach this text as we seek to understand what is being said. First of all, let me qualify the so-called biblical a priori. When the biblical a priori is declared to say that God is not the author of sin or the author of evil, what that means is that God Himself never does that which is evil. Now, how do we relate that to the idea of God's creating evil? Well, if it's evil for God to create evil, then obviously God could not create evil because God does not do anything evil. Yet, we live in a world that God has created, and there is clearly evil in that world. So we know this at least, that God has created beings which beings have the capacity for evil. Obviously, Satan was able to do evil or he wouldn't have done it, and Adam and Eve were capable of sin or they wouldn't have sinned. So it's manifestly obvious that God in His work of creation has created beings who were capable of falling into sin and of performing sinful actions. But that's still not the same thing as saying that God Himself created evil because the biblical record indicates that God created Satan as an angel, and in His creation He was a good angel, and that Adam and Eve were created good, and then they later became evil.

There was a mutation in their character, but still God stands above and beyond and over and behind all of this activity. Now, the first thing we have to see about this text is that when it speaks of God's creating evil, it's not talking in the first instance about moral evil. The Old Testament word for evil has at least seven different nuances. Usually when we use the word evil, we're talking about moral evil, sin. Well, the Scripture speaks of badness or evil in other categories as well. It speaks of natural catastrophes, floods and hurricanes and earthquakes, as for example indicating physical evil like disease or natural disasters. These are not something done by villainous people.

This is by impersonal nature. When nature erupts in an earthquake, nobody starts screaming that Mother Nature has done something sinful, but yet we use that word bad or evil with respect to a physical calamity. Again, a famine is a physical calamity, but it's not a manifestation of some particular person's moral corruption so that anything that is bad to the Hebrew can be called evil.

Now, what kind of evil is in view here in Isaiah is relatively easy to discern. A while back we had a little brief short course on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, and at that time that we examined the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, I mentioned a few of the literary devices that are found commonly in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the chief of which is the poetic device called parallelism. And some of you will remember that I spoke about this form called parallelism where certain statements are made in a parallel way, and there are different kinds of parallelisms. There are what are called synonymous parallelisms where the same idea is communicated in two different ways.

The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. It's saying the same thing in just two different manners. That's synonymous parallelism. But there's also what is called antithetical parallelism where contrasts are stated in a poetic way where something positive is stated and then its negative follows it.

Now that's what we have here in Isaiah 45. If you will notice in our text we read in verse 7, I form the light and create darkness. There is the clear contrast between God's work of creativity in terms of making both the light and the darkness. Light and darkness stand in contrast to each other. Now actually what we have here in this text is a form of synonymous parallelism, yet it is a synonymous parallelism where you have two verses that are basically saying the same thing, but the thing that they are saying is a matter of contrast.

So you could also identify this as antithetical parallelism. In the first stanza, I create light and darkness. It says that God does both. He makes the light and He makes the darkness, even though these two are contrasts. Now in the next stanza, a similar statement is made by God which would make it synonymous parallelism, but it's also a statement of contrast.

And notice what the contrast is. I make peace and I create evil. Or other translations, I create prosperity and I create evil. Now you notice here that in the translation I have it reads, I make peace and I create calamity. Now the modern translator is trying to get at the force of the original Hebrew here, that I make peace and I make calamity. You see that the evil that is on the second side of the structure, I give prosperity, I create evil.

The type of evil that is in view here is not moral evil, but it is that evil that is in direct contrast to peace or prosperity. So that what Isaiah is simply saying here as a spokesman for God is that God brings blessing and He brings curse. He brings good times and He brings bad times. He brings peace. He also brings conflict.

He brings will. He also brings woe. He brings prosperity or He brings calamity. So it's not that the text is saying that God does moral evil or creates moral evil. It is saying, however, that God is the author of all of these conditions ultimately. What this passage is communicating, beloved, is the sovereignty of God over the entire creation. Note the refrain, I am the Lord, there is none other. I am responsible for the whole of the creation, for the whole of human history.

It is my divine, sovereign providence that stands over all human events. I bring the abundant harvest. I also will bring the famine. I bring the sunny day. I also bring the storm. I bring the arid desert.

I also bring the flood. And of course, now the question is, well, is it evil of God to be behind and in charge of and sovereignly and providentially controlling natural disasters? Isn't it interesting that even in our insurance policies there are clauses for those things that are called acts of God?

At least the insurance underwriters have some sense of sound theology at that point. Because the idea here that the Hebrew is saying is that all of life, all of nature is under the authority and the government of Almighty God. Now to be sure, as we learned when we were studying the doctrine of God's providence, it is important for us to make the historic distinction that the theologians have made between the primary and secondary causality. The idea of primary causality means that the ultimate source of all power, the power to do anything in the universe resides with God. In a sense, I can't even do moral evil apart from the power of God. What does that mean?

That's a hard say. What that means is that I don't have the power to do anything apart from God who is the foundation of all being and all power. The New Testament says that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. That doesn't mean that God makes me sin. I'm the one who wants to sin, but I can't even execute my sin unless God and His sovereignty decides not to stop me because I can't draw a breath apart from His sovereign power.

My secondary causality is real causality. I can really take this piece of chalk I'm holding and decide to drop it on the floor as I just did, but I couldn't open my fingers to drop it were it not for the sovereign power of God. That's the lesson that Isaiah is saying here. He's not trying to teach us that God is bad. He's trying to teach us that God is sovereign.

He's not trying to give us a lesson on the origin of sin here or even on the origin of evil. That's another vexing question that we can treat more fully later, but rather this message is designed to teach us of the unique governing authority of God. Again, for Jacob my servant's sake and Israel my elect, I have called you by your name.

What God is saying here is that you wouldn't have a name, you wouldn't have a destiny, there wouldn't be a nation of Israel if it were not for me. I am the one who chose you. I am the one who formed you.

I am the one who named you. I am the one who redeems you. I am the one who gives you blessing. I am the one who gives you judgment. I am the one who brings you prosperity. I am the one who brings you calamity.

I am the Lord and there is no other. In our quorum Deo, I want us to look again at this somewhat scary idea that the sovereignty of God indeed stands above and behind every single thing that ever happens. That in itself is hard for us to swallow because there are lots of things that happen to us that are genuinely tragic in their real life circumstances. But when we understand that the sovereignty of God stands above, beyond, and behind even the tragedies of our life, that is not a reason for us to curse the darkness or to think that this casts a shadow over the goodness of God. But really it is a matter of the greatest hope and greatest comfort for us because we know that when God exercises His government of the universe, in His sight there are no tragedies. And it's because God stands sovereign over all human circumstances that the Scriptures can say all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purpose. When we are called according to His purpose and are His children, even the tragedies, as tragic as they may be in their earthly manifestation, ultimately redound to our good, happy fortune and to the glory of God.

That's a truth that we each need to remember as we navigate life in a fallen world. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and that was R.C. Sproul from his Hard Saying series. And that series formed the basis for a new resource that I'm excited to tell you about this week. It's a new book from Dr. Sproul titled Hard Sayings, Understanding Difficult Passages of Scripture, and it features 27 difficult passages, hard passages from the Bible that Dr. Sproul helps us to understand. And when you give your gift of any amount at, we'll send you this hardcover book as our way of saying thanks for supporting the outreach of Renewing Your Mind and Ligonier Ministries. In addition to receiving this book, we'll also give you digital access to the complete series. It's 27 messages in full and covers hard sayings of Jesus, the apostles, the prophets, and other passages of the Bible. So give your gift today at or by calling us at 800-435-4343. And if you prefer digital resources, remember you'll have lifetime digital access to the complete series as well as to the e-book edition of Hard Sayings. So perhaps there's someone in your church or your family who you would give this book to.

And because it's the hardcover edition, it makes a really thoughtful gift. So make your donation today at If you're a parent, you've probably heard your children say, but Dad, it was just a little white lie. Or if you're not a parent, perhaps you said that yourself as a child. So is it ever okay to lie? Well, join us tomorrow as R.C. Sproul takes us to the story of Rahab here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-09 08:00:04 / 2023-05-09 08:08:09 / 8

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