It began at a discussion on Roger Olson's blog regarding comments made by John Piper. We're only talking about John Piper because he decided to act judgmentally against Rob Bell, who has different (and popular) views on salvation than does Piper. And sometimes going against John Piper - and/or the Reformed tradition - is heresy enough.
There is a statement made in a YouTube video by Piper which makes the claim that God allows Satan to live and evil to occur because his glory can shine more brightly in the presence of darkness than in its absence. I have seen this theological logic before and I think it is wrong. As a first year seminary student I remember hearing someone say that God ordained the Fall so that we might understand better his character and glory, through grace and mercy and salvation. I wondered why God would need a fallen state to reveal to us what a perfect moral state could not . . . I wondered why God needed evil . . . I wondered why God needed.
So, logically this breaks down. But what about the moral character of God that is on the table here. It appears to me that we are creating more of an schizo Dei than approaching the imago Dei when we try to rationalize evil as part of divine necessity. Does God actually need evil to reveal his glory? I don't think so.
Further, if God did in fact need present darkness in order to more brightly shine his light, would he so callously be responsible for human suffering for the sake of his own ego?
Look, we talk about and peddle the love of God and then we say that God has us suffer because he needs to be glorified more. These appear to be contrary sentiments on a moral scale, for it seems to say that God needs to hurt us in order to show how much he loves us. If this is true then perhaps we are institutionalizing some of the godliest people in our culture.
Theologically, this is a question of determinism. Morally, this is a question of looking at a God that I can love.
John Sanders once wrote, "This is borne out in the biblical materials. God, because he cares, is repeatedly hurt, angered and saddened by sinful human actions" (The God Who Risks, 172, emphasis mine). There are many responses to the reasons for God to reveal, glorify and establish himself above all others. But do those sentiments hold up when it comes at the cost of his own creation? . . . a creation that Scripture repeatedly says he cares so much about?
There are many pages in the Bible that become problematic because of these wires getting crossed in our concept of God. Think about the genocide that happened during Israel's conquest, for example. Is that God's glory at the expense of lives and families? I don't know if I can find an answer which I am willing to accept just yet.
As I anticipate some responses to this line of thought, let me say that the discussion here is not revolving around human sinfulness and consequence. We are talking about God's character (at least John Piper was initially speaking of it). This is about God's supposed willingness to allow suffering and death so that he might be glorified more . . . because he needs a fallen state to reveal himself whereas an un-fallen state would not do.
Is God willing to run over humanity for the sake of his own glory?
Before we jump into a misguided-quotation-driven rehearsal of 'his ways are not our ways' let us remember that we are speaking about holiness and goodness. Ultimately, can we trust this God in what he says?
If God is using suffering to bring about his glory, then are we stuck in a theistic caste system? Wouldn't any attempt to heal potentially interrupt the work of God? Let's look at this:
1. God ordains a sickness in a person.
2. God desires for the person to be healed.
3. God will obtain greater glory through the healing.
4. Can God obtain even greater glory if the sickness becomes more severe?
5. Are we potentially undoing God's glory if we heal prematurely?
6. Did Jesus lessen the glory of God by healing?
7. Is God more glorified in raising Lazarus than in healing a woman with hemorrhage?
8. Does God grant healing out of his love for us or from his desire for self-glory?
I don't think that this definition of glory allows it to be compatible with love, as some immediately think. Some will say that the revelation of God's glory is synonymous with his love for us, since he knows that is what we need more than anything. This, again, sounds like rationalizing.
Perhaps it is time that we come to grips with the notion that this God loves us and will go through death for us, even though the world still rages around us. We are caught up in this fire when we see that divine intensity is greater still. But our concept of God must do honor to him rather than be borne out of our own character. There it is true that his ways are not our ways - for his ways are passionate and perfect love. I am not ready to accept a God who is as much a glory-seeker as we are when his center is an intense fiery love which goes beyond our comprehension.