Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? With Dr. Norman Geisler and Rabbi Harold Kushner – Program 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler, Rabbi Harold Kushner; ©1985
If God can intervene to prevent a crime or an accident, why doesn’t he? Does would he choose not to intervene?

Program 3: Why Do BAD THINGS Happen to GOOD PEOPLE?
Does God Choose Not to Intervene?

Ankerberg: Welcome! We are talking with Rabbi Harold Kushner and Dr. Norman Geisler about, why do bad things happen to good people. We are talking about the fundamental, foundation questions of life such as: Is there a God? If there is, what kind of a God is He? By what rules is He running the game of life? And is He free, or is He handcuffed by His own universe? And we want to pick up from the discussion last week, gentlemen, and there we were talking about the fact of all the things that we were agreeing about; that God does permit us to have freedom. And then we are coming back to this thing, but you wanted to say, “But I still have a problem with His being all-powerful.” And Rabbi Kushner, why don’t you pick it up right there?
Kushner: Essentially, what I am trying to clarify is this, Norm: we agree that God permits evil, because you could not have good, you could not have moral free choice, without that; and that the good deed freely chosen is the most precious thing in God’s sight. That He permits a very messy universe to give us the opportunity to be free. What I would like for you to clarify for me as you understand it: could God intervene and prevent the crime, the accident if He wanted to? Could He have destroyed the gas chambers? Could He have somehow kept the airplane from crashing? And does He choose not to intervene, or did He essentially foreclose the possibility of intervention when He created a world of inexorable natural law?
Geisler: I think as I understand it, the difference between our two views, that the answer is, yes, God can intervene and, yes, He does intervene from time to time. But, no, He can’t do it all the time. If He did it all the time, then, of course, miracle, by nature, is something that happens only on rare occasions; if it happened regularly it would be a natural law. So the very nature of natural law….
Kushner: He can’t do it all the time?
Geisler: The nature of natural law is that there are regular principles. Now, a miracle is an irregular event. If a miracle became regular, by definition it would then be natural law. So, no, God cannot supernaturally intervene all the time. Yes, He can supernaturally intervene sometime, and He has. He did to the children of Israel in Egypt. He did in Elijah’s day. He did in the days of the Prophets, and we believe He did in the New Testament in the life of Jesus Christ as well, and that He will intervene in the end in a very dramatic supernatural event and rectify these tragic evils that you and I detest so much. So I think the answer to that is, no, you can’t tie a God’s hands who can create the world. If He can make something out of nothing, if He can create a world, He can control it. He can’t be tied by the world He created.
Ankerberg: Harold, let me ask a question that I read in Geisler’s book that I think that you skipped around, but you are trying to get at, and that is, what if He did? In other words, why shouldn’t God, every time a guy picks up a knife, turn it to jelly? Why shouldn’t some of those things happen so that we don’t have the tragedies? You wrote about this in your book. Why don’t you give us that paragraph?
Geisler: Well, there are a number of reasons. One I just mentioned. If He did it regularly, then that would violate the very laws of nature and would become a regular event itself, or a natural law. Also, it would avoid all moral responsibility. Once you take away all consequences of actions you avoid all moral responsibilities. So God cannot do that regularly or He would thwart the very moral purposes He had for the universe.
Ankerberg: You also said in your book that we wouldn’t want Him to do that because it would affect our lives and many things that we do.
Geisler: I have often said Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who protests that there is no God, and says that there is no God, and [belief in God] violates the principles of justice in the world, and why doesn’t He intervene and get rid of all the evil. Well, one of the ways He could intervene and get rid of evil, if atheism is wrong, is just to stuff her mouth full of cotton, because if atheism is wrong…. But if He did that, He would be violating her dignity and her freedom. So she doesn’t really want God to intervene and get rid of all evil, or every time she picks up her atheist fountain pen to write an atheist thought, she doesn’t want God to explode it in her hand, because that would be violating her freedom of expression. So God can’t do that without destroying all freedom.
Ankerberg: Do you agree that freedom is something that is worthwhile for us to have, versus being robots?
Kushner: Well, of course, I think that is the definition of a human being. What makes us different from other living creatures is that we are not programmed by instinct. We become human when we exercise an element of choice. For me, by the way, and I don’t know how you feel about this interpretation, the essence of that Genesis chapter 3 is not the fall of man, but the evolution of man; that we passed the border from being simple animals who operate by instinct. Remember what Eve says before she eats the fruit of the tree? She is attracted because it looks good, smells good, tastes good [Gen. 3:6]. This is a purely animal reaction. I mean, that’s how my dog operates. After she has eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she no longer thinks in terms of, “it looks good, so I am going to take it.” Eating habits, sexual habits, anger, all these things become morally problematic for us. Yes, John, if we are going to be human we have to be authentically free to choose good when we didn’t have to do good, or to choose evil with all the consequences of choosing evil.
Ankerberg: Okay, but if we are that free, do you see that there are consequences? That for us to be that free, that God must honor our freedom, and it does cause problems?
Kushner: For sure. That’s exactly what I believe.
Ankerberg: Okay, Norm, pick up from there.
Geisler: Well, let me hitchhike on what he said about Adam and Eve. I think it’s a little more than this animal state, because you remember the Tempter said to her, “Ye shall be as gods” [Gen 3:5]. And so far as I know, my animals don’t respond to something like that. And he also said, “You shall know good from evil” [Gen 3:5]. And so far as I can determine, animals don’t have a moral sense of right or wrong. So I think it was more. I think it was going from a state of innocence to a state of guilt; from a state of being before God without any consciousness of good or evil to a deliberate free choice to sin. And then the consequences of that, in terms of death and sorrow, and the whole creation being subject to bondage, would explain why this world permits the type of tragedies that his son had to go through, and their family. And that’s because God put a representative of the human race here. He said, “You have freedom, don’t abuse it” [Gen 2:15-17]. We abused it and we are suffering the consequences. Nevertheless, in His love God intervened and did something about it so that we can be redeemed from it.
Kushner: But my fantasy, my nightmare, is: suppose Eve and Adam had not eaten the fruit? Where would they be? In your theology I gather they would be innocent people in the presence of God. In my theology we would be no more than animals. We would have nothing to worry about except filling our bellies and reproducing in season. The whole capacity for morality, for Scripture, for liturgy, for music, for poetry, for art, for love, for choice, for altruism, for charity, all of this stems from the fact that we transcended the animal life, the eating of the tree of life in the Garden, and entered into this terribly problematic pain-filled world of humanity, east of Eden.
Geisler: My problem with that, Harold, would be this: if man were only an animal before the fall then he wouldn’t be morally responsible for what he did, because animals are not morally responsible. He could not have been made in the image and likeness of God as Genesis 1:27 says he was. He could not have been accountable for his actions. So I think he was already man before the fall, and he did not fall up as you suggest, he fell down. And even Ecclesiastes says, “Lo, this only have I found. That God has made man upright but he has sought out many inventions” [Eccl. 7:29].
Ankerberg: Also, Harold, in terms of, you know, I don’t want to be picky at this point, but in talking about evolution, if it’s actually evolution, that we are evolving, then there is no such thing as bad things and good things happening to us. It’s just the evolutionary flow that’s happening, for the evolutionary good.
Kushner: No, because along the way there are individual bad things and good things. Evolution, first of all, I believe, inspired by Teilhard de Chardin, evolution has God’s fingerprints all over it. Evolution in the direction of higher moral consciousness, of self-awareness, I think this has got to be part of God’s plan. Evolution for human beings, I think, has been a mixed bag. We are able to help each other and hurt each other much more than we could have a couple of generations, a couple of centuries, ago. But in the process, tragedy, as far as I am concerned, is not something which happens to humanity as a whole. It’s something which happens to individual human beings. The greatness of the human soul is that when a 17-year-old is murdered, we don’t take that as simply a statistic. We are deeply hurt and outraged. I don’t believe that happens virtually for any other creature. That along the path we have seen people misuse this freedom is one of the risks that God took and that God imposed upon us when He steered evolution in this direction.
Ankerberg: Norman?
Geisler: Well, I think we have to distinguish two kinds of evolution. One, biological evolution and that’s one question, but I think the more important question is this so-called moral evolution of man that he has alluded to. And certainly I see no evidence of that in the scriptural record, because the scriptural record says that God created man in His image and likeness [Gen. 1:26]. He was in that image and likeness before he fell. This image and likeness was marred as a result of the fall. He was morally responsible before he took of the forbidden fruit and when he did, he became morally culpable and all the tragedies of life ensued as a result of it. I think that’s most crucial to this whole problem of why a good God permits evil.
Ankerberg: Okay, let me insert one thing while you guys are discussing this, and that is the fact of I feel that there are people looking in tonight that are not Christian or Jewish, they are of no religion, and they are saying, “You guys give me some evidence to hinge this on. You’re talking Bible.” Okay, now, Harold, if I were to ask you, would you hold the Bible as authoritative as Norman? And I would guess your answer would be, “No “
Kushner: In a different way.
Ankerberg: Okay, but then what I am saying to both of you, give me evidence that backs up what you are saying so that the guy that is not religious out there is going to say, “Well, then, I had better listen.” Otherwise it’s just discussion. It’s just philosophy, here.
Kushner: Let me try. For me, I would persuade somebody of the reality of God and the reality of miracle, not by citing Scripture – because you are right, the non-committed person has the right to say “I am not impressed; it’s just an old fable.” I would point to miracles that happen in our lives. For me, I can believe in God because I am always seeing ordinary people do extraordinary things. If my view of God is originally challenged by misfortune, by crime, by tragedy and illness, ultimately my belief in God is affirmed by the astonishing capacity of human beings to survive and transcend tragedy and illness. I see this all the time. Anybody who works in a congregational setting sees this. If we are outraged by the death of a child we are equally inspired by the courage with which children face death. Anybody who has seen a child die of leukemia or another terminal disease, your only thought those last 48 hours is, “May I be worthy of this child and all the courage he has summoned up.” I see people get over the most horrible of tragedies. I see people put their lives together again. Where do they get the capacity to do this, unless God is real? How can somebody look within himself and find resources of strength and faith that he knows he did not have yesterday, but today when he needs them, they are there? That, to me, is the ultimate proof of God. A child is sick and everybody prays that he recovers and he doesn’t recover. He dies. Was there no miracle? No, sometimes the miracle is not that the child survives, the miracle is that the marriage survives, that the parents can go on affirming life, that the faith of the relatives survives, that the community survives, without feeling their prayers have been mocked. The reality of God, the proof of God, for me is not in philosophy or in Scripture, but in the everyday evidence of people transcending themselves, surviving and coping with misfortune.
Ankerberg: Norman, we’ve got about 30 seconds left, and we’ll come back to this after the break.
Geisler: Again, I agree with that entirely, but wonder how that can be, if God is limited in power. Where does all of this inspiration come from? If God can’t know the end from the beginning [Isa. 46:10], if He can’t guarantee the end, then how can these people be so motivated and so turned on to transform this experience, when they have absolutely no hope that in the end it’s going to be anything but a frustrating victory for evil? I agree with his goal, I agree with his aspirations, but I don’t think his God, a limited God, can possibly accomplish those.
Ankerberg: All right, we will pick this up. I am sure you want to answer that as soon as we are back from our break, so please stick with us.

Ankerberg: We are back, and Dr. Geisler has been talking about an all-powerful, all-loving God, and – let’s change the terminology – who’s working on a plan. And I think that what you are saying to Rabbi Kushner is that you guys agree on the goal, you agree on the plan, but you are simply saying an all-powerful God can ensure that we will get there. And you are saying how can Rabbi Kushner assure us that we are going to get there?
Kushner: Okay, first, I am not saying that God is impotent. I am certainly not saying that. God has tremendous power. For me the issue is not what percent of all possible power does God have, it’s rather, wherein does God manifest His power? And I am suggesting that He manifests His power, not in causing or permitting the misfortune, but in strengthening us to transcend and survive it. How can I be assured that we are going to come out okay? I can’t be assured. This is, as I was saying on an earlier program, this is my faith. My faith is that I am willing to bet on God despite the fact that I haven’t read the ending and I am not sure that God has the power to write the ending. You see, in the Hebrew Bible the confrontation is not between God and Satan, the confrontation is between God and human stubbornness and human laziness. The real enemy of God is not evil, the real enemy of God, from my scriptural tradition, is human unresponsiveness. God’s going to win if people want Him to win, because we are the only obstacle, we are the only thing that keeps God’s kingdom from being revealed. In my tradition there is no Satan, there is no active principle of evil. Evil is caused by bad human beings, and sometimes evil is caused by sensitive human beings. The things that happen in the run of nature hurt us very badly. And that’s why we see the world as being such a painful place.
Ankerberg: Alright, I am sure you want to answer that, but let me jump back to the fact of listening to the people that are in our audience that are not Christian or Jewish, who are saying… Let me take you back to a program that we did a few months ago with the representative of Playboy Magazine. He said that, “15 years ago, that which southern sheriffs were arresting newsstand owners for displaying, today would not shock your grandmother.” And I thought that is probably true in our society. So something changed. What I am hearing from you is the fact that you are picking up what people, what you yourself, are saying at this moment you believe and hold to. And I am saying without a God who is absolute, it would seem that maybe what you are saying could change 10 years down the line. How do we even know what God is saying? It seems like you are picking up information about God from your circumstances, from yourself, and other people and are coming up with divergent opinions about what God is saying. Where are you getting your information and why should we believe it?
Kushner: Okay, I can handle that, John. I believe that our understanding of God is incomplete. I also believe, and I think I tend to have a more upward-leaning graph than perhaps traditional Christianity does, which sees us starting with perfection and declining at least until the Second Coming. I believe that with every generation, with every advance of science and knowledge, we understand God better. We understand the world better. We understand the human soul better. I think there are things that we used to believe were necessary which are optional, and vice versa. I would not align myself with the representative of Playboy. I think the standards in morality, standards in codes of dress change. I am not sure that is always progress. I would disagree with him because I think that my grandmother is still shocked by the things which go out in that magazine. But I believe that what happens is, Scripture was spoken to an immature people, to people who shortly before that had been slaves. And so Scripture had to speak in fairly stark, fairly primitive images, not because that’s all God could say, but because that’s all the people could hear and comprehend. In the same way that a professor in a university with a three-year-old child shouts, “Don’t!” at the child instead of giving him learned explanations, not because he is limited, but because the child is limited. I think Scripture points us toward God’s will incompletely because it was inspired, but written down by human beings and addressed to a people whose capacity to comprehend was limited. I think the more we understand, both of Scripture and of human nature, the more we come to comprehend what are the demands that God has of us, what are the things we have to do so that we can, in fact, mature to become full human beings in the image of God.
Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler?
Geisler: Let me mention what we have in common: namely, the Old Testament. The authority for my faith is found in Scripture. And the Old Testament Scriptures say, for example, David on his deathbed in 2 Samuel 23:2 said, “The Holy Spirit spoke by me and his word was on my tongue.” So it’s not a question of God inspiring it and then David’s words being errant or having errors then. If they were God’s words on David’s tongue then the Scripture is the Word of God. Zechariah 7 says the same thing. The Spirit spoke through the Prophets [v. 12] and God spoke directly to Moses. Hundreds of times it says throughout the Old Testament, “Thus saith the Lord”; “the word of the Lord came to me.” So the authoritative basis for my faith is the Bible as the Word of God. And if the Bible is the Word of God and God cannot err, and surely God cannot err, it’s impossible for Him to err, He’s the very standard of truth or error….
Ankerberg: Especially if He is infinitely loving. He wouldn’t want to err.
Geisler: Well, yes. So the Bible then is the Word of God and God can’t err. The Bible then has to be the unerring word of God. If you have an authority like that, then you look to that authority and say, “What does it say about God?” It’s not a question of human speculation, what I would like or not. That Bible says His knowledge is infinite [Psa. 147:5]. It says He is almighty [Gen 17:1]. At least four dozen times in the Old Testament it says that God created the universe out of nothing [e.g., Gen. 1:1-2; Prov. 8:22-24; Psa. 33:6]. That He is going to destroy the whole universe [2 Pet. 3:7, 10; Rev. 21:1]. That He doesn’t change [Mal. 3:6]. Well, now that’s an entirely different concept of God as revealed in the Scriptures than the concept that he presents in his book. So as I understand it, his God is created not out of the scriptural tradition, but is created out of his own existential reaction to a very tragic situation in his life.
Kushner: Well, it’s not quite that, Norm. It is my reaction to a tragic situation as educated by a thorough immersion in Scripture. I would be happier not to get into a discussion of biblical inerrancy right now, except to say that, you know, if you are going to stand too firmly on that, you end up with a God who approves of slavery and forbids pork chops.
Geisler: How so? Why are you saying that? I don’t understand.
Kushner: Well, because chapter 21 of Exodus makes laws for how you treat your slaves, and chapter 11 of Leviticus tells us not to eat the flesh of the pig.
Geisler: Well, I would think that that’s true, and that’s exactly what God did command them to do.
Kushner: Yes, but I am the one who doesn’t eat pork chops and I suspect you do.
Geisler: Yes, but I do because one of your own cleansed all meats [Acts 10:9-16] and said that now in the light of His fulfillment of those, we no longer have to keep those.
Kushner: I am not sure I want to get into dietary laws. That sounds suspiciously to me like God changing His mind.
Geisler: No, He… You change your mind for your children. When they are very small you say, “You can use your fingers when you eat.” And then when they get a little older you say, “You can use your spoon.” And when they get a little older you say, “Use your fork.” I mean, it’s perfectly legitimate for you to have different rules at different times and different stages, isn’t it?
Kushner: I thought that was the point I was making five minutes ago.
Geisler: No, that’s the point I am making, but it could be inerrant advice and command at that point in their life, and I think at certain points in the lives of God’s people, since His revelation is progressive, He did have different house orders for them to operate under.
Kushner: And then human beings have to use their informed conscience to decide when God is inerrant, but limited to that time when God is speaking?
Geisler: He is inerrant at all those times, but when He changes the revelation – and you agree, don’t you, in the Old Testament that God came and gave further revelation? He gave some to Adam, and some to Noah, and some to Moses, and some to Abraham – that when He gives the new revelation, then we are obligated? We simply don’t make up the rules; we get the rules as He reveals them.
Kushner: But I still think that there is a divinely planted response in us which makes it possible to understand that the prohibition of murder and adultery were permanent, and the prohibitions that might have to do with eating leavened bread on Passover, or sacrificing rams….
Geisler: Well, He never revoked those, did He? He did, from our standpoint, revoke the prohibitions regarding the ceremonial laws, but He never revoked anything regarding the moral laws. So that would depend upon whether God did or did not revoke them.
Kushner: Yes, the key phrase “being from our standpoint!”
Geisler: Yes.
Kushner: Which already introduces a certain personal dimension; that is, one can choose to accept the Christian filtering out of ritual and ceremonial things, but then you are choosing, which is probably not a whole lot less existential than some of the choices I make.
Geisler: But if, for example, the choice were based on historic evidence of someone, let’s say, Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfilled prophecies literally as to the year He would come, the city He would be born in, how He would die, and how He would rise, it wouldn’t be a choice would it? It would be built on evidence.
Kushner: Well, it’s only evidence as accepted by Christians.
Geisler: Well, even Rabbi Pinchas Lapide recently said he accepts the Resurrection of Christ. Now, if he accepts the Resurrection of Christ and Christ said, in essence, “I am God and my Resurrection will prove it” [cf. Rom. 1:4], then it would seem to me to be good evidence that He was the fulfillment of those prophecies.
Ankerberg: By the way, we are going to have him as a guest on our program, hopefully, up ahead. But hold on to this, friends, because we are out of time and I wish we could go forever on this point. We will pick it up next week. So hang in there with us.
Geisler: Well, I would outline the book of Job this way: The first two chapters I could call the “behind the scene,” and the middle chapters I would call the “on the scene,” and the last chapters the “beyond the scene.” My contention is that to understand the book of Job you will not ever understand what’s going on on the scene unless you understand what’s going on behind the scene, and then what’s going to happen beyond the scene. Now, the first part, the behind the scene, is really a kind of contest between God and Satan. I don’t think we can ultimately understand evil unless we understand the ultimate origin of evil, which in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 is in terms of a created angel that rebelled against God and that hates Him, and hates His people, and wants to do evil. That contest between God and evil prompted God to permit Job to suffer because of Satan’s challenge. Satan is the one who inflicts the evil. God permits it in order that Job may say, as he did in 23:10, “…when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold,” and “I know that my redeemer liveth” in 19:25, so that when we get to the end of the book God rewards Job and he has twice as many of everything he had in the beginning. So God permits evil to bring a greater good, but only if He is prompted by the evil one who inflicts the evil on Job. And the suffering then becomes significant in the light of the ultimate purpose of a sovereign God who can do anything, and who does anything, and does it good both for Job and for His own glory.
Kushner: Norm, I have problems with that. I read the book of Job as a lot of modern scholars do, as essentially two books. Chapters 1, 2, and 42 are an ancient fable where God and Satan enter into this wager. Chapters 3 through 41 are a much, much later, much more philosophically sophisticated poem dialogue. If I thought that 1, 2, and 42 were really part of the same book, I’d have real problems with a God who lets Himself get talked into this wager, and even worse, who thinks that you compensate someone for the death of his children by giving him more children. I can find it only as a very ancient fable and by identifying with the author of the poem in the middle, who I believe is as unsatisfied with that chapter 42 ending as I am. Otherwise the God that the book seems to present is not a terribly edifying God.
Geisler: Well, let me point out a couple of things in response. First of all, as to the book of Job being divided into parts, there is no manuscript evidence for that. Our oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament have it as one book in text. Secondly, there’s good literary evidence internally that this is one book. A phrase like “sons of God” in Job chapter 1:6 and 2:1, also found in Job 38:7, is only found one other place in the entire Old Testament and that’s in Genesis 6:2 – “the sons of God.” That shows the kind of literary continuity, along with a lot of other very ancient landmark-indication type thing. So we have no internal or external evidence that there were ever two books. Furthermore…
Kushner: Except the names of God are different.
Geisler: No, the names of God are not different. They’re the same names of God that are used throughout the Old Testament. And the name of God that is used most in the book of Job is “the Almighty,” and that indicates an all-powerful God, the very kind of God you reject. That name is only used 48 times in the entire Old Testament. Thirty-one of those 48 times are found right there in the book of Job. So you’ve got an Almighty, sovereign God who sees this whole thing, who permits it and brings His good and greater purposes out of it, which is contrary to your book.
Kushner: Alright that’s very impressive. I’m going to have to pull rank on you. I haven’t done this for four weeks. I’m going to have to use my knowledge of Hebrew. God is not referred to as the Almighty. He’s referred to as Shaddai, and there is absolutely no conclusive proof that Shaddai means Almighty, except that the King James committee translated it that way.
Ankerberg: What about Brown-Driver-Briggs, the lexicon for the Hebrew language?
Geisler: That’s right. They translate it that way.
Ankerberg: They’re not too bad.
Geisler: That’s the standard lexicon.
Kushner: An early 20th century dictionary is really not conclusive proof.
Ankerberg: Based on the papyri, as well as all the manuscript evidence, which is what that is?
Kushner: Shaddai does not necessarily mean “Almighty.”
Geisler: Well the standard reference, Brown-Driver-Briggs, the Old Testament dictionary, translates it that way, so I think that’s good evidence that it should be…
Kushner: No, I’m sorry that’s not a theological concept. Shaddai is not a theological affirmation about God. It is a praise name of God. Secondly, the fable framework 1, 2 and 42, refers to God as Elohim and the poem refers to him as Adonai. You never find Elohim in the poem and you never find Adonai in the framework.
Geisler: But you’re pointing to some differences and overlooking the similarities. What about the phrase “the sons of God?” What about the ancient references, the landmarks, the kind of day in which they lived, the patriarchal period, the pre-Mosaic type of period? All of that follows right through the whole book of Job.
Kushner: No, I’m not sure it does. What you have is a poet who is deliberately archaizing. I’m not saying that the two books grew up independently of each other.
Geisler: Well you’re saying he’s deliberately deceiving them.
Kushner: No, of course not.
Geisler: Well, if he is deliberately presenting it as though it were a period in which it is not, I would say that would be deliberately deceiving.
Kushner: Certainly not. This is the way literature was written in the biblical period.
Geisler: Well, I think that Job is referred to even in the rest of the Old Testament as a historical character, and not as a legend. Ezekiel refers to him as a very notable person that everyone knew, along with Daniel and Noah.
Kushner: Right. And St. Paul refers to him similarly. As, “the patience of Job.” But after chapters…
Geisler: That was James [5:11].
Kushner: I’m sorry. After chapter 2, once you transfer from prose to poetry, Job stops being patient. Starting in chapter 3 he is a terribly impatient, outraged, angry, blaspheming Job. There is a total inversion of the characters there, and the friends who started out urging Job to be a little bit heretical, they become the defenders of conventional wisdom. You know, I think there are some real disjunctures between the prose framework and the poem in the middle.
Geisler: I don’t think that’s a disjuncture to say that Job started out praising God and then later he turned exactly the opposite, because even in that middle section he’s still recognizing God’s hand. Don’t forget Job is the one who uttered in chapter 19, “I know that my redeemer liveth” [v. 25]. He’s the one who said in chapter 23, “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” [v. 10]. True, Job had some discouraging moments. You do, and I do. But that doesn’t mean there’s a total antithesis between these two sections.<
Kushner: First of all, “I know that my redeemer liveth” happens to be very obscure Hebrew. The Hebrew is not nearly as clear or as inspiring as the English. All of this is really small details. The major point, Norm, is: Is the concept of God presented in the speech from the whirlwind the same as the God presented in chapters 1, 2, and 42; that is, a bargaining and compensating God? And I really don’t see that He is.
Geisler: Well, I don’t see that He is a bargaining God but I do think that He is a compensating God, because He did compensate Job in the end. Notice that in chapter 42 when He compensated Job He gave him twice as many cattle, twice as much silver, twice as much gold, but the same amount of children, not twice as many [vv. 12-13]. And I think the direct implication of that is, he never lost the first ones. He will get them in the resurrection and he affirmed his belief in the resurrection in chapter 19. So that shows that the God behind the scenes will bring about beyond the scenes what we can’t understand on the scenes.
Kushner: I think that’s beautiful, but it’s homiletic.
Ankerberg: All right, we’re going to break right there. We’re going to pick this up. We’ll take a break. We’ll come right back.

Ankerberg: May I throw in an idea concerning the interpretation of the book of Job? And that is, namely, that what you said in your book is what the book of Job is all about; namely, that God wants people who will serve Him because they love Him, not because of what they’ll get from Him. Is that not the story of the book of Job, even when the people don’t have all the reasons?
Kushner: I think that’s a very plausible interpretation. By the way, that’s what Archibald MacLeish says in his modern telling of Job in J.B., that the key to understanding God’s role in tragedy is that the imperfection of the world makes it possible for us to love God not because we are overwhelmed with His greatness, but because we are warmed by His goodness. I’m not sure that’s the point of biblical Job. The biblical story of Job almost makes the opposite point, John. God appears in the whirlwind. God overwhelms Job. Frankly, I am more comfortable with a God who invites us to love Him than with a God who intimidates us into apologizing and being afraid of Him.
Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler?
Geisler: I don’t think it’s either a great God or a good God. I think if you look at Job in the total balance you have a great God who is a good God. He’s great. He’s in sovereign control of the universe; even Satan can’t do anything without His permission. There are limits around Job. Satan complained because God had built a hedge around Job that Satan couldn’t get into. He got in only because God permitted. You have a God who is in sovereign control of the entire universe, including the forces of evil, throughout the entire book, but who is not simply all-powerful and therefore we fearfully bow before Him. But He is a God who is all-loving and we willingly submit to Him, and that’s the message at the end of the book of Job.
Kushner: Norm, I could go along with that as long as we keep the focus on Job. Suppose someone chose to write a book, not about Job, but about Job’s children, and the story ended with their being killed? Where is the purification? Where is the sense of growth through misfortune when they are dead before you come to the end of chapter one?
Geisler: I think the sense is, Job himself proclaimed, that our hope does not end in the grave, that we have an all-powerful God who will be able to reverse death and bring a life beyond the grave that will rectify all of the injustices in this life. But as I read your book carefully, you held out no hope that there would be such a life beyond the grave, and as a consequence of that, I think your conclusion was a logical one from your premises. If there is no hope beyond the grave, then we are in this life, as the Apostle Paul said, most miserable [1 Cor. 15:19], because we can’t figure out anything and we don’t have any assurance that anything better is going to come.
Kushner: Norm, the only page reference I know by heart in my book is this one: it’s on page 29, because I’m asked this question so often. It’s not that I offer no hope, it’s that I offer no confidence. There may, there may not be, a life beyond this one. And because I can’t be sure, I can’t bet all my chips on the fact that there is another world where the injustices of this world will be straightened out. And because I can’t, I have to work that much harder to try and minimize the amount of injustice in this world. What happens, I think, is that when Christian and Jewish preachers alike want to mobilize people for social action, for world peace, for racial justice, for economic justice, they tend to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures and to the Prophets, because they play down the world to come and its balancing effect, and they do focus on trying to make this world more nearly the kingdom of God. And I think I stand with them.
Geisler: Let me offer a suggestion on how that can be done. Usually it’s argued if God is all-powerful, He could destroy evil. If He is all good, He would destroy evil. But evil isn’t destroyed; therefore, there is no such God. Well, I think you can turn that around and argue just the opposite. If He is all-powerful, He can do it. If He is all-good, He will do it. And the fact that it’s not yet done proves that He will one day do it. You can’t stop a novel in the second chapter and say, “This thing will never turn out.” And you can’t look at life right in the middle and say, “There is no way for this to come out.” If there is an all-good, an all-powerful God, He not only can do it, He will do it. And that is your hope and assurance that it will be done.
Kushner: Yes, this is the 92nd Psalm, that the wicked may flourish like the grass and the righteous are like the palm tree [v. 7]. That is, wickedness may have an apparent head start, but in the long run God’s justice catches up with it. Until you remember the words of John Maynard Keynes that in the long run we are all dead.
Geisler: But I wouldn’t take the words of Keynes over the authoritative words of Scripture. I would say in the long run we’re all going to be alive. And from my standpoint, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” [John 11:25]. So I don’t believe in the long run we’re going to be dead. If I knew that in the long run we were going to be dead, I would have to know everything. If I knew everything, I would be God. So in order to know in the long run that it’s not going to turn out, you would have to be omniscient. So you would have to be God in order to defeat God.
Ankerberg: Also, the evidence that it’s true. Let’s put it the other way, not just the negative, but the fact that what you are saying is true, is Christ’s resurrection as the first fruits, as the proof of the fact of the hope that we have [1 Cor. 15:20].
Kushner: John, I would throw back the question that you tossed out to me two weeks ago. That’s great for the committed Christian who’s watching. What about the skeptic who’s watching and says, “The resurrection of Jesus is hardly a fact. It is at best a religious hypothesis and I’m not impressed? What am I to make of all the suffering, and all the oppression, and all the unfairness of the world if I am skeptical about the resurrection?”
Ankerberg: It’s a great question. I’d be glad to answer, but the guy that’s sitting next to you wrote three books on that very question. So why don’t you answer it?
Geisler: Well, in brief, I would say, read Rabbi Pinchas Lapide’s book. Here is a Jewish rabbi who has concluded that Jesus rose from the dead. Or read Frank Morison’s book Who Moved the Stone? He was a skeptic who wanted to look into the evidence about Christ in order to disprove it. The evidence was so overwhelming that he was converted and wrote a book showing how Christ did rise from the dead. Or read…
Ankerberg: Simon Greenleaf.
Geisler: Simon Greenleaf from Harvard Law School wrote the book on legal evidence. A student challenged him to apply the legal evidence to the New Testament documents to test their authenticity. He, too, was converted and became a Christian. The evidence is there. But you can lead a horse to the water; you can’t make him drink.
Kushner: Norm, you’re preaching to the choir. That is, these evidences will persuade the persuaded and strengthen the belief of those who are open to believing. And there is a real purpose to doing that.
Geisler: Well, then, you missed the point I made, because in each of those cases it was someone who was un-persuaded that the evidence was presented to. Simon Greenleaf was un-persuaded. Frank Morison was un-persuaded. Pinchas Lapide was un-persuaded. They became persuaded by the evidence. I’m saying that the cart and the horse is, evidence first, and then persuasion.
Kushner: But, Harold Kushner has also read the New Testament and taught at the college level, and has some familiarity with it, and I’m still un-persuaded.
Geisler: Well I’m not saying you’re not un-persuaded. I’m just saying that there is objective evidence there for anyone who wishes to look into it and that as a Christian – and numerous other people who have looked at the evidence even when they weren’t – they found it sufficient to make a commitment without saying, “I leap before I look.” They took a look and then they placed their faith in the sufficiency of the evidence, rather than a blind leap of faith.
Ankerberg: Does that make sense?
Kushner: It describes the situation. I don’t think it’s going to convert any of the unconverted.
Geisler: Well, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to convert. I think there’s a difference between proof and persuasion. I think there’s a difference between objective evidence and a subjective decision. I know a lot of people who are persuaded that airplanes are the most efficient forms of transportation, but they won’t get on an airplane and go anywhere. It’s a difference between belief “that” and a belief “in.” All I’m saying is that there is plenty of evidence for anyone who wants to believe that. He’s going to have to make his own free choice as to whether he wants to believe in.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s hold it right there, and we’ll continue this discussion next week. So please stick with us.

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