Friday, May 18, 2007

Is God an Indian Giver?

Our worship team has been struggling over singing one particular song by Matt Redman called Blessed Be Your Name. Don’t misunderstand me, we love the song, but our struggle has been over the meaning of the bridge in the song which says,

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Our struggle is over what it means to say that God both “gives and he takes away.” I know this comes from Job 1:21, after Job has discovered that he has lost everything, including his children. He says,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken way, may the name of the Lord be praised.

So, it seems Matt Redman is at least being true to the Bible in that he is quoting it, but this does leave me with a couple of questions. First, is Matt quoting this verse out of context? Secondly, does God literally give and take away? To answer this question, we have to examine this quote within the context of Job, examine what this means in the context of the song Blessed Be Your Name and then talk about what it means for God to be “in control” or sovereign over our world.

Within the context of the book of Job we are told that one day the angles came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan shows up. The Lord asks him if he has considered his servant Job and he explains that Job is an upright person. Satan then says that Job will curse him if he were to lose everything. So, the Lord gives Satan permission take away everything as long as he does not touch him. Satan then takes most his family and property. It is after this that Job uses the quote from above.

After this the Lord again asks Satan about Job and talks about his faithfulness even after Satan took things from him. The Lord actually says, “And he maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” Of coarse Satan says that if the Lord will allow him to cause him pain, then Job will curse him. The Lord says that he can as long as he spares his life.

It is after this that Job begins to speak and curse the day he was born. He also claims his own innocence and he wants God to respond to his question of “why.” Of coarse Job’s friends accuse Job of some wrong doing, which is the cause of his suffering. They perceive that God is punishing him, but we have already seen that God believes Job to be righteous and of integrity. In the end of the book, God finally responds to Job, not by telling him “why”, but by telling him that he is God and Job is not. In the end, the Lord accepts Job’s plea of forgiveness and restores him to a place that was even better than we see at the beginning of the book.

We could summarize this book as follows:
1. Satan roams around accusing people before God. He accused Job of being unfaithful and he believed he could prove it if Job lost everything
2. Satan was the one who took things away from Job
3. God gave Satan permission to take things away from Job, thus making God ultimately in control of the situation.
4. It was clear that Job did not understand the situation. He blamed God for taking away things from him when it was really Satan
5. Job’s friends also thought it was God, but that Job had done something wrong to deservers God’s punishment
6. God does not defend his own actions; rather he leaves them to be mysterious. He does say that Satan “incited” him against Job, but he answers Job by basically saying that he is God and Job is not.
7. In the end, it was God who restores Job to a greater place

In the song Blessed Be Your Name, Matt Redman gives several contrasts to explain that he will bless the name of the Lord in ALL situations. Whether in a time a plenty or in the wilderness of life, whether God is pouring our blessings or in the dark times of life, in the sunshine of life or in the times of pain and suffering. He then concludes by saying that God gives and he takes away. If this song is taken as one whole picture of how God works in our lives, it would suggest that God CAUSES both the good and the bad in our lives and our response to that it to praise God no matter which he brings. Satan is actually the one taking things away in the book of Job, while God is the one giving. God is still sovereign over both aspects. I think this is what Matt Redman is trying to say in his song.

Now I want to turn to the second part of this essay and examine the conclusion that we have reached so far. If God, as the book of Job says, does not actually take things away, but allows and gives Satan permission to take away, is God therefore really the one responsible for taking things away? If this is true, then Matt Redman’s song is actually being faithful to the book of Job and to the character of God. If not, then Matt Redman has some explaining to do.

To answer this question, I want to turn to some philosophy. Philosophy often encounters a question about the existence of God called “The Problem of Evil.” Basically the questions says, “If God is all loving and all powerful, then God surely would not want humans to suffer due to his love and surely could prevent suffering from happening if he was all-powerful. Because evil exist there must not be a God or God must not be all-powerful or all-loving. Christian Philosophers have answered this question primarily on two grounds. First, Christians have blamed evil on human free-will. It is said that humanity freely rejected God which has caused evil in the world and God thought it better to created free creatures with the capacity for evil rather than creatures with no freedom and no chance of going wrong. The second response says that we need to mature and it is by overcoming evil in the world that brings maturity. Suffering is really part of the program. In both defenses, the key principle is this: Evil could be permitted by an all-powerful and loving God as long as the evil brings about greater good in the world.
If God gives and takes away, this also means that God directly or indirectly causes all the evil that happens in the world. If this is the case, God has to be defended for more than just allowing evil; God must be defended for causing the evil. There is a difference between saying God “allows” evil and God “causes” evil. Let me explain.

For God to allow something means that things that happen may not be what God intended, but for some greater purpose, God will allow it to take place. To say that God causes things to happens means that nothing happens that God does not ordain to happen. This would mean that all the sin and evil in the world are indirectly or directly caused by God.

Let me give you an illustration using 9/11. If God is the direct or indirect cause of this event, it means that God is totally to blame for that tragedy. We would have to argue that God caused this event in order to bring about some other event that was even greater in order to justify God’s actions. On the other hand, we could say that God allowed the planes to fly into the buildings, but that this was something that God would have rather not happened. But, because it did happen, God will work in the circumstances to accomplish a greater good. The first of these situations places the blame entirely on God. The second places the blame entirely on the people who freely chose to fly the planes into the building.

At this point, I know it will be argued that if God allows evil, is not God the one who is ultimately responsible for it. I think the answer is yes, but that does not mean that God causes it. Here is an example. I am a pastor of a contemporary worship service and I chose to hire Tracie as our worship leader. Tracie has chosen to play this song on Sunday and to play the bridge, which I have been discussing in this blog. Tracie knows that I am not fond of this bridge, but she and the band think musically it is the best thing to do. I would rather her not play it. However, I have given her permission to play the song, although I could have stopped her. I did not cause her to play the bridge, I am just allowing her to do it. The reason I chose to allow it to happen is (1) The song will be better off in the end musically wiht bridge. (2) We could use this as a learning lesson about God’s sovereignty (If you are reading this blog, then it worked (3) It teaches our band to wrestle with theological questions while planning worship (4) It may inspire conversation at the lunch table after the service. So, I am allowing the bridge to be played, although if Tracie had not come to me and asked, she would have assumed I would not have let her play it. I did this because in the end, we can use it to bring about some great things.

Going back to the options of “causing” or “allowing,” in both cases God is completely sovereign in that God’s will ultimately happens. It is just that the means to the end is different. In the first, God accomplishes his will by determining events to happen, in the second, God accomplishes his will by working through free choices and events. The question we have to answer is this: Which scenario makes the most sense out of what we see in the Bible? In the Bible, do we see a God who causes all things or do we see a God who is powerful enough to work though free choices? I believe with all my heart that we see the later. Ultimately, I think this is the message of the book of Job. Satan took away from Job, but God allowed it to happen because it helped build Job’s character and it built the relationship. It was God who gave back to Job more than what he had to begin with. Job grew in his understanding of God. Notice Job’s last reply,

I know that you can do all things, no plan of yours can be thwarted…. My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.

Job admits that he did not understand God before, but now he does. So, maybe Job misunderstood God when he said that God gives and he takes away? In the end he found out that God is really the ones who gives by taking free choices and the work of Satan and accomplishing greater purposes than we can know. Maybe the storms of life are not caused by God, but are brought upon by ourselves, or someone else brings suffering to us, or Satan is bringing suffering upon us, or nature is causing us to suffer. God allows those things to happen knowing that he can redeem every situation that we find ourselves in.

Going back to Matt Redman’s lyrics, I understand the point he is trying to make that we should Bless God’s name no matter what is happening in our lives. However, I think it is wrong of him to say that God is an Indian giver and gives things to us just to take them away again. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he GAVE his only son, whoever believes in him will never perish, but have eternal life.” That is the context in which we should see God giving. God gives salvation as a free gift!


gid said...

Your brother is a bone head. He never told me you had a blog. I will make sure I add you to my roll so that i remember to stop by.

Barbara Webb said...

Look at the positive side of God taking away:

God takes away pain and suffering
God takes away sin through Christ
God takes away death through rebirth
God takes away doubt and gives truth
God takes away the lost and gives direction through the holy spirit
God takes away confusion and gives blessings

I could keep on and on to what God takes away but I will leave with you the thought that when God takes away he gives life eternal - AMEN!

Brian Davis said...

Thanks for the comment Barbara. I do agree with you and I like how you have taken the song and made it meaningful. I do not think this is what the song originally had in mind. I do not thing Job had this in mind either given that he had lost almost eveyrthing.