Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Everything good comes from God?

Have you ever heard the modern proverb?
Everything good comes from God.
Everything bad comes from the devil.
Is that sentiment in the Bible somewhere? Does a cool-sounding cliché work as a doctrine?

Maybe the maxim is rooted in James 1:17.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV2011)
Well that sure sounds like everything good comes from God, doesn't it? Does "every" mean "every?"

Regarding this claim that everything good comes from God, music and literature is replete with example paradoxes where something good for one person is something bad for another.

Lyrics of Chicago's song:
If she would've been faithful,
if she could have been true
Then I would've been cheated,

I would never know real love
I would've missed out on you

Lyrics of The Hollies' song:
Dear Eliose, I am writing to say
A number of funny things I heard today.
I heard that he's left you and run off to see.
Could be the best thing that's happened to me.
In the Bible, all-inclusive and all-exclusive (everything or nothing) statements have contexts that really should be acknowledged. James 1:17 is no exception. If Bible class teachers would just slow down a little bit, they would notice.

The context in James is about facing trials (James 1:2). James sets out to answer the question of how a Christian should respond to "trials of any kind." Trials come in many forms. They could be just bad circumstances such as health problems. They could be troubles coming through bad treatment from other people. It is the second form of trial that is on James' mind (James 1:19-20 f); but any trial can turn into a temptation to sin. God does not tempt people to sin, says James 1:13-15. We may lash out at God. We may lash out at people who are behaving unjustly toward us. James wants Christians to view such troubles as trials rather than temptations to sin. Responding to trials by committing sin is not who we are. God gives us birth into a different kind of creation (2 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18; John 3:3, 5, 7). It is God's good and perfect gift to us. God is unchanging in character, unlike the astral lights. In particular, God perseveres.
... with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (NRSV)
...meaning, God does not fly off the handle and lash out at people for persecuting God (s.a. Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15)! Christians are born (by the word of truth) to respond to troubles as trials and not temptations. Enduring trials is what we are born to do. That makes us "a kind of first fruits" (the tithe from the first of the season's harvest, Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:10, 17; Deuteronomy 18:4) which anticipates a very rich harvest to follow. In that sense, the first generation of Christians anticipated a time when Christ through the Christian community would change the world for God.

"Every generous act of giving with every perfect gift, is from above..." (NRSV). Does "every" mean "every?" Absolutely not. The context requires that a particular gift is in view: our birth through the word of truth. It is the gift of power to endure trial. It is the gift of being first-fruits of God's creatures. It anticipates eternal life as God's specific "every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift."

Is my job a gift from God? Is my house and neighborhood a gift from God? Are my children gifts from God (Psalm 127)? Absolutely! but these gifts are not in view in James 1:17! James has in mind gifts that have eternal import.

"Everything good comes from God and everything bad comes from the devil?" Maybe it works as a rule of thumb. As a Biblical doctrine, it does not work.

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