The Tangled Web of the History of Daesh, and the Sovereignty of God

3 days after the Friday the 13th Paris Attacks and the commentaries keep rolling in.

If nothing else, they confirm Leo Tolstoy’s dismissal of the arrogance of historians and commentators who claim to have knowledge of the past and think they understand the causes of present day events.

“Both Tolstoy and Maistre think of what occurs as a thick, opaque, inextricably complex web of events, objects, characteristics, connected and divided by literally innumerable unidentifiable links – and gaps and sudden discontinuities too, visible and invisible. It is a view of reality which makes all clear logical and scientific constructions – the well-defined, symmetrical patterns of human reason – seem smooth, thin, empty, “abstract” and totally ineffective as means either of description or of analysis of anything that lives, or has ever lived.” (Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and The Fox)

Starbucks, Citylink Mall, Singapore

To expand on the list given earlier, these have been trotted out as the cause(s) of the rise of ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State/Daesh and/or the resulting atrocities (though even that link shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion) – in no particular order:

crepe with whipped cream and fresh strawberriesThere is nothing like the inability to untangle the strands that led to any one event, the lack of knowledge and processing power to comprehend the nature and nurture that made one individual the way he/she is at this present moment, to understand that we are far from being in control of our world.

There are two possible responses to this helplessness: (1) existentialism and despair; or (2) contending with the God who controls all things.

The absolute sovereignty of the LORD
You can’t really be a god worth worshipping unless you are (i) really in control of every single thing that happens in the world; (ii) eternal so you can control even time. And this is what the LORD claims – he is in-charge of the sway of international affairs as he is of the rhythms of the day and the hirsuteness of an individual:

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven” (Daniel 4:34-35a)

the Most High rules the kingdom of men and give it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Daniel 4:17, 25c, 32b)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29-30)

The LORD’s sovereignty over evil

And just so we can be sure no one made up this God, being sovereign also means he has control over evil; there isn’t even a hint of any duality of good and evil that would make him less than completely sovereign:

Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6)

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things (Isaiah 45:7)

But…the present evil…?

The more pressing question is: why the present good? Because evil is to be expected in a fallen world where men’s hearts are evil all the time.

But if God is in control, how can evil happen and he still be a good God?

An old question and one answered succinctly in the Book of Job:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

“Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty?
    He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (see Job 38-42!)

The Sovereign God is not obligated to explain his divine decisions to anyone. Job (and with him, all humankind) is put in his place. We have neither the ability nor the right to understand everything because we are not God. But what we do know from the Bible gives us sufficient cause to rely wholly on him as a good and trustworthy God.

Advertisements

Friday the 13th Paris Attacks. Pray for Paris; Pray for Humanity

Far too early on a Saturday morning in Singapore, abruptly awakened by Facebook notifications, I peeked a bleary eye at what was happening. Two friends had, in quick succession, marked themselves safe in Paris, on Facebook’s Safety Check.

Paris Terror Attacks - Facebook Safety CheckNo, I’d thought. No, no, no.

But yes.
screen capture of Telegraph's headlines on Paris shootingSo ISIS (or is it ISIL? Daesh? The Islamic State?) has claimed responsibility, leading to the usual reactions in national and social media:

Immediate Reactions

    • immediate vows of retaliation, and an appeal for unity and togetherness (François Hollande: “So France will be merciless in its response to the Islamic State militants…use all means within the law…on every battleground here and abroad together with our allies”.)
    • calls for non-retaliation – you cannot bomb an idea that is religious, anti-Western, anti-imperialist (Peter van Buren);
    • calls for justice not vengeance – war on terrorism fuels more terrorism (The Nation);

Speculating how this could have been prevented

    • err, pointing to this as an example of why people need the freedom to own guns to shoot “the bad guys” (Donald Trump);
    • the authorities should have had adequate information to stop the attacks (Buzzfeed)

Speculating on the rise and aim of ISIS

  • fingering George Bush’s Iraq War as responsible for the creation of ISIS (Vanity Fair, Huffington Post);
  • rebutting that, qua Leo Tolstoy, no one can really be certain of the cause of historic events – “US invasion of Iraq, massive corruption, recent drought, Sunni v Shia sectarianism, constant Western and Russian meddling, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, trade sanctions, foundational scriptures, Muhammad’s example of religious militarism, Hulagu Khan’s sack of Baghdad, Al-Ghazali’s anti-scientific ‘renewing of the faith’, the Curse of Oil, establishment of the state of Israel etc etc. So many causes of the bedlam in the Middle East. Some are traceable to US foreign policy. Some not at all.” (comments from Muslim Matters)
  • (and also apparent real joy at the American liberation of Iraq (Wait But Why))
  • demanding that politicians finally officially acknowledge that ISIS is a Muslim organisation albeit one that interpretes the Quran differently from peaceful Muslims (The Spectator);
  • explaining that the West needs to know the intellectual basis of their enemy; that the Islamic State really believes that they have set up a caliphate with Baghdadi as caliph, that all good Muslims are to show allegiance to the caliphate, that they are working towards the Day of Judgement (The Atlantic);
  • insisting that it is grossly misrepresentative to say the Islamic State is Islamic (The Slate).

Another group has been greatly offended. Their cause of anger: #prayforparis and #prayforhumanity.

Atheist responses to #prayforparis
Atheist responses to #prayforparisAu contraire, God is neither powerless to prevent evil, nor does he ignore the tragic consequences of evil.

  1. God is so concerned with evil and that most of the Bible, God’s word, teaches how he has dealt with it and will deal completely with it.
  2. Good news for the good guys? Yes. But bad news for all of us, the whole of humanity. Because evil isn’t out there – not zombies, not another country or race or economic group or political party or bloodthirsty terrorist group, it’s in us – it is us. Since the Fall, every intention of the thoughts of the human heart has been evil continually (Genesis 6:5); it has been deceitful all the time and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9); out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19). No one seeks for God or worships him – the ultimate definition of sin.
  3. If God had dealt completely with evil at the Fall, none of us would exist. If God comes to deal with evil now, all of us, on the basis of our own records, will have to be wiped out for justice to be done.
  4. So as I write this and as you read this and life goes on around us, it is erroneous to ask why bad things happen to good people. Because there is no one good, not even one. (Romans 3:10). No one seeks for God. The real question then is this: why do good and bad things happen to us bad people? Why does the sun still shine on us? How can we still enjoy life and love and companionship and food and air?
  5. It is the mercy of God for now. But we cannot be so complacent as to think this means we are home free. There is a judgment to come:

    “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.

    But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:7-10)

  6. And what does repentance look like? It is acknowledging that we have forsaken the true and living God and have wickedly chosen to live our own ways. It is turning back to acknowledging God and trusting his promise that the blood of his Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, has paid for our sins. It is submitting to the lordship of this Christ.
  7. It is to this God whom we pray. It is this judge Jesus whom we must fear. So yes, ISIS is scary but “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

And why pray? The Christian is in a very different relationship with God the Father – able to speak to him and be heard, but of course, God being sovereign may not give us everything we ask for. Skimming the surface of the topic of prayer is D.A. Carson: