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Habakkuk 1:13a states, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” Based on this text, Ray Pritchard, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Challies declare that God cannot look upon evil. The following quotes from these men seem to add support to D. A. Carson’s claim that exegetical fallacies are “painfully frequent.” The quotes are lengthy but needful to represent their position. The first quote is from Ray Pritchard:
We know from Habakkuk 1:13 that God cannot look with favor upon wickedness. His eyes are too pure to approve the evil in the world. . . . God’s holiness demands that he turn away from sin. . . . Therefore (and this is a big “therefore"), when God looked down and saw his Son bearing the sin of the world, he didn’t see his Son, he saw instead the sin that he was bearing. And in that awful moment, the Father turned away. . . . He turned away in complete revulsion at the ugliness of sin. When he did that, Jesus was alone. Completely forsaken. God-forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted. Disowned (emphasis added).
R. C. Sproul teaches essentially the same thing. The embellishments are different; however, his premises and the conclusion are consistent with those of Pritchard. During a message to the participants of the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference, he dramatically proclaimed:
After he [Jesus] became the scapegoat and the Father imputes to him every sin of every one of his people, we see the most intense, dense, concentration of evil ever experienced on this planet. Jesus was the ultimate obscenity. And so what happened? The Bible tells us that God is too holy to even look at sin, and he cannot bear to look at this concentrated, monumental condensation of evil. And his eyes are averted from his son. He didn't just feel forsaken; he was forsaken. For Jesus to become the curse, he has to be utterly, totally, and completely forsaken by the Father (emphasis added)..
Tim Challies was present when Sproul gave that message. He accepted it wholeheartedly. He then reiterated Sproul’s hypothesis in his blog. Challies added different details, but the premises and conclusion remain unchanged:
God is too holy to even look at sin. His eyes are averted from His Son. The light of His countenance is turned off; all blessedness is removed from His Son whom He loves. And in its place is the full measure of the divine curse. . . . God turns out the light of the sun so as God turns His face, even the sun won’t shine on Calvary. Bearing the full measure of the curse Christ screams “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus did not merely feel forsaken; He was forsaken. He was utterly, totally and completely forsaken by the Father (emphasis added).
Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks encourage their readers to discover the syllogistic arguments used by others in order to evaluate their deductions. One way to find the syllogism is to first identify the conclusion. “Writers will either state it and then support it, or lead you down a road toward it.” Pritchard et al lead the reader down the road to the same conclusion: God turned away from Jesus on the cross and forsook him. All three begin with the major premise that God cannot look upon evil. Each of them presents his minor premise a little differently. It would take extensive review to examine these minor premises properly; therefore, this paper will not expand upon them. It is the contention of this student that the premises and conclusions of all three authors are unequivocally false. However, this paper limits itself only to the major premise—God cannot look upon evil.
UNWARRANTED ASSOCIATIVE JUMPS
Carson explains that an unwarranted associative jump is a logical fallacy that “occurs when a word or phrase triggers off an associated idea, concept, or experience that bears no close relation to the text at hand, yet is used to interpret the text.” The quotes under review refer to Matthew 27:45-46: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” Those who conclude Christ was forsaken need support for their claim. That no direct correlation exists between the passage in Habakkuk and Matthew does not prevent them from fabricating one. Habakkuk 1:13 is not a Messianic passage. Its subject matter is different from that of Matthew 27, which describes the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Habakkuk is struggling with his idea of justice and God’s plan to punish “wicked people with a people even more wicked!” God’s plan alarmed Habakkuk. He thought it was unjust. He was expressing his belief that God should not allow the wicked Chaldeans to oppress Israel. When he said to God that his eyes were too pure to look on evil, he was arguing his point. Therefore, there is no express correlation between the two passages, (i.e., Habakkuk 1:13a and Matthew 27). They have no direct exegetical bearing upon each other. Consequently, teaching that God cannot look upon evil based on Habakkuk 1:13 qualifies as an unwarranted associative jump when applied to Matthew 27.
IGNORING THE CONTEXT FALLACY
Grant R. Osborne describes the semantic fallacy of ignoring the context. He instructs his readers that “ignoring the context is the basic error that encompasses the others and makes them possible.” The proposition that God cannot look upon evil is fallacious because it ignores the context of Habakkuk 1:13. Those who use the first half of the verse to teach God cannot look upon evil, ignore the last half. Context is crucial when interpreting. “Statements simply have no meaning apart from” it. It is illegitimate exegesis to pull half of a verse out of its context and use it to support a doctrine. If one looks at the rest of the verse, it becomes obvious that God was looking at evil men. “Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?" (emphasis added, Habakkuk 1:13b, English Standard Version, ESV). The last half of the verse should settle the matter because “the immediate context is the final arbiter for all decisions regarding the meaning of a term or concept.”
THE FIGURATIVE FALLACY
Carson describes problems in distinguishing the figurative and the literal as a “fertile field for fallacies of exegesis.” This is applicable to the premise that God cannot look upon evil. The sense of Habakkuk 1:13a highlights God’s inability to tolerate sin. It does not mean that God cannot literally look upon evil. It refers to God’s holiness. It is figurative.
This epithet is applied to God as the pure One, whose eyes cannot bear what is morally unclean, i.e., cannot look upon evil. The purity of God is not measured here by His seeing evil, but is described as exalted above it, and not coming at all into comparison with it. . . . who canst not look upon, i.e., canst not tolerate (emphasis added).
God does not have literal, physical eyes, because “God does not a physical body. Scripture uses various parts of the human body to describe God’s activities in a metaphorical way” (emphasis added). The metaphor depicts God’s omniscience and omnipresence. “God . . . is the ever present eye to which all things are perfectly revealed.” He is everywhere; he sees and knows everything.
Knowledge belongs to God. . . . Objections . . . seem to arise, partly from the supposed distance of God in heaven, from men on earth, and partly from the thick and dark clouds which intervene between them. . . . [These objections are] easily answered by observing the omnipresence of God, or his presence in all places; and that the darkness hides not anything from his all-piercing, all-penetrating eye, the darkness and the light being alike to him” (emphasis added).
Pritchard began by acknowledging the use of metaphor. “God cannot look with favor upon wickedness. His eyes are too pure to approve the evil in the world” (emphasis added). Unfortunately, he did not stop there. “The Father turned away. . . . He turned away in complete revulsion at the ugliness of sin” (emphasis added). He would have done well to heed Carson’s exhortation to “avoid going beyond what is written.”
SELECTIVE AND PREJUDICIAL USE OF EVIDENCE
It is difficult to determine why a scholar would fail to address the entire verse or fail to consider the figurative intent of the passage. The men who promote the idea that God cannot look upon evil are educated. They know better. So blatant is the oversight that it qualifies for a fourth fallacy—selective citing. James W. Sire describes this as a “misuse of evidence in an argument . . . when only a portion of the relevant text is cited.”
Carson explains that this type of fallacy is an “appeal to selective evidence that enables the interpreter to say what he or she wants to say, without really listening to what the Word of God says.” He goes on to explain that “the fallacy lies in [the] . . . implicit supposition that the presentation of selective evidence constitutes proof.” The Word of God is quite clear. Hebrews 4:13 states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The Bible also affirms this in Amos 9:8a. “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom.” Even Satan appears before God. “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him” (emphasis added, Job 2:1). Consequently, it is fallacious to assert that God cannot literally look upon evil. The student must be diligent. Having an education or being an author is not a guarantee of solid, biblical exegesis. As Geisler and Feinberg pointed out, “It is relatively easy to assert a belief or opinion. It is quite another matter to defend that belief or opinion. Obviously, the mere assertion of a belief does not guarantee its truth.”
PURELY EMOTIVE APPEALS
Emotion is a normal and heartfelt response for the Christian. This is especially true when considering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, using emotion in place of solid exegesis is misleading at best. As Carson pointed out, “an emotional appeal used as a substitute for truth is worthless.” The message that Pritchard presents is laden with emotion. Sproul’s video message cited above is poignant. It stirs up the listener’s feelings. However, it is not truth. Perhaps these men want to explain the vileness of sin, the righteous judgment of God, and the unfathomable riches of Christ’s love. Even if this is their motivation, there is still a problem. These concepts must not be taught with emotional appeals that bring tears but not truth. Note the affecting pattern used by another teacher who asserts that God cannot look upon sin—John MacArthur:
As a sinful child does not cease to be the essence of his father, but by his sin loses the intimate fellowship with his father, so Christ did not cease to be God but lost the intimacy of fellowship with His Father which He had eternally known. He had never been anything but loved by His Father. . . . And now, having been loved by His Father perfectly for all eternity, He is treated as if His Father hates Him and His Father turns His back on Him. Why does He do that? Because He's of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity, Habakkuk 1:12 and 13 (emphasis added).
The appeal to the reader's emotions is evident. As MacArthur weaves the story line, the reader identifies with the child. He knows what it is to have sinned. It is likely that the reader has experienced a loss of intimacy at sometime. Then, according to MacArthur, the “Father turns His back on Him.” The thought of that is emotionally distressing. The student needs to remember that emotion does not equal truth. Worship based on that misconception of the crucifixion is not worship at all. It is misguided sentiment at best. The stories told by each of these four men have emotional appeal, but they are unscriptural. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (emphasis added, John 4:24). Sadly, purely emotive appeals are “often successful in winning the gullible.” The student must guard against such gullibility.
Students of the Word should “develop a healthy skepticism” and “the ability to recognize good argumentation and evidence.” The assertions cited from Pritchard et al certainly highlight this need. Status within the church does not substantiate anyone’s claims. Those claims must be judged “not on the basis of who said it, but on the basis of the wise reasons they advance.” As demonstrated in this paper, their reasons are unsupported. There is no express correlation between the Habakkuk 1:13 and Matthew 27:45-46. They use the first half of the verse to teach God cannot look upon evil, but they ignore the last half of the verse. They take a metaphor describing God’s omniscience and omnipresence and use it as a literal fact about God’s “eyes.” They ignore the context of Habakkuk 1:13, thus demonstrating their selective and prejudicial use of evidence. Finally, their rhetoric is heavy on emotion but void of sound exegesis.
Make a mistake in the interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays . . . and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we cannot lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture. We are dealing with God’s thoughts: we are obligated to take the greatest pains to understand them truly and to explain them clearly (emphasis added).
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is from the New International Version (Zondervan Publishing Company, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984).
D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.: Baker Academic, 1996), p. 15.
Ray Pritchard, "The Forsaken Christ," Keep Believing Ministries, span>http://www.keepbelieving.net/sermon/1991-05-05-The-Forsaken-Christ/> (accessed April 6, 2012).
R. C. Sproul, “Curse Motif of the Atonement” (sermon, Together for the Gospel 2008, Louisville, KY: April 16, 2008), WMV file, 46:12 span>http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/together_for_the_gospel_2...> (accessed April 16, 2012).
Tim Challies, "T4G-R. C. Sproul," Challies.com Informing The Reforming, entry posted April 16, 2008, span>http://www.challies.com/liveblogging/t4g-rc-sproul> (accessed April 22, 2012).
Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: an Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1990), p. 119-120, 130.
Carson, p. 115.
Josh McDowell, Chapter 9: The Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament Fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in the My Redeemer Bookshelf, span>http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/myredeemer/Evidencep22.html> (accessed May 29, 2012).
David Mathis, “From Protest to Praise,” desiring God, entry posted December 18, 2009, span>http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/from-protest-to-praise> (accessed May 31, 2012).
C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Minor Prophets, vol. 10 of Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Hendrickson Pub, 2006), p. 7388.
Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: a Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Rev. and expanded, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), p. 93.
Ibid., p. 37.
Ibid., pp. 37-38.
Carson, p. 141.
Keil and Delitzsch, p. 7338.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 158.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (3-Volumes, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), Vol 1: p. 396.
John Gill, Of the Omniscience of God, in A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, http://www.pbministries.org/books/gill/Doctrinal_Divinity/Book_1/bo...; (accessed May 29, 2012).
Carson, p. 115.
James W. Sire, Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1980), p. 80.
Ibid., p. 55.
Geisler and Feinberg, p. 55.
Carson, p. 106.
John MacArthur, “God's Commentary on the Passion of Christ,” Grace to You, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-282/gods-commentary-on-the-... (accessed May 21, 2012).
Carson, p. 107.
Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), p. 21.
Carson, p. 123.
Carson, p. 15.