The Idiom of Permission

By Phillip Varady Sr.

There is a basic premise that the bible teaches that must be observed: God is good and He is good always. This doctrine may not have been plainly stated in the Old Testament but the abundance of God's love and mercy were never in question.

1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

The word 'no' in the above verse is the Greek word oudemia which has the force of 'no, not even one, or, no, not at all'. Used in another place it emphasizes the absoluteness of the exclusion.

Acts 27:22 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship.

Verse 44 of this chapter confirms that they all were saved. Therefore if we accept this concept as a biblical truth we must also accept that God is not capable of evil nor is He a source of it, nor is it a means that He employs to bring His will to fruition. We must also accept that God will always be thus, that there never was a time nor will there ever be a time that this is not the nature of God.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The word used in the Greek for variableness is from the root parallassein from which also the English word parallax derives. Parallax is the apparent displacement or change in position of an object when viewed from different points. God says that He will never change no matter how He is observed. The shadow of turning is similar to the practice that aerial photographers use, knowing that if they photograph objects on the ground near midday they will cast the least shadow, thus revealing the fewest details of its size and shape. As the Earth rotates a larger shadow begins to form because the relative position of the object and the sun has changed. God says that He does not change; His position, His love for us, is always the same without even a hint or shadow of difference. Then, as if to disprove this basic premise, the Word of God gives us this verse to ponder:

Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

E.W. Bullinger in his Companion Bible states that the conjugation used for the verb create 'requires the rendering "bring about"'. Even so, there is an apparent contradiction which some resolve using the following:

Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The argument is often made that we mere mortals cannot comprehend the ways of God and that when tragedy occurs in our lives there is probably some good reason that God brought it about although at the moment we remain ignorant of the future blessing. If this is so then the evil that we think we are experiencing is actually a blessing; we need only to wait to see how God makes lemonade out of lemons. This teaching contradicts the Word of God and anything that may be experientially known of God. It is a blatant lie promoted by the Devil because the underlying premise is that 'It's God's will that we suffer.' It must be remembered that, referring back to Isaiah 45:7, darkness is the absence of light and evil is the absence of good.

2 Corinthians 6:18 And (I) will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Would any sane parent inflict pain and sickness on their children? Would they kill them because of disobedience? There is no opportunity for a future blessing if the tragedy is death; and death itself cannot be the blessing because God calls it an enemy:

1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

When language is twisted to make it mean its opposite, the bible uses the word 'froward' which is little used today but has the connotation of being an habitual type of disobedience through opposition. God declares that He does not use this type of language.

Proverbs 8:8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.

A warning is given which addresses this subject directly. There is no foundation on which one may base the argument that evil may somehow be a means to good after all has been said and done.

Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

The apostle Peter writing of his fellow apostle Paul's epistles says this:

2 Peter 3:16-17 in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [twist, distort], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.

If we thus eliminate the solution to the contradiction that evil is really good, we are left with two choices: God either lied when He said that He is good always or there is a misunderstanding on our part of the true meaning of the language used. The answer is that God uses figures of speech to heighten the meaning of certain scripture to catch our eye and to make a deeper impression of the lesson that He would have us learn from it. One such figure is an idiom, which is defined by Merriam-Webster's Tenth Edition of the Collegiate Dictionary: 'an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself grammatically, or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements.' In this case it is called the 'idiom of permission.' In the work that has become a standard for biblical students "Figures of Speech Used in the Bible" by E. W. Bullinger, this explanation is given: 'Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do.' He offers a very good example:

Matthew 6:13 And lead us not (i.e., suffer us not to be led) into temptation . . .

Another example which is not included in this work occurs in the book of Deuteronomy. It is extraordinary for its severity.

Deuteronomy 28:14-15 And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. 15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:

What follows for the next forty-three verses is every ill that ever befell mankind, and God claims to be the cause of every one of them. Verse 61 is especially direct.

Deuteronomy 28:61 Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of this law, them will the LORD bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed.

The application of the idiom in verse 61 above would have it read thus: '…them will the LORD allow your adversary, the Devil to bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed by him.' This result would of course be dependant on the condition given, namely, 'if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God,' The lesson that God is instilling in His people is this: obey and prosper or disobey and suffer.

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Another way of showing the source of evil can be seen in the historical books of the Old Testament. The four books of Kings (I & II Samuel and I & II Kings) were written from man's point of view. The books I & II Chronicles were written from God's point of view. When an event appears in both, a true picture may be drawn from the use of this idiom.

2 Samuel 24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

1 Chronicles 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

Several reasons may be given to explain why God claims to be the author of both good and evil. If He had revealed the true source of evil He would have had to mention the Devil in hundreds if not thousands of verses. The pagan concept of appeasing gods from whom they feared destruction was known in Israel because they were surrounded by such practices. Israel had an appalling reputation for 'whoring after' the gods and customs of their neighbors and would have sought to placate the Devil to avoid the evil that he brought. In effect this would have raised the status of the Devil and given him grandeur that was undeserved. His name would have been often mentioned in spite of God's command to the contrary.

Exodus 23:13 And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

Without a full explanation of the Devil and his methods the knowledge of his existence would not have been a blessing to Israel. Without the knowledge of how to deal with and defeat him, Israel would have become fearful, thus playing into the Devil's hand. It was not until Jesus Christ that this information was fully revealed.

Luke 10:21-24 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. 22 All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. 23 And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: 24 For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

How exciting and wondrous it must have been for the twelve to hear Jesus Christ tell them what was now revealed.

Luke 9:1-2 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. 2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

There are very few examples of the use of the idiom of permission in the gospels or the epistles because the truth was being revealed as to the true nature of the Devil and the unfathomable goodness of God. In all of his teachings Jesus Christ never attributed evil, death or sickness to God the Father yet to this day many people, including Christians, still want to cling to the doctrine that whatever happens is because God wills it. They continue to put a spin on tragedy in an attempt to make it a blessing and they still believe that God is making them a better Christian, person, husband or wife, father or mother, ad nauseam. There is no ambiguity in the following verses; the Word is plain.

John 10:10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

Acts 10:38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

Hebrews 2:14-15 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.

God had long ago declared that we had to make a choice. If we turn away from God we remove ourselves from His blessings and in the absence of blessing is the curse of death in all its degrees.

Deuteronomy 30:15-19 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; 16 In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. 17 But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

It was never God's intention or desire to bring harm to us but as the above verses show the choice is ours. God cannot violate our choice, our free will.

Ezekiel 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Years ago when the home that we lived in was heated by a wood stove, I taught a lesson to every one of my grandchildren before they were old enough to be allowed to roam around the house unattended. I would open the cast iron doors and show them the pretty flames. Then I would close the stove and, holding the child securely, bring one of their hands closer and closer to the stove until it became uncomfortable. When the child drew back its hand I would warn it saying 'Hot!' and 'Don't touch!'. Only once in fifteen years did any one of them ever touch the stove. That child came to me for help and even at that tender age had enough sense not to blame me for the pain that it was experiencing. When I reminded the child that I had warned about touching the stove, the reply was 'I know Grandpa, I forgot. I'm sorry.' I did my best to ease the pain and to comfort the child. God is a better father than I am. Verse 20 below is another example of the idiom of permission.

Isaiah 30:18-21 And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. 19 For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: 21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

The bible teaches that there are consequences when we act contrary to God's will but it is obvious once we understand the idiom of permission that it is unscriptural and improper to assign the pain and suffering to our loving heavenly Father.

All Writings © Phillip Varady Sr.