So this is how it happened. I recently read and reviewed The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser. It was a fantastic book, with the exception of a quite unnecessary chapter addressing the issues that usually go by the nickname of Calvinism. That book was so good that I started reading his more popular-level book on the same general subject, a book called Supernatural. That book is really good also, again with the notable exception of a pretty lame section on the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In other words, a couple of good books with some unnecessary forays out of his area of expertise and into an area that really isn’t. That was fine with me, for must we not take a few roughs with the smooth?
But because Heiser got my brain churning on the subject of the “council of the gods,” and because I knew that I had another book on my shelves that probably addressed the same general topic, I took it down and looked at it. It is called God at War, and was written by Greg Boyd, an open theist, and sure enough, it did address the same general topic. I began to read it, and in the introduction Boyd took the mere mistakes of Heiser and turned them into his crowning principles. He took some of the same kind of pebbles that were in Heiser’s driveway and had them worked into a diadem.
This particular cloud of confusion resides hard by Boyd’s tent of meeting, and he has somehow mistaken it for the Shekinah glory. And he won’t move unless the cloud does.
Here is the basic problem, according to Boyd. He says there is a problem with the problem of evil. Beginning with Augustine, he says, folks in the West quit trying to fight evil and began trying to figure it out. Instead of taking evil as a given, and throwing all our energy into combating it, we started to wonder how a good God could have let this mess happen, and commenced to puzzling over it.
“The New Testament exhibits a church that is not intellectually baffled by evil but is spiritually empowered in vanquishing it” (p. 22).
“Thus evil must be understood as being what God is unequivocally against, and thus what God’s people must also be unequivocally against. Whereas the classical-philosophical theology of sovereignty encourages a theological of resignation, a theology rooted in a warfare worldview inspires, and requires, a theology of revolt: revolt against all that God revolts against” (p. 22).
Confronted with this kind of thinking, it is difficult to know where to start. Should we object to the jab that believers in divine sovereignty resign themselves to evil? That we don’t know how to vanquish bad things because of our fatalism? Tell it to John Knox, that famous Scots quietist. Should we object to the characterization of the author of Job as classical-philosophical? And so the prophet Amos said that if disaster befalls a city, has not the Lord done it?—and Socrates replied that he had always found that one to be a stumper. As fun as it might be to pursue such avenues of thought, let us restrain ourselves and move on to confront the sad truth that every Christian who affirms creatio ex nihilo is a Calvinist in principle.
Now I acknowledge that many such are Calvinists against their will, but that is actually the very best way to become a Calvinist. Go down fighting, man.
In other words, lame theodicies couldn’t even dice an onion.
Boyd says that God is “unequivocally against” evil. But given the fact that the world didn’t used to be here, and before it was here there was no evil in it, or so it seems to me, and that the world did not come into being until God put it here, and that the evil (that we are to be unequivocally against) could not exist apart from God’s ongoing acceptance of it, the question arises. What on earth does unequivocal mean?
Dr. Frankenstein was unequivocally against some of that stuff his monster did. I dare say he was. But his unequivocal againstness was plainly not adequately present when he created the monster in the first place. Dr. Frankenstein should have thought ahead a little bit. He should have done some contingency planning—he had the responsibility to do so. And about the only thing we can say about this world is that in this regard it is millions of times worse than what Mary Shelley was able to dream up.
If man can bring charges against God, then the Calvinist God could be indicted for premeditated murder. The Arminian God could be indicted 2nd degree murder. The God of the open theist could be indicted for reckless endangerment. Not only so, but I bet it would be a breeze to find twelve jurors who would convict Him on any of these points. Finding someone with the firepower to arrest Him might present difficulties, but that is not our problem right now. Our duty is to do the right thing, whatever that might be now. We just arrested the font of all right and put Him in the slammer, and now we don’t know what to do. And some of us have begun to suspect that He is not really in the slammer, and is still up in Heaven laughing at us. We arrested His Son once, and that whole thing turned out really badly. Maybe we ought to just quit it.
The world is here, and it is crammed full of messed up, screwed up, very wrong things. Who lets that continue to happen? The coming year will contain x number of atrocious murders. Who has done the cost benefit analysis that decided that there is some end to be attained by this world’s continuance, such that letting the world continue on in its murderous ways would be a worthwhile thing to do? Who is the only one who could possibly do that cost benefit analysis? Right—the answer is God.
And if we are called to calibrate our “unequivocal” opposition to evil by holding it up alongside God’s opposition it, the only conclusion to draw is that fighting evil must be some kind of a game. We are to fight evil with everything we’ve got, right? Well, does God fight it with everything He’s got? Plainly not.
What Greg Boyd wants to do is pretend that God is on his side in a great battle, while hiding from himself the fact that God is the creator of every blade of grass on that battlefield. Who is the one who is keeping the hearts of every foe continually beating? Who puts air in their lungs? Who makes the sun shine on the fields that grow the crops that feed the evil armies? Who holds the atoms in their swords together?
If you are going to confront the problem of evil, then you need actually to confront it. No shifty dodges—deal with the problem. No glib hand-waving. Here is the form of it that comes down from Epicurus.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Every Christian who has thought through the issue clearly opts by definition to a combination of the second and third choices—God is able now but not willing yet, and this means He is both able and willing to eradicate evil in accordance with His own perfect counsel and will at the perfect time for it. And when He does so, everything will be put right at the end of the story, and no remainder. Every tear will be dried, every wound healed, and every wrong settled and put right.
But Christians who have simply not thought through the implications of their position—men like Boyd—are content to opt for a modified version of the second choice. God is able to do it, but is not willing, period. God wanted to create a world filled with spiritual warfare, and this means that there is a goodish bit of collateral damage.
“If the world is indeed caught up in the middle of a real war between good and evil forces, evil is to be expected—including evil that serves no higher end. For in any state of war, gratuitous evil is normative. Only when it is assumed that the world is meticulously controlled by an all-loving God does each particular evil event need a higher, all-loving explanation” (pp. 20-21, emphasis mine).
“Mother, why is this happening?” “God is at war, dearie, and one of things that great generals do in warfare is order carpet bombing campaigns. These things have to be, and we can never make sense of them. He can’t be expected to know about what is happening to us.”
For those who think this is Christian theodicy, I can hardly blame them for taking another look at Hinduism.