“This is not a [book] to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Attributed to Dorothy Parker
I believe I mentioned in passing that I recently picked up Greg Boyd’s God at War. I was pursuing more information on the divine council, having read Michael Heiser’s fine books on that topic, and thought that I might be able to pick up something additional from Boyd. But now, having read his first chapter, I am returning it to the shelf, from which position it may grin idiotically at any intelligent visitors to my office. Like I said, I am putting it back. But not without fisking it first.
The thing that makes this book insufferable is that Boyd pretends that he is facing the problem of evil with a hard, unflinching gaze when he actually is doing a version of the perp walk, coat over his head, refusing to face even the most elementary questions. There is one place where he faintly alludes to the existence of an elementary question, but all that does is reveal that he knows he is being coy and intellectually dishonest. More about that allusion in a moment.
Boyd is like that pre-Wright brothers guy standing on top of the barn with homemade batman wings, having invited local newspaper reporters to come watch him soar. After he jumps off the barn, with wings made in the barn, we find him lying at the base of the barn, groaning. The reporters run up and ask for a comment. Boyd, in this chapter, repeatedly says something like ta da!
Greg Boyd’s take “is predicated on the assumption the divine goodness does not completely control or in any sense will evil; rather, good and evil are at war with one another” (God at War, p. 20, emphasis mine).
To summarize, Boyd says that God’s sovereignty does not mean that He controls everything. There is a fierce war on, and gratuitous evil happens in the course of such wars. Evil does not need to be explained because there is no explanation. Evil actors do evil things. God is against them, fighting them valiantly. God does not in any sense will that evil continue to occur. He is at war with it. God is on the other side, so He doesn’t have to answer for what the bad guys are doing in the course of the war. Ta da!
“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” (p. 20)
Taken by itself this is obviously mere hand-waving. It makes sense if we limit the discussion to creaturely good guys fighting creaturely bad guys. The good guys don’t have provide an accounting for why the bad guys are being bad. But there is a problem! We have someone on our side who is keeping the battlefield in existence. He is the one who gives the next heartbeat to everyone out there on the battlefield, both sides. And who made the sun shine on the tyrant’s fields, so that he would have food to give to his armies in order to fuel their campaign of invasive mayhem?
I mentioned that Boyd gives a brief and sullen nod to the fact that he has solved absolutely no problems whatever. Here it is.
“Now, on the biblical assumption that God is the sole Creator of all that is, there is still the ultimately metaphysical question of why God would create a world in which cosmic war could break out. In this sense the problem of theodicy remains, even within a warfare worldview” (p. 21).
He is in the neighborhood of a reasonable question, one that would—were he to actually look at it with a hard and unflinching gaze—blow up his entire project. But notice how he puts it. Why would God create a world in which cosmic war could break out? Stars and garters, is that how you frame a question like that? The question is rather why God continues to sustain and provide for a world in which cosmic war has in fact broken out, and has been going on for thousands of years, and with billions of casualties.
I quoted Boyd as saying earlier that God in no sense wills evil. So answer me this, gazer of hard and unflinching gazes. As I write these words, it is December 7, 2016. Tomorrow is December 8, a date on which numerous atrocities and outrages will occur—the kind of events that Boyd pretends to take a hard and unflinching look at. Whose will is it that December 8, 2016 will occur and go into the history books? Who will have done that? Who will be the only one to have done that?
But here is Boyd, pretending to be brave.
“If we do not flinch from the concrete horror, there comes a point when the notions that God has a purpose for everything, that things always go his way, and that nothing can genuinely oppose him get stretched to the breaking point” (p. 43).
In other words, we have moved from a God who ordains evil for His sovereign good purposes, which will be revealed in due time, and which all will acknowledge as glorious at that time, which is vile Calvinism, to a God who allows evil to continue merrily on right under his nose, and he does this for no reason at all. And this is a theodicy? Boyd moves, in other words, from a worldview that promises that every wrong will be put right, every bone will be set, every tear will be dried, to a worldview where countless millions will have gotten caught in the machinery. For no reason. And why? Because God wanted to have a war with lots of pointless casualties. This is not facing up to the horrors—it is complicity in them.
“The world is caught up in a cosmic battle and thus is saturated with horrifying suffering and diabolical evil. That is the final explanation for evil” (p. 56).
Finally, making us face facts, comes a theologian with a steely gaze.
The explanation for evil is that there is no explanation. The world is still one screwed up place, and God is still the one who put it here. God is still the one who lets it be here tomorrow. He either has a reason for this or he doesn’t. Boyd’s reply is that He doesn’t, other than the very general one, which is that He thought a cosmic war would be nice.
“Hence too, one need not agonize over what ultimately good, transcendent divine purpose might be served by any particular evil event” (p. 20).
The Calvinist has to take follow-up questions. Boyd doesn’t take follow-up questions. He would rather play the Hitler card against the “classical-philosophical” types.
“For example, we must wonder why God created Adolf Hitler when he supposedly knew with absolute certainty – and eternally – exactly what monstrosities Hitler would carry out” (p. 50).
The Calvinist says that God foreordained all that comes to pass, including Hitler. This is why Boyd thinks he gets to ask us this Tough Question. But if the problem is Hitler, then every Christian has to answer the question. The Arminian has to explain why God foreknew the Hitler business and created the world anyway. The open theist, men like Boyd, have to be asked something like “what did God know, and when did He know it.” America came into the war against Hitler after Pearl Harbor. When did God come into the war? And after God came into the war, whenever that was, why didn’t He fight harder than He did? Why did it take years?
“The core problem seems to lie in the classical-philosophical equation of power with control, and thus omnipotence with omnicontrol, an equation that forces the problem of evil to be seen as a problem of God sovereignty” (p. 44).
But for the love of Mike, the problem of evil does not arise because we postulate God’s control of all things, including evil. The problem arises because all of us—including Boyd—postulate God’s ability to control all things, including evil. The Calvinist is asked—and it is a fair question—why God did it this way. The open theist is asked (if he sticks around for the Q&A, which is rarely) why God didn’t intervene when He could have.
For Boyd, the only two possible answers about God’s lack of intervention are “He couldn’t” or “He wouldn’t.” If the answer is that God would have intervened if He could have, but He didn’t have the power, then one wonders why, out of all the Olympian gods, our planet had to get the runt of the litter. But that can’t be the answer, because if God is the creator, as Boyd admits, He has to have a kill switch somewhere. End this planet already. It was a bad idea. If the answer is that He chose not to, for wise purposes that will be revealed later, then structurally the open theist has the same answer that the Calvinist does—only the Calvinist admits it.
Why would Boyd say things are such a mess?
“The cosmos is, by divine choice, more of a democracy than it is a monarchy” (p. 58, emphasis mine).
By divine choice, this planet has gone off the rails and continues to bounce along, railway cars going end over end, by divine choice. So it is not the case that God in no sense wills evil to exist.
I said a moment ago that Boyd’s answer is structurally the same as the Calvinist’s. That is true, but the content of the “good reason” God has for this Atrocity of a World is quite different. The Calvinist says that God does all things in accordance with His good pleasure and will, and at the culmination of all things, every mouth will be stopped, every accusation laid low, and every sophomoric trifle taken off and executed. The purpose is His glory, and it will in fact glorify Him that the history of the universe followed the course that it did. Boyd rejects this explanation as not good enough.
Boyd builds his first chapter around a little girl named Zosia, a girl who was tortured and then executed by the Nazis—as though this were a problem for every Christian position but his. If someone asks me if God foreordained that horrific episode and, if so, whether He did it for the sake of His glory, my reply will be yes. And I will add further that every aspect of that grotesque evil will be put right. Why? I am a believer.
It would be the work of a moment for Boyd to caricature this as a view of sovereignty that sacrifices little girls on the altar of divine control. And the work of another moment to say “I could never worship a God like that.” But hold on a moment. The horror of Zosia’s torment actually occurred in a universe that Boyd believes is run by his version of God. When this thing was happening to Zosia, was the boyd-god even there? If not, why not? If so, then why didn’t He stop it?
If God is a sadistic criminal for ordaining this thing, why isn’t Boyd’s God a cowardly sneak for staying out of it? If we have the authority to indict the Calvinist God for first degree murder, why couldn’t we indict the open theist God for being drunk and disorderly?
So, in Boyd’s world, why would God do it this way? The standard answer is that it was done this way to avoid populating the world with automata. It was done so that people like Boyd could have their version of their precious free will. But notice what this reduces to. Zosia was in fact tortured and murdered. The altar of divine glory is clearly insufficient—but we will accept the sacrifice if she died on the altar of man. And that means we are sick.
Boyd is obviously well-read in the literature, and he writes in complete sentences. His spelling is good. But when it comes to theological acumen, when it comes to correctly identifying the stasis, he compares poorly to a special needs cauliflower.