Today we go back into Greg Boyd’s book God at War and into the heart of chapter one. As this chapter continues Boyd wants to tell us about the “problem with the problem of evil,” particularly from what he calls classical-philosophical Christian theism. This is the tradition in which I grew up as well as many of you and is what many of your churches teach and believe so it cannot be ignored when we come to the great problem of evil. He addresses three major problems within this view.
First, many classical-philosophical theists claim the problem of evil is a problem that cannot be solved.
Second, according to Boyd Scripture shows no awareness of the problem of evil in the same way the classical-philosophical theists view evil.
Third, the view of evil that Scripture does hold is contrary to the view of evil the classical-philosophical theist’s hold. So, the Bible obviously does hold a view of evil, but it is not in keeping with what many of us have traditionally been taught.
Today let’s deal with Boyd’s first point (the insolvability of evil from the classical-philosophical perspective). To begin with the author sketches what I consider to be a helpful equation of the classical theodicy under consideration. Here it is:
God is all-powerful (omnipotent) = God is all controlling (omni controlling)
To this the classical-philosophical position affirms what all Christian affirm, and that is God loves and God is good. Therefore:
God is good + God is in control = everything that happens must be for our good
Do you see the conundrum, however, when evil is introduced to the picture, i.e. everything that happens is not for our good. Here is the key question: if we equate all-powerful with all controlling, then how do we account for evil & suffering in human lives under the control of God who loves us and is always good? And the dilemma is classical-philosophical theists cannot make sense of this. (Personally, this is what has troubled me for a while about the theology and theodicy I grew up with and the perspective most Christians I spend time with hold to this very day. While I love these Christians, their thinking just does not make sense.)
After laying this out Boyd does offer us a summary of how Augustine wrestled with this and that was to say “Evil does not exist at all (direct quote of Augustine, recorded here on page 45).” How he made sense of it was to say that if we saw the world from God’s perspective we would not claim evil acts as being evil at all but rather something else altogether because it’s part of God’s “higher harmony.” To quote Augustine again, “[He] maintains, ‘he ought not to attribute [his suffering] to the will of men, or of angels, or of any created spirit, but rather to [God’s] will who gives power to wills’ (45).” Of course, Boyd rejects this, as do I, as did the famous character Ivan in Brothers Karamazov, “ ‘I renounce the higher harmony altogether…It’s not worth the tear of…one tortured child.’ (46).”
Finally, in this subsection, Boyd critiques the Arminian theology as well. While he applauds this theological perspective for its emphasis on free will he says it fails on the theodicy question in four ways. I will summarize these very briefly so you can go about your day or night!
1. Arminians still largely accept that God is immutable (unchangeable), timeless, and impassible (incapable of suffering, pain, or emotion). (We will deal with these terms often in the course of writing about this book, so don’t worry if you miss the full extent of these terms here.)
2. Arminians still affirm that God has his reasons for suffering, i.e. “God allows specific evil events to transpire for a specific divine purpose (49).”
3. Arminians still affirm that God knows, in exhaustive and detailed measure, all that will happen in the future, i.e. God knows it will be this way and not that way rather than God knows it may possibly be this way or it may possibly be that way. (Again, much more on this later.)
4. Arminians restrict freedom to human freedom rather than to include freedom for non-human creatures like angels, demons, Satan, and other major cosmic forces.
This all may seem preliminary to you, but trust me when I say if we are to understand the rest of Boyd (here and elsewhere) we need to track carefully with him through this terrain. Next time we come back to the second point above (Scripture shows no awareness of the problem of evil in the same way the classical-philosophical theists view evil).