God at War, by Gregory Boyd (Part 2)
In the first chapter, Gregory Boyd gives his critique of conventional theodicy. He terms this the Blueprint model of theodicy, as it holds that every evil event is part of a divine plan. He gives a more extended treatment of theodicy as a philosophical topic in the sequel, Satan and the Origin of Evil.
In order to illustrate the stark reality of suffering in the world, Boyd gives the example of a Jewish girl, Zosia, who had her eyes cut out of her head, for the amusement of two German soldiers, before the very eyes of her mother.
Boyd presents this incident as just one incident of the nightmare that constitutes much of human experience. He points out that according to much Christian theology, such an incident is part of a meticulous divine plan. In eternity, God had determined that this girl should suffer in this way.
To show the incongruity of much of the Christian approach to suffering, Boyd quotes from several hymns on the subject of God's providence and about God's care for little children. The contrast between the cosiness of such sentiments and the horror of Zosia's experience is deeply disturbing. Boyd rights with justified harshness:
And so it is with a hundred other hymns that Christian congregations around the globe sing routinely, and indeed could have been singing at the moment of Zosia's torture. Ascending up to heaven alongside the screams and sinister laughter could have been the sung proclamation that "Behind a frowning providence [God] hides a smiling face," or "His purposes will ripen fast unfolding every hour...The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower." Zosia's torture, we are apparently to believe, was but the bitter-tasting bud of a beautiful, divinely ordained flower. Behind the apparent divine frown here (the Nazi guards) is, we are supposed to affirm, God's hidden, sovereign smiling face.
Gregory A Boyd, God at War, p.38-39
Boyd argues that viewing such horrifying incidents of human cruelty as instruments of divine sovereignty only intensifies their nightmarish character. Boyd expresses his sympathy with the character , Ivan in Dostoyevsky's Te Brother's Karazamov, who proclaims that a God who uses such evil is immoral and whatever goal he is seeking to acheive is worthless if it comes at the price of a child suffering.
In Boyd's view, Christians seem unable to escape from this Blueprint way of thinking about evil. He gives examples of Christians who have cited the Oklahoma bombing and the AIDS virus as instruments of divine judgment. Boyd does not deny that Scripture clearly teaches that God sometimes uses incidents of suffering as a judgment or to build character, however, in his view, to explain all evil in terms of God's working is to join with Job's comforters. He traces this approach to theodicy back to Augustine, though he argues that those within the Arminian tradition of theology have not significantly moved away from the idea of evil as a divine plan.
Boyd holds that the problem of evil is uniquely Western and post-Augustinian (and of course, still a problem for the Eastern Orthodox, who though critical of Augustine, have taken on board elements of his theodicy). He argues that the authors of Scripture never saw any need to deal with the problem of suffering. Likewise, the Church Fathers before Augustine saw no need to explain the problem of evil. They simply viewed evil events as instances of the conflict between good and evil that was taking place in the universe. Rather than explain evil in terms of a mysterious divine plan, evil was explained in terms of Satan and his minions. Boyd gives several examples of this in Scripture:
For example, Paul's inability to reach Thessalonicahad nothing to do with either what he willed or what God had willed: in his mind, it was simply the result of Satan hindering him (1 Thess 2:18). Similarly, a person's deafness or muteness had nothing to do with either what that person willed or what God had willed: it was for Jesus, at times at least, the result of demons (Mk 9:25). Or to cite an Old Testament example, the delay in receiving heavenly assistance in response to Daniel's desperate prayer had nothing to do with either Daniel or with God: both wanted the prayer answered! According to this inspired work, it rather had to do with a menacing demonic power that interfered with the whole process (Dan 10; cf. Ps82).
God at War, p.53
Boyd (perhaps with a slight lack of originality) blames the Augustinian development on Hellennistic philosophy that regarded God as fixed and unmoveable and therefore unable to engage in the cosmic warfare depicted in Scripture.
He notes positively that in recent years Christian theologians have given heed to some of the appalling events of the Twentieth century and are thus giving more attention to the subject of Satan, fallen angels and demons. However, he believes that this new interest has not yet generated a new approach to theodicy, a gap that in my opinion, his book admirably fills.
To be continued