[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 6)

by Matthew

In the fifth chapter, Gregory Boyd presents the Old Testament portrait of Satan (the word is Hebrew for adversary). Boyd holds that amongst the cosmic opponents of Yahweh, presented variously as raging waters, sea monsters and rebellious gods, there is one particular adversary, Satan, who is the ultimate foe of the Lord.

Boyd fundamentally rejects the view held by many Old Testament critics, that Yahweh has an evil side and is the originator of both good and evil.

Boyd begins with the book of Job. He dismisses the view that Satan in Job is a member of God's heavenly council. This makes evil effectively an agency of God. Ironicaly, conservative Christians who talk about Satan being 'God's devil' are joining hands with these liberal critics. Boyd raises a number of arguments against the view of Satan as a divine agent. He points out the Old Testament presentation of Yahweh as holy and righteous and opposed to evil. Most importantly, he argues that the text of Job does not support the notion of Satan as being a member in good standing amongst the heavenly council. God seems to be surpised when Satan shows up amongst the sons of God in chapter 1 (verse 7). Further, Satan does not appear to be engaged in simply making accusations against Job, his accusation seems to be against the Lord Himself. He is casting doubt on God's order. Finally, the conclusion of Job through the Lord's discourse demomstrates the reality of Yahweh's ongoing struggle against evil. The Lord never admits to causing harm against Job. Boyd goes on to address a number of texts that are used to support the 'Demonic-in-Yahweh' theory. Interestingly, many of these are the same texts that are used by Calvinists to support the idea that God ordained evil events.

Boyd writes of Satan in Job:

The adversary in the prologue of Job, then, is not to be taken as just one of the many servants in Yahweh's council or as an (evil) extension of Yahweh himself. While at this stage of revelation he has not yet acquired the proper name "Satan," the uncontrolled dimension of his being (roaming about), his arrogance toward God and his zealous malice toward Job reveal him to be a being who is not on God's side. While the main forces God is explicitly against in Job (and elsewhere) are the common cosmic forces of the Near Eastern warfare myths (Leviathan, Behemoth), the later Jewish and Christian traditions were certainly justified in eventually relating these forces with Satan: Satan was himself Leviathan.
God at War, p.152

Boyd then deals with Zecharaiah 3:1-10, in which Satan accuses the high priest Joshua in the presence of the angel of the Lord. Boyd argues that while the notion of the accuser being a member of the heavenly court is a possible interpretation of this text, it is not demanded by it. That Joshua is vindicated and Satan is rebuked indicates that Satan is not on the Lord's side.

Boyd also considers the only place in the Old Testament where Satan is used as a proper name, 1 Chronicles 21:1. He argues that it is most likely that on this occasion, the plans of the Lord and the plans of Satan came into coincidental allignment; the Lord seeking to judge David and Satan seeking to incite David to sin. Boyd acknowledges that God can use demons and fallen angels to serve His pruposes, but he qualifies this:

This by no means entails that there is a divine will behind every activity of an evil spirit- for usually we find that God and evil spirits (whether called angels, gods or demons) are in real conflict with each other. It certainly does not entail, as the "demonic-in-Yahweh" theorists (and ironically, conservative Calvinists) hold, that the evil spirits are nothing more than extensions of Yahweh's own will. But it does entail that Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of all history and can therefore at times employ evil divine beings in his service- even Satan himself.
God at war, p.154

Boyd then looks at those texts that have traditionally been applied to Satan, but whose identification is disputed by critics. The first of these is the serpent in Genesis 3. Boyd asserts that as an Evangelical who believes in the inspiration of Scripture, it is enough that the New Testament identifies the serpent with Satan. However, he also argues that elements in mythology ought to suggest that the serpent is a creature of chaos and evil. Boyd points out that whole the serpent is compared by the narrator to animals, it does not appear to be a natural animal. He argues that even the curse of 'eating dust' and 'crawling on the belly' does not necessarilly indicate that a real serpent is in view. This was a common way of referring to defeat and humiliation in Near Eastern literature (for instance in Micah 7:17). Boyd argues that the author is simply comparing the cursed position of the demonic-serpent being to the detested position of real snakes.

Boyd moves on to the famous Lucifer text, Isaiah 14:1-23. Critics have largely dismissed this as a reference to Satan. Boyd agrees with them that the traditional Satanic interpreation is not demanded by the text; it is on the surface comparing the king of Babylon to the planet Venus, which rises at dawn and then is extinguished by the light of the sun. However, he finds a number of parellels to this text in mythology that support the notion that a deity is involved. These mythological variations potentially give the text a cosmic scope. Thus, the traditional interpretation appears to be hinted at in the text.

Another traditional Satanic text is Ezekiel chapter 28 (I preached on this one!). Boyd agrees with the traditional view that there is a very strong suggestion of a cosmic context to this passage. As with Isaiah 14, he believes that a Caananite or Mesopotamian myth has been borrowed. By way of comparison, Boyd points out that Ezekiel also portrays the Pharoah of Egypt as a sea monster (chapter 29), which in his view indicates a connection to the cosmic conflict between Yahweh and the forces of evil. Boyd concludes on this text:

It seems, then, that the throughout this section, Ezekiel portrays historical events as illustrating and intersecting with cosmic events. More specifically, he envisages Yahweh's overthrow of his present historical enemies as examples of his overthrowing his cosmic enemies. In this light, the Christian understanding, derived from later revelation that clearly depicts Satan as God's archenemy, can be considered justified in sensing that the fall of Satan himself is intimated in the fall of the king of Tyre (and we might add, the pharoah of Egypt) as portrayed in this book.
God at War, p.162

Boyd concludes the chapter by summarising the Old Testament evidence for the Warfare Theodicy. Boyd makes clear that the various opponents of Yahweh portrayed in the Old Testament are depicted as posessing a genuine power to resist God:

Indeed, so authentic is the ongoing spiritual battle that in a few instances Old Testament authors suggest that these forces successfully resisted God's will in opposing nations or individual persons. For three weeks the "prince of Persia" successfully blocks God's answer to Daniel's prayer (Dan 10); the demonlike Chemosh, feeding on a king's sacrificed son, successfully routs Israel (2 Kings 3:26-27); and Yamm at times successfully mocks God by engulfing Israel as he earlier (Gen 1:2?) engulfed the earth (Ps 74:10-13). Hence, as Levenson notes, the psalmist has to contnually remind himself- in the face of evidence to the contrary- of Yahweh's primordial victory.
God at War, p.163

Boyd also points out that considerable authority has been given to the cosmic powers or gods. They exercise authority over the nations and seem to be associated with natural phenomena (Deut 4:19-20, Judg 5:20, Is 14:13, Hab 3:11). They have the power to do good by carrying out Yahweh's will, but they can also oppose the Lord and cause immense harm. Boyd argues that while the Old Testament does not provide an explicit Free-Will Defence, it gives no indication that evil is a fundamental part of cosmos, nor that it originates in the will or nature of Yahweh. It can rather be traced back to Yahweh's enemies. Where the problem of evil is brought up, in the book of Job, both Job, who blames God for evil, and his friends, who blame sinners are shown to be wrong. Evil is viewed as arising from hostile cosmic forces. Boyd writes:

One of the primary reasons why the problem of evil is so intellectually intractable for us is precisely that we have not learned the lesson of Job, or of other primordial peoples. We have not moved beyond the fslse dichotomy of Job and his friends: evil in our culture is still generally seen as being the either our fault or God's will, or both. We are yet caught in an Augustinian, classical-philosophical model of God's providence and an Enlightenment model of our aloneness in the cosmos.

Thus, there is in Boyd's mind a need to re-capture the concept of the "world-in-between." This is something I am attempting to do myself with my endless posts about angels. They are real and they are important for many reasons. Boyd also stresses that we need to move away from the idea that God's will cannot be resisted. He sees this as utterly contrary to the view of God presented in the Old Testament.

In the next chapters, he examines the New Testament evidence for a Warfare worldview and Warfare theodicy. I hope to go on to post about these.

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