Does God Use “Evil”?
Does God Use “Evil”?
In the history of Christianity, the problem of evil, or theodicy, has been one of the more vexing questions. It derives from the issue between God’s omnipotence on the one hand, and the manifestation of radical (i. e. unexplainable) evil on the other, that is, evil that does not admit of a “satisfying” explanation. As a matter of course, Christian history has used to specific and distinct models for explaining the problem of evil. They go by many names, but in this book they are called “blueprint” and “warfare” models of evil.
Hence, this review will explain both world views (which, in reality, are holistic views of God as such), and then seek to use the one the author accepts, the “warfare” view, as a basis for Christina worship. 1. The Blueprint view refuses to accept the problem of evil as such. In the blueprint view, there is no evil as radically considered. Good is all present since all is part of God’s will, that is, under His power. On the other hand, evil is relative, not absolute, since its purpose in creation and history is to bring God’s people to a knowledge of Himself and a dependency upon Himself.
Evil, in this understanding, is only apparent and transitory. There are two versions of the blueprint view that are worth mentioning: a strong and a weak version. The strong version is known to most Calvinists, and it is a complete determination of global history. This is to say that there is a strong deterministic view, with God as the first, and active cause, whose power is a completely adequate explanation for all events. Free will is denied, and the only will that is free is God’s. he is above moral blame or praise, things are done because He willed it.
If one cannot see the cosmic reason for a event of “evil,” then it is the fault of the person, who is so blinded by sin and egotism that he cannot fathom why evil can befall humanity, as if they were so wonderful and deserving of paradise. The weaker version holds that free will exists and is real, but that God freely permits man’s will to bring about evil so that the same blueprint is realized. In short, man as freely laying God’s blueprint is the weak version, God beginning it about though and only though his own power is the strong version.
What they both have in common is the “blueprint,” the determined form of human history (and all the persons) in it that explains evil as the “working out” of God’s preordained plan. Therefore, the consolation that believers feel when faced with crisis and pain is that there is good behind the apparent evil, and hence, “God’s will be Done” is the slogan of this thought (50ff). There are problems with the view that the author carefully lays out. In the most general terms, Boyd holds that this view of evil is completely unacceptable, and holds that God is playing some kind of “game” with his human subjects.
Generally speaking, Boyd seems to appeal to a “common sense” moral position that to ask modern people to accept radical evil, purposeless death of children, slaughter of innocents, agonizing birth defects, etc. is too much for people. God is seen as “playing” with humanity, torturing them at will, and all for some “secret plan” known only to Him. How can one worship such a being? (80ff). 2. The real response is in the “warfare model” of God’s power relative to evil. In its most basic form, th reality of God’s omnipotence in no way implies that God uses this to its full capacity.
Since freedom is a good in itself, God permits free actions to intertwine with the radically complex causality of the natural world to bring about events. Hence, God does not bring them about, he permits his creation, which He has equipped with its own “engine,” so to speak, to work out its own tale in history. God, in this model, is not the cause of evil, but exists as a deliverer from evil. God’s will is not being accomplished on earth, and therefore, is not in his power. This is not a weakness in God, but a “decision” of His to let things run its course and permit human beings to have recourse to Him in their trials.
God does not “use evil,” he delivers from evil. The implications for Christian worship are powerful and stunning. The “blueprint” view, as a matter of course, seems to reject the concept of “petitionary prayer. ” In other words, if all is in God’s power, and all events (whether freely chosen or all part of God’s manifesting in the world), come from God’s eternal will, then there is no good reason to ask God for anything, and hence, that sort of “parental” relationship between man and God is eliminated. In the blueprint view, all one can do is seek to praise God, his power and goodness, and to seek communion and unity with Him.
Hence, the warfare view rescues and makes sense out of petitionary prayer. Boyd uses several examples where God “changes His mind,” in order to listen to a prayer. God of course does not “change his mind” as a human would, but He has deliberately “shrunk” his power in order to permit human will to be paramount. In other words, creation in the warfare view is about man coming closer to God, and not the other way around, as is implied by the blueprint view (cf. 125-130). But the centerpiece of the book and the “warfare” view towards worship is Christ as the image and icon of God.
Christ is the expression of God, and hence, should be the center of worship. Christ as god does not cause evil: both the determined course of physical nature and the free will of human beings to this in a series of massive and unexplainable causal chains that are beyond the human capacity to understand. God has given creation its own method of movement, and evil results (to be abstract) from constant conflicts within these two roads of movement: free and determined. Christ, on the other hand, came to earth in order to save believers from these clashes, to suffer with those afflicted and to draw them closer to Him.
There is no necessary plan being unfolded by this, but human beings have recourse to God in times of stress. Jesus’ mission on earth, therefore, is to free humanity from evil. To see the transitoriness of the world and its massive complexity and to both accept suffering and to work against it (suffering can be worked against because it is not necessary). The blueprint view seems to demand a mere acceptance of evil without any action to be taken against it: hence the lack of intercessory prayer. Hence, at the center of all this is the free approach to Christ. Love can only be based on freedom.
In either the Calvinist or weaker view of determinism in the blueprint view, there is no real freedom: God has arranged all, including the worship of Him. But this is clearly incompatible with love: love must be chosen freely (152-155ff). But even more, evil is the result fo the misuse of human freedom: this is the final point. God permits mankind to make mistakes in the same sense that a loving father permits children to make errors, so that they learn. He withdraws Himself in order to let human freedom reign, not some divine plan decided before the creation of the world.
The very existence of human freedom is incompatible with the blueprint view. God sets his face against those who use this freedom for evil, and provides grace and solace for those who are victimized by it. But this warfare will not last for eternity, Christ’s taking on human nature becomes the final victory of God’s union with mankind. Jesus does not cause evil, he heals from evil. He sees those using their freedom for evil as ignorant, as not fully knowing what they are doing. God then, as his final word, seeks forgiveness and reconciliation.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 January 2017
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