Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering

Gregory A. Boyd IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL September 22, 2003
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Boyd is pastor of Woodland Hills Church near St. Paul, Minnesota. With its low cost and easy reading style this book is aimed at the Christian laity and purports to provide Christians with a proper understanding of God’s role in relation to evil and suffering in His creation. As an open-theology proponent Boyd argues that God’s role is limited to knowledge of the present. Lay persons will not find the discussions of foreknowledge burdensome. However, this is both a strength and weakness of the work, as issues raised by questions of foreknowledge permeate the text and yet are not treated in depth.

From the outset Boyd says that part of the core of human suffering is that people tend to usurp God’s role in understanding good and evil. “We live by our knowledge of good and evil rather than by trusting our loving God” (p. 25, italics his). Boyd then argues that God is present in the world as a warrior struggling to fight against the sin unleashed on His creation by rebellious humanity as epitomized in the Crucifixion (p. 35). This view is placed in contrast to a “blueprint” view in which all that occurs is seen as part of a meticulously laid plan. While Boyd briefly acknowledges that there are “softer” views of God’s involvement, he simply merges all his intellectual opponents into the camp of the strong “blueprint” view. While Boyd repeatedly cautions his readers not to judge the actions of God by human standards of right and wrong, he himself does so both implicitly and explicitly when attacking the “blueprint” model of omniscience. In that model, Boyd says, an all-knowing God arranged every event of life, including terrorism, murder, and rape, as “part of God’s wise and just good plan” (p. 48). Seemingly there is no room in Boyd’s theology for a God who raised up the Chaldeans (Hab. 1).

Boyd often opens an issue with more than one expressed viewpoint and then quickly focuses on the most extreme and emotionally charged perspective or example from which to argue his case. While Christians must face the horrors in the world as questions of theodicy, this rhetorical strategy of persuasion through emotional appeals does disservice to the reader by masking the complexities of some issues behind seemingly “obvious” answers that will deflect apparent guilt for horrible suffering away from God.

Boyd does recognize that in his view of God’s limited omniscience questions of “why” obviously still remain. He responds by challenging readers to recognize (a) that while God’s ways cannot be completely fathomed He is nonetheless knowable, and (b) that the world is infinitely complex and beyond human ability to understand.

Boyd is at his best in chapter 3 when discussing the risks associated with freedom, and God’s powerful love in creating the world and taking on His own suffering to redeem those who believe in Christ. However, Boyd presents a God who is caught in a world He cannot control but struggles to redeem. For even if God has no knowledge of the future, there are many evils He should know about in the present and yet does not act to prevent. Merely calling on the complexities of creation to mask this tension does not do justice to the sovereign goodness of God. So God, in Boyd’s view, permits evil to occur, even though He has not ordained it. Or worse, in Boyd’s view God neither permits nor ordains evil and in fact is powerless to prevent it. In the end Boyd’s attempts to separate God from evil end up with the same questions but with a much diminished view of God by which to answer them.

—Marcus Smith with Glenn R. Kreider

January 1, 2006
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2006 vol. 163 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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