Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Conclusion - Toward a Greater Good Theodicy

Over the past several weeks, we have discussed the issue of Theodicy - God's relation to evil. We have seen the answers that some propose to it, my personal position, and a discussion of why others might reject it. Today, I just want to conclude this discussion with a final thought on the subject.
How can we overcome C. S. Lewis’ "problem of pain?" Must we deny God’s goodness and omnipotence so that we may better understand the source and purpose of pain? To abandon these precepts is to abandon centuries of Christian orthodoxy and biblical truth, and as such is unthinkable. Instead, we should embrace the Instrumental view, or Greater Good Theodicy, which advocates God’s goodness, omnipotence, and foresees a greater end to the trials we face in this life.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Toward a Greater Good Theodicy - Part Four

Over the past several weeks, we have been discussing Theodicy, God's relation to evil. First, we outlined the different positions that people typically take on this issue. Then we discussed the favored view, evidence for it, and then discussed God's purposes for suffering in this world. I would say that my argument is fairly strong, but with any argument, there will be people who disagree. Today we will examine three objections to the greater good theodicy, and evaluate their own personal strengths.

In the first volume of his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge outlines two objections to the Greater Good Theodicy, which I will refer to as the limitation and happiness objections. In addition to this, I will also discuss the objections raised by those who adhere to a theology of openness.

The limitation objection argues that the greater good theodicy actually limits God. The limitation objection argues that if God was truly omnipotent, then he would not need to use suffering or pain to produce the product of his will. This argument further advances the notion that the greater good theodicy leads to the belief of a finite God in that it supposes that God cannot make anything greater or better, that this world exists as it is simply because God could not do any better. This is a fairly interesting objection, and at first I was not sure as to how to answer it. However, this objection fails to recognize God’s purpose for the creative act, mainly the glorification and exaltation of Jesus Christ. This purpose in creation requires the Earth and humanity to exist in the state that it is, so that Christ may redeem humanity from its sin, and establish himself as Lord.

Second, the happiness objection argues that the greater good theodicy suggests that human happiness is the end goal of creation. The "happiness" objection argues that this is both unscriptural and contrary to moral reasoning. This objection correctly notes that the Bible declares that the glory of God, an infinitely higher end, is the final cause for which all things exist. This objection further argues that if the purpose of suffering is the glorification or happiness of man, even through suffering, it is contrary to God’s own will, the glorification of himself. However, this objection fails in that it does not understand what glorifies God. The things that glorify God are the expansion of his kingdom through evangelism and the deepening of his people in holiness and righteousness which, according to Piper, is achieved through man’s suffering.

Finally, those who hold to a theology of openness argue that the open view of God is the best way to deal with the problem of evil. Open theists argue that evil has been difficult for conventional theism of its reluctance to see divine power as something which is shared with creation. However, open theists argue that in order to exonerate God from guilt, His "monopoly" of power must be rejected. Open theists argue that classical theism’s view of theodicy lays the guilt of evil upon God, and labels him as the author of sin. Open theism further argues that classical theism ignores the fact that there are many forces at work within creation. These forces include God, Satan, angels, demons, and men, all of whom may freely choose to rebel, disobey, and cause evil things to happen. Open theists also argue that their "logic of love" theodicy is also superior to classical theism as it can rationalize evils that are not the result of a moral agent, such as earthquakes and floods. Open theists argue that these natural disasters occur because of the randomness that underlies creativity and the byproduct of the orderly natural processes that sustain life. While the open theist’s objection is interesting in that it advocates a theodicy that is easily accepted, it must be rejected as it limits God’s omnipotence. The open theist’s goal is to absolve God of the guilt of evil, but in doing so it strips Him of his power, thus replacing a supposedly guilty God for an impotent one.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Toward a Greater Good Theodicy - Part Three

For the past several weeks, we have been discussing the issue of theodicy, God’s relation to evil. First we looked at the different positions that people often take on this issue, then we settled on the "Greater Good Theodicy" as the favored model. But this fails to answer the question as to why – specifically, why do we suffer in our lives? To what greater good are we being drawn toward? To answer this we will look to John Piper’s book, Let the Nations be Glad, where he outlines six specific reasons why God allows suffering to enter into our lives.

Now that it has been established that God brings suffering into our lives to bring about a greater good, the question may be asked: specifically, to what greater good is God working toward? In his book Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper outlines six reasons why God appoints suffering for his servants. They are: for deeper faith and holiness, for the increase of our heavenly reward, awakening others to action, opening the lost to the gospel, to enforce the missionary command, and to magnify the supremacy of Christ.

Piper’s first reason, for deeper faith and holiness is drawn from Hebrews 12, which shows us that suffering tests our faith, and purifies all remnants of self reliance. In his book, God’s Greater Glory, Bruce A. Ware echos this assertion when he states that "God often designs affliction and pain and suffering to strengthen our faith, even when we are being faithful." To support his assertions, Ware looks to Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4, both of which argues that our perseverance through tribulations will produce in us spiritual maturity.

The second reason for suffering, for the increase of our heavenly reward, is supported by 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which states that sufferings prepare us for our future, heavenly glory. From this, Piper argues that the degree of our glory in heaven rests upon our degree of suffering in life.

Piper’s third purpose for pain, to awaken others to evangelical action, is supported by the first chapter of Philippians, as previously discussed. Here, Piper notes that news of a missionary’s sufferings or martyrdom usually leads others to serve in the same area. To support this he specifically notes the case Chet Bitterman, who lost his life to Colombian guerrillas in 1981.

The fourth purpose for sufferings listed in Piper’s book is to open the lost to the gospel, and is supported by 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6. Here Piper argues that suffering for the gospel is often used by God to bring others to Christ. Piper further explains this principle in his book, Desiring God. In this work, Piper refers to Tertullian’s assertion that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Here, Piper argues that this statement is true based on the evidence that history affords us, that Christianity has indeed spread the fastest in the wake of a Christian martyr.

Piper’s fifth purpose for suffering, to enforce the missionary command, stems from his third purpose, to awaken others to evangelical action. Here, Piper argues that the suffering of the church is used by God to "reposition the missionary troops" in places that they might not have otherwise gone. As evidence of this, Piper looks to the example of the martyrdom of Stephen, which caused many in the church to relocate and begin ministries in their new hometowns. Piper argues that the lesson to learn here is that suffering is often used to shake Christians out of their "Apathy of Abundance", and move into areas of service.

Finally, Piper’s sixth purpose of suffering is to magnify the supremacy of Christ. Piper argues that we are only able to truly understand God’s glory when we compare it to our own condition. This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Ware when he states that affliction can reveal human weakness so that the surpassing strength and glory of God may be more evident. To support this Dr. Ware turns to 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 and 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Toward a Greater Good Theodicy - Part Two

Last week, we discussed the varioius views that surround theodicy - God's purpose & relation to evil. This week I would like to discuss the view which I hold, and give three examples as to why I hold to it.

Myself, I ascribe to the fourth view listed above, the Instrumental view, or Greater Good Theodicy. I feel that this view is far superior to the alternative views as it retains the universally understood norms of good and evil while maintaining the orthodox Christian understanding of an omniscient and all loving God. While this view is supported by the totality of the scriptures, I feel that there are three main biblical examples that exemplify this view. The example of Joseph found in Genesis 45, the example of Job, and the example of Paul’s sufferings found in the New Testament.

The story of Joseph’s life begins in Genesis chapter 37. Here, we learn that Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father loved him the most, and because Joseph had dreams in which he foresaw this own lordship over all his older brothers. At this point of the story, Joseph begins to suffer many hardships. First, in verse 18, his brothers plotted to kill him, but at Reuben’s insistence, decided to throw him in a pit in the wilderness instead. Following this, Joseph was sold to a group of Ishmaelites, who sold him as a slave to Potiphar in Egypt. After a short time in Potiphar’s house, Joseph was imprisoned due to false accusations leveled at him by Potiphar’s wife. The majority of Joseph’s life was filled with heartache and pain, but through his troubles he gained the Pharaoh’s favor, and was able to save many lives due to his ability to interpret dreams. Eventually, Joseph recognized that God had led him through his trials for a greater purpose, as evidenced by Joseph’s response to his brothers in Genesis 45 where he states "do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life." In this statement, Joseph summarizes the basic tenets of the Greater Good Theodicy. Mainly, that God places pain and suffering in our lives for the purpose of bringing about a greater, unforseen good in the future.

A second instance of God placing sufferings in a person’s life to bring about a greater purpose may be found in the life of Job, as recorded in the book of Job. In the opening chapter of the book of Job we are introduced to Job, who is described as an upright, godly man with great wealth and a large family. In subsequent chapters God allows Satan to curse Job, who then loses his children, servants, property, and health. Several of Job’s friends arrive to counsel him, but only one, Elihu, offers Job the correct interpretation for his sufferings. In Job 37:13 Elihu states "Whether for correction, or for his world, or for loving-kindness, He causes it to happen." Later, God arrives to rebuke Job for his grumbling, and to show him that His ways are greater than man’s, and that though we do not always see it, He is at work in our lives to bring about a greater good.

A final example given to us to show God’s purpose in suffering is found in the life of Paul. Following Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul’s life became one marked with suffering, yet in that suffering Paul writes that he found true joy. As such, Paul’s theodicy is one that is worthy of examination. Paul’s view of theodicy is best seen in the opening chapter of the book of Philippians. Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi under great duress, as he had been imprisoned for what may be the last time. He writes to the Philippians to encourage them, letting them know that his imprisonment is a part of God’s divine plan. Paul’s belief in this divine plan is evident in Philippians 1:12-14. Here, Paul writes that his circumstances have turned out for the greater good for the gospel, as it is obvious to all that he is suffering for Christ, and not for a crime. Furthermore, Paul writes that his sufferings have led to more people hearing the gospel, as his chains have given others the needed courage to press forward in their evangelism, thus showing that God is in control of Paul’s circumstances and is using them to bring about a greater good.

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