Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

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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