Is God to Blame?
By Gregory Boyd
Kingsway. 211 pages. £7.99
ISBN 1 84291 177 5
What shall we do with the problem of evil and suffering? Answer One: Accept that the loving and holy God is sovereign over all things, including evil and suffering. God does all things well; he must have his perfect reasons for allowing the evil and inflicting the suffering that he does; as finite creatures we may not understand what those reasons are and in any case they are not to demand that God explain himself just as and when we want. We are called to trust that our loving, holy, sovereign Father really is a loving, holy, sovereign Father. To some, this feels as though 'God is to blame'.
Answer Two: Deny that God is sovereign over all things including evil and suffering. This way you have let God off the hook - 'God is not to blame' either because he doesn't know about it or because he would love to help but can't. God doesn't know everything; he refuses to intervene in large areas of human life and history (for what he considers good reasons), and is, in any case, battling with the forces of chaos, the enormity of which we cannot possibly comprehend.
Is God to Blame? by well-known open theist Gregory Boyd is a depressing attempt to state and explore Answer Two. It is neither much of an explanation nor much of a comfort to be told that God would love to help but can't because he has tied his own hands in deference to a view of freedom which he himself does not live by. And yet this view of freedom determines Boyd's book as though the sinner's free will were the paramount value of the universe and the dominant theme of the Bible. (According to Boyd, freedom to love involves freedom not to love, and freedom not to sin involves freedom to sin. We need to ask him, Is the Father free to 'not-love' the Son? Is God free to sin? Can the saints in glory sin? Surely not. Yet we would want to assert, wouldn't we, that God and the saints in glory enjoy real love and real freedom?)
This book is bad in two other ways, too. First, it is riddled with self-contradictions, with poor handling of Scripture, with numerous misunderstandings of and/or misrepresentations of Answer One above and with sloppy argumentation.
Second, in spite of (rightly) highlighting the cross as the key revelation of God's character and purpose, the author fails to build his answer to the problem of evil/suffering upon the cross. If he had done so then he would have arrived at the following undeniable statements (or would he deny number 3? I'm not sure):
1. The crucifixion of Jesus, the holy Son of God, was the worst sin ever committed in all history.
2. The crucifixion of Jesus subjected him to the greatest suffering endured by any human being in all history.
3. God planned, intended, purposed, ordained, brought about the crucifixion of Jesus.
4. God is not the author of, and indeed hates the sinfulness of the human actions which comprised the crucifixion of Jesus.
5. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, all-just, all-holy and all-good.
6. God, therefore, must have had good reasons (good enough for perfect love and holiness!) for allowing the evil and inflicting the agony of the cross.
7. The crucifixion of Jesus accomplished the greatest good imaginable.
8. The innocent sufferer, Jesus, experienced, for at least a part of the time on the cross, the additional agony of not understanding what was going on.
Once we have these in place then we may proceed. If the God of infinite perfections had - as I know he had - good enough reasons (for perfect love and holiness) for allowing the worst evil ever and inflicting the greatest suffering ever and if he brought out of that the greatest good ever then I can believe that he must have good enough reasons for allowing all lesser evils and inflicting all lesser suffering. And, however miserable, intense and mysterious that evil and suffering is, I know that none of it is worse than the cross. Meanwhile, I recognise that God is not obliged to tell me what those reasons are (although he certainly explains many of them) and that between now and resurrection day, when all suffering will end and all mystery will be cleared, I am called to walk by faith - trusting the goodness and wisdom of my sovereign Father.
Is God to Blame? tries to help us through the painful entanglements of evil and suffering by telling us about the thwarted love of a limited God, the overriding value of human free will and the dark chaos of a complex universe. But that way leads only to greater grief. Understanding, comfort and ultimate deliverance lie only one way - the way of a holy, loving, sovereign God who does all things well and asks us to trust. This is the way of the cross of Jesus.