I’m going to comment on some statements by Roger Olson on this thread:
April 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm
What are you saying? That the Bible teaches that God caused the holocaust?
i) Of course the Bible doesn’t directly or specifically answer that question. The issue is whether the Bible has a general teaching on divine providence that implicitly answers that question.
ii) It isn’t just a question of what the Bible teaches. It’s also a question of what theological traditions like Arminianism teach. How does Olson define causation? Here’s an attempt to capture our intuitive sense of causation:
“We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it. Had it been absent, its effects — some of them, at least, and usually all — would have been absent as well.” D. Lewis, “Causation,” Journal of Philosophy (1973) 70: 556–67.
That seems like a good working definition to me. On that definition, the Arminian God caused the Holocaust. For divine creation and providence makes a difference from what would have happened without it. Absent divine creation and providence, the Holocaust would not have happened.
Olson can propose a different definition, but it mustn’t be an ad hoc definition.
iii) Of course, even this definition doesn’t mean God solely caused the Holocaust. There were human agents as well.
I find it helpful to jump right to the most extreme conclusion and then back up from there to test what a verse might mean. In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, no interpretation of Scripture can stand up that can’t be preached standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz.
i) That’s just grandstanding. Scripture means whatever it means.
Olson’s objection is an emotional bluff. He draws a line in the sand, then dares us to cross it. But that’s a tacit admission that his own position is indefensible, so he must to resort to these last-ditch tactics.
His objection is a first strike to bar any interpretation that conflicts with his prior commitments, even before we crack open the pages of Scripture and see what it says. That shows contempt for the word of God. We can’t preemptively eliminate certain interpretations before we even read what the Bible has to say.
ii) What’s so special about Auschwitz? History is littered with atrocities, large and small. Scripture itself chronicles a number of atrocities. The Holocaust doesn’t mark a turning point in hermeneutics. This is not a uniquely evil event.
April 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm
I disagree that Job says God used Satan as his instrument to bring all those things upon Job. The narrative does not say God wanted those things to happen to Job and therefore brought in Satan and ordered him to go and do those things. To be sure, God allowed it. We’ve been over that so many times here it’s getting tiresome. To me, perhaps not to you, “permitting” and “ordaining” are not the same.
i) If God didn’t want those things to happen to Job, then why did he allow it? Did he allow it against his will? Didn’t he want to allow it? Did Satan put the squeeze on God?
ii) According to the prologue, God has a reason for allowing Satan to afflict Job. He was calling Satan’s bluff. Rising to the challenge.
iii) Olson keeps trotting out the distinction between “permitting” and “ordaining” as if that’s ipso facto exculpatory. Sometimes that’s morally relevant, but in other cases it’s not.
iv) Let’s take a step back. The Arminian God is the creator of the world. The Arminian God knows the future. Olson’s God knew that by making Lucifer, Lucifer would fall. He foreknew that Satan was going to propose this wager. Olson’s God knew ahead of time that by making Lucifer and Job, this day would come. So it’s more than merely allowing it. It’s setting the events in motion, with this foreseen result.
Assuming the principle of alternate possibilities, God was free to choose a different timeline in which that didn’t happen.
I think God’s role in evil has to be understood from a canonical and narrative perspective. As I read the whole of Scripture and the earliest church fathers, I see the world and its history (since the fall at least) as a battleground, not a stage.
But that doesn’t solve the problem. Olson’s God has overwhelming force. There’s no contest.
It brings me no comfort to think that the merciful and good God of creation and redemption plans, ordains and renders certain things like the holocaust or my mother’s death at age 32.
i) Olson isn’t the first man or last man to suffer a family tragedy. Charles Wesley lost siblings and children to infant mortality. Yet Charles Wesley had a far more robust doctrine of divine providence than Olson.
ii) The Arminian God ensures events like the Holocaust or his mother’s premature death certain by making and sustaining a world with those foreseeable events.
These are results of the fall and of the fact that Satan is the “god of this present age” yet to be defeated. I find Greg Boyd’s explanation in Satan and the Problem of Evil the most convincing (and it does not depend on open theism).
Notice the Manichaean quality of Olson’s argument, as if this is an even match between God and Satan. Surely Satan is no match for God. Does Olson think God is struggling to gain the upper hand?
April 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm
I would remind Job that it was “the Accuser’s” doing, not God’s. Now, please answer this for me: What would you say to comfort a father and mother whose four year old daughter was kidnapped, brutally raped and murdered and thrown in a river (a real incident)?
That she didn’t die in vain. Her little life wasn’t a tragic waste of human potential. Her life was meaningful. Her death was meaningful. That we can hope and pray.
April 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm
So, nothing you wrote there (in answer to my question about how you would comfort the parents of a child who was murdered) stands in contradiction to what I (or any good Arminian) would say. But the difference, I suspect, would appear in what we would say in response to parents who asked “Where was God when the murderer kidnapped, raped and killed my child?” and they MEAN “What was God’s role in bringing it about–if any?” I teach that pastors ought to preach and teach their doctrine of divine providence so that when such things happen the congregants don’t for the first time cry out “Where was God?” because they will already know what God’s role was.
Well, according to Olson, God let it happen because God had too much respect for the freedom of the murderous child-rapist. Olson’s God couldn’t bring himself to trammel the freedom of the rapist and child-killer, even though the assailant was violating the freedom of the child. Olson’s God allows those who are bigger and stronger to abuse the weak, helpless, and defenseless.
Olson’s answer to the question “Where was God?” is that God was right there, watching the assailant rape and kill the little girl.
April 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm
Of course, that’s just another way of asking about God’s role in the whole sorry state of affairs humanity finds itself in. Is this really “the best of all possible world?” A consistent Calvinist would seem to have to say so.
i) A Calvinist doesn’t have to say this is the best possible world. For that assumes there is a best possible world. But different possible worlds encapsulate incommensurable goods. No one possible world can exhaust all possible permutations
ii) And what about Olson? Is he saying there was a better possible world than this one, but God refused to make it? Assuming the principle of alternate possibilities, there’s another possible would in which the little girl wasn’t raped and murdered. So why didn’t Olson’s God made that world instead? That wouldn’t even infringe on anybody’s libertarian freedom, for it’s simply actualizing a different set of free choices.
April 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm
And I’ll take a God who permits evil and innocent suffering, for reasons he alone knows and fully understands, over a God who intentionally wants children to be murdered most cruelly, foreordains it and renders it certain and then sends those who commit such heinous acts (even though they could not have done otherwise) to hell “for his glory.”
i) Doesn’t Olson’s God want what he permits? Doesn’t Olson’s God intend what he permits? Doesn’t Olson’s God ensure that event when he finalizes one possible scenario by making that the real world?
ii) It’s dishonest for Olson to say the Calvinist God wants children to be murdered. The Calvinist God doesn’t will evil for evil’s sake.
iii) Keep in mind that there are tradeoffs. For instance, if a young child is murdered, the parents are more likely to have another child to offset the loss of the murdered child. If the first child hadn’t been murdered, the second child would not exist. There’s the evil of the murdered child, but there’s the compensatory good of the second child. Which world is a better world–the world with the first child, or the world with the second child?
iv) This isn’t just hypothetical. When Cain murdered his brother, Adam and Eve had Seth to offset the loss of Abel.
If Adam and Eve, Seth and Abel all went to heaven when they died, then Adam, Eve, and Seth gained something from Abel’s death without ultimately losing Abel in the process. So that’s better in the long term, even though that’s worse in the short term.
I’m not suggesting that every murder has a happy ending in the sweet by-and-by. But theodicy is about the overall balance. The question is not whether any particular outcome might be better, but whether it’s a better world.
These are tough answers to tough questions. But they are real answers, unlike Olson’s petulant dismissals.
April 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm
With Augustine and most of Christian tradition I think of evil as the absence of the good. Creatures with free will can bring it about, but it’s not a substance (like a germ or a virus). It’s like a broken bone–not a substance but a deformation.
i) A broken bone is not a substance?
ii) Moral evil isn’t simply non-good, but anti-good. Not simply privation of good, but replacing something good with something bad. Not the absence of something good, but the presence of something bad.