Monday, August 06, 2012

Where was God?

On the one hand:

rogereolson says:
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)?

rogereolson says:
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.

In short, the Calvinist account of God’s sovereignty given earlier in this chapter inevitably makes God the author of sin, evil, and innocent suffering (such as the children of the Holocaust) and thereby impugns the integrity of God’s character as good and loving. The God of this Calvinism (as opposed to, say, revisionist Reformed theology) is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil. R. Olson, Against Calvinism (Zondervan 2011), 84.

On the other hand:

rogereolson says:
June 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I’ve talked about this quite a bit in the past. No Arminian I know denies that God ever interferes with free will. The Bible is full of it. The point is that in matters pertaining to salvation God does not decide for people. If he did, he’d save everyone. The issue is personal relationship. God cannot and will not override a person’s free will when what is at stake is his or her personal relationship with God of love. But God certainly can and does knock people off their horses (as with Saul). I think you are over interpreting Arminianism’s view of freewill. Free will, as I have often said, is not the central issue. The central issue (and only reason we believe in free will) is the character of God including the nature of responsible relationality.

rogereolson says:
June 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm

The difference lies in the character of God. I don’t have a problem with God manipulating people’s wills so long as it doesn’t coerce them to do evil or force them to enter into a relationship with him. If God causes a person to turn one way at a corner rather than the other way, so that the person sees a sign that brings attention to his or her need of God, I don’t have any problem with that. You seem to be laboring under the misconception that Arminians believe in free will above everything. We don’t. That’s never been the point of Arminian theology as I have shown in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

Notice that by his own admission there are only two restrictions on God’s liberty to “manipulate,” “override,” or “interfere” with human freewill: he “doesn’t coerce them to do evil or force them to enter into a relationship with him.”

But in that event, Olson can’t deploy the freewill defense to exonerate God’s nonintervention in the Holocaust, or cases of child rape and murder. These are two paradigm-cases of evil that Olson cites against Calvinism. Yet Olson’s God could intervene to prevent the Holocaust without coercing the Nazis to do evil or forcing them into a saving relationship with himself.

God was at liberty to manipulate the wills of the Nazis. God was at liberty to override the will of the murderous rapist.

By the same token, Olson’s God is free to prevent or minimize a natural disaster which, absent divine intervention, will kill many men, women, and children.

So given how he’s framed the issue, someone can well ask, “Where was God during the Holocaust?” Where was God when a child is murdered?”


  1. Olson is annoying. "Cannot" and "does not" are two different things. Just because God does not do something doesn't mean that he cannot do it. Jesus didn't heal people in his hometown because of their unbelief. He could have if he wanted to; but why respond favorably to unbelief?

    And the "character of God" argument is a canard anyway. It presupposes a standard of goodness that is alien to God. Olson gets to decide beforehand what constitutes goodness and then when God doesn't measure up to Olson's standard Olson gets to say that whatever is claimed is impossible for God.

    And I say all this as a card carrying Arminian. It's funny, but the only time I read Olson is when you quote him. And every time you quote him I'm reminded of why I don't read him.

  2. Perhaps you should pull a few strings to see if some of your Italian relatives can disappear him. :-)

  3. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for commenting. I do not know you (and am really not trying to bait you), but, as an Arminian, how would you answer Olson's challenge of explaining God's role? I thought Olson was fairly typical (except in his fuzzy thinking) of Arminians. Thanks!

  4. Steve: Shhhh... I don't talk about such things on the internets. :-P

    Bill: I'd sidestep the issue of explaining God's role to deal with something more basic, namely our ultimate authority. If God is our ultimate authority then we don't get to say that he can't do this or that and still be good. If he turns out to be the author of sin/evil/innocent suffering then we need to build our theodicy around that; not start with a theodicy based on how we think God should act and then deny, explain away, or refuse to believe that he can act otherwise.

    I think to Isaiah 45:9 and Romans 9:19-21 in cases like this.

  5. If the only constraints are that God can't "force" or "coerce," then Olson has not non-question begging complain against compatibilism.