How Does God Cause Evil? Part 2

In my previous post I introduced you to a couple pieces written by Gregory Boyd. To give you a quick summary, Boyd think the hermeneutic of Authorial Intent is secular in origin and that Divine Authorial Intent ought to be our guide. We ought to have a “prosopological exegesis” (PE) which “explains a text by suggesting that the author of the text identified various persons or characters (prosopa) as speakers or addressees in a pre-text, even though it is not clear from the pre-text itself that such persons are in view” (Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183). Boyd believes that PE was utilized by New Testament authors to understand how the Old Testament tells of the new, Christ-revealed theology.  It was implemented to understand perceived incompatibilities between the OT text and other knowledge about God.

But why think that there are A) perceived incompatibilities and B) that PE solves them?  Answering this question, in the negation, will serve as the basis for this post.

Boyd believes that “We should … read Scripture exercising the same faith we exercise when we discern God to be revealing himself on the cross.”  That is, to nonbelievers, Jesus’s crucifixion is merely the death of a failed messiah (or any other human-only theory one may present as to what Jesus was).  But to the believer, who has been enlightened by God’s grace, the crucifixion turns from an ugly event to a beautiful one (one that God reveals himself in). This is how we ought to view the difficult OT passages, Boyd argues. He writes,

Interpreting violent portraits of God through the lens of the cross would lead us to identify the surface of these portraits as mirroring the sin and cultural conditioning of those whom God is identifying with rather than accurately reflecting the true nature of God. To this degree, we must discern a gulf between the “God of the text” and the “actual God,” who is fully revealed in the crucified Christ.

I don’t quite see how understanding the ‘violent’ God passages as reflecting “the sin and cultural conditioning” of nonbelievers helps us understand the passage.  Boyd’s argument is akin to saying, ‘Well I’m just seeing it differently,’ without actually explaining how it is different.  He thinks that Jesus is the basis and criteria for understanding the true nature of God with difficult passages that reflect “God stooping to identify with our sin and curse.” But this begs the question. Why not think the reverse? Or rather (and better yet), why not think that this is false dichotomy? After all, is not Jesus’s incarnation God’s “stooping to identify with our sin and curse”?

At the very least, Boyd has some good ideas but isn’t quite hammering home how we are to understand the difficult OT passages.  He’s failed to be clear.  At the worst, Boyd hasn’t offered us any substantial understanding for these OT passages.  I think there is an easier way to get around these difficult OT passages; a way that doesn’t require ambiguous language, circular-ish reasoning (‘You have to look at it from my perspective’), and one that can actually try to explain these passages.

I think enough has been and is being written on the “genocide” commands.  That is, I think a correct understanding of such passages ought to understand the historical context of the Ancient Near East and to consider all of the verses carefully (the text itself testifies that the Israelites were not to kill everyone (exhaustively)).  This interpretation isn’t liberal in any sense of the methodology.  Someone who thinks it is liberal simply doesn’t have knowledge of what the liberal-conservative methodologies are. And it’s okay that people don’t; not everybody has a strong knowledge of this stuff. But they shouldn’t be calling interpretations pejoratives on the basis that the alternative interpretations may not be in precise agreement with them. But I have digressed.

Context can help us understand the ‘genocide’ passages, but how are we to understand the passages about God causing parents to eat their children (Lev. 26:28-29; Jer. 19:9; Ezek.5:10)?  I think seeing this religious language within the doctrine of providence is extremely helpful. The statement ‘God caused x’ ought to be assessed under the question ‘How did God cause x.’ For those who affirm the general-special distinction in providential action, I think we can categorize ‘God caused x,’ here, under general providence.  That is, God is not the responsible, efficient cause for people eating their children.  Rather, God, being an indirect cause (his sustaining the laws of the universe, guiding hand in history, etc.), brought about judgment upon the people (through the invading foreign army) and individuals, themselves, chose to eat their own children instead of starving themselves.  So, ‘God causes people to eat their children’ is to be understood in the same sense that whatever happens in the universe occurs because God allows it to happen.  Furthermore, God’s forecasting of impending judgment as to what ‘he will do’ is just that: forecasting. He knows precisely what will happen if he were to bring judgment upon the people, and that’s why they ought to be obedient!

There are still a number of questions left to be answered, such as ‘Why does God indirectly cause evil to happen?’  Subsequently, I believe, there are a number of adequate responses provided by philosophers and theologians.  But, as far as this post is concerned, we have an easier way to understand the difficult OT passages than Boyd’s convoluted attempt.

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Kurt Jaros is the Director of Operations at Apologetics.com, where he oversees various projects, including Real Clear Apologetics (which he founded). He holds a Master's degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and a Master's in Systematic Theology from King's College London. He teaches part-time at Naperville Christian Academy and also blogs at ValuesAndCapitalism.com, a project of the American Enterprise Institute.

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