Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A three-fold theodicy

"Against these three temptations [solution by universal order, solution by autonomous freed and solution by dialectic reasoning], Scripture raises the triple affirmations: that evil is evil, that the Lord is sovereign  and that God is good, his creation also being good with similar kind of goodness." (Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, 85)
These three affirmations form a "T" says Blocher, or in my mind they a triangular boundary ▲ surrounding our Biblical theodicy (Which is the classic moral and apologetic problem; "If there is a good God why is there evil in the world?"). The centre of which is an "opaque enigma" (p102), a sad mystery unlike the joyful mysteries of the Trinity or the Incarnation. Blocher goes on to give the following warning: "water down one of the three affirmations, and evil to some extent becomes excusable" (p102). So although a Scriptural theodicy doesn't provide an answer to why evil is present in the world, we are able to affirm, in the light of Blocher's ▲ the following four statements about the presence of evil.

What we able to say about Evil in this world:
  1. It is always denounced
  2. It tends to non-being
  3. It flows from Freedom
  4. It enters into the plan of God
But a Scriptural theodicy isn't just about defining the extent of the problem, it's also about finding a solution; answering the next question: "what should we do about evil?"  Blocher writes this:
God battles with evil, and will conquer it.  Or rather, God has battled with it and he has conquered it.  We have kept the supreme consideration to the end: that the other 'T' formed by two small beams of wood on the hill called Golgotha, Skull Hill.  There the darkness of the mystery deepened, from the sixth hour until the ninth, the place from which shines forth the light [✝]. (p103)
The solution is three-fold:
  1. The Lord Jesus suffers for my evil 
  2. The Crucifixion could only take place within God's control
  3. The death of Jesus reveals a pure love, it's basis is the unadulterated goodness of God
For those who are interested in the detail behind my summary I've included the relevant (and annotated!) chapter of Evil and the Cross by Henri Blocher. (Thankfully I fall five pages under the (Australian) 10% limit for research.)
Chapter 4 'Scripture on Evil' by Blocher


Alex Smith said...

Interesting. It's certainly a complex issue! I agree "that evil is evil, that the Lord is sovereign and that God is good." I also like the point that "his creation also being good with similar kind of goodness".

I agree with 2, 3 & 4 of the "things we can say about evil". 1 is trickier, e.g. Was the crucifixion evil? Was it denounced or was it part of God's plan?

I do think that God has conquered evil and is slowly actualising that. As you know, I find the continued rebellion of the mind & spirit in ECT incongruous with this.

I really like your three-fold solution :)

Did you check out Alvin Plantinga on YouTube?

Luke Isham said...

Yes and thanks for sending it through!

Re: the denouncement of evil. Even at the cross we have to denounce the kangaroo trial, the barbaric execution, the humiliation of our King and the suffering of Jesus. Spiritually we should also denounce the fact that our sins sent him there, that our rebellion in Adam caused the Father to inflict wrath on the Son. We have to agree with Jesus' request in the garden: "is there a another way?"

That's the tricky thing about this theodicy, each of the three affirmations are equally valid and have to be held simultaneously.

Andrew Bowles said...

Two things:

1) This doesn't appear to actually be a theodicy, since it doesn't provide an explanation of evil or give a justification of God's actions in the world. It's the opposite of a theodicy in that it says those things are an unknowable mystery. Insofar as you do try to explain, you break the the triangle. The three principles are more like the unresolved tensions that come from the Old Testament faith that is waiting for the Messiah. Evil is evil, but God is sovereign and good, so what next?...'We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel' (Luke 24:24)

2) Blocher seems to be trapped between alternately affirming dualism and monism. One of the beauties of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it allows us to speak about God's immanent action in the world while preserving his transcendence. Maybe he talks about this in a later chapter?

Luke Isham said...

Hi Andrew,

1) Depends on what your definition of a 'theodicy' is and Blocher argues that a Biblical ones says in part that the answer is opaque. I'm not sure what you mean by the phrase "unknowable mystery" because like the mystery of the incarnation this a bounded one, a mystery with parameters. Neither do I think the three answers are Old Testament principles alone but I agree that the solution, which is part B of a theodicy, is found in Christ. I think can guess where you're going with the quote from Luke 24:24 but don't want to impute to you the wrong motives.

2) "Trapped", what about 'finds a way out?' Most theodicies ( I haven't seen them all) require the weakening of one of the three edges of the triangle, they offer a holistic and watertight solution at the expense of either God's control or goodness or make evil less evil, in the process. I'm not sure how the Trinity can act as a theodicy while keeping evil alien to God?

Andrew Bowles said...

Well, I would define theodicy as the attempt to explain and justify the existence of evil in God's creation. Blocher seems to say that to attempt to do that results in failure because you deny non-negotiable doctrinal elements, so I read him as denying the possibility of a theodicy. The 'unknowable mystery' refers to the fact that he refuses to entertain any explanation as to the origin of evil. It's not a mystery in the sense of the Incarnation where we can't get to the depths of it, it's a mystery in the sense that we are barred from thinking about it.

The quote from the road to Emmaus was just an illustration that demonstrates that the problem of evil in the OT is tied up with messianic expectation. So from a Christian point of view the three principles represent the perspective of Israel on the problem of evil prior to Christ rather than the final word. That's why I pointed to the Trinity, because it is strange for us to speak as though the Bible teaches about a 'God' whose relation to creation is on the basis of a faculty called 'will'. A purely monotheistic God, who seems to be the presupposition of Blocher's triangle, cannot be related to creation without overwhelming it and becoming part of any evil in it. That's why he oscillates between dualism and monism. The Trinity means that the meeting point between God and creation is a 'personal' one not one of 'substance', it is through the persons of the Son and Spirit, so creation is separate from yet united to God. This is where it helps to explain evil as a deviation on the part of created beings that is overcome by God through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Luke Isham said...

Yes I agree Blocher is denying a theodicy that requires a complete and integrated explanation of evil.

It's not a mystery in the sense of the Incarnation where we can't get to the depths of it, it's a mystery in the sense that we are barred from thinking about it.
Yes, well put.

The quote from the road to Emmaus was just an illustration that demonstrates that the problem of evil in the OT is tied up with messianic expectation.
Yes and no. If that's the entirety of the answer then it makes evil necessary for the Messiah, but if you mean an 'expectation' is created I could agree.

Still not entirely sure of how Blocher's threefold theodicy is oscillating between monism and dualism, because dualism implies some sort of equality, some sort of equivalence, whereas good and evil are morally asymmetrical (Blocher affirms this in defining evil as neither something or nothing, something insofar as fallen creatures are evil and we can talk about the moral category of evil but nothing in the sense that it has no life or separate existence of it's own). I need to think more though if Blocher is straying into Monism, but the dualism charge doesn't make sense.

Andrew Bowles said...

That's fine, it's not worth going into more detail about it. The posts would be as long as the book.
Thanks for providing the copy of the chapter and the chance to think about this issue again.