30 August 2009


Perhaps the greatest problem of theodicy is the question why God, having created Satan in the first place, simply didn't wipe him out after his rebellion. The question presupposes that God would wipe anything out. It assumes that God can punish and kill. Perhaps the answer is that God gave Satan free will and that God cannot destroy; He can only create.

The point is that God does not punish. To create us in His image, God gave us free will. To have done otherwise would have been to make us puppets or hollow mannequins. Yet to give us free will God had to forswear the use of force against us. We do not have free will when there is a gun pointed at our back. It is not necessarily that God lacks the power to destroy us, to punish us, but that in His love for us He has painfully and terribly chosen never to use it. In agony He must stand by and let us be. He intervenes only to help, never to hurt. The Christian God is a God of restraint. Having foresworn the use of power against us, if we refuse His help, He has no recourse but, weeping, to watch us punish ourselves.

This point is unclear in the Old Testament. There God is depicted as punitive. But it begins to become clear with Christ. In Christ, God Himself impotently suffered death at the hands of human evil. He did not raise a finger against His persecutors. Thereafter in the New Testament we hear echoes of the punitive Old Testament God, one way or another, saying that "the wicked will get what's coming to them." But these are only echoes, a punishing God does not enter the picture ever again. While many nominal Christians still today envision their God as a giant cop in the sky, the reality of Christian doctrine is that God has forever eschewed police power.

Of the Holocaust as well of lesser evils it is often asked, "How could a loving God allow such a thing to happen?" It is a bleeding, brutal question. The Christian answer may not suit tastes, but it is hardly ambiguous. Having forsaken force, God is impotent to prevent the atrocities that we commit upon one another. He can only continue to grieve with us. He will offer us Himself in all His wisdom, but He cannot make us choose to abide with Him.

For the moment, then, God, tormented, waits upon us through one holocaust after another. And it may seem that we are doomed by this strange God who reigns in weakness. But there is a dénouement to Christian doctrine: God in His weakness will win the battle against evil. In fact, the battle is already won. The resurrection symbolizes not only that Christ overcame the evil of His day two thousand years ago but that He overcame it for all time. Christ impotently nailed to the cross is God's ultimate weapon. Through it the defeat of evil is utterly assured. It is vitally necessary that we struggle against evil with all the power at our command. But the crucial victory occurred almost two thousand years ago. Necessary and even dangerous and devastating though our own personal battles may be, unknown to us, they are but mopping-up operations against a retreating enemy who has long since lost the war.

-M. Scott Peck-

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