by Stan Smith
Theodicy is the defense of God in the face of evil. The top question of the skeptic (and even a lot of believers) is "If God is loving and omnipotent, then why is there evil?" The premise is that a loving God would never ordain suffering.
My wise mother once told me, "Never use 'never'." She was, of course, joking, but making a point at the same time. Use of superlatives like "always" and "never" are overrated and often wrong. In fact, in terms of arguments, generally the easiest arguments to disprove include "always" and "never". You see, all I have to do to disprove them is to demonstrate a contrary example and the argument is done. Often the whole idea collapses around itself.
So when I hear "God would never ordain suffering," I'm almost forced to disprove it. Never? Jude 1:4 says, "Certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were ordained for this condemnation ..." Now, without arguing about what "long ago" or "certain people" means, there is no doubt about what this verse says. Condemnation of some was ordained in advance. When and why may be questions to ask, but it is unavoidable that God has ordained suffering in this case.
"No, no," the protest rises. "It's not that God never ordains suffering. Of course sinners are ordained to suffer. It's the innocent we're talking about. It is those who are His. He never ordains their suffering."
Well, there are a variety of ways to go here. How do you define "innocent"? We know that "all have sinned". But you probably (I say "probably" because I've seen too many Christians who mean that nearly everyone is innocent.) mean those who are saved. We could go through Paul's letters and see that God has granted us suffering or Peter's epistles to see that it is God's will that we suffer. But I don't need to go anywhere like that. Too much room for dispute. What is "innocent"? Who are "His"? Let's avoid all that.
How about the Son of God? I think we could all agree that He was thoroughly innocent. I think we could also agree that He belonged to God. We know that God said, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." We have both, then -- He was innocent and was His. Peter claimed this: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know -- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:22-23). It wasn't merely Peter's idea. The disciples prayed, "'The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed' -- for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:26-28)." Well, you remember Jesus, the Lamb. John called Him the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world. Even in the midst of the events, Jesus told His disciples, "The Son of Man goes as it has been determined" (Luke 22:22). From these passages to the copious prophecies before His arrival, there can be no biblical doubt that Jesus's suffering on our behalf was God's primary plan ... from the beginning.
If God ordained the suffering of His sinless Son, then on what possible grounds can the argument be made, "God would never ordain suffering", even of the innocent? If Jesus embraced suffering under God's will (Phil 2:6-8), ought not we do the same? If we wish to identify ourselves as followers of Christ ("Christians"), ought not we do the same? Given the number of texts that assure us that suffering is for our benefit, can we do anything but embrace suffering? Does complaining about it make sense? I don't think so.
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I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.
For more writings you can see my blog at birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.
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