Sabbath School commentary for discussion on October 2, 2021
This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide explores divine love and theodicy through a brisk recounting of the theological themes in the Great Controversy narrative. I think one of the best Adventist thinkers on this topic is Richard Rice, PhD, whose "The Great Controversy and the Problem of Evil" appeared in the Spectrum journal in 2004. If you click here and scroll to page 46, you’ll see what I mean.
In his essay, Rice mentions two works on the topic by evangelical pastor Gregory A. Boyd, God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil, which promote a warfare approach to understanding the problem of evil. Boyd, who shares Rice’s open view of God, is a friend to the Spectrum community and talked with me for a podcast interview before he spoke at our Adventist Forum national conference in 2016.
Tom Farr summarizes Boyd's approach:
Boyd proposes a warfare worldview, that we live in a universe that is at war, between God is who is good and beings he created that started out good but went bad of their own free will. Boyd takes us on an exploration of key texts in both the Old and New Testaments to show that beings endowed with creaturely free will often do things that are in opposition to God’s desires, and God allows this, not to bring about a greater good, but because he created a world of free creatures who, in many ways, can do what they want. Of course, God isn’t just standing idly by while people are suffering. God is very active in the world to eradicate evil, but his desire in the beginning was to work through people. Therefore, God works in people and through people to eradicate evil.
Boyd shows how fallen angels have free will and make decisions and take actions that are often harmful to us as human beings. God is at war with these beings, and this presents the warfare worldview. We shouldn’t think that Boyd is presenting a weak God, but a God who deeply loves his creation and can do anything he wants yet chooses to work within the created order he instituted.
Noting the similarity to Adventist conceptions of the cosmic controversy, Rice—always the nimble integrationist—explores Ellen White’s similar Lucifer-focused theodicy theory and asks some key philosophical questions about power and perception. For those looking for a lucid exploration of these themes, here's Dr. Ryan McLaughlin, who teaches in the theology department at Saint Elizabeth University. In this 21-minute video, he explores Boyd’s cosmic conflict theory.
Reaching deeper into past Christian approaches to theodicy, Dr. Rice includes a footnote citing the influential philosopher and theologian John Hick’s 1978 book, Evil and the God of Love. Grounded in Christian tradition, Hick argues against numerous Augustinian approaches and champions a modified Irenaean theodicy focused on moral growth or “soul-making.” Although brief, here is an interview with Hick who answers the question: does evil disprove God?
Alexander Carpenter is executive editor elect of Spectrum.
Title image: Jean Delville, The Treasures of Satan, 1895. Located in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.
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