“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” This memorable line from The Usual Suspects may have been the inspiration for Gregory Boyd’s book, Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering. In it, Boyd suggests that we have mistakenly attributed evil and suffering to God’s sovereign will.
My earliest understanding of Christianity consisted of the notion of good vs. evil; God vs. the Devil. I participated in a literal battle with the decisions I made each day. Think of the common cartoon scene in which a devil sits on one shoulder and an angel on the other as a person weighs their options. As time went on, however, I learned that this was a theologically immature way to view the world. I learned that God, in fact, was in complete control and all of our experiences were part of his “master plan,” which, of course, we could not understand due to the fact that we were fallen, limited human beings.
Most of the people I know who have fallen away from the faith in recent years cite their inability to reconcile God’s divine will with the evil they see in the world every day. They cannot believe in a God who would cause or even allow such atrocities to occur. Indeed, I’ve wrestled with this issue personally for years. After God failed to save the life of my friend Christian even as I kneeled outside my apartment in the rain, in the middle of the night, beating the ground in prayer, I didn’t speak to God for more than a year.
If I analyze this from my childhood perspective, it seems like a pretty big score for the Devil. And that’s exactly how Gregory Boyd would see it. In this book, Boyd steps in to salvage God’s rep, arguing against what he calls the ‘blueprint world-view’ in which evil is part of God’s plan and every personal tragedy we experience is somehow a part of a greater good. Boyd argues that because Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s true character, any action that is inconsistent with the person of Jesus cannot be attributed to God. He writes, “If our picture of God is singularly focused on Christ, as it ought to be, we must see God as fighting evil, not willing it.” Boyd is surprisingly strong in his assertion that humans and angels both exercise free will, and he takes quite literally the story of Satan leading a rebellion of angels up in heaven, being cast out of the presence of God and actively wreaking havoc on Earth.
I am only halfway through the book, but I couldn’t wait to write about it. It’s come along at an important juncture in my life, when I have basically renounced Calvinism and reverted to my childlike understanding of God. Biblically indefensible as it seems to be, I have chosen to believe in an all-good God over an all-powerful God, lest I fall into total spiritual depression and fall away from the faith altogether like so many of my friends. I figure I can still get into heaven if I am wrong on this; that God will be more upset if I falsely accuse him of evil than if I fail to give him credit for all the tragedy in my life. Boyd, on the other hand, delivers an exhaustive, scholarly (read: seminary-trained for all you Mclaren-haters) defense of “warfare theology” that I find theologically sound and personally refreshing.
I’m not completely sold on Boyd’s ideas yet, but I can imagine the Devil laughing his you-know-what off while we blame all his work on the one being who is actually on our side. Boyd challenges his readers to refuse to accept evil in the world and to join God’s battle against it, recognizing that we have a real choice and a real impact. As he puts it, “Jesus taught a piety of revolt, not resignation.”
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