When something bad happens, is it God’s will? And even if it wasn’t, why didn’t he intervene? Gregory Boyd’s book Is God to blame? moving beyond pat answers to the problem of suffering discusses these questions and offers some helpful responses.
Boyd starts by critiquing what he calls ‘the blueprint’ view of the world. According to this Augustinian/ Calvinist view (and I’m sure proponents feel both he and I are simplifying it) everything that happens in the world, God has willed for his higher purpose. There is a specific divine reason for everything that takes place. This comes out of a conviction that if God is all powerful, then nothing can thwart his will. It leads to people asking when their baby is stillborn or their brother dies in a car accident: What is God trying to teach me? What greater good did this serve?
In Boyd’s pastoral experience thinking of God like this has led people to lose their faith or at least develop a picture of God as someone who hurts them. (I think that God can teach us things through any tragedy. But I don’t think that he wills tragedies in order to teach us things.) It also presents a big apologetic problem to non-believers who are told this is the sort of God we worship. Of course, these reasons in themselves don’t make the blueprint approach wrong.
People who believe in the blueprint view of the world might say that God is mysterious; we can’t understand his deeper purposes. Boyd offers an alternative. His argument can be summed up like this:
Because of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, we can be confident of our knowledge about God’s character and general purposes for our life. What we can hardly begin to fathom, however, is the vast complexity of creation, a creation that includes an untold number of human and spiritual free agents whose decisions affect much that comes to pass. (p. 79)
I like this a lot. We know what God’s like; it’s the created order that we don’t understand. We can assume that ‘whatever appears inconsistent with the character and purposes of God revealed in Jesus Christ ultimately comes from agents who oppose God’ (p. 80).
Boyd describes a rebellious creation at war with God. God is constantly keeping the forces of chaos at bay as best he can within the logical constraints of our free will world. When we wonder why God hasn’t intervened, it might be that he can’t.
He can’t intervene more than he does, not because he lacks power but because the kind of world he created prevents him from doing so. (p. 112)
The kind of world he has created is one where love is made possible because agents have free choice. Without free choice, Boyd argues, love would be impossible.
Boyd is careful not to claim too much for his approach here. It doesn’t answer all our questions. But it throws us back to a position of trust, confident that we know God is good and that he is at work in the world overcoming evil.
Published by IVP in 2003, it’s an accessible book suitable for the general reader.