Re: Coercion

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Apr 08 2004 - 20:40:43 EDT

>>> "Howard J. Van Till" <> 04/08/04 19:33 PM

You have now opened the door to the theodicy problem. If God would do that
(act coercively) on one occasion, then why not on others leading to equally
horrific human suffering? How can God escape culpability for pain and
suffering if the "coercion card" is always available, but only rarely used?

Ted responds:
George Murphy might offer an answer in terms of the "theology of the cross,"
and I will be very sympathetic. The flyleaf of CS Lewis' Problem of Pain,
quoted from George Macdonald, is apropos here: "The son of God suffered unto
death not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like
his." Or something darn close to that.

That is however not a formal answer to theodicy, it's rather an existential
one. I doubt myself that formal answers really are possible. I'm tempted
to side with the book of Job--IMO the most theologically profound work in
the Bible--and simply say that yes, God *is* utlimately culpable for pain
and suffering, that the buck *does* stop on God's desk. (This is my
interpretation of the preamble to the morality play that we call Job.) I
understand very well why Howard and others who like process theology will
then say, "See, that's why omnipotence is a dreadful doctrine, it makes God
into a sadist." Thus, I agree that omnipotence (a word I've defended
recently in the context of creation) has its problems; but a total lack of
power over nature and humanity (IMO) also has its problems, namely that God
would not be God.

Speaking (obviously) only for myself and mainly existentially, I have to
combine both paragraphs above and simply trust in the One who suffered unto
death for me. Like Job, I can't pull rank on God, as much as I might want
to at times. Like Job, I can't draw out Leviathan with a hook, shut the
doors of the sea, or bind the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion. Like
Job, I can only trust in the righteousness of God. But unlike Job, I can
also trust in the hope of the empty tomb.

This is what the conversation about process theology and theodicy and divine
transcendence comes down to, IMO. It comes down to the question of whether
or not we believe that the tomb was really empty and Christ was really
raised, as the first fruits of we who will sleep. If we really believe
that--if we really believe that the women went to the right place and found
Him gone, that Thomas and the others saw and touched a real body that
somehow went beyond their own bodies, that the man who was crucified on our
behalf was raised bodily two nights later; if we really believe these
things, I say, then I just don't see how we can believe that God is capable
only of "persuading" matter to do this or that, that God does not really
have something like coercive power over the matter that God called into
being and upholds in being. In other words, to speak bluntly, I fail to
understand how Christians--whose faith historically has always been grounded
in the reality of the empty tomb and the appearances--can consistently think
that process theology is the best description of God's relationship to the
creation. Somewhere something has fallen off their theological cart.

There are a few other major reasons why I'm not enamored with process
theology, but this is the biggest, and the one I don't think I'll ever get

Received on Thu Apr 8 20:41:11 2004

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