“Why?” Chapter II, Parts 9-11: Suffering and God’s Providence

“Why?” Chapter II, Parts 9-11: Suffering and God’s Providence May 25, 2023

“Why?” Chapter II, Parts 9-11: Suffering and God’s Providence

Continuing here my review of and commentary on A van de Beek’s book “Why? On Suffering, Guilt and God.” Some of you are reading the book. Hopefully by now you have read up through Part 11 (“God as Potter”). Next we will go on the Chapter III: “God Does Not Will Evil.” The title of Chapter III gives us a clue what Chapter II has been about—Christian answers to the question “Why?” That imply that God DOES, in some way, will evil, innocent suffering (if there even is such a thing), and etc. Answers that focus on God’s omnipotence (meaning here that God wills everything). Throughout Chapter II, including in Parts 9-11, vdB (our new abbreviation of the author’s name) keeps dropping hints that he DOES NOT THINK that God wills everything. However, he has also declined to think of God as “nice.” And he has hardly even mentioned process theology or any form of panentheism.

In Part 9 vdB discusses “Behind Suffering and Sin.” VdB says two puzzling things here. First, that there is no “hiddenness of the unknown God.” (78) Second, “In every form of evil there is an immediate connection with God.” (79) I’m glad I didn’t stop reading right there! I might have. But, fortunately, I was curious. Where is this guy going? How can he say both? Surely he has a secret yet to reveal to us, unless he’s out of his mind. Knowing a little about him, I didn’t think that was the case. So I kept reading.

In Part 10 vdB discusses “Providence.” “In this section,” he says, “God’s omnipotence emerges: all things come from the hand of God.” (79) Okay, now I KNOW he is going to be discussing a belief about God and evil and suffering that HE HAS ALREADY SAID HE DOES NOT BELIEVE. What is he doing, then? I take it he is taking seriously what many Christians DO believe and he is going to wrestle with it. Could it be true?

VdB says “The most urgent question of twentieth century Christianity is this: did God lose control of the situation in Auschwitz?” (85) IF you read this Part, you must surely “see” how deeply vdB wrestles with this question. He avoids philosophical answers that would get God “off the hook,” so to speak (e.g., “This is the best of all possible worlds”), but also he rejects Calvin’s view of God’s meticulous providence. AND he wants to hold onto a biblical view of God as GOD—almighty and intimately involved with everything that concerns us.

Toward the end of this Part vdB feeds us a clue to where he is going. “Change [in God’s will and God’s ways] is possible.” (103) If you don’t read that sentence the way I do (with the bracketed words added), then I don’t think you have read the surrounding pages correctly. Go back and read again. He says “Christology is the great troublemaker in the domain of omnipotence beliefs.” (103) Hint, hint.

In Part 11 vdB discusses “God as Potter.” Remember, in this whole chapter he is wrestling with Christian views of God’s power that tend to attribute everything that happens, including evil, sin and suffering, to God—whether directly or indirectly. It is all God’s will. Interestingly, he is not outright rejecting that, especially the “indirectly” part. He refuses to turn the God of the Bible into a deistic God who just “watches us” from a distance. However, he also refuses to endorse any belief that God wills everything that happens in a sort of flat, undifferentiated way.

But, on to Part 11. VdB wrestles with his own Christian tradition’s emphasis on predestination. Does God will that some people spend eternity in hell, antecedent to their own free choices? He rejects “double predestination” and turns to Karl Barth’s view of evil as “nothingness.” That is something of a sidebar and I find it very interesting if a bit irrelevant to the main line of thinking here. Then he touches briefly on Arminianism (p. 115) without endorsing it. Then he asks the really big question for the view that God designs, ordains and renders certain everything that happens: is God just “messing around” in his world? Is God arbitrary? If so, he concludes “It is…impossible to evaluate his choices.” (115)

VdB gives us a huge clue to the rest of the book on pages 118 and 119. There he says that logic cannot solve this problem of God, evil and innocent suffering for us. Only history can. What history? The history of God’s actions and especially “the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (119) “Logically, there is no way out of the problems of omnipotence and evil. … [T]hey can only be resolved …chronologically.” (119) What does he mean? The rest of the book tells us and I think the answer is shocking. Not necessarily in a bad way, but certainly in a non-traditional way. And in a way that sets me, perhaps us, back on our heels. Hint: Clearly vdB does NOT believe in the immutability of God!

VdB ends this Part on a very pastoral note: “God may take me on strange roads, lead me through deep valleys, but he knows my way and leads me to the light. Then he may do with me what he wills. For my only source of assurance is that with all that I am and all that I experience I entrust myself to him.” (120)

That is my testimony. Kierkegaard said that life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward. O, my, my, my. I don’t know about you, but my life has been filled with God AND evil, guilt and suffering. Where was God in it all? Some people who should have cared for me betrayed me. I can’t make any human sense out of it all, but one thing I know: God was with me all the way. He never left me; he never abandoned me. Did he even actually WILL some of the bad things that happened to me? Well, he certainly willed to ALLOW them to happen to me. Were they part of his plan for my life? What if his “plan” evolved throughout my life—weaving together in novel and innovative ways both the good and the bad—intending for me a good outcome overall? Is that magical thinking? I’ve been told so. But nobody has experienced my life but me. Things have happened that should not have happened, “in the natural.” Call them coincidences. Call them happenstance. Call them curiosities. Call them circumstance. Call some “serendipity.” I call them God.

*Our next “chunk” of reading in “Why?” Is Chapter III “God Does Not Will Evil,” Parts 12-14. Be sure to read the introductory portion on pages 121-122. I will review these Parts on Friday, June 4, God willing.

*Note: If you choose to comment, make sure you read “Why?” Up through Chapter II with me. If not, you may ask a question. Also, as always, stay on topic, address your comment or question to me, keep your comment or question civil and respectful, not hostile or argumentative, and do not include any pictures or links.*

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