Monday, June 19, 2006

Theodicy & eschatology VI

This will be the final post in this series (unless I have more thoughts...) on why any attempt to speak of God in the face of evil must be both evangelical - focused on God's action in Christ that is truly good news to those who walk in the valley of the shadow - and eschatological - leaving space for more to come in God's response. We yearn and wait and groan because (i) the cross and resurrection display God's settled opposition to all that opposes life in his good world (and not just display, but are the decisive step in turning the tide) and (ii) because we do not yet see the conclusion of these divine actions. Without (i) we would be without hope; without (ii) we would no longer need to hope: who hopes for what is seen? We groan because we know something of the future of Christ, but it remains future.

BUT in Christ, in the Spirit: the future has begun. Thus the believer is not left merely groaning; we groan with God’s Spirit. The disciples were not left orphaned, with simply the knowledge of God’s decisive victory and the promise of its completion. For once Jesus departed, the Spirit arrived (John 14:16-18). Since Jesus pours out this Spirit, and it was this Spirit who raised him from the dead, this Spirit also connects us to the risen Jesus. In his Spirit, we are ‘in Christ’. That bit of the world that has been raised and created anew, is now the location of our hidden identity (Colossians 3:1-4).

So it is now that we can trust, love and hope in the face of evil, but since God has not yet ultimately solved the problem of evil, we still grieve and groan. In Christ by the Spirit we have the down payment, the pledge, the guarantee of God’s promised future, but we do not yet have that future. Or at least not in its fullness: the Spirit as first fruits (Romans 8:23) is more like a kiss than an engagement ring. Both promise the future, but while a ring is a somewhat arbitrary sign, a kiss is an actual taste of what is coming.

Hope for the resurrection of the dead is in one sense a comfort, but it is also an intensification of the problem. It is because we have hope that the world will be different that we can’t stand to see it as it now is. It is because we know that God will rid the world of evil that we can live in the light of that future: trusting, loving, hoping.

This is an intensely practical and personal problem for each and every human. Rather than seeing it as an apologetics ‘issue’ that needs to be ‘solved’ (or sidestepped) so that people will listen to the gospel, I propose that it is itself the very problem to which the gospel is such good news. The problem of evil is the primary reason I am a Christian. Or rather, I am a Christian due to the fact that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in which I see the destiny of the world and my own destiny, I can hope that one day there will be a real, existential, moral, social, cosmological, theological more-than-intellectual solution. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.


michael jensen said...

where does martyrdom fit in? Is it not a response to the problem of evil?

byron smith said...

Ah everyone's got to get their hobby horse into the stable...

Yes, of course it does have a place somewhere - I guess it is part of groaning and hoping: the promise of resurrection frees you to love the world by witnessing to its future even through one's own death. Any further thoughts?

Anonymous said...

A very nice ending to this theodicy odyssey (ok, I exaggerate. I've enjoyed the ride anyway). Your posts these past few weeks have given me much food for thought as I've been preparing sermons on the book of Daniel. All the way through, God discloses to his people the very hope to which you have been referring. I have now reached Daniel 12 which has to be the most overt reference in the OT to general, individual resurrection (as opposed to national, as per Ezekiel) The promise of resurrection in Daniel 12 provides the ultimate answer (not in the sense of an explanation but in the sense of providing a solution) to the 'problems' which the historical circumstances recorded in Daniel throw up for God's people. The book of Daniel may not be theodicy, in the strictest sense, but it does end up answering the same questions which theodicy attempts to answer.

michael jensen said...


(that is the sound of D's hobby horse alongside mine in the stable!)

byron smith said...

David, I'm not sure I've followed you - were you calling my approach existential? Not sure I'd call it that.

What of the perfecting work of the Spirit as a realisation of the anticipated solution in glory?

This is exactly what I was trying to include in this last post. The Spirit is the reason the resurrection future starts to affect us now. Our identity is hidden with the resurrected Christ by the Spirit. The Spirit is why we can trust, love and hope; it is also why we grieve and groan (Rom 8), because 'when freedom is near, the chains start to hurt', as Moltmann is fond of repeating.

In our Father's stable are many stalls. If it were not so, I would not have told you...

Meredith said...

Hi Byron,

finally got around to reading these posts on theodicy (that's a new word for me - thanks!) The thing that grabbed me was the Moltmann quote in Theodicy V: 'The Christ event cannot itself be understood as fulfilling all promises, so that after this event there remains only the sequel of its being unveiled for all to see.’ This seems to me a really strong way of saying that there is still more stuff to come (not just a better understanding to come).

That makes sense to me - but i guess i have a question about how Jesus' death and resurrection relate to the stuff to come. I have always thought that Jesus has done everything already - not in the sense of giving us everything now, but in the sense that the things to come are not extraneous to his death and resurrection. It's not like Jesus is going to do something else to secure justice - or is he? Put another way, how do God's promises (and especially his promise of justice) find their 'yes' in Christ (2 Cor 1:20)?

Sorry if this is a dumb question... but i'm not a theo student!

byron smith said...

Meredith, thanks for your thoughts - for a 'non-theologian' you have hit the nail on the button!
how Jesus' death and resurrection relate to the stuff to come
is exactly the issue. It is crucial that our future hope is made possible by that bit of the future that has already arrived: the resurrection of Christ, or to say almost the same thing in other words, the coming of the Spirit. We do not hope for something else than the future of Christ, that which is guaranteed by the Spirit of the age to come already working in us (yes, corporately David - I'm all for the redeemed community as a genuine sign of future realities). The Omega is indeed the same one as the Alpha. We're not looking for anyone else. Indeed, we're not looking for anything else than the vindication which Jesus received, or to say the same thing in other words, for the resurrection of the dead.

This is why Moltmann says we cannot speak of the eschaton (the end), only the eschatos (the one who is the end).

David - as I said parenthetically above, I agree. As long as it stays anticipation. Over-realised ecclesiologies require a culture of cover-up to maintain. Part of anticipating the end in our community is to be able to name and acknowledge failure even within the Christian community.

Meredith said...

Thanks Byron,
thats really helpful.

timui said...