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CHRISTIAN PACIFISM AND THEODICY: THE FREE WILL DEFENSE IN THE THOUGHT OF JOHN H. YODER
In the contemporary setting, mention of 'theodicy' calls to mind a definite image: that of the cleanly swept landscape of numbered propositions found in the papers and books of the likes of Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne or John Hick. Against this, Kenneth Surin has recently contended that theodicy done in this way - what he calls "canonical theodicy" - "not only frustrates historically situated reflection on the manifold forms and occurrences of evil but also militates against a properly Christian response to the 'problem of evil/" 1 I share many of Surin's worries, worries we shall in a moment review. Initially, however, I am concerned that we not set the various forms of arguments we have grown accustomed to in "canonical theodicy" - for example, the free will defense - too far apart from a properly Christian theological response to the problem of evil. Sociologically it seems true that theologians of John Yoder's ilk and theodicists of, say, Plantinga's have done their work in different operating theatres, on problems that are by no means the same, and before audiences with quite different concerns. It is my hope, however, that the walls between the theatres do not go all the way up. I am interested in seeing how the light cast from one can illumine what is going on in the other. Any free will defense, I shall suggest, very much needs something like the treatment Yoder gives of God's (and Christians') concrete response to evil in the work and person of Jesus Christ. And further, Yoder's own work can itself be understood - hopefully better understood - as a "theodicy" of sorts2 with roots in the free will defense. In the long run, I must confess that my interests extend beyond the
Professor Charles Pinches, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas 72032, USA
"4 And this is so largely because the Enlightenment itself ultimately severed us from a social world in which talk of "cosmic order" made sense.. more subtle and specifically theological conversation about evil and God's response to it. II. doing theodicy in this Enlightenment mode is deeply problematic in the current time since it "may in fact presuppose an 'apparatus' which is no longer sustained by existing cultural practices.that the universe is well ordered and self-sustaining in its order . For if Christians are to take up a conversation about God. He charges that canonical theodicies are (1) ahistorical. For it was Newton's mechanistic model of creation .240 Charles Pinches mutual illumination of the operating theatres of analytic philosophers like Plantinga and Christian theologians like Yoder. But in so doing I mean to lean toward Yoder."3 Hence (and ironically) the Enlightenment produced a swell in theodical activity.g. not away from him. Canonical theodicy and the problem of theology Thus far I have rather freely referred to the deep difficulties of canonical theodicy without giving an account of what these are. and. The first of these charges is the source. Just what is it about canonical theodicy that makes it so dangerous as the opening quote from Surin suggests? To answer we turn to Surin's own work on the subject. (For Surin. Today canonical theodicy rides this same wave. So it is not just that attending to the Christian pacifism of John Yoder irons out creases in the canonical treatment of the free will defense. although now greatly diminished in size.) This Enlightenment connection is complex and ultimately ironic. this is precisely what canonical theodicy has failed to do. and evil it must be in a theological context such as the one Yoder's work provides.that made more pressing the problem presented by aberrant evil and disharmony. but of a certain peculiar sort. Surin's many arguments against canonical theodicy can be perhaps condensed into three central points. But as Surin points out. in a way. Philosophers who wished to adopt this Newtonian model but remain theists (e. of the other two. as Surin forcefully brings out. (2) overly abstract and (3) rationalistic. Richard Swinburne and David Hume are brothers under the skin. Leibniz) were faced with "the need for a new form of theodicy. In this essay's final section I seize on new difficulties which emerge for Yoder's "theodicy. freedom. it points us beyond it to a fuller. So the ahistoricity of canonical theodicy is displayed first in its essentially anachronistic character. This is further . one which would enable us to circumvent the problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of an increasingly 'absent' God. it is best understood when tied to his contention that canonical theodicy is the inheritor of the Enlightenment." some which actually resemble difficulties typically discussed in canonical theodicies.
5 Theodicy for Surin must be historical." ones which will be ofttimes (and most pressingly) the narratives of those who. Points (2) and (3) in this quotation can be linked to the second and third of Surin's general criticisms mentioned above. Our vision. in this post-Enlightenment context takes the form of a narrative. In this context we can understand the following quotation: [T]heodicy has an irreducibly historical core precisely because it is the product of the collision between: (1) theological narratives (i. ideas and histories of which these great religions actually are comprised.is the story of their own origins.that of the Enlightenment . (2) the personal narrative of the theodicist (whose biography is itself a product and reflection of historical conditions).or Judaism. the Holocaust] (which. Similarly. Canonical/Enlightenment theodicy fails to be any of these things. and therein lies the root of its difficulties. if we are to in our theodicies engage evil in this way. Theodices for Surin must address themselves to practical questions such as "What does God do to overcome the evil and suffering that exist in his creation?" or "What do we (qua creatures of God) do to overcome evil and suffering?"6 Only as such can they hope to speak to and in "personal narratives. or Islam . omniscient and benevolent). or set of narratives. practical/personal and open to challenge from new historical events such as the Holocaust.to a few core beliefs which in their generality and lack of historical attachment can be displayed in the open market of philosophical ideas. in other words.to stand speechless before historical realities of evil such as the Holocaust acknowledging the inadequacies of formerly held theoretical construals of what evil is and how it is to be understood. that. and (3) and the episteme or historical reality itself [for Surin. must be open to . in fact it tries explicitly not to be. certain historically and socially conditioned textual renditions of the (triune) reality of God). But the ahistoricity of canonical theodicy can be understood to be further linked to Enlightenment thought in the following and ultimately more disturbing way. seek to combat it. encumbered by evil. is by its very nature committed to a reduction of the complex and historically specific story of Christianity . we must be prepared .e.renders problematic the notion that there is a God who is omnipotent. or who are victims of it. which means it must be theological.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 241 accentuated by that canonical theodicists do not themselves appear to notice that this story . a market closed to the messy mix of persons.as Job before the whirlwind . directly or indirectly. Canonical theodicy's abstractness resides in its failure to take seriously the perspective of those who are now currently engaged in combating evil and suffering. Philosophical theism. one of the legacies of the Enlightenment and the inheritance of the canonical theodicists.
God is wholly good. the theologian. Surin's charges are serious ones. III. Alvin Plantinga has sketched this outline as follows. and itself calls for a retelling of history from perspectives which have been radically transformed by suffering. then they aren't significantly free after all. sadly . Before proceeding to a treatment of the free will defense in Yoder's "theodicy. As it turned out. . . But its basic outline is relatively constant and simple.242 Charles Pinches crisis and conversion occasioned by new historical occurrences. it seems at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three. Precisely how the canonical theodicist might respond to them I cannot say. Its adequate display requires a turning to the biblical texts and their subsequent understandings in the hands of Jewish and Christian interpreters. . A world containing creatures who are significantly free is more valuable. Defenses such as the free will defense. but He doesn't cause or determine them to do what is right. and the rationalism of canonical theodicy entirely precludes this as a possibility.that of John Yoder . 7 Now the most common response given by theist philosophers to the problem as posed is without a doubt the free will defense. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions. It is theological. or both. comes in various forms. practical. The philosophical problem and philosophical response We begin with the way in which the problem of evil is most frequently posed in canonical theodicies. by the Christian story." I shall put forward a suspicion that must. yet evil exists. so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. Now God can create free creatures. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions. The so-called free will defense is itself an historical and theologically rooted set of claims. if they are to continue to tell in any sort of interesting and substantial discussion of God and evil (a discussion I believe must continue). Canonical theodicy's mistake is to abstract it or other defenses from this context in an effort to make it do the sort of work Enlightenment philosophers (such as Hume) required. for the present essay at least.that is not susceptible to them. From John Mackie: In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent. It is often coupled with other defenses and. all else being equal. than a world containing no free creatures at all. What I mean to display in what follows is a "theodicy" . remain only in the background. of course. For if He does so. it shares significant features with the free will defense so widely used in canonical theodicy. must be re theologized. Attention to the role of the free will defense in Yoder's work is perhaps a way to begin to do this. Besides this.
But. some standard objections to the free will defense. of course. Since nothing has been done. The objector's point is simply this: an omnipotent. deism flies in the face of traditional theism's affirmation of divine providence. On this view. 8 There are. wholly good God surely could find something to do about evil.e.. the doctrine that "God is active in the world. we shall pass it over without further comment. God could not have fixed it so that as genuinely free creatures they always chose the good. 10 Plantinga argues this point thoroughly . The first is that even if it is able to account for why "moral evil" exists. In fact. that it explains moral evil. as witnessed to by the atrocities of our own century. But as Brian Hebblethwaite points out. wholly good creator could not have done. A second set of objections challenges the defense more directly. we have every reason to doubt that such a God exists. the objection continues. Antony Flew has claimed that God." 11 At best deism indefinitely postpones .Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 243 enough. He notes that while Plantinga's free will defense may provide a vindication of God's . once God grants freedom to His creatures He leaves them entirely on their own.if not entirely denies . but in so far as the objection concedes a significant bit to the defense. 9 Plantinga has painstakingly responded to this by attempting to show that while it is logically possible for such creatures to exist. it is no help in explaining "natural evil. Surin himself makes this point in another way.God's active response to evil. we have no evidence that God has been or is now currently engaged in any such activity. refusing to identify any present or past (since creation) activity as what God is doing in the face of evil.powerfully confronting it and containing its spread. some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom. But for the objector another avenue of attack is open at this point. The point is sharpened by considering one possible theological direction in which the free will defense might be thought to lead: deism. indeed ultimately removing it and its effects from His good creation. if He is truly omnipotent." A number of things might be said in response to this. the evidence is just to the contrary. human freedom notwithstanding.sufficiently so to at least give the objector pause in pressing the point that God's creating free beings who subsequently rebelled was necessarily something an omnipotent. To start. i. Even if an omnipotent. wholly good creator need not have prevented that evil arise as the result of the free choice of His creatures. caring for his individual creatures and bringing about his particular purposes within and for the created world. He nonetheless is rightly expected to respond to that evil once it has arisen . should have been able to create free creatures who always choose the good. this is the source of moral evil.
is part of the nature of agape itself. (See note 2 below. is the divine mystery who overcomes human wickedness in and through the historical presence of the Son. In another sense.12 Surin goes on to call for the free will defender to engage with the 'problem of evil' not just in terms of what it is logically possible for God and his creatures to be and to do. as I shall try to show. Yoder's "theodicy" In one sense Yoder has no theodicy. namely that she abandons a purely theoretical or 'aesthetic' approach to the 'problem of evil. . leaving evil free to be evil. Coming this far may require one more thing of the free will defender.' and instead views it as an essentially practical problem. This is a particular problem for Christians since the Christian faith affirms God to be the One who brings salvation. I shall attempt briefly to extract from his writings what I take his "theodicy" to be. and this God has surely to be a divinity who does more than simply tolerate human evil as the unavoidable consequence of having granted human agents free will. in contrast. This deistic Demiurge is hardly the God of salvation. Plantinga's deity. as well. Here we must point out that this attitude. inadvertantly to follow Surin's recommendations. The God of salvation. leaving the sinner free to separate himself from God and sin against man.244 Charles Pinches blamelessness. In what follows. God's love for men begins right at the point where He permits sin against Himself and against » . . it falls far short of securing His moral perfection or benevolence.13 It is at this point that we turn to Yoder's work.) So we find no special portion of his writings that can be separated off as dealing specifically with the problem of evil as a thing in itself. he resists the very idea of it. but also at the level of what the truth is about who God and we are. with the help of quotations from various places in his writings. on this (Christian) view. seems to have detached himself from the world and left its inhabitants to work out their own moral and spiritual destinies. and what God and we can do and have done. his entire theology revolves around questions regarding how God responds to evil. it could be thought to speak directly to this major objection to free will defenses like Plantinga's and. . IV. The apparent complicity with evil which the nonresistance position involves has always been a stumbling block to nonpacifists. We begin with a passage in which Yoder is engaged in defending pacifism against charges that it shares responsibility for the evil it refuses forcefully to attack.
This connection between God's refusal to intervene coercively to stop evil and the Christian pacifist's similar refusal indicates at the start an important difference between a pacifist theodicy such as Yoder's and that of a nonpacifist. she supposes herself to be morally obligated not to violate that freedom. finally and irrevocably. the moral justification for God's permission of evil is paralleled by and arises out of the Christian pacifist's moral defense of her own refusal to respond coercively and violently to the evil she encounters. redemption and eschaton . in being a pacifist one supposes herself to be following after God's essential character . in its explication of the entirety of the Christian story .15 In fact. refuses forcefully to interpose Himself to stop one of His creatures from doing evil is for the pacifist quite a different enterprise altogether. . not complicity.16 . For God's reasons for commanding it may be entirely opaque to the one commanded. meaning by this that the sole reason for obedience is that it is commanded. Just as the doctrine of creation affirms that God made man free and the doctrine of redemption says this freedom of sin was what led agape to the cross. Only by respecting this freedom to the bitter end can love give meaning to history. If. to choose separation from God.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 245 man. first of all. The pacifist emphatically does not. If one is a pacifist merely because God has commanded it. on the other hand. But this gracious divine patience is not the complete answer to evil. It is worth noting at this point that the sort of theological pacifism present here in Yoder's writings is distinguishable from what we might call a divine command pacifism. . So explaining why God. Rather it is to explain why both God and she think such coercive interventionism ought not to be practiced.in the light of God's refusal to violate His creatures' freedom.as Yoder clearly thinks . so also the doctrine of hell lets sin free. Indeed. The nonpacifist assumes that it is a grave moral error for an agent who possesses the wherewithal to prevent some unjust aggressor from doing harm not to do so.creation. . Her task is not to explain why God does not do what she might think she would and should do if she had God's omnipotence. as the nonpacifist must. the matter of whether these distinguishable understandings of pacifism are able to sustain a theodicy is helpful in displaying their essential difference. who possesses all power. even at the expense of the attacker's life of freedom. Further. without crushing the rebel under his own rebellion.14 This passage is striking. The word for this is divine patience. then a theodicy becomes impossible.then God's reasons for refraining from coercive intervention are essentially those the believer gives for her own pacifism. and in an interesting way points out how the former quickly becomes practical (to recall one of Surin's objection to canonical theodicy) as the latter does not.
and is willing to suffer any loss or seeming defeat for the sake of obedience. Christ is agape. has the same shape as Jesus. It is to this that the authors or the poets behind the high points of the New Testament witness respond when they proclaim that what happened in the cross is a revelation of the shape óf what God is. But to this Yoder has a strong theological answer. But what the cross was locally is universally and always the divine nature. therein respecting our history . active nonresistance is the correct way systematically to understand the activity of God as revealed in the history of Israel and in Jesus as the story is told in the Christian Bible. but in so standing it is "universal" since it is God's manner of speaking to us. First. God has the same shape as Jesus. But it is evident in this passage that it also functions as a pattern by which all of the divine activity in relation to humankind can be understood. nonresistant love. Hence. and most prominent in the cross of Jesus Christ. emphatically not the former. They affirm as a permanent pattern what in Jesus was a particular event. The correct Christian response to evil is the latter. Yoder takes it to inform the entire New Testament witness. What Jesus did was local. of course. 17 We must not miss how far this basic claim about the ultimate meaning and significance of Jesus and the cross extends. including the refusal to use political means of selfdefense. the creative power behind the universe emptying itself. here is the only valid starting point for Christian pacifism or nonresistance. 1 8 The cross functions for Yoder first and foremost as the cross: Jesus suffering at the hands of sinful men whom He refuses to overpower. This activity has been frequent in the history of Israel and the Christian Church. found its ultimate revelation in the uncomplaining and forgiving death of the innocent at the hands of the guilty. The cross is the extreme demonstration that agape seeks neither effectiveness nor justice. in explication of the first chapter of the Gospel of John he says. This death reveals how God deals with evil. because that is how serious and real our history is to God. and he always has had. As "local" it stands inside our history. The eternal WORD condescending to put himself at our mercy. The cross is what creation is all about. self-giving. in the total drama of history. This is to repeat the charge leveled earlier against Plantinga's "deistic Demiurge"(Surin's phrase). pouring itself into the frail mold of humanity. Further.246 Charles Pinches To return to Yoder's "theodicy. At the cross this nonresistance." it might be objected that his account of God's refusal forcefully to intervene to stop evil is compatible with a completely inactive God. he consistently draws a distinction between passivity and active nonresistance. and of what God does. including even those passages which are generally interpreted as strongly incarnational or cosmological.
and surely he is not far from Paul's meaning . here are we preaching a crucified Christ. as we might say .which is nothing less than His consistent and persistent noncoercive response to His creatures who have. turned from God to evil. For the most powerful response to evil is the "weak" and "foolish" response of the cross. a well-known passage from Paul is apropos. We see here that Yoder's "theodicy" calls for a transformation of our own notions of what God is. This vision of the problem of evil from the inside. a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. in their freedom. . . Extending the metaphor even further.that is. So God leaves His creatures free to reject Him. both as power and as wisdom. with the continued existence of evil. humankind is free to see the cross in other lights. to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over. and how the latter is a "problem" for the former. viewed from the outside the question might arise whether and in what sense any idea of God's omnipotence can be salvaged if He is understood to be bound to respond to evil by being killed by it. JB) What Yoder draws from this passage . As we noted earlier.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 247 and therefore our freedom which makes it our history. but to those who have been called. And so. that God is omnipotent is not at all incompatible. and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.is that "the cross of Christ is in fact a new definition of truth. "In [Jesus'] very failure and death we confess that God was moving omnipotently to reverse the stream of history which since Cain had been under the sign of hostility. The language of the cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation. God has responded and continues to respond to evil precisely in this way."20 Given this revised notion of power. Here. Christian revelation provides one with a whole history of God's redemptive activity . to the pagans madness. whether they are Jews or Greeks. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. And according to Christian revelation. (I Corinthians 1:18-25.allows Yoder to make one additional move for which he is able to find considerable support in scripture. however. evil is. That such a transformation is required precludes that Yoder's "theodicy" will receive wide acceptance by those outside the Christian . as in the cross. the inside of Christian belief . as they are free to reject His Christ. on the other hand. but those of us who are on the way see it as God's power to save . as the philosophical objector supposes. If accepted. while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom."19 What apparently is the epitome of weakness turns for Yoder (and Paul) into the most graphic of all God's displays of power and strength. standing as it does within our history the cross of Christ is open to innumerable other explanations.
in fact. history is written by western historians from the perspective of kings and empires who have performed in this way. Unlike the Stranger in Basil Mitchell's parable who assures the partisan that he is on the side of the resistance and then supplies with his subsequent activities all sorts of "evidence" which seems to suggest he is a powerful enemy of the cause.23 God has been and is currently effectively working against evil in our world on the pattern set in Jesus. Conventional historiography. But it was true before their time that the way to make peace is not to make war. and thereby come to an understanding of how history is in reality moving. As Yoder often claims. what one might call fideistic about the accessibility of these Christian claims to the world at large. People are proven wrong who believe that by escalating their capacity to destroy those one [sic] has ceased to dialogue with as fellow humans they will in fact make the course of events come out the way they want it to in their own territory on their own terms: "Where are kings and empires now of old that went and came?"22 What we see in Yoder's theodicy at this point is rather rare. however. as Jesus did.21 The truly powerful forces in history are perhaps those which stand clear of the coercive mainstream and call noncoercively. yet it is not clear at all that it need be so written. For he is ready to claim not only that God is actively engaging evil religiously but politically as well. He is not. Like Paul. for a transformation of the human spirit. for Yoder there is. a . [H]uman understandings of power fail to recognize the real power of God in and for real historical experience. Only in recent decades have social scientists begun to inventory the ways in which a soft answer turns away wrath. he supposes it will remain a stumbling block to most. A case can be made that our entire culture has been hoodwinked to understand power as synonymous with destructive and coercive activity.24 Here we see all the more forcefully how Yoder's theodicy has direct relevance to the Christian's understanding of her own being in the world. For God's continued action in a world which has rejected Him.248 Charles Pinches faith. indeed the religious and political activity is one and the same. Equipped with the interpretive power of the cross we can see political history in a new light. is challenged just in its failure to recognize power from other perspectives. It is only in our epoch of nationwide media and movements that charismatic leaders like Gandhi and King can develop a technology of nonviolent social struggle. Indeed. in and through the cross. but it has always been true. evidence which is relevant in constructing a response to the problem of evil. in a way of speaking. As Yoder puts it.
Yoder is a remarkably consistent thinker. This. he has deciphered God's redemptive activity in the world in the form of agape which suffers and dies at the hands of evil. And since this is fatal to the very nature of God. For in the thought of John Yoder we have uncovered a "theodicy" with groundings in something like a free will defense which is not susceptible to the charges leveled earlier by Surin. Yet I do not mean in this essay so much to answer an objection or set of objections about a particular defense of God's goodness in the face of evil. As John Hick has argued. a character which the Christian is called to mirror in becoming a true and faithful disciple of Jesus. perhaps. This. a Christian theodicy "cannot be content to look to the past. he has with a great deal of success offered an understanding of God's response to evil which is woven in and around one central claim. As we have seen. New difficulties Perhaps here we should stop. expecting a triumphant resolution in the eventual perfect fulfillment of God's good purpose.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 249 world full of evil and rebellion. not on its own terms but in the form of active nonresistance. that God respects the freedom of His creatures to choose evil over good." In so doing we will note that the difficulties that arise for Yoder are not entirely dissimilar to some which have received attention in philosphical discussions of theodicy. it is not something in which we can expect a change. The nature of God's . but must look to the future.. Jesus has quite clearly revealed the nature of God.e. as I believe Surin seeks. however. i. this being to suffer at the hands of humans rather than to coerce them to accept the truth. he claims. the theological context that is their rightful home. is its most unique and powerful feature. has made it difficult to have such a future resolution since he has explained evil so thoroughly in terms of freedom and since he has tied the divine character so firmly to the mode of response represented by pacifism. V. is itself the Christian calling. It is. But it is perhaps partly as a result of the consistency of his account and its thoroughness in deciphering the character of God's past and present response to evil that difficulties arise in the notion of God's future activity as Yoder's "theodicy" is capable of understanding it." 25 Yoder. however. or so I wish to maintain. is the supreme demonstration of God's character. So it is that we proceed in this final section to offer some critique of Yoder's "theodicy. As such Yoder's theodicy goes beyond the level of explanation to that of training in Christianity. seeking an explanation of evil in its origins. to revive theological discussion of what has been unfortunately thought an essentially philosophical set of problems. but rather to seek. With the help of the Christian story. thereby conquering it.
therefore. 1.250 Charles Pinches eschatological agency cannot. in fact he emphasizes its place in his theology) in the form of a strong doctrine of hell and an explicit rejection of universalism. He is constrained. three of which can be sketched as follows. My concern at this juncture is rather that the doctrine of hell seemingly entailed by Yoder's account of God's activity in response to evil may itself entail significant compromises in traditional Christian notions of God's nature and purposes. teaching and death of Jesus is so unequivocal and transparent. We know this to be true in Yoder's theology precisely because the revelation of God's character in the life. everyone will. God's activity in Jesus understood as Yoder understands it tells us explicitly how He cannot and will not act in the future. 26 Liberal theologians might be aghast at Yoder's readiness to affirm a doctrine of hell. that it be reconciled .e. deviate in any significant way from that revealed in Jesus. It is rather that His selflimitation as interpreted through Christian pacifist eyes entails the possibility that God's intentions for his creation (i.. That some punishment might be appropriate and necessary in seme future life seems not at all incompatible with a good God. It means that human freedom is a farce. to bring about one which involves the possibility of an everlasting hell. specifically the God revealed in the history of Israel and in Jesus. . he is sure in the end to find out that he could not do so. to the extent that His sovereignty might reasonably be questioned. because however clearly and intentionally and evenly a man turns from God. . In other words this view denies that God ever wanted to make man free. Yoder sees this and explicitly incorporates it into his eschatology (he is far from having no eschatology. or at any time: He will not coercively override human freedom to bring about the fullness of His kingdom. in the end. It sounds very loving of God to save everybody. In the light of this commitment on God's part. it seems a necessary logical possibility that some of God's creatures never respond to His grace. effectively. That it does this is not enough to undermine entirely the persuasiveness and power of the account as it has unfolded in the preceding pages. But points arise which in any case demand further discussion and elucidation. or that if man is free. This is a sentiment I do not share. he is so only in an unreal sense. The problem here is not so much that God's activity in the past limits what He can and will do in the present or future. [U]niversalism affirms that either because man is ultimately too good to be lost or because God is too good to lose man there is no such thing as Hell in any sense of the word. wind u p in the right place. But saying this really means He made a mistake . In Yoder's eschatology God is significantly limited in just what sort of world He can bring about.
therefore. Recall that Yoder thinks of hell as essentially a continuation of freely chosen human rebellion. In this his differs from views which would see hell as God's meting out punishment which in his mercy he had heretofore refrained from employing. In contrast. A further result of Yoder's insistence upon the eschatological existence of a hell is that the eschatological hope which Christians are to embody in their lives. In hell human rejection of God and His purposes extends the pattern of current rejection.essentially forces that unintended consequence upon Him. has everlasting existence. the eschatological hell is essentially continuous with the present. but points us toward the goodness of God rather than His sovereignty. But the question arises: why is human freedom so important? And is its existence morally significant enough such that the existence of evil which (indirectly) follows from it can be thought to be morally justified? This is the sort of moral cost/benefit analysis often taken up in theodicies. God is not easily thought of in the Christian tradition as intending that it come about that He be forever separated from some of His creatures. with the important addition that in Yoder's case not only must the existence of present and past evils . becomes somewhat unfocused.be balanced by the good of freedom but also the interminable existence of evil as it takes the form in hell of the unrepentañt's unwavering rebellion and hardheartedness.at least with respect to the existence of evil and rebellion significantly different from our own present time. For it is not clear that the world of the future is significantly discontinuous and therefore in any way a triumphant resolution of the present world.) Yoder's affirmation of the doctrine of hell demonstrates just how far he is prepared to carry the value of human freedom. Because God so respects human freedom He allows even endless rebellion. "is by . it is hard to see in what way the eschaton is to be hoped for and trusted in since it is not . 2. While these latter views bring their own theological difficulties. is brought to some end: it is punished.28 (This difficulty is coextensive with that of (1) above. in Yoder's hell the activities of rebellious humans are essentially what they were in previous worlds. "God. justly." he says.27 3.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 251 to Him) might ultimately be thwarted. A final difficulty with the everlasting existence of evil in hell as supported by Yoder's doctrine thereof is simply that it is not easily seen how a perfectly good God could have chosen to create a world containing free beings knowing that their freedom could (and did) birth evil and rebellion which.or in the chosen characteristics of God which Jesus reveals . Since this is so.such as the death of children tossed aloft and caught on the Turk's bayonet in Dostoevski's well-known description . Yoder is not without a reply on this point. and upon which Yoder himself otherwise places a good deal of emphasis. once birthed. they do attribute to God activities with respect to evil in the eschatological future which are unlike His present activities. but His self-limitation in Jesus . Evil.
so her eschatological life will be distinguished from her present life. In his book Surin gives Plantiga. 3. Hell appears to prevent this since its inhabitants are not members in the community for which they were made. I shall follow him in this. i. Since you begin by using the phrase "the free will defense. especially in the highly philosophical discussions we have 'grown used to having concerning it.with Plantinga falling somewhere in between). all essentially theological concepts. when I say "canonical theodicy" I mean specifically the theodicies of these three contemporary thinkers. we trust. For while the community of peace whose members are at once both friends and servants appears to us all a noble end.which is no less than the peaceable kingdom to which end all of creation was fashioned in the beginning by its gracious creator.is all the more bothersome. eschatology and the kingdom of God."29 Shalom in its true sense is impossible without freedom. and one is no servant unless one is so willingly. a maker of shalom. will become reconciled with the world in the coming kingdom. and it is clear that he thinks more highly of the work of one (Hick) than another (Swinburne . Hick and Swinburne individual treatment. that community's exclusivity exclusivity being a function of a doctrine of an everlasting hell . and this is what Surin most wishes to attack. 2 In personal correspondence with me about this paper Yoder has repeatedly expressed objection to being thought of as having or doing theodicy. Surin's "canonical theodicists" are specifically the three mentioned here (with the addition of Charles Hartshorne. even if this fate has been freely chosen by them. Hence freedom for Yoder need not be taken as a value in and for itself but rather it stands as a necessary precondition for the possibility of the existence of the Kingdom of God . To this reply more questions can be addressed. The true community of peace is the community of servants. It is worth noting. who seems to me slightly different). that a consideration of Yoder's "theodicy" has lead to a further discussion of such things as hell. But the individual differences are not enough to blunt the fact that all three share a general understanding of how we should understand what we are doing when we do theodicy. 1986). of course. Evil. but it is easier to forget this. The church. From one letter: "I am not sure whether there is a previous debate about whether theodicy should be the problem at all. is a theological concept as well. Whether Yoder or anyone else has a sufficient answer for this and the other two related points I have raised need not be determined at present. NOTES 1 Surin. Theology and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Basil Blackwell." the matter does have . As noted earlier. p.252 Charles Pinches nature a reconciler.e. although presumably there are others who could be classed with them. the life of ambassador for the kingdom in and to the world. surely. my primary interest in interacting with Yoder's "theodicy" is less to expose its inadequacies and more to take up its implications in the context of a continuing theological discussion of the problem of evil.
Yoder's own emphasis upon obedience. He Came Preaching Peace (Scottdale. 1971). 43. A response to this position would need further to explore the biblical notion of discipleship. 44. 16 17 18 19 20 21 "Evil and Omnipotence. while emphasizing God's moral goodness and our capacity to know that He is good and why. (New York: Macmillan. which runs throughout his work. p . 77." in New Essays in Philosophical Theology. rather as disciple the Christian must engage in the task of interpreting the gospel which Jesus taught and lived in the new world the Christian currently inhabits. 1974). Surin.perhaps largely because of the strength of "canonical theodicy" . it seems correct to say that "theodicy" . I.: Herald Press. in a way. "divine command pacifism. 1971). pp. If so. 42. 162-176. 30. p.carries with it the coloration Yoder alleges. that a theodicy must collide . 1970). which Christians are called to emulate. See his article "The Free Will Defense. mentioned earlier. 92. but at its center. p. p. (London: Oxford University Press. when I refer to Yoder's "theodicy" in what follows I will continue to place that term in scarce quotes. To remind us of all of this." And from another a month later: "I continue to consider it odd to be used as a specimen of a theodicy when other people have been intending to do theodicy before me and that was not my intention. p. Max Black. p. Pa. God. A. Pa." It is important to remember throughout this essay that Yoder himself never explicitly does a theodicy. seizing on the fact that a reduplication of Jesus life is not true discipleship. my distinction here could be rephrased in terms of types of divine command theories: on the one hand those which claim that God's will is inscrutible and that nothing more can be said in religious morality than that God commanded.: Herald Press. For one might argue that God's pacifist character. He himself does so briefly in a number of places. could be thought compatible with some versions of divine command morality in a broader construal of that term. although it is my hope (and I believe Surin's) that it need not. Basil Mitchell. 56. (Ithica. Suffering and Religion (New York: Hawthorn Books. p . 61-62. Interpretation of this sort is impossible if Jesus was arbitrarily pacifist. ed. He Came Preaching Peace. See in particular The Original Revolution. Flew and A. and on the other those which suppose we can to some degree understand the goodness of God's character and therefore the good reasons He has for commanding us as He does. For an exemplification of how the differences between these types count see Yoder's own discussion of Karl Barth's Grenzfall in his Karl Barth and the Problem of War (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1965). p. He Came Preaching Peace." has the danger of being somewhat misleading. 85. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Surin.although I want strongly to maintain that these are not incidental to what Yoder is doing theologically. loving." in The Philosophy of Religion. NY: Cornell University Press. 1976). particularly pages 64^74. Surin. pp. The Original Revolution (Scottdale. Yoder thinks Christian pacifists should engage in their own counter-historiography. (For a taste of the variety of forms divine command morality historically has taken see Janine Marie Idziak's Divine Command Morality: Historical and Contemporary Readings (New York: Edwin Mellon. just and so on. Maclntyre.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 253 an apologetic coloration which I am personally not very interested in. MI: Eerdmans. Surin. p. 48. ed. eds. The Original Revolution. p. 150-153. 1985). 1979). am constructing one from various bits and peices of his writings . Further. p . Evil. "Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom. p. theodicy and pacifism based on the character of God would once again diverge.a class into which Yoder's views would fit. 82. pp." in Philosophy in America. We might note also that the concern for a writing (or rewriting) of history lends itself well to Surin's contention. seek to maintain nonetheless that morality is dependent in one way or another on Him . This analysis should perhaps be taken one step further. 60. p. Surin. 204-220. Freedom and Evil (Grand Rapids. p. 1955). itself is arbitrarily so.) One might wish to include in "divine command theories of morality" other views than those I allude to here which. Surin. The label I apply here. In this case. 44. 76.
is nevertheless meaningful and right.) Rightly Yoder objects to the facile equivalence of the gospel with "what works." Unpublished*paper. Of these three.) I do not find. It is in the light of this promised fulfillment that life in the new aeon. Moltmann and Forsyth around graphic accounts of actual events in the Holocaust itself. I have pinned the second on Yoder. but the final triumph of God is yet to come. I believe. p. for the third position. (3) In fact the pacifism of the church and of God . which is nothing less than the life of Christian pacifism. "The Wrath of God and the Love of God. The world in the sense of creation becomes after purgation identical with the new aeon.are effective. We live in the "age of the church" in which "[e]vil is potentially subdued. 1966). pp. 1983). . the problem with this account is not so.254 Charles Pinches with "historical realities" themselves . 436-437) where he is critical of the typical distinction between effectiveness and principle. No one can say beforehand how a history could be written of the Holocaust from this other perspective. but the commitment to writing it . 'You must give up some of your scruples in order to be effective' is still saying that because the 22 23 24 25 26 27 . 3.which are essentially similar . . p.is a crucial one. the coming aeon will vindicate the Church's current alien life in the world. (New York: Harper and Row. pp. particularly section three entitled "But Does It Really Work?" Evil and the God of Love. that he is entirely ready to do this for he continues to resist the claim that nonresistance works: "Nonresistance is right. much that pacifism will be vindicated but how. but that later we will see its effectiveness plainly. but because it anticipates the triumph of the Lamb that was slain. For precisely pacifism is the agency of God who is bringing about the vindication of the agency of pacifism. The consumation will mean the fulfillment of the new aeon and the collapse of the old.: Herald Press. particularly when Yoder speaks as he does in the quotation on page 202 of this essay of the real success of such pacifists as Gandhi and King. There is room. copies distributed by the Mennonite Central Committee. pacifism does work. after having been the hostage of the old. 1983] p . 103-106. and its submission is already a reality in the reign of Christ. Pa. p.) At the very least. (Yoder may imply agreement with this in the following passage from Christian Attitudes to War. See further "The University Discussion" in New Essays in Philosophical Theology. it seems that Yoder's eschatology can proceed in one of three possible directions: (1) God's pacifism is significantly different than that currently lived out in the church in so far as the former is capable of bringing about a resolution in a way that the latter is not. not because it works. he could speak from it to some of the other objections I have raised. I do not think there is room for the first given Yoder's strong understanding of the transparency and unity of God's revelation of Himself in Jesus and the church. He does think there is discontinuity between things as they are presently and as they will be in the future. "The longer I look at the question of effectiveness. p. As I see it. (2) The pacifist agency of both God and the people of God is essentially similar." (The Original Revolution. See also Yoder's What Would You Do If? (Scottdale. The difference between this present age and the next is not so much that pacifism is ineffective currently.such as the Holocaust. which seems so ineffective now. 376." (The Original Revolution. Were Yoder to embrace this wholeheartedly. He Came Preaching Peace. (Yoder entertains universalism as mentioned in note 28 below. Peace and Revolution: A Companion to Bainton ([Goshen Biblical Seminary. p. 61. 45. He Came Preaching Peace. In this light. even if this is not at all times entirely clear. Specifically. were the effectiveness of the pacifist witness affirmed. It is important to note that Yoder has something to say here. . then. although one might expect a bit more to be said about how the ultimate effectiveness of the nonviolent witness does not violate the freedom of those upon whom it is ultimately effective. eternally. This point is brought out near the end of Surin's book where he wraps the non-canonical "practical theodicies" of Soelle." but it does not seem incompatible with his position to claim that. hence as we are not capable of insuring that people will respond to our nonviolent witness so also God must accept the possibility that some of his creatures will refuse His love. in the deepest sense. 45-46. however. the possibility of some sort of chasened universalism would emerge. 60. the less I trust that way to put the issue to be of any help. in an ultimate sense. The person who says. later to become effective.or attempting to write it .
) These point. (Seethe quotations on pages 199 and 204. I welcome his attempts to do either of these. trusting that if the heavens fall God has another better set of heavens ready. Likewise.Christian Pacifism and Theodicy 255 goal for the sake of which to be effective is in principle a good goal. so even this is not thumbing your nose at the results. 34. which is part of the process. I think. It's trusting God who gave us the rules to know more about the results than we know. So the argument which takes the clothing of 'principle versus effectiveness' really means this principle versus that principle. p. the people who say 'You must simply be true to God' . really say that because of a conviction about Providence. . Yoder needs to show us either how and why his thinking has changed on this and that the change is not inconsistent with his theology otherwise or that in fact the implication of the passages I have quoted is not rightly understood to be an eternal hell. . . . 29 He Came Preaching Peace.") 28 Yoder has responded to this point about hell's eternality in personal correspondence that he "is not so sure that hell needs to be eternal for the things that [he] has drawn from the biblical witness to be meaningful " This may be so. But I regard this as a new development in his thinking that is not found in the published articles and unpublished papers to which I have heretofore had access. . . in the direction of hell's eternality. So I am increasingly convinced that the debate between the effectiveness ethic and the principle ethic is a false debate. . and 'let the heavens fall' . .
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