God’s Judgment as Withdrawing Protection — a Clarification

Several bloggers have written me in response to my most recent blog discussing Marilyn Campbell’s contention (espoused in her book Shedding Light on the Dark Side of God) that when Scripture says God engaged in various violent acts of judgment it simply means God withdrew his hand of protection and allowed human and/or angelic forces of evil to have their way. The concern of these bloggers is that, if this explanation is accepted, it undermines the complex-variables theodicy I articulated in Satan and the Problem of Evil and Is God to Blame? For those who haven’t read these books, I argue that we can never know why any contingent event (good, evil or neutral) comes to pass the way it does because there are innumerable variables extending back to the beginning of time that affect all that comes to pass. The mystery of evil, therefore, is not a mystery about God’s character or plan (as the blueprint worldview holds) but the mystery of an unfathomably complex, war-torn creation. These bloggers worried that I was backing off of this theodicy by accepting Campbell’s thesis.

Obviously, if I held that all evil was the result of God withdrawing his hand of protection it would undermine my complex-variable theodicy. In fact, if I held this view I’d have to embrace the blueprint worldview I’ve spent so much time and energy opposing, for I’d have to accept that God had a specific, good reason for “allowing” each specific evil that takes place. As the apostle Paul exclaimed, mai geneto (“may it never be!”).

The fact of the matter is that accepting Campbell’s thesis (which, by the way, I’m not committed to — yet) does not in any way commit me to the thesis that all, or even most, evil is to be explained this way. The thesis only stipulates that when God brings violent judgment on people or nations, it’s a matter of him withdrawing his hand of protection and allowing human and/or angelic forces of evil to have their way. But, as I’ve reiterated numerous times in my writing and speaking, there’s no biblical or philosophical reason to assume all events that include violence and suffering are the result of God’s judgment — and hence (on Campbell’s thesis) the result of God withdrawing his hand of protection. In fact, given Christ’s teaching on this topic (e.g. Lk 13:1-5), we should only conclude that events that include violence and suffering were  the result of God’s judgment when Scripture specifically says they were.

So, I stand by my long held conviction that there are innumerable variables that affect all that comes to pass, including all evil. I’ve always held that God’s judgment is one of these innnumerable variables, and the only modification I’m now entertaining is that it’s possible that this variable is really simply a matter of God withdrawing his hand of protection. Yet, it’s a potentially significant modification, for this understanding of divine judgment helps us reconcile the portrait of the sometimes violent God of the Old Testament with the portrait of God revealed in Jesus.

Hope this helps clarify things.

Have a blessed day!

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