Creation-Order Theodicy: Interview with Bruce A. Little (part two)

November 22, 2010
Posted by Joe Gorra

Below is part two of our interview with Bruce Little, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a member of the Executive Committee of the EPS, and Director of the  Center for Faith and Culture at SEBTS. Bruce talks about his latest book on the problem of evil and  why  his “Creation-Order” theodicy is preferable to “greater-good” theodicies.  Part one can be read here.

As an alternative to greater-good theodicies, you argue for a “Creation-Order” theodicy. What is that?

The Creation-Order theodicy zooms out as it were and places the particular of evil/suffering in the context of creation. I think one can make the point from Genesis 1-3 that God not only decided what to create, but also established the rules (both physically and morally) by which He would interact with His creation. This provides a larger narrative in which to understand the problem of evil (other things as well, but we are dealing with evil here). What this means is, that God has restricted the manifestation of some of His attributes when interacting with His creation so that humanity could function as true humanity and history would be something more than a piece of theater. I would suggest that it is as in the Incarnation where there is a self-imposed limitation in the expression or manifestation of certain attributes. That means that when attempting to explain a particular act of evil/suffering that we consider there are other values that restrict the full expression of God’s attributes in that situation—this is a situation in creation.

What are its strengths compared to the weaknesses of great-good theodicies?

Well, I think the strength is that it allows for gratuitous evil without that evil counting against the moral perfections of God. I remember Ronald Nash in his book Faith and Reason saying that if it could be shown that gratuitous evil as a realty and not merely apparent that this would tip the scales in favor of the theist. Maybe I have not done that, but I have attempted to do it. All I am saying is that if it is possible that gratuitous evil exists, that it does not count against God’s moral perfections. If this is so, then Nash is right, the power is taken from the atheist’s argument. His argument has been (at least in a majority of cases involving evidential argument) where is the good. What if, we did not have to defend that position and hence not required to show the good. It does seem to me that this would be of real value.

Theodicies have different explanatory powers to them. But which theodicy might be more conducive to pastoral care and leadership; helping people to reckon with and be responsible with the reality of evil in their ordinary life.

I have found the approach in expressed in the Creation Order theodicy to be most helpful. We live in a fallen world, it is very messy and ugly at times. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes life is not fair. So in suffering we do not look for some good, but we look to God—look to God who is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3-4) whose grace is always sufficient (2 Cor 12:9). I always found that Christians were caught in some tension when told that God allowed this for some greater good. If God allowed my baby to be killed, then there is a emotional resistance to look to that God for help. I know people have tried to do this, but I have often dealt with the personal aftermath of it all. Now there is much more that could be said here that might balance out some of what I have said but I will leave it there. I might say, that there is a difference between a testimony (what God did for me in my suffering) and a  theodicy (why God allowed the suffering).

How has this study been significant to your own formation, whether as a pastor, theologian, professor, etc?

It has been extremely significant to me in all areas as you mention. Because I do think it is the most troubling issues for both Christians and non-Christians. If we say that Christianity is a superior worldview and answers the questions of life better than any other worldview, but we do not have a consistent answer for the problem of evil we have  failed to deliver on our claim.

As I mentioned earlier, it has freed me to look to God in the sufferings of humanity for his mercy, comfort, and grace and not try to find some good for myself or others as the moral justification for the suffering. It has given me a view of God which I think is consistent with the biblical view, that is, God often enters into my suffering with me. I do not know how to express this as clearly as I should without risk being misunderstood.

I think, however, God weeps for us in our suffering and his promise to us is that there is a Day coming when all of this shall be passed because of the work of Christ on the Cross. He is not indifferent nor is He distant in my suffering. His promise is not that some good will come, but that His mercy, comfort, and grace are always available. It is that this evil has happened, not because God does not have the power or inclination to stop it, but there are our values in creation that must be respected. They must be respected because God respects the moral freedom He has given to humanity so that they can be true humanity, so that history can be something more than a piece of theater. God actually interacts and responds to the choices of humanity and that is a value that cannot be quickly overturned just to make life here a little more comfortable.

How would you like to see problem of evil discussions progress in light of your book’s contribution?  

I would hope that people would critically interact with the Creation-Order theodicy to see if it meets its burden of proof. If not, to find other ways to make the same point. If that fails, then we should probably give up this idea that gratuitous evil is real and not only apparent and that it does not count against the moral perfections of God.

You can learn more about Bruce Little by visiting his website