The above question was recently posed to me by a friend and it made me stop and think for a bit. Is there something inherent in Kingdom Theology that accounts for the problem of evil (i.e. theodicy)? And if so, what is it? It was – and is – a very good question.
(For those unfamiliar with the term ‘theodicy,’ I’ve included a brief overview at the bottom of this post)
If we are talking about generic kingdom of God theology (i.e. inaugurated eschatology), then I would have to say that there isn’t any one theodicy inherit to that theological system. This is because inaugurated eschatology is primary focused on answering the question of when the end-time promises of God will be fulfilled (i.e. is God’s rule and reign here today? Is it delayed? When is it coming, etc.?).
Accordingly, it is possible to add inaugurated eschatology onto whatever theological and/or theodicy worldview you might already have. This is how you get people as diverse as N.T. Wright, Wayne Grudem, Scott McKnight, Derek Morphew, Bill Johnson, Greg Boyd, and R. Alan Street all promoting different views on inaugurated eschatology while using kingdom language.
The definition of Kingdom Theology promoted by myself and others within the Vineyard worldwide movement (e.g. John Wimber, Derek Morphew, Don Williams, Bill Jackson, etc.) is one of ‘enacted inaugurated eschatology.’ This is a theological worldview that starts with the life and ministry of historical Jesus before building out other theological concepts. Meaning that everything is seen through a lens of the here and not yet of the ages. Being ‘enacted’, it is a worldview that requiring one to live out the inaugurated eschatology of the kingdom in every area of life rather than intellectual belief.
Under this definition of Kingdom Theology, I would say that there is a cosmic conflict (or warfare) theodicy presupposition that sees the age to come breaking into this evil age through Jesus’ defeat of sin, evil and death at the cross. As such, the followers of Jesus living in-between the ages are engaged in a war between God and Satan with suffering happening as a result of sin, death, and evil.
With that said, it is possible to layer theodicies on top of one another. For example, one could say that the cosmic conflict seen throughout the ages is part of God’s perfect plan or is exacerbated by free will. Greg Boyd, one of the top openness of God (i.e. Open Theism) proponents, combines the cosmic conflict with the openness of the future to the point they seem inseparable. The Vineyard being the Vineyard, you can find folks within the movement who hold to any of these theodicies along with a few others.
On a personal level, I combine the cosmic conflict theodicy with the consent and participation (i.e. God consents to free will and natural laws while staying personally involved in the world), suffering of God (i.e. Jesus suffers and weeps with us), and faith and trust (i.e. it’s a mystery so just trust Jesus) theodicies.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘theodicy’, here is a quick primer of some of the more famous answers to the problem of evil. Note that are lots of others theodicies and a TON of philosophical presuppositions behind the question of evil that I cannot get into here. Some of these overlap each other with folks (like myself) holding to a new of different theodicies at the same time.
- Perfect Plan – Suffering and evil is all part of God’s perfect plan though he is not directly causing any of it. This theodicy is largely held by Calvinist which places a huge emphasis on the complete sovereignty of God (i.e. every action in the world was determined by God before the beginning of the world). However some branches of Arminianism will hold to this theodicy as they see suffering as part as a bigger, larger plan that only God can see.
- Free Will – This view sees suffering as the result of the free will of humanity though God is still in control of the future. Largely held by Arminian believers who places an emphasis on the free choices of humanity.
- Cosmic Conflict – There is a war happening in the cosmic realm that affects the physical world in which we live. Also called the “Warfare Theodicy”, this view sees suffering and evil as the result of the battle between Satan and God. As in, bad things happen because of Satan and his demons actively seeking to hurt people.
- Soul Making – Suffering is seen as a way to grow one’s soul. As in, God allows suffering so that humanity overcome obstacles and improve our souls (e.g. endurance, courage, compassion, etc.). Some version will include the purging of sin from our lives within this theodicy.
- Openness of God – The future is open with God allowing things to develop according to the actions of created beings. Since the future is open, suffering and evil is the result of free agents interacting with the world. Open Theists would be the primary proponents of this view.
- Consent and Participation – God consents to free will and natural laws while staying personally involved in the world. I don’t know if “consent and participation” is the scholarly term for this view…but it is the one I’m using. =) The core of this theodicy comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church which has a different view of the fall, original sin, free will and divine omnipotence.
- Suffering of God – The view that God suffers and weeps with us rather than standing above pain and suffering.
- Faith and Trust – Suffering in the world is a mystery with no real answer so we are just to trust Jesus. I see the book of Job as a backdrop to this view in that at the very end of the book, God tells Job to trust in him and not to all the other theodicies proposed by his friends. (Granted, the book of Job can also be used to support other theodicies like the cosmic conflict view).