Gabriel Fackre on Theodicy

Always stimulating, theologically-rich and pastorally-informed, Gabriel Fackre is always worth reading. Earlier this year he posted the following thoughts on theodicy:

‘Smuggled into the conventional answers to the problem of evil is the notion of power along the lines of an oriental potentate who is in absolute dominating control over every event, a kind of John Wayne writ large. However, biblical power has to do with ‘God’s weakness [that] is stronger than human strength’ (1 Cor 1:25), one defined as such by the empty cross. This is a divine power mighty enough to hold back divine power. It is an almightiness that leaves room for the world to go its own way, yet works tenderly, patiently and persuasively ( a note struck by the early church fathers), and only prevails after long struggle at the very close of history, the End of time. Almighty power is in the future tense.

Because the biblical story of God’s power is a real struggle that means that wherever we can join in it and ‘resist the powers of evil’ … , we do so. Instead of assuming that every evil that happens is God’s will, we ‘come to grips spiritedly with it’ (see Barth’s Letter To Great Britain from Switzerland in 1941), in the confidence that its power has already been broken on Calvary and will finally be totally defeated in the world to come.

This is the faith Job, finally, arrived at when he said, ‘I know that my redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand on the earth’ (19:25), the declaration we make so joyously when we sing it in Handel’s Messiah. Just how God will right every wrong and mend every flaw is not for us to know, but that it will be so is our confidence. And it is the faith we express at Christian burial, one in Paul’s future tense, in the very face of suffering and death:

‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? … No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:35–39)’.

In the ensuing discussion, Fackre presses that ‘we are able to live with evil in the present because grace makes is possible to do so. That grace includes our knowledge from the cross of God’s own vulnerabilty. God is sharing in that very suffering with us and thereby we are participating in God’s own suffering (Bonhoeffer), so graced by a Companion with us “in whatever happens.” But, finally, it is our Romans 8 confidence that has the last Word’.

Richard Floyd, who incidentally has written a most helpful introduction to Forsyth’s doctrine of the atonement entitled When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, enters in and reminds us that any attempt at theodicy requires, if not a complete rejection of the task, at least a certain humility about its limits.

Fackre’s post creates some very interesting discussion, not least because of the introduction of Forsyth into it.

One comment

  1. Jason,

    Thanks for linking to Fackre’s work. I found his personal site and he had a great paper on Theodicy. I thought it was brilliant. Thanks for the hard work of finding this great stuff it has been a blessing. (The paper has a great quote from Barth and other brilliant insights leading us right back to Calvary.) Thanks again I would never have known of this man or this brilliant paper if you hadn’t made the introduction.



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