Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Evangelical Universalist theodicy?

I've become an occasional contributor at the EFAC (Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion) blog.  For my first post I outlined my concerns about the theodicy presented by Bell (Love Wins) and Parry (The Evangelical Universalist).  (This is the second major problem facing Universalism that I alluded to in a previous post.) However I've been prompted to outline my case against Parry in some more detail.

Although clues about Parry's theodicy could be gleaned from the book overall (it frustratingly lacks an index) he directly address the problem of evil at the beginning of chapter seven.  Parry suggests an Irenaen theodicy, called a "solution by autonomous freedom" by Blocher in Evil and the Cross, is made more preferable by Universalism.  He then goes on to give the example of a mother suffering the death of her daughter.  Parry says traditional theology (of the type Blocher would represent I guess) devalues both the mother's suffering the girl herself but on the other hand;
"Now this problem is easily removed on universalism, because the daughter's suffering and death can also be used by God for her own salvation after death.  Thus God can use the suffering of any person to contribute not simply to the good of others but also to their own good. It is no coincidence that John Hick, one of the chief contemporary exponents of Irenaean theodicies, is a universalist." (page 158)
Parry doesn't commit himself entirely to this theodicy.  Instead he seems to slid in the next passage into what Blocher labels the "solution by universal order."  Parry writes that "God knows how to defeat evil by weaving it into many good and creative plots.  ... So by integrating horrendous evil into one's relationship with God, one confers a positive aspect upon such experience." (page 159)

Although Parry appears approving of both alternatives he seems undecided about which his universalism commits him to; which lead me to describe him in my EFAC blog post as "teetering" between the two options. However, as Blocher points out, neither is ultimately the option presented by Scripture.  The "solution by autonomous" freedom limits God's sovereignty to make space for independent human action. The "solution by universal order" makes evil part of God.  But evil is evil, distinct and morally separate from God.  God is also sovereign, with human responsibility part of the way he works in the world not a separate activity.