I had the pleasure of reading a recent blog by Sean McDowell, a faculty member in the apologetics department of the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Dr. McDowell made some observations related to his reading of John C. Peckham’s book, Theodicy of Love. He states, “Recently I was reading Theodicy of Love by John C. Peckham and he made the astute observation that the conflict between God and Satan is not over power, but over the character of God. According to Peckham the conflict ‘cannot be won by the mere exercise of power but is met by an extended demonstration of character in a cosmic courtroom drama’ (p. 88).” 1 Given his comments, Theodicy of Love is a book that I am adding to my reading list because it presents an argument that resonates with my heart and touches on something that I have taught before. Since both McDowell and Peckham are brilliant, I will assume that they came across this concept, and that it made an impression on their souls, long before it did mine.
Long ago, I had the pleasure of giving a message entitled, “Why I Am A Christian,” as a Jewish believer at a Calvary Bible Chapel. The observations which McDowell made in his analysis of Peckham’s book were in line with the point that I made in my sermon that day. In this, blog I will reflect on how these lines of thought apply to the worldviews presented by rabbinical Judaism and Islam.
Certainly, Islam presents God as winning the battle against evil by sheer force. However, as Peckham noted in Theodicy of Love, the cosmic battle between God and Satan, or good and evil, is not a battle that is to be won by strength alone. As I consider this point, a line from J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings springs to mind, which points out that the Ring cannot be destroyed just by force of arms.2 Islam’s solution to the problem of evil is no solution at all since it ignores the very nature of the cosmic battle which is raging around us. The Islamic mentality deals with evil only on the grounds of mere force and does not deal with the fact that evil is a corruption of character, not simply a group of beings.
Therefore the Muslim can be challenged in this way: how does Allah intend to remove evil from the world, and how does this method of eliminating evil demonstrate his goodness? The best the Muslim can do is say that Allah’s justice is demonstrated in the removal and punishment of evil beings. But the other attributes of God’s goodness, such as His love, mercy, and patience, are not demonstrated through this solution. Some might argue that His patience would be demonstrated by mere force in waiting until the last minute to use it - but, certainly, love and mercy cannot be demonstrated by using force alone.
Rabbinical Judaism, on the other hand, does show God illustrating His love and mercy by providing atonement. However, this system falls short since it leaves out the part where God Himself takes evil upon Himself and provides the ultimate atonement by which evil will be overthrown once and for all. The system of atonement shows God’s goodness - but in a very incomplete way. Without redemption, it still fails to effectively address the corruption of the human condition. Rabbinical Judaism provides that the ultimate answer to evil is God imposing His kingdom apart from redeeming His subjects through His own work. In all fairness, it must be noted that there are certain ancient strains of rabbinical writings that appear to be close to the biblical Judaic mentality of atonement, as opposed to the de-emphasis present in modern rabbinical Judaism.
Biblical Judaism, with the atonement system ultimately pointing to Messiah who will provide the ultimate atonement for Israel, stands in contrast to rabbinical Judaism (although rabbinical Judaism would not accept this distinction) and Islam. Biblical Judaism sees the work of redemption as the Lord’s alone, with the incredible need for atonement front and center and ultimately fulfilled in Messiah. By His work, instead of just meting out punishment or overlooking injustice, the problem of evil is indeed solved by a way being opened up for true change in the human condition.
1 Sean McDowell. (2019, January 8). How Can God and Satan Be in a Cosmic Struggle? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/how-can-god-and-satan-be-in-a-cosmic-struggle? 2Jackson, P. (Director). (2001). Lord of the Rings [Motion picture]. New Zealand, United States: New Line Cinema, WingNut Films.