Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. John 14:21
I’ve been involved in some conversations lately with people who have great difficulty trusting in a God that allows the suffering we see happening to the animal kingdom. There is a strong Calvinistic theological thread apparent behind these peoples understanding of faith. I am not an expert in the differences theologically behind the many denominational perspectives. I do know, however, that in the Evangelical circles, the theological perspective of Calvin is prevalent. This was the faith perspective that I grew up understanding and practicing most myself. But I always had difficulty with it. I studied with Seventh Day Adventists and also with The Brethren of God for a short time early in my faith walk, but most of the churches I attended later in life after accepting Christ as Savior were Evangelical.
So, for the most part, I was a conflicted Christian all my adult life. As a result, I did not walk faithfully with Christ most of those years. It was in 2010 when I discovered what was happening to the animal kingdom that I began to question everything my faith stood for and to seek answers. It was then that the largest learning curve of my life began.
I awoke much like Rip Van Winkle may have after his 20 year nap. The world was a strange place. I did not know what was happening in theological circles. I was shocked by what I was finding happening to the animal kingdom in our industries. To add salt to the wounds, when I looked to my faith for answers to try to reconcile what I was seeing with some kind of ethical revolt I thought I’d find happening in the churches, I found none. In fact, it appeared that the church was married to the culture, and oblivious to what was happening to animals; in fact, more than oblivious, if they did know, they were blind to the implications theologically. The latter I found even more shocking. I was enraged.
But the Lord is faithful. When we seek Him with our whole heart, He shows up (Jer 29:13; Deut 4:29; Matt 6:33; ). I was led to a theological perspective on the bible that I’d never heard of before. The major thread in this perspective is from what is called the Anabaptist movement. And come to find, it is also the major thread theologically in the small church I grew up in (Brethren of God) where I accepted Christ. With some differences of course. Reconciling scripture, making it coherent with our experiences as well as with science, has come a long way since the 1970’s!
The church I follow now is Woodland Hills led by Greg Boyd, Senior Pastor and theologian. I’ve found much of his work theologically to be clearing up and rendering consistent a good deal of the scripture throughout the bible that seems to contradict itself. I’ve also been learning to read scripture differently as a result of his work. The theological perspective or lens we read the bible through really does matter! The warfare worldview has helped me tremendously, also, in reconciling the “why” of animal suffering; in reconciling the why we are much more likely to address the issues in such ways as to have more impact on changing them. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purposes.” (Phil 2:13)
One thing I’ll say before we get started with a summary of this theodicy, is that having a right theological perspective isn’t the most important thing according to the bible, but that we love as Christ loved. This blog post is a fantastic explanation on Orthodoxy and love. Having said that, learning to read the bible for all it’s worth is still a good idea! The book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” was helpful in this endeavor, too.
The Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy…
Or, the Trinitarian Warfare Worldview. Mixed into this summary is a view of the created world we are now experiencing as a restoration of the earth (called the “restoration view”) from previous destruction that happened as a result of the war between God and Satan (Gen 1). Also mixed in is the understanding from scripture that hell is “annihilation*”, not an eternal suffering experienced by humans and fallen angelic beings. God will be “all in all.” All will be restored to His original intentions.
*Note on annihilation: an observation I’ve seen made many times is that God banished us from Eden,“before we could eat of the Tree of Life, and live forever like us” God said in Genesis 3:22. There is a lot of scripture that supports total destruction of Satan and any that follow him, all ceasing to exist (Is 66:24; 2 Kings 22:17; Is 1:31, 51:8; Jer 4:4, 7:20, 21:12; Ezek 20:47,48; Ps 34:16,21; Ps 9:6, 34:16; the OT is full of scripture depicting total destruction. NT passages that teach annihilation is even stronger than the OT: Mt 7:19; 13:40; Jn15:6; Mt 3:10; Phil 3:18-19, Mt 7:13,14; 1 Cor 15:42-44,50; God alone is immortal, 1 Tim 6:16; and many more).
One thought to ponder: If God is to be “all in all” then how can we reconcile a universe where there are beings suffering in ways that were of Satan if indeed he is finally defeated for all time (along with all those not found in Christ)? God is clearly not “all in all” right now, or we would not be experiencing anything short of what God says He is through the example of Christ, as well as a whole lot of other scripture that depicts who God is. It is also difficult to render a version of hell consistent with the character of God found in Christ.
I think many Christians have an unrealistic view of what God can and cannot do right now during this probationary period. Until Jesus comes again we are to be preparing for that return. We live in an already-not yet tension, meaning He accomplished restoration, the order and intent of His creation, by His life lived on earth as a human, dying and being raised again. But the creation has yet to experience the fullness of this redemption until the return of Christ. It is a “probationary period” because we are to get ready for His return. Jesus died and rose again – yes to save us – but save us from what? …..”Our sin” but what is this “sin”, what does “sin” mean?
Sin is anything that separates us from God the bible says (Is 59:2) – lies from Satan, and our own belief when we do not trust what God says – when we try to run the show ourselves, or we think we can do anything at all in life without God – the bible says we can “do nothing” without him (Jn 15:5). He is the source of ALL life – He is what makes anything that we see/experience in life that is good – “loving, joyous, peaceful, forbearing, kind, [good], faithful, gentle and self-controlling” – these are the “fruits of the Spirit” that the Bible describes in Gal 5:22,23 – and these are the attributes of LIFE – what we were created to experience, through and with the true living God and Creator of all.
Satan lied to the first humans in Eden; he said God was wrong. If they ate of the tree (whatever one understands this tree to be is not the most important thing, though one could think of the “tree” as that which was off limits to mankind made so by God, His domain and authority; what matters most for our purposes is what the first pair did with the lie), Satan said they would surely not “die”; they believed Satan, and not God (Gen 3:4). This plunged us, and the creation, into death and corruption and evil.
Evil is self-centered intention that is not coherent with the nature of Love, which God is. Everything in the nature of the creation that does not reflect or act in accordance with the Love that God is, is not from God. It was born first from Satan and his cohorts as they wanted to be considered like God themselves, for their own purposes which are not about Love. Anything that is about death, destruction and born of hate, violence, or self-centered desire – desire that is for selfish gain at whatever the cost, that does not consider others – is not from God. It is instead from the influences of Satan and fallen angelic beings, and now, is also born out of our own choices. We choose either the ways of the true living God, or the ways of the world under Satanic influence (whom, by the way, is the Prince of this world, the bible says – Jn 14:30; 2 Cor 4:4; Jn 16:11).
What is this “death” spoken of by God in Eden? It is a physical death eventually, but also a Spiritual death, where we are separated from God (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:1,5). We chose to be on our own, outside of the fullness of the presence of our source of Life (the Father is our source of Life), the protections and provisions that only the Father could supply us with against Satan and his minions. Mankind has been corrupted ever since. If we had “freely” chosen to believe God instead of the lie, it is likely we would not be in this mess and neither would the animal kingdom. The original “sin” mankind committed is to “judge” for himself that which God said was off limits for us to judge, not trusting in God or God’s wisdom about what was good for us (Gen 3:6). It was in accordance to the lie that Satan produced that we made a choice – the lie which was basically saying “God is wrong and doesn’t know”, you won’t “die”, so said Satan. Satan wanted to be God, and to have control and power, and he convinced us to want this same power for ourselves. And then Satan was able to really hurt God by corrupting the creation that God loves so much.
And this judgment we make outside of our communion with our Source of Life is the root of every “sin.” We were never meant to die or experience the horrors happening to animals and to other humans. The animals He created were never meant to experience a corrupted nature alongside us, or to experience the horrors they are experiencing at our hands. In one decision in Eden, the first humans threw all of God’s creation into chaos and despair. We were conceivably meant to be God’s viceroys in the war between Him and Satan, to “guard/protect the earth and animal kingdom” from evil intentions [Gen 2:15; note: the Hebrew word for care/cultivate (transliteration “abad”) means to labour, work, serve another by labour; the Hebrew word for keep/maintain (transliteration “Samar”] means to have charge of, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life). We failed the task. We handed over the reign of this earth to Satan and other fallen angels, all of creation then became subject to their evil (self-centered) nature and intentions. Our very nature that was made to display the Image of our Creator Whom is Love, become corrupted, so that now, our “image” looks more like that of Satan’s.
God is NOT the author of evil, Satan is. In Calvinistic thinking, God is made out to be orchestrating or allowing evil that Satan intends for harm of us, in order to turn it into good somehow for us, all for God’s “glory” (glory means character, like for example, His “character’s sake”). This is really not what the bible teaches. This is not in keeping with the character of God found in Christ (Christ is the exact representation of the Father, Heb 1:3). The early Christian movement taught that we were to reject anything that did not reflect the character of God. We are supposed to revolt against evil just as Jesus did, and in the ways that He did; we are supposed to reflect His Image in the face of evil. We conquer evil in our lives not by any violent means of retaliation, but by Love, even unto death.
The significance of Christ’s death and resurrection must not be understated. The law of the OT was given to show mankind that He could not live by laws. God continually tried to reach His people throughout the OT, to turn them from their own freely chosen ways and the adopted ways of the pagan cultures that surrounded them. His plan from the beginning was for us to share as co-heirs over the perfect creation in perfect Shalom with Christ as the head of the church. God wanted a people, a family that would freely choose to love Him – created moral agents from the very beginning with a certain amount of say-so over the events that happen, as partners with Him and eventually as heirs, over the creation – all within the parameters of His Sovereign Will; but His plan failed because the creation chose the lies of Satan over trusting God in His provision and His plan; we wanted what Satan wanted: our own way.
What God did by becoming human while still being God (taking our place in death – the same death that happened to us by choosing to live outside God’s provisions – a Spiritual death and a physical death), living outside of the fullness of the Father’s presence Himself, is astoundingly huge and ingenious; it was the ultimate sign of His incredible love for ALL of His creation.
Next week, we will continue with Part Two. Stay tuned!! Thank you for reading and following our blog; we hope you enjoy it and that it blesses you! Comments are always welcome! ~Kathy