Volume 16 - Issue 3

Purpose in pain?—Teleology and the problem of evil

By Melvin Tinker

In his A Preface to Christian Theology, John Mackay illustrates two distinct, though not entirely unrelated, kinds of approach to Christian matters by picturing a group of people sitting on the high balcony of a Spanish house watching travellers pass by on the road below. Those on the balcony can overhear the travellers’ talk and often chat with them. They comment critically upon the way the travellers walk, discuss questions about the road—how it can exist and where it might lead. By way of contrast, the travellers face problems which are essentially of a practical nature, although they too have a theoretical aspect to them. Thus while both the ‘observers’ and the ‘travellers’ might express interest over areas of common concern, the immediate nature of their problems differs. On the question of evil for instance, one can envisage the observers wrestling with the theoretical problem of how to reconcile a belief in an omnipotent God who has loving purposes with the existence of evil (the Philosopher?); while the travellers grapple with the existential problem of trying to overcome evil by bringing good out of it (the Pilgrim?). Now clearly the Scriptures were written primarily for the latter, a book for travellers composed by fellow travellers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.1 But while the manner of approach and the overall intention of the biblical writers may be described as ‘practical’, they are nevertheless set within a framework of belief grounded in God’s revelation. As traditionally expressed this means that practice is wedded to doctrine—works proceed from faith. In short, the ‘conceptual’ and the ‘existential’ belong together, each needing the other to prevent undue abstraction on the one hand, and an unhealthy subjectivism on the other. Accordingly an attempt will be made to give due consideration to both aspects throughout this discussion.

The paper’s main locus of concern is with the question of how we are to begin to understand the place of suffering in God’s world with a view to formulating a Christian response. One deliberately says a Christian response since no single response will be sufficient and any so-called Christian theodicy must of necessity be composite in nature if it is going to be even remotely comprehensive and coherent. D.M. Ahern is therefore probably not all that wide of the mark when he concludes that because our knowledge of particular evils and their various connections is so limited, it will never be possible to devise a theodicy which accounts for every type of evil situation, Although each theodicy proposed might contain a number of valuable insights, simply in and of themselves they are unable to perform the function they are intended to perform, i.e. to provide a wholly convincing reasoned defence of the goodness or God in the face of evil. Thus even when a number of approaches have been adduced which might be said to complement each other, the irreducible mystery of the problem of evil remains, and like Job2 we are forced to place our hands over our mouths. This, however, does not preclude legitimate and fruitful enquiry, but it does sound a note of caution against claiming too much as well as underscoring the humble spirit in which the enquiry should be pursued.

With this proviso in place, the aim of this paper is to consider why suffering constitutes a problem for Christian belief, to survey a number of simple ‘solutions’ to the problem, and then to propose a way of approaching the question of suffering which, it is believed, best accords with the NT revelation as it centres upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is to developing this approach that the greater part of our discussion will be devoted.

The problem stated

We often speak of the problem of evil or the problem of suffering; why describe evil and suffering as problems? It is generally acknowledged that evil, and suffering which is perceived as evil, is a problem for the Christian because of what he or she believes. McClosky writes; ‘Evil is a problem for the theist in that a contradiction is involved in the fact of evil, on the one hand, and the belief in the omnipotence of God on the other’.3 Although one may wish to qualify what he says by speaking of a conflict which is apparent rather than real, as McClosky implies, the force of what he is saying is all too readily felt by believers and non-believers alike. What is more, the ‘problem’ seems to gain greater poignancy when it is formulated as a sharp dílemma pace Hick: ‘If God is perfectly loving and good he must wish to abolish evil; if God is all powerful he must be able to abolish evil. But evil exists. Therefore God cannot be both perfectly good and almighty’.4 Certainly as it stands the dilemma does beg a number of questions, not least those of how one is to conceive the notions of ‘perfectly loving’ and ‘all-powerful’. But even when such terms are carefully qualified (e.g. holy love as distinct from bland self-indulgence, and omnípotence which does not involve the ability to do that which is self-contradictory as distinct from antinomies), one may still grant that prima facie there is a dilemma which needs to be addressed.

Therefore, while appearing to adopt the stance of a ‘balconeer’ for a moment, how might one proceed to deal with this particular dilemma? It is proposed that the first step is to identify two of the main presuppositions which underlie the formulation of the dilemma and upon which the force of the dilemma is largely dependent, viz. if God is perfectly good and all-powerful this will of necessity be reflected in the removal of all evil now (or at least it raises the questions as to why it was not removed at an earlier moment in time or why it was allowed to come into being in the first place). In other words, there is both a temporal and a means condition built into the very formulation of the dilemma—the removal of evil at a particular time (present or past) in an immediate and total way (presumably by divine fiat).

The second step in our handling of the dilemma follows on quite naturally from the first, for what if it could be demonstrated, however tentatively, that God will not only remove all evil at some point in the future, but will actually redeem evil in such a way that it is transfigured into that which is good? What if the goodness and omnipotence of God were to be worked out in a way that is altogether different from that which is normally envisaged? Then much, although by no means all, of the force would be taken out of this particular dilemma. The tension would be relieved but not entirely removed. It is to this possibility, based upon the conviction that the decisive event in which the power and goodness of God is demonstrated in redeeming evil has already taken place, that the greater part of this paper will be devoted.

Simple solutions

There are of course a number of simple solutions to the dilemma posed above which essentially involve the removal of one or more of the three elements which make up the triad so that it ceases to be a dilemma at all. Thus one could deny that evil or suffering exists, viewing them instead as some form of ‘illusion’. Christian Science and Therevada Buddhism might qualify as amongst those beliefs which take this particular route. Alternatively, one might deny the omnipotence of God as does the process theologian David Griffin, who states quite unequivocally that his solution to the problem of evil is ‘by denying the doctrine of omnipotence fundamental to it’.5 However, the theological price paid is rather high in that we are in effect left with a ‘God’ who is trying to do his best in bringing good out of evil, and with a little luck he might (but only might) succeed in the end. The other way out of the apparent impasse is to deny the goodness of God as expressed in Baudelaire’s celebrated statement that: ‘If there is a God he is the very devil’. The writer Archibald MacLeish conveys the same sentiment in his play ‘J.B.’, which is a reworking of the story of Job, with the refrain: ‘If he is God he is not good, if he is good he is not God’. Nevertheless, the traditional Christian claim is that God is good, that he is almighty and that evil and suffering are realities to be reckoned with. The ‘problem’ therefore turns on how to relate these two articles of faith (the goodness and omnipotence of God) to the fact of suffering which is deemed evil, without compromising either of these tenets of faith or trivializing human suffering.

The immorality of suffering

In turning to consider the question: ‘What makes suffering morally unacceptable?’, a prior question needs to be addressed, viz. ‘Is all suffering evil or only in certain forms?’ Now, while psychologically most, if not all, pain may be considered to be objectionable, it is not necessarily the case that it is morally so, especially if the pain endured is part of a means to a recognized good. Thus from a purely biological point of view, pain can serve as part of the body’s defence mechanism preventing further injury by means, say, of a reflex action (e.g.removing a hand from a hot plate). Certainly it could be objected that this simply pushes the ‘problem’ one stage further back, for one could ask, why the ‘more serious injury’? Could God not have created a world in which there would be no need of such a defence mechanism for there would be nothing which needed defending against? But even if one were to grant that such objections have force (and I believe they do), the point being maintained here would remain, namely that pain, in and of itself, is not necessarily evil. Indeed in some contexts it could be considered morally neutral (as is the ‘healthy’ pain after long exercise) or morally good (as in the case of corrective punishment).

Surely, what makes suffering so morally objectionable is when it is encountered in a form which is wholly negative, tending towards destruction and devoid of any positive significance. Is it not this that lies at the root of so many tormented human cries?—‘Why should my three-year-old child die on the road?’—‘Why the intolerable pain of the cancer victim?’ What is more, the evil of suffering is given an additional grotesque twist when it cannot be placed within any meaningful coherent context understood teleologically, that is as having a creative purpose. This dysteleological aspect, which can be so often attendant upon suffering, adds to its distorting, disorientating effect. In other words, it is when suffering is manifest in human experience as that which is on the whole negative, anti-purposive and dysteleological, that it is appropriately recognized as evil and so calls for active moral resistance and opposition.

Perhaps no one has engaged in a more penetrating analysis of evil in terms of that which is negative and ultimately meaningless than Karl Barth.6 Following through Augustine’s contention of evil as ‘privatio boni’ (the deprivation or the good which has no independent existence itself), Barth conceives of evil as ‘das Nichtige’—‘nothingness’, and ‘impossible possibility’, an ‘ontological impossibility’, that which God saw fit to pass over. Such categories of description are used in order to convey the essential negative nature of evil, and of course immediately introduce us to the inevitable paradox and limitations in the use of language to describe that which is the metaphysical equivalent to ‘anti-matter’, without at the same time giving the false impression that evil is an illusion. In spite of claims to the contrary, this analysis maintains that evil is a reality, albeit a negative reality, the ‘surd’, that which has no creative purpose and therefore often appears meaningless. And so when suffering acquires these ‘anti-qualities’, it is rightly deemed evil.

To summarize: it is being suggested that suffering ‘becomes’ morally unacceptable when within a limited temporal context it exhibits those features commonly recognized as standing in direct opposition to that which is good (i.e. evil = disintegration, destruction, dysteleology. Good = wholeness, creativity, purpose.)

The ‘why’ of suffering

In asking the question ‘Why is there suffering?’, one could be straining towards one of two directions. One could be looking for some sort of cause—‘What is the cause of suffering?’ This may involve a consideration of an ultimate cause—the origin of evil, or a more proximal cause—the cause of this particular suffering, with ‘cause’ being understood metaphysically rather than biologically. Of course this line of approach has a most distinguished pedigree with advocates such as Augustine,7 C.S. Lewis,8 and more recently Stephen T. Davis.9Here explanations are sought in terms of free will defence, the fall, the activity of fallen angels, and so on. One may also wish to include within this category of explanation the idea of ‘Vergeltung’—the operation of some form of moral ‘cause and effect’ built into the fabric of the world, a view as championed for instance by C.H. Dodd.10 Certainly such approaches have strong biblical warrants in support11 and play an essential role in any composite Christian theodicy, but for the traveller they will not constitute the primary category of understanding. For that he will look in another direction.

Beneath the heartfelt cry ‘Why this suffering?’ often lies the longing for a purpose. ‘What is the point in all this?’ is a cry in which the tension is heightened when, as we have seen, meaning and creative purpose seem to be absent from the situation and we are apparently left with ‘meaningless suffering’ or ‘senseless violence’. Thus rather than looking back for an explanation in terms of causation, here one looks forward for an explanation in terms of purpose (teleology). This line of approach too is not without its prestigious proponents, for example Irenaeus,12 Schleiermacher13 and John Hick.14

Now although ‘cause’ and ‘purpose’ have here been distinguished as essentially providing two distinct approaches to the problem of pain, they are not mutually exclusive and have been brought together both philosophically and theologically. Philosophically they are drawn into a unity by Aristotle and his idea of a ‘final cause’—the end towards which something moves, its goal, its ‘telos’. Theologically, both cause and purpose are embraced by the over-arching doctrine of providence, of which the problem of suffering is but one aspect. This is most clearly seen in Calvin’s treatment of the subject.15 But even within Augustine’s work on the matter, purpose plays a major role as encapsulated in his now famous doctrine of ‘O felix culpa’, such that ‘God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil at all’.16 The redemption of sinners for Augustine is a far greater good than there being no sin at all.

Although upon close analysis any hard and fast distinction between explanations sought in terms of cause and purpose may be difficult to maintain, it still provides us with a useful working distinction in approaching the problem of suffering. Such a difference in approach is brought out most vividly in the gospel study of the healing of the man born blind (Jn. 9). As Jesus and his disciples came across the man, it was the disciples who raised the question ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents?’; they were looking for an answer to this particular tragic state of affairs primarily in terms of causation—‘Who sinned?’ Jesus, however, replied, ‘Neither, but this happened so that [the purposive clause hina] the work of God may be displayed in his life’. Jesus alters the perspective by focusing upon the divine purpose behind the situation, linking it to the creative-redeeming activity of God.17 Although both the cause of suffering, in terms of sin, and the purpose of suffering, in terms of God’s glory and man’s well-being, can also be expressly linked, as another story of healing in the gospels shows,18 it would appear that it is upon God’s purpose that the NT’s theological centre of gravity rests, and it is to this that we now turn.

Teleology and suffering

The overriding concern of the NT writers is the pastoral one of enabling God’s people to see that the suffering and persecution which they may be undergoing or are likely to face, when considered against the backcloth of God’s eternal purpose, have a creative significance. This is a theme which is reiterated time and time again.19Sometimes ‘cause’ and ‘purpose’ in suffering are displayed before the sufferer on the cosmic canvas, as in the Apocalypse of John. At other times, suffering itself is seen as an instrumental means whereby God in his sovereignty creates ‘goods’ in the life of the believer, some of which may be seen in this life, others only to be revealed in the next.20 But wherever this theme is touched upon—God working good out of evil—the theological basis remains the same, namely the empty cross of Jesus Christ.21 It is at Calvary and the empty tomb that the NT’s theodicy is writ large.

It is in the cross of Christ and his consequent resurrection that God demonstrates his justice and so is seen to be both just and the justifier of him who has faith (Rom. 3:26). Indeed, a strong case can be made out for the thesis that the whole of the epistle to the Romans is a reasoned defence of the righteousness or God which appears to be impugned on several grounds.22 Whether it is as a basis for hope23 or as an example to follow,24 it is the empty cross which is foundational.

If the key to the mystery of suffering is to be found anywhere, then it is to be found here where we come face to face with the ‘God who is hidden in suffering’ (Luther); the God who in Christ Jesus absorbs the evil of the world, disarms the principalities and powers and reacts re-creatively to transform the evil into a greater good.25 Furthermore, it is at the cross that we are presented with the paradox running throughout the mysterious relationship between the evil of suffering and God’s good purposes, for from one point of view, the cross was the worst thing that could have happened (the murder of the divine Son), but from another perspective it was also the best thing that could ever happen (the means of man’s salvation).

The centrality of the cross and resurrection of Christ in a Christian theodicy is to be seen in such disparate writers as P.T. Forsyth26 and Jurgen Moltmann,27 and their insights deserve serious consideration.

Written at the height of the carnage of the First World War, Forsyth’s The Justification of God represents a passionate attempt to develop a radical thoroughgoing Christocentric and crucicentric teleology as the heart of the biblical response to the problem of evil. Forsyth thus writes: ‘God so died as to be the death of death. He commands his own negation, even when it pierces as deep within himself as his Son. He surmounts the last, the most limiting phase of finitude—evil. He could so identify himself with sin and death. His absolute antithesis, that he conquered and abolished both, in an act which brings to the point the constant victory of his moral being. The destiny of the world is whatever does most justice to the nature of God, and most glorifies it. And that is, of all things in the world, the atoning Cross of Christ—where therefore the teleology and the theodicy of the world lies’.28 Herein lies the basis for hope that what was achieved by the cross and resurrection will be reworked on a cosmic scale. This is not to say that the cross and resurrection are to be seen simply as patterns to be recapitulated by God (although they may be that), but rather as the primary means by which God overcomes evil and suffering: ‘If the greatest act in the world, and the greatest crime there, became by the moral, holy victory of the son of God, the source not only of endless blessing to man, but of perfect satisfaction and delight to a Holy God; then there is no crime, not even this war, that is outside his control or impossible for his purpose. There is none that should destroy a faith which is Christian faith, i.e. that which has its object, source and sustenance in that Cross and its victory.… In the Cross of Christ we learn the faith that things not willed by God are yet worked up by God. In a divine irony, man’s greatest crime turns God’s greatest boon. O Felix Culpa! The riddle is insoluble but the fact sure.’29

Moltmann’s treatment of the subject is no less cross-centred and teleological than Forsyth, although it may be said to be more explicitly trinitarian: ‘God is vulnerable, takes suffering and death on himself in order to heal, to liberate and to confer new life. The history of God’s suffering in the passion of the Son and the sighings of the Spirit serves the history of God’s joy in the Spirit and his completed felicity at the end. That is the ultimate goal of God’s history of suffering in the world’.30

Both theologians are in line with the NT’s dominant approach to the question of evil and suffering in placing it within the primary context of God’s creative-redeeming purpose centred upon the death, resurrection, ascension and return or Christ, four ‘moments’ in the unitary action of the triune God. However, no conceptual framework is established by either writer to enable one to consider how the goodness of God and his power in overcoming suffering and evil at the cross might be related. Certainly the biblical emphasis is upon the significance that evil is overcome by the atonement rather than on the how, although this concern is not entirely absent from the NT.31 But given, at the very least, the paradigmatic nature of the cross in providing some understanding of the way God deals with suffering and evil, particularly if this is combined with our earlier analysis of the nature of evil, might it not be suggested that the modus operandi whereby evil is overcome is by the transformation of that which is negative, meaningless and bordering on the abyss into that which is positive and meaningful by placing it within a wider context of God’s design? Thus, what is currently perceived within a limited context as being evil is, within a much broader context, transfigured into that which is good. In order to see more clearly how this might be so, it is necessary to consider the relation between ‘means’ and ‘ends’.32

Means and ends

It is generally held by the proponents of ‘vulnerable divine love’33 that it is not possible to conceive of a specific end intended by God related to all those in an event in all circumstances. Here we have a model in which some events in life are ends in themselves, but which may also be a means to some further end. But, when certain situations arise which are deemed evil, being part of the ‘risk’ God took in creating a world such as this, God’s response is to redeem it by transposing the event into a means to some further end. Here such events can never be ends in themselves, but can only be related externally to some further good, for example an earthquake in which people are killed can become a means to further ends which are ‘goods’, such as illiciting care, patience and fortitude in the survivors and helpers.

However, with such a conceptual framework the ‘goodness and power of God’ dilemma still remains. On the one hand God’s goodness is impugned, for while it is acknowledged that some good may have been brought out of an unfortunate event, as far as the individuals who have suffered in the event are concerned they have been reduced to the category of means, which at least, according to the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative is morally suspect. On the other hand, if it is retorted that the event was not intended by God but that he was simply responding to the event, then his omnipotence is seriously brought into question—God could not bring about intended ends in relation to each individual.34 An alternative model would be to conceive of ends as always being related internally to the event itself. This does not rule out the possibility (and probability) that the event may also be a means to some further end, but ultimately it is the wider context of God’s design which provides the event with meaning.

It is proposed that from God’s eternal perspective—the Author of the drama who sees ‘the end from the beginning’—all creaturely decisions and responses freely made are woven in with all other events to serve his purpose. The individual actions made do have significance in that they go towards making up patterns within the drama of lasting importance; but they do not exert an ultimate significance: that is provided by the Sovereign God who places the decisions and actions of his creatures into an eternal context which alone affords ultimate meaning. Therefore the dualism being advocated here is of a limited kind.

Whether the analogy is an accurate one is questionable, but the well-known illustration of the making of a Persian carpet may be helpful at this point. It is said that Persian carpets are made on a large frame. On one side of the frame stands the family placing the threads into the framework, sometimes randomly, sometimes thoughtfully. On the other side of the frame stands the father, the master weaver, who takes all of these threads and weaves them into a rich pattern of his design. When the carpet is completed the frame is then turned around for all to see and hopefully receives the approval of the participants. Now, God may be likened to the master weaver who takes each thread (action and event) and weaves them into a pattern which affords the threads significance, the main difference being, of course, that from the ‘beginning’ God knows what those ‘threads’ are and where they are to be placed on ‘this side’ of the frame. However, it is the ‘other side’ of the frame which provides the lasting context in which ultimate significance is derived.

Relating this to our earlier discussion about the nature of evil, this means that within the immediate context of our experience some events are evil, including certain forms of suffering. But this is not the whole context for another perspective is available. It is when the evil event is related to the wider context of God’s eternal purposes for his creation in general and each individual in particular that evil is transfigured and can be said to be redeemed. It is within that wider perspective—the primary context of God’s action—that evil events are seen to contain good ends. The upshot of this argument is that evil has a real but temporary hold on reality. This does not take ‘the evil out of evil’ as might appear at first sight, but it does limit the significance of evil, assigning to it a certain relativity.

While it is important to stress that not all of these goods will be evidenced in this life, an eschatological dimension being essential, nevertheless with the interpenetration of the eternal and the temporal to which Scripture and experience bear ample witness, one would expect some manifestation of good ends now. Some of these may rightly be construed in terms of ‘soul-making’—a creative formation of character, the end of which is holiness without which ‘no man shall see God’.35 Therefore, although the Irenaean theodicy is seriously weak at several points,36 there is still much within it which is commendable and wholly compatible with what is being proposed here.

But just in case it seems that we have now firmly occupied the place of the ‘balconeers’ mentioned at the beginning of the paper, let us relate our discussion to the events of the crucifixion and resurrection themselves. In terms of the betrayal, the trial, the scourging and the torture of the cross, the configuration of events is formed. Within this context such events are properly deemed evil. But this is not the final, nor even the primary, context from which the events derive their full significance (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7f.): that is provided by God’s action of redemption in which each event is a constituent part. Here one is not saying that the event of the cross is transposed into something good by virtue of the resurrection, rather that the good (i.e. man’s redemption) is already being wrought in and through the event of the cross itself with the resurrection being but one vital aspect of the divine activity whereby evil is conquered.

Back to the cross

‘If God is good and almighty, then why doesn’t he do something about the fact of evil?’ The Christian reply to this is that he has and he will. The goodness of God is maintained by relating each event to an intended good end by placing it within the context of his own design, to be revealed at the end of time. The omnipotence of God is upheld by his weaving of all events into his eternal purpose, leaving nothing outside his ultimate control, with, as it were, each note as well as the whole symphony being known to him, and in a deeply significant sense being created by him. But right at the centre lies the event which forms the divine integration point to which all other events are related and through which they are somehow transfigured—the cross and resurrection of Christ. Therefore with the apostle Paul we can summarily conclude that in Christ ‘God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell … and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross’.37

1 2 Tim. 3:16ff.

2 Jb. 40:4.

3 In God and Evil, ed. N. Pike (Prentice Hall, 1964).

4 John Hick, ‘An Irenaean Theodicy’, in Encountering Evil, ed. S.T. Davis (T. & T. Clark, 1981), pp. 38–52.

5 David Griffin, ‘Creation out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil’, in Encountering Evil, pp. 100–119.

6 See especially Church Dogmatics, III:3, ff. 289–363 (T. & T. Clark), Dorothy L. Sayers also undertakes an analysis of the nature of evil which is not wholly dissimilar from that of Barth. Fruitfully exploring the analogy of a creative writer as one who passes over the ‘wrong’ words in choosing the ‘right’ words, she concludes that ‘wrongness’ is of necessity contingent upon ‘rightness’, not-being is contingent upon being (The Mind of tht Maker, Methuen, London, 1941, p. 75).

7 ‘On Free Will’ and ‘Confessions’ VIII, and ‘Enchiridion’ ch. IV.

8 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Fountain, 1976).

9 S.T. Davis, ‘Free Will and Evil’, in Encountering Evil, pp. 69–73.

10 C.H.Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Fontana, 1968), pp. 47–50.

11 Cf. Pr. 10; Ps. 73; Rom. 1:18ff.; Gal. 6:7f.

12 lrenaeus, Against Heresies.

13 F.W. Schleiermacher, The History of the Christian Church.

14 John Hick, Evil and a God of Love (Fontana, 1979).

15 John Calvin, Institutes, Book One Chapter 17 (Eerdmans, 1983), in which he writes:’ … Although the paternal favour and beneficence, as well as the judicial severity of God, is often conspicuous in the whole course of his Providence, yet occasionally as the causes of events are concealed, the thought is apt to rise, that human affairs are whirled about by blind impulse of Fortune.… It is true, indeed, that if with sedate and quiet minds we were disposed to learn, the issue would at length make if manifest that the counsel of God was in accordance with the highest reason, that his purpose was either to train his people patience, correct their depraved affections, tame their wantonness, insure them to self-denial; or on the other hand to cast down the proud, defeat the craftiness of the ungodly, and frustrate all their schemes.’

16 Ench XXVII.

17 Calvin draws upon this story as an example of the need to exercise humility of faith in acknowledging that God’s hidden purposes are for the best (op. cit., p. 184).

18 Mk. 2:1–12, the healing of the paralytic.

19 Cf. Rom. 8:28ff.; 2 Cor. 12:7ff.; Heb. 12; 1 Pet. 1:6–7.

20 Cf. Rom. 5:3–5; 2 Cor. 4:17.

21 Throughout the letter to the Hebrews the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of his people are closely juxtaposed and linked to the theme of achieving their God-intended goal (perfection = telos) through suffering—cf. 5:8.

22 This thesis has been set out by the late Professor George Caird in a personal communication in 1981. He argued that in the epistle Paul faces and counters the possibility that God’s righteousness could be impugned on four grounds: 1. Not all evil men are brought to account for their actions now (ch. 3 shows that God does take sin seriously); 2. In the OT God is seen as the champion of the helpless and demonstrates his righteousness in rescuing those who cannot save themselves (chs. 1–2 demonstrate that all are in a state of helplessness and that the divine rescue has already been executed in Jesus Christ); 3. God seems to exhibit favouritism to the Jews (but God is one, also all have sinned, therefore the Jew is in no special vantage position vis-à-vis salvation because he possesses the law—ch. 2:17ff.; 4); 4. Does (3) mean that God has forsaken his people and abandoned his covenant? (Paul answers No—chs. 9–11).

23 1 Thes. 4:13ff.

24 1 Pet. 2:23ff.

25 This line of thought is again suggested by Sayers who in referring to evil writes: ‘We can redeem it. That is to say, it is possible to take its evil power and turn it into active good.… In so doing we, as it were, absorb the Evil in the anti-Hamlet and transform it info an extremely new form of Good. This is a creative act, and it is the only kind of act that will actually turn positive Evil into positive Good’ (op. cit., p. 85).

26 P.T. Forsyth, The Justification of God (Duckworth, 1916).

27 Moltmann, The Crucified God (London, 1975). See also A.E. McGrath’s The Enigma of the Cross (Hodder, 1987), ch. 5.

28 Op. cit., p. 153.

29 Op. cit., pp. 157, 159.

30 J. Moltman, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (ET London, 1977).

31 See John Stott’s The Cross of Christ (IVP, 1986), ch. 6, for an excellent discussion of this in terms of substitutionary alonement.

32 What follows owes much to V.P. White’s thesis in The Fall of a Sparrow (Paternoster, 1985).

33 Cf. W.H. Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense (London, 1977).

34 This has been traditionally expressed in terms of the distinction between God’s antecedent will and his consequent will.

35 Heb. 12:14.

36 See White, op. cit., pp. 161–176.

37 Col. 1:15ff.

Melvin Tinker

The Reverend Melvin Tinker is senior minister of St John, Newland, Hull, UK. He has contributed a number of articles to Themelios over the years and is the author of several books, his latest being Intended for Good: The Providence of God (IVP, 2012).