Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: 'The Theodicy of Peter Taylor Forsyth' by Theng Huat Leow

This book is revised from Leow’s doctoral thesis submitted to the University of St. Andrews, U. K. In this work, Leow examined what Peter Taylor Forsyth (henceforth ‘PTF’) thought about the relationship between God and the reality of evil and suffering in our world. The term ‘theodicy’ simply means any concept that attempts to answer the question, ‘If God is all-good, almighty and all-loving, why is there so much evil and suffering in this world?’

To understand the theodicy of PTF, Leow directed us to PTF’s view that God is not an abstract supreme law-giver but a ‘personal God most supremely characterised by holiness’, whose nature is reflected in the ‘moral order of the world.’ (p.10) Therefore morality cannot exist without God. To PTF, ‘the moral as the real.’ For this reason, our conscience as the ‘sense of responsibility’ is fundamentally the most realistic aspect of our nature as creature created by God. 'The ‘conscience within the [human] conscience’ is, in fact, ‘the conscience of God himself,’ judging us and requiring us to attain to his righteousness.' (p.14)

PTF came to this conclusion about God and human nature from his meditation on the crucifixion of the Son of God. What we know about the relationship between God and the evil and suffering in this world can only be known through the cross. ‘There is no theodicy for the world except in a theology of the Cross.’ (p.31)

Hence, the answer to the question, ‘If God is all-good, almighty and all-loving, why is there so much evil and suffering in this world?’ lies in what happened through the cross. To PTF, what happened there was God ‘showing himself to be righteous and good in spite of the existence of evil in our world.’ It is through the crucifixion of Christ that God vindicated his holiness in the face of evil and suffering. In other words, the cross is ‘God’s own engagement in theodicy.’ (p.35)   

The first thing that we learned from the cross is that it served to reconcile human being with God. The cross shows us that the divine purpose for humans is to participate in God’s holiness ‘by entering into a state of union with God.’ (p.61) 

The second lesson that we picked up from the cross is that in order for reconciliation between God and sinners to take place, judgment has to come. ‘This was why he sent Christ to perform his representative role of bearing the judgement of sin on our behalf.’ (p.84) Judgement is the ‘mode of relation which God adopts in order to lead free wills in his direction without violating their integrity. (p.85)

Thirdly, the cross shows us that the greatest evil and suffering is bore by God himself. God thought it worthwhile to endure through this greatest of all evil so that human beings are enabled to fulfil their purpose. ‘God leads from the front, bearing the brunt of the fight against sin and undergoing the greatest of all suffering for the sake of the cause.’ (p.154) 

For these reasons, ‘God identifies with our suffering, in terms of both solidarity and empathy, [for the] defeat of sin, the establishment of God’s holiness in actuality and the moving of the world towards a blessed eschaton where suffering will be abolished.’ (p.167, emphasis original)

Leow knew that any theodicy that lacked the explanation for the origin of evil would be incomplete. Hence, he spent two chapters dealing with this issue. He pointed out PTF’s view that ‘faith’ is only possible when there is freedom to choose. With such freedom, evil though is not necessary is nevertheless inevitable. Therefore it is not that God allows evil and suffering, but they are inevitable in a world where morality is nothing less than ‘the right exercise of the will.’ (p.199) 

However, the inevitability of evil does not override God’s sovereignty. God knew that ‘he possessed the resources within himself to overcome sin and bring about an even “more perfect” end with the destruction of sin.’ (p.206)

In order to treat theodicy, Leow has given us an overall exposition of PTF’s theology throughout the book. This makes one realizes that the difficult task to explain the problem of evil and suffering covers various subjects within theology. One cannot deal with theodicy unless one also engages theology proper, theological anthropology, theology of revelation, eschatology, and etc. For its purpose, Leow’s book demonstrates this intra-disciplinary engagement very well.

There are four areas that I find particularly interesting and beneficial: First, Leow’s treatment of PTF’s notion of ‘moral as the real’, where creation is defined by holiness; second, Leow’s dealing with PTF’s understanding of the evolution of creation through the theology of the cross (which he called ‘crucial evolution’); thirdly, Christ was ‘made sin’ on the cross (2 Cor 5:21) by assuming the status of anti-God; and fourthly how PTF appropriated and differentiated from Hegel.

This review cannot do justice to all the issues brought up in Leow's book. One just have to read it to find out.


Martin Yee said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Thanks for the interesting review. PTF's theodicy sounds pretty good and cross centred.


Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

I think so too. PTF's entire theology is built from theologia crucis. Leow uncovers the traces of PTF's understanding of God, creation, human nature, evil/sin, etc all from the cross.

reasonable said...

Thinking with amusement:

If Jesus died by being hanged on a robe, I suppose a similar approach to theodicy would be centred upon a hanging robe.

Or if he was killed via an electric chair (if the incarnation happens nearer our time), he might have been executed with an electric chair and a similar theodicy would be centred on an electric chair.

Or if the Jews in Jerusalem did not reject Jesus at that time, then Jesus may probably not be die by execution.

(all these experimental thought assumes that Jesus' death by execution was conditional or continguent upon his rejection by his Jewish people)