The Doors of the Sea – where Hart goes right

Posted: June 4, 2012 by J in Book review

These quibbles aside, there is real theological power in Hart’s thesis. With the aid of Voltaire and Dostoyevsky, he demonstrates convincingly the perils of attempting to connect God’s will directly to created conditions.

The central critique drawn from Ivan Karamazov turns on God’s deliberate pre-creation choice of evil as one of the means by which to glorify his name (Rom 9:17, etc). As if evil were one of the tools in his workshop, selected for this job. There are of course Bible texts that can be employed to support this sort of view, but we agree with Hart: this view is not at all consistent with the kind of God Scripture presents overall. The texts must be read in context of the Bible story.

The problem doesn’t go away just by asserting ‘God never wills evil’.  This is just not enough, if you’ve told the story in such a way that he does. The story will always be more powerful than our denials, and will do its destructive work right through the faith of our churches, only secretly, because we’re pretending it isn’t so.

There is not the space for a full discussion of this important question here, and these are in any case difficult matters to clarify. But we can say that the Calvinist-type construction where God’s revealed will forbids evil, but his secret or sovereign will includes evil, leaves us with no problem about God’s revealed character –  but it does raise a question large mark over God’s secret character. And this is the question Karamazov puts so forcefully. Hart is surely right: there has to be a better way to describe God’s relationship to creaturely conditions!

Hart’s take on a Christian view of the created order is nothing less than inspiring: a heart filled with love and compassion for a glorious world groaning under an enemy’s yoke. The Christian does not start with viewing the world as it is, and work backwards to deduce God’s character or will. She starts with the gospel, and sees the world as it is judged and redeemed in Christ. Nice.

What of his view of the gospel as a story of God’s victory over the dark powers? We have to agree with Hart that this is indeed the central thrust of the NT writings, and that any theological ‘system’ not shaped around this theme is seriously defective. His biblical theology is just plain better than ours in the Western church.

In particular Hart lands a haymaker with his critique of the kind of static view of God’s sovereignty that sees evil and sin simply swept up within its all-encompassing folds. This sort of sovereignty does indeed seem incompatible with the ‘victory’ narrative of the NT gospel. Or with any narrative, for that matter! If God’s sovereignty isn’t something that ‘happens’, then there isn’t going to be much of a story (God becomes what Hart calls an ‘infinite tautology’ – p.91). God’s kingdom coming has to mean something.

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