Pastoral Implications of Greg Boyd's View in Dealing with Suffering

Greg Boyd's view is that God's knowledge of the future and his rule of the future is limited in such a way that one may not say that "a good divine purpose lies behind all particular events" (God at War [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997], p. 41, see also, 20, 38, 40, 49, 53, 166). Pastorally the way this plays out is as follows:

Within the limits set by God, an individual may purpose to do things which are utterly at odds with God's ultimate purpose. Thus, when an individual inflicts pain on another individual, I do not think we can go looking for 'the purpose of God" in the event. . . . I know Christians frequently speak about "the purpose of God" in the midst of a tragedy caused by someone else. There was a young girl this year at Bethel who was killed by a drunk driver, a lot of students were wondering what purpose God had in "taking her home." But this I regard to simply be a piously confused way of thinking. The drunk driver alone is to blame for the girl's untimely death. The only purpose of God in the whole thing is His design to allow morally responsible people the right to decide whether to drink responsibly or irresponsibly. (Letters from a Skeptic [Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994], pp. 46-47).

I read some of this to my congregation during my exposition of Hebrews 11:29-38. I did not tell them the name of the book or the author, though some knew where it came from. I expressed my strong disapproval of that last sentence. I made clear, I hope, the distinction between strong disapprobation of a person's conviction and the judgment or even the affection toward the person himself.

I do not see how Boyd's view and its pastoral implications squares with Hebrews 12:3-11.

The teaching of this passage seems to be that the persecution which Christians are receiving, as they follow the example of Jesus' own endurance, is the discipline of a loving Father with the purpose of producing in us and those around us more holiness. So it seems that individuals are inflicting pain on others (to use Boyd's sentence) and that this is interpreted by the writer of Hebrews as the discipline of God who has a clear purpose in it. So it seems, contrary to Boyd's sentence above, that the writer does look for "the purpose of God" in the pain inflicted by others on Christians.

Here's the evidence as I see it:

First, Jesus is put forward as a model for our encouragement and imitation.

Hebrews 12:3 "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart."

I am curious if Boyd believes that his sentence above ("Thus, when an individual inflicts pain on another individual, I do not think we can go looking for 'the purpose of God' in the event") applies to the pain inflicted on Jesus by others? Is Boyd saying that we should not look for the purpose of God in the evils of Judas, Pilate, Herod and the Jews and Gentiles as they conspired to torture Jesus. But I doubt that he means this, since our entire Christian faith stands or falls on the saving purpose of God in the pain inflicted on Jesus by evil men, not to mention the fact that Acts 4:27-28 says that God predestined these inflicted pains through Pilate, Herod, Jews and Gentiles.

But my main concern here is not with the purpose of God in the pain inflicted by others on Jesus, but with the pain inflicted by others on the Christians. Should we look for a purpose of God in this?

Immediately after telling us that we should "consider [Jesus] who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that [we] may not grow weary and lose heart," the writer tells us (in verse 4), "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin." Along with F. F. Bruce and most commentators, I take this to mean that the readers have endured "hostility by sinners" like Jesus did, only not nearly so severe, and particularly, not to the point of "shedding blood." We have seen the persecution, for example, in 10:32-34 which involved imprisonment and plundering. And we will see in 13:13 that this "hostility from sinners" will involve personal reproaches.

Now in the next verse (12:5) the writer interprets this experience of "hostility by sinners" as discipline from God. He says, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.' It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons."

The word "endure" in verse 7 links our experience with the experience of the Lord in verse 3: "he endured such hostility by sinners." Now we must "endure" similar hostility by sinners. Only our endurance of hostility by sinners is interpreted as the discipline of a loving heavenly Father.

And what follows in the text is a description of the purpose that God has in our being treated so painfully by others. Verses 10b-11: "[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

So here are two kinds of situations where Boyd's sentence above seems contrary to Scripture: the sufferings inflicted on Jesus by others and the sufferings inflicted on Christians by others. In both cases, the teaching of Scripture seems to be that God did indeed have a purpose in the very acts of inflicting pain: the salvation of his people in the one case (through Jesus' suffering), and the sanctifying of them in the other (through our suffering).

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