Neo-Reformed Theology and Suffering: What Happens When God Becomes a Math Problem

There's been some buzz in the Neo-Reformed Watch world about comments some of its leaders have made about God ordaining suffering. Basically, according to some within the Neo-Reformed camp, if God is sovereign then every unfolding event has to be "ordained" by God, a manifestation of God's plan and will.

That creates a bit of a predicament when we're faced with horrific suffering in the world. Does God plan, will and ordain horrific suffering? According to some in the Neo-Reformed camp, yes, because God is sovereign.

I don't here want to get into my specific issues with Neo-Reformed theology regarding the problem of evil. I do want to acknowledge that God can work through and can redeem suffering and that, pastorally speaking, I have friends who have taken great comfort in the notion that God has "a plan" for the pain they are experiencing. My focus here is narrow, upon the claim that God "ordains" suffering. I want to share an analysis about what's going on with Neo-Reformed theology in these instances, why it backs itself into a theodicy corner in reaching problematic conclusions.

The reason Neo-Reformed theology winds up in such bad places is because it's a theo-philosophical system. True, it's a theo-philosophical system that takes its axioms from the Bible, but at the end of the day Neo-Reformed theology is an intellectual theory about God.

Now, the trouble with theories is that you'd like for them to be internally consistent, logical in every point. Otherwise, if the theory is logically inconsistent and self-contradictory, we'd question its truth.

Note well, in all this, how we are thinking about God like a math problem.

And when you think of God like a math problem you end up with issues like those we observe in how Neo-Reformed theology tries to tackle the problem of suffering. Specifically, for Neo-Reformed theory to be logically consistent you have to reach the conclusion that God ordains suffering. The internal consistency of the system demands it.

Again note well: the Bible doesn't demand it, the system demands it.

And when you privilege a theory over the Bible, like the Neo-Reformed often do, you pride yourself on defending the logic of your system to the bitter end, leading you to logically consistent but monstrous results.

Exhibit A: Neo-Reformed theology on the problem of suffering.

To recap, you end up with monstrous results when you are defending the logical structure of a theory.

And at the end of the day, that's what you can compliment the Neo-Reformed camp on. At the very least you can say, "Well, at least they are being consistent." My hat's off to them. They are rigorously consistent. To the bitter end.

Even if it produces monstrous results.

That's what happens when you treat God like a math problem.

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