Creation Ex Nihilo: Part 4, Victory?

Summarizing, the God-as-Gardener vision seems to trade a theodicy puzzle for an ontological puzzle. We no longer ask, "Why is there evil and suffering?" but are left with "Where did the primordial chaos come from?" For some, this trade-off is worth it as their faith struggles with acute theodicy questions. And for myself, I can identify.

Now to be clear, I'm shortchanging the ontological mysteries with the God-as-Gardener vision. If God didn't create the Chaos then we are beginning with a primordial dualism, which moves us out of Christianity and into paganism. That is to say, at least the theodicy mystery, as hard as it is, is a Christian mystery. All mysteries are not created equal.

All that to say, there's a lot more to be said about the ontological issues with God-as-Gardener. But what I want to talk about is how theodicy works with God-as-Gardener. The view is adopted as it is believed to lessen theodicy questions. But does it really?

For example, to start, even though God didn't create the chaos the God-as-Gardener view admits that God has the power to order the chaos, to bring goodness into existence. And if that's the case, aren't we back at the pressing theodicy question: Why has God let this bit of the garden go to hell? If God has the power to order creation why is God letting his garden grow over with weeds?

Of course, we can offer a wide variety of answers to these questions, why God might or might not act in a given situation, why God would pull that weed but not this weed. But if you look at those answers, they all pull from the same theodicy kit we use with creation ex nihilo. And in the end we land where we always end up: It's a mystery why God pulls this weed and not that weed.

Which is to say, it appears that when we adopt the God-as-Gardener vision all we really doing is making everything worse. We still have the exact same theodicy questions that we had before, and we're also espousing paganism rather than Christianity. 

Which brings me to a final concern. As I've shared before, one of the great features of Christian theodicy is that it views the presence of evil and suffering as a catastrophe, as an accident. This view kicks up a host of questions about origins and all the theodicy questions we have when God creates ex nihilo. But what is often forgotten in these debates about the origins of evil is the Christian view that evil and suffering have an end, that existence culminates in God's defeat and victory over evil.

By contrast, one of the great problems with God-as-Gardener models, where a primordial Good/Bad dualism is posited, is that evil and suffering become intrinsic and eternal features of existence. And notice the key difference with Christianity. These models solve the question of origins (where Christianity struggles) by positing a dualism. But the price they pay is that evil is undefeatable and ineradicable, precisely where Christianity confesses a ringing eschatological victory.

So you're going to have to pay a price either way. There is a price you pay with origin questions to get a victory in the end, or you can have settled origin questions with the price that evil lasts forever and ever. Like it or not, Christianity chooses to assume the burden of theodicy to confess an ultimate victory.

Which is to say, yes, a God-as-Gardener reading of Genesis 1 does get you a short-term theodicy win on the question of origins: "Why is there evil?" But its great cost is denying the Kingdom of God a final, ultimate victory over evil.

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