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The Olasky Interview: John Peckham


WORLD Radio - The Olasky Interview: John Peckham

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 6th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview. Today, a conversation with John Peckham—professor of theology and Christian philosophy at Andrews University in Michigan.

Last year, Peckham wrote an important book tackling the problem of evil in the world. If God is entirely good and entirely powerful, why then, does He allow evil to exist?

Tough question, but a fairly common one. And in answering it, Peckham introduces readers to two ideas. 

First is the term: “theodicy”—or a “defense of God” which argues that evil exists in the world to bring about a greater good. The second idea is of the “cosmic conflict” occurring all around us that reveals the true source of evil. 

WORLD Editor in Chief, Marvin Olasky, starts the conversation.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: If you were on an elevator and you had several minutes to explain “cosmic conflict,” take a take a shot at it.

JOHN PECKHAM, GUEST: Okay, so I think the simplest way to introduce the idea of a cosmic conflict of the rules of engagement is to mention Christ’s parable of the wheat and the tares. If you’re familiar with the parable of the wheat and the tares, you have the story that Jesus tells of a landowner and this land owner sows good seed in his field. But time passes and there are then tares in his field, which are noxious weeds. His servants come to the land owner and ask him: “sir, didn’t you sow good seed? Why then does it have tears?” Which is basically analogous to the question that people asked in our world today, right? “God, didn’t you create a good world? Aren’t you a good God? Why then is there evil in the world?” Right? 

And the response that the land owner gives is quite simple, but indicates what I call cosmic conflict and many others call cosmic conflict. He says: “this, an enemy has done, an enemy has done this.” And if you keep reading when Christ explains the parable, he clearly identifies this enemy as the devil. That the devil has sown tares in the field. And all throughout scripture, not just in parables, in Christ’s temptations—in fact, if you just start reading the book of Matthew—you’ll see Christ’s engagement with demonic agencies just all the way through the gospel. And you see this also in Old Testament narratives and Old Testament statements. Part of the Biblical worldview is that there is good and there is evil and there is also an agency of evil. That agent is created. It’s not an eternal conflict between good and evil, but there’s a created agent whom we call the devil who was created as an entirely good and perfect being. Fell of his own moral freedom and since wreaks havoc on the world along with his minions. That’s the basic idea of a cosmic conflict. 

Now when it comes to the problem of evil, there are many scenes of the cosmic conflict in scripture where you see that the cosmic conflict is one that is not just a conflict of power. In fact, when someone first hears of the cosmic conflict, if they say: “God is omnipotent, how could there be a conflict between God and any creature, Satan or anyone else?” Right? If God is all powerful, he could exercise his power in such a way that there would be no evil, right? So if the conflict is one of sheer power, there could be no conflict. But in the Biblical narratives, I think there’s good evidence to suggest that this conflict is one of character, not of sheer power, right? There is a question that has been raised and you see it in places like the book of Job and in many other instances in scripture as well. That the enemy, the devil who—the word devil in Greek actually means slanderer—he has slandered God’s character. 

He’s raised allegations against the goodness of God and the character of God. And these kinds of allegations cannot be met by sheer or brute force. Why not? Well, just think about it for a moment. If someone raises a question of your character, right? Let’s say you’re the mayor of this town and someone accuses you of being a corrupt mayor. How much executive power or other power would you have to show to prove that the allegation is false? There’s no amount of power that you can exercise to prove the allegation false, right? In fact, particular uses of power could actually play into the hands of the allegation. 

I think there is strong evidence in scripture, and I can’t do justice to all of it here, but I think there’s strong evidence in scripture that there’s this kind of a cosmic conflict. A cosmic conflict where the enemy, the devil who’s called the accuser of the brethren, has raised allegations against God’s character and God meets those allegations by a demonstration of character that first legally defeats Satan and then God will actually defeat Satan by exercise of power.

OLASKY: And then, how do you bring this out from the academic discussion into a general arena, or do you?

PECKHAM: The ultimate solution to the problem of evil is eschatological. By that I mean, only God can solve it. And he will. Not just theoretically, he will remove evil forever. And so what I point people to is number one, we don’t know everything we think we know. But in the end, we should look to the cross. And the one who is willing to go to the cross for us we can trust. 

In fact, Jesus himself appeals to this parable of the vineyard owner in Isaiah 5. Where the punchline of that song of the vineyard owner is: “What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?” And this is God speaking about his people. “What more could I have done that I have not done?” Jesus picks up on that in a parable that he tells about a landowner who sends a number of servants, and his servants get killed one after another, by those trying to take over his vineyard. Finally he sends his son. And they kill his son too. And the hanging question of the parable is: “What more could he have done that he has not done?” 

Even if we don’t understand why God is doing this, or not doing this, the question we can ask: “If a God who is himself willing to suffer and die for us in the person of Christ, what more could he do that he has not done?” We can trust a God like that, even if we don’t understand. And I think that’s pastorally where I want to start and end—with Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. 


John Peckham (Patrick Henry College)

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