Theodicy is the defence of God’s justice and goodness. It is something that we naturally think about, and yet, more often than not, it drives our preaching. You reach a difficult teaching of Jesus about hell, or a confronting passage of Paul’s about the role of men and women in the church, or even about the uniqueness of Christ, and instead of listening to the passage, you start arguing with it. And sometimes God’s word seems to magically come around to your point of view.
I have no problems with us thinking through how everything squares with God’s justice, supremacy and love. But I do have a problem when theodicy starts driving or twisting the preaching, or, more commonly, leaving out the offending verses.
I have caught myself doing it in evangelism. I have seen in it preaching, and have witnessed it in bucketloads in denominational and theological circles.
As far as I can see, the few places in the Bible that could potentially be theodicies end up with doxologies. They move from trying to defend God’s character to praising God’s sovereign character as he has revealed himself, or calling for a response. Job could have been written as a defence of God’s goodness, and yet, in the end, the creator of all declares that he does not need defending, and Job worships him in humble contrition and adoration. Romans 9-11 starts looking like a theodicy, and ends up with a marvellous statement that lets God be God (Rom 11:33-36).
If there is any passage that begs for a theodicy, this may be one. But should that be our intent?
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Rev 14:9-11)
What does this passage call for? A defence of how God could do this? Or (and this is even more common and a much worse way of arguing) that it is not saying what it seems to be saying? What does this call for? “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev 14:12).
We might have an aside showing how God is just in this passage, but the thrust of what we must say is declarative: this is what will happen. Christian brothers and sisters, we must endure, keep God’s commandments and hold our faith in Jesus.
Theodicy may have some limited value as an aside, but it is not at the heart of preaching. If theodicy drives preaching, we end up forcing our values onto God’s word, rather than his word onto our values.
If you are a preacher, you are not God’s lawyer. And you are most certainly not his public relations officer—a spin doctor for the deity. You are his messenger boy.