Editorial: Sovereignty, Suffering, and Open Theism -- By: Thomas R. Schreiner

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:2 (Summer 2000)
Article: Editorial: Sovereignty, Suffering, and Open Theism
Author: Thomas R. Schreiner

Editorial: Sovereignty, Suffering, and Open Theism

Thomas R. Schreiner


Thomas R. Schreiner has been a professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1997. He has also taught New Testament at Azusa Pacific University and Bethel Theological Seminary. Recently, he completed a commentary on Romans in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series. Currently, he is working on a theology of the apostle Paul and is co-authoring a work on perseverance and assurance (both due from InterVarsity Press). He also serves as the preaching pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Intense suffering provokes questions about God’s sovereignty and love. When we suffer deeply, we ask the question, “Why?” Why does God allow such pain in the lives of his children, and why is the world wracked with so much misery? Christians have asked these questions for centuries, and philosophers and theologians have reflected on these matters, attempting to provide answers to what is often called “the problem of evil.” I do not want to minimize in the least the importance of such answers, and some of our contributors in this issue help us in this regard. At the outset, however, I do want to point to the crucified Christ. Whatever solution we suggest for the problem of evil (and thinking rightly on this matter is of vital importance), we need to remind ourselves that we worship one who suffered, died, and was buried. We do not know a Savior who is untouched by human misery, who gazes at us from afar and did not share our plight. We worship one who shared our infirmities and weakness (though he was without sin), so that he sympathizes “with our weaknesses” and our temptations (Heb 4:15). He voluntarily took our sin and suffering upon himself, so that we can be free from sin and suffering in the world to come. The crucifixion of God’s Christ demonstrates to us God’s love and mercy in a suffering world.

I recently heard some words from James Montgomery Boice, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Boice has been diagnosed with liver cancer and his prospects for life are not encouraging. He reminded the congregation of God’s sovereignty in the situation, rejecting the idea that God was not in control. But he said that what has struck him even more powerfully is the goodness of God. God is sovereign and he loves us. God is in control and he has a tender and ardent love for his children.

Christians have always taught that God foresees what his people will suffer, and that he is sovereign over this world. Recently, however, “open theism” has called this truth into question. Open theists argue that God does not and...

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