According to the Ockhamist, the very attempt to solve the Problem of Evil ... is mistaken in principle. Suffering is a problem (and hence an obstacle to belief in God) only for those who think that their own judgments, based on ordinary moral standards, are legitimate. This the Ockhamist denies. Instead of wondering whether suffering is compatible with a God who is good in Platonic terms, the Ockhamist insists that God is not subject to ordinary moral standards. To expect the God of Christianity to take our moral preferences seriously is to mistake him for some other God, and to demand a justification for his conduct is an act of impiety.
Although there are in the Bible isolated examples of people, such as Job, who question God's goodness on the basis of ordinary moral standards, they are exceptions to the general rule that God is to be obeyed no matter how flagrantly his commands may violate the precepts of ordinary morality. Think, for example, of the command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, that Elijah slay the prophets of Baal, that Joshua's army annihilate the inhabitants of Canaan right down to the last woman and child, that the she-bears tear into pieces and devour the boys who had called Elisha "baldhead," that Samuel lie to Saul about anointing David king of Israel, that the Israelites despoil the Egyptians as the exodus took place, and that Annanias and Sapphira be struck dead for lying to Simon Peter. Think of Uzzah being done away with for trying to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling, or of Moses being forbidden to enter the promised land simply because he had angrily beaten a rock with his staff. All these apparently immoral and capricious commands are ascribed to a God who is said to be good. But good in what sense? Surely not in the Platonic sense.
This Ockhamistic conception of God's goodness is the view held by the vast majority of orthodox religious believers, most of whom have either never heard of the Platonic alternative, or who have heard of it but reject it as foreign to the biblical view. Orthodox Christians unhesitatingly affirm that obedience to God is absolute and unconditional. He is to be obeyed because he is God, not because we have judged him good by some human standard.
Theologians have long insisted that the most fundamental property of the biblical God is not goodness but holiness. To say that God is holy is not an extravagant way of saying that he is good. Holy does not mean "very very good." The root meaning of the Hebrew term for holiness is "set apart" or "other." In the Old Testament, to say that God is holy is to say that he dwells in light unapproachable. There is none like him. He answers to no one. Creatures were called into being at his command and they are obliged to acknowledge his radical authority over them. To acknowledge that God is holy is to acknowledge that one is a person of unclean lips, that one has no claim on him. This root meaning is preserved in the New Testament, in which believers are called saints and said to be holy in a derivative sense: not because they are good but because they have been set apart as a peculiar people who are in the world but not of it. In the Bible God and man do not share a common moral world. There is a radical discontinuity between them. In response to his doings, we are not to "hotly criticize" his behavior and produce our moral standards; we are to be still and know that he is God and that his ways are not our ways. One cannot be a Christian without coming to terms with this doctrine. There is no way around it. One must bow the head and bend the knee. This recognition of the ultimacy and nonaccountability of God is precisely the rock of offense on which a consistently Platonic approach founders and is finally broken. Given this conception of God's goodness, evil is not a problem.
Consistently held, Ockhamism undercuts another belief that many Christians may be considerably less eager to abandon, one of the most firmly entrenched lingering vestiges of Platonism - the belief that one day all will be made plain. Ockhamism provides no basis for thinking that on the last day God will gather the saints around him and let them in on what he has been up to, reveal his "plan," after which they will see that all was for the best. On the contrary, God will explain nothing for the very good reason that there is nothing to explain. If we are Ockhamists, we already know what he is up to: he is allowing suffering to exist. For God to take the Platonists' questions seriously and say, "Yes, I see your point," would be for him to acknowledge that the issues they raise are legitimate and that the burden is on him to come up with a face-saving answer. To acknowledge this, however, would be to surrender his status as the Creator of the world who possesses absolute prerogatives. St. Paul was very firm about this: "Hath not the potter power over the clay? May the clay say to the potter, 'Why has Thou made me thus?' God forbid" (Romans 9:21-22). For us to question God is an affront to his holiness. For God to meet men as equals, as if he and they were both reasonable parties engaged in some cooperative enterprise, would violate the Creator-creature relationship. Those who refuse to accept what God has done unless they find it plausible, convincing, and "justified" are refusing to acknowledge what that relationship defines them to be - creatures. It is to reenact the Fall. Imagine Adam asking, "But look here, that command about the tree was arbitrary. What's so bad about picking fruit apart from your prohibition?" But that is just the point. The prohibition made it wrong. For God to feel called upon to "justify" his prohibitions on independent moral grounds is unthinkable. This is often true even in human relationships. When the private asks the sergeant "But apart from you command, why do we have to stand here at attention in the blazing sun?" the sergeant is not reduced to groping for good reasons. Similarly, when the private obeys the sergeant, it is not because he agrees that it would indeed be nice for the entire platoon to be found standing straight and tall, but simply because he has been commanded to do so by someone with legitimate authority over him. Good soldiers do not raise searching questions about their orders; they obey them.
Just as the sergeant does not countenance the private's questions, neither, according to the Ockhamist, does God countenance ours. He is to be obeyed not because he is invariably right but because he is God. If you disagree with him, you are in the wrong by definition. Hence, all those who scrutinize God's commands on moral grounds have simply not come to terms with their creaturely status. God is not flattered by being called good only after being subjected to rigorous cross-examination and acquitted.
According to the Ockhamist view, then, we cannot ask separate questions about what God commands and whether he is good in commanding it. If there is any "lesson" in the book of Job, that is it. Job demands answers from God, fails to get them, and toward the end no longer seems to mind. Either the story is hopelessly confused or the point is that his questions are illegitimate. Heaven does not solve Job's problems ... by showing him "subtle reconciliations" of his apparently contradictory notions. In the Bible the answer to the Problem of Evil is God's assertion of himself as God. His ways are not temporarily obscured by a regrettable lack of clarity that will one day be dispelled; they are shrouded in an unfathomable mystery that cannot be solved by the acquisition of further facts. Although it sounds decidedly odd, it is nevertheless entirely accurate to say that, according to the Ockhamist view, redeemed souls have forgotten about their moral scruples and are prepared to declare without reservation that "The Lord, He is God." The worship and adoration of the hosts of heaven is elicited by the fact that God is their Creator and Redeemer, not by the assurance that he has finally explained himself to their complete satisfaction (and presumably great relief).
~ John Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion
(William B. Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 152-155; emphasis in text.
(William B. Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 152-155; emphasis in text.