Tuesday, September 25, 2007

POST #8: Theodicy, Standard Christian Arguments

When confronted with the horrible evil of sin and sin’s consequences, rather than launching into an angry diatribe on the injustices of God, or conversely, launching into a defense of the justice of God, we are told that Aaron simply “held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). For many Jews and Christians, the only appropriate response to the horrors of evil in a universe created and governed by a good, loving, and just God is not to respond at all. They say we must take our place at Aaron’s side, and hold our peace. Many thus object to the very notion of “theodicy”, that branch of theology which seeks to justify God in the face of evil: “as if,” they might object, “God needed us to write his defense brief!” While this approach (or non-approach) to the problem of evil may satisfy some, it fails to move the millions of atheists for whom the very existence of evil is the lynchpin of their unbelief. Nevertheless, if you have found solace and satisfaction in simply accepting evil without giving further consideration to its meaning, then you need read no further. But if like me, you have grappled with the problem of evil, if you believe that the rational minds with which we are endowed naturally seek answers to the riddles of existence, if you are searching for answers that are sensible and satisfying, then I invite you to consider with me the possible meanings of evil in the cosmos.

In this post, we will briefly examine four typical theodicies which have been offered by believers, and we will test them against a set of defined criteria. We will ask, “do they work? have they the compelling force to satisfy the mind of the skeptic? do they give peace to the believer willing to ask the hardest of questions?

Evil is generally divided into two categories. 1. MORAL EVIL consisting of sin, and all the direct consequences of sin. Moral evil is caused by free moral agents. And, 2. NATURAL EVIL consisting of bad things that happen seemingly outside the causation of man: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, diseases, genetic disorders, etc. Natural evils, it could be argued, all find their origination in entropy, and are thus the result of the very way in which the Creator fashioned the cosmos. Some might find in these categories some cross-over. Certain diseases, for example, may be caused by or exacerbated by the choices of free moral agents. But it is not our intention to draw a sharp line of distinction. Rather, we wish to identify these two kinds of evil as separate categories for the following purpose: a theodicy that “works” must account for both kinds of evil. This is the first criterion for testing theodicies.

For a theodicy to accomplish its own goal, it must uphold the character of God. A theodicy which leaves us troubling about the honor and consistency of God is no theodicy at all. The Greek philosopher Epicurus laid down the gauntlet some 300 years before Christ when he asked, “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” A working theodicy must result in an omnipotent, compassionate God with his honor and integrity firmly intact in the face of a cosmos brimming with evil. This is the second criterion for testing theodicies. Examine with me the standard Christian theodicies in light of these criteria, and judge for yourself.

1) “Evil is created for God’s glory.” For many who subscribe to Reformed Theology (or Calvinism), it is enough to say that all evil exists for the glory of God. God created evil (Isaiah 45:7), they say, for his own ultimate glory. He created a cosmos in which evil was not only possible, but assured, right down to the finest detail. This view suggests that the Holocaust itself originated in the mind of the Creator, and was his intended plan written into the blueprint of the cosmos. Though it is beyond our understanding (I can certainly agree with that!), evil somehow maximizes the glory of God. Certainly not all those in the Reformed camp subscribe to this form of rigid determinism. But many do. This theodicy makes God out to be the author of all sin and natural evil. It further suggests that when God created Satan, he specifically engineered him to rebel just as he did. His fall was written into his design specifications. While this may provide a rational, satisfying answer to some followers of Calvin, I find that it fails to satisfy our second criterion. Epicurus would not be placated. No atheist will be compelled to abandon his skepticism by this argument. And few believers will find the God of this argument consistent with the God they have come to love and trust.

2) “Evil does not exist.” Others will insist that evil, in fact, does not exist as an entity, or as a reality apart from goodness. The argument goes like this: just as darkness is merely the absence of light (we cannot “fill a room with darkness”), and is instantly dispelled by the introduction of light, so evil is merely the absence of goodness. Augustine first introduced this concept. He said that all being is good. Evil is the lack of being, the lack of goodness. From this argument, Augustine moved on to #3 below, stating that evil as we know it originated in the rebellion of mankind, and the rejection of the goodness which God intended to permeate the cosmos. The problem with the idea of evil’s non-existence is that it simply fails to live up to our experience. Particularly in the face of the 20th century horrors, most people find it completely irrational to argue that evil has no independent existence. There is an energy and driving force, a “life” we might say, of evil that goes beyond the mere absence of goodness. This argument fails the tests of reason and experience. But it also fails to account for natural evil, for reasons we will apply to #3, below.

3) “Evil is caused by Man.” Augustine declared, “All evil is either sin or the punishment for sin.” This view suggests that all moral evil is the direct result of the Fall, and the sin that it perpetuates; and that all natural evil is the indirect result of the Fall, a consequence of the curses of Genesis 3:14-19. While this argument might have worked in Augustine’s day, we now understand that it cannot account for all natural evil. The earth is filled with mountains of evidence that the pre-Adamic world included natural disasters of every description: diseases, death, meteorites and thousands of species extinctions. If chronology has any bearing upon causation, we simply can no longer lay the responsibility for evil at the feet of fallen man.

Thus, each of these first three lines of reasoning fail to meet our criteria for a working theodicy. But it is the fourth theodicy argument to which most Christians today subscribe. For many thoughtful believers, it is the only option that holds out the hope of resolving evil’s riddle. Does it pass the test?

4) “Evil is necessary for Free Will to have meaning.” (This theodicy has numerous variations, including the more thoughtful “free-process theology” version espoused by John Polkinghorne and others, for which I feel some affinity. Some may wish to present a cogent and convincing case for the more sophisticated versions of this theodicy, and I welcome them to do so in the comments for this post. For the sake of brevity, I will state this argument in its simplest terms.) The typical line of reasoning goes something like this. In order to have a world in which free moral agents would have a clear choice, and thus be truly free, they must be given a viable alternative to God and goodness; hence, evil. A presupposition is that God considered it desirable to create moral agents who would freely choose him. And while he may bring some influence to bear upon his creatures, he does not use coercion. I have read and heard this line of theodicy reasoning all my life. I must say that it has always left me cold! It describes a God so desirous of creatures who choose him that if the cost is unimaginable innocent human suffering, well, so be it. This sort of ends-justify-the-means rationale leaves us with a monstrous God willing to sacrifice Jewish babies on the altars of Nazi bonfires—they are just the collateral damage—for the gratification of his desire that people have a genuine choice.

Has there ever been a single atheist or agnostic “won over” by any of these standard Christian theodicy arguments? Has a single skeptic ever abandoned his problem-of-evil objection to theism after being confronted with one of these lines of reasoning? I’ve never heard of one. Neither have I read any Christian apologist who is satisfied with his own theodicy argument. Whether its C.S. Lewis, Os Guinness, or John Polkinghorne, each writer closes his argument by confessing his own lack of satisfaction. In his own way, each one declares that we do not have an adequate answer to this riddle. Could it be that we have been looking at evil through the wrong lens? In my next post, I want to suggest an approach to evil’s riddle that does meet the criteria, for me at least, and perhaps, for you as well.

16 comments:

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I won't defend any of the arguments you summarize, although I will state that #3 (evil is a consequence of the Fall) has the most force for me. It isn't a complete explanation, but it is surely part of the explanation for Christians. However, I take your point about evil predating Adam and the first sin.

May I suggest an additional argument, implied by St. Paul?

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2Co. 4:16-18)

I call attention to two points. First, that evil does not speak the last word; whatever evil we experience in this life will be superseded by an "eternal weight of glory" at the eschaton. Second, that our present afflictions are "light and momentary" by comparison to that glory.

Not light and momentary when we're passing through them — I don't mean to belittle the brutal horrors that some people tragically live through. But St. Paul anticipates something in the consummation of history that will vastly outweigh even the worst of our experiences in space/time.

My argument #5 isn't a full and final answer, either. But like Augustine's argument, it is surely part of the answer. It is the source of Christian hope at those times when otherwise we would utterly despair.

Cliff Martin said...

Stephen, Yes! Your answer, and Augustine's each give us a piece of the full picture, I believe. I agree with Augustine in that we bear much responsibility for evil's continuance, but for different reasons than those Augustine appeals to. And the perspective that your suggestions bring to the problem are right on. And, as you shall see, they play into my view significantly. Thanks for your comment!

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,

I eagerly await your option #5, but here is my response to the four options outlined:

#1: Definitely out. I really, really, really don’t get how anyone can accept this. Of all the options, I think this is the only one that is almost certainly 100% dead-wrong.

#2: Yes this is pretty tough to defend as well. Although, I would say this argument is much less difficult than #1.

#3: I guess you could say that Evil is enhanced when conscious agents (ie. humanity), that should know better, deliberately choose to go against God. But that is about it.

#4: I believe Polkinghorne’s version is “free process theodicy”, not “process theology”. Process theology is something he rejects – saying that “the God of Process Theology is not the God of the Bible” because “The God of Process Theology is an impotent spectator”. As I’ve noted before, I find Polkinghorne’s ideas attractive – or at least the most attractive I have seen so far. And no, they are not completely satisfactory. I’m not going to even try to provide a “a cogent and convincing case for more sophisticated versions of this theodicy”.

One additional comment. You said that there is a presupposition that God considered it desirable to create moral agents who would freely choose him. I think that is partly true. However, I like the statement (again Polkinghorne?) that creation was “God withdrawing himself and allowing the ‘other’ to be”. This has a lot of resonance with the kenotic view of divine action – a parent / child model. This allowance “to be” and “to choose” and “to relate” is just as much a benefit to the creation as to the creator. And yes, there are events (eg. The Holocaust) that lead us to think that “non-being” has to be better than “this being”. But for me, the answer (as Stephen implies) starts with the resurrection - a theodicy that works (I think) has to have at its core the resurrection.

Cliff Martin said...

#1: Definitely out. I really, really, really don’t get how anyone can accept this. Of all the options, I think this is the only one that is almost certainly 100% dead-wrong. The trouble is, a lot of people (including many young people) are flocking to John Piper. There was an interesting discussion of the problem of evil over on Pen and Parchment a couple of days ago. Read comments #6, #8, #11, and my responses in comments #17 and #18.

#4: I believe Polkinghorne’s version is “free process theodicy”, not “process theology”. I stand corrected. I had recently read Polkinghorne’s chapter on Evil in Exploring Reality and was working from memory. I should know better than to trust that! In that chapter, Polkinghorne essentially says this his view and the standard free will argument are just two sides of the same coin. But, as I indicated, I did find his view more palatable. But even Polkinghorne, in the end, expresses dissatisfaction with all theodocies, including his own.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

If it's true that young people are flocking to option #1, there's only one way to account for it: they've had no direct, personal experience of evil yet. I don't think I've experienced much evil myself, although I have had to deal with several untimely deaths in my immediate family. I guess I've suffered enough to be able to empathize with the suffering of others, even if I only read about it.

The only prooftexts I can think of both come from John's Gospel. In John 9, the disciples ask, "Why was this man born blind — did it result from his sin or his parents' sin?" To which Jesus responds, "Neither; he was born blind that the works of God might be displayed in him.". The account of Lazarus's illness is even more explicit: "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Piper's theology therefore has a biblical basis. I think it's true that John is attempting to provide a theological account for the apparently random evil that people experience.

But I have never found John's answer satisfactory. In fact, I think it ducks the hard question. It's easy to point to Jesus performing a couple of miracles that glorified God; but that doesn't go very far toward accounting for all the manifold evils of human history!

Cliff Martin said...

Interesting coincidence, Stephen. I was just over at emergingfrombabel.blogspot.com reading your post on historiography (very interesting, btw) when I received the email that you had just commented here.

You make an excellent point. Of course Piper’s theology has a biblical base. But a strong case can also be built from the Scriptures that God does not pull all the strings. Piper must dance around my texts. I must dance around his. Here is my dance ...

God is so remarkably adept at redeeming circumstances that an observer could conclude about many unfortunate happenings that he had planned the whole affair. So Joseph can say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” (The word actually can mean that God considered it for good) Every time evil strikes, this marvelous potential exists. God doesn’t have to arrange the evils ... they happen quite apart from his plans or intentions. But so skilled is he at the art of redemption that, when given the opportunity through our faithful obedience, he makes the most pernicious evil turn into the something of exquisite beauty.

In that sense, Jesus can speak of an unfortunate genetic twist, or an untimely death as nothing other than an opportunity for God to display his work, and show his glory.

So Piper would say that God actually willed, and arranged the genetic twist that resulted in blindness at birth for his glory. I would say that God would never do such a thing. Rather, he responds to evil with his creative redemptive touch (which might involve a miracle of healing, or might involve something equally remarkable ... e.g. Helen Keller) and thus reveals his glory. Which God gets the greater glory? The God who plans and arranges for Joseph to be sold into slavery, plans and arranges for Lazarus to die young, plans and arranges a child born blind so that he can come along later and fix the mess he himself made? Or the God who picks up the pieces that evil leaves in its wake and creatively redeems them? I am even more jazzed if all this occurs in the context of an open future (I’m not convinced of open theism, but I keep coming back to the possibility) in which God did not know in advance that Joseph would be sold into slavery, but creatively redeemed the whole sorry event anyway.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
You have probably seen the "free-will / God is in control" metaphor of the Chess master & the 8-year old kid learning chess - even though the kid has free-will, the chess master will inevitably win. I’ve always hated this metaphor - maybe more so since I used to play a lot of chess. Chess is a game of imposing one’s will on another; of crushing one opponent no matter how creatively or brilliantly they play. I don’t think this analogy is much better that hyper-calvinism. However, in reading your comments, it struck me that a much better analogy is one of God dancing with his creation. First letting it have space on the dance floor (creation), allowing it to take its first stumbling steps (general revelation), inviting it to dance (special revelation), covering for & participating in its falls (redemption), and finally bringing into the fullness of the dance (resurrection & new creation). Ok, this analogy has lots of limitations as well, but I like it a lot better then the chess analogy.

elbogz said...

I’ve tormented with the question you state:

“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

There are more questions than answers. Did Adam and Eve go to hell? Did God condemn his perfect creation? How could Adam and Eve know that not doing what God told them was a sin, if they had not eaten from the tree of knowledge first?

If God was to cleanse the world of sin with Noah's flood, why didn't it work? Noah got off the boat, got drunk, fell down naked and caused his son to sin in such an egregious manner that he was condemned the rest of his days. If the flood was to rid the world of evil then why didn't he get rid of Satan and all the fallen angels too?

If God’s creation was perfect, why would we have end the slightest desire to sin? In a perfect world, I would not covet my neighbor’s wife, because my creation is perfect.

(The sound you hear is my head spinning)

Cliff Martin said...

Steve, thank you for your comments. I have been engaged in a discussion of Calvinism at http://www.sfpulpit.com/2007/09/28/gods-absolute-sovereignty/. I am somewhat amazed, at times, at the number of young thinkers who are drawn to Reformed theology. I think that there is a clear logic in Calvinism that appeals to analytical minds. It certainly did appeal to me in my college days. But later. I could not make is square with many Scriptures, many more, in fact, than those cited by Calvinists to support TULIP. I love your dance analogy. As you will learn if I can get around to writing my next post, I see something much more encompassing as a possibility. Still, the dance analogy fits in, too.

Elbogz, welcome! These are great, insightful questions you are asking. In my experience, I find that most Christians shy away from even asking them. But they are important. Let me ask you some questions:

1) Why you believe that God’s creation was “perfect”? He declared only that it was “good”. Is it possible that his creation was “good” for its intended purpose, but not “perfect”?

2) Why do you believe that God’s purpose in the Flood was to cleanse the world of sin? His express purpose was to destroy everything and everyone. He reconsidered when he thought about Noah. It seems that Noah, while not perfect and sinless, was comparatively less sinful, and was a man of faith who walked with God. (Of course this entire narrative may only portray how Moses, and those who passed along the oral tradition to him, thought God was thinking. I consider a literal reading of God’s hemming and hawing here not in keeping with his nature.)

Your question about why God didn’t (or doesn’t) simply stamp out evil presumes that he could do so. I will be calling that presumption to question in my next post. (Do I still here that spinning sound?)

Anonymous said...

Cliff,

One of the difficulties I have with your evaluation of the different theodices is understanding “the character of God”. I agree that a theodicy “must uphold the character of God”, yet I question what you mean by “compassionate”. Consider Exodus 11:4-6 “This is what the LORD says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.’” God willing sacrificed the innocent children of the Egyptians (by his own hand no less, not via a natural disaster, not via Nazis, but by his own hand!) because why? Pharaoh was stubborn? God’s chosen people were enslaved? Because the Egyptian parents didn’t believe Moses when he told them to mark their doorposts so their firstborn sons would be spared? Who wiped out the innocent children of Sodom and Gomorrah? Who drowned the innocent children in the flood? Is this a God who is compassionate?

By society’s definition of compassionate, many would consider the God of Exodus 11 and other Old Testament passages to be no different than your baby killing Nazi.

If you reject the Free Will / Free Process theodicy because you think it makes God out to be “monstrous” by allowing his creatures to willing choose to do evil, how do you reconcile the direct actions of God as recorded in the Bible when He kills innocent children? Are those the actions of a compassionate God?

Jac

Cliff Martin said...

Jac,
You raise some very difficult questions from some troubling O.T. passages. I believe they are difficulties for anyone who believes in the God that Jesus spent his short career introducing to us. I have some ideas, but they are better saved for later in my series of posts. I’m not avoiding your questions, just postponing my response. They are more easily dealt with after I have laid more foundational thoughts in this series. Suffice it to say that I believe in a God who is profoundly compassionate, and who is deeply moved and saddened by the effects of evil and sin upon his children.

You ask “If you reject the Free Will / Free Process theodicy because you think it makes God out to be “monstrous” by allowing his creatures to willing choose to do evil, how do you reconcile the direct actions of God as recorded in the Bible when He kills innocent children? Are those the actions of a compassionate God?”. I think you missed my point. I do not think God is monstrous for allowing his creatures to choose evil. I think it is monstrous of a god to desire people to freely choose him so badly that he is willing to allow all the evil we see just to get his prize. Clearly, God does allow humans to choose evil. That does not make him monstrous in my view. But the suggestion that he does this just so some will choose him while having an alternative ... this I find monstrous.

Anonymous said...

Ok Cliff. Your blog. Your schedule. Your rules. Your original post invited the reader to “test them (theodicies) against a set of defined criteria”. I’m simply asking for a clearer explanation of why you require the criteria of a “profoundly compassionate God” when the Bible is filled with examples that show God can act in ways that do not appear to be compassionate at all, and by most moral standards, seem “monstrous”.

You require a theodicy to “uphold the character of God”. The point of my post was that the Free Will / Free Process theodicy, though it seems “monstrous”, is consistent with the character of God as demonstrated by His actions against the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, of the children in Sodom and Gomorrah, and of the people, animals, and plants that were destroyed in the flood – actions which all seem “monstrous”. Basically, God does things that to us seem to defy what we understand to be consistent with His nature. If we are willing to accept that the God of those “troubling passages” had a perfect reason for doing what He did, how can we not apply the same criteria to a theodicy?

As CS Lewis put it, “If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will--that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings--then we may take it it is worth paying.”

(If you deem it more appropriate to explain this later, you can expect further comments from me at that time. Until then, I’ll wait patiently.)


Jac

Cliff Martin said...

Jac,
You make a very strong point. And thank you for the Lewis quote. I read The Problem of Pain probably 30 years ago. In the meantime, I’ve lost my copy. I will need to pick it up and review his whole viewpoint. Of course, I have the upmost respect for Lewis.

If we begin with your premise, that the Old Testament (particularly the oldest portions of the Old Testament) accurately portrays a God who acts in such monstrous ways, then there really is no need for theodicy at all, is there. When the skeptic asks, “How can evil exist if God is good, and God is omnipotent,” we simply reply, “Well, your premise is faulty. Evil exists because God is not good, at least not as you or I might define goodness.”

I think you will agree that such a response amounts to no response at all. We skirt the problem of evil by confessing that God does not fit into our understanding of moral goodness. It is our understandings about goodness that are skewed.

But is our concept of goodness (which can be taken, I think, right of the pages of the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, thousands of years of human history, etc.) that far off? We are made in the image of God, which surely includes our rational mind. The theodicy problem is a very real rational problem. Are you suggesting that we not try to find a better answer, one that might actually work for the skeptic? one that is in keeping with the goodness of God which is so clearly set forth in the life and teachings of Jesus? Is it your view that we ought to just shrug our shoulders and say to Ivan in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov, “Well, God is just like that. God appears monstrous because, by all human standards, he is monstrous” ... is this your theodicy?

Anonymous said...

Cliff,

Thanks for accommodating me in your blog. I am looking forward to how others respond to this and other similar questions prompted by those troubling passages in the OT. I think a variety of responses are needed since a single response will not satisfy everyone. Steve Martin agrees with you that this should be tackled last rather than first, but I think if we are to evaluate different theodicies using the character of God as one of the criteria, we need to have at least some agreement on what is and isn’t true to the character of God. (And if we can’t agree completely, at least we can understand each other better.)

You hit the nail on the head when you said “It is our understandings about goodness that are skewed.” I would expand that to include our understanding of evil, suffering, and death. While we may bear God’s image and share many of His attributes, we definitely lack His knowledge and understanding and perspective. Our natural (perhaps only) reaction/ability is to evaluate God’s actions from our own point of view. This causes us to be greatly troubled when we read passages in the OT that show God taking action against His creation that appears to be so contrary to the actions of a God who created us, sustains us, and loves us. And while we (people of faith) find this troubling and struggle with it, it can become an insurmountable barrier to the skeptic.

I agree that our concept of goodness isn’t that far off, but we need to keep in mind that “God knows best”. And when we can’t figure something out, we need to accept it in faith and move on. That being said, if you don’t have faith, it can be impossible to move on so we do need to have some explanation for it, if not for us at least for the skeptic. So we must continue to try to find a better answer. I agree with the concept of progressive revelation – we definitely understand God better now that we did before. (My own participation in this discussion demonstrates my yearning to know God better by examining what others have found.) But when we come to a point where it isn’t clear what is or isn’t true to God’s character, we need to be open enough to say we are moving into more speculative ground and not rule things out completely. Based on those troubling passages in the OT, I don’t think we can rule out the Free Will theodicy by saying it doesn’t fit with the character of God (since the price of it appears too high). Otherwise, we may be tempted (as Steve pointed out) like the early church and wish to toss out the Old Testament. I don’t want to stop examining other theodicies in hopes of finding something better. I am truly interested in learning more about your thoughts on the “universe was created for the ultimate destruction of evil” (for lack of a better description). I think we will find we share some common ground there and I may find it equal to or better than the Free Will explanation.

What works for me (which I know doesn’t work for many others) is an expansion of my quote from CS Lewis. God must have very good (perfect) reasons for doing things that appear to me to be contrary to what I expect of Him. One day, all will be revealed to me and I shall slap myself in the forehead and say, “Of course, that makes perfect sense!” Until that day, I will continue to struggle with understanding some things, never abandoning the struggle itself, and also never becoming obsessed with the struggle to the point it distracts me from my mission. God must have had perfect reasons for killing the first born sons of the Egyptians, for destroying everyone (young and old) in Sodom and Gomorrah, and for causing the great flood that wiped out so many living things. In a similar train of thought, God must have perfect reasons for permitting evil to exist, and giving us the freedom to choose to do evil. I am left with unanswered questions (often posed by my pre-teen kids) like - Why didn’t God just kill Pharaoh if he wouldn’t listen? Why didn’t God just kill off the adults in Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did all the animals have to die in the flood too? I must accept that God had perfect reasons for doing these things, even if I can’t fathom why.

The comedy “Bruce Almighty” has the character Bruce temporarily bestowed with God’s power, but not His wisdom. Bruce used the power to do things that he felt were right, but absolute chaos ensued. I think the same thing would happen if God were to act only in the ways we expect Him to.

My CS Lewis quote was from Mere Christianity, Chapter 8 which can be found on-line at http://www.philosophyforlife.com/mctoc.htm Another section of that book deals with Time. Reading that section helped me accept some of those tough questions I mentioned before. Being omnipotent as well as omniscient and omnipresent, without the limitation of what we perceive as time, God knows what is best and takes the appropriate action (or allows something to happen) when needed. Sometimes, (not often in my opinion) God does things I wouldn’t expect. I have to trust they are the right things.

One thing that Steve keeps reminding us of is the redemption. This needs to enter the discussion and I think it helps with our perspective. All the questionable acts of God in the OT need to be viewed through the act of redemption. And I don’t mean that God makes up for His evil acts by doing something incredibly good. But what happens to us and the rest of creation takes on a different meaning because of the redemption. I’m thinking Steve might have more thoughts on this than I do, so I hope he can add something to this. One specific example is suffering, and how several passages of the New Testament put suffering in a new light when the redemption is taken into account. Without the redemption, suffering is not something that we could “rejoice” in.

That’s it for today. I’ll try to add some more later when others have posted their comments.

Thanks again for the temporary side trip on your blog.

Jac

Cliff Martin said...

Jac,

Thank you for this comment, which helps me a lot to understand where you are coming from. You are right on so many levels. One example is that some of the views I wish to express on this blog are, at least in part, speculative (a fact which I would do well to frequently remind my readers). When they all come together, they form a whole in which I find a lot of personal satisfaction. But I often say, "It may not be exactly like this. But if it is not, the true total reality picture will make even more sense when we finally see it." --a lot like Lewis's slap to the forehead.

I do have Mere Christianity and will review the chapters you mentioned, if for no other reason than to be more on the same page as you. I think I will enjoy interacting with you.

I like your Bruce Almighty obsertavation. I know we must exercise caution in using our intellect and our value systems to analyze God. But I also believe he made us rational beings with purpose. And that we ought to use our minds in our pursuit of him. (I think you would agree.)

Timothy said...

I’m not sure how the following thoughts affect a theodicy, but they do reflect my personal views on the some of what is being discussed. When we look at historical accounts from the old testament scripture, it would seem to me that we are watching a God who is some how engaged in the affairs of man on a different level then we have experienced in the last couple thousand years of recorded history. We observe a God who is dealing with Man/Creation on a much more proactive level, It would seem that He is motivated to contain or diminish evil on earth. We see him warning of pending judgment, (in the Exidous story there is record of God attempting to issue some kind of warning, at least that has always been my chosen understanding of the events, we don’t know the whole story of what lengths God went to warn of judgment in the days of Noah, or Sodom) we see him choosing a race/nation as “his own” to guide and protect, we see him bending the laws of nature over and over, we see him interacting with man in a dialog over some of the very issues we discuss here (Abraham; “ will you save the city if there are 10 good”) In short I would have to say that there is a whole different paradigm in the whole way God’s Goodness is played out. I guess when you change that many “rules” about how God operates in the affairs of man, compared with today, it is hard to understand, but some how I don’t see that we are comparing apples to apples, am I out to lunch?

When we look at the great evils of our day both natural and moral, It is hard to see where people are given a fair shake, no warning, no opportunity to change, no dialogue, just… boom, now pick up the pieces. In some ways I wish that God would speak to us and say for example “ America you need to change your ways. Because you are making poor choices I am going to issue a last warning, please stop ignoring my laws, if you fail to do so I will wipe out New Orleans one month from now” but that isn’t the way it works, I guess. It seems that we are left on our own to make the connection?

How will Man responds when evil is dumped in his lap, that is the true test of humanity, how do we deal with the good the bad and the ugly, on a personal level. Some how I see God using this pattern as he deals with His creation today. Just some rather random thoughts, not trying to make any strong point really.