Monday, October 15, 2007

POST #9: Theodicy, a New Approach (Part One)

The problem of evil presupposes that God is 1) good, and 2) all-powerful. When set against the backdrop of natural and moral evil in a cosmos he created and over which he rules, these two presuppositions set up an incongruence that deeply troubles thoughtful believers, and bars the pathway to belief for the skeptic. In earlier posts, I described this problem, and tested standard Christian answers to the problem and found them to be incomplete, or unsatisfying.

Perhaps our theodicies have failed to adequately answer the questions raised by evil because we have failed to ask the right questions:

The problem of evil assumes:
• God exercises unrestrained sovereignty ~ Does He?
• God is responsible for all events ~ Is He?
• God can end evil any moment he chooses ~ Can He?

The problem of evil exists, in part, because most Christians believe that the abolishing of evil would be a simple task for an Almighty God. Ask most Christians if God could crush evil, and they will respond “Sure, he could crush it under his little finger this very instant.” Christians profess that the power of God is much greater than the forces of evil; and most Christian theodicies presume therefore that God is “permitting” evil to persist for some higher purpose. Perhaps we need to take a step back and recast the drama of this cosmos, with some help from physics coupled with the teachings of the Bible. Take a journey with me to the end of time, and then follow (in part two) as we journey backwards to the very dawn of time, the first instant of the Creation Moment (aka the Big Bang).

But before we take these journeys, let me be clear about what I am not suggesting. Many have attempted to solve evil’s riddle by minimizing God’s power, or suggesting that the power of evil is equal to the power of God. There is a category of theodicies which deal with the problem of evil in this way, many embracing various forms of Dualism. I reject these views. The questions I am asking, and the answer I will be proposing, have nothing to do with lowering our view of God’s omnipotence, nor will they impact the free exercise of his sovereignty. Dualism, which sets Good and Evil into a kind of eternal balancing act, is not Scriptural. John assures us, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4), and all of biblical revelation points to a coming climactic victory over all God’s enemies.

I will suggest, however, that when evil arose in God’s presence, he was confronted with a formidable challenge. I will suggest that the annihilation of evil is the overriding purpose of the cosmos. I will suggest the destruction of evil was not a simple task, but one that required a 13.7 billion year process and a vast entropic universe to accomplish; and that it would involve untold suffering. I will suggest that in this suffering he himself would lead the way, but that he would also call upon creation, including man, to suffer with him. And I will suggest that, after the dust settles, angelic hosts who will have observed the entire process, will drop their jaws in utter amazement at the multi-faceted wisdom of God displayed through what he accomplished, in part, through people of faith (Ephesians 3:10).

It is necessary to return to the earlier posts on entropy, particularly third and final installment. In those posts, we established the timeline of entropy both from the sciences of cosmology and physics, and from the Scriptures. Let us now revisit those concepts.

First, we will move forward in time to the end of this present age. Here we will discover that entropy ends. The need for the sun as an energy source will cease (Isaiah 60:19, Revelation 7:16, 21:23; 22:5). Natural pain, suffering, and death, all products of entropy, will cease (Revelation 21:4). At the same time, Satan will be judged, and evil will be swallowed up forever. (Depending upon one’s eschatology, this may all happen at once, or be spread out by as much as 1000 years. But it all occurs within the context of the closing of this entropic world, and the creation of the new heavens and earth. In my own view, these events are all simultaneous.) Romans 8:18-23 describe this moment when all of creation is delivered from the bondage to decay, led into this liberty by the children of God, revealed in this late day to be sons (and daughters!) of God. The context suggests that suffering ceases in the same instant. From these specific Scriptures, and the general teaching of the Bible about the concurrent changes in both the spiritual realities and in the physics of the cosmos, I have concluded that the fate of entropy is in some way linked intrinsically to the fate of evil. We also understand from the Romans 8 passage that entropy was introduced into creation by the Creator himself, but included as a provisional element, one from which he fully intended to liberate creation in the fullness of time. If the fates of entropy and evil are thus linked, and if the plan of the Creator was that entropy would someday cease along with evil, we might conclude that the purpose of an entropic creation is related to evil, and to evil’s ultimate demise.

This conclusion, which is based upon physics, the Bible, and logic, is central to my entire thesis; if you tend to scan these posts, please read that last sentence of the previous paragraph slowly.

In my next post, we will travel back in time to the creation moment in an attempt to understand what might have been the ultimate purpose of the Creator. And I will then apply these understandings to theodicy.

5 comments:

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
Ok, waiting on the beginning. But on the ending, when entropy has terminated, I'm assuming that our new resurrected bodies will have to be radically different than now. Actually, Jesus resurrected body did seem different yet similar to his pre-resurrection body. But, he did seem to eat normally (see Luke 24:36-40). Since eating / digestion is intrinsically tied in with entropy (as are many of our bodily functions), how do you rationalize the fact that Jesus appeared to eat food in an ordinary manner?

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

Great question. I have thought about that.

Of the age following creation's deliverance from the bondage to decay, we know little. No more death or pain. No more need for the sun's non-renewable energy, which will be replaced by the very being of God. But of the physics that will replace our laws of thermodynamics, we can only speculate. Will there be "eating" in the age that is to come? The Bible seems to indicate that there will be (Matthew 26:29, Luke 22:30, Revelation 2:7, others). I’m looking forward to partaking of the fruit of the 12 trees of Revelation 22. But clearly digestion as we know it, which you correctly indicate is an entropic process, will be altered.

I agree with you that Jesus’ post-resurrection body was likely to have been like our post entropy “redeemed bodies” (Romans 8:23). But if this is true, those 40 days were unique in that they involved a mixture of two very different sets of physical laws. He demonstrated that he was not subject to Newtonian laws of motion or gravity. His physical body, though substantial, was not subject to ordinary laws of matter.

Are you suggesting that the digestive system of a resurrection body might still operate under the laws of thermodynamics? that entropy will still operate in the new heavens and the new earth?

Steve Martin said...


Are you suggesting that the digestive system of a resurrection body might still operate under the laws of thermodynamics? that entropy will still operate in the new heavens and the new earth?


Actually, I have no clue. In fact, before you started the discussion on connecting entropy & evil, I had never really thought about it at that level.

I have a hard time grasping what a non-dynamic view of life would be like (to follow on with Tom's question "will evolution continue in heaven" on my last post at http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/10/does-evolution-lead-to-moral-relativism.html). And the dynamism of life is really connected with entropy. But my lack of understanding is just that - and doesn't really say anything about could or will be.

Cliff Martin said...

Some, both among believers and non-believers, note that entropy as the mechanism of change, creating the dynamic of life of which you speak; entropy acts as a continual "eraser", giving place for newness and creativity within the natural cosmos. Without entropy, some argue, there is no time. Entropy sets times arrow. I agree. It is, no doubt, part of the creative genius of God. But that is not all entropy is. It is also death and decay. It is the cause of illness, of natural suffering. It is the cause of natural disaster. If we can agree that Romans 8:18-23 is referencing entropy, then we know that entropy is a provisional aspect of the cosmos, one that is purposeful, but not eternal. Indeed, it cannot be eternal. On the day it was created our cosmos was doomed to its own death of natural causes!

It is hard to imagine a world without entropy. It sounds like a crystalized, static world. It sounds like a world without time, a world without change. But the Bible is clear that God himself replaces the sun. And as the sun is the source of all earth's energy through its own steady entropic decline, God will be an eternal non-expending source of energy. And I do not conceive him as being static. So the physics of the new heavens and new earth will be utterly different. What is for us unimaginable will be the everyday reality. Dynamism without death. Change without time (or perhaps, as some have suggested, more time, time unbounded, time that is not a single arrow; rather, nonlinear time, time in two or more dimensions.) I believe that our present physical reality, bound as it is to single direction linear time and governed by entropy will, in the world to come, appear to us as relatively static, bound. Indeed, one of the features of Romans 8:18-23 is being set at liberty, free from the bondage to decay, free from the emptiness and suffering of this age. I can’t see it, but I know it must be; that we shall be participants in such a world is beyond imagination, but it is also beyond wonderful!

Stephen (aka Q) said...

From these specific Scriptures, and the general teaching of the Bible about the concurrent changes in both the spiritual realities and in the physics of the cosmos, I have concluded that the fate of entropy is in some way linked intrinsically to the fate of evil.

This is very clever and it's new, at least to me.

Re Steve's question:
The Bible is clear that Jesus' resurrection appearances ended after 40 days. He appeared subsequently to St. Paul, but Paul makes it clear that it was different from the earlier resurrection appearances: untimely.

Also note the description of the appearance to Paul in Acts: a glorious being of light. Paul's first-hand description is a little different, but similarly non-corporeal:

"The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. … Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." (1Co. 15:45-49)

I'm suggesting that the appearance where Jesus ate fish was a temporary arrangement (assuming that we regard the account as historical). The resurrected Lord continued in that mode for forty days, for the purpose of proving that he was alive again and offering instruction to the Apostles.

After those forty days had ended, he took new form as a life-giving Spirit (Paul's account); a glorious, blinding light (Luke's account). Therefore Steve is quite right when he comments, "I'm assuming that our new resurrected bodies will have to be radically different than now"!