Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Problem of Evil IV. The Chief Purpose of Man (?)

With this post I resume my occasional series of posts on God and the problem of evil (see sidebar "OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST" for links to previous articles in this series). In this series, I challenge some commonly held assumptions of traditional Christianity. I do this with trepidation, and tentativeness. I invite comments from all readers, but am especially anxious to hear from believers who hold to traditional views about the purpose of man.

“The chief purpose of man,” we are assured by the Westminster Confession, “is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” Most Christians hold to this view, or something very much like it. From our earliest days in Sunday School we are told that God made mankind “for fellowship.” Humans exist, according to this view, for the express purpose of enjoying God, worshiping him, and glorifying him.

With respect to the Problem of Evil, this assumption typically leads to the “free will” defense which argues the following: in order for God to have the quality of fellowship he desired, it was necessary to give his created beings the freedom to choose him or not, thus leaving the door open to rebellion and consequent evil. Thus, all manifestations of evil are the unavoidable by-product of a universe which allows free-will choices.

If you are able, wrap your mind around all the suffering in the universe, all the privation, predation, and pain extending over billions years, all the extinctions, all the terror, all the suffering whether from natural causes or perpetrated by fallen humans; this view suggests the aggregate of all this suffering is considered by God a price which must be paid in order to fulfill his purpose of developing a billion or two redeemed humans for his glory.

I grew up believing this. But for most of my Christian life, it has been a difficult pill for me swallow. Assuming that this cosmos exists primarily to fulfill a divine wish for free-will worshippers forces me to assign a value system to God that seems grotesquely disproportionate. Now, if God had revealed to us that this traditional view fairly represents his purpose for creating man, or to put it a different way, if the Bible clearly taught this view, then I surely ought to do as some of my friends suggest: be quiet and accept it. But does the Bible teach this view?

A few years ago, I began a search for Biblical texts that specifically declared God’s purpose for making man. I wanted to know 1) if the traditional view expressed in the Westminster Confession has any direct Scriptural support, or 2) if the Bible actually taught something different.

My own views about God’s purpose in creation had already changed considerably. I had already accepted modern cosmology and physics which tell us that the cosmos is very old and that death and decay have been around since the moment of creation. And I had already accepted common descent, that human beings were the result of a 3.8 billion year evolutionary rise. All of this suggested to me that the cosmos exists as a divine response to evil (see this earlier
post on entropy), and that evolution plays some role in that response. I had concluded that the highly improbable evolutionary rise of life against all odds, life overcoming the powers of death, was likely part of a divine plan to demonstrate the superior power of life, and to defeat evil and death. This cosmos, and life on the earth, stand as demonstrations of a principle found throughout the pages of the Bible: life is more powerful than death!

If this were true, the “chief purpose of man” would shift away from fellowship and worship toward the concept of mankind fulfilling a significant role in God’s warfare on evil. Man’s role would be to become the agents of life overcoming, and ultimately defeating, death. I found many similarities between the principle of evolution and the principle of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

As these thoughts were developing in my mind, and as I continued my search for a Biblical declaration of God’s purpose for man, I stumbled upon these verses from 2 Corinthians 5:
4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
5 Now it is God who has
made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(NIV, emphasis added)
Is there another verse in all the Bible which declares in such clear language God’s purpose for making man? I know of none. Did God make us for fellowship? Or are we made for the strategic purpose of being vehicles though which death is destroyed? The Greek word in verse 4 which is translated “swallowed up” is katapino. The Greek lexicon of Thayer and Smith offer the alternate meanings of “devour” and “destroy”. These verses strongly suggest to me the following:

The chief purpose of man is to be the means through which God destroys death by the superior power of life.

Do you agree? Is it possible that we are called to co-venture with God in his cosmic battle with evil? that our very existence as the culmination of evolution becomes the means by which life is shown to be more powerful than death? and that through us,
life wins, death loses?

A closing note: this concept does not imply that we will not glorify and enjoy God forever. It merely suggests an alternate “chief purpose” for man.

I am interested in your comments.

16 comments:

wtanksley said...

Interesting post; thank you!

I'll post more later (or I intend to); but first a quick note: you quote from the Westminster Catechism, which is not a free-will document in the sense you define. Most people who hold to Westminster are Calvinists, and believe that human free will is entirely subject to God's sovereignty, and not a purpose in and of itself. Thus, to these adherents, human free will cannot justify the existence of suffering. (This fits nicely with the fact that human free will cannot in any case explain the suffering caused by natural forces.)

Cliff Martin said...

wtanksley,

You are correct that the Westminster Catechism is, on the whole, Reformed. However, it contains the most widely quoted statement on "the purpose of man", and that portion of the catechism is widely accepted by non-Calvinists. Calvinists have no theodicy at all, and object to the notion that God requires justification. But outside of strong Calvinism, most believers I encounter use a "free-will" approach to the Problem of Evil, and most will glibly quote the Westminister statement on the purpose of man. The two concepts go hand-in-hand.

wtanksley said...

I'd like to address the article, but first a very brief side question... I don't think I understand your claim that "Calvinists have no theodicy at all." Could you explain it? I've read a lot of Calvinists explain why God is good in His plans for the world, even while they include evil; this seems like a theodicy to me. I'll grant that Calvinists don't have a single unified dogmatic theodicy; that is, unlike libertarian free will supporters, they don't have a single argument that they insist on, but they do offer arguments up.

wtanksley said...

Okay, now I get to fulfill the chief end of commenting: actually responding to the post.

I think you've gloriously described one of man's purposes, and you've also explained a theodicy. However, you haven't (I hope) shown the chief end of man, because you've defined it negatively and temporarily. You've said (if I may paraphrase paraphrase) that the chief end of man is to glorify life by ending Death forever.

But after Death is ended... what then is the chief end of man? Will man vanish once Death does? Does man have a positive chief end?

It seems to me that a positive statement is needed, not a negative one. Such a statement can be written focused on man, or focused on God. If our chief aim is to magnify Life, then we will maximally perform that by focusing on God, the Resurrection and Life. Community? Focus on the Three in One.
I'm not saying that the Westminster Catechism is certainly right; but I do believe that it's on the right track, and looking at the right Being.

Your contribution is substantial, because God certainly IS using us to show the power of His Life over evil and death. He didn't have to create a universe with evil or with us, however, so the purpose of the creation wasn't to defeat evil -- look back further, and you'll see that the purpose must have been to glorify Himself by showing how evil is defeated by His creation, sacrifice, and salvation. In other words, creation is a story; evil and death is a character in that story, written in for the very good reason of giving the hero an opponent.

(This, by the way, is one of the theodicies I've seen Calvinists put forward.)

Cliff Martin said...

wtanksley,

I suppose when I say "Calvinists have no theodicy at all" I am making a value judgment on the various explanations for evil they do have. The most common teaching I encounter there is that God creates evil (per Isaiah 45:7) for the sake of his own glory.

The finest theodicy I've ever read is David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea (you can read my review here). Hart's evaluation of Calvinist theoldicy? "Absurd."

Cliff Martin said...

wtanksley,

I posted that last comment before reading your latest. Your description of Calvinist theodicy is much more charitable than mine, but we are basically saying the same thing. You seem open to this theodicy. I reject it. Perhaps we could discuss if further at some point, but let's get on to the main post ...

Thank you for your insightful comments. I do see your point about the temporal nature of "the chief purpose" as I have proposed it. I do not believe that God will be finished with us the moment evil is defeated and this creation is released from the bondage to decay. But I am trying to understand our purpose in terms of this present cosmic reality (from which context comes all of our data).

When you say that God "didn't have to create a universe with evil," you presume that would have been possible. I do not. I have never been satisfied with the idea that God would intentionally set loose the kind of evil we observe in our history and in our present in order to magnify his own glory. I believe instead that God has a very real adversary who alone is responsible for evil. I believe that adversary willfully fell from the state in which he was created, and led a rebellion against God. And I am suggesting the possibility that Satan's fall occurred immediately prior to the creation of the universe.

Christians are fond of saying that, if he wanted to, God could annihilate Satan and evil on a whim. Maybe it isn't so easy as that. Perhaps evil could be ultimately overcome only in the same way Jesus teaches us to overcome evil ... through goodness and life and non-resistance (a concept I develop here). Thus, all the suffering we experience and observe is part of the unavoidable price which must be paid to ensure the demise of evil (I discuss the role of suffering here).

No, I do not see God creating a world complete with entropy, death and evil because he was trying to leverage his own glory. Rather, I see him devising a battle plan to undo the power of evil that arose in his presence, a plan in which we play a vital role. I see him creating the universe to Satan's specifications, subjecting all of creation to entropy, decay, and death ... not willingly, not because he desired such a creation, but in hope that through this very entropic, evil laden universe, spirit beings would arise to become his own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and play a vital role in the culmination of his plan (see Romans 8:19ff). Thus, out of the entropic dust of an evil and death dominated cosmos, the very seeds of evil's undoing would come forth.

There is so much more to say, but this will give you an idea of where I am coming from. And I am very open to your ideas and contributions!

wtanksley said...

I suppose when I say "Calvinists have no theodicy at all" I am making a value judgment on the various explanations for evil they do have.

Okay, that's clear to anyone who'd read a bit more of your blog than I had. Obviously I'm a newcomer; thanks for posting that link, from which I was able to get a bit more of your ideas. You might consider using a different variety of hyperbole ;-).

I still see more use in saying that the chief end of man is to glorify God, and that the chief end of the creation is to glorify God. The only things you propose that could change that are your statements that evil "arose in God's presence", which suggests that God didn't anticipate evil in any way. In that case, defeating evil wouldn't redound to the glory of God; it would simply be the minimum possible thing that any reasonable being would do, since God broke it God has to fix it.

wtanksley said...

I'm sorry, I posted too quickly. I wanted to add that I don't make any of those claims as criticisms of your proposal, but rather as distinctives. I'd have to examine your proposals a lot more closely before I could offer a true criticism (or agreement).

Cliff Martin said...

wtanksley,

I don't know that it would be fair to say that "God broke it." These intiating events lay entirely outside the scope of our cosmic frame of reference. I suppose that, when it comes to Satan's rebellion, I must fall back upon a free-will theodicy type of argument. I just don't know why or how evil arose, why or how Satan rebelled. I only know that he did. And that it is beyond our purview.

Yes, I do agree that the glory of God is the overriding purpose for all things. Or we might say that glory is the ultimate purpose ... because we are clearly informed that believers will actually share in the coming glory.

One of my favorite Bible texts is Ephesians 3:10. I understand this verse to be a future retrospective. That is, I envision angelic beings in the distant future dropping their collective jaws in utter amazement at what God was able to accomplish through people of faith. When I consider that these beings have known God, and been around him for billions of years, I stand amazed at their amazement! I conclude that God is doing something through us that will (some day when we see it for what it is) take our breath away!

When I ask just what that might be, I always come back to this. Through us, God annihilates a formidable foe, not one that could have been easily dispatched. Through us, God destroys evil and death. I assume that these angelic beings know something that we do not: namely, that this task of annihilating evil was an extremely difficult task, one that seemed improbable, even for God.

So does God get the glory? Quite obviously, in my view he gets more glory that we can imagine. But we actually share in that glory, to the degree that we helped pay the price of suffering. But the glory is more about God's redemptive genius than it is about his prescriptive planning. That is, the glory comes as a result of his response to evil, not as a product of his invention of evil.

Cliff Martin said...

I just reread my own earlier post on entropy in which I laid out the theological implications of entropy. I probably said it better 18 months ago than in my last comment. If you are interested in the full concept, you might give it a read.

wtanksley said...

I suppose that, when it comes to Satan's rebellion, I must fall back upon a free-will theodicy type of argument.
I don't see how that buys you anything; either God planned for evil to come for His glory, or He didn't. If He didn't, either He foresaw it and created nonetheless, or He didn't foresee it (a third possibility, not creating because of evil, clearly didn't happen). If He didn't, either He planned against the advent of evil for His glory, or He didn't.
It seems your arguments seek to excuse God of the charge of committing evil by making Him negligent: if planning for the evil in advance is wrong, then so also is failing to plan for it and creating in spite of that lack of planning. I don't believe God committed evil when He created a universe with evil in it; your story seems (to me) to be a good explanation of WHY it's not evil to do that.
In particular, note your specific (and reasonable) claim that God created the universe with entropy and death from the beginning; thus you reasonably conclude that God created the universe with sin and death bound up with it (much as He "knit me in my mother's womb" with all the myriad shortcomings and stamps of sin and death that cause me suffering now, yet are not evil on His part).
Of further note: not all Calvinists believe that God foreordained evil as a necessary part of His plan; some hold that pre-fall man, and perhaps pre-fall Lucifer, might possibly have not sinned, and that would not have disturbed God's plan. (I'm fine with that, but it's very academic, since in fact both did actually sin.) Your story requires a foreordination of sin, of course, at least on man's part, since it implies that sin's consequences are built into the very fabric of the universe. So it seems that your story is stricter than the one some Calvinists tell, and has God more bound up with pre-planning the presence of evil in the universe (although not in His creation as a whole -- but you don't base that on revelation or evidence, just on a vague feeling of injustice).
Yes, I do agree that the glory of God is the overriding purpose for all things. Or we might say that glory is the ultimate purpose ... because we are clearly informed that believers will actually share in the coming glory.

That glory is clearly and repeatedly described as coming from the Father onto all those, and only those, who glorify Him. Christ repeats that those who seek their own glory will NOT receive glory from the Father, while those who seek the Father's glory will receive glory from Him, and will share in His glory.
There's no ambiguity here; it's not glory in general that we will share, but the glory of the Father. And the ones who share it are not the ones that sought glory in general; it's the ones who sought the glory of the Father.

One of my favorite Bible texts is Ephesians 3:10. I understand this verse to be a future retrospective. That is, I envision angelic beings in the distant future dropping their collective jaws in utter amazement at what God was able to accomplish through people of faith. When I consider that these beings have known God, and been around him for billions of years, I stand amazed at their amazement! I conclude that God is doing something through us that will (some day when we see it for what it is) take our breath away! When I ask just what that might be, I always come back to this.

Brief interruption: as I've mentioned, this is equally a Calvinistic story. The infamous Douglas Wilson (infamous because of his "Federal Vision" controversy among Presbyterians) has been telling this story in this manner; as you'd expect, he doesn't make the claim that you do, that the foe could not have been dispatched otherwise; rather, he doesn't say anything on the issue, which I think is appropriate (we don't know).

Through us, God annihilates a formidable foe, not one that could have been easily dispatched.

This is an interesting claim, and the latter part seems false. God didn't have to create Satan in the first place. Once God had created him and he fell, God could have destroyed him and all his works -- or destroyed everything and re-created. I don't think the problem is the strength of the foe; I think the problem is the nature of God's goal. In short, God's goal isn't to vanquish an evil being, because that would have been simple. His goal must be something more complex.

The sort of complexity I'm thinking of include ideas such as

* Perhaps God wanted to display his longsuffering towards the beings He'd created in order to display wrath. (Yeah, I'm quoting Romans.)
* Perhaps God wanted to prepare for Himself a redeemed creation, not merely one created already perfect but one actually redeemed from evil and decay.
* Perhaps God valued temporary libertarian free will more than temporal freedom from evil. (Temporary because it only lasts until our sanctification is complete -- we can't sin then, so by this definition we must not have libertarian free will then.)

I'm not proposing these as actual (even the Romans quotation, since that's not the context Paul was using it in); specifically, I actually disagree with libertarian free will. Certainly, however, if anything like one of those were God's plans it would have been counterproductive to destroy evil outright.
I could include other possibilities; perhaps God was negligent, or sloppy, or weak. Perhaps He was, as in your story, caught completely off guard, with no way to prevent being caught off guard (so we can't accuse Him of negligence, since He couldn't have possibly known the danger). Those seem repugnant to me... Perhaps I'm being too sensitive. I would be ashamed to place my sensitivities above God's own revelation. (Seriously. After all, I admit that God in Jesus suffered and died a humiliating death... Probably if I didn't notice those verses I would oppose that too.) But they seem ... well, I don't like them.

Through us, God destroys evil and death.

Awesome story. Majestic. And, it seems to me, explains important details in Scripture as well as nature. God didn't want to create a perfect universe; He wanted to create a redeemed, victorious people. There's only one way to be victorious: to vanquish something strong. And there's only one thing to properly vanquish: evil.

I assume that these angelic beings know something that we do not: namely, that this task of annihilating evil was an extremely difficult task, one that seemed improbable, even for God.

Now this brings up a very attractive point in favor of your story: why does Satan oppose God? In your story, Satan can plausibly envision defeating God. In my story (i.e. the Calvinist story), he can't. The problem... I think... is that in neither story can Satan _actually_ defeat God. It's all self-deception. So is your story actually better in this respect? In your story it's clear why Satan can deceive himself; in my story it's not clear. But in both it's self-deception, no fundamental difference.

Is God another Christopher Columbus, Who in ages to come will show us how he did it, and we'll say, "oh, it's simple, when You explain it THAT way. One just has to know the trick, and be omnipotent; then it's not improbably, but rather a sure thing."

So does God get the glory? Quite obviously, in my view he gets more glory that we can imagine. But we actually share in that glory, to the degree that we helped pay the price of suffering. But the glory is more about God's redemptive genius than it is about his prescriptive planning. That is, the glory comes as a result of his response to evil, not as a product of his invention of evil.

I don't see how there's any difference between the actual actions and plans of God in either situation. The glory comes from the same accomplishment.
The difference -- as I see it -- lies in whether, in fact, God was actually planning evil's defeat before He created. If He wasn't planning evil's defeat, your story is complete, and mine is shattered. If God was planning evil's defeat, and therefore creation was enacted as part of that plan, your story is broken (although mine lacks the detail to be complete). What can we look at to determine which one is accurate?

Let me summarize. I think God tolerates and planned for evil not because he couldn't avoid the evil; but rather because he wanted to accomplish a goal that actually required salvation from evil. It makes sense to me that this goal may have been creating a people who are redeemed and victorious over evil.

Now, there's a different question of whether it was possible for God's creation to avoid evil -- I have no problem with speculating that perhaps Lucifer might have been able to avoid sin, or Adam; but as you mentioned, those are purely speculations, and an honest theology has to admit that if you're going to charge God with evil for creating a universe with evil in it, then you'd have to charge God with negligence for creating a universe with the unguarded possibility of evil.

Again, I'm impressed with your explanation, and I'm going to be reading your entire blog, starting with the posts you point to; but your explanation fits into Calvinism as neatly as it fits into various other theories of theology. I may deal with your objections against Calvinism separately, but I'm not really concerned with them.

If I were you, I would stick to developing the story aspect (which does real explanatory work), and keep Calvinism versus free-will in a separate thread -- it's also interesting (I won't be able to stay away!) but it's truly unrelated, because your story works with either model.

-Wm

Cliff Martin said...

wtanksley,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments! You are getting to the heart of the matter, and raising all the right questions. I wish you were in my living room where we could face-to-face hash this stuff out!

• Your initial argument (the either/or’s)

... presumes that God knows the future perfectly. On what do you base that assumption? What of the possibility that God chooses to create creatures with the gift of self-determination (free-will), genuinely not know whether they will choose to rebel?

... your specific (and reasonable) claim that God created the universe with entropy and death from the beginning ...

I do not presume that God created the universe entropic by choice. That is, it was not what he wanted to do (Romans 8:20-21 suggest this to me). What about the possibility that God knew that to undo the evil rebellion of Satan, it would be necessary to create a “container” for evil (our entropic universe) which would also serve as the mechanism for the annihilation of evil?

it implies that sin's consequences are built into the very fabric of the universe

No, it only implies that physical death was built into the very fabric of the universe. Much traditional theology teaches that Adam might have had a temporal body at the outset -- that physical death was not part of the consequence of sin; only spiritual death. I do not believe that man’s rebellion was a foregone conclusion (though it may be, as the NT implies, that a provisional redemptive plan had already been in place.)

... glory is clearly and repeatedly described as coming from the Father onto all those, and only those, who glorify Him ...

What I see in 1 Peter, and Romans 8, and especially 2 Cor 5:17, glory will be shared specifically with those who suffer on behalf of the Kingdom, and in proportion to their suffering. If suffering is involved in the price of evil’s undoing (as several scriptures imply), then suffering is central to God’s purposes (see Romans 8). So its not just those who in some undefined way “seek the Father’s glory”, but glory is intrinsically linked to suffering.

This is an interesting claim, and the latter part seems false. God didn't have to create Satan in the first place. Once God had created him and he fell, God could have destroyed him and all his works -- or destroyed everything and re-created. I don't think the problem is the strength of the foe; I think the problem is the nature of God's goal. In short, God's goal isn't to vanquish an evil being, because that would have been simple. His goal must be something more complex.

Again, you make some assumptions I do not share. I do not know that Satan (and his evil) could have been so easily dispatched. Why do we presume that? Rather, I presume that the enterprise of destroying Satan and his evil involve all the blood of Jesus, and even then, as Paul implies in Colossians 1:24, the price was not completely paid. Remember, the primary purpose of Jesus coming was not to redeem man, but to destroy the works of the enemy. Or, at least, that is the implicitly stated purpose in 1 John 3:8.

Is God another Christopher Columbus, Who in ages to come will show us how he did it, and we'll say, "oh, it's simple, when You explain it THAT way. One just has to know the trick, and be omnipotent; then it's not improbably, but rather a sure thing."

Wow. There is so much to this story that you and I would need to sit down for several hours before you could possibly understand what I am driving at. No ... I do not believe that God’s trick has anything to do with his omnipotence. Rather, he accomplishes this coup d'├ętat through what appears to be weakness! See my earlier post on God’s Modus Operandi. Jesus teaches us that we do not overcome evil by our superior force, but by nonresistance, and suffering. Why do we automatically presume that God, when he sets out to overcome evil, will supplant it with his omnipotent arm? Why do we not see that Jesus (who came to destroy the works of Satan) bled and died in the process?

And this helps us to see why this whole scenario can, as you say “excuse God of the charge of committing evil”. Because, if my view is correct, then we understand that God saw no other way to deal with evil except by means of suffering. A lot of suffering. Billions of years of suffering. And no one, in this venture, would suffer more than God himself. If there had been any way to avoid this eventuality, I believe God would have chosen it. The only way to completely avoid evil, and the horrible price it extracts, would be for God to never gift any of his creatures with the power of self-determination. And we are back to the free-will theodicy argument, but applied in a new way.

One more note. I have been, for much of my life, a Calvinist. At one point, I was a card-carrying TULIP Calvinist. If there is some way that you can make all of this fit a Reformed template, more power to you!

wtanksley said...

I do see your point about the temporal nature of "the chief purpose" as I have proposed it. I do not believe that God will be finished with us the moment evil is defeated and this creation is released from the bondage to decay. But I am trying to understand our purpose in terms of this present cosmic reality (from which context comes all of our data).

I think you meant "within which context we interpret all our data." If you believe in revelation from God at all, you believe that some of our data comes from beyond the cosmos. But I think I have to admit I see what you mean.

I think, however, that if you're limiting yourself to a "chief temporal end of man" you need to say that explicitly... and then admit that your proposed temporal chief end doesn't contradict the everlasting "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (but you can contradict that if you want).

When you say that God "didn't have to create a universe with evil," you presume that would have been possible. I do not.

Do you believe God was required to create? Traditionally, this has been rejected by orthodoxy.

The only clear alternative I can see is that God could choose whether or not to create, but couldn't possibly foresee the potential for evil in the results.

I have never been satisfied with the idea that God would intentionally set loose the kind of evil we observe in our history and in our present in order to magnify his own glory.

Good argument; very good. However, I don't claim that the mere presence of evil, nor its mere defeat, magnifies God's glory at all. I think that God's good purpose is what magnifies His glory. Knocking down something you set up isn't a "good purpose"; not even if it's very hard to do (contrary to what you say).

I'll give examples, and oppose the examples you've given, in the appropriate post.

I believe instead that God has a very real adversary who alone is responsible for evil. I believe that adversary willfully fell from the state in which he was created, and led a rebellion against God.

I agree. How can I disagree; this is what the Bible teaches.

The only disagreement is a mere technicality that I suspect you agree with: we are also individually responsible for evil; our personal evil doesn't trace back to Satan except very indirectly (by influence) through Adam.

And I am suggesting the possibility that Satan's fall occurred immediately prior to the creation of the universe.

I don't see the need for the last sentence. I'm not disagreeing, I just don't get the need.

Cliff Martin said...

wtanksley,

You clearly have a more "though-out" Calvinistic approach than most I encounter. I appreciate your thoughts. I do want to respond to your last point:

Cliff: And I am suggesting the possibility that Satan's fall occurred immediately prior to the creation of the universe.

wtanksley: don't see the need for the last sentence. I'm not disagreeing, I just don't get the need.


My entire underlying premise is that this cosmos is God's response to Satan's fall. I do not pretend to understand all the reasons, but I am suggesting that when Satan rebelled, God knew (probably instantly ... it doesn't take him long to devise a plan!) what would be required to deal with this new source of evil. And the cosmos, complete with all of its built in entropy, suffering, death and decay, was the necessary result. I suspect he might have more easily annihilated Satan and his followers in some immediate way, but that there was a better way, a way that would deal with the evil with a certain finality. That is what I am suggesting might have happened.

In this picture, suffering, while not necessary, would nevertheless be a part of a preferred divine method of eliminating all evil and all its effects forever. It gives a rationale (one that "works" for me) for all of the effects of evil in our world, including all suffering, death and decay.

And in this picture, the original and primary purpose for man is to co-venture with God by co-suffering with him and becoming co-heirs with Christ in the glory that will accompany this amazing victory! Now, without question, people of faith who cooperate with the purpose of God are "glorifying God" and will for all eternity. If you prefer to call that the larger, overriding purpose, that's fine. But I think it misses the point which I see on the pages of Scripture: we were created to fulfill a significant role in the conquering of evil.

Karl A. said...

Whew. I finished reading through the various posts on entropy and theodicy. Thanks, Cliff, for all your hard work and love poured into these thoughts. Very enjoyable. My eyes are a bit glazed from all the reading and if I state something that was said already, please forgive.

I must admit it wasn’t what I was expecting when I started, though. I was expecting a discussion on how Satan has messed with creation (even responsible for entropy?) and turned a world that could have been rather orderly and harmonious into one with vicious competition, killer diseases, disorder and chaos (aka “steal, kill and destroy” from John 10). Instead I mainly got a discussion on the why the process of entropy was woven into the fabric of the universe. Excellent discussion, just need to adjust my expectations.

This may seem schizophrenic, but reading all the posts on entropy and theodicy, I see elements of truth in most of the traditional theodicies, plus the one you propose, plus possibly more.
1. “Evil is created by God for his glory”. Okay, this is the one theodicy I can’t see much of anything redemptive in.
2. “Evil does not exist”. Yes, I definitely believe evil does exist, but as various posters have pointed out, some of the problem may be just from our finite perspectives, that what we see as evil is not always evil from God’s perspective. I.e. the “problem of evil” may be smaller than we think. But still huge, don’t get me wrong.
3. “Evil is caused by man”. Some of this is true. But, as you state, not natural evil.
4. “Evil is necessary for Free Will to have meaning”. Again, this is true, but possibly not sufficient.
5. (My attempt to summarize your thesis in my words) “Evil exists primarily because of Satanic rebellion, and the entropic cosmos exists to vanquish this evil. Humans are meant to be co-regents with God in this mission, and absorbing suffering with God is a prime method.”

Your thesis (5) is intriguing, just may well have some validity. I don’t have a problem with God requiring a long time to deal with evil. It seems to accord with the concept I have of a voluntarily self-limiting God. I do have a problem with how the thesis is stated, and others have mentioned this as well. You state the purpose of the entropic cosmos negatively, which is to vanquish evil. It seems incomplete. What if God, prior to the cosmos and prior to the rebellion of Satan, in love planned to create a community of God-lovers (cf. Ephesians)? Knowing or anticipating the rebellion of Satan and subsequently of these potential God-lovers, he planned an entropic creation… which then moves into your thesis. In other words, the overarching purpose of God was not to destroy evil, it was to create a community of love (i.e. know God and enjoy him forever). Given that evil pours sand in the fruit salad so to speak, destroying evil is a necessary part of that higher purpose, and an entropic cosmos as you suggest may be a necessary aspect of that destruction. All will result in “the praise of his glorious grace”. I know you discussed this issue with wtanksley, but I guess I don’t get why they seem to you like they don’t fit together. Why couldn’t God have planned us (because he desired to share his love with us), rather than just inventing us to solve his problem?

In summary of my (probably incoherent) position, theodicies 2-4 take us some of the way towards dealing with the problem of evil, and a revised theodicy 5, if correct, takes us quite a bit further. Far enough? That may be a personal decision, and will still require a leap of faith.

I still would like to see more discussion on the period between the Big Bang and now and Satan’s role in exacerbating the perceived problem of evil. I seem to remember some commentator on one of your blogs stating Satanic activity in our world would be “outside the rules of engagement” but I can’t imagine Satan respecting any rules of engagement he wasn’t forced to hold, and personal experience shows he’s capable of some pretty low blows.

Cliff Martin said...

Karl,

I responded to your comment on the earlier post with this comment prior to reading your comment here. It pertains, and I'll not repeat it here.

Your revisions to theodicy 5 are thoughtful, and they make sense. I think they work equally well as theodicy. And I would not quarrel over whether a community of love is a by-product of a co-venture, or the co-venture was necessitated by the targeted community of love. It could be as you suggest. However, the idea that God created an entropic universe in anticipation of some inevitable moral corruption seems a little convoluted to me. It has God creating a universe with an intrinsic potential flaw (the possibility of rebellion) and then subjecting the creation to death and decay (another flaw) to deal with it. Seems more straightforward if he creates a cosmos driven by entropy in response to an evil rebellion. I understand your objection about this being a negative purpose. But how does this argue against it if, in fact, things actually happened in that order?