A LOVE SUPREME

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Did God plan evil?

What did God do sans time?

Why do we say "sans" time? Because to say "before" time implies that there was time before time. So, we say "sans" time to try to be a bit more accurate, although it is difficult for our minds not to think in terms of a linear time frame.

What did God sit around thinking about? What went through his mind? What was God kicking around in his thoughts? Did things actually "go through" God's mind? Probably not, since when we think we think one thought after the other after the other after the other, etc. So, we think in time and through time. We require moments to build arguments. But, of course, if God is existing "sans" time, then he wasn't really "kicking" anything around....But we'll go with it just for sake of an interesting discussion...

We know that God was planning what he was going to do with all of creation. He was getting ready to create something. According to Scripture the plan of salvation was a part of this creation. Of course, this gets sticky because if God is planning to save then he must have also planned for a failure from which to save us from. We know from a few thousand or so years of history that this failure has to do with the moral condition: Evil exists in the world. So, the reasonable conclusion is that God was planning evil sans time.

Did God have to plan evil? Or is evil a necessary aspect of a finite creation?

One solution to this is to say that God didn't "create" evil, rather he granted human kind free will. Humanity used their free will for evil and consequently we've got bad things to deal with.

Fair enough. I respect that position, but I don't agree with it. I'll spare you the reasons.

Let's take another route to answering our question. What if good and evil are not really two separate entities? For some us this might sound absurd at first thought. In western philosophy and thinking we draw sharp dichotomies and make distinctions. Good is the opposite of evil. Evil is the opposite of good. Something is either good or it is evil. It cannot be both. Classical western logic systems usually have some basic and fundamental laws: the Law of Non-Contradiction, Law of the Excluded Middle, etc. Something cannot be both A and non-A. We generally apply the same reasoning rule of thumb to morality: Either good or evil.

What if there is a closer connection between the two? That good cannot exist without evil or that evil cannot exist without good. That they are co-dependent in some sense.

How does good take on meaning without evil? And how does evil take on meaning without good. They feed off of each other. Those who feel most strongly about fighting evil are usually those who feel most strongly about the good. If you experience evil in a profound way you will typically have a more profound appreciation for the good. In this sense they certainly compliment each other, while simultaneously oppossing each other.

So, if God is to plan good he also simultaneously plans evil. To instantiate a world with morality necessitates the potential for both good and evil as it will occur in space-time.

This is not really an apologetic....well, maybe it is to some extent...but primarily I am interested in exploring the nature of good and evil and whether there is a closer connection than previously thought.

33 comments:

Melody said...

Popularly good and evil are symbolized by light and darkness.

You can measure different amounts of light, but not darkness...darkness is merely the absense of light.

I think it works out the same for good and evil.

C.S. Lewis has some interesting things to say about it in "The Problem of Pain" but I confess that without the witty metaphores I'm really having trouble remembering what he said. He also took a while saying it...so I doubt I could fit it into this post even if I could remember it in a coherant fashion.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Personally, I don't really go with the whole "evil is the absence of good" argument....but that's just me....typically on this view we would say that "good" is something, but evils is simply the absence of "good" - just as darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat. I think Augustine first went after this line of thinking....but evil seems to me to be just as much of a "thing" as good. How is goodness considered "something" but evil is not? What does it take for goodness to be a "thing"? What is the standard for measuring whether good is a "thing"?

Philosophically speaking, why couldn't we flip it around and say "Goodness is the absence of evil."

I object to the Lewis view primarily on theological grounds, however, because I think it weakens sin. If someone goes into a McDonalds and starts spraying bullets around he has done an evil "thing." It is just as much a "thing" of evil as it is if he were to walk into the McDonalds and start to buy poor people food - that would be a good "thing."

Maybe there is no such "thing" as good and evil? Maybe we should think of good and evil strictly in terms of actions: There are good "things to do" and there are bad "things to do"....just a thoughts...

Melody said...

Sorry, my post was confusing...that isn't Lewis' view...I couldn't remember exactly what it was...just that it was interesting. The view I mentioned came up in a discussion I had a while back.

Melody said...

Sorry, my post was confusing...that isn't Lewis' view...I couldn't remember exactly what it was...just that it was interesting. The view I mentioned came up in a discussion I had a while back.

ktismatics said...

I agree that good and evil hang together. Once you think of an idea, you almost immediately have to think of its opposite. Perhaps more likely, some vague idea of both good and evil make themselves known to you simultaneously, and you gradually pull them apart into two opposite poles. Like light and darkness: you probably don't first think of them as pure abstract categories of intense brightness and pitch black. You experience ranges of variation in the middle, then create the abstractions afterward. I suspect most morality falls in the gray area between perfect good and absolute evil.

d said...

Wow! So what happens when an unstoppable force hits an immoveable object? Anyway, if we say that God created evil, that brings his total goodness into question doesn’t it? But then if we say that he didn’t create evil, how do we explain the existence of it.? Could it be that we’re missing something? I’m sure there’s a big book in the library of your local seminary that probably weighs about two hundred pounds and can easily turn this one question into three hundred or so questions more.

For my two cents worth, (if you’re a sucker) logic is a necessary component of everything God created, and also of everything that man creates, that is if you’re willing to call a washing machine or an airplane a creation of man. It is impossible to remove its necessity from creation itself without attributing miracle status to it, and as such logic becomes an attribute of God.

One more thing, you said:
“So, if God is to plan good he also simultaneously plans evil.” I don’t think that this sentence necessarily follows the reasoning of your previous paragraph.

OK, now my brains tired.

ktismatics said...

Can't you create the idea or category of evil without actually doing evil? Couldn't you, e.g., declare this: Everything I desire is good; therefore everything that goes along with my desire is good, and everything that does not is evil. Here you've created the category of evil that you yourself might never actually do or intend to do. Just like you could create the idea of immortality without actually being immortal and of infinity without ever transcending your own finiteness, etc. Or vice versa on all these dichotomies if you assume that the creator is immortal and infinite.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Danny said...
Anyway, if we say that God created evil, that brings his total goodness into question doesn’t it?

Let's flesh this question out a bit. First of all, why does God have to be "totally good"? And what does it mean to be "totally good"?

There are statements in Scripture about "God is good." The passage in 1 John comes to mind, "God is light, in him there is no darkness." This dichotomy is clearly drawn. But this does not say anything about God conceiving of evil or even that God didn't create a moral world with the knowledge that this would mean that evil would come to be. In other words, maybe God knew that his moral creation would be tainted. I'm suggesting that if evil and good are inseparable then God could not have created a good world without creating evil as well. Or at least the possibility of evil....

Melody said...

Well of course God created the possibility of evil...he made us.

That sort of jogged my memory...that's what Lewis was talking about...if God created a world in which evil was impossible it would be a nonsense world.
The very thing that makes goodness good is our ability to choose it. If we didn't have the ability to choose evil we wouldn't be good, we'd just be morally neutral.

d said...

This has challenged me to think about this, something that I haven’t really done before. I will start with what I think are the three foundational truths that I think we would all agree on:
1. God is holy, righteous and good.
2. God created everything.
3. Evil exist.
I pondered mostly on the existence of evil and tried to get my hands around exactly what that meant. So here are my thoughts: Using the symbolism of dark vs. light, could the argument be made, possibly, that dark doesn’t really define something that is there, but rather something that isn’t, namely light? In that same vane the word “nothing” is not communicating what is but rather what is not hence no-thing. To apply this reasoning, could it not also be true that evil, as a “thing” doesn’t exist in the same sense that say light, or a thing exist? So if evil defines what is not rather than what is then what is the “not”? Sure we can say that evil is the absence of good, but for this argument’s sake it doesn’t seem to go far enough.

The Bible speaks of two occasions that are firsts concerning the advent of evil. The first of these is the fall of Satan, which incidentally happened before man, or at least sans time, the second was the fall of man. Now as far what Jonathan said: (I'm suggesting that if evil and good are inseparable then God could not have created a good world without creating evil as well.) I would ask in what kind of world did Adam and Eve live before the fall? It seems to me that evil entered the world, as far as man is concerned, at their point of disobedience. Furthermore, it also seems that evil is not what is but rather what is not. The not here is in reference to the way things ought to be. When someone goes into a McDonalds and sprays bullets; that ought not be. Good therefore is how things ought to be if everyone is obedient to God. Evil therefore would seem to define the results of disobedience.

This however brings us back to our free agent status, and causes me to be curious as to why Jonathan disagrees. Also this agrees with ktismatics’ proposition that the ideal of evil can be created without actually doing it, since evil is not something that is but the result of something that is, and that of a free agent. It also would not be a world where, obviously, evil is impossible. As to the proposition that good and evil are inseparable, I would contend that good can exist without evil because evil ultimately is a parasite.

I know I’ve left too many considerations out to mention, else this could go on for a real long time and I think I’ve gone on too long already. The matter is not settled for me, and perhaps it will not be. If you’re still here, thanks for indulging me.

Jonathan Erdman said...

A quick comment first, then to the heart of the issue.

Danny said..
It seems to me that evil entered the world, as far as man is concerned, at their point of disobedience.

That might be true, but remember that the serpent was the tempter and I think we would all agree that the serpent was evil. Probably a manifestation of Satan or Satanic forces. Unless you want to say that the serpent was not evil or did not say anything untruthful. For example, the serpent said that they would not die if they ate the fruit. In one sense this was true because they did not keel over right away and kick the bucket....But if you believe that the serpent was evil, then it seems as though evil was slithering around the garden before the decision of Adam/Eve to eat that lovely fruit. (I'm guessing some sort of citrus!)

The main question:

How is "good" a "thing"?

If we contend that "good" is a "thing" while "evil" is a "non-thing" then we must ask ourselves in what sense does "good" have the property of "thingness," so to speak....And so then we would be in a better position to understand how evil is not a thing. Whenever the position of evil is the absence of good is brought up I never hear people define what it means for the "good" to be a thing. Rather they content themselves with describing how "evil" is not a thing or use analogies (light/dark, hot/cold) to explain the non-thingness of evil. So, let's flip it around a bit and ask how the "good" is a thing. This might be tough because it is both an abstract concept and also an action...but I will let you hash that out since you are the one advocating the non-thingness of evil.....

d said...

I am the student, not the teacher, not even a peer. As a brand new bloger, I am grateful for the opportunity to have my ideals examined and commented upon. You are obviously correct concerning the thingness of good.

Jonathan Erdman said...

But I didn't say any "thing"! Did I?

I think we might be able to say that "good" is a "thing", but if we do then I think that this same definition could apply to evil....This is the problem I see with saying that evil is the absence of good....But I'm honestly just playing around with the concepts - I've never done serious study on the problem of evil.

ktismatics said...

Okay, how about this. If God planned the redemption from before the beginning, then sin had to happen. One way to make this work out is for God to declare something as sin that man cannot avoid. But then does God have to force man into evil? Maybe not. In the Law God makes some seemingly strange things sinful: leprosy, menstruation, any kind of discharge. So God sort of arbitrarily declares these to be sinful under the Law, makes humans subject to their innate physicality, and you get the sins needed to justify an atonement. And these sins don't even require man to be "evil" in order to commit them, so God's conscience is clear.

samlcarr said...

Thingness couldn't exist without God. An atom is a thing coz God made it so. Similarly God defines what good things are; feed the hungry is a good thing coz God said so. Similarly the nonthingness of evil is that God made it so. Do this and don't do that. That is therfore evil. Identify with Me or against Me...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks for the comment Sam - good to see you around here and hear from you outside of bickering about politics on John's blog!

Interesting thought...I just got an email from someone coming from a similar direction, and I had this question: Can we envision the "good" of this world being "evil"? Or that the "evil" in this world as being "good"? For example, take a very crass and difficult issue: the rape of an innocent victim. This is one of those clear examples of evil. Could God say tomorrow that this obvious example of evil was now turned around and that rape is now "good"? Because of my Calvinistic roots I'm going to be the first one in line to defend God's sovereignty, but I don't think I would be able to go so far as to say that whatever God declares to be "good" is actually "good." I think if God held a press conference this afternoon and said that rape is no longer evil I might have to respond with a post on Theos Project taking issue with the decision! (Does this make me a bad Calvinist?)

Again, good to hear from you, Sam.

ktismatics said...

So, as I said, what about God declaring things like menstruation a sin? Or for God to declare that if a servant you buy gets married and has children while you own him it's okay for you to keep the wife and child after the servant has been freed? (Ex. 21, right after the Ten Commandments) Sam says that God's pronouncements make these things evil or good. Are you prepared to take issue with God regarding laws like these?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sorry to ignore your brilliant observations, Ktismatics!

Here's my thought on your attempt to mess with Christian ethics: There is definately a sense in which ethics is relative to the culture and social setting. Much of ethics is situational. In fact, I might go so far as to say that all of ethics is situational. Most of my conservative brethren will be up in arms to hear me say that, but I simply mean this: In the absence of a situation there is no ethic. There is no right or wrong without a situation (real or imagined) that we can deal with.

So, the two examples you cited were ethical rights/wrongs for a specific people at a specific time. God said, "This is how it is" and he made it so. However, for God to make an announcement at a press conference and claim that rape is now "good" would be wrong for the situation, I would argue. What would I appeal to? A higher moral law? Perhaps....but more likely I would appeal to the moral order and fabric of the world and note how disruptive this would be and also how damaging this would be to the victim. I would also argue that God was going against his history of defending the needy and less fortunate.

ktismatics said...

In I Chronicles 21 David orders a census of Israel against God's command. God becomes wrathful because of it and afflicts Israel with a plague that kills 70,000 people. Just or just plain mad: you decide. Would you take issue with that decision? At what point do you have to make a choice between God's righteousness and the inerrant interpretation of events by the Scriptural authors?

ktismatics said...

Oops, while I writing my next ethical complaint you responded to the prior one. I hear you about relative ethics, but Paul makes such a big deal about fulfilling the Law and the substitutionary atonement. He also says the Law continues forever, that the reason Jewish Christians get out of it isn't because the Law dies but because they die to the Law.

I agree, though, that the Law does seem specific to the Mosaic covenant. It seems to define sin in a way that's alien to how we see it now: the performance of specific unclean behaviors regardless of motive. The idea of the law written on hearts and a universal ethic seems to come later. Even then you've got Paul justifying dominance of men over women based on claims to universal ethical principals in the OT.

But killing 70K Jews because the king ordered a census? Dude, that's just wrong.

samlcarr said...

There's plenty of plain politics recorded in the OT as "God's will" but in the case of the plague, supposing the plague was afoot, the last thing you would want is for the same people to be going house to house for a census and effectively spreading the plague, so in this one case yes, God said no and David's people paid the price for his stubbonness.

What, apart from 500 billion dollars, 3,200 soldiers, a few hundred thousand Iraqis and mud in his face, will be George Bush Jr,'s curse for being disobediently greedy? When the president wanders, the people pay!

Sorry Jon, couldn't resist...

Jonathan Erdman said...

K,

On my suggestion, I think your statement kind of begs the question. That is, if God slaughtered 70k of his covenant people than I think we've got an issue here. But what is the context for that? Frankly, I don't know. I've never studied it in depth. But from my recollection we know little about the scenario.

So, I made the case that ethics is a contextual issue first and foremost. Sound nice, but this can get complicated. Now you have to also factor in that God would certainly have some sovereign privileges in light of the fact that He is God and Creator. So, he would seem to have the right to mess with the creation in a way that you and I could not do. It is his function and right. So, if God chooses to kill people for no good reason this would seem to be under some sort of job description. After all, God is the keeper of life and death, no? And if he has a reason for taking out 70k or 70 mil, then we might not like it, but we would have to grant him his due...even if we didn't really like him at the moment...

More on the contextuality of ethics. Acts 10: "Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean." This may be a paradigmatic example of contextual ethics. God changes the rules of the game: Unclean is now clean. God is working in a particular context to accomplish what he wants to do.

I hope I don't sound like too much of an apologist for God, nor do I mean to oversimplify. I'm just thinking through this as well, and frankly I've always thought God could pretty much take care of himself and doesn't need me to stick up for him!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam,

A dig well placed is a beautiful thing!

samlcarr said...

Jonathan, there are various instances where rape is actually sanctioned in the law, certainly what we would now consider to be rape...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Mosaic law? Is that what you are referring to?

samlcarr said...

take Lev. 19:20, Deut 22:28 as examples

Jonathan Erdman said...

Leviticus 19:20
Are we certain that this is a rape situation? Or is it mutal intercourse? Or is it hard to tell b/c in that society and culture it didn't matter as much?
Either way, a guilt offering is requied, so I would say that this in now way permits or condones the practice of rape. However, one might take issue with how lightly it is treated, assuming this is a rape scenario...

Deut. 22
This example is more interesting, b/c rape is obviously in view. But I still don't see how it is condoned. If a man rapes an engaged woman he dies. That's more harsh than in the US where a rapist can get out of prison after only a few, short years.

If the man rapes a non-virgin, then this scenario doesn't make as much sense to me b/c the man has to pay the woman's father and then take her as his wife. Seems like a raw deal, and I would never condone it, however this is obviously something that made sense in that culture, no? Ethics is bound up tightly with the culture. There is a relativity to right and wrong.

samlcarr said...

Just for argument's sake, what if man's idea of good and God's simply refuse to match up? Suppose God decides that murder is fine and man has a different opinion? Take the case of Saul (king) and his refusal to slaughter an entire people (ethnic cleansing)...

Jonathan Erdman said...

There is a sense in which God has written himself into the script. Obviously God has created a moral world where we feel the rights and wrongs of things. You don't need to know about God to know that it ain't right to kill someone for no good reason.....But in addition to creating a setting and players that are moral, by nature, God has also written himself into history as a significant player. I think that this includes moments when he takes a divine prerogative to judge humanity and to authorize, sanction, and even demand mass killing. He does this simply for the fact that he thinks that they deserve it. God has granted himself the role of judge in certain scenarios. Hence, he can say in the Saul scenario that it is right and just to kill masses of people in judgment for their sins.

Scary, I think. This is unsettling I must confess, but that's how I would respond to your question, Sam.

samlcarr said...

But then, how would you take issue with God on matters of right and wrong? Abraham bargained with God for Sodom, shouldn't we do the same?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yeah, Sam, I mean I'm right with you on that. To say that God tampers with his creation and meddles with it does not mean that we shouldn't engage him. Abraham is an example. Job is another example. Sometime Christians try to make the case that because God shut down Job at the end of the book that it follows that we should not challenge God. However, the example of Abraham reveals otherwise. (I would through in the example of Hezekiah as well, where God declared that he would die and then added years on to his life.)

Ethics is not easy. It seems like a work in process. I would agree with you and encourage intellectual/moral honesty when approaching Scripture and God.

Anonymous said...

Ok, seriously your argument does not really make sense!
Saying that good can't exist without evil is foolishness and thus just an excuse for people to carry out lawlessness and perversion.
If this so called good cannot exist without evil, why will God get it of it all together in Revelation? There will be no such things in God's kingdom. Evil and all things against the goodness of God are from the evil one. Do not explore good and evil, if you are God’s child then you do not continue or desire to Sin!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Anonymous,

As far as I can see, there is no passage in the book of Revelation that indicates that evil will once and for all be eradicated. I could be wrong.

Even if there is a day in which evil is eliminated, I don't see how that takes away from the point of my post. Besides, if evil is forever and for all time extinguished, then good would have to go with it as well. I'll buy that. Maybe the day we are all looking forward to, when the lion and lamb lie down together, is a day in which we move beyond good and evil, into an entirely new dimension of living, of freedom, and of equality.

Perhaps this world, with its moral categories, is what we see "in a mirror darkly," as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. Maybe when we are able to love purely and completely, as we read of in 1 Corinthians 13, then we will no longer have use for right and wrong, good and evil.