A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Is there still a problem with evil?

Humor me on this one.

I'm thinking in terms of traditional Christian apologetics when I ask this question. In the past apologetics has looked at evil as a problem to be solved. That is, the existence of evil poses a fundamental contradiction to the basic, core theological positions of Christianity:

God is all powerful
God is all Good
Evil Exists

Ergo,
Either God is not powerful enough to stop evil
Or God is powerful enough, but by golly he isn't good - because a Good God would use his power (as most of us would) to rid the world of evil.

Why is it that this question no longer interests me? It's not as if I haven't spent years of my life thinking about it (because I have). And it isn't as if I have a good solution (because I don't). So, why does the question no longer interest me?

I understand that I am asking you to comment on my own, personal state of mind, and help me figure myself out a bit here. But I could also tack on this question: By and large, do folks still care about the above "problem"? Hence, is there still a problem with evil? Not all cultures and societies wrestle with the tension. Are there still a significant number of believers who would reject their faith b/c of the perceived problem? Are there still a significant number of intelligent atheists who find the tension to be problematic and a barrier to belief?

42 comments:

Jason Hesiak said...

Lol. You Calvin fan.

Matt said...

Evil is our choice. For God to rid the world of evil, he would have to rid us of our free will. That wouldn't be good either. I know that is where athiests stumble. Their basic assumption is that people are good.

Maybe it isn't that simple. The only time I went to seminary was to use the gym.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Matt,

Didn't you have an older brother who went to seminary???

I heard he kinda went off the deep end. Is there an update on him? Any hope?

Beautifully Profound said...

Blame it on Adam and Eve.

Melody said...

It doesn't interest you anymore because it doesn't make a difference.

If you figure it out, the universe won't be altered. God and the devil continue to do what they've always done.

That's my theory.

But yes, I think most people...well most Americans, still care.

I've talked to a lot of people who refuse to believe in a God who would allow...the tsunami, Columbine, child prostitution, the death of their father, the brokeness of their family...pick a problem.

Doesn't make sense - nothing else bases its existance on our level of comfort with it, why should God? - but there are quite a few people who claim to adhere to this philosphy...so yeah, I'd say it's still an issue.

Emily said...

I agree w/ Melody's 1st two paragraphs.

(Tell me how to include what someone else said!)

samlcarr said...

I find myself in a similar situation to Jon's, tho perhaps for different reasons. Many, if not all, of those burning theological and apologetics questions just seem to be somehow missing the point these days. I tend to think of them as a fascinating but unnescesary byline to my faith.

I don't think that I have lost interest in being rational but it's more a result of a realisation that I had been seeing such a small part of the truth that 'my version' of the truth that I had extrapolated from what little I thought that I knew must be itself a ridiculous caricature.

It also links in with the meaning -significance post from a few days back. Meaning and truth have taken on a many layered appearance. The idea that reality is monolithic and can be figured out by the application of a few acts of logic built on a foundation of biblically sound premises now has become to be a very shaky thing.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Em,

First you cut-and-paste someone's comment into the comment box.

If you want to make it look different (like with italic font or bold font) then you have to use html tags. I can't show you what they look like in a comment b/c they won't go through unless they are shown correctly, and if they are shown correctly then they will just change the font and not show up!

Jason Hesiak said...

So, Erdman...how'd you figure out how to do it?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I just asked the little internet fairies.

Jason Hesiak said...

How did you understand their language? ("takes one to know one"?)

Jason Hesiak said...

:)

Jonathan Erdman said...

'Tis a heavenly language!

Melody said...

If you look at the bottom of the comment box you'll note that it mentioned html tags such as would bold or italicize one's font.

Emily, put the tag in front of the bit of text you want to alter and when you come to the end of that big put the same tag but with a / mark before the letter inside the <>.

Jonathan Erdman said...

But don't forget the internet fairies. After you place your tags you can close your eyes and make a wish.

Emily said...

But don't forget the internet fairies.

Thanks, guys!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Wow! Look at that! I'm so proud!

Together we can do anything.

What was this post about, again?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
I don't think that I have lost interest in being rational but it's more a result of a realisation that I had been seeing such a small part of the truth that 'my version' of the truth that I had extrapolated from what little I thought that I knew must be itself a ridiculous caricature.

What is so irritating about being a Christian these days is that the debates on this issue can be so polarized. I share your sentiment that rationality is important to me, but where does it fit into a holistic view of personhood? Or how does rationality relate with faith?

If epistemology is not my primary concern and rationality takes a secondary role in certain areas ("layers" as you say) of my living, being, and thinking - then is this any less valid?

So much of philosophy happens before we start thinking, because it has to do with the questions that we think are important. I don't give a rip about exploring synthetic a priori judgments, but Old Kant sure did! And for him it was worthwhile to dedicate his life to. For me it just seems silly. But then again, I'm sure he would find my "deep thoughts" on this blog to be foolish.

Jason Hesiak said...

i really mean this statement so much that i'm going to try and put it in bold.

see if i understand the language of the fairies...??

whaddaya know i too now have the "image and likeness" of the internet fairies - as the Doyle would say :)

Jason Hesiak said...

If I can italicize Italy, can I make myself more bold?

Yes and Yes!

Amen.

:)

Is this like a universal html language? Do the same rules apply at word press or at other blogs hosted by other joints?

chris van allsburg said...

Jon, to your first question, why the alleged problem is no longer of interest to you, perhaps this is because in your studies, you have found responses to it other than the traditional (Thomistic) responses furnished.

Perhaps you see a weakness in the syllogism as posited by Russell.

In my studies, I have seen that the problem of evil is not a logical one as much as it is an emotional one. Greg Bahnsen simply adds a 4th premise to the syllogism:

God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil he allows, but has not fully disclosed the reason to us.

Or, maybe since you've read Plantinga's free will defense, you don't see a problem anymore, and other theological issues have held your interest really tight like a NASCAR fan holds on to his can of Busch Light while sucking down his last Marlboro Light (Usually, Budweiser goes with Marlboro Reds) as his favorite driver pulls in for a pit stop.

I doubt, however, that you go about your business and are not personally troubled by the evil in this world and it's seeming progression (abandon any hint of premillennialism, please!).

To your 2nd question. It seems to me that intellectual atheists usually like to point out the fact that not only does God allow evil, but commands it, such as in the life of Job. In my dialogues with atheists of the intellectual stripe, the character of God is a prominent issue. It's not posited in the old fashioned way though. These days, they usually pick on God for sanctioning the genocides of Joshua's campaign and commanding death penalties in the Levitical code. So, it's not so much an abract philosophical bent as it is the actual character of God that is called into question in his own sanctioned acts.

The two arguments have a similarity, obviously, but the new atheists are more pointed in their judgments against the acts of God as opposed to the apparent passivity of him.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Chris.

You said, I doubt, however, that you go about your business and are not personally troubled by the evil in this world and it's seeming progression...

That's true. It is not as though I am not affected by evil on a very fundamental level, it is just that I don't find the tension to be worth worrying about. I have kind of reached the point of just letting God be God, my theology be damned. But you are right to note that I am not saying that evil is not a concern for me, personally. If anything I am more committed than ever to fighting evil, though in these latter days of my life I'm taking the fight to the streets. I believe more in acting against evil directly through the lives of others, rather than thinking about evil in its abstract relationship with a perfect being.

Also thanks for sharing the "new atheist" perspective on pointing out alleged inconsistencies of God's character. Don't you, personally, see some inconsistencies between Old and New Testament God? Or is "inconsistency" not a word you prefer?

ktismatics said...

"I have kind of reached the point of just letting God be God."

So you can let God permit evil. Can you also let God commit evil, which is what Chris's so-called "new atheist" is all in a huff about, especially as you point out with respect to the Old Testament God? The Greeks could: their gods weren't much different from humans morality-wise (image and likeness?); they just had more power to inflict their evils on mere mortals. The eastern gods also can commit evil, because the gods are ultimately responsible for everything.

"If anything I am more committed than ever to fighting evil."

Maybe in so doing you're fighting God. If so, I think it would be a worthy cause even if it is doomed from the start.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Nice!

K: Can you also let God commit evil, which is what Chris's so-called "new atheist" is all in a huff about, especially as you point out with respect to the Old Testament God?

In Wittgensteinian fashion I point us back to the way the words are being used in context. What do we mean when we say that God "committed evil"? If we say that God killed off groups of people who deserved it, then, yes, I allow God to commit evil. But, ultimately, why does it matter to God whether I "allow" him to do anything?

As for fighting God, I would add that there is a biblical motif for battling God: the story of Job, Jacob wrestling with the angel of God, etc. But by-and-large I think that God seems very committed to fighting evil as well. After all "God is light. In him there is no darkness, at all" (1 John).

ktismatics said...

"why does it matter to God whether I "allow" him to do anything?"

Good question. It's your phrase, not mine. Do you think it matters to God what you think of Him, or is he impassive?

"But by-and-large I think that God seems very committed to fighting evil as well."

You too are committed to this fight, yet I suspect you'd say that you too do evil at times. Perhaps at these times you are fighting yourself? Perhaps at times God is fighting Himself?

"After all "God is light. In him there is no darkness, at all" (1 John)."

I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7)

Beautifully Profound said...

According to the quote Ktismatics posted what room is there for Satan if God is the creator of good and evil?

Melody said...

I knew some Christians who believed that Satan was basically God's hit-man.

I was a kid, so I don't remember the finer points of that conversation, but I'd guess that verse in Isaiah was one of the ones they used to back up their theory.

Jason Hesiak said...

"what room is there for Satan if God is the creator of good and evil?"

hence the argument against a "sin nature"...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: Perhaps at times God is fighting Himself?

This is something worth considering, but don't tell Hesiak because I think he would have a serious problem with this based on his recent comments on the communion of the Trinity.

Ktismatics: Do you think it matters to God what you think of Him, or is he impassive?

It depends on the context, I suppose.

Melody: I knew some Christians who believed that Satan was basically God's hit-man.

This seems to be the case in the book of Job.

BP: According to the quote Ktismatics posted what room is there for Satan if God is the creator of good and evil?

God's hit man, maybe?

There seem to be instances in Scripture where God asserts his radical sovereignty such that he is even responsible for evil in the world. At other times he is the Prince of Peace or "God is light. In him there is no darkness." Again, I think context is important, though I don't necessarily think that this relieves the fundamental tension. In a moral world of freedom and with a sovereign Creator evil and goodness both seem necessary. In fact, there is a sense in which they are both necessary for the existence of the other, which starts to sound Eastern (Yin Yang) or even in line with Deconstruction and some of Derrida's thoughts on whether or not we can truly separate concepts into their opposites, thus the aporia.

samlcarr said...

When i try to wrap my little brain round some of these concepts, if i go one way my head bangs against this wall and when trying the other route, the head gets banged up against a different wall, so it's a choice between different pains.

The other option is to admit to myself that while God may know the answer, I just may not be up to figuring it out!

The opposites cry out for a synthesis, but its like trying to define space with only one dimension in hand.

Melody said...

Satan wasn't God's hit man in the book of Job. God taunted Satan with Job's righteousness and Satan said, "Oh yeah?"

It's about the same level of comfort you'd from the distinction that the local fire department hadn't set your house on fire, they just didn't put the fire out either, even so...

Jason Hesiak said...

Interestingly I agree with Melody on the Satan/Job thing.

Ktismatics: Perhaps at times God is fighting Himself?

[Erdman] This is something worth considering, but don't tell Hesiak because I think he would have a serious problem with this based on his recent comments on the communion of the Trinity.


If I remember correctly, Erdman, you agreed with me...??

Although prayers do seem to actually change God's mind sometimes in the OT.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I agree that there is communion in the God head....but I also wonder if they don't have it out every once in a while....

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
Satan wasn't God's hit man in the book of Job. God taunted Satan with Job's righteousness and Satan said, "Oh yeah?"

Right. But the book of Job is clear that Satan is under God's providential hand, so that ultimately Job appeals directly to God, who has given Satan a free run at Job. But God is teaching Job something through Satan, as such if one looks at the book of Job from the perspective of an unfolding drama, then Satan is merely the pawn for God to bring Job into a strange new level of faith and spirituality. As such, Satan does seem to me to be a hit man. It's just that in this case, God comes around after the hit man has done his worst and says, "What? Are you talkin' to me??? Brace yourself like a man! I will question you and you will answer me!"

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason and Melody agree!!!!

Let's Celebrate!

Jason Hesiak said...

funny.

Jason Hesiak said...

I agree that there is communion in the God head....but I also wonder if they don't have it out every once in a while....

Gethsemene...hhmm...and "why hast thou forsaken me?"

ktismatics said...

One last observation on the Isaiah passage: notice how the modern translators rephrase the bit about God "creating evil." The NASB says creating "calamity;" in the NIV it's "disaster." There is no justification for these changes other than cleaning up God's image -- the word ought to be translated "evil," just like it says in the good old King James.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I was going to say that, in all fairness to the moderns, the word for "evil" (ra'a') has a wide range, meaning that it could be used to describe a negative event, without necessarily having a moral connotation. But in doing a quick search through the prophets I only found one such use.

(NAU Amos 6:3 Do you put off the day of calamity, And would you bring near the seat of violence?)

In other words, the vast majority of the biblical uses (at least in the prophetic books) have a moral connotation - indeed, a rather strong one at times.

Jason Hesiak said...

I was going to say that, in all fairness to the moderns, the word for "evil" (ra'a') has a wide range, meaning that it could be used to describe a negative event, without necessarily having a moral connotation.

I was going to mention that. This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I knew the Hebrew, so I could have a better idea what was actually being said when I was reading stuff. I'd even imagine that the prophets are often playing between two words or two uses of a word...in exactly such cases.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Playing on words was invented by the evil postmodern philosophers in order to destroy western culture and Christian values.

Jason Hesiak said...

Are they "evil" or do they "bring calamity"?

:)