Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Theodicy, Part 2

It is one thing to show that the unbelieving worldviews are logically self-contradictory but we still need to show that the Christian worldview does not contradict itself. Before presenting the Biblical answer to this objection I think that it’s important to note what the Bible does not say though they are common answers that Christians give to this objection:

1. That evil is unreal.
a. Even St. Augustine describe evil as a privation or as non-being (C.S. Lewis used similar language). Augustine then went on to say that God is only responsible for being and not for non-being. So evil is really non-being.
b. The first problem with this is that it does not answer the objection, it just pushes the question back a step. Instead of, “How can an all-good and all-powerful God allow evil?” the question becomes, “How can an all-good and all-powerful God allow such a terrible and painful illusion of evil?”
c. The second problem is that the Bible explicitly denies this answer. We know that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) and so in the Biblical world-view God is sovereign over all events; both good and evil.

2. That God is not all-powerful.
a. Rabbi Kushner suggests this answer in his book, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? The objection basically says that God has not overcome evil because he cannot but he does try his best and so dispenses with the second premise.
b. The outcome of this answer is just as bad as allowing the objection to stand and refute Christianity. This gives up all hope that evil will ever be overcome and the intellectual satisfaction of answering the objection will quickly disappear in light of the possibility that evil may actually triumph over God.
c. This is again clearly against the Biblical teaching that God is omniscient (Ps. 139; Heb. 4:11-13; Is. 46:10; 1 John 3:20), omnipotent (Ps. 115:3; Is. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:11; Luke 18:27), and sovereign (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Tim. 6:15-16).

3. That this is the best possible world.
a. G.W. Leibniz and others have argued that this world, despite the evil in it, is still the best possible world that God could have made. So he argues that certain evils are necessary to obtain certain goods (for example, we cannot have compassion on those who suffer without suffering).
b. The problem is that this fails to recognize God’s immutability (that he does not change). He is eternal and so has pre-existence over his creation. God has always been compassionate even without anyone to show compassion to. Compassion is an attribute of his being and so is his from eternity. Eden did not contain any evil or sin but certainly was not an imperfect world. The new heavens and the new earth will also be perfect without any evil. So this does not really answer the objection.
c. A similar argument is made by C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. He suggests that human beings require laws in order to live happy and productive lives and that a stable environment with these laws makes evil necessary. A universe with regular laws means that gravity will not be repealed to keep me from fall down the stairs and suffering the pain from that.
d. The problem with this argument is that it is not a sufficient answer to the objection. God placed Adam in a stable environment without any evil in it. There will not be evil in the new heavens and the new earth but this does not mean that that will be an unstable environment. Most importantly, this does not answer the problem that the human heart is itself a source of evil rather than merely a sufferer of evil.

4. That human beings possess libertarian free will.
a. This claim (closely related to Arminianism and Open Theism) says that evil came about by the free choice of rational creatures (whether Satan, Adam, or “everyman”) and that that choice was not foreordained by God.
b. Libertarian free will further claims that human beings can choose between alternatives with perfect ease and without any controlling factors. There are a number of Biblical problems with this view. (1) The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over individual human decisions (Ps. 139:13-16). (2) There are not any instances where Scripture teaches libertarian free will. (3) Scripture grounds human responsibility in their standing as God’s creatures. We are responsible to God for our actions because he created us and has the right to evaluate our conduct and decisions and not because we possess libertarian free will. (4) Scripture teaches that all men sin because they are sinners. Our desires are fallen and we choose according to those fallen desires. (5) Scripture teaches that in the new heavens and the new earth we will not have the ability to sin. This is because we will not have the desire to sin. If we do not possess libertarian free will in the perfect state then why should we expect it in a less perfect one? (6) Scripture judges people for sins that are explicitly not committed out of libertarian freedom. For example, Christ’s death on the cross was fore-ordained before the creation of the world but Judas is still guilty for his betrayal and the Jewish religious leaders are still guilty for crucifying him. (7) God is not free in the libertarian sense because he cannot act against his holy character (for example, he cannot lie and cannot sin). Why presume that human beings are more free than God?
c. The Bible does not ever resort to the free will defense in any passage that discusses the problem of evil (cf. Job, Ps. 37, 73). Instead Paul traces disbelief (which is sin) to “God’s purposes in election” (Rom. 9:11).

5. That evil builds character.
a. John Hick calls this the “soul-making” theodicy. The idea is that man is created in a state of spiritual immaturity and in order to become mature he must experience various pains and sufferings.
b. It is true that the Bible says that suffering sometimes has a beneficial effect (Heb. 12; James 1). God does discipline us in order to teach us godliness.This does not mean that we can form an answer to the problem of evil from these passages. Adam was created good and his suffering was a result of his sin not his need to grow. Also, not all suffering results in spiritual improvement. Finally, the primary cause of spiritual growth and sanctification is not suffering but God’s grace in regeneration.

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