December 9, 2010

Evil & Suffering I: Reconciling Evil With A Holy God

I am going to try and break pieces off my thesis on theodicy and make them into intellectually digestible chunks on SoulJournaler. If this gets too ugly I will abandon ship but this will be the first post. Please understand they are meant to be read as small components of a much larger whole. I will try to make them as compatible with a short format as possible but there may be loose ends that do not quite make sense in the individual post but when you have finished reading all of them as a whole the loose ends will make sense. Like suffering, this series will be a process that may not all make sense while it is unfolding but in the end you can see why certain things were necessary.

Due to the complexity of some of the philosophical concepts underlying theodicy I will avoid posting them in detail except where they help move this series along (i.e.: Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc). Because these posts will be in abbreviated forms compared to the ones in my paper I may occasionally need to elaborate on some points more. If I need to embellish for the sake of clarity I will do so in the Reader's Thoughts section.

So why does God allow the evil and suffering we see in the world? Why is it possible for evil to exist if God is an all-powerful and loving God?

When asking these questions we need to wrestle with questions of existence that have plagued humankind since the time of the ancient philosophers. Every believer at some point in time has also wrestled with this dilemma as has a secular world that may or may not have a God to explain it or blame it on. There is a Christian response to the evil and suffering in the world, a world that is within the sovereign territory of a sovereign God, it is called theodicy.

Theodicy reconciles or tries to reconcile the evil of the world with a holy and righteous God. How an infinitely holy and just God can allow evil to exist and in some cases thrive in His creation. In doing so it implicates and draws in the idea of God’s justification and justice. As Christians we are to view God as the sovereign Creator. In so doing Christians relinquish the right to be the final say in judgment of ourselves and give this over to Him. By doing this we acknowledge that we have imputed sin as a product of Adam and the sin in the Garden (Enns 319, 323). Although created holy, humankind chose to disobey God and sin and thereby gained for himself a penalty of death. Death not only physically but also spiritual unless we accept Christ’s redeeming/atoning work on the cross and repent. There is a price to be paid for sin since “the wages of sin is death”. Christ sacrificially put himself up as the ransom or a substitution to free man from the bondage to sin which is the source of the ills of this world or what many view as evil. Christ also abrogated the ceremonial law instituted by the Mosaic covenant (Enns 89).

Knowing what I have stated above, Christians should then truly understand their irreparable position in relation to a holy and perfectly just and righteous God that must judge sin (or He wouldn’t be God). The response by Christians is to submit to the One who judges and is merciful and full or grace to forgive…if we accept His sacrificial offer and repent. God is unique, incomparable, sovereign, holy and a just God. He is worthy to judge all of humankind based in the attributes that He Himself contains and exudes. It is God that is worthy to determine where they (His creation) stand in relation to what He has already dictated as the acceptable minimum level for being rewarded eternal life. It is also God that has established what it will take for each individual to get to that eternal life on an individual basis. In some cases it may require suffering and enduring pain. In other words: We are reprobates and only He can save us. It is only by the grace of God we can be redeemed. Believing involves and act(s) of repentance in faith. Faith is the vehicle that gets you to the destination or the eye that sees. The Lord Jesus has done that work for us already (Enns 97-98).

Part of the process of being redeemed, sanctified and growing in faith requires us occasionally to live both individually and communally in a world system that contains evil, suffering and pain and endure these evils and suffering both individually and communally. It also requires us to become more dependent on God. It is in the communal aspect where we learn that it is easier to endure the suffering by sharing it. When the load is evenly distributed over a wider swath of people it seems to be easier to bear. It is in the communal aspect of compassion for others and the love for those suffering that we see a glimpse the Kingdom of God.

Customarily, humankind and his entanglement with sin are viewed as the direct consequence from the fall of man in the world. Humankind is created holy but falls choosing to sin, Adam seems to have sinned knowingly, and as such this sin distorts and casts doubt upon all knowledge. Because human nature was so damaged by the Fall no person is capable of doing spiritual good without God’s help (Marino 256, 259). God being perfectly just cannot ignore sin as it is an affront against His holiness. In needing to respond to the sin of disobedience the world is under a curse and/or being punished for sin. Man will die, for the wages of sin is death. The world is now also at odds with God and/or anything divine. As converted justified believers, we are at odds with ourselves or our flesh that is still “of this world”. The best example of this is in Romans 7 and what appears to be Paul suffering from a multiple personality disorder. In actually he is talking about the tension between the spiritual good and the sinful flesh. He ends up doing things he doesn’t mean to do, and not doing things he should. (Enns 324-326). As we live our lives in this world system we are confronted with the “fallout” from the fall of humankind in the form of evil, suffering and pain (among other things). Consequently, this evil, pain and suffering are more easily endured when done so communally because of distribution of the burden.

Man has no concept of how repulsive evil is to God. If humankind would truly understand this they would not be so quick to judge the Almighty Judge. If we really sit down and analyze the depths of evil that humankind sank to in the 20th Century we begin to see how messed up things can get. The world had just come through the Gilded Age and just been exposed to the Utopian philosophies of the 19th century philosophers. The world then descended in the hellacious mechanized warfare of World War I. Technology had finally caught up with the killing pace of depraved evil in the human mind and the results were horrific. All involved swore it would never happen again and within a generation another war, World War II would make the death toll of the first look like a Sunday picnic. Man would create a single bomb that could vaporize an entire city instantaneously and leave tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands to suffer slow painful deaths due to radiation poisoning. Just when humankind thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. It had been a long road since Biblical times but the evil never left and the end result of evil left unchecked manifested itself in the most horrific of ways in the mostly godless vacuum of the secular 20th century.

In this view evil is rebellion against God. The final measuring stick against evil is God Himself. There is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5), He is upright and just (Deut 32:4), He will not be blamed for peoples evil (James 1:13). In other words sin and evil are an absence or disordering of the good created by God (Marino 273). I have personally deemed evil (and sin) an “ontological parasite”. They are an absence of good or can only exist in a host-parasite relationship with what God has already made good. I will elaborate more on this later (see Augustine: Modified Rationalistic). Regardless, humans often view suffering, sickness and death (the effects of the Fall) as bad or evil. Christians should view it as justice exacted against a sinful humanity. If we repent we will eventually be glorified in Christ and restored to our previous state (after death) anyway.

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