December 26, 2010

Evil & Suffering X: Augustine of Hippo-Part I

I believe we have sort of cleared the first hurdle of the argument of theodicy. God allows evil and suffering. He is all powerful and He is and all-loving God. Now what? From a biblical theological standpoint we can assume, although God did not create evil and suffering, He has allowed it to stick around and has not yet removed it as promised in Revelation 21.

We also now enter the most tediously boring, dry and unbearable theological portion of discussion where only the bold or theologically boring dare tread (that would be me). Where I could I sought to avoid this deep philosophical and theological tedium to maintain the continuity and readability. Where I felt long-winded thoughts were pertinent and topical I have included them at the risk of driving the reader(s) into a catatonic state (Zzzzzzzzzz....). The following portions applying to Augustine, Aquinas, Plantinga, John Calvin & Jacobus Arminius are necessary to define my final position in parts XXIV and XXV of the series Evil & Suffering. Yes, I mentioned Arminius and Calvin together because, when it comes to evil, their views are nearly synonymous. Imagine that.

In Augustinian theology, God was not even obligated to create the creation as His own existence would’ve been the “high water mark” and the supreme good. Creating a creation as it exists now seems to be a proper thing for Him to do but not the only thing He could’ve done on the basis of reason but as most of us know, reason is not a necessarily a law or axiom in this universe. There could be an infinite number of finite conditional worlds possible, some of these infinite number by statistic necessity…would be evil or would contain evil. Therefore God could not have created them but what He could have created was a multitude of possible good worlds. Paradoxically, there is no “best possible world”.

Augustine of Hippo also stated that God was free to choose what “good” world to create if he actually chose to create one. If he did chose to create a “good” world/universe then evil would arise in the following manner

a. The world created from the word/hand of God must not contain evil.
b. Evil must be introduced through the actions of others/agents who God created...with free will.
c. If God’s good creation does contain evil it is no stain on God as He is omnipotent and can use or work through the evil not created by Him but sued providentially to produce a good outcome or “optimal world”.

In this view we see that God is not the cause of or creator of evil, the abuse of human (and angelic) free will is the mitigating factor. Suffering and pain in inevitably falls out or descends from this position. The conundrum in this scenario is: Why did God create man with a free will if he knew in His omniscience that man would eventually drop the ball and chose sin and commit evil? God is still good in this situation for giving man a variable that he had the potential to abuse. Why? Because the optimal world is a world where man has the choice to choose to love God and do the right thing and still have the possibility to sin as opposed to a world that is free of sin, evil and suffering only to have every person in it be a programmed machine or robot forced to love God.

This addresses the other question that arises from assuming God can just remove evil why didn’t God just make people (angels) love Him avoiding the need for free will? Had He done this they would’ve never strayed. My response to this is one further question. Does forcing someone to love you actually constitute real love? For God to allow us to love Him of our own freewill He needed to allow us to hate Him or choose something besides love. Otherwise there would be no choice, only a directive or mandate. That’s not love. It’s called tyranny and despotism and that would make God a tyrant and therefore not God. If God is anything He is holy, He just and He is love (Macchia 202)

In short God cannot create people with a choice to choose and always have them chose what is proper, perfectly, every time. This would make man perfect and godlike and infallible. A genuine free will allows for the possibility and probably of evil and subsequently suffering and/or pain. So here we have another internally consistent argument here for the existence of evil/suffering in an omnipotent and benevolent God’s creation (Feinberg, “Dictionary of Theology” 1085).

This logic then leads a “modified rationalist” to explain why God has not “just removed” the evil if he is “so loving”. The problem with God “just doing something” comes from the following thought. God has to either remove the evil or make man free, you cannot have both. Obviously God has allowed the later: Giving man a choice. The good of this choice compensates for the bad produced by freewill. Having allowed man free will, God is still not guilty for the evil that still exists nor can He directly intervene to remove it totally…yet. A Biblical worldview has pointed us to examples where God did intervene to stem the tide of extreme cases of outright rebellion against Him or overt examples of evil. This more or less has continued until modern times (i.e.: Nazis, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc). Wherever a heinous evil has reared its ugly head, it has been driven back down over time. Inevitably, Christians understand that a final plan outlined in bible prophecy speaks to a final judgment and reconciliation of man to God in the end.

In this description we see that Augustine sees human will is the root of evil. Humans sin voluntarily and are thereby worthy of punishment. Augustine saw free will and a form of intermediate good since the being that possessed it had the ability to do good or evil. He also insisted that it was proper to give man free will even with the risk of using it for evil because it had the potential to be used for good also and often is.

The primary assumption when dealing with theodicy is that man knows better and this is dangerous because God’s ways are above our ways meaning we cannot understand is purposes because we only have a myopic human view or things but He has all aspects covered at all times.

Frank D. Macchia in Systematic Theology edited by Stanley Horton elaborates on this in succinct detail in two quotes made by him.

Macchia’s quote is brilliant:
“God has created humanity with the freedom to rebel and become vulnerable to satanic opposition. God has allowed satanic opposition to exist to test humanity’s free response to God.” (Macchia 202)
Macchia also states that:
“God wills to triumph over satanic opposition, not only for believers, but also through them. Therefore, the triumph of God’s grace has a history and a development.” (Macchia 202)
God uses the vessels of triumph to propagate further triumph…all to the glory of God. Just as he has placed the seeds of rebirth and new life within fruit, He has done the same with believers by placing the Spirit in men (indwelt). The whole implication here is that God is constantly active and involved in His creation and His creation once saved, actively pursues the will of God (usually). What is also amazing here in this premise is that, for God to gain salvation over some “thing, there has to be some “thing” to triumph over. God being omnipotent and sovereign over His creation has to first allow this to happen, hence the existence of evil. This then logically leads to the Augustinian idea of privatio boni or an absence of good. For more of an explanation on this, see the next post...

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