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III.       WHAT IF THE CROOK DOESN’T COME FROM GOD?

The proposition that the crook comes from God forms the next section of Boston’s analysis. And it is here that we will stray a bit from Boston’s work to deal with an objection known as the “problem of evil.”

There is a kind of reluctance to place the “blame” with God, because it seems counterintuitive.  And while not an exhaustive consideration, there are few common considerations which should be dealt with before look at Boston’s analysis of the doctrine that all things –even trouble-comes from God.

A.        Here is the greatest argument in favor of atheism

It must be noted that the fact of suffering is fundamental argument in favor of atheism. In its strongest form, it usually produced something like this:

In the second half of the twentieth century, atheologians (that is, persons who try to prove the non-existence of God) commonly claimed that the problem of evil was a problem of logical inconsistency. J. L. Mackie (1955, p. 200), for example, claimed,

Here it can be shown, not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another.

H. J. McCloskey (1960, p. 97) wrote,

Evil is a problem, for the theist, in that a contradiction is involved in the fact of evil on the one hand and belief in the omnipotence and omniscience of God on the other.

Mackie and McCloskey can be understood as claiming that it is impossible for all of the following statements to be true at the same time:

(1) God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful).

(2) God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing).

(3) God is perfectly good.

(4) Evil exists.

The Problem of Evil, https://iep.utm.edu/evil-log/ For a discussion of the philosophy, see also here, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/  Or if you’d like it as a gibe, “As the Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg commented, ‘If there is a God that has special plans for humans, then He has taken very great pains to hide His concern for us.’” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-purpose/201910/why-do-bad-things-happen-good-people

There are a number of responses to this assertion. See, a summary of some of the forms of argument here:  https://carm.org/evidence-and-answers/if-god-is-all-powerful-and-loving-why-is-there-suffering-in-the-world/   

This literature in this area of philosophy is, like all philosophical problems which rouse the attention of a sufficient number of philosophers, “extensive.” I think in part that the a difficulty arises from considering the problem of evil in the abstract as a logical problem not as a relational or covenantal category.

The Christian understanding is that suffering has its origin in sin; sin as rebellion against and rejection of God. The creation (including human beings) is created a contingent existence. Life and blessing flow into the creation from God (just as water flows into the Garden from Eden). Sin brought a curse upon the earth, including death.

God has acted to mitigate that curse. Death did not come immediately. Redemption (which can be understood as a means to escape the curse) has also been provided. However horrifying sin and suffering (a fact which must never be downplayed or denied in any respect), the fact remains that sin’s natural product is always the worse possible outcome.

It should also be considered that the most horrifying examples of evil are human evils, the sin of one human being against another.  Perhaps a hypothetical disease could inflict greater pain than one human being could inflict upon another; but the relational aspect makes the pain worse. Relational evil causes despair beyond the pain. I recall hearing a political prisoner discuss being tormented by the police. During the torture, a call came for one of the police officers. It was a wife asking when her husband would be home. The prisoner said, I was able to bear it while I thought I was being handled by monsters. But when I heard him speak to his wife, I knew these were human beings, which made the torment worse.

We can bear almost anything when we know we have love and when we have hope. It is not just the physical pain which overwhelms us; even more it is the absence of relationship. And that is where the discussion of evil as a philosophical problem can go wrong.  Evil is a relational category, which has meaning in the context of God and judgment. Otherwise it is just pain.

To argue from pain to there is no god is incoherent. To argue from “evil” to no God, we must first presume there is a God such that “evil” is a true relational category. The fact of evil presumes a God. To just use “evil” as a figure of speech to denote pain or anything of which I disapprove is an esthetic argument.

I affirm the unmistakable category of evil as something more than pain. But affirming this means I must also affirm the existence of God.

A.        If trouble does not start with God, then the trouble is meaningless.

To say that some proposition X “means” something is really a way of saying that X has a particular relationship to some other category Y. For instance, you drive your car past a
“Stop” sign without stopping. That is a traffic violation.

When we say that is a “traffic violation,” we are referring to the relationship between the legal importance of the sign (it is a command from the government that you must stop your vehicle in a particular lace) and your behavior (you did not stop). Let us assume for a moment some future world in which the current government has fallen and our civilization is now the concern of archaeologists.  A future archaeologist drives his vehicle past a “stop” sign from the excavation. He has not engaged in a traffic violation, because the sign no longer signifies the command of an existent government. To the future archaeologist, the sign no longer means that one must stop. Now it means, there used to be this government which gave these commands (because the new context for the sign is archaeology, not present government).

The same principle holds with suffering. Boston is going to argue to the meaning of suffering (and this meaning will become the basis upon which we should understand and bear suffering) from the fact that suffering takes place in the context of God’s sovereignty: it is meaningful because God has ordained it.

But what if suffering takes place in a world without meaning, because it takes place in a world without God? The great English writer, Thomas Hardy, an atheist, raised the problem of suffering in a meaningless world:

If but some vengeful god would call to me

From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,

Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,

That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!” 

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,

Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;

Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I

Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,

And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?

—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .

These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown

Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

If God were a monster who tormented me from hate, at least that would be hate and I could stand against the hate. But suffering just happens. I am meaningless being subject to meaningless suffering.

It may seem strange, but God’s sovereignty provides a ground for understanding our suffering as meaningful. It also make it possible to affirm that evil is real, and thus something which we can judge to be evil.

B.        God’s sovereignty provides a basis for hope

If suffering has its ultimate origin in the will of God, I have hope that the suffering can be relieved or transformed. If suffering is meaningful; if evil is real; and if God is sovereign and good, then I can expect there to be an end to suffering, and a judgment of evil.

C.         Restating the problem of evil

The objection here would be, What of the suffering of one who does not know of God’s sovereignty and that there will be an end to suffering and a judgment of evil? That person has none of the alleged “good” which can come from suffering.

This argument is actually a bit different, God is unjust to permit evil to exist in the creation.  This is a means to restate the “problem of evil” argument in relational terms.  It is not exactly to say that God does not love. Criminals may love their family and rob their neighbor. Love can be quite exclusive. But it is to say that God does love some particular person. And further that it is unjust of God to not prevent the evil one person commits against another.

But that presents another problem. Since human beings are naturally bent toward evil (and even ordinary people can easily become troopers packing some disapproved minority off to be murdered or enslaved), the solution would be to either transform human nature or to eradicate humans. God has dealt with that objection. The Gospel is an offer to begin the transformation process (which sadly is slow and imperfect at present).

But this raises actually the more difficult question. God has no duty to rescue his enemies. Human beings are in a state of rebellion against God. God has provided a rescue, which is largely rejected (and the offered rescue is scoffed at by the same people most exercised over the problem of evil).

This presents an odd situation. The disgruntled philosopher says If there is a God, God has not done the right thing to remedy evil. A Christian responds, here is what God has done in Jesus the Christ. The philosopher says, that is stupid. That is not the right way to remedy evil: it is too slow in acting, it permits too much evil to exist before it is finally made to stop, and not everyone knows of or will accept the solution.

In this case, the contention is not that there is evil, but that Incarnation was an insufficient means to remedy evil because it does not provide a remedy for every person (or does not operate with the speed the philosopher believes necessary to vindicate God).

To that I can only offer three responses. First, we have the difficult problem of God’s love (as D.A. Carson aptly put it). If God had rescued no one, we would have no one to blame but ourselves. The problem arises because God does not rescue everyone.

Second, there is a solution for those will receive it. And that solution for those who believe will be the remainder of Boston’s work.

Third, judgment comes to every human being. Death will and does come. It is the grand argument of the “problem of evil” that death comes and it is especially evil when it comes to children. But death is the means to prohibit further human evil. Death is the passage to judgment and justice, is precisely what the philosopher contends is an evil.

This obviously is not the final discussion of the problem of evil. But I hope that it does underscore that the difficult problem has to do with those who suffer evil without the knowledge of God’s work in suffering. Christianity is an to the problem of suffering. When that answer is rejected, I don’t know that I can offer a satisfying further reply. I don’t see how I can resolve your relational argument (there is evil in the world) when you reject the relationship which remedies that trouble.