A Secular Age, Affliction, Apologetics, Biblical Counseling, Buffered Self, Charles Taylor, Deism, Enlightenment, Immanent Frame, Tim Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, Western Thought
In chapter two of Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller begins by recounting the answer of Stoicism (which parallels in many ways and Buddhism) to suffering: the divine impersonal force is at work. Therefore, don’t give into to your affections, your hopes or loves, be restrained so that you will not be hurt. There is a future for you and your body, but it is impersonal, dissolved. You’ll be there, but you won’t know it.
Christianity triumphed over this worldview by placing suffering into a matrix of beliefs and valuations of the world. First, the universe is under control, but it is the control of a personal, wise, loving God. God is infinite and thus inscrutable. Second, God in Jesus Christ entered into the suffering of this world — most importantly on the cross. Thus, God has shown his love and power. Third, by entering into our suffering and having triumphed over death, salvation is now possible by grace through faith. This gives great comfort in suffering:
As Luther taught, suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you. Secularity cannot give you that, and religions that provide for salvation through good works cannot give it, either (58).
Fourth, salvation will lead to restoration and resurrection of the body. There is a reversal of the loss of suffering and death.
Why then does Christianity seemingly suffer now when evil arises? At one time, Christianity’s strength in Western thought showed itself most brilliantly in the face of evil and suffering. Keller relies upon philosopher Charles Taylor (A Secular Age) for the observation that around 1500, Western thought shifted to an “immanent frame”:
He says that we live inside an “immanent frame,” the view that the world is a completely natural order without any supernatural. It is a completely ” ‘immanent’ world, over against a possible ‘transcedent’ one.” …Another phrase he uses is the “buffered self.”..It was often assumed that one was required to look outside of the self–to nature and to God–to learn the right way to live. Modern people, however, have a “buffered self,” a self that is bounded and self-contained. Because there is no transcedent, supernatural order outside of me, it is I who determine what I am and who I will be. (53).
By means of this intellectual move, coupled with deism which allowed only enough God to blame for trouble to remain, created the “problem of evil.” Before this move, Christianity had an answer to evil and suffering. Yet, after this move, a reduced God existed who had the job of making us comfortable and at ease. Rather than an infinitely holy God, who created us for his glory, and against whom we have sinned and need reconciliation through the cross because of our sin, we have a lesser “God”:
Instead, human beings’ main purpose is to use our reason and free will to support human flourishing….The older Christian idea that we exist for God’s glory receded and was replaced by the belief that God exists to nurture and sustain us (54).
Thus, the problem of evil stems in large part from a reduced God.