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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Problem of Evil

While I use the blog a a repository of information to access while invloved in online argumentation, I came across two stupendous articles this week. These articles pertain to the commonly raised objections by skeptics (and even some Christians) as to the existance of evil and suffering in the world.

First, Vox day weighs in with his thoughts on the matter...

"For centuries, philosophers have wrestled with the so-called problem of evil. They have attempted to define the nature and the character of evil and to provide explanations for the persistence of its existence. Many of them have been Christians and, indeed, the problem of evil is a major stumbling block to belief in the existence of God for many individuals. It is not uncommon for those struck by tragedy to question their faith, or even to lose it, since they are unable to balance the notion of personal suffering with the existence of a God who claims to love them.

The problem with this reasoning is that it is fundamentally at odds with the very heart of Christianity. Christianity does not postulate that the world is a good place. Jesus repeatedly declared that the world hated him and it would hate those who loved him. Christianity does not claim that God is presently in control of events; when Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus rejected the offer but did not claim that it was spurious. And, indeed, Jesus twice spoke of "the prince of this world" as a being who was coming to kill him but would ultimately be driven out by Jesus' death.

Christianity does not have a problem of evil because it requires evil for the great historical event celebrated yesterday to have any meaning at all. Just as I wrote last week that the Crucifixion and Resurrection make no sense if man is not at risk of hell, they make no sense in a world that is not given over to evil. But if Christianity has no problem of evil, Christians most certainly have a problem with evil."

So we see, the Resurrection only makes sense if we view that event from the starting point that we live in a fallen world and man is in a fallen state. day goes on to mention.. "The great irony is that despite the world's rejection of God and its foolish embrace of evil, those who find themselves suffering the promised consequences of their actions will end up blaming God for them. Such are the perils of free will."

I would posit "the perils of free will" are part of the problem of understanding evil. Evil is typically an act that is committed. When one has free will over a wide variety of actions that one can perform, then the fallen state of man can easily be seen by some of the heinous acts that our fellow human beings commit.

Father Dwight Longenecker (who I link to on the right side of the page), had this to say recently about suffering...

"Suffering--as terrible as it is--therefore validates our existence. My suffering affirms my eternal destiny. "This is so bad that it must point me to the good. My pain screams out to me and defines the joy I am lacking." How do I know I exist? How do I know my humanity? Because of my pain. The pleasures of this life are ephemeral, and may be produced within me through all sorts of illusory and self-induced phenomena. They are therefore untrustworthy as validation of my existence. But I do not bring pain onto myself. I avoid pain. Therefore, pain is the sensation that not only makes me believe in the existence of pleasure, but it also makes me believe in the existence of me. Pain validates me. Not "I think therefore I am" but "I scream therefore I am."

The cynical nihilist may still turn around and say, "That pleasure and reasonable answer you dream of is an illusion. It is wishful thinking. There is no such thing. Pleasure, like pain, is simply an animal sensation.--a primitive instinct of survival." To which we reply, "Then why do I rage against the unreasonableness of it all? Why not simply whimper and crouch down and lick my wounds and run from the pain like a beast? Instead I rage against God for allowing this suffering and I demand an answer."

There would be no such thing as thirst unless there were such a thing as water. Man could not reason unless there was such a thing as Reason. We could not ask questions if there were no such thing as answers. This is why Christianity puts suffering right at the heart of our faith. We do not avoid it. We do not come up with philosophical or theological theories. We do not say that suffering is an illusion and that we must simply rise above it. Instead we behold the cross. We preach Christ crucified."

So maybe there is a deeper meaning to pain and suffering and we are provided with only a brief glimpse on the overall historical timeline that accentuates the negative. With Christ's victory over death at the cross, we have the example of the empty tomb that there will be comfort and greater understanding in the end for those who seek Him.


photogr said...

Intereting thoughts J.D.

Justin Vacula said...

Day offers a red herring when he says "The world is never said to be good." The problem of evil is such that humans are supposed to be the focus of God, yet God is all-loving despite the egregious amounts of natural disasters in the world (and who made the universe? God did.)

Longnecker says pain defines human existence? So what? We can have less pain in the universe and still be humans.

JD Curtis said...

Day offers a red herring when he says "The world is never said to be good." The problem of evil is such that humans are supposed to be the focus of God, yet God is all-loving despite the egregious amounts of natural disasters in the world (and who made the universe? God did.)

How is this a "red herring" in any way? The Bible is quite explicit that we will have the poor and wars up until the second coming. If the Bible made claims that these things would be done away with before that, then it could be said to be contradictory but it does not do so.

Insofar as "humans are supposed to be the focus of God, yet God is all-loving despite the egregious amounts of natural disasters in the world " I would agree that God is involved in the affairs of mankind and cares about them. However the existance of natural disasters et al does not negate the existance of God in any way and it's my understanding that such matters arent even debated among the better philosophy departments out there.

At best it could be stated that (something like) "It is poorly understood among many people why there is evil and suffering in the world" and this statement would be apart from arguments concerning the "existance" of God.

Tracy said...

Thanks for posting this JD; I especially appreciate the second paragraph here.

GentleSkeptic said...

I was just relieved to see VD admit that "Christianity... requires evil..."

Certainly can't argue with that!

Theodicy isn't actually a problem for atheists.

Jquip said...

Yar, a wee late here. But 'evil' isn't what people are raging over when they discuss the 'problem of evil.' Evil is what God dislikes. The 'Problem of Evil' is your difference of opinion with God.

Because if I were God I wouldn't have allowed natural disasters. In my unbridled love for myself I would swaddle myself in crib cloth and chain myself against my will in a softly padded basement for eternity. Because I so love me.

The 'problem of evil' has as its solution a Felony conviction in every jurisdiction of which I'm aware.