Dying for an Answer: An Attempted Theodicy to the Problem of Evil

by Frederick Meekins Copyright !"#
$t is perhaps one of the greatest intellect%al st%mbling blocks in all of religio%s tho%ght& As m%ch as any so%l wo%ld like to avoid the topic all together' sooner or later each person will be forced to grapple with the seemingly incongr%o%s realties res%lting from the sim%ltaneo%s e(istence of both a sovereign )od and the prevalence of evil in the world& To some' the disconcerting e(istential tra%ma of s%ffering in their lives and in the lives of those aro%nd them is eno%gh to make one come down in the negative in their answer to the )od *%estion& +owever' %pon deeper reflection one is forced to reali,e that --- tho%gh still mind boggling --- it is not necessarily inconsistent for both evil and the .iblical conception of )od to e(ist at the same time& $n the hopes of gaining /%st a bit of perspective into s%ch an overwhelming %niversal mystery' it is probably best to start o%t by form%lating the problem in a s%mmari,ed written form& 0orman )eisler in Introduction To Philosophy: A Christian Perspective states the problem in the following manner: 12"3 $f )od is all-powerf%l' +e co%ld destroy evil& 2 3 $f )od is all-good' +e wo%ld destroy evil& 2#3 .%t evil e(ists& 243 Therefore' there is no s%ch )od 2)eisler' 543&6 To establish a credible defense to these charges' the Christian m%st show that evil does not necessarily %pset the divinely appointed applecart and is allowed to e(ist beca%se of the p%rpose it serves in s%bordination to higher' more important realities even if these do not always make sense to finite h%man sensibilities& At the heart of this debate is a disc%ssion as to both the nat%re of )od and the nat%re of evil& As to the ethical nat%re of )od' Matthew 7:48 instr%cts the reader' 1.e ye therefore perfect' even as yo%r father which is in heaven is perfect&6 +owever' that goodness is not like %nto that of a saintly grandmother' tho%gh kind and loving in all of her intentions' who is helpless to prevent the world from deteriorating all aro%nd her& $n the spirit of the 9ooseveltian a(iom of speaking softly and carrying a big stick' )od has the power necessary to carry thro%gh implementing how +e thinks things o%ght to be& Colossians ":"5 says' 1And he is before all things' and by him all things consist&6 This is f%rther elaborated and e(tended in Acts "5: 8 which reads' 1For in him we live' and move' and have o%r being&&&6 Pretty m%ch nothing happens witho%t )od knowing abo%t it and at least allowing it to happen by not intervening to prevent it even if +e himself does not endorse the action' behavior' or event in *%estion& Evil' by its very nat%re on the other hand' is a tho%ght or deed violating )od:s nat%re of absol%te goodness as e(pressed in the form of +is nat%ral and special revelation to those who inhabit the %niverse +e created& ;et' if )od really does have the whole world in +is hands as the old spirit%al s%ggests' there needs to be a bit of e(planation on the part of the apologist or theologian& For if )od really is in sovereign control' one m%st show how this fits together with passages s%ch as $ <ohn ":7 which says' =This then is the message we have heard of him' and declare %nto yo%' that )od is light' and in him is no darkness at all&= The first step in eliminating the apparent contradiction arising between the e(istence of both )od and evil is to show how evil might serve some p%rpose or be allowed to e(ist as the %nfort%nate byprod%ct of some more comprehensive good& Perhaps the best response Christian thinkers have provided th%s far over the cent%ries is probably the so-called =Free >ill Defense=&

The %nderlying ass%mption of the Free >ill Defense posits that the fa%lt and conse*%ences for evil in the world lies solely on the sho%lders of those who commit moral transgressions and e(hibit ethical shortcomings rather than %pon a )od imposing them %pon the world from the o%tside& ?cript%re bears m%ch of this idea o%t in passages s%ch as 9omans 7:" which reads' =>herefore' as by one man sin entered into the world' and death by sin@ and so death passed %pon all men for that all have sinned&&&= Th%s' it is pretty m%ch o%r own fa%lt as a species as a whole for the misery rampaging across the face of the earth and in individ%al lives& >hile s%ch a theory might help acco%nt for things s%ch as crime' war' and even sickness since none of %s have escaped the stain of sin' by itself it does not provide eno%gh e(planation to acco%nt for the tragedy arising from nat%ral disasters 2often referred to as so-called 1acts of )od63 or why )od does not normally intervene to prevent neAer-do-wells from inflicting pain and s%ffering %pon their victims innocent in terms of instigating these partic%lar acts of malice& .oth of these *%andaries find their answer in what 9onald 0ash calls the 10at%ral Baw Theodicy6 or what <ohn Frame refers to as the 1?table Environment Defense6& Frame notes in Apologetics To The Glory Of God that a stable environment is f%ndamental to h%man e(istence 2"C43& 9onald 0ash writes in 1Faith & Reason: Searching For A Rational Faith6' 1Free rational action re*%ires a world of nat%ral ob/ects governed by nat%ral laws 2 !!3&6 C&?& Bewis adds to this perspective in The Pro le! Of Pain' 1.%t if matter is to serve as a ne%tral field it m%st have a fi(ed nat%re of its own &&& if yo% were introd%ced into a world which th%s varied at my every whim' yo% wo%ld be *%ite %nable to act in it and wo%ld lose the e(ercise of yo%r free will 2"D3&6 Bewis contin%es in the following paragraph' 1Again' if matter has a fi(ed nat%re and obeys constant laws' not all states of matter will be e*%ally agreeable to a given so%l' nor beneficial for that matter which he calls his body 2 !3&6 Th%s in essence' the same system of reasonably stable nat%ral laws that allows man to s%rvive and even thrive in an otherwise hostile %niverse can also end %p allowing the very same components of nat%re that man re*%ires for his very e(istence to be t%rned on him and to inflict harm %pon him& Bewis points o%t how fire can either warm the flesh or b%rn it& This is wro%ght with conse*%ences as to why both nat%re and man seem capable of raining down misery with imp%nity& As to the iss%e of nat%ral disasters' 9omans 8: !- e(plains' =For the creation was s%b/ected to fr%stration not by its own choice' b%t by the will of the one who s%b/ected it&&& >e know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right %p to the present time 20$E3&= Th%s' the very physical setting of creation is %nder the c%rse not %nlike that imposed %pon h%manity for the fall of the species into sin& Tho%gh the providence of )od no do%bt often spares certain individ%als from befalling the ferocity of a world o%t of control' the system of physical laws thro%gh which the nat%ral world is governed is %s%ally left in place for the overall benefit of finite kind& For we wo%ld be %nable to ad/%st in o%r c%rrent condition to a constantly changing and fl%ct%ating cosmos& This principle readily applies to those bent on %sing physical matter to inflict their own corr%pt wills %pon secondary by-standing parties& For e(ample' one can %se a baseball bat to en/oy an afternoon of leis%rely recreation or to work someone over d%ring an armed robbery& >hile we wo%ld all like )od to intervene to prevent physical matter and nat%ral forces from wreaking havoc %pon %s' in all likelihood doing so wo%ld inflict even greater harm %pon the h%man species and the world in their c%rrent condition than simply allowing these contingent entities to contin%e on %ntil the so-called end of history and the beginning of eternity& M%ch of this theodicy is foc%sed %pon the preeminence of freedom in the relationships established %nder the terms of the divine economy& .%t some might arg%e that it is at this point of imb%ing the actors in the %niversal drama with their own sense of freedom that )od erred in +is drafting of the cosmic screenplay& +owever' it is beca%se of +is absol%te goodness that )od has seen fit to grant some degree of say-so to those +e loves the

most& $t is beca%se of the overwhelming sense of importance placed %pon love that freedom m%st take precedence over order and control tho%gh freedom and love take place within the bo%ndaries established by this order and control& For as any lovesick high school st%dent t%rned down for the prom event%ally reali,es' love m%st be given freely or it is not tr%e love& The ?cript%re says in <osh%a 4:"7' =&&&&choose yo% this day whom ye will serve&= The te(t does not say that the decision will be thr%st %pon yo%& The Bord will hear eno%gh whining on the Day of <%dgment& +e does not need to make +is task more diffic%lt by assigning the responsibility for o%r eternal fates and destinies to any party other than o%rselves& For cent%ries' skeptics %sed the problem of evil to chip away at the fo%ndations of theism& +owever' the fact that the ob/ection can be raised at all points towards the affirmative in its concl%sion to the )od *%estion& +%man beings recoil in horror as they do to the pain and %nfairness of the world since it is s%ch a shocking affront to the way things were originally intended to be& Atheism %ses this reaction deep within the so%l to make its case for a totally nat%ralistic %niverse& .%t if evil' pain' and s%ffering are simply a part of the nat%ral order' on what gro%nds are we /%stified in railing against it' and for that matter' how are we even capable of determining something has gone awry in the first placeF $f evil is nothing more than part of the backdrop against which life plays itself o%t' man sho%ld barely notice it& For e(ample' most normal people do not lie awake at night wondering why there is o(ygen in the world or work themselves %p into having an an(iety attack despairing as to why they will have to eat breakfast in the morning& The ability to complain abo%t and speak o%t against evil points to the reality of some transcendent standard e(isting above the fray by which to /%stify this innate tendency towards making /%dgments& Gne might co%nter that these standards simply e(ist within the individ%al as personal conscience& ;et both the daily news and the pages of history are replete with e(amples of how competing interpretations of these principles differ considerably and the conflicts that often arise witho%t appeal to a yet higher arbitrating a%thority& Th%s' some e(ternal standard m%st e(ist in order to tell the difference between right and wrong& The only s%fficient basis for this criteria is fo%nd in )od& Alister Mc)rath provides the following proof in Intellectuals "on#t $eed God & Other %odern %yths: 12A3& Hnless there is a )od' there cannot be ob/ectively binding moral obligations& 2.3& Gb/ectively binding moral obligations e(ist& 2C3& Therefore' there is a )od 24!3&6 At this point' the Christian thinker o%ght to take the problem of evil' invert it' and t%rn it against the critics of faith& <ohn MacArth%r writes in Terroris!& 'ihad & The (i le' his response to the ?eptember !!" terrorist attack %pon the Hnited ?tates' 1The *%estion we o%ght to ask is not why disasters happen sometimes& >hat we o%ght to ask is why donAt disasters happen all of the time 2C73&6 The problem really is not so m%ch the problem of evil b%t rather the problem of pleas%re& For h%man beings have done s%ch a s%perb /ob messing %p the world' that if )od did not e(ist' how does any pleas%re e(ist at allF And if )od does e(ist' why does +e contin%e to bless mankind despite the rebellion' anim%s' and contempt characteristically displayed on the part of the species to its benevolent CreatorF <ames ":5 says' 1Every good and perfect gift is from above' and cometh down from the Father of lights' with whom is no variableness' neither shadow of t%rning&6 0o matter how wretched life can get' somewhere along the way most people can recall at least a single moment of fleeting kindness in their lives and %s%ally more&

Even if the Christian takes the time to caref%lly delineate the case that )od is not responsible for the e(istence of evil in the world and how the e(istence of phenomena morally classified as s%ch does not contradict +is nat%re of absol%te holiness' this is often still not eno%gh to satisfy some of the more rigoro%s skeptics& These voices will co%nter that' even tho%gh the above theistic assertion might be tr%e' )od is still the bad g%y in this story& $n their eyes' +e has not done eno%gh to %se +is immense power to rectify the sit%ation& 0othing co%ld be farther from the tr%th& )od has been far from passive in solving this problem +e did not create& Ienneth .oa and 9obert .owman write in An )nchanging Faith In A Changing *orld: )nderstanding & Responding To Critical Issues Christians Face Today' =)od has embraced this in the most intimate way possible thro%gh the ab%sive treatment +is ?on received when he was tort%red and cr%cified 28"3&= These apologists contin%e' =Th%s' the real problem of evil --- &&&whether anything can be done to overcome it and bring good o%t of it --- has been answered 28"3&= $n essence' the problem has already been solved& The thing is that we are so mired in the flow of time that we are not yet able to f%lly en/oy the effects of this resol%tion& )od did not r%n away from the problem' b%t instead tackled its resol%tion head on in the most enth%siastic manner imaginable by allowing pain and evil to be visited %pon +imself and in the person of +is ?on <es%s Christ& 0or did )od gloss over the reality of evil in the attempt to b%ttress +is position by spinning the matter in +is favor by downplaying o%r pain& )od comes at the iss%e in s%ch a straightforward manner that +is bl%nt forthrightness wo%ld make plain-spoken newsman .ill G:9eilly bl%sh& <ob "4:" declares' =Man born of woman is of few days and f%ll of tro%ble&= )od co%ld very well *%ote the following from that old co%ntry song when we grow weary of the tro%bles inherent to life in this world: =$ beg yo%r pardon& $ never promised yo% a rose garden&= +e does' however' promise to do away with them in the ne(t world where +e will wipe away every tear according to 9evelation ":4& $f )od really was little more than a fairy tale' wo%ld the a%thors of ?cript%re incl%de those te(ts that do little to sooth the tro%bled so%l abo%t the bleakness this side of +eaven and instead force the individ%al to confront some rather starting realitiesF The problem of evil has plag%ed the mind of man at least since the day the first parents were e(pelled from the )arden of Eden for disobedience& +owever' the problem is not so m%ch that )od is a messed-%p illogical being b%t rather that man is so limited in his capacity for reason that he is %nable to ascend to the level of %nderstanding necessary to comprehend the operational totality of the %niverse at the level of cosmic completeness& )od let:s a whining <ob have it in <ob #8:#-4 and beyond when the Bord in*%ires' =)ird %p now thy loins like a man Jtranslated as =brace yo%rself: in the 0$EK@ for $ will demand of then an answer tho% me& >here wast tho% when $ laid the fo%ndations of the earthF Declare if yo% hast %nderstanding&= And while man can theodici,e %ntil he is bl%e in the face' s%ch answers provide only a modic%m of comfort when one befalls ill health' when a family member passes away' or when religio%s fanatics fly airplanes into skyscrapers& D%ring s%ch trials' the best one can hope for are the reass%rances fo%nd in 9omans 8: 8: =And we know that all things work together for good to them that love )od' to them who are called according to his p%rposes&= .ibliography: .oa' Ienneth and .owman 9obert& An )nchanging Faith in a Changing *orld: )nderstanding and Responding to Critical Issues That Face Christians Today& 0ashville: Thomas 0elson P%blishers' "DD5&

Frame' <ohn& Apologetics To The Glory Of God: An Introduction& Phillipsb%rg' 0ew <ersey: Presbyterian L 9eformed P%blishers' "DD4& )eisler' 0orman L Feinberg' Pa%l& Introduction To Philosophy: An Introduction& )rand 9apids' Michigan: .aker .ook +o%se' "D8!& Bewis' C&?& The Pro le! Of Pain& 0ew ;ork' 0ew ;ork: MacMillian P%blishing' Eighteenth Printing' "D5#& MacArth%r' <ohn& Terroris!& 'ihad & The (i le: A Response To The Terrorist Attac+s& 0ashville: > P%blishing )ro%p' !!"& Mc)rath' Allister& Intellectuals "on,t $eed God & Other %odern %yths: (uilding (ridges To Faith Through Apologetics& )rand 9apids' Michigan: Mondervan P%blishing +o%se' "DD#& by Frederick Meekins

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