Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where Christians Go Wrong With Evil

I was recently required to write a paper on theodicy i.e. the problem of evil and the existence of God. I was somewhat excited because this is a subject that I spend a lot of time thinking about, but I was also a little intimidated because I think this subject has been amply written about by men whose intelligence, and theological acumen far exceed my own. The problem of evil is probably most simply stated by first defining God as an omnipotent, omniscient and all good being and then using modus tollens:

1.) If God exists, there can be no evil
2.) There is evil
3.) God does not exist

I already had a good idea about the direction that I wanted to go in the paper, but I found myself unable to think of a good place to start. It was in this time of paper angst that I remembered a line from I am Legend a recent movie staring Will Smith. There is a scene in the movie where Dr. Neville (Smith's character) [SPOILER WARNING] is talking to the first uninfected person he has seen in years and [SPOILER OVER] says "God did not do this to us Anna, we did." That particular part of the movie struck me as a very emotionally impacting way of stating the problem of evil; and I believe this is where many Christians go wrong. No, I do not believe that the problem of evil is in anyway a defeater for the Christian worldview. Yes, the argument is self refuting because in order to posit evil you must first assume the existence of God. Yes, evil is an internally consistent part of the Christian worldview. The problem I see is that many Christians meet the challenge head to head on a rational basis (which is needful and good) but then they leave a vacuum where the emotional aspect is concerned. I think that reformed Christians are possibly more guilty of it then others, but I think the typical non-reformed free will defense (which I am actually not completely against) has the same problem of only interacting with the rational aspect -- though in a weaker way. Again, let me emphasize that the rational aspect needs to be addressed, but I think that the force of the argument from evil is not just rational, but also equally emotional. I think some of us tend to forget (and I am preaching to myself here) that evil is not just some philosophical concept, but that it penetrates and affects us on very personal levels. We are not just talking about the compatibility of the act of rape with the existence of God, we are talking about someones aunt, daughter, sister, wife etc. We are not just talking murder, we are talking about husbands who did not come home, and would never come home again. I think the Christian mindset in this regard has too often been to pull the rug out from under the feet instead of directing the feet to solid ground. And here is where I shake my head in wonder (again pointing the finger at myself) because God's existence not only provides a rational answer, it also provides a very comforting soul appealing answer. Without God, the heinous acts of violence that we encounter are simply a product of chance. Rape for example is nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people around; there can be no purpose to it because a universe that is governed only by non-personal law cannot give purpose by definition of its basic premises. However, God has a purpose for the most heinous evil things that happen, and He can bring evil to face perfect justice. In the end, God's elect will look back at history and see how God took the most ugly acts and wove them into a tapestry of His glory. So Christians let us stop being talking heads only, and engage the hearts of those listening to us when we defend our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Side Note: The Non-Prophets (one of the atheist podcasts I listen to on a regular basis) on their last show (Sat 11/01/08) had a debate about justice that I thought was very revealing in regards to atheists needing to unknowingly revert to a theistic worldview in order to meaningfully talk about justice. I recommend everyone listen to it. The pertinent part I am talking about starts exactly 38.05 minutes into the show. If your interested go to this link then click on episode 7.21


Coffee Snob said...

Baird Boy:

First - welcome to the Conversation! My apologies for not offering a formal introduction as I did when Earth Alien and sing2jc first joined the team.

Second - thanks for a stimulating and challenging topic. . . it's one that we all need to spend more time thinking deeply about. All too often I think many Christians fall into a different trap than the "rationalist" one you mention. When confronted with evil, we simply say "It's part of God's sovereign plan" and just leave it at that. (Or perhaps that's part of the rationalist answer, not a different response.)

As true as that is, it's a sorry excuse of an answer for the people affected by said evil. That's why your rational/emotional (or rational/personal) response is most helpful.

People who are suffering probably don't want - or need - a rational answer to the problem of their suffering - they just want someone to come alongside and hold their hand or hug them and be there with them. . . probably without saying anything at all (yes, I too am preaching as much to myself here!)

Baird boy said...

I think the problem of "its just part of God's plan" is that it implicitly appeals to mystery or silence. Appeals to mystery and silence are understandable where the Bible is silent or if it falls under the secret things that belong to God, however, I believe that the Bible gives us good answers to this issue. I also most certainly agree that there are numerous times when nothing should be said at all.