Wednesday, April 22, 2009

the problem of evil

One of the issues atheists like to hoist as evidence against God's existence is theodicy, or the problem of evil. If there is a god who is both great and good, than why is there genocide and starvation? Why are there earthquakes and tsunamis which can kill thousands upon thousands of people?

Of course theologians and philosophers have grappled over this, but no one can give a satisfactory answer which pleases all. Even though some good work has been done on it.

Scripture takes the problem of evil quite seriously. Humankind was created to be in fellowship with God. This is not coercive/forced, but free in that God wants love returned freely. Humans are meant to be in a fellowship of love with each other. Of course sin is a power in the world in this existence. And with that comes grave consequences.

In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) we see the story of Job. One gets glimpses of evil at work from those doing evil and from nature itself. Add to that an opposer to God and humankind, Satan, and you have a profound story of human suffering, which though having a happy ending, does not resolve the loss of Job's children.

Fastforward to the New Testament and we find the story of Jesus, God becoming flesh, one of us as a human. Jesus lives a life in our shoes, so that we can live a life in his shoes, so to speak. A life of love in giving one's self for the world. Of course Jesus is unique in this; he is the Savior. But in that salvation is opened up the new way in Jesus, for those in him to help humans in this world physically and spiritually. In Jesus a kingdom comes which is not about "navel gazing", but is meant to be lived out for others. Of course at the heart of this is "the Jesus Creed" of loving God and loving our neighbor.

Scripture does not promise followers of Jesus an easy life. Quite the contrary, starvation may even be a part of our existence, while living in and seeking to live out the love we have in Jesus. It's a love that will not pass the sufferer by in the name of religion. But recognizes that this is what true religion is all about.

Of course there's more to this. Jesus took on himself the full brunt of the world's evil and sin, so that the world could be given the gift of the kingdom of God in him. Christianity should major on mission and not on our own salvation and holiness. The latter is essential, but not complete. We must seek to follow Jesus by the Spirit in mission, starting in our own neighborhoods, or with some needs we see around us. Getting our hands dirty to do what we can, in the name of Jesus. And in that seeking to both live out and proclaim the good news of Jesus and God's kingdom come in him. A gospel that proclaims the forgivness of sins and eternal life, in Jesus.

In the end, God does intervene, righting all wrongs and making all things new. There is coming both judgment and grace. That is the hope we have in Jesus. We can rest assured in that, in God's promise to us through Jesus. But in the meantime we need to keep praying this prayer, and do our part in seeing it being answered here and now.

What would you like to add to these few thoughts?

14 comments:

Maalie said...

>atheists like to hoist as evidence against God's existenceI don't think that is strictly true, Ted. Firstly, it's not a matter of "liking" to do anything; it is more of the fact that we do not need to invoke a supernatural entity to explain the evidence that we see and experience.

God does not even answer the old question "How do you make something out of nothing?". The correct answer is that we don't actually know right now. To say "since we dont know, we will suppose that an almighty God did it" is not satisfactory, it is just another way of saying we don't know! All cultures have their creation myths.

And it depends on what you mean by 'nothing'. Is "time" nothing? What about "energy"? Cosmologists think there is nothing stable about time, energy and matter, is forms a continuum. Maybe before the big bang there was simply "time" in some distorted way, not measurable by any event, it boggles the mind. But inventing a God does not unboggle it I'm afraid.

Evil is a paradox because you would not expect an almighty everlasting heavenly father to allow such misery among MOST of mankind. Or allow people to be born into cultures where they will never hear about Jesus and will therefore swim around for ever in that cursed lake of fire. He doesn't sound very merciful to me.

Spherical said...

There are all types of atheists, just as there are all types of believers, some more evangelical than others. Many whose sites I have visited tout the POE as the ultimate theory that puts God to death. I don't buy it either. To quote Maalie, "The correct answer is that we don't actually know right now." That is why it is called faith. And if you don't know, it seems to take just as much faith to believe as it does not to believe.

You are quite right to say "Scripture does not promise followers of Jesus an easy life." Many struggle with this, but the NT is clear that God/Jesus/HS are not there to make us comfortable but to give us comfort in times of need. It is that comfort that convinces and convicts me of who He really is.

Maalie said...

> That is why it is called faith , oh But faith that is not supported by independently verifiable evidence amount to no more than delusion.

Maalie said...

>to give us comfort in times of need., ah, but most of humanity is in desperate need all their lives. Cold comfort for them, as the appear to have been abandoned by being born into cultures ane therefore can never know about Jesus and will (by your definition) remain uncomforted.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks so much, Maalie, for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts on this.

Maybe what I'm trying to say is that The Problem of Evil is a major roadblock against coming to faith in a god, for many atheists. But you're right. There is the belief that such an entity would violate science as some understand it. Consider this post, Maalie, and some of the comments if you like. RJS is a scientist and professor.

As to what you mention, I wish we could be in face to face conversation over it, as there is so much nuance to think through. But I think the bottom line for you would still be unsatisfactory.

In the story of Job, God ends up giving no explanation at all to Job as to why he lost his children and suffered. But instead God simply gives Job a glimpse of his creation and a revelation of himself. This ends up being enough for Job.

Part of what I take from that is that I simply don't know why a young Christian couple here just lost a four year old boy, their "Bub" to a rare form of cancer or some rarely occurring disease. Or why people are starving to death in certain places on earth. Somehow I believe in a god who will show himself good and great in it, but how, I don't know. But I do know it is to be in large part at least through other humans, as my post says.

As uncomfortable as it is to modern people, that is the notion of God, isn't it at least equally uncomfortable to imagine that there will be no final justice or mercy given to us humans?

Well, I'm thinking out loud here, during my lunch break, but wanting to post something, because I know you UK folks are ahead of us, in time.

But again, thanks, Maalie. I greatly respect you and your scientific knowledge and work. Hope you continue to have good travels.

Spherical said...

Hi Maalie.

You stated, "But faith that is not supported by independently verifiable evidence amount to no more than delusion." Not always. I believe that you look similar to the picture you have. Am I deluded? I might be if I am in a chat room and you tell me you are a 30 year old knock-out who is looking for a 50 year old man she can support with her million dollar inheritance after I front her $1000 to get it out a Liberian bank. It's only a delusion if it is false. Verifiable evidence can lead to delusions too. As in this piece of ground appears flat therefore the earth is flat. Not everything can be proven.

nAncY said...

hi ted...

hi mallie, and hi spherical.

:-)

nAncY said...

everyone has different beliefs, even within the same belief system.

it is easy to use beliefs against one another. as a reason not to love, like ,or find a commonality in one another that can can be shared between them.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - i think theodicy is about the "justification of God"...and the problem of evil is one of the great philosophical challenges.

But here's what God has done in the realm of theodicy - He sent His own Son, the only Blameless One, crucified for the sins of those who rebelled against Him. The greatest "injustice" is the cross of Jesus Christ. God's answer to the problem of evil is self sacrificing love.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Spherical,
Thanks for your input here. I appreciate it! Good thoughts.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Nancy,
Thanks much.

In Maalie's case, though he is not a believer, he is a wonderful human being whose fellowship I enjoy in blogging. A top notch scientist and professor. We disagree on faith issues, but we do not take it personally, even though these are convictions of our hearts.

Thanks. Your comments are always appreciated!

Ted M. Gossard said...

ESI,
Very well stated and I agree. I probably did not do that justice in my posting, though I did mention it. But it is at the heart of God's answer which actually is being worked out through that. So that it is a matter of faith, though real in the living hope in Jesus.

Thanks!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Maalie,
I guess what I don't get or track with is just how the only knowledge we can go on is scientific. We certainly don't live that way in real life. Judgments have to be made all the time which have plenty of subjectivity involved.

I really think atheists such as Dawkins fail to be convicing even on a sheer intellectual level with many, including myself, because the account of the resurrection of Jesus and the aftermath are written off in a manner which seems to me to lack the necessary engagement with it, it deserves.

Add to that, I think there are philosophical underpinnings that really do impact us in ways that can blind us to other possibilities.

In the end, Jesus is the great divide, I think. Philosophy, religion and all else stands or falls in relation to him. Dawkins is going to have to grapple more seriously with that, before he should be taken seriously, I believe.

Thanks much for the exchange. It was a most pleasant surprise to find your comments here.

nAncY said...

i think you are right about this prayer.