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Monday, January 21, 2008

Where is God when things hurt us badly? pt. 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts. The most recent is here.

I realized, this morning during church (The pastor was speaking about Job, and while I was in that book of the Bible, I sneaked a peek at the NIV Reference Bible's introduction to the book.) that my previous posts had left out a very significant factor.

The question raised by the title of these posts is a thorny one, the question of theodicy. A person who commented on those was not convinced that I have an answer to the question that can be defended by argument. I'm not sure that I do either. I believe that I do have an answer from experience. The answer is that God's love never deserts us, not matter what.

The significant factor that I left out will not improve my chances at an argument, but, to the Christian, it's significant. That is that we and God are not the only actors in the drama. There's also Satan. Satan, although by no means as powerful as God, has some power, and wishes us no good. He has warped the world so that it contains germs, diseases, poisons, cancer, and the like. He also tempts humans to do evil, and, all too often, we succumb.

Well, doesn't the existence of Satan mean that God is not omnipotent? Why would a loving God allow the existence of such a being? I don't think I have a complete answer to that. One possibility is that God is giving Satan, himself, a chance to repent. Another is that God allows Satan to bring misery into the world in punishment for the sins of humanity. A third, illustrated by Job, is that God allows Satan to hurt good people so that their triumph over such hurt can be an inspiration to others. And, fourthly, God allows testing because that refines character. These four possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

To emphasize the last point, here's a quotation from C. S. Lewis:
When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along--illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation--he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. p. 174.

And one from James 1:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers*, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)
*There is an ESV text note, indicating that "brothers" can mean "brothers and sisters."

Thanks for reading.

14 comments:

David B. Ellis said...

Much of what I am about to say will sound very harsh in tone. However, I feel that this tone is the only way to communicate the sheer horror these so-called "answers" to the problem of suffering instill in me---as I think they should any person of compassion or conscience.


A person who commented on those was not convinced that I have an answer to the question that can be defended by argument. I'm not sure that I do either. I believe that I do have an answer from experience. The answer is that God's love never deserts us, not matter what.


As I recall, that was your very first answer---the circular answer that doesn't address the question.

Why would a loving God allow (and even directly cause) such terrible suffering?

Reply: God loves us.

But WHY, if he exists and loves us, would he behave in a way that seems so blatantly contradictory to that love?

Reply: God loves us.

And round and round the circular nonanswer goes.


The significant factor that I left out will not improve my chances at at argument, but, to the Christian, it's significant. That is that we and God are not the only actors in the drama. There's also Satan. Satan, although by no means as powerful as God, has some power, and wishes us no good. He has warped the world so that it contains germs, diseases, poisons, cancer, and the like. He also tempts humans to do evil, and, all too often, we succumb.


If Satan has this power (and the bible doesn't even teach that natural evils are created by Satan), He has it only because the omnipotent and supposedly loving God chose to allow it to him.

So, of course, this does nothing to answer the problem.


One possibility is that God is giving Satan, himself, a chance to repent.


A person always has the opportunity to repent. You don't have to allow them the opportunity to commit atrocities for them to be able to repent.


Another is that God allows Satan to bring misery into the world in punishment for the sins of humanity.


An example of the way the concept of justice is warped in an effort to answer the problem.


A third, illustrated by Job, is that God allows Satan to hurt good people so that their triumph over such hurt can be an inspiration to others.


Really!

And would any loving father want his daughter to be raped so that she had the opportunity to "overcome adversity" and be an "inspiration to others"?

Not a sane one. Certainly not one who would warrant being called "loving".

In order to defend an absurdity you are inventing even greater absurdities.



And, fourthly, God allows testing because that refines character.


Which makes our "loving" God an omnipotent version of Jigsaw from the SAW movies.

Really, one would be better off to argue that God and Satan were roughly equal in power. Then at least Christians would have a way of explaining suffering that wasn't patent nonsense.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your comment, David B. Ellis. I expected that, if you did comment, you would say something like what you did, and there is no need for you to apologize for what you wrote.

We are simply operating out of different world-views, and, I think, being consistent with the presuppositions of those distinct, and contrary, views. To you, ascribing both love and sovereignty to God is nonsense -- perverse, illogical, and even cruel. To me, God's sovereignty, and His love, are beyond human understanding, but, nonetheless, real and knowable by experience. Furthermore, they are as fundamental to the way things are, or more so, than the law of gravity.

Thanks again.

David B. Ellis said...


We are simply operating out of different world-views, and, I think, being consistent with the presuppositions of those distinct, and contrary, views.


This has often been the somewhat postmodernist "out" of last resort I find believers taking today---christian, new age, wiccan and a host of others.

Really, though, the only difference in our "presuppositions" is that I'm not presupposing from the start that a loving God exists or that christianity is trueor any other religion for that matter---I do not, in fact, presuppose the nonexistence of God or the falsity of religious claims.

Simply saying that one has presuppositions that another does not share does not make one's position reasonable (if it did then anything could be regarded as reasonable to believe so long as one presupposed it to be true---an obvious absurdity).

Presuppositions must be questioned and examined for reasonableness as much as anything else---more so, even, since if one's presuppositions are mistaken all that follows from it will be in error.

Saying you hold christianity and theism as presuppositions simply doesn't get one off the hook.


To me, God's sovereignty, and His love, are beyond human understanding, but, nonetheless, real and knowable by experience.


Here, I think, you state the ACTUAL primary reason for religious belief (in pretty much all religions)---religious experiences.

Of course, we all know people have a wide variety of mutually contradictory religious experiences---some must, therefore, be delusional (the Hindu having a vision of his past lives and the Protestant Christian having his variety of religious experience can't both be right).

The experience had by a person who just imagines they are in spiritual contact with their diety (Jesus, The Earth Mother, Brahman, or whatever, depending on the religion in question) is impossible to distinguish from one in which the contact is real---unless, that is, independent confirmation is provided in the form of verifiable information provided by the deity which the believer would not have known at the time---and which, of course, never seems to happen.

That being the case a religious experience is of no value as actual evidence that the thing believed is true---although the powerful emotional force of the experience is certainly effective at overriding any rational objections or questions in the mind of most people who have them.

Anonymous said...

God's existence is not the cause of evil on this planet. The decline of what He created via sin/death was not part of God's perfect creation. He gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose, however. In offering that choice, evil became possible but was not made actual. Collectively, humanity (not God) has caused most of the suffering present in our world. The rest, I believe is the result of a world that is "dying" or becoming further and further removed from its perfect state.

One may say, sending someone to hell is evil. How so if their choice is to be rid of God? Hell is terrible, but it is terrible because God is not there. God is the source of all good things. Hell is the place that is void of all good things.

The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rm 3:23). It also says the wages of sin is death (Rm 6:23). God, in His mercy, provided something we did not deserve - Jesus. He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6) He is the God's greatest gift of goodness. Jesus is God with us (Immanuel)

Anything good is of God.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I agree with all that you have said, I believe, but can understand why a person who already doubts God's existence might be considerably less than convinced.

I expect to post a reply to David B. Ellis tomorrow. I thank him, also.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks yet again, David B. Ellis.

I wish to respond to what you have said.

It is true that people of all stripes appeal to their own world-view as correct, often without fairly considering other views, and some Christians have certainly been guilty of that. However, the fact that you seem to think that some of these (including some Christians, and me, in particular) are wrong implies some sort of objective standard of moral rightness. What is the source of that standard?

Presuppositions are important. You seem to have the presupposition that you can understand everything of importance. I agree that, in principle, at least, there are a lot of things that people can understand, if they try, and if they have proper information. However, I am not convinced that we can understand everything, even in principle, and think that it is dangerous to assume that. I think that it is equally important to be able to trust someone. I recognize that it is possible to trust the wrong person -- Jim Jones comes to mind. However, I also believe that it is possible to trust the right person, namely God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that is more important than having all the answers. I understand that it is possible that I may have hitched my wagon to something less than a star. So may someone who has hitched her wagon to human reason and understanding.

I did not say a religious experience, or if I did, I didn't mean to. I said experience. I was speaking of the experience of a lifetime of seeing answered prayer, of seeing Christians suffer, and triumph over that suffering, and of seeing the effect of that sort of triumph on others. For example, I experienced the final illness of my father-in-law, who was, generally, a pretty good person, but who could be cantankerous and hard to please. During his final illness, he became sweeter, more gracious, more grateful, than he had ever been. For another example, I was asked to sing a special in our church last Sunday (which doesn't happen often). I prayed in advance that what I did would point people toward God. While sitting through the first part of the service, I felt an impulse that I should make a few remarks before singing (which I hadn't planned to do, and have never done on such occasions in the past, that I can recall). I did, and it turned out that these remarks were directly related to the pastor's sermon, and I had had no previous hint as to that sermon's content. It is, of course, possible that neither of these had anything to do with God, but I have difficulty imagining any argument that would convince me that they didn't.

The problem of evil in the world is a knotty one, for certain. I repeat my answer from earlier in this series, namely that God is so good that He has given his creatures real choices, including the choice to do bad things, which choices warped the world, ruin people's lives, and the like. But He is also so good that He took the consequences of our evil upon Himself. God is, for me, the ultimate answer to evil and suffering.

David B. Ellis said...


However, the fact that you seem to think that some of these (including some Christians, and me, in particular) are wrong implies some sort of objective standard of moral rightness. What is the source of that standard?


First, I want to point out that the problem of unnecessary suffering does not require any claims about there being moral truths. Even if it were true that there are no moral facts, no right and wrong, it would still be a contradiction to say a person (God, in this case) was of a loving and caring disposition but did nothing to aid someone in extreme agony which he could easily prevent. Notice that this contradiction does not require any moral judgement be made about this inaction in the face of suffering, it simply points out a contradiction between disposition/character and behavior.

This is not to say that I don't think there are moral facts. I do.

As to the basis for moral truths, for the claim that love, compassion and altruism are worthwhile and right, I consider its basis to be almost too obvious to need pointing out:

Love is of value because love is, in and of itself, intrinsically worthwhile. One ought to value love and the behavior that naturally flows from love because of what it is like to love, what it is like to be a loving individual and what it is like to be part of a community of loving individuals.

One need look nowhere else to find to answer the question "why be moral", which is just another way of saying "why be loving" than to the inherent characteristics of love itself.

This answer to the question of the basis of morals is vastly superior to the argument that the basis of morality is God or Gods nature. As the euthyphro dilemma demonstrates, any attempt to base morality on God yields a morality that is arbitrary(as is any attempt to base morality on anything other than the inherent nature of love itself, like basing it on Karma or evolution, two things I've heard proposed recently in another discussion at another blog as the basis for morality).

To state the problem with basing morality on God in a nutshell:

If morality is determined by God's character then if God's character is loving then being loving is morally right. And if God's character is cruel then being cruel is morally right.....morality would therefore be arbitrary.

There is much more that could be said about morality and meta-ethics (the philosophical study of the basis and nature of moral truths)---particularly whether "objective" is the right word to apply to the concept of moral truths, how the terms objective/subjective are misused in discussion of the concept of moral facts and related topics---- but I won't go into that right now. That's a big topic in itself.


Presuppositions are important. You seem to have the presupposition that you can understand everything of importance.


I have no such presupposition.


However, I also believe that it is possible to trust the right person, namely God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that is more important than having all the answers.


You have no credible evidence that these beings even exist---much less that they deserve your trust. Trust is to be earned. This goes for deities as much as anything else (thing of the Stargate series, in which worshippers routinely trust "gods" whose behavior seems so clearly malevolent---and use the same reasons you do for that trust).

If your God exists and has a reason for allowing (and causing) such suffering that is consistent with his loving nature---all he has to do to warrant our trust is to TELL US THAT REASON. Until he does no trust is warranted (this is, of course, assuming such a being existed at all---a big and unwarranted assumption in itself).


I did not say a religious experience, or if I did, I didn't mean to. I said experience. I was speaking of the experience of a lifetime of seeing answered prayer, of seeing Christians suffer, and triumph over that suffering, and of seeing the effect of that sort of triumph on others.


None of the things you use as examples are even remotely credible as real evidence or rational warrant for your conviction that God exists---not to anyone looking at it without bias. Take, for example, your example of a person who acted with more kindness and charity as the end came close---this is pretty natural behavior for someone drawing to the end of life and, not surprisingly, reflecting on their life and past deeds. Death can focus the mind on whats important and what sort of person one wants to be---hardly something requiring a supernatural or divine explanation.

But let us turn to the topic of presuppositions. You didn't really address the central and most important issue:

What makes a presupposition warranted and reasonable?

For example, I take it as a presupposition 2+2=4 and can never equal 5.

This falls into the class of things reasonable to believe without argument simply because they are self-evidently true.

I think one very very little should be taken as presuppositions---and mostly should be of this nature---things abundantly self-evident. Mathematical truths. Simple principles of logic.

What I would ask is that, since you say that its our differing presuppositions that make us disagree, that you state, specifically, those presuppositions that you hold which are relevent to the problem of unnecessary suffering and explain on what grounds you consider it reasonable to presuppose them.

For example, if you take it as a presupposition that God exists I would ask you to give your reason for thinking it a reasonable thing to take as a presupposition---it certainly doesn't fall into the class of self-evident truths or tautologies, as the things I listed do.

I see I've been pretty long-winded but they're big topics not to be clear on in a few words. If such a long discussion becomes tedious for you feel free to just say so. I know I can go on and on. These sorts of philosophical issues are fascinating to me---and I know that's a fascination not everyone shares.

Martin LaBar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, David B. Ellis. God bless you. I think I've gone about as far with this as I should.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Labar I hope you will allow me to respond to Mr. Ellis.

Mr. Ellis, I see where you're coming from but you're shooting past the answers. Both good and evil can come from desires like wealth, power, and love/lust/passion. Everything was good/perfect until Adam and Eve REJECTED God (as you appear to be doing now) and then EVERYTHING was cursed (even oncogenes - rapid cell division is good for pregnancy and bad for cancer). My personal opinion is that humanity's rejection of God IS the curse. The further removed we become from Him the worse things get all around. The closer we are to Him, the better things are (despite circumstances).

Should God perfect what is terminally cursed - why? So we can all be separated from Him/what is good forever? No. Without evil in this world we would never long for what has been lost. Jesus is the only solution to our current state. His perfection/salvation has been offered freely to everyone who would accept Him as Lord. God will destroy evil but not until those who "deserve" the opportunity to choose good/God see that day. Destroying evil destroys everyone's ability to choose between good and evil thereby sealing each person's fate.


On the subject of presuppositions and how they influence one's conclusions, please consider two world views. disclaimer: I am not a scientist, so pardon any misspeaks.

1) Objective Truth - Naturalist's eyes
By naturalistic approach one may be able to handle observable facts objectively, but the interpretation (and the resulting ramifications) of said facts will differ per scientist/individual. The scientific method, though very important and useful, is not the way to arrive at ALL truth. It can tell us about our natural world and those who study it, but that is all. For example: notice how opinions differ on specifics among like-minded scientists.

Naturalistic methods cannot measure certain necessary ideals (good, evil, faith, love, art, friendship, motives, liberty, trust, peace, justice, kindness, frugality, purpose, morality, etc...) and therefore naturalists label these as relative until/unless a system of measurement can be devised. That is a logical conclusion especially since Darwinists says we evolved and thoughts are nothing more than chemical reactions in our brains anyway. Therefore one person's thoughts are no more valuable than another's.


2) Objective Truth - Christian's eyes
God is Truth. The Bible reveals truth to us. All components necessary to living in peace with God and others can be discovered in the Bible and are universally applicable. See I Corinthians 13 for an example. However, adherence to Biblical principles without submitting to God results in what some of my friends call a "memetic evolution."

There is one God and one mediator between God and man. The mediator is Jesus. Truth is self evident. Good and evil will always oppose one another. Think of a group that always looks "square." Who is it? Why do the remaining groups often set aside their differences to combat it? You must discover truth regarding God’s existence and identity. Given the many distinctions between religions, it is clear there is only one answer to the question “Who is God?”


Mr. Ellis, there is merit to what you have read in Mr. Labar's posts. It is up to you to investigate and apply it. You do yourself a great disservice when you argue without deeper consideration.

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, anonymous. I'm glad for anyone who is interested enough to add a pertinent comment. I believe that I agree with most or all of what you have said.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I feel like people keep asking "Why doesn't god just set every rapist on fire right before he rapes someone?" but that is the same as tyranny. I believe this is also the reason God doesn't make his existence clear to the world. In a world where God and his punishment are obvious, there is no real choice, unless of course you think of being burned/struck by lightning/ whatever as a choice. Fact of the matter is, the universe we live in is special because, believe it or not, it is biased towards the good guy, that is why social animals keep evolving, over and over again. God wanted a universe where good could triumph, and he made this one, that was his first, and greatest, miracle.
from, Lebanoniskool (don't have a blogger account :P)

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Lebanoniskool.

Yes, human free choice is part of the answer to why God allows evil to exist.