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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

My last three posts were all addressing various elements of the problem of evil. Together they represent the basic sketch of how in my mind our universe is consistent with a wholly good God. I don’t think that everyone approaches reconciling evil and God in the same way. People have different experiences with evil and God that prompt differing psychological responses. These posts represent my opinion on this subject and not Christianity’s as a whole, but I hope those who struggle with this problem might find inspiration and answers in my posts.

In the first post I aimed to demonstrate how God is not causally responsible for evil, nor does He plan and carry out evils in order to bring out goods (this is a reflection on my ethical beliefs that the ends do not justify the means). Also in the post I talked about how God’s goodness is the reason we do not see much direct influence of God in our world and why He uses primarily His relationships with people to impact our world.

In the second post I discussed the nature of good and evil. Here I expanded on how evil is a natural outcome of good and thus evil requires good to exist. However, good does not require evil to exist and thus good can ultimately overcome evil.  Our universe can plausibly be explained as being in the transition of good overcoming evil.

In the third post I addressed natural evil and how it is not evil at all but a necessary expression of our free agency and the movement of free agents to ultimately overcome evil and be fully good.

https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/god-is-sovereign-not-a-sovereign-a-response-to-the-problem-of-evil/
https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/contingent-evil-a-second-response-to-the-problem-of-evil/

https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/natural-evil-and-the-end-of-evil-a-third-response-to-the-problem-of-evil/

In philosophic terms I believe that the free-will defense against the problem of evil explains why God is not casually responsible for our evils, and I believe a soul-making theodicy explains the setting full of “natural evils” that we experience.

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In answering the problem of evil most people are willing to accept the basic sense of the free-will defense. That is, for moral good to have any real meaning, the potential for evil also must exist. Thus people do evil things in their freedom even though they are designed for and by good. Nevertheless the problem of natural evil (natural disasters, disease, etc.) seems to blatantly contradict the existence of an All-Powerful and Good Creator. Now, some theologians have postulated that natural evil is nothing more than moral evil by a supernatural agent (i.e. Satan and demons cause all natural disasters). While this is a possibility, I myself think it is not necessary to postulate that very dualistic sounding notion.

In my first post of this series I made an argument for why God does not take a very direct reign in creation and in my second post, an argument for why evil is expected in goodness but that evil can be overcome by goodness. By tying these two notions together I think a very plausible response to the problem of natural evil can be made.

My first observation is that what we call natural evil is not really evil when there are no suffering agents around. In fact all these ‘natural’ evils are very powerful creative agents, many of which are beautiful in their power and complexity. The problem is not really the ‘natural evil’ but the weakness and mortality of living agents.

It seems to me however that in the process of overcoming evil, agents need to develop good character. And if there were no harmful consequences to our evil choices we could never be brought into the understanding necessary to begin consistently choosing good and thus develop virtuous character. If we were immortal and immune to suffering how could we learn to do good? And what kind of moral options (if any) would we have to choose from? It seems to me that in suffering of all forms, the reality of our choices is far more obvious and impactful for ourselves and others than in trivial choices. Trivial choices rarely change people. Our physical mortality is the conduit by which we learn and freely act. Thus what we call natural evils are not really evils at all, and neither are our weakness and physical mortality. We simply live in the hot iron to be forged into something beautiful.

To make this argument of course I think some variant of restitution and renewal as promised in the Bible will fall on those who particularly suffer in this life. Also I think any sort of soul-making theodicy requires some variant of universalism which I think is also consistent with Christianity. If one rejects universalism, then I think the only potential way of reconciling natural evil with a Good God is to fall on a spiritual warfare theodicy and believe all natural evil is caused by supernatural evil agents.

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In my earlier post I argued that God is not casually responsible for evil, and that His ontological responsibility for evil does not warrant any devaluing of God’s goodness. In this post I want to talk a little more about the nature of good and evil and why while we can expect evil where there is good, the relationship between good and evil is not dualistic. Good is positive value. Moral good is virtue (like the fruits of the Spirit). But collective good is about more than that. It is positive, creative, free, and relational. Evil on the other hand is negative, destructive, limiting, and isolating. And so for evil to exist it is predicated on the existence of some good. Evil does not create or sustain; pure evil is nothing (non-existence). Only with the existence of good does the potential of evil exist. And without the potential of evil, good itself is emptied of meaning, for then it would have no freedom, no creativity, and no virtue.

All of this is to show that goodness always bears with it the potential for evil and so our universe having evil in it does not count against there being a good God. In fact, I would argue that our desire to exist, to create, to be free, to be good, all point to a supremacy of good behind the workings of our universe. Evil exists because we are not particularly effective at manifesting our freedom for good. It is not that we have some dualistic struggle between wanting to be good and wanting to be evil. We are simply misguided and ignorant in our attempts to maintain existence and to create. And so we end up using our freedom to the detriment of others (and ultimately ourselves). Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is because that is exactly what we are searching for, the proper way to use our freedom, the truth to end our ignorance, and life to continue being good.

This is not to say that an end to evil is not possible. But only that the possibility of evil always exists where good exists. The development of character can allow us (as God’s perfect character does in Him) to choose only good and this is God’s end in our sanctification. The actuality of evil, God has promised to, in the end, bring to a final stop. But this struggle to overcome evil requires the participation, reconciliation, and renewal of all things including all human beings.

In my next post I will delve into to process of eliminating evil and what role “natural evil” plays in that process.

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A lot of people don’t believe in a personal God. Some think the God is merely a force (perhaps one of some generic unity and love) but not personal in a ‘being’ sort of way. Others tend to imagine God as more of a government or system, a Divine lawmaker that set creation and morality in motion and perhaps even in the end will give some form of final justice but they don’t believe that He is available as a friend or a mentor. And so as I look to myself I also see that I too tend to push God into abstraction, to avoid prayer and communion, and I ask myself why that might be?

The truth that I discovered is that a personal God is too demanding of a God. Not in the sense that He literally demands certain things of me and when I fail I am punished or He is disappointed (that god is back to the divine lawgiver and not much in the realm of being personally accessible). But that genuine experience with a perfect God convicts and reveals one’s shortcomings. God’s perfect love, forgiveness, passion, and seeking after me, leaves no room for me to not be like that with others. If I am daily experiencing a relationship marked by God’s agape

{Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.}

I cannot easily and certainly not in good conscience be envious toward others, or be resentful, or doubt, or put down, or not forgive. God’s perfection demands personal perfection by its mere presence. If I experience perfect love how can I will dysfunctional or bad relationships on others?  It is not a demand marked by any form of compulsion but is an even greater burden simply because it is not. The light of God reveals the parts of me that hide in darkness. And so I think it is because we wish to avoid the necessity to change, and become good, that we also de-personalize or abstract God. The perfect God who wants a relationship with us is too hard to bear so we change our perceptions in order to stay comfortable with our depravity.

In Matthew 5 Jesus says “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. Many just gloss over this as some form of hyperbole but in context Jesus is talking about loving even your enemies with an agape type love. And He says that we are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. Because God loves you even while you are His enemies. He doesn’t say love your enemies or God will punish you, or love your enemies because the universe is actually harmonious in the background and you need to overcome the illusion that makes you believe others are enemies. He says love your enemies as God does. Recognize perfection, experience God’s perfection, and you will manifest that perfection to others.

The demand of a perfect personal God is not a demand that stems from Him, but from us. And so when we reject Him we do so in order to protect ourselves from ourselves. It is not God who expects too much, or God that is unreasonable, or God that is a tyrannical bully. It is we who are cowards, who are depraved, who live in darkness and will do whatever it takes to avoid communion with the revealing light that is God. We would rather remain comfortable in our darkness, keeping God at arm’s length, than embrace the uncomfortable vision of ourselves that a relationship with the Light brings.

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Given the pull of the culture wars in Christianity over issues like abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, etc., and the division within the church over how to approach these issues (among others- like chastity), I have wrestled with the question of where a solid foundation for Christian morality comes from. I have however, come to terms with how Christians ought to engage these issues and I want to kind of walk you through my reasoning on how Christian morality ought to look.

Growing up as a Christian I was taught that right and wrong were essentially defined by the commands of God as witnessed in Scripture. This meant primarily the Old Testament law (with exceptions for those parts which were revoked or seemingly revoked in the N.T.), the commands/advice of the apostles in the epistles, and the teachings of Jesus (ironically being more vague and more demanding so usually confined within the framework of the other two sources). Other Old Testament books are also used for rules on some issues but not quite as frequently. And so, linking all these scriptural commands together formed a decently neat set of rules and guidelines for Christian ethics under most situations.

The problems with this view of ethics however, forced me to abandon it quite readily. To begin let us consider the O.T. Law. The problems for using it for ethical guidelines are as follows:

A)     It was written for a culture in a time, place, and mindset, very unlike our own. And so determining what purpose an individual law served can be difficult.

B)      The Bible places some doubt on whether the Law (parts or entirety) is truly from God (Mark 10:5, Jeremiah 7:22-23, Galatians 3:19-20)

C)      It can be demonstrated that the law does not reveal the moral will of God as revealed in His perfect revelation, Jesus Christ (Deut. 24:1-4, Mark 10:5)(Deuteronomy 19:21, Matt. 5:38-39)(Deut. 22:22, John 8:5-11)

D)     It can be argued that the primary purpose of the law was to serve Israel’s election not reveal God’s moral will (https://scottpd.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/jesus-as-the-final-sacrifice-animal-sacrifices-penal-substitution-and-the-truth-about-election/)

E)      Jesus’ summary of the moral point of the law and the prophets (between which exist quite a bit of tension) is that we are to love God and Love each other (Matt. 22:27, Matt. 7:12), which admittedly, is not the result or point of following merely the commandments of the law.

I could elaborate on these points but I want to simply demonstrate an overview of why I think looking for ethical guidance in the Old Testament Law is not a useful endeavor.

As for the advice given by the apostles, I do believe it has some use in determining Christian morality, but that use is still somewhat limited. Here we have advice (and I stress advice and not moral command because Paul himself stresses such) given to specific Christians concerning specific problems within specific contexts. And so to draw general statements of proper conduct from them is difficult at best because we need to understand the problems the writer is trying to address but also because at the end of the day this is still just advice and not moral law.

Turning to Jesus’ teaching we finally have some solid ground. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And all authority under heaven has been given to Him. The Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Christ ought to take precedence over any moral teaching elsewhere in the Bible and be used to interpret them, not be interpreted by them. The problem with emphasizing a Christ centered morality however, is that Christ does not give very specific commands. If we wanted to look for what Jesus taught on homosexuality, or chastity for example, we might be hard pressed to find something tangible. And this is where conservative churches tend to criticize liberal churches. A liberal church might put the “Golden Rule” as the highest moral command, but the application of very general statements like “Love your Neighbor” can be difficult.

All of this considered, my original approach to addressing this issue was with focus on virtue, using the fruits of the Spirit as moral guidelines.

Galatians 5:22-23

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Given that there are no laws against these things one need only define these virtues to evaluate moral actions. Love for instance is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Armed with this approach, Christian morality seemed less conflicted and more manageable and adaptable to varying circumstances. Furthermore, it avoided Pharisee-like discrimination, elitism, and cruelty. However, even with this approach I find myself conflicted on certain issues in that defining these virtues and setting them pro and con against each other and against vices is also sometimes extremely difficult.

Then I encountered a verse that changed my whole perspective.

Jeremiah 31
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This verse refers to the new covenant in Christ in which the law of God is in the hearts of believers and no more do we have to teach one another or command each other to “Know the Lord” for we shall know Him. What this means is that for true believers the answer to our moral questions is in our hearts where God resides. We don’t need to look to the Bible to evaluate our decisions because it is not in the Bible but in

“Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3)

And this is where the more pressing problem occurs. If we teach that when you are struggling to decide what to do you should go to God and not the Bible how can we ensure that people won’t just all believe different things are right and wrong and the Christian body will be terribly un-unified? I concede that this is a possibility, but if a Christian has real faith, we must discount that possibility. What we are truly teaching is faith. To believe what is simply in the Bible is what George MacDonald called a “weak faith” and if only that, a contemptible one. If we cannot trust God to give us the answers (especially since the Bible says He is the only one who has them) then what faith do we have? Not faith in God for sure, and not really even faith in the Bible since it tells us to put our faith in Him and not itself. And if God truly answers the faithful seeker I do not think we will find ourselves all in disagreement.

Some might object however, that God will only tell us to do things that are also revealed in the Bible, and definitely not things contrary to the Bible (which I think is how they filter their own relations with God). But this is demonstrably not true.

John 16

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus in whom God has hidden all knowledge and Wisdom has more to say than what has been said and the Holy Spirit dwells in us to help communicate those things to us. And if we look simply at the things the Spirit had to say to the apostles, it was overturning things they thought were scriptural left and right.

George MacDonald excerpts from “A Higher Faith”

“Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time–that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?–the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity?”

“Do you count it a great faith to believe what God has said? It seems to me, I repeat, a little faith, and, if alone, worthy of reproach. To believe what he has not said is faith indeed, and blessed. For that comes of believing in HIM. Can you not believe in God himself? Or, confess,–do you not find it so hard to believe what he has said, that even that is almost more than you can do? If I ask you why, will not the true answer be–”Because we are not quite sure that he did say it”? If you believed in God you would find it easy to believe the word. You would not even need to inquire whether he had said it: you would know that he meant it.”

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The point of this post is to make a simple observation. While there are many issues in Christian theology one of the major issues as far as conflict is called the soteriological problem. The soteriological problem concerns itself with who will be saved and will not be, but also more importantly why. The conflict is dominated by three seemingly biblical notions all three of which cannot (at least as far as human logic goes) be true simultaneously. These statements put simply are

1. God is completely Sovereign ( has control of all things including human destinies)

2. God wills/desires that all human beings be saved

3. Not all will be saved

The classical views of Calvinism and Arminianism have each re-interpreted the support for one of these three statements.

Calvinism generally re-interprets number 2 opting for something along the lines of all types of people will be saved but God doesn’t want to save every single individual because if he wanted to He could.

Arminianism injects a notion of free-will to re-interpret number 1. Saying to the effect that while God wants to save everyone, human freedom rebels against God and God chooses to respect that freedom or lacks the ability to overcome it .

The less popular view of Universalism reinterprets number 3. Holding that eternal or final rejection is mistranslated or a result of hyperbole and that God wants to save everyone and because He is sovereign ultimately will.

The thing that is most interesting from a biblical stand point is that each view agrees one one point and disagrees on one point, putting them at a seemingly even task of re-interpretation.

Which of the three statements do you think is the most biblical and which the least? Should show you more or less where you stand…

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Many times in various forms of worship we hear or say that God is beautiful. But what does this mean. We obviously aren’t using it in the sense of physical aesthetics, which is that God is pleasing to the eye. What we really tend to mean is that God as a character and pertaining to what he has done, elicits a sense of beauty. So what God has is a moral beauty. Moral beauty is about more than simply one’s character. We sense moral beauty in our favorite stories, and the characters in them. It is not static but dynamic. We don’t think a snapshot of the story is beautiful but the value is in the narrative of the story or character development. It is the whole process of the farm boy facing trials, almost losing and overcoming it all that elicits a sense of moral beauty. Likewise, God’s moral beauty comes from not his static character but His interactions in the stories of our lives and the meta-narrative of creation.

And this is where narrative theology is born. Unlike systematic theology which uses the Bible to order and summarize God’s static character and how He functions. Narrative theology asks different questions. It strives to know what God is doing in any given story and event in the Bible. What did this mean to them? And what does this mean about His role in my story? Narrative theology doesn’t want a perfectly systematic God by examining all the stories in conjunction but allows that we understand each story on its own. And understand how all the different stories play a role in the one meta-narrative of creation. In narrative theology there is a place for disagreement, a place for God’s individuality in how He deals with various personalities, and also a place for you to analyze your own story and let it also shape how you understand the meta-narrative. Narrative theology seeks to recognize God’s moral beauty rather than trying to scientifically analyze God.

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