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Archive for the ‘Problem of Evil’ 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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