Tag Archives: problem of evil

God just needed another little angel so he took her

Have you ever been in a small group where someone has uttered something like the couple in the video above? Papering over a deep tragedy with answers that were not only paper-thin but actually damaging if closely scrutinized?

I have.

And like the grieving mother, I’ve also felt like an ass when I couldn’t stomach it anymore and decided to call everyone to examine the implications of what was actually being said.

I often wonder whether regular church goers actually realize how shallow and trite they make following Christ sound when they offer answers like the one above. I wonder if they know how much damage they do.

Like the couple above demonstrates, most often these answers, this shallowness is only allowed to grow and flourish in the absence of cross examination or close scrutiny.

The question of pain and suffering is immense. It is perhaps the largest question Christians face. It certainly is the root of why many cannot (note the inability here, not merely the unwillingness) place their faith in Christ. Accordingly, it requires us to spend many hours studying it.

We need to have both an immediate answer to those freshly grieving as well as a more nuanced answer for those able and willing to explore the deep questions surrounding death and suffering in the world God has made.

Here are three resources I highly recommend on this subject:

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Must Good Come From Every Evil?

I recently ran across this article by Dr Little regarding the question of evil and suffering in the world. Dr. Little asks the often overlooked (or assumed) question of “Must good come from every evil in the world?”

Dr Little’s answer may surprise (and anger) you, especially since it goes against what many pastors tend to offer their congregations. Sadly, however, such an answer is not only inadequate when it comes to answering the evidence of gratuitous evil in the world around us, but such pat answers also pose very real potentially faith-wreaking threats to anyone who is not content with simplistic answers and, instead, decides to probe deeper.

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God and evil, two views

From a conversation via Google Buzz1:

I can’t help but coming to the conclusion that, outside of open theism where God has no clue what the future holds, God is always in some way ‘responsible’ for sin and evil in the world. I say that with reverence and a few qualifications, of course. But God created the world at least knowing the sin and evil that would come from it. He also sustains the world and the wicked in it. He gives them life, breath, health, cognitive ability, opportunity, freedom of conscience, He doesn’t restrain their evil, and He doesn’t always save the innocent (though having full power to do so).

So if you really want to talk about ‘responsibility’, then God is most definitely the ultimate cause of all things. Without Him this world would not exist.

If we’re going to use our fallible understanding in determining if God is ‘responsible’ or not, which IMO is what Molinism is trying to do, then by anyone’s book the definition above applies full guilt and responsibility to God.

There is a big difference between 1a) God choosing to actualize (or create) a world where in evil is possible and 1b) further choosing to sustain it’s order in spite of the free choice to sin and perform evil by free (in a limited capacity) causal agents and 2) God’s being the direct cause of all that happens in the world such that all things that happen do so as a direct result of his will.

In the first instance we can show how God is truly holy and unconnected with sin who can nonetheless use it or direct it to good ends.

In the second case we are left wondering how God could be against something he causally directs. We are left with a dualistic view of evil’s being necessary for the existence of good which is something that ought to bother us since God declares his absolute disdain of evil.

We can also see that only in the second sense can God truly be at war with evil, sin, and death. Whereas the second view of God’s direct involvement in the promulgation of sin calls into question God’s commitment to it’s destruction, the first view is able to logically account for evil as being the sole product of limited free causal agents outside and independent of God.

Or, as Ravi Zacharias put it in a recent open forum: God gave us the tools of free will and love and we chose to misuse those tools to produce slavery and death.

  1. I love Google Buzz. []
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On Pat Robertson’s thoughtless remarks about Haiti

Haiti was recently hit by the largest earthquake in nearly a hundred years.

Here’s what Pat Robertson had to say about it:

I’ve heard many atheists and anti-Christians take Pat’s comments above as reinforcements to support their belief that Christians are intolerant, bigoted, and wholly devoid of compassion. It’s this group of people I want to address..

There are many of us whose hearts do break for the pain, suffering, and evil that has been unleashed upon the people of Haiti. While we do maintain that God is wholly sovereign over the world we also vehemently deny assertions like the one made by Pat Robertson.

We don’t consider him to be unsaved or a devil in disguise. Since we are all members of a much larger family which includes those hurting in Haiti, we simply maintain that men like Pat are like the black sheep that run in all families.

Except, we also recognize that in this family we were all black sheep at one point in time.

Yes, we are all very much aware that there is a cancer in the body of Christ and we are desperately trying to fight it.

But where does that cancer come from? We know full well it comes from the hearts of sinful men who are still in need of a savior.

No, we aren’t perfect. We just know someone who is.

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John Piper: Why the Tsunami?

I ran across this video recently and it reminded me about why answering the question of evil is absolutely critical if we are to uphold God as holy.

BTW: God doesn’t judge in this age. Judgement has been suspended until the end of time.

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Resources for more information on Molinism/Middle Knowledge

Since my post on Molinism/Middle Knowledge garnered some interest I figured it would be helpful to provide some more resources on the subject for anyone who is interested in exploring, as William Lane Craig puts it, such a fruitful doctrine further:

Audio

William Lane Craig‘s multi-part series “Doctrine of God” taught in his Sunday School class (Defenders) at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church

Articles

Philosophia Christi is a scholarly periodical published by the Evangelical Philosophical Society which regularly has articles both for and against Middle Knowledge, recently Vol 11 Num 1 2009 featured Steven B. Cowan (Editor of Five Views on Apologetics) against and Scott A Davison (Professor of Philosophy at Morehead State University) for with some good interaction between them both.

Books

Other notable proponents of Middle Knowledge1 include:

I would be remiss if I were to claim this as an exhaustive list of proponents or resources pertaining to Middle Knowledge/Molinism so if you know of any other resources, by all means, let me know!

  1. These include both active and passive proponents of Middle Knowledge/Molinism. Not all of these people actively promote Middle Knowledge by itself but all, as far as I know, hold to this doctrine and deem it useful or “fruitful” in answering other theological/philosophical issues. The most significant being the question of evil. []
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Saved! a critique of incoherent Christian culture

Saved! movie posterMy wife and I recently watched “Saved!“, a dark comedy about evangelical Christianity produced by  REM lead singer Michael Stipe1. I have had this movie in my Netflix queue for quite some time, shuffling it around because I thought it would turn out to be like “Dogma“. Boy was I mistaken.

This movie’s portrayal of popular evangelical culture is stunningly accurate. Just watching this movie brought me back to when I was first Saved! and the jargon, ideas, and general incoherent babbling I got caught up in.

For instance, in the movie the main character, out of a good desire to “save” her homosexual boyfriend, decides she has “heard from Jesus” that she needs to sleep with him and proceeds to do so. While we may think this kind of thing is silly, I’ve known and have been known to use the exact same reasoning to justify similar behavior.

The similarities don’t end there and aren’t limited to my narrow experience. They permeate many Christians thoughts and beliefs. From pastors who ought to know better to the parishiners who often don’t (but wish they did), the common theme brought out in this movie is the tendency to act holy, to use holy language2, and to generally accept a burden of legalism that is far removed from the “law of liberty” James writes about.3

In short, this movie exposes the eagerness with which many Christians rush to pick up a yoke far removed from the “light” and “easy” yoke promised by Jesus.4

Within the first 5 minutes of this movie you are hit squarely between the eyes with causal determinism (baptized stoicism popular among reformed theologians) and the corresponding question of evil. By the time you move to meeting the rest of the characters you are also confronted with the logical paradox this presents when coupled with the popular Christian pastime of “finding God’s will” in addition to the ambiguous (and often vacuous) understanding of prayer.

All of these ideas are combined with a general air of anti-intellectualism  ((God forbid we use our minds to try and sort all this mess out. )) combined with an overarching emphasis on “spiritual highs”5 to give us a chaotic mess. From this chaotic mess you begin to have a clear view of the neurotic mess most Christians are and why we are largely ineffective at reaching a culture that is often more clear about what love, community, and genuineness mean than we are.

Unfortunately the confusion we take in is often expressed very clearly to those around us which begs the question in them of how we can claim to have the answers to life’s deepest questions when we have trouble with even the simplest choices of whom to marry and what job to take.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Church, I love the church enough to desperately wish this movie was a work of pure fiction but the sad reality is that its not. It is, instead, scarily accurate.

I hope mature Christians6 take a good long look in the mirror with this movie and, instead of getting angry about the mocking, ask the tough questions like, “What does this movie show us about ourselves?” and “How can we work to clear up the misconceptions portrayed in this movie?”

Even though I’m not a movie critic, I give this movie two big thumbs up and encourage everyone to go see it. You’ll have a bit of a challenge finding it, though, it’s not something you’ll be able to ask the clerk at Family Christian or Lifeway to grab for you.

  1. You know, the guys who brought you the great song “Loosing my religion“ []
  2. I contend that one of the banes of Christendom is the use of words and phrases we have not carefully studied and have no idea the meaning of. We simply use them because they sound good. Phrases like “God told me..“ []
  3. James 1:25 and James 2:12 []
  4. Matthew 11:30. ..for  my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. []
  5. In other words, we’ve created our own “Christianized” brand of existentialism that we think is spiritual []
  6. Or those who think they are at any rate, this movie can also show you how mature you are by how visceral your reaction to it is. []
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