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BrotherRog

A Christian View Of Evil

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A Christian View of A-theism and Evil:

 

Arguments concerning the nonexistence of God give serious challenge to the traditional theistic view of God; i.e. as all knowing, all powerful, and all loving - as, if things like what happened on 9/11 happen in the world, and if: 1) God knew about it in advance, and 2) had the ability to prevent it, then: God couldn't be all loving, and/or God couldn't be all powerful, or God couldn't be all knowing.

 

Many traditional Christians (and Muslims & Jews) facing this argument reply saying that "We finite humans aren't able to fully fathom or discern the ways of God, i.e. it's a mystery." While, I appreciate and resonate some with that defense, it isn't fully satisfying for me. I recognize that the early Christian thinkers were greatly influenced by pagan Greek philosophical ideals (the omnipotent, omniscient, etc. notions) - influences which really didn't help Christianity to my mind. So instead, the theology I embrace holds that God is 1) all loving, 2) very powerful (largely persuasive rather than coercive), and 3) all knowing of everything that is possible to know; i.e. all that has happened in the past, all the possibilities in the present; and very perceptive about the various probabilities of our future. So, in the perspective I advocate (called "process theology" by liberals or "openness theology" by evangelicals), the existence and integrity of God is secure. I feel that this position is at least as Biblically grounded as the more traditional/popular one.

 

Some might reply that "they wouldn't want to worship a God Who is only very powerful, and only mostly knowing." However, since I believe that God created us in God's image in order to have real and authentic relationships, part of how we were created in God's image is by being gifted with real free will, and hence, God can't know all that we'll do from moment to moment. But God does actively try to influence all of us at every moment in order to lure/woo us toward opting to choose actions that are in sync with God's will. To the extent that we do this, our actions are Godly, to the extent that we deviate, they aren't.

 

*** The following is the transcript of a brief chatroom "whisper" discussion I had with someone exploring these issues, particularly the matter of theodicy - why God allows bad things to happen to good people: ***

 

ß.L. : I like to come in these rooms and listen to the different religions, I don't agree, but its interesting......what do you say to people when they ask why God lets bad things happen to them?

 

BrotherRog : Well, I may not be a "typical" Christian in my thoughts on this matter. I embrace what's known as Process theology (by liberals) or Openness theology (by evangelicals). (It's also similar to the view promoted by Rabbi Harold Kushner)

 

ß.L. : ??

 

BrotherRog : Essentially, this perspective suggests that God isn't responsible for acts of nature, like when a tree falls on someone, or when people die in floods or lightning, etc., as God has set creation up in such a way that the laws of physics (even the ones we don’t yet know about) must apply; e.g. if a rock falls off a cliff on earth, it must fall down, and it is just bad luck/timing if someone happens to be underneath it or in its path.

 

Now, when it comes to why human caused bad things happen, it is just that, HUMAN-caused. That is, God didn't cause someone to rape or murder someone else, it was simply that offending individual abusing their God-given free will. Now, some will say that "Since God is supposedly all powerful, all knowing, and all loving," then why wouldn't God stop someone from murdering someone else, or why wouldn’t God have prevented the Holocaust or the tragedies on 9/11?

 

ß.L. : Exactly, and they ask why did he create evil?

 

BrotherRog : For me, God is very powerful (but not able to actually catch nuclear missiles in the air should we decide to fire them); all loving, all present, and all knowing of that which is possible to know; i.e. God knows all of the past, all of the present, and the likely probabilities of what will happen in the future.

 

I don't personally feel that God created evil, but simply the possibility for it. When Adam and Eve (if one takes that myth/narrative literally) committed the first sin (an act/thought that is contrary to God's will), they did so using their free will. Once this happened the first time, it made things such that we're more and more likely to sin again. Kinda like how a drug user takes one hit, which leads to another.... or like when a person gets frostbite on a toe, once that happens, its more prone to having it happen again.

 

Does any of this make any sense?

 

ß.L. : yes, perfectly

 

BrotherRog : Ultimately, most people of faith, when pressed, will resort to saying that we need to defer to the "Mystery" of God and God's ways; i.e. we puny humans can't understand it all. However, the way I’ve presented it above helps me make as much sense as possible for me.

 

ß.L. : yeah... There's a website one of them showed me......"godlessamerica" or something like that......it had these horrible pictures of people in misery and asked where was God then? I just didn't know how to answer it

 

BrotherRog : Well, I'd say that God was very much there with those people! 1) God was working hard to try to sway the perpetrators from doing their evil acts, minimizing this as much as possible, and 2) God was suffering with those people, being there for them and with them, working to give them strength and hope.

 

ß.L. : See, and that makes perfect sense to me, but its so hard to get that through other peoples heads!

 

BrotherRog : Kinda, like how when Rabbi Heshel was asked in a WWII German concentration camp by a fellow inmate, "see those men hanging by their necks from those ropes, where is your God now?" To which he replied, "He’s there hanging upon those ropes."

 

ß.L. : wow

 

BrotherRog : Great acts of horror and tragedy are difficult for people to process - indeed after WWII many of the world's Jews have become atheistic, agnostic and/or only minimally religious.

 

However, for me the real problem is that in popular Judaism & Christianity, God is made to be some kind of Superman hero who can do anything to stop bad things from happening, and hence, people are prone to having crises of faith when God "fails" to stop bad things from happening. I think we need to put aside that popular image of God and shift to a healthier one.

 

By the way, are you a person of any particular faith?

 

ß.L. : I was told once that God lets things happen to bring people closer to him, and I just thought that was horrible.....to put people in misery for your own good?

 

ß.L. : yes, I'm a Christian

 

BrotherRog : Yes, I've heard many say that "there is a purpose to everything," or that "this happened so I could learn this lesson," "this happened to test my faith", "..to make me stronger," etc. Such logic is odd and even offensive - especially if said to a victim/mourner soon after their tragedy.

 

However, I do feel that those are things that can be true in a way in that after the fact, looking back on it, people can often see how things have "worked out for them" since then. But this is quite different than saying that one was actually raped "in order to learn a certain lesson."

 

I'd say that if lessons are learned, or people become stronger, etc., then this is because God was working hard to do damage control (to help them dust off, move on, and maybe even help others) after the incident. But not that God caused it.

 

ß.L. : that makes so much more sense

 

BrotherRog : Glad I could be of help! The question you raised is a biggie. It's called the issue of "theodicy" (literally, "the God problem") in theological circles, i.e. why would an all good, loving, and powerful God allow such bad things to happen to God’s people? There are many takes on this matter, but I like mine.

 

ß.L. : I think I like yours too

 

BrotherRog : From my experience, Christians/Churches that come from a Calvinist perspective (conservative Baptists, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists) tend to say that God did actually and intentionally cause those acts of trauma, but that Christians/Churches that come from an Arminian perspective (Methodists, Episcopalians, liberals, etc.) embrace the concept of Free Will, i.e. evil is human caused - not God caused. Interestingly, both groups can point to various Bible passages to support their views.

 

Say, which churches, if any, have you been a part of?

 

ß.L. : I was baptized in the Baptist church, but now attend the Methodist church

 

BrotherRog : How ‘bout that, I'm an United Methodist myself!

 

ß.L. : lol...its a small world after all

 

BrotherRog : Keep in mind that if you had whispered this matter to a more conservative Christian you would've likely gotten a very different answer.

 

ß.L. : probably

 

BrotherRog : I have enjoyed this little chat with you. I remember your screenname from a few nights ago in this chatroom. Good to "see" you again!

 

ß.L. : lol, i've just become really interested in the past few weeks.....its weird but hope to "see" you again sometime

 

BrotherRog : God be with you sister. Bye for now.

 

ß.L. : Bye

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It is interesting, this debate on the existence of evil. it has been ragin as long as humans have been able to communicate with each other, in every culture. I tend to like the traditional Jewish explanation. That each person has two sides to their nature or tendencies. Both have a place. It is the desires that make us burn for passion for our wives and seek to achieve sucess for a better life. Only when we allow the animal instincts to rule over our mind/spirit, does it become evil. Evil is about a lack of control, a failure to live up to the divine nature, a denial of our true selves.

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If we are truly created in the image of God then this has vast implications.

"Knowing yourself" becomes of paramount importance in understanding the nature of God. In fact an understanding of your own humanity would be the quickest most credible method for understanding God...not studying scripture.

Knowing all the good and evil that is within human nature this was a frightening thought...at first.

Then as years passed and experience was gained, I got to know myself on a deeper level.......if I am made in the image of God......this has become a deep source of happiness.

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Okay, I have no answers to this one, but some observations of where I am in my thought processes so far:

 

1. I have yet to read any explanation of theodicy that makes sense to me in light of my own reason/experiences.

 

2. The entire Adam/Eve myth is problematic for me because why on earth would God place the tree of Knowledge (or Good and Evil) there in the first place? What was it's intended purpose??

 

3. If we are truly made in God's image, then does that mean that God has an evil side as well?

 

I know these may seem simplisitic questions, and I continue to glean from all those here are so far ahead of me. I have been steeped/trained in evangelical Christianity for so long, that I have much catching up to do!

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The construct of "God " implies the force behind the creation of all that exists - the Universe - and that must include evil as well as good. Otherwise, where did evil come from? It would not exist if it had not been created? We have to widen out perception of what we mean by "God" to include everything.

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I agree, Angelus. There is nothing in the Universe that is not or of God. I will take it one step further and suggest that the dual nature of the Universe ("Good" and "Evil" in this case) is an illusion that we (humans) have created to try to make sense of the world. We say one thing is evil because it causes suffering and we say one thing is good because it causes pleasure or relief from suffering (or for what ever reason). But if suffering is necessary for our own evolution, how can it be evil?

 

Consider Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

 

I don't think this is saying that if you love God, good things will happen to us. The writer is suggesting that the veil of illusion will be lifted for us to see that what we perceive as "Good" and "Evil" in our lives are both working to meet our highest needs. The problem is that we don't always consciously know what our or others' highest needs really are (or how they can best be met).

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I agree with angelus and fatherman. God, for me, is the energy behind the universe, not a thinking decidign, personality. So sayong 'god knows everything' is true in a sense, though it is way of imagining it, rather lioke models of the universe which are not inaccurate but cannot represnt it actually.

 

I aslo feel that 'evil' is a human way of making sense of what happens. We cannot say animals or earthquakes are evil, because they are natural. Evil is an event we disagree with. That doesn't follow that God disagreed with it.

 

The people I feel uncomfortable with are hose who say God chose to save the real Christians on 9/11 by delaying their train or causing their child to make them late, and thus miss the disaster. This is surely a God who is not worth believing in, a God worth Manfred shaking his fist at..

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Actually, I believe that God does have Consciousness and Will and that we are all a part of God's Consciousness and Will, but that it requires realization on our part to freely flow with it. (I realize this begs the question, "Does this mean we don't have our own free will?")

 

God can know everything if God is everything.

 

Ok, this is the statement that's going to get me in trouble:

 

Ford wrote

 

The people I feel uncomfortable with are hose who say God chose to save the real Christians on 9/11 by delaying their train or causing their child to make them late, and thus miss the disaster. This is surely a God who is not worth believing in, a God worth Manfred shaking his fist at..

 

This bugs me, too. But there might be some truth in it anyway. The problem with this world/God view for me is the part that correlates "Real Christian" with "miss the disaster". This requires the use of a judgement based on things that can't be known except by a Jesus or a Buddha or some other fully God-Realized individual: the full pattern of someone's Karma and God's purpose for that individual. If it is necessary for an event (deemed a tragedy) to happen to a person in order to satisfy the law of karma, it will happen eventually (to bring balance) unless that person's karma gets burnt off through rapid evolution or intercession by a God-Realized person. It won't matter if we are so-called "Real Christians" or not. What matters is is our soul's highest need and how it is best met.

 

God never punishes. God created a Universe that is self-balancing.

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Theodicy (literally, “the God problem”) is the attempt to explain God’s goodness and power and reconcile these with the evident evil in the created world; i.e. “Why would an all good, all knowing, and all powerful God cause or allow such horrible things to happen to His/Her people?” Since most theologians and religious philosophers in the West have assumed both God’s “unconditional power” and God’s “absolute goodness,” the existence and persistence of evil are often held to be inexplicable/unexplainable. In recent centuries the absence of a convincing or satisfying resolution to the issue of theodicy and the frequent theological resort to “Divine mystery” as an explanation have led many to atheism.

 

The Process/Kushner Response:

 

The contemporary Christian perspective known as Process Theology responds to this issue in a way that is quite similar to that held by the Jewish Rabbi Harold Kushner (author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People). Some basic features of this line of thinking:

 

SELF-EXISTENCE AND OMNIPOTENCE – Traditionally, the affirmation of God’s sovereign power is expressed philosophically by the concept of “omnipotence,” (all powerfulness) which means that God can do absolutely anything at all, or at least anything “logically possible.” This often accompanies the dogma that all that is was created ex nihilo (from nothing) by God. The logical implication of this traditional line of thought is that all forms of evil, even the “demonic dimension,” must be directly or indirectly God-made.

 

Some logical challenges to this traditional line of thinking are that:

* Since God made everything that is, then God made guns, pollution, and nuclear bombs.

* Since God made everything, then God made Hitler. Hitler caused the murder of 6 million Jews, therefore God is responsible for their slaughter. As, since this slaughter was a real thing, and since all things are God-made, if follows that God “made” this genocide.

* Since God made everything, then God must’ve also made Satan/the Devil & evil.

* Since God made everything, then this must mean that God is the cause/source of Cancer, disease, famine, floods, droughts, earthquakes, forest fires, etc.

 

In Process thought, God is not the only self-existent reality. The creation accounts and other Biblical texts teach that God is not a fiat (dictatorial) creator, but an awesome organizer and life-giver; that the pure principles of element can be neither created nor destroyed; and that the undergirdings of eternal law, with certain bounds and conditions, are coexistent with God. “Omnipotence” then means that God has “all the power that it is possible to have in the universe.” Hence, God did not create evil, we did as a result of our misuse of our free will (i.e. by our choices to not follow the leadings of God’s Spirit in our lives). Furthermore, when it comes to disasters such as volcano eruptions, earthquakes, fires, etc., Process thought would contend that these events aren’t “ordained or caused by God” (i.e. they aren’t “acts of God”) but instead are simply the results of the constant motion and shifting of the natural world which simply occur when natural forces (which follow the laws of physics) run their course.

 

APPEARANCE AND REALITY - Traditionally, omnipotence is often taken to mean that God is able to overrule or overcome whatever lesser powers might interfere with God’s sovereign will; i.e. God isn’t restricted by human will or bound by the laws of nature, gravity, physics, energy conservation, thermodynamics, etc.. This view leaves God responsible for everything that occurs, just as it occurs (i.e. God just caused me to type this sentence in just this way!). It follows that if God is truly good, then, despite appearances, all that happens must be good, however horrible the “good” may seem for human beings; e.g. “that brutal act of rape that just took place in that back stairwell was actually good in God’s eyes.” Evil then is held to be privative (an absence), simply in the human mind, or a matter of perspective. The conclusion that follows is that this is the best of all possible worlds (to quote Leibnitz and the medieval thinker Alexander Pope’s famed Essay on Man – a work which Voltaire ridiculed in his even more famed Enlightenment era work Candide). But the problem then arises all over again, for why doesn’t God exercise His/Her great power to simply remove the pain/suffering that arises from human misunderstandings?

 

Process thought contends that sin, sinfulness, ignorance, deformity, disease, death, and evil are real. As they and their effects continue to exist, and even increase, then even from the perspective of God, this is a less than perfect world. Another, better, realm is conceivable where these evils in individual and community life have been overcome.

 

INVIOLATE FREEDOM – Certain traditional thought has sometimes held that God “limits His/Her own power for the greater good.” Usually this view is associated with insistence on the importance of human freedom (particularly in Armenian and Pelagian based theologies [as opposed to Calvinist/pre-determinist ones]). Character and personality, it is argued, can develop only if human beings are genuinely free. Likewise, God’s love, if authentic, must be voluntary.

Essentially, it is believed that God doesn’t want to be a mere “puppet master pulling our strings” and controlling our thoughts and actions. Rather, God empowers us with free wills with which we are free to either follow God’s guidance and will, or ignore and go off and do our own thing (i.e. sin/alienation from God).

It is believed that God would rather have His/Her creation freely do His/Her will and express love back toward God because they genuinely want and choose to, rather than simply loving God and doing God’s will because they’re forced to and can do no other – as this wouldn’t be real love.

These goods are held to outweigh the evil introduced by free agents into the world, even when the consequences are terribly destructive. Process thought concurs here in maintaining that humans need to know the contrasts of both good and bad to help them increase in knowledge and in growth. God’s self-limitation (God “choosing to tie one arm behind His/Her back”) is essential to the attainment of God’s purposes. Moreover, in Process thought, God not only will not but cannot ultimately coerce or force humans to choose life over death or do God’s will; e.g. God can’t prevent someone from shooting a gun, or stop us from blowing up the world if we’re determined to do it. God can however bring good and positive transformation/resurrection out of the experience of evil to the degree that we harmonize our will with God’s and continue to seek, affirm, and embrace God. In this cooperative mode, God can, and will, enable all His/Her creatures to become and realize the very best of what they have it in them to become.

 

NATURAL EVIL AND THE NATURE OF POWER. It is commonly observed that not all evil is caused by human beings. Earthquakes, epidemics, plagues, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters occur. Furthermore, these, and some evils caused by human aberration (acid rain, global warming, pollution, war) are of such magnitude as to call for Divine intervention. The Holocaust is a glaring modern instance. Such considerations underscore the scriptural teaching that although God has power over the elements, and though there is divine intervention, divine influence over human beings is never “coercive,” “controlling” or “manipulating.” Rather, it is liberating, empowering, and persuading. This is the power which God continuously exercises, even (and perhaps especially) in the midst of tragedy and affliction. It is the power most sought and most to be emulated. (This view is perhaps captured in the popular saying: “When life hands you lemons, God helps you make lemonade!”)

 

Adapted from “Theodicy” by John Cobb, Jr, and Truman G. Madsen

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BrotherRog,

 

I've been reading a bit about Open Theology which claims to be different than Process Theology. I'm not sure I really understand the substantive differences. Can you shed any light on this? Basically, I think one difference is that in Open Theology, God has the power to act or not to act, but in Process Theology God does not have the power to act. In Open Theology, God "knows" all possible outcomes, but in Process Theology, God does not. This is far as I've gotten. Am I understanding this correctly?

 

Sophia

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I believe that evil is ultimately a subjective thing. Every inhuman thing one person has done to another has been for their perceived benefit, gain or pleasure and we're usually the good guys. No nation ever went to war telling its people their cause was unjust; any thief will rationalize their need is greater than their victim's right, even if it's just their need for a thrill. Sometimes it seems the only thing there is to gain is the chance to leave a mark. So where does God come into all of this? I submit to you all that he doesn't. There is no Evil with a capital "E", there is petty conceit expanded beyond reason; overweening pride bearing the fruit of insufferable arrogance and the desperate acts of violence from those who feel they have nothing left to lose.

So anyway that's my humble view of evil, when I want to view the evil in the world, I look inside myself. I think we all should.

Take it easy

SP

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1. Sophia, Right, Openness Theology is basically "process theology lite"; i.e. it seeks to maintain a closer link to the traditional orthodoxy and traditional theism. Essentially, they maintain that God IS all powerful ontologically, but that in God's perfection, God CHOOSES to "tie one arm behind His back" in order to allow as much free will and autonomy to His creation as possible. To my mind, this does NOT sastisfactorially deal with the theodicy question as it still makes GOD to blame for why bad things happe to good people; i.e. He COULD have prevented that rape or 9/11 from happening, but he DIDN'T. This makes God seem rather capricious as to God's involvement in the world.

 

2. Shiny, Well to MY mind, evil is not all together "subjective" and/or relative. Indeed, count me on record as saying that ALL instances of torturing human babies and infants is universally evil. As are ALL instances of rape, genocide, knowingly allowing high levels of toxic chemicals to pollute an environment, etc.

 

I will admit that there are degrees of evil and that sometimes we must choose between the lesser of evils, and that people may have differing opinions as to these subtleties.

Edited by BrotherRog

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Believe it or not I wrote my Master's thesis on this topic, well, I touched on it, anyhow. My basic argument was against the existence of Satan. I ended up concluding one could believe in Satan if they chose to but previous to that I made the argument that there really isn't a need for Satan.

 

As far as evil goes: I first separated out true evil from things we think are evil. For example: Many see the Tsunami as evil, it is not, it is awful, true, but not evil. Earthquakes, death, disease, not evil, just part of living.

 

What true evil is is what humans do to each other and to the world. Think rape, murder, etc. But also think cuts, put downs -- how we treat each other.

 

Wow I just turned a 50 page paper into 3 small paragraphs!

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What true evil is is what humans do to each other and to the world.  Think rape, murder, etc.  But also think cuts, put downs --  how we treat each other. 

What makes human behavior "true evil" as opposed to "just awful"?

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What makes human behavior "true evil" as opposed to "just awful"?

Because it involves a willful and deliberate action (or lack of action) that is in direct opposition to a holy God (and in many cases our fellow humans)

My .02

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What makes human behavior "true evil" as opposed to "just awful"?

Because it involves a willful and deliberate action (or lack of action) that is in direct opposition to a holy God (and in many cases our fellow humans)

My .02

 

 

That and human action against human has the intention of hurting or overpowering that person. The tsunami lacks will or ability, it is physics.

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What makes human behavior "true evil" as opposed to "just awful"?

Because it involves a willful and deliberate action (or lack of action) that is in direct opposition to a holy God (and in many cases our fellow humans)

My .02

Not always.... It seems to me, many people have about as much direct control over their actions as a volcano has over erupting. This may be especially true where people have become so twisted that they're capable of performing atrocities against others. I'm not saying people aren't responsible for their choices, just that... it's more complicated than that.

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Fred-

 

For 99.5% of us, I would argue that beyond all the terrible abuse we may have suffered, the junk we've received from society (tv,music, etc.), growing up in perhaps the very worst of surroundings, etc., at the end of the day, we make a choice to proceed or not to murder that friend, molest that child, rob that bank, cheat on our taxes, etc. That doesn't discount that we should minister to people with tough circumstances so that they can avoid making horrific choices and make good ones instead. Or it doesn't discount the idea that some are more likely to commit certain evil acts than others based on upbringing, etc. But in the end, I still think for most of us, we are responsible for making the right or wrong choice.

 

For that small percentage of people (perhaps a 4 yr old that kills someone or a severely mentally handicapped person that molests someone), where we agree they really had NO knowledge of what they were doing--no knowledge of right/wrong--then I would put that in the "tsunami" or "just awful" category. A terrible, awful, tragic, gut wrenching occurrence, but one where we cannot perhaps assign blame or attribute to evil intent.

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For 99.5% of us, I would argue that beyond all the terrible abuse we may have suffered, the junk we've received from society (tv,music, etc.), growing up in perhaps the very worst of surroundings, etc., at the end of the day, we make a choice to proceed or not to murder that friend, molest that child, rob that bank, cheat on our taxes, etc...

I'm not disagreeing with you at all. For all practical purposes, law enforcement, day-to-day dealings, etc., this is all perfectly true. I wasn't trying to make a sociological observation, but rather a spiritual one: until we've been called, and spiritually awakened, we are quite literally sleepwalking, acting out a destiny more or less unawares... and the transformation from night back to morning is far from an overnight occurrence.

 

That and human action against human has the intention of hurting or overpowering that person. The tsunami lacks will or ability, it is physics.

In fact, my initial question was taken in quite the opposite way as I meant it. What I meant to ask was, who is to say that the universe shares its physical nature in common with us (extension), but not its teleological nature (intention)? (Isn't etymology a beautiful thing?) Isn't this just a continuation of the Cartesian fallacy: a dualistic universe where alien human intentions inhabit a purely mechanical world? I'm suggesting that, just as we share in the physical structure of the universe, we also share in its intentional structure -- i.e. the universe is the manifestation of will, not "just physics." Another way of expressing it is to say that the elementary building blocks of nature are not Newtonian billiard balls, but entities which have an inner/outer polarity that cannot be completely reduced to lawlike behavior. (Enter quantum mechanics.) Many people in the theology/science community have constructed elaborate theories of divine action based on this model; but the basic idea is at least sufficient to show that we're not in Kansas anymore, as far as actions and intentions are concerned.

 

What this means, as I see it, is that evil isn't just stupid or bad human choices, but a structural potential within the fabric of creation itself, allowing for genuine choice, genuine love, and necessarily, genuine evil, at all levels of creation. I think this structural potential (and the constant pull toward it) is what is expressed by the mythical figure of Satan in Christianity, and is why some forms of evil cannot be reduced to merely human aberration.

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