Sunday, February 15, 2015
God and Evil
As a reminder, for the Christian, the problem of evil is a problem of logical consistency. The Christian idea of God is said to contradict the obvious existence of evil in the world. One of the most common definitions of 'physical evil' in the world is unnecessary pain and suffering. As for 'moral evil', that definition is indeed far more difficult to manage. Even then, many will say that moral evil is to do unnecessary harm to others and leave it at that. The thrust of the argument is again to claim that the kind of God Christians claim exists would not create the kind of world we actually experience. In other words, the existence of God and the existence of the present state of affairs involving evil contradict one another. Furthermore, what the Christian must resist in his attempt to solve this supposed contradiction is the temptation to create a god that is not offensive to the senses of the ungodly. I am convinced this is the aim of most Christians when they interact with the ungodly in these kinds of exchanges.
Both the Christian and the non-Christian system of thought are confronted with the requirement to define evil before either can establish whether or not such a thing subsists. Moreover, the concept of a definition of evil points up to the need for a standard by which such definition may be justified. Additionally, the standard must be able resist arbitrary tendencies if it is to maintain even a shred of credibility. Already we sense the dangers of an infinite regress, arbitrariness, and extreme subjectivity lurking in the shadows, waiting like a lion that has spotted his prey and is ready to pounce. The ground upon which we trod at this point is littered with land mines and only the best detectors will help us avoid the peril of irrationalism that threatens to annihilate our philosophical system at every turn or, in our case, every assertion.
The truth is that every philosophical system must do something with evil. One extreme method is to deny the existence of absolute evil. After all, the naturalist really has no ground whatever to point to something that supposedly transcends human thought. If we are genuinely here by accident, with no rational ground whatsoever for our existence other than that of mere chemicals, gases, and accidents, then it follows that we have no intrinsic value. And if we have no intrinsic value, we cannot possibly have any genuine rights. And if we have no rights, we cannot be wronged. This would mean that one must equate the crushing of a roach with the crushing of a human if they want to maintain any semblance of consistency within their worldview. Some would argue that ethics might be accounted for by evolutionary theory or by physical processes in the brain. But the fact that so many people conduct their lives in a manner that is entirely immoral to others causes such arguments to collapse almost as soon as they are put forth. The idea of morality seems to be completely detached from the fact that few humans can agree on an objective basis for the specificity of object morality. Indeed, the idea itself of morality is far more difficult to untangle than the existential elements. The truth is that the non-Christian worldview is, from my point of view, incapable of providing for a necessary standard by which we may rationally understand why it is that human beings experience moral objectivity.
For the Christian, things are fundamentally and radically dissimilar. Christians understand from the start that there is a very clear difference between the good and the evil. The Christ Scriptures are abundantly clear that good and evil are real forces to be rationally understood and avoided or pursued. In fact, Christians see the mention of evil very early in their historical writings. God said to Adam that he was permitted to eat from every tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From the very beginning, man understood that good and evil were real aspects of human existence. Moral evil, as defined early on is behavior that is contrary to the will and nature of God. Evil is mentioned four times in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. Then again in Genesis 6:5 where the writer tells us that God saw the wickedness of men, that the imaginations of his heart were continually evil. The same Hebrew word is used for the gay activities of the Sodomites in Genesis 13:13. The generation of the Children of Israel that came out of Egypt and through the wilderness are called evil in Deut. 1:35 and all but Caleb were barred from entering the promised land.
The New Testament is just as vivid in its expression and affirmation of the presence of evil in the world. The Greek word poneros appears 44 times in the gospels alone and 78 times in the New Testament. Clearly, Christians, Christian philosophers, and Christian theologians are justified in claiming that the existence of objective evil is a basic tenet of Christian belief. Moreover, such a claim can be characterized as objective from the standpoint that our knowledge of the existence of evil and its definition are both said to be the consequence of divine revelation. In other words, God has revealed to the Christian through Christian Scripture that evil exists. However, that is not all there is to the question of evil. Christians claim that human beings have an awareness of objective evil because they posses the imago dei. The apostle Paul informs us that all men know moral law because God has revealed His divine nature through creation. Second, Paul claims that this knowledge is deliberately placed within the conscience of all men (Rom. 1 & 2) as an act of divine intent. Men know that right and wrong are real. The idea of good and evil is not something men can deny without engaging in sensational philosophical gyrations. In the end, I am convinced that only certified lunatics can truly deny the existential reality of objective evil.
As the argument goes then, the Christian reshapes it in the following way. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect. Evil exists. Therefore, God has a perfectly good reason for the existence of evil. This conclusion requires absolute trust in the character of God and in His revelation. Moreover, we must trust that God is providentially working all things for His glory and our good at all times and in all places. The temptation for the Christian is to stray from this kind of thinking when they encounter pain, disappointment and especially evil in the world. But such thinking is an act of subtle rebellion and an expression of distrust toward the God we claim to fear, to know, to love, and to serve with all our being. My next post will involve a little more substance to help with your conversation with the detractor of the Christian solution to the problem of evil in more of an apologetic encounter.