Friday, September 09, 2011

Pain is Not Evil 4

The first three posts of this possible booklet:

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations
What is evil?

Pain is not Evil
One of the central claims we are making here is that, by definition, evil is always a matter of motive and intention.  A tornado that kills hundreds of people is not evil.  It was simply following the laws of nature.  On the other hand, if I know a tornado is headed toward my neighbor’s house and I intentionally decide not to tell her, perhaps hoping she will be killed, that is evil.

The question of God’s intention is also a question about evil.  We believe God knew the tornado was going to happen and kill hundreds of people.  We believe God could have stopped the tornado.  So why didn’t God intervene to stop the deaths and destruction?  How can God have a loving, good intent toward those people and not save them? [1]

The question of what God’s intention is during disaster is one of the key issues.  Obviously Christians do not believe that God has any evil intentions.  The tornado itself—indeed the deaths themselves are not evil.  They are painful, but pain is morally neutral in itself.  It can be a servant of good and it can be a servant of evil.  Most of us would prefer not to have it, but it is not evil in itself.

For example, one reason our body has pain is to alert us that something is not right with our bodies.  Which is better, to feel a quick shot of pain because we have touched a hot burner or to burn our hand beyond recognition?  The pain in our chest, the pain that alerts us that we are having heart problems, it can save our lives, especially if it drives us to the doctor before a massive heart attack.

The displeasure of discipline, whether from our parents or from some other authority, can be of great benefit to us.  It can help us develop good habits that will bring us much greater pleasure later on.  At the very least it can help us avoid even greater pains.  It can steer our lives in more profitable directions.

There is an order to the world, “laws,” if you would.  Certainly humans create their own laws and rules, things that may or may not be beneficial.  These are a matter of human will and so enter into the question of good and evil.  But the laws of nature are a different matter when it comes to the question of evil.  In themselves, they are neither good nor evil.

Things fall down.  Gravity can keep us from flying off into space, or it can cause us to die falling off a cliff.  In both cases, gravity itself is neither good nor evil.  It just is.  It can have good and bad consequences, but this is a question of context, not of evil intent.

Gravity is thus morally neutral.  We can ask why God allows people to fall off cliffs.  We can ask why evil men and women push people off of cliffs.  But the gravity itself, the gravity that pulls people down when they are not standing on something, is not evil.  It just can have really unpleasant consequences.

I am arguing that things like cancer, tsunamis, and even car accidents to some extent are mostly the playing out of the laws of nature.  Human choices and human neglect can factor into them and to that extent they can have a moral element.  We can also ask why God does not stop them, which is a question of God as a moral agent. 

But we are arguing that these events themselves are largely the outworking of natural laws that God has built into the creation.  They bring pain and human suffering, but they are not evil in themselves.  Evil has to do with the intentions of moral agents.

Underlying this perspective is a fundamental distinction between events and their meaning, between actions and their significance.  Meaning and significance are a matter of minds, not of things.  An event or act in itself is only morally significant if it involves the intentions of a “moral agent” like God or a human being.

Since God sees everything, knows everything, since God designed the basic rules for the universe, then everything does have significance.  But God has created the universe as something different from himself.  He has made it a distinct reality from himself in some way we could not possibly imagine.  The significance of things is accordingly something outside themselves, a function of God’s mind looking on them.  And we obviously also find meaning in the world.

[1] We will discuss another approach to these issues later, namely, that good is by definition whatever God desires or wants.  God could not thus do anything evil by definition.  The problem here is that individuals usually use this definition to take actions the Bible elsewhere considers bad and make them good, while taking actions the Bible elsewhere considers good and make them bad.

22 comments:

Dick Norton said...

The problem is when natural laws go haywire and produce pain and death. Either God created a flawed world (which I don't believe He did), or there is an evil force (Satan vs. Job?) causing the mayhem and destruction. I'm sure you'll be addressing that issue soon.

Ken Schenck said...

I hope so ;-) We'll see.

Scott F said...

Sounds good. A nice succinct way of parsing out the event and significance and yet coming full circle back the most pertinent question. Bring it on!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Government are created by men, not "natural laws". Some governments are better than other forms.

We, in our society, believe that no one is above the law, meaning that there is a "created order". But, some governments, like hierarchal structuring, that make for those "above the law", as they "create the law". Our country knows them as "legislatures in Congress". But, these men are accocuntable to the people for the laws they make. Therefore, laws themselves are made by men.

Religous culture like to define thie understanding on some special text or "tradition" whici they deem to be "from God", directly. Such as these don't allow for "the human", because "God directs" everything for his ulitmate END!! Pain is of no concern when men disobey such laws, as it is "God's discipline" to bring about "repentance". Conformity is the "end of God's desire and design"!!

Science has MANY laws, not just ONE law, like A law of nature!! Scientist even know that no one can make determinatons about a particular aspect of the natural world based on one interpretaton. Light is one example, as it can be understood by waves or particles. Both describe light, and both ways of approaching light "work"....so who is to say what "works" for the human?

Humans form societies, and create cultures, as humans function best by structure or organization. This is the study of anthropology, not "biblical" faith... In our society, we allow enough room for diversity.

Religious cultures are sub-sets of a broader culture, that values the "rule of law" and not of men. Religious cultures validate their understanding of "justice" by "God", while our culture validates "justice" by our secular laws.

Laws make for what we can expect in our society, as that is what brings "order", not "God"! Therefore, when things happen that are not according to our expectations (laws that are BLIND TO RELIGIOUS FRAMING), then we suffer pain, whch is experienced differntly by each individual. The pain of humiliaton, confusion, anger, anxiety, fear, etc.!

Laws bring structure that standardizes behavior irregardless of "custom" or religious understanding. Our Founders understood all citizens to be "equal before the law". And they considerd all citizens to have "liberty of conscience"!!!

Of course, pain happens for many reasons, in this life, but theologizing the pain, just further encapsulates the pain!! Sometimes there are no justified reasons. Pain just is!

davey said...

I've come across many theses that pain is not evil, but none carry any conviction against experience of distress. If pain is not evil, presumably there may be plenty of it in the coming kingdom. Brilliant!

Ken Schenck said...

"I really don't like it."

"It can be really bad."

I can go with those ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Davey,
Pain happens when loved ones die, is that "evil" or just a consequence of mortality?

Pain happens when sickness happens, is that evil or a consequence of living with unknown solutions to address those sicknessess?

Pain happens when groups form their identities around specified and special purposes that leave others out. Is this evil? No it is a matter of organizational leadership. But, if leadership is co-ercive in their attempt to conform another's life to their chosen plan, then yes, that is evil! Voluntary choice of vocation is a liberty in our country!

Pain happens n this life. Must a particular indivdual address pain n a particular way? No, not unless there is co-ercive political power..

davey said...

I think the existence of pain is a moral evil. I just don't see a distinction between the badness of moral evil and the badness of distress. Or, if anything, distress is worse, since maybe it's imaginable that there could be a moral evil perpetrated that did not result in any creature's distress. (For the record, I don't reckon I'm a consequentialist.)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

No one is powerful enough, unless they are the SOLE power, to prevent pain in this world. Does this mean that we don't care about evil or pain? No.

But, prescribing how,and when one is to show compassion, or do something to alleviate pain, is a matter of choice, as choice itself allows for diversity and prioritizing of values about definitons of evil and distress.

Should everyone be working in humanitarian interests, or toward medical solutions, or political positions, or ???? NO, every position in society is/can address certan aspect that make for a better life, that promotes happiness for others, and alleivates distress.

davey said...

Angie, I can't see where you're coming from! My preferred solution is that there will be no more distress when the kingdom comes. I don't want it to continue to have distress in it, especially not also there being people there who say, "ah well at least it's not a moral evil"!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Davey,
You are asking me to make a moral judgment about where I will commit. That isn't YOUR BUSINESS, BUT my and my own family's!

Pain shouldn't be the only focus of society, as it limits one's choice about their life commitments to "alturistic concerns"!!!

And when you speak of "kingdom" aren't you really talking about those in power in "church"? that is also limiting to where I want to commit.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

davey,
Just to add, I've already said that those in the church like to use pain to "discipline" you into "shape", Their Shape, and plan for your life..and they justify it with "a momentary light affliction",(a comparing of pain/dstress levels), thinking that their view/judgment, is what "should" be done by everyone!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And I might add, that such "kingdom talk" and "pain talk" sounds a lot like Obama's "let's all sacrifice"...while he can't sacrific a luxury vacation on Martha's Vineyard, that costs more than most people make, during a time of real economic crisis!! Is THAT equality? while he says he believes in equality?? That is the result of a communist vision, if you ask me...Those in power will be paid back by their union bosses, just as corporations pay back those who do them 'service", it just that corporations aren't prone to balance their lobbying power....so which does the American public the "greater good"? But, I'm no expert on economic politics, or political theory....

davey said...

Hi Angie, I had in mind by 'kingdom' the kingdom of heaven! I'm sorry if you thought I was trying to dictate to you some socio-political solution on the present Earth.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, Davey,
Some think that there is a 'heaven" and 'hell". I beleve that those that do, make hells for others, n the name of heaven and "God".

If you follow the news, you know what I mean!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Davey,
You sounded intially like you were desirous of humanitarian needs/concerns, then, you sounded like you were an existentialist in attempting to understand the problem of pain...then, you say you were speaking of the kingdom of "heaven" as a transcendental reality?

In America, you can hold any view you desire, and you can be free to worship however you desire, except where it impinges on another's right to life and liberty. And this is the crux of the matter for those that are Peistic in their faith commitments. These tend toward prescriptive ways of understanding faith. And they want our nation to also acquiesce!!

Our nation was founded as a nation that was free from any prescribed "Christian" expression as to religion. So, yes, you are free to beleive and adhere to your faith.

Ken Schenck said...

By the way, Angie, did you see the actual study (mentioned on the euangelion blog yesterday) that shows that religious people actually tend to be nicer people on the whole than purely secular people? ;-)

Don't generalize the bad experiences you've had and assume that all Christians are hypocrites. Of course there are hypocrites in the church--where else would a hypocrite go but to a place where truly good people are ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken,
The blog you speak of IS a evangelical blog, so they would be biased toward/in their "proofs". It is called "confirmation bias". We always tend to focus on our own personal views, as faith is personal.

"Secular" people can't be judged except by some standard that the "religous" place "upon" or "on" secular society. These judgments are also personal preferences.

American society is not a "conforming society", that is, is not uniform, but diverse. This allows for liberty of conscience.

"Secular people" might be prone to evaluate society's health on scientific understandng and make their judgments on that basis.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, Ken, why would I want to "add" to the number of hypocrites in the Church ;-), as a "hypocrite" is one "playing a part", or "wearing a mask"....they can make a "name" (or leave a "heritage") for the Church without me!

Thanks for the invite, to be "crucified", though.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken,
Now for direct communication without "hidden meanings".

Life is painful enough without theological imposition upon it to make judgments and evaluations about it.

Those that want to describe, define, and prescribe a transcendental understanding do not recognize that transcendence by definition is beyond our ability to formulate, describe and define.

Our country values diverse ways of understanding life and allows individuals the ability to find themselves and their place n society. Therefore, we allow for liberty of conscience, which is important to protect liberty for all.

Liberty is an ulitmate value, because of our value of human choice. Apart from choice, humans are defined by "God", whether political (leadership) or spiritual (the Transcendent). America doesn't value authoritairanism in Church or State!

Just this morning on a video about 9/11, a dance instructor who was an eyewitness, descirbed how she interpreted the body language of those who fell/jumped to their death. (interpreting body language is what she is trained to do, as a dance instructor)..she said that some fell to their death with resolve, some with defiance, but it was obvious from their body language that if they were gong to die, they wanted to choose they way they would die!!!

I think that this is the very reason some choose suicide, as they felt trapped, in some way about their choices....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BUT, in NO way should we place our understanding of life upon those like the terrorists.

Their reality is so different, we cannot concieve of it!!! They choose to do what they do, because they believe they understand absolutely what "Allah wants" and it s at the costs of tragic implicatons to the WEST and the values that we hold, primarily, liberty and choice!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken, I just read you newest posts and came back to this one...ineresting how perspective can be changed with different information being "funnelled into" one's rumminatings....

Pain is NOT Evil??? YES, it IS, when we are talking about Sovereignty! Our Nation, as other nations, have sovereign rights! Terrorism is not respecting those boundaries which create those rights.

At the personal level, sovereignty is the ability to make one's choice. It is liberty of conscience, in respecting another's right, as well! Personal terrorism would be usurping that right, disrespecting boundaries of the 'personal", which we understand to be rights to privacy. Rape is a crime against personal boundaries.

Consent of the governed grants the right to government to govern. Without consent, the government is illegitimate!

Therefore, "war", emotional pain, and crime are all evil, because they disrespect the right of individual boundaries,or a naton-state, a person, or the law that must be maintained to protect liberty.