Monday, September 05, 2011

Where is God? 1

I think I want to self-publish a little booklet from an Arminian perspective on evil and suffering.  Here is a little something I started a while back to kick it off.
As I start writing this booklet, the United States is ending the worst week of tornados in over sixty years.  On Sunday, a powerful EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, and devastated the town, leaving some 150 people dead. At the end of last month, over 170 tornados ripped through the South, killing over 300 people.

The stories that emerge after these events are surreal. A family is coming home from a high school graduation in two cars. Those in the first car make it to the basement. The graduate in the second does not make it. A group at a convenience store hides in a freezer as the tornado passes overhead, and someone records their terror. The same scenario played itself out in the bathtubs and closets of countless homes in Joplin but with a different result. One moment everything is normal. Ten minutes later hundreds of people are dead.

In the course of a human life, many events of this sort happen. In just the ten years prior to writing this booklet, tsunamis devastated Indonesia and Japan, with a nuclear crisis following the latter. A hurricane destroyed New Orleans. The United States has engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with thousands of soldiers and over a million Iraqis and Afghanis killed. These wars were sparked by the downing of the twin towers in New York City on September 11, 2001 by terrorists, who have attacked several other locations, resulting in hundreds of deaths. As I write, a wave of protests is sweeping the Middle East, with the governments of Egypt and Tunisia already overturned, and the leaders of Libya and Syria killing scores of their own people in an attempt to retain power.

Some of these events are the result of human choices and human evil. Other events come from nature. Most of us wish we could have done something to prevent such suffering, to stop such evil. This attitude especially applies to the type of people that we would call “good” people. The overwhelming majority of people we consider virtuous would do something to prevent such suffering and loss of life if they could.

So why doesn’t God stop them? Don’t Christians believe that God is good--indeed, supremely good? In a play about Job, Satan taunts, “If God is God, he is not good.  If God is good, he is not God.” [1] The play writer, Archibald MacLeish, poetically captures here what is often called the problem of evil. If God is God—that is, if he is all powerful—then how is it that he allows so much evil to go on in the world, not to mention pain in general. On the other hand, if God is good, then you would think he would want to put an end to evil and suffering. Perhaps he is just not powerful enough to do away with it.

It is not a new question.  It is a question that comes up whenever some group dares to think that their gods love them.  It is implied in Old Testament stories like the one where Israel loses in battle to the city of Ai in Joshua 7.  How could they lose when Yahweh was powerful enough for them to win?  The Greek philosopher Epicurus raised the question in Greece, hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth.

It is a question that knocks on the door of the modern world more than ever before, because individuals are more empowered than ever before.  In the ancient world, in the two-thirds world, powerlessness in the face of the wicked is such a given that it is often easier to accept.  A sense of fatalism—that the world is just what it is—often is the name of the game.  Death is an ever present reality you just accept.

But the democratic, Western world—at least in theory—has given everyone a voice.  And science has allowed us to beat death far more than ever before.  Never before has so much seemed possible.  Never before have we seemed more empowered to say “no” to evil and suffering.

So perhaps never before have the impossibilities of this world seemed more anomalous, more angering.  When we are so motivated to change the world, why does God seem to let “the nations rage” (Ps. 2:1)? When we are now noticing the forgotten of the world, why does God continue to let them suffer?  When we now pass laws that look out for those with disabilities and provide health care for the impoverished, why does God not put an end to such things?  These are the problems of evil and suffering.

[1] Archibald MacLeish, JB


Rick said...

Tim Keller wrote,

"...though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair...Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can install us with a powerful hope."

Ken Schenck said...

I like the quote, although obviously there are some differences between my theological framework and Keller's.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If there is no moral choice, there is no moral value, period. Keller views an Intervening Overintending God, where pain and suffering is "God training ground" to build character and to reveal himself". Suffering was seen as a way to build a "worldview" that gave a sense of encouragement to the disempowered, or when circumstances don't go "your way"! But, is it moral to authritatvely make that choice for another so they will "repent" and see things "your way"? I don't believe so!

Our nation allows for human choice and liberty. We are a nation that values individuality, where indivdiuals are not to usurp another's life to empower their own! No matter the "good" that might be accomplished. As the individual is understood to be the ultimate good, not goals, or purposes that are imposed upon the universe and all that happens!!

Our nation values diversity, not uniformity and must NOT be used to conform others to a particular understanding as to "faith"!! Otherwise, we might as well, go for Islam, as Islam believes in such a combining of Church and State!!

No, we believe that a government is for and by the people, but that its legitamacy is only affirmed by consent. Consent means that one has a choice about the government. Government was understood as a necessary evil to prevent abuses of such power grabs over individuals. But, when Church and State combine, then "Watch out" as the government might just be knocking at your door next, as you won't be allowed liberty of conscicnes regarding some area that YOU think is necessary for "walking in faith"!!!

FrGregACCA said...

It has recently occurred to me that, precisely because He is human as well as God, Christ experiences everything by way of that ontological connection with us that we experience, and that this holds true for all humans for all time.

IOW, Christ has what we might call an intuitive, or "psychic", relationship with each and every human that has ever existed or will ever exist, precisely because of the Incarnation. His experience of human pain is symbolized and summed up by his experience in Gesthemani and on the Cross, but these do not by any means exhaust His experience of what each of us deals with in terms of our own pain throughout the course of our lives.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

this is VERY dangerous thinking, BECAUSE, it allow Fatalism to RULE and DETERMINE! That MEANS that those that DO rule are either misguided, mistaken or evil!!

Fate was an ancient way to understand the world. Science has understood the world in various ways. But, in government, authority has its limits, otherwise, authority is determining another's course of action, which is considered tyranny! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absoltuely!! That goes for "God", IF one wants to believe....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

OR that humans experience of suffering helps for identificaton purposes? Hogwash! I used to idenify with Christianity! I don't anymore. Those that want to impose a particular understanding of "faith", as to transcendence, do so under tyrannical means, or they have to resort to apologetic, persuasion, etc.

The divide over facts and values will always be an unbridgeable gap, unless science can prove how humans more flourish....and even then, we must determine what the ethcal implicatons will be...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I have an American friend, who is now a Namibian citizen. She is married to a foreign policy officer. Many years ago, she told me that it was really absurd for the West to try to conform these "tribal societies", as their whole understandind and frames of reference is different from ours! They are TRIBES! We are INDIVIDUALS in the WEST! Such was the understanding of early communities in religious traditions. Tribal identities!

Her argument was that the West would never be able to conform these tribes through Constitutonal government, because they understood things communally!!!Family, Tribe, etc.! NOT very MODERN!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, their understanding of PRIVATE PROPERTY is also AT ODDS with our views. My friend said that she could expect for burglary when she left the premises! Now we see where anarco Leftist Libertarians believe that such should be the case in the WEST! in the name of social justice, that is! It is immoral in this evaluation to have more than needed, thus if one has property where one is not living then it can be claimed by others....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So, the WEST and its values of private property, savings for a "rainy day", working and earnng to save and provide, living within one's means, and other such identifying factors as to economics, is being questoned as "moral nowasddays!!!

JohnM said...

In modern democratic society hubris leads to doubt?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Hubris leads to doubt? Yes, because none of us know everything!

We have to trust that our government is ruled by those that respect the law and don't want to use the law to their own advantage! Otherwise, those of us who aren't the "mover and shakers" will be in doubt over our government's integrity, as to power. Hubris that those in power can do what they want when they want without any accountability.

We think that cause and effect is the way things work, but to understand the complexity of causes and effects is difficult when it comes to humans and the way that contingencies impose themselves onto simple solutions!

Those of us "at the bottom of the food chain" are meat to be eaten by those that have made their plans and helped themselves to things that do not belong to them, IF there is no law protecting private property. One has to respect private property to respect people n our society!

Private property isn't respected by tribes, communism, or group think. Such tribes are those that think in "body langugae' such as the Church! This was one of the problems that Luther addressed when Church authorities fed themselves off the people.

Sciptures also attest to Jesus anger over the money changers in the Temple.

People in modern society do have an identification with their personal belongings, this is why when burgulary happens, people have a sense of feeling invaded! Is this wrong? NO, it is a cultural identity. But, property rights is one of the foundatons of being free.

The slaves did not own anything, they were owned. This is again ancient language in Scipture about bond-service. Horrendously, backwards in our understanding.

Those that believe in ancient texts have a dyadic personality. These are convetional group identificatons.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Now, should our society condone such behavior and respect these "religious freedoms"? Or those of Shairia that kill for honor?

Does it matter whether one has consented, or not? Covenant is dangerous language, as its meaning means that one is bound to a covenant of mutual death! An exchanged life, which has been useful to promote sacrifice for "God"/church, but is again, backward!

Anonymous said...

I choose to look at it through the lens that only God is good. So in a sense "natural selection" of the "good" people over the "bad" people doesn't exist. We are all bad. It is only Christ in us that is good so death isn't seen as something feared but a point at which we go back to God. Does that make a case for mass murder? Emphatically no. No one knows where anyone else is spiritually and to make this assumption to justify murder through religious means is evil... which really is the root of most war.

FrGregACCA said...

Good points, Anonymous. I would refer you and anyone else who is interested to both Rene Girard ("Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World" and before him, Ernest Becker ("Denial of Death, Escape from Evil") for more detailed considerations of these matters.

Also, Western theology needs to come to grips with the fact that the basis of its soteriology, Anselmian "satisfaction" in fact undergirds and reinforces the old order in which the "pure" scapegoat and destroy the "impure" in order to maintain their purity (which, of course, is always in doubt).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Don't you mean "Christian" character? Because those that are "top dogs", the movers and shakers in our society, play on compassion to serve their purposes and interests, using such a "model" as "Jesus"! But, ALL organizaton choose how they will plan and strategize to accomplish their "ends".

People have different temperaments, interests and values. Therefore, it behooves all of us to be of similar character in respecting everyone's right to choose their "way of life".

"Top dogs" are prone to over-step their right to plan and presume upon another's "place"! Thus, limiting choice, and demoralizing those that might have chosen...

Social uniformity is the result or outcome of naturalism's view of limitatons, with government providing the "order" that limits human creativity, ingenuiety and/or personal liberty.

More regulatory government, is needed, as humans need the "social order" under a "Leviathan", which inhibits production and innovation, and investments....because of fear that resources are of ultimate value to determine all political choices and make public policy!!!

The SAME with those that want to worry about public health, where everything becomes so regulated that we loose more and more liberties to make choices about differnt options!! Universal healthcare is the result....and it taxes all of us to produce limited service!!! But, hey, everyone is covered, while our taxes continue to increase, limiting options for life and the liberty to invest adn produce results that make for happiness....

Those in government can use their positon to further pocket some of the monies at the costs to the taxpayer...that is "good government" to tax and spend without accountability. Those in government have the attitude that others can't be responsible about their own lives. It is paternalism par excellance!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It occurred to me that these arguments are based on the image of leaders being representational of who?

In our government, leaders are to be representatonal of their constituients. But, the consituents also have to know that policy solutions don't come out in black and white ways, as negotiation and compromise is always the 'way forward' toward legislation.

In our country, different States have different values which play out into their laws. These laws represent the local people.

Today, the questions is how much should the Feds over-ride State's rights to bring a uniformity to our nation! This is territory that was argued early on in our nation's history, but very pertinant to our nation's future, I think!