Another Round in the Theodicy Debate (This Time Involving Bob Dylan!)

For some reason WordPress has changed my font size and being the complete non-techie that I am, i don’t know how to change it back! I hope this won’t prevent you from reading if that is your intention. I’ll try to get it back to normal size font as soon as possible. (Patheos.com has been making some fairly dramatic changes to the format, so I assume that’s what caused this little problem.)

“Theodicy”–The attempt to justify the ways of God in the face of the problem of evil.

A friendly correspondent sent me this URL to an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Naked-Truth-at-Stanford/131428/

The article is entitled The Naked Truth by Ron Rosenbaum (author of Explaining Hitler). It states the classical theodicy problem very powerfully–using an obscure line from an obscure Bob Dylan lyric.

In a nutshell, the author’s argument is that, in light of the holocaust, people must give up believing in God.

What I always want to ask, and would have asked had I been in Mr. Rosenbaum’s audience, is this: “If there is no God such as Jews and Christians and Muslims believe in, a perfectly good and all powerful deity, then what makes what Hitler did objectively evil? When you, as an atheist or agnostic say the holocaust was evil, what do you mean beyond that you don’t like it or, case of a performative utterance, you wish it would never happen again?”

Not long ago we had a round of debate here about atheism and objective right and wrong. I never did read a convincing explanation of how there can be objective evil (wrongness that exists outside our own inner states of mind and feeling) without an eternal standard of right and wrong that is being and goodness itself.

In fact, I have real trouble even understanding Mr. Rosenbaum’s point of view. As an intelligent person (referring to him, not me), I think he should see immediately that he is the one with the “problem of evil.” Without God or something very much like God “evil,” as Mr. Rosenbaum seems to use the term, cannot exist. The word “evil” then refers only to a strong dislike.

Beyond that, however, Mr. Rosenbaum does not seem to be familiar with philosophical and theological theodicies. He simply sweeps them all aside as impossible as if there really have been and are no serious answers to the problem he poses. He cuts down straw men.

Oh, and about Bob Dylan. Mr. Rosenbaum hints at it, but after that lyric was written in the 1960s Dylan became an evangelical Christian. I don’t know how long that lasted; for all I know he may still be an evangelical Christian. But I know personally a man who belonged to the same Christian intentional community to which Dylan belonged in the 1970s. He tells me about a time when Dylan passed up a million dollar fee for a concert that would have conflicted with a Bible study they were all expected to attend.

The point  Dylan made is that Hitler “is” history. Rosenbaum is convinced. That seems too simplistic to me. And, of course, from a Christian perpective, the cross, hot Hitler “is” history.

But perhaps this is what comes from Christians for centuries talking about God in philosophical ways and God’s sovereignty as deterministic and comprehensive.

Not long ago a nice young lady gave a testimony about God’s help in getting through her mother’s death from a Alzheiemer’s disease. She said (to a congregation) “I don’t know why God chose for my mother to have Alzheimer’s.” That’s the God Rosenbaum is talking about, but it’s not the God I have ever believed in.

I think one of the main tasks facing Christians since the holocaust is to explain the biblical and Christian doctrine of God in such a way as to make God NOT the author of sin and evil and innocent suffering. The “young, restless, Reformed” movement isn’t helping.

  • Joshua

    Professor, I don’t think it was WordPress, but Patheos that made those changes. All the other blog (like Jesus Creed for instance) have undergone the same changes, as part of Patheos’ mission to make the site more “user-friendly.”

    • rogereolson

      I knew that. I stand corrected. But there are some tools of WordPress I’m still learning about. I confused the two when writing that memo.

  • Damien

    The end of your post made me think about this comic, which satirizes quite well the popular explanations that are sometimes made up to reconcile God’s goodness with a belief in divine authorship of evil and innocent suffering:
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2580

  • Kenny Johnson

    I’ve often wondered about Dylan’s faith. My own feeling is that he is still a faithful Christian, but that he would now like to keep his faith personal — probably so he won’t be exploited by the Christian Industrial Complex. :-)

  • Joe Canner

    Rosenbaum’s response to common (non-Calvinist) solutions to the problem of evil: “Then there was the argument that it was not God’s fault—he just gave man free will to use for good or evil. Which prompts one to ask: Was it not in His power to create a being incapable of choosing mass murder so often?”

    I’m no philosopher, but this argument seems about as intellectually shallow as those of the “could God create a rock so big that he can’t move it?” variety. Surely he recognizes the problems with a not-really-free will solution.

    • rogereolson

      That’s one thing that disturbed me about the article; Rosenbaum displayed little or no real understanding of theodicies. He simply caricatured them.

  • http://HoxeyvilleNorthofNirvana Eric

    Rosenbaum’s comment reminds me of the “In light of {Darwin, the wireless, the development of anti-biotics, pick your favorite recent event or invention or discovery} people must give up belief in God.” Ancients could probably do it too: “In light of {the bondage in Egypt, the Assyrian conquest of Israel, the Babylonian captivity, the Greek then Roman control of Judea, the destruction of the temple by the Romans, the raiding Germanic tribes, the plague, Newton’s laws of motion} people must give up belief in God.” And, by implication, anyone still believing in God is irrational or stupid or immoral or all three.

  • Beakerj

    Did Patheos eat the post before this one Roger, the one about bliks? I can’t seem to find it.

    • rogereolson

      Patheos was working on blogs over the weekend. I think some comments and maybe a few of my posts were accidently deleted.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Amen, especially on the last two paragraphs. It would be a great advance if everyone writing on theological and practical theological topics would come right out and say what they think and mean. Then we could have more fruitful conversation and less discussion/disagreement over who means what.

    The differences between deterministic and non-deterministic approaches are very similar to the differences between what Polkinghorne refers to as the top-down and the bottom-up approaches to truth seeking, in both science and theology. We are simply not smart enough to get very far using the top-down approach in either search. Our experience comes first. We need the ‘nudge of nature’ or the ‘touch of the experience of the divine’). Our belief must be ‘motivated belief’. Our theorizing then tries to make sense of the experience. Bloesch and Torrance say essentially the same thing. We must explain the thing as it is, not as we imagine it to be. The more open, cooperative views appear to do a better job of explaining our encounter with the reality of God, because they begin with our experience.

    In theologizing, it’s not that folks who lean strongly to the top-down approach lack the necessary experience of the divine. Rather, it seems, they don’t feel it’s kosher to start from experience in their attempts to describe God and his works. However, “The writers of the New Testament were driven to use both human and divine categories as they sought to express their experiences of the risen Christ…….” Alternatively, we might reflect on the Apostle Paul. As Saul, his top-down approach came to a crashing end on the road to Damascus. From that moment on, Paul sought to listen to the Spirit and then to explain the experience, from the ground up. Finally, Polkinghorne again: “Just as scientific understanding is propelled to new insight by the nudge of nature, so theological understanding is propelled by the nudge of encounter with divine reality.”

    Reference: Polkinghorne, John “Theology in the Context of Science” 2009 
    I really recommend this book. :)

  • Zach

    Totally unrelated, but enjoyed your article in Catalyst this week. Good stuff.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks. I haven’t see it. What was it about? (I write so much and throw it out there and forget about it. I remember writing something for them quite a while ago.)

  • Zach

    On second thought, I guess it is!

    • Jeff

      Definitely did not see an article from Roger on Catalyst. Could you post a link? Catalyst has quite a lineup of the “young, restless and reformed”, plus, of course, the venerable Piper.

      • rogereolson

        Are you looking at the same “Catalyst?” The one containing my article on free will is published for Methodist seminarians.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    I hope you get your font size back.

    Translations are what they are – and I can hardly argue against or for a particular translation because I’d have nothing to contribute. But I’m struck by what I see in a number of translations of Isaiah 45:7.

    ASV: “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.”

    King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.): “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

    Young’s Literal Translation: “Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil, I am Jehovah, doing all these things.”

    I may be able to spin something about this – and I’d like to – but for those who trust these versions I’m afraid I’d be arguing against the Bible for them. And that would undercut my argument and my purpose.

    • rogereolson

      What are you saying? That the Bible teaches that God caused the holocaust? I find it helpful to jump right to the most extreme conclusion and then back up from there to test what a verse might mean. In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, no interpretation of Scripture can stand up that can’t be preached standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz.

    • Steve Dal

      Tim
      I have some (extreme) Calvinists who I know and they are throwing this verse around now to ‘prove’ that God is the author and practitioner of evil. This, of course, has to be the position they finally end up in if they take ‘Calvinism’ seriously. The problems with this are manifold. Apart from rendering this scripture in ways that would take too long, you also have the problem of applying it to everyday situations. My questions to you and to others who share this view (God is a paractitoner and creator of evil) go like this: ‘Is God a rapist? Is God a pedaphile? etc etc. Could you stand at the gates of Auschwitz and point the finger at Jewish people and say you got what you deserved. For me life is just not that simple nor do I want it to be. I have been listening recently to Karen Armstrong who is talking much about COMPASSION which she defines along the lines of sharing someone’s pain or position. She makes the point that many people would rather be right than compassionate. Walter Brueggemann also makes this kind of point.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Steve,

        I did not say I share this view – merely that I noticed these verses are sometimes translated in a way that might very well give rise to such a view. I AM NO DETERMINIST. NOR DO I BELIEVE THAT GOD DOES EVIL. I DO NOT SHARE THIS VIEW. (can I write that any louder?) But the verse is still there.

        Thus my question, what does one say for someone who “stands on the Word of God”? I’m not fluent in Greek/Hebrew and I can’t argue the translation on the basis of my linguistic expertise. And I’m afraid that arguing against it on the basis of theology is going backwards – theology is supposed to flow from the Bible, not determine it. This verse is blunt and seemingly without equivocation.

        • rogereolson

          This is one example of where not being tied to inerrancy is more than helpful. Jesus is the fullest and clearest revelation of God and the norm by which we read and interpret Scripture.

  • J.E. Edwards

    I do think we will come up with different answers to our questions regarding our God and the evil around us if we keep the questions we ask relative to our own experience. I have found that rarely do we bring our own experience here, but others (i.e. the holocaust, rape, murders, etc.) Please don’t separate what I just said from what I’m going to say now. However, when we look at our own lives and the horrible things that happen to us, how can I come to any other conclusion in Scripture that God in His love, wisdom and everything He is (including sovereignty) has brought these things into my life? What is my alternative? Blame Satan? How is there any consolation in this? What is to be said to those who do fall upon God’s sovereign hand in these times for answers? I don’t know what you would say to them (if they ask, that is) so I dare not speculate. I don’t find Job ever throwing anything that happened to him upon Satan, yet Satan was the instrument the Lord used to bring all those things upon Job. I don’t want to speak from a point of disagreement for the sake of disagreeing. I really would like to know how you would counsel me from the Scriptures in a time of grief, in relation to God’s sovereign hand. After all the grieving, when the questions begin to fill our minds, what is to be said? Am I left to turn complain to God about what Satan has done? I know this is a hard topic, so I don’t want to corner you.

    • rogereolson

      I disagree that Job says God used Satan as his instrument to bring all those things upon Job. The narrative does not say God wanted those things to happen to Job and therefore brought in Satan and ordered him to go and do those things. To be sure, God allowed it. We’ve been over that so many times here it’s getting tiresome. To me, perhaps not to you, “permitting” and “ordaining” are not the same. I think God’s role in evil has to be understood from a canonical and narrative perspective. As I read the whole of Scripture and the earliest church fathers, I see the world and its history (since the fall at least) as a battleground, not a stage. It brings me no comfort to think that the merciful and good God of creation and redemption plans, ordains and renders certain things like the holocaust or my mother’s death at age 32. These are results of the fall and of the fact that Satan is the “god of this present age” yet to be defeated. I find Greg Boyd’s explanation in Satan and the Problem of Evil the most convincing (and it does not depend on open theism).

      • Steve Dal

        Roger
        If the story of Job tells me anything it is that there are NO answers necessarily and there does not have to be. But this does not negate trust in Christ to deliver me either in situations daily or ultimately in terms of salvation. Whether you believe God is actively bringing or allowing things to happen, they happen. Thats it. What can we do with them. Like Job we can trust God and then we can be ‘delivered’. What would/should I have done at the time of the Holocaust (not that I was there) as a Christian? Should I have blogged on about whether this is God brining this or should I have engaged in this issue to hide Jewish people, give them protection and love and help them escape from Hitler? Pretty simple really.

        • rogereolson

          I don’t see an either/or there. I think it is pastorally helpful to give people intellectual tools to use in understanding God and evil. And I think it is good to defend God’s essential goodness against those who call it into question. It’s also good to be active in opposing evil. Both/and, not either/or.

        • Robert

          Hello Steve,

          The distinction between comforting those who suffer and providing theodicies must be kept in mind. Steve Dal in writing to Roger you give us a good example of the importance of comforting those who suffer, when you wrote:

          “If the story of Job tells me anything it is that there are NO answers necessarily and there does not have to be. But this does not negate trust in Christ to deliver me either in situations daily or ultimately in terms of salvation. Whether you believe God is actively bringing or allowing things to happen, they happen. Thats it. What can we do with them. Like Job we can trust God and then we can be ‘delivered’. What would/should I have done at the time of the Holocaust (not that I was there) as a Christian? Should I have blogged on about whether this is God bringing this or should I have engaged in this issue to hide Jewish people, give them protection and love and help them escape from Hitler? Pretty simple really.”

          All of what you say here applies to the comfort of those who suffer. And you is right, when people are suffering they don’t need theodicies, they need practical help.

          But Steve I aslo believe you make a mistake in contrasting between “Should I have blogged on about whether this is God bringing this” (i.e. theodicy) and comforting those who suffer (“or should I have engaged in this issue to hide Jewish people, give them protection and love and help them escape from Hitler?”).

          It is not an either/or.

          WHEN people are suffering you take practical steps to comfort them. But there are also times when you could justifiably and appropriately discuss theodicy (such as this very discussion on this blog). It may be helpful to consider explanations for things.

          It is not a case of we only comfort and never explain.

          It is a case of there are times when it is appropriate to explain, and other times when you really do not need to explain you need to actively seek to comfort individuals.

          Robert

    • J.E. Edwards

      That’s fine, but I think our theology becomes clearer when we deal with individuals and not massive group (the holocaust). Although these suffered as a group, they also had to reckon with this as individuals. A woman loses a child she carried for 9 months. After we have spent much time grieving and the questions begin to come, what kind of counsel would you bring from the Scripture to this young couple? How do you counsel your own soul at the loss of your young mother? I guess I’m wondering what Scripture you find comfort in, in these times? What would you say to those who do find comfort in all that God is–even His sovereignty– in these times? I know you have served on pastoral staff, how did you handle these things then? Thanks

      • rogereolson

        It’s not as if what I would say is some odd, marginal idea out on the fringes of Christianity. It is what most Christians throughout the centuries would say. Are you really not familiar with it? Do you really only know your own theology? Have you never read anything of evangelical Christian theology, including views on evil and innocent suffering, other than Calvinism? You are clearly trying to imply that your view is normative and somehow I need to “explain myself.” I suggest you go read a few good non-Calvinist books about the problem of evil and innocent suffering and familiarize yourself with a theology other than your own. As for your final question. Well, I include myself among those who “do find comfort in all that God is–even in His sovereignty–in these times.” Did you really think I would rise to your bait and answer that as if that’s not what we all believe and find comfort in? We all believe in God’s sovereignty.

        • J.E. Edwards

          You missed my point completely. I’m fine that you disagree with a Calvinist point of view. I haven’t always been Calvinistic myself. Most of my life has been from a non-Calvinistic point of view. To think I was trying to bait you seems a little strange to me. How couldn’t we all benefit from another Christian brother sharing how he finds his comfort from God’s word? Certainly this is one place we can find agreement, right? This topic transcends both Arminian and Calvinistic viewpoints. I haven’t said anything about those things, and I do apologize that I implied that Arminians don’t believe in God’s sovereignty, that was not intentional. Please don’t read sarcasm into what I’ve written here.
          Please take this in the spirit of what I’ve just written, also. What would you say to a man like Job who loses nearly everything (children, possibly grandchildren, cattle, etc) , but yet he says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”? Or, to other believers who do fall upon what they believe is God’s exhaustive sovereignty as part of their comfort? If you see this as a trap or being baited, then don’t respond. God Bless.

          • rogereolson

            I would remind Job that it was “the Accuser’s” doing, not God’s. Now, please answer this for me: What would you say to comfort a father and mother whose four year old daughter was kidnapped, brutally raped and murdered and thrown in a river (a real incident)?

          • J.E. Edwards

            I’ve never had to comfort anyone in such a situation, so that would be difficult to know, for sure. Weeping with them as long as necessary would be as good of comfort as I could offer. When the grieving tears start to fade, I would wait for them to ask the questions. The next thing would be to know if they are believers or unbelievers. Christians will find their hope in the Lord, as you know. The unbelieving friend may not. The questions that believers ask will most likely be different from unbelievers. The answer Jason gave is a pretty good one: “I would point to Jesus, the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. I would tell them that God is not a god remote from human suffering, but one who has walked the hard road just as we have.
            I would tell them of our glorious hope, that in that day he will wipe away every tear from their eye and there will be no pain, no sickness, no infirmity, that even that great enemy Death will be swept away by the power of our Lord. The victory over death that is assured because Jesus conquered the grave.” To the believer this could bring peace. To the unbeliever, this could bring about a possible gospel conversation and then true peace with God.
            As far as answering exactly why the things that happened did happen, that would be to know the mind of God Himself. No human will know the answer to the reason behind the atrocity. Romans 8:28 must be grounded in the heart of a believer…it’s our only hope. That in the end God causes all things to work for good to those who love Him.

          • rogereolson

            So, nothing you wrote there (in answer to my question about how you would comfort the parents of a child who was murdered) stands in contradiction to what I (or any good Arminian) would say. But the difference, I suspect, would appear in what we would say in response to parents who asked “Where was God when the murderer kidnapped, raped and killed my child?” and they MEAN “What was God’s role in bringing it about–if any?” I teach that pastors ought to preach and teach their doctrine of divine providence so that when such things happen the congregants don’t for the first time cry out “Where was God?” because they will already know what God’s role was.

    • http://www.thoughtsfromtheboonies.blogspot.com Jason

      How would I counsel anyone from the scriptures? I would point to Jesus, the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. I would tell them that God is not a god remote from human suffering, but one who has walked the hard road just as we have.

      I would tell them of our glorious hope, that in that day he will wipe away every tear from their eye and there will be no pain, no sickness, no infirmity, that even that great enemy Death will be swept away by the power of our Lord. The victory over death that is assured because Jesus conquered the grave.

      What else could I tell them? That God is directly causing all these bad things which are happening to you? That you should be thankful and praise him for it? I suspect that Calvinists also produce a lot of complementarians who believe that a woman should stay with an abusive husband, because, you know, that’s God’s perfect plan for your life.

      • J.E. Edwards

        @Jason
        “How would I counsel anyone from the scriptures? I would point to Jesus, the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. I would tell them that God is not a God remote from human suffering, but one who has walked the hard road just as we have.
        I would tell them of our glorious hope, that in that day he will wipe away every tear from their eye and there will be no pain, no sickness, no infirmity, that even that great enemy Death will be swept away by the power of our Lord. The victory over death that is assured because Jesus conquered the grave.”
        Solid answer. You see, there is agreement here, and I’m glad for it.
        As far as the other issue you mentioned, I don’t really have any idea what so-called Calvinism and complementarianism have to do with producing abusive husbands that lord over their wives. My wife and I have been happily married for 19 years this year. She has spent all but 1 year as a school teacher.

    • Robert

      J. E. Edwards keeps trying to argue for his Calvinism and he keeps using the so-called problem of evil to attack non-Calvinist theology. I am going to respond not to try to convince Edwards that his views are wrong, but for the sake of others to make some points that I consider important when it comes to suffering and providing a theodicy.

      Edwards wrote:

      “However, when we look at our own lives and the horrible things that happen to us, how can I come to any other conclusion in Scripture that God in His love, wisdom and everything He is (including sovereignty) has brought these things into my life?”

      Note the “logic” here (actually a false dilemma): only one conclusion is possible accordign to Edwards (i.e. that God “brought these things into my life”). This presupposes that God predestines all events (i.e. the standard Calvinist determinist spiel). For Edwards nothing else is possible (“how can I come to any other conclusion . . .).

      Edwards wants logic here so let’s give it to him.

      Regarding God predestining events there are only three logical possibilities.

      Either:

      (1) God predestines them all (Edwards’ preferred view),
      (2) God predestines none of them, or
      (3) God predestines some of them.

      We can immediately and easily throw out (2) as the bible explicitly declares that God predestines some events.

      So we are left with either (1) or (3).

      Calvinist determinists like Edwards hold to the minority position (1). The vast majority of Christians (including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and Independents that are not determinists) hold to (3). If you hold to (3) you can grant that God does in fact predestine some things (e.g. the best example being the crucifixion of Jesus). If you hold to (3) you need not claim that God predestines *****all***** sin and evil.

      If in addition to (3) you hold to the ordinary understanding of free will (technically called the libertarian view of free will), you can also justifiably claim that angels and men also make choices. And some of these choices include the choice to sin, the choice to do some evil. Someone who holds to (3) generally also believes that God’s will is not the only will that is real and functioning in the world. The world is in fact a blend of literally billions of persons’ wills.

      “What is my alternative? Blame Satan? How is there any consolation in this?”

      Edwards asks “what is my alternative” which is presumably, who are we to blame when bad choices are made?

      Seems obvious to me, the person to blame is the person who made the sinful or bad choice. this is also the biblical position, that all sin is attributed to non-divine persons. That person could be an angel or it could be a human person, but it is never God, since God never sins and never makes a bad choice.

      Now Edwards asks “How is there any consolation in this?” actually there is quite a bit of “consolation” in knowing and believing that when someone does something sinful, evil, stupid, or foolish, it is not God doing these sinful, evil, stupid, or foolish things (or controlling persons so that they do these things), it is personal agents (men and angels).

      It would not be biblical nor “consoling” to believe that God controls people bringing about all of the sinful, evil, stupid or foolish things they do. Take a mundane example: when Edwards turns on his TV and sees these (mostly young people, though older people can be just as stupid and foolish) doing these really idiotic things (such as skateboarding through traffic, jumping off houses and various buildings recklessly): does he really believe that God is controlling these people to do these ridiculous things, or does he conclude they themselves are freely choosing to do these things?

      Personally, I believe contemporary TV provides some of the greatest evidence or proof of the reality of free will that you could ever want! God does not control people to say and do the ridiculous things that are found on TV. Blame these foolish people when they do foolish things.

      This involves a simple principle that most of us get and believe: when there is someone to be blamed for something sinful, evil, stupid, foolish, the blame ALWAYS falls upon the person saying or doing what is said or done (NOT GOD). It is both wrong and logically mistaken to blame God for what men and angels freely choose to do. About the most that you can do is to “blame” God for creating people with the capacity to have and make their own choices, so God is ultimately responsible for the reality that people can and do make choices. But as to the particular choices they choose to make, that is all their responsibility.

      “What is to be said to those who do fall upon God’s sovereign hand in these times for answers?”

      Here we should take a moment to make a very important distinction. It is the distinction between comforting those who are hurting and providing people with a theodicy to explain things. When someone is suffering it is not the time for launching into a theodicy. It is a time to comfort the person, make sure their basic physical needs are taken care of, and most importantly, be there for the person when they suffer. The book of Job demonstrates this very well. When his “friends” came with all of their explanations about his suffering (which were all false and did not comfort him at all), they were both wrong in their explanations and wrong to launch into that stuff with Job at that time. Even in the book of Job the best thing they do for him is when they shut up and are just there with him. Similarly, when dealing with people in the midst of suffering, you don’t give them a theodicy, you comfort them, and lead them to the God of all comfort.

      Explanations or theodicies come at a different time. Theodicies have an apologetics purpose, but they have no purpose when first relating to suffering people.

      “I don’t know what you would say to them (if they ask, that is) so I dare not speculate.”

      If I were first dealing with a suffering person, I make sure their basic physical needs are taken care of, and I am just there for them and with them at that time. Sometimes just saying nothing and being with the person is the best thing to do for them.

      “I don’t find Job ever throwing anything that happened to him upon Satan, yet Satan was the instrument the Lord used to bring all those things upon Job.”

      Satan was not an instrument used by the Lord. Satan told God that Job only follows you because things are going well with him, let me mess with him and then he will curse you to your face! Literally it is a contest, will Job trust God no matter what, even when things don’t go well, or will Job only trust God when things are going well. In this “contest” God gave the rules, Satan could mess with him, but could not kill him. So Satan did mess with him. Satan’s actions were not predestined, nor was Satan controlled by God like an instrument to cut up Job.

      “I don’t want to speak from a point of disagreement for the sake of disagreeing. I really would like to know how you would counsel me from the Scriptures in a time of grief, in relation to God’s sovereign hand. After all the grieving, when the questions begin to fill our minds, what is to be said? Am I left to turn complain to God about what Satan has done? I know this is a hard topic, so I don’t want to corner you.”

      Anyone with any experience with truly suffering people knows that you don’t give them theodicies/explanations, you comfort them. And yet Edwards wants Olson to tell him what insights regarding theodicy he gives hurting people when they are suffering. Theology and theodicy has is place (like being discussed in this thread). But when dealing with actual suffering individuals, the goal is to provide comfort for them, not provide some theodicy.

      Robert

      • J.E. Edwards

        Robert,
        Here’s what Mr. Spurgeon has to say regarding a sovereign God.
        “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?—Matthew 20:15.
        HE householder says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” and even so does the God of heaven and earth ask this question of you this morning. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings, no truth of which they have made such a foot-ball, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his sceptre in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon his throne whom we trust. It is God upon his throne of whom we have been singing this morning; and it is God upon his throne of whom we shall speak in this discourse. I shall dwell only, however, upon one portion of God’s Sovereignty, and that is God’s Sovereignty in the distribution of his gifts. In this respect I believe he has a right to do as he wills with his own, and that he exercises that right.”
        Tim stated this above:
        ASV: “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.”

        King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.): “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

        Young’s Literal Translation: “Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil, I am Jehovah, doing all these things.”
        Do you really believe what YOU said against God’s Word? Here’s what you said:
        “Personally, I believe contemporary TV provides some of the greatest evidence or proof of the reality of free will that you could ever want!”

        • rogereolson

          I deleted the last line of your comment. I don’t allow ridicule here. As for “Mr. Spurgeon”–would he preach this standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz? Perhaps so. But if so, without qualification, then I cannot consider his words convincing. And I won’t allow my doctrine of God’s sovereignty to depend on a verse or two from the Old Testament.

          • Robert

            J.E. Edwards you appear to challenging me when you wrote:

            [[“Do you really believe what YOU said against God’s Word? Here’s what you said:
            “Personally, I believe contemporary TV provides some of the greatest evidence or proof of the reality of free will that you could ever want!””]}

            J.E. you emphasize YOU in your first line here and claim that I said something “against God’s Word”.

            How so??????

            In what way have I “challenged” God’s Word??

            You then quote me from my comment about TV providing evidence of the reality of free will. Now perhaps your TV and the programs on it are different than mine, but my TV presents all sorts of utter foolishness, stupidity, nonsense, false claims, lies, worldly thinking and philosophies and religions. My point was that I don’t believe God predestines all of this stupidity, foolishness, sin and evil. Instead, these things are evidence of free will. That people freely choose to do such stupid, foolish, evil and sinful things. Apparently you want to attribute it to God predestining it. Makes a lot more sense to me to see it as evidence of people freely choosing to do some really dumb, stupid, foolish, sinful, evil, incredible things.

            What do others think? Is TV evidence of God predestining everythng or evidence of people freely choosing to make some incredible choices????

            Robert

          • rogereolson

            Of course, that’s just another way of asking about God’s role in the whole sorry state of affairs humanity finds itself in. Is this really “the best of all possible world?” A consistent Calvinist would seem to have to say so. I once met a Calvinist who denied that he had to believe this is the best of all possible worlds. He said that this is the best world on the way to the best of all possible worlds. I had to scratch my head–not because I didn’t understand his words but because I couldn’t understand how he could not see that’s the same as saying this is the best of all possible worlds.

        • Bev Mitchell

          J.E. Edwards
          As one worldling to another, perhaps this simple, real-life example will help. I recently spoke with a old friend whose 30 something daughter-in-law passed away during a routine medical procedure. A year or so after that horrible day, my question was, how is your son (the husband now alone with a  young family to care for) doing. “He is very angry at God right now!” was the reply. I suggested that she remind him that this was not God’s doing. Her sad response “I’m not so sure.” We need to be delivered from this idea that God does awful things. Yes, he will stand with us, comfort us, even grieve with us. And, the Holy Spirit certainly is a master at working through horrible things and situations to bring people to a much fuller understanding of God’s love for us. But, never, never, never does God do bad things for any reason – and, by extension, neither should we!

  • Steve Dal

    Roger
    Everybody is religious. It just depends on what one. I was watching a panel discussion on a TV program here in Australia the other night and they inevitably pointed the finger at ‘religion’ as being the ill that has beset mankind over the last 2000 years. One panelist (a humanist philosopher) then said it is time now to give them (the humanists) ‘a go’. It became increasingly obvious that this man had all the hallmarks of his ‘religion’ being humanism. He had a deity, a ‘church’ or congragation to which he belonged, a manifesto from which he recited texts, and he was evangelistic about his cause. I wondered about the restrictions we place on the term ‘religion’. It also seemed that this person found objectivity in the world by constantly referring back to his ‘religious beliefs’. Surely it is time to stop this nonsense about religious versus non-religious and to deal with the fact that we simply always refer to boundary markers to give our lives some kind of meaning even when we try to make out that we have no markers. I find it utterly disgusting that so-called Christians can dismiss the Holocaust as payback by God on the Jews. It is sick. No wonder we are dismissed as lunatics in many quarters.

    • rogereolson

      And yet…so many Christians in America don’t even blink as they say things like that or justify slavery because without it Africans wouldn’t have been saved, etc., etc. I agree with you that everybody has a religion or quasi-religion. The US Supreme Court identified secular humanism as a quasi-religion borrowing the concept from Tillich.

    • Daniel W

      I just have two notes to make here.
      1) A relatively small number of Orthodox Jews actually make the argument that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for Jewish assimilation to European culture, especially in Germany. How interesting is that?
      2) Anyone who speaks of ridding the world of religion to rid the world of its current level of evil is ill informed. There is a reason very few scholars of religion, including the atheist and agnostic ones at secular universities, adopt the Dawkins line of reasoning. It is because they recognize that “religion” is just one manifestation of something called “ideology,” and you can never rid the world of ideology. An ideology does not have to be one of those labeled “religion” to cause equally harmful (or even equally good) effects.

      • rogereolson

        Not all religion is ideology. Some religion is anti-ideology. (Unless, of course, you simply define “religion” as “ideology” which would be arbitrary.)

        • Daniel W

          I think that we are using different definitions of “ideology.” To be brief, I define ideology as a framework of ideas through which people conceptualize, interpret, and decide to act in their world. In my definition, ideology is not necessarily bad or false like it is in older Marxist formulations. My definition is influenced heavily by the thought of sociologist Göran Therborn.

          What did you mean when you said religion can be “anti-ideology.”

          • rogereolson

            I meant ideology as a totalizing explanation of reality with a political agenda. I would use “worldview” for your definition of ideology.

  • JP

    “And, of course, from a Christian perpective, the cross, hot Hitler “is” history.”

    typo, I hope?

    • rogereolson

      Of course.

  • http://repeater75.com Nick Schoeneberger

    So…it’s somehow better that God knows these things are going to happen, doesn’t ordain them and simply allows them to happen when He has the power to stop them from happening? That sounds terribly cruel. I’ll take a God whose decrees never fail and who is in control, whether I understand his will or not, any day over the God who has no purpose in suffering. If we take His promise in Romans 8:28-29 to heart, we know that in spite of the suffering we endure, God’s purpose will always be for what is right and just and ultimately for the good of those who love him.

    • rogereolson

      And I’ll take a God who permits evil and innocent suffering, for reasons he alone knows and fully understands, over a God who intentionally wants children to be murdered most cruelly, foreordains it and renders it certain and then sends those who commit such heinous acts (even though they could not have done otherwise) to hell “for his glory.”

    • Robert

      Hello Nick,

      “So…it’s somehow better that God knows these things are going to happen, doesn’t ordain them and simply allows them to happen when He has the power to stop them from happening? That sounds terribly cruel.”

      I don’t like it when atheists and other nonbelievers, attempt to set up those who believe in a good and loving God and who believe that free will as ordinarily understood actually exists, with the following argument( which sounds suspiciously close to what you are saying here Nick).
      The nonbelieving skeptic will say something like this:

      “If God foreknows all things that are going to happen and allows them to happen when he has the power to prevent them from happening. Isn’t that evil, unloving and cruel? Why consider if a human father saw his young toddler was about to go out into the street and saw a Mack Truck coming from the down the street towards where the toddler was about to go out into the street. If that father just watched and allowed his child to go out into the street and get killed by the truck, when he had the power to prevent it, wouldn’t we see that father as morally evil? He allowed what was in his power to prevent. And if he allowed it to happen when he had the power to prevent it from happening, then whatever he allowed must be what he willed to happen. And just as that human father would be evil, so would a God who foreknows things and allows things though he has the power to prevent them from happening!!!”

      Let’s deconstruct this argument a bit shall we.

      The skeptic/unbeliever is trying to play off different attributes of God against each other (God’s foreknowledge, love and goodness VERSUS his power). The skeptic assumes that God has the power to prevent any event from occurring. Based upon this assumption he then plays God’s power against his foreknowledge, love and goodness. He does so by bringing in the human example of a father, who truly loves his child and is good, would of course intervene to prevent harm to the child that he loves by preventing things that he has the power to prevent. This agument has some problems but I will focus on only one here: The argument ignores the fact that God does not contradict his own purposes and plans. In other words it talks about God’s attributes but forgets the fact that God has plans and he will not contradict his own plans. Contradicting his own plans is not a sign of lack of power. It only means that God does not contradict himself (or as scripture puts it: He cannot deny himself).

      Let’s look at an example to see this more clearly. Assume that God’s plan of salvation is that human persons who are mentally able to respond in faith to the gospel, that God planned to save them through FAITH and not through their own works. Assume that saving people through faith and not works is God’s PLAN. Now if some skeptic of God’s plan then asks me: “Why can’t God later, if he wants to, save people through their works instead of faith, or make exceptions and sometimes save people through works and not faith, couldn’t he do so?” If I answered No. What would we then say to this person if they then followed this up and said: “So God does not have the POWER to save a person through works? God does not have the power to save someone by works if he wanted to?”

      Wouldn’t we say that it is not an issue of God’s POWER, but it is an issue of God’s plan.

      It is not that he lacks the power to do so, but he will not do so, because he will not CONTRADICT HIS OWN PLAN.

      So Nick if you want to borrow from the thinking of atheists and other nonbelievers I believe you are making a big mistake. Instead carefully consider that God’s actions will not contradict his own design plans for things in the world that he designed and created. Don’t make the mistake of playing off God’s attributes against each other as skeptics do.

      The people who go around arguing and suggesting, “why doesn’t God just intervene everytime someone is about to do an evil action” are engaging in the same kind of error. If God designed human persons to have a capacity to have and make their own choices (i.e. have the capacity for freely made choices). If that is HIS PLAN, HIS DESIGN, then he is not going to go against his own plan later. And to try to frame it as, he has the power to prevent choices, and if he does not, then he is not good or loving: completely leaves out God’s design plan regarding human persons. God had purposes, plans and designs regarding what kind of nature humans would have. And God does not go around constantly tinkering with, changing or remaking human nature. If he did so he would be an incompetent designer! It is similar to the laws of physics that science discovers. These laws are so reliable and predictable that some have even suggested the universe is like a giant clock! And while it is true that God intervenes in his creation, he is not going to go against his own plans. Whether those plans are plans regarding what humans would be like, or plans regarding how the laws of physics operate.

      “I’ll take a God whose decrees never fail and who is in control, whether I understand his will or not, any day over the God who has no purpose in suffering.”

      Nick an important distinction I believe we need to make is between:

      (1) God predestining all suffering for a purpose (e.g. he predestines you to get a cold for some reason) and
      (2) God bringing good out of suffering (e.g. while you have a cold, while reading your bible God brings some things to mind that you need to change).

      In one case God desires the suffering or evil to occur exactly as it does.

      In the other case it is God bringing good out of a situation in which you are suffering.

      The Bible provides clear examples of (2) with the most well known being the suffering of Jesus and his crucifixion and the suffering of Joseph in the book of Genesis. In both cases God brought good out of evil situations. Situations where people repeatedly and freely chose to do evil and yet God still brought good out of these situations.

      I (like you) believe that what God decrees never fails (cf. “I’ll take a God whose decrees never fail”), but at the same time I also do not believe that God decrees whatever occurs. The assumption that God decrees everything that occurs is Calvinistic theological determinism (which I reject). So I can agree with you that whatever God decrees never fails. If however, you believe that God decrees every thing that occurs, I disagree with you on that.

      Your statement about “over the God who has no purpose in suffering” needs to be further elaborated. If you mean that God purposes, intends, predestines every evil (i.e. He purposes EVERY EVIL then I disagree with you). If you mean that God can bring good out of evil situations, that God can accomplish good purposes even in the worst circumstances, I agree with you.

      “If we take His promise in Romans 8:28-29 to heart, we know that in spite of the suffering we endure, God’s purpose will always be for what is right and just and ultimately for the good of those who love him.”

      Now this is the perfect verse to show what I mean. That verse says that in regards to “those who love him” (i.e. believers, Christians across all theological traditions).

      The verse does not say that all things*** in themselves*** are good.

      The verse does not say that all things are good.

      The verse does not say that God purposes or predestines all evils that occur.

      The verse does not say that God works all things for good FOR EVERY HUMAN PERSON.

      If you are attempting to use this verse to prove that God purposes every evil event for a purpose, it does not say that.

      If we keep the distinction in mind which I mentioned earlier, I believe that we can make sense of this verse. It is speaking of how God can bring good out of any situation in the experience of those who love Him and trust Him. This happens because God can use the worst circumstances to teach us to trust Him. To teach us that he can take us through situations. To teach us that he can overcome evil. Faith is more precious to God than gold, so He delights when we trust Him in difficult situations. There are other ways that God can (and does) bring good out of evil and I need not mention or list them all here. Hopefully you get my point. Romans 8:28 does not say that God purposes every evil. In fact there is a simple proof of this in that the verse is limited to “those who love him.” If God actually purposed every evil that occurs (whether it occurs in the experience of unbelievers or believers/those who love him), then it would not limit this to “those who love him.” The assumption that God purposes every evil is just that an assumption.

      Robert

      • Robert

        One more thing. Nick wrote:

        “I’ll take a God whose decrees never fail and who is in control, whether I understand his will or not, any day over the God who has no purpose in suffering.”

        That sounds like Nick believes he HAS A CHOICE.

        The choice is between (1) God who decrees everything and who is in control versus (2) the God who has no purpose in suffering.

        But if Nick’s calvinistic determinism is true, then he has no choice.

        He has to choose only and always what God predestines him to choose.

        The belief that he has a choice between alternative possibilities, if his calvinism is true, is always a lie then. And God predestines for most of us to believe this lie. Sure does not sound like a God of truth to me.

        If God predestines all things and predestines that Nick choose to believe that God decrees all things and is in control, then Nick has to believe that and it is impossible that he choose otherwise. If instead, God predestines that Nick choose to believe that God has no purpose in suffering, then Nick has to believe that and it is impossible that he choose otherwise.

        And this kind of analysis applies to all of us, if all is predestined we do only what we are predestined to do and believe, we cannot help doing otherwise. WE NEVER EVER HAVE ANY CHOICES.

        Does Nick really, really believe that he never has a choice?

        Robert

  • Bob Brown

    Why can’t it be seen that real love requires real freedom. God had to make creatures free in order for them to love freely. Is it God’s fault if angels and men abuse that freedom to not love? Some would say yes, since He created the freedom to rebel and sin in the first place. And I think that God does feel the responsibility of creating creatures with the potential of using their freedom wrongly although He never ordained it.

    I believe it is worth it to God to have creatures free to love then to have robots programmed to love. In His wisdom He has revealed in Christ that those choosing to use their freedom wrongly will forfeit the gift of life…..forever.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Yes Bob Brown, I think that is the way we have to go.
    This circular, and ancient, conversation is clear evidence that the experience of science and the resulting marvelous understanding of God’s creation are desperately needed as a complement to this century’s theology. I’m currently reading John Polkinghorne’s “Theology in the Context of Science.” The beginnings of a way past this impasse are outlined in this book and elsewhere. For example, from Chapter 5 entitled “Consonance”:

    “The context of science encourages us to resolve between the concepts of divine goodness and divine power by qualifying what is meant by God’s being ‘almighty’. It does not mean that God can do absolutely anything, but rather that God can do anything that is in accordance with the divine nature…….The God whose nature is love cannot be the Cosmic Tyrant…….. Creatures must be allowed to be themselves and to make themselves” (and here he means all of creation, not just human beings). 

    Polkinghorne goes on to speak of adding a ‘free-process defence’ to the traditional ‘free-will defence’ (this has absolutely nothing to do with process theology). From the perspective of our already extensive knowledge of creation, we can claim to inhabit “a world  whose evolving nature is granted (by the Creator) its own integrity – a gift resulting in both great fruitfulness and an unavoidable cost of suffering and malformation – (which) is a better world than one in which a capricious magic is continually at work to avoid unpleasant effects. Only in a world sufficiently consistent in its character for deeds to have foreseeable consequences, could moral choice and responsibility be exercised.”

    • Robert

      Hello Bev,

      “Yes Bob Brown, I think that is the way we have to go.”

      Bob is correct about the importance of love and free will in discussing a theodicy.

      “This circular, and ancient, conversation is clear evidence that the experience of science and the resulting marvelous understanding of God’s creation are desperately needed as a complement to this century’s theology.”

      One of the common ideas in Christian theology has been the concept of the “two books”. The book of revelation known as the bible and the book of nature known as the created universe. The idea is that both reveal God and both complement each other and do not contradict each other. That is one of the reasons I have always been a big fan of science. And Science properly practiced (i.e. without **scientism** the idea that reliable knowledge can only obtained via science) will not contradict scripture (properly interpreted) as God is the source and author of both.

      “I’m currently reading John Polkinghorne’s “Theology in the Context of Science.” The beginnings of a way past this impasse are outlined in this book and elsewhere. For example, from Chapter 5 entitled “Consonance”:
      “The context of science encourages us to resolve between the concepts of divine goodness and divine power by qualifying what is meant by God’s being ‘almighty’. It does not mean that God can do absolutely anything, but rather that God can do anything that is in accordance with the divine nature…….The God whose nature is love cannot be the Cosmic Tyrant…….. Creatures must be allowed to be themselves and to make themselves” (and here he means all of creation, not just human beings).”

      Polkinghorne is correct that omnipotence does not mean that God can do “absolutely anything”. He is also correct when he goes on to say that God will not go against his own divine nature (i.e. He will not act contrary to his own character and plans).

      “The God whose nature is love cannot be the Cosmic Tyrant” is a good statement of why I have problems with Calvinistic determinism (i.e. the claim that God predestines all events, that He directly controls all persons, thus allowing no free will, and physical creation not having its own independent existence, the universe becoming a giant hand puppet). Calvinism with its concept of reprobation and denial of free will does end up making God act like a “Cosmic Tyrant”.

      “Creatures must be allowed to be themselves and to make themselves”

      It is a simple truth but often minimized or forgotten, but God did not create another God when he created the universe. He created beings and things that have independent existence from him. They are not him and he is not them. If additionally some of these beings are created with the capacity to have and make their own choices, then they will also sometimes act independently of God. Even to the point of freely choosing to do things that are not God’s will (i.e. sin and evil). If these beings genuinely have free will (whether they be angels or men), then with their capacity for having and making their own choices they can (and sometimes) will sin and do evil. Human parents know this first hand. We think to ourselves, that this is not the best choice the child could make, there are better choices. And yet if they are independent beings from us, they do in fact make these choices for themselves. We hope they make the right choices, but they have the capacity as personal agents, as individual persons to make the wrong choices as well. As parents we sometimes are disappointed that the child did not make what we know to be a better choice. God must experience this as well with us.

      “Polkinghorne goes on to speak of adding a ‘free-process defence’ to the traditional ‘free-will defence’ (this has absolutely nothing to do with process theology). From the perspective of our already extensive knowledge of creation, we can claim to inhabit “a world whose evolving nature is granted (by the Creator) its own integrity – a gift resulting in both great fruitfulness and an unavoidable cost of suffering and malformation – (which) is a better world than one in which a capricious magic is continually at work to avoid unpleasant effects. Only in a world sufficiently consistent in its character for deeds to have foreseeable consequences, could moral choice and responsibility be exercised.”

      That phrase “granted (by the Creator) its own integrity” is critical and again goes to the fact God designed and created a world of beings that have independent existence from him. While it is true that he keeps the world in existence. It is also true that these independent beings, if they have wills, can act independently of God and His will.

      “Only in a world sufficiently consistent in its character for deeds to have foreseeable consequences, could moral choice and responsibility be exercised.”

      I am currently reading Alvin Plantinga’s book WHERE THE CONFLICT REALLY LIES (Bev if you have not read it I believe you would enjoy it) and he makes the same point. Plantinga rightly argues that only in a world that is orderly and predictable from our perspective could we act as personal moral agents and could we practice science. It is sad that some then take this very orderliness and the regularity of the laws of physics as an argument against God’s existence!

      “a gift resulting in both great fruitfulness and an unavoidable cost of suffering and malformation – (which) is a better world than one in which a capricious magic is continually at work to avoid unpleasant effects.”

      Some in contrast to the actual world that we find ourselves in, the world created and designed by God (with its regularity, orderliness, constancy of the laws of physics) want to claim that God should always intervene to prevent all evil actions from occurring. What they forget is that it is not enough to just intervene externally (e.g. when someone tries to say something offensive or hurtful to another, they would like for God to scrampble the sound waves so the intended message and meaning cannot go from speaker to hear successfully). To truly prevent evil actions you would have to intervene and constantly control the mind of persons.

      If that were the whimsical world we were in, we would constantly experience these interventions in our minds by God that would amount to mind control so that we would become sentient puppets. God did not want that kind of world. So instead he created a world where we experience some indepednece and so we can think evil thoughts that are not prevented by God and commit sinful and evil actions that are not prevented by God. These thoughts are real, the actions are real, and the consequences have real effects in the actual world that we find ourselves in. The skeptic is unhappy that God does not intervene more and engage in constant mind control (though most skeptics don’t want to be God’s puppets either). And so the skeptic is unhappy with the whimsical world where God engages in mind control of everyone and so no free will and independent thought exists. The skeptic is also unhappy with the orderly and reliable world with its constant laws of physics that we find ourselves in. Nothing makes the skeptic happy unless he can “prove” that God does not exist. This also reminds me of the fact that when the universe was seen as much smaller, skeptics argued that: why would God make such a little universe? Now that we find (through science) that the universe is massive and much larger,skeptics now argue: why would God create such a huge universe and have life only appearing on this little cosmic piece of dust known as the earth? So small or big, skeptics will always freely choose to argue agaisnst Christianity and God’s existence.

      I guess you just can’t please all the people all the time! :-)

      Robert

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thanks for the commentary Robert. Good points. I’ve been thinking about reading Plantinga for a while now. You have spurred me on. I think one reason that we evangelicals have such difficulty with letting God’s works help us understand his words in human words is that we have resisted doing this for far too long. Now it will be a real shocker for many, and it cannot be swallowed in one gulp. Calling all pastors!
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • Robert

      Hello Bev,
      “I’ve been thinking about reading Plantinga for a while now. You have spurred me on.”
      That is good to hear. Plantinga is just awesome. And I really believe you would enjoy and appreciate him. Your comments suggest a science background, so I suggest you start with his latest book: WHERE THE CONFLICT REALLY LIES.
      Robert

      • rogereolson

        For any close by, Plantinga will be speaking on that topic at Baylor University this Thursday (April 26) at 3:30 PM. See the Baylor web site for details. Unfortunately, I will be out of town and unable to attend.

  • Mark rogers

    That thinking works pretty well Robert if you think evil originates in men or angels. But what if there really is a capricious magic continually at work in creation causing unpleasant effects? Something that only has existence when it raises up to oppose God’s will. Something that can cause men and angels to fall. Capricious may be how it seems but it’s nature is a constant push towards chaos.

    • rogereolson

      Would that imply a flaw in God’s good creation? When God pronounced everything he created “good,” was there an exception that was built into it?

      • Bev Mitchell

        Perhaps God’s creation means ‘the divine gift of the possibility to become’. If this gift to become is lovingly and freely given, rebellion is one of the inevitable outcomes. Because of God’s grace, more glorious outcomes will ultimately prevail. Just a rainy Monday morning thought. :)

        • rogereolson

          I agree that rebellion is inevitable (at least prior to the new creation that includes our deification), but that’s different from “necessary.” I like Reinhold Niebuhr’s account in which sin, in human existence here below, is inevitable but not necessary.

          • Bev Mitchell

            ‘Inevitable’ is not the same as ‘necessary’ – interesting. Thanks. I’m just an experimental biologist. This means being almost officially required, or at least clearly expected to  abjure philosophy as at least a quagmire if not the broad road that leadeth….. We might be considered the ‘fundamentalists’ of our sect. Though recovering from this stance to the point of enjoying the ideafest  of theological discourse, I can still see the wisdom in the warning, and am not quite as ready to accede as was Lithgow’s subject, who apparently came to the point  “When the flat contrary of his abjured impositions, is infallibly knowne to be of undoubted trueth.” William Lithgow (traveller) 1632 from: “The Totall Discourse of Trauayles…” 

            Joking aside, I think you are correct, but would have some trouble defending it. :)

    • Robert

      Hello Mark,

      You wrote:

      “That thinking works pretty well Robert if you think evil originates in men or angels. But what if there really is a capricious magic continually at work in creation causing unpleasant effects? Something that only has existence when it raises up to oppose God’s will. Something that can cause men and angels to fall. Capricious may be how it seems but it’s nature is a constant push towards chaos.”

      Roger responded with:

      “Would that imply a flaw in God’s good creation? When God pronounced everything he created “good,” was there an exception that was built into it?”

      Mark I do “think evil originates in men or angels”.

      I also believe that is what the bible suggests is the origin of evil and sin.

      Roger’s point is a good one: that the original creation was referred to by God himself as “very good”. This does not fit if instead the reality was that there was some sort of “capricious magic continually at work in creation causing unpleasant effects.”

      My understanding is that sin is only committed by personal agents (men and angels) not by animals nor forces. We do not normally view electricity as either good or evil in itself (instead we view it as good or evil depending upon how it is used, I could use electricity to keep the refrigerator going and keep food available or I could use electricity to intentionally electrocute someone taking a bath). With animals we reason the same way, the animal acts according to its nature, but we do not see them as sinning or abstaining from sin.

      It seems that the bible locates sin and rebellion (“when it raises up to oppose God’s will”) in the minds of men and angels.

      Sin involves the mind of a person.

      Some Christians even make a distinction between an “age of accountability” and a time frame previous to the age of accountability. So only those who reach the “age of accountability” can have their thoughts and actions to be declared to be sinful.

      Likewise in our legal system, persons who are mentally disabled are seen as those who are incapable of making moral distinctions between good and evil. So we have a lot of evidence and social practice behind the conception that sin and evil are actions and thoughts of mentally aware personal agents.

      Robert

  • Mark rogers

    I certainly did not mean to imply a flaw in God’s good creation Dr. Olson. Which is why I question how mankind or angels could be the origin of evil. Is evil a byproduct of freewill or perhaps is freewill a gift, a tool, given so that despite the reality of evil, in obedience we might obtain to true freedom? I think most Christians would concede to three realities, the reality or dimension of the triune God, the created reality of the angels and our reality. If we recognize three realities is it not probabilistic that there may be more than three realities? I am suggesting that evil is an uncreated reality that creation is superimposed over. Something we must endure, but not alone as God is with us.

    • rogereolson

      With Augustine and most of Christian tradition I think of evil as the absence of the good. Creatures with free will can bring it about, but it’s not a substance (like a germ or a virus). It’s like a broken bone–not a substance but a deformation.

      • Bev Mitchell

        It may well be that by ‘creation’ we should mean, ‘the gift of the possibility of being and becoming’. For all of the universe that has come to pass, what God created was the possibility to be and become. His self-revelation to human beings (that part of what became that is able to receive his revelation) assures us that the ultimate destination of becoming is to be in Him. In addition to many good outcomes, this process of freely becoming also, inevitably, lead to rebellion. Tragically, according to Scripture, there is something about rebellion that our freedom to become cannot ignore or overcome, simply by our own becoming. Hence God’s intervention in the Incarnation.

        • Mark rogers

          Thanks for the help everyone, I think I am on the right track now. That the absence of good can occur due to the free will of moral agents in the act of being and becoming is new for me. I need new concepts which is why I read this blog. Thank you Dr. Olson!


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