Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thoughts on Evil and the Nature of God

I've written on this a few times in the past - so it seems to be a recurrent theme in my thoughts and reading. 

I just finished listening to a sermon, "When bad things happen to good people ", which was presented in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.  He did an admirable job of presenting the typical evangelical path by setting up the question in terms God's justice, power and goodness in the face of suffering and evil, but then dodges these issues by instead (using Job) to presuppose God's goodness, sovereignty and might. This then turns, however, to a dismissal the "why" questions and offers, instead, the answer that God's goodness and might ought to be reason enough to accept the apparent injustice and evil in the world.

 

The problem with this approach is that it is clearly a circular argument.  It does nothing to resolve the original question of how a good, all-powerful God can apparently sit by while such evil and suffering rages on. Job's story presupposes the character and nature of God and ends with man humbled with his questions in the face of a righteous and good and all-powerful God. 

 

But the real question is, can we say God is good or all-powerful in light of evil and suffering? That is, what basis is there to conclude that God is good and powerful if such things occur "on his watch"? Job has no answer here because he presupposes God's nature and character.  Further, even if we accept God's right as creator to do as he wishes with his creation and his creatures, even such a creator cannot necessarily claim to be just or merciful [or expect others to see him as such] in light of his actions if they are not self-referentially just or merciful.  In other words, if it is God's nature and character being evaluated, they must be derived from his actions – not presupposed regardless of his subsequent actions.

 

Most of the evangelical arguments about suffering distill into the ideas that knowing the "whys" won't remove or even ease the pain.  This doesn't seem entirely true at all.  Certainly being able to confidently place one's pain and anguish in the context of a larger of meaning, justice, hope and mercy.

 

The problem with the above is that most evangelicals assume that people, when asking "why", are only seeking relief from their pain.  This is not true.  They are seeking confirmation that the God they have trusted up and until that point, is the God they thought he was – especially in light of the actions that appear to contradict the nature of who they thought this God was.

 

Some people have a "gift" of faith.  These questions don't bother them.  Life is painful, evil is real, this is just how the world works.  Atheists are among this group.  So are fundamentalists.  For each of these, their faith in either the absence of a loving, caring supreme being or of the existence of such a God, is unshakable.  Pain is real, but it doesn't affect their faith. 

 

However, for most people, we are trying to understand God's character – we are trying to fit within our understanding a way to resolve the cognitive dissonance between who we thought God was and what is happening to us. Simply reciting a list of the presupposed attributes of God is not sufficient to resolve this angst.  We must construct a consistent framework and understanding of God within which such apparent (from our perspective) injustice, suffering and evil are tolerated and allowed.

 

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