This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/kathryn-applegate-endless-forms-most-beautiful/justo-gonzalez-on-creation
I can appreciate this perspective, but I think that there is a weakness in it. It’s a minor weakness, but it is a weakness upon which the whole theorem is based. The weakness is the presumption of natural calamity as a moral evil. Likewise there is the presumption that violence is evil as well. Violence can actually be a good thing if it is done in the act of protecting the innocent. To be, perhaps, more blunt than necessary, one does not attempt to talk a perpetrator out of committing their crime when they are in the midst of doing it. That would be more evil than to refuse the use of violence because it was in our capability to stop it and we did not.
Therefore, violence, itself, is morally neutral. It is how it is used that determines its morality.
Going back now to the claim that natural evil preceded the fall. Care needs to be taken when assigning the same category to natural events as moral evil. What Adam and Eve did in the story was decide to disobey God. Natural disasters are cause and effect scenarios whereas Adam and Eve was an act of the will. They broke the natural function of a human being, which is to live in harmony with God. A volcano does not break its natural function by erupting.
Therefore we can see that because natural events are the result of cause and effect and Adam and Eve’s sin was a result of the will, there is no relation between the two. As such one cannot be used to interpret the other. If there is a relation it is in the mind of the afflicted. That does not negate the pain (such as a loved one dying in the eruption), but it does negate the assignment of evil.
So does Augustine only go halfway because he does not address evil, or does he not call it evil because it is not? I would submit the latter, for the reasons provided.
In fairness, I have not read Gonzalez’ book and so his point might be made more succinctly in a different place.
That can be a real quandary for those who want to follow through completely on Jesus command to love our enemies. We would really love to hear him do a retelling of the good Samaritan story, only this time have the Samaritan arrive on the scene while the bandit was still in the midst of his dirty work --what would Jesus have the Samaritan do? I know, that is to co-opt that story into the service of an entirely different question than the one that provoked it at the time.
Even so, though, I don’t think I would ever refer to violence as being ‘morally neutral’. At best it seems like it might in some cases rise to the level of being a lesser of evils. But even there, it often seems to spawn more in the end.
I do agree by the way, that it is quite a presumption to equate natural calamity with evil. But old testament prophets did not seem to have any trouble with that presumption.
Thanks for the response, and I don’t think it’s co-opting the story. I think it’s using the story to ask a valid hypothetical. But that said, I don’t think it has to be that big of a quandary. Let’s presume that someone loves two people equally. If one is inflicting unjustified violence on the other would we love both any less if we stopped the perpetrator? The quandary is resolved by identifying the act of using violence to stop the perpetrator as a question of justice, and not love.
Regarding your comment on OT prophets, would you mind providing an example of what you are referring to? Off the top of my head most references to natural disasters seem to be related to God’s punishment, i.e. justice. And so the reference is to evil, but to the punishment of evil. Again, off the top of my head, the only place I can think of that is a close comparison is when Job asks if we shall accept good from God, but not evil. But in that case I pause to wonder if reading it in the same sense we would today is reading it anachronistically. That is why some translations translate that word as “adversity” instead. Because that more closely resembles the intent of the statement.
I could be wrong, though.
I agree. It seems odd to me that some (particularly the YEC crowd) look at natural processes as “evil” and project their moral ideas onto such things as earthquakes and volcanos.
You might be wrong … or not. I don’t find too much room to be dogmatic on exactly how things are attributed to God, and I didn’t have some specific Bible reference in mind as I wrote it; just a general impression of prophets writing in that kind of way. But since you ask, I did a search, and found plenty of references (NASB) in which evil was brought by God (armies from the North, for example) or on this or that king as punishment. So it is often in the context of punishing wickedness as you say. I suppose the verse that best epitomizes the bold attitude of attribution I had in mind is probably this one:
Isaiah 45:7 The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
‘Calamity’ and ‘evil’ (or as you suggested: ‘adversity’) are I think more-or-less interchangeable in how they are being used here, though maybe some could call me to task for any cavalier indifference between those words. But without having researched it, I’ll guess that some translations may favor different ones of those words in the same verses. ‘Calamity’ certainly was a bad thing to endure and nobody wants it in any case.
If calamity makes us stronger, as individuals, communities, or even species, then how can our past (even the ‘good’ parts) be separated from the calamity? God makes use of adversity to form us into a better people than we otherwise would be (provided we survive --but maybe even if not …? …witness so much of what Jesus teaches.) I struggle for understanding in some of this as an Anabaptist that at least aspires to nonviolence (a tradition with which I guess you @Kevin_Schroeder may have some familiarity, given your name!)
Somehow in the end, justice and love will not remain divorced but must be one unified concept. Keeping them apart, I suggest, will always result in the defeat of one or most probably both. I put that out there as a faith statement.
Heh, I could do a Pauline list of Mennonite qualifications.
Isaiah 45:7 is interesting to me because I, quite literally, read through that two days ago as I’m reading through Isaiah right now. As noted earlier, that is in reference to the calamity brought on by God (and written down to remind Cyrus (or perhaps the Jews) of that) as a means of punishment. And so it fits in with my earlier assertion quite well that the references to natural evil are, in general, when God is judging those guilty of evil. The OT prophets usually (always?) tie a disaster to the obstinacy of the nation. Natural or man-made.
The question is not violence, but change and death.
Change is a philosophical problem, because traditional philosophy sees change as a negative. Change means something is less than perfect. Violent change indicates something is way less than perfect.
We want life to be without change because change brings suffering and death. However God made a universe that is limited, not perfect in this sense, so it contains change, birth, and death. God’s perfection is based on harmony and love.
Violent change is at times needed to restores harmony in nature. When that results in death, that is unfortunate, but not evil unless that death could reasonably have been prevented.
Violence may be needed to restore human order through war or police action or self defense. Certainly this must be a last resort because often even justified violence begets more violence.
It does not really solve the underlying problems, which is why love is the Christian ethic, even more than justice. In part the problem of the Middle East is because both the Jews and Muslims feel that their respective causes are just.
There is no “natural evil.” Death, pain, and suffering are a part of life and are for the most part good. When death, pain. and suffering are the result of sin, then they are evil, but it is the sin that is evil, and must be addressed, not the death, pain, and suffering, which should be alleviated as possible, but are not in themselves evil.