The problem of absence


(Jason) #1

I am pretty well versed in the arguments and I am able to rationally defend my belief on many levels. But there is one, burning issue I cannot seem to shake. What C.S. Lewis called, the problem of pain. Specifically this question, which is the reason for my signing up here in the hope that the scientifically minded community of Biologos, who accepts evolution, rightly so, as fact, can shed some light on this question where I have failed…

If I were to pass by a girl getting raped in the street, and I were any kind of decent person at all, I would do what I could to intervene and save that girl from her situation. And yet God, an all powerful being of immense love and goodness (though not, I believe, all-loving) sees the situation and does nothing. Nothing at all.
Without me coming across the unfortunate girl, nothing would be done. God would seemingly watch and not intervene. Does this make me more good and loving than God? Or does this simply mean that God does not exist?

The obvious answer is yes, it would indeed make me better than God, or it simply does indeed mean that God does not exist.

But if God DOES exist, then WHY didn’t He intervene? We KNOW situations like this occur all the time, people suffering senseless horrors and there being no intervention from any God. But WHY?

Thankyou.


(George Brooks) #2

@Burning_to_Know,

Jason, the issue you are raising is the issue of Theodicy. Theodicy is a problem for Christian Evolutionists AND for Christian Creationists. How each of us deals with theodicy is complex and personal. There is no “one size fits all” for how to deal with it.

If you are an atheist, your dispute is with all theists … not just Theists who hold to Evolution.

If you are a theist, you may THINK your dispute is with theists who hold to Evolution … but there are theodicy problems even in the Evangelical camp. Blaming EVERYTHING on the fall of Adam is not really a philosophically sound resolution.


(Jason) #3

Thanks for replying. I’m after the positions of anyone who would attempt to answer my question. It isn’t relevant whether I am an atheist or a theist, creationist or one who accepts the reality of evolution. All that matters is an answer.


(Jay Johnson) #4

I’m really not sure what you’re after. Your first paragraph implies that you are a Christian believer struggling with the problem of evil, yet your second and third paragraphs make it clear that you do not believe in the Christian conception of God. Which is it? Are you an atheist looking for a debate, or a Christian struggling to understand the problem of evil? It is relevant only in the amount of time I’m willing to invest. Argument for the sake of argument holds no real interest for me.

(I had to edit this post because we seem to have posted almost simultaneously.)


(Jason) #5

I am a theist. Agnostic theist to be precise. Part of how I operate is not shying away from challenging my own beliefs if I feel there may be an issue with them. Therefore, me questioning theism and Christianity in general in no way implies that I am an atheist or that I am looking for a debate. Questioning is simply a very healthy and rational thing to do. Being an atheist or a theist is irrelevant when asking such a question.

I feel my question poses a serious theological problem and I am only after an answer from whoever thinks they can offer one. At least a point of view or idea that perhaps I have not considered myself. I am not interested in a debate. I may point out logical problems or scriptural problems with any answer I receive, but I am in no way seeking an argument.

However if all you can provide is something along the lines of ‘God has a plan’ or ‘suffering now wont mean anything compared to Heaven’ then please do not bother responding.

Thank you.


(GJDS) #6

@Burning_to_Know

These questions are important as they go to what we think it is to be a human being, and also what we think God should be. I look at this in two ways:

(1) Let us say that God is at our disposal, and we want Him to act as our policeman. It is easy to say, “stop that rapist” or “stop that murderer” and we would feel He is acting as a good chap, helping all of these victims. But what if I asked Him to stop you from thinking I am unkind with this reply? Or what if I find out you are stealing from someone? Should God act on my command or yours? And if God is all powerful why not ask Him to make us all good, and then no-one will hurt anyone else, and all problems will be solved. This view, to my mind, should make us think more about what type of beings we are. Why don’t we tell ourselves, and each other not to commit bad things? Should God turn us all into robots who do the same thing? It goes down to our own choices, to choose to do good or evil. For God to act as you suggest, He will have to remove that choice from us, and that will make us very different from the beings we are.

(2) A more serious response is to ask, “Why would God allow His Son to suffer and die at the hands of treacherous and brutal human beings, when everyone could see that He did good to all who turned to Him?” This question would take us to understand why salvation is offered to us, and this is the road to becoming Christ-like, without anyone imposing this on us.

The subject matter is salvation in Christ, and this requires discussion of all of Christian beliefs, teachings and theology, which cannot be dealt by science. I hope this brief response is helpful to you. Evolution has nothing to say about human personhood and spiritual attributes that the Christian faith teaches us.


(Jim Lock) #7

@Burning_to_Know I think the easy answer is to point out that you’re there. Can you say for sure that you are not the tool that God uses to intervene? To paraphrase the verse, not in a thundercloud or an earthquake, but a whisper does God make His presence known. No, this doesn’t write off the entirety of human suffering. Christians still starve to death, some are miraculously saved while others aren’t, and (on a lighter note) there are a generous number of jerks used to season the earth. I don’t have answers to everything and I don’t think those answers are readily available. Though I do second the contributions of @GJDS to this post.

Respectfully,
Jim


(Jay Johnson) #8

Okay, I’ll play. Personally, I don’t mind talking with people who are willing to challenge their own beliefs. I’m constantly challenging my own understandings, correcting and fine-tuning them as I learn more of both God and his creation. But I should warn you that I don’t approach the question of evil from the standard starting point, such as your example of the girl being raped, so you’re likely to be unsatisfied by the “answer” that I provide. On the other hand, you’re already unsatisfied by the academic treatments of the problem of evil, with which you hint that you are familiar, so perhaps what you need is an entirely different way of thinking about the problem. I can point out a direction that proved helpful to me, but it may or may not be helpful to you or anyone else. As Pascal noted, “We are more easily convinced by reasons we have found ourselves than those that have occurred to others.”

First, I would note a common feature of approaches to the question that begin where you began. I would call it the “I could have created a more just world than this one, therefore God cannot exist” form of argumentation. On the surface, this is a powerful argument because it resonates with our innate sense of justice and fairness. Both of us can multiply examples of injustice and senseless suffering and death ad infinitum. This world will cease to exist before it ceases to provide examples.

Many people try, at this point, to invoke individual responsibility and freedom, but this addresses evil caused by man; it says nothing of natural disasters or birth defects or childhood diseases or any other myriad “natural” evils that occur. I’m sure sure that you have read the philosophical arguments addressing both those aspects of the problem of evil, as I have, and found them unsatisfactory. Therefore, I won’t rehash those arguments. Instead, I will simply note that any argument that ultimately rests on the premise “I could have done it better …” in arguing against the existence of God is presumptive (at best) and foolish (at worst). If, as you say, you are a theist, then surely you believe that the ultimate mind behind all that exists is greater than you are. To say “I could have done it better” is to say that you, a mere man, limited in every way, are somehow greater than the one who designed the infinite, intricate system that we observe.

The problem, to my mind, reflects the limits of our reason in the face of ultimate questions. We cannot prove, using logic alone, that God exists, or even whether our the ultimate source of our origins was good, evil, ambivalent to such things, or mere chance, just as we are unable to prove logically that the earth was not created in six literal days with an appearance of age, or that it was not created 15 minutes ago. To ask “Why does evil exist?” is to ask “Why is the world what it is?”, and to answer, we must return to the question of our origins.

Logic can point us in the right direction here, even if it cannot provide an ultimate answer. I think we can at least rule out the possibility that our origins are ambivalent to good and evil, if we are attributing this ambivalence to a divine being (obviously, “chance” is ambivalent to questions of right and wrong). A divine being who lacks a sense of justice is a lesser being than we are, for that lack implies an inability to empathize with the creature and to understand its thoughts. We are reduced to the level of a “thing,” such as a chair, and the divine is reduced to an impersonal “force,” not much different than gravity or magnetism. In short, a god who is ambivalent to justice is also ambivalent to us and our plight, and so is no better than “chance” as an answer. Granted, some people may find that a satisfying response, but I am not wired that way.

For me, the only two possibilities are that everything we see is the result of chance, or it is the result of a good God. I choose to believe that a good God stands behind all else. The reasons that I choose to believe this are many. My starting point is Jesus. If, as John asserted in the prologue of his gospel, Jesus is the human face of God, then we learn who God is by observing Jesus. I find Jesus to be loving, caring, and compassionate to all he encounters. Furthermore, I find in his story an answer to the problem of suffering and pain and evil. Whether or not it is an answer that solves the intellectual problems I cannot say, but it solves the deepest desires of my heart, and answers to the questions that plague me.

Jesus, the lamb of God, bore our griefs and carried our sorrows with him in his suffering. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is not indifferent to our suffering and pain. He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, in order that he might reconcile us to God. And God, through his mighty power, transformed the most evil act perpetrated in the history of humanity into the ultimate good. In short, the God whom I worship has the power to transform evil into good. Whatever suffering and evil has existed and will exist in the world, God through Christ will redeem it and transform it to his glory and to our benefit. I believe this because I believe that God is good, on the basis of the love he has demonstrated for us in Christ.

This is not to negate the force of your argument. On the contrary, the fact that all of us, limited as we are, feel righteous indignation in the core of our being at much of the evil that we observe should tell us something, even if it cannot tell us everything. What it tells me is that things are not as they should be. Most of the arguments back and forth on the problem of evil assume that this world is the last word on the question, and all of their reasoning is based on that assumption. Christian faith, on the other hand, says that this world is transitory, and it will one day be supplanted by the eternal kingdom of God, where God will wipe away every tear, and where this short-term situation will no longer even be remembered or thought about.

I look forward to that day in faith. Pascal was right:

"We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit. He who does not do so understands not the force of reason. There are some who offend against these three rules, either by affirming everything as demonstrative, from want of knowing what demonstration is; or by doubting everything, from want of knowing where to submit; or by submitting in everything, from want of knowing where they must judge…

"Instead of complaining that God had hidden Himself, you will give Him thanks for not having revealed so much of Himself; and you will also give Him thanks for not having revealed Himself to haughty sages, unworthy to know so holy a God.

Two kinds of persons know Him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever kind of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it."


(Albert Leo) #9

Burning T.K., theists have been struggling with the problems of theodicy for millennia, and, stripped to its basics, the best answer they have come up with is: “God has a plan that none of us can fully understand”. Many responders to this Forum have a better grasp of Christian theology than I do, but I doubt if any will provide you with a convincing answer to your question. Since I can’t either, then why am I responding? Well, strangely enough, and for me at least, a glimmer of understanding comes with accepting the truth of the belief that each human being has been created (via evolution) with the potential to be an image of his/her Creator. Seldom in our history has the “brokenness” of humankind been more evident than it is today. Trump’s recent acceptance speech gave us numerous examples of this (and promised to lead our society to a ‘fix’ for most of them.) But isn’t that all a pipe dream? Are not human beings fatally flawed from the ‘git-go’? One thing for sure: If you look for God’s Image in the strongest, most powerful human beings, you will be disappointed. Instead, look for Him in the weakest, the ones who are suffering and struggling.

Yesterday’s LA Times had a photo that should have been captioned "Madonna & Child". A destitute Brazilian mother, abandoned by her lover, was lovingly cradling in her arms a Zika stricken, microcephalic child. Her future, and her child’s, was bleak. We can only hope, but never know for sure, that there will be some special reward awaiting both them in an afterlife. But in the meantime, that image will affect millions of us who are more fortunate, and we will be encouraged to make some sacrifice to make her life more bearable. In that way her suffering infuses at least a little bit of God’s image into vast numbers of the rest of humanity. And those serving with ‘Doctors Without Borders’ are affected most deeply.

I personally experienced something of the sort some 50 yrs ago. My 11 year old nephew, Jackie–as lovable a human being as an uncle could wish for–contracted leukemia and began a painful fight for life that stretched on for two years, during which time my wife and I got especially attached to him. His last few weeks were spent in St. Bernardine’s hospital where he apologized to the nurses (all nuns) for all the trouble he was causing them. Nurses and doctors see suffering all the time, and one would think they would become inured to it. But a group of them (as many as could be spared) together with the hospital chaplin insisted they get time off to attend his funeral. I flew out from Chicago for it, and it changed my life. I was trained in physical-organic chemistry and was running a small company in the area of food chemistry. Jackie’s life changed mine to the extent that I sold the company, moved to California to become part of a group using computers to help develop more effective cures for leukemia and other serious diseases. Like the nuns and chaplin, I saw something of God’s image in a human being I was close to. Nothing can change that–not the gunman who murdered 40+ people in Orlando, the crazed truck driver who mowed down hundreds in Nice, or the satanic couple who murdered dozens in San Bernardino, the town where Jackie died.

So, Burning T.K., how do I reconcile all this with a loving, just, and powerful God? I do hope that there is an afterlife that will even things out. But it is more important to realize that we worship a God who is willing to suffer along with us–suffering is an integral part of the World that He created. As Christians, we should believe that Jesus is proof that He is willing to ‘empty himself’ of power and majesty and join in our humanity. That concept is beyond Reason and demands Faith. I’ve greatly enjoyed a career in Science, but without Faith it would be somewhat hollow and unfulfilling.
God bless,
Al Leo


(George Brooks) #10

@Burning_to_Know,

That’s not actually true, or even fair.

We have had atheists come to this list to argue atheism … using arguments that were just as hard for Creationists to answer as Evolutionists who believe in God.

This is not a good place for Atheists to come to argue their points - - for there is no strong need for either group to defend their Christianity (to someone who rejects ALL forms of Christianity) … while in the midst of defending either Evolutionism or Creationism.

But … if you are a Creationist, instead of an Atheist, then it becomes a significant part of any response to you.

So… what are ye?


(Jason) #11

Questioning something that doesn’t make sense or something that one doesn’t yet understand has nothing to do with what belief the asker holds.

Does the question and problem become invalid if I am an atheist? Are you saying that a believer should not ask such questions?

If an atheist comes here and challenges your faith with a question, do his motives and beliefs make the question any less problematic, any less valid?

What if the atheist is on a journey of discovery?

In my experience, too many believers don’t ask enough questions. And if someone approaches them with a particularly tricky question, they tend to get defensive and avoid the question itself by focusing on the motives behind it rather than trying to find an answer. There is a growing need for more believers to solve the problems posed to them by atheists and agnostics.

I have already stated what I am. And that I am not interested in arguing. Not that it’s relevant to my question. Now, do you have a possible answer to offer? I am interested in as many positions and views as I can get. The more ideas and viewpoints there are, the more I can try and mash something together that will satisfy me.


(George Brooks) #12

@Burning_to_Know,

Jason… okay… I see that you refer to the acceptance of evolution “…rightly so…”

But as I’ve said before, BioLogos supporters have no special competence in the issue of Theodicy. It’s a bit of a struggle for all of us…

But occasionally someone writes something helpful … So, I suggest you search BIOLOGOS under the topic of THEODICY to find one to your liking.

Here are three threads that may have some important give-and-take:


(Jon Garvey) #13

Here’s something to chew on: given that evil exists, then the problem of evil is absolutely inherent in monotheism. If everything comes ultimately from God, then it’s always possible to trace evils to him.

So if evil is a negation of God, God created the beings who negate it. If it’s a function of freedom, God chose to create free beings. If it’s due to some kind of ontological chance (for example, if evolution were as unguided as some say), then it was God who let the mad dog off the leash. And so on - but always remembering that we start with a situation in which there is only God, and he creates everything else, directly or indirectly, from nothing.

Secondly, this God is, by his nature, entirely hidden from us, except for what he might choose to reveal to us though nature (including reason) and special revelation. If you don’t believe that, then your God is too small.

So the possibilities, regarding evil, are that we either believe we can work out how evil can exist with God despite knowing nothing about God’s nature. Leibniz was the first to pose the question of theodicy in terms of God’s goodness or competence (and to try and argue it by Enlightenment reason, not revelation). Before that, the question had been how evil can exist since God’s revealed holiness might be expected to swamp it. But the whole method of modern theodicy since Leibniz starts from doubting God’s revelation, and putting faith in human reason, and it will lead, inevitably, to hitting the buffers of human limitations.

The alternative is that we accept God’s revelation about himself and see where that takes us. Perhaps three things are relevant conceptually:

  • God says he is good (note he never says he is “moral” - that is a human, creaturely, quality: the owner of all things cannot steal or covet, nor the arbiter of life murder, and so on).
  • God says he is omnipotent and omniscient.
  • God says his ways are too high for us to comprehend (and he hides many of them from us for his own good reasons).

Tellingly, the biblical revelation never even attempts the modern kind of theodicy. Instead (to cut a long story short) it shows both God’s omnipotence and his goodness in Christ, invites us to know him as Lord and Saviour, and then makes theodicy a subdivision of saving faith: we trust that such a God of truth as we find in Christ has not lied about his power, or his knowledge, or his goodness.

Nor has he lied about his mystery - “the secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the things revealed to us and our children forever”. He has, however, promised that by our faith (not by our theodical reasoning) we shall at last see him face to face. And then, perhaps, we shall know the wisdom of his hiding the complete reason for evil from us.


(Jason) #14

Thank you for your response. You made me see that I AM in fact putting my faith in Human reason instead of God. I believe I can figure it all out one way or another if I just keep digging. But I can’t seem to help that. As a poor, lost soul groping around in darkness, I dislike not knowing. And God’s silence is… Deafening. I want satisfaction (comfort) in knowing. Otherwise there is always room for doubt, and doubt leads me to explore other possibilities which for all I know could be true instead. I cannot seem to simply assume I have the truth. Am I making any sense?
I believe I have fallen into the trap of never being satisfied unless I know something to be true. But seeing as though I CANNOT know it all, this practise may not end up serving me well in the end.

Still, faith doesn’t satisfy the intellectual or the academic.


(Jon Garvey) #15

Jason

I’d say faith satisfies the soul - and doesn’t hinder the intellect. But it does put limits on it - and the intellect itself should tell us that.

I guess we’d all like to know the future, too - and God certainly knows that. But again, it’s something which intellect itself tells us we can’t know, and intellect can suggest that that’s maybe because we wouldn’t know what to do with such knowledge. Surely its our intellect that tells us God ought to be able to do his job better than we could - faith is the part that makes us rest comfortably in that limitation.


(George Brooks) #16

Romans 9 clearly tells the human reader that they should stop worrying about Theodicy.


(Jon Garvey) #17

Quite so, George - and with some emphasis, too!


(GJDS) #18

It is also worth noting Rom 10:6-10

“But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); 9 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.”


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #19

God/ YHWH is Who is YHWH is.

This is what we need to remember. God is also Trinity.

Our task is to let God be God, and not try to make God into what we think God should be.

That includes nature and science too.


(Jay Johnson) #20

One of the greatest replies of all time! Someone actually seeking the truth, willing to listen thoughtfully, expressing personal doubt instead of absolute certainty that their opinion is the correct one. Jason, you forever have my respect (and yes, you are making sense).

Doubt is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can forever set us adrift if we allow it to run amok, as you’ve discovered. On the other hand, that gnawing feeling that our ideas of God may be wrong can drive us to deeper insights and a greater understanding of him. After all, we are called to love him with all the mind. But … what does this look like?

Darkness, doubt, the seeming absence of God – these are all themes that Pascal addresses. What he says in several places sounds like you could have said it: “This is what I see and what troubles me. I look around in every direction, and all I see is darkness. Nature has nothing to offer me that does not give rise to doubt and anxiety. If I saw no sign there of a Divinity, I should decide on a negative solution; if I saw signs of a Creator everywhere, I should peacefully settle down in the faith. But, seeing too much to deny and not enough to affirm, I am in a pitiful state…”

One last bit, then I’ll leave poor Pascal alone.

“Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it. It is merely feeble if it does not go as far as to realize that. If natural things are beyond it, what are we to say about supernatural things? … Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Be humble, impotent reason! Be silent, feeble nature! Learn that man infinitely transcends man; hear from your master your true condition, which is unknown to you. Listen to God …”