Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Problem of Evil (part 2)

As I was saying last time: point #2 is: "God doesn't rid the world of evil because he can't."

You're probably thinking: "He thinks God can't do anything about evil because God is not all powerful." False. I still believe that God is all powerful. God can do anything she wants.

But I don't necessarily believe in foreknowledge anymore. Its not that God isn't all knowing--he is. But I don't think God knows all things about the future. I believe that God has given humanity free will; if that is true, then our choices haven't been made yet. Ergo, God doesn't know them. I think he knows the possibility of choices, but not the specific choice that will be made. I think he has a general plan for the universe and humanity and knows where its going and how’s its all going to end up. But I think the specifics thereof are still blank because those decisions have not been made by humanity. (This is a major tenant of open theism.)

(Let me take a moment to make an aside comment: this whole argument is thrown entirely out the window if you hold to a Reformed point of view. From a Reformed perspective, foreknowledge is necessary. God has to know everything about everything because God foreordains it all. How could God plan every minute detail of the universe out if he didn't have foreknowledge? He couldn't. So, from this perspective, my thoughts are crap. But if I may critique the Reformed perspective, I'll add a few thoughts here: if a Reformed thinker believes God plans everything out (God chose to create the world, chose to have humanity sin and "fall," chose/chooses to send humans to "hell," and chose the existence of evil/suffering/pain), then that person believes in a God who is not entirely good. I think they have a twisted view of God that relies heavily on texts, thoughts and ideas that are found nowhere in historical Christianity and the Bible. I totally reject this line of thought as having no intellectual backbone. Most people who believe this tend to rely on the "God's ways are bigger than ours" kinda thing. I don't mean to belittle anyone that follows this perspective. You feel free to hold on to it. I just can't even begin to understand it. But that's just my opinion on the matter.)

This lack of foreknowledge explains lots of things. It would explain why God would create a world with humans with free will. He didn't know they would sin. He knew they could--but he didn't know with certainty that's what would happen. It would also explain the apparent changes in God from the Old Testament to the New Testament. God didn't know for sure what would work. He tried to relate to humans, but his attempts weren't breaking through. It would also explain why it "took God so long" to send Jesus to intervene.

But, I could be totally wrong. I'll admit, this line of thought is slightly problematic and has its holes. I'm not saying I 100% believe that foreknowledge is nonexistent. I'm just saying that I don't think its a necessary attribute of God. Here's why:

If God doesn't know what choices we are to make, then how can he stop them? How can God rid the world of evil when he doesn't know how it will occur? Can God be held responsible for what he cannot do?

Once again, this is a fully "free will" perspective. If God gives humanity free will, then its humanity's job to take care of the world. The responsibility has been handed over to humans. How can we ask God to intervene when we demand our independence? Its a two edged sword, you know? I mean, I'll be the first to admit that God has intervened at times. I don't think that's necessarily compromised our free will, but he surely has stepped in to do something about the events of the world at times in history (Creation, the Incarnation of Jesus, etc...). But things like that don't seem to happen often, or even recently.

I heard Gary Haugen say a while back that he's "stopped asking, "Where is God?" and started asking, "Where are God's people?"" In other words, its our job to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide medicine for the sick, provide housing for the homeless, and take care of the widows and orphans of the world. Its not God's job. Its our job. So, in the end, if evil persists, its our fault. Not God's. (Jason echoed this thought in his comments on my last post.)

Still, I don't think this fully releases God of responsibility. (Why? Because God made us. He is the Creator of all things--so how did bad things come about if he made it all good?) I still don't think I've answered the question of why evil continues to exist--and that will involve a book review, a discussion of process theology, some talk about the nature of God, and another post. Part 3 will follow soon...


td shoemaker said...

You hit on one of the problems of the penal substitutionary atonement view or what Gustaf Aulen called the Satisfaction Theory of atonement (I think this is what you probably lumped into Reformed Theology view).

Man sins and God has a solution - the Law. We find in Scripture that God even says that this Law is not outside of mankind's reach. But just the opposite of what God said happened - mankind never reached it.

So God sent Jesus to come to earth and reach it for us. (Here one could draw the evangelical picture with a vast gulf of humans on one side and God on the other and "sin" in the middle as the vast gulf).

This makes Jesus the substitute for us (because death was the ultimate penalty and Jesus defeated death).

This is the idea that I grew up believing, but if God says that it is reachable (or attainable) and we didn't reach it, then is God wrong too? Did God fail that he set the bar too high for us? In this Law salvation theory, doesn't it put the burden upon mankind to attain salvation? Does this mean that God's Plan A didn't work and he had to revert to Plan B?

The way to justify this thought is to say that God knew everything and this was His big plan from the start. He knew that humans wouldn't reach the standard of the Law and He decided it was okay for mankind to fumble around in the Law for thousands of years before He sprung Jesus as Plan B.

I'm not saying that penal substitutionary atonement doesn't have some Scriptural backing, but doesn't it have some holes as well?

JD said...

It certainly has holes--as do most theological view points. This whole open theism perspective, while it makes a lot of sense to me, has some Scriptural holes. But I think we should all be willing to admit that no one view has it all nailed down. Some are clearer and make more sense than others, but they're human perspectives nonetheless.

As far as penal substitutionary atonement goes, I don't have as big of a problem with the general idea as I do with some people's elaboration of it. Does that make sense? Some people tend to make God look like some kind of cosmic parent giving Jesus a cruel spanking (for lack of better terms). The view tends to misrepresent God's wrath. It also tends to emphasize Jesus' death on the cross over his resurrection from the grave. I'm just not a fan of anyone attempting to use "redemptive violence"--that's an oxymoron and a myth to me.

But, back to the point at hand, it does sound odd for God to leave humanity in this ambiguous period of thousands of years where they have no hope of actually attaining... well, hope. They try to live the Law and they fail. The whole Old Testament to New Testament "change" makes much more sense if foreknowledge is absent from the story.

Ross said...

So I'm really not trying to be a jerk in saying this. I'm really just asking because I'm curious so hear me in the right tone. What scripture is td shoemaker referring to when he says, "We find in Scripture that God even says that this Law is not outside of mankind's reach."

td shoemaker said...

Deuteronomy 30:11ff

jason said...

I am going to sidestep the discussion on substitutionary atonement for now.

A couple of thoughts regarding God's foreknowledge:

1) There's a big difference between foreordination of purposes and people. By this I mean, I think God has clearly laid out where he and his people have been, and where he and his people are going. He clearly lays it out in the OT and He clearly lays it out in the NT. Thus, I think it is fair to say that the purposes / principles (maybe a weird word) are foreordained.

2) I don't think this means all of our choices are already locked in stone. God doesn't foreordain that I eat Fish Filet's. This may be an affront to a Reformed view, but hear me out. I think God knows me so intimately that he ultimately knows what I will do, but he doesn't make the choice for me. I know that if Dana leaves Stockton's sight, Stockton will cry. I know if I play hide and seek with him, he will run after me, but I don't MAKE him run or MAKE him cry. Call it self-limiting love. God could override us, but doesn't.

3) I think you can have BOTH foreordained purposes without eliminating free will by viewing God primarily as a Father, who gives us free choice. Those that start with God as all-powerful, all-sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. have no choice but to conclude that God cannot be mocked, ignored, or chosen against. But a Father, which scripture REPEATEDLY refers to God, maintains the power and dignity while allowing love and choice. The conversation also changes if we are talking about being drawn into Trinitarian relationship versus being "saved."

The bottom line is, I'm not sure the tension between who God is and free will, but I think life is lived in the tension.

I think open theism is an overcorrection to an incorrect view of God's sovereignty (one that lets nothing interfere with it, including love.)

If God is looked at primarily as Father (or primarily as Trinitarian relationship) I think you can have both and.

Jeremiah said...

To shoemaker,

I don't see a contradiction between something being reachable and still not reached. One refers to possibility whereas the other reality.


I don't see Christ dying on the cross as a plan B or as God's final option. I think that salvation has been the same now as it has since the second after Adam and Eve sinned. We repent and believe. In the OT belief was trusting that God would provide a way and in the NT we get to actually see what his provision is.
I think the Law was put there to show us that we don't measure up to God's standard and that we need his mercy and forgiveness - pointing out our own insufficiency. I think true OT believers understood the law as a measuring rod, did the best they could, and trusted in God to provide a way to rid them of their sins.

Jeremiah said...

I wasn't sure if people think that Reformed Theology leaves no room for free will. But I think that people do have free will (well almost free will; I wish that I could fly like superman, but I can't). Furthermore, I don't think that God has ever made someone choose something against their will. I think that God ordains actions within individual people's wills.

JD said...

As much as I don't want to carry on and on with the comments section right now, I had to jump in.

To everyone:

I think some posts on different theories of atonement will happen in the near future.

To Jeremiah:

I really don't wanna get into a discussion on Reformed thought. But do you seriously think God intended for generations and generations of millions of people to live as complete failures? You really think he knew the Law was unattainable and still told the Jews to try to attain it? Just to prove a point?

To Jason:

I agree that God has foreordained his plan--where we've been and where we're going. But he has not laid out the specifics thereof. I think he's laid out his general plans, but the rest is really vague (and I think its really vague for a reason). I think God is powerful enough to know where we're gonna end up without knowing EXACTLY how we're gonna get there.

(I agree she could know our choice without interfering with our free will, but don't see it as being clearly shown in Scripture. So, in that sense, I don't think foreknowledge is a necessary attribute of God. She could have foreknowledge, but lots of reasons lead me to think she doesn't. But, at the end of the day, its not a hill I'm willing to die on and I could be totally wrong. Its just an idea I'm currently exploring.)

Jeremiah said...

For by by works of the law no human being [3] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. - Romans 3:2-3

I think that it is a very important point that is necessary for our salvation.

td shoemaker said...


Like you, I don't like to think about Jesus as God's "Plan B" either. I guess that I like to think of him as Plan A or as the culmination of Plan A.

But I think that we maybe differ on what Plan A is and what its purpose(s) is, which would probably provide a differing end result for why Jesus is the culmination of the plan.

I think that the ultimate goal has always been to rebuild, restore and renew (as Isaiah says) right now (not a future tense leaving this world and escaping). This idea might be coupled with JDR's post on the problem of evil part III concerning the creating out of chaos. (although I don't know that I agree with everything that JDR says in that post)

I like the idea of the Eastern Orthodox version of atonement (that is sometimes called Christus Victor) coupled with the Subjective View of atonement.

But, man do I love Jesus.

Thanks for the good conversations on here.