Friday, May 8, 2009

The Problem of Evil (part 4)

Finally. Many apologies, my friends. Here it is:

So far, in just three posts, we waded through some deep theological waters. A summation: evil is real and very present; how can there be a loving, merciful God and evil/pain/suffering still be so prevalent?; God either can't do anything about evil or won't do anything about evil; its easily to logically follow an argument that God is love and therefore wants to do something about evil; if that's true, then God can't do anything about evil--but why?; humans have the power of self-determination/free will; foreknowledge is not a necessary attribute of God; if God does not have foreknowledge of our choices, then she cannot prevent what she doesn't know will happen; the idea of creation ex nihilo is not (necessarily) a Biblical concept; if we read Genesis at face value, then God created the universe out of the already existing chaos; if God created the universe/world/humans out of the chaotic matter, then there is still chaos present within all of us; the higher capacity a being has for choosing good, the higher its capacity of choosing bad; God, therefore, is certainly not blameworthy for the current state of the world. (PS-if you haven't read my earlier posts, I would recommend reading them before reading this. Post 1 here. Post 2 here. Post 3 here.)

Whew. More or less, that's the best way to sum up the past 3 posts on the subject at hand. This is (probably) the last post on the Problem of Evil.

I wanted to carry out the thought that foreknowledge isn't (necessarily) an attribute of God. I won't rule it out completely simply because I admit that I, in my limited knowledge, could be entirely wrong. I will, however, say that I think that the existence of evil, the actions of God, and the ideas of Scripture make much more sense if the concept of God having foreknowledge is thrown out the window.

I think God changes his mind. (I know God isn't a "he" and doesn't have a "mind" in the same sense that we would use those words to describe a human. So forgive my inadequate vocabulary, and hang with me here.) There are a ton of verses in the Bible that clearly talk about God changing his mind, going back on what he said he'd do, and even being persuaded by a human to take different action.

Look at Exodus 32. Moses is up on the mountain with God, getting the 10 commandments. God sees all the Israelites dancing around a golden calf statue that they have created and dubbed their new god. Needless to say, God is pissed. He tells Moses to quote "leave him alone" so he can destroy them. Wow. When God reacts, he doesn't play around. But then Moses basically tells God that he'll ruin his own reputation if he chooses to kill them all. So, in Exodus 32:14, God relents and decides not to kill everyone.

God changes his mind. And, in this case, after the intercession of a human.

Why would God change his mind if already knew what was going to happen and how he would react? The point is, he didn't know what would happen and didn't know how he would react. What we have throughout the Bible is God's honest reactions to the choices of humans. If God already knew everything that was going to happen, how could he have an honest reaction to anything? He couldn't. So, when God cries (Jeremiah 14:17), loves (all over the place, like Malachi 1:2 or John 16:27), grieves (Genesis 6:6), or repents (Deuteronomy 32:36, 1st Samuel 15:11, Jeremiah 18:8, etc), then we are seeing a God who experiences the realities of the world with us. A God who is here and now--not distant and uncaring.

Listen, I'm not saying God is like us. I still hold that God is holy (totally unique) in her existence. I also understand the use of metaphor to better explain certain things. But process theology would say that as "God takes the world's evils into the divine experience, the way is opened to redeem them, because God can see possibilities that are hidden from us." (from "How Are God and Evil Related?" by David Ray Griffin) God can redeem humanity because God experiences what humanity experiences. God, through the resurrection in the person of Jesus, has offered humanity hope and a better way--this would not be possible if God did not suffer with us.

Which gets me back to the point: if God had foreknowledge of all human decisions, then he could never repent, grieve, cry, etc., and it be genuine. It would be a contrived expression--and that makes no sense.

A side note: I realize there are a few verses where it says that God does not repent. (re: Numbers 23:19, 1st Samuel 15:29, Ezekiel 24:14) In light of there being a multitude of verses saying God does repent, I think we should read those verses in their context and see that God is saying he will not repent for those specific decisions. The text isn't saying that God won't ever repent--just that God won't repent for those decisions. I don't find those verses to be universally applicable since other verses clearly say God does repent.

There you have it. This final post was just an extension of the thought that foreknowledge isn't an attribute of God. If someone maintains the ideas that God has foreknowledge and created the world ex nihilo, then I think there are some insoluble problems when talking about evil. I think the only way you can explain that God is loving and maintain those two thoughts are by using intellectual cop-outs. (re: "God's ways are higher than ours." I discussed this idea in an earlier post.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts now that I'm done with posting on the matter. What are the weaknesses in this 4 post argument? What are the strengths? How does this line of thinking offer a better Biblical perspective? Does it offer a bad Biblical perspective? Are some parts easier to take in than others? If you disagree, which parts are the hardest to deal with it? Am I as crazy as Gary Busey?

Thanks for reading along.


jason said...

i am confused. are you saying that God experiences space / time in the same way that human beings do?

I think for me, I keep coming back to how God presents himself through scripture. While God refers to himself as king, priest, etc. he primarily calls himself a father. The trick, for me, is striking a balance between the complete otherness of God and the lengths God goes to to connect with His creation, including free-will (which demands at least two choices towards God and away from God). I think we could go around in circles about the tension between immanence and otherness, but I'm not sure process theology strikes a good balance. In general, it seems to swing to far toward immanence.

JD said...

I'm saying God is experiencing events as we are. Yes. Do you see another indication biblically of how God experiences events occurring on earth?

Joe said...


The weakness in the argument is you aren't using the same logic you used to acknowledge the repentance of God with your refutation of the foreknowledge. Your logic is circular. ex.

It says that God repents a couple of times in scripture so if he repents that is an absolute statement. If it says he doesn't repent then it must be contextual.

The same thing can be applied to foreknowledge of scripture in relation to other text.

If it says that God possesses foreknowledge then he must possess it. it is an absolute statement. Then anything else that is seemingly contradictory should be seen as contextual.

I think you are reading a definition of repentance into a text that is descriptive of God (man describing God) and negating a text that is declarative by God (by God to man)

So I would say the opposite. Texts like Exodus 32 should be read through texts like Numbers 23:19.

JD said...

So since there are fewer texts talking about God saying he won't repent, you'd choose to give them greater emphasis? (I could only finding 3 saying he wouldn't repent and around 15 saying he repented in a certain situation. Do you know of something else? I can list them if that'll help.)

And what texts talk about God possessing the foreknowledge of human choices?

jason said...

maaaaaaaaaan, I just wrote a hay-uge long post, and lost it.

i'm not writing it again.

Anonymous said...

"What texts talk about about God possessing foreknowledge of human choices?"

Thousands (maybe 10's of thousands) of them. Every verse of prophecy.

JD said...

Thanks, anonymous. That was super helpful. I'm glad you chimed in with that.

JD said...

Let me be clear that I believe God can choose a plan (ie, "God predestined us to be adopted as children through Jesus" has nothing to do with individual salvation or damnation but has everything to do with a salvation that is offered to all through Jesus' death and resurrection).

God can predestine or foreordain a plan. I truly believe that God set certain things in motion. I truly believe that God knows where its gonna all end up, even if she doesn't know how we're gonna get there. Just because God has a plan in motion and knows the outcome doesn't mean that she knows every step it takes to get there.

Does that make sense? I don't think the Bible ever talks about God foreknowing everything or predestining every single event--only that God foreknew where it was all going and predestined a plan to get humanity there once we screwed up the original plan.

Joe said...

Also explain in your understanding how God can be perfectly and omnipotently certain that an end will come about without knowing the way in which it will come about.

As of your objection to the fact that I read verses like Exodus 32 through Numbers 23:19 on the basis of how many times they are talked about. I don't think that this is a valid argument. Obviously they have to be interpreted on some basis. You are putting emphasis with number which isn't always a good indicator. The word sin is used more than twice as much as the word love though you would say that God's love is a greater "emphasis" in scripture than sin is.

I believe that the best way to look at any part is the way that I lined out. We take the declarative statement that God makes of himself and interpret the descriptive texts through those.

For instance when Christ says that he is the way the truth and the life, and then makes a statement about the end of the world happening we take it to be the truth because he is "the truth". We should do the same things with these texts God says
"God is not a man, that he should lie,nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. "
we take him at his word and assume this to be the statement to interpret the others not the other way around.

As to foreknowledge you aren't using the same principle there as you are on God repenting. If it says God foreknows and there are know contrary statement (which there aren't any direct contrary statement saying

God: " I didn't know that"

Then the assumption should be that he foreknows. As to whether it is human action or not i refer back to God's predection of pharoahs actions in Exodus or look at Acts 2:23. God foreknew that they would "with the help of wicked men, put him (jesus) to death by nailing him to the cross." That sounds like a human action to me.

Sorry about it being a little jumbled. And congrats on your's and brittany's 2 year.

In Christ
Joe Hussung

JD said...

Sure, there may not be statements about God not knowing something or God being surprised, but that doesn't mean he has complete foreknowledge of human choices. I just don't find it to be a clearly communicated attribute of God in scripture. But that doesn't mean God can't know the plan. Of course he knows the plan. Its his plan. He set the wheels in motion.

I totally believe in God possessing a persuasive power--not a controlling power. God's power, then, would be in his ability to influence and create and evoke... it would not be a power to prevent or destroy or manipulate.

I can see some holes in my logic. You're right in that I haven't approached everything in the same way--that can lead to error. I'm gonna look back over everything I've written and see where that jumps out at me.

But I am really trying to come to Scripture and read it for what it says. I'm not trying to come out with a certain viewpoint. I am not trying to prove any certain ideas, theologies or beliefs. I'm not bringing my beliefs to scripture and reading them into it. I'm trying to let scripture tell me what it says... not trying to tell it what I think it should say. Hope that makes sense.