Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Evil and Freewill, Concurrence & Moral Sufficiency

There could be no evil whatsoever apart from the capacity of something in creation to oppose God. That opposition would have to be something initiated independently of God; that is, it could not be decreed or impelled by God. Something nominally opposed to God but actually decreed by him could only have the appearance of evil--in actuality, it would be the very will of God. There can be no evil, therefore, apart from freewill, and since there is evil in this world, this world is one which free will exists.

Yet, even though freewill is expressed in a way that is not determined by God (or it wouldn't be free), it is allowed by him and it's exercise sustained by him. It reflects his will for the way things should be, and without such concurrence, it wouldn't be. If that is so, how can the same difficulties which determinism suffers from in regard to the problem of evil not ultimately be true for freewill as well? If God, the omniscient and omnipotent, proceeds despite evil he could foresee or does not stop what is proceeding against his will, there would seem to be a problem with evil after all.

I don't think that is so two reasons. First, God is good, and making something in his image just could not be evil by any stretch of the imagination. Even among human beings, we consider it good to have a son or daughter, even though we know they will do things that are bad. The beauty of being made in God's image is an amazing thing, human beings are amazing creatures. That God would want to make us in his image, able to will as he does and love as he does, is a remarkable demonstration of benevolent grace and something that properly could only be said to be very good.

Second, evil isn't being allowed. It's only the perspective of the current regimen of time that makes it seems so. Death and entropy themselves are arguments against evil being allowed, revealing that God has pulled the plug on this fallen realm of fallen beings. Within our bubble of time we may think evil is allowed and that it's been going on forever, but from God's timeless perspective evil is being dealt with virtually immediately. In this realm's wake, after it's been flash-burned in a cosmic reboot, evil will be something not likely to be even vaguely remembered.

So evil exists because God made creatures in his image which had the power to will, freely, as he does. That was not an evil thing to do, only good, because God is only good, and so too would be those creatures made like him at the time of their creation. Only creatures made with this god-like capacity would be able to experience the full spectrum of God's goodness relationally. God is inherently good, and inherently relational (e.g. the Trinity), and so creating creatures who will as God wills, and love as God loves could be nothing but good.

Since evil can be so evil, however, one has to wonder if doing the good of creating such creatures was a sufficient moral cause for the omniscient God to create them. I think that it was, but that it will not demonstrate itself to be so in time, where those creatures continue in evil even as God does the good he can in regard to them. Only in eternity when freewill creatures have embraced that they have been made in his image, have submitted themselves to be in that image, and choose to abide in it in agreement with God, will those creatures be like Christ and live eternally free but in perfect harmony with God. That situation will be as good as good can possibly get!

That will result in unspeakable joy for God and those creatures so abiding in it, and I think it is more than a sufficient moral cause for allowing the potential of evil in making those creatures in the first place. Does that provide a sufficient moral cause for allowing evil in the meantime, or for having to contain it endlessly, idly, incapably in the age to come? Since God is good and omnipotent, could he not have accomplished his aims some other way without allowing evil? Probably not, but since God is good, I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt regardless.

Of course that won't stop me from saying a bit more on the subject...

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Problem of Evil

Supposedly, Christianity has a problem explaining the existence of evil in the world given the existence of God, who is good. I don't see the problem at all, so let me do my best to explain why. Primarily, I think the bulk of the problem arises from not understanding what good and evil are. So, let me start there.

God is good, Jesus said uniquely so. God is good, and nothing but good, the very essence of what good is. Evil, on the other hand, is not a thing so much as it is a description. At best, it is understood negatively, by what it isn't. Simply put, evil is that which is not good, much in the same way that darkness can be defined as the absence of light. Light is the something, darkness is the privation of it. Evil is a privation of God, an incidence of something God is not in, so to speak.

In being good, then, God can have no part of himself that is not good, or not God, or else he would be a contradiction. In the creation account in Genesis, the word translated "good" has the general sense of beneficial, so I think we can say by extension that good is that which comports usefully with the beneficial purpose of God. Since God can have nothing in him or about him which is set at cross purposes against himself without being a contradiction, good is that which is in accord with the purpose and will of God and evil is that which which is opposed to God.

As a consequence of this nature, it is possible for a thing to be both good and evil at the same time. A thing meant to thwart God most definitely comes from an evil intention on the part of the would-be thwarter, but in God's providence it may actually further his agenda of good. With that in mind, one might surmise that things which seem to us to be detrimental to life, to which our guts recoil, and which we see as nothing but evil are actually not evil from God's point of view. God intends such things for good or such are not from God who is only good.

And yet everything which exists, exists, ultimately, as a result of God's doing. Why would one who is only good, allow the existence of that which appears so obviously non-beneficial, so outrightly evil? Even if that could be written off as merely a momentary or passing appearance (to us) which served a larger good (from God's perspective), that wouldn't make those moments of evil less evil. So to me, such an explanation seems disingenuous.

What I mean is that evil is evil, even if just for an instant. If God is, then all instants are his, so why any evil whatsoever? God would not be the god who is good if there are flashes of evil in him, bits of momentary lapse where his "other side" is displayed, even if that is not his general character. No, it seems to me the existence of any evil whatsoever does not comport with the existence of an almighty god that is good; and yet, it is my unshakeable belief that the Sovereign Lord does exist and is nothing but good, and that evil exists here and now.

How can that be so? It must be that a good that God did, that was only good, must have given rise to evil. Having given rise to evil that which was made good by God, but which had become evil, has been allowed to remain so for the good that God continues to do in regard to it. So, present reality consists of the good that God, who is only good, continues to do while that which was created good, but is no longer so, continues to express it's evil.

Since evil, by definition, is that which is against God, that good that God did which became evil must have been able to act in a way that opposed God. The only way that would be possible would be for that something which God made good, but which became evil, to have had the ability to act freely, uncompelled, without necessity, as does God. Since God is good, there could be nothing evil about making something commensurate with God, but in doing so, the possibility of opposition, and therefore evil, would be intrinsic to that act.

What should begin to be clear from this discussion so far is that there could be no evil in a world in which God's will was the only one that determined things. If God determines everything that is and occurs, then evil could not possibly exist. For evil to exist within a deterministic framework, God himself would have to be evil. Since God is clearly not evil, and yet there is evil in this world, this world cannot be a deterministic one.

And there is more to delve into...


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Parable of Creation

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
Matthew 13:10-16 NASB

par·a·ble [par-uh-buhl]: a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

Origin: 1275–1325; Middle English parabil  < Late Latin parabola  comparison, parable, word < Greek parabolḗ  comparison, equivalent to para- side by side + bolḗ  a throwing

Synonyms: allegory, homily, apologue.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.

When Jesus explained to his disciples the reason he taught in parables, he was not giving them instructions to follow in order to achieve effective pedagogy. Just the opposite, in fact: parables, as used by Jesus, were meant to be equivocal in order to give an out to those not willing to learn. Some would consider that deceptive, I consider that brilliant, and far more to the point--effective to the purpose Jesus was aiming to achieve.

Two classes of audience would hear the parable and both would perceive it differently. The same words, the same syntax, the same context, and yet those in one part of the audience were meant to understand one thing, and those in the other part something else. This was not due to flaws in communication, nor glitches in reception, it was by design and it worked perfectly.

Jesus' use of parables was meant to filter out those with faith. Those listeners with the faith perspective Jesus desired, would hear the parable, and with some added elucidation, understand the divine truth contained therein. Those without the faith perspective Jesus desired would hear the parable and not see divine truth at all. Advertisers today attempt to do something similar in public media by using their craft to target a more specific audience within a broader one.

I see the creation as a parable spoken by God. One not communicated in words capable of being reduced to ink on a page, but one assembled in subatomic particles and fields and perceived as reality. Like the parables of Jesus, it is not produced so as to garner the same perception in one group that sees it as it does in another. Either group looks at the same phenomena, the same facts, sees the same interactions, and uses the same mathematical language to describe it, but they see a different underlying message.

For those with the faith perspective God desires, it's divine message is all too clear. For those without that perspective, they see no divine message at all. Someone might protest that that is deceptive. If it is (and I don't think that is the case), it is no more deceptive than Jesus teaching by parables. God knows what makes for everlasting life and is well within his rights to filter for that amongst the creatures he's made in his image. The problem involved is with the hearers and seers, not with the communicator.

And let's be clear here: this phenomenon is not a mere accident, the foibles of communication, nor simply a trick. There is an "otherwise" at play in this that the unhearing consciously act according to. There are consequences to seeing or hearing with a faith perspective, repercussions that are just too repulsive to abide in their judgment. So they close their eyes, and stop their ears, and guard their hearts against the parable of creation.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Seven Stars of the Apocalypse

Who or what are the Seven Stars of the Apocalypse? The question has nothing to do with fame, but only with the meaning words. As used in the Apocalypse, the word star (aster) has a range of meaning that can literally refer to those astronomical bodies that shine in the sky at night, or to meteoric bodies that fall to the earth; or figuratively, it can refer to Christ himself (when combined with the descriptor, morning) or to angels. The antecedent of the figure of the Seven Stars, however, is plainly stated in the text as being seven angels; therefore, the seven stars are seven angels.

That of course leads us to the question: what or who are the Seven Angels? The meaning of a word, once again, becomes paramount in finding an answer. The word translated in English bibles as angel can have varying meanings. In the OT, the Hebrew word translated angel (malak) can mean, rather innocuously, "messenger" or it can mean "angel" in the spiritual, heavenly sense. It is used about equally one way or the other, the context determining which meaning is used in translation.

In the NT, the Koine word translated angel (aggelo) has the same quality and specification in meaning as does "malak" in the Old. In the NT, however, context demands just about every occurrence of the word to be translated in the spiritual, heavenly sense. Perhaps that it why the English word, angel, which is borrowed, ultimately, from Greek, has as its primary meaning, "a heavenly, spirit being that serves God."

The use of the word angel in the Apocalypse is abundantly clear--over and over again it refers to spirit beings, the servants and messengers of God. Therefore, the Seven Stars are merely those angels tasked by Christ with attending to the Seven Churches to which he sends messages in chapters 2 and 3. Since the sevens here are representative of "the whole", one could justifiably infer that any locality with a body of believers would be likely to have such an angel attending them.

Though I really should be stating the obvious here, two widespread interpretive errors make that not the case at all. One of those errors interprets the angels as the human bishops of churches (or some permutation of the same). The other interprets them as human prophetic spokesmen of their age (or some permutation of the same). Either error misses the mark by ignoring the consistent and therefore obvious use the word angel  in the Revelation. So even though the angels in Anaheim are nothing but human, in the Apocalypse they're anything but.