Posts Tagged ‘problem of evil’

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

January 26, 2015

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/8/2014: Kurt Jaros

November 6, 2014

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this week? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This week on the Deeper Waters Podcast, we’re going to be looking at some topics that Christians can divide over a bit and I’m going to be getting the perspective of my friend Kurt Jaros. Kurt has been on the show before and has in fact been a speaker at the Unbelievable? conference in the U.K. So who is Kurt Jaros?

KurtJaros

Kurt Jaros is the Director of Operations at Apologetics.com, a charitable organization that challenges believers to think and thinkers to believe. He is currently a Ph.D. student at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. His doctoral dissertation will look at the doctrine of Original Sin in the writings of monks from southern France in the 5th and 6th century. He holds two Masters degrees in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, and Systematic Theology, from King’s College London.

He likes systematic and historical theology, philosophy of religion, and issues in Christian pop culture. Additionally, he enjoys political philosophy, economics, American political history and campaigns. He current resides in the suburbs of Chicago with his lovely wife and daughter.

So what all are we going to be talking about?

We’ll be talking about original sin some. (Last I checked, Kurt is against sin for all concerned) Kurt comes from a perspective where he has enjoyed debating in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It’s one that I’ve tended to avoid, but if you’re interested in that kind of debate, then you might want to hear what he has to say.

We’re hoping as well that some of this can break off into the problem of evil. How does one deal with the supremacy of God in a world of evil from the perspective of someone like Kurt? Can it be dealt with?

Also, we’ll be looking at what Kurt has to say about the teaching of Pelagianism. If one rejects Pelagianism, can one call oneself a semi-Pelagian? How will this relate to the doctrine of salvation? What kinds of issues are at stake in this? How will all of this then tie back into original sin?

I’m also interested in having our discussion on inerrancy as well. Kurt and I have had several discussions about this topic and while we both believe in inerrancy, we both hold a view of it different from the traditional view. Those who have been interested in the writings that I have done on the Geisler debate will certainly want to hear this kind of discussion on inerrancy. We will also be discussing various items we have in the works for the debate on inerrancy.

Kurt’s a good friend of mine and I’ve enjoyed a number of comments he’s left on my Facebook page as well as much of the humor we share together. He also takes my blogs which I appreciate and shares them on his own group. If you don’t know Kurt, now’s your chance to get to know him. I hope you’ll be listening to hear what he has to say.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: True Paradox

October 7, 2014

What do I think of David Skeel’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TrueParadox

David Skeel’s True Paradox is a difficult book to place really. Now this could be because of the way that I think and like things to be nice and organized. Skeel is trying to get us to look at complex issues that seem to be paradoxical in their nature and ask how it is that Christianity makes sense of them. I do not see this as a book to show that Christianity is true, you need to argue for the resurrection specifically I think to do that, but a book to get you to consider that perhaps there’s more to the world than you realize.

Throughout, Skeel deals with various areas in our lives that are often ones we don’t think about. For instance, an early chapter is on the question of beauty. Why is it that we even think some things are beautiful? What role does beauty play? Of course, Skeel points out evolutionary explanations of this, but he often finds them lacking. In many cases, there would be no immediate benefit and the ideas of what is beautiful doesn’t really lead to the benefits supposedly given. When many of us see a beautiful painting, we don’t immediately want to go and be a contestant on Survivor. Instead, we often get transfixed. If anything, we are more prone to an attack from an enemy.

There is also the paradox of suffering and evil. Why do we act as if something unusual is happening to us when we suffer? Skeel compares his Christian friend Bill Stuntz to the atheist Christopher Hitchens. Both died from cancer. Stuntz and Hitchens both saw it in different ways and Skeel pictures how it is that they would respond to different questions about suffering. The question to ask is which worldview best explains not only suffering but why we think of suffering the way that we do.

The best chapter in this book without a doubt for me was the chapter on Heaven. There are times in this chapter where one finds oneself emotionally moved and gripped by thinking about what the reality of Heaven is. By all means, I do not mean the silly Sunday School images that we have of sitting on clouds being angels and playing harps. None of that has any Biblical justification whatsoever. In fact, if such was the nature of Heaven, most of us would quite likely think we’d gone to the other place when we wound up there. Instead, I am thinking more of a rich view of Heaven found in the writings of people like Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright. In fact, if you could only read one chapter in this book, I would definitely recommend that you read the chapter on Heaven and the afterdeath (As I prefer to call it).

In the end, my thoughts on this are mixed. The last chapter is highly recommended. The others do present something that an aspiring apologist can look at and for people who live on a more existential level, I suspect that they will find something in this work that they really really like. If you enjoy thinking about paradoxes, it is one that is worth a look.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/2/2014: Clay Jones

July 31, 2014

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Evil is a favorite playing card of many an atheist on the internet as well as prominent atheists in public debate. If there is a God, why is there so much evil in the world? In fact, many times, isn’t God the cause of all this evil in the world?

Of course, this is a serious objection for many to theism and in order to help address it, why not talk to a serious authority on the issue? That’s why I’m having Dr. Clay Jones of BIOLA come on my show this Saturday to talk about the problem of evil.

So who is Clay Jones?

cbj

According to his bio:

Clay Jones holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. Formerly, Clay hosted Contend for Truth, a nationally syndicated call-in, talk-radio program where he debated professors, radio talk show hosts, cultists, religious leaders, and representatives from animal rights, abortion rights, gay rights, and atheist organizations. Clay was the CEO of Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law and Graduate Schools) and was on the pastoral staff of two large churches. Clay is a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal and specializes in issues related to why God allows evil. You can read his blog at clayjones.net and find him on Facebook.

So what are we going to be talking about when it comes to the problem of evil?

There will be four parts to this. The first one is why is it that we suffer for the sin of Adam. Why is it that because one man and woman ate a piece of fruit so long long ago that the rest of us have to suffer for it today? How can it be that a good God would allow this? Why put us in a situation where already we’re in a deficit?

Second, what about the nature of humankind. What does it mean to be a human and what difference does this make to the problem of evil? Why is it that we see human beings as moral agents but we don’t tend to view animals in the same light?

Third, free-will. This often comes up in these debates but what about the nature of free-will. Does it make a difference? Why should God even allow free-will if it will lead to all this evil? Could God not have created a world where we would be free but there will not be all this evil?

Finally, what about the after-death? Does Heaven play any role whatsoever in what we are experiencing in this life? What about the fact that some people will not make it to Heaven in fact?

All of these are important aspects of dealing with the problem of evil so if this is a question that interests you, be listening to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday, and please leave a positive review of the show on ITunes! I would greatly appreciate it!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/9/2013: Greg Ganssle

November 7, 2013

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last Saturday, we had David Wood as our guest to talk about the problem of evil, and it was an excellent show. Saturday, we’re going to be discussing that again, except this time we’re going to have Greg Ganssle come on to join us.

Ganssle is an accomplished author on numerous subjects relating to God and the new atheism, and we could move over into some of those in fact, and will be joining us mainly to talk about evil, seeing as it’s a big topic and we couldn’t possibly cover it in one show that easily.

So why mention David Wood at the start? Because David Wood when he heard that Ganssle was going to be on this week said that “Greg’s the man.” I hope that when you tune in and listen to the show that you will also agree that Greg’s the man.

The problem of evil has often been seen as a difficult one for Christians and it’s difficult not so much because of the logical difficulties, which really aren’t there, but rather for the existential and emotional difficulties. It’s normal for so many of us to look at evil in the world and conclude that there isn’t a good God out there. Sadly, those who conclude that are also ignoring the only hope that we truly have for eliminating evil entirely.

Greg will help us to think through these issues as well as see how they relate to the question of atheism and explain for us if the new atheists really do have some substance to what they’re saying. We’ll also talk some probably about how one should properly think about God in light of the problem of evil.

Perhaps also we’ll get more into a pastoral side on this episode. How is it that someone who is going through evil can really see God in it? How could it be that a good God would really allow this kind of suffering? Why isn’t God doing anything about the problem?

The problem of evil has been one that has been with us for thousands of years and it is one that unfortunately keeps many people away from Christianity, but it is not insurmountable and it has been regularly answered. Ganssle’s work is one such attempt at answering it and I hope that as you listen in, you will find that you are blessed by getting to hear a way to cope with the problem of evil and see how it could be reconciled with the God that is professed to be the one true God in Christianity and what the Christian answer is to the problem of evil.

So please be listening in this Saturday to the Deeper Waters Podcast to hear Greg Ganssle speak on the problem of evil and on other topics that are related to this important one. The show airs from 3-5 PM EST this Saturday, November 9th, 2013. A link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Khan

July 9, 2013

Does creation ex nihilo present a problem for the problem of evil. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me a video from a Mormon on YouTube who goes by the name of Khhaaan1. The video can be found here. I will refer to the producer as Khan from here out. The video is an attempt to show that if you accept creation ex nihilo, you have a problem with the problem of evil.

Khan says at the start that there was no official statement on creation ex nihilo from the church until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 A.D. This is true, but the reason is why was it mentioned then? It was because of the Albigenses, a sect much like the Manichaean teaching that Augustine dealt with years ago. Matter was seen as the creation of an evil power and spirit was good and the creation of the god of the NT.

Noteworthy at the start is that Khan in this video does not address biblical verses used to support ex nihilo. Perhaps he has done so elsewhere, but in this video there is nothing.

Also, I will state at the start that I have no marriage to creation ex nihilo. It has been a principle I have followed for some time that my Christianity is not dependent on my doctrine of creation but on the essential, the resurrection. I do hold to ex nihilo, but I am open to a better interpretation if one can be found that fits the facts. An eternal universe would not shake my faith. Neither would a multiverse or any scientific discovery like that. I leave that area to the scientists anyway.

Khan goes on to say that the church has been wrong before and uses Galileo as an example. I do not think this is the best example. The church had not entirely closed the door on heliocentrism. Copernicus had had his book on it dedicated to the Pope and the Pope had no problem with it. The problem with Galileo is that Galileo was egotistical, refused to admit any errors, spoke on theology and Scriptural interpretation without being trained in that area and while being asked to not do so, and wanted immediate acceptance of his ideas instead of waiting for more evidence. It didn’t help that he also mocked the Pope, who I think was frankly quite egotistical himself.

I do not doubt the church handled it poorly, but Galileo is really an exception to the normal way the church handled scientific advancement. We can look back and say “They were wrong,” but we must also be frank and admit that the evidence really was not in conclusively yet. A great problem for heliocentrism, Obler’s Paradox, was not even answered until the 19th century. It is easy for us to look back and say they were wrong, but we can be sure some scientists centuries from now will look back on and us and wonder how we missed some truths that they deem to be obvious. We should approach the past with as much charity as we want the future to approach us.

When we start getting to the heart of the matter, Khan to his credit does give a definition of evil. He says evil is an act or event whereby existence would be better if it had not occurred.

I find this troublesome due to the largely subjective nature of the claim. If someone does not want to donate to Deeper Waters for instance, does that mean that is an evil since I think existence would be better if that had occurred? What about all of creation? Would it have been better if God had not created at all, even if the Mormon view was correct and there were spirit children with God? How about eternity? Would Heaven be better if there were one more person in it? If so, then one would have to create an infinite quantity, an impossibility, for there not to be evil there.

For my view, there is no problem, since I think the mistake is that Khan nowhere defined good. There are so many problems you can dispense with at the start if you have a definition of good, such as the so-called Euthyphro dilemma. The good is that at which all things aim.

The good is that at which all things aim said Aristotle, which means that it is something that is desirable. Aquinas took this then and said that something is good insofar as it is an instance of its kind. To be perfect, it must be actual and insofar as it is actual, it is perfect. Since everything desires perfection and that which is the most perfect is the most actual, then we see that goodness and being are the same thing. Goodness just speaks to the thing being desirable. (See Feser’s book “Aquinas” for more.)

Now there is something that must be said about desirable. This does not mean a conscious desire as Aristotle said all things aim for the good, but very few things are conscious in the grand scheme of things. So how do they aim? It is based on their final cause, that is, the end for which they are meant. For Aristotle, this was the most important cause of all. Unfortunately for many of us today, it is the least important cause.

To give an example, a plant has no conscious nature that we know of, but the plant still moves towards water and towards the sun. The plant wishes to be even if it does not realize that or do so consciously. Our cat here often gets scared and will run away when someone he doesn’t know or trust comes over. Why? He naturally wants to live even if he is not consciously thinking “I want to live.” We can also have an end we were made for and actively resist it and try to find it elsewhere. For instance, in Christian thought, we were all made to reflect God and His love and rule with Him forever. Many of us deny this and seek our good in other places like sex, money, power, etc.

As far as I’m concerned, the lack of really establishing a philosophy of good and evil is the Achilles’s heel of Khan’s argument. Note in fact that by my definition, one has an explanation for moral goodness and evil, but also goodness of nature.

So what is evil then? Evil is the privation of that which should be present but is not. If goodness is being, then its opposite, evil, is a kind of non-being, and nothing positive can be said about non-being. We must be clear on this point here. It is not evil that a rock does not have sight, since it is not in the nature of a rock to have sight, but it is an evil that a man has blindness, since it is of the nature of a man to have sight. Blindness is not a positive principle in something, but it is an absence of a good that should be there, the good of sight. It is a name given to a specific absence, but not an existent reality on its own.

I’m also concerned about Khan’s definition of omnipotence. Can God create a square circle is a question He asks. I do not know from his talk if he means this seriously or not, but the answer is no. God cannot do that because that involves a contradiction, and omnipotence has not been historically understood to mean that contradictions can be done. The following lengthy quote from the Summa Theologica, q. 25, article 3, will show Aquinas’s stance.

“It remains therefore, that God is called omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of saying a thing is possible. For a thing is said to be possible or impossible absolutely, according to the relation in which the very terms stand to one another, possible if the predicate is not incompatible with the subject, as that Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject, as, for instance, that a man is a donkey.

It must, however, be remembered that since every agent produces an effect like itself, to each active power there corresponds a thing possible as its proper object according to the nature of that act on which its active power is founded; for instance, the power of giving warmth is related as to its proper object to the being capable of being warmed. The divine existence, however, upon which the nature of power in God is founded, is infinite, and is not limited to any genus of being; but possesses within itself the perfection of all being. Whence, whatsoever has or can have the nature of being, is numbered among the absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent. Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: “No word shall be impossible with God.” For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.”

In essence then, God cannot do a contradiction since that would involve being and non-being both and God can only do that which is possible. As C.S. Lewis said in “The Problem of Pain.”

“His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power.

If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prifex to them the two other words, ‘God can.’

It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

This then gets us into the free-will defense. To his credit, Khan does bring up Plantinga, Khan does argue that he does not believe that free-will exists, but will grant it for the sake of argument. I come from the approach that free-will exists and that divine sovereignty exists. How are these two reconciled? Much has been written on that question and I do not expect a clear answer. I just see Scripture teaches both and accept both of them. There are some who have God so sovereign that there is no free-will. I find this much more problematic as it makes God the ultimate cause of evil. There are some who say God is not all-knowing with regards to the future and man has free-will, but I find this to be a limitation on God with no metaphysical basis and not compatible with Scripture.

Khan says God could have created people to be more rational or more sensitive. If they were more of these, they would have made better decisions, but I question the premise. For instance, in order to make a person to be perfectly good in nature entirely and perfectly rational, God would have to make someone else like Him, but He cannot do that. He cannot make another being who has no beginning.

There is no other being that can Have being define its essence. Everything else partakes of God in some way. Each can only be a perfection of its kind. God is not looking to create a being exactly like Him. That’s impossible. He is looking to create a being that reflects Him, albeit imperfectly if one means not a total duplicate, but perfectly if we just mean, insofar as we are able.

Even if we granted other spirit beings, the problem would be the same. Michael the archangel cannot be exactly like God. Only God is goodness itself by nature and love itself by nature and being itself by nature. Everything else has being and is loving and good and existent insofar as it exists. (Even the devil. The devil has will, power, and existence, which are good things, and the devil seeks his own good, which is to say he loves his own good. The problem is that his will is bent morally)

So, if God wants to create beings who are to be good, that goodness is to be a choice for them, just as it was for Michael and the devil. If he creates spirit children supposedly, even those must choose for if love for us is to be a free decision, it cannot be a forced free decision. That is a contradiction.

Khan’s situation is problematic because to say we could be more rational means we are better able to think and know all the information needed, but eventually, one will have to reach omniscience, which we cannot, seeing as we are always going to be finite beings by nature and God alone is infinite.

If we go with spirit beings, we just push the problem back a step and then can just as easily say why God allowed these spirit beings who He knew to be evil to come to Earth and do evil here. Perhaps Khan will point to a greater good, but then I can just as well say “That is why God allows people to choose evil here. He uses their evil for a greater good.”

For the problem of evil to be shown to be a problem, it must be shown that God can have no good reason for doing it this way, and I do not think that that can be shown from Khan, though He is welcome to try. I also think that for a larger perspective on this, he might want to try the work “God and Evil” By Meister and Dew Jr.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: God’s Problem

April 10, 2013

Is God’s Problem a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

God’s Problem is the work of Bart Ehrman on the problem of evil and why he thinks the Bible does not address the problem. This is not his usual type of work. For one thing, I was surprised to read a book of Ehrman’s where he did not talk about the paper he wrote on Mark 2 in college. Yet on the other hand, Ehrman is stepping outside of his territory.

A usual criticism I have of Ehrman’s books is that you get the sound of one-hand clapping. Ehrman only presents his version of the story. He does not interact with those who disagree. Of course, I do not expect him to argue for what someone like myself would say, but I expect him to argue with it. I expect him to bring up writers like Plantinga and Ganssle and Copan and Zacharias and others and say why it is that they are wrong. He doesn’t.

What do we find? On page 18 he says “There are, of course, numerous books about suffering already. In my opinion, though, many of these books are either intellectually unsatisfying, morally bankrupt, or practically useless.”

Why are they they? Who knows? Which ones are they? We don’t know. We’re just told to simply visit any Christian bookstore. Personally, as one who goes to Christian bookstores frequently, one would be hard-pressed to find these kinds of books that Christians should be reading there. If Ehrman’s dislike is based on what is read in Christian bookstores, then I really do feel his pain.

Yet is it really a convincing way to make a case? Can he really just hope a section like that would deal with Plantinga and others? Would it be a convincing argument if I said “I choose to believe in Christianity because books like Ehrman’s are either intellectually unsatisfying, morally bankrupt, or practically useless.”? Of course not. I need to give a reason.

Now if Ehrman wants to say a lot of these books are not written to help those who are suffering. I agree. So what? A lot of philosophers are not professional counselors. Why should they be? In fact, what is Ehrman’s book doing to help people who suffer? If anything, it would hurt them because one could say he’s taking a great source of comfort that they have and calling it into question. Of course, he has all right to do that, but to do such an action and complain about what others are doing is highly problematic.

In fact, I have no doubt that if Alvin Plantinga, a leading Christian thinker on the problem of evil for those who don’t know, had a mother come to his office whose son died in a car accident, he would not give her a copy of one of his books on the problem of evil. He would listen to her. He would comfort her. He would pray with her. He would read Scripture with her. If he was not qualified in his opinion to do any of those things, he would find someone who was. In fact, aside from praying and reading Scripture, I think Ehrman would do the same thing. We all should.

Throughout the book Ehrman does present challenges to people’s faith. (Once again, how is it supposed to help those struggling with evil to go after their faith in a time of suffering, and yet Ehrman complains about others) These are the usual canards. The gospels are anonymous. Moses did not write the Pentateuch. The gospels contradict. Daniel was written late. Jesus and Paul are failed apocalyptic prophets. Anyone who’s read any of Ehrman’s other works will recognize the recycled arguments. It is not my purpose to deal with those here. It is only to point out again, is this the kind of message that Ehrman wants to give to suffering Christians? Is this the bet time to attack their faith? Of course, he could say he has not written this book to give emotional solace but to address an issue. That’s fine, but then why go after other books for the exact same reason. If anything, at least these books are trying to strengthen someone’s faith when they think they need it most.

Many of Ehrman’s objections also seem simplistic. For instance, on pages 12-13, he asks why there can be free-will in Heaven and everyone does the good, but there can’t be on Earth. My answer I’ve had for that for years is that Heaven is the end result of a lifetime of choices. Earth is the place where you choose who you will serve. When you are in the presence of God, you are locked into whatever choice you made. You can still act freely, but not against that basic lock. Now my answer for the sake of argument could be wrong, but it is an answer.

Ehrman also is not inconsistent with his approach often. For instance, he will say that the prophets knew that not all suffering was the result of sin and God judging the people, yet this is the view he still constantly repeats as theirs. The prophets are usually not speaking about evil as a whole, but about a particular evil and saying that yes, the covenant people are not being faithful to the covenant.

An interesting quote for readers is on page 127 where he says “What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.” One can’t help but wonder why in a book on evil Ehrman would want to risk having more people do the same thing.

Ehrman does point out that we could all do more to help deal with evil, and I agree. Yet is that all he wants to say? I see nothing beyond that. He’s of the view that we should still enjoy our lives, and I agree with that. If anyone wants to know why I think evil is the way it is in the world today, look at the church. Evil will prosper where the church fails to be the body of Christ. Interestingly in all these disasters Ehrman talks about, he seems to not notice it’s Christians who are responding. When he talks about how he helped someone who had escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge with his family, he mentions it the was a Lutheran ministry that got them here, but Ehrman doesn’t make the connection. Could it be the Lutherans did what they did because of Christ? Could it be God is operating through the church?

If this is the way God is dealing with the problem of evil, then by going against Christianity, could it be Ehrman is himself contributing to the problem he rails against?

I’d also like to point out that evil is not a defeater for Christian belief. It cannot be the case that the first way of Aquinas is true and that the problem of evil shows that God does not exist. The theistic arguments must still be dealt with. It cannot be that the historical case for the resurrection cannot be established because of evil. The case must be dealt with on its own.

I conclude that Ehrman has not dealt with the problem of evil, but the book I suspect is just another way of going after Christianity. Of course, Ehrman is free to do this, but I do not see why one would want to knock down a system to help deal with evil without putting up any system of one’s own in its place. Ehrman is doing what he says the Christians works he condemns are, except worse. At least those are usually trying to strengthen someone in a view for comfort. Ehrman is instead knocking them down.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Junko Furuta

October 13, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. At the request of my Mrs. today, I’m going to forgo a blogpost on Inerrancy and instead write a little bit about the story of Junko Furuta, a story that greatly troubled my wife yesterday and still some today. I found the story hard to believe at first, but after doing some checking, this story does not seem to be disputed and seems to be one of the greatest examples of human evil that there is.

The source I’ll be using is this one:

http://lynnaisha.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-true-story-of-junko-furuta/

My wife mainly filled me in on all the grisly details last night and how unfortunately, the culprits got away with but a slap on the wrist. (I do personally hold to the death penalty and do believe that such a punishment should have been inflicted on the criminals.)

The Mrs. was telling me last night about how she thought about this girl just going about her day planning on her future and probably with hopes of getting married and having children one day and then all of a sudden, all of that is taken from her by four men who one can only wonder what their motive for such acts was.

Of course, this gets us wondering about the problem of evil some. Where was God in all of this? Was she a Christian? Did she have a future hope? Did these criminals get away entirely? Why doesn’t God intervene more times when things like this happen? These are all difficult questions.

To be frank, in the specific, we cannot answer entirely. We do not know the mind of God and I think it is perfectly natural to want to cry out in our anguish about why this kind of thing happens. In fact, this is done regularly in the Psalms and in the prophets. Where is God when the worst kinds of evils seem to take place?

Of course, it would lead to questions as well if God intervened every time. Is that the kind of world we live in as well? For what degree of evil is it that God must intervene? Is there a certain point where if He does not intervene, then He does not exist? Biblically, God is under no obligation to us and He does not have to intervene. Any time he does so, it is grace.

Where is justice? Justice delayed is not justice denied. Because these men got away essentially in the earthly courts does not mean that they do so in the heavenly courts. A constant problem we have in our lives is that we take temporary situation and make them eternal and in turn deny the eternal realities and treat them as if they are temporal. Let us remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:18 on that which is unseen.

while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

The problem for us in this situation is that we are emotional people as well as rational and we have to make sure that our emotions do not override our reason. At the same time, when we feel emotions like anger and sadness and have a desire for justice, there is a place for that and I believe that it is God-given.

We must also make sure we do not become the evil we hate. Were it not for the grace of God, there would be no reason why any one of us would not be one of those boys that committed the crime. We all have the evil inside of us and as soon as we start saying we do not, we’ve already fallen for the evil of pride.

What are we to do with this? Let’s not let her death be in vain. Let us see to it that such evils around the world are stopped. I’m not telling us to be vigilantes, but agents of righteousness that regularly condemn such activities and that have strict standards in place for condemning evil when we see it. Let our court systems not grow lax with their usage of the sword.

The problem of evil is the problem of us. It is our fallen nature and the one we keep giving into. If there is any evil we need to deal with most directly, it is the evil that we see when we look in the mirror everyday. Let us go to bed every night and ask ourselves how we are growing in virtue.

If we are doing such, if we are keeping up the good fight against evil in our own day and age, then the evil that this girl underwent will not be in vain for us. The best way to honor her memory would be to work to bring about good in the world, that which the gospel of Christ requires.