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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Occasionally, I have a question from a skeptic that really makes me think. It doesn't make me think, "Gee, maybe Christianity is wrong after all." I have responded to enough skeptical ideas over the last 10 years that I believe it is highly doubtful that any atheist will ever actually shake my confidence in Christianity (but they are welcome to keep trying). Rather, the question (which is usually designed to shake my confidence) usually makes me look prayerfully and more deeply into my own understandings of Christian philosophy. One such question came up earlier this week.

Since I don't have permission from the skeptic to repost his question word for word, I will paraphrase the challenge. The anonymous skeptic was discussing the question of why there was evil in the world. Certainly, I have heard that question many times, and I have my approach for answering the question and it involves the Free Will Defense. For those unfamiliar with the Free Will Defense, here is a fairly decent description from The Problem of Evil: How Can A Good God Allow Evil? by Rick Rood of Probe Ministries:

The key to the resolution of this apparent conflict is to recognize that when we say God is all powerful, we do not imply that He is capable of doing anything imaginable. True, Scripture states that "with God all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26). But Scripture also states that there are some things God cannot do. For instance, God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). Neither can He be tempted to sin, nor can He tempt others to sin (James 1:13). In other words, He cannot do anything that is "out of character" for a righteous God. Neither can He do anything that is out of character for a rational being in a rational world. Certainly even God cannot "undo the past," or create a square triangle, or make what is false true. He cannot do what is irrational or absurd.

And it is on this basis that we conclude that God could not eliminate evil without at the same time rendering it impossible to accomplish other goals which are important to Him. Certainly, for God to create beings in his own image, who are capable of sustaining a personal relationship with Him, they must be beings who are capable of freely loving Him and following his will without coercion. Love or obedience on any other basis would not be love or obedience at all, but mere compliance. But creatures who are free to love God must also be free to hate or ignore Him. Creatures who are free to follow His will must also be free to reject it. And when people act in ways outside the will of God, great evil and suffering is the ultimate result. This line of thinking is known as the "free will defense" concerning the problem of evil.

However, this particular skeptic took a different tact then I anticipated and asked a question to which I hadn't previously given much thought. He said (paraphrasing):

The Free Will Defense doesn't work. Assuming that God is omnipotent and never does evil then he could have freely chosen to make us in a way that we would not choose evil, as well. Indeed, if God never does evil then He would have been required to make us that way knowing that the alternative was going to result in the existence of evil. A totally good God who never chooses evil would would never have chosen to create us in a way that we would choose evil.

Do you see what this skeptic has done (even if he didn't intend to)? He is asking a perfectly legitimate question that may circumvent the Free Will Defense. Instead of challenging the logic of the Free Will Defense (which I believe is perfectly logical), he asks why God couldn't have created us in a way that would make it almost automatic that we would choose good over evil. This would still allow for the opportunity to sin, but reduce the possibility that we would do so to almost zero.

It's like asking if God were creating automobiles in 2003 why God, with all of his knowledge and power, would create us to be Kia automobiles (which, according to a 2003 J.D. Powers survey, was the least dependable car of 2003) when he could create us to be the extremely dependable Lexus automobiles (rated most dependable car in 2003 by the same survey). Given that God is supposedly loving, why would he create us in such a way that it seems as if we regularly break down and choose evil instead of good. Why wouldn't he have created us in such a way that we could still choose evil instead of good, but where we would be so much more likely to choose good that those who choose evil would be doing so against their nature.

That's a great question. I have a pretty good answer, but it is going to take a couple of posts to get it in place. (For those of you visiting from the Internet Infidels, this means that the answer is more complex than the usual fare that passes for depth on that website -- especially since the main argument found there is usually to deride others' opinions without any serious analysis.)

In the meantime, I would be interested if anyone who is a thoughtful person (meaning that they don't spend time at the Internet Infidels board) has a preliminary answer to this question. For my part, my answer begins with Part II (to be posted shortly).

16 comments:

If this alleged god created creatures who had free will , but never sinned, we would be angels in Heaven.

Out of curiosity, why did this alleged god allegedly command people to love him of their own free will?

Can you issue commandments for people to love you?

If God knows that loving Him is best for us, then He might be remiss if he left that particular command out of His commandments.

you can't love without free will. That's a good point Steve. That is a very good point. Can't love without free will, so robot can't love, but can't command love so to allow free will is to risk not being loved.


But that's no problem becasue God doesn't have to command love. When Jesus says the greatest law is love the Lord he doesn't mean there's that you have to love God, but you have to allow yourself to love God.If you do that you love God you can't help it. But you can determine in your heart that you refuse to love if you allow something like pride to get in the way.

{{In the meantime, I would be interested if anyone who is a thoughtful person... has a preliminary answer to this question.}}

Incidentally, if you're going to poke the hornet's nest, you don't really have a right to refuse to be stung in reply. {s}

Writing schedule elsewhere is keeping me too busy at the moment to do more than lurk; but for what it's worth I began working out some thoughts on this question last summer here on the Cadre Journal, which I will link to here for comparison's sake. (It runs through twelve entries, for sake of establishing context. Also, while I suggest the final piece of the puzzle in the last entry, I haven't posted a follow-up to that yet.)

Back to lurking for another few months! {g}

JRP

Sure, if someone stings, I will let you know. In the meantime, all that appears to have happened is that an annoying gnat has been buzzing around.

I think that the possibility of rebellion was inherent in making mankind in God's image and capable of a degree of lordship. The problem isn't that God made a Kia, but that God made images of God: little sovereigns, little origins of our own causes. I think it is a self-contradiction to ask to be self-determining causes who can't cause (x). If we were really self-determining, we could cause (x) if we wanted to; and if we can't want to, we're not really self-determining. Which is to say, if we're really in the image of God, there is no place to say "image of God but cannot self-determine". The "but cannot self-determine" takes away the image of God. Can't have it both ways: a thing is either A or not-A, but it's not reasonable for us to demand both at the same time, or to fault God for not making us both at the same time.

Take care & God bless
WF

WF
The problem isn't that God made a Kia, but that God made images of God:

THE HOLY BIBLE

Genesis 3:4
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So this alleged god made little images of god and punished them for trying to be like god?

So how do you issue commandments to people to love you of their own free will?

Without making yourself look silly?

Hi Steven

As they say, "consider the source" -- the quote you gave is snipped out of something that was a temptation from the mouth of the serpent, in the account you're quoting: which is to say it's partly true but also deliberately misleading. (The serpent must have been the first politician.) (Yah, I know, I'm nearly inviting you to smear anyone you don't like with the same. Suit yourself. I'm doing the best I know how, myself; I expect you are too.)

God didn't punish anyone for trying to be like God but for going against God. (There are some ancient commentaries on that which assume God would have eventually granted permission for that tree; I'm not 100% convinced of that but consider it a possibility. I think passing the temptation would have had the same result: knowing good and evil without being sullied by the evil.) In my books, the real fall happened before they ate anything: when they took some politician's word over God's and decided that God was really trying to keep them down instead of bless them.

The great irony of their trying to be like God is that they ended up less like God in total, even though they did, as it says, become like God insofar as knowing good and evil.

To me that story is hilarious (aside from whether or not you're a YEC): God makes them in his image. They try to become more like God, and end up becoming less like God. And the whole thrust of redemption -- Christ -- is to re-create them again in the image of God, to make them more godlike in the way that counts. If God was so dead-set against us becoming godlike, then why did he make us godlike to start with, and why is the general trajectory of redemption to make us, one more time, more godlike? Hm.

On the command to love, I think you have a judgment-based view of commandments rather than a blessing-based view of commandments. Most of them do work on both levels. A law to love is like the law not to covet: the law written in your heart. Makes more sense on the "create in me a clean heart" line than on the "thou shalt or else" line.

Notice that if you and I really did keep that particular commandment, we'd be glad constantly, surrounded by those we love at every point, and that evil would cease to materialize as we'd never want to harm anyone.

Take care & God bless
WF

I've heard this argument before as well, and the only thing that runs around in the back of my head is the concept of virtue over innocense, if that is a proper comparison.

We want our children to remain as innocent as possible for the longest time. We keep them from seeing some of the really bad movies, take extra care with our language, and make sure they are "happy smiley children." This is all well and good.

However, if we have this same "happy smilely child" at the age of say 17 or 18, something seems wrong. They don't seem to realize that the world has some nasty people in it and doing what is right isn't always the easiest thing to do and sometimes it is really going to hurt along the way.

It is the child that recognizes this and looks to develop themselves in such a manner that we want and encourage as they become adults. Such trait doesn't come instantly, but I think is far more valuable.

So in that regard, God gave us free will and didn't minimize the choice of evil, because ultimately God wants people of virtue and not people of innocence.

Now natually this will open a flood of the "God washes us white as snow in salvation so how can you say he wants virtuous people", but I think that is missing the point.

...just my 10 bits.

Back when I believed, I often wondered whether the original question as posed by the anonymous skeptic "If God loves us, then why would He... have done so and so?" isn't more interesting and challenging when turned on its ear.

If God loves us, then what does the present state of things as we agree they exist (imperfection), tell us about love? Maybe perfect love cannot exist without imperfection as its object. And a perfect omniscient being cannot be loved except by its imperfect creation.

Frankly that formulation strikes me as contradictory and a little absurd right now, but that's where I left the answer.

Interesting question, and I look forward to checking out Part II.

Lifeguard said, "If God loves us, then what does the present state of things as we agree they exist (imperfection), tell us about love? "

I like that question. The answer is - in my view - apparent. If I love a person do I protect that person from all problems, making that person incapable? Or do I allow that person to tackle all problems, no matter how immense, thereby growing with each encounter?

A stress-free world would be like a padded cell. No thanks.

And with any luck, I will actually get part II posted this weekend.

First, a question: why does God ask us to hand back the gift of free will he gives to us? Or is this a loaded question? Do we have free will in heaven? If not, then it would seem free will isn't worth having in the first place.

Second, I have my own response to the free will defense. The human mind is riddled with all the defections expected in a physical brain: disorders, biases, errors, limited intelligence, low maturity, limited concentration, negative emotions, et cetera. None of these things are up to personal choice. And yet, all of these things go into our making choices. Why would God judge us for the errors that inevitably result from our being programmed fallible?

Not to mention, we have a limited capacity for communication and understanding. Language only goes so far in expressing thoughts and feelings, and even then is dependent upon the skill, not sincerity, of the communicator. This causes much strife in human relations. In fact, I would go so far as to say misunderstanding is the root of all evil.

Plus, there are external physical factors to involve. We live in a world with limited resources. We have to compete for these to survive. Is God a social Darwinist? God made the laws of physics so that we would eventually be able to create guns, torture devices, nuclear weapons. Is it responsible for a teacher to hide knives and pipe bombs in a children's playground for the purpose of making it a testing ground for moral choices?

If I work under the hypothesis that God exists, I think these types of information all add up to one conclusion: we've been set up for failure.

Brad, one source that might answer this question is Paul in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 8:18-25

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it."

What this passage says is that God didn't will that we be subject to futility because He wills futility. He subjected us to futility so that we might be reformed through the process of perseverance.

Perseverance produces faith, patience and character according to various interpreters of Paul. Patience is also called longsuffering. Longsuffering with others who vex us is also considered compassionate. We only need look at times when we vexed others and they were patient with us until we grew out of it. Aren't we glad they still loved us? Didn't it do something good for us?

This is also part of what the Eastern Orthodox Christians call ascesis or "struggle" despite futility. This process is a purification and sanctification process if we embrace the suffering, the pain, and the glory of living in love despite these. And in doing all of these things, we share in the Christ life and death. And if we share in His life and death, we are promised a share in His resurrection; the eternal God's resurrection to eternal life.

What is imperfect, entropic, or otherwise ailing, tends to breakdown and cannot live on. However, eternal life would only be possible for one made whole, perfect, and free of entropy. How would this have been possible?

Could we call it spiritual evolution? We evolve out of sin? And the ones who evolve struggle as Paul said he struggled between the spirit and flesh. If the race is finished while still struggling for the mastery of spirit by obedience to God, there is hope that God will take us the rest of the way when the body falls away.

We don't see that. We believe it. And the struggle increases our faith if we struggle in faith that God will reward it in the afterlife.

Some say this life is a test. What if we called it a very long season before we rise again to the championship tournament (Last Judgment)? There, not we, but our life's struggle will play from our hearts as a projector or book, and it will either manifest our love or God or our hatred of God (and all God made). His merciful judgment will champion our cause I believe. That is the sense of our Champion. From there, the haters would prefer the left and the lovers of God prefer His right, as the haters would see God as their competitor (project evil image on God). The lovers would see God championing their cause for eternal life in hope that the real God with the ultimate authority is good and will be good to them forever after.

Good faith; growing from a basically loving disposition may make all the difference...but will God find faith when He returns?

I have struggled with these questions too. With the silence of God. I realize I am too chatty -- this is too verbal and age. God's communication, after scripture, addresses not our words but our faithful obedience to His guidances, commands and wisdom. That is God's language for this age.

We die and it is to us as if the second coming of Christ will happen as quickly as anything does after you wake from a night's sleep. To us it is a blink of an eye. So yes, Christ is returning, perhaps within our life times, and maybe just a moment beyond each of our lives' temporary death.

Where is part 2?

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