The Problem of Evil
Copyright © 1993
Revised in 2006
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part One: Philosophical Preliminaries
Chapter 1: Some Personal Remarks
Chapter 2: Free Choice and Necessity
Chapter 3: God and Free Choices
Chapter 4: Eternity and Temporal Events
Chapter 5: Goodness and Badness
Chapter 6: The Hypothetical Will of God
Chapter 7: The Love of God for his Creatures
Chapter 8: Evidence for the Fall
Part Two: Textual Preliminaries
Chapter 9. Can we Trust the Texts?
Chapter 10: Hypothesis
Chapter 11: Paul's Earliest Letters
Chapter 12: The Letter to Galatia
Chapter 13: The Letters to Corinth
Chapter 14: Other Letters of Paul
Chapter 15: Letters by Other Writers
Chapter 16: The Historical Situation at this Point
Part Three: Reconstructing the Kingdom
Chapter 17: The Function of the Reports
Chapter 18: John
Chapter 19: The Synoptics
Chapter 20: Revelation
SOME PERSONAL REMARKS
This is an attempt to confront the very real difficulty that the Problem of Evil presents to Christians, who hold that God is love, and that Jesus is the human embodiment of God's love in the world. You can make a philosophical argument that the problem of evil does not argue against the "philosophical God," and I have done so, for example, in The Finite and the Infinite, chapter 3 and chapter 7 as well as Modes of the Finite, Part One, Section 5, Chapter 12. But this allows God, so to speak, to be a monster from our point of view, not the loving, intervening, salvific God Christianity speaks of.
Let me here briefly state the problem, and make a few remarks. The argument goes this way:
If God is all-good then he does not want evil to exist.
If God is all-powerful, then he can prevent what he does not want.
Therefore, if God is both all-good and all-powerful, there is no evil.
But there is evil.
Therefore, there is no all-good, all-powerful God.
Note that this would admit the possibility that there could be an all-good God who was not powerful enough to prevent the evil that he did not want to happen; or an all-powerful God who was not all-good. But the God that philosophy argues to is both all-good and all-powerful. He certainly could prevent evil from happening by not causing the acts that brought it about; and, since all being is good, and he is the infinite being, he must be all-good. The fallacy here is, as I show in the works I cited above, that the infinite goodness of God implies nothing about his not wanting evil to occur in the world. And that was why I said that from our point of view, God could be a monster and still have the apellation "good."
I should point out,however, that using the problem of evil to deny that there is a God solves nothing, because when you analyze what evil is (something that "ought not" to happen), it turns out that it is a positive, irreducible irrationality in our apparently rational world. Blindness, for instance, is the inability to see in something that can see; otherwise, how could it sometimes be curable? Tables cannot see, but are not blind. So the blind person oughtto be able to see because there is reason to say that he can see, even though he cannot. That's what's "wrong" with it. Denying God's existence doesn't make such things make sense.
You can therefore, with Camus, simply accept that the world is absurd, and rejoice in the parts of it that seem to make sense; but you can't call that a rational or even a sensible position. It cannot make sense that things make nonsense, which is what this position ultimately boils down to; and so why take a position like this? So those who allege that the reality of evil "proves" the non-existence of God are uttering an absurdity, since how can irrationality "prove" anything? That is, they are saying, "Logically, you cannot assert the existence of God if there is evil, and therefore, there is no God, because there is evil." But since evil is a positive irrationality, and there is no resolution of the problem of evil, then reason is useless; you can prove nothing at all about anything.
But even those who hold that evil "proves" the non-existence of God are not willing to take the logical conclusion of their own position, because their own reason will not let them; reason refuses to admit that irrationality is really the way things are.
Far better, then, to assume that somehow or other, things make sense. Let's face it; there's no sense writing things that rational, sensible people are going to read unless you make sense. So I take it that there is a solution to the problem of evil that makes sense. (This is the drive that is behind science, by the way, as I show in Modes of the Finite, Part Four, Section 4).
As I say, there is a real solution to the problem of evil based on why we call things "good" and "evil," and so, philosophically (scientifically, if you will), there is no problem. But for the Christian, the problem is much more acute than for the philosopher (or the Buddhist, who, if he believes in something called a "God," believes in the "philosophical God"). The God Christians believe in is not only "good" in the ontological sense, but is a loving, caring God, who actively intervenes in this world he created, and is such that "everything works out to good for those who love God," as St. Paul says. That is, he in some sense wants there to be a world without suffering, pain, and death, in which "every tear is wiped away." How is such a God (a) compatible with the God that can be argued to from reason, and more importantly (b) consistent with the existence of so many evils in this world?
My solution, as it happens, involves accepting the fall of man (which I can conclude to from philosophical grounds; see Modes of the Finite, Part Three, Section 4, Chapter 5), and what this implies with respect to evolution and the coming of Jesus and the announcement of the Reign of God.
Thus, a significant part--the last part--of this study is what you might call an exercise in textual archaeology. It starts with the assumption that Jesus intended to be accepted as the actual political King of Judea (and through this the world); but he also knew that his claim as the successor to David would in actual fact be rejected, though it was really possible for it to be accepted, since it depended on free human choices. Jesus and what he announced and what happened to him form the ultimate solution to the problem of evil.
The reason is that, because of this real possibility that he would be accepted as king and not crucified (which was confirmed by his prayer in Gethsemani), his previous announcements about the nature of what his (i.e. God's) reign would be like would probably bear two meanings: (1) the sense we now take his statements, in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection, but also (2) the sense of what the world he was to govern would be like if he were accepted as King.
If he was not accepted, then the world as we know it would exist, and subsequent evil would be the punishment for mankind's second refusal to obey God. The abolition of evil would have to wait for the Last Day; and meantime, the evils that happen to good people on this earth would be a uniting with the suffering of Jesus precisely to bring about the state after the Last Day. But (2) if he were accepted as King, this study says, the evil in the world brought about (even retroactively) by the original fall would be abolished, and, as Isaiah prophesied, there would be no more tears, and the lion would eat hay like the ox, and there would be no harm and suffering.
My aim in this part of the study, then, is to dig out this second sense, if any, from what he said.
Hence, the basic thrust of this study is speculative: what would the world be like if Jesus had been accepted by the Jews as their King, the successor to David? From a casual glance at Scripture with the above idea in mind, there seems to be Scriptural evidence that what would have happened is that the effects of Original Sin----death, suffering, and loss of control----would have been erased. This makes the crucifixion, in which our Master used our rejection of him to save us, a "contingency plan" on the part of God; and its result is that each of us works out his own salvation by sharing in the suffering and death of Jesus and only after this rising with him in glory.
The seeds of the position I have come to on this matter were sown in me years and years ago when I read in Romano Guardini's The Lord that the crucifixion did not have to take place. That rang true, and made sense out of Jesus' prayer and agony in the garden. The crucifixion "had to" take place in the sense that it would in fact take place; but there was a real possibility that it would not take place, and the control of what would happen lay in the free choices of the agents involved: the Jews at the trial, and Pilate.
Later, I undertook a translation of John's Gospel into an English which I wanted to have sound the way I thought the Greek would have sounded to the original hearers. I performed it many times as a dramatic proclamation; and in doing so, I had to memorize it, and so became intimately familiar with it. But more importantly, I had, for performance purposes, to delve into what actors call the "subtext": that logic underneath what is explicitly said which makes the next sentence occur to the author who has just written the present one.
As I put myself in Jesus' place, it increasingly appeared to me as if Jesus was actually claiming that if we believed in him we would not die. Literally never die; he never gave the slightest hint that he meant this as a metaphor for living through death to another life afterwards--not even when his own students seemed ready to leave him, for instance, or when he was pressed by people who accused him of being crazy for saying such things.
Of course, if Jesus was actually claiming that, if he was accepted as King, he would abolish death, then he had a formidable task. He had to convince the Jews, first of all that he was the successor to David's throne and Israel's legitimate King; but secondly, that he was not insane, that he was not speaking in figures of speech, and that the Kingdom which he would rule over would be a complete transformation of the world. And finally, he had to prove that he could make good on his promise. Not surprisingly, he failed. It was all too easy for me to play the part of his Jewish hearers when he said, "Amen amen I tell you, if anyone keeps what I say, he will never see death!" They answered, "Now we know that you're crazy! Abraham died, and so did the prophets! And you say that if 'anyone keeps what you say' he won't taste death forever! Are you greater than our ancestor Abraham? Who died! Or the prophets? Who died! Just who are you making yourself out to be?"
What led finally up to what I am about to write was the assault upon my faith by all of the agony and horrible things I see going on and even, in my own small way, experience in my own life and the lives of those I love. As a philosopher, I know that things are "wrong" because we see things in terms of what we would like the world to be like, and in an absolute sense they are what they are, and are value neutral in themselves. (We will see a good deal of this and its implications shortly.) But as a Christian I believe that God loves us enough to submit to the agony of dying so that we would be spared agony which we deliberately brought upon ourselves--and it is hard to reconcile that with the fact that we are still undergoing horrible torments, even though they are temporary and eventually "every tear will be wiped away."
Why the wait? It is so much simpler to believe that Jesus did not in fact get up out of his grave, that all of this is a "meaningful legend" to make our lives more bearable, and that the whole Christian enterprise is just another one of those mythical versions of life that is supposed to reveal the beauty of the horrors we are living through. Christianity is, in this view, symbolism, not fact.
But if Jesus did not in fact come back to life, and come back bodily, if the historical Jesus was simply the wise guru and the fantastic events were legends attached to him, then the whole thing is a waste of time, and any mitigation of the horrors is wishful thinking that should be abhorred by any reasonable person. Why? Because it simply makes these horrors "meaningful" as if ultimately they would make sense; it is an attempt to explain them by wishful thinking, not by any evidence that the suffering of our lives actually does resolve itself into something that we would actually choose as better than any alternative if we saw the whole picture.
But if it did happen, then again, why the wait? Why do we die, why are we ourselves crucified? It's the age-old question. And it was in this context, that during a sermon by Rev. Edward Bruggeman, the thesis of what I am now writing occurred to me. It wasn't meant to be this way. We wouldn't be going through this struggle if the human race had been sensible enough to accept Jesus. The Kingdom of God that Jesus announced never occurred as Jesus announced it, because Jesus was rejected as King; and the result was that all of subsequent and prior history is different from what it would have been if the Jews and the Gentiles of the time had been like Mary and said, "Let it be done."
All of subsequent and prior history? Yes. The whole evolution of the universe would have been different if that one event had been different, because God is eternal, and that one event, which didn't have to happen, colored everything that did happen, both before and after it.
There are thus two great failures of mankind in the world: the first one, the Fall, brought it about that suffering exists (presumably both before and after this tragic event); the second brought it about that our redemption from the first failure occurs through the suffering that was brought about by the first, and was not a simple redemption from it.
I make no pretense that this is new ground I am breaking. Speculation like this went on in the early Church and in the Middle Ages. I do, however, have a somewhat different philosophical base that I am working from: specifically, that there is no objective meaning to "good" and "bad" (though there is to "right" and "wrong"). My hope is that this investigation can shed some light on the problem of suffering.
In fact, as I look at it with the germs of this new point of view, I think I begin to understand what was called the "problem of evil," and can see a new way in which it makes sense, at least to me. I am writing this in the hope that--at least after I die--someone will read this and also find peace.Next