Friday, July 13, 2012

"The Passion of the Christ" and Commentary on the Problem of Evil

So “The Passion of the Christ” was on TBN a few nights ago.  I watched as Jim Caviezel was tied to a cross and I thought about how divine wrath was poured out on the real Christ when he was on the cross two thousand years ago (Isaiah 53.5).  But then I thought that there was love there and not just wrath.  Christ lay down his own life according to the command of the Father (John 10.17-18) and according to the love of both his Father and the sheep for whom he died to save and to bless (John 14.28-31, Ephesians 5.25-27).  Then I remembered John’s teaching that God is love and the scholarly opinion that every act of God’s is a loving act in some way or another (1 John 4.7-12).

Now, in considering the problem of evil we wonder why bad things happen to people of all sorts: both the righteous and the unrighteous.  We know for starters that all events are of God (e.g. see Lamentations 3.38, Romans 11.36) and that bad things which happen to the righteous benefit them in some way, considering Romans 8.28-39, other passages (e.g. Romans 5.3-4, Hebrews 12), and maybe previous thoughts on the matter.  So it becomes easier to see love in all trials and tribulations of the saints in particular.

On the other hand, when we ask why unbelievers fall prey to murderers, brutes, thieves, rapists, etc. it is all too easy to say “It is because they sinned.”  After all, such a response shows no immediate sign of one’s having considered that regardless of the individual rap sheets of unbelievers, no murderer has a right to do what he has done, no rapist has a right to do what he has done, etc.  Granted: if one turns his back on God then that person should expect to forfeit divine protection from various evils.  (Likewise, if you’re a teenager who moves out of his parents’ house to avoid authority, then don’t come asking them for money to pay rent outside in the real world.)  However, it is intuitively clear that no one had a right to kill the unbelieving victims of the Holocaust because of ethnicity or religious beliefs, none of the unbelieving victims of the torture of Uday Hussein during Iraq’s Baathist days deserved to be tortured, people did not have a right to chop off the hands of other people to coerce political support in Liberia and Sierra Leone’s diamond wars, etc.  So the response “It is because they sinned” is at best a lackluster response.

It is also an incomplete response.  For one thing, it says nothing of unborn infants who are burned or dismembered as victims of abortion before they have individually committed any sort of evil.  Of course, if one will assert that they are unrepentant sinners undeserving of divine protection in view of teachings of Original Sin, Romans chapter 5, and the gloss of “federal headship,” then fine: let them do so.  However, let the record show that apart from biblical exegesis--and even with biblical exegesis--the idea of inherited guilt does not have much in terms of other proofs.  In other words, in the world of Christian apologetics amid a broader world of skeptics who question Christianity the mere appeal to Romans 5 and certain other Scriptures is not very helpful.  Likewise, current extra-biblical proofs of corporate guilt--at least that I have seen--simply are neither cogent nor valid.*  However, even if they are valid it is not necessarily clear that corporate guilt theoretically can be predicated in cases where certain guilty parties did not even exist yet when their crime was committed, as with Adam before the fall.

Then again, maybe someone wants to argue for traducianism (e.g. see Genesis 46.26, Hebrews 7.9-10) such that we could see that all futurate human beings have existed since Adam’s time such that billions of people were parts of Adam even at the dawn of human history and thus perhaps were agents of that same individual.  Fine, but the point is this: people have their work cut out for them if they want to formally justify God’s allowing and causing what is (relatively) undeserved suffering of unbelievers.

Nevertheless, suppose that all philosophical and apologetical loose ends are tied in this case.  If God is love and if every act of his is a loving act in some way or another, then where is the love in the suffering of unbelievers either on the earth or in hell?  In terms of logos the answer is found by analogy human interpersonal relationships, I suspect.  It is not uncommon to hear that evil exists for God to demonstrate various attributes of his, including justice or justness.  That he would do such a thing as an end in itself or merely because he feels like doing so is not something that I am claiming.  However, stop and think about all the different people with whom you are acquainted and how well each of those people know you.  Chances are that you are acquainted with people that you dislike but have to deal with anyhow: chances are also pretty good that you do not divulge much personal information to them either.  On the other hand, think about the people that you like and are familiar with: you’re more willing to talk to them about current troubles, financial woes, bad days at work, interests and interesting anecdotes that you have.  And when it comes to the people that you love, usually the amount of personal information that both parties share and possess is rather high, especially among marital couples.  So people tend to open up to people that they’re cool with.

From the very beginning of time God in his wisdom has known what evil is or would be like, how bad evil is, what types and amount of destruction evil can cause, what (ethical/moral) goodness is, how excellent the members of the Trinity are, how much the same persons are capable of acting in accord with good during any and all circumstances, how wise they are and how they can use this wisdom perfectly in any situation, etc.  To know these propositions merely directly or through brain power is one thing.  To have both propositional and experiential knowledge of them is greater.  Consequently, if one member of the Trinity launches the current course of human events--with all its evil and pitfalls but also good things such as mercy, grace, and favor--it is conceivable that it is done to the benefit of other members of the Trinity who then come to have new experiential knowledge of various facets of God’s wisdom and goodness.  Of course, this is done among persons among whom there is no antipathy.

Meanwhile, there are angels whom God has rejected and there angels who have remained in the heavenly realm and who have not rebelled (Matthew 25.41, 2 Peter 2.4, Jude 1.6, Revelation 12.7-9; cf. Luke 10.18).  The current course of world history and human events--from start to finish--may also benefit the holy angels if they are capable of observing human events, God’s interaction with human events, and what their implications are.  Interestingly enough, the Scriptures speak of angels’ desires to learn of such things (1 Peter 1.12).

Finally, if God were to create human beings whom he loves but were to withhold in divulging to them much of what can be known about him, this would make for a peculiar relationship among people that he loves.  Again, if God were to create human beings but ensure that there be no Fall and no act of rebellion against God at any time in the future, there would be much of God that these humans would never know.  There would be much of his wisdom, justice and power that they would never know.  There would have been a case where to some significant degree someone did not open up to people that he’s cool with.

However, as reality now stands God has indeed informed all people that sin is bad, that rebellion is bad, that deviations from goodness and his commands are unworthy of pursuit and acceptance.  Of course, throughout human history people have rejected this knowledge and been given over to the natural results of deviation from what is good in God’s sight.  In the process God’s wisdom is proven time and again: a lesson which the saints learn and recognize yet which unbelievers often do not see.  Indeed, God has allowed the occurrence of evil acts throughout human history and has time and again punished those who choose to do what is evil while also recurrently restraining the amount of evil that may be committed under the sun: a cause for the saints’ experientially knowing of God’s goodness, righteousness and mercy while unbelievers often learn nothing from this.**  (For an example of all of this see Romans 1.18-32.)

So the problem and existence of evil are consonant with the ideas that God is love and that every act of his is somehow beneficent.  Again the question was “Where is the love in the suffering of unbelievers either on the earth or in hell?”  We already took at look at an answer which is conceivable on an intuitive and rational level.  However, it is sentimentally or emotionally unsatisfying simply to say “One group suffers miserably on earth and in hell so that another group is benefited.”  True it is that sinners choose to do that which is wrong, are undeserving of divine protection, and ultimately are punished exactly according to their crimes.  Still, true it is that God could have created a world in which people either by their nature or by divine protection had neither will nor ability to sin and that some might say that such a world is the best possible world.  In any case, there is probably no reason that a malcontent should be pleased with any world in which God creates a human race.  Of a possible world where the human race’s hands are tied from sinning, someone will claim that such a world is distasteful for lack of freedom, growth and maturity.  Of a world where people’s hands are untied, someone will complain about the freedom that does exist there and which allows evil.  Sentimentally or in terms of pathos there can be no absolutely satisfying answer for malcontents.  The bottom line of the matter is that in this world sinners get what they want, are punished exactly for the injustice that they wanted, and serve as a means of benefiting those whom God saves from themselves--all such that nothing in this universe goes to waste.

* The idea that all citizens of a given country are at war when its leaders declare war is questionable; for instance, dissenters and war protestors do not seem to be at war with anyone.  Likewise, to say something like “The Luftwaffe dropped thousands of bombs on England during the Blitz” does not seem to be an accurate statement about each member of the Luftwaffe during the WWII: not every Luftwaffe pilot and mechanic would have been tasked with handling Britain at the time as opposed to patrolling other parts of German-held territory.  In fact, to treat someone favorably because he is your friend’s friend seems not to speak of transferable merit but of treating one favorably in order to please your friend.  A better case might be made in terms of republican forms of government and action where someone is tasked to act on someone’s behalf and the chosen party ends up misusing his power and authority behind the backs of those who sent it.

** Even more will be learned on the final day when “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Romans 2.16) and when the world is judged by the saints (1 Corinthians 6.2).

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