Thursday, October 03, 2013

Loose Ends in the Problem of Evil

I figured that someone would bring animals into the picture at some point and ask why God allows animals to suffer.  I checked, and sure enough others have been thinking the same thing:  Fine then; let’s answer that question.  But first, a preface:

To rescue someone from a burning building is better than to refuse to rescue an innocent person from a burning building.  To rescue someone from a burning building is also better than to do nothing, inasmuch as the word “nothing” is non-referential and any (real) thing is better than something (as it were) that does not exist.  The opportunity to rescue someone from a burning building is better--at least contingently so--than a lack of opportunity to rescue someone from a burning building.

Again, a world in which acts of self-sacrifice, heroism, altruism, mercy and salvation is either contingently or necessarily (I’m speaking conservatively here in using the foregoing disjunction) better than a world in which no one can be saved from a burning building because the latter world is one where there is no danger, there is no element of risk, there is no fear, there is no peril, there is no suffering of any sort, and there is no discomfort of any sort.  Even if ours were a world in which discomfort were minimal, if the teleological ends or goals of this discomfort are acts of goodness and virtue (e.g. Christ’s laying down his life for his people) which exist in addition to acts of the relatively few sorts that would exist in a painless, discomfortless world, then everyone should be able to admit that our world was superior to the painless, discomfortless world.  (I believe I referred to the latter world as “Whoville” in a previous post.)

To save and redeem is better and greater, by definition, than an absence of this.  A world with redemption is greater than a world without it.  Nevertheless, this idea will likely have its naysayers, and someone may ask rhetorically “So why not create a world where evil is never put to an end?  Why not create a world where acts of self-sacrifice, heroism, altruism, mercy and salvation in the face of evil become numerically greater over the course of time?  Why insist, as Christians do, that on some day pain and moral evil will come to an end?”*  In response, and for starters, let’s assume that evil is put to an end according to biblical or Christian doctrine and philosophy.  If one will stop to think about it, couldn’t it be that it is better to have a light at the end of the tunnel and to eventually reach that light at the end of the tunnel than otherwise?  In other words, there is not necessarily much to be said of a world in which people long and yearn for future days when evil and suffering have passed away; however, there is certainly something to be said of a world in which people eventually get this very thing that they have longed for.  It is perfectly plausible that a world in which evil is conquered is better than a world in which either evil will never have been found or evil never ends.


With that said, let’s touch on one last issue as it relates to the problem of moral evil and circumstantial evil.  Christians can appreciate the idea, however rightly or wrongly, that all people have sinned through their forefather Adam** and that sinners qua sinners deserve no favor, protection or gifts from God--if you turn your back on God then you should lie in the bed you’ve made, which means going it alone from now on.  Even children are descendents of Adam and have sinned, so even the suffering of children is something that is believed to be right or just in view of these young people’s moral standing before God.  However, one wonders about the pain and suffering that is experienced in the animal kingdom.  Animals are not believed to be sinners, but the misery that befalls any animal that is hunted down and mauled, strangled or bitten by predators--to say nothing of animals that are abused by humans--is something that does matter; I think everyone can agree on this.***  So the unarticulated thought behind all this is How is it just that God allows animals to suffer?

If we really want a philosophical answer then the answer is found partly in Romans 9.  To which of God’s creations is he indebted?  What does the Creator owe to anyone or anything?  What rights does anyone or anything have that God has not given to them?  If animals are fashioned to play the role that they play in the grand theodical plan to realize the best of all possible worlds, who is anyone to disagree with this?  Notice immediately and in the meantime that all events and affairs on planet earth are observed or known from the heavens.  Where angels themselves do not take notice of things and consider them (Hebrews 1.14; 13.2; 1 Peter 1.10-12), there are three members of the Trinity who know of them and, I would think, will themselves be satisfied with the coming Day in which pain and suffering is experienced by neither human nor animal any longer.  With a view to Isaiah 65.17-25, Lamentations 3.31-39 and Revelation 21-22, it seems clear that everyone on high and on earth would like to see the day when all evil is a thing of the past.  Yet pain and moral evils are those things which make a better tomorrow just as discipline makes a better person or better athlete in spite its inherent discomfort (Hebrews 12.3-11).
* However, it is not clear--to me at least--that evil will ever end as opposed to evil’s simply being marginalized and consigned to that place where people already, according to biblical doctrine, endure everlasting punishment for the wrongs that they have done.  Yes, every knee will bow at the Parousia, but it is not clear to me that the pains and misery of hellfire and utter darkness are enough to stifle the slightest bits of moral wrongdoing which come naturally to people who lived their lives in rebellion against God on account of their fallen nature.
** Again, personally I think that Original Sin makes most sense according to traducianism.
*** For instance, see Numbers 22:21-35 and Proverbs 12:10.

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