In his recent book Get Wisdom: Get Understanding author Gregory Ross sums up the fundamentals of the Christian faith with passion and a bit of regret.
This month I had the privilege of reviewing the book Man from Macedonia. While this book is not directly related to my field of Christian Apologetics, it is a milestone book that I would recommend to everyone – including Christian Apologists and atheists.
While this is the story of a man called by God to be a minister, it is such a relevant book, especially in this day and age, that I would recommend it to practically every demographic in the nation – Christian or non.
The man about whom this biographical account is written treads foot in so many landmark events of recent American history, that the book is as educational as it is profound and inspiring. Its principle character, Reverend Aaron Johnson, brushes shoulders with Martin Luther King, Chuck Coleson and even Ronald Regan – forming working relations or friendships with each of these famous individuals.
The book sees Johnson leading peaceful protests during the Civil Rights movement, going undercover among radical dissidents, negotiating peaceful resolutions with Black Panthers and Klan members alike (in one gripping story in the book, Johnson is blindfolded, thrown in a trunk and taken before a Klan meeting – and standing before them, convinces them to form diplomatic relations with an integration committee). Johnson somehow manages to be a caring minister to a country church, and a political leader at the same time, overhauling and improving North Carolina’s pitiful prison system.
The story is not just historically significant, politically educational, and spiritually inspiring; it is also action-packed. At various times, Johnson is dodging sniper bullets from radical dissidents, wading onto death row, and being kidnapped – twice. And the story is entirely true.
With narrative fodder this engaging, the final touch that makes this a worthwhile read is that the voice in which the story is told is so soft, profound and gripping that the narration alone could carry the tale.
Regardless of one’s political or religious views, this story is worth your while. I would easily recommend it to anyone.
“The questions are these: Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent (or at least less than perfectly good). If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is there evil in the world?”
The potential problem with Hume’s argument is that, the moment a person levels the complaint against God that he has allowed evil; they admit that there is a moral standard against which good and evil can be objectively measured. In this sense, most schools of religion and philosophy are in agreement: good and evil, law and chaos, metaphysical light and darkness: these things are real and potent.
If these things exist, however, where do they come from?
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
When a person aims the problem of evil at God, they are implicitly affirming several things:
- · They are stating that they recognize that evil exists in the universe.
- · They are inherently assuming that the presence of evil in the universe is recognizable to everyone such that it is undeniable.
- · They are admitting that this is a problem that requires a solution, and that no solution presents itself.
- · They are admitting that they are powerless to stop the evil themselves, that it would require a higher power.
- · They are assuming that humans have essential value and certain rights which are morally violated by the presence of suffering.
At its root, every major world religion is designed to address this problem of evil, most specifically human evil. Each religion establishes a goal (nirvana, paradise, godhood, etc.) and establishes a system of moral behavior that is required to reach that goal (the eightfold path, the path of the prophet, the law of Heavenly Father, etc.). Even atheists appear to respect the virtues of ethical behavior. In their 2005 paper – titled “Morality Without Religion” - atheists Hauser and Singer put it this way:
“…there are no moral principles shared by all religious people (disregarding their specific religious membership) but no agnostics and atheists. This observation leads to a second: atheists and agnostics do not behave less morally than religious believers, even if their virtuous acts are mediated by different principles. They often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as anyone, including involvement in movements to abolish slavery and contribute to relief efforts associated with human suffering.”
Inherent in all of these views on moral behavior is a very basic observation: human beings recognize a universal moral principle - and they frequently fail to live up to this moral principle.
The entire enterprise of religion and government spills forth from the belief – the verified fact – that individuals seem incapable of governing their own behavior. This is why whole institutions are established which found and police rules for behavior and penalties for disobedience. This is why these institutions are greater than the individuals that function within them, and why they operate by the “rule of law,” that is, that no one – including the law-maker – is above the law.
What could possibly explain both the shared instinct for good and the shared propensity for evil?
“We “moralistic atheists” …find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.”
If morality is simply a recognized aspect of the natural world as Antony claims, why is it that the same humans that recognize these values overwhelmingly fail to act upon them?
Any sufficient moral theory must explain both the human obligation to good and the human capacity for the bad.
One of the earliest known attempts to reconcile this dilemma was the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. More than a thousand years BCE, a man named Zoroaster reduced the pantheon of Iranian gods down to two deities that existed in opposition to one another: Ahura Mazda, whose name means “Illuminating Wisdom” and Angra Mainyu, whose name means “Destructive Spirit.”
Zoroaster proposed that standards of goodness, wisdom, and law came from Ahura Mazda, and the effects of chaos, destruction, and evil came from Angra Mainyu. These two eternally warring deities were equally strong, and stood in everlasting opposition, explaining both the good and the evil.
In the Far East, a similar idea developed. Rather than admitting that there was necessarily such a thing as “good” and “evil” as such, the philosophy of Yin and Yang claimed that the universe was balanced such that all things had their opposite and the opposites cycled into one another. Death leads to life and life leads to death. Ecstasy leads to misery and misery to ecstasy. Day begets night and night, day. The things that humans perceive as “good” and “evil” are simply a part of this eternal cycle and the balance of the universe.
In many ways, Yin and Yang is a naturalistic philosophy. It requires no mind or divine force to explain or motivate it. It is simply part of the universe.
Both of these explanations suffer from the same problem: darkness is not a force. It is not energy or material. It has no volume, weight, or properties. It is the absence of light. Even so, evil is not a thing that can be systematized and measured and correlated. It is the absence of good.
Ask the question “What is the WRONG answer to 2+2?” The answer could be anything but “4.” It could be “5.” It could be “armchair.”
Good, order, justice, rule, these are things that - when present - are good and recognizable and praiseworthy. Bad, chaos, injustice, and lawlessness only reflect the absence of these things.
This being the case, the appropriate question is not “How did evil come,” but rather, “Where did God go?”
World religions have generally done a surprisingly poor job of answering this question. The problems with the Eastern concept of good and evil being a bi-product of the balance of the universe has already been addressed. Islam posits the moral law but does nothing to explain or reconcile the human impotence to live perfect lives.
Only the Judeo-Christian worldview addresses the question with the concept of “The Fall.”
This concept proposes that humans willfully chose to reject God’s offer of freedom from evil, resulting in separation from God. Humans are created with an innate knowledge and respect of the moral law, but their rejection of God makes them incapable of realizing it to its full extent.
The Apostle Paul masterfully encapsulates this struggle thusly:
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Unlike every other earthly religion, Christianity does not simply prescribe yet another moral code under which humans must somehow abide to achieve an eternal reward; rather, Christianity states that Christ lived a perfect life on behalf of all humanity, and then took their punishment on behalf of God. Thus both God’s love and justice are fully satisfied.
Christian moral theory both explains the apparent nature of human morality and provides a brilliant solution.
This writer first interviewed J. Warner Wallace in 2011. At the time, he was still a full-time homicide detective with a monthly podcast on Christian Apologetics. Since that first interview Wallace has retired, entered the Apologetics ministry full-time as a speaker and author with Stand to Reason ministries, and published two books. His newest, God’s Crime Scene, is hot off the presses, and this writer managed to get hold of a copy for review.
Most big name Christian Apologists – Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Daniel Wallace, Gary Habermas, etc. – have an area of expertise or style which gives them a particular niche in the larger intellectual discussion. Jim Warner Wallace has arguably one of the most unique takes on the subject in the field. As a cold-case homicide detective for most of his life, Wallace brings the analytical, abductive reasoning processes of a police detective to his writing and speaking – the same reasoning processes which led him from 35 years of hardened atheism into Christian belief in the first place. During his time as a detective, Wallace made quite a name for himself, cracking cases which had been shelved for as many as 30 or 40 years, and having some of his more famous cases featured on major network news.
A detective and Christian Apologist may seem like an odd combination, but the results are engaging and brilliant. Not only does Wallace pick out clues and analyze them in a unique way which makes a tremendous amount of sense, but he intersperses his narratives with real-life stories of crime-scene and courtroom drama which have the reader on the edge of the proverbial seat.
God’s Crime Scene is the follow-up to Wallace’s 2013 book Cold Case Christianity, wherein he examined an extremely cold Cold Case: the resurrection of Jesus. As Cold Case Christianity was a defense of Jesus, God’s Crime Scene is a defense of the existence of God. Wallace begins by treating the universe as he would a crime scene: a closed room full of clues. The clues he looks at are things like “how did the universe get here in the first place”; “how did biological life emerge from basic, non-living material?”; “how did things like consciousness emerge from unconsciousness, or free will from cause and effect?”; or “where do things like good and evil come from, and in what are they grounded?” The question Wallace asks is, can all of these things be explained from within the room, or does the cumulative evidence make a strong enough case for someone outside of the room?
Wallace does more than to simply present arguments to his conclusion, he instructs the reader in how to think like a police detective – reminding his readers that this is exactly what a homicide detective does: looks for signs that a death was a result of design or of happenstance.
To that end, the book is full of side panels with “tools for your call-out bag” – facts about how investigators, prosecutors and jurors go about looking at a case, and how those same tools of investigation can be legitimately applied to the case for God.
Wallace is, of course, arguing that all of these clues point to the existence of God; however he is not unfair to the other side. In the last quarter of his book, labeled “The Secondary Investigation,” he examines alternative explanations for each of the “clues” he has provided in the first three quarters of the book. Presenting what experts who have tried to explain away the evidence in other ways have said – in much the same way that the prosecuting and defense attorneys would both present their cases before the jury so that the jury could decide which held the best explanation of the facts.
Despite his primary area of expertise being police investigation, Wallace has definitely done his homework in this book. Skimming through the copious references he provides at the end of the book reveal that he has done more than a cursory Wikipedia search for his topics; and his ability to break down complex scientific ideas into a readable – but not inaccurate – way shows that he has mastered the ideas he is integrating into his argument.
The book is eminently readable. Wallace displays his talents, not only as an analytical thinker, but also as a writer and artist. He lays out his case in a clear, comprehensible way; and his crime stories are exciting, dramatic and intense. Moreover, having studied and had experience in the past as an artist, Wallace provides actual illustrations for his book in addition to the literary ones. While the subject matter can get a little heady, Wallace keeps the reader in the loop by writing in a grounded way which brings the material to the general audience. And for the more sophisticated reader, Wallace offers his shoes-on-the-ground police detective perspective, so often overlooked in the higher echelons of academia.
The Old Testament book of Isaiah, written approximately 600 years before Jesus’ birth, contains this prophecy:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God with us).”
When taken in context of the passage, this appears to be referring to a more immediate sign given to the king at the time of the prophecy. Many will argue that the Hebrew word for “virgin” in this passage could just as easily be translated “young woman.” Be that as it may, the book of Matthew, written by a Hebrew, seems to take this prophecy as referring to Christ when he says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).”
Assuming all this to be true, what was the purpose of the virgin birth? The most obvious answer is that, if Christian doctrine is correct, and Jesus is both God and Man, then Mary contributed the human part while God contributed the divine part. However, there is an argument that could be made that Jesus could only be pure and sinless by virtue of the virgin birth.
When God is giving the curses in the garden of Eden, he tells the serpent that he will "put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed." This is the one and only reference in the Bible to the "seed" of a woman. In every other instance, "seed" in the sense of offspring, is always credited to the man. Catholics have a doctrine which states that Mary was sinless. While Protestant doctrine does not grant Mary any such quality, the reason Catholics believe this is interesting, mainly that they do not believe that God could mingle with that which is in any way corrupt.
While it could be argued that Jesus was sinless because he was God, he was also human. Mary was not just an incubator for a foreign biological entity, Jesus shared a genetic component with Mary. This is seen throughout the Old Testament, where Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Judah, and finally David were promised that the Messiah would come from their line of descent.
Now it's entirely possible that God could have purified the genetic material that Mary contributed to the birth, but this is assuming that sin is a genetic quality and not a quality of imputed guilt. Paul makes the statement that through one man, Adam, sin came into the world. This is interesting considering that Eve was the first to sin, but Adam is credited with passing this guilt on to the human race.
Finally, the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin woman seems significant. God didn't simply purify Joseph's genes and allow the two to conceive. Rather, he left the man out of the process entirely and caused a virginal woman to conceive. Theologians make a distinction in Christ's sinlessness. They say that he is "not able to sin." This refers to his divine nature, that no sin is present in God. But they also say that he is "able not to sin." This refers to his human nature. According to the Bible, humans have no capacity to avoid sinning. It is part of their nature. But Jesus' nature included the capacity to resist sin.
And this may well be the reason for the virgin birth. These facts appear to argue that sin nature is imputed through the father, not the mother. Because Jesus’ father was divine and sinless, he could be born of a human mother and still remain sinless.
After the release of the controversial movie The Passion of the Christ directed by Mel Gibson, the popular adult cartoon Family Guy did a brief skit based on the movie. In the skit Family Guy protagonist, Peter Griffin, imagines himself as Jesus being flogged by the Roman soldiers. “If it was me, I would have done something,” Peter says as he imagines himself standing up from the whipping block and telling the Soldiers to stop it and settle down.
In every story there is a protagonist, and in most stories, the protagonist is an “everyman,” a character that most people can relate to. People read stories to live the adventures and experiences of the protagonist. They imagine themselves as Huckleberry Fin or as Frodo Baggins as they read about their adventures. So, of course, readers of the Gospels will frequently put themselves on the cross with Jesus, sympathizing with a man whom the world rejected.
In the final hours before his death, Jesus was turned over to his enemies by one of his inner circle and he was abandoned by all of his followers. He was given three separate unjust and politically motivated trials.
Peter, arguably his closest friend, denied ever knowing him even as he was being falsely accused. He was brutally beaten, cruelly berated and mocked, blindfolded and pummeled by the fists of his tormentors, his beard was ripped out at the roots, his clothes were stolen from him, and finally he was given the most torturous form of capital punishment ever devised; all while his executioners were admitting his innocence and washing their hands.
Examining this story, various writers have extolled the humility and virtue of a crucified Christ, holding him up as the example of the Existential Man who suffers what indignities may be thrust upon him stoically and without complaint.
However, any honest reader will quickly realize when examining Christ’s sufferings that they are not the man hanging on the cross, but rather they are the bloodthirsty crowd below, shouting “Crucify him!” and gambling over his clothes.
The story of the crucifixion is not the story of the virtuous man contrasted with the immoral man, it is the story of God contrasted with human beings. In Christ is seen all the nobility, purity, and surprising humility of God incarnate. The rest of the characters display all the ugliness of man. Even the best, most moral men in the story were his disciples, fleeing in cowardice and denying any knowledge of him mere hours after swearing they would follow him to the death.
The Christian faith says that when Christ died on the cross, he paid the penalty for all men’s sins; which sins are flaunted even as he dies. As the very act is occurring, the utter need for the act is brought to light.
Like Mel Gibson’s movie, any discussion of the crucifixion tends to be tainted by accusations of anti-Semitism. Indeed, the claim has been made by various groups, both historically and contemporarily that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death.
Leaving alone, for the moment, that it was actually the Romans that both sentenced and executed Jesus, the fact of the matter is that, had Jesus come to ANY culture preaching as he did, they would have treated him in the same manner. The problem was not with the Jews. The problem is with people.
As Christ hung on the cross, he looked down. What he saw were the Roman soldiers, callously gambling over his coat. He saw his Jewish accusers shouting, “He saved others, himself he cannot save!” and “If you are the Christ, come down from the cross, and then we will believe!” He saw one of his disciples cowering and trying not to be seen.
This is What he saw. What he said was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The very forgiveness for which he prayed, he paid.
In the present day, it seems that national or world-wide tragedies are a monthly occurrence. The media can barely recover reeling from one calamity before another one strikes.
And the same questions are parroted again and again in each instance: Where is your God, now? How could he allow this?
To investigate this question, a thought-experiment may be helpful.
Imagine that God intervenes to prevent a school shooting. Dozens of children are prevented from dying, and their parents never realize the horror of losing a child. Instead these children reach adulthood, have children of their own, and then die some other way; perhaps because of a car accident, a heart attack or old age. Is their death any less devastating when their children have to mourn them instead of their parents? Which is more devastating, a quick death by a gunman or a slow death by decay, senility, and marginalization? Arguably all death is equally tragic. The only thing that makes the school shooting exceptional in the eyes of the media is the number of people affected and the suddenness and violence with which it occurs. If one of those children were to die at the exact same age due to, say, leukemia, the parents are still robbed of a child, but the media would hardly waste ink on the occurrence.
Clearly stopping the occasional tragedy does not fix the problem.
So go a step further. Say God were to eliminate all natural evil. There would be no more floods or tsunami, no more earthquakes or AIDS. All human beings would be granted eternal youth and vitality.
Of course, this doesn't fix the problem either. It wouldn't stop people from bombing one another, starting wars, or walking into schools and gunning down children.
So what if God were to eliminate death entirely, and all would be granted immortality?
This circumstance would not prevent children from being kidnapped and sold on the sex market in Asia.
It would not prevent hatred, rape, slander, or all the miseries that result from other human beings.
What, then, if people were granted the ability to live out their various obscene fantasies of murder and sexual deviancy in an artificial construct, like the Matrix, where their actions do not impact the lives of real people?
In the 1960 episode of Twilight Zone titled “A Nice Place to Visit,” a criminal named Rocky is killed in a shootout with the police. Awakening in a paradise where he may receive anything he ever wanted, he plays slots at a casino, but bores quickly of winning every single game. After all, if he can have anything he wants, what good is money? He commits a crime, but finds that knowing that he can get away with anything removes the thrill. He bullies police officers, instantly gains the affection of any woman he wants, and luxuriates in the fanciest mansion he can imagine.
The instant gratification of his every desire makes him desperate. He pleads to his celestial benefactor, Pip, "If I gotta stay here another day, I'm gonna go nuts! I don't belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place."
Pip retorts, "Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!!"
Pip begins to laugh as Rocky unsuccessfully tries to escape his "paradise".
While perhaps a bit heavy-handed, the point is well made. Human beings that receive everything they ever wanted, accomplish every goal they have sought, are some of the most miserable people on earth.
This can be seen in the lives of celebrities; attractive people who have the adoration of the masses, wealth, and access to all of the distractions that money and fame can afford. As any tabloid will reveal, these people are far from content.
What is called “The human condition” is not simply a problem of death, pain, or unfulfillment. Fixing these things does not remove the problem.
Christianity does offer a solution, whether or not it is appreciated. By rejecting one’s inherent corruption and trusting oneself to Christ, the Christian is promised not simply immortality and vitality; they are offered a purpose for existing – that is, a deep existential fulfillment beyond temporal gain. This certainty sustains them through the inconveniences and tragedies of mortal life.
Not only this, but Christianity claims a solution to the problem of death itself in its promise of resurrection and eternal life.
As seen by this thought experiment, in order to fix the human condition, the entire world would have to be reformed, indeed, people would need to be cleansed of a deep corruption. Then they would need to be made immortal. This is exactly the solution that Christianity offers.
To say that Christianity does not have an answer is a misplaced accusation. It would, perhaps, be more accurate for a person to say that they do not believe in the answer or that they do not like the answer.
But there is not a problem in this world that the answer does not address.
Negative things such as dark, chaos, cold, and emptiness don’t - in the strictest sense – exist. These things simply represent a lack of positive things such as light, order, heat, and substance.
In the same way, Atheism is not actually a positive theory of reality. It makes no statements about law, reason, philosophy, science, hope, or meaning. It simply states that a particular concept – God – is false.
The concept of atheism is entirely dependent on the concept of a God. If the concept of God had not arisen, there would be no atheists.
While atheists of one sort or another have, no doubt, existed since the dawn of humanity, it is significant to note that purpose, meaning, and morality have always been closely tied to religion – even those religions, such as Buddhism, that don’t admit to a personal God.
Divorced from the concept of God and the practice of religion; a vacuum occurs, within which purpose, intelligence, and morality must find some other meaningful grounds.
In his 2010 paper “Morals Without God,” Frans de Waal, who is an atheist as well as a primatologist and ethologist, says this on the subject:
“We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.
“Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over thecenturies, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.” (Morals without God, Frans De Waal, 2010)
There is a famous religious argument - “Euthyphro’s Dilemma” - which essentially asks whether morality has authority over God or God has authority over morality. The Christian response to this problem is that morality is an essential part of God’s nature. Morality only exists if God exists.
When an atheist raises the problem of evil, they invoke the same dilemma.
In order to prove that reality is incompatible with a perfectly good and all-powerful being, the atheist must somehow conjure up some standard of good and evil which would necessarily apply to God if he existed.
This standard of good and evil against which they judge God would either be essential or non-essential.
Either “right” and “wrong” are real, absolute, verifiable laws that actually exist; or they are arbitrary, made-up standards conjured up by the human mind and subject to change.
If the assumption of the atheist is that Right and Wrong are real properties of the universe, and that God does not exist; then they must argue why and how these properties would apply to God if he did exist. If good and evil can exist with or without God, then God does not necessarily have any direct relationship or obligation to such laws.
If, on the other hand, Good and Evil are as imaginary as God himself, then they must argue that these imaginary properties are inconsistent with an imaginary being; a ridiculous argument if ever there was one.
Perhaps another way to ask this question would be: “What would the universe look like if there was a God?”
On the face of it, this seems like a ridiculous question. What would the world look like if unicorns existed?
How would you know other than just guessing?
But if the argument from evil is a legitimate argument against God, then this is a real question.
The atheist is saying that if God existed, things would be different than they are. So the question becomes, how would things be different?
If “Right” and “Wrong” are made-up things, then there is really no way to tell what they would look like if a made-up God were suddenly real. Since God is imaginary, and the qualities of “right” and “wrong” are imaginary, then one could easily argue that these things could look exactly like the imaginary God of the Bible. If “Good” and “Evil” exist independent of God, then presumably adding God to the equation would back these pre-existing standards with some kind of absolute power. Now, not only does “Good” exist, but it also has the power to enforce itself absolutely.
And what would this look like? Would people and things still die or would they live forever? Would human beings still have the ability to choose between right and wrong? Would the pain reflex still exist to warn a person away from harm, or would the entire earth be baby-proofed?
The atheist has no real answer to this, except to say that “it definitely wouldn’t look like it does now.”
The critic can point out all kinds of misery and suffering that wouldn’t have happened if God had been at the wheel, but they have yet to construct a model of reality with a God.
If they had such a model, they could use it to predict what life would be like with a God, and then point out that life doesn’t meet that standard.
Since they don’t have this model, they can’t say for certain that life wouldn’t look exactly the way it does now.
So to make this argument stick, they’ve got a simple job to do:
· Prove logically that good and evil absolutely exist with or without God.
· Prove that God would have to be “good” (based on the previous standard they have already logically established) if he existed.
· Prove that this hypothetical God doesn’t act “good”.
And viola’! God doesn’t exist.
The atheist’s dilemma is that an objective standard of good and evil needs to exist in order to leverage this against God.
However God – or at the very least, some kind of transcendent, non-material reality – needs to exist in order to have a transcendent, non-material standard of good and evil to wield as a sword against him.
The best they can hope to do is to prove that Christianity (or any form of theism that admits morality) is internally inconsistent. Since, within Christianity, God’s nature is the standard of good and evil, the only thing they can feasibly do is to show that God’s words and actions are inconsistent or self-contradictory, and even this doesn’t necessarily disprove God’s existence.
Though emotionally powerful, the argument from evil is not a strong argument against the existence of God; at most it amounts to a complaint about God.
The complaint goes something like this: “The problem with Christianity is that too many people who claim to be Christians automatically dismiss anyone who thinks in any way different from them as wrong.
It’s arrogant and hypocritical. Didn’t Jesus say ‘Judge not’?”
Decades ago, when two people had a disagreement, they had three options: continue to disagree, adopt the opponents view, or mutually agree on some third viewpoint.
In modern times a fourth option has been invented and become practically mandatory: everybody’s viewpoint is correct. It is not a problem if the two ideas contradict one another because truth is like ice cream: it’s a matter of opinion. Your taste in truth is as valid as mine.
Alternately, people now believe that no one can really know what is true. Everyone operates off of the limited information they have, but can’t say with any confidence that they are right and someone else is wrong.
Given these viewpoints, it is understandable that people get offended when Christians act like they know the truth and reject all viewpoints that differ from theirs. However, there are some obvious flaws with both of these concepts of truth.
In the first case, two people’s beliefs cannot be true if they contradict one another. They can both be false, or one of them can be true, but there is no third option. To say that everyone’s beliefs are true is a copout because then the person is not forced to have to do the hard work of evaluating their own view, they are not forced to consider the alternatives, nor are they forced to have to take a stand against an idea they believe to be wrong. There is no conflict, but there is also no resolution.
The second idea, that no one can be certain of anything, is self-refuting. How are you certain that no one can be certain? Isn’t it possible that there is some way that a person can be certain, and you just don’t know about it?
If a Christian has become confident that their viewpoint is true, then logic forces them to regard all opposing viewpoints to be false. People can disagree and still be respectful of one another.
Why, then, do Christians have to try to convince others? Again, the reason is very simple, and has nothing to do with arrogance. Christians believe they have found something that everyone needs. It is the answer, the key, the meaning to life. Additionally, they know that every person has an expiration date after which they can no longer receive the tremendous truth the Christian has found. It is out of compassion that Christians assert their beliefs, not arrogance or condemnation.
Certainly some Christians are arrogant and obnoxious with their attitudes, but this is not in keeping with the teachings of Christ. It is also possible for Christians to go too far and to be too pushy in their attempts to persuade others of their need for Christ. One cannot nag or argue someone into changing their mind. Such actions, although possibly misguided, are still well-intentioned. For the Christian it is a matter of utmost urgency that they convince others to join them. The Apostle Paul puts it well when hesays, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
So are Christians arrogant? Quite the opposite. The first thing a person does when they become a Christian is to realize the awesome power and purity of God, and the fact that they could never, ever meet His standards. A Christian has to acknowledge that he or she has no worth in themselves, and humbly plead to God for the forgiveness He offers through Jesus’ sacrifice. A person must abandon all arrogance and pride in order to become a Christian, and once they do, it is difficult for them not to share it with everyone.
Noted British philosopher and humanist Bertrand Russell had this to say of the practice of “faith”:
"Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."
Allaboutreligion.org defines Biblical Faith this way :
“Faith is acceptance of what we cannot see but feel deep within our hearts… For Christians, believing is not seeing… Why do we believe, because the Bible tells us so. We were not there when Jesus was crucified, yet we believe. We were not there when Jesus rose again, yet we believe.
“…This is the theological virtue known as faith, believing what we did not see because we know it in our hearts to be true.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this definition of Faith:
“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.”
Often Christians feel that they are forced to choose between blind religious trust or intellectual skepticism in opposition to scripture. They either believe or they disobey. Asking questions and seeking support for their beliefs becomes a form of doubt and is seen as a weakness.
The classic teaching on the subject of faith in the Bible comes from the book of Hebrews, and specifically chapter 11 which begins with this definition of faith:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Many take this as support to the “belief without evidence” definition of faith.
Among the potential problems with this view of faith is the way it impacts the process Biblical interpretation itself. If faith is, indeed, a spiritual conviction that defies evidential support, then one is free to interpret scriptural passages based on what they feel the passage means. When someone challenges them to back their interpretation up with such tools as cross-referencing or contextual support, that person is asking for evidence, defying their faith and insulting their spiritual conviction.
This is exactly the trap that one falls into if one reads Hebrews 11:1 without considering the context in which it is given.
The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish believers as an apologetic for Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. The author meticulously wades through the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, showing in each case how these passages support Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah.
In essence, the author of Hebrews was providing evidential support of Jesus’ station as the promised fulfillment of the Mosaic Law and of the Prophets. If the author truly defined faith as an unreasoned belief, there would be no necessity to reconcile Old and New Testaments. The author would simply appeal to his audience to search the conviction of their hearts and to believe.
The author shows an intense interest in the evidence presented in the Old Testament, and how this evidence leads convincingly to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord, and the author also assumes that his intended readers should be interested in these facts as well. This being the case, what is Hebrews 11:1 actually saying?
Apologist J. Warner Wallace writes in his essay on Hebrews 11:1:
“In (Hebrews) Chapter 10, the author ends the section encouraging his readers to continue in their faith and to “endure” (verse 36) in spite of “reproaches” and “tribulations” they may have experienced or observed. He finishes by saying, “…we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” In the very next line (the passage we are considering at 11:1) the author says that faith is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
What Wallace is pointing out is that, when taken in context, Hebrews 11:1 is an encouragement to believers who are suffering persecution. What the author is saying is that, in light of the evidence he has supplied that Jesus is, in fact, Messiah, it is possible to endure sufferings with the assurance undergirded by the weight of the evidence that there is hope for salvation and eternal life. Or, in other words, given the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past, one can have assurance in the promise he has made for the future (hope), and trust God because He has proven trustworthy (conviction).
By this definition, faith is the assurance of the specific promises that God has made for the future based on the evidence He has provided of His power.
In fact, the definition of faith as being “blind” flies in the face of scriptural passages that contrast false prophecies with true ones:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
If one takes ones faith as a blind adherence to whatever they feel to be true, how is one to "test the spirits"? John follows this instruction with a simple evidential test for whether a "spirit" is true or not, without making any appeal to feelings.
Blind Faith does not make much sense in the scheme of scripture. Blind faith in what? The teachings of the Bible? How did those teachings arise, and how does one know that they have selected the correct teachings in which to invest their blind faith? John instructs his readers to test the spirits. This implies that there is a standard of evidence higher than simple emotion against which to test them.
“Deeper Waters” is a blog and podcast by Christian Apologist Nick Peters - who recently joined the speaking and debate team, The Mentionables. Peters makes no secret of the fact that he and his wife are both “Aspies,” that is, clinically diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a type of high-functioning autism. In fact, Peters has stated that the intellectual focus that comes with his autism has allowed him to be very productive in his Apologetics work, and that, if offered a ‘cure,’ he’s not certain he would take it.
This focus is evident in the volume of material that Peters produces, regularly reading and reviewing full books and contacting high-profile guests for his two-hour weekly podcast, as well as hosting forums and regularly engaging in debates and discussions both formally and informally on the subjects of theology and apologetics. This list of projects has now increased significantly with Nick's new association with, and participation in the work of The Mentionables.
The Deeper Water’s podcast serves as an interview podcast, wherein Peters speaks with mostly high-profile speakers and writers in the world of Theology and Science on a variety of subjects related to the field of Christian Apologetics. The range of topics covered is broad and has included subjects as diverse as Supposed Forgeries in the New Testament, The Occult, The Hook-Up Culture, and Harry Potter’s relation to Christianity.
The range of guests Peters has managed to snag for the show is impressive, and includes such well known names as Paul Copan, author of Is God a Moral Monster, eminent New Testament scholar Michael Licona, New Testament textual scholar and critic Daniel Wallace, and astrophysicist Hugh Ross.
But “Deeper Waters” is more than just a ‘who’s who’ of Apologetics: the topics of conversation are developed well across the course of the two-hour discussion so that the show is informative and educational for those interested in broadening their knowledge on scholarly and philosophical topics without having to be scholars or philosophers.
As an interviewer, Peters is able to ask the right questions to ask to keep the interview focused and well-paced, so that each episode remains interesting and informative. While Peters is clearly more comfortable discussing the purely intellectual aspects of the topic at hand, it’s clear that he makes a conscious effort to bring a human interest aspect into the show, interspersing the interviews with humorous stories of his own, and encouraging his guests to do the same, so that the tone remains generally light and conversational, no matter how deep “waters” become.
In every respect, the “Deeper Waters” podcast is a professional endeavor, except – perhaps – for the audio quality, which is less clear than one would expect from a professional recording. The podcasts are certainly listenable, but lack a certain clarity, which is surprising given the overall quality of the rest of the production.
The “Deeper Waters” podcast is worth adding to your podcast list for the simple fact that it asks qualified Christian scholars - who do not receive as much public exposure as they ought to - to come on and talk less about themselves and more about the topics in which they are experts. While many shows bring this kind of information to the public, few do it from the lips of the experts themselves.
One of the most offensive claims Christ ever made in the pages of scripture was this: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In a day and age when the predominant worldview is relativism, that each person finds their own truth, it’s difficult to be confronted with a belief that states that it is the only way to truth.
“I grew up in a semi-Christian household,” said Hess, “my Mom was the one who believed and my dad, basically, wasn’t. I was baptized twice in my teen years. And so, I was a false convert – sorry, I would clarify: someone is a false convert if they would give themselves the title of ‘Christian,’ but they are not saved in the fact that they don’t have that relationship with Christ, which is evidenced by a lack of spiritual fruit.”
Hess explains from his own experience how it is possible to be a ‘false convert.’
“When you have a true conversion, or when the Holy Spirit indwells you, God doesn’t let people go. Once you are saved, you are saved now and forever. And so I would say to the people who fall away, I would say there was never a true moment that that foundation was established, even though they may have been very convinced that they were, or they were sure that they were. As to the ins and outs of all that, I can’t explain to people, I’m not entirely sure, but I do believe that once saved, always saved. So I would say that they were never saved in that sense, although they were probably very involved in the Christian culture, and probably knew a lot about it.”
Hess, himself, went through this exact experience, living most of his life under the illusion that he was a Christian. That illusion began to break down in his adult years.
“I went to college and had inklings of faith at times (and by ‘inklings’ I mean that I felt conviction). But I hadn’t surrendered, I hadn’t bent my knee, so to speak. I started dating… but in retrospect I know that I was using her for my pleasure.
“And it’s hard for me to say that, even now, because it’s so despicable sounding, but it is what it is. I felt severe conviction about that for the last four or five months I was in that relationship. And I finally broke it off, since this horrendous conviction overcame me, and all that led up to one day when I was student teaching in a classroom and a young woman was talking, as I was walking around the classroom, I was talking to her, and she told me the story about how her grandmother had been on the operating table and died. And when her grandmother had died, she saw Jesus, and Jesus said ‘It’s not your time, go on back.’
“As this young lady was relating this story to me … I felt, like, a physical push on my chest, almost, it just took my breath away. And it went from the point of acknowledging intellectually that I believed in Jesus, to, ‘Oh, wow, Jesus is real!’ And I said ‘Oh, God, forgive me! Oh Lord!’”
Neil Hess is still a science teacher for a Middle School, but he also heads up ‘Soul Winning Ministries,' a ministry that “exists to equip people with the tools and knowledge they need to fulfill the great commission,” according to their website.
Hess also recently joined the speaking team, The Mentionables, a ministry which gives him the opportunity to bring his message to a national audience, along with his team members.
“I spent so much time as a false convert that I really have a heart for those people… I just feel like God has been calling me to do apologetics full time and just basically go out and give people the gospel. Super long story short, my goal is basically to equip other people to know and to share their faith and to share the gospel whenever they can.”
While we're on the issue of suffering, let's look at a kind of suffering which isn't as thought about by theologians.
Atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg crafts what he considers an irrefutable instance of suffering against which no defense of God’s character might stand (probably based on a similar argument from William Rowe).
In his example, Wielenberg describes a scenario in which a wildfire burns its way through a remote area of wilderness without any human witnesses. In the course of the fire, a young fawn suffers severe burns, and spends two days dying in excruciating agony.
This example, according to Wielenberg, escapes all of the regular justifications Christians offer for suffering. This is not a human being suffering, so this cannot be an act of divine punishment for sin, or some kind of lesson to be learned from the pain. No humans were responsible for the tragedy, so this cannot be an instance of God allowing someone to exercise their free will to do something bad. And because there were no human witnesses that will ever be aware of the event, there can be no moral lesson learned from the experienced.
It is an utterly gratuitous instance of suffering which has no justification.
In his 2013 debate, “The Status of God in the 21st Century,” atheist Justin Schieber constructed an argument from evil which included a factual account of gorilla groups that would dominate, kill, and rape other gorilla groups. Schieber subsequently received accolades from the audience for his inclusion of animal suffering in his argument.
This forms a convenient fallback position for the argument from suffering. Even if Christians were to somehow build an effective argument that shows God could be good and still allow humans to suffer, why would he allow animals to suffer? Alternately, if human beings act evilly because of sin and rebellion, why do animals act evilly?
This covers both suffering and evil. Animals were not, according to the Bible, made in God’s image, and yet they are prey to the exact same difficulties that plague human beings even though they cannot, in the strictest sense, sin.
The concern over animals in the discussion of evil and suffering is added to because of a strictly evolutionary worldview that does not include a Creator. Although the Christian worldview puts humans in a distinctly separate ethical and volitional position than animals, if God is removed from the picture, the distinction between humans and animals blurs significantly.
Biologist and Atheist Frans De Waal notes that animals, especially primates, show hints of what humans would recognize as moral behavior. Says De Waal:
“…female chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community. I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today.” (Morals without God, Frans De Waal, 2010)
So the problem becomes even further involved. Morality may have evolutionary roots, which would – in theory - eliminate the need for some transcendent cause to explain moral impulses.
So to sum up the problem of animal morality:
· Animals suffer even though they do not have moral agency
· Animals act in ways which are “evil”, even though they were supposedly designed by a good God, and did not “fall” in the way that humans did
· Certain animals display “moral” behavior, indicating that morality is not a strictly human trait, and may be the product of evolution rather than conscious design
Arguing from a hypothetical
Before these objections are addressed, there is a technicality in Erik Wielenberg’s “Burnt Fawn” scenario that is worth mentioning.
The classic question goes “if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?”
The idea behind the question is that events require observers in order to be said to be real. If there is no conscious observer around to witness an event, there is no way to be certain what the experience was like. Wielenberg describes a hypothetical situation that would require that no one ever finds out about it in order to stand as an objection. The problem is that there is no way to know if something like that has ever happened. If a human observer comes upon a burnt section of forest, and the remains of the dead fawn, a moral agent has now become aware of the event, and any moral lesson that might be associated.
In order to be evidence against God, it must be evident. But in order to be a meaningless instance of suffering, no one may ever know that it occurred. Perhaps this kind of thing does happen, but there is no way of knowing if it does, and this is a speculative argument.
Animals and suffering
In order to consider the questions of animal suffering and morality, one must ask the same questions one does of human suffering and morality: what value do animals have in the eyes of their Creator, does their suffering serve a purpose, and what is the relationship between animal behavior and morality?
The Bible places an immediate distinction between humans and animals. Humans are given their own separate creation story, are the only creatures created “in God’s image”, and are given the responsibility to identify and name the animals. Moreover, God is said to have breathed life into human beings, indicating some soulical distinction between humans and animals. Genesis chapter 4 shows Abel tending domesticated livestock. In the Flood story, God puts a man in charge of preserving all of the animal species. In the Mosaic Law, domesticated animals are to be killed if they intentionally injure or kill a person.
The indication here is that humans are not simply superior to animals, but, in fact, responsible for animals and their behavior.
This theme of the fate of animals being connected to humans is brought into even starker focus by the many passages in the Old Testament that require animals to be destroyed along with their evil owners.
A significant treatment of animals that is seen in the Bible is the constant cycle of animal sacrifice that is required to purchase God’s forgiveness of sins. Here one sees animals standing in for humans as objects of God’s wrath.
In this regard, animal suffering appears to be directly related to the fallen state of human beings. The indication is that humans are given responsibility for the earth and everything on it; humans are morally faulty, and the earth suffers as a consequence.
This is stated explicitly in the book of Romans:
English Standard Version (ESV)
19 For the creation waits with eager longing 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 will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
The penalty humans suffer due to their rebellion is not restricted to their own corruption, but also the corruption of their environment.
In fact, the observation that animals have the capacity for both moral and immoral behavior (by human standards) actually lends credence to the moral argument for God. If animals were created by a moral agent, then they would evidence this moral behavior. If both animals and creation are in a fallen state because of human behavior, then the animal world would manifest this corruption.
What’s wrong with animal suffering?
Assume for a moment that suffering is not “bad” if it leads to existential fulfillment. In the case of human beings, this works out because a person’s ultimate existential purpose is determined after their death. Based on Biblical doctrine, there is no afterlife for animals. When they perish, they do so permanently. Consequently, any purpose served by animal existence must be temporal. This article has so far made the case that suffering and any moral culpability on the part of animals is directly related to that of human beings. So what purpose do animals serve that could possibly relate to the ultimate purpose?
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the Old Testament references already cited. Human beings were given responsibility for the planet including the animals thereof. The human failure to manage the animal kingdom, the resultant suffering, and the “moral” failure of animals, are all actually part of the problem of suffering and evil. They point to human failure, and the human need for redemption. Thus the existential purpose of animals is served in highlighting the human capacity for good when properly managed, and the human failure when mismanaged.
If this is the case, a human being would not need to be present when an instance of animal suffering occurs; the very fact that they unable to prevent such suffering – the very fact that divine intervention would have been required in order to prevent the suffering – evidences the need for God in a fallen creation. This need is ultimately met in the person of Jesus Christ. Again, the circle is completed.
One additional thing to mention is that, if God does exist, than there is not a single instance of animal suffering that goes unnoticed. Jesus said:
English Standard Version (ESV)
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
So Wielenberg’s “suffering fawn” scenario would be observed by a moral agent, namely God.
The other factor that requires consideration is the inevitability of death. All animals will die. Any suffering they have experienced in life is erased at the point of their death. This becomes quite a different problem than the suffering of humans. Since presumably humans live beyond death, their suffering would have to be given some kind of meaning that transcends death. Since, on the other hand, death is inevitable for animals, the question becomes, “What kind of death is morally acceptable?” Presumably death itself is the problem; a problem which will be addressed at the return of Christ.
Evolution: A problem?
It’s hardly worth stating that evolution is a controversial subject, both within and outside Christian circles. Assume for a moment that human life arose through a process of mutation and natural selection. This would involve a lot of suffering, dying animals before humans were ever around to adopt an attitude of rebellion against their Creator. This might seem to defeat the explanation that animals suffer because humans suffer or are morally fallen.
However, if humans arose through the process of evolution, then the suffering and death of animals becomes a necessary part of bringing about the human race. This being so, animal suffering actually serves an existential purpose, justifying its existence. Since, as already stated, animals cease to be after death, this suffering is erased by death and is given a purpose by the advancement of the species that it serves.
Moreover, the primitive root of morality displayed by higher-functioning primates serves as the vehicle through which morality is produced in humans, explaining these observations as well.
Even adopting an evolutionary stance, suffering and evil become a justifiable aspect of creation.
I have never seen this done before, so I am going to own this one. I have written extensively on the subjects of suffering and evil, but I have never seen anyone systematize suffering in an organized manner. I intend to do that for you now with one simple example that is easy to visualize.
The problem of suffering is not the same thing as the problem of evil, although evil almost always leads to suffering.
As far as evil goes, there are a total of three different kinds of evil. The first of these is natural evil. Natural evil is any unfortunate event that is not initiated by a moral agent (any being who is able to recognize the rightness or wrongness of their actions). Examples range from disease to workplace accidents to meteor strikes.
The second type of evil is human evil. This is any kind of unfortunate deed that humans perpetrate upon themselves, their environment, or other humans. Examples range from something as simple as refusing to hold the elevator for a stranger, to the much weightier deed of mass genocide.
The final type of evil is a matter of debate: Divine evil. This would be any kind of disastrous event initiated by a deity. Like destroying the earth with a flood, or striking someone dead on the spot.
Of course, if we are speaking of the Christian God – the one I defend – how accurately the word “evil” applies to him is a matter of debate. For the sake of this discussion, however, we must allow that at least some evil is attributed to God by some people – hence his inclusion in the list.
Now on to the subject of suffering. I posit six tiers of suffering which I will illustrate in the following way:
Imagine you lose your wallet. A simple misadventure ends with your wallet being in a place where you’re not. You feel your pocket or purse, and discover its absence. You are hit with a wave of panic and worry. You have just experienced Tier One of the Furches Hierarchy: Soft Emotional Suffering. For the purpose of this discussion, Soft Emotional Suffering ranges from every-day annoyances to a sudden lingering fear or anxiety. This kind of emotional suffering is less intense or long-lasting than the kind of gut-wrenching mental agony that leads to breakdowns or suicide – hence its low placement on the hierarchy.
So you’ve lost your wallet. Now you have to go through the exhausting process of retracing your steps, tearing your office, car and house apart looking for it, and calling all the places you’ve been in order to see if it’s been found. You don’t find it, so now you have to go through the process of canceling all of your cards and getting identity theft insurance. You have now entered Tier Two: Inconvenience. Inconvenience could be temporary or permanent depending on the situation, but it is any circumstance that requires monotonous or superfluous attention which takes your time away from anything you would prefer to be doing. For some people, school or a job falls into the second tier of suffering.
Your wallet was stolen by some clever thief. He didn’t just take your money, he began using your cards to make a huge number of untraceable purchases. He also used your ID and SSN to steal your identity. This would be an example of human evil.
Because of the identity theft, you are unable to get medical insurance. Suddenly, you come down with a chronic disease for which you can get no treatment due to the identity theft. The chronic illness puts you in pain. You have just entered Tier 3: physical pain.
Physical pain can range from stubbing one’s toe to recovering from a hernia surgery. The pain being experienced in tier 3 may be intense for the time it’s being experienced, but there is an upper threshold it does not cross, it is not malevolent in nature, and there is hope for relief.
This leads us to Tier 4. Tier 4 is Gratuitous Suffering. This kind of suffering isn’t just your body telling you there is something wrong – it is intense, mind-numbing, chronic physical pain from which there is little hope of escaping. You can’t get pain-relievers because you have no insurance. You just lie writhing on your bed in agony.
As an aside, physical torture also falls under Tier 4, because it is malevolent in nature, no pity or relief is offered, and the only hope of relief relies on the torturer. Tier 4 is categorized by intensity and hopelessness.
Your simple error in misplacing your wallet has become the greatest tragedy of your life. You cannot get a job due to the identity theft and now your illness. You have no source of income, your friends have abandoned you, and there is no relief in sight. In light of all of this, you are spiraling down into a well of anxiety, depression and despair. Congratulations, you have entered Tier 5. This tier is characterized by emotional destruction. You are as emotionally low as a person can possibly be. This may very well be enough to kill you.
Which leads us, finally, to Tier 6. Death. The final stage in the Furches Hierarchy is the termination of life. Arguably, there is no physical or mental suffering in Death, however the prospect one’s life being taken is the worst possible consequence in most people’s minds, and the one thing humans strive in general to avoid. Even if we rule out personal suffering, the loss of friends and loved ones contributes to the net suffering in the world. The last reason that Death is included in the Hierarchy is that – when people raise the subject of the Problem of Suffering – Death is the foremost evil people attempt to confront.
With Tier 6, the Furches Hierarchy is complete. I just realized that if this catches on, my name will be synonymous with suffering. Perhaps not the wisest move. It is worth mentioning that these Tiers are not exclusively separate from one another. Of course someone can be experiencing chronic pain, and also inconvenience. Of course someone can be clinically depressed, and also suddenly panic because they can’t find their wallet. Overlap can and does occur very frequently.
When one looks at the Problem of Suffering within the context of theology, it is a problem well-studied. This very hierarchy is explored in the Biblical book of Job, wherein Satan once tells God that Job will abandon worship if his possessions are taken away, and when that doesn’t work, Satan revises his theory to say that it is one’s physical comfort and health that matters. A hierarchy of suffering is at play here, as well.
More to the point, however is this: the skeptic frequently claims that God should have created a perfect world in order to be a Good God. Presumably, a Perfect World would be devoid of suffering. If God were to make men immortal, we would still deal with pain. If pain were eliminated, we would still deal with emotional difficulties. If these were somehow resolved, we would still have to face inconveniences. One would have to have a very, very micromanaged and narrowly defined world to eliminate suffering altogether.
What would this look like? Perhaps exactly like the world predicted in the Bible when God re-creates the heavens and the earth. At this point, the residents of the world will have become immortal due to the work of Christ. Their immortal bodies would have been perfected – presumably eliminating physical pain and suffering. Their hearts, minds and spirits will have likewise been perfected by conforming to the nature of Christ, such that mental and emotional suffering becomes a non-issue.
Finally, with their desires being to fulfill their purpose in glorifying God, everything they do would lead to that end, such that there would be no inconveniences. The very Problem of Suffering becomes all the more demonstrable of the necessity of God’s work as defined in scripture.
The Furches Hierarchy of suffering
4.) Gratuitous Suffering
5.) Emotional Destruction
Like it or not, western culture owes a lot to the Bible. From views on law and human rights down to common phrases and vernacular, much of what is commonly accepted in current culture can be traced back to things written in scripture.
That said, the Bible is arguably the most disputed book of all time. There are those who would like nothing better than to have it disappear entirely along with pagers and pet rocks. There are others who see it as inspirational, even if they don’t embrace or believe everything it has to say. But all of the contradictory views of scripture can be summed up in one of three categories:
The Grab Bag:
The “Grab Bag” approach to the Bible is essentially an approach that assumes that the passages in the Bible have some sort of value, whether they see it as a prophetic code like the writings of Nostradamus, a book of inspirational sayings like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or even as a book inspired by God, this approach to the Bible is largely intuitive and involves taking passages out of context in order to prove a point. This is a process known as eisegesis-the interpretation of a text by reading into it one's own ideas. This approach is largely unhelpful because one could prove practically anything they wanted by reading whichever passages most closely prove their point, and a large portion of the in-house quibbling in Christianity results from this approach to reading scripture.
Another example of the “Grab Bag” approach is The Bible Code. As defined by Wikipedia, the Bible Code is “…a purported set of secret messages encoded within the Hebrew text of the Torah. This hidden code has been described as a method by which specific letters from the text can be selected to reveal an otherwise obscured message. Though Bible codes have been postulated and studied for centuries, the subject has been popularized in modern times by Michael Drosnin's book The Bible Code.
“Many examples have been documented in the past. One cited example is that by taking every 50th letter of theBook of Genesis starting with the first taw, the Hebrew word "torah" is spelled out. The same happens in theBook of Exodus. Modern computers have been used to search for similar patterns and more complex variants, and published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 1994. Proponents hold that it is exceedingly unlikely such sequences could arise by chance, while skeptics and opponents hold that such sequences do often arise by chance, as demonstrated on other Hebrew and English texts.”
The “Religious Mythology” approach to the Bible is a school of thought that takes the Bible as a patchwork product of various writers with a diverse set of superstitious or religious views. These writings, through their various copying and editing over the years were changed to reflect whatever religious beliefs were widely embraced at the time so that any uniformity in the teachings of the Bible is the result, not so much of beliefs that remained consistent across centuries of time, but rather of revisions to make earlier writings match current beliefs. The “Religious Mythology” view may give a nod to some historical details contained in the Bible, but usually considers these so obscured among mythological elements as to be largely unreliable. As an example, in the Old Testament/Torah, this view would cite the similarities between elements of the book of Genesis and Babylonian myths, and conclude that during the time that Babylon controlled the majority of the Middle Eastern region, Hebrew scribes worked the Babylonian beliefs into their writings.
In the New Testament, this view would, among other things, cite the seeming dissimilarity between the teachings of Jesus – teachings about social reform and the coming of God’s Kingdom – and the writings of Paul who seemed to focus on the building of a church separated from culture and society and on a sort of “internal kingdom” wherein the believer is the vessel of an immaterial Spirit of God. They would say that these contradictory views, or re-interpretations of Jesus’ teaching reflect an evolution of the Christian religious ideas over the years.
People in this school of thought tend to pick scripture apart using broad assumptions. If there is an apparent change in the style of the writing, then that section was added by a later author. If the text makes a clear “prophetic” reference to a later event, that was retroactively added to the text or that text was written after the fact. If a different name for God is used, then this indicates that this was a different group of writings that were spliced together with the other writings.
To this view, scripture is an interesting historical study or a work of literature, but cannot seriously be regarded as conveying any meaningful truth.
This approach to the Bible takes the text to be, on the whole, the communication of a unified message that remains consistent across history. This view is largely held by orthodox Jews for the Old Testament/Torah, and Conservative Protestants for the entire Bible who believe the message is consistent because it was God-inspired. While most others would have difficulty believing that any text could remain consistent across a thousand years of time and thousands of re-copying, the Unified Text school takes the consistency of the scriptures as evidence of its inspiration.
The “Grab Bag” method of interpreting scripture is inherently irrational. It has no real interest to what the text is actually saying; only what they can make it say.
The other two methods are faced with two facts of scripture that have to be explained: some unity of message across the entire text of scripture, and the presence of the supernatural. The “Religious Mythology” approach begins with the assumption that the supernatural cannot exist, and so must find some other explanation for those things. The “Unified Text” method assumes that the supernatural is the explanation for these things.
My web page is fairly new. I am looking to see how many involved viewers I have attracted. So, as an encouragement, I will occasionally do a book giveaway to one lucky fan.
Simple. Just leave a 'like' and a comment on this blog asking me for the book in order to enter for the book giveaway. Anyone who 'likes' and comments will be entered for the giveaway, and I will contact the lucky winner by the end of the contest on 8/20/2017. Good luck, all!
*This contest will end on 8/20/2017
*I will not ship the book outside of the U.S.
Those who are anti-Christian often claim that suffering and death are a real problem for Christianity as a worldview. While much has been written on the subject, it is difficult in a sound bite culture to answer a question such as “If a woman is brutally raped, or a child is dying of AIDS in Africa, and God has the power to stop it, why doesn’t he?”
The argument is convincing because it is emotional. The framing of the question often seeks to stir immediate outrage against a God that would allow such a thing.
To answer this question in brief, it is interesting to turn to what Jesus had to say on the subject. If any orator in history could say a lot with very few words, it was Christ. Here is a three-point argument that Jesus develops on the subject of suffering and death.
The book of Luke describes a situation where various people confronted Jesus with two sobering news items of the day. A recent tragedy occurred where the Roman Governor, Pilate, had a group of Jewish worshipers killed while they were in the temple offering sacrifices to God. In another contemporary catastrophe, a stone tower under construction toppled, killing eighteen people. These two stories effectively illustrate the two possible kinds of tragedy: that inflicted by other people, and that which is a natural occurrence. Jesus’ response was the same for both:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Here, Jesus attempts to shift his audience’s focus away from the suddenness and seemingly tragic nature of these deaths to point out that all death is tragic for the unredeemed.
Suffering points to the human need for God
Jesus was famous in his day for healing the sick and injured. Naturally, then, the sick and injured sought him out. In one such instance, a man who was paralyzed was brought to Jesus by his friends. The book of Matthew describes the scenario:
And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The fact that this paralytic was healed was incidental to the story. Jesus’ act of healing did not grant this man immortality or invincibility. No doubt the man suffered illness and fragility after this, and he eventually died. The man’s suffering led him to Christ, and Christ met his real need first: he reconciled the man with God by forgiving him of sin.
The world is temporary and corrupt
In speaking to the issue of human need, Jesus made this observation:
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Here, Jesus highlights what has already been stated: Everyone dies. Jesus’ recommendation to this problem is this:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Suffering and death are a very big problem indeed if this life is all there is. It is Jesus’ assertion that this particular life is a very brief experience that determines a person’s eternal state. If this is, indeed, the case, then any suffering that brings people to a realization of their need for God is beneficial to the sufferer.
21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”