Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Problem of Evil Revisited—Part II



Continuing from where we left off in the previous post, he says:

“The second part of the question has to do with the origin of evil, and how evil could intrude into a universe created by a God who is altogether holy, altogether righteous; and not only is this universe created by such a God, it is also governed and ruled by such a God. And if this God is holy, and if he is righteous, how in the world can he tolerate so much evil in it?”

I have difficulty with his nebulous use of the language here. What does he mean by “universe”? The universe is a pretty big place. This earth is a speck of dust compared to the rest of the universe. What does he know about what is going on in the Andromeda Galaxy, or the Sombrero Galaxy, or any of the other 200 billion galaxies that are out there in the observable universe? He doesn’t even know what is going on in the other side of our own galaxy, never mind in the rest of the universe. It is a bit presumptuous of him to assume that his knowledge and experience of this world makes him an authority on what is happening in the rest of the “universe”. He continues:

“The origin of evil has been called the Achilles heel of Christianity; …” 

That is a somewhat sloppy use of language. The phrase “origin of evil” can have two different meanings. It can either mean how the very idea or concept of “evil” came into existence; or it can refer to how the practice, perpetration, implementation, or commission of evil entered into the world. Those are two different concepts, and need to be separated. The context of his talk suggests that he is actually referring to the second concept, rather than the first; whereas the first is the more fundamental one, which I have already discussed here. He continues:

“Now sometimes as Christians we fail to feel the weight of that problem. The philosopher John Stuart Mill put it this way: The presence of evil makes the very existence of God problematic, because in the Christian view of God we say that on the one hand God is omnipotent, he possesses all power. On the other hand we say that God is loving and good. And Mill looks at the pain, and the sorrow, and the suffering, and the moral evil in this world; and he said, Wait a minute, these two ideas, the goodness of God and the omnipotence of God, in light of the reality of evil, cannot logically cohere or co-exist. His argument is this: if God is all-powerful, and has the power to create a universe without evil; or has the power to rid the universe of evil; and any given moment—if he has the power to do it, and he doesn’t do it, then he is not good, or he is not loving; because what kind of being who has omnipotent power could stand by and observe the pain the suffering and wickedness in a universe of his own creation, and not eliminate it? It can’t be good! If on the other hand God is good, and God is loving, and wants to get rid of evil, that brings so much of blemish to his creation, like the BP oil spill that everybody recognizes is a disaster, and God would see it as a disaster, and he would love to see it cleaned up, but he doesn’t have the power to do it—so do you see, one way or the other, God is either not good, or he is not all-powerful.”

This is also a question that I have already answered more than once in my previous posts; and it is by no means the hardest of the two questions. The reason why he finds it so hard to answer is because he is too stuck in “predestination” and “faith-alone” of Calvinism. If he would rid his mind of that baggage, and with a slight theological adjustment, it becomes easy to answer. He continues:

“Now I think there is an adequate answer to that question, and it is one God willing I will try to provide for you in the minutes that are left in this consideration; but before I go any further to answer the question of where evil came from, I have to give my short answer to the question, my down and dirty answer the question: Where did evil come from? And my answer is this, I don’t know! So maybe it is time for me to just sit down and shut up. But what I want to do in the time remaining is to tell you why I don’t know.”

Well, he has come to the right place to find out. I will be happy to give him the answer free of charge! He continues:

“Forty years ago I was giving a lecture on this subject back in Pittsburgh, and in the audience was my mentor Dr John Gerstner; and he heard me say on that occasion these things: I said I don’t know how to explain the origin of evil; and what else I can tell you is that I am sure that in this world I will never be able to answer that question. I don’t know of any philosopher or theologian who has answered it adequately, at least to satisfy my mind; and I am sure I am not going to go beyond the insights of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, and the rest who have wrestled with this. When I was finished, my mentor took me aside and he was somewhat pained, and visibly irritated with me. And I said, What’s the matter? And he said, What’s the matter is your arrogance! I said, My arrogance? What did I do? He said, You told these people that you didn’t know where evil came from, and that you couldn’t explain the problem, and that is fine; but you are only thirty years old, and you assume that you have already reached the saturation point [of] all the knowledge that you ever acquire in your lifetime. How do you know RC Sproul that you won’t be able to solve this problem tomorrow? I said, Because Aquinas couldn’t do it, and Augustine couldn’t do it, and Edwards couldn’t do it, and you can’t do it, and these guys are so much more intelligent than I am. I am trying to tell you I don’t think there is much likelihood that I am going to solve a conundrum that they were unable to resolve. Well again he rebuked me for my arrogance, and assuming that I had already reached the pinnacle of my own knowledge, and that maybe someday I would be able to answer the question. Well, to defend the remarks that I made forty years ago, I still don’t know the answer to this question, and not for a lack of trying.”

Like I said, he has come to the right place to find out. The advice that John Gerstner failed to give him at that time was, “Ask, and it shall be given” (Matt. 7:7–11); or, as the Book of Mormon says it, “He that diligently seeketh shall find” (1 Nephi 10:19). The answer to all of these difficult theological questions have been right in front of his nose in the Book of Mormon, and in other revealed scriptures of Latter-day Saints for all these many years; but he has lacked the faith to seek for and find them. He continues:

“What this question demands philosophically and theologically is an adequate theodicy. For how many of you is the word theodicy a new word, a word that you would have difficulty defining? Thank you. Okay, we are going to learn a new word today, the word theodicy. … is a word that comes from a combination of two very important biblical words: there is the word theos, which is the New Testament word for God; and then there is the word dikaios, which is the New Testament word for justice or righteousness; a form of which is the word dikaiosuné, which is the New Testament word for justification. What a theodicy is, is an intellectual, reasoned defense of God for the problem of evil in the universe. So in other words, it is an attempt to answer the critique of John Stuart Mill and others, and to justify God for this problem of evil. I don’t know how many theodicies I have studied in my lifetime—quite a few of them. I have yet to find one completely satisfying to my own brain. In a few minutes I will provide the theodicy which I think comes the closest to solving the problem that I have ever seen, but still lacks final resolution.”

Well, I will be happy to give him the perfect “theodicy” that gives him the perfect answer to that question, so he doesn’t need to look elsewhere. As I have already mentioned, there are two separate issues or questions inherent in this that he fails to differentiate. The first question is, Where did the very idea or concept of “evil” come from? Who created or invented it in the first place? The second question is, Why did God allow the implementation, practice, or perpetration of evil to enter into his creation? The first question is the more fundamental one, to which he basically gives the wrong answer. The correct answer to the first question is actually God! When God created or invented the concept of “good,” he could have only done so in contrast with the concept of “evil,” because one concept cannot exist apart from the other, or except in contrast with the other. That is what he (along with other Christian theologians) has failed to grasp.

The second question is actually the easier of the two, for which he admits he doesn’t have a good answer—and I do! Evil has to exist in our present condition because that is the only way that man can have moral agency, or freewill. If God intervened to stop people from doing anything wrong every time somebody was going to, then they wouldn’t be free agents. They wouldn’t have moral agency. To be free moral agents, they must be allowed to make wrong choices as well as right ones. But that only applies to this brief period of mortality. After that we enter an eternal state in which that condition no longer applies. This brief period of mortality in which we now live is a testing ground to see who will be faithful and obedient to the will of God. In order for that to be possible, mankind have to be free to make wrong choices as well as right ones. And for that freedom to exist, they need to have the two option presented to them, hence the need for temptations of the devil:

D&C 29:

39 And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.

The devil persuades them to do evil, while God persuades them to do good. Which side they go, is entirely their choice. There is no compulsion. When they make the wrong choice, then evil enters into the world. But they have the choice.

It is no good asking, Why do they make the wrong choice? The answer is, for the same reason that they make the right choice. It is because they have the choice. It is a real choice. If they made their choices based on some “inclination” which they were powerless to resist (as he claims), then it wouldn’t be a choice at all, and God would not be justified in holding them accountable. It is a real choice, and they are accountable for it. Then he continues:

“Now I don’t want to exaggerate, but my estimate is, and I don’t think this is hyperbole—Vesta could confirm it, you could ask her—at least it seems to me that about once a month, maybe it is not quite that frequently, but it seems to me that about once a month I get a letter from somebody out there who has solved the problem of the origin of evil, and they want to run it by me; and I have to answer these letters as politely and nicely as I know how, when I want to say, This is Amateur Night folks! And I don’t think you feel the weight of the problem, because the answers that I find in these letters that are addressed to me—and I do appreciate that people struggle with this question, and are trying to come up with answers—but it seems to me that the answers I hear again and again are not just simple, but they are simplistic. They don’t really see the depth of the problem. And of course, the most common answer I receive is that the origin of evil has to be located in human freewill.”

In a certain sense they are actually right—and he is wrong! They may not have fully comprehended all the ramifications of the argument, or thought their way through it; but “freewill” has a lot to do with it. Their instincts lead them to the right thinking, although they may not have fully thought through all the ramifications of it, or be able to fully articulate it. The reason why he can’t see it is because he is lumbered with the false theology of Calvinism which beclouds his thinking, and which in the back of his mind he is constantly trying to justify. He continues (emphasis added):

“And of course we all understand that the one who brings evil into the world, moral evil, is man, Adam and Eve, or before that the devil; and both of those personages were exercising the faculty of choosing, in which they have been endowed by their creator; and that they have made choices the result of which are evil. And so … what’s the problem? We answer this problem with the free will of man. Sin came into being because Adam or Eve or both of them freely decided to disobey God, just as Lucifer when he was a good angel was transformed into an evil, fallen angel when he exercised his free will by choosing to disobey God. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that those choices were made, and I am not denying that they were evil choices. What I am saying is that they don’t solve the problem, because we know this, that before a choice can be made, prior to the choices being made, there has to be some kind of moral inclination; and if you examine it as carefully for example as Jonathan Edwards did in his classic work on the freedom of the will, Edwards comes to the conclusion that the only way you can account for an evil choice is by having an evil inclination or disposition to that choice—manifest that Adam and Eve’s choice was evil, and … and they chose it according to their will, and that is also true of Satan. But the question is, Where did their prior disposition come from? What was it that inclined Adam and Eve to disobey God?”

He makes two fundamental errors here. The first is that he (along with Christian theologians in general) has completely failed to grasp the theology of the Fall, as already discussed here. The second mistake he makes is in his conclusion (from Jonathan Edwards apparently) that, “the only way you can account for an evil choice is by having an evil inclination or disposition towards that choice.” I haven’t read Jonathan Edwards’ book; but I don’t think I need to read it in order to recognize the fallacy of that argument (which I have already discussed here).

Let us suppose someone is an alcoholic. He is addicted to consuming alcohol, getting drunk, and making life a misery for his family and everybody else around. Then he comes to his senses, decides that that is not the right way to live, seeks counselling, makes the effort, overcomes his addiction, and becomes a sober and nice guy from now on. First, that is a good example of repentance. That is what it means to repent. Secondly, it means that just because we have an “inclination” to do something wrong, that we have to succumb to that inclination. We have the choice (and power) not to. That is what it means to have a choice. If we were powerless to go against an evil inclination, then we wouldn’t have a choice. His argument is self-contradictory. On the one hand he likes to say that people have a choice. On the other hand he says that people make decisions based on the inclination they have towards that choice, which implies that they don’t really have a choice! He can’t have it both ways. Either people have a choice or they don’t. You can’t say that they have a choice, but that they are irresistibly bound by their inclination towards that choice. If that be the case, then they don’t have a choice at all. That is the negation of a choice. He wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to give us a choice with one hand, and take it away with the other. The Bible tells us that we do have a choice—a real choice. Experience also tells us that we have a real choice. Calvinism, on the other hand, wants to tell us that we don’t! He pretends to give people a choice, when in reality it denies it. It is a deceptive choice. It is deceptive theology. It is a charade. It is not a choice at all. He continues (emphasis added):

“Now part of Roman Catholic theology is to struggle with this question, and talk about the doctrine of concupiscence. You may have heard of concupiscence, and Rome defines concupiscence in this manner: that concupiscence is of sin, and inclines to sin, but is not sin. Well in one respect I think that is right, that it is not an actual sin of disobedience in terms of the outward action; but that which is of sin, and inclines to sin is sinful; and so a being who has a desire to do something evil, before he chooses to do that evil, is already fallen before he makes the choice. Do you see that? That is the point that so many people miss. When they say, Oh, well, it was all because of the free choice of Adam and Eve. But the question is, why did these creatures who were made in the image of God, and who were made good, choose to disobey Him?”

The first thing that he needs to do is to cut Adam and Eve out of it, because he has got that story completely wrong. Secondly, a desire or inclination to sin is not the same as sinning. It becomes a sin only if it is carried into action—otherwise it is just be a temptation to sin. Experiencing the temptation to sin is not itself a sin. If the temptation to sin was itself a sin, then Jesus was a sinner, because he was “in all points tempted like as we are” (Heb. 4:15). But the ultimate question he is asking is, Why do people make wrong choices? The answer is, For the same reason that they make right choices—because they have the choice. People don’t always make wrong choices. More often than not, they make right choices. If people made wrong choices more often than right choices, the world would have been destroyed several times over by now. The reason why it hasn’t been, and even prospers, and civilization keeps improving and getting better, is because most people most of the time are making right choices. 

People make wrong choices because they are tempted by the devil, and yield to that temptation. They make right choices because they are persuaded by that Spirit which “giveth light to every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9); and follow the moral norms of right and wrong that exist in every society. If the temptation of the devil didn’t exist, the choice to sin wouldn’t exist either, and nobody would sin. Suffering and evil enters into the world because people make wrong choices. God allows them to make wrong choices because to do otherwise would deprive them of their moral agency. But they will be held accountable for their actions in the day of judgement (unless they repent). That is the simple and easy answer to that question that he (and every other Christian theologian apparently) has not been able to find an answer to. He continues:

“Well if you say [the choice was made] for no reason, that there was no prior inclination, no prior desire or disposition, then you have described a choice that is not a moral action at all. You have denied the moral agency of the creature when you say, he does it arbitrarily.”

The truth is the exact opposite of what he is stating here. It is not an arbitrary decision. It is a real choice. They are “moral agents” precisely because they are not obliged to follow their “inclinations,” but can resist and act against it if their moral judgement tells them that it is not the right thing to do. If they were powerless to resist their “inclinations” (or to know better), that would indicate lack of “moral agency of the creature,” or an inability to act as moral agents. His argument turns the true doctrine on its head. Then he embarks on a lengthy discussion in which he reiterates mostly what he has said before, which I will skip until we get to this point:

“You know, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth called the problem of evil the unmögliche möglichkeit, the ‘impossible possibility,’ which is a contradictory statement. It is a nonsense statement. Well, in that case Barth was not just merely practicing his favorite tool of dialectical thinking, or the use of paradox to make a point; he understood that evil had to be possible, or it couldn’t have happened. But we cannot find any way in which it was possible. It seems at least on the outside that was impossible, and yet it happened, and that is why he calls it an impossible possible; and that is his way as a theologian to throw up his hands and say, I give up! I don’t know! Dr Gerstner would have said to Dr Barth, You haven’t died yet Karl; don’t give up so easily, or you are surrendering to the same arrogance that this kid in Pittsburgh has suffered from.”

Well, I think I have already demonstrated that it is not such an “impossible” possibility. To briefly recap on what I have already said, there are two questions here: (1) Where did the concept or idea of evil come from? And (2) How did the evil enter into God’s creation, which he had pronounced to be “good”? The concept or idea of evil came from God! In the day that God pronounced all things that he had created to be “good,” he could have only done so in contrast with the idea or concept of “evil,” because one concept is a necessary prerequisite for the existence of the other. At the same time that God created or invented the idea or concept of “good,” he also created or invented the idea or concept of “evil,” because one concept cannot exist, or have meaning, except in contrast with the other. Evil has no meaning except in contrast with good; and likewise, good has no meaning except in contrast with evil. It is impossible to conceive of one apart from the other.

The answer to the second question is, Evil entered into God’s creation in the day that God gave man freewill, and allowed Satan to tempt them. Some choose to do evil rather than good (or some choose to repent and some don’t), and that is how evil has entered, and continues to enter into the world.

In answer to the question of why men choose to do evil at all―in the first place? The answer is, For the same reason that they choose to do good—because they have the choice. Calvinism likes to tell us that they don’t really have a choice. RC Sproul wants to give them their freewill with one hand, and take it away with the other. He wants to tell us that they have a choice, but in reality they don’t, so he obfuscates it. He argues that they have a choice, but their “choice” is irresistibly arrived at by their “inclination” towards that choice―which amounts to saying that they don’t really have a choice. It is a negation of a choice. If their “choices” are irresistibly determined by their “inclination” towards that choice, which they are powerless to go against, then it is not a choice. A real choice exists only when they are able to go against an “inclination” towards a particular choice, because their moral compass tells them that that might not be the right thing to do. Calvinism is inherently dishonest. It is impossible to be a Calvinist and maintain your integrity at the same time. You have to be deceptive in order to preserve it. Skipping several more paragraphs of his talk, however, we come to the following:

“Evil is not good, but it is good that there is evil, otherwise it wouldn’t be in a universe ruled by a perfect God. God has his purpose for the entrance of evil into this world; and in a certain sense, as Augustine said centuries ago, God even ordained that evil come into the world. If he did not ordained it, it wouldn’t be here, because evil has no power to overcome the sovereign providential government of this universe.”

He has come close to the truth, but he hasn’t managed to quite get there. God has not “ordained” evil. He has not “ordained” that there should be evil in the world. What he has ordained is that mankind should be free to choose good and evil for themselves; and he has also ordained that Satan should tempt them in order to provide them with that alternative choice. If the temptations of the devil did not exist, men would not have that alternative choice, and therefore would not be “free” to choose good or evil for themselves—and no one would sin. It is the wrong exercise of that choice that is the cause of evil entering into the world. However since God is sovereign, and also omnipotent and omniscient, and knows the end from the beginning, he is able to make use of or direct that evil so as to make it work towards his own righteous ends—without at the same time infringing on man’s freewill. He continues:

“Now the the favorite verse that is annually voted by evangelical Christians as people’s favorite verse in the Bible, is Romans 8:28: ‘all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, and who are called according to his purpose’. Now unless God has sovereign power over evil, he will not be able to keep that promise. That promise that we cling to, that promise we rely on, that promise that encourages us, that no matter how many bad things we suffer in this world—it is not that God is saying that those bad things are good things; but he is saying that they are working for good. I am using it ultimately for good. Unless God has the power over good and evil, he can’t make that promise. Do you see that?”

That is right of course, subject to the provisos mentioned above. He continues:

“And so for purposes I don’t know, and I don’t understand, God as Augustine qualified, in a certain sense ordained that evil come into this world—not naively, so that you may experience the difference between good and evil. My daddy used to say, you don’t have to live in a garbage can to know that it stinks; but for a redemptive purpose.”

His daddy was wrong! That is in fact one of the consequences or rationale for the existence of suffering and evil in the world. If Jesus had to “learn obedience by the things that he suffered” (Heb. 5:8); and was “made perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2: 10); what makes him think that we can do without? Does he think that he is smarter than Jesus, or can do something that Jesus couldn’t do? If Jesus couldn’t be “perfected” or “learn obedience” without being exposed to the pains and sufferings of this world, it is unlikely that we would be able to either. If Jesus couldn’t be “perfected” without experiencing this “garbage can,” chances are that we won’t be able to either. For the remainder of his talk he doesn’t say anything that has not already been addressed, therefore no further comment is needed.

The Problem of Evil Revisited—Part I



After I had posted my previous message in response to RC Sproul’s talk: “What is Evil and Where Did it Come From?” some people objected that I had not adequately addressed the specific points that he raises, but simply expressed my own views and left it at that. The trouble is that these folks preach long rambling sermons which makes it difficult to give it a detailed, point by point response. This coupled with the fact that they often do not provide a written transcript, giving it a detailed response makes it doubly difficult. However, with the help of a combination of computer trickery, word-processing wizardry, YouTube magic, and ingenuity I was able to obtain a written transcript of it without too much difficulty; and so I am now able to give it a more detailed response. He begins his talk as follows:

“Well it is not fair. I don’t dream up the themes for our conferences each year. The staff does that. And then they come to me and give assignments as to what I am supposed to address. And you notice on the board a moment ago that I have been given two questions to address, each of which would be worthy of a lengthy series to consider; and I am supposed to answer these questions in one message. Well that is impossible. I won’t do it because I can’t do it; but will give you a little introduction to these questions. And the first of the questions is, What is evil? The second question is, Where did it come from? But the first part of the question is, What is evil? And my immediate response to that in presidential fashion is to say, It depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is!

“Now that is really not a joke. I am serious about that, because there are different ways in which we use the verb ‘is’ as a verb ‘to be;’ and when we are dealing with the question of what is evil, we face immediately the issue of whether evil really ‘is’ at all! That might seem strange to you, but my first assertion this morning is that evil isn’t! That is, it is not! Why? Because evil is nothing! Am I going too fast? Evil is nothing!

“Now lest you think that I have fallen into Christian Science, a religion that is neither Christian nor science, where the reality of evil is denied altogether, and considered to be an illusion, I want to clarify what I mean when I say evil ‘is not,’ or that evil is ‘nothing’. …

“But what do I mean when I say that evil is nothing? What I mean by that is, I am taking the word ‘nothing,’ and resting upon its etymological derivation where the term ‘nothing’ comes from, the combination of a negative prefix and a subject; and the word nothing really means no-thing; and the reason I want to stress that point is that in the culture, we get the idea that evil is some kind of independent substance, something that is in your drinking water, or in the cloud somewhere; some force or power that is independent, that exists in and of himself, and influences the affairs of your life and of this world; and so the first thing we have to say about what evil is, is what it is not. It is not a ‘thing’ that has existence. Evil has no ‘being. It has no ontological status. Rather, evil is an action of something that is ‘a thing’. I am something, you are something; and when I do something that is not good, then I am doing something that is evil. But evil then is an activity of some being; it has no being itself.”

The trouble with that argument is that whatever he has said of “evil,” is equally applicable to “good”. Good is not a “thing” in and of itself either; it is an activity of some other being. Good (like evil) can be used as an adverb or as an adjective. We can say that an activity is good (or evil); or we can say that an object (the result of an activity) is good (or evil). We can say for example that sacred music is good. That can refer to sacred music itself (an object), or the activity of creating sacred music. Likewise we can say that pornography is evil. That can refer to pornographic images (an object), or the activity of creating them. But whatever applies to “evil” in that context, is equally applicable to “good”. Therefore the distinction that he is trying to make between the two in that regard is arbitrary and contrived. If you are going to argue that evil is “nothing” in that sense of the term; you will have to conclude that good is “nothing” either, in the same sense of the term. Just as “evil” does not exist, or have meaning except in contrast with “good;” likewise “good” cannot exist, or have meaning except in contrast with “evil”. The concepts of good and evil in that sense of the term are ontologically equivalent. He continues:

“Now that may seem like a pedantic point, and of no immediate concern to the second question of where evil comes from; but later on God willing I will try to indicate why our definition of evil is so important to the deeper question of where it comes from.”

Except that that is a failed argument from the start; because if his definition of evil is of the same quality as his definition of good, or gives both good and evil the same ontological states as far their “nothingness” is concerned; and the argument that he applies to evil is equally applicable to good (which it is, as shown above), then his argument has failed before it has begun. He continues: 

“Now back to the idea of its ‘nothingness’. Historically, the two great theologian philosophers in the history of the church who have addressed the question of what is evil are of course Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine before him; and both Augustine and Aquinas used two Latin words—of course, because you can’t do theology without using Latin words! And that they used two Latin words to describe the nature of evil; and those two words were negatio and privatio; and you can guess the translation of those two Latin words. Privatio comes into the English language with the word ‘privation,’ and negatio comes into the English language with the word ‘negation’. And so historically and classically, the nature of evil has been defined in terms of ‘negation’ and ‘privation’.

“In philosophy and in theology, one of the most important ways in which we try to give definitions to things that are mysterious is by using the method called ‘the way of negation;’ and that method talks in terms of what something is not. For example, when we talk about the character and the being of God, we say that God is infinite. What does that mean? Well, that means he is not finite. That is an application of this way of negation. And so what Augustine and Aquinas were getting at is that to discuss the nature of evil, which the Bible calls ‘the mystery of iniquity,’ we have to first understand it by way of negation—by what it is not. Now evil in this sense can only be defined against the backdrop of what is good; and in biblical terms, evil is defined by words like this: ‘ungodliness,’ ‘unrighteousness,’ ‘injustice’ for example, so that the term is used as the negation, the opposite of the positive thing that is being affirmed; so that ‘injustice’ or ‘unjust-ness,’ it can only be understood against the previous concept of justice; unrighteousness can only be recognized as unrighteousness against the background of righteousness, as the standard by which unrighteousness can be recognized and can be defined. I think that is pretty easy to see, that the way in which negative language is used to describe evil.”

That is more of a linguistic accident than an expression of the nature of evil. Non-negative words like “wicked,” “bad,” “wrong,” “vile,” “base,” “fiendish,” or “evil” itself are also used for evil. The trouble with that argument is that everything that he has said of “evil,” is equally applicable of “good”. Just as evil can only be defined against the backdrop of good, good can only be defined against the backdrop of evil. There is an ontological equivalence between the two. There is no difference between them from that point of view. Just as evil can only exist, or have meaning, by contrast with good; likewise good can only exist, or have meaning, by contrast with evil. If the concept of evil didn’t exist, the concept of good couldn’t exist either, because each is dependent on the other for its conceptual meaning and existence. He continues:

“In this sense the great theologians would indicate that evil is parasitic. It is like a parasite. It can’t be known in and of itself, as some independent being; but can only be known and understood against the positive standard. And like a parasite, if the host dies the parasite dies with it, because the parasite depends upon the host for its own strength and existence; and in like manner and in an analogical way, the same thing is true of evil—is that you can’t really describe it, you can’t really define, it except against the background of the good.”

Except that what he has said there of “evil,” is equally applicable to “good”. Just as evil cannot exist, or have meaning apart from good; likewise good cannot exist, or have meaning apart from evil—and in contrast to it. There is no way that the concept of “good” can exist except in contrast with the concept of evil. He continues:

“Now the other word that is used by Augustine and Aquinas is the word ‘privation;’ and what a privation is, is some sort of lack, or some sort of deficiency. If you don’t get something that you want, that doesn’t mean that you are experiencing deprivation. But if you don’t get something that you need, then it can be properly said that you have been deprived, that you are lacking something that is necessary and essential to your very being.

“If we go to the Westminster Confession of faith, the 17th century reformed confession, and its catechetical formulations in the Westminster larger catechism, and then in this shorter catechism, you have the simple question that is asked, ‘What is sin?’ And since you all know the Catechism, you know the answer to that before I give it. What is sin? Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of the law of God. So there confessionally, sin or moral evil is defined in terms of a lack, of a privation, of a want of conformity to. Righteousness involves conforming to the law of God, doing what God commands; but sin enters in when we fail to do what God commands, and we fail to conform to his standards of what is righteous. And so on the one hand the Catechism says that sin is a want of conformity to, which is a kind of privatio, a kind of privation, or transgression of the law of God.”

Describing the “transgression of the law” as some kind of “privation” or “deprivation” is a strange concept, and I am not sure that it is a valid one. If I break the speed limit, whom am I “depriving,” and of what? He continues:

“Now we are moving out of simple privation and simple negation to another element, an element that the Reformers of the 16th century added to the classic definition of evil. They agreed that evil is negation and is privation; but lest anyone should think that because evil has no being, no independent status, is not a ‘thing;’ and lest because of that we come to the conclusion that evil really is an illusion; the Reformers said that yes, sin is negation, or evil is negation, evil is privation; but they added another Latin term. Don’t they always! They added the term, actuosa, that is to say, evil is privatio actuosa, meaning that though evil is not something that exists in and of itself, it is real; and its effects and its impact are devastating. There is an actual privation; that is, an activated privation, an activated disobedience to the word of God. And because real beings act out real evil, though evil is not independent, nevertheless it is real. Am I making sense? You are getting that, you are understanding that point? Is it too obscure? Of course not! You all get it, don’t you? So that is where we start with this question of what is evil, and where does it come from. That is the easy part of the two questions.”

Well he is not making a lot of sense to me! I see a lot of contradictions and inconsistencies there. Either evil is “nothing,” or it is “something”. It can’t be both at the same time. It looks to me like he wants to have his cake and eat it. At first he says that evil is “nothing,” and then he says that it is “something”. And in any case, all of his arguments concerning “evil” would be equally applicable to “good”. There is no ontological distinction between the two in that regard. The distinction he is trying to make between evil and good is arbitrary and contrived.

That is his answer to the first part of the question, and an unsatisfactory one. If he thinks that that was “the easy part of the two questions,” maybe it is because he has either not understood the question properly, or he has not been able to answer it adequately. I will end this post here, and will examine his attempt to answer the second part of the two questions in the next post.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

More on the Problem of Evil in Christian Theology



After I had posted my previous message about John Piper’s views on the question of evil in Christian theology, I searched a bit more, and came across the above lecture on the same subject by RC Sproul, which is worth examining.

There is a certain amount of vagueness and lack of clarity about his talk that prevents it from getting to the point properly. He mixes up different concepts which should be differentiated; or where they are interrelated, that interrelationship should be made clear. He wastes a lot of time discussing the Fall, which he (along with Christian theologians in general) have misunderstood badly, as I have already explained herePutting that aside, however, there are three separate concepts or issues regarding evil in Christian theology referred to in his talk that need to be differentiated and explored; they are:

1. The very idea, concept, and origin of evil.
2. The practise or perpetration of evil.
3. The permission of evil in God’s creation.

He discusses all three, but fails to properly differentiate them so as to make his meaning clear. The first is the most important, and one that has baffled Christian theologians and philosophers the most: Where did the very concept and idea of evil initially come from? Who conceived of it, and how did it originate? The answer to that question (surprising to some) will have to be God! In the book of Genesis we read that when God created all things, he pronounced all that he had made, good! And “good” can only exist, or have meaning, in contrast with “evil”. It is impossible for it to be otherwise. The only way that God could have created all things “good,” was if the concept of good versus evil already existed in the mind of God before all other things were created. The concept of good can only exist in contrast with evil. One cannot exist apart from the other. If God caused, or created, the concept or idea of “good,” he could have only done so in contrast with the idea and concept of “evil,” because one cannot exist, or have meaning apart from the other. Good can only exist, or have meaning, in contrast with the evil. Now that does not make God the author of evil, or the author of good as well as of evil. Whoever perpetrates evil becomes the author of evil, which God does not. But the idea or concept of evil could only have meaning by contrast with the idea or concept of good—and originated from the same source. Either that, or the concept of good and evil is something that has intrinsic existence apart from God; and was not created, conceived of, or imagined by God. Those are the only two possible options.

Some have argued that evil does not have intrinsic existence, but is simply the absence of good; just as darkness is the absence of light. But whichever way you define it, evil still owes its existence to good. There could be no “good” if there were no “evil” that it could be contrasted with. When God created all things, and pronounced all that he had made “good” (Genesis 1); the first thing that he must have created, thought of, invented, imagined, or conceived of was the concept of good versus evil; otherwise he could not have pronounced what he had created to be “good”. The idea or concept of “good” cannot exist in anyone’s mind, including God’s, apart from the idea or concept of “evil”—and in contrast to it. That is the answer to the first question.

Next we come to the question of what causes some people to perpetrate or commit acts of evil or sin? RC Sproul insists that to commit acts of evil or sin, one must necessarily have some kind of inclination or predisposition towards it, otherwise no one would. The problem with that is that the counterpart to it would also have to be true: to commit acts of virtue and goodness​, one must have an inclination or predisposition towards it, otherwise no one would. The effect of that is to cancel out human freewill altogether. If people do good or evil for no other reason than because they are inclined to it one way or the other, what role does agency or freewill play in their decisions​? The answer has to be none! That suits his Calvinistic theology very well of course—except that it is not biblical. If man has no freewill or choice in the actions he takes, all the exhortations throughout the Bible for man to do good, and abstain from evil, become meaningless and hypocritical, and make out God to be a hypocrite and a liar. The biblical doctrine is that sin is a “transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4). Where there is no “law,” there can also be no “transgression of the Law,” and therefore no sin. And law requires a lawgiver, who is ultimately God. Hence we have the correct doctrine taught in the Book of Mormon as follows:

Alma 42:

22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted, which repentance mercy claimeth; otherwise justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment—if not so the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God. And thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
24 For behold justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own, and thus none but the truly penitent are saved.

Human agency and freewill is absolutely central to the biblical doctrine, which heretical Calvinism denies. People sin when they are tempted to sin. If there was no temptation of the devil, no one would sin, because the option or choice for them to do so would not exist. In heaven there will be no more temptation of the devil, and no one sins (Rev. 20: 3, 10). In hell the devil reigns, hence no one has any other choice but sin (which is their torment). In this life, however, people have a choice; and the choices they make in this life, follows them in the next, and determines what their end will be. 

And lastly we come to the third and final question raised in his lecture: the justification for the presence of evil and sin in this world in which we now live. This is the perennial question that is asked by the unbelieving, the skeptic, and the superficial. They say, If God is good, why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? Why does he not intervene to stop it? That is a question that I have already answered several times in my previous posts. So at the risk of repeating myself again, the answer is that, firstly, sometimes God does intervene to stop it, as he did in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the Flood. The criteria he uses for intervening is when their “iniquity” is “full” (Gen. 15:16); or as the Book of Mormon expresses it, when they are “ripened in iniquity” (Ether 2:9; 9:20). At other times he doesn’t because he is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9; also Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4).

If God intervened to stop it every time somebody was going to do something wrong, that would deprive mankind of their agency. Man must be free to make wrong choices as well as right ones in this life, and thus to determine for himself what his ultimate end will be—even if that means that other people are going to get hurt by it. The good news is that the present state of affairs will not last very long. It will soon come to an end, and we will all enter an eternal state where we will each reap the reward of our labors in this life: “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). In the meantime, repentance and redemption is granted through the Atonement of Jesus Christ for those who have sinned to repent of them and be saved, before the end comes when it will be too late.

“Faith alone” don’t work; predestination is the doctrine of the devil; and Calvinism was invented by Satan to pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the biggest corruption and perversion of the gospel that Satan has invented since Christianity came into existence.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

“Why Does God Allow Satan to Live?”



I came across the above video by John Piper in which he asks the question: “Why does God allow Satan to live?” Why does he not take him out right now? Why does he allow him to cause all the trouble that he continues to cause? And he rightly observes that the Bible does not give a direct answer to that question, so he gives it the best shot he can—and bungles it in the process! But I have got some good news for him. Mormon scripture goes give the direct answer to that question.

John Piper makes several mistakes in his commentary. The first mistake that he makes is that in a sense Satan has already been “taken out”. He has already been cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18), and thus become “miserable forever” (2 Nephi 2:18); so that he is by no means a “happy devil”. Just because God still allows him to roam around and cause trouble; and even allows him to appear in the presence of God (Job 1:6; 2:1), and also to interrogate Jesus (Matt. 4:3; Luke 4:3); it does not mean that he is a happy devil. He has already been cast out of heaven and from the presence of God, and become “miserable forever.

Secondly, in answer to the question of why God still allows Satan to do what he does, that is also answered directly in modern LDS scripture, as follows:

D&C 29:

39 And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet—

The purpose of this mortal existence is to allow mankind to freely choose between good and evil, and thus to determine for themselves what their ultimate end will be; and they could only do that if they were presented with a choice:

Alma 29:

5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men. He that knoweth not good from evil, is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires—whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

If that choice didn’t exist, mankind could neither do good nor evil; and therefore could neither be rewarded for doing good, nor condemned for doing evil. Everything is known by its opposite. If evil didn’t exist, good wouldn’t exist either. Sin is a “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4); and that “law” against committing evil could only exist if evil itself existed—or rather, man’s ability to choose between the two—hence the need for the temptations of the devil. And God has set aside a day of judgement to punish or reward mankind according to the good or evil that they have done: “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29). That is another way of saying that “faith alone” don’t work! Sorry, it ain’t biblical. :-)
_________________

P.S.

After I had posted the above comments, I came across a podcast by John Piper in which he tries to explain the problem of evil at a more fundamental level, which can be seen here:



I am not going to comment on everything he has said, because that would take too long. I will just briefly mention one thing. At 8:50 minutes into the podcast he quotes Isaiah 64:7 as follows: “There is no one here who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you, for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities; and adds by way of commentary, “And so again it is the hiding of his [God’s] face that explains the sin …” In other words, his interpretation of Isaiah 64:7 is that Israel’s sinning was caused by God turning his face away from them. I don’t know where that translation of Isaiah comes from, but evidently it is wrong. The KJV gives the correct translation, which is as follows: “And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.” In other words, Israel’s iniquities are the cause of God turning his face from them, not the other way; and that agrees with the rest of the Bible:

Deuteronomy 31:

16 And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
17 Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?
18 And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.

Deuteronomy 32:

19 And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.
20 And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.
21 They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

His reading of Isaiah 64:7 turns the true doctrine on its head. The true doctrine is that God turns his face away from Israel because of their sins. His reading is that God’s turning his face from Israel is the cause of their sinning! LOL! That is what Calvinism does to people I guess. It makes them turn the whole Bible on its head.