Friday, April 24, 2009

More Than Conquerors

The question, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" implicity :
  • assumes that God is 'ultmately behind' the evil event
  • ignores the fact that free supernatural agents (i.e. demons) can and do continue to wreck havoc in the world

In a word, the question misses the fact that Christianity posits kingdoms at war.: The kingdom of God vs. the kingdom of the 'ruler of the air' (Eph 2).

Whilst Satan has been defeated in principle (to use a soccer analogy, the half-time score is 8-0), the game isn't over yet and the army of God cannot relax in front of the goal-mouth.

The battle continues, though the war has been won.

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Derek L. said...

I contend that asking "why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" does NOT implicitly assume that God is 'ultimately behind' the evil event.

For example, "why does my mum allow me to fall down when I'm on the swing" doesn't imply that mum was ultimately behind me falling off the swing. However, the use of the word "allow" does imply two things:

Firstly, it implies that it was within the abilities of the named party (God or mum) to prevent the named event (bad things or falling off the swing) from happening. After all, if the named party couldn't stop the event, then there is nothing to "allow". Just like the sun rises every day but not because you, Alwyn, "allow" it to happen.

Secondly, it implies that the named party made a conscious choice not to prevent said event from happening.

Which is ultimately shown to be false, as your post states - there's a war going on, and bad stuff happens because it is either 1) beyond God's control (which eventually leads to the age old thorny questions of "Is God omnipotent") or 2) he did not make a conscious choice to stop it, which brings us back a full circle - why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?

Just my 2 cents :)

Alwyn said...

Thanks for the creative add-ons'! :>)

A few first-blush responses:

1. The mum-and-swing analogy 'tilts' the situation towards one where the mum 'obviously' could have stopped you falling if she wanted to - which is exactly what I'm trying to distance us from when it comes to God.

Why? precisely because I don't associate the "God and evil" problem with the "mum and swing" problem; it's more like the "Allies vs. Nazi" issue.

2. You also raise two good points:

a) If evil happened, is it because it was 'beyond God's control'? Well, yes *but* no. God is all-powerful, yes, but we also need to ask what His 'rules' are creation, what did He intend from the start and what did He 'put in place'?

Assuming that freedom/self-determination was one of the bestowments on His creation, would it be 'right' for Him to block off all free evil acts just before they were committed, etc.? In a word, what does 'real freedom' entail?

b) If evil happened, is it because God made a conscious choice not to stop it? Again, should God be consciously stopping EACH AND EVERY act and thought that goes contrary to perfect good? What kind of world would we have, in this case?

On the other hand, we also need to ask: If good people can heal and help others, then doesn't it logically follow that evil people can hurt and harm others too? And, of course, isn't this the world we're living in right now?

Derek L. said...

According to your response to (A), God is all powerful. Meaning whatever He chooses comes to fruition. That means he could stop activity X from happening if he so chose. Or another way of phrasing it, if God chose to stop X, then X would not happen because He is omnipotent. Obviously if He wanted to stop X but was unable to, then He is obviously not omnipotent, right?

If we agree on that, then it is a simple matter to deduce that if X happens, it is because God did NOT choose to stop it.

As an example, think of Spiderman. Spidey *obviously* could have stopped the burglar from getting away. If Spidey wanted to stop the guy, he would have been stopped. However, the burglar escaped. Therefore it is obvious that Spidey made a conscious choice to not stop the burglar.

But back to The Big Man...

I'm not saying He made a choice to not stop it. I'm just saying He didn't make a choice to stop it, if you can appreciate the distinction I'm drawing between a choice and a non-choice.

The morality or reasoning of that choice (or lack thereof) doesn't interest me very much. Should He...? Why did He...? Irrelevant. I'm interested in "could he" and "did he".

Could He? According to A => Yes He could.
Did He? Obviously not.

Which implies a certain level of conscious choice, assuming that He knew what was going on. Now, I'm sure He has His reasons, which are way beyond me. But like I said, I am just interested in the "could He" and "did He".

And I think I have demonstrated quite cleanly that if we assume that God is omnipotent, then there is an element of conscious choice in that God does indeed allow bad things to happen to good people.

Maybe it's a sacrifice, like a pawn sac in chess? I'm not qualified to speak at that level :)

alwyn said...

A quick response to the 'could he' thinggy.

Yes, He could but:

1) it's possible He *de-limited* His own powers *from the very start* by deciding on certain 'conditions' for the kind of world He wanted. E.g. can you stop your subordinates from complaining in office? sure you can, by creating a corporate gestapo. can you stop them from *ever* making serious mistakes? sure you can, by micro-managing.

the point is: to stop each and every act would make a mockery of creation

2) it might help to think about it from the point of view of the evil-doer and this includes *us*(!) our freedom is:

- risky i.e. we CAN hurt people, and this is a 'condition' for our loving them

- irrevocable i.e. can we be truly free if our freedom was 'cancelled out' after X number of mistakes?

Key point: If we can accept that God does NOT 'stop' our every evil act/thought even when it hurts others, then perhaps this helps in reflecting why not even some of the heinous evil is necessarily prevented at *all* times.

So imagine an omnipotent God saying, "This project of LOVE *entails* I do not intervene at all times, it entails the risk that there will be evil but I will provide for the opportunity for good to combat evil, e.g. prayer, and in the END I will wipe away every tear."

Does this impact yr understanding of omnipotence?

Xenogue said...

Alwyn, let me be the devil's advocate to throw in my thoughts:

Principally, the phrasing of your question "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" and your consequent statement of "the kingdom of God vs kingdom of the ruler of air" assumes three additional things: (a) 'bad' things are unanimously bad. (b)'good' people are unanimously good. (c) there is a force or being seemingly equivalent or near equivalent to God.

'Bad' things are termed 'bad' because of how we associate it in terms of feelings and description. I mean, you getting mugged is 'bad' for you, but is 'good' for the mugger.

Likewise, 'good' people is an oxymoron. People are never truly evil nor truly good - it's only human to generalize people into either categories (among others) from the limited knowledge that we have of an individual in how they present themselves to situations we are present in.

Finally, why would God create such a being or force of such magnitude in that his 'kingdom' would need to be in a cosmic war with? Which ironically of course, in assumption that God created everything, then the 'other side' would be his creation, and as such within his 'kingdom' too.

Basically, the long and short of it is that it's only bad or good if you perceive it so - God didn't define it as such; the individual did. A beggar's dream would be to be the richest man, and yet the richest man's dream could be to have a relaxed life like a beggar's.

And that it doesn't make sense that there are 'free' supernatural agents of chaos 'acting on their own actively against God' if He is Omnipotent.

Would be interested in your thoughts, Alwyn. :)

Alwyn said...

Thanks for your thots Xenogue. A few responses:

1. I agree that 'good' and 'bad' can be AT TIMES relative, except that the Bible does seem to talk about true/real evil and it certainly looks as if some categorically undeniable evil exists in the world (e.g. genocides, rapes, etc.).

I'll grant you, however, that should you push the 'everything is only human generalisation' to the max, it would remove the problem of evil altogether (as there wouldn't really BE any evil, right?)

2. Why would God create Lucifer and does this imply that God is 'responsible' for his evil? No. Free agents are responsible for their actions (duh), not their Makers.

Also, God can gift you and I with great powers for use in His kingdom - this answers the question about the *purpose* of creating 'powerful beings'. So there's Lucifer, there's Michael, there's Gabriel - why did Lucifer fall and not the arch-angels? Is it God's fault that Lucifer CHOSE to rebel?

3. I think you should reconsider your understanding of omnipotence, as you seem to have equated it with 'all-controlling' power which 'cancels out' the freedom of others. You may wish to consider the possibility that an all-powerful CHOSE to create beings which can 'act/think for themselves'.

In short, we should reconsider:

- 'responsibility' of individuals vs. the 'responsibility' of the Creator of those individuals (I reckon you've equated the two)

- defining omnipotence in terms of 'controlling every iota which happens' vs. 'limited sovereignity' (giving ppl 'space' to be free)


Derek L. said...

>> So imagine an omnipotent God saying, "This project of LOVE *entails* I do not intervene at all times, it entails the risk that there will be evil but I will provide for the opportunity for good to combat evil, e.g. prayer, and in the END I will wipe away every tear."

Ah, so God *CHOSE* to allow bad things to happen by CHOOSING not to intervene :)

And that was my point - that if God was omnipotent, it was His explicit CHOICE to allow "bad things to happen to good people".

alwyn said...

As long as we bear in mind the 'higher end/purpose' to this choice (which I've spelled out and not left blank, btw), I think we're on the same page.

The problem with leaving it at 'He just chose not to intervene' misses out the critical (crucial!) aspect of this choice and makes it sound like there are mysterious reasons unknown to us.

This would be like the office example where you CARE about the development of yr staff and you are NOT withholding your intervention for strange unfathomable purposes.

Xenogue said...

@ Alwyn:

1. That's right! Let's ponder on that concept for a moment - that there really isn't any true 'evil' per se, and we go along with the assumption that one man's win is another's defeat.

If we put these two as basis, wouldn't it make more sense then of why 'bad' things happen to 'good' people? Because it's now no longer about 'bad' things happening to 'good' people, but rather simply things happening to people, we can conclude that it's NOT because God decided not to help or that God decided to allow these 'bad' things to happen, but it's that the people themselves see it as something 'bad'.

Applying this concept would mean then when a tornado ravages a countryside, people won't blame God for being an uncaring creator, but rather testing them. The destruction may seem 'bad' to them, but it would allow new plants to be grown, families to rediscover blood bonds and hold close to them beyond materialism, etc.

Granted, I wouldn't say getting raped is something we shouldn't care about and that it's not a 'bad' thing. Rather that it's 'bad' for the victim but 'good' for the attacker. I'm just trying to explain the application I guess.

But again, that person can blame God for the rest of her life and bemoan such a calamity or she could realize that God wants her to be an even stronger person from the incident, and takes it upon herself as a stepping stone to greater personal strength. Get me?

2 & 3. I myself am in full agreement of the fact that while God is omnipotent, He does gift us with freewill to govern ourselves to a certain extent. I was just being a devil's advocate there as I said :) There is definitely a clear responsibility of the created towards the Creator and vice versa.

Rambler said...

Hmm I guess there's no room for Calvin here? :)

Alwyn said...

Hi Xenogue,

Making all events relative to the perceiver/actor is philosophically attractive and, IMO, does put a huge spanner in the atheistic challenge.

Yet, in the light of the NT and passages like, "Shall we not free a woman bound by Satan for the past 18 years?", is untenable simply because *God doesn't deal with evil by treating it as merely 'evil'*. He calls it what it is i.e. evil which has to be destroyed.

Alwyn said...

Hi Rambler...there's always conversational room for any school of thought, :)

feel free to share.

cxjiek said...

I was here, thanks for speaking at Sunway