Monday, November 25, 2013

Is God the Source of Evil? - A question from a friend

My friend asks:

“The latest probe from a friend...did God create evil? If He created humans with the ability to sin, than He created sin. We're all born with tendencies to what we will do/ become. While I use the Bible as my standard of truth, this non believer relies on 'intellect' and the brain God has given us. Feedback appreciated.”


Hey Friend,

Sorry for the delay. Good question.

Ever since the great theologian, Augustine, the Church, by-in-large, has adopted his view of evil. Augustine said that evil is not a “thing” at all because everything God created is good. Since evil isn’t good, it can’t really exist. Therefore, evil is the absence of good -- like a shadow is the absence of light or cold is the absence of heat. If someone asked you the status of a shadow’s existence, the average person (and certainly any philosopher) would say, “It doesn’t really exist. It’s just what happens when light is blocked.”

Evil is what happens when good is perverted. Evil is the absence of good. Evil is when a good thing is twisted or corrupted.

And the source of any evil act is the free will of a creature. Evil occurs--and thus its source--is when a free will decides not to do the good.

Thus, it is logically and, by definition, not God’s fault that a person sins. Yes, humans have “the ability to sin,” as you say, but that is because they have free will. Having a free will is a “good” -- (1) it allows for morality to exist (= morality can’t exist without the freedom to do good or evil) and (2) it allows for genuine virtues and feelings (= e.g., I can’t love without freedom to do so, since love can’t be forced or coerced).

It’s kind of like blaming Smith and Wesson for murderers. I can kill an animal to feed a starving person; I can murder a person in rage. How nonsensical is it to blame the designers of that gun for “the tendency of person to commit murders?” And, if I handed out a million guns to a million people, knowing full well that many would use it for hunting, feeding themselves and others, while others would use the guns to murder, am I morally culpable for handing out the guns?

You might wonder, Is it better to have never handed out the guns in the first place? What if, like God, I knew that after a number of years, the amount of good that would come out my handing out the guns would far outweigh the amount of bad? God knows the whole show - and to the person who is shot, it is impossible to see or care about the “greater good” God is accomplishing. I fully understand that on an emotional level. No one likes evil; yet, everyone loves free will.

And a “tendency” to sin is a human predicament, not part of God’s design (remember, God designed moral agents with free will, not the tendency to sin). The Bible never explains the source of this tendency; instead, it just says that this tendency began not long after the first humans were created. That is, humans have been sinning (in general) since soon after their creation.

Did God know we'd sin and keep on sinning? Yes. He knew that because He has perfect knowledge of all true propositions. He knew that creating free-willed moral agents ran the risk of doing evil, but (apparently) thought that the risk of having a genuinely free love relationship with his creatures was an indescribable good for the humans. It is an act of love just to give us the opportunity of existing, and of loving and being loved by God.

And concerning using the “brain” vs. the Bible, I say, embrace them both! There’s a reason why Jesus said to love God (the Father) with our “minds.”

Here’s an article you mind find helpful by a brilliant scholar who has spent an enormous amount of time reflecting on the problem of evil: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A conversation about mercy and forgiveness

Bob
Hey pastor i have a question... What's the different between forgiveness and grace?

David W. Pendergrass
They are related concepts and often could be synonyms in the Bible. Yet, there is typically a difference in understanding:

(1) forgiveness means something like, "not enacting punishment toward." So, when someone has done something wrong deserving punishment, "forgiveness" is not enacting punishment. The Hebrew way of saying that is metaphorical - it's like owing a great financial "debt" and not having to pay the debt any more.

(2) grace means something like, "an act or state of kindness." It can be an act of "grace" to be "forgiving."

I might say that grace is more broad, while forgiveness is more specific. Grace can refer to any act of kindness or charity, while forgiveness is focused on not punishing someone who deserves it.

Now, I have ALWAYS heard teachers/preachers make a (false) distinction between "grace" and "mercy," and I can find no distinction whatsoever in the Bible between these concepts.

Bob
So what does  god mean when he shared grace and god mercy? Also can grace and forgiveness be the same? Im curious because as a Christian i want to know the different and how i can apply it in my life.

David W. Pendergrass
In general, you could use the term "kindness/kind" for "grace/graceful." Think of the ways that you use the term "kind/ness" in life. So, it's an act of kindness/grace to give to the homeless. It's an act of kindness/grace to forgive people. Etc.

Now, forgiveness is specifically used when describing not enacting punishment.

Bob
Oh ok i see i see. To me it seem like forgiveness and mercy would be more a like right?

David W. Pendergrass
In my reading, mercy and grace are typically synonymous in the Bible (though preachers usually teach that they are different). Forgiveness is distinct from them both.

Bob
Ok. I got it.  is there ever a time when its not ok to forgive?

David W. Pendergrass
No. but I would say two things. First, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can not want someone to be punished but also keep your distance from them. Secondly, forgiveness might take quite some time to do.

Bob
How long can it take for a person to forgive you? And can you hate somebody and still forgive them?

David W. Pendergrass

On the first point, that is up to the person. If that person is a Christian, then s/he should be working on forgiving as much as possible. At the same time, a person might hold onto a wound that we have caused them for many many years, depending on the nature of the offense. This is where therapy is so important. However, forgiving someone just means not wanting to have them punished. It is possible to reach that conclusion--not wanting them to be punished--before all the wounds have been healed. 

On the second point, no. You cannot hate someone and forgive them at the same time. Having genuine hatred and disdain for a person means that you have not reached a place of "letting them go." Forgiveness means being very clear, open, and honest about the event/pattern that happened in all of its evil glory, and then getting to a place where it no longer has any power over you. You no longer care, emotionally, if that person gets "pay back." (Though at times, it's best not to be around that person any more, especially if that person will only hurt you again.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A short reflection by my daughter

Take the time to listen to my daughter's devotional on "peace be still." (Julia takes the camera around and films on her own. This is a recent autonomous reflection.)

Click Here to watch "When it Rains"




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