Discipleship as Theodicy: Following Jesus as God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil

I’m going to lay out a syllogism.

1.) Jesus’ Death on the Cross is God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil in the world.

2.) Discipleship to Jesus means participation in His cross in all aspects of life (Matthew 16:24).

3.) Discipleship to Jesus is thus part of God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil in the world.

This is a really tricky, little-loved part of theology called “theodicy,” or the defense of God’s goodness in the face of a world that is clearly defined by evil. For my first ever real post here on aia, we’re going to tackle it. Because dive in, right?

First off, we would do well to define what “the problem of evil” actually is. The problem of evil is an intellectual and theological problem that gained prominence during the Enlightenment, which questions the existence of an omni-benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God with the existence of evil in the world. This, of course, is too vague to have meaning for specifically Christian theology, for a few reasons. One, we do not worship any generic God, but specifically, Israel’s God, revealed in His Son Jesus, the Messiah, and thus the problem of evil becomes grounded in the distinctly Christian worldview in the problem of sin–i.e., if God is all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful, a.) why has he permitted human beings to sin and thus b.) why does evil exist in the world?

This problem gets defined different ways by different people, usually based off of what constitutes evil. Generally, these are separated into the problem of sin, the problem of suffering, and the problem of hell, each of them questioning God’s goodness in light of these apparent realities. Today, my intention is simply to focus on the first two.

Before I unpack my syllogism, there have been various articulations of theodicy throughout the history of the church that deserve our attention. I will briefly list a few.

  • The Irenaean Theodicy: Irenaeus (2nd century-AD 202) postulated that evil existed of necessity to develop human beings as moral entities. Irenaeus grounded this in a more literal exposition of Genesis 1:26-28: man was first made in God’s image, with the potential to be like God, followed by His likeness, the latter of the two referring to the means by which the potential was realized. Thus, free will, the resultant sin and suffering are all necessary to God’s ultimate plan for humanity.
  • The Augustinian Theodicy: The Augustinian answer to the problem of evil follows an evolution, as it was established by three theologians–Augustine, for whom it was named, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin. Augustine rationalized that evil was a corruption of the fundamentally good created order, and that it was human moral evil that brought death and disorder to the creation, thus corrupting the world itself. Aquinas picked up on and affirmed Augustine’s refusal to see God as directly responsible for evil, remarking that God Himself was good, and that there was no evil within him, arguing instead that sin was a necessary possibility for the creation God made. Calvin developed the doctrine of predestination on these grounds, making two fundamental tweaks: one, that God did in fact create evil, but could not be held accountable for it; two, that mankind was corrupted to the point at which nothing save God’s grace could redeem them, thus necessitating predestination theologically.
  • The Leibniz Proposition: Gottfried Leibniz proposed, in his 1710 book Theodicée, something similar to both the proposals of Irenaeus and Aquinas: namely, that this was “the best of all possible worlds,” a theory that more recently has been popularized by John Piper.

As is hinted at above, the Problem of Evil ultimately involves some sort of view to origins, and God’s purposes and methods in creation. Those who hold to an Augustinian view of creation–of creation as a flawless, perfect place later ruined by a perfect human being–will inevitably favor Augustine’s view of the Problem of Evil, because it is necessary to that theological construct. Those who subscribe to Irenaeus’ position–which see creation as a process God engages in–will inevitably come to some sort of place of seeing evil as a necessary part of creation. [Shoutout: Pete Enns has a great little article on this in which he references another great article about this, which can be found here].

Let me start by saying, I agree with Irenaeus, and I promise to devote the next blog post to explaining why. However, with regards to the subject of this post, Irenaeus seems to model the original creation on the new creation: i.e., just as God recreates us in His Image once upon initially coming to Jesus, and then continues the process daily as we are sanctified to be like Him as we meet Him in Christ, so Irenaeus seems to imagine that God created man for this very capacity, firstly with the ability to reflect God in the world and then the calling to cultivate that ability. This also seems to be in line with the very nature of God Himself: in Genesis 1, the verb used for creation is bara, a verb which refers to “ordering” that which was previously chaotic; thus it is that when God “began to create the heavens and the earth,” as the JPS Tanakh has it, the earth was already “formless and void” (1:1-2). In other words, God is a Creator who is defined in scripture not primarily as the person who made the raw stuff of creation ex nihilo (though that is a fair and logical implication of the biblical narrative), but rather as the person who took the raw material of creation and imposed order on it in spite of its chaotic nature.

Irenaeus’ problem of evil, then, seems to match up with the reality of Christian life as portrayed in the New Testament, and seems to be consistent with the actual call of Christ on His followers: namely, to become like Him through participating in His Death and Resurrection in every element of their lives (Michael J. Gorman’s book Inhabiting the Cruciform God is a brilliant manifesto on this subject).

Regardless of this issue, which we will deal with next time, the far more relevant element of this discussion is how God intends to deal with evil now that it is in the world. (This of course forms part of the answer to the question as  how God and evil coexist, but again, wait till next week). This being said, it’s time to unpack my syllogism, and to answer the question as to how discipleship to Jesus is actually part of God’s answer to the problem of evil, with regard specifically to the problems of sin and suffering.

  1. Discipleship to Jesus is freedom from the Power of Sin. Sanctification–the process of becoming more and more like Christ–is also, in turn, the process of becoming free from sin in every area of our thoughts, hearts, and lives. In the same way that Jesus, by dying on the Cross, frees us at once from the infection, penalty, and claim of sin upon us, it is by participating in that Cross and applying it to our hearts, minds, and actions that we ultimately become free from sin’s continued strongholds over us. The process of death to self that happens in following Jesus is, in fact, the application of the death to sin that each of us undergo when we identify with Jesus’ death and resurrection in faith, baptism, and the breaking of bread.
  2. Discipleship to Jesus frees us from the Problem of Suffering by Redeeming Suffering. It was Timothy C. Tennent, in his book Christianity at the Religious Roundtable, who offered that the Christian answer to the problem of suffering was that Jesus of Nazareth was the only innocent sufferer. The qualification I would make of this claim is that Jesus’ suffering performs two key functions. One, it purposely ends the cycle of suffering by absorbing it rather than perpetuating it. This is the brilliance of Jesus’ teachings on non-retaliation, and the reason why they work in real life: choosing to take the suffering that someone imposes on you is a means of preventing that suffering from spreading to other hosts. Secondly, Jesus’ suffering causes him to identify with those who suffer, such that through this mutual identification he is able to show them compassion, love, and assistance and alleviate their suffering. Following Jesus, then, and participating in His Cross emphatically means choosing not merely to absorb suffering and be a point at which the cycle of violence abruptly ends, but furthermore to identify with those who suffer in order to participate in the “groan of creation”  in which they are trapped (Romans 8). One might even say, furthermore, that all Christian suffering should in fact have this one purpose in mind, such that any risk of suffering for the Christian should be seen as an opportunity to identify with all who suffer, Christian and non-Christian alike, and thus to bless them through it. This matches up with the kenotic nature of Christ Himself, who “emptied Himself and took the form of a slave” in order to participate in our suffering and humanity, in “every way” that we ourselves face (Philippians 2, Hebrews 4:15).

A discussion on how God is justified despite the existence of evil in the world will be the subject of our next post. Please, discuss!

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41 responses to “Discipleship as Theodicy: Following Jesus as God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil”

  1. J Stu says :

    This is great stuff!

  2. J says :

    “Thus, free will, the resultant sin and suffering are all necessary to God’s ultimate plan for humanity.”

    “I agree with Irenaeus…”

    Let me make sure I understand this correctly…. God striking children with cancer so they can suffer and die within a few short years, without learning anything or growing as a human being, is necessary to his plan? Hmm… what’s that one guys name whose plan also called for a bunch of child murder… starts with “H,” ends with “itler” or something….

    How about when a woman and her child are brutally raped and murdered on the street? God is omnipresent, so he’s there while it happens. He is omnipotent so he has the power to snap his fingers and stop it. He doesn’t because… the rapist and murderers freewill will be affected? What about the woman and the child? God, omni-benevolent God, is more concerned with a rapist and murderers freewill to rape and murder than he is a woman and childs life? The only thing that comes of that situation is a woman is raped, a child murdered, and a rapist/murderer *may* burn in hell for eternity without learning a lesson. He also may make it to heaven if he repents early enough, and the woman and child may burn in hell because she’s an atheist and the child is a week past the age of accountability.

    That really makes sense to you?

    • tsoigitli says :

      Dear J,

      Thank you for you questions. Let me first off praise your desire to account for all sides of the story, especially the ones that are everyday, real life scenarios.

      I would reject your accusation that it is “God,” first off, who strikes someone with cancer/permits a woman to be raped/et al as though God rescinds our freedom or, on the opposite pole, openly incites someone to sin. This is not the claim of the Christian faith–the recompense promised is that God will judge the world, everything and everyone in it, and set it right again. Discipleship factors into this as the means by which God’s human creatures are invited to use their freedom in a way that glorifies Him and helps embody His dream for justice in the world.

      I would also point out that without an author to imbue meaning in the universe, particularly in human lives, the suffering that you seem to see as meaningful enough to comprise a condemnation against God is in fact meaningless and subjective without a God. In other words, if there is no meaning to the universe, there is consequently no meaning to human lives, and thus no real meaning behind human suffering and it cannot be objectively called suffering, immoral, wrong, etc.

      I look forward to your response.

      • J says :

        “I would reject your accusation that it is “God,” first off, who strikes someone with cancer/permits a woman to be raped/et al as though God rescinds our freedom or, on the opposite pole, openly incites someone to sin.”
        – Is that cancer part of God’s plan? If yes, then it is God that gives that person cancer.
        – Does God have the power to snap his fingers and lead the rapist down a path that inspires him to do good in the world? Yes? Then his inaction is action. He sides with rapists and murderers.

        “the recompense promised is that God will judge the world, everything and everyone in it, and set it right again.”
        – How? Will this un-rape the woman? Will it un-murder the child? Will the rapist learn anything by burning in hell for eternity? What happens when that child is sent to hell because, oops, a week past the age of accountability?
        – Could God, in his infinite wisdom, not instead lead the rapist to do good throughout his life to lead more people to heaven without affecting freewill? No? Why not? He doesn’t? Why not? It would result in more of his children making it to heaven, isn’t that what he wants?

        “God [does not] openly incite someone to sin.”
        – There are plenty of instances of God causing people to sin. He gave people over their lusts in the NT and he hardened the pharaoh’s heart in the OT to keep him from releasing the Hebrews.
        – And the big one… God put a poisonous fruit in the middle of creation and told children not to eat it. Seriously, what else do you think they were going to do? It’s as if omniscient God had never heard of reverse psychology. Oh, to top it off he puts a slick tongued sentient being in the garden to convince the children to eat the fruit. It’s almost as if his whole plan depended on the fall of man, but that would be crazy right?

        “the suffering that you seem to see as meaningful enough to comprise a condemnation against God is in fact meaningless and subjective without a God.”
        – The whole point is that it’s meaningless suffering. It accomplishes nothing. No lesson learned, nothing. And it happens all the time. You want to defend the great big evils of the world? Go for it. But the small, needless, meaningless suffering, there is no excuse. Unless of course God truly doesn’t care. And the notion that God will make it all better in heaven falls short for the children that have never heard of Jesus, have starved their entire lives, and are a week or so past the age of accountability and are destined for hell when they die tomorrow.

      • J says :

        “I would reject your accusation that it is “God,” first off, who strikes someone with cancer/permits a woman to be raped/et al as though God rescinds our freedom or, on the opposite pole, openly incites someone to sin.”
        – I really just can’t let this one go with a couple of sentences. The Biblical God did this stuff all the time. He commanded genocide, he commanded child murder, he commanded taking women as sex slaves. He caused David’s bastard son to suffer an entire week before striking him down for his father’s misdeeds. And according to the New Testament Jesus is God. And God was there in the beginning. And God never changes.

        Before you say he didn’t, just stop. No self-respecting apologist says he didn’t do these things and that it wasn’t Jesus who’s responsible. The only way around this is Divine Command Theory. If God says to do it, it’s ok. So your God strikes people down all the time, he admits to it. He has people strike others down all the time, he admits to it. He has personally killed children, he admits to it. He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

      • tsoigitli says :

        J,

        Quite the biblicist. I respect that. A couple of things.

        1.) Allow me to clarify my claim: it is not God who is directly responsible for human suffering, it is human beings. God did not tell the rapist to go rape. God is perfectly able and in the right to take life at any time as the creator and giver of life.
        2.) The subject of the relationship between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God probably demands an entire post on its own. There’s lots to say here, but the sort of God that scripture describes–the self-emptying God who comes personally in Jesus and lives that kenosis out into crucifixion–is a God whose relationships with human beings is defined by condescension to a level with which humans can meaningfully interact. The Israelites were an ancient near eastern tribal culture who reflected ANE methods of thinking and culture, which were tribalistic and warlike, and it is thus not a contradiction of God’s nature to suggest that He spoke in and through categories of thought that would’ve been familiar to them, I.e, the warrior, et al.
        3.) As a necessary consequence of this image of God, the Bible reflects both the human and the divine sources of its authorship. There is little archaeological evidence, for example, of the genocide that you are referencing (described in detail in the book of Joshua), and so it is logical that this literature reflects a common ANE identity narrative through which God condescended to speak and communicate with Israel and later the church.
        4.) Like I say in my inauguration post, I am totally open to disagreement and difference, but I would ask that it be done with respect. We don’t have to agree for me to respect you, and such an attitude is usually a sign of intelligence and the opportunity for productivity in conversation.

        Thanks, J, for the points.

      • J says :

        “Allow me to clarify my claim: it is not God who is directly responsible for human suffering, it is human beings.”
        – Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

        “God did not tell the rapist to go rape.”
        – 2 Samuel 12:11 – “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’”

        “God is perfectly able and in the right to take life at any time as the creator and giver of life.”
        – Why? Why does a father have the right to end the life of a child he claims to love?

        “The Israelites were an ancient near eastern tribal culture who reflected ANE methods of thinking and culture, which were tribalistic and warlike, and it is thus not a contradiction of God’s nature to suggest that He spoke in and through categories of thought that would’ve been familiar to them.”
        – Yes, it is a contradiction. God is omniscient, they were getting their morals from him anyway, if slavery, rape, and genocide are truly wrong then a wise, loving God would probably say “slavery, rape, and genocide are wrong” without giving later commands that contradict previous moral decrees.

        “As a necessary consequence of this image of God, the Bible reflects both the human and the divine sources of its authorship.”
        – Wait… so you’re saying the Bible is fallible? That parts of the Bible are fallible? So because there’s little archeological evidence of an event it didn’t actually happen, even though the inspired word of an omniscient being said it happened?

        “the genocide that you are referencing (described in detail in the book of Joshua)…”
        – I’m referring to way more than just one book. Genocide and infanticide is rampant in the OT. If you really want examples of each one I’d be happy to list them.

        I will do my best to remain civil and respectful but please do not say I cherry pick my verses and I’m taking them out of context without first explaining why Christians get to cherry pick verses and how mine are taken out of context.

      • tsoigitli says :

        J, I never made these accusations about you. You are putting words in my mouth, and have twice now made assumptions about what my response would be to your words–if anything, you are accusing me of cherry-picking and then demanding that I not do the same.

        I did not say the Bible was fallible. I said that God, in order to communicate with his human creatures, speaks to them in language and ideas that make sense to them–much as, to use the metaphor you love to utilize, a father does not speak to his third grader the same way he speaks to his college student, and the Bible reflects this process of divine condescension. God speaks to Israel in a language they understand, but also calls them forward to be ahead of their time–for example, Israel alone in her laws had provisions for the rights of women who were conquered in battle (Deuteronomy 21) or for women who have been raped at all (Deuteronomy 22). By modern standards such laws seem barbaric endorsements of the practice, but for the time and place in which Israel lived, laws like this were the first and only of their kind.

        With regard to the question specifically of something like genocide in the Bible, it might first be helpful to remind ourselves that the Bible is a collection of books of different genres written for different purposes relative to the situation and context in which they were written. Scholars generally agree that the book of Joshua–which is the primary act of genocide in the Bible–was written sometime during or after the reign of King Josiah as an extension of the book of Deuteronomy, a codified form of the Torah that is suspected to have been authored under Josiah’s reign. A book like Joshua would’ve served to reunite the people around the singular, historic worship of YHWH and their calling to Him as a people. For a Christian, this understanding doesn’t reject the idea that the book of Joshua is inspired, it simply changes the sort of truth that we expect from a book like Joshua (much in the same way that I would take Genesis 1-11 as a text of primarily theological, not scientific or historical, value). This principle of interpretation is not an arbitrary expectation to have of each book: each book and passage has to be evaluated on its own terms and then seen as part of the whole.

        Further, you seem to harp frequently on the “God who does not change,” yet seem to be threatened by my qualification that though God does not change, the level and depth of His revelation and relationship with man does. Your accusations about the Christian God, for example, fall apart if in fact God has always looked like Christ, willingly and without retaliation crucified, and the Warrior God of the Old Testament is instead a role God condescended to wear to carry forth His purpose. Your argument rests on the idea that the biblical God rests on a contradiction–namely, that God cannot be loving or good and yet endorse what we know to be evil today in the Old Testament. My contention is that not only has God continually been inviting his people into deeper understanding of Him (much the same way that children grow in understanding of their fathers as they mature) but the Old Testament itself represents revolutionary attitudes towards issues of morality for the time and place in which it was written.

        This aside, you still have not addressed the point I made earlier–that without the existence of a maker, someone to imbue meaning into the universe, human lives have essentially no meaning and thus human suffering and moral evil are nonexistent objectively. Your implicit assertion that the existence of these things are enough to disprove the idea of a God don’t seem to match up with your clearly deep seated beliefs that things like rape and cancer constitute both suffering and injustice. In other words, the problem of evil is ultimately a form of self-defeating logic: there can be no objective evil without the existence of objective good, both of which require absolute truth that a worldview like Naturalism (which you appear, I am guessing, to espouse? Please correct me if wrong) can’t allow for.

      • J says :

        “I never made these accusations about you.”
        – I didn’t say you made accusations. I am making statements that preempt what most people will say. None of what I say is meant in a rude or aggressive manner.

        “I did not say the Bible was fallible.”
        – Is all of the Bible the inspired word of God? According to 2 Timothy 3:16 it is. What does it mean to be the inspired word of God? If all it means is God speaks to us in the form of “divine condescension” then how do you differentiate between what God is telling you to do and what man is telling you God told him to tell you to do ?

        “for example, Israel alone in her laws had provisions for the rights of women who were conquered in battle”
        – First… Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying here… Israel is the only nation that had laws governing the treatment of women taken as spoils of war? No other nation had these or treated women well after conquering their nation?
        – Second… Are you kidding? Even if it were true that Israel was the first nation to make laws regarding women slaves, which they weren’t, that would in no way be indicative of those laws being the product of God.

        “it might first be helpful to remind ourselves that the Bible is a collection of books of different genres written for different purposes relative to the situation and context in which they were written”
        – Back to the inspired word of God bit. What does it mean? How do you tell the difference between “oh, well, God is just being metaphorical” and “nope, God really means kill gay people?” If you are given clearance to pick and choose which part is metaphorical because it sounds bad then the Bible is essentially worthless.

        “Joshua – which is the primary act of genocide in the Bible”
        – Sigh….. The flood (God drowned puppies and babies), Sodom & Gomorrah (puppies and babies), Egypt and the first born (infanticide), Deuteronomy 20 and 25, 1 Samuel 15, and Numbers 31.

        “For a Christian, this understanding doesn’t reject the idea that the book of Joshua is inspired, it simply changes the sort of truth that we expect from a book like Joshua (much in the same way that I would take Genesis 1-11 as a text of primarily theological, not scientific or historical, value)”
        – Please define “inspired word of God.” From the looks of it all it means is “well, this sounds nice, ohh this doesn’t nice at all.”
        – If Genesis is not meant to be looked at as historical or scientific, does that mean you reject the genealogy from Adam to Christ?

        “the Old Testament itself represents revolutionary attitudes towards issues of morality for the time and place in which it was written.”
        – So let me ask you this, if there were one, just one nation that had a morality and legal system that was even a bit closer to our own (you’ve already stated “what we know to be evil today in the Old Testament”) would that demonstrate that the Israelites weren’t getting their morals and laws from God?

        “This aside, you still have not addressed the point I made earlier…”
        – Objective morality does exist. But at that point you will have to define morality. We would have to come to an agreement about what good and evil are.

        “Your implicit assertion that the existence of these things are enough to disprove the idea of a God don’t seem to match up with your clearly deep seated beliefs that things like rape and cancer constitute both suffering and injustice.”
        – No no no. They are enough to disprove the existence of the biblical God as he is understood by most people. And cancer is not necessarily an injustice, unless the biblical God were to be the cause of it, which he says he is.

        “there can be no objective evil without the existence of objective good, both of which require absolute truth that a worldview like Naturalism can’t allow for.”
        – Why? Why can’t absolute morality exist without a god to run things? Can you define absolute morality?

      • tsoigitli says :

        J,

        It would seem that there are some things over which we have irreconcilable warrants, but let me very quickly give a few definitions/clarifications.

        1.) inspiration: you seem to presume one particular theory of inspiration held by some evangelical circles, which essentially views the Bible as divine dictation. This view is a.) not the oldest, b.) not the only, and c.) not (IMHO) the best articulation of the doctrine. Inspiration is not contradicted by the fact that the Bible participates fully in the culture of its time period, it simply means that God speaks to people where they are (like a father) and in ways they are capable of grasping. Nothing about scripture reflecting its human origins contradicts the idea that it also reflects its divine “breathing out,” to use your argument from 1 Timothy.

        2.) absolute morality: put simply, meaning is always defined by personhood, and morality is by definition an interpretation of the meaning of actions or events. It’s a fairly simple syllogism: a.) meaning is defined by personhood and purpose, b.) there is no personality behind the universe, c.) there is no meaning (and by extension no purpose or morality) intrinsic to the universe.

        One can argue there is still such a thing as common good, but without an absolute principle–or better yet, person–behind the universe, both common and good are relative and self-defined. Unless you can come up with an alternative and coherent definition of meaning, I don’t see it.

        As to references to genocide, this falls in part under a definition of inspiration, especially considering that there’s good historical reason to believe that many of these accounts a.) didn’t happen as written and thus b.) they need to be evaluated as true in different ways.

      • J says :

        I’m curious…

        In light of verses that say otherwise, do you still believe God does not cause human suffering?

        In light of verses that say otherwise, do you still believe God doesn’t tell the rapist to go rape?

        In light of verses that say otherwise, do you still believe God does not strike children with illness and cause them to die for the sins of their parents?

        Do you believe there are situations where it is morally righteous to kill defenseless women and children (including the unborn), in mass, for no reason other than to rid the world of a nation of people that don’t worship a certain god?

        If you reject the creation account in Genesis, what is original sin? If original sin doesn’t exist, then what’s the point of Christ’s sacrifice? Were we created? Were we created in sin? Do you believe in the current Big Bang theory or are you a creationist?

    • Ant says :

      Check out http://www.reddit.com/r/ReasonableFaith/ , we can use more like you.

  3. JoshBohrer says :

    This is an excellent read. I will definitely follow this blog.

  4. S says :

    Okay, let’s say I agree 100% with your premise that humans being able to do terrible things to each other is necessary for God’s plan to work. I don’t, but let’s say I did:

    What about the inhuman suffering? Why did God create cancer? Why did God create Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Why did God create HIV and Smallpox and Malaria and on and on and on? If God didn’t, who did?

    Does SIDS have free will that cannot be abridged? Or does God just not care enough about humans to save them from these things?

    • tsoigitli says :

      Hey S,

      Thanks for your questions. Scripture makes the claim that creation itself is in “groaning like a woman in labor” waiting for the day that God reveals His children (Romans 8:18-22). Oftentimes throughout church history, natural evil from disasters to diseases have been lumped in this category of “labor pains” as the old world awaits the new.

      Job 1 and John 10:10 seem to indicate that it is Satan, not God, who “steals, kills, and destroys,” that Satan is only able to work with God’s permission, and that God through His Son has and will continue to destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8). The Christian answer to these questions (perhaps unsatisfactorily for a worldview that disagrees with it, I concede) ultimately comes back to the hope and promise that God will judge the world and set it right.

      I would again point out that without some kind of objective meaning in the universe, human suffering has no meaning and thus should logically neither elicit pity or constitute any sense of injustice. If there is nothing meaningful about the world or about human life then were ultimately arguing about an illusion called suffering and evil, yet I would be willing to bet that at their deepest few would deny these as reality.

      • J says :

        “Job 1 and John 10:10 seem to indicate that it is Satan, not God, who “steals, kills, and destroys,” that Satan is only able to work with God’s permission…”
        – Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
        – Also, your statement implies that a mob boss is not responsible for the deaths of those he tells his hit men to kill. Is that the case?

        “I would again point out that without some kind of objective meaning in the universe, human suffering has no meaning and thus should logically neither elicit pity or constitute any sense of injustice.”
        – Can you please define “objective meaning” and “objective morality.” You keep using these phrases but I’m not entirely certain they mean what you think they mean.

      • tsoigitli says :

        J, I’m aware of the meaning of objective or absolute morality, as an absolute or binding and consistent definition of what constitutes absolute good and evil by definition. If there are other meanings to “objective” (as in, not subjective, defined above and beyond personal subjective experience) and “morality” (a definition of good and evil), well, you lost me. But you still haven’t provided a coherent or satisfactory alternative source for absolute morality outside of a personal God.

        And I continue to focus on this, because this is really where the heart of the argument lies–whether there is a God and whether there is actually meaning in and to the world and thus human lives and thus human suffering. The argument of whether it is the biblical God and how the biblical God accounts for suffering can’t happen until this first conversation happens.

      • J says :

        “as an absolute or binding and consistent definition of what constitutes absolute good and evil by definition.”

        “But you still haven’t provided a coherent or satisfactory alternative source for absolute morality outside of a personal God.”

        Alright, what is your absolute, binding, consistent definition of morality?

        I haven’t provided an alternative source of absolute morality because you haven’t provided a source at all. Is your “absolute morality” really just “anything God says?”

      • tsoigitli says :

        Hey J,

        As I told S, my answers may leave something to be desired in terms of their fullness as I’m currently on vacation and doing my best to answer you on the fly.

        The syllogism I’m presenting in contrast to the one I outlined above is that a.) meaning is derived from person and purpose, b.) there is a person who made the universe with purpose, and thus c.) there is a real and binding absolute truth, meaning, and definition of good and evil in the universe. “Whatever God says” is a crude way to put it, but, logically, the Creator of the universe gets to deem what is and is not right for his creatures, not least his human creatures.

      • S says :

        So… Thank you for answering my question. Let me summarize your sequence of events:

        * God creates Satan, but he can’t do terrible things without permission
        * God gives Satan permission to do terrible terrible things
        * Satan does terrible terrible things.

        Now you have an issue: Do you, personally, hold that human suffering is a thing to be prevented? If you do not, then you condone ignoring the sick and the injured. If you do, then how do you square that with your ‘good’ God condoning acts which cause suffering?

      • tsoigitli says :

        Hello again S,

        Again, the Christian response to the Problem of Evil is predicated on God’s eschatological judgment of evil that is lived out here and now through discipleship to Jesus. Further, Satan does not do the bidding of God, as though God commanded Satan to go out and do as he likes–rather, God affords Satan temporary freedom to work with the promise of future judgment.

        Sorry if these responses are short, I’m on vacation and will be able to post fuller answers when I’m home and have more time.

      • S says :

        I do not believe your God exists, but that’s okay. Even I believed he exists, I will not worship a being less moral than I am. Your God seems criminally irresponsible at best, and is most likely actively malicious. You have in no way justified God’s creation of a being whose sole goal is tormenting humans,

        Feel free to question where my source of morality comes from, but I have serious issues if you question the claim that creating an evil being and enabling it to do evil is an evil act.

      • tsoigitli says :

        S,

        This is again where more time to talk to you would be helpful. A couple things, very quickly.

        –first, thanks for the interaction. I’d love it if you kept coming back to read and share your thoughts.
        –second, my goal was simply to share the Christian perspective on why the problem of evil does not challenge our belief in the biblical God. I may have mucked that up a bit, but in the end Christians believe that God is not less moral than we are–God will in fact judge the world better than we ever could.
        –third, I do question how there can be any truthfully meaningful morality apart from a creator, as all meaning in human experience is derived from some sort of authorship/purpose/intentionality.

      • J says :

        T,

        Most everyone can agree that the worst universe possible could be defined as one in which all living beings suffer the maximum amount possible at all times for all of their life, reproduce, and die.

        Most everyone can agree that the best possible universe could be defined as one in which all living beings experience happiness and bliss at all points in their life, reproduce, and die if they so choose.

        Absolute morality can exist without a God. It can be defined as “any act that brings humanity closer to the best universe possible, and further away from the worst universe possible.”

        Principles can then be formed based on a rational examination of how our actions affect us and those around us in regards to absolute morality.

        You can disagree, I don’t mind. But, my morality system deems murder of defenseless innocent babies morally wrong in all circumstances. Your morality system does not. I’m dumbfounded a most likely good person defends child murder using Divine Command Theory when they know, they absolutely know, killing defenseless unborn babies is wrong.

      • tsoigitli says :

        My question would be: by what standard is it made absolute? Whose? This is where IMHO this view falls apart, because at the end of the day the best morality it can produce is a subjective one. If there is no meaning to the world, there is consequently nothing meaningful about being human, and thus no meaning to human actions, and the same killing of infants that “your morality system” condemns is no worse or better, logically speaking, than not killing them. Again, if there is no God, no Judge of sin and nothing special about being human, “what is good for people” is not only subjective and relative to opinion, it is also ultimately meaningless.

      • S says :

        Alright, here’s how I can justify objective morality without God: I can’t! It doesn’t exist! TA-DAH!

        But I don’t claim it does. I just claim that based my experiences and what I have learned mixed together with the magic of my brain chemistry allow me to come to conclusions about what I think is and isn’t moral.

        Now, going with this system does have a flaw: It means people might reach different conclusions about what to do in different situations because they aren’t all powered by the same meaning maker.

        That would be a terrifying world to live in, wouldn’t it? Without your God to lead them, Christians might disagree over what was right! They might come to different conclusions about what was and wasn’t moral.

        Honestly, that’s the strongest argument for God being the source of morality: The way all Christians share a common set of objective morals that have stood unchanging since before the fall of Rome.

      • tsoigitli says :

        If you don’t claim it does, S, then on what grounds do any of your moral objections to God stand? Your argument contradicts itself. You say there is no such thing as morality, yet you’re perfectly willing to use a moral objection to attack the idea of there being a God.

      • S says :

        As follows:

        Based on my experiences with life and so on, I have constructed a personal system of morals which describe what I think is right and wrong. This includes things like helping those in need and not causing undue suffering.

        Based on those rules, the God you are describing is immoral.

        On the other hand, let’s assume you’re right, and morals come only from God: Now the morals I have received FROM God, tell me that God is an immoral entity.

      • tsoigitli says :

        Your argument falls in on itself. If there is no meaning to life or the world and thus to you, any meaning you construct is illusory at best, and logically it makes no sense for you to pursue anything beyond your own biological pleasure and survival. If all you are is an accidental biological computer, there is no reason for you to care about other biological computers, and there is no meaning or pity to be had for their suffering, either, since they have no meaning.

      • S says :

        On the contrary: No external meaning does not prevent me from creating meaning for myself. I do what I do because I choose to do it. I do not do it out of fear of hell or an arbitrary set of rules, but because of all the choices available to me, I felt the actions I chose to be the correct ones.

        I choose to care about other humans. I choose to make the most out of the brief time I have on this world. I choose to help others in their journey through this world.

        Suffering of others is not irrelevant. It is very, very important. All of us – every single human – has a single body, a single life, and despite the immense number of humans each one is still unique and once dead is forever gone. To cause harm to another thinking creature in light of this is a terrible thing indeed.

        But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say that I am not free to make my own meaning. Let’s say all there is in life is a single choice: Do as you’re told or be forever condemned. Let’s say there is a single objective morality and that the conclusions I believe I reached about morality are actually self-evident pieces of the universe:

        Your God has still created a being whose entire purpose is to be evil and torment. A being who exists for no reason except to cause suffering for the people God claims to love. A being acting with impunity against a people who are able to only hopelessly pray to an uncaring God who claims to love them even as he ignores their prayers for help.

        By my reckoning (And, if morality is absolute, by the ONLY reckoning) that is not a being who is good or worthy of worship.

      • tsoigitli says :

        S,

        You’ve shown your cards as far as your assumptions about what the biblical God is like and why Christians embrace morality, and they are just that–assumptions. Some Christians practice morality out of the fear of hell. Not all, and the scripture doesn’t say that.

        Again, objectively, if there is nothing meaningful about you, if there is no such thing as meaning, whatever it is you proclaim to be meaningful is at best illusory, because there is no such thing as meaning (logically) and thus what you construe to be meaning is delusion.

      • S says :

        Alright, I’m going to go ahead and give up on this side-tangent, because it’s not the argument I’m interested in.

        Leaving that behind, let’s return to the argument I’m more interested in: The whole Satan thing. Ignoring how I feel about it with my hideous atheist delusions of meaning, do you feel, using your God-given morality, that causing human beings to suffer is a moral act?

      • tsoigitli says :

        S,

        I’m so upset with WordPress, because I had a long typed up response that I was really happy with, clicked a button by accident and deleted it. Stupid internet.

        Two things. First thing, I would argue that this is not a side-tangent, but the actual conversation that needs to be had first before there can be a conversation about morality and whether or not the God of the Bible is a moral monster is whether or not there’s a God to begin with. Ultimately this is a question of worldviews, and how there can be any system which presupposes an intrinsic meaning to human actions–like all moral systems do–in a worldview which fundamentally rejects the idea that there is more to being human than reductionistic physicality.

        Second thing, in response to your question: there’s an evolution, like with many things, in the Bible about who Satan is and what he does. The picture that emerges in the New Testament, rooted, I think, largely in the image that you get in passages like Job 1-2 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 but also improved upon by the theological growth in Judaism between the authorship of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament writings, is of a being whose job it is to a.) tempt human beings as their adversary and actively work against God’s purposes for them and those he seeks to accomplish through them and b.) subsequently accuse them in the divine council before God. Time and time again, there is conflict between Satan and God’s People: he “rises up against Israel” in 1 Chronicles, is present theologically speaking in the far more numerous human “satans” throughout scripture, seeks to tempt Jesus, Israel in person, in Matthew 4, and opposes the church in and through the various non-Christian entities and people (idols, idolaters, the Roman government, and the Temple establishment). Jesus remarks that when his disciples began to carry forth his kingdom mission, Satan “fell from heaven like lightning,” implying that Satan’s power and authority are thwarted and removed when following Israel’s God through him (Luke 10:18). Revelation–particularly chapter 20–deals extensively with the exposure and judgment of Satan in light of the unveiling of Jesus.

        Scripture, as you have pointed out, recognizes God’s responsibility for Satan’s existence and ultimate responsibility for Satan’s evil, but does it without ascribing immorality to God. God is justified because He will ultimately deal with Satan and already has in and through Jesus’ ministry and death on the cross (1 John 3:8) and continues to do so in and through the church, the community of people in whom Jesus’ ministry continues and is focused. This is why discipleship functions in part as a living theodicy, because it embodies in the here-and-now something God has promised to ultimately do in the future, such that God desires to defeat Satan primarily in and through his human creatures. Indeed, the point of Genesis 2-3 appears to be that God desired to rule and order creation in and through his two little human eikons, and it was their failure to initially oppose Satan and choose to defy his voice that brought exile on the human race.

        Thus, scripture is at the same time fully aware of God’s responsibility for evil as well as the means through which God has, is, and plans to deal with it–in and through His Image Bearer, Jesus the Messiah, and the community of Image-Bearers in and through which He works, the Church. Satan exists and for now is free to work, but his works are destroyed as the Church “manifests the Son of God” (1 John 3:8) in their prayer, worship, love, social justice, personal and communal relationships internally and externally and will ultimately be completely eradicated from God’s good world in the future.

        Two possible arguments against this answer and how they might be countered. The first and probably most common answer is the sort that has been prevalent throughout this conversation–God is not just because God permits evil to happen right here and now when he could obviously stop it/God permitted evil in the beginning when he is omnipotent and thus could’ve prevented it. There are two assumptions in this view, one about how the Biblical God uses power, and one about how the Biblical God should behave, and neither of these match up with the Biblical portrait of God. To try and read scripture with this objection may in fact drive you to atheism, but to read it with these assumptions is to read it with assumptions that scripture never claims or tries to claim. God is a God who is in the process of redeeming the world, desiring to do it with and through his human creatures, a process which ultimately is eschatological in its termination. Scripture never claims otherwise nor really seeks to apologize for it, and while it seems perfectly aware that God could simply get it all over with now, God doesn’t, because to do so would not involve relationship with His creatures, the purpose for which He created them.

        The second counter-argument might be that God’s eschatological justice and judgment does not make up for/account for present suffering and evil in the world. This is honestly a matter of opinion, but the eschatological picture is of a God whose justice and grace and glory fill creation and human beings in a way that far exceeds the sufferings that are currently experienced in life (Romans 8:18).

        Look forward to your thoughts.

      • S says :

        Yeah, I think I’m done here. You seem determined to dance around why exactly it was necessary for God to create Satan and why he couldn’t stop Satan completely after her created him.

        I’m sure you have found some explanation that makes sense in your head for this, but due to my hideous and malformed sense of morality that finds harming humans to be wrong, I am unable to agree with you.

        I will likely not be replying further.

  5. J says :

    T,

    “Further, Satan does not do the bidding of God, as though God commanded Satan to go out and do as he likes–rather, God affords Satan temporary freedom to work with the promise of future judgment.”
    – God serves Job up on a silver platter. Satan would have never heard of Job if it hadn’t been for God saying “have you considered my servant Job?”
    – God claims responsibility for evil (calamity, destruction, take your pick). Why do you keep saying God isn’t responsible for this? He says he’s responsible. There are verses in this thread that specifically refer to this. God takes responsibility for evil. You could make the argument he’s not responsible for moral evil and the word used is really referring to destruction, but that negates several points you’ve tried to make.

    God claims responsibility for these things. Please stop saying he’s not responsible.

    • tsoigitli says :

      J,

      Allow me to concede that my answers are subject to quick thinking as I’m not currently in a location where answering in depthly is convenient or easy.

      Allow me to also concede that God is responsible for permitting evil and is thus responsible for dealing with it. The distinctly Christian claim is that He is dealing with it and will ultimately deal with it, and that’s what I’ve been attempting to convey.

      Thanks for the interaction, please keep it up.

      • J says :

        “God is responsible for permitting evil and is thus responsible for dealing with it. The distinctly Christian claim is that He is dealing with it and will ultimately deal with it.”

        So God is responsible for dealing with a problem he created, while we are punished for the problem he created, and we should worship him because one day he will ultimately deal with the problem he created, while billions of people burn for eternity because he didn’t deal with the problem he created much sooner?

        I can see how that makes sense.

  6. Dave says :

    The key issue I have with the rationalization of “how does a good God permit evil” has to do with the problem space. It would seem that there is a conundrum in that if the premise “God is the creator of existence” is true, God must be the creator of all things within that existence, making the problem space all existence. If this premise is not true then that means there are elements of existence that are present without the necessity of God’s creation which limits the problem space but also would exclude God as the creator of all existence.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts on this – as from my interpretation of your post – it would seem that you are saying humans are responsible for evil because they choose to be aligned with or against God’s inerrant goodness. The flaw for me in that rationalization being if God created existence, humans exist within the problem space of existence, therefore human choice (or free will) and it’s outputs (good and evil) are direct products of God’s creation and working up the chain, direct products of God.

    • tsoigitli says :

      Hey Dave,

      Sorry it’s taken so long to see this/respond to it.

      The Bible doesn’t deny that God is ultimately responsible for dealing with evil as the Creator of all things. It does, however, recognize human responsibility for evil, and answers the problem of evil by pointing, time and time again, from Abraham to Jesus to the church to the age to come, of how God deals with and responds to evil in and through his human creatures. God calls Abraham to be the means of the redemption of the world, through his offspring, though, as N.T. Wright notes aptly in “Evil and the Justice of God,” it turns out that Israel is just as much part of the problem as the solution, necessitating the death of Jesus on the cross.

      In other words, yes, God created the world fully aware of the possibility of evil and chose to do so anyway, and as Creator has taken, is taking, and will continue to take responsibility for dealing with evil until evil is finally and completely defeated.

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