Theodicy: a defence of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil
We ought to reject all attempts at theodicy. God did not need sin, death, and evil to bring about His plan for creation. Sin, death, and evil did happen, but not at God’s command or decree. And, we take comfort in the fact that God hates sin, death, and evil, and He will redeem His creation from it all.
Excerpt from an article written by David B. Hart titled Tsunami and Theodicy….
“Christians often find it hard to adopt the spiritual idiom of the New Testament—to think in terms, that is, of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, of Christ’s triumph over the principalities of this world, of the overthrow of hell. All Christians know, of course, that it is through God’s self-outpouring upon the cross that we are saved, and that we are made able by grace to participate in Christ’s suffering; but this should not obscure that other truth revealed at Easter: that the incarnate God enters ‘this cosmos’ not simply to disclose its immanent rationality, but to break the boundaries of fallen nature asunder, and to refashion creation after its ancient beauty—wherein neither sin nor death had any place. Christian thought has traditionally, of necessity, defined evil as a privation of the good, possessing no essence or nature of its own, a purely parasitic corruption of reality; hence it can have no positive role to play in God’s determination of Himself or purpose for His creatures (even if by economy God can bring good from evil); it can in no way supply any imagined deficiency in God’s or creation’s goodness. Being infinitely sufficient in Himself, God had no need of a passage through sin and death to manifest His glory in His creatures or to join them perfectly to Himself. This is why it is misleading (however soothing it may be) to say that the drama of fall and redemption will make the final state of things more glorious than it might otherwise have been. No less metaphysically incoherent—though immeasurably more vile—is the suggestion that God requires suffering and death to reveal certain of his attributes (capricious cruelty, perhaps? morbid indifference? a twisted sense of humor?). It is precisely sin, suffering, and death that blind us to God’s true nature.”
Read DBH’s full article by clicking here.
Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again was written by Mike Aquilina and James L. Papandrea.
It teaches an idea which I strongly agree with: that Christianity, since its beginnings, has changed the whole world for the better and continues to do so.
The authors focus on seven revolutions; seven ways in which Christianity rearranged the world in new and positive methods.
The first revolution is concerned with Human Dignity. Unwanted life, be it children, or slaves, or cripples, was thrown away in the ancient world, and no one thought much of it. It was the first Christians who condemned this behaviour and openly spoke out against abortion, child murder, gladiatorial violence, and the overall low view of “inconvenient” persons.
The second revolution, which builds on the first, is on Family. In contrast to the Roman culture, Christian homes had husbands and wives who loved each other, and children who were valued and cared for. The marriage was not just a contract, and the wife was not just the property of the husband (she was, but he was her property now too). Sex was seen in a new light as well: not just something for the physical pleasure of the man, but a sacred activity to both marriage partners. As one second century author wrote:
“They [Christians] marry, as everyone does; they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.” (Epistle to Diognetus, 5)
The third revolution addressed is that of Work, and how labour became holy. “Shoemakers, cleaners, weavers — these were the people who called themselves Christians. How could a religion made up of such lowly people be anything but contemptible?” (Page 80) Manual labour was despicable to the upper classes in the ancient world, and that type of work was best left to slaves. But Christians welcomed and treated as equal both manual labourers and slaves in relation to the upper class Christians. Manual labour is seen as holy in the Christian faith. God Himself worked with His hands in creating the world. How could a religion like this lead people to salvation when clearly the physical world is dirty and disgusting while the spiritual world is beautiful and pure?
The fourth was a revolution of Religion. Whereas the pagan religions of the past were more so contracts between patron (the god) and people and were seen as a patriotic duty, Christianity focuses on having an actual relationship with God and with fellow believers. A Christian, rather than trying to guess at what makes the gods happy, receives divine revelation which allows for a direct and intimate knowledge of God. And then there is the monotheistic/trinitarian nature of God: God is one, but He is three persons in relationship, and that relationship of love spills over into humanity causing Christians to not only love God, but also to love people. And don’t leave out the Christian view of morality — living a life which pleases God, not to earn salvation, but to live out the salvation already received.
Number five: a revolution of Community. The authors, perhaps unnecessarily, start this chapter with an overview of the Augustine/Pelagius controversy. Augustine believed in original sin and total depravity, while Pelagius believed in free will and humanity’s ability to live a perfect life. The Church (the Catholic Church) decided the truth was somewhere down the middle of those extremes — not all depends on God, and not all depends on us. Therefore we must work with God in His mission to “extend His love to others.” (page 137) The debate of free will vs. original sin still rages on in Protestant circles, but the point of the book is clear: “the revolution of the community is that God calls us to love our neighbour.” (Page 137) The focus here is on working with the poor, and the contrast of Christian charity (loving others for the sake of love) against pagan charity (doing good to others to be seen doing good). Christians are not to build up treasure in this world, but rather in heaven, and “the storehouses of heaven are the stomachs of the hungry.” (Page 141)
Next, a revolution in Death. This is a Catholic book, and while I don’t think it’s too Catholic for non-Catholic readers, this chapter on death does hold much of the theology, particularly concerning relics and patron saints. While I’m not Catholic myself, I do agree with the premise of this chapter, which has to do with resurrection and Christianity’s conquering of death itself. Death has no more sting and the horrors of death are nothing more than a temporary sadness. A new body and a new life await those who belong to Christ.
The final and seventh revolution is about the State and Religious Freedom. Again, being a Catholic book, there is no mention of the Reformation’s contribution to the western world and to how individual liberty grew out of that movement influencing so much of western politics. The book mainly focuses on the influence of Constantine and his edict of religious tolerance. “By the time the Church was in a position to influence government in the fourth century, a Christian idea of government had emerged — that those who governed should be the protectors of those whom they govern. Leadership was not a right; it was a responsibility — one that included serving the ‘least’ of society. To govern was to be entrusted with something very valuable — human beings created in the image of God and the resources to sustain them. In other words, Christian leadership is a form of stewardship” (page 183). That’s good in theory, but fast forward 1000 years and the Church’s rule wasn’t doing so great. Much was corrected by the Reformation.
The final two chapters talk about how the Church can change the world again. Several “to-do” items are given for the Church:
- Reject isolationism
- Respect the value of every human life
- Reject the culture of celebrity and humiliation as entertainment
- Respect the humble, the labourer, and the poor
- Reject the creation of a secular religion of the state
- Respect religious freedom (freedom of religion, not from religion)
- Reject a defeatist attitude
- Respect your neighbours
All in all I thought it was a good book. I give it 3.5 out of five stars. I think the Catholic authors focused too much on ancient history, neglecting the huge changes made in the last 500 years. But, there is much to be learned from those ancient centuries as well so that we need not repeat the mistakes of the past.
“The seven revolutions of the Church can be broadly grouped into two categories: the protection of all human life, and the protection of each person’s dignity and freedom.” (Page 204)
“Just like the early Christians, we may find ourselves facing a choice between two kinds of sacrifice. We will either sacrifice our place of comfort within society to speak up for life and freedom, or we will sacrifice our convictions and accept the current definition of freedom (that is, absolute freedom of convenience for the individual, and freedom from having to be confronted with expressions of religious faith that may convict one of selfishness).” (Page 217)
Within Buddhism there is a thing called Karma. Karma is based on good or bad deeds which then translates to future happiness or future suffering. If you build up bad Karma in this life you will pay for it with suffering in the next life. If you build up good Karma you will be rewarded. This system is the framework for Buddhist morality.
Christian morality is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Because He first loved me, I must love others. Because He has forgiven me, I must forgive others. Because He stripped Himself of His power to come save poor humans, I must work to help the poor.
A Buddhist will be reluctant to help the poor. The poor person may be paying for something horrible he did in a past life, and if someone were to alleviate his suffering, that someone would be going against the Karma system and will put her own future happiness at risk. “Live and let live” is the Buddhist moral standard. This actually creates a kind of tolerance that many western Humanists would be envious of. But where the Buddhist would be tolerant of something like homosexual lifestyles, a tolerance which would be celebrated by the Humanist, the Buddhist would also be tolerant of allowing the poor to stay poor, a tolerance which the Humanist would rail against. This is because Humanist morality is a bastardized version of Christian and anti-Christian values.
I remember telling someone how I was helping poor children in Cambodia to get a proper education. She thought that was wonderful. But then her face dropped and she asked if I was also teaching the people about Christianity. “You’re not trying to convert them are you? Don’t they already have their own religion?”
Sigh. So your morality praises me for helping poor children, but then, that same morality scolds me for opposing a religion (Buddhism) which has a moral system that actually prevents Cambodians from helping their own poor children? But to her, her thinking was completely logical, and that is because she has no idea where her Humanist morality comes from.
Humanism is doomed. So what will be the next moral battle fought in the western world? Nihilism versus Humanism? Islam versus Humanism?
Will Christians wake up to the fact that Christendom fell a long time ago and join the fight?
One thing that western Christians need to remember is that the Christian Church does not revolve around the western world. And so, if it appears that the Church is “dying” in the west, that certainly does not mean it is dying worldwide. In fact, the Church is growing worldwide.
But is the Church really dying in the west? Or is this some kind of publicity stunt?
Something that is indeed happening in the west is that the secular and political realms are no longer paying homage to the Church. The “new atheism” we see these days does not just want to deny God’s existence, but it wants to tear down all Christian power in society. And this does seem to be happening; the Church has been and is losing power in the secular and political spheres.
But dying? Well I guess that depends on whether or not people are really getting saved and are joining churches. The numbers of those calling themselves Christian may be down, but how reliable are those numbers anyways? Ten years ago, if a surveyor went to any given house and asked what religion the home’s dweller belongs to, they’d probably get a response like, “Well, I grew up in a Catholic family, so I guess I’m Christian.” Yet the person hasn’t set foot in a church for 25 years. These days I think people are more inclined to be honest and say they are non-religious. They no longer feel the need to show some kind of respectful acknowledgment of religious tradition.
So perhaps the Church is not dying, but rather, with the loss of the Church’s political power, we are just seeing more honesty and realism. This is a good thing. The Church thrived in a hostile Roman Empire. No one dared to pretend to be Christian for personal gain. Nor did anyone sleepily pay tribute to the faith out of some obligation to tradition. Lines were clearly drawn, and no one could be a “casual believer”.
So, as the Church loses religious control over society, no one should lament that the end is near. The Church’s true influence will grow as its false religious and political clout dwindles.
photo credit: “A Letter From Pastor Mark”