Post-Christian Nihilism

What happens when we no longer have any God (or gods) to look up to? What happens when men become their own gods? What happens when “the will” becomes the highest ideal?

Israel was purged of their tendency to worship false gods with their exile. Their house was cleansed of that demon. But eventually they turned their own religion into a false one and were worse off than before the exile.

When a society becomes Christian, all the old religions are displaced. There can be no going back. No one can become a child again. What replaces Christianity?

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45 NKJV

Felix Culpa and the Problem of Evil

Felix culpa: fortunate fault — used especially of original sin, which is redeemed by the coming of Christ (Merriam Webster)

It would seem that if it weren’t for the fall, Jesus would have never become a man to save humanity. If Jesus never became a man, the connection thus created between God and man would never have happened. Jesus, being both fully God and fully man, is a bridge between God and man which connects the Creator with the created and the Infinite with the finite. If Jesus never became a man, that connection would never have been made, and forever there would be an infinite separation between God and His creation. The theodicy here is that evil was necessary as it caused the man Jesus to come and save humanity.

Of course, there was nothing stopping the second person of the Trinity from becoming a man if there never was a fall. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that it was always God’s intention to unite with His creation by entering that creation as a man. The fall is not necessary for that to happen. So, the theodicy breaks down, as all theodicies do.

Was evil necessary for God to get what He wants out of His creation? The Calvinist would say yes, as God created the universe to display the full range of His perfections, which includes wrath, mercy, and justice (a la John Piper). If there were no evil, how could God display His wrath? Who was God displaying His wrath onto before creation? No one of course. Therefore God had to create the universe in order to fulfill that unmet desire. Here is where the Calvinist theodicy breaks down since it insists that God had to create the universe in order to complete Himself, which cannot be true for a perfectly complete God. God did not create the universe to complete Himself or to fulfill some unmet desire. The universe is an outpouring of God’s perfect completeness–ex nihilo, or better ex deo.

Some believe evil is necessary for the act of “soul building”. The evil we experience builds our character, builds our humanity, and shapes us into the beings God ultimately wants us to be. But this theodicy confuses hardship with evil. If you wanted to run a marathon, and I were your trainer, I would tell you to get up at 5 am each morning to run for an hour. This would be hard for you, but it would not be evil. If I decided that your family was distracting you too much from your training, and thus killed your family to keep you focused, that would be evil. The hardship builds you up, but the evil tears you down. Evil never creates, it only destroys.

Others would say that evil is necessary in order for us to have free will, which is necessary for true love. They argue that love can’t be real unless it is chosen. People have to have the option of rejecting God in order for their acceptance of God to be real. It’s a bad argument. Think of all those you love. Did you have to choose to love them? (Don’t confuse loyalty or obedience with love here.) Does a mother have to choose to love her newly born child? Does a child choose to love his parents? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” I don’t think Jesus is suggesting we prove our love by obeying, but rather, we obey because we love Him first. (Obedience might lead to stronger love, but it is love which initiates obedience.) At any time in eternity past, did Jesus have to choose to love the Father? Is it even an option for Jesus to reject the Father? Think about what that would mean. God is not suicidal. There is no darkness in God. Could God create a universe in which we had free will and yet there would be no evil? Yes, this is exactly what will happen in the next age, post-resurrection.

Evil creates nothing, it only destroys. Evil is not a positive force, it is a negative parasite. Evil is the privation of good and it has no substance of its own. Evil is not non-being, but rather anti-being — it seeks to kill and destroy. There is no good reason why evil exists in our universe, but yet it is here. Why? God did not need evil to get what He wants out of His creation, but yet He allowed evil to happen. Why?

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question: “What does God want?” Maybe we should be asking the question: “What do we want?” Perhaps the solution to the problem of evil is to stop asking what God wants and start asking what we want. God did create the universe wholly apart from Himself after all. Christians are not pantheists or panentheists, or we shouldn’t be. The terrifying truth is that God created us to rule this creation. The responsibility of doing that is immense. Are we going to kill the evil infecting our universe? Or will we join ourselves with the evil?

So, what is evil? Evil is not non-being, but anti-being. Evil is a side effect of the supremacy of Freedom in Becoming (Being), and it is Being turned against itself. Evil has no substance of its own, but it is parasitic on the very substance which it is intent to destroy. If Creation is Good, then Evil is destruction, both the refusal of the acceptance of the Gift of Being, and the active opposition to Being-itself and Becoming. Evil is freedom, but it is freedom misused. Not as some Gnostic ignorance (As David B. Hart seems to suggest), but indeed a genuine hatred. Since human nature is founded on freedom, humanity can choose evil and oppose the inherent Goodness of his/her nature. Evil is a very real psychological and spiritual reality, and cannot be brushed away by a magic wave of the metaphysical finger. It may not be a substance, but it is very tangible. Evil is not cured by knowledge alone, but by Love.

Some guy online called Oskar

Thankfully we have Jesus, God as man, and the Holy Spirit to guide us in this great responsibility God has given to us.

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.

Mark 6:45-51 NKJV

No Evil Required

God created Adam and Eve initially to have a limited knowledge. They were like children. Over time humanity would have grown and matured to a state in which they had a full revelation of God, and of truth, of goodness, and beauty. Clearly this process is God’s good plan for humanity. God did not create us to be in this final state right from the beginning. Why is the process necessary? We don’t know yet.

God probably created the angels the same way. The angels probably have their own process which God is maturing them through to a final and perfect state. We don’t know that, but it makes sense.

This process, both for man and angels, does not require evil. Any theodicy which claims that evil is necessary for God to accomplish His goals is a lie. Evil did happen, and God allowed it, but it was never a necessary component to creation.

Another parable [Jesus] put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” (Matthew 13: 24-20 NKJV)

The good seed does not require the tares. In the end, the good seed grows into what it was meant to be regardless of the tares. God is unwilling to destroy His creation even though evil has infected it. He is also unwilling to stop the maturation process for humanity because of evil. The process of growth continues despite evil, and all will be sorted out in time. Why did God allow evil in the first place? Probably because to prevent the evil in the first place would have meant aborting the process. So, while the process does not require evil, the process would have been aborted in order to prevent evil.

The goals which God had in mind for His creation at the beginning never change. If evil was not in God’s mind at the beginning, it certainly is not in His mind for the end. The perfect consummation for creation God planned for from the beginning will happen, without compromise, without loss.

Related reading: The Fallacy of Theodicy; The Alpha and the Omega and the Foundation of all Correct Theology; What God Wills and What God Permits

The Fallacy of Theodicy

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.

Free Will and Evil

Free will is often described as the ability to choose one thing over another without coercion. The problem with that definition is that that type of choice would always have to be arbitrary. Why did you choose A instead of B? No reason. I chose A just because I could. I could have also chosen B. No matter. But, is that how we make choices? Of course not. There is always a reason you chose one thing over another, and that reason is the result of factors which are most often beyond your control. Why is a man attracted to one type of woman instead of another? Why do you enjoy certain kinds of food and hate others? Why are you drawn to this career and not that one? A man cannot simply will himself to be attracted to blonds instead of brunettes.

People who hold to the above definition of free will also tend to believe that the opposite of free will is no will. You either have free will or you are a preprogrammed robot. But, what is the opposite of freedom? It is slavery. Therefore, it is better to say that the opposite of free will is not “no will”, but rather “enslaved will”.

If we are created beings, then our Creator gave us certain desires. God did not create blank slates with arbitrary free wills. Rather, God created beings with a specific design and purpose. We were never created to be anything other than what we were created for. Therefore, free will, rather than being the ability to arbitrarily choose whatever, is best defined as the ability to freely be what God created us to be. Defined that way, the opposite free will is enslaved will–the inability to be what God created us to be. If we were created to be good, loving, and perfect, then our inability to be those things shows that our wills are enslaved to some fallen and corrupt condition. Welcome to planet Earth.

Any salvation plan then, would have to be one which frees us from our enslavement and once again place us in a condition where we can exist exactly as God intended. This is the claim of Christianity. Jesus, through His death and resurrection, destroys the old world of enslavement, and creates a new world of freedom. Humanity finds its freedom through union with Christ.

But, why and how did this fallen condition occur in the first place? If humans were originally created perfect and with a disposition toward God and the good, why did our first parents willfully sin? Were they deceived into doing so? By the devil? How and why did the devil fall?

The problem of evil is a perplexing one. How can an all powerful good God be reconciled with the existence of evil?

Related reading… Predisposed to Rule