For some time now I have wrestled with the idea of writing down many of my thoughts concerning Christianity. This desire arises from various reasons: 1) I have hoped, that in writing, I could bring together, in some kind of coherent fashion my musing on this subject. For a long time now, they have been disjointed and unsystematic. Though it must be confessed, from the start, that what follows is not intended to be a formal work but rather a kind of "soul bearing" and a conversational wrestling with various questions regarding the nature of Christianity. Writing usually forces me to attempt to bring a measure of order out of chaos. 2) I have increasing felt that a few of my friends, who care a great deal about me, might be interested in what I have to say.
To begin such an undertaking is difficult for a number of reasons: 1) given the breath and depth of the subject, I hardly knows where to begin. 2) From time to time, it will be impossible to avoid thinking both theologically and philosophically. I well understand that many are either uninterested or unable to do so. 3) To complicate matters further what follows will, in many instances, be very difficult to attend to psychologically. What I have in mind here is to acknowledge that what I have to say may be threatening to those who read it. As it is impossible for me to write free of emotion, it is equally impossible—for those emotionally involved with the issues discussed--to read without eliciting such either. What I'm asking you to do is to keep an open and critical mind (i.e. discerning and rigorous).
Let me state, as frankly and boldly as I can, that I no longer trust (or have faith) in the Judeo-Christian God. Perhaps, in being so blunt I have startled you and filled you with incredulity. You may rightly ask, "How could you, a “Spirit-filled,” “Born Again,” one-time bible college teacher, ordained minister, and former senior pastor with a doctorate from a leading evangelical seminary make such an outrageous statement?" I make this statement because I believe Christian theism does not stand to reason. I realize that many will stumble over my appeal to reason as grounds for dismissing Christianity. But for the sake of argument, let my statement stand (I will say more about the relationship between faith and reason later).
I have come to realize that Christianity its Scriptures and the God portrayed in its teachings, are illogical, and irrational. Not only do I find the traditional arguments for God unconvincing (i.e. cosmological, ontological, teleological, moral, and congruity) but also I find the arguments for disbelieving considerable. The whole system when looked at critically becomes in fact rather absurd. But I'm already ahead of myself. My skepticism stems from accepting (noetically) that the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of God teaches his omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenificence.1 Taking all these attributes together serves as one point in my rejection of the Christian system of thought.
The best way I know in introducing the conflicting psychological factors that has informed (or deformed) my faith lie in the nature of a relationship, and to be discussed later, the belief in the inherent goodness of God. I believe that Christianity teaches the reconciliation of humanity to God through the vicarious substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross,
For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things through the blood of his cross; through him. . .and although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through his death. (Col. 1:19-22 italics mine).
With this reconciliation comes peace, fulfillment and a radically new standing before our God and Creator (Rom. 5:1). It is this peace and fulfillment that comes through Christ's death that gives ultimate meaning to human existence. As St. Augustine said in book one of his Confessions, ". . . you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you." The Bible teaches that the implications of Christ’s death have brought the dawn of an utterly new era in God's dealing with man. Representative of the blessings of this reconciliation are the facts that we now enjoy "new life" (Col. 2:13), the status of being Christ's "friends" (Jn. 15:14), and even the adopted position of being called the "dearly loved children of God," (Jn. 1: Eph. 1:5, 5:1; I Jn. 3:1)!
God's love for mankind is one of the clearest teachings of the entire Bible, "for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). God's love for man and the lengths he went to demonstrate it is the par excellent teaching of Christianity. Paul said in writing to the Ephesian church,
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (3:17-18).
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?. . . No, in all this things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus or Lord (Rom. 8:35-39).
Now, I understand that the love of God is not to be thought of as a petty indulgence of his children. For Paul did not even consider all manner of sufferings to be inconsistent with God's love. For earlier in chapter 8:28 he wrote, "and we know that in all things God works for the good of those that love him . . ." Surely the "all things" included those situations mentioned in verses 35-39! Suffering for Paul was not merely theoretical either (II Cor. 11:23-33). Furthermore he was given a "thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan" to torment him. Of this "thorn" Paul pleaded with God three times to take it away. But God's reply was, "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (II Cor. 12:7-9).
The Bible takes pains to show that God is loving, yet stern. As Paul says in Romans 11:22, "consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness." Of his kindness the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that God has said, "never will I leave you; never will I forsake you," (Heb. 13:5).
Yet, the Bible states that saints often felt forsaken by God. King David lamented in Psalm 22:1 (later reechoed by Christ), "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Asaph wrote, "will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion," (Ps. 77:7-9). In Isaiah's day the people of Judah opined, "the LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me," (Ps. 44: 23-24; Is. 49:14; see also Is. 54:7; Mt. 27:46).
I also realize that Biblical characters are not alone in this feeling. Philip Yancy has noted in his dealings with people that, "I kept returning to three large questions [Is God unfair, silent, hidden], about God that seemed to lurk just behind the thicket of his [Richard's] feelings. The longer I pondered them, the more I realized that these questions are lodged somewhere inside all of us. (Yancy 1988, p. 35 Italics mine).
Throughout the Bible there is the disturbing paradox (contradiction?); a strange mixture of God's love, grace, mercy, and presence juxtaposed beside his sternness, the existence of evil and the dreadful feeling of his absence and silence. This unholy alliance militates against faith. Often straining the person of faith to the point of desperation and despair on the torturous rack of human existence.
John Bunyan graphically illustrates this kind of situation in his book Pilgrim's Progress. Christian and Hopeful were unhappily taken captive by a Giant called Despair and taken "into a very dark dungeon, nasty and stinking" inside Doubting Castle. The Giant sorely berates them as "if they were dogs," and "falls upon them [with a grievous crabtree cudgel], and beats them fearfully, in such sort that they are not able to help themselves. This done, he withdraws and leaves them there to console their misery, and to mourn under their distress." There, Christian said, "brother what shall we do? The life that we now lead is miserable. For my part, I know not whether it is best to live thus or to die. My soul chooseth strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me that his dungeon. Shall we be ruled by this giant?" (p. 88-89).
Given the clear teaching of God's love there nevertheless seems (at least to me), that certain things ought to count for or against the assertion that God indeed loves humanity. Following Anthony Flew it seem reasonable to believe that,
For if the utterance is indeed an assertion, it will necessarily be equivalent to a denial of the negation of that assertion. And anything which would count against the assertion, or which would induce the speaker to withdraw it and to admit that it had been mistaken, must be part of (or the whole of) the meaning of the negation of that assertion. And to know the meaning of the negation of an assertion, is as near as makes no matter, to know the meaning of that assertion. And if there is nothing which a putative assertion denies then there is nothing which it asserts either: and so it is not an assertion. (Flew, 1991, p. 237 Italics mine).
As noted above, the Bible is unequivocally committed to the fact that God loves mankind. Though it must be conceded that apparently God's love is not fully analogous to the love of humankind. As Flew notes:
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children [c.f. I Jn. 3:1]. We are reassured. But then we see the child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. The earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made--God's love is "not merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps--and we realize that such sufferings are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but, of course,. . .) (Flew 1991, p. 237).
Perhaps I need to share a bit of my past in order to give at least some semblance to the "portion of my sufferings." Having made a personal commitment to Christ in 1977 I began my spiritual journey. After a few years I sensed God was calling me into the ministry. This realization filled me with dread. For I was immeasurably shy and introverted. The reason for this stemmed at least in large measure from an extremely low self-esteem and personal aversion of myself. The former and the latter were the result of my adolescent abhorrence and self-consciousness chiefly stemming from, among other things, my "deformed" nose (a deviated septum). Of course, my exaggerated self-loathing was the product of highly imaginative and irrational mind and the product of a "dysfunctional" home life.
As childish as it may seem still nothing intimidated me more than the thought of making my living by speaking publicly! Nevertheless I felt strongly that God wanted me to serve him in ministry. With fear and trepidation I earnestly prayed that God would strengthen me and take away my debilitating fear. This fear you must realize made it quite impossible for me to speak to any group large or small. My anxiety would become so great that I would become literally paralyzed with fear and would be unable to utter a single word.
I had hoped that during my time at Bible college and later in seminary I would become less anxious and more confident of speaking in public. However as my time in graduate school was nearing its end my anxiety became uncontrolled. God had not taken away my fear and now I was to launch out into the real world of ministry. At that time I began to experience panic attacks of the most debilitating nature accompanied by the most horrible and disturbing obsessional thoughts. I do not exaggerate when I say that words cannot impart the abject terror, despair, and dread of those days. In retrospect I believe I suffered from a “nervous breakdown” and consequently I was an emotional wreck. The intensity of these experiences lasted for eight months. Early on I literally prayed that I would die. I probably would have killed myself to escape the torment but I feared God and eternal torment even more.
By degrees I gained a measure of emotional health. But never again was I the same, even now I carry the effects of my emotional breakdown. A few months, after graduation I did enter full-time ministry. As the years went by the difficult work of pastoring, college teaching, and working on my doctorate was taking its emotional toll. Seeking help this time from legions of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and psychotherapy I attempted to keep up the work that God had called me to. Of course, I prayed, read the Word, fasted, spent time on spiritual retreats, practiced the spiritual disciplines, and sought encouragement from my peers. But things only got worse. My pain became intolerable. Thankfully, I have never suffered chronic physical pain but I know first hand and with many tears the pain of acute anxiety, deepest depression, and darkness despair. Oh, the utter darkness and shear emotional pain. Indescribable, horrible, such pain!
In this living hell, when I needed God most he proved more than silent. His silence became deafening and in the final analysis he indicated to me that his love wasn’t a kind of love that merited any such kind of designation. Once again to quote Flew "a fine brash hypothesis [that God loves me] may thus be killed by inches, the death by a thousand qualifications," (Flew 1991, p. 237). Now, I know it’s often argued (as I often argued myself), that this sense of alienation, silence, and estrangement was nothing more than a feeling. And furthermore, no matter how real the alienation, silence, and estrangement may seem it was nothing more than a feeling and not reality (God hasn't really forsaken you I kept telling myself). And we all know, feelings are deceptive and that in the final analysis, Christ calls us to walk by faith not sight (feelings or anything else, (c.f. Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7). To the greatest extent of my ability (while constantly praying for God's grace, strength, and wisdom), I believed this and put it into practice . . . until I could bear the pain, God's silence, and his indifference any longer. The God who I believed loved and died for me in order to enter into relationship with me hurt me immeasurably. He ignored me. During the times that I cried out to him for merely a crumb of divine attention and the reassurance that he was there he turned a callous and deaf ear to my every plea. It seemed an unavoidable easy thing to identify with the conclusion drawn from John Wisdom's allegory of the 'Invisible Gardener.' After presenting the story about two explorers discovering a well-kept garden in which a gardener is never encountered, Anthony Flew observes "how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all" (Flew 1991, p. 236 Italics mine).
During this time my understanding of God's love was taking a terrible beating. It was being assailed relentlessly. Though I understood that in biblical times God had been silent, his silence was not absolute. In Psalm 28:1 David cries out to God, "to you I call, O LORD my rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit." David knew of the silence of God, but he also knew that God would answer him out of the silence. In verse 6 we read, "praise be to he LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy." Evidently, David felt assured that God had heard him. David could say after a long life, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken. . . " (Ps. 37:25).
Why was I to be so utterly cast out from his presence? I sought him the best I knew and searched my heart for sin lest it should keep me from hearing his voice. I had heard of St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul.2 Perhaps that's what I was experiencing,
A period when all of this [the personal experiences of the power of God and the perception of his love and fellowship] is removed. God had seemed very close; now he seems distant or even absent. One had been experiencing great spiritual fervor; now one experiences nothing (Davids 1984, p. 293).
The days turned into weeks the weeks turned into years and finally spiritually confused and exhausted my faith gave out. What was I to believe about a God who could be so incredibly callous and indifferent to my spiritual suffering? Perhaps God had been speaking all along and I simply had failed to hear him. I considered that a very real possibility, so I prayed that God would break through my deafness and reassure me that he was there. Francis Schaeffer (whom I greatly admire), had written a book entitled He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Sadly for me God was apparently making a grand exception.
If only he had given me one small word of consolation. The Apostle Paul had been told that God's grace was sufficient for him and that God's power would be made perfect in his weakness. Paul could endure his "thorn" because he knew there were reasons for it (to keep him from becoming conceited and to perfect God's power). I too would have gladly put up with my pain had I had one ounce of rationale for it. Was I asking too much? True, I prayed for God to take away my crushing anxiety, depression, and despair but I would have been content to bear it if only to know that it was serving some purpose other than the destruction of my faith and ministry! As Os Guinness has noted, "to suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is different again" (1976, p. 263). Viktor Frankl the author of Man's Search for Meaning and himself a holocaust survivor was fond of quoting Nietzsche, "he who has a why to live can bear with almost any how." It's true that I knew of plenty of reasons why I was suffering: the world is full of suffering, suffering builds character, etc, etc, etc. All of these I found too banal and utterly comfortless aphorisms. I had no personal reason for my suffering. Abstract truths wear brutally thin in the crucible of suffering without personal meaning.
My feelings at that time (as best as I can recall) began with a bewildering sense of abandonment that further fueled my anxiety. Later, I became angry, bitter and incensed that my love was so cruelly unrequited and that God would allow me to suffer so without a glimpse of meaning or relief. I was confused. I struggled great emotional and spiritual anguish over the apparent contradiction of God's great love portrayed in Scripture with the evil I was experiencing (I use the word evil deliberately).
It seemed apparent that something was terribly amiss. Perhaps I was missing God for some inexplicable reason? Or perhaps (to be dreaded even more), the Scriptures were guilty of painting an inaccurate picture of God? Maybe the writers of the Scriptures had it all wrong? Pain does funny things to one's mind. Because my experiences were so painful it became possible to entertain thoughts of God as being something of a cosmic sadist. As Baudelaire has been credited as saying "if there is a god he must be the devil." Similarly, Joseph Heller seemed to give expression to my feelings in his book Catch-22.
Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain? (1962, p. 184).
Such a notion of God however was totally unacceptable and reprehensible to me. I could not possibly accept such a God. I had loved God and the idea of God. Grand indeed is the Judeo-Christian understanding of God. A personal God, majestic in his spender and magnitude, possessing in his person the qualities of ineffability, incomparability, numinousness, and immutability. A God who is just, true and all together righteous and blameless, untainted by anything corrupt or defiled, paternal in all his dealings with humanity. A being capable of infinite power, knowledge, and love wholly directed to unswerving devotion to the creatures that he has created. A deity immanent yet transcendent, utterly holy but nevertheless approachable. Little wonder I was struck by the beauty of such a being. The higher regions of my sensibilities were awed and inextricably drawn to such a one. The cultured aspects of my psyche indubitably yearned to fellowship and emulate such a creator. Such is the concept of God and his subsequent powers to induce worship and admiration. In a world that is all to familiar with degradation and every form of evil thought and action, such a being is welcomed relief indeed! Oh the overwhelming draw of such a being. I thirsted for such a noble paragon of virtue and beauty.
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, "So there's no God after all," but, "So this is what God is really like." Deceive yourself no longer (1961, p. 5).
For Lewis the option of abandoning his belief in God was not a viable alternative. For me on the other hand I could not reconcile the biblical God with my experience. Since I was unwilling or unable to make God out to be a monster and was unable to reconcile the scriptural portrayal of God with reality, the only alternative was to abandon the belief in God altogether.
The awareness of injustice, suffering and cruelty within the sphere of human life is so pressing, and the contrast between this actual human situation and the idea of divine love and righteousness is so sharp, and so urgent, that we are justified in saying that no one can preserve his Christian faith in God without having found an answer to this question. To find no answer here is to have to confess to loss of faith (Brunner 1952, p. 178 Italics mine).
Rieux turned to Paneloux. "I know. I'm sorry. But weariness is a kind of madness. And there are times when the only feeling I have is one of mad revolt." "I understand," Paneloux said in a low voice. "That sort of thing is revolting because it passes our human understanding. But perhaps we should love what we cannot understand." Rieux straightened up slowly. He glazed at Paneloux, summoning to his glaze all the strength and fervor he could muster against his weariness. Then he shook his head. "No, Father. I've a very different idea of love. And until my dying day I shall refuse to love a scheme of thing in which children are put to torture (1948, p. 196-197 Italics mine).
During this time the problem of pain became a central and dominate part of my thinking. I now turn to some of the theological problems that were spawned during and subsequent to the acute pain that I suffered and continue to suffer.
The question of the problem of evil has a long and varied history, from Augustine's time to the present, and is undoubtedly the greatest challenge to Christian theism. Although the argument was been given various twists over the years its essence can be basically stated as follows:
1). If God is all good and loves all human beings, it is reasonable to believe that he wants to deliver the creatures he loves from evil and suffering, 2). If God is all-knowing, it is reasonable to believe that he knows how to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering. 3). If God is all-powerful, it is reasonable to believe that he is able to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering (Nash 1988, p. 178).
Ronald Nash goes on to say:
Given what Christians believe about God's omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence, it seems to follow that God wants to eliminate evil, that God knows how to eliminate evil, and that God has the power to eliminate evil. But evil exists. In fact, great amounts of apparently senseless and purposeless evil seems to exist. Since evil and suffering exist, it seems to follow that it is reasonable to believe that God doesn't want to eliminate evil (thus casting doubt on his goodness) or doesn't know how to eliminate evil (raising questions about his knowledge) or lacks the power. In short, the existence of evil seems inconsistent with our belief in God's goodness or omniscience or power. Troubled by their reflection on these difficulties, many have found it easy to take the additional step and conclude that the existence of evil in the world makes it unlikely that God exists (1988, p. 178 Italics mine).
In reaction to the problem of evil Christians have developed an argued response called a theodicy (a term coined by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in 1710). A theodicy is a treatise that seeks to reconcile the existence of evil with the belief that God is all-powerful, all knowing, and an absolutely good being.3 Most attempts at vindicating God are usually variations on a "free will," "soul making," or "natural law" kind of defense. I do not care to discuss the merits or weakness of these respective arguments. Instead I want to raise the question along with Geisler and Feinberg (1980, p. 325); Why did God create a world that would sin?
Perhaps the most plaguing contemporary criticism of theism vis-à-vis evil is the insistence that God could have avoided creating a world that would sin. According to theism, God could have made:
1. No world at all.
2. A world with no free creatures.
3. A world where free creatures would not sin.
4. A world where free creatures would sin.
It seems to me that all the time spent in trying to defend God, in light of evil, misses another and ultimately more important question—Why did God create a world that would sin in the first place? Stated cosmologically, every cause has an effect. There are no effects that are not caused. The universe according to scripture is neither infinite (an eternal regression of cause and effect), nor caused from nothing. There is a "necessary" being (God), on which everything is "contingent." God, therefore, is Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover," that is, the cause for every effect. He is the one responsible for all creation and consequently responsible for the behavior of that creation (i.e. a parent is responsible for the "creation" of a child and is consequently held responsible for the behavior of that child).
A former professor of mine, Millard Erikson in his book Christian Theology, examines the problem of evil. There he cites the extreme position of the stanch Calvinist Gordon H. Clark. According to Clark,
Let it be unequivocally said that this view (God's decretive will that causes every event), makes God the cause of sin. God is the sole ultimate cause of everything. There is absolutely nothing independent of him. He alone is the eternal being. He alone is omnipotent. He alone is sovereign (1985, p. 418).4
What possible reason could an omnipotent and sovereign God have in creating anything let alone a world where free creatures would sin? God, according to St. Anselm is a "being than which nothing greater can be conceived [sic]" (Proslogium 1926, p. 7). Such a being is totally self sufficient, whole, perfect, lacking desire, and in need of nothing.
Human beings on the other hand desire, want, and need because it is inherent for them to do so--they are finite. By definition God is complete and infinite. God, strictly speaking cannot desire, want, or need anything because he lacks nothing. Now one may say that God wants man's worship or desires that everyone should be saved. In a certain linguistic sense that is true enough. In one sense God does not enjoy every one's worship nor will everyone be saved. But when we say (by the language of accommodation), God wants or desires its not because he lacks a certain gratification, or sense of accomplishment that would come with the fulfilling of his desires. To imply God's lack of gratification is to imply a deprivation, a void needing to be filled. To speak thus, consequently contradicts the very definition of God. God has everything except that which is logically impossible for him to have (i.e. square circles and equations where 2+2=5).
Often in a discussion someone will say, "Didn't God, then, if He is personal and if He loves, need an object for His love? Didn't He have to create? And therefore, isn't the universe just as necessary to Him as He is to the universe?" The answer is, No. He did not have to create something face-to-face with Himself in order to love, because he already had the Trinity (1982, p. 15 Italics his).
Obviously then, according to Schaeffer, God was under no necessity to create. Since he did create and the world is as it is, I must conclude that it is exactly what he wills it to be.5 For if he desired a different state of affairs he would simply have willed it into existence (i.e. options 2 or 3 cited above). "In any case, God created man with full knowledge of the widespread suffering that would ensue, and, given his ability to prevent this situation, we must presume that God desired and willed these immoral atrocities to occur" (Smith 1989, p. 83 Italics mine).
Francis Schaeffer recognizes that "if we begin with a personal beginning and look at man as he now is, how do we explain the dilemma of man's cruelty?" (1982, vol. 1 p. 298). He believes that he has a sufficient remedy in proposing that there has been a radical change that is the cause for the present state of affairs. Man is not now what he was once created to be. There has been a historical space-time Fall. Since the Fall, man is alienated from God and has severed the original state of his inherent goodness. Being omnipotent, God knew that there would not be "an unbroken line" between what man was [prior to the Fall] and what he is now (Schaeffer 1982, p. 298). Schaeffer criticizes liberal theology which he believes hides behind irrationality when they say, "We have no answer for this, [the problem of evil if there is no unbroken line] but let us say that God is good" (1982, p. 298).6 But is it not almost a Christian consensus that the problem of evil is inscrutable? Always the champion of reason Schaeffer continues, "Suddenly men who have been saying that they are arguing with great emphasis on reason become irrational at this point, and say that there is only an irrational answer for the question of how God is good" (1982, p. 299).7 Remember that Schaeffer is arguing that it is irrational to maintain that God is good if there is an unbroken line from what man is now and what he was created to be. For him, man in his present state is abnormal, as a result of the Fall. Man, being created an autonomous being,
Changed himself--that he stands at the point of discontinuity rather that continuity not because God changed him, but because he changed himself. Man by his own choice, is not what he intrinsically was. In this case we can understand that man is now cruel, but God is not a bad God (1982, p. 300).8
I think that Schaeffer is right in understanding the Bible as teaching this. Nevertheless the problem for me is not solved. The problem for me is not here, but one step back. He may feel as if he has worked out a feasible theodicy that accounts for "moral evils" but it say nothing of "natural evils."9 I wonder what he would say to the question of why God created the world in the first place? To this I think he would have to say, "We have no answer for this, but let us take a step of faith against all reason and all reasonableness [though I'm sure he would balk at that statement] and say that God is good" (1982, p. 298).10 Nevertheless Schaeffer must inevitably come to such a conclusion. To do otherwise is to claim to have the mind of God. With all his good intentions he has yet ignored the most pressing metaphysical question of God's act of creation vs. his not creating. Therefore he has not escaped the dilemma by maintaining that a personal-infinite God knowingly created a creature that would run amuck is still good.11
In trying to escape the disturbing implications of this Gordon Clark has implies, "This is not to say that God is the author of sin. He is the ultimate cause of sin, not the immediate cause of it. God does not commit sin; humans commit sin although God wills it decretively, determines that it shall happen, and is the ultimate cause of it" (Erickson 1985, p. 418). To me this is nonsense and double talk, and nonsense by any other name is still nonsense!
Still I must ask, Why did God create a world that would sin?. I think it is theologically incorrect that God created the world for his benefit (the enjoyment of man's worship, the concrete expression of creative activity, eternal company in the world to come, etc). If God did not create a world that would sin for his benefit then I must conclude that he created it for man's sake. I find this suitable justification hard to accept for various reasons. Chiefly, if God would have elected not to create mankind (at least where they would sin) the idea of doing something for their benefit would have been simply superfluous! An uncreated mankind would have needed nothing; nothing more, of course, than a non-conceived human being would!
Obviously, viewed this way evil becomes a totally unnecessary "benefit." For again, had there been no humans there would have been no need for evil to "benefit" them. The "ignorance" of uncreated human beings would have been "bliss" (i.e. is a hypothetical being bothered, troubled, or saddened by missing out on the "good things" of life"). That bliss in my mind would have been greatly superior to any possible "good" that could come from evil.
As already noted, "God created man with full knowledge of the widespread suffering that would ensue." Suffering that would result in large part from mankind's sin, not to mention the suffering caused by natural evil. A sin (condition), that would cause a separation between God and man (Gen. 3:22-24; Eph. 2:12). It must be seen that the "benefit" of allowing sin, and the separation that would cause, would necessitate (given the prior inclination of God's love) a Redeemer. Christ's death then was necessary because of mankind's sin (if man was to be redeemed). Keeping in mind that sin/suffering/pain was all the permitted result of God's expressed design and will. Why would God design and will such a unnecessary scheme of things? Christ would not have had to suffer humiliation and death if the Father had not willed the possibility of suffering and sin! It simply doesn't make sense! Is it too much to ask that the ways of God make at least a modicum of sense? "Either God stands on reason [at least a measure] or he does not stand at all. This basic principle cannot be compromised: to surrender it by an inch is to surrender it in total" (Smith 1989, p. 223).
I have tried on numerous occasion to see the merit of John Hick's argument in his book Evil and the God of Love. There he suggests that God allows evil to develop mankind's character or perfection (soul-making).
Instead of regarding man as having been created by God in a finished state, as a finitely perfect being fulfilling the divine intention for our human level of existence. . .man [is] still in the process of creation. . .And so man, created as a personal being in the image of God, is only the raw material for a further and more difficult stage of God's creative work (1977, p. 253-254).
The question that represents a stumbling block for me is why (again) would God subject mankind to an ordeal by fire which was ultimately unnecessary? Even for the sake of argument, theologically speaking man is not perfected (or better yet sanctified) by his suffering. In the New Testament, the sanctification (holiness in the moral sense) of believers is seen primarily as the work of God (cf. Jn. 10:36), of Christ and his suffering (Jn. 17:19; I Cor. 1:30; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 2:11; 10:10, 14; 13:2) and especially of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:16; II Thes. 2:13; I Pet. 1:2 and cf. I Cor. 6:11). Sanctification is something that happens initially at one's conversion. It is understood as a saving event in the past in which all believers were sanctified "and by that will, we have been made holy (ηγιασμενοι) through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). Therefore, believers are repeatedly called ηγιασμενοιs (the sanctified), I Cor. 1:2; Acts 20:32; 26:18; Rom. 10:29, and II Tim. 2:21. Sanctification is, however, also an ongoing and future work of God (I Thes. 5:23; cf. Jn. 15:2).
Even though sanctification is largely the work of the grace of God in the believer's life, suffering (tribulations, temptations, and trials), do nevertheless seem to play an important part in perfecting the saints. It must be noted, however, that the context of these trials are almost always associated with being a Christian rather than just the lot of humankind in general. These hardship are the result of faith; the hostile response of the Devil or unbelievers to members of Christ's Body. Consequently, there is tremendous meaning, even honor in suffering. To suffer so is to live the life of a martyr (literally, a witness), and this is a cause for rejoicing. In suffering one identifies with Christ and participates in his suffering. As Paul says in Colossians 1:24, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the Church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions." The tradition continues in the writings of other New Testament authors. The Apostle James writes,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (1:2-4).
Paul states in Romans 5:3-5 and 8:18 that tribulations can have meaning and that suffering pales in significance to what awaits us,
We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Peter also encourages believers with the words,
In this [the wonderful provisions of God], you rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. . .(I Pet. 1:6-7).
Nevertheless, entire or complete sanctification will occur only after the death of the believer and their entrance into the presence of God. For one cannot picture heaven (or the New Jerusalem) as a place where pain continues and sin and wickedness abounds. For as the Scriptures say:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4).
I think this is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. I cannot read it without strong emotions welling up. Christ says that the time is coming when the "old order" (literally "first things") shall pass away. It appears that this "old order" was not God's Ideal (though most certainly his idea), for it is to come to an end. If it had been his Ideal then it would have existed from the beginning of his creation. Rather the time is coming when he will make "all things new" (v. 5), this blessedly is to be eternal. But (again) why must there have been an "old order." As I have argued it could not have been for God's benefit nor was it necessary for mankind's sanctification, justification, salvation, redemption or anything else of eternal consequence. To hold that "death, mourning, crying, or pain" was required for mankind becoming "the children of God" seems to betray a faulty and warped theology.12 Scripture seems abundantly clear that what we are (or to become) is solely the result of God's work:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are saved). . .For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Eph. 3:4-9).
Perhaps I'm wrong in equating Hick's soul-making with the process of sanctification, but if soul-making is not the making of moral character then what else could it possibly be referring to?
Another major problem for me is the doctrine of hell, the ultimate evil. Just following the wonderful verses promising the Age to Come we read of the fate of those who will not be partakers of the New Jerusalem,
But for the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death (Rev. 21:8).
As John Wenham as so rightly said in his book The Enigma of Evil: Can We Believe in the Goodness of God?,
The ultimate horror of God's universe is hell. The other difficulties of the Bible and of Providence are real enough, but however appalling they may be, their seeming harshness and injustices are only temporary, cut short by death. The terrors of hell, on the other hand, belong to the world which lies beyond death. For a single being to endure pain hopelessly and unendingly, or even to pass out of existence and forfeit for ever the joys of heaven, is more terrible than any temporal suffering (1985, p. 27).
With deep heartfelt pity it seems to me that few people could possibly be deserving of such a fate. My problem stems, in large measure, around the issue of mankind's freedom, responsibility, and the sovereignty of God.13 Since earliest times, Christians have pointed to Genesis chapter 3 as the description of man's fall from innocence. From that point onward many in the Church have referred to the concept of original sin as an inner disposition or inclination toward sin. Augustine believed that the sinful nature of Adam was biologically transmitted to all human beings. Support for this view is said to be in a germinal form in (Gen. 6:5; cf. Ps. 51) were we read, "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was evil all the time." John Calvin taught that Adam's sin was imputed to all in the same manner as Christ's righteousness is imputed to all believers. Since Adam was the head of the human race and consequently, its federal representative all are thus born sinners because they participate in the nature and guilt of Adam their father. Later, Calvin's view was embodied in chapter 6 of Westminster Confession of Faith entitled "Concerning the Fall of Man, Sin, and the Punishment for Sin."
Since Adam and Eve are the root of all mankind, the guilt for this sin has been imputed to all human beings, who are their natural descendants and have inherited the same death in sin and the same corrupt nature. This original corruption completely disciplines, incapacitates, and turns us away from every good, while it completely inclines us to every evil. From it proceed all actualized sins (1979, p.12).
Other reformers took a slightly more optimistic view of the human condition. For them, total depravity did not mean that fallen man was totally incapable of any good, rather only that the effects of sin had permeated every area of man's being (including reason, contra Aquinas).
The Apostle Paul taught that we were "all under sin" (Rom. 3:9-20), and "slaves to sin" (Rom. 6:17, 20). Contrary to the new life in Christ, which is lived by the Spirit, is the old life lived according to the flesh (Rom. 8:5-9). The Spirit is life whereas the Flesh (sarx) is death. For Paul, when he contrasted Flesh and Spirit over two thirds of the instances referred to sarx as the fallen human nature (cf. the N.I.V. Bible). Paul viewed mankind, apart from Christ, as being spiritual dead and dissipated in the lusts of their sinful nature. "And were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Eph. 2:3).
Man fell into a state of sin by his disobedience and so completely lost his ability to will any good involving salvation. Consequently fallen man is by nature completely opposed to spiritual good, is dead in sin, and is unable by his own strength either to convert himself or to prepare himself for conversion. When God converts a sinner and brings him into a state of grace, He frees him from his natural enslavement to sin. By God's grace alone, freely given, sinful man is enabled to will and to do what is spiritually good. However, since the old sinful nature also remains, the believer cannot consistently or perfectly will to do what is good but also wills evil (1979, p. 17).
Now it's true that the Reformed faith does not speak for all Bible believing Christians, nevertheless, this tradition does seem to be the majority one. On the other hand, the Arminian position does teach that man's will is free and consequently may accept or reject God's grace. Norman Geisler reflecting this position notes that,
A further argument for free will is that God's commandments carry a divine "ought" for man, implying that man can and should respond positively to his commands. The responsibility to obey God's commands entails the ability to respond to them, by God's enabling grace. Furthermore, if man is not free, but all his acts are determined by God, then God is directly responsible for evil, a conclusion that is clearly contradicted by Scripture (Hab. 1:13; James 1:13-17). Therefore, it seems that some form of self-determinism is the most compatible with the biblical view of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility (1984, p. 430).
Without belaboring the issue of man's freedom14 and the providence of God any longer, I would like to tie the proceeding discussion to the doctrine of hell. John Wenham states, "to sin mean ultimately to forfeit heaven, and this the greatest possible punishment which anyone can ever receive, and this is the punishment which sin deserves" (1985, p. 70 Italics his). I have a tremendous problem with the phrase "this is the punishment which sin deserves." To state it plainly, it seems a terrible injustice and the greatest moral outrage to say a person deserves punishment for their sins when, as we have seen, they were incapable by nature to do nothing other than sin! Is a nursing inarticulate infant morally responsible for crying for its mother when hungry? Is such crying to meet a need, which may be inappropriate at a later stage, deserving of punishment? Certainly not!
St. Augustine was aware of the charge that unending torture mounted to an eternity of evil. In order to rebut the charge he argued, that, whereas unpunished sin was an evil, sin properly punished was a good. Consequently, the existing of souls receiving their just punishment throughout eternity was a good and not an evil. I take objection with two issues (that are closely related), in his argument. First, I find the idea of hell as being a proper punishment as simply a case of supreme "over-kill." Although few might object to the thought of a Hitler or Stalin spending an eternity in an existence pictured by such images as the place of the "undying worm" (Mk. 9:48; cf. Is. 66:24), where there is a "fire that is not put out," a place to spend eternity "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mk. 9:48; Mt. 25:41) and in the perpetual dreadful sight of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 8:12; Lk. 13:28; Mt. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 42:51; 25:30).
Secondly, Augustine states that hell is a just punishment. Even in the Old Testament Israel was commanded to "take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise" (Ex. 21:23-25; Deut. 19:21). The idea here was not a license for each member of the community to seek revenge, but rather it was a restraint given to the rulers of Israel for curbing the clan violence that inevitably escalated. Such a law was a welcomed relief compared to other such laws in the Middle East. This was justice, hell is not. Hell is unbridled, unrelenting torment and anguish for "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). Such a punishment surely doesn't seem proper or just for those that are cowards, unbelieving and liars!15
Jesus also taught that those who reject him (Mt. 11:20-24), and the prophets reap hell as their "reward." Also those guilty of hypocrisy (Mt. 23:15), hateful language and intent (Mt. 5:22), unfaithfulness (Mt. 24:45-51), unrepentant (Mt. 5:29-30), and the disobedient (Mt. 7:19) are liable to its judgment.
Richard Mouw in his book Uncommon Decency deals with hell in one of his chapters. For him "hell reinforces the importance of human freedom" (1992, p. 138 Italics his). Mouw rejects the idea that hell is a "punishment imposed from outside" (1992, p. 138). Hell is rather the "culmination of a person's own freely chosen life-plan" (1992, p. 138 Italics mine). Continuing he states that, "because of our sin, however, we are incapable of mustering up the resources to live out a life-plan that glorifies God" (1992, p. 139 Italics mine). I think that it is more Biblical to say that it’s because of our nature (not sin per say which is only the effect), that we are incapable of mustering up the resources to live out a life-plan that glorifies God. We are by nature sinners; under sin, prone to sin, slaves to sin. Sin comes natural to us--glorifying God doesn't.
Hell is the ultimate and inevitable consequence of a persistent refusal of divine grace. It is separation from God--a state of affairs where we have finally cut ourselves off from the possibility of being healthy human creatures (Mouw 1992, p. 139).
Reformed theologians have taught that we are not really truly free to choose or reject God on our own. Our salvation or damnation is sovereignly predestined by the providential will of God.
At the right time, appointed by Him, God effectual calls all those and only those whom He has predestined to life. He calls them by His word and Spirit out of their natural state of sin and death into grace and salvation through Jesus Christ. . .This effectual call is freely made by God and is entirely an act of His special grace. It does not depend on anything God foreknew or foresaw about the person called, who is completely passive. God Himself gives life and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He enables each person to answer His call and to accept the grace He offers and actually gives. . .Others, not elect, may be called by the ministry of the word, and the Spirit may work in them in some of the same way He works in the elect. However, they never truly come to Christ and therefore cannot be saved (Westminster Confession of Faith 1985, p. 18).
Emil Brunner states that Calvin "denies human freedom, but he also maintains full human responsibility, while at the same time he asserts that God alone determines all that happens, without, however, ascribing to him the origin of evil" (Brunner 1952, p. 172). His evaluation of Calvin is one in which I am in complete agreement with,
This is the element in Calvin's thought which is so unsatisfactory, not to say painful and dishonest. He does not admit for a moment that there is an insoluble dilemma here, a paradoxical statement which cannot be regarded as free from two opposed assertions, but he proceeds as though everything were in order, while he is flying in the face of logic (Brunner 1952, 172).16
But enough spent on such issues! One may rightly ask, "how do you or anyone else, for that matter know what's needed or in the mind of God?" The answer is, I don't, nor does anyone else! For his ways must be (if he is omniscience), above our ways and this thoughts above our thoughts (Isa. 55:8).17 But, even in conceding this, his ways and thoughts must serve some meaningful or meritorious purpose for humankind (I have already argued that it doesn't make sense to state that something is "meaningful" or "meritorious" for a perfect being). And it needs to be seen (for Christianity to be credible), that his ways and thoughts must merit and justify the presence of untold extent of human suffering in this age and in the age to come. The end must justify the means! As Joseph Fletcher has said in his work Situation Ethics, "If the end does not justify the means, what does? The answer is, obviously, Nothing?" (1966, p. 120). And what is the end that God seems to be striving for? A time none other than when he will "trash" the present Age (Isa. 66:22; II Pet. 3: 7, 10-13; I Jn. 2: 17; Rev. 21:1-5)! An Age, that is, divinely willed to be so desperately wicked and corrupted by sin that it can only be redeemed by a radical eschatological inbreaking of God from the "outside." So what does the presence of untold human suffering get mankind? The utter and ultimate ruination of God's creation, the eternal damnation of the majority of mankind, followed by the creation of a new situation where suffering for the few is impossible.18 What a brutal means to arrive at a good end. When in all actually, the brutal means (evil, suffering, torture, starvation etc.), do not bring about the better end. The better end comes about by the sovereign work of God (in Christ) as a judgment on evil and not its reward.19 So when God finally does inaugurate the New Age to Come what purpose, in a billion, billion, billion, billion years to come [using time here figuratively; because time will be no more], will the Old Age have really served that would merit its existence? None that I can possibly see. All for naught!
Here, it seems to me, we come to the point of decision. Either one is able to justify God's creative acts and their subsequent results or one is not. Or, one must be able to take by faith that all suffering both now and eternally is permitted to serve some greater meritorious purpose.
One may be heard to plead the mysterious and paradoxical ways of God. As Os Guinness states in his book Between Two Minds, one must be able to suspend judgment. Faith if pressed too far will ultimately lead the believer from doubt to unbelief. Despite his assurances that this is not a last minute appeal to the irrationality of faith he can do no more than state that "though we do not have all the answers we know him that has all the answers" (1976 p. 255). This strikes me as a bit of circular reasoning (i.e. "I believe in God so I can live with mystery. I can live with mystery because I believe in God).
Up to a point I have no theoretical problem living with mystery. I don't think it's necessary to know exhaustively all of God's reasons for what he does. I do, however, think that there should be some measure of rationale for what is transpiring in the world. Maybe all that can be said in response to John Wisdom's story of the "Invisible Gardener" is to qualify it with other story of Basil Mitchell's the "Stranger."
In time of war in an occupied country, a member of the resistance meets one night a stranger who deeply impresses him. They spend that night together in conversation. The Stranger tells the partisan that he himself is on the side of the resistance- indeed that he is in command of it, and urges the partisan to have faith in him no matter what happens. The partisan is utterly convinced at the meeting of the Stranger's sincerity and constancy and undertakes to trust him. They never meet in conditions of intimacy again. But sometimes the Stranger is seen helping members of the resistance, and the partisan is grateful and says to his friends, "He is on our side. "Sometimes he is seen in the uniform of the police handing over patriots to the occupying power. On these occasions his friends murmur against him: but the partisan still says, "He is on our side." He still believes that, in spite of appearances, the Stranger did not deceive him. Sometimes he asks the Stranger for help and receives it. He is then thankful. Sometimes he asks and does not receive it. Then he says, "The Stranger knows best.""20
Despite the mystery, when it comes to gratuitous or surd evil I see no justifiable rationale. I am left with a feeling of the absurd, that nature is capricious and is governed by chaos as well as order. I find it very hard indeed to see "the loving hand of God" behind it all.
That one is a theist, or non-theist (as in the case of philosophical Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism), is a matter of faith. But I maintain that faith should be responsible and, I say this emphatically, governed by some measure of reason. Basil Mitchell in responding to Anthony Flew states,
So the theologian does recognize the fact of pain as counting against Christian doctrine. But it is also true that he will not allow it--or anything--to count decisively against it; for he is committed by his faith to trust in God. His attitude is not that of the detached observer, but of the believer (Pojman 1991, p. 240).
Mitchell honestly claims that nothing can count decisively against belief in God. For the Christian philosopher (a concept which appears to be an oxymoron), reason, in the final analysis, is only paid lip service.21 Christianity by definition is not ultimately open-minded. For, as we have seen, nothing can count against it. By an a priori commitment Christian faith is closed minded and not amendable to fundamental change.
Even greater than Christian doctrine, that is propounded in the Bible, is truth (if in fact, they are exclusive). Truth is ultimate. Nothing is greater. One must follow it wherever it leads. Even if it leads you away from your most cherished notions. One must not be afraid of it. Truth is what corresponds with reality. Truth, in other words, is what is real--to hold to falsity is unethical and delusory. Anything else, no matter how sincerely believed, if found not to measure up to the standard cannons of truth, for the sake of conscience, must be abandoned, no matter how painful or how drastic the consequences may be. No greater honesty or bravery can be demonstrated than following the path of truth! It is my opinion, that many Christians are unwilling or unable to follow truth, rather they cling uncritically to their beliefs or dogmas. Despite, the tremendous ramifications, my ultimate alliance is to truth and nothing else. If the biblical picture of God is true then I will willingly accept it. If not, nothing will make me say its true if in reality it's false--not cultural, societal, historical, or any other factors. Again, my ultimate allegiance is to truth and nothing else. In the final analysis, what other options are truly and ethically open? Admittedly, the whole topic of epistemology is opened up here, but ought not the same criteria apply universally? And if not, why? Is Christianity somehow exempt? And if so, why? On what epistemological grounds? One cannot make something so just because they arbitrarily choose to do so. That is logically inconsistent and unethical. I find it helpful to recall Flew's observation as mentioned earlier,
For if the utterance is indeed an assertion, it will necessarily be equivalent to a denial of the negation of that assertion. And anything which would count against the assertion, or which would induce the speaker to withdraw it and to admit that it had been mistaken, must be part of (or the whole of) the meaning of the negation of that assertion. And to know the meaning of the negation of an assertion, is as near as makes no matter, to know the meaning of that assertion. And if there is nothing which a putative assertion denies then there is nothing which it asserts either: and so it is not an assertion. (Flew, 1991, p. 237 Italics mine).
If reason has no true say in what is believed what right do we have to maintain that Christianity is right and all other world religions, contrary philosophies, and ideologies are wrong?22 As George Smith observes,
Unlike the philosopher, the theologian adopts a position, a dogma, and then commits himself to a defense of that position come what may. While he may display a willingness to defend this dogma, a closer examination reveals this to be a farce. His defense consists of distorting and rationalizing all contrary evidence to meet his desired specifications. In the case of divine benevolence, the theologian will grasp onto any explanation, no matter how implausible, before he will abandon his dogma. And finally pushed into a corner, he will argue that man cannot understand the true meaning of his dogma. (1989, pp. 86-87 Italics mine).
One might appeal to religious experience (i.e. being Born Again, a miracle, an answered prayer, a transforming sense of God's presence and well being), as self-authenticating. But cannot all religions appeal to experience as "proof?" Religious experience proves nothing other than the fact that the individual has had a subjective experience (which can be interpreted many ways), and tell us nothing about the objective world.
Returning now to our main point, I believe that Reason must be allowed room to adjudicate between fact and fantasy. Faith in the love and the goodness of God is an a priori assumption. Or in the words of Alvin Plantinga, belief in God (and his goodness) is "properly basic." Being properly basic one needs no justification for holding such a belief. Here we are back to Kierkegaard's idea of faith as going beyond reason to a personal commitment to God despite any evidence to the contrary. The truths of God are paradoxical or seemingly contradictory to us. Because God utterly transcends or is "beyond" reason, there is no way for reason to reach beyond itself to God.
It is my opinion that all theistic worldviews ultimately fail to pass the test and are noetically substandard. As W. K. Clifford states in his essay The Ethics of Belief "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" (Burr and Goldinger 1992, p. 176).
1 That is, he is all-powerful, all knowing, everywhere present and all good.
2 Philip Yancey states, "If you ever doubt that an encounter with God's hiddeness is a normal part of the pilgrimage of faith, simply browse in a theological library among the works of the Christian mystics, men and women who have spent their lives in personal communion with God. Search for one, just one, who does not describe a time of severe testing, 'the dark night of the soul.'" (Disappointment With God 1988, p. 233).
3 Millard Erickson rightly states that "We should not set our expectation too high in our endeavor to deal with the problem of evil. Something less than complete resolution will have to suffice for us. . .It has already been noted that a total solution to the problem of evil is beyond human ability" (Christian Theology 1985, pp. 414,423).
4 What Clark has done is to redefine the goodness of God. Clark's solution to the problem of evil takes a form somewhat like the following syllogism:
Whatever happens is caused by God.
Whatever is caused by God is good.
Whatever happens is good.
5 Francis Schaeffer contends, rightly so, that the Bible teaches that man was not "intrinsically" created cruel. But after a space-time "fall" man became abnormal. (He Is There and He is Not Silent 1982 vol. 1. p. 298).
6 I think Schaeffer is extreme in his view when he states that he has the answer, cf. Erickson who is more modest.
7 He notes further "As soon a they reintroduce reason, the optimistic answer is gone, because all the optimism concerning God's goodness rests upon irrationality. It they step back into the area of reason, they are back into pessimism--if there is a God, he is a bad god. In Baudelaire's words, he is the devil. As one flees into irrationality at this point, there is a tendency to spin off back into pessimism" (1982, p. 299).
8 Notwithstanding all I will say below about the dilemma between God's sovereignty and man's free will.
9 I must strenuously state that he minimizes the true extend of evil, both "moral" and "natural," not to mention "surd" or "gratuitous" evil. "Any suffering the purpose of which seems to exceed necessity, and any suffering which seems to serve any purpose at all." Jane Mary Tau "Fallacies in the Argument from Gratuitous Suffering," The New Scholasticism 60 (1986): pp. 485-86 as quoted in Ronald Nash's Faith and Reason 1988, 209).
10 I find it interesting that Schaeffer seems to fall guilty of the very thing he charged the liberals with. "I have said that people who argue irrationality to be the answer are always selective about where they will become irrational" (1982, p. 298).
11 I am reminded of Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein. In the novel Victor Frankenstein creates a “Monster” unaware of its potential for causing such great evil. Had Frankenstein known in advance that his creation would cause so much death and misery I highly doubt that he would have created it in the first place. Had he known the consequences beforehand would we not find him as evil as the creature he created? According to Scripture God had this knowledge.
12 See John 1:12-13, "But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were not born of flesh and blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
13 "There are three basic positions concerning man's choices: determinism, indeterminism, and self-determinism. Determinism is the belief that all of man's actions are the result of antecedent factors or causes. Naturalistic determinists, such as Thomas Hobbs and B. F. Skinner, argue that man's behavior can be fully explained in terms of natural causes. Theistic determinists, such as Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards, trace man's actions back to God's controlling hand. The opposite position to determinism is indeterminism. On this view there are no causes for man's actions, antecedent or otherwise. The final position is self-determinism, or free will. This is the belief that man determines his own behavior freely, and that no causal antecedents can sufficiently account for his actions" (N. L. Geisler 1984, p. 430).
14 From a secular point of view, B. F. Skinner writes, "Two features of autonomous man are particularly troublesome. In the traditional view, a person is free. He is autonomous in the sense that his behavior is uncaused. He can therefore be held responsible for what he does and justly punished if he offends. That view, together with its associated practices, must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unsuspected controlling relations between behavior and environment" (1971, p. 19-20 Italics mine).
15 The idea of the damnation of the pious non-Christian (walking according to the truth of their religion), is particularly disturbing; especially if they have never heard the Gospel. As Stephen Neill observes, "Christian faith claims for itself that it is the only form of faith for men. By its own claim to truth it casts the shadow of imperfect truth on every other system. . .Christians are bound to affirm that all men need the Gospel. For the human sickness there is one specific remedy, and this is it. There is no other" (1984, p. 30-31 Italics mine). For texts teaching Christianity's exclusivity see Mt. 11:27; Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-15; I Jn. 2:23.
16 J. I. Packer seeks to reconcile the paradox by appealing to the notion of antinomy! "A contradiction between two statements, both apparently obtained by correct reasoning" (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language 1989, p. 66). In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God he writes, "God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are taught side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed in the same text (Lk. 22:22). Both are guaranteed to us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true. It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other. Man is a responsible moral agent, though his is also divinely controlled; though his is also a responsible moral agent. God's sovereignty is a reality, and man's responsibility is a reality too" (1961, p. 22-23 Italics his).
17 Schaeffer states not illogically that, "The communication which God has made to man is true, but that does not mean exhaustive. This is an important distinction which we must always bear in mind. To know anything exhaustively we would need to be infinite, as God is" (1982, vol. 1., p. 103).
18 Jesus said In Mt. 7:13-14, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." See also Mt. 19:23-26; Lk. 13:23-24; 18:6-8.
19 "The goal of God's redemptive purpose is the restoration of order to a universe that has been disturbed by evil and sin. This includes the realm of human experiences, the spiritual world (Eph. 1:10), and, as we shall see even nature itself. God will finally reconcile all things to himself through Christ (Col. 1:20). All things were originally created through Christ and for him (Col. 1:16), and he will finally enjoy pre-eminence that is his due (Col. 1:18). The very cosmos, which has been rent by conflict and rebellion against God, will be restored to peace through its creator. This eschatological reconciliation will be accomplished through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20)" G.E. Ladd New Testament Theology 1974, p. 567).
20 Louis P. Pojman, Introduction To Philosophy. p. 240.
21 Theologians differ from philosophers in that they speak from within a circle of faith. They are philosophically minded--that is, they subject religious beliefs to critical and systematic analysis--but they are also defenders of their religious worlds of meaning. In contrast, philosophers may defend a fundamental religious belief, such as the belief in God or immorality, but they are not obligated to harmonize or conform their work to a religious belief system. (Schmidt 1988, p. 232).
22 Admittedly, few evangelicals would admit that reason has no say in governing what they believe, nevertheless, in the final analysis reason is abdicated in favor of dogmatic faith (i.e. asserted apriori or without proof).