Thursday, May 22, 2008

God is Great, God is Good

Last night (before I went and saw the midnight showing of Indiana Jones, which was awesome) we had a Bible study at church, put on by my good friend Chuck Walker. The study was entitled, God is Great, God is Good and it was on theodicy--the problem of evil. I have found that there are two ways that we can ask the question of evil. We can either say, “how can there be a good God while there is such evil in the world?” Or we can ask it another way, “How can such evil exist if there is such a good God?” Do you see the different nuances?

Chuck pointed out another question which we should probably ask. How can a good God not exist while there is so much good in the world? A Christian is someone who affirms the goodness in the world, remembering the declaration of genesis 1--the earth is “very good.” So what’s the real anomaly, God or evil?

Unfortunately, there are no complete answers to the question of evil. The Bible is not primarily concerned with answering this question. The Bible is more concerned with pointing out where evil exists and exposing it for what it really is. The Bible is most concerned, however, with how we respond to evil. Do we play it’s game, on it’s terms, or do we respond in revolutionary ways exposing evil for what it really is (or is not). Chuck pointed out “our arsenal” in Ephesians 5. Something interesting and ironic about one of Paul’s most famous passages--Ephesians 5, the “full armor of God”--is that violent revolution was, in fact, an option for the Ephesian Christians but instead of encouraging such an affront to “evil,” Paul recommends a different kind of list. This list, including the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit, does not include the sort of armor which will stop a real arrow or a metal blade. This list, if worn and taken seriously does not play evil’s game by making evil a victim of it’s own power, it’s not violent warfare. This list leads to martyrdom, exposing evil’s victory as true failure. With a crucified messiah as our leader, our victory comes through martyrdom. When we are victims who never become victimizers we take part in the crucified Son’s victory. When it comes to evil, what seems like victory is often defeat and what seems like failure is actually victory. Think to the cross. In the same moment that the Romans and the Jewish politicians thought that they had victory in defeating Jesus, the temple curtain was torn in two and the work of true victory, the work of salvation, was finished.

Evil is de-creation. The first defeat of evil by God was his work of creation--bringing harmony to the tohu vabohu, the chaotic world of nothingness. As evil creeps into the story and invades creation, it is manifest in chaos, in de-creation. Thus, when we sing with God the words of peace and salvation, we create harmony in chaos. When we work against the force of evil in the world, we take part in the work of creation.

Chuck did a great job. This Bible study was a reminder of how much I love my church. At most churches I would have left a meeting on that subject quite frustrated. But I left this meeting with some good insights. I am really looking forward to studying the Bible a lot more with these people.

9 comments:

nate said...

If only God were unjust we would all be gods!

Oh theodicy, how she causes so many to forsake what they once believed and to see the world as a dismal, nihilistic free for all.

I'll be honest...I too am bothered by this. I too have had moments in which I was ready to give up in anger, ready to give in either to semi agnosticism or full on dualism. I have yet to read an author who can logically make sense of it all.

I suppose that is where the ineffable thing called faith comes into play.bnxdqp

scott gray said...

the critically thought-out conclusions to theodicy issues are several, and reasonably clear, regarding the nature of god:

god's nature is not of omnipotence, and god can't control a huge number of things that cause suffering, to include typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis;

god's nature is not benevolence, and god chooses not to control a huge number of things that cause suffering, to include typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis;

the anthropomorphic god described in the hebrew and christian scriptures is not the real nature of god; god is not a person, with responses, behaviors, and intentions that a moral, ethical person would have.

choosing agnosticism, in particular that the belief that the anthropomorphic nature of god is not real, is not 'giving in.' it is the conclusion of critical thought.

god may exist, but god's nature is not the anthropomorphic god of the hebrew and christian scriptures.

peace--

scott

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Scot,
But may I say, with the greatest respect that I can, that your comment is theologically naive, that is, if you think that theism is automatically not critical thinking. I agree that agnosticism is a "conclusion of critical thought" but it's not "the" conclusion. I respect where your coming from as of great logic, but you must realize that logic is subjective. You are presupposing a certain kind of logic, just as I am presupposing a certain kind of logic. When we can both recognize, genuinely, that we are both thinking critically only then can we have real dialog.
I hope it's not presumptuous of me to suggest a read: "Unapologetic Theology" by William Placher might have something to do with out conversation.

Thank you,
Wes

scott gray said...

hey, wes--

first, let me preface by saying that often, these kinds of discussions feel adversarial, and i don't want that. so imagine you and i, working side by side in a jesus-oriented social justice ministry, and having this discussion. like we are chatting and sawing and hammering on a habitat for humanity site. or working side by side in a soup line, and having this discussion. ready?

you said:

"you are presupposing a certain kind of logic, just as i am presupposing a certain kind of logic."

i think i've made my logic clear. how would you critically think your way through the evidence we both see of evil in the world, using your presuppositions about logic and critical thinking? how would you describe your presuppositions in a way i would understand? i'll look into the placher book if i can; but you and i are spending the day on a work site, so i'm relying on your ability to explain. quotes from the book seem reasonable to me, though, don't you think? and scripture, of course.

you also said i was theologically naive. in what way? what is it you want me to understand about your theological paradigm (especially as it pertains to theodicy) that i seem to be missing?

hand me that power screwdiver would ya? one 4X8 drywall piece in place, 27 more to go...

you are correct in saying that agnosticism is not 'the' conclusion. it's 'one of several' conclusions. i agree completely.

what other conclusions do you think are possible, probable, plausible, or actual, that can be drawn from what we see around us?

peace--

scott

WES ELLIS said...

Scott,
Thank you for the helpful scenario. Do you want a flat-head or a Phillips...?
I think the difference is that my logic presupposes certain things about history and God. My presuppositions lead me to interpret all of my experience through the lens of God's work in the world, where I see suffering people I see a suffering God, a God who shares in the suffering of his people. Evil and it's existence are problems within these presuppositions but not a big enough problem for us to absolutely need THE answer to it. There are explanations that are not perfect but are adequate to provide someone with a good reason to continue interpreting the world through the lens of Biblical narrative. I think we should labor just as hard to explain all the good in the world, and God is the most profound answer to that question.

We both have adequate reasons to believe what we believe. My logic enjoys mystery that defies logic. And I don't know you well enough to be sure of this, but it seems that your logic wants the answer to the mystery. In Jesus we see that God is a person. God is the person for whom we are building this house... and he is wholly other. This is a belief that is rooted in prayer, a prayer that is rooted in partnership.

The truth is that this narrative cannot be explained before it is prayed. If you want to know what I believe come and pray with me. If we're both working together, we've already begun to pray together.

Sorry, I know this is a horrible answer to you question, but enjoy mystery.

scott gray said...

wes--

thanks for responding. you've touched on a variety of topics i find interesting, and i want to respond at length, but i'm tied up this weekend. i understand you are a student, yes? so you are busy as well.

is it ok to keep using the comments on this thread as a forum, as letters to each other? or would you rather we sent emails? or would you like to open a separate thread for correspondence? whatever makes sense to you.

my email is gray9999 at earthlink dot net. stay in touch.

peace--

scott

nate said...

This conversation has proved interesting...I've enjoyed interaction on both parts. Scott, I've spent some time the past few days reading through your blog. I can relate a bit with your outlook, and was gripped by "a lectionary beyond belief."

I did not intend to apply condescension in say agnosticism is merely a "giving in," although I admit that is how the statement reads. Critical thought alone could not lead me to a knowable or unknowable acceptance of God, or anything metaphysical. But as Wes pointed out, experience weighs heavily. Thus said, personally, despite the conundrum of the problem of evil (and many other seemingly internal contradictions), to stray from my 'lens' or 'conclusion' (which is still marginally undecided) would be a giving in of sorts.

If any discussion thread is started, I would love to be included, though my written participation may be limited due to circumstances.

Thanks!
Nate

WES ELLIS said...

Scott,
Due to Nate's willingness to engage in the conversation, I think that this blog is a fine place for us to continue our conversation. Whatever you want to add or ask, this comment section is a fine place to place it. if you'd rather e-mail me, my e-mail address is wellis68@gmail.com

When I become more regularly exposed to the internet (I am transitioning from school to work and I don't spend more than a few minutes on the net at a time right now) I will make it a priority to read your blog. I invite you to be a regular on my blog. I think you, Nate, and I could have some really good conversations. I am not too good at what we Christian folk call apologetics, making philosophical and logical arguments for Jesus, but I can answer most questions you might have about what I believe.

One more thing, I will be in Israel from June 8-July 11 and I don't know how often I will be able to blog there... for whatever that's worth.

I look forward to future conversations!

Shalom,
wes

scott gray said...

wes, nate--

the issue of theodicy has come up here, and thanks to my time spent chatting with the two of you, i think i'm responding in a more useful way.

thanks to both of you for a chance to clarify thoughts, and articulate them with 'friendly' critics. keep making my thinking better.

wes, have a great time in israel. post photos! and tell great stories of your experieinces. i will probably never have the opportunity to visit there, and look forward to vicariously experiencing the visit through your stories and photos.

nate, thanks for looking at 'a lectionary beyond belief.' come wrestle over anything you read there. off-topic is fabulously wonderful, too, as sometimes we read something which makes us think of something else entirely, which then needs a chance for thinking about out loud.

wes, i also appreciate your comment,'if we are working together, we are already praying together.' while you and i probably do not experience prayer in the same way, if it involves collaboration with the kingdom of heaven and celebration of the mystical body of christ, we're on common ground.

peace--

scott