“Christianity is a Pro-Death Faith”

ObjectorJohn W. Loftus


“So Christian apologist, I put it to you. Why didn’t God do anything about the Black Death pandemic? Be reasonable here. Why? This is but one example. There were many other pandemics. I argue that Christianity is a faith that must dismiss the tragedy of death. It does not matter who dies, or how many, or what the circumstances are when people die. It could be the death of a mother whose baby depends upon her for milk. It could be a pandemic like cholera that decimated parts of the world in 1918, or the more than 23,000 children who die every single day from starvation. These deaths could be by suffocation, drowning, a drive-by shooting, or being burned to death. It doesn’t matter. God is good. Death doesn’t matter. People die all of the time. In order to justify God’s goodness Christianity minimizes the value of human life. It is a pro-death faith, plain and simple. I argue that Christians Just Do Not Give a Damn That People Die. Or, you can prove me wrong.”

On the contrary, it is written “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54b-56)

I say that God did in fact do something about the Black Death pandemic—something which science could never do.  Namely, He took death upon Himself on the cross and defeated it once and for all.  Rather than dismissing the tragedy of death, Christianity faces death head on.  It teaches us that death is a great evil and entered the world through Original Sin which subjugated the world to corruption, dissolution, and ultimately bodily (physical) death.  Furthermore, it teaches that human beings perpetuate the cycle of death and dissolution by means of their own personal sin.  We see this played out in the environment through pollution and the overuse of natural resources, we see this on an international scale in the form of wars, acts of terrorism, human trafficking, and a host of other evils, and we see this played out in our communities in the form of substance abuse, sexual abuse, violence, divorce, theft, greed, abortion, gluttony, and many other evils.

However, the Word of God, by Whom and for Whom all things were made, would not sit back and watch as His beautiful creation destroyed itself but saw fit to humble Himself, taking on flesh, in order to redeem—to save, renew, heal, and restore—the Image and Likeness of God in man and to unite all of Creation to Himself: thus, bestowing upon all of Nature the gift of incorruptibility, eternality, and freedom from pain, suffering, loneliness, and death.  For, as St. Athanasius pointed out:  “it were unseemly that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption.  For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practiced on men by the devil.  Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits.”  According to Christian Theology, it is unthinkable that God, in His goodness, would sit back and do nothing to save His creation.  It is because of God’s goodness and love that He sent His beloved Son into the world to save it.  As St. John states: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not parish but have everlasting life” (John 3:15).

The Atheist, however, does not have a foundation upon which he might build the argument that anything is intrinsically evil.  A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–has no inherent value.  Physical events simply happen; they just “are.”  Any value judgment that an Atheist makes about a physical event is totally subjective—for, ultimately, values amount to nothing more than statements about one’s inner feelings (which, by the way, are merely physical events that he has no control of).  When Mr. Loftus laments over the death of millions of people—as if death were an objective evil—he is merely sharing his personal feelings.  He has no grounds to claim that death is “evil’ in any real sense at all.  Furthermore, the Atheist, unlike the Christian, has no ultimate hope.  No matter how much power man gains over nature through science, he will never be able to change the fact that he is corruptible, dissoluble, finite, limited, contingent, and mortal.

Conversely, in the face of death, Christians have metaphysical grounds to believe that death is a horrendous evil and hope for a new life and a restored world.

The New Atheists Are the Old Evangelicals

They’re increasing in number, writing books at an increasing pace, gaining political influence both in the United States and abroad. They’re appearing more and more on television, gearing up their followers, and telling us that if we would only follow what they say, the world would be a better place. Yet, to doubt them or critique them only brings about harm. While they preach that their beliefs are completely rational – in fact, to be rational is to agree with them – they don’t use any reason to back up their claims, only rhetoric. Ultimately, the movement is anti-intellectual in that it doesn’t encourage critical thinking, but instead blind adherence to what is being taught.

Am I talking about the New Atheists or the Old Evangelicals (80s and 90s)? The answer is disturbingly “yes.”

Those who grew up in evangelical circles, especially in the 1980s and 90s, are very familiar with the tactics and culture surrounding the New Atheists. The reason is because while the content between the two is drastically different, the overall “zeitgeist” is the same. Both insult opponents rather than engage them in civil dialogue. Both point out the evils of those who disagree with them and show how one particular group is out to destroy the world. The reason evangelical Christians and new atheists don’t get along extends beyond fundamental differences of belief; they don’t like each other because they’re using the same tactics.

The reality is that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others are just a few art classes away from producing an atheist-style Jack Chick tract. Whereas the 1980s and 90s had Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and others promoting the Gospel, ridiculing those who disagreed, and trying to make us a “Christian nation” once again, we now have Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others promoting “secularism,” ridiculing those who disagree, and trying to make us a “Secular nation” once again.

The Old Evangelicals relied heavily on rhetoric, fear, demonization, and manipulation to increase the masses and move towards what they believed to be the solution. The New Atheists, however, are doing the exact same thing. Their rhetoric challenges Christianity without allowing for a response; try to prove to them that belief in God is rational (even if not true) and you don’t get an educated response. All you get is an ad hominem reply or a series of arguments chock full of question begging. They point out how Christians want to take over America, they do this to induce fear. They move on to demonize anyone who believes in God, with Dawkins going so far in his “documentary” “The Root of All Evil?” to say that parents who raise their children to believe in God are guilty of abuse. All of this is based on manipulation of the facts or by focusing on one element of Christianity to brand all other Christians. These tactics aren’t new, however; they’re stolen from the Old Evangelicals (Religious Right) and are now being used against them.

Both the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are, of course, wrong. The reality is that one can approach the realm of faith or unfaith in a rational way. While I would argue that only one way is ultimately rational, it is possible to be a rational atheist, just as it is possible to be a rational Christian. Sadly, there hasn’t been any civil dialogue because neither side is interested in civility; they’re only interested in being right, they’re only interested in winning. In this, and in many ways, the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are the same tune, just different lyrics. Adherents to Christianity and those who engage in atheism should shake off these old ways and instead embrace civil dialogue. Or, to put it more bluntly and in a less civil way, they should grow up.

The Biggest Problem With Atheism

The “New Atheists” have made atheism in vogue among the popular masses. While agnosticism and atheism have been popular stances since the early days of the Enlightenment among the educated, until recently it wasn’t all that popular among the average citizen. In the past decade, however, that has begun to change. Chalk it up to the bravado of the New Atheists and their rhetoric, but don’t chalk it up to the content of atheism; that’s because atheism has no content, which is why no one should embrace it.

The biggest problem with atheism is that it tells us nothing about what is or what ought to be. If anything, in recent years, atheism has turned into nothing more than a giant rant against religion, specifically Christianity. Look at any of the popular books on atheism by atheists and it’s full of arguments against the existence of God. We’re told that God is evil, that God is impossible, that it’s irrational to believe in God, that we don’t need God in order to be good, and so on. In other words, all modern atheism does is show us what not to believe, but it puts nothing in the place of God.

We are told that we do not need God in order to be good; but sans God how do we define what “good” is and how do we create an ought to achieve that good? We’re told we don’t need God for the universe to exist; but sans God how do we explain the existence of immaterial laws in a universe that is supposedly solely material? Which came first, the matter/energy or the laws that govern the matter/energy? In other words, atheism tells us that God doesn’t exist, but if we grant this and go, “Okay, then what?” the atheist simply says, “Oh, I don’t have to answer that.”

Yet, and this is the problem with all skepticism, if no content can be provided as to what should be believed in the absence of what is rejected, then what value is the belief? Recognizing that atheism lacks answers to questions is a big reason for some people to turn away from atheism. After all, any child can mock something someone says, but it takes an adult to articulate why a belief is wrong and what should be believed in its stead. This is not to say that all atheists are children; there are some atheists who are making an attempt to explain why we should be ethical in the absence of God, why life has meaning, and so on. But these atheists are few and far between, and they’re getting fewer (either due to death or conversion to theism). The new atheists apparently want to say that life has meaning, life is unique and wonderful, and that universal ethics exist, but don’t want to supply any proper reasoning behind it. While “fanboys” of the new atheists laud their writings, other atheists (especially in academia) recognize that the new atheists have fallen short. In fact, my implication of there being two atheists is explicitly stated by other atheists (though I still think both types of atheism presented in the linked article are sub-standard as they provide no answers).

We look at the universe and through a process of deduction conclude that God is the most probable explanation. The atheist says no, but when we ask him to explain how something came from nothing, we get nothing (even Lawrence Krauss’ book completely falls short of its title). We’re told that we don’t need God in order to be good. When we ask why we ought to be good, we’re told it’s a matter of genetics and evolution. When we point out that we’re then determined and thus there’s no point to shame or praise, we’re told that we can still choose and that we ought to be ashamed for rejecting atheism. When we say that this is the language of free will (in fact, the mere act of attempting to persuade someone is acting on an implicit belief in free will), we’re told that everything is determined. Thus, atheism, in its attempt to prove God doesn’t exist discredits free will, but then seeks to persuade people to believe God doesn’t exist. This is simply one of many contradictions within atheism.

Having answers for the ought is important because the justification behind the ought is what changes society. Why ought I act a certain way? Why ought I pass certain laws? Why ought I care about suffering that is not my own? Why ought I show any concern for society? Ultimately, all atheism can say is, “Well evolution has caused this,” but that’s not an ought, it’s an explanation. Perhaps evolution has led the majority of humans to believe it’s wrong to murder for one’s own benefit, but where is the ought for humans who see no problem with that? And were we to provide an ought for why it’s wrong to murder, ultimately such a justification must be established in a strong metaphysic. But if our metaphysic is nothing beyond, “Something came from nothing as a huge accident” then our justification loses all meaning because it inherently lacks purpose.

Thus, the biggest problem with atheism is that it brings nothing to the table. It cannot create a metaphysic that holds any meaning because the metaphysic will ultimately lack purpose. Perhaps the new atheists can turn to existentialism, but once again we run into the problem; whereas existentialism taught that we provided meaning to our lives (which is something Kai Nielsen teaches), this belief doesn’t work because, yet again, it lacks the ought. Certainly the atheist can say that helping old ladies cross the street provides meaning to our lives, but we can counter that assuming the atheist metaphysic is true, pushing old ladies in front of cars equally provides meaning; neither action is good or bad, they’re simply actions (this is the conclusion Nietzsche came to). None of this is to say that atheists can’t be good – they are often better than many religious people – but it is to say that atheists lack justification for being good.

Of course, the problem of atheism isn’t limited to the realm of ethics, but that’s just the most obvious target. Atheism has no metaphysic, no justification behind its oughtness. Thus, while atheists may ask difficult questions or point to potential problems with theism, it ultimately lacks any substance or any reason for being good. Thus, even if the atheist points out that a reason for being good is false, it doesn’t mean we should disbelieve God, just that we should disbelieve the absoluteness of our reason; there’s still no reason to be an atheist because it simply has no answers. It might be able to question the explanations for “what is,” but it cannot provide its own explanation for “what is.” That is to say, atheism cannot tell us anything about the world around us, but can only question other theories that attempt to make and explanation, meaning atheism, ultimately, brings nothing to the table.

Random Musings: The Value of a Sex Slave

1) what is the value of a sex slave?

2) picture in your mind a young girl, sold by her parents into the sex industry when she was but eleven years of age; her body and her mind ravished by drugs and hordes of foul men.  Perhaps the value of such a girl is merely a matter of utility.  If this is the case, she is only as valuable as she is useful.  But what is her use to society?  She is uneducated, she is addicted to drugs, she is psychologically damaged . . . how useful to society is such a person?  Perhaps, her usefulness is tied to the only job she has ever known?  Perhaps the only thing which shall ever define her is one word: prostitute.  Is this her identity?  Is this her fate?

3) tell me, dear ethicist, does such a girl cease to have value when she ceases to be useful? Do your ethical theories align you with the slave drivers–those dealers in human flesh?  When the slaver deems his product useless, the product losses its value–and it is only fitting, in the mind of such a business man, to destroy what has become a worthless commodity.  After all, this is only good business.

4) how wretched is this thought!  How degrading!  How base!  That a human life should be reduced to mere utility . . . but, if God is dead, if we are simply the endless motion of atoms, what else shall we conclude?

5) I thank my Father in heaven, the Creator and sustainer of all life, that such is not the fate of this young sex slave.  For she is made in your ineffable  image–in the likeness of Beauty, and Life, and Goodness Himself.  I thank you that she has value and dignity–that she is worthy of love and compassion–that she is worthy of our respect.  For her identity, her nature, will never be destroyed because her circumstances do not define her.  For as long as she has being, no amount of torture or abuse can destroy the image of the invisible God that constitutes her essence.

6) I extol the wonders of our Lord who loves this young girl, who bled for this girl, who died for this girl–that she might have life.  Truly you ground our being; our very existence depends upon You.  Truly, it is in you that human beings find their eternal value; and, in turn, their usefulness.

The Nature of Physical Law: A Dialogue Between St. Athanasius, Jaegwon Kim, and Jeffery Poland

Let us suspend reality for just a moment and imagine that St. Athanasius has returned from the grave . . . and is desperately craving a cup of hot coffee.  After locating the nearest local coffee shop, he walks in with a huge smile on his face–having at last found a place to satisfy his craving.  To his great surprise, he discovers the imminent physicalists Jagewon Kim and Jeffery Poland sitting in the back of the shop enjoying their morning brew.  A dialog quickly ensues . . .

Athanasius: “Good morning gentlemen! Grace to you and peace from our heavenly Father who spoke all things into existence through His own eternal Logos, through which all things hold together harmoniously and in good order!”

Jeffery Poland: “Good god man, you can’t be serious! If you please, I’m attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee before my next lecture.

Athanasius: “My apologies my friend, but surely one can not help but extol the wonders of the Logos who holds all things together!”

Jaegwon Kim: “You’re somewhat of an odd fellow. Are you not aware that what holds all things together are the fundamental laws of physics? My dear friend, there is no God. For, all things that exist in this world are bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter, all behaving in accordance with laws of physics . . . any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all. (1) So, enough of this nonsense about a divine logos.”

Athanasius: “I see. But, if you will, please explain to me the nature of these laws. Are the laws of physics themselves physical?

Jaegwon Kim: “Do we not experience them in the physical world? For all the things we experience are physical. Is this not obvious?

Athanasius: “Obvious indeed. So what you are saying is that the fundamental laws of physics . . . are the fundamental laws of physics?

Jaegwon Kim: “No, that would be circular reasoning.”

Athanasius: “My dear friend, if your ontology is correct then the only possible answer to the question of the nature of the laws of physics is that they are ultimately bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter all behaving in accordance with the laws of physics. For, as you say, “any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all.”

Jaegwon Kim: “Yes, I did say that.  But  . . . “

Jeffery Poland: “I didn’t want to get involved in this discussion, but I can hardly sit quietly any longer!  The relevant point here is that physicalists are (or should be) concerned with what exists in nature: i.e. with what can be spatially and temporally related to us, with that with which we can interact and by which we can be influenced, and with that of which we and the things around us are made . . . sets, propositions, universals, and so on, when abstractly conceived, are not considered to be in nature at all. Nor are they within the scope of the physicalists domain of study. (2)  Hence, your argument is superfluous.”

Athanasius: “But Mr. Poland, do you not state in your writings that ‘everything that exists is either an element of the physical basis or is constituted by elements in that basis?” and do you not further assert that, ‘everything that exists is, in this sense, ‘ontologically grounded’ in the physical domain?” (3)

Jeffery Poland: “Well yes . . .”

Athanasius: “So, physicalism is committed to the belief that everything which exists is ultimately grounded in the physical domain?

Jeffery Poland: ” . . . yes.”

Athanasius: “Tell me, Mr. Poland, do the laws of physics exist?

Jeffery Poland: “Well, of course . . .”

Athanasius: “Clearly, then, the laws of physics fall within the explanatory scope of physicalism!”

Jeffery Poland: “But that would lead to a tautology.”

Athanasius:  “Exactly!  And you’ve only two ways in which to avoid this tautology:  (1) you can accept that the laws of physics are nonphysical universal truths, or (2) you can reformulate physicalism as being a methodological doctrine rather than an ontological one.  Perhaps the notion of a divine logos is not so foolish after-all?”

(1) Kim, Jaegwon. Physicalism or Something Near Enough. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. 149-150.

(2) Poland, Jeffrey. Physicalism:  The Philosophical Foundations. New York: Oxford, 1994. 228.

(3) Ibid. 18.

Random Musings: The Nature of Beauty

1)  Does beauty truly exist?

2)  Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion.  Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful.  When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private.  For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time.  Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern.  I, the observer, give it meaning . . .

3)  If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion.  In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”

4)   How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist!  I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real.  The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion.  In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I.  To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion.  Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.

5)  In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.

6)   But surely beauty must exist!  Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception.  Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality.  A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .

Nihilism, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and Horse Feathers

Allow me to be a hipster for one second: My favorite band is probably a band you’ve never heard. They are Horse Feathers, a mix of Americana, Indie, and folk, so if you’re into that kind of thing they’re worth checking out. What I really appreciate about the band is the depth of their lyrics (and the banjo, I’m a sucker for a banjo).

Regardless, they released their new album “Cynic’s New Year” (which, in my opinion, is their best album to date). On the album they have a song called “Last Waltz” that musically is brilliant, but the lyrics just stand out to me. Now, I don’t know what Justin Ringle (or whoever wrote the song) meant by the lyrics, but they make a point that I really want to stress. Here are those lyrics:

I’ve seen the end
All I have loved had broke and won’t mend.
Call in the doctor the day may have died.
There’s a thimble of light for an acre of sky.

Darling we play the dunce,
There’s changes ahead,
coming at once.
I don’t like to lie,
There’s a divorcing sea.
Where will we go if there’s nowhere to be?

Call in the Doctor and break the news,
We’re sick in the head, our hearts’ got the blues.
Where in the world, oh where is the sun?
There’s a blackness that’s bit, it’s bitings not done.

Darling we play the dunce,
There’s changes ahead,
coming at once.
I don’t like to lie,
There’s a divorcing sea.
Where will we go if there’s nowhere to be?

Old friends withering away,
Just like the cliffs found down by the bay.
I don’t like to lie it’s a terrible thing.
Time’s got a way to take more than it brings.

Before hitting that point, I should point out that I also just finished reading Nihilism by Fr. Seraphim Rose. In the book he points out how Nihilism removes the meaning from life by removing God. Whereas atheism is simply the statement that God does not exist, Nihilism seeks to destroy the idea of God wherever it is found, it actively tries to “kill God.” In doing so, all meaning is lost.

Thus, it’s probably no surprise that when I read the lyrics of Horse Feathers, I see modern man plastered all over them. I think of Nietzsche’s monologue in The Gay Science, where taking on the role of the madman, he writes:  Continue reading

The Problem of Evil and Pascha (Easter)

Icon of the Resurrection

(Apologies on the long post, but the Resurrection warrants it. Feel free to bookmark this post and come back to it if time is needed to read it. This is also partially an excerpt from a yet-to-be-published manuscript I’ve written [if anyone is interested, let me know], so I hope you enjoy)

It may seem an odd time to write about Easter, considering it’s nearly midnight (EST United States) and that Easter was a week ago. However, for those who don’t follow the Western calendar, Easter, or better known as Pascha in the East, will begin tonight at midnight. The Pascha service is always celebrated a week after Passover for the very simple reason that this is how it occurred in the Bible.

That being said, as some may note I recently wrote about the failure of Greater Good Theodicies. As for a workable solution for the problem of evil, tonight’s celebration serves as both the explanation and the solution for the problem of evil. While philosophers have debated as to how an all-powerful, all-benevolent God could allow evil to exist for centuries, that all-powerful, all-benevolent God answered these philosophical inquiries by dying on a cross and raising from the dead.

How is it that evil exists within this world? Sadly, it exists because we allow it to exist. When we talk of “good” and “evil,” we must remember that we are talking about substance vs. non-substance, that is to say that “good” actually exists whereas evil is simply the privation of that good. What is good? Goodness is an attribute of God, thus God is good; God is present and active in all the acts of goodness that we see. Thus, when we choose evil, we are choosing to work against God. Since we were endowed with free will (which deserves another post on why free will creatures who can sin are better than determined beings who cannot sin), we can actively choose to limit God’s interactions with this world. While this doesn’t limit His presence and while His sovereignty is not infringed (as He can act against our actions, though not in an overbearing way as to negate free will), it does mean that God allows us autonomy. In fact, that is the root of all sin, that we desire autonomy from God. God grants us this autonomy, and the consequences of our desires is what we call evil. We are the cause of evil.

But what of natural evil? What of tsunamis and tornadoes? What of animal suffering? The answer to this goes back to creation; as we were created in the image of God to hold dominion over the earth, our actions were tied to the outcome of creation. In our sin, we negatively impacted creation and subjected it to sin. While we in the West love individualism, we must understand that individualism is not an accurate picture of life. We are tied to each other and creation. While we are each individuals, we are not autonomous individuals. Tomorrow when I eat carrots and green beans, my choice in that impacts those who canned the food, picked the food, grew the food, and even impacts the land itself. Thus, in our choice to sin and choose autonomy from God, it only follows that nature would also be impacted. (All of this deserves an academic approach, and one is coming within the next months; suffice it to say, however, that this post is not meant to be academic).

The new atheists have taken this argument of evil up as their rallying cry. “God is not great,” they explain. “He’s evil because He allows evil, therefore He doesn’t exist.” All of this, however, only shows unwillingness on the part of the atheists (and other critics) to explore the Biblical reason for evil. The Bible is clear that God is very aware of the evil in the world, but He uses it to display His love. Sometimes He takes what was meant for evil and turns it into good (Romans 8:28). While this doesn’t deny gratuitous evil, nor am I saying that every instance of evil is allowed because it will cause a greater good, I am saying that the ultimate reason for allowing evil is because He created us with free wills, wills that are free to choose Him or deny Him.

In His perfect knowledge, God allowed evil to occur so that we might experience His love in a fuller way.[1] While the Fall wasn’t necessary for us to feel God’s love perfectly, it does allow us to see that God loves us via sacrifice. The Fall opened the doors for God to sacrifice by sending His only begotten Son to live, suffer, and die on our behalf. While the Fall was not necessary, our sinful action(s) necessitated a loving response from God.

Thus, God allowed evil so He could experience evil and in so doing we could experience His love. We all endure evil, but how quickly we forget that God has experienced evil greater than any of us could fathom. He has been the victim of His creation. Furthermore, when He took on human flesh He participated in our sufferings. The same flesh that is destroyed in genocide is the flesh that Christ took on. It is not as though God allowed evil and then removed Himself from the experience; rather, He allowed evil and then put Himself at the center of its suffering.

We look into the Garden of Eden and see God allowing humanity to fall and ask “Why?” God points to the Garden of Gethsemane and says, “This is why.” The Son took on all the sins of the world and was separated from the Father. What greater evil is there than for an innocent to suffer for the sake of the guilty? Yet Christ did this out of His love and His own willingness. Though we experience evil, evil that we think others could never fathom, God has suffered much more. This is not so He can brag or say, “Tough it out, I’ve had it worse,” but instead so we know that He can truly sympathize with us and that we can trust Him to get us through an experience of evil.

It wasn’t just the physicality of the cross that was the greatest evil – because others have suffered more – but the spiritual nature of the cross and what was occurring on the cross that none of us have ever experienced that makes it the greatest evil to have ever happened on this earth.

Imagine a child walking with her father while eating her ice cream. She trips a little and the ice cream falls off her cone. To her this is a great evil, but the father, being older, has experienced much worse. She can sit there and wonder, “Why would my father allow me to trip and lose my ice cream?” or she can trust him. She can turn to her father, she can cry to him, she can reach out to him and beg for him to hold her since he too has experienced evil. And being a loving father who has experienced far greater evil, he can sympathize with her and help her through it.

Or we can think of when we lose our parents to a disease. For many, the loss of a parent comes after we’ve become adults and experienced some life with them. But the evil that befalls us pales in comparison to those who lose their parents at a young age or to those who have their parents abandon them. We all experience personal evils on a different level. We all react to those evils differently, so it’s hard to say that one evil is worse than another. But we can look to the cross and say that, without a doubt, the greatest evil to ever occur on earth occurred on the cross when the creation murdered the Creator, the guilty crucified the innocent, the perpetrators of evil destroyed the Good.

Yet, while the cross is the greatest act of evil, it is also the cure to the problem of evil. On the cross we see evil try to reign triumphal, but it had been defeated without knowing it. The empty grave of Christ stands as a testament to the defeat of evil.[2]

While we experience actual evil and suffering from it, we must remember that the love of God can overcome any evil. When we come before the Lord on our knees and cry out, “Dear Lord, why has this befallen upon me,” He doesn’t chastise us, He doesn’t turn His back to us, He responds, “My child, I love you and I have endured it as well; come and lay your weary head upon my chest.” Rather than questioning God’s very existence because of evil, we should humbly and lovingly turn to Him for comfort, for He has already endured our pain and so much more.

Christ wasn’t bashful concerning the problem of evil, rather than attempting to explain it away by some complex theodicy He offered Himself as a theodicy. In Matthew 11:28-30, He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Thus, God does not shy away from the problem of evil, but instead He answers it by telling us to come to Him. Only within the Christian faith does the problem of evil have a real solution; in some other faiths (or lack of faiths) the solution is to explain that evil doesn’t really exist, or that we must appease some totalitarian god. In Christ we learn that we are the cause of evil, but that He is the solution, not through appeasement, but through rest.

The answer to the problem of evil isn’t found in a clever syllogism or in a preacher’s aphorism, rather the answer is a Man; the ultimate answer to the question of evil, the best theodicy one can give, is a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

He is a God who can be trusted. We know why He allows evil to exist on a grand scale, but why specific evils? Why does He allow pain and misery to come upon our individual lives? Job asked this same question and only God could provide an answer. His answer was, “Trust Me.” After all, who are we to find fault in God (Job 40:2)? He is perfect and we are imperfect. His ways are not our ways and His knowledge is infinitely more than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is good because God is love, so in times of evil He is all we have to rely on.[3]

The critics of God would have a point about evil if God allowed evil and left us there. If God allowed evil to enter the world and offered no way out of this world, then truly He would be cruel. He would be no better than a child burning the antennas off ants. But that is not the God we worship. God has offered a way out of this evil world; He has offered a way that defeats evil. The ultimate answer to the problem of evil is Jesus Christ; He faced evil on the cross and defeated it when He rose from the grave. Evil has already been defeated, we are merely waiting for the fulfillment of this defeat (Revelation 20:10, 14).

God is Love

The explanation to the problem of evil – God’s love – might seem a bit weird, but we cannot forget that love is behind everything God does. While He does do everything for His glory, it is equally true to say that He does everything out of His love. We cannot separate the attributes of God, thus everything He does displays both His glory and His love.

God created everything out of love. He created because He loved the Son and wished to honor the Son, but the Son wasn’t sitting on the sidelines. The Father spoke everything into existence through His Word (Jesus Christ) in the power of the Holy Spirit. God accomplished this out of love for Himself, with the Persons of the Trinity working in perfect harmony. But He also created simply for the love of creation. He is an artist. We look at certain things in nature and wonder, “Why would God do this?” But when we look at a painting, very rarely do we go, “I wonder why the artist did this.” We simply sit back and enjoy the art. It is the same with creation. We don’t have to ascribe a pragmatic purpose to everything; we can simply sit back and enjoy the artistic display of our Lord. Creation is art painted by the love of God.

God then created humans out of love. He didn’t have to create intelligent beings who were capable of having a relationship with Him, but He chose to. He did this out of love for us. He created us as a display of His perfect love; we are to love His creation, love each other, love ourselves, and love Him.

In all of this, He allowed us to fall. It is His love that allowed us to fall, for how loving would God be if He forced us to follow Him? Contrary to recent claims, God is no tyrant. When Adam and Eve rebelled, He didn’t kill them and start over. God didn’t create little robots that would follow His every command. Some people post the question, “Couldn’t God have created free beings who just didn’t have the capacity to rebel?” Common sense would dictate that if we never had the capacity to rebel then we wouldn’t truly be free, at least not if that was our starting point.[4] No, God gave us the freedom to rebel because He would rather have a willful servant than a mindless slave (Isaiah 1:18).

He allowed us to rebel because He knew it would allow Him to display His love. He knew that in our rebellion He could display the ultimate sacrifice – the giving of His only begotten Son. He wanted to display His love for us that even while we rebelled against Him, He would die for us (Romans 5:8). Even while we spat in His face, even while we hurled insults, even while we mocked Him, even while we questioned who He was, He loved us so much that He would sooner remain on the cross than come down and destroy us.

He took on the form of a man out of love. The Son emptied Himself of His divine attributes so that He might experience life with us. He is not some transcendent God without immanence, some unloving God who refuses to experience life as we do. Rather, God “got His hands dirty” by taking on flesh, but He did this out of love. He experienced our pain. He blistered under the heat. All that it is to be human, He did so, but without sin.

He became human so that He could ultimately die for us. Once again, love is the motivating factor. Out of love, Christ stood before Pilate falsely accused. Out of love, Christ bore a crown of thorns and was whipped. Out of love He marched up to Golgotha to hang on a cross. Out of love He let the soldiers put nails through His hands. Out of love He bore our transgressions. Out of love He was forsaken on our behalf. Out of love God came down to this earth and died for His rebellious creation. Out of love He rose from the grave. And out of love He bestows the effects of His actions onto us.

The Father’s love for the Son is what moved the stone away from the tomb. It was their love for each other that Christ raised physically from the dead to sit at the right hand of the Father. It is out of love that Christ’s resurrection is our way to salvation, the way to perfect reconciliation with the Father. God didn’t have to offer this to us, but He chose to because He loves us.

Because God loves us, we too are supposed to love others. He calls us to be representatives of His love this side of eternity. We are to love everyone. It is easy to love the lovable, but we are called to love the unlovable. We are a parent to the orphans. We are a liberator to the oppressed. We are a friend to the lonely. We are a comforter to the criminal. But we are also to love the corrupt CEO who fires employees so he can make a profit. We are to display love to our oppressors. While we must fight against the corruption of this world, we must never forget that we are still called to love our enemies. We are a lover to all, from the highest of society to the lowest, from the most virtuous among us to the darkest criminals in the deepest cells. To all, we are an example of God’s love on this earth.

It is love that compels God to bring us into eternal fellowship with Him, into the Divine community of the Trinity. How kind it would be of Him to merely destroy our souls once this life is over. How justified He would be in such an action. But he invites us into a perfect eternal fellowship with Him where we will forever love Him. Love is the focal point of every action of God. Everything He does, from His justice to His creation, from His revelation to His transcendent nature; every action of God is tied up to His love. If love is the focal point of God’s actions, then it should be the focal point for our actions as well. Though we will fail at this – because who can love like God? – we are to strive toward loving others as Christ has loved us.

An Eternal Love

God is the purpose of life. When we wander around, wondering what our purpose on this earth is, we can realize that He is everything. He is our end and everything else is a means. He fulfills us, He gives us rest from this weary life. Christ calls out to us, to us sinners, and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It is a comforting thought that God would care for us so much that He would make such an invitation. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in this world. All of us have our hearts clouded by sin and by pain; to this Christ makes the invitation to come and rest in Him.

The invitation of Christ isn’t an invitation into a bunch of “do’s” and “do not’s,” but rather an invitation into a relationship. We enter into a relationship with Him and with His body, the Church. In so doing, we begin to live as though the Kingdom has come. This relationship is more than the following a moral code or saying a prayer for the forgiveness of our sins and then hoping for Heaven; certainly these are a part of the relationship, but they do not summarize the entire relationship. A honeymoon is only part of the married life; it is an important part, but not the entire thing. Likewise, asking Christ to forgive us our sins and walking the “straight and narrow” is a part of being a Christian, but not the entire thing. We obey Christ out of love, not out of obligation.

God’s love for us transcends time. He loved us before He created us (1 Peter 1:18-20). What sinner would dare dream of a God who would love us before we even existed? God is what sinners dare not dream. Everything in Scripture points to God’s working toward the fulfillment of His love in Christ on the cross. His plan is what we could never fathom. His love is eternal and we can never be separated from it. What better way to conclude with a passage from Paul (Romans 8:18-39):

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May it be so as we pursue the Eternal and seek to be with Him unto ages of ages. Amen.

[1] One could make the argument that God could display His love in a perfect fashion even without the Fall. This is a view that I agree with, that is to say, the Fall was not necessary in order for God to perfectly display His love. Rather, God allowed the Fall so as to not inhibit our free will, and in so doing found a way to perfectly display His love in a fallen world.

[2] When I refer to evil as an actual substance, I am merely doing so for the effect of writing. Evil is really the lack of good and has no substance of its own; philosophically speaking it is an accident, lacking a property or substance.

[3] For those curious in a philosophic answer to this problem, I would encourage two books. The first is God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga and the second is God, Why This Evil? by Bruce Little. Both explore the philosophic reasons and explanations for the problem of evil within the Christian tradition. While I am emphatic that Christ is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil, I do not say this to the exclusion of the philosophical attempts to explain evil. These are important, but it must be recognized that these will always point back to Christ.

[4] In Heaven we will lack the capacity to rebel, but that is because we have chosen such a life. If God created us without that capacity then we would lack free will. But if we willingly choose to become like God through theosis, then we are willfully giving up our sin nature, thus indicating that in Heaven though we lack the capacity to sin, we are still free.

The Failure of Greater Good Theodicies

For whatever reason, I find the study of evil to be quite fascinating. Perhaps this is because I see it as the greatest obstacle to an acceptance of theism. After all, if God is all good and all-powerful, why does evil exist?

Rather than offering up my own theodicy (which is a theory I’m working on, something that will take a while to develop), I wanted to point out what I see as a problem in the traditionally “Greater Good” theodicies.

For the unfamiliar, a Greater Good Theodicy (GGT) teaches that God will allow an evil if and only if He can use it to bring about a greater good. The problem is many GGT theodicies end up saying that all evil is allowed because God wants to bring about a greater good.

Were I an atheist, I’d simply point out that, logically following, the greater the evil the greater the good; therefore, why isn’t this world full of more evil? If all evil begets a greater good, then perhaps God could allow 1 in 3 children to die of cancer, which would cause people to become scientists to discover a cure for cancer, which would help all humans. Were I an atheist, I could pick apart the logical problems with GGT.

However, as a Christian I can point to some bigger problems with GGT and show how it’s highly inconsistent with what we believe about God. For instance, let’s assume that God allows an evil to occur because it brings about a bigger good; this would mean that God is a consequentialist, possibly a Utilitarian, meaning He doesn’t really care about you.

If God knows that the death of a child will somehow lead to a cure for a deadly disease and He allows it, that means that He allowed the death of one person for the “greater good.” He allowed a child to suffer and die a horrendous death simply because He wanted us to discover the cure. Of course, this is the same God who spoke audibly to the ancient prophets and this is the same God who is infinite in knowledge; surely He could find some way to allow the child to live, have us develop the cure, and not rob us of our free will. Yet, according to GGT there is not another way, which just seems cruel.

In such a situation, it means that God used the child as a means to an end. Such a view inherently contradicts the view that God is love. If God is love and He is infinite in His love, and if God is personal, then it’s a contradiction to say that God will use us as means to an end, showing little concern as to what happens to us. While God will use us to accomplish a goal, He doesn’t use us as means; rather, we become co-workers with God or adversaries against God. Either way, we’re active participants where our involvement matters to God, not simply pawns that He moves across a chessboard in order to win a game.

And this is why, as a Christian, I must reject the GGT. I must say that, in fact, gratuitous evil does exist. I must say that, it’s true, some evil happens without a greater good to counteract it. Some might point to Romans 8:28, but I would point out that (1) it says this only happens for those who love God and (2) it only says that God turns evil into good for those that love Him; Paul doesn’t say that God turns this into a good that is greater than evil.

In the end, then, we must rethink our theodicy when it comes to the evidential argument for evil. We cannot rely on the GGT because, while logically coherent in itself, it becomes illogical when applied to Christian beliefs as it contradicts our view of God.

I would advocate everyone to look at Bruce Little’s Creation-Order Theodicy as a possible solution, though I believe (as he states in his book) that there is a lot of work required to shape up his theory. For those curious, that is where my studying is heading.