Within the Pangs of a Dying World or, The Hope of Sabbath


DSC01993St. Augustine’s City of God stands as a centerpiece within the annals of Western Christianity. One can easily say that within City of God Christianity officially moved West and became a type of its own brand, away from the prolific East (I leave it up to the reader to decide whether that is a good or bad thing). What is often ignored in the many debates caused by Augustine’s is the backdrop to why he wrote the book. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 – a relatively tame sacking comparatively speaking – causing panic and uproar within the Roman Empire. It would be akin to a foreign army of untrained soldiers attacking New York City after defeating the US military to get there; the shock would be beyond belief. Augustine was writing to the suffering inflicted, but to promise them that though violence may reign now, peace holds eternity (hence his title, “City of God”).

As I type this, millions of people around the world are suffering. One of the greatest realities of suffering, and possibly its saddest, is that the majority of these people are children. An estimated 1-3 million children worldwide die from malnutrition and starvation every single year, and that number is actually down from just a few decades ago. Of course, much of the malnutrition and disease is a side effect of manmade wars. In Syria alone, millions of people are displaced, and this is not to mention the ongoings in Iraq. In this violent upheaval families are displaced, they mourn the loss of those closest to them, the most unfortunate being the lone survivors of a narrow escape, the ones who live with survivor’s guilt.

Of course, I speak of survivors as though one can survive violence; the thing about violence is that what it cannot extract from the body it will most certainly rob from the soul. We think of soldiers coming back from a war with a “thousand yard stare.” Even soldiers in the most justified of wars are still casualties of that war in a way, having seen things no one ought to see. We don’t even need to go to foreign lands to see the impact of violence and PTSD; occupying the headlines are tales of various NFL players abusing loved ones (and sometimes loved ones defending the abuse), of college campuses having to define rape – a violent act – because apparently somehow rape is ambiguous. That we even have to define that “no means no” (contra Rush Limbaugh) shows that we live in a violent culture, even if we have to hide our violence behind sexuality.

The Western world feels like something is underfoot, that we’re on the verge of collapse. It’s as though we’re simply awaiting the Visigoths to arrive and send our world into a tailspin, as the modern day barbarians of al-Qaeda and ISIL have already done in the Middle East. With the events in the Middle East quickly getting out of hand, Russia’s not-so-secret invasion of the Ukraine (as well as flying its bombers near Swedish and US airspace), the fact that South America has quietly become the most violent region in the world, sub-Saharan Africa on the brink of another genocide, and the seemingly weakening social structure of Europe, it is a wonder that more people have yet to embrace nihilism. Considering the status of the United States is only worse as its infrastructure is falling apart, its middle class might go extinct long before the polar bear, its police are becoming more and more violent against citizens (all while most citizens capitulate out of necessity), and “Land of the Free” is used more for irony than patriotic statements.  Continue reading

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Exploring the problem of evil (Part 1) – Can God and Evil Exist?


I was recently presented with Hume’s famous argument against God concerning evil. The following is my reply. I offer great apologies to Alvin Plantinga as the thought process, the exact wording of the syllogisms, and the argument come from his book God, Freedom, and Evil (though, to be fair, his arguments are really the analytical renderings of Augustine’s City of God). Here was my response to the person:

If God is willing to prevent evil, but not able, then he is not omnipotent.

If he is able, but not willing, then he is malevolent.

If he is both willing and able, then whence cometh evil?

If he is neither willing nor able, then why call him God?

If we grant the first and second premise, then we must deal with the third premise, which is:

(1) God is omnipotent

(2) God is wholly good

(3) Evil exists (why?)

The problem with your syllogism is that, taken prima facie, it’s not contradictory. There is no reason to assume that just because God is willing to stop evil that He will actualize His capability to stop evil. Rather, there are two other implied syllogisms in your argument:

(4) A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can

and

(5) There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.

What do we mean when we say that God is omnipotent though? Does God’s omnipotence mean that He can create square holes, married bachelors, or worlds both do and do not exist? Or does it simply mean that He has unlimited power on all things that are within reason (given that reason is part of His nature)? That is, does it merely mean that He has all power within things that could actually exist? Most theologians would go with the latter understanding of omnipotence. If God wanted to create a unicorn or make it to where a rainbow turned into a pot of gold, then He certainly could because, though these things do not exist, it is not illogical for them to exist. He could not, however, create a world in which He doesn’t exist, or negate His own nature, due to the rationality present within His nature. In short, God follows His own nature, meaning He cannot contradict Himself. Thus, omnipotence merely means that there are no nonlogical limits to what God can do. Thus, our new proposition is:

(5) There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do.


Now, is it necessarily true that if a being is both willing and able to end an evil act that the being will always do so? In short, no. Assume that your friend John has capsized his boat in the Atlantic and doesn’t have a life preserver. He’ll probably only be able to stay afloat for thirty minutes. You have a boat that is fully fueled and you can have it out to John in less than 20 minutes. His plight is certainly an evil one, one that you are capable of eliminating and, if you knew about it, certainly willing to eliminate. But you don’t eliminate it. Does this make you evil? Continue reading