Two weeks ago I left readers with the following conundrum:
If God is benevolent and controls the universe, how could God be responsible for a pandemic during which so many perish?
The first proposition (“God is benevolent”) in the face of a world-wide pandemic clashes with the second (“God controls the universe”). Even if the propositions are reversed, they are still incompatible, for a God who controls the world could not be responsible for a world-wide, life-killing, pandemic, if that God were benevolent.
The conclusion seems inevitable: something is wrong; the propositions are incompatible. We actually do have a world-wide pandemic. That is an indisputable fact! Hundreds are dying every day, and the most capable scientific minds of our generation have not succeeded in finding a vaccine to protect us from the virus. We are told not to expect a vaccine for 12 to 18 months.
Of course, it is possible that neither proposition was ever true, but it is also possible that by modifying one or the other proposition the conundrum may yet admit of a solution and one could still remain somewhat traditionally Christian (should one choose to) with respect to the benevolence of God. Suppose, for example, that God is generally benevolent but unfortunately has a pernicious mean streak that sometimes surfaces in his actions toward the world, as God actually is described in the Bible.1 The writers of the biblical texts apparently had no problem with this inconsistency and describe a God generally benevolent, but regularly describing his mean streak; why could not modern followers of one or another biblical faith2 adopt the same posture, and recognize that God is simply inconsistent and unpredictable when it comes to benevolence? After all, that is what the basic text (the Bible) of traditional Christianity reflects.
I would like to think that obedience to God would exempt one from God’s pernicious mean streak, but that does not appear to be the case. Job’s experience is a case on point. The author depicts God as knowing that Job was absolutely faithful to him (Job 1:1, 8); nevertheless, God allowed Satan to ruin his life (1:9-2:10) in order to prove an unnecessary point.
The second proposition (“God’s absolute control of the universe”) is likewise undermined even in the Bible. Here are a number of passages describing God’s seeming inability to make things happen in accordance with the divine will: God tries to kill Moses but cannot (Exod 4:24-26); God cannot foresee outcomes of his actions (1 Sam 15:10-11; 6:5-8); and God through his prophets sometimes made failed predictions (2 Sam 7:1-13; Jer 33:17-18; Ezek 26:15-21). In other words God is depicted as not always being in control. It is true, however, that God is described as controlling the weather to keep the Israelites serving him faithfully (for example, 2 Chron 7:13-14), but control of the wind is another matter, as Jesus is depicted as saying, “the wind blows where it wants to” (John 3:8).3 That is good news indeed for people of faith when we consider the case of hurricanes and tornadoes.4 Since God does not control the wind, God could not be responsible for the destruction to property and loss of life from such aberrations of nature.
As I consider the inconsistency of the propositions, if I am to be completely honest with myself, I cannot allow these two propositions to stand in harmony with one another, and at the same time continue to make sense of the world as I experience it. The second proposition (“God controls the world”) is patently untrue, unless God is actually a demonic force. The first proposition (“God is benevolent”) pales in force, unless one modifies it. I can accept, for example, that God is benevolent and does the very best s/he can in a hostile world controlled by natural forces, which Romans 8:28 seems to be saying:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)5
That is to say God works to bring about the best that he can.
Could someone please convince me that the two propositions with which I began are actually logically consistent?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1See Hedrick, Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog, “Did God Cause (or Allow) the Covid-19 Pandemic.” April 12, 2020. Note in Isa 45:5-7 God is depicted as boasting that he “creates weal and woe,” and in I Sam 15 God takes revenge on the Amalakites, commanding Saul (through Samuel the prophet ) to utterly destroy them and all they have, even down to nursing infants (1 Sam 15:3).
2Clearly there are at least two biblical faiths: Israelite and Christian; but arguably there are several dissonant Christian faiths reflected in the New Testament.
3See Hedrick, “Does God Control the Wind?” pages 49-51 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019).
4See Hedrick, “Does Mother Nature Control the Wind?” pages 51-53 in Unmasking and “Does the Wind Make its own Decisions?” pages 53-54 in Unmasking.
5One should compare other translations of this verse since there are subtle differences in the way it is translated. For example, the King James Version translates: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
In my view humankind only talks about God in terms of itself. God is inevitably human. Similarly, if animals could talk and the God of cats was Dog, then every description of Dog would have cat characteristics.
The early 20th century theologian Karl Barth spoke of God as the "Wholly Other," unknown except in his own choice to self-reveal. But when he did self-reveal (in the life of Jesus), he was perceived humanly as a Benevolent Father, giver of good gifts (e.g., Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13).
Humans can only describe God in terms of human characteristics - both super good and super bad. Human beings allow and cause both good and bad - it's not surprising that God seems to be quite adept at both.
So where in history do we find escape - an event for which there is no adequate descriptive human terms - perhaps the resurrection of Jesus.
I think it is important to realize that the portrayal of gods of the Bible are characters the various authors created, supernatural, serving a variety of needs of the authors. They “stand in” for causes of weal and for woe, because they were the explanations the ancient authors had for the good times and (especially) the catastrophic times. The authors are inconsistent about a benevolent god or a god in control of the world. Some of these creations, like the god of Isaiah 52, are even insecure because, since Babylon deported God’s children, God is upset that his name is “reviled ,“ in other words God’s reputation has been damaged. Another portrayal of God has him stripping Saul of his role as anointed because he didn’t kill all the Amalekites, even the infants and animals, and then God hit him with “an evil spirit” to terrify him that could only be quieted when David played his lyre for Saul (1 Sam. 15-16). The authors created their gods in their own images, just as people do today.
Several weeks ago, a resident “conservative Christian” who attends the same church I did as a young ‘un suggested in a letter to the editor that the USA was given the virus to help America sort out its values and get on a (conservative) track and that we were part of a laboratory experiment by God. I thought it was an odd metaphor, dissolving into prattle as soon as it appeared.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good Evening Charlie,
Tomorrow is May Day! Remember May Day Baskets?
What about the concept of a "higher good?" You say the concept that "God is benevolent" and "God controls the universe" are mutually exclusive... What if suffering has a role in the totality of the universe? In other words- are situations permanently bad or permanently good? There's no such thing as permanence... Should there be?
I can't figure out what your beef is... Is it that God allows suffering? Is it a particular kind of suffering that offends you and angers you towards God? In other words, what kinds of suffering do you find acceptable and which kinds are unacceptable? Life killing pandemic or not- suffering still takes place in secret and hidden form plain sight- believe me, this pandemic is nothing compared to what goes on behind closed doors in drug addicted homes and families. Humans are capable of unthinkable evil. And it's not always broadcast on the 24 hour cable news cycle.
1) If God is benevolent, who created evil? Are you saying there should be no evil in the world?
2) Why is polarity bad? Health and sickness.... Poor and rich.... Bad and good.... Should God eliminate all polarity?
3) How would that work- how would it be possible for God to only allow good without any opposition? What would that look like?
Controlling the Universe sounds like a good idea... But is it really? Would you want to be in charge of it?? I wouldn't. It sounds fun for a while, but eventually the burden and the pressure would become unbearable. Many thanks as always! Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
a) Sufferings role's in the universe: suffering seems to be endemic to the human condition, and since suffering is inconsistent with the benevolence of God, in my view it becomes a powerful argument for the nonbeing of God--at least a benevolent God.
b) I am not angry with God, but I am profoundly irritated with certain views of God--principally the ide that God allows suffering for good reasons that are evident to us. In the abstract suffering has been held to improve humanity (I. e., we are better off as a species for overcoming suffering, etc.), but in the moment of suffering I find nothing positive in suffering. Such arguments have always seemed to me to be failed attempts to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
1.Evil is always human on human. See "Where does evil come from," pp. 17-20 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.
2.Polarity is neither good or bad; it is the way of the universe.
3. A benevolent God could not allow bad things to happen but a God with a pernicious mean streak would have no problem with doing so.
Whoops! In comment b) above, line 3 should read ...reasons that are not evident to us.
Sorry about that.
Thank you Charlie.... So if God created humans, then he created the good part of humans as well as the evil part of them. To me, that would mean that there's evil in him as well... Otherwise, why would he create something that contains both good and evil? In other words, where did good and evil come from if God is the source of all creation?
"In the moment of suffering I find nothing positive in suffering."
1) So what is the answer to suffering- does fighting and resisting make it disappear? It doesn't matter a hill of beans whether or not the virus should or shouldn't happen. That's a personal subjective judgement. The fact is- it's already the case. So fighting and resisting and complaining about it (i'm not saying you're complaning) is useless. Most people believe the situation and their judgment about it are one and the same thing. But that isn't true. Judging people, situations, and circumstances only leads to more suffering.
2) My understanding with regard to this particular virus is that it came from some type of bat in the Chinese "wet markets." I had never heard of wet markets, but they sound horrible... However, the people in China have no choice but to utilize them because they don't have access to healthy meat the way you and I do... which I think is very sad and tragic for them. I think it's extremely unfortunate they are basically forced to eat meat from those kinds of places because it's the only meat they can get. I don't see that as God's fault- do you?
3) What about the explanation that evangelicals use about living in a "fallen" world? We are subject to viruses and the like because "sin" entered the world through Adam and Eve? If they hadn't sinned, we'd live in a perfect world with no illness. Were you taught in church that "sin" made us humans susceptible to disease? I was.
Interesting as always- thank you!! Elizabeth
Good warm sunny afternoon Elizabeth,
a. If memory serves in the Judeo-Christian tradition God is depicted as creating only two persons: Adam and Eve (Gen 1 and 2). The rest of humanity are the products of natural birth.
1. Surely fighting and resisting the covid-19 virus is a good thing? If we do not put our best minds to that task, more people will unnecessarily die.
2. I do not know enough about food production in China to make an intelligent comment. But as I said, God (if God there be) is doing the best he can.
3. I was not taught that disease is the result of sin. Disease is natural in this briar patch we call planet earth.
Very warm and sunny greetings to you as well Charlie!
a) If God is the source of all creation, then who created the serpent and who created the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Also, if God created Adam and Eve and they both sinned- then God created something with the capability of sin. Why would he do that? I was taught that it was because of "free will." Does that explanation resonate with you?
1) Curing the virus and arguing with the existence of it are two different things. I should have clarified that- of course one would treat the virus as any other illness in a calm and logical manner in accordance with medical experts. That's unarguable. However, arguing with the fact of its existence and going around saying "This shouldn't be happening! How dare this virus invade our planet! God should do something about this right now" etc... Those judgements and resistance only add to the suffering. Plus, they interfere with one's ability to see clearly how to handle this particular challenge with wisdom and intelligence. The most intelligent actions and solutions arise from a state of acceptance, not resistance.
It's not that you accept the illness or the idea of illness, but you accept whatever the physical challenge is going on at that moment... and then see what can be done about it. Elizabeth
Charlie and Elizabeth, the following article seems apropos to the discussion.
The idea of "sin making us susceptible to disease," it would seem, is not only taught in Sunday school, but sin creating a weakness throughout the universe would seem to be a central tenant of Pauline theology. (See also my April 14 comments to the previous blog essay.)
"A. Corona Virus exists because of the Curse
Paul said in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the examples of what Paul calls sufferings of this present time. Why are there sufferings in this present time? Paul gave the first answer in verse 20, “For the creation was subjected to futility.” The creation was subjected to futility or what verse 21 calls “bondage to corruption.” What does that mean? This means that the whole creation, whether visible or invisible, both the macro universe and microscopic virus are subjected to futility and corruption. This means they cannot fulfill their original purpose anymore (futility) and they are physically and morally decaying (corruption). If you ask why there are evil viruses in the world, the biblical answer is because of the curse. When sin entered into the world, the world was corrupted with the curse. It was not only the human race who are accursed, but it was also the entire creation. Viruses are a result of the curse.
But the curse is not the end of the story.
B. Coronavirus exists because of the Cross
The reason why the whole creation was subjected to futility is because of hope. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope. “What is this hope? Verse 21, ” 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” (Romans 8:21). In other words, there will come a time when the whole creation will be glorified the way the children of God are glorified. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). As of the moment “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” But they are doing so because they are hoping and waiting for their glory.
But all this hope was made possible because of the cross. At the cross, Christ purchased our salvation and glorification. That is why, “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” (Romans 8:23)."
I got a chuckle from the “healthy meat” statement. Though cooked foods are not considered a cause of contracting COVID-19, which is generally spread through the air, I think it is probably inaccurate to laud the USA as a glowing example of safe food, or “healthy meat.” From my experience with summer jobs when I was in high school, college, both catching chickens and working in a poultry processing plant, the live birds were in horrid conditions, the processed ones not inspected closely, This was many years ago, but In the last few years, the processing has become less safe, with lines running faster and fewer government inspectors. Here are some numbers.
An estimated 48 million are sickened, 128,000 hospitalized, and 3000 dead yearly from food poisoning.
46^ from of this is from plant foods, mainly from leafy vegetables and 29% from meats. The most deaths overall are from listeria and salmonella in poultry. Other illnesses are unspecified. The study cited refers primarily to outbreaks There were almost 2600 of these between 1998-2008.
While one should wear a mask for COVID-19, one should probably cook one’s meat, wash one’s vegetables thoroughly, at least in the USA, where there are numbers.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
46^ was a typo. 46% was meant. I don't think the benevolent God has discovered viruses or bacteria yet.
Dennis your data are not something I wish to contemplate--particularly the fewer number of inspectors.
Good cloudy and cool Sunday Morning Elizabeth,
a)I don't think God created everything in a single moment of time. The Genesis accounts of creation are mythical stories. As such they tell us more about human beings at the time of their inscription than about the origin of the universe.
1) A viral outbreak is a natural phenomenon. The onus is upon human beings rather than God to control it.
First paragraph: Perhaps, but in my view it would depend on the "sin." Dissolute living, which the church considers sinful living, just might make one more susceptible to disease, but I doubt that white collar crime would do it.
A and B: You did not tell us whether Paul's view approximates reality; that is to say that the universe actually is "fallen." Does Coronavirus exist because of the curse?
I don't view Paul as talking about individual sins and their influence. He's speaking of the status of humans as unable to avoid sinful behavior; in similar fashion the universe itself is corrupted. These ideas and the paragraphs I've quoted are mythology because there's no way to prove the "fall" (of humans or the world) one way or the other. If something can't be proven it's a myth.
Reason tries to step in and save the day. Evolutionary theory certainly doesn't posit a fall but a climb to optimal realization. Alfred North Whitehead, an early 20th century evolutionary philosopher, proposed that God had both a primordial and consequent nature. (Oops, there we go with unprovable mythology again!).
I would suggest that the two propositions that you have placed before us are also mythology: God is benevolent and God controls the universe. Any opinion expressed about God is automatically mythology. There is no way to know if they represent reality, either their individual or interactive truth, except to accept or reject them based on some holistic impression that life has stamped upon you.
I would say that for Paul Covid-19 does exist because of the "curse," but that requires one to be positively smitten by his mythology and to accept that no rational proposition about God rises above mythology (smile)!
Good afternoon Charlie and all,
I don't know what happened but I typed a response and it disappeared! I'll try again- maybe this attempt will be better anyway ;-)
First I want to thank Dennis for his stats on US meat industry- he's right, it is far from perfect. However we are blessed to live in a country with regulatory entities such as USDA, FDA, OSHA, etc... I don't know that China regulates its meat production very conscientiously. Regardless, the poor Chinese people cannot get access to beef, poultry, and pork in the same quantities and quality that we do... and I feel sorry for them about that.
My understanding with regard to the virus, however, is that it came from a bat...??? This is the consensus of reporting in AP, Reuters, WaPo, etc. And the first person in Wuhan to contact the virus did get it from eating bats... I had no idea people ate bats... That's when I learned about the wet markets and why they slaughter live animals in them. I couldn't bear to even look at the pictures. Anyway, that person who contracted the virus then spread the virus not through food as Dennis rightly pointed out, but through the respiratory system. So it started out from some kind of bat meat, and then spread from there in the air from person to person... Not through food. So I didn't mean to imply that the virus is spread through food or meat! Still, I am glad we don't have to eat dogs, cats, bats, and other reptiles. As far as what that has to do with God, I still have no idea but I don't blame him for China's inability to provide its people with better meat. Our meat isn't perfect, but I'm glad we have what we have and I'm thankful it doesn't include bats.
"A viral outbreak is a natural phenomenon. The onus is upon human beings rather than God to control it." So, Charlie, why question the benevolence of God about it? What would his supposed benevolence accomplish and why does that need to be reconciled with God's control of the universe? If the virus is a natural phenomenon, then there's no conundrum about God's role in it. Correct me if I'm not reading your statements in proper context.
I very much appreciate Gene's analysis of Romans and the "curse" and the bondage to corruption... I forgot about that actually. That darn curse... it sure wreaks havoc on our planet. Yes, I've heard many a sermon about it over the course of my years. Know it inside and out. And honestly, I think your insights clearly illustrate that according to Paul- yes indeed the coronavirus does indeed exist because of the curse. I think you laid it out very poignantly. (that is, if you buy into Paul's teachings, which most Christians do) But I agree with your follow up statement even more- if it can't be proven, it's a myth. I also agree with your claim that the two propositions of Charlie's are also mythology and the fact that "Any opinion expressed about God is automatically mythology. There is no way to know if they represent reality, either their individual or interactive truth, except to accept or reject them based on some holistic impression that life has stamped upon you." Well stated. There is no conundrum unless one is smitten by his mythology... Again, well stated. Wish I could write that clearly! Elizabeth
In this blog essay I was interested in how the viral pandemic affects the general Christian Beliefs that God is benevolent and that God controls the world. I concluded that these two beliefs are inconsistent when set side by side during a world wide pandemic. I concluded that at least one of those two beliefs is clearly wrong.
You put me onto something. Not everyone saw God or “the gods” as did Paul. When Maximus of Tyre wrote Discourse 36, (2nd c. ce.) he began by telling about Prometheus creating humans for Zeus, the resulting “Golden Race,” and the idyllic circumstances. Unlike Romans, however, he began the story letting the hearer know he was telling a fable, calling it also a myth during the story. In the next part of the speech he gives reasons for the degeneration (all too human and realistic), and gives that native of Pontus, not Marcion but Diogenes, as the example of how humanity should live, “set free by Zeus and Apollo,” divested from humanity and its pleasure seeking vices, roaming all over his world. What I find interesting is that, whereas Maximus understands that tales of creation are mythos, Romans 1-8 not only sees the Adam & Eve fable as fact, but as the reason for the degeneration of humanity.
One also finds Hierocles (early 2nd c. ce) with the cause of evil not God, but “vices” caused by lack of self-control, but that the gods from time to time will punish. Catastrophes are attributed to physical causes, not generally the gods, but from time to time they would happen to punish “the sins of the masses.” He had to fudge a tad. Another Hierocles thought I find remarkable is that the gods were immutable, because if the gods were prone to change their minds, there would be no need for humans to seek repentance (metanoia), to change their minds. If the gods were immutable, one best "straighten up and fly right!"
This is a summary of what would have been a post but which is growing too much.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
How about putting it into a publishable essay?
I would need to do quite a bit more research on it. I have put some thoughts together, but for now I need to put a formal essay on the back burner. A couple of weeks ago I received a dozen books, the best I have ordered in years, and I am reading a ton right now, as well as writing a satire about the coronavirus. I certainly will keep it in mind, though if I make it about Paul, since I diverge from contemporary scholarship in those thoughts, it probably wouldn't be publishable.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
The more reason to publish it!
Good Evening Charlie,
What scriptures support the belief that God controls the world? Matt. 4:8-9 and 2Cor. 4:4 state that Satan is ruler of this world, for the time being. 1) Do you personally know Christians who believe God is in control of this world? Did your former Baptist church teach anything on that subject?
2) How is the concept of free will compatible with God's control of the world? In other words, how can God control people and yet at the same time allow them the ability to either obey or disobey His commandments?
3) Do you think humans have free will? Some teachers say that free will is a fiction.
4) Do you find Jesus's commandment to love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart, and all your strength to be a strange commandment? (Mark 12:30) We don't command our spouses or children to love us. What if you had to command your wife to love you- what kind of relationship would that produce? What kind of God commands people to love him? Obedience, I can understand... but love? That's a little odd. Thank you as always, Elizabeth
I would suggest considering the following factors:
1. The Jesus Seminar did not include Mark 12:10 (Deuteronomy 6:4ff.) among the authentic teachings of Jesus.
2. The exercise of will only occurs within the context of human experience: each person exercises her will within the dimensions of intellectual analysis, which emotions are dominant (fear, anger, sadness, joy,, guilt, shame), the experiences which form perspective, the degree and kind of social support being received, a natural inclination for dependent/independent reactions, etc.
3. The definitions of love are many. Would the word "respect" be more appropriate for a human/deity relationship? In the JS translation, Jesus says, "Father your name be revered" (Matt 6:9; Luke 11:2). The NRSV says "hallowed."
Good Morning Elizabeth,
10 The issue is not that God actually is in control or that the Bible teaches that God is in control (actually it does). The issue is that Christians believe that God is both in control and benevolent. But go online and Google: "God is in control of the world" and you will get numerous lists of Bible passages that indicate God can make things happen. It is a standard belief of Christianity that God controls what happens in the world and it is shared by all denominations. And it explains why people pray.
2) Good questions all and they further erode the compatibility between the two propositions that I paired in the essay.
3) We have freewill to a point. See my essay "Is Freedom an Illusion?" pgs. 72-74 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.
4) Actually I find the command to "fear God" to be more strange. See my essay "Should one Love or Fear God?" pgs. 103-104 in Unmasking Biblical Faiths.
Hi Gene and Charlie,
We're having a cold spell in early May here in St. Louis, almost got down to freezing temps last night. Some regions refer to cold spells in early to mid-May as a "Blackberry Winter." (due to the blackberry blossoms being in bloom)
Gene, I do relate more to the terms you suggested with regard to the relationship with a deity being one of "respect" and "reverence." So thank you for pointing that out. Charlie, I ordered your book on April 25 and it still hasn't arrived! I think there's a snafu with Amazon and some deliveries are delayed due to the pandemic- but it should be here tomorrow, fingers crossed. I look forward to reading the passages you referenced.
The reason I questioned how many Christians you know who hold the belief that God is in control of the world (and/or universe) is because most Christians with whom I used to associate believe the opposite... due to this world being under a curse as Gene pointed out. But it's a tricky subject, as you said, because these very same people do pray to God to have their prayers answered. So why would they do that if this world is under Satan's control/influence? None of it makes sense. However, I mentioned those verses to you from Matt. 4 and 2Cor. 4 to add some context to the beliefs that you find incompatible. I don't care what Google says about Christians and their beliefs as much as the actual people in my immediate orbit. And in that circle, most of them did not believe God was in control of this world. Real world human interactions yield far more interesting results than internet search engines. Nothing against Google, but sometimes you have to talk face to face with humans to find out why they think what they think. With all the Bible studies you attended, I'm sure you listened to many such discussions and debates. I suppose my circle of friends (myself included) was deeply influenced by fringe "End Time" churches such as Mike Bickle's and others you've never heard of. I don't think mainstream churches perhaps view God's control of the world in the same light. But both groups do seem to look at God and Satan as being locked in battle for ultimate victory over humanity and the universe. (Interestingly, Judaism does not see Satan as an enemy of God, but that's another subject) Till next time, Elizabeth
Good rather cold Mother's Day afternoon Elizabeth,
Thanks as always for engaging and sharing.
For the origins of Satan as a concept in Ancient Israel see "Where does Evil come from," pages 17-20 in Unmasking biblical Faiths.
In your second paragraph you ponder why do people pray if they think the world is under Satan's control--it makes no sense, you say.
Actually it does make sense, it seems to me. If we live in a world where for whatever reason Bad things happen to good people, in particular the people of God. God becomes a go to resource for help in an evil world. People try to catch God's attention to help them. Under those circumstances God does the best s/he can helping those who have been injured in the Briar patch.
Just a quick drive-by comment from a philosopher in training: Mere logical consistency is cheap. Above Gene had a second and third paragraph that were lacking in further support of being true in reality, but that matters little for logical consistency. As long as the world could possibly be that way, and if in such a world God’s be benevolence is compatible with his controlling the universe, then the two are compatible. In the ‘professional’ literature the so-called logical problem of evil is therefore mostly regarded as solved.
However, that is little consolation in confronting actual suffering. Hence, the focus is usually on the “evidential” problem of evil that asserts that some particular example of seemingly senseless suffering is such strong evidence against God’s being benevolent and controlling the universe that any kind of positive evidence for his being such could not overcome this evidence on balance.
I hope that is at all helpful in framing this question.
Now, putting on my other hat as small-time pastor who happens to be preaching through the book of Romans, I would point out that in the context of Romans 8:28 Paul is concretely aware of the suffering of people generally, and the believers he is addressing in particular. After all, he cites the Psalmist crying out that “every day we are being led as sheep to the slaughter” and talks about the present suffering and affliction. So what gives?
The best I can do is to enter the realm of this “mythological” proclamation and point out that in comparison to knowing the God of grace I do not count my own suffering as coming up close. That does require believing Paul and other NT writers to make their case that all this belief is resting on good evidence supporting the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. For if that happened, then we have the requisite evidence that God can indeed make all things right as even death has been defeated.
And from how I read Paul he is clearly distinguishing two things: That Jesus was raised is not to be taken ‘in faith’, but on the evidence of the testimony of the witnesses. However, what must be taken ‘on faith’ is that God could perform the greater miracle of justifying a sinner such as me by that act. And having this kind of faith that God could do it is the very faith the basis on which he then does, but if I now already trust God to forgive my sin, how much more can I trust Him to make all things right? When Jesus asked what is easier, to heal a limb or to forgive a sinner, the implication I take this to have is that healing is easier than forgiving and reconciling.
So, making everyone in the world healthy would be easy for God, and he could do it with a simple command. But to reconcile a world of wayward sinners back to himself is a difficult and hard process, requiring sacrifice up the sacrifice of His own son. And we know this is true in general. We can throw money at some problems, and for rich folk this isn’t much cost at all, and it will heal many physical ills. But to restore deeply broken relationships, we have to often give up something costly and be willing to make sacrifices.
So, while I can’t pretend to have a satisfactory answer for all skeptical inquirers, especially if they have been deeply hurt by life circumstances or actions of the church and other followers of Jesus, I myself am able to reconcile this in seeing how the grace of God in offering restoration both here and for eternity in the resurrection far outshines any amount of suffering seen in this temporary world.
I hope that some of this is at least of some help.
K. K., Rochester, NY
Good afternoon K. K.,
Thanks for weighing in on my two incompatible propositions. Yes the article on the three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts is mine. It is nice to know that the essay still attracts readers.
As I understand your argument, it is the classical "from the lesser to the greater." You give two examples. One from Romans 8: If God can do the more difficult thing of forgiving a sinner like Paul, why would he not be able to do the easier thing of making all things right. The second is from Mark 3:1-6 where Mark makes the same argument. If Jesus can do the more difficult thing of forgiving the sins of the man with the withered hand, why should he not be able to do the easier thing of healing his withered hand, and Mark has him do the latter in order to show that the former was effective.
You apply these two examples to my two incompatible propositions by affirming your faith that God can do the easier thing of making everyone healthy, and if God can do that he can do the more difficult thing of offering Grace, forgiveness, and restoration to wayward sinners. I hope I have understood you correctly.
While I might agree that God (if God there be) is a gracious God, that does not solve for me the problem of the silence of God in the midst of a world-wide pandemic where the people of God suffer the same fate as those who do not claim to love God and who are not called in accord with his purposes.
Don't let the D. languish. Write something every day.
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