The Problem of Evil

How can there be evil in a world that is the creation of an omnipotent God who is also perfectly good? Such is the Problem of Evil. I have often heard that it is for moderns the single greatest impediment to faith in God. This is odd, considering that the most succinct response to the Problem of Evil was expressed in one of the oldest works of literary art we have: the Book of Job, which may be the oldest book of the Bible.

The response of the author of Job to moderns who have a Problem with Evil is this: you are Unclear on the Concept of God. What part of “I am the LORD thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me” do you not understand?

Moderns who have a Problem with Evil are still operating on the basis of what they want things to be like, rather than confronting things as they are. They want God to be something they know how to love, rather than what he is. They treat God as though he could be captured by their conceits – as if, i.e., he were an idol of their own devising.[1] They want to think of God as a kindly, decent old chap who makes everything comfortable.

Well, he’s not. That’s all. He’s GOD. He’s so big and terrifying that if you ever saw him you’d be so scared you would be blasted to bits. That’s why he hides himself from us; if he didn’t, we’d evaporate into dust and ashes. Even most of the angels must hide their faces from his Glory.

The very first step, and the most important part, of our journey toward salvation in God – or even to being grownups in the world that he made – is to abandon all, and I do mean all, of our puerile notions about him; for until we do, we have not yet left off our idolatry. Most of them aren’t actually childish, but were learned as we left childhood and its utter conviction that there really are monsters under the bed, elves at the bottom of the garden, and Santa Claus at the North Pole. It is just as we leave behind our first innocent and eminently practical Realism that we learn in Sunday School that God is Love. It is the first step toward juvenile nominalism, because – trying to coddle us – our elders omit to tell us that the Love of a Father is worthless, as such, if bereft of the terrible wild power of a Father, that could – every child knows this – at any moment blossom into world-destroying rage, unless it were restrained by Love.

Until you get that God is, first, this Power that creates and destroys worlds, and only secondarily the limitation of that Power by Love, you are going to be stuck like a little boy wishing you could get from your Father more candy than you have yet gotten. You will be stuck on what mere love for you would do, had it neither any justice, nor any being, order or motive of its own, that far transcended your parochial purposes, thus enabling them. Once you get that God is Power, and that everything comes first of that Power, your priorities are straitened. Then, you obey the First Great Commandment, and say with his Son, “Take my life, Lord; Not my will, but thine be done.” What is there, aside from that? Nothing. In so saying, there is perfect rest; peace; salvation.

But not pleasure. Being a shield mate and thane of God is no cakewalk. Indeed, it is for his very most faithful servants, who are most convinced of anyone that there is in reality – i.e., as God understands things – no Problem of Evil, that God seems to have prepared the greatest trials and torments; as the lives of Job, or Hosea, or Paul – or Jesus – so well attest. To be a Christian – to be, that is to say, a proper human being – is to be willing to complete in one’s own body the sufferings of Christ. It is, further, to agree that whatever comes to pass, however evil it may be, is in like wise a contribution of some sort to the Providential work of redemption prepared in eternity for the whole cosmos. The Christian recognizes death, to be sure, in all its forms and types, and he mourns; and he understands death as swallowed up already in everlasting, limitless victory. Indeed, with the Atonement, death is become itself the swallowing up of death. Thanks to the Passion, which as essential to the eternal life of God is the archetype of creaturely existence, creaturely change and corruption are now, and so forever, the motor of everlasting life.

Yet even for those who are clear on the concept, and who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, the fact of evil in the universe he creates can itself be a source of suffering, as indeed it was to Job. One recognizes that whatever exists is what God wills it to be, and as is proper to his slave and angel one agrees, bows low, worships, and adores. Yet one wonders; for, as the origin of all intelligence, God is the very soul of intelligibility. It must all make sense, somehow. God must be doing it this way because it makes sense.

And so it does.

To create beings different from himself, God has no option but to create beings that are not perfectly good; for only God is perfectly good. Nor could he create beings that are guaranteed to be faithful expressions of their ideal natures; such a “being” would have no power of its own to act, for its action would be wholly specified by its form. Its existence, then, would be like that of the form of a triangle, rather than like that of any particular actual triangle. To be concretely actual is to have enjoyed real options (all but one of which were somewhat erroneous).

Thus the only way God can create anything at all is to create beings that are able on the one hand to obey his ideal will and completely fulfill their true natures, and on the other to fail, and fall from that completion. As with his inability to perform actions that make no logical sense, such as creating a stone he cannot lift, this limitation is no defect in God’s power, but rather the very expression thereof.

So things are free at the very root. This freedom goes along with creaturely being, per se; and this fact is reflected in the etymology of “sin,” which is rooted in the same Aryan word as the English “is” and the Latin “esse.”

All right: but why would a creature created good, and instantiating its own proper good under the Divine Will, ever decide to disagree with God? Why would any creature ever choose to fall? Because beings that are not omniscient cannot understand the consequences of their actions. Consider that before Adam and Eve ate of the apple of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they had no notion that there might be such a thing as wrong, or evil, or what those things might be like. Before Eve bit the apple, she did not know that it is wrong to disobey God. She might have been able to string together the right words to express the notion, but only as a computer might have done, that had no idea what it was saying. And before the serpent who tempted Eve fell, he too would have been in this same situation of utter ignorance of the meaning of disagreement with God – how could Satan have known “what it is like” to disagree with God, before he had ever disagreed with God?

There are lots more ways to exist than there are ways to exist in perfect agreement with God; for there is only one way to agree with God, while there are infinitely many ways to disagree.

The upshot, then, is that God had no choice, if he was going to create anything at all, but to create things that could sin, that would have no reason not to begin sinning, and that would have lots of ways to sin. Instead of “sin,” in that last sentence, I could have said, “err,” or “miss the mark,” and the gist would not have changed a bit.

Why then does not God wipe out all sin, so that the sin of a creature has no opportunity to injure any other creature? Because this would be to cheat his creatures of their effects, and ergo of their being. It would be to make them as if they had never been; would be to unmake them.

A being cannot properly be said to exist unless it can exert some causal effect. To clarify, and emphasize how radical this requirement is, consider that even to be just located somewhere is to have some causal effect. No other thing can be located where I am except in a different way than I am (as the United States is located differently at my locus than I am). To exist is to have an effect upon the range of possibilities that can be realized. That I am sitting here right now means that you cannot be sitting here right now.

But there is more to existence than just being located somewhere and exerting an effect. For a thing to exist in and as just itself, its effects must be just its own – must derive from its own properties and acts. If the effects of a thing were entirely determined by some other thing, it would have no truly independent existence of its own: no character or form, apart from that of the agent that had used it instrumentally. In practice, we never encounter such a pure instrumentality. On the contrary, we find that we cannot use anything as an instrument unless it has some character or property that is just its own – this being the very thing that makes it useful to us in the first place – and that we cannot alter without destroying it, together with its utility. A hammer is useful to us for hammering things only insofar as it possesses the form of a hammer, quite apart from whether we happen to be using it or not. We could not use it as a hammer unless it just was a hammer (or, like a rock, shared some relevant properties with hammers; a wet noodle would not answer as a hammer). If it were not a hammer before we needed to hammer something, we would never pick it up when the time came to hammer. So even the causal effects exerted by a thing as an instrument of some other thing derive from its own independent reality. A thing cannot work as an instrument, unless it be first in its own right, and independent of any uses to which it might then be put.

To exist, then, is to effect. If God were to wipe out the effects of a being’s act – i.e., of its constitution of its being at a given point in its existential career – he would be wiping out that career. He would be unmaking it. It is an aspect of God’s love that he does not do this. He lets his creatures be, and act. But notice that this is just another way of saying that God creates his creatures. Then, they act.

Once they have thus acted, their acts are unavoidable facts. All subsequent creaturely acts must take account of them. They are therefore both causally indebted to the motions they inherit from their past, and ontologically committed to their ramification down through history – i.e., to the integration of their past with their present constitution. No thing is an island. E.g., it is not possible for us to behave as if WWII did not happen; the whole shape of our world is affected inescapably by the facticity of WWII. We must all behave as if WWII happened, and thus to conform our acts to its facticity is ipso facto to commute that facticity from our past into our future. We must so constitute ourselves as to represent to the future the significance in our past of WWII.

By extension, the same goes for every creaturely act, however tiny. Once a thing has happened, it cannot be unhappened. Such is causal order. Thank God for it.

Such then also is the medium of Original Sin, with which we are all stained by our very coming into being in this fallen world. The Fall is a fact. It cannot be undone. We must work with it, as an aspect of who we are from the very beginning of each moment; and so must God.[2]

NB that the Fall is not limited in its effects to the domain of human life. Man fell as a sequel to a prior angelic fall. Indeed, the whole created order is fallen. Such are the sequelae of the fall of Lucifer. What we know as natural is nature fallen.

The amazing thing, then, is not so much that the world is evil, as that we care about that evil; for, that we do in fact care is thanks only to the fact that, even as fallen, the world is basically good, and life worth living. The truly amazing thing about evil is that any good at all has survived in spite of it.

What would the world be like if it had never fallen? It is hard to say; perhaps it would give some indication to suggest that perpetual motion would not be impossible in such a world. We would not there be able both to eat our cake and not eat it – there would still be a causal order – but there would never there be any lack of cake, no matter how we feasted.

In our world, there is no perpetual motion. In our world, choices come at a cost; and thanks to entropy, the cost to the whole system of any given act is always at least a bit greater than the creative benefit it might produce. So this world must end. God cannot change this fact without cheating what is, and has been, of its facticity; without destroying his creatures. So he must make the best of a bad job.

This is no problem for him. But it is often a problem for us, at least in the short run, because it often entails that we suffer in service of the Providence of salvation for the world, at its resurrection. The reason God keeps his promise to Noah, keeps creating this fallen world and enabling it to go on in its crazy tragic way, is that he wants as many creatures to be as can be, and he wants them to be as good as they can be, so that their goodness and virtue may be resurrected; so that there will be more everlasting enjoyment in Paradise. If you work and sacrifice pleasures to raise children, there will be more children in Heaven everlastingly. Provided there is Atonement and Resurrection to everlasting life, then, the net hedonic effect of creaturely existence, howsoever tragic, is, without exaggeration, infinitely good.

And this is true even of the sufferings of Job. In Job 2:6, God says to Satan, “[Job] is in your hands … but spare his life.” So saying, God is not informing Satan of a new situation, for Job has been in Satan’s hands from birth; has been a member of a fallen world, under the influence of a fallen angel. Satan’s power to do evil to Job does not result from God’s dictate, but from the fact of Satan’s angelic nature, which gives him power, and from the deformation of that nature by his rebellion against God, which turns his power toward evil.

God could unmake Satan, undo his role in our world, and in so doing save Job from the power of Satan. But in so doing, he would destroy our world, ab initio, so that it would not be the sort of world that would give rise to such as Job. To save Job, God would have to destroy him. And to do this, he would have to unmake Lucifer too from his very beginning, so that, as Job might have put it, the morning of the day when Lucifer was created would never have come. And this God the Father would not do to his most glorious Prodigal Son. For God still loves Lucifer. That’s the only reason Lucifer could still exist. That God still preserves even his archenemy Lucifer in being, and saves the life even of the Prince of Darkness, shows how much he loves his creatures, despite their wickedness.

The deal YHWH makes with Satan over the accidents of Job’s life is in any case, as a matter of sheerly hedonic calculation, a total winner for Job. God knows that Job is saved; that Job will enjoy him forever, together with all his children. He knows that even if Satan’s trial destroys his body, Job’s essential life is imperishable, and will be preserved; for he knows his own will to preserve it. God knows, as Job does not (yet), that the death of all that Job loves is swallowed up already in life everlasting, that outpasses all his sufferings as endless day surpasses the tiny slice of night we suffer during the blink of an eye.

Back then to moderns and their idols. When I was a liberal and thought legalizing abortion was mere common sense, I can remember reflecting that it would be better for unwanted children if they had never been born. In the third chapter of Job, this is what Job wishes for himself; that he had never been born, but had instead moved directly from womb to tomb. He curses the day of his birth. But this is the counsel of despair; it is the counsel of one who has no hope of everlasting joy. For those who have no such hope, the evils of this world simply cannot be compensated by any worldly goods, under any circumstances, for all such goods are but partial and defective to begin with, and in the end death ruins all anyway; thus life cannot be redeemed, and is therefore essentially absurd and stupid, so that when push comes to shove the whole shooting match is a vicious waste, through and through an insult to our dignity.

Notice, then, that the failure of hope everlasting results in an indignant nisus toward universal destruction. It gives rise to the culture of death, that seeks escape from the pain of existence in a flight from being that would prevent all goods. Despair would repair the defects of goodness entailed in fallen creaturely existence by preventing that existence altogether. It seeks the perfection of nothingness. It does this as an eminently moral project; as the only honorable thing. And indeed, if death is all there is in the end, it is correct in so doing. Thus the self-righteousness of the servants of Moloch: by their own lights, so far as they penetrate the Darkness that suffuses everything and overwhelms it at the last, they are the children of light.

In the limit, this perspective cannot but end except with the wish that the world had never been created, nor Lucifer either, whose fall corrupted everything. It cannot but end with the wish that God might not have exerted his creative power at all. But because God is eternal, and therefore simple, he is pure act. It is not as though God might have refrained from the work of his power, for his act of creative power is his very being. To wish then that God might not have created is to wish that he might not himself exist.

We see, then, why liberals so hate those of us who order our lives according to the existence of God (however poorly). Our very being is a reproach to theirs.

Thus the essence of our counterrevolution against the Kingdom of Moloch is expressed in the simple act of loving God. There is – there can be – no more seditious act.


[1] This is the “God” that Dawkins and his ilk rightly insist does not and cannot exist, because it is an absurd notion; erring themselves likewise the while in imagining that in debunking their own similarly defective notions of God, they are talking about God himself, who thunders from the whirlwind.

[2] Baptism is a ritual recognition that the facticity of God is prior to the Fall; so that Original Sin, as supervening upon the prior being and act of God, is subject thereto, and not therefore ultimately dispositive of our destiny.

24 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil

  1. “The very first step, and the most important part, of our journey toward salvation in God – or even to being grownups in the world that he made – is to abandon all, and I do mean all, of our puerile notions about him. Most of them aren’t actually childish, but were learned as we left childhood and its utter conviction that there really are monsters under the bed, elves at the bottom of the garden, and Santa Claus at the North Pole. It is just as we leave behind our first innocent and eminently practical Realism that we learn in Sunday School that God is Love. It is the first step toward juvenile nominalism, because – trying to coddle us – our elders omit to tell us that the Love of a Father is worthless, as such, if bereft of the terrible wild power of a Father, that could – every child knows this – at any moment blossom into world-destroying rage, unless it were restrained by Love.”

    That’s good – because it makes clear that innocent and uncorrupted young children are sound on this matter – as indeed they must be since it is true that we need to become as Children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    I appreciate your introducing what I euphemistically term ‘purposive evil’ (Fallen Angels, Lucifer, Satan, the devil and demons) – because I think the child-like intellect who cannot follow your argument (yet is potenitally holier than intellectuals such as ourselves) needs purposive evil in order to make sense of actually occurring evil.

    Even when evil is explained as being a result of evil people (selfish, uncaring, sadistic, lustful etc) then this does not locate the origin of evil in the necessary fashion – we need to recover the language of Spiritual Warfare to explain things to children who ask deep questions about evil.

    And in terms of spiritual warfare, humans are the footsoldiers, not the generals – but unlike most footsoldiers we get to choose which side we fight on; indeed, we *must* choose; in the sense that by default we start-out fighting for evil, and must by act of will switch sides to the Good.

  2. Christian orthodoxy insists upon the reality of Lucifer as an independent (but subordinate) source of evil. That is the gist of the story of Job. It should also be noted that evil is not merely immorality but physical and psychological pain (again Job), and that animals suffer, too. Catholic doctrine is that the whole world is fallen, not just Man, and that God’s Kingdom to Come on Earth will entail the salvation of all Creation. The lion shall lie down with the lamb.

    So, Christian orthodoxy essentially eliminates the problem of evil, at least as an intellectual problem. But the price is the introduction of a Host of supernatural beings (angels and devils), and this is unacceptable to modern heterodox Christians as well as unbelievers. In fact, most modern Christians and Jews reject of the Bible as well as the traditions. To them, the Pope is slightly dotty.

    • If one is a Christian, he should start with, or at least keeping coming back to, what the Lord Jesus said about the evil one. There is no suggestion in what He says, nor in how the Gospels portray His conflict with the evil one, that the devil is only a “personification” of what is “really” forces of destruction and oppression, etc. Rather, satan is a true personal agent. I have found much of value in two books by Gregory Boyd, God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil.

    • Well, why? I find it very convincing – in fact, I could skip everything after the beginning of the fourth paragraph: Well, he’s not. That’s all.

      That really is all. Of course, the problem of evil remains an emotional problem for many people (understandably so), but it’s not any kind of logical philosophical problem at all.

    • With all due respect (and I mean that) this is probably the least convincing argument that I have ever read on this site.

      Well, why?

      Exactly. Sans reasons, the initial (respectful) comment just looks like another (disrespectful) game of “Prove It Again, Sam!”

  3. “Christian orthodoxy essentially eliminates the problem of evil, at least as an intellectual problem.”

    Interesting that so many great Christian thinkers, who have wrestled with the problem of theodicy for so many years, never noticed this.

  4. (I’m suddenly unable to log in to WordPress from my work computer, so please do not be alarmed that I am posting outside my normal account).

    “Before Eve bit the apple, she did not know that it is wrong to disobey God. She might have been able to string together the right words to express the notion, but only as a computer might have done, that had no idea what it was saying. And before the serpent who tempted Eve fell, he too would have been in this same situation of utter ignorance of the meaning of disagreement with God – how could Satan have known “what it is like” to disagree with God, before he had ever disagreed with God?”

    I have a small quibble with this, which might be terminological. Are you simply saying they had no experiential apprehension of sin? That sin had, for them, no qualia? If so, I can agree, but I don’t think it explains it. I don’t need to burn my hand on the stove to know that touching the stove is a bad idea (though burning my hand in it will certainly drive the point home forever). At least in Catholic tradition, Adam and Eve enjoyed, as one of the preternatural gifts given to prelapsarian man by God, the gift of infused knowledge: special knowledge of God, of His creation, and of moral law. They knew what they were doing when they ate of the apple far, far better than any of us know when we commit our comparatively paltry sins. That’s what makes original sin so especially pernicious and world-devastating (and moreso for Satan, whose superior knowledge made his choice for rebellion even more irrevocable): that they sinned, not because they didn’t know better, but despite the fact that they did; that they sinned, not because they wanted to, but despite the fact that they didn’t (enjoying also the gift of integrity, the desires of their hearts were perfectly aligned with their knowledge of the good).

    And I admit that the temptation is strong. I sometimes imagine myself in Heaven, with all its joys and glories, and wonder how God and the universe itself would accommodate a choice to sin despite it all. I can even see myself doing it, wretched thing that I am.

    • I mean that they had no qualia with which to associate the terms of the moral law with which they had been infused, so that while they could perform the operations of moral reasoning, the terms of the arguments meant no more to them than p or q do to us. The arguments were for them completely abstracted from experience.

      You can know that the burning of the stove is bad before you are burned because you know already what pain is like, and you can generalize. They had no idea. When your mother warned you about the stove, her words meant something to you, because you understood pain from the very moment of your birth. When YHWH warned Adam and Eve about the apple, his words would have sounded to them like, “Don’t eat that apple, for in that day you shall surely widge. And that would be paklish for you.”

      The state of not knowing anything about pain or evil, so that the terms “pain” and “evil” meant no more to you, really, than the terms “vlei” or “nipa,” is extremely difficult to take on board. Pain is such a basic item of our inner lives that it is almost impossible to imagine what it would be like to have no notion at all what it is. Imagining a state of utter ignorance about pain is rather like imagining what “light” would mean to a person totally blind from birth. Such a person could do the math of electromagnetism, could converse with syntactic perfection and apparent meaningfulness about the phenomena and physical effects of light, and indeed could even work productively as an astronomer, but the character of the visible light in his environment could form no part whatsoever of his understanding of how he should behave. It could not matter to such a person, in his process of making decisions, whether it was pitch dark or bright noon. Thus it could not enter into his motivational calculus. Someone could say to him, “but it’s dark out.” And even though he might know perfectly well how to define darkness in physical terms, he would say, “so what?”

      This is just how it would have been for Adam and Eve before they ate of the apple, in respect to evil and pain.

      It is important I think to note that the theodicy I present in this post is not dependent upon the historical actuality of Adam, Eve, or Satan. If taking their actuality seriously is a stumbling block for you, think of them as allegories; after all, even if they are historical actualities, they are also allegories, and it is as allegories that they make their primary contribution to our understanding of evil. They represent the basic moral predicament of creatures; Adam and Eve, for men, and Satan, for creatures in general. They show how the Fall of a good, free and innocent creation could occur, despite the warnings of a concerned Father.

      That said, I do take Satan very seriously indeed, as at least an indication of a supernatural Power who is inimical to us and to God. So far as Adam and Eve are concerned, while I take them to be mythical figures, I would not be the least surprised to hear of the discovery by archaeologists of the ruin of an extensive walled garden on the top of a mountain with four springs, each of which flowed into a different river system, and dated to around 10,000 BC.

      • I’m also having some trouble seeing this. One of my kids is color blind, and his relationship to the color red is a lot less profound and unimaginable than your theory seems to suggest. I lack perfect pitch, but I think I can imagine having it pretty well.

        Surely Adam and Eve could perceive other distinctions among actions. Jumping, walking, and cutting Adam’s head off for no reason are active, while sitting, sleeping, and doing nothing while Eve drowns are passive. Good and evil are distinctions among activities, too.

      • If it is easy for you to imagine an extension of a current capability, then that capability is not a good analogy for what I am getting at here. You need to think of a capability you can’t begin to imagine. Which is nigh impossible, right? You’ve had lots of experiences; how can you imagine an experience that was *categorically* unlike any of your previous experiences, until you had experienced it? There’d be no way. Someone telling you about it might say, “It’s sort of like red sound, if you can imagine that.” But you couldn’t.

        Perhaps this will help. Imagine you are an Indian, living on the shore of Lake Superior circa 2400 BC. Some Minoans show up in a giant canoe, men such as no Indian has ever seen. Yet they are not that different from you. They bleed, urinate, sleep, eat, and so forth. They are not gods, or demons. They have bronze tools and weapons, true, but once you’ve seen how they work the copper they excavate from the mines they soon establish nearby, you can see that no sorcery is involved in the process, which is rather similar to the way you fire pottery. The Minoans are the same sorts of being as you.

        Your people and the Minoans get on famously, and eventually they invite your whole village to a feast. Everyone is eating and drinking. What reason do you have not to drink the wine that the Minoans are drinking? They seem to be enjoying themselves, and it doesn’t seem to be doing them any harm. What reason do you have not to try some? How could you know what drinking that wine would do to you – that, because you lack the digestive enzymes the Minoans possess, the wine is a severe poison for you?

        You know about drinking water, milk, blood, and syrup, and you know about poison. You have evidence that the wine is not a poison to these Minoan men, and that they find it pleasant to drink. Until you drank it, and learned how severely it would debilitate you, why would you hesitate to drink?

        Adam and Eve were in that situation with respect to every form of evil. So far as they were concerned, everything was all good.

        This analogy between Indians versus alcohol on the one hand, and creatures versus sin on the other, is actually pretty apt. The Indians quickly learned that wine was extremely debilitating to them, and that its consumption would destroy them; but they liked it. They kept drinking it. They became enslaved to it. When it came to alcohol, their self-control simply didn’t exist.

      • Why would you take Adam to be a mythical figure and not a literal one? The godless scientific consensus is that humans became cognitively modern ~60,000 years ago, and all living humans trace their Y-chromosome from one male who’s also dated to that time. All you need for literal Adam and Eve is for him to have had a mate like himself, who both went against God despite personal communication from Him.

        The story still, indeed, reads like a fairy tale, but the story of Christ the second Adam does too, as Tolkien and Lewis understood.

      • That a story is mythical does not mean either that it is false or that there is nothing actual at the back of it. Arthur and Odysseus figure in their legends as myths. But my hunch in both cases – and indeed also with Herakles, Orpheus and Theseus – is that there were real historical persons whose lives formed fitting foundations for the stories we now tell about them.

        Most of the pagan gods seem to have started out as members of an aboriginal family at the root of a polity, as Abraham, Sarah and Isaac and all their household are at the root of Israel. The council of the gods in ancient Israel were members of an archetypal royal household. Satan was a functionary of the court, and his rebellion is like that of Zeus against Kronos or Prometheus against Zeus.

  5. Well, this certainly is not the Calvinist view of things. What is the origin of evil in the Calvinist account of things? It is that God in his sovereignty ordained it, and made it so, as nothing happens that he does not decree. Nice move, John Mohammed Calvin!

    • This is the sort of juvenile comment that I expect out of the immature cretins populating most of our sick modern world; it is not what I expect out of those here at the Orthosphere. I don’t know what your beliefs are, CO, but I would not gratuitously insult them as you have mine.

      A little civility goes a long way.

  6. Love of a Father is worthless, as such, if bereft of the terrible wild power of a Father, that could – every child knows this – at any moment blossom into world-destroying rage, unless it were restrained by Love.

    Until you get that God is, first, this Power that creates and destroys worlds, and only secondarily the limitation of that Power by Love, you are going to be stuck like a little boy wishing you could get from your Father more candy than you have yet gotten. You will be stuck on what mere love for you would do, had it neither any justice, nor any being, order or motive of its own, that far transcended your parochial purposes, thus enabling them. Once you get that God is Power, and that everything comes first of that Power, your priorities are straitened.

    No. What is “deeper” or more fundamental in God–love or power? Are you saying that sheer power is more fundamental–the power that might as well destroy as create? I believe this is completely wrong and also unbiblical. God creates the world because it is good. Power in itself has no meaning. Power is given meaning by its use to create the good. In this sense, love is prior to power.

    You say we have to get real and recognize–well what is it, that God is a pretty tough guy? What, what is this tough guy like? One who is arbitrary and unpredictable? Well, in real life, we know plenty of tough guys like this. They are in love with their own power. Their own power thrills them deep in their viscera. This sort of person is also attracted to talk of God as, first and foremost, power. The history of Christianity is replete with those who have been inspired by the identification of arbitrary power with God. But this is not because they appreciate transcendence. It is because they are in love with the completely worldly reality of power itself.

    But power is, in itself, meaningless. Action is only given meaning through the value of what the action aims at.

    You start out by saying that we have to face up to the grim reality of an all powerful incomprehensible God who might just smash us at any moment. But this completely leaves Christ out of the picture. And you do then discuss positively God’s action for our salvation. Is it not motivated by love? So is the sheer power of the creator more fundamental than salvation? First of all, even creation is an act of love. But between creation and salvation, let’s remember the trinity. Father, son, and holy ghost are one. This means that creation and salvation are equally primoridial. Which means that love is as deep as creative power. To say that “wild” creative power is “only secondarily limited” by love is incompatible with the doctrine of the trinity.

    I believe that the whole point of Christianity is precisely that between creative power and love it is impossible to set some kind of priority. God is the fusion of the two. We cannot find one without thereby finding the other. THAT is the one thing we have to get right if our priorities are to be straight.

    Does it seem to you weak and childish to wish for an end to innocent suffering? Is the point of Christianity that we are to stoically endure this grim incomprehensible necessity? No, that is not Christianity, that is precisely–stoicism. Later you seem to acknowledge this in affirming the centrality of hope. I say the centrality of hope means precisely the denial that power is prior to love.

    • In the order of logic, the power of God is prior to the love of God, just as the Father is prior to the Son, and creation to redemption. For, love is the direction of power, so that if there be no power, there can be no love; and the Son is not unless there is his Father; and a thing cannot be redeemed that is not created.

      But, because God is eternal, and therefore simple, in the order of his being, all these things are coeternal, and are different aspects of a single active substance.

      I didn’t mean to valorize power over love (nor do I think I actually did). Neither one is any good without the other. Fortunately, in God there is no possibility of getting one without the other.

  7. I think that if you say that “Until you get that God is, first, this Power that creates and destroys worlds, and only secondarily the limitation of that Power by Love” then you are valorizing power over love. You are saying that love is secondary in God.

    Does anyone know exactly the right way to think about these things? It’s a struggle.

    One thing that has always struck me is H.Richard Niebuhr’s definition of God: “the unity of the principle of being and the principle of value.” This is a way of answering the question: “is something good because God says so, or does God say so because it is good”? The most fundamental moral fact, it seems to me, is that being is good. But why is being good? Is it good just because God says so? Would it be possible for being not to be good? If we simply take power as the absolutely fundamental fact about God, then God’s power could decree that being is not good. God’s power could decree that everyone with freckles must be put into a concentration camp. etc. God’s power could decree that 1+1=1,045,235,211,458,293.06584. And yet, it doesn’t make sense either that there could be any kind of order somehow above and beyond God that God is obligated to obey–even the order of logic. Truth, beauty, and goodness themselves are somehow identical to God’s will in such a way that it is impossible to say, for example, either that 1+1=2 is true because God affirms it or that God affirms it because it is true. Likewise for the whole question of value. This is part of what I mean by saying that when it comes to God, when we consider power, we inevitably find love and value, and when we consider love and value, we inevitably find power. This is one very fundamental reason why I think it is a very big mistake to assert, as you seem to, that God is first and foremost power, and then is secondarily somehow limited by love. I am no expert on the subtleties of trinitarian theology. But it seems to me that while “the Son proceeds from the Father” nevertheless the Son is “begotten not made.” The more I try to think about these traditional formulations, frankly, the more impressed I become–not least because of their surprising relevance to precisely the kind of issue we are exploring here. What is the difference between “created” and “begotten.” That’s the crucial issue. Christ is not a creature. He is “of one substance with the Father.” I am saying that this is relevant to the whole question of whether it is accurate to say that power is primary and love is secondary. It seems to me that the deeper point within this doctrine is precisely the denial of such subordination.

    My problem with liberals is not their valuation of love at the expense of power. In general, it seems to me that liberals do not take sin seriously, and too easily dismiss the doctrine of original sin and the fall. I think your dismissal of liberals a whole is ill considered, however. One liberal position would be that God offers forgiveness to everyone–and in terms of liberal theology, the claim will probably be that this forgiveness is open literally to everyone, regardless of their acceptance of the doctrines of Christianity. I don’t mean to propose or defend this position here. I merely mean to now show that it is not an easy or comfortable one–if one thinks it through. For if I am to accept the forgivenness and love of God, I cannot regard it as especially intended for me alone. God’s forgiveness and love extends to all. I cannot honestly accept this forgiveness and love for myself if I do not then extend it, myself, to all. This is not easy or comfortable at all! This is a point that Martin Luther King–who was a theological liberal–saw very clearly.

    I think conservatives tend to err in the other direction. Your initial definition, according to which God’s power is primary and love is secondary–seems to me, in general terms, a clear statement of this widespread conservative error. This is an easy and comfortable position in the sense that it offers a balm to the conscience of the winners of this world. If I am a rich and powerful person, I have a need to feel that I am good, and that my riches and power are justified by God. I want to believe in a God who is like me–who powerfully creates and for whom the rights and the sufferings of the multitude are a matter of secondary concern. I am not saying that all rich and powerful people are like this. There are self indulgent sentimentalists on both the right and the left.

    Again, I do not intend to be making some sort of final pronouncement on Christian theology, but it seems to me more and more that the greatness of the traditional formulations lies precisely in the resistance it offers both to those who want to conveniently overlook the reality of power and creation in favor of love, and those who do the opposite.

    • Jeremy, thanks for your continued engagement with this topic. You write:

      I think that if you say that “Until you get that God is, first, this Power that creates and destroys worlds, and only secondarily the limitation of that Power by Love” then you are valorizing power over love. You are saying that love is secondary in God.

      Does anyone know exactly the right way to think about these things? It’s a struggle.

      I think it really does help to use the traditional language developed to deal with the Trinity. The Father is prior to the Son in the order of logic, which is why the Father is called the First Person, and the Son is called the Second Person (I would address the question of why the Holy Ghost is called the Third Person, but that would open up the filioque can of worms). Yet while we understand that he is begotten by the Father, and ergo that if there were no Father, neither therefore could there be a Son, nevertheless we don’t think of the Son as less than the Father in actuality. In the order of being, the Second Person is coequal and coeternal with the First; the Second came of the First, but there cannot be an actual situation in which the First exists, but the Second does not.

      Logically, the Father is prior to the Son; ontologically, he is not.

      Same for power and love, or for any other of God’s powers or energies. E.g., you can’t be merciful unless you are first just; mercy is by definition a temperament of justice, a form of justice. So justice is prior to mercy in the order of logic. But in actuality, God is eternally both just and merciful; there is no situation, ever, in which God is just, but not yet merciful. Likewise with power and love. If there is no power, then there is no power to love; love is a form of power. But it is not the case that God was powerful for a while “before” he became loving.

      This all follows from God’s eternity. In eternity, there is no “time” at which God is “not yet” Incarnate in Jesus. So God is Incarnate in Jesus from before all worlds.

  8. I want to append one note: I said the conservative error is to value power over love because it justifies the success of the powerful. I don’t want to say that I think there is one “conservatism” or only one “conservative error” that defines it. But on the liberal side, a common error–again not a defining one, but still a very common one–it seems to me is the denial of original sin. Why are many liberals subject to this? Maybe it’s like this: liberalism tends toward a denial of any sort of reality beyond that of this world. (I am not saying that all liberals think this even implicitly. or that it defines liberalism, no more than I am saying that love of power defines conservatism.) In the back of their (or our) minds, they (or we) don’t really believe in anything beyond this world. So one thing that has happened in “modern consciousness” (the scarequotes are deliberate) is the transferral of ultimate hope into mere hope for the worldly future. Marxism is of course the extreme version of this. But the ultimate cannot be realized in this world if we admit original sin. So there is a general tendency in liberalism to deny the idea of the fall for that reason.

    Also, I want to keep insisting: one major reason why all sorts of people of all sorts of ideological stripes have incoherent, inconsistent, and misguided beliefs may simply be that there are many people who just don’t exert themselves to really think things through. And it may often be no deeper or portentous than that.

  9. Pingback: What Good is Pain? | The Orthosphere

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