Writing Allowed

‘For … Sake!’4 Letter Words etc.


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It is most likely a coincidence that some of the most profane and profound words in the English language only have four letters; more than likely several words come to mind—words that, nowadays, form a part of General English Usage. Here are three others that may not have immediately come to mind: ‘evil’ ‘love’ and ‘pain’. All three of these words have a connection. Love can cause both pain and evil. Pain is often thought to be the result of evil: something inflicted, by God, as punishment for wrongdoing, by another party as an act of malevolence or as the consequence of a physiological malfunction.Pain can also be thought of in the positive sense in that ‘pain’ is that which alerts the recipient to something that is ‘wrong’–a bit like an alarm going off . In the case of ‘higher order creatures’ such as humans, one might argue that the acute discomfort experienced is a necessary ‘evil’ in that it is the ‘price to pay’ for advanced sentience.

Owl & mouse [Pred&Prey]Evil could be considered a kind of generic term for many of the world’s ills. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘Evil’ both as an adjective and as a noun: Adjective: (a) deeply immoral and malevolent. (b) embodying or associated with the devil. (c) extremely unpleasant Noun. (a) extreme wickedness and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force. (b) something harmful or undesirable. The problem of ‘Evil’ is an insurmountable hurdle for many people; for those who affirm the notion that God is good, the evidence, from the (human) perspective, for that goodness remains rather elusive.

The Problem of Evil is most certainly a barrier to faith i.e. the problem of how it is possible for God (in particular the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures) to have allowed for the evolution (i.e. predation,parasitism,plague) of life on earth and to retain his goodness—remains a mystery. However, ‘the problem of evil’ is not usually perceived as a personal problem—something related to me personally—that ‘I’ might, in some way, be culpable–that ‘I’ might have caused the unnecessary suffering (mental or physical) of another (sentient) being(s).

PhD [thesis pic]

Bookshelves are replete with titles such as: ‘Horrendus Evils and the Goodness of God’, ‘The Problem of Evil & the Problem of God’, ‘Evil & the Love of God’, ‘The Groaning of Creation’, ‘Nature Red in Tooth & Claw’, ‘The Flaw in the Universe’,‘Evolution,Evil and the Goodness of God’, ‘Goodness, Omnipotence and Suffering’, ‘God is not Great’. And there is (among others) weighty tome of Thomas Aquinas, ‘On Evil’. God, it seems to me, has had too much bad press at the hands (computers) and from the mouths of those who think that God is unjust or simply cannot exist as the contradictions are far too great.

911 pic

Regarding human behaviour, we often say that this or that action is not acceptable, that it is morally reprehensible. We make all kind of moral pronouncements.  There does seem to be a kind of universal, give or take the odd differences, sense of ‘right and wrong’—almost as if God, at some time in our evolutionary development, had instilled into our actual DNA the knowledge of the difference between good and not good—evil even. We know instinctively when human behaviour has exceeded the boundaries of acceptability though we are keen to move the boundaries as we become increasingly disconnected from our creator. Moreover, we so often ignore the symptoms that are a sign that death rather than life is at work in us.

Evil for so many of us, professing Christians included, is something unrelated to us; we see it as an abstract thing that has no connection with us or with the rest of the human race.  We seem to have been affected or rather infected by the idea that humanity is not perfect but OK; that there is nothing really wrong with ‘Adam’s’ race that ‘time’ won’t or can’t deal with. However, should the effects of another’s moral failure/ineptitude enter into our own world we may have a different take on the matter. It would then be up close and very personal. It is when it (evil) ‘shows up on our doorstep’ that we may ask the ‘Why Me’ question—a question directed at the mysterious notion of ‘deity’—especially the God of Abraham.

islamFor Muslims Allah is ‘The Almighty’ and, even ‘The Merciful’ yet evil exists and no explanation is given apart from: ‘God is (always) Great! In the Quran there is no real mention of an Adamic Fall[1] from grace. The way Allah deals with human failure is to measure the pass rate for the five pillars[2] [duties] and to weigh the good and the not so good on the divine scales. These are the scales that decide the eternal fate of the individual. Heaven or Hell is down to the individual’s efforts to, if possible, put things right. Ultimately, Muslims cannot know the final outcome until the day of judgement when Allah will decide how their lives ‘match up’ to his expectations. Allah, it seems, does not deal with the problem of sin and evil nor is there any sense of grace—no, apparent, ‘undeserved favor’ of any kind whatsoever.

Monism

For Buddhists there is no such thing as the ‘human problem’—at least in relation to God because the very idea of ‘god’ is anathema to serious Buddhists. The only ‘problem’ Buddhist philosophy has is with the individual ‘self’—being ‘you’ is ‘bad news’. The ‘self’ is the problem so the objective of this World View is to become ‘selfless’—to reach a point where the ‘not self’ has reached the ideal and has managed to fulfil its obligation[3]  so that it [the not-self] can ‘achieve’ Nirvana.

The Buddha’s ,philosophical, view holds that we are ‘all’ a part of ‘the one’—the ‘personal we’ should cease to exist for we are nothing but part of the one: ‘a drop in the bucket of ultimate meaning’[4]. For Buddhism the problem of suffering has nothing whatsoever to do with human rebellion [against God] but everything to do with human desire, so the ultimate ‘goal’ is to escape from ‘the desire to desire’.Buddhists in general [not all] are ‘desirous’ [my word not theirs] to leave this vale of tears and so to emasculate themselves into ‘the grand nothingness’. The problem of evil is in the very nature of ‘being’—whatever form of carbon based life that may take[5].It is presumed that any moral compass can be interpreted in the light of the ‘Universal Moral Code’ that just so ‘happens’ to be in existence. However, the notion of justice is circular, it goes round and round and gets nowhere; no one individual will be held responsible as the ultimate goal of Buddhist philosophy is to escape personality—there will be no ‘one’ individual as all will be one with the one—all will dissipate into nothing in particular—so to speak.  “Bad karma is like a wheel that will either crush you or enable ‘you’ to break free from the repetition, i.e. when ‘you’ have lived a pure life.” [6]

The point here is not to stand in judgement over other people’s opinions or ‘world views’. Indeed, it is the inherent right of any individual to hold whatever beliefs they wish—or are so constrained to believe by their social mores. Of course, just as others may ‘judge’ God, so God should be allowed the privilege of making a judgement on His creatures—whether or not God’s right so to do is accepted. Of course, the issue being addressed in this book is the converse; here I am addressing the question of God’s right to be considered anything other than a cosmic sadist, a bumbling, impotent-incompetent or a figment of the imagination of latter products of blind chance.

Termite Hill
‘Termite Hill’

During a radio interview[7] a well known naturalist [WKN] gave a hasty corrective when the interviewer described him as an atheist. The dialogue went something like this: [WKN] ” No, I am not an atheist, I’m an agnostic (or words to that effect) .” [Interviewer] “ So you believe that God ‘set up’ the system of nature?” [WKN] “No, I don’t, but I sometimes think [e.g. while observing a termite’s hill], that there is an unobserved observer.” WKN’s take on ‘god’ would, in my opinion, fall into the category of both an impotent and disinterested ‘deity. If the Judeo Christian God is a deity who likes to  observe his handiwork but has no intention of interfering with or intervening in his world, however ‘messed up’, we had best forget the whole notion of a personal God and make the most of life without his personal intervention, attention or care. As has already been mentioned, Evil and the Goodness of God is such a ‘big’ subject, a subject that fills the shelves of libraries; many have taken PhDs in the subject, indeed many have devoted their lives to attempting to resolve it. How can a Loving God, who is All Powerful, allow such evil to exist?

Why is it that we humans have the temerity to demand an explanation from God or to doubt the existence of the God of the Bible because we find [this particular] God under qualified or wanting? Doesn’t it strike one as rather odd that our very argument against God’s goodness comes from the notion of good and evil that owes its origins to the Bible? If we really believed that [Darwinian] ‘Natural Selection’ was ‘solely’ the prime mover for biological life, we would not be asking such a question. I understand fully though that, should such a God as the God of the Judeo Christian Scriptures exist, we would expect reciprocal moral standards, would we not? We would and we do—‘God is often in the dock’ because the world doubts God’s goodness.

standards

Theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem [8] says that the goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” i.e. God’s approval not man’s! God, therefore, is the final standard of good. God, we can say, is: ‘wholly good’! What is good then surely has only one possible answer: Good is what God approves. Goodness, I suggest, emanates from the heart of God. God is ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ or even malevolent. Goodness then, both seen and unseen[9], comes from God. The good we experience therefore comes from only one source, God. If God isn’t good, then we have no reason to put our trust in him—for he may not be trustworthy.  If we do not trust God, then we cannot really say we have faith in God. To say we have faith in someone but don’t trust them is akin to phrase ‘the living dead’—it is an oxymoron. Hebrews 11:6 though says that without faith/trust it is not possible please God. In his book ‘Evil and the Justice of God’ N.T. Wright refers to ‘the problem of good’. Why, he argues, should there be such a thing as good? It is:

because goodness is the essence of God. This is not to say that we have, what some would describe as, ‘coherent’ answers for many of the big questions about evil and suffering. Presuppositions about evil and God’s alleged culpability will always be with us—some will never be satisfied no matter what is said.

If, as I advocate, God is good, we can trust in his goodness—in his ultimate triumph over all that is perceived to be ‘not good’.

Why should it be the case that life has value, that suffering matters, that evil is an affront to our standards? If our sense of morality has, ‘simply’, evolved through natural selection, we could expect changes—we would not expect a universal absolute—an absolute that differentiates, reasonably clearly, between ‘good and evil’—between ‘right and wrong’. Indeed suffering does not and cannot matter to a mindless process that ‘sees not’ and ‘cares not’ yet ‘intervenes’, through biological determinism, in order for Natural Selection’s ‘objective’ to prevail, or should we say, ‘to continue its program of survival’[10].

The question of ‘right and wrong’—that morality is a universal given—inculcated into our very psyche it is not, I suggest, a natural phenomenon—a by-product of evolutionary biology. We [the human race], instinctively know that ‘things’ are not the way they should be, we know that the things we do are sometimes an affront to ‘the moral code’. In countries with a Christian heritage our sense of fairness, our ‘moral compass’ [11] is, mostly, derived from the teachings of the Biblical Narrative [Old and New Testaments]. If this is so, we should expect to see evidence of these values, and we do.  The apostle Paul puts it so succinctly when he says that he tried everything but nothing helped—that there was nothing ‘anybody’ could do for him—for us. Then he wrote these words:

“The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of my ‘natural inclinations’ to do something totally different .”  Romans 7:25 [The Message].

When we look at the state of things in the world; when we look at the results of both ‘moral’ and ‘natural’ evil we may conclude that either God does not abide by ‘His’ own moral code or that there is another explanation for the pain, suffering and death we see all around us.

greater good

Some philosophers and apologists refer to a ‘greater good’—that somehow all will be made right—that all the BIG questions will have answers—that God will be vindicated because it is God alone who is GOOD.

I maintain that God is GOOD—‘The GOOD’. We, quite frankly though, do not have enough knowledge of God’s dealings—of a future good—a good that all those who love him will ‘see’ and all those who are innocent victims will experience. We may make pronouncements about God’s apparent failures—God’s lack of ‘goodness’, but let us do so with the humility of the ‘uninformed’. It is, as the apostle Paul says: “…we don’t see clearly for our vision is impaired.”  1 Corinthians 13:12 [Paraphrase]

Woman blues
PAIN HURTS

The Christian writer, Philip Yancey asks why it is that pain is such a big problem when pain’s antonym, pleasure, is not a problem at all. Pleasure is what a lot of us live for—without it life would not be tolerable. The obvious answer to Yancey’s, very insightful, question is that we don’t like pain: physical, psychological or deprivational, and don’t think we should have to endure it. Strangely enough we do not think we should have to endure it because it is not ‘right’—and we know when something is ‘plainly’ wrong. We don’t though complain about pleasure; we don’t ask why, in fact, we are able to enjoy the sensation of pleasure—in whatever form it takes. Pleasure is not an issue, Pain is. Oddly enough the Bible does not mention the ‘problem of pain’. Of course it mentions pain and suffering—with a complete book [Job] on the suffering of one man in particular. But, as far as one can see, it does not refer to the ‘problem of pain’ per se. Pain does not feature in God’s list of wrongs. I am not, of course, suggesting that pain was/is thought to be a particular blessing. Pleasure, however, causes all kinds of problems, doesn’t it? If we weren’t able to ‘enjoy’ things—it follows that we wouldn’t desire them.There are desires that drive humans (imago dei) to commit the most awful acts; the Biblical Narrative hides none of them. The story of King David, Uriah and his wife Bathsheba is one such story[12].

Eden
Paradise Lost

According to the well narrated history of evolutionary biology pain is simply part of the package for certain creatures in the ‘tree of life’. In the Biblical Narrative pain is a dé facto part of living—it was, I suggest, there at the ‘genesis’—though not necessarily at the intensity experienced presently. Childbirth is an example of the awareness of pain. Genesis 3:16 states that, as a result of the fall, the pain of childbirth would increase; it follows therefore that it [pain] must have been in existence before the Fall. In Genesis 3:17 ‘painful toil’ is to become the order of the day—they knew what pain actually was as pain was, de facto, a part of the ‘life experience’. However, as I have already suggested and as the text allows for, it does appear that pain did not have the same [agonizing] effects (specifically on highly conscious beings) as it had had prior to the Adamic Fall. It is possible that there was a different physiology—that the effects of pain were not as injurious as they were to become. In sentient beings, pain is, as far as we understand it, a necessary part of the physiology of life. Pain [the nervous system’s reaction to intrusion of various kinds] has, most likely always been a part of life’s experience; some though would prefer to say that there was neither pain nor death before the Adamic fall.[13]. As I have already stated, I am persuaded that pain and suffering did exist in the world before the Adamic Fall—but that its effects were not so devastating—so all encompassing. We may not like it and, should we have been able, we would most probably have created a world without pain. This hypothetical world however, may not have been a possibility—similar to the imaginary Multiverse[14] that some argue exists.

One, therefore could ‘go easy’ on God and accept that this world may well be the best possible world—a world that is ‘fit for God’s purpose’ and not ours. Evil was the only thing that did not inhabit the paradise of God.[15]

Derek J. White

Endnotes:

  1. [1]The Quran says: “..but approach not this tree, or you will run into harm and transgression.” [The Heifer 35]. Nowhere is there any mention of ‘original sin’ although there are ‘numerous’ references to Hell and Judgement.
  2. [2] The Quran lists five pillars [duties] that Muslims have to comply with: profession of faith, prayer, giving to charity, fasting during Ramadan [a month during the year when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset] and making a pilgrimage [Hajj] to Mecca. There are some variations according to differing traditional statements [Hadiths] that are not in the actual Quran.
  3. [3] In Buddhist philosophy the self [however one describes self in the endless cycle of ‘re-birth’] is in debt to an unidentifiable source [not deity]. In order appease the source—to cease being ‘self’ [personality]—the individual has [without personal effort] to reach the ultimate state of ‘existence’ to cease ‘existence’ and, therefore, become nothing.
  4. [4] Rick Richardson. ‘Spirituality [what does it mean to be spiritual]’ IVP
  5. [5] The Buddha [Gautama], being from a Hindu culture, had a similar idea of reality. For Hindus [generally] God is everything and everything is God, which means that we are ‘God’ [Brahman] and the soul [Atman] is also ‘God’—they are the same—we are all, ultimately, the same—‘We’ Are God. The question of who ‘God’ is then, I suggest, rather non sequitur.
  6. [6] The Lotus and The Cross’ [Ravi Zacharias]
  7. [7] Radio 4 Saturday January 31st 2009
  8. [8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [IVP] 1994
  9. [9] By unseen goodness, I mean the goodness that pervades the world outside of our personal space. I also mean the ‘goodness’ we do not recognize as such but that, in the final analysis will prove to be good.
  10. [10] In his provocative and controversial work, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins contends that all human behaviour is based primarily on genetic survival. Dawkins argues that genes have a long evolutionary history of survival and they control nearly every aspect of human behaviour. Various proteins evolved and mutated into molecules that copied themselves repeatedly and eventually various strands of DNA developed. The DNA copies itself and determines not only the phenotype (i.e. the organism’s physical characteristics) but the behaviour of the organism as well for the sole purpose of survival. The fundamental rule is that the DNA directs all organisms, from amoebas to apes, for the purposes of adaptation, survival and reproduction. Dawkins advanced the thesis that the genes function as “replicators”; these replicators‟ primary task is survival by whatever means necessary. So for Dawkins, individual humans simply function as “vehicles” for the replicators‟ survival.”  BAD TO THE BONE? ORIGINAL SIN, EVOLUTION AND NATURAL LAW MORALITY.  Craig A. Boyd Dept. of Philosophy Azusa Pacific University.
  11. [11] This is an over used/abused expression—used, mainly, by politicians to bring ‘comfort’ to the distrusting electorate. Nevertheless there is, I suggest, such a beast within us all—a moral compass that, for so many, is but a flickering remnant—the echo of the ‘Thou shall nots…..”
  12. [12] In summary: King David, a man of authority,  a man after God’s heart, sees Bathsheba, is rather taken with her, arranges for her husband Uriah to be transferred to the battle front and subsequently killed and then marries her. (2 Samuel chapter 11)
  13. [13] Hermeneutics is the term used for the ‘science’ of the interpretation of text. Some suggest that any interpretation has to be literal others suggest that we have to take other things into consideration—such as cultural context.
  14. [14] Multiverse is the term used for an imaginary/hypothetical set of universes which, together, produce reality. ‘If not here then—there in another universe’. The idea is supposed to add to the weight of chance over design—that anything can [and does] happen given enough ‘time’, and that there does not have to be a ‘first cause’—God. Of course, should God so desire, he could make available the necessary information for the process to start and finish. Anything is possible with consciousness but with chance—well that’s another ‘matter’ altogether.
  15. [15] According to the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:20-30) creation was, at some point in time, subjected to change—a change that brought with it ‘groaning’ and ‘longing’. Paul (Romans 5:12) writes that, “…death spread to all men…”. The apostle Paul does not refer to other life forms—but specifically to those of the human race—the Imago Dei.

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