Friday, June 7, 2013

The Problem Of Evil And The Seriousness Of Sin

Strange Notions has an interesting article up on the problem of evil. It is actually written by Joe Heschmeyer of Shameless Popery fame. His main point is that to make this argument you have to believe in objective evil and that creates a huge problem for the atheists. It raises all sort of questions like how do we know this objective evil? Where does it come from? How did we get ordered in such a way that good and evil are important? These are questions atheists don't want to address so it is quite fun.

Of course many atheist commenters ignore the problem Heschmeyer points out and just soldier on with the problem of evil. One such guy is Josh who writes:
The problem of evil is much stronger than stated here, it's devastating to Catholics. The problem is not just to show that in some abstract sense 'evil' could exist because 'mumble mumble free will'. The problem is to show that the amount of evil in the world is consistent with a perfect, omnipotent loving creator. Natural evil/suffering can't be separated out because, if God is a creator, it is a moral evil on his part. 
Now I tried to point out the reality and the seriousness of sin to Josh. He was not buying it. He thinks we are pretty good. We are not perfect but we certainly don't deserve a world as bad as the one we have.
Sin isn't everywhere. Most people go about their lives in a perfectly decent fashion. They may not be your ideal people but they aren't terrible and they don't deserve the level of suffering that we see in the world. Moreover, most of the harms people commit are inextricably linked to their circumstances in the world: they are hungry, afraid, uncertain, foolish, denied dignity, etc. and those are circumstances beyond their control but not God's. The suffering and 'evil' that we see are not logically entailed by 'sin'. Free will cannot solve your problem. We can say that a Tsunami can't be the result of evil. It isn't required by the existence of evil so a perfect God wouldn't arrange that random calamity.
I find this quite refreshing. People raised in a church would feel this way. They might even think this way. They certainly would not talk this was. They know that the right answer is our sin is so so bad that the result of suffering and death and hell is quite justified. They know it but at some level they don't really believe it either. They don't actually believe they are that bad even thought their creed says so.

This is why atheists are such a gift to the church. They say plainly what we don't dare speak out loud. I'm a pretty descent fellow. Most people I know are nice guys too. Can't God give us a better world than this one? Why is life so hard? It is hard for us and we turn on the news and see it is way harder for many others. Is this the best God could do?

The trouble is we have tried to solve the problem of sin by lowering the standard. It is like a class that says you have to make the exam easier or nobody will pass it. But maybe that is the right answer. Maybe you all deserve to fail. That is where we are at with God. He is so good that none of us approach His standard. Yet He refuses to lower the standard. Instead He gives us a way to get to that higher standard.

Our culture tells us 2 things. One is that we are basically animals that have learned a few tricks. The second is that we need to have high self esteem. So it is not surprising that we have trouble accepting the idea that there is a standard there that we are all failing to meet. We don't like to give out failing grades. We have come to the idea that it is not the loving thing to do. We just tell people to believe in themselves and hope for the best. Even in the church it is hard to find good teaching on sin.

The truth is we are called to an amazing life of love. It is something so amazing that we can't even begin to try it without God's help. It is the supernatural agape love that Jesus showed us and Jesus wants to give us. That is what can save the world. It's absence explains why the world is in such bad shape. So saying "perfectly decent" people don't deserve suffering misses the point. God does not want them to remain perfectly decent because they can be and should be so much better. Suffering is God telling us all is not well. God has also made it the road to our salvation. First of all, the suffering of Jesus but our own suffering as well.

When we see that. When we realize that we have a long way to go and suffering will help us get there. We still have questions. Mostly emotional questions about why this particular person is being given this particular cross. At the end of the day we don't know much about why things happen. We need to trust the heart of God. Still it is possible to imagine reasons. Often speculating on such reasons to people in grief or pain is not helpful but it helps to know there are some ways that could could come of this.

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