Wednesday, December 19, 2012


There is, in a recent post by Thabiti Anyabwile, what I assume is a typo, but which is a rather fitting one.
Something is not right. I know the world is so relentlessly and consistently twisted and touched by evil that men and women can become too think-skinned in the face of tragedy. I know that’s possible, but I don’t want to settle for that in my own heart. I don’t want to be so tough, calloused, jaded, or whatever that I can easily “move on” from the wicked shooting of twenty children–children!–and their teachers–teachers! (emphasis added)
There is a struggle to live in this world without adjusting too it in some way. Too be in the world, but not of it. It is easy to start looking at the world as if we are supposed to fit in it, but we are told that we don't, nor are we supposed to, fit in this world, but to be in it and stick out as sore thumbs, or, more appropriately, lighthouses. We are not fit to it, we are of heaven, but we belong in this world in that we are supposed to make it fit us. The way I am most tempted to adjust to this world is by trying to rationalize away the pain and sorrow and evil, to try to explain why it is unavoidable or not really that bad. There are three traditional theodicies which each appear to try to do this: the soul-making defense, the free will defense, and the ultimate harmony defense.


This argument is that, in order for us to grow in godliness, we need suffering. That is, in order for us to be sanctified, we need there to be evil to act as the hammer which fashions us into Christ-likeness. All well and good, but this gives no answer. Isn't this just to say that there must be evil for us to grow away from our evil nature? Why not be rid of the evil nature in the first place? There is some truth to this, we may grow in our suffering, but it does not really offer comfort to us at the root where we need it. We need to know that we are right when we say that the evils of this world are evils, not that they are good because they build us into Christ-likeness.

Free Will

I've argued against this before. I have also argued against it much more vigorously than against the soul-making defense, mostly because I hear it more and find it more seductive. The problem with it is that it provides no comfort. Whether right or not, I would rather be a puppet than have people made in God's own image die. If you say I should accept that there is evil in the world because it is necessary for us to truly love God, then why are we not praising God for this huge display of the free will of man that shows how free we are and thus how real our love for him is? What will we do in heaven? If these things were to continue to happen there, then I doubt I would be alone in being tempted by the consistency of hell. Even Pascal complains about how Creation does not seem to give a clear answer, and asks it to give him a straight yes or no, so that he would at least know what to think. Or if we remain loving by free will in heaven, then why is it not possible that the same force that keeps us from sin there should keep us from sin here? Even if all of these are resolved, however, does the evil remain? Then the sorrow will too, and the evil, the affront to the glory of God, will too, and the defense fails to offer any comfort, and it fails to defend the holiness of God. How can the evil remain as an affront to God? It must be dealt with, this is the point of the cross, on which is payed the penalty of sin for those who believe. But then our sins must be removed. Well, what if the evil goes away? Then this is not by virtue of the free will defense, but something beyond it, and this is not truly the defense.

Ultimate Harmony

Everything must be as it turns out, all is foreordained. This is the one I come closest to agreeing with, but it is not a defense. If it is all foreordained as good, then how can we call anything evil? If it is foreordained evil, then how is God good? If all is necessary, then, like the free will defense, like the atheists' response, "Evil just happens" and that is no defense. How can God create an affront to himself? He must not; or he is not himself, since it would throw himself into contradiction. Any defense must allow us to call evil evil. How can this one do that? Only by the truth that what is evil now will one day cease and be made good in Christ.

The Cross

There is one theodicy which maintains evil as evil, and God as good, and proclaims the death of death. It does not depend upon any of these theodicies. It is that, on the cross, Christ bore the pain and suffering of the world, as he bore the sin of the world which gave birth to death. That we are in Christ and thus share in his suffering as a privilege. That we are raised to newness of life with him and are thus free from the power of sin and death. In him our sins are removed. He is glorified even by our sins because they show how merciful and gracious he is, and how mighty he is that he works through even us. Soon Christ will return, and in that day the evil that fills the world will be made glorifying to God in the same way as our sins have already been made glorifying to him on the cross. In his suffering for our sins, he glorified himself by showing his ability to overcome sin, in that day he will glorify himself by overcoming all the sins that have been committed in the world. In our day, these things are as evil as our sins are in our committing of them, but in that day, they will give greater glory to God just as our sins, since we have been saved from them, give greater glory to God for his mercy and grace in saving us, and in who knows how many other ways. Sin is sin, God is good, and Christ is coming again to cast out sin and death in all ways. There shall be no more evil on the face of the earth. This is a theodicy that does not ask that we stop crying, but is sought through tears. The others suffice only when the tears run out, only when the philosopher ceases to be a man. We stop because we start to slip back into the thinking of this world, that this is the world we have, and we must find a way to cope with it. Instead, says this answer, this is not just the world we have, but that this is a shadow of how the world will be, that this world is the world we have, but not just, for it will be changed, renewed by fire, when the world is judged, when Christ returns, then this world will be one we will fit in, but now we are being fit for that one, and so will find ourselves dissonant with this one. This is not all there is, but the suffering in it is real, and will not cease until that day when Christ makes all things so fully new. Weep with those who weep, be homesick.

Be A Passionate Philosopher

The logic may work, but if it does not answer the question, then we must keep looking. There is always the possibility that we are overlooking premises, that we are presuming that things must be a certain way, when in fact they are another way. Not that we should reject answers that we cannot bear, necessarily, but that, if we cannot bear the answer, then we do not have the whole answer. It may be that we have all the facts of the matter, but if we cannot see them in the right light, then we will reject them. Look carefully, and all the more because you are crying. Look with the eyes of the ones who are hurt. Look with the eyes of a cynic. But in all things, look with the eyes of a worshiper of the God who is full of Grace and Truth, the God who is Love. Look, as well as you can, with the eyes you are given in Christ, and see how wrong this world is, see how much different this is from what we want to see, and know that you are not home yet, that you are a stranger in a foreign land, and call others to come with you. Be homesick, you aren't there yet, but it is coming soon. Do not be satisfied, do not settle down, as good as things are, they are wretched compared with how they will be when Christ returns. As bad as things are, Christ will be glorified in them and through them.

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