Friday, May 22, 2009

A Couple of Thoughts on Moral Evil

[In this post, I share a response I made to a friend about the problem of evil...]

Dear S.

Obviously, I'm not going to satisfactorily address the whole problem of evil in a single email, but let me offer some suggestions that might further the discussion. It seems that you're asking a variation of the common question "Did God create evil?", and that you're specifically interested in the sin of pride with regard to Satan.

From at least the time of Augustine, an important part of the Christian answer to this question has been that evil is not a thing of itself. Rather, it is the privation or lack of good. Just as darkness is not a created stuff (but the absence of light), so, too, with evil, which is the absence of good.

The particular evil (or sin) of pride is likewise the absence (or twisting) of proper character or sentiment. For created beings (whether angels or humans), right character (righteousness) would be humility based on an accurate understanding of the glory, wisdom, and majesty of the Creator in relationship to the created. The lack of this proper humility and understanding is what we call pride, an elevating of self in one's own eyes. This sin came about as a result of a choice by Satan (and by Adam, as well as by each one of us). Thus pride (like other evil) was not created by God but came about as a result of the choices of created beings.

This leads naturally to the question of whether God couldn't/shouldn't have created a world in which creatures do not make sinful/evil choices. Today, philosophers of all stripes (that is, across the religious spectrum) acknowledge the credibility of the "free-will argument" offered by Alvin Plantinga (Dutch Reformed philosopher teaching at Notre Dame). He claimed that the existence of created beings with free will (and most agree that freedom of choice is a generally good thing, that a universe of puppets would be a dull one) necessarily entails the possibility that those free-will beings will make wrong choices (or "instantiate evil," as the philosophers would say).

So, God did not create pride or other evil, but He did create a universe in which pride and other sins would take place as a result of the choices of the sentient beings He made. For many, this still leaves God to be blamed for the pain and suffering of this world. And this complaint might be legitimate if this world were all there is. The other important part of the Christian answer is that there is another, better world waiting, one in which there will be no sin or evil. Passing through this world, then, is merely the necessary route to that eternal one. And Scripture repeatedly says that the suffering of this world will be as nothing compared to the joy, peace, and glory of that one.

Of course, another part of the Christian answer is that the only solution to the problem of evil that is both just and holy is the substitutionary suffering and death of Christ on the cross at Calvary. In a world of pain and suffering, God took his own medicine (as C.S. Lweis has it). What's more, the Bible makes clear that God had this solution planned from "before the foundation of the world," which I take to mean before the earth was created and before Adam sinned.

As a side note, there's seems to be a significant difference between angels and humans with regard to choosing sin. We sin, but God offers us redemption. For the angels who rebelled, there does not seem to be a possibility of redemption. Moreover, it seems that angels are all by now confirmed either in their obedience or their rebellion to God (there does not seem to be any more potential for good angels to choose evil). Thus, all of the angels (both good and fallen) are spectators to rather than participants in the events by which God has redeemed and is redeeming fallen humans.

I hope some of this moves the discussion along a bit. I'd be glad to continue the dialogue.


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