Category Archives: Evil

Does Christianity Teach Social Evolution or Something Else?

You may think I have skipped Pt. 2 of the first post of this series, but more must be said before jumping in with both feet to answer the question posed at the end of Pt. 1.

Following along in Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, we encounter the question about the future of the “cosmos: progress or despair?”

The first answer stems from Social Evolution. This has its basis in Western thought that developed during the Renaissance with both Christian and secular roots. As science was progressing incredibly quickly, wealth and industry spreading rapidly, these ideas began leaking into social thinking as well. It progressed even more rapidly with the rise of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, as this seemed to give scientific reinforcement that the evolution of the world was unstoppable and inevitable. Progress was simply how things were.

But in reality, this is a myth. There are massive holes in the theory. First, it can’t deal with evil in a number of ways. It can’t stop it. There is nothing philosophical or scientific that tells us that at some point, evil will be eradicated because of the evolution of the cosmos. Along these lines, despite what may or may not be true about biological evolution, there is certainly no such thing as cosmic evolution. In actuality, the universe is running straight toward demise, with an unavoidable heat death at best. Second, it social evolution doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of evil. Even if utopia came tomorrow, what do we make of all of the suffering and evils of today?

And some Christians have bought into this. Rob Bell, who reached his pinnacle of “fame” with his book Love Wins, is one of them. He believes that it is humanity’s mission to bring about the restoration of this world itself. As Wright will show, this is not at all Biblical. He has bought into this social charade that says we will bring about the change, not God. In fact, this line of thought has been so popularized, that we see it on bumper stickers: “Be the change you want in the world.”

So the answer must be despair? Thanks to Plato, the idea that this whole world is evil and the only redemption is to escape it has a place in this conversation as well. This view says that material things, particularly the body, is bad and to rid ourselves of it is to reach what we were meant to be. This is the spiritualization of culture. The idea that when you die, you go “up there” to be in a “better place.”

Again, many Christians have fallen prey to this myth as well. Another view with a basis outside of the Bible, and another view that leads to confusion. Hymns talk about this world “not being our home” and how we are “just passing through.” It is these people that get labeled as those that are “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” The purpose of Christianity becomes to go to heaven when you die.

So the answer is neither death and demise nor progress and redemption at our own hands. Rather, Christianity affirms “that what the creator God has done in Jesus Christ, and supremely in his resurrection, is what he intends to do for his whole world-meaninf, by world, the entire cosmos with all its history.”

 

 


Hell, what is this place? Heaven, does everyone go?

There are multiple words that get translated as “hell” in the Bible. Sheol in the Old Testament, and Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna in the New. Sheol does not have any clear meaning as the Hell as we know it today, but more like the Greek Hades, which was where all went where they died. Hades and Tartarus seem to be used in similar ways, but we get the idea that there is a divide somewhere in it, such as the story of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man is in torment and asks for a Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and touch his tongue, but Lazarus cannot due to the great chasm between them. This is commonly seen not as Hell proper, however. Rather, there is usually a distinction made between where the dead go when they die and the Heaven and Hell that come about after the Final Judgment and mass resurrection of all people. Gehenna seems the most strict of the terms. It seems to get its roots from the valley of Hinnon, which was outside the city of Jerusalem and was often on fire due to the garbage and waste that was there. Moloch and child sacrifice, and evil in general was associated both directly and indirectly with it. But the use of the word in the NT seems to have a more symbolic and figurative meaning than referencing the actual place, so a simple translation does not seem to fit.

So Hell proper seems mostly to come from a select few passages in the Bible where Gehenna is used, or where eternal damnation is mentioned, and then a few instances in Revelation, though I will not mention those here due to the nature of the book that is so hard to interpret. The main “proof texts” for Hell as eternal punishment are Matt. 25:41, Matt. 25:46, Jude 7, which actually don’t even have the word Hell in them, but merely speak of eternal torment or punishment. In Matt. 3:12, Matt. 5:22, Matt. 18:8-9, Gehenna is used in conjunction with sin and the punishment for that sin, so in conjunction with the other passages mentioned, the doctrine of Hell is established.

So what does that mean about Heaven? Well, we clearly see that in Hades in the Lazarus and the rich man story, that there is a divide between the righteous and the unrighteous. [On a side note here, the doctrine of imputed righteousness(often associated with Reformed Theology and Protestantism) or infused righteousness(often associated with Catholic Theology) has to be mentioned, since Christians do not claim to be righteous of their own accord, but that as forgiven people, are given the righteousness of Christ.] And if there is a divide in Hades between the righteous and unrighteous, and we combine this with the idea that some will receive eternal torment, it would make sense to say that these people will be the unrighteous. The other option would be to say that there is some sort of purgatory, or that Hell is like purgatory, insofar as Hell would be finite according to the punishment fit for one’s sins. While this may be the more likable idea, since then all would be saved and this seems more just than eternal punishment, it seems impossible to me to get this out of the Bible, especially given that we know that some will in fact be punished in an eternal manner with “the devil and his angels.” To me, this seems impossible to get around. I will concede that some passages are ambiguous about Heaven and who gets there, but these passages hat talk of eternal punishment are impossible to coincide with the idea that everyone could get into heaven, because if that were the case, then surely this would not have been said in the first place.

Laying out some of the alternatives for Hell:

Annihilationism: God destroys the souls of the wicked so they do not have to suffer eternal torment in Hell. To me, this sounds a lot like euthanasia. The purpose of this idea is that God prevents eternal suffering by taking one out of existence entirely. But is that really a better option? It seems that if one is abhorrent, the other would be as well.

Universalism: There are basically two types of universalism. Contingent and necessary. Necessary is more problematic in that it says that it is impossible for anybody to go to Hell, which would seem to fly in the face of a just God, and it also implies that no matter what one does in their life on earth, it has no affect on their afterlife.

Contingent universalism seems to be the nicest view. That while it is possible for some to go to Hell, none in fact do. The problem here seems minor, but ends up with the same problem that it was trying to solve, mainly, that God would not send anyone to Hell due to His goodness. What the universalist wants to say is that God can’t send people to Hell, that He won’t has no affect on His ability to, and it is His ability to that they have to object to.

Second chance: Many views here, but the main point is that while some go to Hell it is finite. Problem here: the passages listed earlier mention eternal Hell, and this is not compatible with that.

For some interesting comments regarding Hell and Heaven and the problems with annihilationism and universalism check out http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/#1.1

The objective or goal here is to have an internally consistent doctrine of Heaven, Hell, and God. In my opinion, the traditional view that Hell is eternal, some people will go there, Heaven is eternal and Good, but both only come about after the Final Judgment and mass resurrection of both good and bad, and that before then, we all go to Hades but that the righteous are with God in a good realm, while the wicked are separated in some manner from the righteous. I would go as far as saying that for an infinitely good God, that in order to maintain that attribute, He cannot be in the presence of any sin or unrighteousness, which is why forgiveness and imputed/infused righteousness is necessary for salvation and entrance into heaven. And those only come about after repentance and wanting to be forgiven. It is not that forgiveness apart from wanting to be forgiven is like rape by any means, but rather that it is a two way street, the main aspect being repentance and recognition that we are sinful and need to be better, and the sincere effort to improve and try to be good. This would allow for some non-Christians who recognize that they fall short of being perfect, yet strive anyways, and honestly seek truth to get a pass. Now, not being God, I do not say who fits in this category and who doesn’t. If someone is agnostic or atheistic and is 100% honest and pure in his seeking, then they may get in since God can see into out hearts and our thoughts. I do believe more certainly that this allows minimally for those who have never encountered the Gospel to begin with to get in if they fit into this category.


“What about Evil?”… what about it?

Many have made the claim that evil disproves an all-good, all-powerful God. My question is, how? The common argument is thus:

1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.

2. Evil exists.

3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

or more complex:

1. God is all-good and all-powerful.

2. If God is all-good, He would prefer a world without evil.

3. If God is all powerful, He could make any world He wanted.

4. Being able to make any world and preferring one without evil, God would make one without evil.

5. There is evil, therefore, God is not all-good and all-powerful.

or even more:

1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

2. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.

3. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

4. An omnipotent being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence and has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.

5. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.

6. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.

7. Evil exists…

However, running through the arguments, there seems to be a big leap into the mind of God. Do we know if He would necessarily desire a world without evil? If so, how do you know that? Because in order for this to be a sound argument, then it has to be necessarily true. So there can’t even be a single possible situation in which it is not true.

But I can name one right now, and that would be that God may have a desire for us to become dependent on Him, as the Bible claims, and that the best way to do this would be to make a world with evil and suffering so that He could show them that they need Him and can’t fix things on their own.

Ir if you don’t like that, maybe He has another reason to allow evil, such as knowing that a certain amount of evil can lead to a higher quality of good than in a world without evil. Now this one is speculative, yes, but is it possible, yes. What if He desires quality over quantity?

But let’s say these examples don’t work. Let’s say He does desire a world without evil. What if He can’t do it based on His other attributes. He must allow free will, and if there is free will, what if he can’t prevent evil. But this seems to contradict premise 1 of the latter two arguments, right? Or does it? It depends on how one defines “omnipotence.” Is it the ability to do anything, or just the ability to do anything logically possible? Can such an entity make a round circle or a married bachelor? Well, common sense would say not. But let’s throw out common sense. Why does that seem impossible, even for an entity that can do  literally anything? Well, by definition, the two terms in each set of words are contradictory. A square is a shape with 4 congruent sides and 4 right angles, while a circle has no sides and no angles and all points equidistant from its center. And to be married means… to be married, and a bachelor is an unmarried man… So that seems to be a problem. But why can’t an omnipotent being produce such a thing? Some will say that this shows that an omnipotent being is itself contradictory, as the idea is paradoxical to say it can create anything but can’t create some things. So maybe we could use the word “omnipotence” to simply mean “maximally great,” as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it.  So yes, it is semantics, but this is where the whole thing seems to hinge if we accept that God wills there to be no evil. For an entity that really can do anything can make people freely do things, which is a contradiction of terms and is therefore not something a maximally great entity could bring about. So while it may be possible to have a world without evil, it may not be plausible, in the sense that it can be actualized.

Having said this, I think we have great grounds to throw out the logical problem of evil from our category of “evidence against God.” And if someone wishes to use it as such, they have the burden of proof to show that none of these things are even possible.