| 
  • If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

View
 

TH 302 Lecture 7

Page history last edited by PBworks 11 years, 11 months ago

Lecture 204.06 - 6

 

The Problem of Evil

 

 

As we begin to gather more and more doctrines together, we begin to see that they are always, for the theologian, 'best guesses' - they are not flawless, and they do not fit together with airtight seals. As theological thinkers, we do the best we can.

 

This is especially true for matters such as theodicy, which is the technical term for the 'problem of evil,' considered theologically. While we may rightly affirm sovereigntyas a key attribute of God, even the simplest of glances at the world around us confirms that there is much going on that does not seem to be in accord with what we think of as "God's goodness." The reality of this pushes our theology to try to account for this strange discrepancy: how can a good and powerful God allow evil?

 

It is tempting, philosophically and logically, to claim that evil is part of God's creation, that it is a thing. This approach is termed positive evil.It implies that evil has a substance and a reality. While this is in plie with what we might observe in the world, historical Christianity has shied away from such claims, for a variety of reasons:

 

  • First, Christianity will find it difficult to claim that evil was part of God's intended creation, since scripturally the created order was pronounced 'good' by God.
  •  

  • Second, while there are strands within Christianity that take sovereignty so seriously that it seems God is responsible for evil as well as good, there will still be a resistance to claiming that God is in any way the author of evil. The most we seem to be able to say is that, for God's own reasons, evil is tolerated witin the creation, at least for a time
  •  

  • Finally, the Christian witness is always that evil is in no way a rival of the good or of God's power. To the extent that evil can be said to exist as a thing, it is a thing firmly bounded by God's ultimate authority and providence.
  •  

    Because of these difficulties, many key Christian thinkers have instead advocated a privation theory of evil. 'Privation' is the 'lack' of something - when you have a privation of food, you starve. Some theologians have found this helpful because, while a privation is not technically a 'thing' in itself, it can still exert effects upon the world.

     

    For example, when you turn off a light switch, you have not started pumping 'darkness' into the room - you have simply removed the light. But by removing the light, an effect is produced in the world. Within this view, darkness (and by extension, evil) is not in itself a thing - it is the absence of a thing.

     

    The advantage of such a view is that it gets God out of the difficult situation of being somehow 'responsible' for evil as a created thing.God is still responsible for creation, and all created things are good. Evil, not being a created thing (according to this view) can still produce effects in the world, but it has no existence of its own.

     

    The difficulty with such a view is that, in looking around the world, it is easy for us to see examples that seem to contradict the notion that evil is not a thing. It seems so mighty, at times, and so real, that we find it hard to agree with the notion of privation as an answer.

     

    Alternately, the privation theory seems to make God responsible for objects but not for effects and consequences. While 'letting God off the hook' for evil, such a move seems to make God a little less powerful.

     

    As we begin to assemble and add to the list of doctrines we will consider in this course, we will find these sorts of difficult moments arise more and more: trying to keep all your doctrines working well together is a bit like trying to keep several floating corks under water at once - some always slip away from you and 'pop up' unexpectedly. Again, in theology we do the best we can; it is important to be responsible and attend properly to consequences, but there is not system or doctrine that can adequately account for everything at once, with no holes.

     

    We performed an exercise in class to demonstrate this - what I called 'the Consequence Game.' It is a technique that can be used anytime to help you think through the interactionof doctrines. Simply put, as you 'think through' a list of doctrines, make a list of each (God, Sin, Humanity, Creation, etc). Figure out where you are starting (for example, you might take as a starting point "God created the world and called it good")

     

    With that as the point at which you start, look at each other doctrine and ask yourself what it makes sense to say about that doctrine in light of your starting point. Now again, this will not be a perfect, airtight process, but it will help you see what it makes sense to say (and not say) as you try and build a coherent, consistent system of doctrine.

     

    To return to the TH 302 main page, click here

    To proceed to TH 302 Lecture 8, click here

     

     

     

    Comments (0)

    You don't have permission to comment on this page.