New York Minute

We’re using the “Handbook of Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli to go over the arguments for the existence of God.  Today, we will be covering the above referenced subject in relation to the existence of God. Dr. Kreeft teaches logic in two major universities, so his arguments tend to be clear, concise and very helpful.

Solutions to the Problem of Evil

Where are we now? Have these five definitions enabled us to construct a solution to the problem of evil?

Better than that. The definitions, which we thought would be preliminary tools for constructing a solution, turn out to contain the solution. The problem is now not so much solved as dissolved, like a fog. Once we see clearly, we need not construct clever, elaborate arguments any more.

There are six problems: the nature, origin and end of spiritual evil and of physical evil.

1. The nature of spiritual evil is sin, separating ourselves from God.

2. The origin of spiritual evil is human free will.

3. The end for which God allows spiritual evil is to preserve human free will, that is, human nature.

4. The nature of our physical evil is suffering.

5. The origin of physical evil is spiritual evil. We suffer because we sin.

6. The end or use of physical evil is spiritual discipline and training for our own ultimate perfection and eternal joy. (It also is just punishment for sin and a deterrence from sin.)

A Problem Remaining

A problem remains. It is an in-house problem, so to speak. It is a tension, a contrast in emphasis, between two elements within our many-faceted solution. This remaining problem is brought about by an embarrassment of riches, so to speak. But if this section confuses you, please forget it.

The tension is between appealing to free choice and appealing to divine providence and grace to solve the problem of evil. Let’s first look at this tension regarding sin, and then suffering.

Sin is explained, on the one hand, by our free will. On the other hand, God’s providential plan foresaw and used even sin. God brings good out of evil, and makes all things work together for good for those who love him. Even sin, through the golden door of repentance, becomes “behovable,” as Julian of Norwich said, that is, good for something. But only by the power of God.

The argument between those who emphasize free will and those who emphasize providence is largely one of emphasis, for both are parts of our scriptural data. The difference in emphasis is between those who see human history as a novel, written by God, and those who see it as a play, enacted by man. The two images are not exclusive. The novel, though completely the author’s creation, is about free people, not trees or robots; and though the play has a script, the actors are free to obey the script or not. If the emphasis is on God’s predestination, our attitude to life will emphasize trust and faith and acceptance and hope; while if the emphasis is on human free will, our attitude to life will emphasize morality and spiritual warfare and the will to make the right choices. The first emphasizes wisdom, the second morality; the first contemplation, the second action; the first seeing, the second doing; the first faith, the second works. They are two sides of the same Christian coin.

We find the same tension between the emphasis on free will and the vision of a necessary divine plan when we look at physical evil. The free-will origin of physical evil, or suffering, is our sin. But there is also another origin of suffering: it is built (by God) into a finite universe. If there are going to be animals with pain nerves, there is going to be pain. The tension here can come to the point with a question like this one: If Adam had stubbed his toe on a rock before he ate the forbidden fruit, would it have hurt? We think the answer is probably: Physically, yes; mentally, no. Pain is ninety percent mental, some claim; and to a pure soul, physical pain registers very differently than to a soul fallen into fear, lust, greed and egotism. But this is speculation, not certainty.

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