Saturday, August 04, 2012

Good vs. Evil? Get real.

There is no possible source of evil except good. 
~ Saint Augustine 

When I first read this quote, I thought that the theological implications are staggering. Its too much to even consider. But THINKING is what good quotes provoke.

Is this the kind of axiom that people chew on for eons without coming up with anything that satisfies everyone, like "why do bad things happen to good people?" (One answer, by the way, is "there's no such thing as 'good people.')

I had a student once who was incensed with God. After all, God, they reasoned, had created Satan. How could a loving God even ALLOW Adam and Eve to sin in the first place? If He REALLY is both all-knowing and all-powerful, how could he let that happen?

The issue is not the answer. The issue is the question. In stead of asking "how?" The student should be asking "why?" 

Consider a perhaps more corny proverb, "Without the dark, we'd never see the stars."

Once you start thinking this way, less easy, less simple, you may end up considering more nuance. For example, the difference between God's causative and permissive will.

Currently there's a huge (and absurd) uproar in the media since the CEO of a major fast food chain expressed his religious views on a controversial issue. Whatever you think of this topic, his tone of voice didn't sound belligerent to me when he said it. I imagine that he's sincere, although cynics will note that the flare up in the "culture wars," served him well , creating a PR bonanza.

The issue is that he fears God's causative will. He anticipates that God will punish us as a nation if we continue down a certain path of tolerance for what he understands as something offensive to God.

It seems to me however, that God is a patient parent who permits us to be responsible for our predicament, rather intervene incessantly like some kind of control freak. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe He's distant, removed or indifferent, like some Deist clock-maker imagined by many of our nation's founders during the enlightenment. I'm just saying that I think that God chooses to allow us to have to work things out between ourselves instead of spoiling us by making things too easy all the time.

Thank God. If He really were constantly sending hurricanes, volcanoes and earthquakes to chastise America for our corporate sin, we surely would've been wiped off the map LONG ago. Didn't we begin with slavery, greed, rebellion, and abuse? From the Spanish conquistadors to the Dutch, English, and French, This continent has been wrought with war, corruption and abuse of the earth, its resources and of the indigenous peoples.

But let's say that God does operate in the absolutist, black-and-white manor in which many of us either assume or even with that He does? 

Who's to say that when His punishment comes, it is for requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control? 

Maybe God's angry with us for allowing Wall Street to sell mortgages to people who couldn't afford them, and make obscene profits off of bundled derivatives while executive salaries rise to insane levels, anywhere from 500 to 5,000 times those of workers and piling on massive bonuses on top of it all, meanwhile restricting the rights of those workers to collectively bargain for reasonable compensation?

Those who believe God uses only His causative will, refuse to believe that we can remotely influence the environment. God is sovereign, therefore, we aren't capable of damaging the Earth. That's their view.

If you suspect that God may, in His permissive will, allows us to face the natural consequence of our own sinful nature- you might just see that maybe our refusal to do anything about global climate change is why we face so many extremes in weather lately, including the hottest summer and deepest & widest-spread drought since the great dust bowl of the 1930's. Thank God we understand more about erosion and soil conservation than we did back them.

I'm not about to say that God never actively intervenes- His greatest intervention was sending His only begotten Son to die on a cross for us. But I think that it is short-sighted and frankly Pharisitic to assume that He ONLY acts in such an angry, punitive manor. 

I don't pretend to have all the answers and solutions for all of society's controversies. But I do believe that God is Himself, and allows (perhaps might even prefer) for us to be more pragmatic and less intractable in our politics, our ideology and our dogma. That does not mean being soft or gullible or unduly influenced by the World. It simply means not letting the letter of the law eclipse the spirit. It means not letting the tale wag the dog. 

Being tough minded does not mean being thick-headed, hard hearted, slow-witted, and stiff-necked. When we think that we're the only ones who know what God wants, we may as well be saying that we know better that God and we're no better than those who don't know God in the first place.

Maybe God permits evil to challenge us, to make things complicated. After all, He created us in His image, didn't He? He didn't create us to be dolls, puppets or action figures that He constantly directs or plays with. He created us to be creative, thoughtful, and capable of managing complexity.

One of the gifts God gave us is free-will. Ironically people are constantly arguing for their own liberty, but are fast to deprive other people of theirs. As long as we have free will, we will make decisions that will make things complicated for each other. And until He's ready to take us home with Him once and for all, I believe that God's going to keep allowing us to have to deal with that complexity. 

Thinking that life is all good verses evil is ridiculous. In the first place, Satan and evil are not equal to God, they are part of creation, not co-equals to the Creator. In the second place, Christ has already defeated Satan. In the third place, if you believe that God is sovereign, then we need to trust Him and be patient both with God and each other- in stead of throwing tantrums and pitching baby-fits all the time.

Christians need to learn what lessons they can from some really dumb people in the Bible.
  • Jonah 4- the prophet gets angry at God's compassion
  • Luke 15:25-31- the prodigal son's jealous older brother
  • Matthew 20:1-16- the parable of the workers paid equally
Thanks to sin, life is always complicated. It would sure be a lot easier if we wouldn't keep making it worse by fighting each other or trying to "tattle" on each other to God in the meantime.

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