Friday, September 11, 2009

Where Evil Comes From

Ten years ago I wrote a paper, my senior seminary paper. The title of the paper was ridiculous - Evil, a Good God and a Compatibilistic View of Freedom. It was the hardest paper I ever wrote; in fact, I scrapped everything the night before the paper was due and rewrote it. Still, I didn't like it. I remember feeling I did a good job explaining how God ordains evil and isn't responsible for it this side of the fall. Not overly original, but I toed the party (Reformed) line well. Yet, when it came to the origination of evil, I was at a loss. I'm not talking about Adam's sin - after all, there was an outside evil that tempted him. What I couldn't explain then, and can't explain now, is why Lucifer fell - what tempted him? How could an angel living in wonderful communion with God chose to rebel?

As I see it, this isn't just a problem for the Reformed crowd, but for all theologians. This week I read a fresh approach to the problem in Christopher Wrights book The God I Don't Understand. He writes, "If we ask, 'Where did that preexisting evil presence come from?' - we are simply not told. God has given us the Bible, but the Bible doesn't tell us...the Bible compels us to accept the mystery of evil." That's not that new, but he spins this lack of information in a incredibly thoughtful way. He goes on to argue that understanding or explain something means putting it in it's "proper place in the universe, to provide a justified, legimate, and truthful place withing creation..." When we apply our God given reasoning capabilities to the problem of evil we come up short. Why? Because evil doesn't fit. Evil doesn't make sense. Evil has no justified, legitimate, truthful place in God's creation. He writes, "Evil is beyond our understanding because it is not part of the ultimate reality that God in his perfect wisdom and utter truthfulness intends us to understand. So God has withheld its secrets from his own revelation and our research."

I don't know if I agree with his approach yet, but I find it creative, intriguing and new. I like that his final confidence is in the wisdom of God. One again, he writes, "Personally, I have come to accept this as a providentially good thing...[When we ask] 'Where's the sense in that?' It's not that we get no answer. We get silence. And that silence is the answer to our question. There is no sense. And that is a good thing too...Can I understand that? No. Do I want to understand that? Probably not, if God has decided it is better that I don't."

Today more than most we contemplate the nature of evil. We have questions. The questions don't shipwreck our faith. In fact, they come more intensely because of our faith in God, in his goodness. But when what we see in the world doesn't match with what we know about God, we are distressed - we lament. Because we trust and believe God we know that evil doesn't have the last word. We lament it, we long for God to eradicate it.

2 comments:

David said...

The closest I've come to understanding evil is by thinking of it this way: evil has always existed, just as God has always existed- it is by definition and in its essence the polar opposite of God- anything that goes against the fibers of his being. Is it possible that the most basic fundament is that anything which exists has an opposite? If so, then God would not exist without evil. In a sense, everything and nothing would be God.

Just thoughts...

Dan Waugh said...

David,
I appreciate your comment and can tell you've thought about it before. I don't think, however, that the solution you propose is one the Bible leaves open to us. It reflects a dualism that you see in religions like Zoroastrianism and some forms of Gnosticism, as well as other Eastern religions; but not one you can find in the Bible. The Bible consistently affirms that God was alone before he created - that he created everything/everyone that exists (Isaiah 24:44ff, John 1). It also makes God either dependent on something, evil, for his existence or indistinguishable from evil in a pantheistic/panentheistic way. Neither is a good option.

Again, I don't have a solution except to affirm that God is good, he created everything and evil came into his good world as he willed it to.