Thursday, January 7, 2010

What is Good?- The Existence of Evil, part 4

Romans 12:2-9 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (3) For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (4) For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, (5) so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (6) Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; (7) if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; (8) the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (9) Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

In the previous three posts on this subject, I have endeavored to confront the atheist’s common objections to the existence of God. I do this for two reasons- to give the believer ammunition to respond to the atheist’s barrage of questions, but also to assail whatever measure of atheism dwells within us as believers as well. The biggest difference between the theist & the atheist is quite simply a matter of faith in “Theos”, the Greek term for God. Jesus speaks in one parable of faith as a (mustard) seed, & a seed’s value is tied to its growth. Thus my belief that faith is like a seed; it is buried, but pushes up out of seeming death towards the Light of life. Like that proverbial mustard tree, faith is something that is always growing, so also we are never fully grown until we can say that we perfectly reflect the nature of Christ in every facet of our life. So “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) speaks to every one of us as we mature upwards towards the light of Christ in regards to both faith & reality. Because, truly, it is the growth in the less tangible quality of faith that spurs growth in the more tangible reality. This concept was the impetus for James’ oft discussed 2nd chapter; read fully in context, James compares faith that is real & alive, faith that is evidenced by works (tangible realities), with a faith that is dead, a stillborn child never seeing the light of day, a seed sown, watered, & nurtured but never breaking through the soil to be seen by others, a hollow empty faith that has nothing palpable to show to verify its existence. In contrast with the person of this 2nd type of faith, Paul presents the Thessalonians whom he claims to “know” that God has chosen. Why? Because their faith has given corporeal evidence in support (1Thessalonians 1).

The atheist’s typical case against God consists of an attack on His integrity. They seize the obvious reality of evil to present as primary evidence against either God’s omnipotence or His inherent goodness. In support of this premise, they attempt to lay a foundation for logical argument with opening statements as follows:

A morally good God prevents all the evil He has the power to prevent

They then go on to build upon this foundation in an effort to present a rational construct against God. But any construct is only as strong its foundation (Matt. 7:24ff), & this building is built on quicksand.
At first it seems a statement that all can agree upon, but there is a sly supposition intrinsic to the argument that most do not see at first. It’s the same trap that Job & his three friends fell into, a trap of ignorance covered up by arrogance.

It’s the base assumption that man can, apart from God, discern what is good, & what is evil.

For much of the book of Job, the protagonist defends his character against his primary antagonists, his 3 friends. He does not see within himself a cause for his pain, so he begins to construct an indictment against the very goodness of God, for not preventing the evil that has prevailed against his supposed goodness. But then in chapters 32-37 a fourth fellow by the name of Elihu starts a counter-indictment, not towards judging Job for the sin that supposedly caused his suffering, but his sin that came out in his suffering. Then in chapters 38-41, God himself angrily confronts Job. God doesn’t respond to Job’s farcical line of questioning because his questions were rooted in ignorance of the nature of his situation. Instead, God presents his own line of questioning concerning what measure of either knowledge or ability, much less innate goodness, that Job retained within himself. A sample of God’s case:

Job 38:1-21 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: (2) "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? (3) Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. (4) Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. (5) Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? (6) On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, (7) when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (8) Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, (9) when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, (10) and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, (11) and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'? (12) Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, (13) that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? (14) It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. (15) From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. (16) Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? (17) Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? (18) Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. (19) Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, (20) that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? (21) You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!

See, the reason why Job’s defense of himself & his concomitant indictment of God was revealed as fallacious reasoning was that it was based upon Job’s reckless assumption that he knew the full state of his affairs. He probably didn’t think he knew all things, but he did arrogantly believe in his ability to apprehend the full scope of his own existence. But a proper attitude towards God would have had him sounding much more like Sgt. Shultz (I know nothing!) & a proper faith in God as inherently good would have him praising Him for His goodness regardless of appearances.

So it becomes apparent that Job fell into the same trap that our atheist friends fall into, a most insidious kind of evil, a kind that deceives us towards faith in ourselves, as opposed to a faith in God alone, as inherently good.

I do not mean to say that, as Christians, with the illumination given through the Word of God & the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can never rightly discern good & evil; just that such ability is not innate to the natural man. Such discernment only comes to the degree that God freely offers it in grace & need. Certainly much wisdom can apprehended through the right foundation of His Word; then the Spirit takes these truths & builds upon them, opening our mind to further understanding of the spiritual world’s activities, as the frightened young man of Elisha’s day was ministered to (2Kings 6:17). But more often we are left blind to so much of God’s workings in the course of our daily lives. It is faith, in God’s power & absolute righteousness, that presses us onward in such times.

Faith is directly proportional to our joy in this life. We are anguished, but our joy is steadfast for the cause of faith in God as both supremely powerful & good in regards to our anguish. So faith is fundamental to joy. Faith is like a muscle, it grows as it is worked out. Atrophic faith is a faith that languishes on the couch with bonbons & TV remote in hand. It seems a good life, but is actually greatly pitied, for in the times of extended ease, the lasting joy of strong faith subtly degenerates towards feeble faith & the mere moments of pleasure found in self indulgence. Suffering is sometimes God’s workout plan to grow our faith to the point of trusting Him at all times, in all things.

Genesis 50:15-20 When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." (16) So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, (17) 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. (18) His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." (19) But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? (20) As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Neither Job nor his friends had any cognition, much less faith, in God’s ability or desire to turn what Satan meant for evil around for good as God did in Joseph’s life. They saw nothing right or good in Job’s suffering. But they lacked God’s grand picture of what is “good”. Would you be in favor of someone breaking your bones, or cutting you with a knife? From the outset, these clearly seem to be not “good” things in any way, & the perpetrators would not be seen as “good” either. But what if the bone-breaker was a doctor resetting an improperly healing fracture? (happened to me!) What if the supposed offender with a knife turned out to be surgeon removing malignant tumors from some vital organ? Now the one speculated to be your persecutor turns out to be your friend & savior. Yes he brings you pain, but you accept such short term anguish because you trust faithfully in both his ability to heal & his goodness in motivation will lead towards your eventual benevolence. Who would trust an quack doctor to reset his fracture? Who would succumb to the diagnosis & treatment of a doctor thought to be moved by impure motives (like greed)?

Thus the cause for abdicating the throne of honor whereupon we suffer for the glory of God (2Thess. 1:5)- we lack faith in the doctor.

We must trust in God as a fully-able spiritual surgeon with the purest of motives like we would trust our closest friend. See, we would be much more open to having blind faith in the surgeon if we had a deep relationship with him. But the strongest relationships are built on faith, & faith is built upon trying times. There’s no one you trust more than the one who had your back in battle, the army medic who took fire & suffered himself in order to save you. Both his ability & character has been proven, but only in the throes of affliction. Thus we should accept that the quiet steadfast faith that we desire is often found upon the fields of affliction. Sometimes the Chief Surgeon details the 5-way kidney transplant that blesses so many others, sometimes He may not; but either way, to believe in His utter goodness & sovereign power is to believe that it all happens for good cause. Believe that you are in His will if your biblically & Spiritually informed conscience does not tell you otherwise.

Job 37:10-13 By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. (11) He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. (12) They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. (13) Whether for correction, or for his land, or for love, he causes it to happen.

1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (5) who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (6) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, (7) so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (8) Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (9) obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Christ’s very own disciples had the same Job-like myopic understanding of the causes of suffering. In John 9, they pose a question to Jesus regarding the purpose of the blind man’s affliction- “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Their myopically informed doctrine conjured only two possible causes for woe that the blind man had carried with him all his life to this point. But Jesus graciously opened their eyes as well; He gave them a glimpse into the big picture- the blind man suffered so “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And it was because of such works that the Pharisees & the billions since that have read John’s Gospel since that time have seen that “light of the world” through this splendid display of both Christ‘s authority & the power of a (literally) blind faith in Him. Read again & note that Jesus said “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” More than one work. Christ’s Godly omnipotence was on display that day, but faith was too, in the man’s insistent, unrelenting belief in the One who healed him, despite heated accusations, scorn, & ridicule.

In such times, we should take affliction in grace, often praying that its days might be shortened (2Cor. 12:8), but always praising the very basic integrity & goodness of God that our faith is forged upon. Faith in God’s salvation is based on faith in His inherent goodness, therefore a mature faith always stays true to its roots- tenaciously holding onto God’s integrity instead of our own. Sometimes we find ourselves in like circumstance- we suffer, & fail to find any direct cause, but a mature faith will never fall away, but will always continue to praise Him for His goodness regardless- indeed in the manner of the apostles whose great faith led them to rejoice in God in such downtrodden times.

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