MM writes in her “Theology of the Body” blog yesterday that as many philosophers have noted, there are two primary issues relative to evil that we must lay at God’s feet: the “acts of God” that involve human suffering in an incomplete or unfriendly planet, and the “moral failures” that flow form human free moral agency.
She writes an interesting conclusion:
I would submit also that people tend to become uncomfortable with these explanations of pain as resulting from a broken world and moral failure; such an answer seems incomplete. In fact, such an answer is incomplete, until both you and your audience have acknowledged your own “breaking” role in the broken world. May I suggest that such a conversation about the problem of pain is a good opportunity to recognize (gently) the sin and brokenness of the one who brings these troubling questions about the reality of pain, and the consequent need for the Savior?
The approach advocated by MM, it seems to me, may come across as insensitive — sort of like blaming the victim. (as Anonymous seemed to be saying). Yes, we all need to repent. But even after we have repented we will still hurt. And hurt even more on behalf of those who are darkened and discouraged by the prevalence of invincible evil, while the only invincible force in the universe does not interfere. So to force people to wait for an answer about the goodness of God, until they have personally taken full responsibility for their troubles, is both incomplete and unnecessary.
Unnecessary because the Bible is full of answers on this topic of God’s goals and ultimate designs. Incomplete, because the process of repentance and growth toward Godlikeness is a long journey, not a single step. In fact, when we envision the world as it will be toward the end of Messiah’s rule — a world that by today’s standards will be a paradise, with scarcely a problem visible anywhere, victory over evil will still be quite incomplete. In that world, all the people who have ever lived will be back, outwardly obedient and living happily. They will have acknowledged the Savior, and learned substantially much more about how to live and love, freely … and yet the probability of a major explosion of evil will still exist. And it is predicted that evil will indeed come roaring back at the end of the Millennium, in the “little season”. Jesus puts his finger on why in his parable of the Sheep and the Goats. There, when queried as to their sins of omission, exposed at the end of Messiah’s rule, both categories of people are unconscious of what they omitted. Or at least they say they are.
I therefore submit that what God is working toward, the goal he has laid down of complete victory over evil, will only come when all human beings and angels will have fully learned how to be unconsciously, constantly good. So good that they will not only avoid transgression, their love for others will not miss opportunities to do good. This level of character growth will require God’s mighty help, and it will begin to be extended while people are weak.
At the moment, the weak are still saying they are strong. The proud are still “happy”. But God will intervene, he will cry, yea, roar. He will defeat every human rival institution, including and especially the “Christian” ones.
Yet God will also be winsome in victory, and even with the toughest cases of wickedness, God will rise to the occasion by revealing his judgments in an educational way, and by attacking the wickedness of the wicked, until he finds no more wickedness. (Psalm 10:15)
This will take some amazing teaching on God’s part, and some long experience with the subtleties of human and angelic pride. But it will happen, and it is promised. And so I would disagree that God did the ultimate good by creating free beings who can and do sin. If that is all he did, he would be the author of confusion, bitterness and death. But God will make the anger of man, the sin of man, the wilfulness of man, praise him by turning it into a learning opportunity, and nurture every willing heart toward complete victory. All godlike creatures carry destructive possibilities within their hearts and minds — so pain and suffering at the present time is only a problem when viewed shortsightedly. In the long view, it is a necessary part, and everyone will be able to graduate with honors from this long and arduous class.
Richard, many thanks for your comments at Vocatum- I knew I was taking a risk with my “suggestion.” After reading yours here, I think we may be getting at the same thing regarding “graduating with honors” – dont you think that persons who are truly perplexed about the pain in their own lives and in the lives of those around them will only be made truly whole when they actively become part of God’s solution? – that is to say, we can provide sound answers for ourselves, but what we really need to do is to become part of God’s healing in the world. The “answer” to the problem of pain needs to be practical, and it starts with the individual’s commitment to stop perpetuating pain on his own part…which does return to the ultimate need for the Savior…?
Richard Kindig said:
And thank you for responding, too.
I think that ultimately the heavenly Father will indeed be pleased by those who love deeply, sacrificially. (1 Tim 1:5) I really like the way you put what it seems like we are called to do — “actively become part of the solution.” But I think that the glory of our (Christian) efforts will still be overshadowed by the grace and glory of God. We all know that the excellency of the Power comes from Him, not us, and I think that the whole world is desperately in need of what only God can supply — grace, forgiveness, power, a “right hand” to reach out to human weakness.
So while I agree that what we do is critical and important, and becomes a part of the practical solution that I agree is needed — still I am persuaded that God will do the heavy lifting — healing of the nations, wiping away tears, raising of the dead, swallowing up death in victory, binding and ultimately destroying Satan, etc.
It seems we agree that our role is significant. I understand the Biblical description of our future role by God’s grace to be helpers in the work of allowing people in their day of judgment to learn God’s ways and unlearn their sinful habits. (Isaiah 26:9) I feel so privileged to be part of the “government” that God is preparing for that time. (Rev. 2:27). It’s an amazing thing to imagine you and I and all who have been called of God to collectively become “gates of pearl” in the New Jerusalem. (Rev. 21) To me that particular metaphor is a beautiful picture of how God’s grace first works in the lives of Christians, to take a piece of dirt like us and, across our lifetimes, to coat it with layer after layer of his providence and love, until we are unique and beautiful and pure and irridescent in the light he provides… That’s the perseverence of the saints, is it not? It is our experience with God’s love and justice, and our own efforts to reflect that love and righteousness in our lives, that will equip us to serve as doorways or gates into the City of God for the rest of mankind, as I understand the message of Scripture to be.
What I get from Isaiah 25:8 is that God will wipe away the tears from all faces. I’ve read commentators who apply verses like that to the Rapture — to believers. But as I read them, many such verses seem more universal than that. For me the Bible seems to hold out nothing less than a complete and thorough answer to the “problem of pain” — and I’m really excited about the full extent and almost shocking scope of that promised victory.
Have you ever considered the future of mankind from that perspective? What role do you think faithful Christians will have after they learn the lessons God is trying to teach them now? (2 Cor 10: 6) Do you see the victorious believers as one day being part of the practical solution to human pain?