Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 4)

Alarm clock on wooden table

This is the 4th and final Part of a series discussing God’s relationship to time. The question at hand is, “Is God inside of time, outside of time, or both?”

In Part 1, I introduced the topic and underscored its importance for Christian theology.

In Part 2, I looked at Wolterstorff’s Open Theism argument that suggests that God is inside of time, that is, God is everlasting. I concluded that this is least plausible among the three options.

In Part 3, I looked at Boethius’ traditional and widely held argument that suggests that God is outside of time, that is, God is timeless. I concluded that this too is quite implausible.

Now here in Part 4, I am putting forth my own new position – God is transcendent of time yet immanent in it – which sees this issue as both-and instead of either-or like the other two. 

——

The Transcendent Argument: Why It Is Most Plausible

Now that I have shown how the arguments of Wolterstorff (God is everlasting/inside time) and Boethius (God is timeless/outside time) are quite implausible and that there is need for a new position, I will now put forth my own new argument that the biblical God both transcends time as its Creator, and yet still acts immanently within it. As one can infer, this view is somewhat a middle ground between Wolterstorff and Boethius’ arguments. So, let me now lay out my reasons for holding such a view of God’s relationship to time.

First, the transcendent view upholds the attributes of God as espoused by classical theologians such as the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God. Concerning God’s omnipotence (all powerful), if he is all-powerful, then he must therefore have power over time, not being subjected to it. In addition, this would imply that God cannot be bound within the constraints of time and be fundamentally temporal as Wolterstorff purports. Furthermore, presupposing God’s omnipotence, his Lordship over time also leads one to believe that he is not finite, but rather infinite. It is the finite world that he created that is bound to temporality. But since he is infinite, he does not need time to exist and cannot fundamentally be temporal (although his actions in the world can be temporal). Thus, God’s transcendence of and actions in time aligns with his omnipotence.

With regard to God’s omniscience (all knowing), if he knows all things, how does one account for his relation to time? On the one hand, if one holds that God is fundamentally inside time and experiencing temporality moment by moment, then he could not know what the future holds and therefore not know all things. On the other hand, if one holds that God is outside of time, then it is possible for God to know the past, present, and future, thus knowing all things (particularly with regard to what transpires in the temporal world). In addition, if God transcends all things (including time), then it is therefore possible for him to know all things. Thus, God transcending time and acting in time aligns with God’s omniscience.

Regarding God’s omnipresence (all present), if he is present everywhere then that would include temporality and non-temporality, both in and outside of time. Thus, to put God strictly in one time-frame or another would contradict his omnipresence. God is present outside of time because he transcends it. Nevertheless, he is present inside of time because he interacts with the temporal world. In other words, if God is not in time, then he is not omnipresent and if God is not outside of time, then he is not omnipresent. Only the transcendent argument can account for God’s omnipresence.

All these things lead one to seek an alternative to the traditional views of God as either timeless or everlasting because these arguments have unfortunately fallen prey to the “either-or” fallacy. However, when accounting for the attributes of God, it seems clear that the issue is one of both-and rather than either-or, at least according to classical theology which rests upon a biblical theology. God transcends time and exists outside of it, yet he is present and interacts in the temporal universe which he created. Because of this, the transcendent argument is the most plausible resolution to the inquiry about God’s relationship to time.

POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS TO THE TRANSCENDENT ARGUMENT

            However, one may object to this view in that I have not used any Scripture to argue this position. In response, I would have used much Scripture to give evidence of the transcendent argument. The main reason I chose not to is because I am Bible scholar and would write a thirty page exegesis paper on each Bible passage I would use to support the claims that God is omnipotence, omniscient, and omnipresent, and that is not my purpose in the series. So, I have made use of widely accepted biblical doctrines concerning the attributes of God instead of providing exhaustive explanations of biblical texts. Overall, I believe these doctrines give sufficient evidence in and of themselves.

THE UPSHOTS OF THE TRANSCENDENT ARGUMENT

            In conclusion, one upshot of the transcendent argument is that one does not lose certain attributes of God which have been established throughout two millennia of church history at the expense of others, whereas the everlasting and timeless arguments do. In this regard, it seems to maintain the biblical view of God as the Creator (of time) who is infinitely not subject to time, yet chooses to interact with his creation within time. In addition, it refocuses the issue of God’s eternity off of an either-or scenario onto the possibility of both-and, thus avoiding the pitfall of ascribing God as only outside of time or only inside of time. Lastly, it implies that the transcendent God of the Bible deserves worship from his creatures because he is both transcendent and immanent; both beyond and near them. This mystery and paradox is one that we could happily meditate upon for the next two millennia to come.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Peterson, Michael, ed. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Peterson, Michael, ed. Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Wood, Laurence. God and History. Lexington: Emeth Press, 2005.

Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 3)

Alarm clock on wooden table

In Part 1, I introduced the topic at hand, namely, God’s relationship to time, and underscored its importance for theology and philosophy today.

In Part 2, last time, I critiqued Wolterstorff’s Open Theism argument which understands God as Everlasting showing its logical inconsistencies and why it is least plausible among our options.

Here in Part 3, I am going to discuss Boethius’ argument that God is Timeless, offer my critique, show how it is no better than Wolterstorff’s, and that a new position is needed.

Boethius’ Timeless Argument: Why It Is Not Plausible

            In the opening of The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius defines eternity by stating, “Now, eternity is the complete possession of an endless life enjoyed as one simultaneous whole.”[1] This is how he understands God’s eternity, namely, that “God lives completely outside of time, in a changeless ‘eternal now’ that contains all of time within itself.”[2] This view of God’s eternity seems correct in that it makes a clear distinction between God who is infinite and unbound by time and the universe which is finite and bound by time. While this argument of God as being timeless living outside of time may seem accurate at first glance, it is lacking in several areas.

First, as Wolterstorff conjectured, Boethius seems to rely too heavily upon Greek philosophy rather than biblical theology. He mentions Plato and Aristotle, but gives no credence to Holy Scripture, Jesus, or Paul. Thus, Wolterstorff’s critique seems to be valid.

Furthermore, this leads to the two main lacks in Boethius’ argument of timelessness: (1) that he does not explicitly state that God is the Creator of time and (2) that his timeless God is remote and does not interact with the time bound world.

First, explicitly stating that God is the Creator of time would have greatly strengthened his argument. While this is somewhat inferential of his view, it nevertheless would have bolstered his case had he overtly said that the reason why God is timeless and unbound by time is because he created it. This may be due to the fact that Boethius scarcely relies upon Scripture.

The second lack in his contention is that his timeless God is a distant spectator of the world that does not interact with his creation. He says, “God is the ever prescient spectator of all things.”[3] But is this all that God does with the world? Does he merely know all that will happen and then watch from the outskirts of time what transpires in time? Again, dependence upon Scripture would have aided Boethius in this respect.

From Genesis to Revelation, the God of the Bible intimately interacts with humanity and creation. God creates the universe and then calls the nation of Israel through Abraham to bless all the other nations of the earth with the knowledge of God. As they walk with God and fail over two millennia, God then sends his ultimate revelation, his own Son, to redeem his fallen creation. On the last day,[4] God will fully redeem humanity by destroying death forever when his Son returns to the earth to establish fully the kingdom of God on the new heavens and new earth. The biblical narrative is one which describes the God who interacts with humanity and creation which are finite and bound in time, and Boethius’ argument seems to ignore these perspicuous biblical facts. The Bible does not portray God as a spectator of the world, but the ultimate participant in it. Had he availed himself to Scripture, Boethius would have avoided such theological pitfalls in his argument. For these reasons, Boethius’ view is inferior to the God of the Bible.

Since both of the most popular views of God’s eternity are flawed (Wolterstorff and Boethius), I will attempt in Part 4 next time to set forth a biblical understanding of God’s relationship to time.


[1] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 150.

[2] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 150.

[3] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 152.

[4] Notice, it is the end of temporality.

Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 2)

Alarm clock on wooden table

Wolterstorff’s Everlasting Argument: Why It Is Least Plausible

            In the 20th century, Nicholas Wolterstorff argued a different view from that of classical theologians concerning the eternity of God. He purported that God’s relationship to time and eternity should be understood as everlasting rather than timeless, that is, that God lives within rather than outside of time. Throughout his work God and the Good, Wolterstorff states his primary point and conclusion several times, namely, that God’s “own life and existence is temporal.”[1] While his work has several strengths to it such as (1) a critique of early Christian theologians relying too heavily upon Greek philosophy, (2) noting that God indeed does act in human history, (3) attempted fidelity to the Bible, (4) excellent biblical exegesis, (5) interaction with possible objections to his view, (6) unveiling the classic timeless view of God as “an impassive factor in reality” rather than an actively involved God in human affairs, and (7) recognizing that change in human history does not necessarily mean a change in God, Wolterstorff’s argument and logic has several problems.

First, his whole argument rests upon the assumption that if God is a redeeming God as the Bible portrays him to be, he therefore must be temporal because a redeeming God changes. He states, “If we shall accept this picture of God as acting for the renewal of human life, we must conceive of him as everlasting rather than eternal [timeless]. God the Redeemer cannot be a God eternal [timeless].”[2] His major premise here seems to be false. Just because God is a Redeeming God does not necessarily infer that he is everlasting no more than it would necessarily infer that he is timeless. Rather, it could imply several things. One alternative possibility which Wolterstorff ignores is that God foreknew the fall of humanity and planned beforehand their salvation and redemption. This seems to be the consensus among many biblical writers.[3] All in all, whether one accepts the doctrine of divine foreknowledge or not, the point is that Wolterstorff ignores this possibility assuming that the only conclusion to his premise is that God must therefore be everlasting. However, I maintain that God indeed has foreknowledge and because he had foreknowledge of the fall, he was therefore able to plan beforehand his plan of redemption for all creation. In this way, then, Wolterstorff’s premises and conclusion are logically inconsistent and unwarranted.

Second, he asserts that God’s acts have beginnings and ends and concludes that God is therefore fundamentally noneternal (i.e. God is temporal/everlasting). However, again this is fallacious logic. The proper inference of the premise “God’s acts have beginnings and ends” is that God’s actions are fundamentally temporal or everlasting, not that God himself is fundamentally temporal or everlasting. For all we know God could fundamentally be timeless. Regardless, the proper inference from Wolterstorff’s premise should be directed at God’s acts not God himself.

Thirdly, while Wolterstorff recognizes Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”), also known as God’s acts in the history of salvation, he fails to see the possibility for the Redeeming God of Heilsgeschichte to exist outside of time. Again, he is basing his argument upon the presupposition that a Redeeming God must necessarily exist within time, not outside time. However, it is possible that the Redeeming God of Heilsgeschichte who transcends time could have planned out their redemption before time began, knowing beforehand that humanity would sin. It is not an absolute fact as he suggests that a Redeeming God must be bound to time planning out the redemption of humanity as time is transpiring and history unfolds. What he misses from Scripture is that the biblical God had a plan to redeem the human race before he even created the human race. Wolterstorff unfortunately ignores this important alternative.

Lastly, the most contradictory part of Wolterstorff’s argument comes at the end of his discussion. He states, “Though God is within time, yet he is Lord of time. The whole array of contingent temporal events is within his power. He is Lord of what occurs.”[4] However, it is contradictory to purport that God is fundamentally bound under the sway of temporality, and yet Lord over it. Is a king both a poor beggar and the wealthiest man in his kingdom? Of course not. Why then could one hold that God is subject to time yet in control of it? For if God is subject to time, then time has control over God, not vice versa. Only if God subjects time can he therefore be Lord of time.[5]

For these reasons, then, I think Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Open Theism view of God as everlasting is least plausible. In Part 3, we will consider why Boethius’ view is more plausible than Wolterstorff but still inadequate.



[1]Michael Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 153.

[2] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 154.

[3] See Ps 139:4, 16b; Jer 1:5; Rom 8:28-30; Eph 1:4-5, 11; Rev 13:8. These all share the commonality of God’s foreknowledge, some about certain people and groups of people, while others concerning the salvation and redemption of humanity. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but Wolterstorff cannot ignore the biblical language of divine foreknowledge. How one understands God’s foreknowledge will certainly play a significant role in how one understands God’s relationship to time. As a side note, knowing all possibilities is not the same as knowing all things. If I apply for 4 Ph.D. programs (and I did) and am still waiting to hear back from them, just because I know all of the possibilities (1 of the 4 schools) does not mean that I will know where I will end up. So then I am in the dark about knowing the future. This example goes to show that just because someone knows all possibilities does not mean that they will know what will happen. So for God to have foreknowledge cannot simply mean that he knows all possibilities, foreknowledge means that God actually knows what will happen. And this of course does not mean that he causes it to happen (determinism). That discussion is for another time.

[4] Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 159.

[5] I must briefly note here the contribution of Albert Einstein’s theory of general and special relativity which concludes that space and time are a unified entity (for an in depth analysis of this, see Laurence Wood’s God and History pp. 259-208). Thus, if God transcends space, as most theologians would assert, then God must also transcend time. If Wolterstorff wants to argue that God does not transcend time, then he must also argue that God does not transcend space. Once one moves into the realm of describing God as not transcending space, then one’s theological framework shifts from classical theism to pantheism. This is another logical inconsistency of Wolterstorff and others who espouse the Openness of God theology (Open Theism).

Time Out, Time In: The Divine Transcendence of Time (Part 1)

Alarm clock on wooden table

            For over two millennia, philosophers and theologians alike have debated the nature of God’s eternity and his relationship to time. While a consensus has not been reached, there are two main interpretive camps regarding the eternity of God. On the one hand, the vast majority of thinkers throughout church history have believed that God is timeless, that is, that God exists outside of and is unbound by time. On the other hand, a smaller few have thought of God as everlasting, existing within time. While both camps have exceptional reasons for their positions, both have logical and theological problems. Thus, in this paper, I will argue a new position, namely, that it is most plausible to perceive God as transcendent of time, existing outside of time while nevertheless acting and interacting with humans within time. Put simply, God transcends time yet acts within it. I will proceed henceforth by first underscoring the importance of the debate concerning one’s understanding of God’s eternity. Secondly, I will give my reasons why understanding God as transcendent is superior to viewing him is everlasting or timeless. Thirdly, I will discuss one possible objection to this thesis and attempt to give a solution. Lastly, I will conclude by stating the upshots of holding to the transcendent argument for God’s eternity.

THE VITALITY OF GOD’S ETERNITY

            To begin, one cannot over underscore the immense importance of understanding God’s relationship to time. One reason why understanding God’s eternity is vital is due to the fact that many have discussed, studied, written, and debated this subject. This discussion is and has been vital to theology, philosophy, and the philosophy of religion for centuries from Boethius to Wolterstorff. Secondly, it is vital because God’s eternity intricately relates to the other attributes of God such as his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. For example, the claim that God is omnipotent means that God has power over all things. However, if God is bound and constrained to the realm of time, then he would not therefore also be omnipotent because time would have some sort of power over him. Thus, one can see from this example how understanding God’s eternity (whether he be timeless, everlasting, or transcendent) has vital implications pertaining to the other attributes of God.

GOD TRANSCENDS TIME YET ACTS IN IT

            So in the next 3 Parts, I will defend my thesis of divine transcendence (1) by demonstrating the inadequacies of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s and Boethius’ arguments concerning God’s eternity and (2) by setting forth my own argument of God’s transcendence which is somewhat of a middle ground. In Parts 2 and 3, I will begin with asserting the strengths and contributions of their arguments followed by a critical examination of them showing why they are not plausible answers to the question of God’s eternity. Then, in the final Part 4, I will simply put forth my transcendent argument based upon classical theology, answer objections, and state the upshots of the argument.

Next time, in Part 2, I will look at Wolterstorff’s everlasting or Open Theism argument.

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 6)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

OBJECTIONS TO A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING

           In this sixth and final part on The Problem of Evil and the Bible, I will address two possible objections to this biblical theology of suffering as presented in the previous parts. The first objection could be that there is no guarantee or evidence of this future evil-less world. To this I would reply first that not many things in life are guaranteed, especially with 100% certainty. In many ways, it requires faith, but not a faith that is uninformed or illogical. Secondly, there is very little evidence that any future event will occur, let alone that God will destroy evil forever. So, the Christian witness about the future in that sense would be just as good as any other. Nevertheless, one can look to its past and see the historicity and reliability of the Christian Scripture and from there decide whether or not its declaration concerning the future is plausible.

The second possible objection is that there are still many unanswered questions as to why this present world must have evil and suffering, especially when it appears to be meaningless (i.e. gratuitous evil). To this I would reply with three more questions. First, what if suffering and evil in the world is meant to leave within humans a longing for freedom from evil, pain, and suffering – a longing for resurrection, and the new heavens and earth; the new creation – so that they would then turn from evil toward God who will provide that freedom? Secondly, what if evil and suffering are to prepare us to inherit the glories of eternity in a sinless, evil-less, suffer-less world? And lastly, what if suffering and evil are a way for God to test who will really be true to him in good times and ill, for better or worse? I think that pondering these questions will help us better understand God’s ultimate purposes for allowing evil to reign for so long in this present world.

CONCLUSION

            To conclude, the Christian Scriptures present a robust theology of suffering that in many ways I believe rebuttals the problem of evil. Though evil entered the world by human choice and spread vastly throughout the earth shortly thereafter, God made an attempt through Noah to destroy evil then. What is more, evil is mysteriously part of God’s deep purposes in that it is necessary for his people to endure it in order to inherit the future glory of resurrection which is void of it. Ultimately, the Bible proclaims that evil will end on the last day and in that day God only goodness will reign in the new heavens and new earth from that time on and forevermore. The upshot I suggest to holding this biblical perspective concerning the problem of evil and this theology of suffering is that it is reasonable, plausible, comprehensive, and carried out by a God who hates and wants to destroy evil in the world more than the nontheist philosophers do.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baker, David W. “r‘a‘a.” Pages 1154-1158 in vol. 3 of New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Edited by Willem A. VanGemeren. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

Elliger, Karl and Willhelm Rudolph. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1976-1977.

Nestle, E. and K. Aland et al., eds. Novum Testamentum Graece. 27th ed. 1993. Repr., Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006.

Peterson, Michael, ed. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Peterson, Michael, ed. Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 5)

Building being demolished

IV. Evil Will Come to an End in the Future

            The last (pun intended) and most pertinent aspect of a biblical theology of suffering is eschatology, that is, the study of the last things or end times. Unfortunately, eschatology has largely been ignored by the church for most of its history. However, for nearly two millennia, chapters 21-22 of the book of Revelation have declared that evil, suffering, and pain will come to an end in the eschaton the day that Jesus Christ returns to the earth. On this day, God will renew this present world – the new creation – remaking it with only goodness, where no evil or impurity may enter. In speaking of the New Jerusalem which will be in the new heavens and new earth in the new creation, Revelation describes this lack of impurity like so: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful,but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27).

For too long, Christians have been uninformed about eschatology, and this may be why it has not been appealed to very often in the debate regarding the problem of evil. Most nontheist philosophers claim that if a perfectly good God who is also omniscient and omnipotent exists, that he could and should have created a world with no evil or at least much less evil than this current one has. What they fail to recognize is that the God of the Bible will do this very thing; however only those who choose in the present life to abhor evil and live uprightly before him enduring suffering and pain for his sake will inherit this glory in the new creation.

Which of them would dare turn down such an offer? Is this not the kind of world that they are complaining about not having? Should this not give them all the more reason to embrace Christianity so that they may inherit this world that they are so longing for? But then again, maybe they would desire their lives, pleasures, and comforts in this world more than a future world with no suffering or evil. Or perhaps suffering now is too costly in their minds for an eternity without evil?

Regardless of whether one embraces this view or not, the Bible indeed declares the ultimate downfall of evil and suffering in the world, that in the end God will destroy evil forever when he sends His Son to earth a second time to renew heaven and earth.

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 4)

Cross on top of mountain

III. The Necessity of Suffering for the Righteous in This World

            Another aspect regarding a biblical theology of suffering has to do with the fate of the righteous in this life. In particular, the Bible asserts that it is necessary for the righteous to suffer and endure much evil in this world in order to inherit the glories of next. While this is somewhat of a mystery, it permeates the pages of the Bible and is at the forefront of many of the biblical authors’ minds.

First, in Gen 12-50, the writer tells the story of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Throughout these chapters, we hear of the many sufferings that they went through. From Abraham leaving his family and country out of obedience to Yahweh to the barrenness of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel; from enmity between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau to the cruelty and hurt done to young Joseph by his brothers; from Joseph’s imprisonment for purity to famine destroying the land of Canaan and Egypt, the Patriarchs went through immense suffering and trials, the ultimate test being waiting for God to fulfill his promises to them, namely, the promises of innumerable offspring, the land of Canaan, and the blessing of the nations. In the NT, the author of Hebrews reflects upon this saying, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them…Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”[1] According to the epistle to the Hebrews, then, the Patriarchs went through great sufferings and endured both moral and natural evils in order to receive “something better” which is later clarified as resurrection in the New Jerusalem.[2]

Another OT story about suffering comes from the book of Job. This part narrative, part poetry book tells of a righteous and innocent man whom Yahweh allowed terrible and horrendous evils to fall upon. When Job’s wife exhorts him to curse God and die because of this suffering, he piously replies, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10).[3] The book of Job overall seems to refute the popular idea at that time that those who are rich and wealthy are blessed by God because they are righteousness and those who are poor and suffer are cursed and punished by God because of their sin and unrighteousness. Job then argues the contrary: the righteous will undergo even more trials, evil, and suffering in this world than the unrighteous.

Moving to the NT, the most atrocious evil recorded in the Bible is probably the crucifixion of Jesus.[4] As an innocent man, he was betrayed, unjustly tried, flogged, crucified, and killed by the Jewish religious elites and the Romans. Prior to this throughout the Gospels, Jesus thrice predicted that he would be crucified, die, and be raised on the third day.[5] In these sayings, he states that his sufferings must happen, in other words, it was necessary that he suffer. Here, we see the first glimpses of the Christ narrative and Christian gospel: that suffering (cross) is the necessity for entering into glory (resurrection).

The last example that we’ll look at from the NT is the Apostle Paul who endured tremendous suffering for Christ’s sake. Even from the moment of his conversion and calling, Jesus said this of Paul in Acts 9:16: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”[6] The subsequent chapters in Acts then flesh out this statement in that it narrates Paul’s life and ministry enamored by trial and hardship. There are several places also where Paul lists his sufferings in his epistles and often strangely boasts about his sufferings rather than his strengths.[7] Overall, Paul’s theology of suffering seems to be summarized best in Rom 8:17: “we suffer with him [Christ] so that we may also be glorified with him.”[8] In other words, suffering and enduring evil and pain for the sake of God and his righteousness in this life is the necessary constituent for entering into the glory of resurrection with Christ in the age to come. This consumed Paul’s mind so much that he says his life goal is to share in the narrative of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).

Overall, the red thread throughout these biblical examples is that suffering is a necessary part of the Christian life and that enduring evil and pain for the sake of Christ in this world is prerequisite for attaining the glory of the resurrection of the dead in the age to come, an age where evil, pain, suffering, sorrow, disease, decay, and death will be no more. It is to these matters that we will turn to next in part 5.



[1] Heb 11:13, 39.

[2] Hence the phrase “be made perfect” here. See Heb 11:35; 12:18-29. Note that we will take up the issue of eschatology and how it relates to the problem of evil in part 5.

[3] The Hebrew word for “bad, evil” is the adjective ra’ and can be used of both physical harm or disaster and of moral evil, perverseness, or malice. It is often times in contrast with tov (“good”) as it is here in Job 2:10. See NIDOTTE 1154-55.

[4] Theists and nontheists alike define “evil” as some sort of “extreme pain, the suffering of innocents, physical deformities…injustice,”[4] and Jesus’ trial and crucifixion fit these criteria (Peterson, Reason, 146).

[5] The first is in Matt 16:13-23; Mark 8:27-33; Luke 9:18-22. The second is in Matt 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43b-45. The third is in Matt 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34. In all three instances, the Greek word dei is used, which means “it is necessary, it must.”

[6] Again, the Greek word for “must” here is dei – “it is necessary.”

[7] Cf. Rom 8:17-25; 1 Cor 15:30-32; 2 Cor 2:12-13; 6:4-10; 11:16-33; Phil 1:12-30; 2 Tim 4:14-18.

[8] Suffering with Christ precedes being raised in glory with him.

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 3)

Illustration of Noah's Ark

II. God’s Response to the Spread of Evil in the World

            In the chapters of Genesis following the fall of humanity which we discussed in part 2, the author tells the story of the rapid and far-reaching spread of evil in the world. The first murder took place in Gen 4 when Cain killed his brother Abel,[1] and sometime thereafter all of humanity turned toward evil – “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart (Gen 6:5-6).” Because of this, God therefore decided to blot out all of creation – not just humanity – on earth in order to wipe evil off the planet via the flood. This flood in Gen 7 was the first action that God took to eliminate evil from the earth and he spared Noah – “a righteous man” – and his family along with two of every species on an ark which withstood the flood. From this, we observe (1) the pervasive impact and widespread effect that evil had upon the world, and (2) the first act of God to eliminate evil from the earth.[2]

In light of this, should not nontheists be glad that God responds to evil in such a way? Is this not one of their chief objections, that evil is in the world and needs to be eliminated? Not only is that the God of the Bible’s chief complaint about the world, but he also does something about it. Perhaps the nontheists have more in common with the Christian God than they know. Perhaps they both are on the same bandwagon, the same protest against evil. Perhaps they share some of the same values and concerns about the world. Sounds like they’d be good friends if you’d ask me.



[1] Note here that Abel is a righteous man who suffers evil for being right with God. This is the pattern for all those who walk with the LORD as I will argue below.

 

[2] This ultimately is a foretaste of what God will do at the second coming of Jesus, namely, banish evil and suffering from heaven and earth. Note that Jesus compared the end of the age to the days of Noah (Mt 24:37-39).

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 2)

Stained glass of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Vienna, Austria, Europe

A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING

            As we move from introductory matters in part 1 to a biblical response to the problem of evil here in part 2, I will begin by first setting forth the four main points of my biblical theology of suffering as theodicy. Next, I will present these four points by briefly discussing select Old Testament and New Testament passages that substantiate and promote this theology of suffering while avoiding the pitfalls of proof-texting.

With regard to my four main biblical points, first, evil entered into the world due to the choice of humanity, not the choice of God: this was the origin of evil in the world. Secondly, the biblical witness describes how evil, suffering, and sin spread pervasively throughout the world shortly after its inception. Third, the Bible asserts that it is necessary for God’s people to endure evil and suffering in this world in order to inherit the goodness of the next. Lastly, the Bible foretells of the ultimate defeat of evil when Jesus returns to the earth to raise the dead, consummate the end of all things, bring the kingdom of God in all its fullness, and make all things new, the results of which entail no more suffering, pain, or evil.

I. The Origin of Evil in the World

Firstly, according to Genesis, suffering and evil entered the world when Adam and Eve disobediently ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:6). The Bible says that when they ate, their eyes were opened and they knew good and evil (Gen 3:7).[1] Thus, in a perspicuous manner, the Bible declares that humans are responsible for the problem of evil in the world, not God as many nontheists purport. However, someone would object, “Why did God allow both good and evil to be known in the first place? Why not just good?” This question will be answered as we move forward. For now, the point is simply that God indeed allowed humankind to choose for themselves whether or not they would know good and evil. However, God does not leave humanity in this place, subject to horrendous evils, but rather he responds and acts to eradicate this problem which we will explore in part 3.



[1] What did they know before? Did they know good and not evil? Or did they know nothing at all? Or only what God told them? This would require a more in-depth study and closer reading.

 

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 1)

Tornado column in rural landscape

INTRODUCTION

            Throughout human history, mankind has been sullied by an inexorable plague called evil. It has penetrated all times and places and manifested itself in both humanity and the natural world. Undoubtedly, many of the great thinkers and philosophers of history have tangoed with this problem of evil, especially in its relation to the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly morally good deity. Today, most philosophers hold that the problem of evil stands as the greatest threat to theism. Many theists have responded but still a philosophically and theologically satisfactory solution has not been attained, at least according to nontheists. However, Michael Peterson points out in Reason and Religious Belief that this insufficiency should be reckoned on account of the theological basis of the argument, namely, restricted theism. He suggests that “a minimal or restricted theism could yield, at best, a minimal theodicy. Likewise, it is reasonable to think that theodicy, if it is going to have a fighting chance, and if it seeks serious explanatory adequacy, will have to draw upon the full resources of its own religious tradition (i.e. its key doctrines, scriptures, and wisdom of the believing community, etc.).”[1] Thus, in this paper, I will purpose a Christian theodicy that pulls from the resources of the OT and NT. Moreover, this theodicy will be more or less a biblical theology of suffering. I will first concisely summarize the problem of evil, particularly from the standpoint of the nontheist. Then, I will set forth a biblical theology of suffering as theodicy. Next, I will present and defend a possible objection to this theodicy. Finally, I will conclude by stating the upshots of holding this view. Overall, I will argue that the Christian Bible presents a strong, reasonable, plausible, and comprehensive case that responds to the problem of evil, namely, its origin, reign, and ultimate defeat in the world.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

To begin, I will briefly state the problem of evil from the standpoint of the nontheist. On the whole, the problem of evil deals with the question of, “How can a perfectly good, omniscient, omnipotent God exist, if there is so much evil in the world?” It can further be broken into two categories, namely, the logical problem and the evidential problem. First, the logical problem of evil views the two claims of (1) “a perfectly good, omniscient, and omnipotent God exists” and (2) “there is so much evil in the world” to be irrational. Those who hold this view think that this kind of God would not make such a world filled with evil, but rather would make a world of only goodness, or at least a world with more good than evil. Secondly, the evidential problem of evil does not think that theism is irrational, but rather that it is implausible. This is primarily because the facts of the world are that tremendous suffering and evil happen, and a benevolent God would not allow such things to happen. Thus, those who hold this view conclude that it is more plausible that God does not exist. However, as we will see, the Bible presents a strong, plausible, reasonable, and comprehensive response to both the logical and evidential problem of evil.

Part 2 coming next week…



[1] Michael Peterson, Reason and Religious Belief, 156.