Does evil serve a greater purpose?

freewill
maxbaker-hytch

(Max Baker-Hytch) #1

Hi,
Thanks for these follow up questions. The easiest thing might be for me to paste quotes from questions then try to address the points you raise.

“In order for free will to be meaningful, it must be possible for us to make choices which hurt/help people.” Yes, I very much agree with this. God could have given us trivial free will - for instance, the freedom to choose what colour food to eat - but this wouldn’t be a particularly valuable thing. Rather, in order for us to have a serious degree of freedom, we need to bear a significant amount of responsibility for one another’s wellbeing, a corollary of which is that if we do a poor job of taking care of one another and especially if we actively go out of our way to harm one another, people will be seriously hurt. But the possibility of such hurt is a prerequisite for the possibility of our using our freedom to greatly benefit one another, even at cost to ourselves, which seems clearly to be a very valuable thing.

“Leibniz stated that there are many different ways God, being omniscient and all good, could have created the world but He chose to create this one. It entails that this must be the one with the maximum amount of goodness, and thus we live in the best of all possible worlds.” I would beg to differ with Leibniz here, and in fact, most philosophers now think that there isn’t any such thing the best possible world. The reason is simply that there are many good-making features of the world which are such that there could always have been a bit more of that feature. For instance, the existence of happy people is a good feature of a world. But there could always be one more happy person in existence. There isn’t, logically speaking, a maximum number of happy people who can exist. So in short, the reason that the idea of a single best of all possible worlds is incoherent is that there are many features of the world that simply don’t have a maximum value. God, being omniscient and all good can only create what’s logically possible to create, and a best possible world isn’t logically possible for the aforementioned reasons, and so it seems to me that the most that God is obliged to do is to create a world that contains more goodness than evil overall.

“does evil serve a purpose since it contributes to a greater good? As you said, evil is working to point us to the devastation our bad choices make and our responsibility towards one another. Is it, in a way, driving us to the imperative of love as a solution to extricate us from the outworkings of evil?” Yes, I think that that’s certainly part of the answer to why God allows evil to continue to exist. As Lewis suggested in The Problem of Pain, pain can serve to make us aware, in a way that nothing else could, that we are not in fact masters of our own destinies but rather are utterly dependent upon God.

“I am not clear as to what “goods” are present in our world that are not present in heaven.” Ah yes, I didn’t make that very clear. Roughly, the thought is that since heaven won’t contain any pain or suffering of any sort, neither will it contain any of the goods that arise in this world when we are confronted with great adversity. For instance, in heaven there won’t be any opportunities to exercise courage or bravery, because there won’t be any situations of danger which could call for courage or bravery. So in short, heaven won’t contain any of the goods that are made possible in a world of adversity like the present one. But on the other hand, heaven will contain infinitely great goods such as perfect communion between God and human beings, unending bliss, and so on, none of which are possible in our present world of brokenness and adversity.


(RZIM Connect Member) #4

Hi all,

This is such a great and helpful discussion - thank you all for your imput, and especially you, Max, for your insights and deep thinking over the past which have brought you to this forum today. I was fascinated to read your initial response to Helen’s question dealing with the existence of evil and suffering, namely because you introduced in your answer divisions of thought I’ve not come upon prior to this thread, some of which seem immediately helpful in dealing with this massive philosophical objection to God’s existence.

Personally, I feel we can’t do much better in explaining 1) than Augustine’s privation of good theory, since otherwise God somehow becomes deliberately implicated in the introduction of evil into his own creation, which would swiftly put an end to the “greatest possible moral being” concept of God that Christianity relies upon as basic to its worldview.

  1. intrigues me because I’ve not heard the origins of natural and moral evil separated into divisions occurring at different points within the creation narrative. Have I properly understood you as suggesting that natural evil is a consequence of the angelic fall, a fall chronologically prior to the Edenic fall but implicitly necessary to explain it? Neither had I heard that the Hebrew word “subdue” holds rather violent connotations, and if this is the case, then it would seem to have important ramifications for our understanding of human purpose and calling. (Can you give me further info on this?) When reading your thoughts, Max, I kept coming back to the words of Genesis, that humankind is “created in the image of God”, my thoughts being that I have always assumed this primarily explains human value and creaturely characteristics, but now I am wondering if it is possible, in this context, it also explains human purpose? If our purpose is to “subdue” the earth, and if this subduing involves the determined and deliberate assault against “violent” components that are already at work in some way threatening God’s good creation, then we have been called into a kind of partnering with God’s salvation mission right from our point of creation. This needs further development, but does that follow, do you all think?

  2. Is, of course, where the rubber hits the road! It’s one thing to explain the existence of evil but quite another to explain why God doesn’t promptly restrain it for the higher purpose of bringing his hurting yet essentially good creation into alignment with his original intentions. I understand that moral evil is “all evil caused deliberately by human being doing what they ought not to do… and also the evil constituted by such deliberate actions or negligent failure”(Swinburne), and that free will lies at the central core of Swinburne’s theodicy, since it is not logically possible that God should give us free will and yet ensure that we aren’t free in the way we are allowed to use it. So far so good! Yet what I hear you saying, Max, is that this defence is insufficient in and of itself, necessitatiing a further qualifier, namely that freedom is only true freedom if it has the potential to seriously - and in many cases, dramatically affect or curtail - the freedom of others. Is this an attempt to explain the amount and severity of evil, rather than its mere presence?

All of this keeps bringing me back in my thinking to what it means to be created in God’s image, which we know to be a trinitarian image. Swinburne says that a “world in which agents can benefit each other but not do each other harm is one in which they have very limited responsibility for each other … a good God will allow creatures to share in creation…and allow them the choice of hurting and maiming or frustrating the divine plan” (99-100). It seems to me that Swinburne’s defence only makes sense if a) relationship and b) responsibility lie at the very heart of our definition of humanity, so if maintaining relationships and responsibility necessarily express the essence of what it means to live as humans created in the image of God, then we, by definition, need a trinitarian concept of God, since only the trinity can successfully explain the fundamental importance and driving motivation of responsibility and relationship in the exercise of human freedom. (This also actually helps explains the awfulness of sin, since it violates the very essence of the deity and our creation in its self-image, since sin will always bring destruction and maiming to relationship, community and our responsible stewarding of the creation - but that’s another topic!)

Helen, thank you for voicing the question I was just about to ask of Max, namely can you further clarify what you mean by the “goods” that Swinburne believes can only come about by creating two different worlds? I’m a bit unclear here as well.

I’ve more thoughts, but will post this now as I realise I’m coming late to the table here! Thank you all for your thoughts.


(Max Baker-Hytch) #5

Hi
Great questions.

“If our purpose is to “subdue” the earth, and if this subduing involves the determined and deliberate assault against “violent” components that are already at work in some way threatening God’s good creation, then we have been called into a kind of partnering with God’s salvation mission right from our point of creation. This needs further development, but does that follow, do you all think?”

Yes, absolutely, and I actually think we’ve often missed much of the thrust of what it means in Genesis to say that humans are made in the image of God. For people in the ancient near East, the pagan kings claimed to bear the divine image, which meant that they were the earthly representatives of the deities whose image they claimed to bear. Significantly, the pagans in the Ancient Near East, for instance, the Babylonians, believed that it was only their kings who bore the divine image and not human beings in general. Seen against this backdrop, the Genesis account is completely radical, in that it says that all human beings bear the divine image, which means that all human beings have a vocation on earth: namely, to be God’s representatives in creation, and thereby to partner with God in ruling over it. I think that this is crucial to understanding the significance of human fallenness. It’s not just that we’re morally stained, but moreover, that our fallenness consists in our failure to partner with God in ruling over creation. Salvation, then, as you indicated, is far from an event that simply happens to individuals; rather, it’s about the inauguration of a new order or mode of existence. At the heart of this new mode of being, as Paul thinks of it, is the body of Christ, which is to be a new people who will partner with God in the way that humankind was originally intended to do.

“what I hear you saying, Max, is that this defence is insufficient in and of itself, necessitatiing a further qualifier, namely that freedom is only true freedom if it has the potential to seriously - and in many cases, dramatically affect or curtail - the freedom of others. Is this an attempt to explain the amount and severity of evil, rather than its mere presence?”

That’s exactly right. The challenge that evil poses is not merely the challenge of explaining why there is any evil at all, but also, the challenge of explaining why there is the great amount of evil that we see in our world. It’s not just any kind of free will that can explain the amount and kind of suffering we see. After all, if God had merely given us the freedom to choose what to wear when we get up each day, but not any other kind of freedom, then we certainly wouldn’t expect to find immense suffering in the world, but then, that sort of freedom would be completely trivial and of very little value. As you said, it’s the kind of freedom we have, namely, the freedom to very seriously impact upon one another’s lives for good or ill, which is so very valuable - because it makes possible genuinely loving relationships - but also brings with it the likelihood of a tremendous amount of suffering.

“It seems to me that Swinburne’s defence only makes sense if a) relationship and b) responsibility lie at the very heart of our definition of humanity, so if maintaining relationships and responsibility necessarily express the essence of what it means to live as humans created in the image of God, then we, by definition, need a trinitarian concept of God, since only the trinity can successfully explain the fundamental importance and driving motivation of responsibility and relationship in the exercise of human freedom.”

That’s an excellent point. The trinity isn’t talked about nearly enough in relation to the problem of evil, but I think you’re completely right that only if loving relationship is built into the very foundation of reality, as is true if God is indeed a community of three persons in eternal relationships of self-giving love, can we explain why relationship is so very valuable. And I like your connection with sin. Many great Christian thinkers of the past have noted that pride is in some sense the ultimate sin. Pride, I take it, is the elevation of oneself above others; the declaration that “I have no need of you”; and the attitude that “my good is in competition with your good”. Given that God is a community of Father, Son, and Spirit, giving themselves completely to one another, then actually we can see why pride is the ‘anti-reality’ attitude; pride constitutes the very rejection of the kind of self-giving love which is God’s essence.

Re your question about goods in heaven vs goods on earth, see my response to Helen below.


Does evil serve a greater purpose?
(RZIM Connect Member) #6

Hi Max, thank you once again for taking the time to address my question. I would like to run some thoughts and questions that I have by you to see if I’m on the right track. Of particular interest to me is question (3). I apologize if my thought process is not that coherent (I’m the believer whom RZIM is helping to think). So here goes.

In order for free will to be meaningful, it must be possible for us to make choices which hurt/help people. In misusing our free will, we have brought evil into the world. As such, evil, particularly moral evil, is caused by our misuse of our free will and not by God. However, the perpetuation of evil is not merely that God allowed evil so we can have free will but that we, as creatures with the immense power of our free will, have the potential to and will “create” a world with serious pain and suffering. So, the responsibility for evil rests solely on us and not God.

Here, I turn to Gottlieb Leibniz who stated that there are many different ways God, being omniscient and all good, could have created the world but He chose to create this one. It entails that this must be the one with the maximum amount of goodness, and thus we live in the best of all possible worlds. I am not sure but did he stretch this argument to say that there isn’t any real evil since this is the best of all possible worlds?

In this context, does evil serve a purpose since it contributes to a greater good? As you said, evil is working to point us to the devastation our bad choices make and our responsibility towards one another. Is it, in a way, driving us to the imperative of love as a solution to extricate us from the outworkings of evil? The other thing I hear is that if there’s no evil, we would not truly comprehend what is truly good. So, the question is: Although I do see evil as being bad, does it serve a greater purpose? Is this world, in a manner of speaking, a “training ground” for what is ultimately and purely good? Are we here to experience all that free will can bring and help us to surrender it to the One who loves us perfectly and has our best interest at heart all along?

I was wondering if you could also elaborate on your last paragraph where you said, “Swinburne’s view regarding the relation between our present existence and heaven is that there are goods God can obtain in a world like the one we currently inhabit that he cannot obtain in a heavenly world; and there are goods God can obtain in a heavenly world that he cannot obtain in a world of death and decay. God has reason to bring about both kinds of world.” I am not clear as to what “goods” are present in our world that are not present in heaven.

Thank you and again, I apologize if I have not connected the dots correctly :))


Does evil serve a greater purpose?
(Max Baker-Hytch) #7

Hi,
Thanks for these follow up questions. The easiest thing might be for me to paste quotes from questions then try to address the points you raise.

“In order for free will to be meaningful, it must be possible for us to make choices which hurt/help people.” Yes, I very much agree with this. God could have given us trivial free will - for instance, the freedom to choose what colour food to eat - but this wouldn’t be a particularly valuable thing. Rather, in order for us to have a serious degree of freedom, we need to bear a significant amount of responsibility for one another’s wellbeing, a corollary of which is that if we do a poor job of taking care of one another and especially if we actively go out of our way to harm one another, people will be seriously hurt. But the possibility of such hurt is a prerequisite for the possibility of our using our freedom to greatly benefit one another, even at cost to ourselves, which seems clearly to be a very valuable thing.

“Leibniz stated that there are many different ways God, being omniscient and all good, could have created the world but He chose to create this one. It entails that this must be the one with the maximum amount of goodness, and thus we live in the best of all possible worlds.” I would beg to differ with Leibniz here, and in fact, most philosophers now think that there isn’t any such thing the best possible world. The reason is simply that there are many good-making features of the world which are such that there could always have been a bit more of that feature. For instance, the existence of happy people is a good feature of a world. But there could always be one more happy person in existence. There isn’t, logically speaking, a maximum number of happy people who can exist. So in short, the reason that the idea of a single best of all possible worlds is incoherent is that there are many features of the world that simply don’t have a maximum value. God, being omniscient and all good can only create what’s logically possible to create, and a best possible world isn’t logically possible for the aforementioned reasons, and so it seems to me that the most that God is obliged to do is to create a world that contains more goodness than evil overall.

“does evil serve a purpose since it contributes to a greater good? As you said, evil is working to point us to the devastation our bad choices make and our responsibility towards one another. Is it, in a way, driving us to the imperative of love as a solution to extricate us from the outworkings of evil?” Yes, I think that that’s certainly part of the answer to why God allows evil to continue to exist. As Lewis suggested in The Problem of Pain, pain can serve to make us aware, in a way that nothing else could, that we are not in fact masters of our own destinies but rather are utterly dependent upon God.

“I am not clear as to what “goods” are present in our world that are not present in heaven.” Ah yes, I didn’t make that very clear. Roughly, the thought is that since heaven won’t contain any pain or suffering of any sort, neither will it contain any of the goods that arise in this world when we are confronted with great adversity. For instance, in heaven there won’t be any opportunities to exercise courage or bravery, because there won’t be any situations of danger which could call for courage or bravery. So in short, heaven won’t contain any of the goods that are made possible in a world of adversity like the present one. But on the other hand, heaven will contain infinitely great goods such as perfect communion between God and human beings, unending bliss, and so on, none of which are possible in our present world of brokenness and adversity.


(Kay Kalra) #8

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(Kay Kalra) #9