"Wherefore We must interrupt a silence which it would be criminal to prolong, that We may point out...as they really are, men who are badly disguised." Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907, Pascendi Dominici Gregis

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why does God permit Evil?

This is, of course, a difficult question, but I do think there are a few answers to which we can avail ourselves.  We are told in Genesis that God has made man in his own image and likeness, that in a very real sense we are, though certainly not fully, equal to God in certain respects (that may sound a little blasphemous, but it certainly is not meant as such), or we are, at least, proto-divine beings.  If this is true and if this is what God desired to bring into existence, it would make little sense for him to have created us as little robots, perfectly fixed to always do as God intends.  Indeed, if we are to approach or to approximate a divine nature in away, it seems humanity would have to be given some leeway regarding what it can and cannot do.  If we consider this aspect of humanity from God's perspective, we can see that it would be of very little ultimate value (speaking loosely) to a God that enjoys morality, not only for morality's sake, but because it is indeed superior to immorality, to create beings fixed perfectly as moral, as they, due to their limited nature, would have no concept of the bad.  Such beings so fixed would live in a world of perfect goodness, but would never be able to conceive of it as such, only seeing that world as what is and must be.  Thus, these beings would be seriously deficient to a God intending to create beings in his own image and likeness; for they would never understand the concept of morality in the same way as their own God.  The key to morality, then, is choice; for without choice, there is only what is and never what ought to be; and choice necessarily entails the ability to choose wrongly.

Thus, if we have justified the existence of evil in our world, as I believe we have, we now have to consider our relationship as individuals to that evil.  

My question…asks about those instances in which we do succumb to sin. In those instances, did God know you would falter?”

Because of what I see as the unconquerable continuity in existence, briefly, that all actions have an equal and opposite reaction and that the entire universe, from the moment that God set it in motion, is merely the culmination of all of the various and sundry reactions to that original action, and seeing that there exists a scientific regularity dictating how such reactions take place, it seems impossible, if we accept that God is truly omniscient, to say that he would not have known you would falter.

“If so, why would he put these obstacles in front of you?”

I think the answer to this question is found chiefly in the first paragraph above.  It is important to consider, I think, that God did not desire to put obstacles in front of you as much as he wanted to give you a free will and choice, which necessarily entailed such obstacles.

Thus, if He controls everything, and knows the future.. how can he send a person to hell, when all the sins he committed were a result of God placing before him "tests" which (in all-knowing fashion) He knew that person would fail?”

This is the most difficult question asked so far.  I think part of the answer to this question lies in the unsatisfactory notion of someone being “sent” to Hell, and the commonly used imagery that depicts an angry God actively pursuing the evildoers in this way.  While I will not claim that there is no basis in reality that justifies the use of this imagery, I will say that it ought to be tempered with the theological discussions of Hell, that depict Hell less as an active, desired punishment from God and more as the necessary result of our own choices.  How can God justify any kind of punishment for a creature whose actions were determined long before that creature came into existence?  I’m not sure if ‘punishment’ is an accurate term for our discussion, as it relates to a situation in which an outside force intervenes to attempt, by providing a negative feedback, to modify our behavior.  Again, I don’t think God, if we conceive of him as recognizing the dignity of humanity, created in his image and likeness, would be much into behavior modification.  He is, if we allow that his goal is to give us the ability to choose good and that this better than merely being good and entails necessarily bad choices, forced to take a more hands-off approach.  And thus, the warnings from God about being “sent” to Hell are more an attempt to fully inform us about the necessary consequences of our actions than to actively punish us in order to demand a change in our behavior.

I think, then, if we think of God in this way, not as attempting to punish those whom he knew could do no better, but merely attempting to fully inform us as to the consequences of our actions, we can see that there remains a dignity for even the person that chooses wrong, as his choice is respected in this manner.

I concede I have not really answered your question, but only tried to reframe it.  It remains to be explained how God can justify consequences for actions it seems one had no ultimate control over.

Briefly, while I think that our actions are indeed determined, this does not negate for us the reality of choice.  And thus, our choices remaining valid, the justice of the consequences of our actions is not undone.  If you find the discussion in this note in any way unfulfilling, if any questions remain, do voice them, as I think this issue is of the utmost importance and would like to be made aware of the deficiencies in my own understanding of it.

But, again, as you say, God knew what you would choose and yet created you; so I have not really addressed the idea that it may, in this sense, be said that God is responsible for your actions more than yourself. Or, at least, 

I think this notion that because God has created you, and knew exactly what you would do, we are somehow deprived of all responsibility for our actions is a little fallacious.  As you indicated, you did not desire to do away with a notion of personal responsibility, but

We could say,  then that in a way Hell exists not so much for those who are "punished" but to save those who are not. ("Punishments remain, even in the case of determinism, an effective determent to crimes.")

Though, it is important to recall that Hell is not so much a punishment, as something that naturally follows from our actions.

It is thus the same in any situation: I must balance the value of doing something [bad] now, with the disvalue of the lack of something later (i.e.suffering separtion from God ever after, after death). Since we are not objective (which is to say, I think necessarily, omniscient beings), our subjective evaluations of this proposition will differ from the objective (God's) view. If we were objective beings like God, and knew exactly the pain that Hell entails, we would choose good all the time, because we would know definitively that this is the optimal choice. But, alas, we are not God, and the nature of our condition allows us choice...

exactly because we are not perfectly aware of the full effects of our choice and God ultimately respects that choice and the dignity and sovereignty it entails, even though he endeavors greatly to make it clear (most notably through the sacrifice of his own son) that we remain free to change our minds at any time and accept him fully and that this is, our human notions aside, indeed the optimal choice.

The question may arise as to why God did not create us as omniscient beings; but omniscience, it seems to me, requires omnipresence, and thus omnipotence. In other words, God would have had to create us exactly as He is Himself. I do not think this is something God could've done. That's not so say God is not all powerful, but that there is no power that can undo the nature of existence, i.e., what is. When God was asked for his name by Moses, God said that his name is "I am that I am." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_am_that_I_am ). I do not think that we, as we are (i.e., created beings), could ever be what is, without having been along with God from the beginning and thus we would've been God himself, and thus have no need of a "creation," for we ourselves would be the creator.

So, there are certain restrictions, I think, that not even God can overcome as they are an inherent aspect of what it means to be God in the first place.

Thus, seeing that we are not God, and thus necessarily not omniscient, but we are at the same time not like, e.g., rocks, totally without consciousness, we find ourselves in a grey area of partial knowledge and self-awareness, which entails the ability to choose, as outlined above.