100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Whence Cometh Evil?

It has been said that the Problem of Evil is the biggest problem for Christianity, and I think that statement is something a majority of people tend to agree with. In fact, one schools-based ministry said that this was the number one question asked by high school students. So it's certainly worthwhile spending a disproportionate amount of time discussing it. I've certainly written on it before, but let's try to put it all together and maybe dig a little deeper into it.

To begin with, I think we need to recognize at least two different kinds of evil. There is “human sin”, or deliberate acts of evil on our part, and there is suffering as a result of natural causes; from disease to natural disasters to just plain growing old. This is "natural evil." God is responsible for both kinds of evil; but how can God be responsible for evil at all if He is supposedly "all good"?

Now, to be responsible for evil does not make God evil if He has a sufficiently good reason for allowing evil. So we must conclude that God does have a good reason for allowing the various evils in the world. Other options exist, but I don't think they work... we cannot, for example, say that God is not, in fact, responsible for the evil in the world, because being all powerful He is surely able to both stop all evil in an instant, but also to prevent evil occurring in the first place. So I think that God, who is also wiser than us all, must have a good reason for the evil in the world. The question is, what is His reason? Does a satisfactory reason even exist?

In a sense we really don't know God's reasons for allowing evil, especially when it comes to specific cases of evil. But I do think the Bible gives us information as to why God allows evil generally. And with regard to the two kinds of evil, I think God has different reasons for each. So let's deal with human sin, firstly. Why did God allow Adam and Eve to disobey Him in the first place, thus consigning all of mankind to hell? Here, I have already put forward what I consider to be my strongest case, when I wrote #34: If God is good, why did He create anything evil in the first place? So I'll repeat the key point here. I think that God created a world with sin so that He might demonstrate His love for us in sacrificing Himself as an atonement for our sins. This is God's “good reason” for allowing human sin. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). And “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us...” (1 John 3:16). In other words, God wanted to show just how deep His love is by sacrificing Himself for us, even though we are sinners. If we were not sinners saved by His grace, what little would we know of His grace and love?

Now, we would want to try to “compare equations” here. In a world without sin we have no need for the atonement, which means we have a lesser understanding of the depths of God’s love, though we would at least have partial knowledge. We also have no people at all going to hell. So we ask ourselves, is it all worth it? After all, Christ needn’t have suffered in that scenario, either; so it’s better for Him too! But trying to pin relative values on each of these things is a human exercise, subject to a human perspective. We can trust that God did consider the atonement; the revelation of His love and character, “worth it all.” And I certainly think that we won’t fully appreciate God’s plan of redemption this side of death.

But let’s move on to “natural evil”. Why the earthquakes, and why the floods, and why even old age and death? These things are a result, or judgement, of human sin, so the Bible declares. They are indiscriminate because we are all sinners alike. And like any punishment, it ought to have the effect of making us regret our sins. In just about every culture and religion this is recognized; that whenever there is a natural disaster, it is said... “The gods must be angry!” In fact, the motivation for worship in most pagan religions was to satisfy the gods lest they be angry and bring droughts or some such natural disaster. I think that this is an idea that God has “programmed” into our minds. In Christianity, as we read the Old Testament, God told Israel that their disobedience would lead to poor crops and various other “natural evils”. Knowing this, what was their reaction supposed to be? Obedience. And when these things came upon them, what was their reaction supposed to be? Repentance.

Probably the best example of this is the story of Pharaoh when the ten plagues came upon Egypt, at the hand of Moses. As you read that story, you’re just dumbfounded! How after each plague, Pharaoh still won’t obey God and let Israel go free. You just can’t believe how anyone could be so defiant. If Pharaoh had let the people go after the first plague there would have been no further damage. But God even hardened Pharaoh’s heart, for this reason... that “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:5). That is “Egyptians” (plural). God prolonged the demonstration of His power so that all of Egypt might recognize Him as God, and perhaps they might forsake their own gods and turn to Yahweh. And not for Egypt only, but word of these events reached the whole of Canaan, as we see later on. Any who did not turn to God would have been as stubborn and defiant as Pharaoh.

Now, those plagues were miraculous in nature, so we might argue that it’s not the same thing when we’re unrepentant in the face of natural disasters. I’m not saying, however, that we can necessarily be saved apart from Biblical revelation. Pharaoh essentially had, or was part of, Biblical revelation. And when Israel experienced natural disasters, they had the Word of God which explained to them what was happening, though there was nothing necessarily miraculous about their droughts and so forth. It is sufficient, however, that natural disasters and even death itself, does at least suggest there is a God who judges; just as those pagan cultures, without knowledge of the Bible, associated disasters with the “anger of the gods”. In recognizing there is a God, it is then up to each individual to seek knowledge of Him, and mercy from Him. Of course, an atheist might say that they simply don’t see evidence for God in natural disasters. Yet to call one’s self an atheist presupposes some notion of God. And to discuss the Problem of Evil in the first place presupposes an understanding that there is a God who is responsible for natural evil. It doesn’t make a difference whether this knowledge was innate or learned; God’s purpose is accomplished in anyone who understands this so-called “Problem of Evil” at all.

But we also want to ask ourselves; isn’t there a better way to get people to turn from their sins and to turn to God? Are natural disasters and death at all effective in doing this? Well, if you’re looking for a more gentle approach from God towards mankind, then you have it... it’s the Bible. God has given us His Word, freely available to us these days on the Internet, but always quite accessible to many. It’s there for you to read and give your full attention, or for you to completely ignore. But I suppose that, due to the same hardness of heart that caused Pharaoh to ignore the continual evidences of God’s wrath and power, we are more inclined to ignore the “gentle approach” as well. But death of loved ones, and especially when our own death is nigh, most definitely causes a person to think seriously about the reality of God.

In these short paragraphs, we have barely explored this issue, really. Just consider, as well, that when Christians find opportunity to care for the victims of natural disasters, or even the elderly amongst us, God’s love is made known. This is just a hint of at least one more reason why God’s ways are wiser than we imagine. We may not know the reasons why God allows evil in this world, but I don’t think we have to. I think it suffices to know that He has a reason, and to believe that He is trustworthy. Some will say that God owes us a reason, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s not like we’re equals with God. But I don’t think we could even know God’s reasons, because I think it would take the mental capacity to see all of space and time before us, all at once. To see the true nature of every man’s heart, and to see every consequence of every action and to see and understand the very nature of God fully... I think that’s just the beginning of what it would take to understand God’s good reasons for allowing evil. And I think that this is a topic that could fill many books, but that this is precisely part of the whole “big picture” - that in contemplating the “why’s” of theology, we see more and more of God’s wisdom and power and glory.

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Blessings of God

Life has been good for me this past couple of years. We own an investment property we're renting out, which we bought with money we inherited from a rich aunt. In the midst of global financial struggles, the company I work for is doing really well. We really don't lack anything. But recently we decided to redevelop that rental property, and in the last two weeks the tenant has moved out and the building has been demolished. So we're now without rental income, and we're about to start forking out to builders and so forth. We expected it to be a time of financial struggle for this family. But a few days ago the kindergarten my son attends asked my wife if she'd like to do some work there. She did her first day today and it sounds like there will be somewhat regular demand for her; they were most impressed with her skills and experience (she worked in child care for nearly ten years.) So I want to thank God, first of all, for taking care of this family.

This blog is intended to show you the world through a Christian's eyes, and in recognizing the way in which God has blessed us today, and thanking Him for it, I'm hopefully doing just that. But what of this "prosperity gospel" that some speak about? It's the idea that being a Christian should mean that you will always have everything going for you. In the extreme sense, it says that God will see to it that you won't ever struggle financially, you won't ever get sick, and so on and so forth. And if you do, it's for lack of faith on your part. But this is not the right way to see the world, Biblically.

Today I am thankful to God, and this work that has been offered to my wife is a wonderful surprise for us. But our expectation, as I said before, was that we would be facing a financial struggle. Of course, it was never going to be all that bad, relatively speaking. We're not living in a third world country, or even on the poor end of the spectrum in our own city. The worst it will ever get for us will probably still appear ludicrously wealthy to many people in this world. Why are we so fortunate? Is it because of our faith? No; many of our non-Christian neighbours are more wealthy than we are. God has blessed them just the same. But do they recognize that and give thanks for what God has given them? That would be an exercise of faith. So it's not your faith that brings wealth, but faith exists independently of wealth. We exercise faith when we acknowledge the blessings of God, and are content no matter what situation we're in.

So when things aren't going well, how do we explain it? It's not a lack of faith on our part. Is it that God is mad at us for having done something wrong, perhaps? No, in many ways it can be a privilege to suffer, because the excise of faith through suffering is an amazing witness to the world; and bearing witness of Christ is every Christian's joy. For people to say "Look, despite all they've been through they're still as faithful to God as they ever were!", is a powerful testimony. As one man said, after his wife had been through chemotherapy for cancer, what strengthened him was the realization just how much of a privilege the ordeal was, as though God were saying "I'd put this burden on someone else, but not many could handle it like you can!" He was all the more determined to conspicuously show the world his steadfastness in faith as he and his wife were going through this trial.

The attitude of Christianity is not "always look on the bright side of life", as though whatever situation you're in is a blessing if you could only see it that way. Suffering cancer, or going through the ordeal of your husband or wife going through cancer, is not a blessing. There may be blessings incidental to it, but the suffering is not a blessing. We wait for a world in which there is no suffering. But as it is now, suffering is a fact of life. And as I have said, faith is independent of your situation. We exercise faith toward God in all situations; for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till in the resurrection we are united.

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God Don't Make No Junk

I recently saw a documentary about our DNA, and I heard something that I'd like to comment on. And this blog has always been "one Christian's view of the world"; I'm just an average person, only somewhat educated in Biology, who is evaluating and reacting to the everyday things that average people are exposed to. So I'm not claiming to have thoroughly researched this in technical scientific journals and such. This is just my reaction to what I heard on this particular BBC documentary, simply called "The Gene Code".

When Darwin developed the theory of Evolution, he reasoned along the lines that some species of animal have features in common with other species of animal. This is how we get the idea that man descended from apes. Apes have very similar bodies, it would appear, to human beings. This is what really drives the whole theory. So what happened when DNA was discovered? From a Christian perspective, I think it does serious damage to the theory of Evolution. It's nothing short of a miracle that all of our features are governed by this one "device", which is quite literally a language common to all life. However, Evolutionists stick to their guns and see DNA as responsible for all this evolution. When I have discussed evolution with other lay-people in the past, they have often explained to me that the similarity we find between species, such as humans and apes, correlates to the similarity between those species' DNA. But what I learnt on this documentary was that this isn't always the case.

There is a scene in the documentary in which the host is shown an array of quite diverse skulls. They had a number of them including a whale's skull, a hippo's, a crocodile's, a camel's, a tiny little bat's skull, and of course a human skull. Now according to Darwin's reasoning, animals which appear to have more in common ought to be more closely related. But it turns out, according to this documentary, that in terms of DNA the hippo was considered more closely related to the whale than to the camel! This was the example they used, and they acknowledged how completely unexpected this was. They were blind to the problem this poses for Evolution, but this evidence would be so unexpected to Darwin, I wonder whether he wouldn't have said, "Well, that just proves me plain wrong!"

What I learned was that all of those skulls were all constructed in the very same way. Apparently DNA works like this... All of those animals might have the exact same genes. Each would have the gene for a nose, for example. What makes the difference is the duration of time that gene is active during the development of the particular animal. While the nose gene is active, the nose is being "generated". The nose gene would be active for a short time in human beings, giving us a short nose, but for a longer time in a camel, giving it a long nose. To me, this suggests that every animal on the planet could have the exact same genome, and yet still look as diverse as they do; because it's not what genes you have, it's in this orchestration of when each gene "switches on and off".

But who or what is performing this orchestration? Is it God Himself? In a sense, I would say that it is. And that's based on the Bible, in a passage such as Psalm 139:13 which reads "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb." In what specific ways God is involved, I don't know, but it may simply be that He designed the DNA structure, and fore-ordained the DNA I would inherit. But the documentary goes on to talk about something which scientists call "Junk DNA". This is DNA which doesn't seem to have any purpose. Now, I recall a conversation I had once with an atheist chap. I asked him "Surely, according to Evolution, the living world should be full of features which have no real purpose, since some parts of us should be random mutations and such which haven't actually formed anything useful "yet". Why does everything have a function or a purpose?" Well, he suggested I consider nipples on a man... But, no, I think my point is still an important one. I think that even nipples on a man have a purpose - in relation to temperature control, I've heard. Often we may not have come to know or understand the purpose of something, but I believe that all physical features have a purpose. Even if we grant what must be at least 99.9% of features which are known to have a purpose, this is highly suggestive of a Designer-God. So I was not convinced that some 80% of our DNA is useless "junk". And the host of this documentary acknowledges this, agreeing with my opinion that we simply haven't discovered its purpose yet. And part of its purpose, he suggests, could be in this orchestration of when genes are switched on and off.

Yet another conversation I had with an atheist comes to mind. He argued, (parroting Dawkins), that theism hinders science because theists are content to simply say "God did it!" Of course, this isn't really true at all; there are few genuine examples of a Christian scientist resigning to the idea that "this is a mystery of God which we will never know." But on the other hand, the Evolutionist clearly expects (and should expect, if they are to be consistent with their world view) that some things simply have no function or purpose at all, and so write them off as "junk", ceasing further investigation. This is certainly a world view which hinders science. Of course, Evolutionists aren't consistent with their world view, which is why the host of this documentary was able to say that scientists now suspect that Junk DNA isn't junk after all. But this inconsistency demonstrates how they are essentially dishonest with themselves, accepting a world view which contradicts reality.

But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’ (Job 35:10-11)