Saturday, July 28, 2007

The "Problem" of Evil

Some people make the following argument:
1. God is defined as all- powerful, knowing, and good
2. A good being would prevent suffering
3. An all knowing being should come up with a good solution
4. An all powerful being should be able to do anything
5. There is evil and suffering in the world
6. God would prevent evil and suffering
7. Thus, God does not exist

I agree with 1, 3, 4, 5. I strongly disagree with 7. So where is the fallacy?

2 presents real issues for Christianity. Why doesn't god prevent suffering? Similarly, 6, why doesn't God prevent evil? Or be more active healing people?

There is actually a website dedicated to this question. The comments provide a summary of the video presentation.

There is a whole field of theology dedicated to this, known as theodicy.

The main fallacy of this argument is in 2. Yes, suffering is bad, but can good come of it? What is the price of a world without suffering?

I'm not going to deal much with good coming from suffering. Some people, when suffering, turn to God. That is good. But I don't want to say the ends justify the means, because they don't.

What is the price of a world without suffering?

Pain tells us there is something wrong. So too does the suffering in the world. The world was good when God created it, when He was an active part of it. That is not how the world is now. Our ancestors (Adam and Eve) chose to run the world without God. Ever since then God has been separated from the world, and there has been evil, suffering, and death.

So why not create Adam and Eve incapable of sin (not choosing God)? There is an issue of free will. If you are not free to not choose God, there is no meaning in choosing God. Also, without sin, God cannot demonstrate grace, mercy, and justice.

Like it or not, God created the universe to demonstrate His qualities.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Doctrine of Hell

The doctrine of Hell is arguably one of the most difficult in orthodox Christianity.

But, for a moment consider Christian doctrine as is, without an infinite Hell.

So what happens when sinners die?
1. Heaven (universalism)
2. Dissolution (Jehovah's Witness)
3. Reincarnation (Hinduism, New Age)
4. Finite Hell (or Purgatory)

1. Universalism destroys the notion of justice. This is saying unrepentant murderers will be with God in Heaven.

2. Dissolution is nearly as bad. Live your life as please, scoff at God, kill and steal, live it up! When you die, it's all over, but you lived as you pleased. No justice here on Earth, and none from God.

3. Reincarnation. This is just a goto 10. I mean, there has to be a last generation. Either when the great and terrible "Day of the Lord" comes, or at the heat death of the universe (for the amillenialists in the audience). And it's not very just in the near term. I should suffer now for the crimes of some person who died around the time I was born? And what if the global population levels off?

4. Finite Hell. This is very attractive. Probably why the Catholic Church was able to sneak Purgatory past people long ago. But there is a problem if you work it all the way through...

What is the payment for sin? (And conversely, what is the damage done by sin?)

If the payment is finite, then it is something we can earn for ourselves. Either doing some things during life, or some hard time in Hell after. But then, our account is all squared up.

So then, why did Christ die? Some sort of horrible mix up? An unnecessary tragedy? To save a few people some hard time in Hell?

And what is God's nature? Is sin a finite transgression against an infinite being? Or is it an infinite transgression? A finite transgression would appear the same as 0 to an infinite being. So really, no one would need to spend more than a few hours in Hell.

Except, God is infinite. And sin is infinitely offensive to Him. And we need an infinite payment. Christ's death paid that. And for those who reject Him, an eternity in Hell will pay it too (at least, approaching it in the limit).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Book Review

"Misquoting Jesus" (Bart Ehrman). I remembered Ehrman's name from the "Judas Gospel" event a year or two ago. He said, "The reappearance of the Gospel of Judas will rank among the greatest finds from Christian antiquity." This is probably the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my entire life. But I wasn't going to hold it against him as I read this book.

The title of this book is an excellent example of how titles are chosen for books. Often authors actually have little say, and the title is often chosen to be controversial (and increase sales). In this case, Ehrman never argues that anyone is misquoting Jesus.

The book is actually a layman's introduction to textual criticism (the art and science behind determining the original words of the Bible). In telling this story, Ehrman does an excellent job (although I'm no expert on the history). He makes what could be a very dry topic, lively and interesting. He also verified that the ideas I've had on the subject were covered three hundred years ago.

Ehrman also presents a laundry list of "intentional changes" and the possible motivations behind them. The tone is rather scandalous, and some might be shocked and dismayed. Only problem is, my pocket Bible is called, "New Believer's Bible" New Living Translation Tyndale HousePublishers 1996. Ehrman's book was published in 2005. My Bible has a star next to nearly every verse Ehrman cites. So Christianity has survived at least 9 years of Bibles published with the changes Ehrman recommends!

There is a sadder story behind this book. On page 3 (in the introduction), Ehrman gives his "conversion story". It reads like most of the stories on web sites like "Debunking Christianity". It is clear Ehrman is part of the reaping we are now seeing in response to the sowing of a "puny-fied" Gospel message. Well meaning people talking about love, and a "God-shaped hole in your heart", and not talking about sin and judgment. Seeds sown into rocky ground (Matthew 13:20), at first putting up impressive growth, only to come crashing down. And they will not turn back easily: 2 Peter 2:21 "For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."

Please pray for Mr. Ehrman.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Know Your Heretics: Marcion

Why study heresy? Isn't heresy something better left unsaid? A dirty little secret of the church? Unnecessary conflict over minor details?

In truth, heresy has proved a great benefit to the church. By requiring an organized effort to combat it, heresy has helped to consolidate and codify orthodox beliefs.

Also, heresies return in slightly altered forms. Knowledge of their existance, and the proofs against them are of great use to all.

One of the oldest heresies is Marcionism (circa 140). Marcion created a canonical Bible without the Old Testament. He also severely edited the New Testament books to eliminate traces of Judaism. He claimed the loving God described in the New Testament was incompatible with the wrathful God of the Old Testament.

The response to Marcionism was the adoption of the canonical Bible as we know it today. This was not something made up to serve a political purpose, but simply the documenting and formal processing of books that had been held as special ever since they had been written.

Marcionism is still alive and well today. I started, but never finished, the book "Jesus Against Christianity" (Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, 2001). This book begins with nearly the same argument. Perhaps one day I will read it entirely and can comment more.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Arminianism vs. Calvinism

On a thread at the helives blog, I mentioned Arminianism vs. Calvinism in a discussion with David W. I am providing more detail here, since it is off topic for that thread.

The Arminianism / Calvinism debate stems from the tension between our self will and God's authority in salvation.

The hyper-Arminian (extreme case) believes that salvation is a choice entirely up to us. That God offers salvation to all, and some choose God, and some choose themselves. The choice of self leads to an enternity separated from God, which is described as Hell.

The hyper-Calvinist believes God chooses some for salvation and some for damnation. Our own choices play no part. Some could go as far as to say that evangelism is just a symbolic ritual, as those who would be saved, will be.

In reality, everyone falls somewhere in between. I spent a lot of time close to the hyper-Arminian position. It was only recently, upon deeper investigation of scripture, that I have adopted a fairly well-seated Calvinist position. This shows up some in my post, "Why the Gospel does not make sense".

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Myth of "Legal, But Rare"

Some of those who wish to find support among pro-life voters adopt the position that abortion should be "legal, but rare". Hillary Clinton's wikipedia entry has a quote saying (in part), "the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances". This position is logically indefensible, from a scientific standpoint. Either all human beings have rights, or only a privileged few do. The current law is that only people outside the womb have rights. The notion that murder should be "legal, but rare" is nonsense is obvious to everyone. But when the victim is microscopic or ugly, then the rules change.

Which brings me to another point. The president and Congress are engaged in a battle for power. This is not as unusual as people may think. Congress and the president are always jockeying to increase their respective powers. But some calls may be left to the Supreme Court. A stacked court may lead to the president winning more power than Congress would like. There is a way for Congress to side-step this issue.

An ammendment to the Constitution defining human life and guaranteeing the right to life for all human beings. This seems so obvious, who would be against this?

Then I wouldn't have to vote against all Democrats.