Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The invisible gardner

The initial problem with the problem of evil is that God Himself is inscrutable.  Think for a minute about someone being absolutely independent. Is it any wonder then that there are things that this inscrutable God does that our minds are unable to contain?  Paul even tells us that God's ways and judgments are beyond our ability to scrutinize them (Rom. 11:33f.).
That, of course, was the lesson that Job had to learn.  We are privy to more of what is going on with Job than even Job was so it is sometimes too easy to be hard on him.  But remember Job wants an answer to his own personal problem of evil. And how does God answer Job?
Job 40:1-10:
The LORD said to Job: "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" Then Job answered the LORD: "I am unworthy-- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer-- twice, but I will say no more." Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
In the midst of His suffering, Job decided it was time for inscrutability to stop.  And so he tells God that it's time to give answers.  There needs to be a God-justifying reason for what is happening to Job, and in the world generally.
And how does God respond to Job?  Job, you've forgotten one crucial thing - I am God, and besides Me, there is no other.  Inscrutability lies at the feet of Almighty God, and therefore there are things that we simply will not understand - things, as Job says, "too wonderful for me, which I did not know."

The problem with that example is that Job's situation is not inherently inscrutable. The Book of Job is a classic case of dramatic irony. Thanks to the prologue (Job 1-2), the audience knows something the characters (including Job) do not. And the dramatic irony is also the source of the dramatic tension. 

Kinda like those horror films where the audience knows the identity of the psychopathic killer while the unsuspecting characters only find out when it's too late.

The prologue doesn't give us a general explanation for evil, but it does explain Job's situation. And it furnishes a possible explanation for some analogous situations.

So our response to Flew's parable, and to others who demand that God bow to their inquisition, is simply this: Whatever God's ultimate reasons for evil in this world, far from being unconcerned, He came down, and, at the costliest expense imaginable, as the only innocent one who ever lived, was put to death on a cross. Therefore, those who put their trust in Him can say with the apostle Paul, that whatever God's reasons, in spite of the sheer inscrutability of His ways, "I consider that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) Because He who knew no evil, came down, and became evil on our behalf. In that way, by way of Theophany, he, personally and painfully, resolved the problem of evil for eternity. Do we really need to know more than that?

That doesn't solve the problem of evil. Rather, it only takes the problem back a step. For it fails to explain why there's a fallen world in the first place. Given a fallen world, you can appeal to redemption. But why was the world in a condition needed to be redeemed?

After all, Oliphint thinks that God predestined the Fall. So the atheist will ask, why did God predestine the Fall?

Commenting on the same post, a friend of mine made some additional observations.

The second aspect to Flew's parable is more revealing. In writing of his rationale for the parable, Flew says:
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children.  We are reassured.  But then we see a child dying.  His Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern.  Some qualification is made.  Just what would have to happen to entitle us to say 'God does not love us' or even 'God does not exist'?  What would have to occur to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?(1)

Oliphint is simply mistaken here. The problem of evil is not Flew's "rationale for the parable". Rather, evil is one of many possible ways that God's existence should be seen to be falsifiable. But since the religious believer doesn't regard evil, even the worst evil, as falsifying God's existence, this is evidence that the claim 'God exists' or 'God loves me' is not falsifiable. Combined with the falsificationist criterion of meaning, the conclusion is that 'God exists' is meaningless. The parable is not about "the problem of evil" as this is traditionally discussed in philosophy of religion.

Flew's conclusion was that the God of Christianity is dead; He has died the death of a thousand qualifications. And it was the problem of suffering and evil that motivated this conclusion.
The motivation behind Flew's parable is "the problem of evil."

Again, this is mistaken. In the gardener parable, Flew is not offering an argument against God's existence from the existence of evil. The very idea is absurd.

Oliphint seems to think that Flew is offering a case for the nonexistence of God. He's not. He's offering a case for the notion that the claim 'God exists' is a meaningless claim. In Flew's view, 'God exists' doesn't even have the dignity of being the kind of thing that can be true or false.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your critique of Oliphint, Steve.

    I probably would have made the same error as Oliphint.