Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cursing to bless

In partial answer to a question from an email correspondent:

The argument from evil has to identify examples of gratuitous evil to make its case. Not just any sort of evil will do.

Are there apparent examples of gratuitous evil? Not that I can see.

i) To begin with, I think one can come up with a theodicy that explains evil in general, even if I can’t explain why any specific evil occurs. I can explain why that kind of evil occurs.

ii) A lot of evils seem pointless, but we’d expect them to seem pointless. I don’t know for a fact why a promising young Christian student dies in a freak accident. But it’s not hard to explain how that seemingly pointless event might serve a purpose.

Cause and effect are all about timing. What happens in what order. A sequence of nested events.

It’s like traffic flow. If I turn onto the arterial a minute earlier or a minute later, then there will be different cars behind me or ahead of me. And that, for its part, affects when they will stop and go; what other cars will turn onto the next arterial.

Causation is a matrix or network of one event causing another event. Change one variable, and it triggers a chain reaction. Change one variable, and it realigns a set of variables.

We only see the present, isolated variable. We don’t see all the things down the line. All the things that will happen—or would happen if the variable had been otherwise.

Or, to vary the metaphor, it’s like conception. Conception is all about timing. A minute earlier or later, and a different child is conceived, or no child is conceived. And that, in turn, ramifies out in many different directions.

iii) Moreover, we wouldn’t expect God to explain the reason for every evil. God can’t have a plan if he tips his hand too often. For, if he let’s us in on too much of his plan, then that sets up a countersuggestive dynamic. We can’t rebel against what we don’t know. But if we know it, then we can do the opposite.

This brings me to a final point. I think some Christians mistakenly believe that every evil which befalls them must be for their personal gain. And this can strain their faith since, in some cases, it may be hard for them to see the benefit.

But I think they’re starting from a false premise. For I think that sometimes God afflicts one Christian to bless another.

Take the case of Warfield and his wife. While he was hiking with his newlywed, they were overtaken by an electrical storm. Apparently she was struck by lightening, which left her crippled for life. They never had children, so I suspect they never had conjugal relations after the accident. They probably figured that motherhood would be too arduous in her diminished condition. That’s my guess.

As a result, Warfield was “condemned” to a life of research and writing. Tethered to Princeton, NJ, year in and year out. A celibate marriage. A childless marriage. To have that happen on your honeymoon would be a tremendous blow to a normal man or woman.

Yet we can see how their hardship benefited the church. We profit from his writings.

That’s not to say there can’t be any compensations. All that time he spent reading and speaking to his bed stricken wife may have enriched their marriage in other ways. Still, that’s not the life they chose for themselves. Rather, that’s the life God chose for them.

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