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Natural evil and the love of God

June 12, 2007

In his “Natural Evil and the Love of God”, Diogenes Allen argues that the existence of natural evil does not make improbable the existence of a perfectly loving God. He provides two reasons:

 

(A)  Natural evil is logically necessary for bringing out certain valuable character traits/responses.

(B)   Natural evil is logically necessary for bringing out experiences of God’s love (i.e. encountering God’s love through and in suffering).

Allen’s defense of (A) [on p. 207] against Mackie’s objection concerning higher goods theodicies seems to collapse (A) into (B). I shall not evaluate how Allen’s version of (A) fares against Mackie’s objection but shall question if Allen’s justification of natural evil even fits into (A).

On p. 193-4, Allen asks: “How do we react to the fact that we are material beings, subject to wear and tear? How do we react to illness, to accident, to decay, to death? Do we respond egoistically? Most of the time we do. This is done when people recognize their vulnerability, recognize it as part of the human condition, part of being a piece of matter… The fact of our material vulnerability can be the occasion to move us off centre, to melt the illusion that we are immensely significant, and to show us that we are dust and ashes, formed of the clay of the earth.”

Allen seems to take the suffering caused by natural evil to be logically necessary for humility. If it is not logically necessary and humility could be achieved in other ways, then we are left to wonder why a loving God chose such a way to inculcate humility. Even if it is logically necessary for humility, it is not clear why animals suffer when we commonly accept that they have no capacity for higher virtues like humility.

But is it logically necessary? What such suffering seems to show us is our place in this world – we are not immensely significant. Do we need such experiences to believe that fact? Could we arrive at that by reason alone? Imagine a father who wishes to teach his daughter that she is not immensely significant, in a way God is trying to teach that to us. Is there no other way than to ignore, beat and plant viruses into her?

Allen thinks the belief that we are not immensely significant is necessary for humility. But is that so? The bible teaches us that Christ humbled himself and it is the case that he is immensely significant. Couldn’t there be some other way to humility that we could use? Allen opposes humility to egocentricity. That seems right. But if so, I’m not sure why we couldn’t be humble while right believing that we are immensely significant. Isn’t our idea of a humble person not someone who has nothing to be proud of, but someone who has much to boast about but isn’t focused on himself, caring far more for others?

Allen links the problem of evil with egocentricity: “Philosophic discussions of the problem of evil often treat suffering only as evidence that runs counter to a theistic world view. If we regard suffering only as counter-evidence, as did Hume, then we are unlikely to learn from suffering. Our egocentricity will remain intact. We then will judge the world without humility and thus be unable to see that it is praiseworthy despite the adversity it brings to us and the other creatures.” p. 105

His claim is puzzling because the problem of evil is not so much concerned with what we deserved but with the goodness of God. We can judge the world with humility and believe we deserve nothing from God. Likewise, a stray cat deserves nothing from us. But reason tells us that a perfectly loving God would not allow natural evil even if we deserve nothing better, just as a loving person would not ignore the stray cat even if it deserved nothing from her (assuming there are no compelling reasons for her not to help the cat). Natural evil is difficult to reconcile with God’s goodness, not with his not giving us what we deserve and Allen link between egocentricity and the problem of evil seems tenuous. What do you think?

On these considerations, I do not think Allen has established a case for (A).

Concerning (B), it is important to remember that the issue concerns the likelihood of a perfectly loving God existing. Allen thinks God’s felicity is shown through suffering. I shall not dwell on this point but merely ask why God could not show that felicity without suffering? My focus shall be on his claim that God’s love is known in suffering of the affliction variety (affliction is “suffering that does crush or degrade us). Allen likens the suffering of affliction to the suffering caused by a friend’s hard grip/hug. He adds that Christ’s suffering on the cross shows us that Christ is afflicted yet loved by God. Thus, though we may be afflicted, that is a form of indirect contact with God who is love. We may not know the purposes of our affliction, unlike in the case of Christ, but this only gives us opportunities to trust God. I have much to say on Allen’s claim but unlike in the earlier part, perhaps I could do so in response to your views on this?

I shall end off with what I think is a crucial issue when discussing natural evil. On p. 190, Allen speaks of “recognizing necessity” and claims we cannot answer the question of ‘whether the world could be better arranged than it presently is’ because the issue is too complex. On p. 192, Allen writes that “It is granted that we cannot settle the question of whether nature could have been better arranged than it is…” As far as I can tell, he does not argue for this claim except to say the question is too complex for us and quote someone who thinks likewise. But why think the question is too complex? The relevant sense of the necessity of the world arrangement and the existence of natural evil is logical necessity. Why is it so complex to see that natural evil need not exist even if the world contains all the good it presently has? At least the “pre-fall” world seems logically possible and feasible. Is there some significant good it lacks so as to justify natural evil?

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12 comments

  1. Thank you Pink for the post. Very thought-provoking. i would love to respond to some of your questions.

    >>But is it logically necessary? What such suffering seems to show us is our place in this world – we are not immensely significant. Do we need such experiences to believe that fact? Could we arrive at that by reason alone?

    Personally i think it is not easy, or at least it is not easy for most people to do so.. I do admit that some people are reflective enough to realise their own insignificance by gazing at the night sky or gazing across the wide plains. But again this humility caused by awe maybe different from the awe (and fear) caused by natural evils.

    And I guess the Age of Reason has instil more confidence and arrogance, than awe and humility. Of course great man of reason are often humble people, but we cannot say that for most people. For example, it takes a great deal of chastisement to teach King Nebucadnezzer about humility – i dun think he can derived it himself. I think it lies with human nature itself, that once proven that the moon is reachable, man would be thinking about “conquering” Mars.

    >>But if so, I’m not sure why we couldn’t be humble while right believing that we are immensely significant. Isn’t our idea of a humble person not someone who has nothing to be proud of, but someone who has much to boast about but isn’t focused on himself, caring far more for others?

    This is really very tricky and i am not sure if i understand you. How can one realises one’s significance and at the same time maintain humility? Humility is such that once you think you attain it, you lose it. I dunno if the usage of “boast” is intentional – because Christians can boast, for eg – “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. (Psalms 44:8) But i dun think this “boast” is used in the way it was used when we boast consciously about caring far more for others. I am sure you know what i mean- did i get you wrong?

    >>But reason tells us that a perfectly loving God would not allow natural evil even if we deserve nothing better, just as a loving person would not ignore the stray cat even if it deserved nothing from her (assuming there are no compelling reasons for her not to help the cat).

    I think here lies the reason why a determinist’s position is plausible when he argue that God allows predetermined sufferings for a person:

    The problem may be not that “we deserve nothing better,” but rather “we deserve these evils.” I think the former position is based on the fact that God is all-loving whereas the latter is based on the fact that God is just. Man fell and has to suffer in this world of sin, and does not deserve anything and an all-just God shouldn’t have save us if not for His grace and mercy. I am not sure if this applies to animals too, but i assumed it can be argued along the same line, though i think there is no need to do so.

    >>Allen likens the suffering of affliction to the suffering caused by a friend’s hard grip/hug. He adds that Christ’s suffering on the cross shows us that Christ is afflicted yet loved by God. Thus, though we may be afflicted, that is a form of indirect contact with God who is love. We may not know the purposes of our affliction, unlike in the case of Christ, but this only gives us opportunities to trust God. I have much to say on Allen’s claim but unlike in the earlier part, perhaps I could do so in response to your views on this?

    I would love to hear about the disagreement on this. I found this very edifying… it is my greatest privilege to identify, though totally uncomparable in magnitude with the sufferings of Christ -and as such be strong when i am suffering because of a deep conviction that it is God’s will.Of course, it lies in how we interpret God’s will in life- I guess it lies down in our own conscience and intention. When you have did your best in doing something that you believe will glorify Him the most, and you suffer because of that, you will be able to identify with Christ and trust in Him in guiding you along. What do you think? 🙂


  2. great responses herring! i see you have gotten back into the flow 🙂 here are my replies:

    I wrote: But if so, I’m not sure why we couldn’t be humble while right believing that we are immensely significant. Isn’t our idea of a humble person not someone who has nothing to be proud of, but someone who has much to boast about but isn’t focused on himself, caring far more for others?

    you replied: This is really very tricky and i am not sure if i understand you. How can one realises one’s significance and at the same time maintain humility? Humility is such that once you think you attain it, you lose it. I dunno if the usage of “boast” is intentional – because Christians can boast, for eg – “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. (Psalms 44:8) But i dun think this “boast” is used in the way it was used when we boast consciously about caring far more for others. I am sure you know what i mean- did i get you wrong?

    >>> How can one realises one’s significance and at the same time maintain humility? Christ is immensely significant – it is written in Colossians that everything is made through and for him. However, it is also said in philippians that he “thought nothing of his equality with God” and humbled himself on the cross. If there is a logical incompatibility between the belief that one is significant and humility, we must assume that Christ had/has a false belief that he is insignificant when he was/is humble. I find it hard to see why one cannot have both that belief and humility – and this brings us to the issue of boasting. The use of ‘boasting’ is intentional but I meant that the humble person would not boast of *herself*, even when there is a lot to boast about in that respect. If too much turns on the definition of ‘boasting’ then we could stick with the claim that one need not be focused on oneself and could desire to genuinely serve others even though one rightly believed that one is significant – Christ seems to be the prime exemplar of that.

    One might respond that even if the belief in one’s insignificance is not necessary for humility, it arguably enhances that. This is related to your point below that we deserve evils and when we get evils, we are more likely to believe we deserve evils.

    i wrote: But reason tells us that a perfectly loving God would not allow natural evil even if we deserve nothing better, just as a loving person would not ignore the stray cat even if it deserved nothing from her (assuming there are no compelling reasons for her not to help the cat).

    you replied: The problem may be not that “we deserve nothing better,” but rather “we deserve these evils.” I think the former position is based on the fact that God is all-loving whereas the latter is based on the fact that God is just. Man fell and has to suffer in this world of sin, and does not deserve anything and an all-just God shouldn’t have save us if not for His grace and mercy. I am not sure if this applies to animals too, but i assumed it can be argued along the same line, though i think there is no need to do so.

    >>> I have three points to make in response. Firstly, I’m not sure how this point could be applied to animals – would you like to briefly explain?

    Secondly, I don’t see how the belief that one deserves evil is more likely (and/or requires) one to suffer evil. This is because our suffering evil tells us nothing about whether we deserve evil of not. That issue is dealt with in terms of reasons, not experience. We would need to consider the reasons about what we deserve and experiences tells us nothing (we might be getting what we deserve not otherwise – experience is silent on that). One might respond that even if we know of what we deserve through reason, experience reinforces reason. I’m afraid that is not clear to me – how does experience reinforce reason? The former seems to need interpretation and that happens by reasoning. Would you say a bit on how that might proceed if that route seems plausible?

    Thirdly, even if we assume that we deserve evil, and God is just in giving us evil, we would need to explain a few things. Firstly, do babies deserve evil? If not how do we account for deformed babies and disease-struck children? Must we accept notions like inherited sins or take children as morally accountable? Next, if we accept that natural evil is due to the fall of humans, such that all suffering caused by natural evil is divine punishment, we would be perverting (or attempting to pervert) the course of divine justice when we seek to prevent or alleviate suffering caused by natural evil. Are you prepared to accept that?

    I wrote: Allen likens the suffering of affliction to the suffering caused by a friend’s hard grip/hug. He adds that Christ’s suffering on the cross shows us that Christ is afflicted yet loved by God. Thus, though we may be afflicted, that is a form of indirect contact with God who is love. We may not know the purposes of our affliction, unlike in the case of Christ, but this only gives us opportunities to trust God. I have much to say on Allen’s claim but unlike in the earlier part, perhaps I could do so in response to your views on this?

    you replied: I would love to hear about the disagreement on this. I found this very edifying… it is my greatest privilege to identify, though totally uncomparable in magnitude with the sufferings of Christ -and as such be strong when i am suffering because of a deep conviction that it is God’s will.Of course, it lies in how we interpret God’s will in life- I guess it lies down in our own conscience and intention. When you have did your best in doing something that you believe will glorify Him the most, and you suffer because of that, you will be able to identify with Christ and trust in Him in guiding you along. What do you think?

    >>> how did you guess that I disagree with Allen on this 🙂 anyway I do. There is a disanalogy between the grip/hug example and that of natural evil. God could grip/hug us without causing any pain and a loving God would do that. (If one thinks it is not clear that a loving God would do that, then the onus is on her to explain why. Pain does seem to be intrinsically bad and a loving person would not cause pain in his beloved for no reason.) Moreover, if our contact with God (direct and indirect) is in the form of affliction, it is not clear why we should think God is love rather than the exact opposite. Allen’s claim seems to presuppose that God is love but this is not a fair assumption when addressing the problem of natural evil.

    over to you!


  3. First thing before i forget, i must say i cannot help but agree on the following lines in praise of my forte:

    We can accept being lame as a small sacrifice toward the rest of the universe (p190)

    So, like Epictetus, she can face lameness or even death and yet praise the cosmos whose order causes them. (p200)

    Haha.

    Now back to more serious stuff…

    >>How can one realises one’s significance and at the same time maintain humility? Christ is immensely significant – it is written in Colossians that everything is made through and for him. However, it is also said in philippians that he “thought nothing of his equality with God” and humbled himself on the cross.

    Hmm i am not saying that self-consciousness of significance and humility is logically incompatible.. and i can think of some people who might have been near to making it perfectly compatible, eg. Mother Teresa, Ghandi,and who knows maybe Robin Hood. 🙂 But i guess my point is that most people dun – and this i guess is a reason legitimate enough for God to use means, in this case sufferings, to teach humility. Christ is perhaps the best embodiment of the perfect compatibility of humility and self-awareness of significance, but sigh human nature is such that we can strive very hard to be Christ-like but can never ever be near Christ. I’ve read a photograph+caption book on Mother Teresa- she sees morning prayers as the most important source of strength for her to carry on her whole day.. man is weak and although it is logically possible to attain that state-of-mind, it is not even distantly attainable for a lot of people. Recall “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:9), i think God knows his creation best.

    >>If too much turns on the definition of ‘boasting’ then we could stick with the claim that one need not be focused on oneself and could desire to genuinely serve others even though one rightly believed that one is significant – Christ seems to be the prime exemplar of that.

    Yup i agree that if we drop “boasting,” then it is definitely possible. Know of some people in church who are like that.

    >>This is related to your point below that we deserve evils and when we get evils, we are more likely to believe we deserve evils.

    Heh i agree with the first part but where is the second part from? 🙂 I take man deserving evil as a biblical fact.

    >> I have three points to make in response. Firstly, I’m not sure how this point could be applied to animals – would you like to briefly explain?

    Actually this refers to C S Lewis’s second point when he accounts for animal sufferings in “Animal Pain” – I wrote that in the post on animal pain… grumble grumble.. the gist of it is that Lewis conjectured that just like because of the fall of the first man, sin and thus sufferings is passed down the generations of man, there is a fall of the first animal that causes all these sufferings… The Bible is silent on this and so i would like to reserve my comments on this.. To tell you the truth, i think we have to be careful of a lot of teachings in Lewis’ books, so i practise caution when recommending his books to my kids…

    >>Secondly, I don’t see how the belief that one deserves evil is more likely (and/or requires) one to suffer evil. This is because our suffering evil tells us nothing about whether we deserve evil of not. That issue is dealt with in terms of reasons, not experience.

    Erhm you dun buy the Doctrine of the passing down of the original sin from the fall of Adam? I guess there are two reasons for sufferings in this sense ,and there are very reasonable- we suffered from original sin and acquired sins (the commitant/ ommitant sins that we did/ did not do.)

    However this does relate to one point that i would like to raise up on this article. It argues that sufferings come from God, instead of sufferings allowed by God- there is a great difference here. It excludes the work of Satan from the whole scheme of things- perhaps in an effort to rid “evil’ from all the negativity- but I am sure the author can also argue that evil is good along the line of God allowing it… but in think i might have the answer… pls read on… 🙂

    Oh and before i forget, what do you think the experential contact with God made in P194 (strength acquired when one say “yes, Father” when suffering) and in p195 (of Christ “coming down” and “taking possession” of him)? Are they only psychological?

    >>Firstly, do babies deserve evil? If not how do we account for deformed babies and disease-struck children? Must we accept notions like inherited sins or take children as morally accountable?

    I must admit that deformed babies and children are my stumbling block. Also recall the young boy who was hanged for half-an-hour before he died during the Holocaust. I regret to say that I am still seeking an answer for that. How about the work of Satan?

    >>Next, if we accept that natural evil is due to the fall of humans, such that all suffering caused by natural evil is divine punishment, we would be perverting (or attempting to pervert) the course of divine justice when we seek to prevent or alleviate suffering caused by natural evil. Are you prepared to accept that?

    How about perverting the work of Satan? You know, many a times, i get to meet people who are unemployed but not actively improving themselves or seek for a job- and when asked, they claimed that they are leaving these to God. I tried hard to convince them that they have a part to play too- for it is through these ordeal in life that cultivates valuable character traits like patience and resourcefulness.
    And lets not forget intercessory prayers- God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if not for Abraham’s intercession.

    >>Pain does seem to be intrinsically bad and a loving person would not cause pain in his beloved for no reason.

    I think this is where you and the author depart, i guess the author does not think that it is intrinsically bad..ok that might answer my previous question on why the author does not use “allow evil” but attribute evil as acts of love from God.

    >>Allen’s claim seems to presuppose that God is love but this is not a fair assumption when addressing the problem of natural evil.

    I guess this boils down to how you define “love.” I guess if it is chastising love, evil seems not intrinsically bad, the same reason there is nothing intrinsically bad for the rod: He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24)

    Looking forward to your further comments.

    I think on the topic of whether humility is better acquired through sufferings or reason, the author is not claiming that it can be acquired through sufferings *only*: Its through sufferings that people apply reasons to comprehend their insignificance. On top of that, sufferings has other benefits too- long-sufferings is always linked to the yearning of deliverance and ultimately Heaven- a point which i think the author has failed to explore more although i do agree that the realisation of one as a part of a big scheme of thing does necessarily instil humility from obedience though. I like the prose in p194- it is only when my son and your daughter are lying in the same ward, suffering from the same disease that even the best doctor cannot explain, that we will both go down our knees and identify ourselves as but helpless creation of the Lord Almighty and if it’s God’s will that both children die, we understand that it is according to His good purpose- perhaps one of it being to instil humility in us.


  4. interesting and thought-provoking responses, herring! my replies below:

    [>>This is related to your point below that we deserve evils and when we get evils, we are more likely to believe we deserve evils.

    Heh i agree with the first part but where is the second part from? I take man deserving evil as a biblical fact.]

    The second part came from Allen when he claims that suffering caused by natural evil shows a person his/her insignificance and thereby imbues humility. It also came from your similar claim that “i guess is a reason legitimate enough for God to use means, in this case sufferings, to teach humility”. If you do not endorse that, how would you explain your view? I’m trying to link this to your claim that we deserve evil. I might have misunderstood you here – could you help clarify?

    [>> I have three points to make in response. Firstly, I’m not sure how this point could be applied to animals – would you like to briefly explain?

    Actually this refers to C S Lewis’s second point when he accounts for animal sufferings in “Animal Pain” – I wrote that in the post on animal pain… grumble grumble.. the gist of it is that Lewis conjectured that just like because of the fall of the first man, sin and thus sufferings is passed down the generations of man, there is a fall of the first animal that causes all these sufferings…]

    In relation to this point and another below, we have to differentiate between the logical and evidential problem of evil. Lewis’s proposal seems more relevant to the logical problem, just as Plantinga’s suggestion that natural evil is due to the work of non-human rational agents. To deal with the logical problem, we need only logically possible claims. But to deal with the evidential problem which concerns whether the existence of God is made improbable by the existence of evil, we need more than just what is logically possible. For the two suggestions above, we’d need to first argue that there is a ‘first animal’ that is morally responsible, and that nonhuman, rational agents exist. This is why Swinburne avoids this line of response (I think his paper is in the davies anthology). Allen is tackling the evidential problem and he is arguing that a perfectly good God and natural evil are evidentially compatible without the aid of additional claims that require independent defense.

    [>>Secondly, I don’t see how the belief that one deserves evil is more likely (and/or requires) one to suffer evil. This is because our suffering evil tells us nothing about whether we deserve evil of not. That issue is dealt with in terms of reasons, not experience.

    Erhm you dun buy the Doctrine of the passing down of the original sin from the fall of Adam? I guess there are two reasons for sufferings in this sense ,and there are very reasonable- we suffered from original sin and acquired sins (the commitant/ ommitant sins that we did/ did not do.)]

    Depends on that you mean by that doctrine. If it is the view that we are morally responsible for the sins of adam, I reject that view. If it is the view that the sin of adam caused us to have a propensity (not irresistible) to sin, I am open to the idea though I’m not decided about its plausibility as yet. But my point is that experience does not tell us anything about whether we deserve evil or not and that claim seems to have been unaddressed… unless it is shown to be wrong, it is not clear to me how suffering leads to the belief that one is insignificant and teaches humility.

    [However this does relate to one point that i would like to raise up on this article. It argues that sufferings come from God, instead of sufferings allowed by God- there is a great difference here. It excludes the work of Satan from the whole scheme of things- perhaps in an effort to rid “evil’ from all the negativity- but I am sure the author can also argue that evil is good along the line of God allowing it… but in think i might have the answer… pls read on…]

    I see where you are coming from. Here is where the distinction between the logical and evidential problems come in – allen is trying to defend theism without the aid of additional hypotheses which need independent defense.

    [Oh and before i forget, what do you think the experential contact with God made in P194 (strength acquired when one say “yes, Father” when suffering) and in p195 (of Christ “coming down” and “taking possession” of him)? Are they only psychological?]

    Could you say a bit more about this? I’m afraid I’m not sure where you’re coming from… sounds interesting though

    [>>Firstly, do babies deserve evil? If not how do we account for deformed babies and disease-struck children? Must we accept notions like inherited sins or take children as morally accountable?

    I must admit that deformed babies and children are my stumbling block. Also recall the young boy who was hanged for half-an-hour before he died during the Holocaust. I regret to say that I am still seeking an answer for that. How about the work of Satan?]

    We need first to show that satan exists. Yes, that stumbling block is huge!! It’s very troubling to me too…

    [>>Next, if we accept that natural evil is due to the fall of humans, such that all suffering caused by natural evil is divine punishment, we would be perverting (or attempting to pervert) the course of divine justice when we seek to prevent or alleviate suffering caused by natural evil. Are you prepared to accept that?

    How about perverting the work of Satan?]

    Allen does not make the distinction between God causing and allowing evil, in the latter case through allowing satan to cause evil, because (I think) he is defending the claim that God *causes* evil.

    [>>Pain does seem to be intrinsically bad and a loving person would not cause pain in his beloved for no reason.

    I think this is where you and the author depart, i guess the author does not think that it is intrinsically bad..ok that might answer my previous question on why the author does not use “allow evil” but attribute evil as acts of love from God.]

    I find the claim that pain is not intrinsically bad to be unacceptable. What do you think?

    [>>Allen’s claim seems to presuppose that God is love but this is not a fair assumption when addressing the problem of natural evil.

    I guess this boils down to how you define “love.” I guess if it is chastising love, evil seems not intrinsically bad, the same reason there is nothing intrinsically bad for the rod: He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Prov. 13:24)]

    Yes, it does come down to the definition of love. By pain being intrinsically bad, I mean it is bad for reasons to do with its own nature. That said, the badness of pain can be overridden by goods. For instance, we endure pain to achieve some worthy goal. This is like your example of chastising love – pain is inflicted to achieve some higher good. I agree without reservation. The problem seems to me to be that Allen is defending the claim that no reason need be given for why a perfectly loving God causes pain. If my contact with person X involves pain, and I have no reason to think that pain is caused for some higher good, it seems I have reason to think X is not perfectly loving. What if there is some higher good? What is it then? Allen proposed humility and I don’t see how it works. You propose chastisement and I wonder how it applies to children, babies and animals.

    [I think on the topic of whether humility is better acquired through sufferings or reason, the author is not claiming that it can be acquired through sufferings *only*: Its through sufferings that people apply reasons to comprehend their insignificance.]

    This is where I have doubts. How does suffering help the application of reasons? It seems silent on that point – one could conclude that one is insignificant (suffering ought to happen) and one could conclude that one’s significance is not recognised (suffering ought not happen). Could you expound on this point a bit further?

    [On top of that, sufferings has other benefits too- long-sufferings is always linked to the yearning of deliverance and ultimately Heaven]

    Interesting point…

    [I like the prose in p194- it is only when my son and your daughter are lying in the same ward, suffering from the same disease that even the best doctor cannot explain, that we will both go down our knees and identify ourselves as but helpless creation of the Lord Almighty and if it’s God’s will that both children die, we understand that it is according to His good purpose- perhaps one of it being to instil humility in us.]

    Ok, but if that happens, we can plead with God but why think God is perfectly good? This response seems to work only when we presuppose God is perfectly good but that wouldn’t address the problem of evil.


  5. Thank you for the fast response, Pony.

    >>It also came from your similar claim that “i guess is a reason legitimate enough for God to use means, in this case sufferings, to teach humility”. If you do not endorse that, how would you explain your view? I’m trying to link this to your claim that we deserve evil. I might have misunderstood you here – could you help clarify?

    Hmm you are right maybe i have subconsciously admit to that but i think the second claim cannot be taken without qualification. “When we get evils, we are more likely to believe we deserve evils” is problematic mainly because it condone evils- i would shake my head off if an abused wife uses this as a reason for enduring 10 years of her sufferings.

    >>In relation to this point and another below, we have to differentiate between the logical and evidential problem of evil.

    Thank you for the pointer. It makes me understand better.

    >>Depends on that you mean by that doctrine. If it is the view that we are morally responsible for the sins of adam, I reject that view. If it is the view that the sin of adam caused us to have a propensity (not irresistible) to sin, I am open to the idea though I’m not decided about its plausibility as yet.

    I think you should know the doctrine of original sin better than me so i will touch very little on it. It seems that you are open to interpreting original sin as the propensity to commit actual sins. (sorry i typed “acquired” rather than “actual” in the last post…)

    However can i touch a bit on the imputation of sins if you are ok with it? 🙂 The imputation of sin happened when the sin of Adam is charged to the account of every person because we are connected to his race. However God also imputes righteousness of Christ to the account of all believers, which means imputed righteousness is the only remedy for imputed sin. Recall

    Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12)

    In fact i was told this is why Augustine believed that unbaptised infants go to hell (but i am not risking my head for this)

    >>[Oh and before i forget, what do you think the experential contact with God made in P194 (strength acquired when one say “yes, Father” when suffering) and in p195 (of Christ “coming down” and “taking possession” of him)? Are they only psychological?]>>>Could you say a bit more about this? I’m afraid I’m not sure where you’re coming from… sounds interesting though

    Am sorry this is a huge digression- it is just a passing thought. I think many a times i hear of people saying being filled by the Holy Spirit or sensing the presence of God. I have a rough idea of how it feels like but i am not exactly sure how this goes about. Besides this feeling of inner peace or gratification is also found in many religious experience besides Christianity- i think i cannot help but agree with the author when he wrote:

    “One would like to know more about this experience, especially how Simone Weil knew that it was Christ that is present.”

    But he kind of spoilt it when he added:

    “Nonetheless, it does illustrate that this act of consent to God in suffering does not have to be a self-conscious act.”

    Ok depends on what is meant by “self-conscious,” but i think one can be misled to thinking that a certain religious experience is God’s direction, based on his own disposition or even biasness. In other words, in making decisons through “I shall pray about it,” a lot of people is merely using God’s will to support pre-decided decision. What do you think? 🙂

    >>We need first to show that satan exists. Yes, that stumbling block is huge!! It’s very troubling to me too…

    I am glad you did. Lets see who gets to know the answer from the Source first. I have a feeling i will be the one who gets the privilege earlier…join the queue haha

    >> I find the claim that pain is not intrinsically bad to be unacceptable. What do you think?

    I think taken out of context, this claim is problematic, but i guess the author has good grounds esp when he thinks that the all-loving God *causes* it. To keep coherency, evil should not be caused by an all-good being.

    >> This is where I have doubts. How does suffering help the application of reasons?

    Hmm how about causing people to think? I guess it is with sufferings that people start reflecting, without which they might not use their faculty of reflection and reasoning? – this is my shot in the dark, what do you think?

    >>Ok, but if that happens, we can plead with God but why think God is perfectly good? This response seems to work only when we presuppose God is perfectly good but that wouldn’t address the problem of evil.

    Perhaps lets approach it from another angle: why dun we admit that Christianity itself comes along with a baggage of presuppositions? – God is perfectly good simply because the Scripture says so:

    So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17)

    The work remained thus is trying to reconcile this with the problem of evil.

    Looking forward to your view on this. 🙂


  6. However can i touch a bit on the imputation of sins if you are ok with it? The imputation of sin happened when the sin of Adam is charged to the account of every person because we are connected to his race. However God also imputes righteousness of Christ to the account of all believers, which means imputed righteousness is the only remedy for imputed sin. Recall

    Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12)

    >>> this relates to what seems to be a key disagreement between charlene and you. If you take it that moral responsibility is ‘transferable’ in that way, consistency seems to demand that you accept that everyone is saved by Christ’s sacrifice. There seems to be an unjustified inconsistency in the following statement you made: “The imputation of sin happened when the sin of Adam is charged to the account of every *person* because we are connected to his race. However God also imputes righteousness of Christ to the account of all *believers*, which means imputed righteousness is the only remedy for imputed sin.” I added the astericks to where i think the inconsistency lies. Would you like to justify it? it might be that you’d end up agreeing with charlene 🙂

    “Am sorry this is a huge digression- it is just a passing thought. I think many a times i hear of people saying being filled by the Holy Spirit or sensing the presence of God. I have a rough idea of how it feels like but i am not exactly sure how this goes about. Besides this feeling of inner peace or gratification is also found in many religious experience besides Christianity- i think i cannot help but agree with the author when he wrote:

    “One would like to know more about this experience, especially how Simone Weil knew that it was Christ that is present.”

    But he kind of spoilt it when he added:

    “Nonetheless, it does illustrate that this act of consent to God in suffering does not have to be a self-conscious act.”

    Ok depends on what is meant by “self-conscious,” but i think one can be misled to thinking that a certain religious experience is God’s direction, based on his own disposition or even biasness. In other words, in making decisons through “I shall pray about it,” a lot of people is merely using God’s will to support pre-decided decision. What do you think?”

    >>> i see where you’re coming from. Do you think God could directly impute the belief that the presence is that of Christ in the person’s mind? but certainly i agree that it is often the case that we read into our experiences according to our biases, etc. It’s just that it needn’t always be the case.

    “I think taken out of context, this claim is problematic, but i guess the author has good grounds esp when he thinks that the all-loving God *causes* it. To keep coherency, evil should not be caused by an all-good being.”

    >>> what good grounds do you think the author provides? i don’t see any good reasons that are non-question-begging, but i might be missing something. help?

    “Hmm how about causing people to think? I guess it is with sufferings that people start reflecting, without which they might not use their faculty of reflection and reasoning? – this is my shot in the dark, what do you think?”

    >>> Allen is trying to get from suffering caused by natural evil to humility but i don’t think such a bridge can be found such that it is a satisfying response to the problem of natural evil. suffering does lead some people to think but that is different from the original claim that suffering teaches us that we are insignificant and thereby leads us to be humble. It seems you agree that experience is silent about whether we are significant or not, and it is the reasons that we have to consider (even if the process of considering is motivated by suffering). If so, it seems there are better ways of starting of this use of reason. Why not directly impute the belief that we are insignificant?

    “Perhaps lets approach it from another angle: why dun we admit that Christianity itself comes along with a baggage of presuppositions? – God is perfectly good simply because the Scripture says so”

    >>> but why accept those presuppositions? must we take faith to be blind and irrational? afterall, natural evil seems to be evidence against the goodness of God. this option seems like that of using additional hypotheses like the existence of satan, etc. But as a response to the problem of evil, it seems we first need independent reason to think the Scripture speaks the truth (or some other way to know that).


  7. >>If you take it that moral responsibility is ‘transferable’ in that way, consistency seems to demand that you accept that everyone is saved by Christ’s sacrifice.

    Good question! We had a good discussion when we went through Romans 5 in one of our Bible Study and it is exactly on this issue. The difference may be that between “all” and “many:”

    Recall Romans 5:12 again: Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon *all* men, for that all have sinned:

    Supported by verse 14: Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

    However notice that in verse 15, the quantifier is “many” and not “all:” But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one *many* be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto *many*.

    Notice how “all” and “many” are juggled in verses 18 and 19: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon *all* men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon *all* men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience *many* were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall *many* be made righteous.

    Romans 5 is heavy on the Doctrine of Justification and heavily quoted for the Doctrine of Limited Atonement.

    >>Why not directly impute the belief that we are insignificant?

    Hmm do you think the all-gracious God who gives us freewill and chooses not to create beings that only choose to do good impute this belief?

    >>but why accept those presuppositions? must we take faith to be blind and irrational? afterall, natural evil seems to be evidence against the goodness of God. this option seems like that of using additional hypotheses like the existence of satan, etc. But as a response to the problem of evil, it seems we first need independent reason to think the Scripture speaks the truth (or some other way to know that).

    But but we did believe a lot of things simply because the Bible says so, isnt it? Take for example, the Doctrine of Virgin Birth and even Christ’s Resurrection. If science tells us these are not scientific or even irrational, we have to fall back to the infallibility of the Scripture- on the good old faith that it is so because God has revealed to us that it is so.


  8. very interesting observations, herring! thanks for bringing them to my attention. on that note, i wish to raise a few points for your reflection:

    1) given that some verses use “many” where others use “all”, we either need to take the two terms as equivalent or compatible, or we need to say the bible contradicts itself. The former is more preferable but we need to explain how it is compatible, if not equivalent.

    2) it is noteworthy that in all verses you cite, there is a consistency in its use of ‘all’ or ‘many’. for instance,

    “For if through the offence of one *many* be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto *many*.”

    “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon *all* men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon *all* men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience *many* were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall *many* be made righteous.

    my point is that the bible is consistent in using the same term (either all or many) when comparing condemnation and justification. it never says for instance, that *all* are condemned but *many* are saved, or vice versa. where it is consistent in this respect, your view seems not. For you say that *all* are inputed with the sin of adam but only *many/some* are imputed with the righteousness of Christ. any justification for this inconsistency?

    [>>Why not directly impute the belief that we are insignificant?

    Hmm do you think the all-gracious God who gives us freewill and chooses not to create beings that only choose to do good impute this belief?]

    why not?

    [>>but why accept those presuppositions? must we take faith to be blind and irrational? afterall, natural evil seems to be evidence against the goodness of God. this option seems like that of using additional hypotheses like the existence of satan, etc. But as a response to the problem of evil, it seems we first need independent reason to think the Scripture speaks the truth (or some other way to know that).

    But but we did believe a lot of things simply because the Bible says so, isnt it? Take for example, the Doctrine of Virgin Birth and even Christ’s Resurrection. If science tells us these are not scientific or even irrational, we have to fall back to the infallibility of the Scripture- on the good old faith that it is so because God has revealed to us that it is so.]

    i don’t see how science could tell us that belief in virgin birth or resurrection is irrational but in any case, we would indeed be rational to have faith in what God has revealed to us over what science reveals. The only thing is how we know the scripture is God’s revelation – surely not because the scripture says so?

    by the way, my comments on the six-day creation issue is coming up… just retrieved some material on that 🙂 do you feel comfortable discussing that on the other blog? if not we could always keep it here… just wondering cos i suspect others would find this fascinating.


  9. Haha Pony. Good observation- you know i chaired the study for Rom 5 and i brought up the same problem of internal coherency. I guess the Doctrine of Limited Atonement is controversial and need to be read in the context of the Five points of Calvinism.

    Hmm okie shall look forward to your post in the other blog.. sigh though i am not sure i will write so freely as i am writing now but well 🙂


  10. Oh please dun quote me and make me obliged to comment. It will be too much a distraction for me for you know what reason. It is just that i dun want to spend precious time worrying whether certain comments of mine is offending people, and makes me keep checking the blog…… 🙂


  11. ok, herring, let’s keep the discussion to this blog for now. by the way, i’m not sure how context helps resolve the inconsistency in your stated position. would you like to say a bit more?


  12. Erhm Pony, do you mind if i quote from a paragraph in wikipedia?Quote:

    The classic Bible passage cited to prove a limited extent to the atonement is the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John in which Jesus uses Ancient Near Eastern shepherding practices as a metaphor for his relationship to his followers.

    A shepherd of those times would call his sheep from a mix of flocks, and his sheep would hearken to his voice and follow, while the sheep of other flocks would ignore any but their own shepherd’s voice (John 10:1-5).

    In that context, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,…and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 14-15, ESV, emphasis added), and he tells the Pharisees that they “do not believe because [they] are not part of [his] flock” (v. 26).

    He continues, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (vv. 27f).

    Since Calvinists and nearly all Christians believe that not all have eternal life with God (based on the Sermon on the Mount among other passages), Calvinists conclude that either Jesus was wrong in saying that he would lose none of his sheep (a conclusion they reject) or that Jesus must not have died for everyone. Formally, the Calvinist position can be expressed thusly:

    1. Jesus lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15)
    2. Jesus will lose none of his sheep. (John 10:28)
    3. Many people will not receive eternal life. (Matthew 7:13-14)

    Therefore, Jesus did not die for everyone but only for those who will ultimately be saved.

    Additionally, in the high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for the protection and sanctification of those who believed in him, and he explicitly excludes praying for all: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9b).

    St. Paul instructs the elders in Ephesus “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28, NASB), and he says in his letter to the same church that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV, emphasis added).

    Likewise, Jesus foreshadows that he will lay down his life “for his friends” (John 15:13; compare 10:15), and an angel tells Jesus’ earthly father Joseph that he “will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Calvinists believe that these passages demonstrate that Jesus died for the church (that is, the elect) only.

    Unquote.

    Sorry it is just copy and paste on my part. I want to edit it but i find every paragraph persuasive… 🙂 From thereon, we try to interpret Rom 5,

    Original Sin for all: Romans 5:12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”, supported by verse 14: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”

    Limited atonement: many were saved amongst the all: Romans 5:15: “Many were saved amongst all: But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one *many* be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto *many*.

    Romans 18-19: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon *all* men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon *all* men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience *many* were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall *many* be made righteous

    There might be contention on the statement “so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon *all* men unto justification of life.” I borrow the convenience again here: “Calvinists believe they can freely and sincerely offer salvation to everyone on God’s behalf since they themselves do not know which people are counted among the elect and since they see themselves as God’s instruments in bringing about the salvation of other members of the elect.” If it is not convincing enough, the two “manys” reinforces it.

    What do you think? 🙂



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