Unseen & Evil

By: Matthew Brake
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

The more I talk to friends who do not share my faith and who lean towards critical realism, empiricism, and logical positivism, the more I realize that there are two problems with my faith.

1. I can’t see God.

I can’t prove God exists. I can infer that God exists because of the grandeur of the universe, but an atheist looks at the vastness of the universe and sees a cold, harsh place that doesn’t seem to point to a personal God.

I can appeal perhaps to personal religious experiences which have been formative for me, but when I look at many of those experiences, while they were personally encouraging to me, they could be as open to interpretation as the ending ofPan’s Labyrinth. (Was she crazy or did she see something? Who knows).

I can appeal to the miracles that friends of mine claim to have performed/seen–but am I unspiritual to wonder if they’re exaggerating?

Even if they were, I can understand the incredulity of someone listening to a third person account of such an event.

The biblical writers seem to ponder the invisible nature of God (warnings against idolatry, Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:1, etc.), but is that enough when you’re trying to have meaningful conversation about God with friends who only trust the scientific method (which evaluates the physical seen world)?

 2. The universe is harsh.

Evil, pain, and suffering exist in the world, and if you buy into theistic evolution and an old earth (disclaimer: I do), then you’re left with the problem that for 100,000 years before Abraham, people were dying at 25 of hunger, disease, and brutality.

 Does this point to a loving and benevolent God?

The Hebrews had a couple of different ways of processing evil in the world.

One way was proverbial wisdom (if you do right things, life goes well. If you do bad things, not so much).

Another way of dealing with evil was contemplative wisdom.

Contemplative wisdom acknowledges life as it actually is.

It readily admits that sometimes, no matter how many right things you do, good people still suffer.

Ecclesiastes pretty much says, “None of this makes sense. Obey God anyway.”

Job concludes, “Good people suffer. If God’s real, then shut your mouth.”

This can help one to see that the Bible (thankfully) offers no pat answers to the problem of evil, but it can leave a person dissatisfied.

 Now What?

1. Unseen Inference.

It’s a leap of faith to assume metaphysical meaning behind the universe (via beauty, spirituality, etc.).

God, like G.E. Moore’s idea of ”good” as undefinable because “good” is not a “thing” we can point to, is a subjective reality inferred by the individual. Nevertheless, many people believe that “good” exists.

In the same way, one may infer God’s existence as one infers the existence of “good” even though it can’t be seen.

Admittedly, this doesn’t necessarily deal with God’s unseen nature; however, it does reveal that people believe in many things that are inferred but not seen.

 2. God & Evil.

Even if we assume that God is real, does the presence of evil in the world diminish the reality of God or his character?

One way of answering the problem of evil is to say that God’s “elect” are elected to make the world a better place (See: N.T. Wright Surprised By Hope); however, anyone familiar with the story of Joshua may dispute this. The New Testament may offer something more compatible with this view, but considering that the New Testament narrative has only been in effect for 2,000 years, one is forced to ask, “Why did it take so long to get to this point?”

Another way of answering this which may be far less satisfying to a non-theist is to go back to Job.

Once Job “saw” God, the questions became less important.

Thomas Aquinas never finished his Summa Theologica. Why? Because he had an ecstatic, spiritual experience that caused him to declare that everything that he had done up until that time was worthless.

This may help to explain why some theists are not thrown off by the problem of evil. They aren’t appealing to reason but to their experience (as the psalmist does in Psalm 73).

The question about God’s unseen nature and the problem of evil are answered by the theist, it would seem, in the realm of religious experiences.

For the believer and unbeliever alike, it would behoove both sides to seriously consider the legitimacy of their own experience with/lack of spiritual experiences.

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Matthew Brake
This entry was posted by on Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 at 1:45 pm and is filed under Atheism, Evangelism, Faith & Culture, Theology, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Unseen & Evil”

  1. Laura Latora says:

    Matt,

    I truly appreciate this blog. Lately I have been questioning my own experiences and wondering about their legitimacy. It is difficult work and it feels like I am walking toward, if not already in, a dark night of the soul. What triggered this questioning was the realization, once again, that secular institutions seem (in my experience) to be more welcoming and healthier environments than the Christian ones I have had the opportunity to work with. In addition, as I have grown older, I have realized that most of my “spiritual” experiences occurred while I was young. When I look at young people and observe their zeal, emotional immaturity, and impressionability, I can’t help but feel that I may have been manipulated into those experiences, or even manipulated myself. And interestingly enough, the more I just accept who I am and stop trying to ride the never ending train of self-improvement that is the Christian journey, the less drama and angst I suffer on a daily basis. Yet, there is this nagging I cannot ignore. I long again for some sort of religious experience…almost like one longs for a hit of a designer drug created for their particular biology. There is something missing when I am not pursuing God the way I used to. But I wonder, if I pursued something else with the same passion would that longing end? Is it just the act of pursuing itself that creates enough distraction from the boredom that is life? I don’t know. Let the experiments begin.

    LL

    • Matt says:

      Hi Laura.

      During my final year of Bible college, I experienced many of those same feelings. It was really the conviction and prompting of God that brought me back to a more complete faith (so let me affirm that longing you’re feeling).

      I think this experience could be very healthy for you. We always talk in church circles of going to “the next level with God,” but we don’t realize the hard road we are asking to walk.

      As with growing up (you are probably realizing this having a child of your own), different seasons of life require different ways to grow.

      I think that’s where you are at.

      You are on your way to becoming the authentic self that God made you to be.

  2. Where faith is “critical realism, empiricism, and logical positivism . . . ” The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, to search and discover this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,
    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

  3. Andy Lord says:

    Thanks for this… good provocations! Another way forward is suggested by David Ford who also focuses on Job in his book “Christian Wisdom” linking it with the harsh context of the Holocaust. He also suggests a different way in “Living in Praise” which I’ve found helpful. Your appeal to Christian experience and contemplative wisdom is helpful, but cannot be separated from rationality, revelation and call.

    • Matt says:

      Thank Andy. I agree. I would never want to ignore rationality, revelation, and call; however, I can’t help but wonder if those three things are subsets of wisdom and experience (or vice versa).

  4. Naeem says:

    God DID NOT create sin!!!! What bfoaofn is telling these lies, I wonder? What entity would lead all absent of God’s words to the same conclusion that God created evil, thus proving God’s words wrong? What sneaky thing wants you to blame God rather than looking anywhere else, I wonder? What person better than the creator of lies to tell you that,huh? Satan has your ear, to lead you away from God and the truth, because armed with the truth you wouldn’t fall for his parlor tricks so easy! The perversion of God’s ways is sin. Satan invented this action, thus SATAN is the father of sin! Take that Satan,LOL! I know your tricks, boy! Don’t allow yourselves to be pawns to a thankless liar. Arm yourselves with knowledge. I hope you like the truth,partner! If so, that should help you!My rational mind.