"The End" and the Beginning

There is only one serious reason for not being a Biblical monotheist. This is an inability to integrate, theoretically and practically, the idea of a wholly loving and supremely powerful God, on the one hand, and all the evil in the world, on the other. Every other objection is either inaccurate, irrelevant, superficial or all three.

That this challenge is both theoretical and practical deserves emphasis. Scholars in groups like the American Academy of Religion wrestle with it all the time in their specialties and sub-specialties. So must have the parents of an attractive young woman after a man confessed to being with several others who raped her, clubbed her to death and threw her body into a swamp where an alligator presumably buried her order to eat her after she partly decayed.

As Jesus did, we must deal with these theoretical and practical challenges differently. When with Martha, Mary and the others at the tomb of Lazarus, he participated in the feelings of those who were grieving. He wept. (John 11)

When he was leading his best students in a theological seminar, he pressed them with the hardest questions: “Do you really think that those whom the soldiers slaughtered in the temple were worse sinners than all the others?” Do you actually believe that those who were crushed by the falling tower were more evil than those whom it barely missed? (Luke 13) I know that you have been taught this sort of thing all your lives. What I want to know is whether you believe it. If so, why? If not, why not?” Though not in these exact words, he did quiz them along these lines.

Two things are equally offensive. One of them is to give an answer to someone who needs a hug. The other is to hug to a person who needs an answer. Both amount to throwing a bucket of water to someone who is drowning.

In addition to the Bible itself and some good commentaries, plus the reflections by Ellen White on this subject which I find helpful, I recommend three books to accompany our lessons this quarter.

The first is God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question: Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman (HarperOne Reprint Edition, 2009). Written by a former fundamentalist who is now a disillusioned and disbelieving but credible Biblical scholar, this book serves us well in two ways: (1) It effectively articulates the question and (2) it reliably surveys the Bible’s material on the subject.

True to his fundamentalist upbringing, Ehrman faults the Bible not so much because it has no answer but because it has several different ones and he wrongly thinks it should speak with one voice. If he had been taught as a youngster that the Bible is not a book but a walking library of different kinds of literature from many different times and places, I doubt that he would now be so critical. Nevertheless, strip away Ehrman’s mistaken expectations, and you have a reliable and readable summary of the various things the Bible actually says on this subject. He teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The second is Suffering and the Search for Meaning: Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Evil by Richard Rice (IVP Academic, 2014). This book does for current philosophy and theology what Ehrman’s book does for the Bible, albeit in a less flashy and subtler way. A big plus is that Rice begins each chapter with a vignette that aptly introduces the material to follows.

“Openness of God Theology,” also called “Freewill Theism,” is one of the options Rice covers. This is appropriate because he launched what has become this major school of thought among Christians of many different denominations and he remains active in it. He is now writing a history of the “Openness of God Theology” movement from the publication of his first book to this point. Rice teaches at Loma Linda University where I am honored to be one of his colleagues.

The third one is, Is God to Blame: Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering (IVP Books, 2003) by Gregory Boyd. This volume is an application of “Openness of God Theology” to the problem of suffering. Except for a few of his paragraphs on prayer, which I will leave you to find, I think that the results are very satisfying.

A prolific and influential Biblical Scholar, historian, theologian and political ethicist, Boyd is the Senior Pastor of the Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was also the keynote speaker at the Adventist Forum conference on “Non-Violence and the Atonement” at Silver Spring, Maryland the weekend of September 16-18, 2016.

Because this is the first of thirteen lessons, I offer some definitions that help me to delineate the problem perhaps more precisely. Let us take pain to mean discomfort of any sort: physical, emotional, intellectual and so forth. Let us then say that suffering is prolonged pain of any kind. Finally let us say that evil is pain or suffering that is not outweighed by its benefits.

This suggests that the issue is neither pain as such, nor suffering as such, but evil. Pain is often a good thing because it can protect us from hurting ourselves or doing so again. For this protective purpose, it is often the case that the sharper the pain the better. Mild to moderate suffering is often a good thing too because it can be an unavoidable part of accomplishing things that are very worthwhile, such as graduating from college, running a marathon or being a parent.

We have to be careful here, however. We must stipulate that severe suffering---very intense and prolonged pain—very rarely helps anybody. We need to say this, and say it clearly and repeatedly, because it is much too easy to talk about “the redemptive value of suffering.”

Strictly speaking, then, the problem we see in the book of Job then is neither the problem of pain nor the problem of suffering. It is the problem of evil. According to the book, His pain and suffering were completely pointless.

Or were they?

The most common answer relates to the literary composition of the Book. Many say that, if we include the prose Prologue (Chapters 1 and 2) and the prose Epilogue (Chapter 42: 7 – 17), which appear to have been added to the poetry at a different time, the resulting story rescues Job’s pain and suffering from torturing him for no good reason. On the other hand, the answer typically goes, if we exclude them, Job’s agony is wholly without compensating benefits and therefore it is in fact very evil.

Without taking a definitive stand on it one way or another, I suggest that for the purpose of our discussions this quarter that we take theological advantage of these linguistic issues and ask ourselves and each other:

1. Is it actually the case that, as including the prose might suggest, in this world there is apparent evil but not actual evil because all pain and suffering fit into God’s good plans even if at the time we don’t understand what is happening?

2. Or, is it actually the case that, as excluding the prose section might suggest, in this world there is actual evil as well as apparent evil because sometimes terrible things happen to people that are not part of God’s good plans even if we think that we have figured out how they do?

There is a third option. It is that, with or without the prose sections, neither of these captures what the book of Job is all about. Have fun!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7660

Ever since man imagined a transcendent entity outside himself he has devised many and various identities. The history of beliefs in many ancient and contemporary cultures reflects their search for such a figure and they created one, often in their own image.

Even the Hebrews in their recorded history revised the ability and work of God through centuries, and 2,000 years of Christianity reveals many beliefs about the same God, not only quite different, but with new ideas and discarding previous ones; indicating that human impressions are rarely permanent.

The reason for earthly pain and suffering has long been excused by Christians as the result of evil–from the same beliefs that God created, or allowed evil, for some unknown perverse reason. It has never sufficed to consistently blame the Devil for every evil that befalls humans, even the “natural” ones such as earthquakes and tornadoes.

How is it possible to believe that such a god is all-loving and caring, and yet be so impotent as to have allowed evil to flourish and even procreate?

(Reading non-denominational theology books is a no-no with the current G.C.President–but I’m a fan of Ehrman a great NT scholar)

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If one takes this quarter’s lesson study on Job seriously, they might be able to counter the tendency to idolatry and anti-Christ notions that are so prevalent in Christianity. Some have not been able to cope with theodicy without falling into the ditch of either deism or universalism.
We get clues, of the heresies, when teachers mention words like omnipotent or say God is in control of everything. Do leaders of state, military generals, ship captains, company presidents/managers, school teachers, parents control everything? What kind of subordinate/child is the result of a nagging, busybody, dominating control freak?

How many factors are involved in this control all God? What besides coping with time of trouble, death decree eschatology, current event anxiety promotes this Pollyanna theology?

God doesn’t speak highly of Job’s friends in JOB 42:7
"And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath."

What kind of God do people worship , if they worship at all?

I sometimes hear in SDA churches…“Is this topic essential for salvation?”

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Jn 17:3

Would God let someone suffer for eternity by letting them try to love, worship, or associate with a God that they didn’t love or like?

Is the study of how to reconcile suffering/evil with God’s involvement rocket science or brain surgery? Is not understanding Jesus’ record…actions/INACTIONS in any of the 4 gospels sufficient?

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Dear David,

very very glad to read somethin out of your feather in this very discussioon. Just in hurry and for now : I love Job - the discussions, the deliberations, the seeking for answers, the socioculktural environment the - so near to us - man in the environment (Job - 28 - finding “Science”, but not “Wisdom” - - the list of virtues in a life of probity ( Chapter 31 ) still of full,value and meaning to us today ) - .

Is this topic essentia lfor salvation ? YES ! !

Let me apologize for adding my humble own comment to yours.

Cheers, blessins !! G.

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Nicely done David! You are a consummate teacher!

Once again : DIve into the wisdom revealed to us in FJob ! Read, meditate, considerate every verse !!!

I am completely stalled out on your opening paragraph, David, especially that adamant opening statement.

It seems to me, correct me, that you have presented a false dilemma, in that the hidden premise in your statement is that the Bible portrays a wholly loving and supremely powerful God.

While that “wholly loving God” of the Bible may be a truism, I find it hard to believe that you, an ethicist, are actually suggesting that the only theodicy difficulty is in reconciling the “wholly loving and supremely powerful God” of the Bible with “all the evil in the world.”

Surely, in 2016, we are not being asked to perpetuate the poisonous pedagogy of past ages by making an end run around what the Bible actually says about God?

You did say Biblical monotheist in your adamant opening statement, but in light of the fact that you don’t think the Bible speaks in one voice, the strong assertion of your first paragraph sort of peters out, it seems to me.

“Biblical” means whatever anyone wants it to mean. “Monotheist” does also, to a lesser degree.

A cursory scan of, say, Christopher Hitchens and C.G. Jung throws us straight back on the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma in 380 B.C.

Is Jehovah less impetuous than the gods of Mount Olympus?

Answer to Job
–C.G. Jung

The Book of Job is a landmark in the long historical de-
velopment of a divine drama. At the time the book was
written, there were already many testimonies which had
given a contradictory picture of Yahweh — the picture of a
God who knew no moderation in his emotions and suffered
precisely from this lack of moderation.

He himself admitted that he was eaten up with rage and jealousy and
that this knowledge was painful to him. Insight existed
along with obtuseness, loving-kindness along with cruelty,
creative power along with destructiveness. Everything was
there, and none of these qualities was an obstacle to the
other.

Such a condition is only conceivable either when no
reflecting consciousness is present at all, or when the
capacity for reflection is very feeble and a more or less ad-
ventitious phenomenon.

A condition of this sort can only
be described as amoral.

https://archive.org/stream/ThePortableJung/The%20Portable%20Jung_djvu.txt



If we say that what God/the gods decree is Good because they say so (Euthyphro), then we are dealing with an authoritarian God, and our religious structure will be authoritarian and arbitrary, mirroring the kind of God we envision that we are worshiping.

If we say that God/the gods affirm the Good because it is good (Euthyphro), then we will have to engage in endless discussion about what constitutes the Good, and many, in present company, consider that an affront to the Creator and His Bible.

God to Job: Look at me and be appalled; clap your hand over your mouth.

This strikes me as a propitious time to be discussing the Book of Job.

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Brilliant, Cassie! I am also anxiously awaiting David’s answer.:innocent:

Ehrman is worth reading. No doubt about that. I agree that the Biblical materials are pluralistic, something he emphasizes. Predation strikes me as the greatest challenge. I “solve” the issues of theodicy by reconceiving divine love, divine power and what is evil, all three. But mostly divine power; i.e., there are some things even God cannot do.

We are now putting our Sabbath School discussions on the Internet. To find them, please put “Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School” in the Search Box at youtube.com. As always, some are better than others.

Good to hear from you, Doctor Seiler!

Not yet in your league!

Good to hear from you!

  1. You are right: I should have not written about Biblical monotheism because there is no one such thing but a plurality of views about God in the Bible. Yet it is hard to talk about any one thing without obscuring important differences. Perhaps the best way to have put it would have been:

“There is only one intellectually serious objection to the idea that there is Something that is (a) supremely powerful, (b) wholly loving even though © evil as I have defined it is actual and not merely apparent. This objection is that one or more of these three assertions is false.”

I think that is about as good as I can do, at least for now.

  1. I am adamant because I think that people decide for or against this Something for trivial reasons. On the other hand, I can think of no issue more theoretically and practically important than theodicy.

  2. I am hesitant to export the Euthyphro Dilemma from its cultural and religious setting to those that often surfaced in ancient Hebrew cultures because they are so different.

  3. Yet, I am not the least bit reluctant to grab one horn of the dilemma. Morphed to our setting, the question seems to be whether some actions and traits of character are right or good because God says or does God say so because they are right.

To me, the right answer is swift and straightforward. God says so because they are right or good rather than that they right or good because God says so.

One objection to my choice is that it posits a standard to which even God must submit and that this makes the standard rather than God supreme. Two different responses:

(1) So what if God must submit to what in fact is the case? According to the ancient story, Abraham put it well: “Should not the God of all the universe do that which is right?” Abraham should have said this when, according to the story as we now have it, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

(2) The objection rests on a premise that I find doubtful. This is that there is a difference between God and the standard. If there is a Something as I understand it, it’s nature includes within itself all the inescapable standards of truth, beauty and goodness and so forth.

Being in the “mind” of God does not make them what they are but they are in the “mind” of God because they are what they inescapably are.

The Euthyphro Dilemma is puzzle only if one finds both of its two “horns” objectionable. Because I have no problem affirming one of them, it isn’t a dilemma for me.

We are now putting our Sabbath School discussions on the Internet. To find them, please put “Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School” in the Search Box at youtube.com. As always, some are better than others.

Thanks!

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Good to hear from you, David–and no chance I’ll ever be in your league! :slight_smile:

I don’t suppose either of us relishes the idea of going 'round and 'round with one another as we did several years ago regarding spiritual experiences versus rational thinking.

But what you said here really stands out to me:

Exactly. And that puts me in mind of what Moses said to God:

Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin ; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book…

Apparently, not only can we not drop moral anchor in The Good Book, but even beyond that, we must stand up for our moral sensibilities in direct conversation with God.

An authoritarian God, one for whom might makes right, would cut us down for that.

A relational God, one for whom love and freedom are highest values, would allow contemplating and processing our experiences, and our subsequent separation and individuation from our inevitable puerile conceptions of the Divine.

A relational God creates us in His/Her image with an internal center of spiritual gravity, which, over time, collects emotional and cultural accretions, but which ever remains pure at center, and capable of expansion.

A relational God is not honored by our stifling our internal center of spiritual gravity in favor of external controls.

This internal center of spiritual gravity is deeper than the mind. The mind must be its servant, not its master. The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands.

There’s more to say about Euthyphro, but I’ll leave it at that. I will check out the Sabbath School on YouTube–thanks, David!

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Others will solve the problems of theodicy by rejecting such a description of God combining all three. No rational individual would claim friendship and admire someone who combined love, power, and evil. This world has seen many rulers and dictators from the past and currently in place who have amply demonstrated these traits.

This seems an admission that we all “reconceive” or create an idea of God by which we can accept Him. For many rational-thinking individuals, it is impossible. Was Euthypro wrong?

Humans are confused about life and its supposed anomalies because we do not fully understand our brain- drives, instincts , and what triggers various behaviours . We look to a collection compiled over about a thousand years and seek to derive every answer to puzzles of human behaviour from its pages. Firstly there is the drive for personal survival and to preserve life humans will do almost ANY thing. Then there is a strong drive for “accumulation” even at the expense of others under what conditions these may be achieved: capture of others and their belongings , slavery and its forced work ethic for no recompense except food to keep the human machine able to work; then there is the infliction of suffering for fun, and so on. Humans are there own worst enemies because of lack of understanding as to how to suppress the dysfunctional drives when inappropriate and encourage the beneficial ones. The Bible is revered because it attempts to narrate some key messages from the Elohim as to how to control our drives. BUT, we must press ahead with our own research. TWO MAJOR drives are SAVAGERY and COMPASSION. Were it not that we often empathetically activate the latter the human species could have been severely compromised or made largely extinct in the major war of the 20th century, WW2. H. sapiens is an experiment in the cfreation of intelligent life by many extraterrestrials all over this galaxy and many others. US Presidents have been photographed meeting wioth some of these nonhuman beings. Eisenhower was alarmed when he met with some non-white aliens who clearly had the ability to destroy not only the US but the entire planet. They were from zeta reticulum and were seeking the Presidents help in providing humans from whom they could extract genetic materials to revitalise their species which had lost the ability to reproduce due to radiation from nuclear war.The President reminded them that we were protected by the Elohim and they did not want to mess with our species for fear of the mighty elohim. So our “end” is largely up to us and our wise, choices about societal equality on earth, the only sure way of ensuring peace in the majority. The mentally ill who are beyond treatment AND THOSE WHO ARE IRREVOCABLY STEEPED in pandering to lower drives will be destroyed.This is the end game.