Evil And Entitlement

Is the problem of evil a more Western problem? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, my wife and I were with our church small group discussing the book Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. The thesis is that it’s often simple to know to obey God and even to do it, but to trust Him is something else. Of course, if we don’t trust Him, we’re not really obeying Him.

Something that keeps us from trusting often is the problem of evil. I did recently interview Clay Jones on this and he did back something that I have heard, that evil is often more of a problem being talked about in the West than it is in the places where the real evil is going on. I can think of the fundamentalist atheist teenager talking in a chat room years ago who would go on and on about how much evil there was in the world and then say he’d brb, someone was calling his cell phone.

I suspect that part of the reason is because we often have an entitlement mindset over here. I have heard some people saying, and I understand it, that they don’t like the concept of us having rights. Perhaps we should think of them as more responsibilities we have toward our fellow man. We often think that we are owed something.

When it comes to evil in our lives then, we look at it and think that God is not doing His job. After all, He’s supposed to be making sure we’re happy, and normally we have in mind a very American view of happiness. Even with our therapy today, we often focus on dealing with our emotions instead of dealing with our behavior. We do need to deal with our emotions to be sure, but our behavior is by far more important.

If we look biblically, this idea of God holding out on us and not doing His part is what led to the fall in the Garden. Why take the fruit? Because God is holding out on you. God is not looking out entirely for you. He’s looking out more for Himself. The strange thing is we keep acting the same way.

In our society, we think more about what God is to do for us than on what we are to do for Him. Many of us will rightfully condemn the word of faith people who treat God like a servant and say if you have enough faith, then you will get all the miracles and wealth you want, but we act the same way on a lower scale. If we are doing everything right in our lives, everything should work out for us. If we do the right thing, we should have good happen in our lives.

It’s interesting that this is the very thinking in the book of Job. Job is thought to be the oldest book in the Bible by many scholars. In this book, God Himself challenges this way of thinking and says it is wrong. What do we do? We still hold to this exact way of thinking. (Also, it’s worth pointing out the book of Job is not about the problem of evil. It’s asking the question of if you will still serve God even if things don’t work out for you. If you gained nothing, would you still serve?)

I suspect a large part of this is that we are not thankful enough. Consider Romans 1. This passage is all about how God is judging the world and the wrath of God. What does verse 1 say about it?

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Imagine giving a presentation somewhere and you get reviews back from the audience. There are twenty of them. Nineteen of them are positive. One is negative. It is our tendency to focus on that one negative. The same thing is what we do here.

God has given us all so much and we don’t appreciate it. In other countries where good things are not taken for granted, they are seen as gifts. We sleep in warm beds, have refrigerators with food, drive where we want to go, watch what we want on TV, access what we want on the internet, can worship in freedom, and yet we still say that there isn’t enough good in this life to be thankful for.

Years ago, someone gave me a tip that I try to do at times. If you have one night where it’s hard to get to sleep, go through the alphabet. Think of things that you’re thankful for that start with each letter. If you can’t think of something, then you do indeed have a problem. You are not thankful enough.

Keep in mind, this is no light matter. This is something that is included in the wrath of God. If you are not thanking God, you are likely taking Him for granted. Sure, God gives you food to eat and a place to sleep, but He’s supposed to do that isn’t He?

No. He has no obligation to you beyond what He promised you. You were never promised a pain-free life. You were never promised a rose garden this side of eternity. That means then that everything that you have is a gift. If you have something good come into your life, rejoice. If you lose something, God never owed it to you and you have to trust Him.

My wife and I have been reading James 1 at night the past couple of days and James really has a lot to say about this. Just look at the first chapter.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faithproduces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The early church was facing trials of many kinds. Sometimes it was physical persecution. Sometimes it was ostracism from society. They would be outcasts and suffer economic hardship as well. Never mind that they didn’t have all the blessings that we have today.

Despite this, they were to have joy. They had far less than we have and quite likely far more suffering, and they were told to have joy. Not only this, this joy came with a promise. We will then be mature and complete and not lacking anything. Does that sound like a good deal to you?

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

So James is telling us that persevering under trial is a sign of your love for God. It demonstrates to the world you love God and God promises a crown of life to you. Earlier, I said God owes nothing to you beyond what He promises you. If you treat Scripture as His promises, then this is His promise. If you persevere, He will give you a crown of life.

My wife is part of Celebrate Recovery. Tonight, she’s excited because she gets a chip to show that she’s gone two months without cutting. If she is excited to get a little chip, how much more excited should I be that I will get a crown of life? Unless, of course, I don’t think it’s that big a deal or I don’t think God will keep His word.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

And James tells us that God does give us good gifts. God does not change. His gifts are because of His gracious nature. Often, we have a deserving mentality. If we do good, we deserve to get good things and if we do bad, we deserve to get evil things. If we get a gift, we need to deserve it. Not at all. Paul even said this to the pagans in Lystra in Acts 14.

17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Plenty of food? These people had to work for their food much more than we do. I can just drive down to a supermarket and find plenty of food that I can get. Water would also be a valuable commodity for them, and yet I can go to a water fountain and get all that I want for free. God gave these gifts to people that Romans says did not honor Him or give thanks to Him.

When we treat God in a way that He doesn’t give us good things in our minds and isn’t looking out for us, what kind of Father are we saying that He is? Could we not be like the prodigal son and saying that we wish He was dead and we could go on with our lives? The elder son didn’t fare much better. He saw his dad as someone stingy he was slaving for and he never got a thing for it.

By the way, I’m saying all of this to myself. I also have a problem with a lack of thankfulness. Many times when you do a blog like this, you write not only for your audience but for yourself. Lately, I have been having to learn about this a great deal.

So what are we going to do? Be more thankful. Realize you are not owed anything. Everything that you have is a gift. If God takes something away, He’s not being cruel to you. He’s looking out for you in a way you don’t understand. Trust Him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 6

Does David Wood have a good argument against evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered, which looks at the 50 reasons for God in an edited book by Michael Licona and William Dembski. This time, we’re looking at the problem of evil again. David Wood has an essay here on responding to the argument from evil.

Jelbert rightly points out that the argument is a disproof of theism. In this case then, the burden of proof is on the atheist. The theist has the much easier task considering of just showing that something is possible. He does not bear the burden of proof.

He also rightly points out that good could mean something different to a theist than it does to an atheist. Indeed, I think many of the problems we have in the debate is we never really define our terms. Good is an idea that is left floating in the air, which is why I always prefer to ask someone what is meant when they say good.

In his response, Jelbert starts by saying that he notes four definitions of evil. I wonder if these are all definitions or rather different ways of viewing something. There is moral evil and natural evil for instance and both are talked about, but both are not the same.

Wood has gone also with the argument from design. With the problem of evil, the atheist says that it probably isn’t likely that there is a good reason for evil, so we shouldn’t accept that there is. When it comes to design, the problem is that it is not probable that life arose by purely naturalistic processes, so we shouldn’t think that it did. The situation is indeed reversed. Please note also I say this as someone who doesn’t use the design argument.

One difference I can see is that if theism is true, then we should expect that God’s knowledge will be vastly superior to ours. In any event that happens be it an atheistic or theistic universe, there is probably knowledge about most events that we cannot know because we do not know all things. Most of us have a hard time with truth about ourselves let alone truth about greater realities.

As I write this, it was not too long ago that we had a mass shooting take place here in Las Vegas in America. This was over a week ago, and we’re still picking together pieces of what happened. ISIS has claimed responsibility, but I have not seen anyone definitively say that ISIS is involved. Here we have numerous investigators working on something and we don’t have definitive answers and yet with much less investigation and skilled investigation at that, we expect to know about other kinds of suffering?

Jelbert says that if we cannot think of a moral justification for this suffering, then we should not quash our morality. The problem is that Jelbert then starts to just beg the question. Sure. I can’t think of a reason, but the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that there is no good reason. Unless this has been shown, then the argument has not reached its conclusion. If I throw in other arguments for theism, then the case is much more firmly stacked in my favor.

This also assumes that God is the efficient cause behind everything that happens. Even many Calvinists would not accept this. This would be akin to the idea that since God is the one behind the reproductive system, that He automatically guides every cell that goes into life. If it is the case that God is not the efficient cause, then God is not the one doing things directly.

Also, I think it’s just wrong anyway to apply moral categories to God. This assumes that God is an agent like any of us with responsibilities like any of us. He isn’t. God doesn’t owe us anything. God does not owe you or I a good life. If God wanted to just take my life right now, He could. He does not owe me anything.

If someone thinks God is wrong in taking a life, I want to ask on what grounds is it that God owes them life? The only thing God owes people is that which He’s promised to give them. No one can place an obligation on God that He has to give X to them.

Jelbert also has another argument that if God existed, He would help people develop virtues and seek God. Peopel do not do this, therefore God does not exist. Even if I granted the first premise, I can still say that this is true. God has done this. It’s called the incarnation. The life of Jesus has been the greatest impetus to virtue of all time. It has caused more and more people to seek God as well. To say God will help people will not mean that God is forcing people.

Jelbert also has an offhand remark about atrocities committed in the name of God from the previous chapter. Our look at that saw much of this lacking and don’t see why it should be expected that God will intervene every time. If Jelbert has a chapter later on on the Crusades or the Inquisition or anything like that, we will deal with it then.

Jelbert also says the argument of Wood is a call to distrust your moral judgment and senses and just trust God has it all worked out. I don’t see how. If one has prior grounds for believing that God exists, then one can indeed think justifiably He has it worked out. Furthermore, God has to remain in the paradigm in the objection and if there is such a God, then it is quite likely He knows more about the situation. The burden is squarely on the atheist. Jelbert even agrees that if there was good evidence for God, you would be forced to assume He has secret reasons for the evil we see. I would not say forced, but Jelbert here grants my point.

Yet how do I have to deny my senses? I can affirm that there is great suffering in the world. I can affirm that this is not the way the world is meant to be. I can affirm that there is something wrong here. In fact, Christianity demands that I affirm these. Jesus did not die because the world was perfect. He died because it is highly imperfect.

Jelbert says that this contradicts Copan’s chapter where our morality is a clue to God’s existence and here we are supposed to suppress our morality. Again, I still do not see how we are to do that. I can look at events and say that these are instances of evil, such as the Las Vegas shooting, or suffering that will be gone in the new Heaven and Earth, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. I don’t have to change my moral stance one iota.

Jelbert says that Wood says that humans are at war with God so that explains poor morality. Jelbert counters by saying that most of us do so purely out of selfishness. The problem here is, why not both? Wood’s definition works fine as does Jelbert. The difference is on Jelbert’s view, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be selfish. On Wood’s, I do.

Jelbert goes on to say that the problem of evil is a serious blow to the idea of God and any free-thinking person will acknowledge that. Sorry. I consider myself a free-thinking person. I don’t acknowledge that. I don’t find the problem of evil persuasive at all. In fact, this is largely seen as a Western problem. Go to other countries that aren’t as affluent as ours and you’ll find people rarely talk about the problem of evil.

I also note something else here I don’t think was said. Evil is a problem for everyone. How does Jelbert explain it and how does he hope to resolve it? For theism, we have not only an explanation for evil, but a hope that evil will be defeated ultimately based on the resurrection of Jesus. Can atheism give me anything comparable?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/14/2017: Clay Jones

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!

It’s something we often think about. It seems simple on the screen when we see the hero defeating the villains. We don’t worry so much about the problem. We know that our favorite superhero is going to deal with it. Even when we’re on the edge of our seats, we know that the hero will pull this off somehow.

When we look at the real world though, we wonder. Is there really a hero here? Why is all this evil being allowed in the world? It’s something we can accept in the media, but then it hits us. We have someone get abused. Someone gets raped. Murder takes place. Cancer strikes a family. A child dies in a natural disaster. Why?

If we were able to and being good people, we would stop this or do our best to stop it. God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful. Right? If so, then it doesn’t make any sense does it? Why does God allow evil?

That’s a good question.

To discuss this question, I have decided to have on someone who has spent decades dealing with this. He has looked at evil regularly, including reading about some of the greatest evils that mankind has done in history just to understand the situation. His book is titled Why Does God Allow Evil? and his name is Clay Jones. He’ll be joining me this Saturday.

So who is he?

Clay Jones holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. Formerly, Clay hosted Contend for Truth, a nationally syndicated call-in, talk-radio program where he debated professors, radio talk show hosts, cultists, religious leaders, and representatives from animal rights, abortion rights, gay rights, and atheist organizations. Clay was the CEO of Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law and Graduate Schools) and was on the pastoral staff of two large churches. Clay is the Chairman of the Board of the university apologetics ministry Ratio Christi, is a contributing writer for the Christian Research Journal and specializes in issues related to why God allows evil. You can read his blog at clayjones.net, find him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter at ClayBJones. Clay’s has authored Why Does God Allow Evil?: Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions.

Dr. Jones has a great work on this as he writes with the head of an academic and the heart of a pastor. I also owe him greatly for his own helping me when I had some struggles in this area. Not only that, but his book will help you take a look at yourself and realize the problem of evil is not just something out there, but it is something within.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Please consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the show. Be ready next time when we talk about evil!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sin in Sin City

What are we to think about mass murder in Las Vegas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

America is still in shock over a mass murder that took place in Las Vegas earlier this week. It’s natural for us to mourn and to have some fear hanging over us, but this raises the specter of evil. There are Christians who I saw wondering how there could be a good God in charge of all of this.

That aspect is kind of surprising. The early church faced persecution of all sorts directly and did not say anything about how God isn’t good that I know of. If anything, their trust increased. Could it be part of our world in America is we’ve got so used to safety that we find it out of the ordinary when any kind of suffering comes?

I have also seen Muslims trying to say this was a Christian terrorist. There is no hard evidence I know of that shows that. The only criteria they seem to have for this is that he’s a white man and he’s not a Muslim. Color me skeptical. In fact, I’m skeptical of a lot of claims about who he was and why he did what he did until we have some hard evidence.

The evil about it is something we can talk about. How is it that someone could do something like this? All sides seem to agree that this was a great evil that took place and we just don’t understand it. Most of us have no desire to enter a hotel room and gun down a bunch of people that we don’t even know. At least, I hope a bunch of us don’t.

Yesterday I was driving and listening to my usual talk radio when I heard Trump speaking about the police officers that have been shot in this event. Now I don’t care what you think about Trump good or bad at this point, but he did say something about them. He said that many of them were good fathers and were loving husbands. I am sure he is right. Many people who died and were injured were and are good fathers and loving husbands or the appropriate terms for women who were shot.

Here’s the thing. You know who else is often a good father and a loving husband?

A serial killer.

Many times after something like this happens, neighbors are shocked. “We had no idea. He was such a good neighbor!” Many of the Nazi killers were in fact quite excellent at home in their family life. They just went to work and killed Jews instead.

It’s also easy to do what I saw done and say this is mental illness. Of course, it could be some people who do these things are mentally ill. Some people are just evil though. Blaming it all on mental illness sadly makes the entire community of people with mental illness potential time bombs and could ignore the real problem.

We all know in reality that it’s not the case that we live in a brave new world where if we just give people all the right medication, then we can banish evil from our midst. For most of us, we know this because we can look in the mirror. We can see the reality of evil before us.

One example of this is the Milgram Experiment. Two people would come in. One would be the teacher and the other the learner. The teacher would have to punish the learner for errors that were made. The learner would be hooked up to an electrical system that would supply shocks. An authority figure would tell the teacher to shock the learner and would keep telling the teacher to up the voltage. Some of these would be lethal voltages. The teacher would do this anyway and watch the learner feel the shock every time.

Except the learner wasn’t. The learner was a plant and an actor who was supposed to act shocked every time. The point of the experiment was that good people would go all the way up because an authority figure told them to do so. I seriously doubt that it’s the case that only people with mental illness did so.

So what’s it going to take to end these kinds of events? It’s not going to be more laws. Criminals already disobey laws and don’t care about them. It’s going to have to be a commitment to return to the goodness of virtue. We live so much by our feelings today that we don’t pay attention to virtue. More of the emphasis is helping us to feel good about ourselves instead of to be good. Much of what we talk about is dealing with negative feelings we have instead of negative vices that we have.

It will involve an education, but a moral education. There’s an old saying that if you catch a man stealing parts from a railroad and send him to college to be educated, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railroad. If a person has an evil heart, knowledge devoid of moral substance will just enable him to be more evil.

And dare I say it, but maybe, just maybe, we need the Gospel. Maybe we need the good news of humans being in the image of God and this being the world that God is reclaiming for His own. Maybe we need Christians to really be Christians and really be the salt and light they’re supposed to be. Radical thought I’m sure, but maybe that is what we need.

Evil is indeed in our world, and one of the first places we need to start to look for it is within. It’s easy to want to go and fix our neighbor. It’s harder to know we need to go and get our own problems taken care of. While I am not going and shooting up a concert from a hotel room, am I in my own way making the world worse or better morally? Am I loving my neighbor as myself truly and loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? How can I improve in those two commands?

Pray for those involved in the shooting and be doing what you can to deal with evil where you find it, especially in your own heart.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Problem of Boredom

Is it a problem that we live in a bored society? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, I wrote a blog post about finishing Clay Jones’s book on the problem of evil. One topic he talked about in that book was Heaven and how many people, not just skeptics, have a fear that they will be bored in Heaven. To be fair, if Heaven was like the way it is depicted in popular media, it would be boring. Sadly, if it was also the way it is often described in many churches, it would be boring.

As I thought about this, I considered that what if boredom isn’t just a problem with Heaven, but also with this life? Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the purpose of our life is to be entertained, but isn’t joy listed as a fruit of the Spirit? Are Christians supposed to be bored?

When I was single and living in an apartment in Knoxville, I had two friends I hung out with regularly. One wasn’t a Christian at the time. One was. The three of us would regularly go out together and stop at bookstores. I would buy one or two apologetics books. My non-Christian friend would buy several fun things from there, sometimes books, and I don’t really remember what the other would get.

Inevitably, I’d be sitting alone in my apartment on the internet with either a book or watching TV or playing a video game and I’d get a call from my non-Christian friend saying he was bored. This would be just after going to the store a few days ago. It always amazed me that I got far fewer things and things that weren’t designed for fun, but the problem of boredom never struck me.

Today, we live in a society where one can pick up the remote and go through all the channels, normally over 200 of them, and say “There’s nothing on.” We can then go through Netflix and just say “Nah. I don’t want to watch that.” We look at our library of video games and think “No. I don’t want to do that one now.” No matter what it is, it’s like we don’t really find interest in anything.

Even more, we don’t find interest in God. Sadly, I can understand it. When we start to think about God, it’s hard to know what to think about. One of the reasons I think God gets boring to us is because unlike Aslan, we have made God a tame lion. We have these neatly defined ideas of what God is, and yet we don’t expect God to rock the boat. We don’t expect God to do much. He kind of just sits on His throne being God. We can think about all of His attributes and such, but it doesn’t seem to move us.

This is also a problem because boredom is really showing a lack of appreciation. Romans 1 says that part of the problem of the rebellion of mankind was that man was not thankful. When we are too easily bored and not interested in the things that have been made, we are insulting them and in turn, insulting their maker. We are saying there is not enough good in them to captivate us.

One exception to this that a skeptic in Jones’s book mentioned was the subject of sex. I think this person is on to something. Sexuality is something that does not lead to a law of diminishing returns but rather a law of increasing returns. I want to stress that this is in the case of marriage.

Outside of marriage, sex becomes more about just fun instead of really bonding. No doubt, there is fun involved, but for people who are married, the joy is getting to be bonded to that person. If you make it just about fun, you will wind up viewing the other person as an object to be used for pleasure and wondering if a different body can bring you more pleasure.

Sex doesn’t seem to lose its interest because that’s about a person, and persons are interesting. Couples who have been married for 50+ years wind up still learning new things about one another. The more one is intimate with the same person, the more one comes to enjoy and appreciate that person as even your own bodies learn how to work better together.

The more we get interested in the person of God, the more we will delight in Him. If we think of God in too abstract a way, it could be that He ceases to be a person of wonder to us. This is something that I will freely admit I still struggle with. The same has happened with the Bible. We’ve heard the stories so much that they no longer have a shock value to us. We read “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and think nothing about it. Any reader in the ancient world would have dropped the scroll in absolute shock. If we pictured John writing the words, he must have had an exceedingly difficult time writing that sentence as it seemed to be too unbelievable.

We really need to return wonder. Our society being so bored is a problem in that we don’t see the good and we don’t see what living is all about. In fact, I think this has something to do with our culture of suicide. It’s all too easy to decide that there’s nothing in the world worth living for.

There is indeed. Every day of your life is filled with wonder if you will look. Everything in your life that is good might not have been. Every good thing is a gift. You are owed nothing. That means all that is yours is a gift so accept it with joy. This includes the reality of God.

Go out and enjoy your life. Christians need not be bored. We have a wonderful world God gave us to enjoy.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Does God Allow Evil?

What do I think of Clay Jones’s book published by Harvest House Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Harvest House for sending me a copy of Clay Jones’s book. I consider him a friend and he has helped me through some personal issues of mine that I have struggled with before. I was thrilled to hear about this book and after reading it, I have to say I love it and I hate it.

This is a great book because it is a thorough look at the problem of evil. Many questions will be answered and questions one didn’t know were out there will be addressed. It is a challenge for anyone who wants to use the problem of evil as an argument against theism.

With that being said, why would I hate this book at the same time?

I hate it because this is more than a detached look at the problem of evil. This is an in-your-face look. It’s so much easier to talk about evil when it’s the people out there who are the problem. It’s easy to condemn genocide when you realize you’re not one of those people doing it. You’re a “good person” after all. It’s not so easy when you realize that many of these people we today call “good people” are people who are just as much capable of genocide. In fact, if we think we’re better than those who do commit genocide, we’ve taken the first step to being a person who will commit genocide.

Jones’s book shows that evil is not just a problem out there. Evil is a problem within. Regularly throughout the book, I would experience knowing that I contribute to the problem of evil and if I don’t in a major way, there’s not much that’s stopping me from doing so. It’s much better to talk about evil when it’s something out there, but Jones won’t leave it at that.

Jones also includes much about Heaven in this book, which is quite good. He also got me right here as I realized I don’t have the great desire for Heaven that I should. Part of this could be we just don’t know what Heaven is like. Jones says that the most common comparison between the eternal state and our world today is marriage.

This also I concur with. For a young man especially growing up, he finds that he knows two things normally about sex. First, he has never really had it before. Second, he knows that he wants it and that it’s very good. This is the same with heaven. In fact, the desire for both is enjoyable itself. Ask any husband who knows that tonight is the night. He has something to look forward to all day.

Fortunately, Jones does help someone change their outlook. He does say that if Heaven was the way the popular media depicts it, it would be understandable to not look forward to it. Heaven will not be an eternal church service nor will it be just sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever. Heaven is a place where we will be doing the work of God and some will be leading others and ruling cities. Yeah. Think about what it would be like if all of a sudden Seattle was placed under your control.

If there was something I would have liked explained more in the book, it’s natural evil. I really don’t think the fall is sufficient to explain it all. After all, if our scientific history is correct, there were earthquakes and such before the fall. There also is the case of animal predation. Why does a porcupine have quills except to defend it from predators? Dembski argues that God made the world knowing about the fall in advance, which is true, but also raises the question of what did happen there. I would have liked to have seen more from Jones on this front as natural evil is usually one of the biggest hurdles that is raised.

Jones’s book is not just good apologetics. It’s also good for Christian practice. Jones doesn’t just equip you with answers and understanding, but he also shows you where you need to develop and how the problem of evil really begins with you. He also reminds you to put your hope in the future promise of God.

I recommend Jones’s book, but be prepared when you read it. Be ready to take look at yourself. You might not like what you see. Again, evil seems easy to complain about when it comes to people outside of you. It’s not as pleasant when you realize you are part of the problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Culture of Suicide

What impact do we have on the culture? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife informed me yesterday that Chester Bennington, the lead singer of the band Linkin Park, committed suicide by hanging himself. It could be drugs and/or alcohol were involved. It is also true I understand that he was sexually abused as a boy growing up. He was also greatly affected by Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden doing the same thing.

Brian Head Welch is a Christian and was at one time in the band Korn. I don’t know if he still is or not, but he was angry about it. He did consider Chester a friend, but he wanted to know what he thought he was doing to his wife and children, not to mention numerous fans all over the world. Let me say at this point that I do not write about this as a fan. If it hadn’t been for my wife, I wouldn’t have known about this at all.

Our culture spends a lot of time talking about suicide. My wife and I heard on the news just Monday that so far this year in our state of Georgia that there have been twenty suicides. Some of them are because of a stupid internet thing called the Blue Whale Game. There is also the hideous Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. This is the series that had numerous professionals warn the producers of what not to do but hey, the producers were sure they knew better anyway.

We also can all remember when Robin Williams died. Unfortunately, so many people shared the meme from Aladdin with “Genie. You’re free.” No doubt, they meant well, but it sent a horrible message. It presents suicide as a freedom. It’s a way to escape the pain. In a sense, it is, but at a great cost.

Cyanide and Happiness can sometimes have crude comics, but sometimes they’re incredibly accurate. There was one that definitely fit the bill. It is one that I often think of when it comes to suicide.

Chesterton said years ago that when a thief steals diamonds, he is no doubt doing something wrong, but he at least honors the diamonds in a sense by saying they are worth stealing. An adulterer is doing wrong with illicit sex, but at least he thinks the sex is worth having. The suicide is the one that says nothing is worth having. Nothing is worth living for. It’s essentially giving the finger to all that is in existence. It is saying there is nothing out there good enough to make up for the pain in one’s own life.

And could that be part of the problem? Suicide is getting trapped inside yourself majorly. It is a sort of idolization of self. It is putting your well-being in a supreme position. You are thinking about yourself. You will try to tell yourself that people will be better off, but they aren’t. How many of us can find cases where people did this and everyone was better off as a result? How many times have you heard someone say “My life has been so much better since my dad killed himself,” or something like that?

This is what we do with every sin in fact. “I know I shouldn’t cheat on my wife with this woman, but it’s not like she’s being responsive to me and I haven’t had sex in so long.” “I know I shouldn’t do this deal at work, but my family really needs the money and we’re struggling so bad.” It is always possible to find an excuse for a sin. In fact, we always think there is some good reason to do the wrong that we do, and no doubt there is, but that does not mean the wrong is the right thing to do. It never is.

Now someone like Chester has left a message for all his fans. Those who don’t know better will think that this is something acceptable to do. His wife will be wondering how she was inadequate in her love. His children will be wondering why Daddy wasn’t worth being around. Chester’s action was done and ended quickly. The results are going to last for a long long time into the future. It could be centuries. After all, how he did will affect his children which will affect their possible future parenting which will affect those children, etc.

I also don’t speak about this as someone detached. A little over two years ago my wife made the attempt. I normally keep the medicines locked up due to her tendencies, but I didn’t have my keys with me one day while doing the podcast and she used them to get into the safe. Don’t think I never second guess myself about everything with that day. I do. I easily call it the worst day of my life. There is no contest. Nothing else comes close.

We do indeed need to have sympathy, but we need to be firm that this is unacceptable behavior and certainly never glamorize suicide. Naturally, we need more and more people to be focusing on Jesus in their lives and really learning what a difference He makes. Too many of us Christians don’t really think about that. Jesus has become so familiar to us that He has become “a tame lion.” The therapeutic Jesus is not really therapeutic. He really can’t do much about our sin problem.

We especially need to do this for the youngest among us. These are sadly often the most impressionable. Believe it or not youth leaders, it will take more than pizza parties and laser tag to do this. You won’t get teenagers to embrace Christ just by fun things. I’m not opposed to fun, but the purpose of being a Christian is not to have a good time in itself. It’s to be like Jesus and spread the Kingdom of God.

Pray for the family of those left behind and reach out to those in your life. Some may be struggling with suicide and you don’t even know it. Take the time to appreciate them. Celebrate them. Send a message to someone and let them know you’re thinking of them. Tell someone that you’re grateful for the good they’ve done in your life. Love your spouse and your children. Do good to one another.

There’s no time like the present to be living.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

 

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 1

 

What do I think of Bill Zuersher’s book published by Xlibris US? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So while browsing Facebook, I’d regularly see this book offered on the side. I first went to the library site here and didn’t find it, but then I looked again one day to see if it was there for Kindle. $3.99? That’s not too bad. I decided that since this book was being advertised, maybe others were getting it so I’d better read it.

Whoever is behind advertising for this book either needs to learn about what is worth advertising, or else they’re a Christian and want to advertise how bad a book arguing against Christianity is.

I’m going through it still and it’s a labor of love to do this. There are so many things wrong with this book that one entry will not be sufficient. Therefore, I’m going to go through piece by piece. The book starts with the beliefs Christians hold to and then the second part looks at the evidence.

The first belief is about the world being created by a good and loving God. That is accurate. We believe that. Then it immediately leaps into the problem of evil. Now don’t get me wrong here. The problem of evil is something that really should be addressed. There is a problem in looking at it when you only look at the problem and don’t look at the counter-arguments.

Yesterday was a fun day for our cat. It was his time for his yearly check-up at the vet. So what happens? We take our cat sleeping peacefully on our bed, pick him up and force him in a carrier and lock it up, take him across town to a strange place where people will hold him and look at his ears and teeth and put needles in him and cut his nails.

If our cat were a philosopher, he would have been looking at this and saying that this is an example of great evil. If these people really loved me, they would not be doing this. They would realize it is better for me to be sleeping on the bed. How can people who really love me do this?

In fact, if you didn’t know about our culture and how we treat our cats and heard that we had done this, you would likely think we were abusive pet owners. Most of us know better. Most of us know we did this for little Shiro because we do love him immensely and want him to be healthy.

That’s one thing that has to be said about evil. We come from a limited perspective by definition. Even if you’re an atheist, your perspective is limited because you don’t know the whole story. I’m happy to admit there are things I don’t know. The problem with the problem of evil is that I have to act like I know things I don’t know for it. For instance, I have to know that any evil that takes place is pointless and meaningless. This is something that cannot be known.

The solution also doesn’t make sense. Get rid of God. Okay. The evil is still there. The problem is still right there. If anything, all that has been eliminated is the only hope of ever truly resolving the problem, unless atheists think they can re-engineer the planet so that lions no longer eat gazelles and plants no longer have to die. Good luck with that one.

Another problem is that if Zuersher wants to argue the logical problem of evil, well even a number of atheist philosophers admit that that has been answered. As Mackie says in The Miracle of Theism.

Since this defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another. But whether this offers a real solution of the problem is another question. (Mackie 1982, p. 154)

Note that last part. This is a possible solution. It does not mean that it is the true solution. The point is that if there is a way the two can exist together, then it is not a contradiction. Mackie is not alone in this. What is usually argued more is the emotional problem of evil.

Zuersher also says that we would expect a human being to mitigate evil whenever he could and if he had superpowers, we would expect success. Why don’t we see it when we have a God even greater than a superhero? It’s worth noting that his source for this argument is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier.

Again, the problem is how does Zuersher know which suffering is pointless and which isn’t? Most of us know that if you try to remove all suffering from someone’s life, that that person will not lead a good life really. Most of our greatest lessons we have learned in life have come through suffering.

Zuersher also says about the free will defense that if a deity can make a world where people will have free will and not do wrong, why not make that world? He is of course talking about the Christian concept of the afterdeath. I really don’t understand this argument because it seems so simple. Who is it that’s going to enjoy the loving presence of God then? It’s those who chose it. No one is forced to be in that place. Everyone who is there will be there BECAUSE of free-will.

The final defense he speaks of is the retreat to the possible with not knowing the reasons. It must be admitted though that if we’re dealing with a deity, then no, we don’t know the reasons. We don’t know the end from the beginning. Zuersher can say that we don’t know it so it doesn’t work, but the problem is the shoe is on the other foot. For Zuersher’s case to work he has to know that there is no good reason. It is his claim. It is his argument. If he cannot back that argument, then it fails. If it doesn’t work for the defense to say there is possibly a good reason, then it doesn’t work for the offense to say there is possibly no good reason. You can’t say possibles don’t make arguments and then use one yourself.

He also says animals do not participate in the next life, but this is an open question. In fact, Dan Story has recently written a great book arguing that indeed animals will be in the afterdeath. This isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on, but it’s an important question anyway.

Finally, the great fault of this is that Zuersher only looks at one side of the story. (We’ll see this throughout the book. He regularly cites critics of Christianity but hardly ever cites the opposite side all the while telling us constantly what apologists argue.) I on my side have a number of positive arguments for theism. Do I need to answer evil? Yes. Just as much Zuersher needs to answer the Thomistic arguments that I use. He never bothers. No theistic arguments are mentioned whatsoever. It is what I call the sound of one-hand clapping.

Evil is a big subject and that’s the first chapter and a very brief one. Zuersher will regularly give just a picture and a paragraph. Hopefully next time we’ll be able to cover more than one chapter.

Could God Be Evil?

How do we know the ultimate is really good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, someone contacted me wanting to look at a claim about gnostic gods including the idea that YHWH is really the evil god of the Old Testament. This was a popular idea at the start when Christianity was on the rise. As I thought about it, I do plan on writing more about that tomorrow, but I think it’s important to start by going to our time for some good metaphysics. Philosopher Stephen Law has what he calls the Evil God Challenge.

It’s interesting to point out that the Evil God Challenge doesn’t rebut theism. Theism would still be true. The question to ask is how do you know that this ultimate being isn’t evil? Have you just assumed that He is good?

For some philosophical schools, this could be a problem. For someone who comes from a Thomist tradition, it is not. Often times many people have this idea about goodness that God is the standard of goodness and that the good is whatever corresponds to the nature of God or His will. The problem is if you don’t know what goodness itself is, then you’re just replacing an unknown with another unknown.

It also doesn’t make much sense. “This is a good pizza.” What does that mean? This is a pizza that matches God’s nature or will? What about a good book or action? The idea just doesn’t seem to fit.

If you’re a Thomist, you get your idea of goodness from Aristotle. The good is that at which all things aim. (By the way, this is also something that can be said back to the Euthyphro dilemma. It’s amazing that that dilemma was answered just a generation after Plato and so many skeptics still throw it out like nothing has been said about it.) Aquinas would take this a step further and say that all things aim for perfection. They aim to be. This is called actualization.

You see, for Aquinas, all created things have potential and actuality. Potential is some capacity for change. Actuality is when they do change and describes how they are now. I am sitting as I write this. I have the potential to stand. If I stand, I actualize that potential.

For Aquinas then, goodness is being. Insofar as something is, it is good. We are good when we act according to the nature God meant for us to have. That is why an evil act is considered inhuman. It is the misuse of good that results in evil. This would apply even to the devil for Aquinas. He has being, intelligence, and will. These are good things. The devil is said to be evil, and rightly so, because of how he uses them.

So what about God? God is being without limits. He describes Himself as “I AM.” If you want to know what it means to be, you look at God. He has no potential for change. He is pure being. Everything else is dependent on Him. Even an eternal universe would be dependent on Him.

If you want to know how this makes sense, picture how it would be if you had an eternal existence. Now you also have an eternal existence in front of a mirror that is eternally existence. You have been living for all eternity in front of this eternal mirror. Does the image in the mirror exist eternally because of you or would it exist there if you moved away?

This also means that ultimately, God is good since He doesn’t possess any lacking in His nature. If He does, then He is not God and whatever does possess that is God. The bottom line is that when you reach the end of the chain of being, well you find God right there.

This is why the Evil God Challenge doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve only given a brief snapshot of this of course. For those interested in more, I recommend reading a more sophisticated Thomist like Edward Feser’s Aquinas.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how this works with Gnosticism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters