Friday, October 26, 2007

Pointless Suffering & The Problem of Evil: What Christianity Really Is (for my Philosophy of Religion Class)

In my Philosophy of Religion class we are currently reading philosophical essays on the argument from evil against the existence of God. Athests who use this argument mean, by "evil," "pointless suffering." Not all suffering is pointless (or gratuituous). For example, it's wrong to inflict suffering on persons by cutting them open with a knife. Unless, of course, such cutting is done by a surgeon and allows for a greater good to happen; viz., saving the person's life.

Philosopher Stephen Wyckstra argues against William Rowe's inductive argument from evil. Rowe says, in his "Bambi example" of a suffering and dying fawn, "As far as we can tell, the fawn's suffering is pointless." There are at least two theistic responses to Rowe here. Wyckstra gives his "Noseeum" criticism against Rowe; viz., that Rowe would have to have epistemic access such as an omniscient God does in order to determine that Bambi's suffering is "pointless." A second approach is that, e.g., of Greg Boyd in his Satan and the Problem of Evil. If the Christian worldview is true, then pointless suffering exists, and the existence of pointless suffering is not a problem for Christian theism.

So at this point in my class I am now explaining the worldview of Christian theism, which is, I believe, the worldview of Jesus. Within such a worldview there is pointless suffering. Here are some bullet points, which I will expand on in class.

The heart of Christianity is the person Jesus the Christ. The word "Christ" means "Messiah," or "Anointed King." Old Testament Jews were expecting a Messiah, an Anointed King, to come.

The central message Jesus spoke about is: the kingdom of God. This is also referred to as "the kingdom of heaven" or "the kingdom of light." The "kingdom of God" is the hermeneutical or interpretative key to understanding everything Jesus says and does. For example, the parables of Jesus are about the kingdom of God/heaven. Many parables begin with Jesus saying the words, "the kingdom of heaven is like..."

The term "kingdom of God," as used by Jesus, refers to the reign or rule of God. It is not about some place or realm. This is a very important thing to understand. It explains how the kingdom can be both present and future. If the kingdom were understood to be a place, this would make no sense.

Jesus believed there are two kingdoms, and every person is in either one or the other. On the one hand there is the kingdom of God/heaven/light. On the other hand there is the kingdom of Satan/earth/darkness. It is precisely because of this war going on between the two kingdoms that there is pointless evil. Because the world, on Jesus, is understood to be under the control of "the evil one," much if not most evil is pointless from God's perspective. (In addition, because created agents have free will, a created agent who freely chooses to do evil does something which is, from God's perspective, pointless. For example, if I choose to hit you with a baseball bat for no other reason than that I feel irritated by you, such an evil act is not something from God for the purpose of, say, your character development.)

The Christian worldview claims that God became human for the purpose of rescuing his created agents from their captivity in the kingdom of darkness. This idea gets expressed in the Matthew/Mark/Luke/John accounts of the mission of Jesus. For example, we read the "song of Mary" in Luke chapter 2, which is about Jesus, and it says: "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." This has been called "The Great Reversal." God has come to us in the form of a person to lift up the hungry and the humble. We find the mission of Jesus stated in a number of other places in the 4 gospels.

The methodology of Jesus for accomplishing this mission is twofold: 1) proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God; and 2) demonstrations of power - healing people, delivering them from demonic oppression, and raising the dead. It is, precisely, to rescue persons out of the pointless suffering that is endemic to the kingdom of darkness.

Jesus recruits disciples, or followers, to join him on his mission. The Mission is nothing less than rescuing persons out of their captivity in the kingdom of darkness (the realm of pointless suffering).

When, e.g., we pray what is commonly but probably inaccurately called "The Lord's Prayer," we ask that the will of God be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. This is a prayer request of Jesus; viz., that the things of heaven be done here, on earth. So, e.g., in heaven there is no pointless suffering; indeed, there is no suffering at all.

Then parables of Jesus tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like. For example, the KG moves underground, like a seed growing secretly, inexorably, subversively.

Matthew chapters 5-7 give us the ethics of the kingdom. (The "Sermon on the Mount")

The KG has been called "the upside-down kingdom." The final blow against the kingdom of darkness is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. The disciples find this massively counterintuitive. The "upside-down" thing is all over the gospels, shattering the expectations of the disciples and religious leaders time after time.