Being A Good Person Cannot Make Up For The Wrong We Do: Why I love that God needed to become a man

The weird habit all humans have

We just can’t help ourselves. Like impulsive children, we just can’t help feeling bad whenever we do something wrong. And we can’t stop trying to make up for it. And if we find that we can’t? Well despair sets in like quick cement, our guilty conscience eating away at us like termites underneath timbers. We have a deeply personal knowledge of wrongs, more than just an intellectual assent. When we see wrongs committed against us or others, our hearts cry out for reparation. That’s part of what makes us human. And the reason why it’s a part of being human is because God created humans to be his image, including his justice.

Our weird habit is evidence of a damaged product

Just as every object was created with a purpose, as humans, we were made in the image of God, designed to honor God by obeying and enjoying him forever. But our conscience assures us we have fallen way short of that. We are prone to do what’s wrong, especially when we’re told we can’t do something. The very thought of being prohibited from something itches away at us. Our moral compasses are broken and we’re scrambling around like ants trying to fix it. So when we act selfishly, if we recognize it, we’ll apologize and promise to do better next time, hoping that’ll resolve our guilt. Unfortunately our consciences don’t seem to work that way. Like a bank account, each wrong committed is a withdrawal on our balance, gradually accumulating more and more debt in our account as we age. It is no wonder that old men are some of the most regretful people in the world.

Being good is overrated

But God is a person of infinite beauty and value. Therefore obeying and enjoying him is the highest good. That means every transgression is a cosmic crime of eternal and infinite proportion. It is like choosing to eat your own feces over lobster. If God says not to eat something, we ought not to eat it even at the cost of all the universe and multiple universes more. The penalty for such a crime then is something greater than the whole amount of our obligations. The penalty requires a payment of infinite value because it has been committed against an infinite being. How then can being good absolve our guilt when it is merely being what we were made to be? It seems that the history of ethics has vastly overrated its credit value.

The solution: a bail out by God

Religions are implicitly aware of this, which is why the story of the world’s religions is one in which the debt is attempted to be remedied since they all know the accounts will have to be settled one day. The problem is that with the exception of Christianity, religions rituals, superstitions and self-help practices have worked only to temporarily suppress our guilt. Let’s not kid ourselves. Our selfishness is an enormous crime and if not for God’s restraints, would be hell on earth. No, the only thing that would make reparation for a life lived in defiance of its infinitely valuable giver, is an eternal and infinitely more valuable life than any human being could offer.

If our hope is in ourselves, our will to power, or our ability to create our own meaning with our choices, then we are of all people the most to be pitied. Living the good life by ourselves is the feeble attempt of a toddler to beat his dad in basketball. The dam of our disappointments and guilt will eventually break its banks and crush us with the weight of its condemnation when we realize we cannot live the life we so desperately want to. The end of living for one’s self is despair not freedom. And the end of despair is death, not life.

Only God can give himself something that is more valuable than the whole universe. And there is nothing that is more valuable than all existence but himself. But it is man who owes the debt. So God the author of life, entered life himself as a character – the man Jesus, so that he might pay man’s debt with his own life. It was life that had existed from eternity. And it was life that was infinitely more valuable than anything else. It was a life through whom, to whom and for whom, all things were made. Only the life and death of Jesus could remedy our guilt because only as a human could he represent us, and only as God could his life be of infinite worth. And because he was of infinite worth, his payment is sufficient for every person who desires to have their guilt washed, their conscience cleansed and their life restored – as his eternal image. This is why I love that God had to become man.

Why Hell Must Exist

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-23

When was the last time you thought about hell? If you’re like me it’s probably been awhile. That’s not a surprise because sometime around the latter half of the 20th century, hell dropped out of our culture’s vocabulary. I’m not sure how it happened or exactly when, but I do remember hell being a common phrase as a kid and then it suddenly just vanished. It wasn’t that it was there one day and then gone the next; it was as if adults had ever heard of such a concept. Instead of a common belief around which morality and life was oriented, it became a dirty word associated with fringe groups. Like those Westboro Baptist guys. It wasn’t a teaching you or your church wanted to be known for. Sure people nowadays may believe in a hell, but this concept is vague and it isn’t quite sure who makes it or who doesn’t. What is certain is that you don’t and no one you’re related to don’t. Not to mention most people. Really, the only people who would deserve hell would probably be Hitler…and that’s about it.

The Christian View of Hell

This places modern Christians in an awkward position since they have always believed in a literal heaven and hell from the time of the apostles. More than that, Christians believe that anyone who doesn’t repent and turn to a man named Jesus will go to hell, separated from any good relationship with God and in the full presence of his wrath. In tolerant times like ours, the Christian belief of heaven and hell is like jumping into a frozen pool, a shock to our system of values. This makes it almost incomprehensible and because of that it’s easy for such views to be socially rejected because of its perceived ‘unfairness’.

Can God really condemn people for a lack of belief? What about the ‘good atheist’? What about Gandhi? More importantly what about the everyday people we know and love like grandma who isn’t a Christian but is one of the most kind hearted people you’ll ever meet? If it’s an outrage when a good man gets the same sentence as a wicked one, how much more when God does so with humans. But if you pause to reflect on the nature of justice, you realize that for a perfect God to be just, hell must necessarily exist. More than that, hell must include people just like you and me.

Evil Isn’t Out There, It’s In Here

While technology like social media has readily opened up the world to us in the 21st century, being more connected to other human beings also means being more open to seeing the injustice and evil that exists in this world. When we see a news report of a school shooting, or a woman who had acid thrown on her face for leaving Islam, or that Syria has attacked its own citizens with chlorine gas, our heart cries out for justice.

But if we want the world to be a better place, wanting injustice to be remedied is only the first step. The second one is to realize that all of the evil we see in others is the same that’s present in ourselves. The scariest thing about the Holocaust, were that its soldiers, its prison guards, and its secret services were just everyday German citizens. They weren’t born monsters, they were human and this was demonstrated in the shock of one Jewish man who attended his perpetrator’s trial. As he looked into his eyes, he saw his humanity and he realized that the two were the same.

We are each capable of infinite evil. Like cancerous cells, they lie dormant within us, awaiting their opportunity to entice our souls. So if we want God to eliminate evil and rectify injustice, we must accept that a perfect God cannot tolerate the least bit of evil in the universe. He must deal with all of it and not just some out there in others. And that includes even the judgment of people like you and me who probably may not ever commit a major crime in our lives, but nonetheless harbor the very same dark desires that when fed, lead to widespread suffering.

Why Only Those Who Believe In Jesus Escape Hell

The Christian doesn’t believe that people go to hell because of their lack of belief in Jesus anymore than we believe that lifelines cause the death of people who drown. No, people drown because they asphyxiate underwater but the lifeline was the only thing that could’ve saved them. So too with Jesus. In any court case, justice demands payment. But in the courts of God, the cost of a crime against an eternally perfect being is more than any man can bear. Unless a perfect substitute exists to bear the guilt of the evil that lies within us, all we’re left with is despair – despair that despite our best efforts to scrub off the evil around us, we can never touch the evil within us and despair because we ultimately know that it will never measure up under the eyes of God. But this is the beauty of Jesus:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Is. 53:5

Why Does It Seem Like No One Can Be Sure About Anything?

Certainty is a lack of doubt about something. This exists on a spectrum from relative to absolute. Although philosophers often attempt to differentiate psychological certainty (which is the strength of one’s belief) and epistemic certainty, I believe that reality shows the two to be mutually dependent. What one knows with absolute certainty entails that one believes it wholeheartedly as well. We must have psychological confidence that the certainty we know is accurately represented. For example if I know for certain that my car is parked outside then it I’m able to believe with full confidence.

But can we know anything with absolute certainty? The postmodern zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) would say no. You can see that whenever anything claims to be certain or universal, a general skepticism tends to follow along. Things like grand historical narratives or universal principles are looked at with suspicion by society. This is because we refuse to allow any authority to interpret our lives and give it meaning outside of our self. As humans we like to think we generate our own meaning. It’s not just postmodern or deconstructionist philosophy though, that articulate such ideas. While the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said as humans, we are ‘radically free’, Disney says ‘it’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through, no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.’ But if we ourselves are uncertain people, then so too will our knowledge be. And if doubt has become the default attitude of society then it has also become its virtue. And certainty in the modern world is now the bad guy, the sign of arrogance.

Besides everyday life, this issue can also be applied to a religious context: can we know God with certainty? For Christians, the answer is yes because the Christian belief is that God’s special revelation is certain and therefore we should be certain about it too. While there are things we ‘figure out’ such as science, there are deeper, more fundamental truths (which are articulated in Scripture) that are revealed to us from birth, truths that are unchanging and certain, regardless of who we are. They govern the world and are revealed to us rather than worked out. In such a context, doubt then is more vice than virtue because it is wrong to doubt what God has clearly revealed to us. So the reason the postmodern mind thinks that there is nothing that can be absolutely known is because there is no knowledge that exists outside of the self. Here is why I think this doesn’t work (and certainty is possible):

It is impossible to exclude certainty in all cases

The inescapable fact of life is that even denying certainty requires certainty about it – ‘that nothing is certain.’ But of course, how can we know that? So the argument against certainty itself must be uncertain. Further, any argument against certainty must assume that argument can be a means of finding truth. Someone using an argument to test the certainty of propositions claims certainty at least for that argument. In this case, he claims that he can test whether we can legimiately know things with certainty. But a test of certainty must be certain itself because it would become the criterion of certainty. As the theologian Frame says, an argument that would test absolute certainty must itself be absolutely certain.

Certainty is supernatural

At the same time, we know that we do not have certain knowledge of everything, which is proven to us everyday. We’re frequently contradicted by our own words and actions. Each day little discoveries are made, showing us that the world we knew before wasn’t quite what we had thought. Before space, time and relativity, there was simply an apple falling to the ground. And there is a humility that comes with acknowledging what we do and what we don’t know. After all, no one likes a smart ass. Certainty cannot come from an uncertain source and therefore cannot come from us.

For Christians, God’s word (special revelation) is the ultimate criterion of certainty. What God says must necessarily be true because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore we have a moral responsibility to regard God’s word with absolute certainty and make it our test for all other knowledge. However, our psychological certainty about the truth of God doesn’t ultimately come from our logical reasoning or empirical or even historical evidence (which is useful) but from God’s own authority. As humans we are made with the capability to understand truth and it is to this aspect God’s word is self-authenticating, speaking on its own authority. At the same time, God is a person and therefore he can choose whom to reveal himself to. Certainty is an act of God by his Spirit, often accompanying human reasoning to give us certainty. Yet Christian Scripture never turns away those whom honestly seek to find the answer to such questions.

Conclusion

Secularism ultimately rejects certainty because absolute certainty is supernatural and the secularist is unwilling to accept a supernatural foundation for knowledge. For the Christian, God’s revelation is a wonderful treasure and one that “saves the soul from sin and the mind from skepticism”1. Questioning whether anything is certain is a sign that one hasn’t yet found any sturdy ground to stand on outside of themselves. It is like a blind man, who isn’t sure of the road he is walking on. He feels it in terms of a series of physical sensations, separated by the rhythm of time. A bump here followed by a bump seconds later indicates an uneven road. But it isn’t until that his eyes are opened that he can know that with certainty that it was a road he was walking on all along. So too with God.

  1. Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, 582-587

Easter Would Shake Us If We Knew What It Really Meant

A Strange Holiday

It seems to me that if a man who had lived in a remote jungle his whole life were to enter Western society at this time of the year, he would find Easter quite puzzling and needless to say, absurd. “What a strange people” he’d remark, “they appear to worship a rabbit as their God and make strange replicas of him using only chocolate. And when they have bought these replicas they encourage their children to devour him!” Yet if one really thinks about how Easter is celebrated in this day and age, it really is quite strange to behold. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to have ‘yum cha’ with Sophia’s grandmother and her family at Mt Pritchard RSL. It was a nice catch up but it was busy, as busy as Mt Pritchard RSL can get on a Friday. As we were leaving, I walked past the cafe section of the club which was now suddenly flooded with children and their parents. The children sat or stood, their eyes transfixed towards the front where a projector screen and a well dressed lady with a mic stood. Scores of Easter eggs and prizes surrounded the front. Instead of older folk, it was like bingo for children, and it seemed a winner was about to be announced. At any other time of the year, things like chocolate eggs, bunnies, hot cross buns, prizes and shows would be everyday items, unfit to be objects of such hype. The commotion for such small things, interrupted by usual thoughts and made me reflect. Why did Easter bring such significance to them? What did the eggs mean and where did the bunny come from?

The True Meaning of Easter

There is a tendency for symbols of cultural significance to be taken out of its context and commercialized in a pluralistic society. Easter is no exception. I believe one reason is to allow everyone to ‘participate’ in a cultural safety zone without being confronted by the deeper meaning behind its rituals. After all who doesn’t love night markets and kebabs after Ramadan? The second is because it’s going to be a pretty good money maker. There is a clearly defined target market and regular, predictable demand because of how deeply entrenched these rituals are in their cultures.

Beyond the food and festivities, celebrations like Christmas and Easter come from an entirely Christian context where the birth, death and resurrection of a man who claimed to be the one true God is celebrated. To the Muslim, I am sure festivals like Ramadan are more than mere fasting and feasting. Think Divali is only about lights? There is much more significance behind these festivals than nutritional choices.

Yet if one is to truly appreciate the meaning of Easter and enjoy it fully, one has to place it back into its context. In its origin, Easter was not a holiday. It was a dark hour, the darkest hour for humanity. A stretch of events led to the death of one man who claimed to be God. But unlike every other death, hope rose from the ashes 3 days later. This man’s death was followed by a resurrection, something unique that had never happened in human history. Even 2000 years later, it continues to confound the most astute scholars because no one knows what to make of it. When someone dies and then comes back to life there are obviously going to be a lot of questions. What did it ultimately mean? If we look at the words given to us by the men who spent the most time with this man, then the answer is this –

”The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

Before the resurrection, death was the norm. No man had ever died and then come back to life, and for good reason. Sin is treason against God and the wages of sin is death. So every man died because he was guilty, having sought to define his life apart from God. Yet death could not hold this man. Though he was condemned because he bore the sin of humanity as a man, he was resurrected because he was God. More than that, his resurrection was vindication of his complete innocence, and that his death was enough to meet the penalty of sin for ever human who ever lived.

Because of his death, the symbol of Easter is an egg to represent new life in him. But the resurrection only brings new life for those who seek it in him. So Easter also comes with a warning. It is a warning that every human heart knows, from the moment a child first feels the pangs of guilt to the old man’s last regrets – that there is a day in which God will judge the world by the very same man that death could not hold.

Easter Is A Bad Holiday To Gamble On

Remember those game shows you watched growing up like Deal or No Deal or Jeopardy? It was always a good laugh watching people take risks and gamble. Losing was never a big deal and most of the time, people could smile knowing they went home winning at least something. But how would the show be if the contestants found out they were actually playing for their lives? If you’re celebrating Easter you’re doing the same thing – gambling a fun family holiday without any significant meaning in exchange for the risk of ignoring the biggest event in history. The consequences of winning – a more comfortable 4 day vacation, the consequences of losing – eternal life. Knowing the true meaning of Easter should make us consider carefully how we see this holiday. It can be the event that drives us to this man, Jesus to take refuge under his wings or drives us to stand apart from his death and be judged for the very lives we’ve lived. Would you choose to have a morally perfect one or yours? I know which one I’d rather have.

Conclusion

Easter is not so much a holiday about eggs and bunnies but a celebration of new life and a remembrance of the cost it took. Easter is confronting because it forces us to think about life and death in a way we’re not used to. Unlike the Victorians who were obsessed with death, we have shoved death to the fringes of society, reserved only for undertakers, cemeteries and medical services. Death is an unwelcome visitor and when one is confronted by him, he is like an unexpected guest at a wedding, and he leaves us utterly unprepared. In a culture avoidant of death, the meaning of Easter is needed more than ever.

Religions Can Neither All Be Right or Wrong

When I first heard the phrase “all religions are the same”, even as a fairly nominal and agnostic Christian, I thought it was a ridiculous statement to make. The fact that even the most similar religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) had such contradictory claims made it a stupid question to consider. One day, I was shown this story by John Saxe (based on a traditional Indian tale) which made me hesitate:

“It was six men of Indostan,

To learning much inclined, 

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind), 

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind. 


The First approach’d the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side, 

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!” 

The Second, feeling of the tusk, 

Cried, -“Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp? 

To me ’tis mighty clear, 

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!” 


The Third approach’d the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, 

And felt about the knee: 

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,- 

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant 

Is very like a tree!” 


The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said- “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope, 

Then, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope, 

“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!” 

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long, 

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong, 

Though each was partly in the right, 

And all were in the wrong! 


MORAL,

So, oft in theologic wars 

The disputants, I ween, 

Rail on in utter ignorance 

Of what each other mean; 

And prate about an Elephant 

Not one of them has seen!

The story about the 6 blind men was written in the 19th century and has since been used as a poster boy for religious relativism. Granted, it consists of pretty powerful rhetoric but adds little to the actual argument. Similar to the analogy that religions are multiple journeys towards the same destination, the point of the poem are that religions are partial perspectives of the same object. The religious believer is like one of the blind men who see the truth only partially but insists that they have the totality of it. God is present but has left them to their own devices. Like them, we are blindly groping in the dark, attempting to break free of our chains to escape the cave and see the world for what it really is. It isn’t until the king who requested the elephant makes known to them what it really is, that they can truly know what an elephant is. The implication for modern religions is that believers claiming to have the truth are merely expressing their arrogance and ignorance.

Although the poem gave me pause, at the same time there was something intuitively puzzling about it. Upon further reflection and research, here are 2 biggest reasons why I think the argument doesn’t hold water:

1. The truly arrogant claim is the one that all religions are true

The only reason the blind men can know it’s an elephant is that the king reveals it to them. Without the king’s revelation, they will forever be stuck with their impression of the elephant, “its very like a rope!” But if one argues that all religions are partial perspectives of God, then they must assume the position of the king, the perceiver who has access to the complete picture of God. For such a person, he must have intimate knowledge of God and each religion, knowing the conditions that would make each claim true or false, in order to make such a universal statement. It is, as Newbiggen says, to claim knowledge superior to even those of religion. This applies also to the claim of God’s non-existence, which no one is able to know unless it’s revealed to them. The atheist finds himself in a quandary, because in order to deny the existence of God, he must have 1) sufficient knowledge of every religion to decide which religion’s God to deny and 2)transcendent knowledge of what does and doesn’t exist to deny all of them. If we’re honest, we know such kingly knowledge has not been given to us.

So epistemic humility forces us to choose to admit we either don’t know or we do. We cannot escape such a choice. What then do we do in the face of such a diverse range of beliefs? Either one religion is right or everyone is wrong (join the atheist club), in which they can never know that they are. But they cannot all be true (or be mere perspectives) because the very claims of religion are contradictory. It is not as though the elephant felt ropey and like a fan at the same time, whose qualities could belong to the same object, but an elephant who could fit into one man’s hand but not the other’s. Of course the two blind men would disagree because the claims were deductively incoherent!

One of the reasons Christians reject religions is not because they lack knowledge of other beliefs but because the defining elements of every other religion contradict one another, rendering them incoherent with reality. The other is that Christians have had such knowledge revealed to them. Rather than climbing up over one another on our ladders to reach God, he himself has lowered the rope into our pit of darkness, allowing us to reach him, if only we might grasp it. Which brings me to my next point.

“To say, I don’t know which religion is true is an act of humility.  To say, none of the religions have truth, no one can be sure there’s a god is actually to assume you have the kind of knowledge, you just said no other person, no other religion has.  How dare you?  See, it’s a kind of arrogant thing to say nobody can know the truth because it’s a universal truth claim.  To say, ‘Nobody can make universal truth claims.’  That is a universal truth claim.  ‘Nobody can see the whole truth.’  You couldn’t know that unless you think you see the whole truth.  And, therefore, you’re doing the very thing you say religious people shouldn’t do.” – Timothy Keller

2. It assumes that God has not revealed himself

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Acts 17:24-28

Imagine that the elephant opened his mouth. “I’m – !” he said. That would change everything. The blind men would no longer be dependent on their senses as the elephant would be able to give them information as to who he was. This is the unspoken assumption the poem makes. Yet the claim of Christianity isn’t that men are left to their own devices, groping in the dark for some fragment of the truth. Nor are we enslaved individuals capable of using reason to break our chains and escape the cave (like Plato) to grasp God. We are like the blind men, helpless until the elephant invades their world, speaking and revealing himself. This is what Christians believe – that God out of his kindness, reached down by becoming one of us, a man named Jesus, and spoke. And this speaking is what changed everything.

Conclusion

The poem does help us to understand something, namely that without God revealing himself, knowledge about him really is just the speculation of 6 blind men groping in the dark, waiting for the light of the king to enter their darkness. Reason, empirical data, intuition – none of these are capable of reaching up into the noumenal (transcendent) world no more than a baby’s hand can reach up and touch the sun. It is a great tragedy that like the baby, humans too believe they can when in comes to the knowledge of God. Christians can be thankful that the king who reveals what the elephant is like is Jesus, God himself become man.

Further Reading:

https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/blind-men-and-the-elephant.htm

https://www.str.org/articles/the-trouble-with-the-elephant#.WqDazJNuaRs

https://larrycheng.com/2010/01/23/on-the-blind-men-and-an-elephant/

Religious Beliefs Are Not Private

This much is certain: The greatest thing each person can is to give himself to God utterly and unconditionally—weakness, fears, and all. For God loves obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guide of weakness.” ― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

I often see people irritated when others espouse political opinions based on their religious views. When it comes to issues like politics, money, or sex, religion is often seen as an unwelcome guest, like the distant uncle you only invite to dinners because he’s related to you. Their presence is begrudgingly acknowledged and then he is cast aside to the table of ‘faith’ and other opinions, along with the rest of the children. After all, this is the 21st century for goodness sakes. Behind this behavior is a question that isn’t asked but thought – why do people even need religion in the room for such things? After all, most matters of science or politics or economics or morality are worked out by individuals without any reference to religion. The scientific method has given us great progress in many areas of development. So the role religion now plays is no longer metaphysical or even moral authority but a mystical storeroom to house things we don’t understand. As the 20th century philosopher Wittgenstein put it, “of what we cannot speak we must be silent.”

It seems like the pressure to separate religion from other spheres of life is most clearly seen in Western politics. Religious beliefs are told to be discarded like shoes, before one enters the halls of public debate. To believe homosexuality is a sin, or that it is ‘morally’ bad for the whole society, is a private matter to be held but should be prevented from influencing public policy. Many Christians are surprised by the antipathy towards religious views in public. They shouldn’t be. The separation of religion from politics and other spheres of life is simply the consequence of allowing people who don’t understand religion to determine what it is. And by people, I mean secular humanists.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

To genuine believers of any religion, true religion is worship. And true worship is the dedication of one’s whole life to the object of worship, be it Allah or Jesus. If you’re religiously illiterate, or perhaps merely confused, then a quick way to avoid thinking too much about religion would be to parrot the line “it is about being a good person”. But that would be the religion of humanism and not anybody else’s. For Christians, worship is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It means conforming every thought, feeling and action to God. Muslim worship is the expression of ultimate submission in its observances.

I can understand that it’s scary for the agnostic or humanist to imagine submission to any one but themselves, especially if they’ve done it all their lives. But that is precisely what faith demands. Faith transcends what one does on the weekend, because its very claim is transcendent. Secularism sees religion as mere opinion but the religious man or woman recognizes it as truth. To a secular world, and those whom don’t understand, true religion and freedom of any religion is the freedom to get together once a week and be a moral person (I have yet to hear a valid consensus of what it means to be a moral person). It would be funny if it wasn’t so true. But to ask a religious person to have their beliefs at home but leave it at the door of public opinion is not just the opposite of religious freedom but hypocritical. Really, it is to ask the person to be you and to share your secular beliefs. If Muslims want to implement Sharia law in Australia, then the fairest thing would be to allow them to hold that view and tackle the claims of Islam itself. Or restrict such a view from entering Australia. But to spout phrases like “it’s a religion of peace” or that it’s about “being a good person”, like all religions, is to express one’s ignorance and escort religion back to the nursery room of faith. Religion is more than that because God demands much more than that.

Is the Existence of God and Evil Logically Contradictory?

Epicurus ponders a question as old as time itself.

Evil Shows That There Is No God: God and Evil Reconciled

The Traditional Argument

J.L. Mackie was an Australian philosopher of the 20th Century, who most famously wrote of the logical contradiction between the existence of God and evil, which has now become one of the de facto arguments against Christianity and theism in general. In my own time in university, I’ve heard many a student say, “how can a loving, all powerful, all knowing God possibly allow so much evil to exist?” Another variation is for the student to replace the word “evil” with “suffering”. Though I’ve edited this article, much of it is based on an essay, which I wrote during my time in a Presbyterian seminary so forgive any language that may be hard to understand. Not all of the arguments here are mine, but footnotes have been deleted due to formatting issues. If you would like to have a look at them, please contact me for the full pdf. This article was written to address the so-called logical contradiction of evil and God, not the necessarily existential or emotional aspect of one’s struggle with this belief, which would necessitate a whole other article by itself. Without further ado, Mackie in Evil shows that there is no God argues that traditional theistic beliefs are ultimately irrational.

The question is a philosophical rather than existential struggle to belief by trying to find a logical contradiction in the existence of God and evil. Mackie attempts this by means of a valid deductive argument with true premises for God’s non-existence. If valid, the statement “God and evil exists” is contradictory and hence false. Mackie’s argument is this:

1. God is omnipotent

2. God is wholly good

3. Evil exists

4. Good is opposed to evil by eliminating it as far as it can

5. There is no limit to what omnipotent beings can do

6. A good omnipotent being eliminates all evil

7. Evil exists, therefore a good omnipotent God does not

In Mackie’s view, traditional theism affirms the existence of God and evil, and therefore what is contradictory. To make a contradictory, false statement “true”, theism must deny the logicality of its affirmation. Mackie demonstrates that the only alternative solution is to deny at least one of the premises or modify it while undermining theism’s core position. Four examples of solutions that implicitly deny these premises are that good cannot exist without evil, evil is a necessary means to good, the universe is better with some evil than without, and evil is due to free will. Either way, belief in God is irrational. If rational, then either God or evil cannot exist.

Mackie’s Philosophical Contribution by this Argument

In retrospect, Mackie’s deduction is logically valid. If the premises are true, he concludes a significant philosophical question that has been debated for millenniums. After all, thousands of years before, the Greek philosopher Epicurus once said the exact same, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?” Moreover, it is proof that the traditional theistic God does not exist. If we assert he does despite this proof, then our theistic belief is irrational and ultimately cannot be known to be true or false. Theism appears to be in a bind and this argument will be examined later on.

Does Free Will Necessitate that Evil Exist?

Mackie also gives a sound refutation of evil as necessary for free will and undermines the concept of libertarian freedom. First, he questions why freedom is a “good” and more valuable than any other good that it necessitates co-existence with evil. If a wrong act is done freely, does it then become good? Secondly, it is evident that humans sometimes choose good over evil freely, whether it is due to circumstance or desire. If men can freely choose good sometimes, why can God not make us choose good every time? Therefore, free will is reduced to randomness so that God cannot be held responsible for the “sometimes wrong”.

Ganssle’s libertarian argument that it is possible for evil to exist so that free will can have the possibility of actualizing different realities subtly undermines an omnipotent God. If God is not sovereign over everything including the intrinsic world, then he is not sovereign at all. This is exacerbated when understanding that Christian theism constitutes an omniscient God because foreseeing an event that may lead to evil, Mackie’s premises necessitates that God omnipotently act to prevent it in his foreknowledge.

Lastly, in order to know if we have free will, we must be able to know that it is in our power to choose otherwise. Yet we cannot know all that affects our desires both internally and externally so that we can do so freely. We would have to know every cause, factor and relationship of the world and ourselves to determine if our next decision was free. Moreover, would we really know if other alternative realities would actualize depending on our choice? They remain a speculative possibility and possibilities are merely a synonym for uncertainty. To know if we have free will, we would have to be omniscient. We are clearly not, and so must resort to a better definition of free will in this traditional libertarian defense of theism.

A Christian Response to Mackie

Since evil self-evidentially exists, Mackie’s argument on appearance draws logical proof for God’s non-existence and furthermore the irrationality of objecting belief. On closer examination, I hope to show that Mackie’s argument is intrinsically flawed from its definitions and premises while his conclusion itself assumes and proves the Christian God’s existence. Consequently, the belief that God and evil cannot co-exist is not just irrational but false, and the belief that God and evil does is not merely rational but true.

I will start with the premises. Premise 3) is true but unjustified from an atheistic position. First, Mackie does not provide a definition of his most important problem, which he uses to conclude his argument. What is evil? What evil does he have in mind that cannot co-exist with God? The fact that he has not defined it but is assumed in what he says it is, reveals that it is a subjective “evil” he is asserting when saying “it” cannot exist with God. This is merely reduced to a personal preference that God’s existence is incompatible with. He has yet to justify its universality or nature, and he cannot, because to justify it one must be omniscient (to know all that is good and evil) and omnipotent (to be able to determine good from evil universally instead of being subject to it), which no human is. Yet Mackie assumes that evil exists. He does so by saying that a theist cannot deny it but the burden of proof lies on him to show it does as an atheist. Christian theism explains evil as an ethical rebellion with its beginning in the world as a result of the Fall. Raising the question of evil assumes that God exists because a universal, objective standard must be used which can only be determined by an omnipotent and omniscient being, else subjectivism ensues.

Moreover, new exhibitions of what humans universally know as evil is continually found each day in newspapers. The definition of evil is always changing and debated by philosophers. We are unable to question God’s compatibility with evil by its mere presence because we do not know evil exhaustively and so cannot define it. Without defining evil, we are unable even to know good and evil properly. The answer lies only in a Christian theistic idea of evil that is defined by God. When Mackie concludes that God and evil cannot exist he can only do so if he affirms that they do. Such a statement becomes rationally irrational.

In the conclusion, Mackie is right when saying that God cannot exist with evil as a deductive result from his premises, because this god is the god of his subjective ideal based on his premises and not the God of Christianity. In fact, the Christian theistic belief is assumed in order for him to prove that his conceptual god does not. How? There are two main premises that Christian theism disagrees with here, without undermining its core “theistic” position: 4) and 5).

First, 4) can be changed to – a good being eliminates evil as far as it can unless it has good reasons for not doing so. However, I am merely pointing out that Mackie’s deduction is false from Christian theistic premises and not saying this directlyproves God’s existence. Rather it helps to affirm it. This is because the debate would be shifted to what constituted “good reasons” depending on whether it was aligned with Mackie’s standard of evil (which is subjective) or my standard. A parent may sometimes allow a child to suffer evil for his own good, but we are precisely like the child. We cannot see it as a good. The distinction is not up to us. Secondly, Christian theism can modify 5) to be – there are no logical limits to what an omnipotent being can do. It is impossible for God to perform impossibility. Mackie actually assumes this Christian presupposition underlying his idea of omnipotence because if there were no illogical limits to what an omnipotent God could do, then it is no contradiction for God to coexist with evil because he could allow contradictions to occur. It is his burden to prove that God cannot do what is illogical and he cannot without assuming the Christian view of a logical God.

The Underlying Issue of Such a Question

The logical question is actually revealed to be one of psychological resistance because God’s choice to allow evil must be approved by our idea of what a “good, omnipotent being” must do or be for him to exist; which is by having no evil. Either God is subject to our moral judgment or else our logic. Therefore, we have changed the premises while seemingly undermining theistic belief. The problem is that it is not Christian theism. Rather it is Mackie’s conception of God.

Ultimately, the question of whether God and evil can coexist is not ours to ask. Why is it that a good being eliminates evil as far as it can or that it does unless it has good reasons for doing so? What allows us this definition to what a good being can or cannot do to be good besides our self? We cannot determine whether God and evil can coexist unless we first understand what a good being does. Christian theism answers this. God is good. It is his nature. Hence all that he does is good regardless of whether we call it evil. He is not a good being because he is subservient to some higher law. Rather, the law was created for his creation so if God were to “steal”, he would not be doing wrong because all that is created is his. God defines good and evil, by being the natural embodiment of good so that no matter what he does is determinatively good. There is no law higher than himself. There is no claim for God’s responsibility either because there is no superior being to which he can be held accountable; he transcends both.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mackie must assume Christian theism to deny his wrong and illogical concept of God by the use of his unjustified definitions. Ultimately, such a belief against God and evil’s co-existence becomes irrational and false. Without God to define omnipotence, good, and evil, we have no foundation but our subjective selves to deny his existence. We cannot use our notions of reason or morality to prove or deny God’s existence because we are unable to interpret morality rightly by our standards or justify reason’s validity. We must use him to justify them. God and evil does exist, and exists rationally. However this relationship does not depend on our rationality because it is flawed, but rather our very nature and question presupposes that he does. Therefore, in order to know how and know clearly, we need direct revelation from God himself because in him, we live, move, and have our being.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think down in the comments!