Good question…Why didn't God stop the process before it started, if He knew of the massive amounts of suffering that would befall many of His creatures??(con't)


(Beginning of Series, gr5part1.html)


Part Five: Criterion Four and pre-Pushback Summary

 

 

Now for Criterion Four...

 

 

That evil does not ultimately thwart God’s intention to bless those who choose the good.

 

[In the case of the organization, this would show up as making sure that the adverse affects that will happen to a smaller number will not stop the initiative, which will bring greater goods to the larger number. In other words, this principle allows the executive to achieve more and more widespread "net good", even when offset by some "bad". For example, if a company made compensation based solely on performance (a seemingly impossible to achieve ideal, btw), in an effort to increase the compensation to those making higher levels of contribution, there would likely be sub-performers, in the same job class, whose pay would be negatively affected. Management knows this, but should not decide to let the sub-performance of some penalize the good-performance of the others.]

 

 

This issue is tightly related to the "of one piece"  issue, actually, as this illustration from Dave Hunt (In Defense of the Faith, Harvest House:1996, p.235f) shows so well:

 

"Let's assume purely for illustrative purposes this impossible scene: A million years ago billions of as-yet-uncreated humans in hypothetical precreation spirit form parade before the throne of God demanding not to be created. 'We are all going to be in hell and the lake of fire!' they scream in protest. 'Therefore we demand the right not to be created! It would be sadism of the worst sort if you bring us into existence, knowing the torment we will suffer eternally!'

 

"God's reply would have been something like this: 'You inevitably must be the mothers and fathers, the aunts and uncles, the children and grandchildren and cousins of millions upon millions who will believe in Christ and therefore whose destiny is the eternal bliss and joy of heaven. If you do not come into existence then neither can they. I will not allow your selfish desire for nonexistence to eliminate the existence and eternal delight of billions of souls who will be redeemed by the blood of My Son and will therefore spend eternity in My presence where there is 'fullness of joy' and 'pleasures for evermore'" (Psalm 16:11).

 

"'Then you are consigning us to the torment of the lake of fire for all eternity!' they continue to protest. 'Your enemies will therefore be able to say that You are not a good God of love, but a fiend who creates men for hell.'

 

"'On the contrary,' God would have replied, 'the lake of fire was made 'for the devil and his angels' (Matthew 25:41) and if any of mankind ever enters that place of eternal torment it will be contrary to My will. My Son is going to die in payment of the penalty My justice demands for any sin that any human being will ever commit. The provision for everyone to be in heaven, where I want all to be, will be fully made. If anyone goes to hell instead, it will be due to his willful refusal of the salvation I have provided."

 

"'But we'll suffer eternally!" the protesters insist.

 

"'If so, that will be your doing, not mine," God would have replied. 'I will not rob billions of redeemed souls of eternal joy just to cater to your obstinate rebellion."

 

Hunt's point is clear--evil will not have 'veto' power over good. We have already noted the comments in CS:IOSD:180:

 

"Consider two worlds, W1 and W2. In W1, suppose 50 million are saved and 5 million are lost, while in W2, 5 million are saved and none lost. It is not clear that W2 is morally preferable to W1.  If W2 is morally preferable, then hell has veto power over heaven. God's purpose becomes the negative one of keeping people from hell, not the positive one of getting people to heaven.

 

 

General discussions of the POE are based on the fact that "greater goods" can justify the existence of "smaller" evils/suffering, so in the context of a "more good than bad" universe, the smaller bad should NOT be allowed to subvert the greater good, and this is what we find in the Christian system.

 

 

BTW--the "of one cloth" argument is basically the 'theological reason' for not killing all the children before they reach the 'age of accountability'!. Every now and then I get a question that basically wonders why we don't kill all the children (who would presumably go to heaven) BEFORE they get a chance to decide AGAINST God (and therefore end up in hell). [Needless to say, this tactic of keeping folks out of hell could only be successfully implemented for a few decades...and the argument that the race's existence is better than non-existence would kick back in]...The One-Cloth point shows us that each child has a whole, ever-expanding, down-stream of consequences, and the imaginary argument given by Hunt above would apply equally well here. ]

 

 

 

 

So, this Criterion Four looks okay too, but let's note two quick objections (raised by Walls)...

 

 

First, doesn't this make the hell-bound into "sacrifices" so that the heaven-bound may have all that good stuff?

 

Not in any conventional sense, argues Walls [TH:HLD:101-2]:

 

"However, it might be argued that there is still something objectionable in God's creating persons he knows will be damned, even if he creates as few such persons as he can. For those who are damned seem to be a sacrifice in behalf of the saved. That is to say, God is willing to sacrifice the lost in order to achieve his purpose of having a number of persons who accept his will and are saved.

 

"While this argument has a certain amount of initial force, I think it is largely mitigated if it is true, as I have argued, that the damned are given every opportunity to be saved. In view of this, it is not the case that the damned are "sacrificed' against their will. It is not like the case of a general in battle who must sacrifice some of his men in order to save the rest. in this situation, those who die in battle would presumably prefer to live, but do not have that option.' Some have to die and they are the unfortunate ones who do.

 

"However, since God gives all persons an optimal measure of grace [tn: this is Walls's term for that "amount" of God's activity in wooing us that does not exceed our personal 'freedom' threshold, after which it would be coercion instead], no one has to be lost. To the contrary, all could be saved, and if any are not, it is due to the fact that they have persisted in the choice to resist God's grace. So if they are 'sacrifices,' they are sacrifices of an unusual sort. They willingly and persistently choose their role. Consequently, it is hard to see how their damnation can serve as a decisive objection to God's perfect goodness."

 

[Note that this is NOT LIKE the case of "unwanted/undeserved" suffering, which I argued earlier might be rewarded somehow in God's moral government.]

 

 

Second, wouldn't the proportion of lost to saved be an issue?

 

It might be, but this wouldn't be something we could speculate on, argues Walls [TH:HLD:102]:

 

"One other issue a should be addressed before concluding this section. It might be argued that it is not enough for a perfectly good God to minimize the number of the damned; he would also have limits as to the proportion of persons damned. For instance, if God had the choice of creating a world of one million persons in which fifty percent would be lost or a world of ten million in which ten percent would be lost, he might prefer the latter world even though a greater number would be lost in it. The former world might be unacceptable because the proportion of persons lost is too high. In the same vein, if God knew that in every world with free creatures which he could create, at least ninety percent would be damned, he would simply forgo creating a world with free creatures.

 

"Now as soon as this issue is raised, it will be apparent that it has no clear answer. Intuitions become extremely hazy when we ask what proportion of persons a perfectly good God would be willing to lose in order to create a world with free creatures. The question may seem at least somewhat amenable to answer if we think of it in terms of a temporal analogy. For instance, if we think again of a general who may have to lose some men in battle, it may seem tolerable to lose ten percent, but not sixty percent. But when we contemplate persons being eternally damned, no percentage seems more tolerable than another. Whatever the number, there is, in a sense, infinite loss, so it seems incongruous to quantify and compare it in any way. On the other hand, if the lost have rejected optimal grace and have fully chosen their fate, it is not obvious that any proportion is incompatible with God's perfect goodness, assuming God would keep that proportion to a minimum.

 

And, I might add that in a MGTB universe ANYWAY, this issue is much less problematic.

 

So, it is reasonable That evil does not ultimately thwart God’s intention to bless those who choose the good.

 

.......................................................................................................................

 

(Pre-pushback) Summary

 

Okay, after pages and pages of discussion, where does this leave us?

 

 

q       We posed the original statement of the problem as this:

 

1.        The world is characterized by vast amounts of intensive and extensive suffering and evil.

 

2.        After enduring a life of hardship and pervasive suffering, many (if not most) humans will end up in hell, where they will be actively tortured forever and ever.

 

3.        All of this was known ahead of time by God, before He had even created ANYTHING or ANYONE.

 

4.        For some reason or motive, He "went ahead" with the plan anyway, but could have chosen to not implement it (or to start a different one altogether) or to interrupt it before it "went bad".

 

 

q       We noted a few methodological issues/reservations/anxieties I have about exploring this problem:

 

1.        It is too easy (and natural?) to overstep the evidence, and decide 'against God' in this area--to move from agnosticm to "default negativism"--IN SPITE OF the overall failure of the (closely related) Problem of Evil to dismantle the philosophical position of God's goodness

 

2.        Theological positions (such as on God's good-intentions or His honesty with us) should not be based on questionable models of God's pre-creation 'planning'. The paradoxes and presuppositions embedded in such a discussion are indicators that this approach is not a sound and reliable one.

3.        Reasoning about God's "planning process" in this way raises the question of God's relationship to time, and this problem is itself a HUGE one, and one involving the methodological questions surrounding legitimate vs. illegitimate anthropopathic/morphic thinking.

4.        The problem of what God "knew ahead of time" is not altogether inconsiderable either. Certain biblical data supports a more 'flexible future' or 'focused foreknowledge' scenario, but ALL answers to this question are hampered with difficulty.

 

 

 

q       I established a set of 4 Criteria, that, if met, would satisfy OUR human moral notions of what would justify going ahead with a large-scale project, that would certainly affect some people negatively. (And I used a business executive model to illustrate this.)

 

1.         There must be more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ (for the creatures, that is, "us")

 

2.        The lives of the good and the evil intertwine inseparably; or that history is “of one piece” (that in the existing history, you cannot “rip out” those who "will end up in hell", without “tearing up” the others in the process, cf. Matt 13.24ff)

3.        No one is discriminated against—that all are treated at least “fairly” (whatever that means)

 

4.        That evil does not ultimately thwart God’s intention to bless those who choose the good.

 

 

 

q       The summary statement of what would count as a "go ahead" situation was: So, if life in its totality (temporal and eternal) is somehow more "pleasant" (broadly considered, encompassing mental and physical aspects) than torturous, and everyone is treated “at least” fairly, and if history is a ‘unit’ and cannot be divided up and pieces discarded anyway, then it would seem very reasonable (almost imperative?) for God to ‘go ahead with the plan’…

 

 

q       I argued that I was NOT doing a "best of all possible worlds" theodicy, but a "poor man's theodicy"--in shooting for a "(even slightly) more good than bad" world.

 

 

q       Then I discussed Criterion One: More Good than Bad, and showed that it held under all main approaches:

 

1.        It applies to suffering-capable, physical creatures in this life:

§         It applies to humans--certainly in the aggregate, but also in the vast majority (if not all) of individual lives.

§         It applies to suffering-capable animals, as shown in my work on predation [predator.html] elsewhere.

 

2.        It applies in the afterlife for humans:

§         It applies obviously to all those that go to a 'maximally pleasant' afterlife.

§         It applies to those that do NOT go to a 'maximally pleasant' afterlife (i.e., go to 'hell')

·         It applies under the Universalist system

·         It applies under the Annihilationist system

·         It applies under the Traditionalist system (in spite of common opinion to the contrary)

o        We had to de-Dante the notion of hell to get to the true evangelical, traditional view

o        We had to sketch out the basics and boundary conditions for establishing a 'biblical' view

§         We pointed out the core OT concept was of "shame/contempt/disgrace"

§         We pointed out that the 'weeping and gnashing' passages were NOT 'screaming and shrieking' passages

§         We pointed out that the 'weeping and gnashing' was NOT related to 'fire' or 'pain', but to exclusion from the Kingdom

§         We pointed out that the Luke 16 passage was probably not useful for facts about hell

§         We pointed out that the Luke 16 passage is remarkably subdued in its description of the afterlife

§         We pointed out that the "more tolerable" phrase of Jesus (multiple occasions) set a very real limit on how 'unbearable' our final view of hell could be (contra even famous theologians of the past)

§         We pointed out that some OT pictures of hell have glimpses of semi-positive events in hell

§         We pointed out that the pictures of the final judgment show humans agreeing with God's judgment on others

o        We discussed alternate views of the psychology of those in hell, seeing that they might prefer hell to heaven (agreeing, therefore, that it was more 'good'--at least in THEIR minds--than 'bad)

o        We pointed out that the picture in Luke 16 places the experiences in hell on a par with the experiences of this life.

o        I dealt with a pushback about the 'torture' images in Rev 14 and 20, pointing out that these verses cannot be used to support anything stronger than that already discussed.

o        I dealt with a pushback about the "Reality behind the symbols being WORSE THAN the symbols", pointing out that the opposite is the case in biblical literature (esp. in judgment and in Jesus' use of hyperbole/overstatement)

 

 

q       I then dealt with a major pushback about cases of prolonged or extra-ordinary suffering.

 

1.        The more properly philosophical approach of Swinburne would suggest a way in which a victim's suffering might be considered an act of goodness. When coupled with a theological understanding of a moral universe (in which good is eventually rewarded), this would create a philosophical-theological argument that cases of horrible, innocent, and undeserved suffering would be recompensed.

 

2.        The biblical themes and principles noted in that section would suggest that the goods "taken" from victims may either (a) be returned in some way in the future; or (b) set other divine factors in motion for their benefit on earth (e.g., higher levels of acceptance and openness to the gospel). When coupled with a theological understanding of a moral universe (in which suffering is eventually reversed and recompensed for), this would create a theological-biblical argument that cases of horrible, innocent and underserved suffering would be recompensed.

 

3.        The Poor Man's theodicy is not dependent on this issue, since it is an aggregate MGTB type of approach, but is strengthened in its force when coupled with (a) the statistically small cases of extreme suffering in the objection; and (b) the indications that the more extreme the suffering and/or evil, the more likely that God will recompense with immense grace and kindness somewhere in time.

 

 

 

q       I then dealt with Criterion Two: that history was "of one piece" or "of one cloth", that you couldn't simply excise the 'bad choosers' from history without also accidentally excising some of the 'good choosers'

 

1.        I described several situations in which the Criterion was true, and then showed how those cases would propagate through history as well

2.        I cited a condensed version of Craig's argument that this world contains an 'optimal balance', with an illustration of the importance of the one-piece theme

 

 

 

 

q       I then dealt with Criterion Three: All are treated "at least" fairly.

 

o        I pointed out that God's closest friends are not discriminated 'in favor of'--that they experience every possible 'random' atrocity experienced by others

 

o        I laid out the basics of the Christian understanding of God's final judgment, showing how they demonstrated our essential freedom of choice:

 

1. Judgment is ALWAYS on the basis of the deeds/intentions (esp. toward others) that one did during life. Judgment always proceeds on the basis of how I treated and responded to people, myself, the world, and God (i.e., reaping and sowing). This is the consistent teaching of Scripture, and the only way to escape this judgment is to honestly and humbly accept a pardon from God, on the basis of the work of Christ on the Cross (bearing, as our substitute, the judgment we deserve so we would not have to bear that justly-earned judgment).

 

2. BOTH of these judgments are a result of OUR choices and OUR actions.

 

3. The judgment of our actions and deeds are clearly a result of our "actions and deeds", and the presumably wide variation in outcomes will reflect this (see also Deut 25.2).

 

4. Some variance in outcomes will be explained on the basis of ignorance or willfulness/presumption.

 

5. How we treat others is also reflective of our attitudes and openness toward God.

 

6.  In addition to this daily confrontation with the "image of God" in our lives, as we interact with noble elements and "random acts of virtue" coming from our families, our friends, our social groups, and our institutional involvements, we have the general and specific revelation of God through other media.

 

7. In fact, how people respond to these more ubiquitous messages/presence of God determines the character and types of exposure to FUTURE messages/manifestations of God (if needed for the specific cases). Evangelicals, of traditional persuasions have consistently maintained this, especially in discussions of "What about those who never heard".

 

8. It needs to be emphasized that our actions/intentions used in the judgment are used as  indicators/evidence of our true character/heart, and strictly speaking, it is our 'finished character' that is the basis of final judgment (cf. Acts 13.46).

 

9. We grow our character in this life with our steady stream of choices, thoughts, and responses to our situations, and it is our character that ' dominantly influences' how we respond to God in our encounters with His manifestations/messages in this life.

 

10. To be sure, God himself is a Free Agent in our universe (!!!), and  'woos' us [Matthew 11.28ff] and 'pursues' us [Is 65.2] and 'appeals to' us [2 Cor 5.20] and presents Himself to us in the many ways noted above (with special clarity in/from the lives and words of those closest to Him in character and relationship), but in the final analysis, the hell-choosers choose hell freely (and individual evil choices freely, too) and in preference to God's good.

 

 

 

q       Finally, I dealt with Criterion Four: That evil does not ultimately thwart God’s intention to bless those who choose the good (above), easily seen from the combination of MGTB and the "of one piece" concept.

 

 

q       In the future, I plan to deal with additional Pushbacks, related to Angelic punishment, first-century Jewish afterlife teachings (other than those noted already), and theological views of predestination/election.

 

 

 

When I circle back to our original statement of the problem, I can make some assessment at this point:

 

1.        The world is characterized by vast amounts of intensive and extensive suffering and evil.

This statement is misleading/too vague at best, and false at worse. "Vast" is too vague, especially given that we have established a "more good than bad" conclusion. As long as "vast" is understood to be a "significantly small minority portion, but widely distributed and intensely troublesome to our hearts" then it can stand. But the MGTB conclusion definitely disallows the use of the word "characterized" in relating evil/suffering to the world. Instead, the world is characterized by GOOD/PLEASANT, tainted with BAD/UNPLEASANT. [But let me hasten to add, that God is "busy" working in history through His Son, His people, and His word, to counter the evil that IS in our histories, habits, and hearts. God takes this seriously--just look at the Cross...]

 

2.       After enduring a life of hardship and pervasive suffering, many (if not most) humans will end up in hell, where they will be actively tortured forever and ever.

 

We demonstrated that this statement is too 'fuzzy' to be useful. A closer look at the types and distribution of hardship/suffering, indicated that 'pervasive' may be too strong a word. We saw that most people have a life that CANNOT be described adequately as 'more bad than good'. We saw that there was NO WAY to predict how many would make it to heaven, but pointed out that the argument doesn't depend on that anyway. We also noted that the more difficult someone's  life on earth is (when not due to their own doing in some way), the more 'likely' they would be 'recompensed' somehow in the future. We showed from biblical passages that active torture is not a component of the experience of hell at all. In fact, our analysis showed that while hell is a distinctly less-that-optimal state, it is characterized more by 'softer' discomfiture such as grief, anguish, sorrow, and shame. The overall analysis indicated that it was a 'low quality of life', but 'at least slightly better than zero/neutral'.

 

 

3.       All of this was known ahead of time by God, before He had even created ANYTHING or ANYONE.

 

We did not need to deal with this issue, actually, even though we expressed methodological reservations about using it in our analysis. As it turns out, once MGTB is established the 'foreknowledge' becomes a positive element--He went ahead with a plan that was sure to produce massive good (more than evil).

 

4.       For some reason or motive, He "went ahead" with the plan anyway, but could have chosen to not implement it (or to start a different one altogether) or to interrupt it before it "went bad".

 

We found an adequate motive (satisfying our human-based criteria for a 'go ahead' decision) and acknowledged that 'more proper' theodocies and defenses (based on higher levels of good/value than simple 'pleasantness') would strengthen the case as well.

 

 

Accordingly, I think the argument above (long and verbose and sometimes rambling, maybe a counter-example of "more bad than good"?...smile) makes a reasonable argument for God's goodness in creating the universe as we experience it today...and that "God is good to all He has made" still stands as an honest clue as to the good-heart of God.

 

June 2, 2000

A very tired Glenn Miller

 


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