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Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield

Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield
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Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield
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Retired Protestant Pastor and Theologian, credentialed in the United Church of Christ; licensed by the Moravian Church . Education: BA, MA, M.Div, Thd. Public Service: NY State Office of Executive Development, Management Intern; Federal Exec. Branch: Executive Office of the President, Budget Examiner, Bureau of the Budget; Interior, Director of Energy and Minerals, Bureau of Land Management; Non Profit: Ford Foundation, Deputy Director, Energy Policy Project; Congressional: Director, Office of Special Projects; Director, Division of Energy and Materials, General Accounting Office. Private industry: Vice President, Grow Group, Inc.; Chief Executive Officer, US Paint; Owner, the Energy Center, St. Louis. Christian service: Pastor, First Congregational UCC, Ottawa, Illinois; Pastor, St. Paul's UCC, Port Washington, Ohio; Pastor, Moravian Church, Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Interim Pastor, the Baltic Parish UCC, Baltic, Ohio; starting 08 2014: Interim Pastor, St. John UCC, Strasburg, OH

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JANUARY 24, 2009 2:47PM

Theological Reflection: Theodicy: Why is there Evil?

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  m51-irg_hogg

 This is another theological reflection from the perspective of a Christian theologian.  It raises, however, critical questions of interest to those of all religions, or faith systems, or of no faith at all.  It deals with a very fundamental question of the human condition.  It is not easy to understand and it is not simple. 

So when you read this post please understand that it encourages  a civilized theological discussion on an issue that is far from resolved among theologians, to say nothing of the reluctance of people unschooled in theology to look at it at all.  But it is an issue that all can and should take the time to deal with.  There are no dumb comments or dumb answers to this issue.

Voicegal recently posted an interesting invitation to us to share spiritual encounters we have had.  You can read her excellent post HERE  .  I invite those who have not read it to do so and share any experiences with the spiritual aspects of your life or to comment there with any thoughts you have on the subject.

I did not share any examples of my own on VG's post because I have had so many spiritual events in my life that no one encounter comes to mind as more important than another.  You have all heard me say many times that there are miracles going on around us all the time but that we are not attuned to listen and watch for them.  We seldom spend any time just being quiet in this busy world we live in.

But both VG's  post and the good comments in response to it made me pause and re-order my own thoughts on the general subject.  What is written below is an edited version of my comments there in order to expand them a bit into a theological reflection. 

The issues of spiritual encounters, miracles, prayer and, most importantly, God's nature and our interaction with God all revolve around the ultimate theological question of theodicy (the question of evil in the world), which I have discussed here on OS, but mostly in comments and never in a post devoted to that subject. 

Theodicy is an issue of utmost importance to any faith experience, regardless of religion or spiritual orientation, or having no spiritual orientation at all.  Theodicy is something that faith either accepts or does not.

Christians have all too easily distanced themselves from the question of theodicy because they literally "don't want to think about it."  That head in the sand approach to faith honors no one, least of all God.  We have in the question of theodicy the fundamental stumbling block to faith. 

I'm sure that voicegal was not surprised when I told her that I have experienced many times when coincidence piles upon coincidence upon coincidence to the point that the statistical probability of the string of events is very, very poor. So the issue when that happens is what do you call a billion to one shot?

Even though I am a pastor and a theologian,  I seek the answer to any strange spiritual encounter or event first in what we know about the natural world. I turn to science.  Usually that explains it. 

There is much that science can teach us about our world, our universe and our place in it.  Much of science can be proven by repeatable testing.  When that testing yeilds answers consistently then I go with those results.  God gave us all brains and expects us to use them. There should be no fundamental fight between religion and science in spite of the often vicious rhetoric on both sides. 

So, since science can give us many answers to our questions about the unknown, the next question is how do we approach something about which there is no scientific evidence that such a thing that we have observed can have happened?

One way is the to accept a scientific assumption which says that it is a natural event but we simply have yet to prove it. That argument is that every thing in the natural world is subject to rigorous scientific study and that such study will show, eventully, that all events or encounters can be attributed to "natural" causes. 

What is seldom stated by those who believe this is that saying this is a statement of faith: faith that what we don't know through science we WILL know sometime in the future.

Then there is the kind of faith that says that God can and does act in the world when it suits God's purposes. If that is not true, then why would we pray?  Why would we thank God for interventions in our lives that we believe he (or she) caused? Why would we believe that God wishes to bless us and to have an intimate relationship with us?

And that is where the split between faith and science occurs because there is no effective language that can bridge the gap between faith in science and faith in a God or life force or whatever else you want to call a higher power.

Even the nature of the language we attempt to use is frought with little linguistic land mines,  some of which are so common that even Christians and other spiritual believers have come to use the language of the opponents of religion in describing encounters with God or a higher power.

Let me mention just one such example and then we will move on.  Almost everyong uses the term "supernatural."  I even fall into the bad habit of using it.  Anything that we can't immediately explain we are apt to say or think that it is caused by some thing or some one supernatural. 

And by that we mean something out of the ordinary, beyond the laws of nature.  But why would we do that if we believe that God acts in our lives all the time?  If that is true then that is part of the natural world or cosmos that we experience. 

The definition of "natural" to a believer should be that God's relationship to us occurs within the natural world.  God's interventions here on earth are part of the way a person of faith views the world normally to be.  God actions here on earth are, simply, a natural part of the universe he/she created. 

I choose to believe that there is a God who cares what happens to us and intervenes often in our affairs. Please note clearly that this is a belief, a faith.  Faith is not a scientifically documentable phenomenum. 

Now, here is the big problem that those who have faith often truly never deal with because it is just too hard to even think about.  It is that ancient issue of theodicy rearing its ugly head again.

Christians and others who believe in God (or in a higher power, a supreme being, the flow of good into the world, etc.)  have a tendency to "give God the glory" and thank God for the miracles they believe happen to them, for the answers to their prayers and such.

But they tend to be loathe to attribute anything to God when bad things happen to good people.  This is the hulking 800 pound gorilla in the room of faith that so many religous refuse to acknowledge.  But this issue of theodicy should not be ignored the way so many well meaning people of faith do.

One example: A true one. When I was a pastor in Illinois a school bus was trapped on the railroad tracks not far from our town and the train wiped out the back half of the bus. The train literally tore the bus in half. The kids in the back of the bus were all killed. The kids in the front were all untouched.

Parents of the ones who were unhurt were thanking God for saving their child. That is a natural reaction and certainly understandable. But then what of the ones in the back who died?  Were they just unlucky?  Was it just their time to go? If you believe in Satan did Satan somehow intervene and cause them to die, and if so, to what end?

The honest answer, the one so many believers never want to think about is that, if you believe in God, you must either conclude that they deserved to die, or, more morally defensible, that God allowed that evil to happen.

Even if there is a literal Satan then God allowed Satan to act just as God allowed Satan to test Job.   Any way we look at it this issue  poses hard, hard questions.  If God is God then God had the power to stop those deaths.

This kind of issue arises all the time.  For instance, there is the series of wonderful things that happened all in a row that saved the people on the plane that landed in the Hudson river.  But what about all the people who are killed on planes that do crash and crumple into a thousand pieces?  The list is endless of the miracles we attribute to God and of the evil that God did not prevent that we don't talk about.

But here is the hard truth; the truth that even the best theologians hate to address.  If you are going to believe in God you have to say not that God is the God of good things only but that God is the God of all, good and bad.

He/she  gives us free will to decide whether we will worship him/her. Ultimately the test is hard. It is the hardest test the believer will ever take.  Believers have to accept that we will never know completely God's plans or her ways or his reasons while we are on this earth. Believers have to have a faith that says that God knows what is ultimately best for us and that we do not.

The decision has to be made that while God has given us free will to control much in our lives as we muddle along, God is in control of the big issues of our lives (like why we are here; what is our purpose since we are here; why we live, why we die, what happens then, etc.) and we are not in control of those.  We have to decide that we are not God.

One of the most difficult books of the Bible is the book of Job.  I have studied Job for decades, long before I went to seminary, long before I decided to be a pastor.  Many who go to seminary refuse to study Job for they fear that their faith will be shaken if they read Job. 

Yet I have read and studied Job and have accepted its implications for my faith.  I have preached innumerable sermon series on Job.  I have written enough on Job that I could easily combine the study and work on that book into a commentary on it.

Dealing with, coming to grip with, the question of theodicy is the whole purpose of the book of Job. Job gave himself to God and refused to allow his faith to falter as all around him crumbled and he lost everything: his health, his family, his possessions.

In the end, when in the deepest of pain, unimaginable pain, and seemingly hopeless depression, he yelled at God and screamed, "Why me?"  And God's answer was "Why not you?  You are a righteous man.  Do you still have faith in me?"

And Job pleaded and argued with God to no avail.  Yet Job still had faith. Job still laid his problems at God's door step. Job trusted God. 

At the very end of the book Job gets well, rebuilds a new family and restores his possessions.  But this renewal is not in reward for his torture. And it does not remove the torturous life he had, or the losses he went through.

Job never knows why God took it all away and then restores him.  Job accepts, finally, that there are some things we will never know. There really is, as Bonnhoeffer says, no cheap grace. And believing in God is not as easy as many make out.

I have no idea where this problem of theodicy will be resolved by each of you.  Some will fall away from God and never return.  Some will deny the existance of God and therefore deal with the issue of theodicy is a fatalistic fashion.  Some will continue to say "I just don't want to think about it."  And some will accept God knowing that there are things we will never know about God's ways.

I am in the latter group. My life is in God's hands. Not mine. I can do many things without God. But try as I have, I cannot create my future, stop my death, or change the course of my history to any significant extent.  God knows, literally, how hard I have tried to do those things.

I find that I can play around with the outsides of the mystery that is God, but I cannot, and am not wired to penetrate that mystery. God is still a mystery. 

Many today find mystery something foreign, something to be ignored or explained away.  But, friends, there will always be more mystery than there is knowledge on this earth.  We are not wired to know it all. 

But we are wired to ask the next question about that which remains mystery, and so assure that there will never be an end to the questions, and hence there will always be mystery.

Ultimately St. Paul is right.  Faith is the belief in things unseen.

Monte

 

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Monte - nicely written, and as an antitheist I'm always happy when people question 'faith' (although best when in the context of neural constructs). But,

"What is seldom stated by those who believe this is that saying this is a statement of faith: faith that what we don't know through science we WILL know sometime in the future."

Seems quite incorrect as a statement. It is not that we WILL know, sometime in the future, what we don't already know through science. Rather, it is all information is reduceable and therefore CAN be known. Think quantum dots.
Um. I find the idea that there is a God, and that he permits (and occasionally imposes) suffering, and yet we must have faith, accept and leave the inexplicable to Mystery...I find this beyond my capacity. Add to that the things science has to say about the enormity and strangeness of the universe, and of the sub-atomic realm, and then the nnnnnn concept of a personal God, at least anything resembling the biblical version, is, well, beyond my capacity.

And to my mind you didn't even touch on the problem of evil. Misfortune, but not evil as such. Evil is what people do to each other, sometimes thinking they are doing righteousness (like the men who flew the planes into the Trade Centre), and sometimes consciously. And often just situationally - and our built-in tendency that way was demonstrated by the electric-shock experiment (recently re-done, with the same results).

But nature itself is a seething morass of eat-or-be-eaten. As a closed system, life has to prey and feed on itself, and so humanity, as the ultimate (perhaps) manifestation of life, has this innate thing, even more than other creatures, and we prey upon each other. We also have other capabilities, of course, kindness and cooperation and love, all of which grow life, but the ones that produce evil are just as much a part of what we are, and part of what the earth-life is, and therefore how can we see otherwise than that God has made us, and life, evil.

Or, my preference, that there is no God in any way that human beings have envisioned.
Rick set me off contemplating God earlier today. I'm an agnostic, been searching for the answers to these questions for a long time. From an outside perspective it really just all seems pretty random.

But you have to understand this is all coming from a girl who yells and screams at God when she loses something precious too. ;)

God, faith and everything outside our own understanding creates questions that you can, in my opinion, only answer for yourself. I'm glad you think these things through Monte. In fact I've got your handsome mug up on my blog right now for that exact reason.

Coincidence... ;)
rated
This is a great, thoughtful post, Monte. Thanks for putting it together.

That argument is that every thing in the natural world is subject to rigorous scientific study and that such study will show, eventully, that all events or encounters can be attributed to "natural" causes. What is seldom stated by those who believe this is that saying this is a statement of faith: faith that what we don't know through science we WILL know sometime in the future.

Cat has already addressed one angle on the statement above; I'll talk about another. (I'm one of those you accurately describe as "unschooled in theology", but I'm adding this comment as one schooled in the sciences, more than the average person, at least). David Hume is probably the most famous philosopher to address what's come to be known as the problem of induction. To illustrate: Do you believe that the sun will rise tomorrow? If you answer Yes, and your belief is based not on God's hand alone causing the event but rather on your past experience, then you're relying on induction. (We all do.) This illustration can be generalized as a foundation for most if not all of our predictions about what hasn't happened. And yet there's no general agreement that the problem of induction has been solved. It works in general; we just can't say why.

My point is only that calling the beliefs about the future "faith" carries a bit more baggage than may be apparent on the surface. If I were to knock over the lamp standing next to my chair, I predict that the light bulbs will break. (It's a fragile lamp.) Is that faith? I believe that scientists won't discover that some big but invisible Atlas-type guy is literally carrying the Earth around the Sun on his shoulders, and that theory of gravity just happens to explain it all, coincidentally. Is that faith?

I think that most people would agree that there's some qualitative distinction between our everyday beliefs and religious faith, but what's called out in your passage above is just a variation on everyday belief.
Rev. Canfield,
A thought provoking post for some. Others will dismiss it as they read I'm sure as the same old rehashing of something we cannot know. Didn't know that word "theodicy" before but have looked it up now and placed in my own vocabualry.
So...without telling you here if I am a believer or not, I would say that if your capital G God does exist, that he has done a good job if you think it through, of making evil understandably under his control. My past studies both at the collegiate level and by personal choice readings, as well as from being raised near ministers in the Salvation Army, and trained , baptized and confirmed in a different branch of Christianity, leads me to believe that without one, "evil", there could be no comprehension of the other, "good". I am not setting on top of a hill somewhere in a robe coming up with this. To me it is apparent that without "up" we could not explain " down". "Light" without "dark" is meaningless. "Left" without "right" would have us all holding our forks in the wrong hand.
I think that those who espouse faith in their God and then deny that he could be allowing "evil" have simply not for some reason, allowed themselves to finish thinking.Perhaps that is due to
fear or lack of intellect or lack of exposure to one such as you who would not question their faith for doing so.
Blind allegiance is so often mistaken for faith. That supposition is held by those who believe that all of life's toil and trouble can be driven away by prayer. That to ask is to receive. Sometimes asking for change is met with a resounding and bellowing "No" from their God. Those who have not finished their thinking then have their faith shattered.
Without both "evil" and "good" in the world, choice and self direction would be impossible.
Thanks, Cat. I am not a scientist so I accept your construct since I have no way of knowing if it is true. Clearly it is true for you, which is what counts for you.

That leads me to some questions, though.

What does an antithiest believe, other than, of course, that there is no God?

Antitheists must believe some positive things as well, like, perhaps, science, or at least part of science. Or perhaps in some form of humanism and the need to better the conditon of some humans who have fallen prey to others. Or in love or friendship or other moral virtues.

Or is it in the theory that all information is reduceable and, therefore, can be known? And that that theory been proven in all areas where it applies?

I guess all I am saying is that there are many areas of science, shall we say on the outer edges of the scientific quest, where science is postulating what scientists expect to happen based on a particular theorum.

If I am all wet on this, that's OK since the post is really about belief and not arguing science, or the belief in science, which is pretty far afield for me.

If scientists insist that they believe in nothing, except that there is no God, then I take their and your word that that is all you, individually, or individual scientists, believe. But I know too many good scientists who believe in far more than science or that science has all the answers to think that is the universal belief of scientists.

I don't really think that is true in all cases because we all believe in something. We have to believe in something or we wouldn't have a clue what to do with ourselves.

But we could go around and around on this and never come to a final agreement since we come from such radically different premises.

Thanks for commenting. Appreciate it and learned something.

Monte
Myriad, Hi. Thanks for reading and commenting.

It would take a long time that neither of us have to ask you to see how much of what leads you to unbelief is precisely what the key metaphors of the human dilemma in the Bible are all about.

Just a simple one: that evil is mostly coming from man as part of the human condition, every bit as much as is good. That fact is the essence upon which the concept of salvation is based. St. Paul stated clearly that God reckons us righteous though we are still sinners, for the sake of his son, etc...............

I am glad that you find that rather stark understanding of the nature of man and of life on this planet, which I agree with for the most part, as something you can live with without trying to see it a different, more hopeful way. I think it takes a lot of personal strength to leave what you see as being just the way that things are.

Thanks for a clear and articulate statement of your understanding.
Much appreciated.

Monte
Hey, Stephanie! Thanks for reading and commenting. Any faith journey, or a journey away from faith, is a long process and we take many different roads to get there, where ever our there happens to be. We all are where we are at any one time. If you are in a comfortable place where you want to rest a while, then that is what is right for you now.

Thanks much.

Monte
What Myriad said....exactly.

Exactly.

Well written piece tho, Monte..please don't feel the need to respond!
Hey, Mung, sweet lady, I know all about screaming at God. I'm a bit of a pro at that. I think I know enough of how you try to live your life that you are where you need to be on your individual journey right now. Where ever you come out down that road I wish you peace and happiness.


Monte
"I choose to believe that there is a God who cares what happens to us and intervenes often in our affairs. Please note clearly that this is a belief, a faith. Faith is not a scientifically documentable phenomenon."

So well said Monte...All of it. I will expound a response later. You know of my faith and feelings. I am interested to see others.

Peace and Blessings,
Your friend,
Greg
Rob, I appreciate your comments, and am almost, but not quite, wishing I had not put that paragraph in there. ;-0

I conceded the point to Cat in an earlier reply, but his and your comments raise some questions that I at least struggle with. I listed them in my reply to him. If faith to you is limited to religious faith than the issue of induction holds. Or, perhaps you could conclude that all religious faith is inductive. I'm pretty sure even Hume did not say that.

Rather perhaps religious faith derives first out of a part of the psyche that is not either inductive or deductive but intuitive. At least that was St. Paul's conclusion which I am comfortable with, although Paul wasn't much of a scientist. Probably no better a one than me.

Regardless, I respect your view. And Hume's, if I could just put my hands on a couple of his books that I read eons ago. ;-)

Monte
alsoknownas, please just call me Monte, everybody does.

People certainly do have to finish their thinking. Otherwise faith can leave one to crushing defeat when it is tested. It doesn't take my pedigree to speak wisely on these issues, as your comment so brilliantly proves. This ending of your is comment is wonderfully clear and correct,

"Sometimes asking for change is met with a resounding and bellowing "No" from their God. Those who have not finished their thinking then have their faith shattered. Without both "evil" and "good" in the world, choice and self direction would be impossible."

Like the rest of your comment that is both profound and clear. And I pray that you will find your way through this sometimes bewildering issue of faith or not, and if faith, on what terms, to a place where you are comfortable.

Monte
Thanks, Persephone, I will just say that I appreciate you taking the time to read this.

Monte
Hi, Greg. I'm interested in seeing other opinions as well. So far we have had excellent comments from those who have problems with belief or no belief at all. Excellent comments those.

Nothing so far from anyone other than me and thee who have some form of belief system. OS has a few believers, but not all that many. We shall see if any turn up here. Its lonely up here on my cloud (#9 as I recall.)

Monte
A confession: I fell asleep reading your post on theodicy, not because of any shortcomings related to the post but because I've read a *lot* on theodicy and the sun coming through my window was warm. Hence my absence from your thread, which seems to have strayed from theodicy anyway. ;)

Arguing against the existence of God on the basis of theodicy somewhat requires that non-existent God to be omniscient and omnipotent, and that is far from a universal assumption.

The world seems to have no shortage of belief, and apparent proof, that evil exists, and it is nearly always attributed exclusively to human beings. Self-interest by lower life forms — e.g. viruses or predatory mammals — isn't considered evil. It's simply "natural." It's "good" only in the sense that it enables perpetuation of that particular organism. Only among sentient humans do we expect more, and we do so not because of the expectation that eventually science will solve the "problem of evil." It won't. Only belief in, and valuing of, "goodness" will do that, and it is that transcendant goodness that some of us call God.
And ... I can't spell today. Blame the warm sun again.
This is a very thoughtful ruminations. Your writing is my kind of "church," Monte. And thanks for the shout-out.
Beautifully written Monte.
In your view is good and evil a "God" production, or are they human constructs for an otherwise indifferent world?

Is it our capacity for love that creates God, or has God created love?

I was always fascinated with Jefferson's take on God's role in the Universe, where God created it, made man, imbued him with free will, then stepped aside.

It is my belief there is intelligent power from which all kinetic things have their origin. We are a manifestation of that vast energy source; occupying bodies in innumerable incarnations, eventually returning to the original source where there is no movement.

I think inspiration in the creation of art does not come solely from the correct chemical balance and correct synaptic concourses of the brain at a given moment. There is more at work here.......when words seem to be handed to you from some other source. Many creative people talk about this.

Well, this doesn't really lead any particular place.....just thoughts and observations.
Hi Monte. Excellent post. What you call "God" I
think of as Prime Creator. (Although, who or what
created Prime Creator is an interesting question.)
I do not see any sort of God or P.C. as an outside
entity. I see it as all ONE. There is no separation
between creator and created. How could there be?
I think we live in a subjective free will Universe.
You create your own reality.

I have been learning about physics and it's so
amazing how scientists will explain the how
of things, but not go to the "why". Many simply
cannot make that final leap.

What is evil-when people do bad things to
each other? I think the only evil is fear. Fear
causes people to do bad things.

I concur with Stephanie regarding expressing Gratitude, especially when things look the worst.
Monte,

First, I want to give a nod to Cat and Rob for their catch on your comparison of the term “faith” in regards to religion versus scientific induction. One is based on real-world observation, which produces predictive feasibility, one is not.

Theodicy is basically an attempt to convince skeptics or nonbelievers of the existence of god, a logically questioned proposition, via the idea that possible explanations equal proof. It begins with a predetermined conclusion and rejects evidence to the contrary.

Next, I just have some random thoughts on this.

I think “evil” is a concept that enumerates an instinctive reaction to maladaptive behaviors, events that cause sadness / emotional distress, or physical pain. Many species exhibit this trait. The word “evil” is just a word we use to describe something unpleasant or undesirable.

There is the issue of “intent”. Is the act or event evil, or is the intent evil? If I accidentally cause the death of another person, am I evil? Is the event evil?

Theodicy eliminates the concept of morality. If evil actions are the will of gods, then morality becomes a useless concept because doing the will of gods is not wrong, but rather serves a “higher good”; the entire of concept of “good and evil” is rendered useless.

In a realm of dualities, nothing has meaning without an opposite.

Mungular, thanks for the nod. ;-)
I have been learning about physics and it's so amazing how scientists will explain the how of things, but not go to the "why". Many simply cannot make that final leap.

That's because it's outside the scope of science, or at least that's my understanding. I've read (if I recall correctly) that when Newton published his Principia, many of his contemporaries were excited about it: "Newton's going to explain why celestial objects follow the patterns they do!" But on becoming familiar with the ideas, some were let down--all Newton provided was a set of laws that could be used to predict behavior (how it works) but no core explanation of why it was this way. Newton's argument was basically, "This is all you need--science isn't going to give you why." And that's pretty much persisted. (I'm simplifying this explanation a bit, but I think it's right in its general outlines.) Why is for the philosophers and theologians; scientists don't need to make any final leap.
The line I love best is, "We are not wired to know it all."

Thank God!

Ah, "When bad things happen to good people." I beleive there is a book by that very name, which I read, years ago, when I wondered that very thing.

I no longer believe that statement, as it is. Surely, bad things happen to ALL people, good and bad, that's life! Life is imperfect, as are we here who inhabit this planet for a brief time.

Imperfection is what differentiates us from God. Bad, good, are both conditions which exist here and happen to everyone at one time or another. Our perceptions of good and bad vary dramatically, between individuals and groups. It gets sketchy here because there are many bad things which all of us can easily determine to be bad, simply horrible, evil, not fair, not good.

The good/bad concepts vary so much by circumstances as well. Each of us has had times in our lives when we have felt like we were wrongly being targeted by bad people, things, situations, that made us feel like we did something wrong to bring this 'badness' into our life. In other instances, the bad things just happen, with no culpability, no wanting, no invitation to this unwelcome guest.

In the case of horrific things occuring, like plane crashes or unseen terminal illness and the like, this falls to the probability of chance and has nothing to do with badness occuring to us. These things don't target us specifically and are unavoidable.

Life happens. It's risky. We are here to experience what we choose to do, no matter the risk. The good/bad concept is far too simplistic, I believe, but may be what can be comprehended more easily for some.

There is no short comment for your reflection, rather much deeper thought into how we each perceive the nature of good and bad in our lives...how our choices define each, how we deal with these choices, no matter how they come to fruition and must be identified and understood. This, in itself, is very subjective and open to various interpretation.

Faith in God, does, allow us, if we choose God's loving intervention, to give back to God, some of the distractions, difficulties and decisions that are beyond our reach in the moment. We are not all that and are human, frail and will be met with bad situations we didn't choose or see coming at us. Here is the crossroads where faith is either a valuable tool to use to our advantage if we believe or it will evade us and we will look to other conventional methodology to deal with the challenges or life changing events as they occur.

I choose my faith in God over faith in human definitions when it comes right down to it. I do know, for me, that God has given me all the tools I need to navigate this life the best way I can and that there will always be times when I will let both myself down and God.
Yet, He is always there for me. I derrive strength from Him and will keep on going in a better direction than before.

God, the Father, is one of the most reassuring mysteries in my life. The feeling and the belief that He is with me, guides me, gives me safety and protection as much as humanly possible. Because, it is our human element, our Earthliness, that gives way to both good and bad.
High Lonesome: I am crushed, crushed do you hear! - that you could fall asleep reading my brilliant essay. ;-) Not really. The Lord only knows what I would have done had I only read it and not written it.

But I am actually jealous that you had SUN. What is that like? Ohio in the winter gives only teases or the sun, almost never an even partly cloudy sky let alone a clear one.

And I am starting to feel even more sorry that I mentioned science at all. I am a stupid naif to think that a dialogue or conversation can produce much more than a defining, albeit sometimes, not all that clear, of each side of the issue.

This line, I have to say, cracks me up: "Arguing against the existence of God on the basis of theodicy somewhat requires that non-existent God to be omniscient and omnipotent..."

Thanks much, and say "Hi" to the sun for me.

Monte
Good afternoon, Monte,

Well, you like to wade in the deep end, I see. Thanks for getting me to think about what I believe. I too read voicegal's encounter, and wrote yesterday of my own encounter with spirit on Jan 10, 2009 beginning with a dream about OSers. First, the quote about the bus in Illinois with half the children killed and half spared:

"Parents of the ones who were unhurt were thanking God for saving their child. That is a natural reaction and certainly understandable. But then what of the ones in the back who died? Were they just unlucky? Was it just their time to go? If you believe in Satan did Satan somehow intervene and cause them to die, and if so, to what end?

The honest answer, the one so many believers never want to think about is that, if you believe in God, you must either conclude that they deserved to die, or, more morally defensible, that God allowed that evil to happen."

First, I object to the use of the word evil in this context. Unless we're joking, we keep evil for heinous acts. Unless a person deliberately ran these children down in cold blood, where is the evil? Certainly, it is awful that these children died. In some ways, it is more terrible that half the parents are grieving, and watching other parents rejoice in the same moment.
Terrible things happen every day. Terrible occasions are not issued from evil incarnate. Because something terrible happened, does not mean that God caused the terrible thing to happen. Because something terrible happened, does not mean that God abandoned me. Because something terrible happened, God herself is not evil. (covering all bases here.)
Evil happens when men and women choose fear over love. Yes, I know the details get mucky, like jealousy, or terrorism, or poverty. But at the core, we are afraid of our lack: food, companionship, national identity. So we choose fear over love, and evil shows up in the world.
The other way I fundamentally disagree with you, Monte is in your belief that we were born broken. I believe we were born blessed.
Monte - first, as an antitheist, which is how I define myself, I am opposed to the continuance of all belief systems which purport that faith is a 'knowable' internal mechanism which gets a free pass from verifiability. I wish we had a global system of education where everyone could be a life-long scientific learner, rather than advocating taking everyone's bibles or burning down the local mosque. All I have to do is read the news to see the deplorable and completely unnecessary effects of affected belief (or faith) upon the human weal. Essentially, people don't like mortality - facing it, thinking about it, and essentially, finally managing to accomplish it. I also don't believe in the Good/Evil thing. As Rick points out below, those are just words to describe things we like or don't.

And it would be incorrect to say that I believe in any particular 'morality'. Morals are simply self-enforced rules based on each individual's sensibilities. For instance, I am nice to people, but this is not because I think it is 'right'. It is because I don't want to get my ass kicked if I am 'not nice'. Good/Evil is as much an abstraction as Up/Down, since there are (possibly) more than one observer. Ditto for Now/Then. All of these (probably and potentially) occur at precise points in space (if not time) which are still exactly where they were, when they were, if what we perceive in fact exists (the jury is still out on that one). We may be holograph.

I'd have jumped in again sooner, but while Mom napped I ran to the grocery store and had a very memorable time with cascading Bell Peppers. I did not expect so many could roll so far so quickly...
Hi, Voicegal. Thanks for coming by and for the compliment. You deserve the shout out. And I hope people will migrate from here to your blog and comment there too.
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Hi, Gary. A beautiful comment. I don't think about your questions that way very much. But for a quick answer, subject to change upon reflection:

I would say that both good and evil inherent in the creation (see, I do believe that there was a Creator and a Creation; when I imagine about when science says so until we come up with something else) both, there at the beginning. I do not see the world, or non human entities in it, as indifferent, but more as ravaged and in retreat from the mess man has made of things.

I also believe that God is love and that he/she gave us the capacity for love, and for hate, and the free will to exercise either.

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Thanks, Dakini. There are a number of folks here who do not distinguish between Creator and Creation. It must work for you to believe that because you all seem like good, compassionate and caring people to me. I'm afraid that I have a number of problems with the concept but there is neither time nor energy to do that here, nor is it the place. But I surely respect your right to your belief, as I know you respect mine, and pray that it sustains you in good times and bad.

Monte
Bell peppers fall on the just and the unjust alike.
Monte-I agree: God is LOVE. Yes. With that statement I
don't see a disparity between your beliefs and mine. Isn't
LOVE all inclusive? So how can LOVE separate itself?
It seems we also agree with the free will idea.
I'm glad to see the non-believers be respectful of our views Monte. To be fair, I know (from our talks) that we respect people's choices. The fact that we have blind faith in YES Capital G God, is our personal belief. It's not imposing on anyone else as long as we don't force our opinion. I do find some (not on this comment board so far respectfully) that atheists and agnostics can sometimes be as combative in their will to convince us there is NO God, as religious zealots are in imposing their will that there is. Ironic, huh?

Glad to see civility on here. I believe in God. It's my choice. It's certainly your choice (meaning anyone but me) not to. It's just that simple, or it should be.

You know where my feet firmly stand Monte. I didn't want you sitting out here feeling all alone my friend. Although I know you handle yourself oh so well.

Oh, and just to be clear, I say this "sincerely". Pardon me, but that was an inside joke.

All the best and much love to you and Sue,
G
Thought-provoking as usual, Monte. I didn't realize how resistant I was to the idea that God is also responsible for life's misfortune (I believe that true "evil" comes from humans) until I read this. I am intensely bothered by the school bus example and will no doubt be thinking on that one for a long time, trying to form some sense of it within my belief system. Thanks for giving me something to ponder!
The fact that we have blind faith in YES Capital G God, is our personal belief. It's not imposing on anyone else as long as we don't force our opinion.

I'm fine talking about theism versus atheism in the abstract, in particular in the context of ethical judgments, why bad things happen, and so forth. I'll disagree with judgments based on whether I think they're right or wrong rather than on whether I believe in a God or not. I tend to get exercised, though (and probably tempted to be less civil), when people make claims about the world, derived from their religion, that are demonstrably false. (That hasn't happened in this post.) Creationism is a good example.

It's complicated, though, deciding what's fair game for arguing about.
Hi, Rick. Why did I think that you could not stay away from this one?

You do not think that theodicy is a honest attempt to discuss a basic theological and philosophical question. And then you deny its very definition. That is an interesting way to discuss things but one that I have no interest in biting on. Arguing something like that is like discussing the validity of atheism by denying the meaning of the word.

Then you do the same type of deconstruction on the term “evil.” If evil is in fact just something that we use “to describe something unpleasant or undesirable” then with the typing of a few words which ring of authority, as if it were the definition of a word in the dictionary, the possibility of dialogue is destroyed.

I never have been so certain that I am right about almost anything. Certainty comes to me after a great expense of reading, research, and thought, and often not even then. The list of things I am certain about is pretty short.

I can see certainty in much of math and science where countless experiments have consistently shown the same result. I believe that certainty in the arts and much of social science, philosophy and theology should be tempered with a dose of humility.

I actually cannot imagine how one can conclude that theodicy eliminates the concept of morality. The question of theodicy deals with the ethics of God while it does not speak to the morality of man. It seems to me that anthropological ethics are alive and well.

But maybe not, if theology, huge branches or philosophy and much of anthropology and the social sciences are not relevant to human knowledge or discourse.

We seem to be swimming, as we have before many times, in two very different pools. We still are kind of at the opposite ends of the spectrum, aren't we?

But I do thank you for your time and your comments.

Monte

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Hi, Rob: Thanks for that clarification. What I find unfortunate is that, unlike you, some are very uncomfortable with philosophers and theologians talking about what they study. I have never understood that since philosophical and scientific thought have not been punished in the western world by bad theology and bad philosophy in quite a while. In this country science is far more highly regarded than either philosophy or theology. I honestly don’t see the threat.

Thanks again,

Monte
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Hi, Cathy. How’s one of the best peeps on the planet?

I think that your comment is terribly important to people who wonder why someone would bother to have faith in God. It bears careful reading. I’m not going to put any words in your mouth, but this that you wrote is at the heart of the issue:

“Faith in God, does, allow us, if we choose God's loving intervention, to give back to God, some of the distractions, difficulties and decisions that are beyond our reach in the moment. We are not all that and are human, frail and will be met with bad situations we didn't choose or see coming at us. Here is the crossroads where faith is either a valuable tool to use to our advantage if we believe or it will evade us and we will look to other conventional methodology to deal with the challenges or life changing events as they occur.

“I choose my faith in God over faith in human definitions when it comes right down to it. I do know, for me, that God has given me all the tools I need to navigate this life the best way I can and that there will always be times when I will let both myself down and God.
Yet, He is always there for me. I derrive strength from Him and will keep on going in a better direction than before.

God, the Father, is one of the most reassuring mysteries in my life. The feeling and the belief that He is with me, guides me, gives me safety and protection as much as humanly possible. Because, it is our human element, our Earthliness, that gives way to both good and bad.”

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Monte

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Hi, Ann. Yes, I do tend to prefer to be where there is enough water to swim. Although there are all those little and big beasties in the deep that like to use me for lunch sometimes.

I am sorry that I did not nuance my use of the word “evil” in my post. The use I meant was in the broad contest of theology where the diametric is very stark: good versus evil. In theology it is quite comfortable to discuss that sharp distinction. In real life there are lots of shades of gray, and I am well aware of them. If I accidentally kill someone, am I evil? Is the act evil? In theological discussion in that example I would not be evil but would have committed an evil upon someone. And why that is so is too complicated to discuss here, and may not convince you in any case. Regardless, I should have done a better job with that.

About whether or not we are born broken. I don’t believe I said that and if I did I was wrong. I do not believe that. I owe you a clear statement of what I do believe. I too believe that we are born blessed. In fact I often see the Genesis chapters of the creation as nothing more than God offering the creation itself and all that is in it as a blessing. Blessing precedes salvation in the Bible and with good reason.

Here is where we may or may not agree: I also believe that God gives us free will and the ability to choose good or evil or often some complicated construction of both. Thus we are not born “broken” but free will gives the ability to break ourselves. There is much argument in the religious community about the sinfulness or lack thereof of little babies. I have always sided with those who believe babies are innocent. Adults, not so much.

Thanks for your heart felt comments.

Monte

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CB: Thanks for coming around even after a battle with evil bell peppers, the most devilish of the entire pepper species. Glad you came out without too many bruises. I’m sure you weren’t embarrassed since embarrassment is another construct.

I think you clearly described your position, both times, so I won’t belabor any of its points here. Neither of us is likely to move either one even a hair.

I do commend you on your courtesy in discussing an issue about which you have such passion. It will not help much, but surely you know that I have never approved of the use of religion to club others to death. The abuse of religion is to my mind no more valid than for someone to abuse you for not believing as they do.

Monte

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HL: thank you for that unassailable truth: bell peppers do fall on the good and bad alike. I personally consider that a major defect in the creativity of God and believe God should correct it immediately.

Monte
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Dakini: you are very kind to come back and find some things that we do agree on. I appreciate that more than you know. Perhaps in another discussion we may come even more closely together. Maybe we can conclude that the devil is in the details, but I think that is were any differences lie. So we will just have to kick the devil out and thresh out the details between us. Could be fun.

Monte
My take on the existence of evil.

Evil is a concept, nothing more. It is not something concrete, that you can put your hand on. It only exists in the human mind (and not in all minds, I may add).

Therefore, evil exists only in the minds of those who choose to believe in it.

This is not to say there there are not actions and words which are deliberately harmful, sometimes extremely so, but they may be understood as the deliberate choice of the perpetrator.

I am at a loss to understand how anyone can posit the existence of a personal god, and accept that evil exists nonetheless.

"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?" - Epicurus

If you can provide a cogent response to Epicurus' puzzle, I expect that you'd be the first one to do so in over 2200 years.

Of course the puzzle becomes meaningless if evil does not actually exist outside the human mind.
Thanks Greg I appreciate your comments and your constructive view of the little discussion we have going here. Sometimes it doesn't seem all that constructive but it has thankfully been pretty civil, for which I too am more than a little grateful.
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Lisa, I think that the school bus issue can be solved to some people's satisfaction without attributing anything to God. Ann's comment does that pretty well to her satisfaction.

I think it is harder to deal with all the natural disasters and such and either blame or excuse humans for the event. Many people are able to formulate faith patterns for themselves that avoid the issue altogether. What works for one is not necessarily going to work for others. Knowing your faith you will find something that works for you. If you ever want to discuss it in more detail just PM me.

Monte
Rob:

I can imagine your getting exercised about something you feel strongly about. I have a harder time visualizing you as being either uncivil or discourteous.

Monte
Hi, Wayne. Looks like you answered your own question. Your points are repeated several times by others here so you have some company. I have already commented on them and commend those comments to you.

Thanks for coming by.

Monte
Thank you, Monte, for providing a space where a discussion of 'ultimate things' can take place.

Since you have offered this as a reflection, I find myself responding in that same vein - from my own understanding, not necessarily doctrinal coherent, but from the tatters of my own lived experiences.

Like Cinderella, given the task of sorting a pile of grains into oats, wheat and barley, I have spent much of my life trying to sort things into their proper places of meaning and significance.

So for me, theodicy does not refer to evil per se, but rather to the question of undeserved suffering. The evil that we do to each other - the choices that we make - is in a distinctively different category than your example of a train killing half a busload of children. As mentioned above, there was no intent on anybody's part to do harm, but it was an event that happened. As a pastor, I'm sure you were left trying to answer the anguished cry of "why?" from the parents who lost their children.

That is the situation that Judeo-Christianity has no answer for. And that is the anguished cry so vividly portrayed in the book of Job.

If I remember correctly (and I may not), Job was written after the Babylonian conquest. Clearly the ancient Israelites felt that the theological answer to their question of "why?" - why were we attacked and defeated, why did God allow us to be taken from our country and become sojourners in another land, why? - no longer adequate. To affirm, time and again, that they were not living righteous lives in accordance with God's laws and so had earned and deserved their just punishment, had proven to be insufficient.

And, again if I remember correctly, the 'happy ending' where all of Job's life is restored to him, was tacked on by another writer. The original author was left to wonder, "where is the wisdom here?" Why does God allow us to suffer?

We each must find an answer to that question - whether or not God is part of our understanding of our lives - we must each come to some conclusion. I have found that if I can discern some meaning in the events of my life - catch a glimpse of some larger purpose at work in the world, then suffering becomes redemptive - it transforms not only my understanding of events, but my response to them. In my case, this is an act of faith - I do it because I believe in God, in wisdom in the universe, and a wisdom larger than my own that plays out in my life, if I will allow it to, and if I will commit myself to following it to the end.

And so that is what faith is for me - a commitment to standing in the refiner's fire, to holding fast while the dross is burned away, to having a conviction that there is a meaning in the burning, and that, in the end, there will be a tiny spark of gold that my suffering will have made possible.

In the end, it is a profound act of faith to live as if the world - and the larger cosmos of which we are but a small part - is intelligible, that it can be understood. It is an act of faith no less profound to live in the world believing that suffering is necessary to our lives.

Thanks again for providing a space to reflect on such a deep and difficult topic, and to do it in such a gentle - and gently provocative - way.
mpress: Thank you for your profoundly moving reflection posted here as a comment. I am not going to say a bunch of words to simply rephrase your eloquent statement of your belief and the genesis of it. I thank you both for your clarity of thought and the humility with which you express it.

I share your understanding of the literary genesis of Job and of the further redaction, likely by and entirely different author. However most authorities are at a loss where the book was written or why, most place the date where you do and some actually argue with good reason that the book may not have started as a Hebrew text at all, but an adaptation of a story from a "pagan" author.

About the idea of the redemptive power of suffering and the meaningful growth in faith possible when that idea is embraced: I thought about including it since it is such a major thread in the cloth of faith as it has been handed down through the centuries, beginning long before the martyrs were hallowed.

I guess that I did not include it for two reasons. First, because it is a tough sell and I did not want it to distract from the main message, as my decision to include in a small portion of my post a discussion of science has done.

Few people see any redemptive value in suffering and would find the idea very strange indeed in a country where creature comfort and denial of the uncomfortable are seen as virtues.

Second, because in my roll as pastor I never found a case where I could hold a hand that was attached to a body racked with cancer, or was attached to a mother mourning the death of her son where the idea that there would be redemption for that person through the suffering that they were going through would have been well received if it came from me. Talking about "being tempered in the flame" or "bent to the pruner's will" just doesn't come to me in times of distress.

You will understand this next point though. There have been many times when faithful people have been stoically accepting of deep hurt and sorrow and personal physical pain who have expressed to me feelings very close to your own, so I know that it works for some and I am very glad it works for you.

In my own life, now confronted with significant, new and rare medical problems for which there is no cure, I still struggle with the issue about the redemptive value of suffering. But I do think about it and believe that if I could come to accept it then my acceptance of my new limitations might come much more easily.

I may be old but I find that there is no end to learning and I try to be open to change when it presents itself as an option.

I am impressed and thankful for your comment.

Monte
I have the greatest respect for you, Monte, and others who enjoy tackling the greatest questions of faith. I simply cannot participate. I quit the debating society long ago. I pray. It works. And that's as far as I need go with it. I carry the last sentence of your post in my wallet.
UK: I believe what you say and I think I understand why.

The poem is beautiful and appropriate.

Thanks for coming by.

See you soon on another subject.

Monte
Thanks for coming by, Jim. I understand completely.

Monte
Monte, I'm completely impressed by the way you keep these discussions fruitful, civil, and moving along. Thanks.
UK, Jimmy, I know how you feel, but, we SHOULD go there. We have just as much right to stand up for our own personal beliefs as anyone else. UK you got unfairly chastised in my opinion. Don't let them run you off. I cleared up my misunderstanding with you civilly, you recall? It WAS a misunderstanding, but now I know why. You were on the defense, and I've been there much lately. Stand up and face down people who insult your beliefs. They sure as hell speak loudly enough when we voice ours. Jimmy, respectfully to you, because I like you and your writing so much. People like me and Monte aren't going to be bullied by those who mock our belief system. They can disagree, fine. Understood. Mocking is for arrogant people. We aren't arrogant on here. Or we shouldn't be. To totally dismiss someone's belief system is ARROGANT. It's pompous and arrogant. I won't be stifled I can tell you that.

I'm not pointing fingers in here as it's pretty much civil. It's on other blogs that I have seen the attackers attack. Liberal doesn't always equate to non-belief. Trust me. I'm an example. Try as anyone on OS or anywhere else co-exists with me, I will not go quietly.

Monte, keep up the great work my friend.
I mock no one. I respectfully pointed out that I have a hard time following discussions like this. But that, for me and others like me, faith can be practiced and lived, often by holding to its simplest precepts.
This is a wonderful, thoughtful post and has led to a great discussion. Thanks, Monte.

What if God can't and/or doesn't choose between lives, cure cancer or fix the washing machine? What if God's real power in our lives is to grant wisdom, strength and compassion so that we can live the best lives we can within whatever circumstances we find ourselves? I don't pray for God to make things the way I want them -- Well, at least most of the time I don't. I don't know if God even has that power, let alone that s/he'd use it for little old me. I do know, from my own experience, that God has the power to teach me to "see Thee more clearly/Love Thee more dearly/Follow Thee more nearly/Day by Day."

(My dad was an organist -- I pray with music.)
Jim, I am certain that Greg was not referring to you. Not in a million years as I know he holds you in highest regard.

UK: I totally understand why you would discuss your beliefs more openly on a forum where there is support for them. NOBODY should have had to go through what you went through here. I am just thankful that you are back on OS in whatever areas you wish to be active.

Thank you both. I have real affection for both of you and your work and contribution to OS and to my enjoyment of being here.

Monte
Lots to think about here. I keep trying to figure it all out, too. I grew up Baptist and they (at least in my memory) gave credit for all things to God -- good, bad -- He always had a reason, like there would be a reason half the kids had to die. I used to argue against this idea all the time in Sunday School class (where I also argued that slavery was bad even though my teacher believed it was God's will and in the Bible and a good thing). I always loved church, but realized thru the years that part of what I loved was the arguing, the questioning, the trying-to-figure-it-all-out. I spent a few years at a Church of Christ before switching over to a Unitarian Universalist church. When I ran into my old Church of Christ minister at the grocery store (unfortunately after my friend and I had drunk several margaritas at a Chevys and were riding our carts thru the store) I told him that I'd begun going to a Unitarian church and he smiled, sighed, and said, "Yes...I can see you as a Unitarian."

I pray every day, and if I'm on a plane or a motorcycle or wake up in the middle of the night in a fear panic, I pray even harder. Yet at the same time I think of all the Jews that prayed during the Holocaust, the people who pray before the plane crashes or people with terminal cancer or mothers whose kids are really sick, and I think of how their prayers weren't answered so why should mine be answered? It's not like I'm Mother Theresa (who apparently also had her moments of doubt).

But I still keep praying, and I still have a sense of God, of a Higher Power, of the Great Spirit, hanging out and hearing my prayers and helping me thru everything. And if I didn't have that I don't think I could get thru a day. So I think maybe God is just doing that, is just helping me thru each day. And Jesus suffering and dying on the cross tells me that everyone suffers, that if the Son of God can't get a free ride, none of us will, so that every time I read a horror story about an abused child, or even see a legs akimbo roadkill deer on the road, I envision that deer, that child, in the arms of Jesus.

It's all so weird, and I keep thinking that if I read enough poetry and maybe sit in church and maybe talk with people who are a lot smarter than I am, I will eventually learn the answers. But, of course, I won't. I was riding on the back of the Harley one late afternoon, and we were riding down from La Honda, and the sun was shining thru the redwoods and I watched beside us as the earth passed and I had the sure clear feeling that I was part of that earth and that in the end, everything would be all right. Right now, I'm going with that.
Faith: thanks for coming by and reading and commenting. I remember well that your Dad was an organist here and I think IS an organist now in the closer presence of his lord and savior.

Your comments remind me of something that no one else has yet mentioned, including me. That is that what we pray for makes a huge difference as to how we think God responds. Most of us pray what I call "gimmie" and "fox hole" prayers. I know better but now and then I fall into that mode. But the good book is clear, at least St. James is, that we should say, "If it be your will, then...."

I know that I always should be with Jesus who said, "But thy will, not mine, be done." I try. I really do. Then something scares me and I'm back to the other kind. I do think that ultimately God does hear and listen to our prayers, appropriate or not, and cares that we offer them.

One big "me too." I have no idea what things I pray about are important to God and what aren't. I long ago quite praying for my team to win, and for a good score on a test, or for a week of motorcycle touring in clear blue sky and 72 degrees. So I think I am making some progress. ;-o !! (Well, maybe I might cheat a little on that last one.)

Monte
Oh, susie, you have no idea how close to God reading your comment made me feel! I can't begin to count the times that I have thought those thoughts, have tried to make sense out of the senseless, and wonder where God was in this thing or that thing.

I know that I can't think my way to God. I used to think that and so I got a BA and a MA all the while sure that as I became better educated I would see the clarity of the answers to all those hard questions. Then I went to seminary and got an M.Div. and five later got a ThD at age 60, always hoping that the next book, the next commentary would have an answer to at least some of them. It never happened.

Finally I gave up and listened to ST. Anselm who said about 8 centuries ago that Christianity is "faith seeking understanding." That was the big OK I was looking for. First have faith, then seek understanding. For over 50 years I was convinced I could do it the other way around. But I could not think my way to God.

But on a bike out in these hills and valleys, quietly riding around curves and over hillocks and down along the river, there I feel my faith and seek what understanding I can gain from it. The urgency for the understanding is not so strong, as I bathe in the faith and let myself open to God's love.

That now works for me. All the education never got me there. I'm glad I got it. But it never led me to understanding. My faith does.

Monte
Monte,

You write, “Hi, Rick. Why did I think that you could not stay away from this one?” Maybe it was because you were HOPING I couldn’t stay away?
;-)
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Regarding “theodicy”, I’m not sure where I “deny its very definition”, as you say. Will you clarify this for me? I merely allude to the fact that theodicy is an attempt to reconcile the existence of “evil” with the virtues of “God”. Is this not so?

As for your comment regarding my view of the concept of “evil”, I would think understanding the concept itself would be paramount to any discussion around the concept. Apparently because my view of evil is different from yours, you think “the possibility of dialogue is destroyed”. I find THAT to be “an interesting way to discuss things”, as you say. Are you saying we must agree in order to discuss?

You write, “I actually cannot imagine how one can conclude that theodicy eliminates the concept of morality. The question of theodicy deals with the ethics of God while it does not speak to the morality of man.”

I find the above statements of yours confusing, at best. It seems odd that you would attempt to separate the “ethics of God” from “morality of man” if we are to believe that ethics and morality have any divine origin in the first place (something I do not believe). For instance, if we regard murder as “evil”, which is seemingly something that is taught in the Bible, which is seen as the “word of God”, but we also attempt to proclaim all events justifiable, including "evil" events, as part of God’s divine plan, then murder becomes part of God’s plan, and the line between right and wrong, according to God’s plan, becomes lost.

I found the following succinct explanation, which I think is good, of this concept.
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THE IMMORALITY OF THEODICIES
An argument that has been raised against theodicies is that, if a theodicy were true, it would completely nullify morality. If a theodicy were true, then all evil events, including human actions, can be somehow rationalized as permitted or affected by God, and therefore there can no longer be such a thing as "evil" values, even for a murderer (indeed, this is the basis of the moral argument from evil, by Dean Stretton).

Volker Dittman argues that "the crucial point is, that when we accept the perfect solution for the POE, then there will be no evil, because every suffering could be justified. Worse: It would be impossible to act evil. I could torture and murder a young child, but this would be justified for a higher good (whatever the perfect solution is, it could be something else than free will). This would be the end of all moral, which clearly is absurd. The theist could not point to the ten commandments and claim that they are necessary, because one goal of morals – to prevent evil – would be granted no matter how I behave, if he is right with his perfect solution to the POE".
www.reference.com/browse/theodicy
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Great post. I define myself, when asked, as a trans-Catholic spiritualistic deist. As a spiritualistic deist, I think God only intervenes on an individual, metaphysical level. She/He does not interfere further because free will is too critically important. Also, I believe in the ancient Jewish idea of the three-part soul; the lowest part, with which we are born, and the middle part which develops through life on earth, and the highest part, which develops through our relationship with God. If God interferes, we don't learn anything, and our souls stay unformed. The pursuit of knowledge about the spiritual and physical worlds, and our relationships with other creatures and God all contribute to this development. We are supposed to make meaning and try to find answers.

In the Gnostic Gospels, when Mary Magdalene asks whether religious visions come from higher or lower part of the soul, Jesus tells her they come from neither: "It is the mind that mediates between the two." I look for God's influence inside myself. When people are able to manifest this influence in the outside world, this is when we see good. When they don't, we see evil, which seems to come more often from amorality than immorality, when a person is numb to the divine spark inside them.
Where these discussions so often fall apart, I believe, is that those of us who are religious don't stand where others assume we do. If I had a dime for every time someone insisted that I reject science, for every time someone insisted that I am a literalist, for every time someone insisted that I believe that grace means I think I can "get away with" doing anything I want, for every time that someone insisted that theodicy is an attempt to avoid responsibility for my own immorality ... if I had all that money, I'd pay someone to do my laundry. So much of the "religion" to which people object, or from which they flee, is not the belief system held by those they accuse of holding it. That's why it's important to do Monte the favor of paying close attention when he says what it is he does believe: It's probably not what many of you think. People who view religion simplistically — God said it, I believe it, that settles it — aren't the ones who bother struggling with theodicy.

UK, I missed a large part of what happened to you, but I can sympathize. Belief is not an entirely popular stance here. ;)
Monte, thought-provoking and grounded as always. I have to say that I think the hardest part of being a Christian is accepting the line in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done." It's not "my will be done." It's not even a negotiation. If you have faith in God, you must accept that God's will is not always in alignment with your will. That can be a very difficult idea to swallow.

Thanks for a sane and level-headed addition to the discussion.
Rick:

I am going to let your further comment stand or fall on its own merits. I am not going to debate it with you. Far too many of the comments and replies to this post are off on a tangent from what I consider was the main purpose of the post which was to discuss the question of theodicy within the concept of faith.

The attempt to deconstruct 5000 years of faith, its precepts, its issues and its language is something I encourage you to do on your own blog. I'm tired of arguing about it with you on mine.

Monte
Liz: Thanks for your comments. Your take on spirituality is certainly different, but it sounds like it works well for you. It kind of has a little bit of several types and styles of religious expression in it. You are the first here on OS I have heard mention the Gnostic gospels, but I am sure there are some who take their cues from some of those noncanonical books.

What is important is that what you believe does work for you and gives you a sense of hope and peace in a very difficult world in which we live.

God bless,

Monte
HL: thanks for coming back around and commenting again.

I too think that it is all to easy to assume that if one is a "Christian" or a "Muslim" then by definition they fall into a mold, a stereotypical being, not a real one, who actually both has faith and questions and who doesn't even remotely have all of the answers.

The irony of that is, of course, that religious servants like you and I are not exactly in the heart of the evangelical church and I am far to the left and more open to ideas than most so-called "mainstream" pastors and theologians I know.

So it is vital that people actually listen to what I say I believe and what I am trying to accomplish with this post and the several others that I have made on religious issues.

What I would find sad is if even more of the believers we have on OS come to feel that it is no longer comfortable or safe to discuss faith issues important to them in this community. I will continue to discuss things important to the small community of believers within OS as long as I have a blog as a platform for such discussion. When I don't have that I will fold my tent and go home.

Thanks again. You always make sense to me.

Monte
Thank you, COS.

Always wise and always on target.

No. There really isn't any option for the Christian believer. Christ didn't intend there to be. But apparently some think that everything is on the table for picking and choosing what we take and what we leave, kind of a religious pot luck.

It might be nice if we think it is a pot luck, but in the end it would not be Christianity. It might well work for some, and that is their prerogative. But it is really not mine.

Thanks for your comments.

Monte
Hey, Gang. Its after one am here and I know I am usually up here between two and three am, but I really want to try again this week to get my feet to cooperate with me so I can go to church later this morning. I tried last week and could not get the flare up from the night before under control in time to make it. So I am going to try it again.

See you all sometime tomorrow.

Monte
Hi, Monte. Very insightful post. I'm fairly unschooled in theology or philosophy, and was hoping you could point me in the most basic direction on what the hell keeps rattling around my brain these days.
I've always treated evil as a product of circumstance, linked always to the never ending chaos of nature. Recently I heard too much evil at once, felt that evil wasn't homegrown but was; or could be; perpetrated on a mass scale for maximum profits. I was constipated on evil, and tried to reorganize the weird mathematical ratios for how I could comprehend it. It seemed like I needed light years to explain it, because there were too many zeros.
If supernatural, demon-y evil is 1, what, as a person who doesn't believe in supernatural evil, is my .999? Killing thousands is more evil than killing 25, right? Cannibalism more sinful than adultery?That line used to be clear, but does it even matter when our bodies and senses don't evolve as quickly as our measuring devices?
The core question I've got is if evil(and of course, good) could make that jump on it's own terms. Would we believe it if it happened? Would we profit from believing it?
This idea's got to be old as heck but looking for it is like looking for a demon in a big boring stack of demons. Thanks.
Monte, This is a very civil discussion as usually arises around you. I share HighLonesome's feeling about the assumptions that are made of people of faith. Just because we come to a place where we are willing to draw a conclusion doesn't mean that our faith is blind, it means that the weight of what we have seen draws us to a conclusion that allows us to take that leap of faith. Neither does it mean that we stop looking or measuring or thinking, sensing, encountering, or discussing, among other things.

Faith is not a linear race where you begin at one spot, make up your mind at a particular goal line and become a vegetable thereafter, which seems to be the opinion of many.

As to prayer, St. Teresa of Avila has it right: "For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God." She also said "I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him" and by this I think she was saying that people motivated by fear and avoidance of making errors are an awful mess to deal with in our lives, causing great hardships to those who are hurt by their avoidance of death and whatever it is that they consider evil.

Because I am not a Christian I do not share the same idea or definition of evil. I think we human beings make a lot of mistakes that are defined by others as evil. I am not willing to be defined by others. Whatever we call 'bad" or "evil" is a dualism that we have created. What happens sometimes just happens. To call it evil doesn't help us deal with it effectively. We learn more from responding intelligently to difficulty than we do in slapping our cheap verbal bumper stickers such as declaring inherent"evil" on events so that we will satisfy ourselves with the categories and opinions we have rendered and make ourselves feel that we are "good" by our declarations. Good is a quality that is demonstrated.

We speak as if life is finite, when in fact, our lives may be as seasonal as anything we observe in nature. We don't really know what the final answer happens to be and because we don't have proof the way scientists seem to think they do, we take a leap of faith.

Scientists used to believe that all things flamable in the atmosphere contained or consisted of phlogiston, like a fifth element in addition to fire, water, air, and earth. What scientists know changes too. They have faith in their sturdiest conclusions, just as we do, its just that their conclusions are measurable and repeatable.

I have faith in God the same way that I have faith in the existence of Love itself. Both of these live in the ineffable, the unseen but are demonstrated within our lives. I don't have faith in heaven or in hell, which I believe are states of our current existence. Live stupidly and selfishly and you will come to experience hell on earth. Live generously and lovingly and you will experience some portion of heaven on earth. I am all for the latter.

It was really interesting to come late to this post and read as much of the comments as I could, I feel like I know some of the posters better as a result.

Thanks Monte, you are one wonderful human being.
God gives freewill to all of creation and all living creatures. Our use of freewill is often questionable, but I also believe that God works all things out to the good for all people (a bit of a twist on Paul's verse). Just because something bad has happened doesn't mean that God has done it or that God is gone. I always loved that Mother Teresa said God is so close in those times that "Jesus is kissing you." When one is in such pain, that is hard to see or except and often people confuse God's presence in the disaster or pain. Even in the story I mention with Mother Teresa, the person she was speaking to say, "Please tell Jesus to stop kissing me" thinking that Jesus was causing the pain rather than kissing in divine love.

As a lover of science and theology, like you I've always felt they are complimentary. One of the challenges we all face these days is our discomfort with "mystery" and therein lies another problem in dealing with bad things happening to good people. The best explanation I've read (that still allows for mystery) is by Carolyn Myss in her book, Soul Contracts. Basically her premise is that each of us made a soul contract with others about the things we need to learn on earth (whether easy or painful).

I'll have to come back to this conversation later due to my getting ready to go preach/teach at the church in Cherokee but I want to post this poem which Michael Dwinell used in his book, " Being Priest to One Another":


“Healing”
D. H. Lawrence

I am not a mechanism, an assembly
of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism
is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the
Soul, to the deep emotional self.
And the wounds to the Soul take a
long time, only time can help.
And patience, and a certain
difficult repentance, long
difficult repentance, realization
of life’s mistake, and the freeing of oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.
Monte: I've written, and deleted, five comments so far. Hmmmm... let me just say this: I was here. Just sos ya know.
Not to belabor my position, but there was a sort of humorous line in Dick Cavett in the NYT this morning - "Do freshman philosophy classes nowadays debate updated versions of the age-old questions? Like, how could a merciful God allow AIDS, childhood cancers, tsunamis and Dick Cheney?"
Monte, thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my comment. There are difficult moments when I can't help but blurt out what you call a "gimme prayer." (Great name!) But I try not to. I believe that God is both manifest and unmanifest, as the Hindus say. But often when "miracles" occur such as the one on Hudson Bay, I believe it is because God manifested through the actions of those s/he empowered with grace, kindness, selflessness and courage that they might not otherwise have had. (The plane pilot, the boat pilots nearby, etc.) And I suppose, on the other end, those people had to be open to those gifts of grace as well.
Monte. Thanks. Wow. O thoughts to ponder.
Now, You make me wish to go to a seminary.
If I went to Sunday School I'd ask:`God gets bored?
Nature's God has a sense of humor? A Giraffes neck.
A Rhino grins for many hours while expressing affection.
A wino tries to take the short cut to get to a heavenly joint.
Then. sad to see:`The foolish one heaves in a gutter. Sadly.
Maybe now that ~The Flat Earth , anti-science, anti-moral,
cruel death-monger, GWB's assembly... scram public life...,
the years of setback, and being trapped in ignorant-Ruin, ends?
Ya sure leave readers with much hay to chew for more than a day.
Cud. Serious. I'm no thologian, but I've met a few who are thee good apologist.
Seek truth.
Matthew Fox got 'kicked' from the 'ecclesia' gathering for being the Earthen.
Earthen beliefs were common sense Nature's cycle. I need to shush.
I read a book review about Idiocy, good/evil, and enjoy such warm thought on a Sunday.
I need to go for a walk
and worship the trees.
There is a natural choir.
I hope you no 'kicked' ?
I am just learning ideas.
Oh, and Yon Kipper, etc.
I need to talk to a puppy.
Ya God is OS everywhere.
There so much. Holy Cow!
I hope you keep us fed ups?
I mean, You know, Ya know?
I like folk who say:`Ya know.
Ya know theology. Teach us.
Ya know Willie Nelson went for a Sunday walk, and had one beer for breakfast. It was so smooth?
Willie had two and off to the
stratosphere too... I was told.
A Yesshiva teacher scolds you?
I heard Ya can't eat lobster soup.
God made-up some darn silly rules?
Monte,

I have nothing substantive to add to all the other kudos you've gotten for this post.

Have you ever read The Only Problem by the late, great Muriel Spark? It's a little gem of a novel on the theme of theodicy. Actually, most of her work addresses "the only problem" in one way or another.
I must go, but:`By the Rivers of Babylon' comes to memory, by Bob Marley.
The lyrics were drawn from the scripture:`Let the meditation of my heart always be acceptable in Thy sight,
Oh, Thy
`Helper.
Yesterday I was with folk in a wood shop workers, sauna, and The topic of Peter, Paul, and Mary came up. At the Meriweather Post Pavilion in Colombia, Maryland, Peter said at a private group-gathering, after a musical performance this:`Exactly.
`Go browse the sacred scripture, the classic writ. It can't hurt...
and I never forgot how he said it:`There is Sacred Literature to browse, and ponder thoughts for:`Edification. Mutual/Private.
Monte, Very Brilliant and insightful post. I LOVE IT! I love the way you have nicely worded everything and broken it all down.

"My life is in God's hands. Not mine. I can do many things without God. But try as I have, I cannot create my future, stop my death, or change the course of my history to any significant extent. God knows, literally, how hard I have tried to do those things."-- I truely believe this way.

Though life hasn't been easy and I have had some really terrible things happened to me and in my life. I still believe that God is with me every step of the way and He will not put on me more then I can handle, good or bad. I have tried to be in control and have lost faith a few times in my life but He has always shown me the He has never left, I was the one who left. Many people have asked me "

Thank you very much for this post. It really makes a person stop think about how God intervenes in your lives good or bad is He the one in control. "The great Controller."
I truly believe that humans were created in the Creator's image. Having said that, this means that by extension, the Creator has free will as well...

"If you believe in Satan did Satan somehow intervene and cause them to die, and if so, to what end?"

To suggest that God is pure good, and Satan pure evil, is easier for us humans to deal with, yes. I don't think that it's necessarily accurate though. The parable of the temptation in the desert, the washing of the prositute's feet - which I somehow got into with my brother's friend yesterday - the way I take it is that for reasonable people, the Creator's example serves as just that - an example.

Not an example to follow, but work towards, to emulate. Evil - in my opinion - exist to motivate us to be better, and to take better care of each other. That's it....really.

Jeffrey Dahmer and Saddam Hussein, and Bush II, and Rwanda, and Cuba, and on and on... serve only as stark reminders of the depths of our capacity for both civility and savagery.

At the end of the day it is up to us - worldwide - to keep each other honest, and insodoing, provide an impetus to help keep ourselves honest too. As I stated in a response to Greg's 'men with soul' post, I have a hard time not seeing the flaws in other - just as much as I have difficulty not seeing the good in them.

To encourage each other to find a balance *within one another*, and thereby work toward finding a balance in the way that we live *with one another* it the greatest if not only good that can come from the presence of "evil."

In other words, evil exists because good exists - like black and white - as opposed to gray, like the acceptable condiments to put on a hamburger. In the case of heinous acts so "obviously" evil - or at least easily dismissed as being obviously so, we are all on the same bus.

When it comes to cultural/social/religious passes being given for heinous if not evil acts by humans upon humans or humans upon others of God's creatures, I don't think that the answers are so easy. *At least not without crossing the line between being created in His image, and daring to judge His very creation.*

The fact is though, a line must be drawn, because every once and a while, either God or humanity WILL dare to cross the line of semi-established civility.

my $0.02

(rated) PiF/ aj
John Polkinghorne — a particle physicist before he became a professional theologian — speaks about a world that, once created, is allowed to make itself, including making itself better or worse or simply different, as with evolution. That kind of world, he writes (in great detail and much more clearly than I) is the only kind that allows for both consequences and grace.
Cocoalfresco: Thanks for your comments. I could not agree more that the entire discussion of the question of evil, and the question of good is a mess. I don’t see how evil can be effectively quantified. I think that would drive me nuts, personally. I tend to think that while if someone perpetrates an evil, like say, Hitler, on millions of people it tends to get, as it should, enormous recognition and condemnation. But if someone else goes out and murders another that may get an item in the local paper and then it fades from our consciousness. But in both cases people are dead. If we believe, as I do, that every life is precious, that every person is a child of God with the right to live, then both evils to my mind are equal. I know that some people think that if you pile them up like cordwood it is worse because more people are harmed. But, speaking for me only, I think both are the total opposite of good.

As to sin, my theology tells me that there is not any one sin that is worse than another. Sin as a concept can be defined as failing to be in right relationship to God. Jesus did not classify sins into categories, men did that. We continue to get ourselves in lots of trouble when, for example divorced religious zealots scream at homosexuals as being more evil than them. It happened starkly in California at the last election. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin, but if I did then my being divorced is just as bad. We all sin. No one can elevate his/her self over another sinner in my eyes.

Finally, I think that if good were to become more dominate than evil in the world I believe we would know it and would act accordingly. I continue to believe that the conquest of love, which is the ultimate good, over evil is the only way we will ever know what true civility and happiness is. Until that is possible on a larger scale I try to practice it on a personal one.

Thanks for your provocative and useful comment.

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Thanks so much, Susanne, for dropping in and writing such a clear comment. I am not going to start picking at areas where we disagree, because there are a lot of them and it would bore both of us to tears. But I hope that we do demonstrate to others by our ever growing friendship that it is possible to hold differing faith views and still respect one another are care very much for each other.

What I think would be important is that everybody read your comment because it contains within it an optional way of belief that others may not have known.

One thing we always agree on is the primacy of love. If we can convince others that love is more than just a word but is the essence of living a good and happy life then I think that both of us will feel good about whatever small effect we may have had in helping with the understanding of that.
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Thanks JRD, for such a carefully reasoned position. I share much of what you write. I too am particularly unhappy with the modern shunning of the idea of mystery. God is love and God is spirit is in many ways about all we know of him, except, of course, Christians believe that “if you have seen the Son then you have seen the Father.” But even knowing Jesus comes no where close to understanding all the mystery that is God, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It concerns me that people so dismiss mystery when they have no tools yet to unravel it. But that is something everyone ultimately has to decide for his/her self. I, for one, believe that we are not wired to understand everything, not even close to everything. The Lawrence poem is very good and demands a bit of time for reflection to really appreciate its nuance.

Thanks again.

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Thanks, gracie. You sound like me. I have often written comments, even posts, and just can’t get to exactly where I wanted. Been there.

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Hi again, Myriad. We’ll let that Cavett statement stand. No need to comment. It sort of captures the issue of theodicy pretty well.
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Hello, Faith I think this must be a difficult time for you with times of healing and times of deep longing. I know you have the faith and courage to get through it, yet still I pray each day that the sun will shine a bit brighter where you are. I too believe that God works mostly through people. Why s/he decided long ago to use such imperfect vessels to carry his love and care is always an amazement to me. But I am glad that he did.

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Arthur, you are in rare form today. I enjoy your ponderings always. Sometimes I am a bit befuddled about just where you are taking us, but then I remember that mostly you are simply inviting us to take the ride and enjoy it. The truth is found in the ride, not in the destination. Nes pa?

Thanks, Arthur. And never give up on you verse.

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Hi, Squillo. No. I have not but it sounds interesting and will try to get it from the library or from interlibrary loan. Thanks for reading and for the tip. I enjoy novels that deal with serious issues. Sometimes we learn more from novelists than from alleged philosophers and theologians.

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Thanks, again Arthur. True and simply that quote from the musical Peter.

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Fireeyes24 thank you for reading and commenting and sharing your strong faith with us.
I know that I have periods of great doubt, and like the man who asked Jesus for healing of his daughter, I have said many times: “I believe. Help my unbelief.” In all the times of doubt I have always turned back to God rather than moving further away. I don’t have even a clue why I do that and yet many others move away, and some never come back. That is a mystery to me. Your comment confirms for me once again that we can live through great hardship as both of us have, and still remain attached to God, and come even closer to him/her.

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Hello, Pif. It always does my heart good when you find the time to spend with us here on OS. I miss your constant presence but am well aware of your need to put other things first.

As usual your comment is both profoundly clear and profoundly true. I will not try to rephrase anything you said because you said it beautifully. Some say that evil is nothing more than something that makes us uncomfortable. I could not be further from believing that. Evil is everywhere and can easily be seen in the examples you give. And if we do not firmly reject it and cover it over with love then ultimately we are lost.

This that you concluded is worth repeating: “When it comes to cultural/social/religious passes being given for heinous if not evil acts by humans upon humans or humans upon others of God's creatures, I don't think that the answers are so easy. *At least not without crossing the line between being created in His image, and daring to judge His very creation.*

The fact is though, a line must be drawn, because every once and a while, either God or humanity WILL dare to cross the line of semi-established civility.”

Thank you
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Thanks everyone. I appreciate every comment and respect the time it took you to read all of this.

Monte
Thanks again, HL. I have read some excerpts from Polkinghorne but never an entire book. Sounds to me like I should jump into his whole pool of thought.

Monte
I appreciate that Monte - especially coming from you. I miss being here too, but duty calls, and all that jazz (nod to Greg Randolph.)
I will see you all soon, perhaps by Wednesday things will have calmed down significantly.

I have a feeling that I will need to do some pondering of the subject of why I am recently so reticent with respect to responding to comments - I have a feeling that the day I wrote 1.5 hours of reponses to those comments has me irrationally loathe to go through that loss of energy and effort. Add to my fear of impending loss that things are tough for all in the financial services industry, and you can see some logic in my choice more clearly. Ultimately though, it is a choice - on to my ponderings...

Take care, all : )

aj/PiF
Pif: do remember that I am retired and spend a lot of time here because I like to. One and a half hours on comment response given all that you have on your plate may well be far more time than you can give to it now. Do only what you can do and still see it as a pleasure. I cannot imagine that anyone would deny you that.

Monte
Monte, If the only thing we ever did here at OS was demonstrate the significance of living a life that demonstrates love and appreciation for one anothers differences, then I would say we have lived lives worthy of the efforts.
...arriving very late here at the Church of the Internet and slipping into the back row. What a great discussion you've generated once again, Monte. I feel privileged to have fallen in with so many creative and articulate thinkers. Suzie and High Lonesome and mpress have beautifully expressed where I am on good days, and Myriad pretty well captures my thinking at more skeptical moments. I expect I'll pay some repeat visits here to reread all these great comments (including yours, of course).

Anyway, thanks for taking on the the 800-lb gorilla; in my experience, preachers tend to ignore him.

Btw, have you ever read John Guzlowski's posts on his search for life's ultimate meaning in the context of the holocaust? Well worth looking at. http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=84877
Thanks again, Susanne, I think we both are learning that even in a potentially and sometimes real adversarial environment such as OS we can have respectful and constructive relationships. You and I have worked to do that and succeeding.

Laurel, thanks for dropping by. As long as a post is up we are never too late to visit and comment. I have not read that post you refer to but will try to take a look. Some people think they have, and perhaps they actually have, a faith that stands still on placid waters, others, like me and you, have a faith that can ebb and flow with the tide. Over time mine has gotten more consistent in its intensity but I am not at that perfect peaceful place yet.

Monte
Rick, I have to say that after reading the back and forth, Monte has tried to keep the discussion in a non-condescending manner. I wish I could say that about some of your comments.

You have always stayed civil and objective on disagreements in the past. In this I sense it being a big personal. I guess maybe I'm not objective as I agree with Monte. I just think what Monte has said says it all, we can agree to disagree with out bludgeoning the other with our certain belief (or non-belief).

Just wanting to see things remain civil.
I'm working my way through you post.

bill eldred
Hello Monte!

Ah, the good and evil question, I love it. I have always thought good cannot exsist without evil and vice versa. Everything must have an opposite.

"But, friends, there will always be more mystery than there is knowledge on this earth. We are not wired to know it all."

A BIG Amen to that! I've come to the conclusion that people who need constant "tangable evidence" in regards to the exsistance of the divine fail to see that there are just some things in our universe that cannot be measured by our "man made" standards. The Mysteries in Life are what make our life worth living and a constant learning experince. Do I think we should cease to question? No, that is how we grow and challenge ourselves.

There are just some questions that will never be answered . . . and I think there is a rreason for that.
Bill, it can be quite a slog with so many comments if those interest you.
------------------------------------------------

Miko: You and I are kindred spirits when it comes to honoring mystery in our lives. I can imagine nothing more boring than a world without mystery or our having the ability to analyze and dissect mystery like we were in some anatomy class.

Love is likely the greatest mystery of all, nes pa?

Monte
Hai, Monte! It is! :D
Monte,

I know I'm awfully late in commenting, but the issue is hardly dead. I appreciate your thoughtful response to it, and your willingness as a minister to acknowledge that God and evil must be in some way connected.

I am agnostic about some possibilities out there, but for sure I am not a theist. One reason I am not is the clear logic that theodicy presents: if the world was created by an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good deity, there cannot be evil. Some religious philosophers try to dodge this by arguing that there is a hidden, higher good behind the evil, but this is patent rationalization, clearly beyond the scope of rational argument. (A bank robber could plead the same thing in his defense, but no jury would buy it.)
Fundamentalists claim that evil is man's creation, dating from the Fall, but this simply begs the question of why a perfect God would create such fallible beings, knowing -- as by definition he must -- that they would indeed fail. Theodicy does not logically bar the existence of a Creator, or even an active supernatural being, but it decisively rules out the supremely virtuous God.

Sincerely,

Clay Farris Naff
Hey, Clay, you are not late. Thank you for reading and thanks for your cogent and insightful comments. I agree that the issue is not dead and cannot imagine it ever will be. I am not sure exactly how to read your conclusion but I am going to assume it is not a slam at those who do not think as you do.

Believers like me need to admit that we know but a tiny bit about God and the chance of knowing much more is very slim. Atheists can and will simple dismiss the issue, or beat up on believers saying that theodicy "proves" that God is not good, or does not exist, or it is stupid to worship God, etc. But if one insists that it must be approached as a "rational" question, and insists the all that is rational in the world is the material world, then I know what the conclusion is before there is any discussion, and I think there can be no coming together of the minds of believers and non-believers in that scenario.

I have resolved it in my own mind through faith. Since that is, by definition, not rational to a nonbeliever that is a non starter for dialogue. I do not believe we are wired to know the answer to the question of theodicy.

I say that intentionally because the question of theodicy is a theological question. It is not an issue that can be discussed outside of the believing community without knowing what the forgone conclusion of that discussion will be, because, by definition, it assumes faith on the part of those who discuss it.

If you take it outside of the realm of faith then I believe that all a nonbeliever can conclude is that faith makes no sense. But I know no one who truly has faith who ever argued that faith made "sense" to a nonbeliever.

So when, in the enlightenment, inquisitive non believing philosophers took up theodicy as a matter of whether faith made sense it was inevitable that they would conclude that faith made no sense. That was then seen as shocking because nobody of educated stature had, up to then, argued that against the overwhelming dominance of believers in the ruling elites of the Western world.

That broadside from non-believing philosophers resulted in theologians responding in a bellicose blustering and arrogant dismissal of the philosophical attacks. I understand the frustrations of those theologians who felt that they were being forced to discuss faith in the context of 19th century forms of philosophical logic. That was in part, of course, because they were playing by the other guy's rules. And when they could not win by those rules they decided to yell instead. It was not pretty.

Within the context of theology, as a believer I think the issue of theodicy is simply not solvable if one is not willing to admit that God, in one way or the other, is responsible for evil in the world, if in no other way than by allowing it. Even if we can agree that human evil is at least explainable by the doctrine of free will, and I can make a strong case for that, we cannot account for accident, natural disasters and disease, etc.

The odd thing is that ultimately to have faith one really does have to be like Job. What is odder yet is that Christians have such a hard time understanding that. That probably explains why that odd book of Job was left in the Bible, even though it is very likely not even a story of Hebrew origin, because it poses the hardest question about having faith: if faith requires it, can you have the faith of Job? Most people would opt out if that were put to them boldly like that. I don't, but I have made that choice long ago.

I certainly understand how and why you come to your position. I was there myself for a lot of years. I think that as long as we think about issues like these and believe that all that is relevant is what you call rational thought then we will end up about where you are.
But faith is not a rational decision. It is an issue of the heart, if you will, and unless one makes a "leap of faith" I really do not think it is possible to understand why a believer would accept the implications of theodicy and still have faith. I never have claimed that faith is remotely like scientific thought.

I do not argue the legitimacy of faith on my blog and will not argue it with others. Faith is a given here. If that is a problem for anyone they should simply not come here. I do not tell anyone what to believe and I do not sell my belief to others. And I certainly do not tell nonbelievers how wrong they are, regardless how I may feel about that.

Take care.

Monte
Though as a believer I find comfort in God's mercy and love, His mystery keeps me coming back for more. Like the saying goes, there's a God-sized void in all of us and nothing can fill it except Him. As intelligent sentient beings, we would be bored wouldn't we, if we knew it all? And like the prince of darkness who knew too much for his own good, abused it and fell from heaven and that's why we're in the predicament we're in now!
Hi, Anne, good to have you rummaging around in some of my earliest OS essays on faith. I think your take on the entire issue of God, our restlessness until we rest in God, and the mystery that is not ours to know reflect closely my own sentiments on the subject.

God bless,

Monte