Friday, March 8, 2013

Evil as Purposelessness and the Problem of Evil

When we talk about the Problem of Evil, there are really multiple problems we may be talking about.  There is an intellectual problem, which involves dealing with evil as potential evidence against the existence of God.  Then there are various psychological or emotional problems, which involve some kind of psychological or emotional disturbance relating one's belief in, trust of, or relationship with God to some particular evil(s) one is being confronted with.  The latter, of course, often leads to or is connected with the intellectual problem in obvious ways. 
There are various reasons, not necessarily mutually exclusive, why we might suddenly be having trouble with God and evil when faced with some particular evil(s):
(1) We had never really carefully considered evil before or ignored the sufferings of others and so did not previously really appreciate its true awfulness.  This obviously leads into the intellectual problem. 
(2) We are treating ourselves as more important than others or somehow special.  This invites the response, "You knew all about these horrible evils in the world before - what makes you so special that when it happens to you it's suddenly problematic but not when it happens to others?"
(3) We are experiencing the evil as a disruption or dark time in our relationship with God (perhaps a sense of abandonment) and just want the feeling of that relationship to return.  This is more Job's response.
(4) We are dealing with the felt need to give the evil we are facing meaning or a specific purpose.  This is generally accompanied by the assumption that if God is completely sovereign this evil must have a very specific, unique meaning and purpose inherent in it.  The evil, however, seems senseless, pointless and often the feeling of the person going through is "Why, God, why?"  This is the source of trouble I'll be focusing on in the rest of this post.
A response to (4): Even if everything is in God's plan and even if we took a strong Calvinist-type view, that still doesn't actually require each evil to have a special, unique meaning and purpose inherent in it.  God can and will use evil to bring about good or will redeem that evil, but that doesn't mean it has a special and unique meaning and purpose all on its own.
An idea: Think of evil and godlessness as absurdity, as purposelessness.  Our present evil age is characterized by this.  Tragic evil is senseless on its own.  God can bring good out of it, but that doesn't make it any less senseless in its own right.  We can think of the kingdom of God, then, as bringing meaning and purpose to this earth - there is no (ultimate) meaning or purpose outside God.  As Ecclesiastes asserts, life in this current world-state, in that shadow of death and the meaningless absurdities that characterize it, is but vapor.  Only in God is there any transcendence of this - meaninglessness will be swallowed up in meaning, pointless absurdity in glorious purpose.
Evil, then, can be thought of as deviation from the ultimate purposes and plans of creation set forth by God.  It is malfunction, things falling from their goals, failing to be what they should be.  Even if we are speaking of an elevated sovereign will of God as opposed to some other aspect of his will, particular evils can still count as purposeless in just that sense of having no particular, unique purpose to them.  One can think of them, for instance, as spandrels, a byproduct of bringing about things with purpose, or in other ways such that this way of thinking can still remain compatible with a strong view of the divine plan and providence. 

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