Monday, May 19, 2008

Natural Evil (part 2): According to Diogenes Allen

In my last post on I dealt with somewhat of a side issue to the purpose of the book, though important to Hasker's discussion nevertheless. This time I want to continue this subject with Hasker's evaluation of Diogenes Allen's position. The next post will be dedicated to discussing and assessing Hasker's own formula for developing a theodicy, particularly focusing on natural evil.

Diogenes Allen was the Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1967-2002. He wrote much in the way of dealing with the problem of evil. So much so that he warrants the appraisal in Hasker's book. Hasker breaks down Allen's position on natural evil as having three "actions," or responses. First, Allen calls us to a renunciation of egoism exemplified by the Stoicism of Epictetus. That is, we need to take into account the cosmological whole and realize that we are but one item among many in a vast interconnected whole. As such, not everything that takes place goes according to our will, and we must see our individual role with the larger framework of universe; thus our mindset must begin here.

Secondly, Allen states that we must accept (and acknowledge) the suffering that besets us because we can find comfort in God's loving presence. According to Allen, suffering can teach us that we are a very small part of the universe and that we are not to expect as much as we do from its workings. He goes on to say, when this is learned, we can then see more soberly and accurately what it does provide for us. In other words, God's working through the universe contain suffering, but we can rest easy that he cares for us through them (perhaps an allusion to Romans 8:28).

Thirdly, Allen goes on to utilize the influence of Simone Weil, who attributed the various affliction and degradation as the opportunity for God to display his love. Allen approves of her position in which takes the superlative act of God's love to be the affliction of Christ. That is, God showed his Son just how much he loved him through this act of suffering.

The first two actions which Allen's purports we should take a stance toward I think have merit. There is a sense in which we should look at the grand scheme of things and see ourselves in light of it. I also believe that we should see the current sufferings of the world in light of our loving Father in heaven (Rom. 8:18). And while I'm sure the third action is much more fully developed by Allen himself through various writings and lectures, I have a difficult time understanding how it lines up with Christian theism. She along with Allen attempt to justify the evil as part of God's original plan, though, it appears, not in the sense that Calvinist's may understand. Apparently for God to show his love, he is to do so through permitting affliction. That is, it is "in the act of suffering" that God shows his love; not his redeeming us from, or comforting us through, the suffering. I, along with Hasker, find this untenable, though for different reasons. Hasker notes that it would be difficult for an individual to look at the holocaust with all of its horrendous affliction as an "act" of God's love, and I agree with him. Hasker also notes the inapplicability of this to small children; again, I agree. But to me there is another issue at stake. It seems to assume that God cannot show his love otherwise. Could God not show his love through the means of creating good image bearers which would enjoy his presence [and creation] through all of eternity? Now I'm not sure whether Allen or Weil see the permission of evil by God as the "only" way in which God can express his love, but from Hasker's evaluation it appears to be that way.

In the end, Hasker takes Allen's view as inadequate for dealing with the philosophical problem of evil, which I would agree, especially on action 3. Though Hasker does praise Allen's take on natural evil in which nature operates according to its intrinsic, God-create laws, which are impersonal in form and do not have regard to the lives and welfare of particular individuals. Seeing where Hasker plans on going with his overall development of a theodicy, I suspected this would be the road he was planning to take. I'm going to stop here for now and refrain from offering my own evaluation of how one might understand natural evil, mainly because I want to discover how and where Hasker plans on developing it. The next twenty pages of his book he plans to offer not only his requirements for a theodicy, but also his explanation for natural evil.

Stay tuned.

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