Monday, September 15, 2008

Musings on Creation, Theodicy, and C.S. Lewis

When discussing the problem of evil, I tend to get tripped up on the issue of natural disasters. The created order appears to take lives indiscriminately. Moreover, we have no recourse to standard theodicies when addressing natural disasters, since most explanations of evil have to do with free will and human personhood. These sorts of explanations seem unhelpful when discussing natural evils. God could - in theory - override nature without "violating" anyone's will or personhood. Yet, God permits natural disasters which kill millions of people. Why does he do it?

Paul says that creation is groaning because of human rebellion, and the curse such rebellion ellicits (Rom 8:18-25). Humans are integrally related to the world God created for them, though the exact nature of this interelation is not clear. Our sin introduces systemic flaws into the created order. However, while we know this to be the case, we can't explicate the precise cause and effect relationship between human rebellion and systemic imperfection in creation. "Why" and "how" questions still linger. Is there anyting more we can say about natural disasters, humanity, and theodicy? I think so.

Last week, my dad preached a great sermon on the problem of evil. After the sermon, someone commented to him that Adam and Eve would not have survived the fall unless creation fell with them. If creation remained untainted by human rebellion, it would have been too glorious for humanity to endure. Imperfect humans could not exist in a perfect creation, since the resplendency of such a world would surely obliterate them. C.S. Lewis made a similar point in The Great Divorce. The protagonist happens upon heaven, and realizes that it is almost unbearably solid.

It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison.
[The Great Divorce (New York: Touchstone, 1996); 28-29]

It appears the only "hospitable" earth for treasonous sinners is one with imperfections. Once we concede this point, we realize that natural disasters and other systemic flaws go part and parcel with living in a habitable world. We are not yet ready for the "realness" of the world Lewis describes.

No doubt many have made the point I am making. However, it has helped me to view our deeply distorted world through a whole new set of lenses.


Brian said...

Jeffrey, your recent post on creation stood out, at least for me, at this time. I would have to strongly disagree with two fundamental points, that, in my opinion, form far too much damaging theology. Number one, the idea that natural disasters are evil, or, as you say, "natural evils." Humans have been attempting to explain the "randomness" of such events since humans could articulate an idea. To say these events are "evil" is impart a moral judgement on a natural process. A hurricane is no more evil than the earth spinning and creating sunrise and sunset. It simply is. Humans need to feel there is order, and in the face of seemingly random destruction or benefit, we create stories and myths. (in the same line, the two creation myths in Genesis are from the same process) The second point, closely tied with my first, is the continued illusion of an "Adam and Eve." We can certainly speak of the progenitor of humanity in a mythological and metaphorical manner, but to equate a non-event such as the "fall of humanity" as told in the Genesis myth is to again attempt to explain the unexplainable. Humanity is no more flawed than the rest of creation. Just like the wanton terror of a tornado, humans are inexplicably capable of unexplainable horror. To attempt to explain this uncomfortable fact of our very DNA is to pull the covers over our heads so we can't see the monster. Paul, a product of his time, certainly could not have foreseen the knowledge we posses today. While I do love the writings of Tolkien, his Catholic faith no doubt blinded him to scientific thinking and discoveries even in his early 20th century.

Michael said...


From your post, it seems clear that God has not (at least to this point) chosen to remove your spiritual blindness, and that you are holding to all you can see...a naturalistic worldview. So naturally this seems to you like "...too much damaging theology...", since the post rests upon the correct baseline foundation of the inerrancy of scripture, the depravity of man, and the effect God tells us that man's sin has inflicted upon creation.

In some respects however, I do agree with you against assigning a moral judgment to natural processes. It is my suspicion that in all of God's creation, only man operates in opposition to God's directives. It is clear from many instances in the Bible that nature is all too willing to take direction from is man that is flawed and in a naturally hateful relationship with his creator.

While Paul would no doubt be surprised by our current level of scientific understanding, unfortunately he would not be surprised at mankind's continued blindness to spiritual truths unless regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, if we were depending upon Paul's personal views to fill the pages of scripture, that would be one thing, but all scripture is directly from God...Paul (and his amanuensis) were merely tools used to reveal His truths to us. As such, Paul's scientific acumen would produce at best a negligible effect to the content of scripture.

May God reveal Himself to you my friend...

Jeffrey said...

Brian - I appreciate your feedback. It's instructive to hear from those who strongly disagree with you. I think we're approaching the question of evil from different frameworks. I'm trying to construct a theodicy; specifically, a Christian theodicy . This entails, (1) taking some "givens" (i.e. things that orthodox Christians believe), (2) assessing potential inconguities in/defeaters for this set of beliefs, and (3) trying to resolve incongruities and defeat defeaters. All that to say, I'm trying to address purported inconsistencies within the orthodox Christian worldview.

Michael - I don't see a problem with assinging the term "evil" to natural processes. Evil can be anything which causes harm, suffering, or destruction. The created order is under God's sovereignty (Ps 19), but I don't think this necessitates that all of creation operates as God originally intended (hence the need for a redeemed creation). Moreover, its interesting that the biblical writers use the image of the sea to describe forces inimical to God (Gen 1:2; Rev 21).