This will be my last post on the problem of evil. I think I’m ready to go back to less boring, less mysterious and less dark topics … topics more warm and fuzzy and enjoyable … topics like death and funerals and caskets and stuff.
The philosophical-ish answer that most Christians have to the problem of evil is this: in order for love to be possible, God had to give us freedom of the will (cause love has to be in freedom); instead of using our freedom to love God, we abused that freedom in rebellion against God and so all the evil in the world is a result of our collective sin.
And, I, for the most part, agree with that logic. But, I don’t buy it entirely because I think it gives us too much credit. And here’s why I don’t fully buy it:
Part of the fear among Reformed Theologians is that once we say humans are absolutely free, we can say that humanity can do nearly anything without God … and we therefore begin to develop a humanistic approach to life, instead of a Christ centered approach.
The basic fear of Reformed Theologians is Pelagianism … the belief that humanity can reach salvation by our own choice, by our own power … that we’re all basically good. On the other end (which has been adopted by Reformed theologians) is the Augustinian version … that humanity is entirely sinful … in fact, we’re sinful by nature, unable to move in the right direction save by the irresistible grace of God.
I used to say that I believe in a semi-Pelagianism … meaning that I don’t necessarily see the two positions as diametrically opposed … that we don’t have a sinful nature that causes us to do evil all the time, but we still need the Lord’s grace to be saved. In fact, I believe that God himself is salvation so that it’s simply impossible to say we can be what we’re supposed to be without Him.
But I’ve refined that position. I still hold to a semi view, and I still deny that our nature is inherently sinful, but I simply see free will as very limited. I now believe more so in a semi-Augustianism.
My move to semi-Augustianism isn’t because I’ve lost faith in humanity, but because I’ve seen over and over again how desperately humanity needs God’s practical, empowering love coupled with the discipline of the Holy Spirit and the accountability of His Church.
And I’ve matured. I’ve realized that the will is limited and/or less restricted by:
Access to technology \ science
So we aren’t just free to respond, there’s levels of respond-ability, so that the “free” part of will is often relative.
It’s too easy for us to assert that free will means that we can just somehow do what we want. And, especially as white, middle to upper class Americans, that assertion is somewhat true.
I like calling that “I can do what I want”, semi-Pelagianism type of free will a strong volitionalism. Where as the view I’m leaning towards is a weak volitionalism.
And I do believe that God’s grace enables us in such a way that “nothing is impossible”, but those possible and impossible things we do are somehow related to the practical grace/love/power of God in our lives . . . even if we don’t recognize his presence in our lives.
With a weakened view of the will, I simply don’t see the whole problem of evil as simply a product of humanity’s rebellion. The majority of the problem may be due to our rebellion … but it’s more complex than that. There are other forces at play than simply man’s sin. To say that the whole problem of evil is simply because of a misuse of man’s will is to giving us a little too much credit … a little too much power … a little too much will.
It’s simply a complex issue, one that hopefully makes us look inward, makes us look at the cross, makes us look outward and then makes us repeat the whole process again.
And, honestly, when the rubber meets the road, and a newly young widow is weeping over the tramatic loss of her husband, I think its too simplistic and cold for pastors to resond to her “why”s with the nice, easy, pat answer: “its all because of sin.”
Sin is cyclic…
Last night a group of five of us gave a first-time chapel service to about 50 juvenile sex offenders. They were a crew of 14 to 19 year olds from all over the East Coast who had been charged with a serious sex crime.
For teens, a “serious sex crime” is often limited to:
sexual assault of a child or minor, and
I was given the opportunity to share with them for about 15 minutes. And although I knew going into this chapel service that I was going to be the main speaker, I didn’t want to prepare a message full of statements. Being that it was a smaller group that could respond to me while I spoke, I instead prepared a message full of questions.
The first question I asked was this: “How many of you have been seriously hurt by others in your lives?” They all raised their hands.
The assumption with children and teenagers … especially these kids … is that they were first victims. Victims who became victimizers. Most of us follow the same process. When we are hurt, we react in retaliation.
Then I asked them, “How many of you have wanted to hurt others in the same way that you’ve been hurt?” Same response. Some of them blurted out, “I want to hurt them worse.”
Most of us react proportionally to the seriousness of our pain. If someone cuts us off while we’re driving, we might flip a finger, or shout something out. On a more serious level, if somebody abuses us physically we may try to abuse others or, possibly, abuse ourselves through substances.
The sad thing for these kids that we visited last night was that many of them were in juvie for the sins of somebody else. Yes, they’re still guilty of their crimes, but they were first victims.
They had been raped.
They had been sexually molested.
They had been sexual assaulted.
They had been the victim of a crime they didn’t have the power to stop. They had been overpowered and exploited.
As I was closing, I asked them, “If you had the power to hurt those who hurt you, what would you do?”
They all replied they’d inflict all the pain they could. And their story is the story of the world. A story of abuse, exploitation, reaction and retaliation. A story of war, of hatred, of tribalism, of divorce of revenge. Speaking to these 50 juvenile sex offenders, I was speaking to the story of humanity.
A story that has been slowly changing towards redemption through the introduction of a new narrative.
Jesus came to this earth with all the potential power that He wanted. He healed the sick, raised the death, touched the untouchable and healed the souls of the broken. He never used His might for evil. Even His enemies said He was innocent. Yet, He was outcast, beaten, spit on, possibly raped (if was acceptable for soldiers to rape criminals) and eventually killed at the request of those he loved.
He could of … maybe even should have … destroyed His enemies … He had the power to, but He didn’t. I explained to them that the only innocent person who EVER walked the earth was abused to the point of death, but instead of reacting in retaliation, He forgave and redeemed.
These kids where fixated on the message. It wasn’t my message; it was a new perspective, a new story, a different option that began to melt the coldness of their hearts, just like it has millions of others throughout history, including my own.
Sin is cyclic … but so is love. With one act of grace, a new narrative has been born … again and again.
From Michael Yaconelli’s book, “A Messy Spirituality”:
“In a book by New Zealand author Mike Riddell, Vincent has met and fallen in love with a young girl named Marilyn. Neither one of them is seeking a relationship, but a relationship is seeking them. Swept up by their emotions, the two become deeply involved. Marilyn, a prostitute, is not prepared to fall in love and is certainly not prepared for the honesty love requires. She must tell Vincent who she is, knowing full well that her painful disclosure will probably mean the end of their relationship.
“There’s ah…there’s something we need to talk about.”
“Only if you want to. I’m happy just to sit here and look at you. Sorry, this looks like something serious.” Looks a lot like the intro to the Dear John speech, truth be told.
“It’s about me and what I do.”
“Yeah, I wondered when you were going to pluck up the courage to talk about it. Don’t tell me, you work for the CIA, right? Sorry, sorry, I’ll shut up.”
She is totally absorbed in the remains of her salad, scrutinizing it for something. Anything to avoid his eyes.
“There’s no easy way of saying this. I’m a prostitute. I sleep with men for my living. It’s a business. I’m very professional.”
Time and silence have this thing they do together. They make a chasm that has no bottom to it. And there you are, standing right on the edge of it. Aware that at any moment you may be falling and falling and falling, with no hope of recovery. At the moment they are at either side of it, each consumed by their private terror. She looks up at last from her salad. Vincent is crying. The tears streaming down his cheeks, and he is biting his lip to stop himself from sobbing.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to deceive you. I’m sorry, Vincent. I’m sorry.”
He can’t speak. He wants to, but nothing is working. He is looking at her, at her beautiful face, at her eyes, at the slight hardness around her mouth. And weeping and weeping. She reaches a hand across to hold his. She is beyond tears, empty and bleak and barren. Vincent is mumbling something, but is incoherent through the pain. And then he begins to repeat it again and again.
“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you…”
This is the worst thing she has ever heard in her life. She wants to scream, to break something, to tip over the table in rage. Instead some continental shelf rips loose within her. She begins gulping and moaning, a terrible agonizing cry from another place. And the tears are flowing. They grip each other’s hands, and lean their foreheads together. The tears are flowing into the abyss, and there is no end to them.
Yaconelli comments on this story, “Marilyn expected Vincent to reject her, to pull away from her, to have nothing to do with her. In a strange and touching way, Vincent did what Jesus would do; he looked beneath her behavior, saw her longings, and all he could do was weep. She expected criticism; what she received was understanding. Instead of hearing words of condemnation, Marilyn heard over and over again, ‘I love you.’ (2).
Jesus doesn’t forsake sinners, He redeems them. And yet, we as his followers often do the opposite … we forsake sinners and redeem ourselves.
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