Monday, November 25, 2013

God, Freedom, Evil and Love

CBS Poll Assassination of JFK

Did Oswald act alone?
Yes 10% No 76%

Will we ever know the truth?
Yes 19% no 77%

-Distrust of government (even though few have actually considered the evidence presented by the Warren Commission)
-Refusal to accept that one person could be responsible for such evil and hurt

"I know it's more comforting to believe in plots, because if Kennedy could be killed that easily, by one sicko, what hope is there for the rest of us?" - Al on Quamtum Leap

The New Atheism / New Calvinism
My generation's time stopping event was 9/11. Ironically triggered two antithetical movements:

Triggered the rise of the “New Atheism” (aggressive, "religion is wicked" ideology)

In September Sam Harris was an unknown doctoral student who did not believe in God.
But after the World Trade Center crumbled on 9/11, he put his studies aside to write a book that became an instant best-seller -- and changed the way atheists, and perhaps Muslims, are perceived in this country.
Published in 2004, Harris's “The End of Faith” launched the so-called “New Atheist” movement, a make-no-apologies ideology that maintains that religion is not just flawed, but evil and must be rejected.
“New Atheists” Emerge from 9/11,
Huffington Post 8/26/11

Triggered the rise of the “New Calvinism” (belief that God predetermines everything that will happen, comprehensively and unconditionally)

Let’s look at a few ways in which the post-9/11 culture may have created an environment conducive to the rise of New Calvinism…Before September 11, my beliefs about evil and suffering had always bowed to the reality of free will:
God wants to be loved. Love cannot be forced. Therefore, God gives us free will. Anything bad that happens is a result of humans using their free will. God cannot be blamed.After September 11, this standard line of argumentation crumbled. Having witnessed the carnage of the terrorist attacks, I questioned whether free will was worth the trouble. Is it worth it having free will just so God can be loved without force? Isn’t there something bigger than our love for God?“September 11 and the Rise of New Calvinism,’
The Gospel Coalition blog, 9/6/11

What both have in common – God would not permit a few people to do so much evil

What Does Scripture Say?

  1. God created human beings with the freedom of choice – Genesis 2:15-17
  2. Human beings used that freedom of choice to rebel against Him – Genesis 3:6
  3. Human beings also used that freedom of choice to harm others – Genesis 4:6-8
  4. This freedom had been used to do incalculable harm to others, grieving God – Genesis 6:5-6, 10-11
So yes, God created human beings with free will, and permits us to do horrible things in rebellion against Him and violence toward others. Every suicide bombing and school shooting reminds us of these ancient truths.

Evil and Love

Why? There is no clear answer to this question, no explicit explanation. But there is a possible hint.

What is God's greatest priority? LOVE. He created us with free will in order to share love, knowing that those offered such love might reject (just as parents today have children to share love with even though it may be tragically rejected).

And of course this is God's highest priority for how we relate to one another, as demonstrated by this exchange and story: 

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do toinherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied,“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, English Standard Version)

Consider these points:
The story of the Good Samaritan's noble love is possible only because of the freedom of choice, including the freedom to do evil:

  • The robbers were free to savagely attack the man coming from Jerusalem.
  • The priest and Levite were free to pass by on the other side (fearing contamination?).
  • The Samaritan was free to choose to help, despite the centuries of antagonism between Jews and Samaritans.
Perhaps one reason that God permits the freedom to do evil is because this also affords human beings the opportunity to experience and demonstrate a deep, God-like level of love: undeserved kindness in the presence of evil.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, English Standard Version)
And in responding to evil with love, we actually participate in stopping the spiral of evil from continuing. This would be my response to the Calvinist who asked, "Isn’t there something bigger than our love for God?" I would not say this is something bigger, but it is something in addition to our love for God, namely, our becoming like God by loving as He loved.

We cannot forget that from the biblical point of view, God has show us love even though we were His enemies (Romans 5:8-10). God's choice (His sovereign right to make) was to permit evil, but then respond to evil with love. And now He calls us to do the same. He does so with the promise that as we face evil with love, we will never be separated from His love.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, English Standard Version)

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