Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Wild Theology: Why I think "Why?" is the wrong question

A little over a week ago I had a great evening with a friend with whom I regularly discuss theological and philosophical issues.  The heart of the matter on this particular evening (besides a good brew at the Gulu-Gulu and Arturo Fuente cigars) was the problem of evil, or "why God allows" terrible things to happen in the world.

As my friend (and I mean "friend" in the fullest capacity of trust and respect) started this line of concern, I mentioned that it was not a question I found myself asking - ever.  I furthermore went on to state that not only was I not wired that way, but that my philosophy of God, time, and the nature of sin did not make a place for this question of "why" to make much sense.

We went around for quite some time on this issue, and we had some interestingly humorous exchanges such as:

Friend:  "I want to know why God allows suffering in the world."
Me:  "I don't think 'why' is the right question to be asking."
Friend:  "Why do you say that?"

Toward the end of the discussion there was a little light at the end of the tunnel.  Not that he came around to my opinion, but that he finally understood what I was saying, and commented, "Oh, I see what you mean.  That makes sense."

I am not expecting people to come around to my position, because it may require a series of readjustments on theological presuppositions, which you may not be willing to compromise on.

Nonetheless, here are MY REASONS for believing that "Why" is the wrong question in regards to the problem of evil, and perhaps it will help others as well.

1)  I believe in a simple view of time.  Time is not a "thing" in my view.  The past does not exist as a thing, or a place to be visited.  The future does not exist.  It has not come to pass, and thus the present is all that there is.

Similarly, God does not live in the future, nor in the past.  These are not places to go, and to speak of them as places God exists is to offer the illogical idea that God lives in a place that does not exist, as if to say He lived in Wonderland with Alice, or Mordor with Sauron.

This position is held by very orthodox - yes, and even reformed theologians.  

This in itself does not keep me from asking the question "why" about the nature of evil, but it allows me to remember that God did not unalterably create all things past, present, and future at once.  The future is yet to be.  It is unwritten.  So, the future is not necessarily hurtling toward me with some terrible purpose designed by God to torment me.

Yet, this simple view of time does not even come close to completing the picture of why I think "Why" is not the right question to ask about the problem of evil.

2)  I am not a determinist.  Although simple time and a determinism are not necessarily independent and self-contradictory, I am free to hold a non-deterministic position in regards to history, because I believe in simple time.  Not every action has been pre-determined by God to happen in an exacting detail.  Because the future does not yet exist, there are things which will occur based upon choices that we make in the present, and therefore we are all co-creators of both the present and the future by means of the choices we make daily.  World history is wild and growing like weeds in the garden of God.

In this non-deterministic world-view I am able to see myself and others as a source for both good and evil in the world.  God is not the end of all blame, nor the sole receptor of thanks, (Please note my careful wording of this my reformed friends. :-) and yet this point does not complete my reasons for not asking "Why?"

on point three I will get in the most trouble I am sure, but here it is anyway.

3)  I do not believe that God is in control of everything.  In fact, I chafe under the phrase that "God is in control" when it is tossed toward me as a catch all answer in times of difficulty.

The problem of control is one of the great problems of the world.  The world is wild and out of control.  Tyrants battle for control over the oppressed.  Husbands, wives, and children battle for control over one another.  Nations battle for control over resources of other nations.  This is part of the reason for the Cross of Christ - to speak to, and solve the problem of control under the model of sacrifice, humility, and offered submission.

Heck, I'm even having trouble allowing God to be in control of me.

If God was in control of the oppressor's emotions and actions at the time of murder and tyranny, then God would be an accessory to the crimes of murder and the tyranny, but the tyrant acted on his own behalf.  If I believed that every action was under submission and control of God then I would be led to ask "why" God allowed, or even performed the harmful things I struggle with, but even this does not complete the picture of why I do not think "Why" is the correct question.

4)  I do not believe that everything happens for a reason.  In fact, many things do not make sense. 

For me, this is part of the nature of sin.  Sin can not be expected to make sense at all times.  Sin may at times be part of certain individual's cruel and selfish plans, but much sin is simple unthinking self-gratification, or uncontrolled emotions-based response.  Thus every moment of existence is a wild, uncontrolled experience.

This world is not a safe place for control freaks, and control freaks may quite frankly be the worst thing for this wild world.

Sin and evil may have its reasons, but it does not necessarily make sense.  Why does the addict choose to fall into that lifestyle, which becomes so self-destructive?  Ultimately, (unless, of course, you are a radical behavioralist who sees everything through the deterministic lens) some things are simply senseless - they do not make sense.  Accidents are just that - accidents.  As parents, we sometimes ask our children "why" they did something, which was an accident.

"Why did you do that?!"
"I didn't mean to,"  followed by crying.

Sin like accidents, in its fullest expression does not make sense.

Let's rebel against the omnipotent, and benevolent  Creator of all things.  Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense doesn't it?

The Cross of Christ is in part the solution to the senseless behavior of rebellious beings, who have destroyed this world and its intended perfection.  The Cross did not come to make sense of senselessness, but to redeem us from senselessness, and bring about a positive ending to the failed and ridiculous enterprise of evil.  I do not think the Cross came to give us a reason for our troubles, but more simply to deliver us from them.


These are my primary reasons for thinking that the question "Why?" in regards to the problem of evil do not make sense.  For me to ask that question is to assume things, which I believe are not true:  That everything which happens is predetermined, that God is in control of all things, and that everything happens for a reason.

To ask the question "Why" assumes a plan on God's part to employ evil to create good, but I do not believe that He does that.  Rather, I believe that God turns the workings of evil around and redeems us in spite of ourselves, and evil is not being redeemed, or redefined as masked good.  Asking "why" assumes everything has a reason - I do not believe that.  It assumes that He was in control of all events leading to my trouble - I do not believe that.


Now this covers the issue of sin and human behavior, which leads to undeserved suffering.  I recognize that it does not yet speak to certain categories of suffering such as natural disaster, birth defects, and disease; or to the issue of Divine correction of the redeemed.  So it may only be a starting point for the discussion, but it does outline my core beliefs, which allow me to consider that the question "Why?" is the wrong question to ask God about suffering.

Have you ever noticed how trite and shallow it often both feels and sounds when you try to give someone a reason for "why" God allows suffering?  Have you ever noticed that it sometimes appears that we Christians are forced into a position of feeling like we need an answer for everything?  I for one don't want to fall into that trap.

I am willing to say that some things don't make sense.  My theology allows for that to be true.  I don't need an answer for everything, and if some things simply don't make sense, perhaps God won't need to have an answer either.

Now that's a wild theology isn't it?


Steve Hayes said...

Why does the Why-man think "why" is the wrong question?

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

But generally I agree with your conclusion. And i find your reasons 3 and 4 make sense.

The main reason I think it is the wrong question though is because it is a waste of time to dwell on it, and we're not going to find an answer. Evil is part of our experience. One of the interesting things about Genesis 2-3 is that it doesn't try to answer the "why" question, and doesn't really account for the source of evil - it emerges suddenly, inexplicably, in the good creation of God. The good creatures, the woman, the man, the snake, the garden, and suddenly evil emerges in their midst.

Pastor Phil said...

I love it! You crack me up Steve.

And yet, people do get stuck on why, don't they? I tend to blame our disfigured theologies in part, and modernity with it's tendencies to need an answer, and disdain mystery in part.

Jarred said...

Interesting. My immediate thought is to ask how your third point squares with the commonly held belief that God is omnipotent.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Jarred,

God being able to do anything, and actually doing everything are two different issues to me.

Could He take control? Sure. Are we all walking in His will, and under His authority - it certainly doesn't look like it, and reformed theology may tell us about the permissive will of God, but I am not sure that is as a good a point of reference as simple stating that God is not controlling all people, nor is He actively controlling all things we experience.

I am not saying that He can not do all things, or that He is negligent, but I am still saying that He is not controlling all things.

This may seem to be a matter of semantics, but I think of it as the development of a theology of Freedom.

K.W. Leslie said...

Not that wild. I believe the same things.

In my experience Reform theologians might likewise believe in a simple view of time, but despite that, they still believe God's in absolute, deterministic control of every facet of the universe, which is why theodicy is such a tricky subject for them.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Kdub,

Of course, I really don't mean "wild" as in crazy, but rather as a definition of a more chaotic, and anarchist theology - As in a wild world, a wild God, a wild rebellion against God, and a penchant toward wildness in both goodness and in sin.

Giant Slayer said...

I have often thought the idea that everything happens for a reason is one of the dumbest ideas to have ever been thought. It is one from which much frustration has arisen.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Giant Slayer,

Not just a dumb idea, but perhaps a giant to be slain.

Giant Slayer said...

Thinking on your blog. Why is never a question I personally ask as I have no value for it. But I think the answer comes simply. Why? Because God allows choices to be made. If no one were allowed to make a choice, there would be no evil. The presence of evil is simply an evidence God loves us enough to let us make choices. Though, as the love God grows in us, we will grow to desire to make choices of whose product is that of no further evil.

Beth P. said...

Hi Phil--
Where have you been?
Oh, it's me that's been under a rock somewhere, sorry.
Hope you are well!

Enjoyed this post very much, and even agreed with most of it.

In my old age, I'm coming to think that Whitehead was more and more accurate, with some nuancing--that God IS the process of becoming. That there is no end point and no beginning, and that the stories we live by are just our best attempts to engage.

Just a thought.
Nice to connect with you--

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Beth,

Good to see you here. I hope all is going well for you under that rock. I've been under one as well, and feeling a bit squished by it.