Sunday, March 5, 2017

Theodicy: Problem of Evil Continued

This post is continuing a chain started on March 3, Theodicy Introduction.

I realized while thinking about the introduction to this series, as I discussed the problem of evil it was in an impersonal manner.  I discussed how the masses view it, as opposed to how it impacts you, the reader.  As our Savior is a very personal being it is more important that this applies to you than me simply attempting to answer a question the masses posed.

While the problem of evil is a general idea with predefined and argued attributes, it is something very real in every person's life.  Like the adage goes, "Life sucks, then you die," a constant across every life is suffering.  While I don't know what you have gone through, if you have not gone through a trial that has brought you to your knees, you will.  The worst of these trials are often more than we feel we can take.  Joseph Smith was one of the greatest men to live and in his darkest moment he plead "O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" (D&C 121:1)

Here, Joseph Smith was essentially asking the problem of evil himself.  I read that passage as, "God, you have all power.  I know you can end this suffering, I know you can.  And God, you love me.  So if you have all power, and if you love me, how can you see all that I and those I love are going through and still let us suffer?  You must be gone, gone into hiding, because if you were here I cannot understand how you do nothing!"

I read it this way because honestly that is how I have felt before in my life.  After a broken engagement, I asked this very question.  If I am being honest, I did not answer this question well.  I became angry and distant with God because I did not want the brand of love of He was offering.  This meant that as I dealt with my greatest suffering, I had to deal with it alone.  I forced out some of God's mercy.

As I answer the question of the problem of evil to the masses, I hope that I also find a way to make the answer personable.  So that when you come to a moment of suffering you will not forsake your greatest comfort as I once did.  To be like our Savior who in His suffering cried for His father to take away the bitter cup, but said "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42-43) And as Christ was then comforted with an angel of support, strengthening even the Son of God, I know God will give aid to you if you humbly seek him.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Theodicy Introduction

As I explained in my last post, part of my writing is to help myself to learn how to write.  This whole post though is very similar to a video posted in Crash Course Philosophy (the video can be found at the bottom of the post).  If you would prefer to watch the video (or read and watch!), feel free to do so.

As a scientist who also loves studying ancient scripture through the lens of scholarly work I often come in contact with those who adamantly disagree with God's existence.  There are countless arguments for and against God, but one that has rung throughout time is the problem of evil.  To sum it up essentially it asks if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (all knowing, powerful, and good/loving) than why does God allow evil in any form from the big things like Hitler down to small things like a bad hair day.  Opponents of God essentially say that if God has all these characteristics then He would know when evil would happen, have the power to stop it, and do so because of His goodness and love.  Since He does not, either this view of God is wrong or God does not exist.

A theodicy is an attempt to explain the existence of the omni-God (what I will call the view of God all the omni-attributes), especially despite the problem of evil.  A common one used in Mormon circles and among others is the Free-Will Defense.  That God allows and wants each of us to be free moral agents, and so He allows us to make choices that may cause harm due to His love.  He may have the power and knowledge to stop someone from doing something, but loves us enough to allow this to happen.

This brings up another key definition, the difference between moral evil and natural evil.  Moral evil is the evil caused by humans and their choices.  Natural evil though is the evil we have no control over like natural disasters or illness.  The Free-Will Defense only addresses moral evil, but does not answer why God allows natural evil in our lives.  Mormons again offer a common defense to this saying that natural evil is key to our growth and learning.  The point of life is to one day become like God, and we could not do that without facing natural evil leading to scriptures like, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6)  This is not alone to Mormons, as it is expressed quite well by John Hick as the Soul-Making Theory.

Most find this answer sufficient as to answer the problem of evil, but those who are not satisfied take the problem of evil a step deeper.  They will admit that things like the Free-Will Defense and the Soul-Making Theory explain the logical problem of evil, or why logically there is evil in the world.  They will argue however that it does not explain the evidential problem of evil, or the fact that there is SO much evil that often seems pointless, that does not actually prepare us to become as God is.  This evidential problem of evil is an epidemic in Israel.  Many many believe there that if there truly was a God then He would have stepped in before the Holocaust, and it is unconscionable that something as evil as the Holocaust was needed to bring about God's greater purpose.  They take it even a step further that if God can justify the Holocaust for some greater good, than they do not want to worship such a God even if He is real.

Having seen and secondarily felt the pain and anger these Jews feel, I simply cannot dismiss what they say.  There is an evidential problem of evil that makes it hard to answer how an omni-God could exist.  My hope however is my next few posts to address this very problem, step by step, and build my own theodicy.

Further, it is my hope in doing so that I can share some of the simple truths (dew of Heaven) I have been given in the process of understanding this myself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Starting Blogging Anew

Times before tried to blog and have found that I am easily distracted.  I have formed a new goal in my life however, to write a book.  As I started upon this endeavor however, I found my writing skills suck, inhibiting my ability to write a decent book.  Therefore I am recommitting myself to practice writing, primarily through blogging, to sharpen my skill set.  I love religious philosophy, and so that is what I will write on.

What I find of most value and clarity I will post here.  If I write something that needs to be thought out a bit more I will post it to, to keep what I post here of higher value.

I doubt many will read what I have to say here.  But it is my hope that through practice I will one day be able to share with the world the sublime truths, the dews of heaven, that God has distilled on my soul.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Who Knoweth Whether Thou Art Come For Such A Time As This

The title comes from (as many may recognize) the story of Esther.  Just in case whoever reading does not know the story of Esther, I'll summarize it here.  If you do know it, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.  In summary, the king of Persia decides he wants a new queen.  After searching, he chooses Esther, not knowing she is a Jew.  Later, Esther's cousin Mordecai (who also raised her), refused to bow down to the king's second in command Haman.  Mordecai refused for he was a Jew.  Haman was furious, and because of that he convinced the king that all the Jews must die.  At this point, Mordecai tells Esther that she must confront the king, reveal she is a Jew, and ask him to spare her people.  In this kingdom, any of those three things could have resulted in her losing her life.  She went though, and by so doing saved all the Jews.

Before she went and talked to the king, Mordecai told her these words as counsel and advice.  As I read the verse of the title (Esther 4:14) though, I found something intriguing.  It starts by telling Esther basically, if you don't do this, God will find another way to save the Jews.  But "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Putting it in this context, the famous question of perhaps being born for such a great occasion gains a lot of meaning for me.  We all have the parts of our life, like Esther, where we fear we will not be enough.  We fear that God has failed to make the right choice.  And we then may think, "Well, some other person can do that. God is all powerful, He doesn't need me."

The story of Esther challenges this though.  It admits that yes, without you God can still perform His miracles, but forces you to ask yourself if perhaps God has prepared the way so that you will be the miracle.  In the book of Esther, God is not specifically mentioned.  Go and look!  The words God, Lord, Jehovah, lamb, master, savior or redeemer or not found in it.  Also try to find some type of supernatural miracle we are so accustomed to in the Bible.  They aren't there.  In this book, God simply acts behind the scenes.  For this reason, to this day, Jews wear costumes each year as they celebrate their deliverance from Haman, celebrating when God acted "in disguise".

So how did God save all the Jews?  He prepared His servant Esther.  He delivered Esther to Mordecai after her father's death, He made her the most beautiful woman in the land, and He provided the opportunity for her to become queen.  God then used her at the opportune moment to save His people in a natural-even if miraculous-way.  So the question comes again, could God have chosen another way?  Of course.  But God chose Esther to be His method of deliverance.  She was born for such a time as that.

And so it is in each of our own lives.  Can God's miracles happen without us?  Yes, they can.  But God has chosen to work His miracles through us.  Each of us has something in us that God has planted, miracles waiting to sprout.  And when some challenge comes, and when we fear, we may want to run.  But the question made of Esther applies to us, maybe each one of us was born for such a time as this.  Maybe each one of us has been prepared for that moment.  Maybe God's choice is to work His great miracle through us.  

And I believe that is part of what He wanted to teach.  God can work without us, but that is not what He wants.  He wants to work with us and through us.  He loves us, and believes in us.  He knows, that with His caring love and guidance, we can be the provider of His miracles.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Adam and Eve

On a date a few months ago I said without thinking how on my mission I occasionally thought that when I got home some people would think I became more of a sinner and wonder what happened to me on my mission.  This was due to the sinful nature of the culture where I served, and while living in it and trying to teach in it, I had to adapt to those I taught.  Adapting meant though that I became part of a culture I never would have at home.  On my date I was unable to explain why I felt like that I might be considered a sinner at home, but I still could feel the spirit in my actions.  This also bothered me personally, I knew I felt the spirit, but I also felt uncomfortable with how I adapted.

At education week last week I feel as if I finally got an answer.  The teacher was using different women for examples of the bride for the bridegroom.  One theme used throughout the scriptures is of the great wedding feast, with Christ being the bridegroom and the church (and all of us) being his bride.  One of the first examples the teacher gave was Eve.  A comment he made that opened my vision, about what Adam chose when Eve presented him the fruit.  He knew what would happen to him by partaking the fruit, he wasn't deceived by the serpent.  Adam knew he would leave the presence of his Father, he would leave the paradisaical Garden of Eden, and he would lose his innocence.  Why did he partake of the fruit then?  He knew that the only way that Eve could be saved was for him to partake of the fruit and join Eve in mortality.  He had to leave all that was good and enter into spiritual death in order to help Eve be with him in the eternities.  And as her sealed eternal companion, he had an obligation to help her.

This is what Christ did for all of us.  He left the presence of the Father, passed through spiritual death, and tasted of all sin just so He might save us.  Christ did it knowingly just as Adam did, and saves all of those deceived by the serpent like Eve.  And as Adam was sealed to Eve, Christ was foreordained to save us.

To fulfill my calling as a representative of Christ, I feel this is what I had to do.  I had to understand a culture that at home I had refused to take part of.  I partook of the fruit that I before refused.  But for the same reason Adam did, to save someone I loved and more importantly was set apart to bring salvation to.  If I had not have been set apart to bring them salvation and felt the spirit guiding me in my actions, I would have been wrong to partake of that fruit.  And if my drive had been anything besides obedience to God and a love for the people, I would have been wrong even having been set apart.  And just as Adam was not immune to some punishments, I am not immune to consequences either.  I truly have lost a bit of my innocence.  I have to fight much more to keep my mind pure.  I don't wish to go further then needed about what partaking of that fruit has done to me, but the effects are there.  I had to sacrifice of myself for that people.  But just as Adam through the atonement found a path back to the Father, I know that God is with me and makes all my weakness strength.  And because my efforts were to follow God, I can hope my actions will be counted unto me as righteousness (D&C 132: 34-36).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We Are Never Alone

A recent ward challenge has caused me to start pondering on the topic of the Christ's suffering in the atonement. But not only in the traditional payment of our sins, but also the personal pain He must have felt. As many of us go through, Christ must have felt so alone. His friends fell asleep while he suffered in the garden. Even Peter denied him three times.

Many prophets have had similar cries. I think of Job who was called a "perfect man", or of Joseph Smith who cried out "O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" I love how this question is put in Psalms 116: "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul." Even Christ offered a similar prayer to his father in Gethsemane, "Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." As with the prophets, we know after Christ said these words an angel appeared and comforted him. This is the Father I've come to know in my life, the one who sends that reassuring hand when we reach our darkest moments.

What amazes me is to then consider what happened to Christ on the cross. Here, in the ninth hour, he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Throughout all scripture, God always appears to help His servants in their most desperate moments. Here, the most righteous of all - in mankind's most desperate moment - suffered all alone, without the help of His Father and our Father.  He truly suffered alone. 

There are many times where we feel this same way.  Where we feel that because of sin we are unworthy of God's presence and love.  While we are of course wrong because our Father never leaves us comfortless, what we feel matters.  And even in our worst pains, our Savior understands.  He knows how it feels to be truly alone, and to be left comfortless.  He has feel that agony personally, not just at our side in empathy.

So at any time we feel alone and that we need comfort, I know He is willing to come.  He suffered much more then just for our sins.  He suffered personally so he could know how each of us feel, and how I feel in my darkest moments.  How I am thankful.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I am that I am - אהיה אשר אהיה

We all know the story of God speaking to Moses from a burning bush. During this experience Moses asks what God's name is, and his response is אהיה אשר אהיה, usually translated as "I am that I am".

At a synagogue I recently went to the Rabbi offered an interesting change to this (which is a truly possible translation), "I am which I shall be". And that first "I am" in that would be similar to an imperative or command form, basically meaning that is a very strong way to say what you are.

She explained how in her opinion, God said that who He was is what he would do. So it wasn't just needful to have God's name, but God was going to show forth His fruit and show why Israel should trust in Him. And this is what our Father did.