Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Temporary Suffering

Many skeptics highlight their argument that a loving and benevolent God would not permit evil, decay, pain, suffering, or death. If God is both omnipotent and good, certainly he would permit only goodness and righteousness to exist, the argument goes. Moreover, he would not permit any physical laws such as the Law of Decay to operate to limit their comfort or diminish their lifespans. This proposal is offered by skeptics to strengthen their argument against God. Sometimes even believers in God agonize over these issues. The argument is a classic case of begging the question or circular reasoning: a conclusion is offered initially as a supporting premise of the argument.

Evil has several dimensions. Not only is evil considered volitional moral failure. It also includes harmful events such as natural disasters bringing pain or death. Often the question of evil is connected with discussions on the existence of God and his role in reality as we experience it.

Could illness, trouble, and grief in this world play any part in God’s redemptive plan? Answers to these questions are complex and far-reaching but they are worth investigating. A previous post addressed some of the positive aspects of the Law of Decay with respect to God’s divine plan. We reprint a portion of a previous post relevant to our recent posts’ discussions of illness and bodily decline.

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Human autonomy and the autonomy of our physical cosmos to operate with the purpose for which God created it, is a double-edged gift. The benefits of the Second Law of Thermodynamics are overwhelmingly positive for the human race. There are virtually no human physical activities which do not involve some application of energy consumption, energy conversion, or energy flow which are not an illustration of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Law of Decay. Too often we cite our deteriorating bodies, automobiles, or homes as a deleterious outcome of this law. Indeed, these situations are unwelcome handicaps. But in other examples, the Second Law enables us to think, digest food, stay warm, work, and travel from place to place.

One outcome of the operation of the Second Law is the depressing deterioration of our physical bodies and our ultimate death. We do well not to trivialize the tragic impact of the death of our physical body. May Christian writers attribute death—the death of all creatures—to the sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Credible scriptural support for this concept is lacking. In the scope of God’s plan for this temporal sphere of existence, scripture indicates the sin of Adam resulted in the spiritual death of all men. Animal death is not indicated: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12 ESV). The context of Romans 5 is spiritual death and reconciliation. Animals do not sin, so their death could not have resulted from their own sin. Moreover, animal life and death had existed on this earth long before Adam—for many millions of years. Plentiful microbial death millions of years ago on early earth was the outcome of the Second Law operating since the time of creation. This large scale death has provided plentiful mineral resources for the sustainment and enrichment of our modern life.

Instructive discussions of these issues have been provided in Why the Universe is the Way it is by Hugh Ross (Baker Books, 2008): “This universe with all its features, laws, and dimensions represents the perfect theater for enactment of God’s redemptive drama. By its physical constraints, God limits the spread of evil, encourages the spread of virtue, and demonstrates his great love for humankind. According to the Bible, this temporal universe provides an essential proving ground to test each human heart (in the spiritual sense) and prepare those who pass the test for life in a completely new realm, one that includes all the features we long for and more—the perfection we can barely imagine.”

Why would an all loving God subject humans to “the tribulations and tragedies of this present world?” Hugh Ross continues, “One partial answer may be that if evil and suffering are temporary and humans eternal, then each person’s encounters with these troubles and griefs may serve as preparation for some high reward not possible otherwise. This consideration might also imply that humans are part of God’s strategy to bring about a total and permanent triumph of good over evil.”

Finally, Hugh Ross asks, “Why didn’t God just place Adam and Eve in the New Creation to start with?” Ross continues, “It appears that unless humanity is exposed to and tested by the greatest possible temptation, the most compelling attraction of evil, in the first creation—the rewards, pleasures, and relationships of the New Creation cannot be made both perfect and permanent.” 

We read about the New Creation in Revelation 21-22.