Does God Exist? by Nathan Renner

This is posted here for reference – My review and response to this article

Does God Exist? by Nathan Renner WWII Story

How can this story harmonize with the existence of a good God? Perhaps surprisingly, I am persuaded that the woeful condition of our world harmonizes profoundly and precisely with a good God; even a great God–even the most conceivably good God. In fact, I will argue that our world is exactly the kind of world a perfectly good, perfectly holy, and perfectly benevolent God would create. This evening, I will present 2 lines of evidence:

I. Let’s begin by looking squarely at the challenge: Epicurus in the third century before Christ asked, “Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing. Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

In order to address this question we should let the great Scottish philosopher John H. Hick, frame the problem, “If God is perfectly loving, he must wish to abolish evil; and if he is all-powerful, he must be able to abolish evil. But evil exists; therefore God cannot be omnipotent and perfectly loving.”

However this argument relies on a faulty understanding of omnipotence. Omnipotence, by it’s nature comes with certain inherent limitations.

If, with omnipotence, everything were possible–everything!–then that would include the impossible, because “everything,” as a universal set, must contain “the impossible” as well.  

Gregory Boyd articulates the limitations of omnipotence compellingly, “There is no reason to avoid saying God can’t do some thing so long as we are clear that this “can’t” is the logical consequence of decisions God has made.”

A few examples might be in order: Can omnipotence create a triangle that has four sides? No? because the moment it has four sides it’s no longer a triangle. Can omnipotence create a circle with a square edge? No because the moment it has a square edge it’s no longer a circle. Can omnipotence make 2+2=5? No,because the moment it’s 5 it’s no longer 2+2. And can omnipotence create a love that is forced? No, because the moment that it is forced it’s no longer love.

Just as a triangle, to be a triangle, must have three sides, so love, to be love, must be freely given. To force love is to annihilate it. Definitionally, Love, must be free. Or said another way, true love must give the right to not love.

Let me illustrate: If I were to pull out a gun and ask you to stand up, what would you do? Stand? What if I asked you to turn around? Would you? What if I asked you to stand on your head? You would try. What if I pointed the gun at you and said, Love me or I’ll pull the trigger. Could you? Of course not. Love is only love when it is free. Behavior can be compelled, but love by its nature requires freedom.

Freedom, however, involves risk because freedom can be misused. Indeed, as anyone who has ever been romantically involved can attest, freedom is risky business. And yet the risk is worth it. In fact, we often throw ourselves at the risk because of the promise of reward.

In this vein C.S. Lewis noted, “If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or joy or goodness worth having.”

Simply put, the only reason God would risk creating a world in which evil is possible, is because that is the only world in which, love, joy, and goodness would be possible. A world with freedom is a world in which evil is possible, a risky world; but it is also the only kind of world in which true love and freedom could exist.

To summarize this argument, we must ask, is the suffering of our world necessarily inconsistent with a good God? The answer is a definite no. In fact, I am persuaded that the woeful condition of our world harmonizes profoundly and precisely with a good God. Why? Because a good God, a God of love, would necessarily grant his creation freedom, and freedom necessarily involves risk. Indeed, within this context, the existence of evil and suffering is an evidence of a good God, a God of love who values freedom, who is willing to take the risk for love.

II. The question, Is God good, assumes that there is some objective standard of goodness, which God must meet in order to be good. However, without God, an objective standard of good does not exist. On this point there is tremendous agreement between, theists and atheists.

Jean-Paul Sartre the French existentialist philosopher said: “It is very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it.”

Don’t miss Sartre’s the point: without God there is no transcendent definition of good, and that’s distressing. All were left with is a human working definition of good. Where then do we get this working definition of Good?

The respected evolutionary biologist, George C. Williams sees morality as, “an accidental capability produced, in its boundless stupidity, by a biological process.” or again, the late J. L. Mackie, professor of philosophy at Oxford University said, “It is easy to explain this moral sense as a natural product of biological and social evolution rather than as having been implanted by an author of nature.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, the prolific atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood this all too well. “The end of Christianity,” wrote Nietzsche, “means the advent of nihilism.” (Nihilism is defined as: the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.) Nietzsche clearly taught that, only the man who is able to live beyond good and evil will acquire mastery in the coming age of nihilism, which stands already at the door.

There is near universal agreement, that without a good God, who set up objective standards of goodness, good becomes a creation of evolutionary biology, society, or some combination of the two. One society may have evolved to love their neighbor and another may have evolved to eat their neighbor. Which do you prefer? If goodness and morality are defined by biology and culture, what are we to do when a culture, such as Nazi Germany, decides that there is a moral imperative to exterminate 6 million Jews? Do we say, their good is defined by their culture… have at it? Clearly, Sartre was correct. Without God an objective standard of good ceases to exist and this is truly distressing.

You see, if the secular, rationalistic view corresponds to reality, then every star in the universe will one day burn out, the era of light will be over, and all life, memory, and consciousness will vanish into the nothingness from which it came. If true, this option means, of course, that the question, “why is there suffering?” has to be answered somewhat like this: “You can do nothing about suffering, because all suffering means nothing. How could it, when one day the stars will burn out, the universe will collapse upon itself, and all matter space, and time will disappear with absolutely nothing to show for all that came with it, including humanity?”

In the light of the futility of this world without a good God, Albert Camus remarked in the Myth of Sisyphus that suicide is the “one truly serious philosophical problem.” If there is no ultimate purpose why would we chose to continue to live?

If however, the Christian God exists and if His promises are trustworthy, then somehow beyond the stars, somehow beyond the margins of imagination, there’s an answer to the question of suffering, and it goes somewhat like this: “There is a greater good, one greater than all that has happened, and though that greater good seems impossible even as a possibility, much less a promise–it is a promise of God.”

Indeed every day we chose to live, we confess the truth that God is right. The risks and rewards of freedom are worth it.

III. This all begs the question: Why doesn’t God put an end to suffering now? Before we answer, let me ask you, if there was a Stop Evil Now button, would you push it? Before you answer let me tell you a story: When Aleksander Solzhenitsyn returned to his native Russia after long years of exile, he greeted all the people he met on his journey across Russia, including those local bureaucrats who had tyrannized their fellow citizens under the Communist system but who had stayed in office after 1989. Some objected: what was Solzhenitsyn doing fraternizing with these people who had been a part of the evil system? To which he responded, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago 1973)

Because we all have the line between good and evil running through us God has not pushed Stop Evil Now button. If he did he would obliterate each and everyone of us. And He simply loves us too much to do this. However, within the Christian worldview, God chose to meet the suffering and evil of this world by becoming one of us in the person of Jesus. He experienced evil at every level: political, social, cultural, personal, moral, religious, spiritual and he begin to redeem it by his life of ministry and his death, burial and resurrection for our sins. His desire is to forgive us for the misuse of our freedom, and that the goodness of God the love of God, would motivate us to use our freedom, in acts of selfless love for others.

Please imagine that your daughter has just been abducted and murdered by some vicious criminal. What do you feel toward the perpetrator? Are you angry? Yes, and rightly so. Raging, would be a better word. Would you call the police? Yes, of course. You might even hunt the murderer down yourself. Would you press charges? Yes, without hesitancy. Testify against the evil-doer? Yes! Demand that the full measure of justice be executed against the horrible person who did this to your child. Yes!!!!!

But now, as you’re feeling all those justifiable emotions, let me add another feature to the dark story: you turn to see that the apprehended murderer sitting in the back of the police car is your daughter. Not some no-name freak, but your very own daughter, whom you love with every ounce of your being, just as you do you son. She’s the one who killed your son. Now how do you feel? Have your emotions changed, become more complicated, conflicted? Are the justice issues as easy now? What form does your “goodness”, your “love,” take now? Suddenly you want justice for your murdered child and mercy for your guilty child.  

God is in this type of predicament on a universal scale. Every human being is known and loved by God with the intimacy of a parent for their child. And yet each and every one of us has misused our freedom. Each of us has caused pain. The line between good and evil runs right through the middle of each of us—and so for God it’s messy. If He puts an end to evil, He would put an end to us.

Why then did God risk it? To achieve the best possible world.

You see, we are not living in the best possible world. The best possible world is a world of absolute freedom, and universal love. We have only one of the two. However, this world is the best way to the best possible world. A world of absolute freedom, and universal love.

From the Christian perspective God has sought to achieve the best possible world through the work of Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus took upon himself the problem of evil. And as an act of judgment, God eliminated evil in the death of Jesus. Because Jesus always used his freedom for love he was resurrected.  

By trusting in God as He revealed himself in Jesus, we find forgiveness for the misuse of our freedom. Additionally, we are motivated by the example of Jesus to use our freedom to promote universal love.

Won’t you join me in accepting this plan to bring about God’s world of absolute freedom and universal love?

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