A Discussion / Debate between New Apologetics and Catholic Philosopher Michael Liccione on The Possibility of Theodicy

February 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics, Counter-apologetics

Catholic philosopher Michael Liccione (https://www.facebook.com/mliccione) has invited New Apologetics to respond to his 1999 article “The Problems of Evil” (http://problemsofevil.blogspot.com/).

Our position at New Apologetics is diametrically opposed to the one expressed in the article to be critiqued.

Dr. Liccione argues that theodicy is impossible.

We at New Apologetics argue that a coherent and clean theodicy is not only possible, but claim to know the content of such a theodicy and how to articulate it.

We surmise that the ensuing dialogue will likely be highly engaging, informative, and fruitful.

Michael Liccione is a philosopher, educator, and writer, and holds a PhD in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from the University of Pennsylvania (https://www.facebook.com/UnivPennsylvania)

He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at Bryant & Stratton College, the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Catholic University of America, and St. Francis College.

Dr Liccione has also served as Assistant to the Editor for First Things (https://www.facebook.com/FirstThings?fref=ts)

The full text of Liccione’s article is included below.
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The Problems of Evil

Reflective persons in general join atheistic philosophers in posing a familiar dilemma: if God is all-powerful, he could prevent or eliminate the evil in his creation; if God is perfectly good, he would want to do that; so, whence evil? That describes in a nutshell what philosophers and theologians call “the problem of evil.” Among those charged with the care of souls, the most common response is that evil is not a problem to be solved in an intellectually satisfying way, but rather a mystery whose weight is to be borne in faith and trust. That response is often dismissed as a copout–and not only by skeptics and waverers. Most of us can empathize with the anger of those whose sufferings bring home to them the truth in Jimmy Carter’s politically costly reminder that “life is unfair.” My main purpose in this paper is to trace the most important step one must take in order to see why the usual pastoral response, far from copping out, is in fact the only reasonable response.

That step is to realize that there is no single problem one may uniquely designate as “the” problem of evil; hence my title. Once one realizes what the distinct problems of evil roughly are, one may then determine which is the one theists cannot solve. But I shall show that, if theism is true, then theists shouldn’t be faulted for failing to solve it.

The best way to begin outlining the different problems is to distinguish the two main sorts of solution: defense andtheodicy. A defense aims to show that there is no logical inconsistency among the following set of statements: (a) God created the world; (b) God is all-powerful and perfectly good; and (c) there is evil in the world. Let’s call that triad of statements ‘E’. Each member of E is an essential tenet of classical theism, which is often criticized by process theists and other pagans on the ground that the members of E are jointly incompatible. If successful, a defense would show that they are jointly compatible, and I for one believe that a successful defense is possible. But theodicy is more ambitious than defense. As the term’s etymology suggests, theodicy is meant to justify God’s causing or permitting such evil as we find in the world. Accordingly, a successful theodicy would not merely show that the members of E are jointly compatible; it would also explain why it makes good moral and metaphysical sense that they are all true.

On the face of it, theodicy is attractive to any theistic thinker. For if success were possible, then there would in principle be a solution to the problem of evil that ought to satisfy any rational person, even if human blindness and perversity would in practice preclude its satisfying everyone. Apologetical enthusiasm has led many Christian thinkers through the centuries to convince themselves that the resources for success are at hand. Some have even believed themselves to be deploying them. Like many people, however, I am unmoved by such theodicies. I don’t know of any that do more than convince the already convinced, and I find that many of them serve chiefly to generate further difficulties where none had existed. But that hardly suffices to discredit theodicy. Indeed, the question whether theistic thinkers should embark on so ambitious an enterprise depends on how the problem of evil should be conceived.

Some people seem to believe that adherence to any form of classical theism is positively irrational without someone’s showing just how the theistic scheme of things makes sense of evil. From their point of view, theists ought to produce a theodicy; for it would not be enough for the theist to show, by explicating the pertinent concepts, that the members of E are mutually compatible. It would not do simply to show in such an abstract way that one can maintain each of those propositions without contradicting oneself; a proper solution would also show just how their joint truth would, or could, mollify those offended by the unfairness of life.

Since I have no space here to evaluate any particular theodicy in detail, I shall content myself with arguing that classical theism affords little reason to believe that theodicy is either possible or desirable. The reasons for that show that it is wrong to insist that theists must regard the problem of evil as the sort of problem to which a successful theodicy would be the only solution. People who conceive the problem in that way would thus be mistaken about what a mature and intelligent theistic faith would involve.

I have two reasons for taking that line. The first is essentially scriptural. Consider the key locus canonicus of the problem of evil: the Book of Job. Its eponymous hero is depicted as a just man, blessed by and pleasing to God; but God decides to test his fidelity by giving Satan permission to visit a host of terrible and undeserved evils on him. After Job has lost his possessions, his children, his social status, and his health, so that he is utterly bereft and covered with incurable running sores, his friends visit him and try to help him make sense of it all. Their initial tack is pedestrian: since God is just, Job must have done something, or be the sort of person, to deserve such suffering after all. Even poor Job has no trouble showing what nonsense that is; he complains about the prosperity of the wicked and his own suffering as an innocent, inviting the Almighty to answer his suit. Job’s friend Elihu then takes a slightly more enlightened tack: without harping on the theme that Job deserves his afflictions, Elihu insists that God “does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right” (Job 36:5). Still, Elihu does not altogether abandon the conventional wisdom, saying of God’s dealings with the righteous that “he does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings upon the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted. And if they are bound in fetters, and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly” (36:7). God’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind, which directly follows Elihu’s speech, can be summed up quite simply: you don’t know what you’re talking about. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” (38:4). How can a creature like you be wise enough to know what is ultimately for the best? Job’s response is to stop whining and to humble himself before God, who rewards him by restoring his fortunes. And so the story ends.

Some exegetes, I’m told, interpret the happy ending as a later addition by rabbis concerned to reinforce the conventional wisdom that the just are rewarded even in this life. I like that interpretation not because I know it to be true, but because if it is true, then the original work would have been truer to life. As far as we can tell, there is no statistically significant correlation between virtue and good fortune in this life. But the most important lesson of Job is that we necessarily lack the knowledge we would have to have in order to know that it is wrong for God to preside over such a state of affairs. In order to put God in the dock and convict him fairly, we would have to marshal all the relevant evidence; in order to do that in turn, we would have to occupy his vantage point, so that the entire scheme of things would be spread before us, and the genuine alternatives to that scheme would be perfectly clear. If we didn’t know it already, biblical theism teaches us to admit that such is impossible.

Paradoxically, however, that admission rules out theodicy. The very vantage point we would need to occupy in order to know that God is behaving badly is the one we would need to occupy in order to know just how well he really is behaving. Classical theism is committed to the claim that God’s omnipotence and perfection are compatible with the evil in his world; but the same tradition precludes saying precisely how evil squares with God’s omnipotence and perfection. If any Christian doubts that, they should remind themselves what religion they profess. Christianity teaches that the only-begotten Son of God, the King of the Universe, gave us a chance to escape the thralldom of evil first by becoming a perfectly good man and then, at his Father’s behest, getting himself tortured and executed as a serious public nuisance. As St. Paul tells us, that is absurdity to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews; the Greeks and Jews here are figurae for anyone disposed to reject a God who does not behave as we would in his place.

My other reason for rejecting theodicy comes from natural theology. Let me illustrate it by contrast with a picture of evil drawn from the dogmatic theology of traditional Christianity.

On the supposition that Christianity is true, we may say that the more troubling aspects of the human condition are the consequences of an original sin that was freely committed. We are prone to doing evil because we inherit a corrupted will from our first parents, and we are subject to death and certain other evils because the Fall disrupted the harmony that God intended to obtain both internally (between our souls and bodies) and externally (between ourselves and Nature). The Easter liturgy tells us that original sin was felix culpa, a happy fault, because it gave God the opportunity to redeem us from that situation. Now if God has indeed done so, we are each of us free to cooperate or not. And if one believes, as do I and most of those present, that this is how things are, one may well say that things are thus basically good. But one must admit that it is possible for an all-powerful, perfectly good God to have set things up otherwise. In particular, God could have so made rational creatures that they would always freely choose the good, inasmuch as the occasion for choosing wrongly would never have been allowed to arise. If Christianity is true, such will be the situation of those who will have achieved eternal salvation on the Last Day. Why couldn’t it always have been the situation of rational creatures? They might have enjoyed such liberty of spontaneity as would have enabled them to choose among a variety of morally acceptable alternatives, some of which would have been better than others; but they might not have enjoyed such liberty of indifference as would make it genuinely possible to pursue evil alternatives. For the scheme of things might not have left room for any such alternatives. If that had been the case, then original sin would never have been committed, and nobody would now suffer from its consequences. Would it not have been better for God to set things up in that way?

Well, we are in no position to answer that question either affirmatively or negatively. Just as we have no business condemning God for not making life easier and fairer than it is, so too we cannot know that life as it is is better than, or even as good as, it might have been otherwise. Theodicy requires knowledge that we necessarily lack, and it is arrogance to pretend to such knowledge.

That suggests two things. First, to fault classical theism for being unable to ground a theodicy is unfair, for it would be to fault theists for lacking a breadth and clarity of vision that nobody can attain in this life whether classical theism is true or not. Second, it seems that defense, rather than theodicy, is the only response to the problem of evil that is open to theists. And if the problem be conceived primarily as an intellectual one, that is true. But the problem so conceived is narrower than many people seem to think.

People sometimes talk as though the presence of any evil at all in the world poses an objection to believing the Creator to be all-powerful and perfectly good. St. Thomas Aquinas considers and rebuts such an objection in the article from the Summa Theologiae where he purports to prove that God exists. Surely he is right to maintain that the omnipotence and goodness of God are manifest partly in the fact that out of evil he can bring a greater good. To a much lesser extent, we do that sort of thing all the time: we learn from mistakes; we cure diseases; we find that some pleasures are all the greater for the pain that must precede them; and most important, people sometimes become better through suffering. We are, if you like, more powerful for all that: whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That is how God has arranged things.

Such occasions often arise in the first place because of physical evils. We live in a material universe whose order entails a continuing cycle of production and destruction, growth and decay, birth and death. In every generation, there are those who believe that such a universe is necessarily a bad thing to exist, since the good of such a whole necessitates (sooner or later) bad things for each of the parts. Some even think of death as the greatest of evils, even though there is no reason to believe that immortality with the sort of life we now have would be any more desirable than possible. Belief that material existence is evil is one of the major factors motivating Hinduism in some of its forms, Buddhism, forms of dualism such as Manichaeism, and Gnosticism. I cannot speak to the religious psychology of Indians and Orientals; but when an Occidental believes that the material universe is intrinsically evil, I cannot help suspecting an unconscious resentment arising from their discovery as an infant that the world is not ordered for their uninterrupted benefit. Such a person needs therapy, or perhaps simply grace–not philosophical argument.

I take more seriously the arguments of people inclined to blame God for the moral evil there is in the world, assuming that we can be and do nothing without God. For as I’ve already suggested, God could have created a world in which rational creatures always freely choose rightly–but He hasn’t. Of course, if God were fully responsible for our all our actions, then we would have no business complaining that life is unfair: we would be mere natural objects, unfit for either reward or punishment. But assuming that some of our actions are rationally free, it would be equally wrong to say that God is as fully implicated in our evil free actions as in our good ones. For that would entail that God bestows privations and defects even as he bestows being and perfection. That is impossible, since whatever is God can have no privations or defects to bestow. Those come from the individual creature, who in the nature of the case cannot be absolutely perfect like God nor even (if it exists in space-time) be perfect relative to its kind. I have heard some people say in reply that in that case, it would have been better if God had never created, or created us, at all. All I can do with such people is shrug and invite them to join me in drinking a good bottle of wine.

What really bothers most of us is not just any old evil, but the disproportionate suffering of the innocent. It is indeed deeply troubling that humans who in no way deserve their sufferings–such as children who have not reached the age of reason–are sometimes killed or brutalized rather than improved by their sufferings. Sometimes it is Nature herself that does this, as with plague, famine, accidents, and natural disasters; but it is especially galling when the killing or brutalization comes at the hands of people who ought to know better. The most eloquent testimony to the anguish this can cause may be found in the words of the character Ivan in Dostoievski’s The Brothers Karamazov, which I shall save time by recommending rather than quoting. What makes Ivan and those he represents so indignant is the conviction that even if the disproportionate suffering of the innocent could be rationalized as contributing to an incomparably greater good for all,that would be no justification whatever. Thus it is intrinsically evil, irrespective of the big picture, for an all-powerful being either to inflict or to permit such suffering.

Most theodicies cannot even address Ivan, much less confute him. To deal with Ivan, we must confine ourselves to defense rather than theodicy. But what is the defense?

The Ivans of the world assume that there are certain moral norms that objectively bind not only all humans but any rational agent whatsoever. Up to a point, that is true. We would, for example, have no more reason to put faith in God if he broke his promises to us than we would to trust another human being who behaved that way. One of the reasons why it is said that God is perfectly good is that he can’t do things like break promises. But the Ivans also seem to include the following among such norms: if one can prevent or eliminate disproportionate suffering for the innocent without doing or allowing greater harm to ourselves or to others, one ought to do so. And if that norm were intelligibly applicable to God, the problem of evil would be so intractable as to resist even defense.

The argument would go something like this. God, who is all-powerful, could have created a world in which no such suffering took place, which would a fortiori have been a world in which precluding such suffering would not have allowed or brought about greater harm. But given both his omnipotence and the disproportionate suffering of the innocent, it seems that God cannot be accounted perfectly good. The three propositions framing the problem of evil–i.e., the members of E–thus seem jointly incompatible if the proposition that there is evil in the world be narrowed to read: “The innocent sometimes suffer disproportionately, which is evil.”

The difficulty with that argument is that there is no reason to believe that this world’s innocents would be better off for being spared disproportionate suffering than they are by undergoing it. For in the sort of world where innocents would be spared such suffering, the innocents of this particular world could not have existed at all. Whether innocent or not, we are fragile creatures subject to the mischances of nature and other peoples’ failings. In particular, none of us today would have come into being if the sorts of physical and moral evils that cause disproportionate suffering had not contributed to our ancestry. Hence, a world in which suffering precisely matched desert would not be a world in which the actual descendants of the first couple could have existed. Such a world might have contained rational creatures, even humans, but not you and me. Hence, the price of preventing or eliminating the disproportionate suffering of actual human beings would have been denying us existence altogether.

Of course, the Ivans of the world might want to insist that the price would have been well worth God’s paying. But whether or not one agrees with that, it is by no means clear that God is immoral for not paying it. Indeed, if classical theism is true, then it is an a priori truth that God is incapable of moral evil. And so it would be wrong-headed to charge the theist with logical or conceptual inconsistency for asserting the three propositions of E. Of course, the Ivans might still object that, rather than establishing the mutual compatibility of those propositions, this result simply exposes the difficulty of establishing their incompatibility. And if this were the end of the debate, then indeed I will have had to confine myself to making a mere debater’s point. But I think the theist can and should go further than that.

Consider first a question with which my undergraduate mentor once challenged me: “Which is better: to bum in hell forever, or never to have lived at all?” The only possible response is the one I had wit enough to give: “Better for whom?” Certainly not for those who avoid hell by not coming into being: for then they would never have existed, and hence one could not say that there was ever anyone there to have benefited by avoiding hell. Certainly not for God: God cannot be improved by anything at all, much less by refraining from creating reprobates. How about the rest of us? For the reason I have given, the rest of us would not have been around to benefit either. In general, if people who get a raw deal had never existed, then nobody who has actually existed would have existed, and hence nobody we care about would have been there to be better off. Given as much, we can isolate that problem of evil which really is insoluble and show why its insolubility doesn’t matter.

Existence for us means actuality, actually living, which in turn entails achieving some measure of perfection, even if a very limited one. Evil of any sort exists only as a privation of good so conceived. Hence, it is conceptually impossible for there to be a world in which evil generally outweighs good; for the sorts of beings inhabiting such a world would not be actual enough to be viable. In particular, and given that nobody would have been better off if suffering precisely matched desert, one can rightly say on conceptual grounds alone that it is good that the actual human beings there have been, are, and will be, exist, with exactly the lives they have had, have, and will have. Indeed, since all actuality comes from God, and to be actual is to have achieved some measure of goodness, then whatever exists other than God necessarily manifests and communicates his goodness. That constitutes a good reason for creating in the first place, and that is sufficient reason why this world exists.

In that light, a particular problem of evil arises and defies satisfying solution. We can indeed say that there is good reason to create us; but there is no reason for God to have created this world rather than some other world whose innocents would not have suffered disproportionately. God could indeed have created such a world; though it would not have contained us, it would have been good, since whatever world God might have created would have been good, for the reasons I have given. And so the question arises: why didn’t God create such a world? There is no answer to that question. It is not that we are too ignorant to discover the answer; it is rather that there is no fact of the matter for us to fail to discover. For whatever other world God might have created, his ultimate reason for creating would have been the same, and sufficient.

The problem of evil thus appears as a mystery. If any world must be prevalently good, and if one cannot even in principle answer the question why God created this world rather than some other, then the only recourse for somebody bothered by the problem of evil is to trust that God acts well, even though life sometimes suggests the contrary. This result is defense rather than theodicy because it doesn’t “justify” God’s decision to create this world with all its apparently disproportionate suffering. Nor does it cause one to stop being bothered by the problem of evil; like the biblical prophets, we should always be troubled by that problem. But by pointing to the limits of what is and what can be known, it does show that the statements comprised by E are mutually consistent. Given both the goodness and the hardness of life, one can ask no more of classical theism.

©1999 Michael Liccione. Permission is granted for private, non-commercial use of this article. Reproduction or use for any other purpose without the express written consent of the author is prohibited.

 

POSTED BY MIKE L AT 9:36 PM 5 COMMENTS

 

  • New Apologetics Please restrict all reader comments on this discussion to the “peanut gallery” post adjacent to this one.
  • New Apologetics Our first statement will likely be posted in just a few days. Thank you for your patience.
  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement)

    Michael Liccione says that theodicy is impossible. Our view is more optimistic. We at New Apologetics say that theodicy is possible and we also go so far as to say that we have a good one.

    We begin our response by presenting some basic points in question and answer format here: 

    https://www.facebook.com/NewApologetics/photos/a.160444457423911.35426.146577002143990/421497954651892/?type=1&relevant_count=1

    Photo

    TEN QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE “WHY” OF HUMAN SUFFERING

    Question 1: Is it arr…Continue Reading

  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued]

    We will now cite some parts of Liccione’s paper, “The Problems of Evil” and will proceed to offer some brief, informal criticisms. We disagree with almost every line of the essay, and these points are merely a representative sample:

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    Michael Liccione (henceforth abbreviated ML) writes:
    “Reflective persons in general join atheistic philosophers in posing a familiar dilemma: if God is all-powerful, he could prevent or eliminate the evil in his creation; if God is perfectly good, he would want to do that; so, whence evil? That describes in a nutshell what philosophers and theologians call “the problem of evil.” 

    We reply:
    Let us, for the purposes of this discussion, distinguish between two main versions of the problem:

    1) The “theological” problem of evil: Why does God permit evil?
    2) The “philosophical” problem of evil: Can evil be used either as part of a deductive proof for the non-existence of God or as inductive evidence for concluding the improbability of the existence of God?

    These are two entirely separate considerations. One question could be answered while leaving the other entirely unaddressed.

    ———————————————–
    ML writes: 
    “Once one realizes what the distinct problems of evil roughly are, one may then determine which is the one theists cannot solve.”

    We reply: 
    We claim that every problem of evil can be solved. 
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    ML writes: 
    “The best way to begin outlining the different problems is to distinguish the two main sorts of solution: defense and theodicy. A defense aims to show that there is no logical inconsistency among the following set of statements: (a) God created the world; (b) God is all-powerful and perfectly good; and (c) there is evil in the world. Let’s call that triad of statements ‘E’. Each member of E is an essential tenet of classical theism, which is often criticized by process theists and other pagans on the ground that the members of E are jointly incompatible. If successful, a defense would show that they are jointly compatible, and I for one believe that a successful defense is possible.”

    We reply: 
    A defense is a solution to the philosophical problem of evil generally or is a demonstration that a particular version of an argument from evil is unsound. A defense works if it defeats the threat from the argument(s) it is intended to defeat. It may be possible to refute every version of an argument from evil without a theodicy being proposed. ML’s account of a “defense” is incomplete because he relegates it to showing the cohererence between the divine attributes and the facts of evil in creation. Ever since Alvin Plantinga refuted J.L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil, the majority of contemporary philosophers of religion have come to believe that logical arguments from evil are unsuccessful. The evidential argument from evil is considered to be the “real” problem. The gist of the evidential problem: Looking at the way the world is, does it does not seem *likely* that there is a God with the classical omni-attributes in charge of it. This argument is much more of a problem because it retains all of its polemical force even if the propositions ML states above are shown to be compatible. A true defense will cover both the logical and evidential arguments from evil.
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    ML writes: 
    “But theodicy is more ambitious than defense. As the term’s etymology suggests, theodicy is meant to justify God’s causing or permitting such evil as we find in the world. Accordingly, a successful theodicy would not merely show that the members of E are jointly compatible; it would also explain why it makes good moral and metaphysical sense that they are all true.”

    We reply:
    Actually, a theodicy is just a coherent explanatory picture offered in solution to the theological problem of evil. A theodicy is successful on the condition that it adequately accounts for all of the data of evil without contradicting any of the classically conceived divine attributes. [There could be an attempt at theodicy outside of the classical idea of God, but we won’t bother with that here]. However, even if a theodicy is fully explanatory, that says nothing at all about whether it is true. It may be that there is a different theodicical model that happens to be the correct one. It may also be that atheism is true even if there is a conceptually rigorous theistic explanation for suffering. One need not argue that a theodicy is true in order to answer the theological problem of evil. Any hypothetical explanatory model that does not involve contradictions or loose ends is enough to be a “successful” theodicy.

    ———————————————
    ML wites:
    “…a proper solution would also show just how their joint truth would, or could, mollify those offended by the unfairness of life.”

    We reply:
    To put it in mild terms: we very strongly disagree. Knowing the reason why there is injustice under the governance of a just God does not in itself bring justice to suffering people in any way. Such knowledge of the reason why injustice is not prevented can’t and shouldn’t “mollify those offended by the unfairness of life” for the simple reason that the unfairness is *really* unfair. Even if we know why there is injustice, we still need actual justice to be done before there is any lesser degree of offense in the “unfairess of life”. Consider the following quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

    “We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror.” (CCC, 385)

    God knows why there is evil, but that does not make the evil just in God’s view. God, while knowing the cause must, nonetheless, *conquer* evil. If knowing “why” were enough, then the act of conquering would be superfluous.
    ———————————————–
    Continuing in next post…
  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued 2]
    ———————————————–

    ML writes:
    “Consider the key locus canonicus of the problem of evil: the Book of Job… the most important lesson of Job is that we necessarily lack the knowledge we would have to have in order to know that it is wrong for God to preside over such a state of affairs. …in order to do that in turn, we would have to occupy his vantage point, so that the entire scheme of things would be spread before us, and the genuine alternatives to that scheme would be perfectly clear. If we didn’t know it already, biblical theism teaches us to admit that such is impossible.

    We reply:
    The Bible is a progressive revelation in that the biblical human authors’ understanding of God’s nature and character (as well as their understanding of our dignity and destiny as human persons) expands gradually over the course of Sacred Scripture. The Book of Job is not the “locus canonicus” on the problem of evil, but is one step in the progressive understanding expressed in the biblical canon. If we stop with Job, we settle for very little. 

    God is mystery, but has freely communicated himself in a way that is far beyond the conclusions of the Book of Job. The Bible says so: 

    “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Heb 1: 1-2). 

    Commenting on this scripture, St. John of the Cross writes: 

    “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son”

    According to John (Doctor of the Church), the self-disclosure of God is so complete that we can rest assured that nothing is back from us.

    Let us now look at an example of Sacred Scripture giving us a progressive revelation. Consider the following contrast:

    Exodus 20:5 reads:

    “For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation…”

    But a clearer picture of God’s character is revealed in Ezekiel 18:2:

    “Thus the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb that you recite in the land of Israel: ‘Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children’s teeth are on edge’? As I live, says the Lord GOD: I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you who will repeat this proverb in Israel. For all lives are mine; the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine; only the one who sins shall die.” 

    Now, if we are reading scripture in an uninformed way, these two verses are simply a contradiction. However, if we understand that God is revealing himself, but that the recipients are growing according to their capacity to receive, we then see a beautiful progression of truth:

    1) At first, scripture presents suffering as if it were a direct punishment from God for sins. The implication being that if you are suffering, it is either your fault or the fault of your parents. On this early understanding, the suffering is localized to those who are closely associated with the sin being punished.

    2) Later, (in Job) a radical departure from the deeply entrenched idea that suffering is patterned in to fit with moral transgressions is put forth. In the story of Job, we have an *innocent* and *righteous* person who is suffering. No answer to the question “why” is given, and the assertion that the suffering is a punishment is rejected. Job comes to understand that his suffering has a purpose though he does not know what that purpose is. [This is intended as a piece of skeptical literature to debunk the view of suffering given above in point 1]

    3) In the gospels we see that a totally innocent person (God himself) has suffered. We are shown that the suffering of a totally innocent person has redeemed us.

    4) In the New Testament Letters, we are shown that God has transformed our suffering to be redemptive in union with the suffering of Christ. 

    Points 3 and 4 are vastly beyond the content of the Book of Job in terms of exposing the meaning of human suffering. 

    One thing to note:
    Even though the character of God is misunderstood over the course of scripture, the nature of suffering and death as *evils* is not. Suffering and death are always seen as an evil:

    “It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil. In the vocabulary of the Old Testament, suffering and evil are identified with each other. In fact, that vocabulary did not have a specific word to indicate ‘suffering’. Thus it defined as ‘evil’ everything that was suffering… Christianity proclaims the essential good of existence and the good of that which exists, acknowledges the goodness of the Creator and proclaims the good of creatures. Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good. We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself. He particularly suffers when he ‘ought’ — in the normal order of things — to have a share in this good and does not have it. (John Paul II, Salvifici Dolores)

    One more point about the scriptural treatment of suffering: 

    Jesus is never once recorded in the Gospels as making anyone sick for a higher purpose. He opposed suffering and death everywhere he went without exception. 
    ———————————————–
  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued 3]
    ———————————————–

    ML writes: Classical theism is committed to the claim that God’s omnipotence and perfection are compatible with the evil in his world; but the same tradition precludes saying precisely how evil squares with God’s omnipotence and perfection. If any Christian doubts that, they should remind themselves what religion they profess. 

    We reply:
    It is not the case that there is any obstacle to saying precisely how evil squares with God’s omnipotence and perfection. The precisely how, spans the entire content of the faith:

    “Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: …There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 309)

    ———————————————–
    ML writes:
    Christianity teaches that the only-begotten Son of God, the King of the Universe, gave us a chance to escape the thralldom of evil first by becoming a perfectly good man and then, at his Father’s behest, getting himself tortured and executed as a serious public nuisance.

    We reply:
    It is not the case that Christianity teaches that God became a perfectly good man. In the hypostatic union, there is no human person involved but only the divine person of God the Son is the acting agent of responsibility. Being a morally good man necessitates a human person the ultimate subject of responsibility. This distinction was established at the Fourth Council of Chalcedon.

    ———————————————–
    ML writes:
    The Easter liturgy tells us that original sin was felix culpa, a happy fault, because it gave God the opportunity to redeem us from that situation.

    We reply:
    On the contrary, the fault is not described as “happy” due to it having enabled God the *opportunity to redeem us. We can say “felix culpa” because the fault *is* redeemed and is therefore such that God has made it integral to the happiness of all who will be saved for all eternity. However, the mere opportunity for God to provide redemption is of no value in itself. Even if Christ did not come to redeem us, God would still have had the *opportunity* to redeem us, but that is of no worth at all unless he actually does it.

    Consider that he Exultet states that life would have been without value to us unless Christ had, in fact, *accomplished* our redemption:

    “This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave. What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?“ (Alleluia.)

    ———————————————–

    ML writes: 
    Now if God has indeed done so, we are each of us free to cooperate or not.

    We reply:
    We are not entirely free to cooperate or not. It is a matter of grace: 

    “If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.” (Trent – CANON III.)
  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued 4]

    ML writes:
    And if one believes, as do I and most of those present, that this is how things are, one may well say that things are thus basically good.

    We reply:
    Things are not basically good. God does not see evil sitations as basically good at all. The redemption is the means by which God *conquers* evil because God sees it in all its horror as something which needs conquering. 

    A very brief outline of the nature of the redemption follows:

    We must start by identifying the relationship of perfect opposition between God and evil without detuning it to any degree. Things are, apart from the redemption, horrendously bad. 

    1) God, being infinitely good, is infinitely opposed to *all evil, and that includes all innocent suffering and death.

    2) Because God is infinitely opposed to all evil, God has made a way to integrate all evil into a higher order of justice through the redemption.

    We present the following quotes from Benedict XVI in order to set in high relief how bad God sees things to be:

    “The summons to vigilance has already been a major theme of Jesus’ Jerusalem teaching, and now it emerges directly with great urgency. And yet, while it refers specifically to Gethsemane, it also points ahead to the later history of Christianity. Across the centuries, it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the Evil One. Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth…

    In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self satisfaction of its own comfortable existence. Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God’s closeness and the looming forces of darkness, is what gives the Evil One power in the world. On beholding the drowsy disciples, so disinclined to rouse themselves, the Lord says: ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’ This is a quotation from Psalm 43:5, and it calls to mind other verses from the Psalms.

    In this way John is clearly indicating the primordial fear of created nature in the face of imminent death, and yet there is more: the particular horror felt by him who is Life itself before the abyss of the full power of destruction, evil, and enmity with God that is now unleashed upon him, that he now takes directly upon himself, or rather into himself, to the point that he is “made to be sin” (cf. 3 Corinthians 5:21).

    Because he is the Son, he sees with total clarity the whole foul flood of evil, all the power of lies and pride, all the wiles and cruelty of the evil that masks itself as life yet constantly serves to destroy, debase, and crush life. Because he is the Son, he experiences deeply all the horror, filth, and baseness that he must drink from the ‘chalice’ prepared for him: the vast power of sin and death. All this he must take into himself, so that it can be disarmed and defeated in him.’ (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth)

    Now, on the other hand, let’s look at the reality of just how efficacious the redemption is for transforming the significance of evil:

    “In Jesus’ Passion, all the filth of the world touches the infinitely pure one, the soul of Jesus Christ and, hence, the Son of God himself. While it is usually the case that anything unclean touching something clean renders it unclean, here it is the other way around: when the world, with all the injustice and cruelty that make it unclean, comes into contact with the infinitely pure one – then he, the pure one, is the stronger. Through this contact, the filth of the world is truly absorbed, wiped out, and transformed in the pain of infinite love… If we reflect more deeply on this insight, we find the answer to an objection that is often raised against the idea of atonement. Again and again people say: It must be a cruel God who demands infinite atonement. Is this not a notion unworthy of God? Must we not give up the idea of atonement in order to maintain the purity of our image of God?… It becomes evident that the real forgiveness accomplished on the Cross functions in exactly the opposite direction. The reality of evil and injustice that disfigures the world and at the same time distorts the image of God – this reality exists, through our sin. It cannot simply be ignored; it must be addressed. But here it is not the case of a cruel God demanding the infinite. It is exactly the opposite: God himself becomes the locus of reconciliation, and in the person of his Son takes the suffering upon himself. God himself grants his infinite purity to the world. God himself ‘drinks the cup’ of every horror to the dregs and thereby restores justice through the greatness of his love, which, through suffering, transforms the darkness.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth)

    The darkness has been transformed and elevated to a higher order. And in view of the redemption, our state of affair is “perfect” in a higher sense even though horrendously bad in its form. It is “perfect” because all suffering and death is the suffering and death of Christ and has the same infinite significance.

    “And therefore when the judgment is given, and we are all brought up above, we shall then clearly see in God the mysteries which are now hidden from us. And then shall none of us be moved to say in any manner: Lord, if it had been so, it would have been well. But we shall all say with one voice: Lord, blessed may you be, because it is so, it is well; and now we see truly that everything is done as it was ordained by you before anything was made.” (Julian of Norwich)

    Bottom line: According to God, the human situation of sin suffering and death is not basically good, but horrendously bad such that it must be radically transformed through the redemptive intervention of God.
  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued 5]

    ML writes:
    But one must admit that it is possible for an all-powerful, perfectly good God to have set things up otherwise. In particular, God could have so made rational creatures that they would always freely choose the good, inasmuch as the occasion for choosing wrongly would never have been allowed to arise. 

    We reply: 
    Not at all. If God is perfectly just, he does not set us up to fall. Imagine a parent or a friend willing to set us up for a fall. No matter how you twist it, that’s not a good parent or friend. It doesn’t matter if a greater good can come of it. As the Church teaches:

    “The end does not justify the means.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1759)
    ———————————————–
    ML writes:
    If Christianity is true, such will be the situation of those who will have achieved eternal salvation on the Last Day. Why couldn’t it always have been the situation of rational creatures? They might have enjoyed such liberty of spontaneity as would have enabled them to choose among a variety of morally acceptable alternatives, some of which would have been better than others; but they might not have enjoyed such liberty of indifference as would make it genuinely possible to pursue evil alternatives. For the scheme of things might not have left room for any such alternatives. 

    We reply:
    The essence of right relationship is love, and love is self-gift. Self-gift can neither be necessitated nor demanded without depriving the potential giver of the essence of their gift. The possibility for moral failure is not primarily in the realm of opting for a prohibited object of desire, but in the act of either abrogating or of failing to actuate self-gift. Created persons, to be truly themselves, must opt to give themselves away, and it is logically impossible for God to *cause* anyone to freely do so. Any straitening of available options to leave self-gift as the only possible course of action is tantamount to the annihilation of both personhood and self-gift. Additionlly, any moral injunction demanding that a gift *must* be given is a contradiction in terms. 
    —————————————-

    ML writes:
    “If that had been the case, then original sin would never have been committed, and nobody would now suffer from its consequences. Would it not have been better for God to set things up in that way?”

    We reply:
    A necessitated gift is no gift, and if there is gift, it is not necessitated. ML’s proposed arrangement for the “better” entails the abolition of love generally. 
    ———————————————–
    ML writes:

    “Well, we are in no position to answer that question either affirmatively or negatively.” 

    We reply:
    We must answer the question negatively as described above.

    ———————————————– ML writes: 
    Theodicy requires knowledge that we necessarily lack, and it is arrogance to pretend to such knowledge.

    We reply:
    This is both false and contrary to the teaching of the Church. We reiterate Question 1 from our recent post “10 Questions and Answers on the ‘Why’ of Suffering” 

    (https://www.facebook.com/NewApologetics/photos/a.160444457423911.35426.146577002143990/421497954651892/?type=1&relevant_count=1)

    Question 1: Is it arrogant to seek an answer to the “why” of suffering if God is “mystery”?

    Answer 1: God is infinitely mysterious, but for love of humanity, God has freely revealed himself, and has communicated what we otherwise could not have known by our own power. The Church teaches that, in revealing himself to us in this way, God has has provided ultimate answers to those questions we human beings ask universally about the meaning and purpose of our lives: 

    “By love, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided the definitive, superabundant answer to the questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life.” (CCC, 68)

    The term “superabundant” means excessively more than enough, and it is unmistakable that among those questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of life, the question of the “why” of human suffering is rather prominent:

    “…nothing else requires as much as does suffering, in its ‘objective reality’, to be dealt with, meditated upon, and conceived as an explicit problem; and that therefore basic questions be asked about it and the answers sought.” (Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Dolores)

    In view of the fact that God has superabundantly bestowed upon his Church everything that is needed to answer the question of human suffering (and all other questions of great existential import), it must be concluded that it is in no way arrogant for one to investigate this (once thought to be impenetrable) question. We may do so both in humility and in confident expectation of arriving at an authentic answer by means of what has been already been given to the Church in the Deposit of Faith. 
    ———————————————–
    ML writes: 
    “People sometimes talk as though the presence of any evil at all in the world poses an objection to believing the Creator to be all-powerful and perfectly good. “

    We reply: 
    It does. We know that if God exists, he is just. But all evil is a kind of injustice. It is a deprivation of a due good. Put simply: Evil is not what happens when God has his way in the world. Therefore when we look at a world full of evil, it communicates to us that something has gone seriously wrong. The Church recognizes as much: 

    “Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil.” (CCC, 272)

    ———————————————–
    ML writes: 
    We are, if you like, more powerful for all that: whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That is how God has arranged things.

    We reply:
    Not so. God did not arrange things to involve the trials we now face. The human condition was ordained by God in such a way that justice was ensured, and every aspect of human life was confirmed. On such an account, justice = justice, good=good, and suffering/death = bad: 

    “By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man’s life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called “original justice”. (CCC 376)

    Since God does not change, suffering still remains an enemy of God after the fall of man. Indeed the redemption is all about God’s response to the problem of suffering. He intervenes to transform our suffering because he is against it.

    “Thou didst send him from Heaven into the Virgin’s womb; he was conceived and was incarnate, and was shown to be thy Son, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin; Who, fulfilling thy will and preparing for thee a holy people, stretched out his hands in suffering, that he might free from suffering them that believed on thee.” (Early Eucharistic Canon)

    There is very good reason why God did not take our sufferings away in the redemption, but we’ll wait to discuss it until ML inquires.

    Photo

    TEN QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE “WHY” OF HUMAN SUFFERING

    Question 1: Is it arr…

  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued 6]

    ML writes: 
    Some even think of death as the greatest of evils, even though there is no reason to believe that immortality with the sort of life we now have would be any more desirable than possible. 

    ——————————————
    We reply: The Church says that it was possible and that it was God’s original intent for us (therefore, it was desirable given God’s goodness):

    “The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned is thus the last enemy of man left to be conquered.” (CCC, 1008)

    Death also happens to be the very reason why God is against sin:

    “Sin offends God, that is, it saddens him greatly, but only in so far as it brings death to man whom he loves; it wounds his love.” (Fr. Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household)
    ———————————————–

    ML writes: 
    I cannot speak to the religious psychology of Indians and Orientals; but when an Occidental believes that the material universe is intrinsically evil, I cannot help suspecting an unconscious resentment arising from their discovery as an infant that the world is not ordered for their uninterrupted benefit. Such a person needs therapy, or perhaps simply grace–not philosophical argument.

    We reply:
    When someone experiences a resentment of the world not being ordered for their uninterrupted benefit, they need neither therapy nor philosophical argument, but are quite right in the essence of their attitude and actually show signs of life.

    “Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.” (Cardinal Ratzinger, In the Beginning)

    It is not a good deal at all. Anyone saying it’s fair is either uninformed, misinformed, or is selling something.
    ———————————————–

    ML writes:
    What makes Ivan and those he represents so indignant is the conviction that even if the disproportionate suffering of the innocent could be rationalized as contributing to an incomparably greater good for all,that would be no justification whatever. Thus it is intrinsically evil, irrespective of the big picture, for an all-powerful being either to inflict or to permit such suffering.

    We reply:
    It’s because Ivan Karamazov is right. Only a model somehow reconciling the following three propositions is to be considered a theodicy worthy of belief:

    1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator and sustainer of all.
    2) God is perfectly opposed to each and every instance of innocent suffering and death.
    3) Innocent suffering and death still happens.

    ———————————————–
    ML writes:
    Most theodicies cannot even address Ivan, much less confute him. To deal with Ivan, we must confine ourselves to defense rather than theodicy. But what is the defense?

    We reply:
    It is not true that we must confine ourselves to defense rather than theodicy. God’s non-prevention of evil has nothing to do with evil being a necessary means to some good end. Rather, the explanation for the “why” of human suffering is to be found strictly in terms of God’s perfect opposition to evil. In brief: God (in perfectly opposing all evil), is not morally free to do evil as a method of preventing the very evil he opposes. He could do so (in power), but he can’t (in love).
  • New Apologetics New Apologetics (Opening Statement) [continued 7]

    Thanks again to Michael Liccione for participating in this debate/discussion. We summarize our position as follows:

    Liccione’s essay, “The Problems of Evil”, contains numerous mistakes spanning a wide range of topics, but the essence of his thesis (which asserts theodicy to be impossible) is fundamentally contrary to Catholic teaching as expressed in CCC, paragraph 68. Further, while attempting to avoid the purported arrogance entailed by aspiring to arrive at a true theodicy, Liccione nonetheless unwittingly adopts very specific theodicical conclusions that are provably unnecessary. To wit, he assumes that whatever the answer to the question of human suffering happens to be, it must follow the model of “God permits suffering because God sees it as a means to a good end.”

    However, such a “means to an end” model of theodicy *is* a model of theodicy, and that’s the very thing Liccione is supposed to be against. 

    Moreover, it is also a starkly different model from ours which posits a perfect opposition between God and evil, so there is clearly no necessity to adopt the stance he does. 

    In deference to Catholic teaching concerning the goodness of God and basic morals, we affirm with the Church: 

    “The end does not justify the means” (CCC, 1759)

    We invite Dr. Liccione to hold the same view because of the logic set forth in this discussion, but we also make our invitation for him to change his mind on this simple motive: Everything in life suddenly becomes much better once we come to believe that God is really good. It doesn’t seem fair that, as a Catholic, Dr. Liccione should be deprived of such a belief.

    Even if this discussion does not lead to a substantive change in our interlocutor, we hold out the hope that he will be open to the *possibility* that God is perfectly opposed to each and every evil rather than settling for the “evil as a means to an end” model of theodicy under which he has already paid his dues (and then some). Indeed, if one believes theodicy to be impossible, one ought not be railroaded into marrying a sub-par theodicical stance such as that one.

    [Dr. Liccione opted to not continue with the debate.]