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April 30, 2009

Understanding Why We Suffer

We all experience periods of suffering in life. If you or someone you love is currently suffering and in need of encouragement, I suggest you check out two lessons by Dr. Ken Boa, available at his website. I know you will be strengthened by what Ken has to say about suffering from a biblical perspective. 

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Rolley Haggard

Truly wonderful stuff, Diane. I tip my hat once again to Ken Boa, and to you for bringing this to us. I heartily recommend it. It’s kind of long, but jam-packed with meat, taters and savory herbs, my Precious.

But I’m still I’m still I’m still waiting to hear someone of stature (like Boa) attempt an explanation of the existence of evil without relying on the old “end justifies the means” construct.

I guess I should console myself that we (the church) have made some progress with theodicy. For too long we ignored the problematic elephant in the living room. Now at least we have moved him into the backyard where polite houseguests are less likely to think us strange. But we still need most desperately to deal with what he left behind next to the coffee table. It ain’t no savory herbs, my Precious. How appropriate that we call our chairs ‘pews’.


Rolley wrote: "I guess I should console myself that we (the church) have made some progress with theodicy."

Agreed, but you're right - we've focused for way too long on theIliad.

(Did you say "Tsk, tsk!", or was that "Tusk, tusk!"?)

Jason Taylor

Rolley, just because an argument is old, doesn't invalidate it.

And sometimes an end does justify a means. The question is what end and what means.

Rolley Haggard


You got me that time, LeeQuod. Guess my tang got tongueled up.

I'm sure I meant to say, theidiocy. Especially since both of us may have just illustrated the point.

"A little levity is good for the soul." (Perverbs 2:42)

jason taylor

Lee I didn't get the joke about the Iliad though.

Rolley Haggard

Jason, that was just LeeQuod trying to hit another humor homer.


But, Rolley, Jason says it went foul. :-)

Jason, "theodicy" is pronounced the same as "The Odyssey", which brings to mind "The Iliad".

This encounter was rather like Elmer Fudd getting one over on Bugs Bunny, to see if Bugs responds as usual direct to the camera with "Of course you realize, *this* means *war*." Rolley did respond with a better pun of his own, but in a spirit of good fun - as if Bugs and Elmer walk offstage arm-in-arm.

Discussions of suffering can become unrelentingly grim. It's actually healthy for us to have a chuckle amidst the serious discussion, as Rolley is usually the first to remind us - God bless him.

Rolley Haggard

Jason, Jason, Jason. You ought to know better than to bait this particular hook for me.

It is, of course, a truism that “just because an argument is old, doesn't invalidate it.” But that was not my point. (And I would add that it is equally true that some old arguments are old not only in the sense of chronology but also in the sense of obsolescence. It was chiefly the latter that I had in mind).

My point was this:

I am still waiting for someone to give a morally defensible example of “the end JUSTIFYING the means.” I can think of examples of “the end NECESSITATING the means.” But I cannot think of a single legitimate example of “the end truly JUSTIFYING the means.” And yet the idea of God permitting evil in order to destroy it is the mother of all examples of the end justifying the means.

So, what is the difference between the end JUSTIFYING the means and the end NECESSITATING the means? Glad you asked.

“The end JUSTIFIES the means” signifies that DESPITE there being no absolute moral necessity for the means, the goal is so desirable that no matter how immoral they may be, the means are justifiable.

On the other hand, “the end NECESSITATES the means” signifies that BECAUSE there is an absolute moral necessity for the end, certain means that would otherwise lack sufficient justification are made justifiable by the absolute moral necessity.

The “old argument” of theodicy is that God permitted evil in order to destroy it. That premise is a clear instance of “the end JUSTIFIES the means” because there was no moral necessity for God to permit evil. He could have dwelt alone in a holy universe without evil ever rearing its ugly head.

But the argument that I am “still waiting” to hear from the greats is that God did not permit evil. He did not even foresee it (i.e., Lucifer’s rebellion) as certainly happening. He knew it COULD happen, but there was no reason to believe that it WOULD happen. And therefore He took the risk (to love is to be vulnerable). And….well, you know the rest of the story.

God did not permit Lucifer’s evil for the simple reason that He had no certain foreknowledge that it would occur. For Him to have certain foreknowledge of a person’s “God decision” would negate the moral freedom creatures created in His image have to have in order to be truly “in His image.” Had He known of a certainty that any of the angels would fall He would not have created them. But once the fall DID occur, being Love Itself He was under moral necessity to destroy evil forever. Thus, there was no “end JUSTIFYING the means” because God never intended nor certainly foresaw the entrance of evil. However, once Lucifer sinned, in order to destroy evil forever God would indeed HAVE to permit other sins (such as the fall of man and the crucifixion of Christ), not because the end would JUSTIFY the means, but rather because the end (the redemption of man and the destruction of evil) now NECESSITATED the means. And there, in a nutshell you have both how and why evil entered the universe in the first place, and how and why God now allows evil to continue down until the end of this age. He MUST now allow it in order to destroy it. But He did not have to allow it in the first place, and had He known of a certainty that it would have occurred, He would not have created beings in His own image.

Boa (and others, whose Reeboks I’m not worthy to untie) argue that “God had no Plan B”. By that they mean that EVERYTHING that has happened was all a part of God’s deliberate plan; that before God ever created Lucifer He knew good and well he would rebel and that all the woe men and angels have suffered since would ensue. But it didn’t matter. He permitted it anyway. Why? Because the end (the glory He would get through Christ’s redeeming work) justified the means (permitting evil to enter the universe). So they contend.

I maintain that that premise is morally (and biblically too by the way) bankrupt and that those who reject our Christianity in proportion as we obstinately cling to such a premise will be vindicated by God Himself on the Judgment Day, and that we – Christians – will be the ones to whom He will say, “you know not what spirit you are of”. Unbelievers who recoil at the thought of God willfully, knowingly permitting evil are, by the very rejection of such a notion actually closer, in their God-given instincts, to the truth of what God is really like than we who embrace the idea that He planned it all along. His plan was Plan A – that He would enjoy the company of His creatures in a sinless universe forever. But because His creatures were truly free, they COULD sin. When they DID sin, He had a contingency Plan B called Calvary. But Calvary was a case of the end necessitating the means. There was never, in God’s universe, a legitimate case of the end justifying the means. At least so I believe and will gladly argue, though I suspect I become odious to many for such repetitious insistence. My only consolation is, you baited the hook, Jason! May that be a lesson to you, my dear friend, to be more cautious in your unintended invitations for me to wax grandiloquent on themes that alternately bore or incite.

Jason Taylor

Fair enough Rolley. Though people don't make the distinction between justifying and necessitating. In any case there are a number of acts that are wrong at some times and right at others according to specific circumstances. Of course arguably in that case they are different acts.

As for God's foreknowledge, God does not have foreknowledge, He has eternal knowledge. Foreknowledge would imply that He existed within time but at the same time looked into the future.


I'm reminded of this joke: a seminary student asked his professor "Sir, why did God create Hell?"

The professor snapped back "For people who ask questions like that!"

I figure some of these deep theological puzzlers can only be answered by God - not by us.

Rolley Haggard

LeeQuod, you said, “I figure some of these deep theological puzzlers can only be answered by God - not by us.”

That was my position for a long time until it occurred to me that

1) Despite such disclaimers, most Christians who write or speak on these themes invariably default to the generally-accepted opinion that “sovereignty” REQUIRES one to believe that God knew before He ever created that Lucifer would sin. So they are not waiting for God to answer the puzzle at the end of time; they’ve already answered it – and they (e.g., Boa and almost all my other beloved teachers) teach their viewpoint with a warmth that leaves little room for respectful disagreement.

The point is, if they’ve made up their minds on this question, why shouldn’t I? I’m not doing anything different from them; I’m just coming up with a different conclusion.

2) There is no divine prohibition against honest inquiry into these matters. For a long time I assumed there was because my respected friends told me so, and were able to muster verses that seemed to substantiate their claim (e.g. Deut 29:29, Rev 22:18). But the context of none of these passages requires the conclusion they’ve drawn, and besides that, predestination, foreknowledge, omniscience, and sovereignty are all themes that are discussed in the bible and are therefore the province of all who would “study to show themselves approved, workmen who do not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

I am foolish enough to believe that those who honestly seek the truth on moral dilemmas (and yes, it is a moral more than an intellectual dilemma) will eventually – i.e. in some generation – articulate the “unified theory” of sovereignty/freewill, and that such articulation may finally and forever silence the agonized and outraged accusations of those who, ironically, have clearly and honestly and accurately assessed that if God is, in fact, as we Christians have portrayed Him in our depictions of sovereignty, then He may be perceived as little better than the Devil. I’d like to be able to simultaneously refute and console folks who, with surprising intellectual honesty, come to the kinds of conclusions described in this poignant piece -- http://richarddawkins.net/article,1844,n,n

Is it ignoble to want, in the arena of theodicy, to be “all things to all men that I might by all means save some”? I genuinely feel their pain and believe there is a balm yet to be mixed in the laboratory of Christian scholarship. If the quest is worthy, is it wise to conclude its rewards are unattainable? The heart, more than the head, feels the need to know the truth about the one we are to love “with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.” I proceed only upon Christ’s invitation: “seek and you shall find.”

3) The sovereignty of God is the sovereignty of Love. This requires more space than I can safely risk taking here and now (Gina is already eyeing the delete button as we speak, and Sebastian is poised to attempt the recapture of his title for the gold). But this much I will toss out for thought.

What if Love Itself were God; what would “sovereignty” look like? Would it be the picture that we are given in virtually every so-called orthodox portrayal of the subject? Does the declaration that “God’s ways are not our ways” mean that we would not recognize Love if we stared Him in the face? Does it mean that there is a dark side to Jesus? (Of course, to remain orthodox we can’t call it a “dark side”, because in so doing we disenfranchise ourselves. Ah, the hazards of intellectual honesty.)

All who have learned something of what it is to love know what Love is. It is what we all, who have been loved, aspire to and in Jesus have a blueprint for. It is 1 Corinthians 13 living and breathing. God has shown us what love is, and He is Love, and He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.

God is Love, and Love is God. Note that I did not say, love is God. I said Love (capital L) is God. Love personified, Love incarnate, Love Itself – that is who and what God is. And God -- that is to say Love -- is sovereign. If you know what Love is, you know that He would never permit evil unless there was dire necessity. He did not permit Lucifer’s evil. He never saw it coming. Embracing that, what moral dilemma remains? There is none that I am aware of. There is only the intellectual dilemma posed by the undying insistence that “sovereignty” requires certain foreknowledge of all things, including “the God decision”. But says who? Not the scriptures. Only our preconception of what “sovereignty” must entail.

God’s sovereignty is the sovereignty of Love, and “love does no wrong to others.” God is blameless in the history of angels and men not because “He can do anything and still be blameless”, but because, “He will only do what is loving.”

At least that is what I am increasingly persuaded.


Rolley wrote: "There is no divine prohibition against honest inquiry into these matters."

True, but as you also noted, Gina *does* get tired. That, plus the following remark, persuade me that these issues are best discussed face-to-face, if at all. And if they never get discussed, oh, well.

"Ah, the hazards of intellectual honesty."

Absowutewy, Wowwey!! (Oh, no, I've fallen into Elmer Fudd mode! See ya...)

Rachel Coleman

LeeQuod, your anecdote about Hell being designed for the too-curious is a real (or at least legendary) exchange from St. Augustine.

Just tryin' to keep up with you all classics scholars.

Rolley Haggard

Well, LeeQuod, I guess you and Jason answered for me that age-old question: “What’s up, Doc?” .........Time!

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