q&a: Is God a liar?

Q: Alicia, if God is real, then why does the Bible say one thing about who He is, yet my life depict another? (Ex. His Word says He's my protector, yet I haven't seen that....) So, is He a liar?

Note: A heartfelt Thank You to all who responded to last blog/survey, i.e., "if Jesus were in the boat sleeping...would you wake him up?". Your responses were very insightful and I hope to offer a few thoughts in the weeks to come.

Until then, I thought I'd share this unedited question-answer exchange with a brilliant twenty-something.

A: I see in this question the evidence of pain. Pain—emotional or physical—is exhausting and it reduces truth to bare bones. But bones are held together by flesh and blood which frankly makes it a rather messy affair.

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The Problem of Evil Solved: Thank You Alvin Plantinga

As I mentioned before, the logical or deductive form of the argument from evil attempts to demonstrate a contradiction in the theist's beliefs that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God and evil exist at the same time.  The logical challenge can and has been answered decisively, starting with Alvin Plantinga in his famous book, God, Freedom, and Evil

Keep in mind atheist J.L. Mackie's argument from my earlier post, which can be outlined this way: 

  1. God exists and is omnipotent and perfectly good.
  2. A perfectly good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.
  3. There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.
  4. Evil exists.
  5. Therefore, God does not exist. 
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The Problem of Evil: Presupposing Good?

In an earlier post, I mentioned the importance of making distinctions when approaching the problem of evil, one being the distinction between the logical problem and the evidential problem.  This distinction informs our response to each, helping us to see what's "in play" and what's not.  And when it comes to the logical argument we discover that the theist cannot respond by accusing the atheist of presupposing some objective standard of goodness by which to measure evil

Let me explain.

When making the logical argument the atheist is trying to point out a logical contradiction within the theist's worldview.  If he succeeds in demonstrating the contradiction then one or more or the propositions in question, again within the theist's worldview, is false.  But notice, this does not commit the atheist to the actual existence of the things in question (e.g. evil, an omnibenevolent God).  The atheist is standing outside of our worldview so to speak, looking in on it, and examining it.  He sees two or more contradictory propositions and so he points them out:  "Hey, you theists believe an all-good, all-powerful God exists but you also believe that evil exists--that's a contradiction.  It's like saying 2 + 2 = 4 and 2 + 2 = 5 at the same time."

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The Logical Problem of Evil

As I mentioned before, the logical problem of evil purports to show a logical inconsistency between the existence of God and the existence of evil.  Prominent atheist J.L. Mackie formulated the argument like this:

"In its simplest form the problem is this:  God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; yet evil exists.  There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false.  But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions; the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three."

Given the three propositions here the contradiction is not quite explicit, so Mackie continues: 

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Thinking Carefully About the Problem of Evil: Important Distinctions

When approaching the problem of evil it is important to begin by making some key distinctions.  Distinctions help us to define the issues more precisely, which leads to greater clarity of the problem as well as the solution.  This is just one reason philosophy is an indisensable tool for believers.  Here are some of the key distinctions:

First, it is important to distinguish between the intellectual problem and the existential problem.  The intellectual problem requires a tough-minded philosophical response while the existential problem requires a tender-hearted pastoral response.  If you attempt to answer the existential problem merely with philosophical abstractions or Christian cliches, you may as well keep your mouth shut.

This distinction needs to be considered on a personal level as well.  You may have answered the intellectual problem with careful philosophical analysis but another question remains:  Is your soul prepared for suffering?  This question haunts me a bit, particularly since my wife and I have had children.  Sometimes I ponder how I would respond to God if something tragic were to befall one of my kids and I must confess, I am a little pessimistic about my own response.  I think it reveals my ever-present need to cultivate greater virtue and not just philosophical acumen.

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C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Evil

In 1940, C.S. Lewis penned The Problem of Pain, addressing the intellectual issues surrounding evil.  A little more than 20 years later, Lewis wrote A Grief Observed, journaling his experience of pain and suffering after the death of his wife, Joy.  In the first half of the latter book, Lewis seems to indicate that his intellectual reasons offered no help with his existential struggles:

"Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like...it's easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent--non-existent...she was in God's hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here.  Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body?  And if so, why?  If God's goodness is inconsistent with his hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine.  If it is consistent with hurting us, then He may hurt us after death as unendurably as before it."

Some have cited Lewis' experience as evidence that our intellectual reasons are unhelpful and therefore, not needed in the existential struggle of pain, suffering, and evil.  I have three responses. 

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Christmas in Review: The God Who Gives a Damn

So much brokeness all around.

Can I begin to understand the new air raids between Israel and Palestine?

I can't.

My Tanzanian colleague, Philemon, lost his dad this morning. He was about 58 and riding his bicycle when an out-of-control taxi van hit and killed him.

If it hurts me to think about their loss, how do they feel?

Last week, a depressed guy in LA dressed up as Santa and took a handgun to a party at his ex-in-laws and killed 9 people.Shootings become "common" and that only compounds our sorrow.

The current economic disaster reveals a broken system and a habitual effort to satiate our souls with more.

Money and stuff. They don't actually heal our hearts.

The people of Zimbabwe are starving slowly. They are dying of cholera in the face of a leader who says there is nothing wrong.

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