Scholars and philosophers, according to Mr. Burr’s letter in the June 17 edition of the Nashville News, have “unsuccessfully tried to make sense of human suffering for millennia.” Such humanistic efforts are ultimately doomed to failure since the attempts are made with certain biases and philosophical prejudices that taint the conversation.
Most of those scholars and philosophers have made their forays into understanding the human condition of the incomplete position of dismissing anything beyond what empiricism can ably demonstrate. Attempts made from a scientific platform, one that looks to a limited set of cause-and-effect data, tends to push the supernatural / divine aside, claiming that it can’t be true, or that no thinking person would ever accept it, and so on. The flaw in the argument is the lack of empiricism to prove the irrelevance or the non-existence of the supernatural / divine. They demand Christians come up with some form of demonstrable evidentiary process to “prove” the existence of God, and yet they allow themselves to dismiss the idea of God without anything more than their own self-aggrandizing conclusions based on their particular biases and prejudices against the divine, and all of that without any demonstrable evidentiary evidence to prove that the divine does not exist.
Mr. Burr chose to use Epicurus’ logic as a springboard for much of his letter. Epicurus’ experience with deity was limited to the ancient pantheon of Greek mythology, and most studies on either the Greek or its parallel Roman system of what was considered divine have shown the essentially human character of all of those represented as being the “gods” over the human race. Epicurus would not have had any significant contact with a monotheistic God, which three centuries before Christ would have been found only in Judaism, and by the time Epicurus was born, Israel had ceased as a nation, its people sent into exile lasting until 1948. To respond to Epicurus (or to Hume), I offer the following:
The first theorem as stated in Mr. Burr’s letter states: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.” The theorem assumes a lack of ability, and as such, it is a false conclusion. The Bible, which is the record of God’s dealings with mankind, is very clear that God is willing and able to prevent evil, that He is omnipotent, but, despite Mr. Burr’s disparaging comment about “free will”, God sovereignly allows His creation, in free will, choose the course they will follow, with the caveat that with choices comes both responsibility and accountability.
The second theorem in Mr. Burr’s letter then proposed that if God is able but not willing, then He is malevolent. It is always surprising to me that throughout recorded history, man has cried out about having personal freedom to make choices and then wants to blame others when the choice taken turns out negatively. I wonder if Mr. Burr has read through the Old Testament record to see how many times God called on Israel to turn from their evil ways lest they be held accountable and responsible for their deliberate rebellion against their Creator. Again, despite the negative view of free will, it still exists and it is something that must be factored into such a discussion in order to achieve a level of coherence. The first two theorems seductively remove any responsibility for evil from man and place the whole burden for evil’s existence on God. The Biblical record shows God is not the author of evil; evil is the seed for sin, and sin is rebellion against God. It is philosophically incoherent to absolve man of his responsibility for sin and ignore the evidence found in the Bible that evil is man’s choice, not God’s creation.
The third theorem says that if God is both willing and able, then why is there evil? The answer is simple: sin. And lest this be construed as simply a religious discussion, keep in mind that the secular psychologist Dr. Karl Menninger, in his 1973 book, Whatever Became of Sin?, proposed that the erosion of human society had as a major contributing factor the lack of cognizance of sin and of human responsibility for destructive actions. Epicurus in his Greek mind would never thought of or considered sin, and Hume, a product of the “Enlightenment”, dismissed sin out of hand simply because of its association with things religious.
Theorem four, “Is He neither willing nor able? Then why call him God?” is a false conclusion because it fails to do anything other than work off the other three theorems, each of which are flawed and agenda-driven in their presentation. They all fail to consider the whole record of the Scripture concerning the dealings of God with men.
But suppose one then adopts Hume’s dismissal of the Bible as “sophistry and illusion” because of its lack of empiricism and paucity of scientific measurement. In this Hume commits a fatal philosophical error: can he present any empiricism or scientific measurement to justify his words and ideas? If he cannot, then his ideas must apparently also be dismissed as “sophistry and illusion”. Space does not allow for a full apologetic on the reliability of the Bible as a document from antiquity, but suffice it to say that there are more, by the thousands, of ancient source documents verifying the integrity of the Bible than there are of the writings of Caesar, Pliny, Herodotus and Homer put together. For a complete discussion on this, see Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
Mr. Burr, in his discussion on free will and the entrance of sin into the world, assumes much in his interpretation of the Genesis account of the fall of man, assumptions that serve his argument but are not supported by a careful and scholarly reading of the text. He fails to note that God gave to Adam and Eve the whole of creation save for one tree and its fruit. It was a manner of obedience to God, and the first parents chose to disobey and, in modern parlance, “do their own thing.” Mr. Burr questions the divine motivation, and I would submit, incorrectly assumes God is some kind of unloving deity for the way He chose to handle things. Is it unloving of human parents to tell their child they can play anywhere in the yard but not to go out onto the street, leaving them, if I may paraphrase Mr. Burr’s reasoning, “forever ignorant” of the knowledge of playing in the street with its traffic?
Mr. Burr asks if God’s perfect creation was dependent on man remaining ignorant. Ignorant of what? Ignorant of the damage, sorrow and death occasioned by sin entering into the world? God as a loving Father wanted His children to be spared from that knowledge!
It is then in Mr. Burr’s letter that he goes on to indict God as some kind of heinous and malevolent creature about various events in the Old Testament, particularly those where whole civilizations were destroyed at God’s command. Here Mr. Burr is trying to understand things from a purely human view. He does not consider the stated fact that every people group destroyed by Israel, at God’s command, was a group that had rebelled against God, that had embraced the worship of false gods, and God as Creator and Judge, was exacting a sentence upon the guilty parties. And as to the issue he brought up about suffering being a promoter of spiritual maturity, it is important to note the Bible says it is not the suffering per se but the reliance upon the grace and the keeping power of God in the midst of the painful trial that builds up those who trust in the Lord.
Suffering exists in this world because man chose to rebel against the direct command of God, and has reaped the consequences. Man has chosen, repeatedly, to fashion his existence according to his own terms (i.e, The Enlightenment) and is content to dismiss any interaction with God until life takes on painful or sorrowful elements, and suddenly, it is all God’s fault. Man tends to ignore his own culpability. On this the Bible uses an agrarian metaphor: “Whatever a man sows, that also will he reap.” To sow sin and rebellion against God is to reap the consequences of embracing sin, which breeds death, more than embracing the One who in love gave His Son as a sacrifice for the whole world, that through Jesus all who come to Him might be saved. Mr. Burr misinterprets Matthew 25 by isolating it out of its context of the rest of what Jesus taught about gaining heaven. The caring of the less fortunate comes not as some self-promoting sense of helping those who are downtrodden, but in being like Christ to others. Jesus made it clear that only those who came to Him would find salvation (John 14:6), and any other way is, simply put, invalid.
There have been those cases where someone who was ill was left to the power of prayer instead of medical help, and subsequently died. This happened to a child in Barstow, California, when his parents withheld his insulin and claimed his healing. I cannot dispute the historicity of such events, which are tragic and unwarranted. However, I can testify that prayer for healing is a reality; in 1992 I was given a terminal diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, Clark level 4, metastasized in my lymph glands. The physicians gave me seven months, maybe, to live. God healed me of that cancer and I am cancer free today. Recently at The Healing Place a woman came for prayer for a grievous situation with her sciatic nerve, reducing her to movement on crutches. Healing came in the worship service and she was able to walk about without the crutches. Another woman had injured her back at her work, and in response to prayer, she was able to straighten up and had no further problems. I cannot explain why some are healed while others are not, and I am not going to assume either a capriciousness nor a malevolence on the part of God on this. Here it must be taken into consideration a couple of factors, including the omniscience of God, the all-knowing that we humans do not have, and the issue that, according to Psalm 139, all humans are born with a set number of days of life, and when those days are over, no amount of medical intervention is going to alter that course.
That said, am I dismissing medical procedures as being antithetical to faith? While there are some sects within Christianity that eschew medicine as being a lack of faith, I would suggest two things along that line. First, the primary approach is to God and to seek Him for His hand of healing. It is possible He could work that healing through a medical route. It is important to remember here that if God is Creator, then all of the substances used to fashion medicine are ultimately the gift of God to humans. That which a surgeon does would be fatal without exception had not God placed restorative procedures into the human body. In every case of medical need, we humans, with our limited ability to know “all things” cannot fully fathom all that the omniscient God knows. It is a case of trusting God, as Genesis 18:25 says, to do the right thing.
Mr. Burr wants to cast God as some monster for apparent genocide of entire tribal groups, but Mr. Burr’s efforts take the incidents out of their historical context and the reasons for such actions, amounting to a philosophical incoherency. God’s directions to Israel about those pagan tribal groups dealt with the certainty that interaction with those pagan groups would cause Israel, the chosen of God, to be compromised and themselves become rebellious against God. Apparently Mr. Burr has not taken the time to investigate the cultural practices of some of those targeted tribal groups, which through archaeological investigation, have shown human sacrifices, child sacrifices, deviant sexual practices as fertility omens, necromancy, widespread promiscuity and capricious leaders with no regard for human life. Mr. Burr accuses God of instigating “shockingly cruel” actions against other pagan nations. There is no mention in those accusations of the practice of the ancient Assyrians, who, after conquering another tribal group, would cut open the abdomens of pregnant women and rip their babies from the wombs, or of their practice of smashing toddlers against walls to kill them. There is no mention of the religious customs of the ancient Moabites, which included child sacrifices to their deity in order to gain a military advantage on the field of battle. Ws it shockingly cruel for God to send His people against these barbaric practices and the people who promoted them? There is no mention of the Persian plot against the Jews, to have them all slaughtered simply because of the political jealousy of one official (see the book of Esther). Mr. Burr attempts to place the actions of God into a strictly humanistic framework, assuming that what humans know is in some way superior to that which the Creator of the universe knows.
Heaven is not open to those who embrace ignorance. Heaven is open to those who embrace the knowledge of Christ, who do so by faith, and who surrender their lives to the Savior who died on the cross for their sins. The limitations of this venue prohibit an in-depth look at the issues at hand; for those desiring to investigate further, I recommend the previously mentioned volume by McDowell, as well as Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.
At the end of his letter Mr. Burr cites Matthew 6:1-4 as justification for admonishing Christians to avoid bragging. When it comes to what believers do as servants of the Lord Jesus, yes, there is supposed to be service without spotlights. But when it comes to knowing Jesus Christ, to the life offered through Him, our boasting is in the Lord, about the Lord, and about His glory (Romans 5:2, 5:11, 1 Corinthians 1:31, 2 Corinthians 10:17). I will boast about God’s love, His care and concern for people, and about His provision of salvation through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Rev. Scott Osenbaugh
The Healing Place
(Nashville Assembly of God)
Pastor Responds To ‘Ask A Pastor’ Questions