Part 2: The problem of evil: how do we know what is good or evil?
I'm sorry it's taken so long to publish the third and final installment of the problem of evil series. February had been a very, very busy month for yours truly, and it looks like March will be even worse. However, here it is: the last installment of the series. Next, I hope to post an article about the advantages of being a Christian. <>< TMIf you've been around for a while, and if you have an interest in God and theology, one of the arguments you hear time and time again cited as evidence against the existence of God is that the world is full of evil, and God doesn't lift a finger to do anything about it. No God who wants to be known as "good" would ever do such a thing, therefore, God cannot exist because evil does.
Yet no where in the Bible or the writings of Christians or Jews does it state that because God exists, there will be no evil. As a matter of fact, Christian and Jewish texts state quite clearly and emphatically that because God exists, and because he created human beings to have free will, then there is going to be a whole lot of evil. In a bizarre, but very real way, evil proves--not disproves--the existence of a good, loving and holy God.
God loves us so much that he allows us the choice to be either good or evil, and we choose accordingly. You cannot call a person good who forces you, against your will, to be a good, moral person. That is coercion and tyranny, not love and goodness. So while we cannot blame God for being evil, we can blame him for allowing the possibility of evil, a possibility that too often manifests itself in this life. And God very willingly, and very appropriately, takes full responsibility for this. If there is no evil, there cannot be any good. You simply can't have one without the other.
But for those who desire to choose goodness, God is very willing to lend you a helping hand.
GOD AS JESUS
At the core of the Christian religion is a person named Jesus. While Jesus was a man just like the rest of us, he was also, quite literally, God himself. While theologians might cringe at me for saying this, God came to earth as a man to show us a way to conquer evil. Of course, God is no fool, and the means he provides to conquer evil fully take into consideration the root source of all evil on earth: the human heart. Unless you conquer the evil and hate in your own heart, there is no way you can overcome it in its various manifestations as war, murder, rape, theft, vandalism, and so on. The cure for evil begins in the heart of every single human being.
For those of you who take things a little too literally, I'm not talking about the physical heart that is located in your chest and pumps blood throughout your body, rather I'm referring to a metaphysical heart that represents the very core of our being. Depending on your own ideas and background, synonyms for the type of heart I'm talking about would be mind, spirit, soul or consciousness.
Unless we conquer the evil that's within our own being, we cannot do or say anything about the evil so prevalent in the world. It's very easy to denounce this person and that person for their evil acts, it's another thing to provide a solution for evil.
God is very respectful of the gift of free will that he has given us, to the point where we can use it and abuse it to our detriment. And so the solution for evil is presented as gift, rather than forced upon us unwillingly. Those who are desperate for such a remedy accept the gift quickly with little protest, while those of us who think we're OK have little need of it, so we don't value it, if we even bother to acknowledge it's existence at all.
The gift I'm referring to is eternal life. More specifically, it is the knowledge that when we die, there will be an opportunity to be resurrected from the dead, a resurrection that is permanent and that promises a new life, better than the one we knew previously, much better in fact.
Proof of life after death was provided in the God/man Jesus, who suffered just like we do, and suffered evil in the same way we do: from other men. Due to his popularity and his denouncements and criticisms of the current religious system then dominant in first century Israel: Phariseeism, he was crucified by the Romans due to the insistent urgings of the religious-political Pharisee party. There was no such thing as the separation of church in state in those days.
After Jesus was crucified and died on a Roman cross, he was buried in a tomb of a rich man, then left for dead..because he was dead. But, unbeknown to even his own disciples, Jesus had a little surprise in store: he came back from death, to life, and will never, ever die again.
He showed himself to his disciples and to various others, and then his disciples, armed with the amazing revelation that death is not final, spread the word of Jesus and his good news throughout the rest of the world, a message which is still going strong nearly 2,000 years later.
Of course eternal life is not something that is the right and privilege of everyone, but it is a gift given only to those only who believe. By believe I mean that a person must believe in the idea of eternal life, believe in the person of Jesus and his message, and be willing to live the kind of live that Jesus advocated. In other words, this gift is conditional; it's not given out to just anyone, but only to those who show themselves worthy of it by accepting the "strings" attached.
It is this gift, and the attached strings, that is God's solution for the problem of evil. So how does this gift nullify evil? Simple: the conditions for obtaining and keeping the gift of eternal life is living the teachings and writings of the apostles and prophets as recorded in the Bible. But you don't need to memorize the entire Old and New Testaments in an attempt to live by all the rules and regulations, and in fact you wouldn't be able to keep them even if you wanted to, because they apply to a time and place that is no longer relevant to our modern life style.
THE GOLDEN RULE
But there is one, very simple rule, that if applied, can help reduce the amount of the evil in the world rather significantly. It is commonly known as the Golden Rule: don't do things to other people that you wouldn't want them to do to you.
Don't want people to lie to you? Then don't lie to other people.
Don't want other people to criticize you and put you down? Then don't criticize other people and put them down.
Don't want other people to beat you up? Then don't go around beating up others.
Now one quickly realizes that this does not guarantee that you are going to be treated well by others, for the obvious reason that not everyone is going to want to accept the conditions of the agreement for eternal life. There will be those who really don't care or think much about how others should be treated, and there lack of concern will ultimately end up in their own eternal destruction.
However, those who do follow this one simple rule, and do so consistently, will at least be reducing the amount of evil so prevalent in our society, if not securing their place in the kingdom of Heaven.
But there is a positive corollary to this rule as well, and that is that you need to treat other people just like you would want yourself to be treated. It can be summed up in the old bromide "what goes around comes around."
Do you want other people to treat you with respect? Then you need to treat other people with respect.
Do you want people to speak well of you? Then you need to speak well of others.
Do you want other to help you in a time of need? Then you need to help others in a time of need.
See how simple this is? Nothing to it. Apply this one rule to your life, and you will do more to eradicate evil from this world than all the political promises of all the political parties of the world combined. It is not social programs that eliminate evil, it is the right actions of individuals that do it.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
And since it can sometimes be rather difficult for us to be motivated to do good, God provides us a very special resource to help us in this quest: his Holy Spirit. Jesus is the incarnation of God who you can walk up to and have a conversation with, or you can beat the crap out of him then have him executed. But the Holy Spirit is an incarnation of God that goes one step further, it is God living inside of you.
Now when we think of other beings living inside of us, our minds may quickly flash to visions of the Exorcist, or those many different sci-fi flicks where aliens overtake people's bodies and minds, like the famous film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But inviting the Holy Spirit of God to take up residence in you is nothing like those nightmares of sci-fi and horror movies. Instead of taking over, he simply acts in an advisory role, only offering his assistance when asked--kind of like a consultant. If you want to ignore him, you can, there will be no evil consequences for doing so, other than what your own foolish actions deserve.
So God not only provides a wonderful incentive for living a good, upright life: eternal life; but also the means of doing so: the Holy Spirit.
And that, in a nutshell, is God's plan for dealing with evil. There's just one problem of course: getting people to "buy in" to this plan, which is becoming increasingly more difficult to do. Hence, the world is on a long, slow downward spiral, as immediate gratification of selfish desires becomes more important than living for a future goal that is difficult to comprehend, let alone believe.
Of course there is a corresponding stick to the carrot of eternal life: and that would be eternal punishment, better known as eternal damnation. This is reserved for those who knowing good and evil, prefer to choose the evil. Now this does not mean that you are a psychotic killer or abuse small children and animals; rather all it takes to be evil is to ignore the needs and suffering of others. Yes, God is a good, loving father, but he's not going to allow those who have chosen a life of selfishness and rebelliousness to be rewarded with eternal life. If a person has no regard for those living all around him, why should God then reward that person for their selfish behavior? Since a selfish person is rapt up in their own little world, they will be sent to a place where they won't ever have to bother with another soul again--an eternal solitary confinement.
But don't blame God for damning those people who have chosen a self-centered life; more often than not they are conscious of the choice they are making, and in their own perverted way, are willing to pay with their lives for the little bit of power, wealth and comfort that they get in the here & now by their abrasive behavior.
So the resurrection of Jesus not only demonstrates the reward of eternal life, the way he lived his life here on earth is also very much a demonstration of how he expects us to act. And for those who think that following Jesus' example is a waste of time, Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that their eternal punishment is well deserved:
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Whether or not you think God deals properly with evil here in this life, know for sure that it will be dealt with most severely in the next. Jesus had a bit of "bad news" to go along with his good news: those who persist in doing evil will be rewarded with eternal pain and suffering.
While one may think an eternity of pain and suffering is a harsh penalty for temporal evil, do keep in mind that those who choose to do good are rewarded with an eternity of joy and pleasure. Both reward and punishment are extreme in comparison to a temporal life on earth. This only goes to show that our lives are far, far more valuable than many of us realize: our actions and beliefs truly have an eternal significance.
FOLLOW JESUS' EXAMPLE
Christians have done a poor job of communicating the essential truths of Jesus' message, let alone living according to his teachings. For that, I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed. And yet, I still very much believe that the simple message of Jesus is a worth living for, and I will continue in my own quest to live a life worthy of eternal life, even if no one else sees the value in it.
But I would encourage the dear reader of this blog to follow after me, if only for the reason that such a path will do a lot to bring about a great deal of good on this earth, and will help to minimize evil. Whether or not you think God exists or that eternal life is a possibility, you must admit that the simple logic of the rule "don't do things to other people that you don't want done to you" is a very effective way to live one's life.