Sixty-Second Theodicy Explore More Content
In about four weeks I'm going to fly out to the East coast for a day. Apparently I'm taking the "red eye" out at night, getting into Raleigh, North Carolina in the morning, resting for a couple of hours, going onto a secular radio broadcast that is one of the most popular in the state, then I climb on an airplane and fly back on the "red eye" in return. All of this for this one hour interview. I'll tell you something. When I found out that I would be doing this, I got a little nervous. You want to know why I get nervous doing a radio interview? It's not because radio bothers me, or talking to people bothers me. I do radio all the time, every week, six hours worth. So it's not radio, per se, that bothers me. But when I have my own radio show, or even when I do something like Religion on the Line, we have a fairly non-hostile environment towards religion. Oh, I occasionally get people that are hostile towards me and my points of view. But at least I have the hope of having a reasonable conversation with somebody, going slowly through an issue, step by step, controlling the process a little bit. Not necessarily controlling the person in an inappropriate way, but I have confidence that I will have the time I need to get down to the real issue.
You know when you've talked to other people who want to challenge you about your points of view, when you don't have control sometimes they steamroll you. They go right over top of you. Before you can answer the first question, they're at you with another one. Just suggesting the answer, they've already found exceptions to it and they jump in and don't let you lay a foundation to answer the question. The fact of the matter is, it's much easier to ask the difficult question than it is to listen to the difficult answer. When you talk about spiritual truth and the problems attended to it, you are talking about the most critically important issues imaginable and you're also talking about some very complex issues. Issues that don't lend themselves to a thirty second sound bite. But, sometimes thirty seconds is all you've got.
It's a real challenge to try to be a minimalist in your explanation without minimalizing the significance or the moral weight of what you are talking about, or without reducing the meaning and the substance right out of your answer. You see what I mean? You might like to make a defense and you might have a very good response to a particular question. But you realize that in order to get to that answer you have to take some time and you need somebody who is patient enough to listen to the steps that lead to the answer. Sometimes when I'm a guest on a secular broadcast, like in this case, I'm concerned that I won't have somebody interviewing me, or someone that might call in with a question, that is genuinely interested in getting an answer, but is more interested in just steam rolling this "upstart Christian." When someone is really deeply bent on that, it is very hard to make the point. If they are going after you and they jump in after you've said a couple of words, it seems like, or could look like, you don't have an answer. It is a real fight to help the audience be able to see that you're trying to answer the question and the other person is running all over the top of you. Oftentimes, if you're not clever in that circumstance, it just looks like you don't know what you are talking about and this was my concern.
I was concerned I'd be asked certain questions and I just wouldn't be able to get out a reasonable response in thirty seconds to satisfy the caller, or the talk show host, and in their impatience they would already be jumping down my throat and taking me in a new direction. I know I face these kinds of challenges in public venues -- and you do too, whenever you are making a defense of your faith, whether it's with friends, fellow students, relatives or a husband or wife -- and I don't always get the luxury of giving a four-point outline that takes over ten or 15 minutes, even though the moral weight and significance of the question might warrant it. Sometimes, you only have 30 seconds.
One of the things I have tried to do is to find a fast track to the answer. The problem with looking for a fast track is that, as I mentioned earlier, in reducing your answer to a bare bones response, you might reduce out the significant elements that really give your answer its compelling force. This is a trick for me and it is, in a sense, a kind of challenge I like. For example, let's take the problem of evil, which is an issue I'm certain somebody is going to raise in a one hour broadcast in defense of Christianity . Knowing what I do about the good responses we can make towards this problem, both the inductive and the deductive problem of evil, how can I get to that quickly without reducing the substance out of the answer but also without going on so long to get to the substance that I lose my listener? As I was thinking about this, I stumbled upon a quick 4-step sequence. You can do it in sixty seconds, but I think it gets you right to the very heart of answering what is known as the deductive problem of evil.
The sixty second theodicy is what I call this. Theodicy being an attempt to deal with the problem of evil. I think you can do it very, very quickly. But you must understand what you're trying to accomplish when you use what I'm about to give you. You must understand what's going on behind the scenes, as it were. I guess it was about a year ago I did a piece on the air called the Strength of God and the Problem of Evil. The deductive problem of evil is usually stated as a contradiction in the Christian view of God. If God was really good, He would want to get rid of all evil. If God was really powerful, He would be capable of getting rid of all evil. Since we do have evil, either your God is not good or He is not powerful, either of which sound the death knell for Christianity. My response was that this has nothing to do with either God's goodness or His power. It wasn't a problem of power that there is evil. And it wasn't a problem of goodness, that there is evil. And in fact, goodness requires evil and power doesn't have anything to do with getting rid of it.
When I go through this quick 4-step response, I think you will get the picture. Since I understand this attack on Christianity is the problem of evil, I am going to exploit the problem by asking a series of very simple questions. Someone raises to me the deductive problem of evil. How could a good God and a powerful God allow evil in the world? My response is that I actually think that most people know the answer to that but they haven't really put it together for themselves. I want to ask four very quick questions that will bring it all into perspective.
First point: "Would you like to see laws prohibiting a person from choosing an abortion?" Keep in mind that I am presuming that I'm speaking to a non-Christian who is fairly liberal and this is the last thing they want. If they happen to be pro-life, I could change the question to 'Would you like to see laws passed prohibiting premarital sex?' Or 'prohibiting homosexual behavior?' Now I suspect that when I ask them if they want to have laws passed on any of those things, they would say "no". My question, "Why?" And their answer is going to be, "Because I think people ought to be allowed to choose." Now there's the key. If you ask a question that beckons the response that people ought to be allowed to choose between moral alternatives, that's the whole key.
Second point: "So, it's a good thing that you have freedom to make moral choices, is that right?" "Yes, of course."
Third point: "Would it be fair to say that it's part of the nature of moral freedom to be possible to choose either good or evil? In other words, how can you say you are morally free if you can only choose good? You say it's a good thing to have moral choices and that entails that one can choose either good or evil, correct?" "Yes."
Last point: "Can raw power make it possible to have genuine moral freedom, but no possibility of doing evil?" The answer there is "No." Having genuine moral freedom entails the notion that you might choose evil, as we just said. And being strong can't change that. You can have all the power in the entire universe and you can't create a being who has moral freedom and at the same time has only one thing he can choose: good things, not bad things. Moral freedom requires that a person be capable of choosing evil and having moral freedom is a good thing.
That was the fourth question and here's how it comes together. Moral freedom requires that we can freely choose either good or evil; therefore, the possibility of choosing evil is a good thing, because moral freedom is a good thing. The fact that evil is possible is a good thing. Do you see that? Evil isn't good; but the fact that it's possible is a good thing because it means that you have genuine moral freedom.
Let's get back to our original question. A good God would want to remove the possibility of evil. False. Based on our little discussion we just had, a really good God would make evil possible. He wouldn't make evil impossible. Because a really good God would allow men the moral freedom which is a good thing. Moral freedom requires at least the possibility of doing evil. So, when you talk about the goodness of God, the goodness of God doesn't argue against the possibility of evil. That would be a bad God that made evil impossible because that would mean that we would not have something good: moral freedom. A good God would give us moral freedom which means that evil is possible.
What about the second point? If He was powerful enough, He would get rid of evil. But how does having more power allow God to have a world of true moral choices where the only choice is to do good? Do you see that is contradictory? A world in which human beings have true moral choices means that they have true moral choices. Not just the choice to do good, but the choice to do good and evil. And no matter how strong God is, He cannot create a morally free creature for whom it is impossible to do evil. That is a contradiction of terms. So, in answering our question about the good God and the powerful God allowing evil, His goodness doesn't work against the possibility of evil, His goodness demands the possibility of evil as you yourself just essentially admitted. If I told you that I was going to pass laws that would force you to always do good, you would think that's a bad thing. You think moral freedom is good. God thinks so, too. He agrees with you. You agree with Him, but that entails the possibility of evil. It can't be otherwise, no matter how powerful God is. Because power has nothing to do with the equation. Pumping more power into it doesn't change it one bit.
That, though I took longer to do the explanation, only takes sixty seconds. That is the sixty second theodicy.
What I want them to acknowledge, to affirm, is that moral freedom is an objectively good thing. So what I'm going to try to do in my initial question is choose something that is kind of a hot button with them, something they will immediately disagree with in terms of moral force because it is an inappropriate restriction of moral freedom. Regardless of what you might think about abortion, their view might be, "It is up to me, I should be allowed to make the choice." Or regardless of what one happens to think about pre-marital sex, it is up to the individual to make the choice. Therefore affirming the objective goodness of moral free agency is what I am looking for them to do. The illustration is really irrelevant. I've just got to get a first question that really hits the mark right off the bat. I could ask, "do you think that the government should always force you to do what the government thinks is right in every single thing?" That probably would be the safest way to put it. "Do you think it is good that there is no possibility of moral choice?" is another way of asking the question. They are going to say, "No it is not good." Because being able to choose between good and evil is a moral good in itself. If you took away that choice, you'd being doing something bad. The reason this is such an important step is because they are basically asking God to take away the possibility of moral evil and they are claiming that would be a good thing and not a bad thing on the one hand. But, on the other hand, when you really get down to the nitty gritty of life -- the way they really believe life ought to be lived and that freedom ought to be allowed -- they believe just the opposite of what they are claiming. They don't want to live in a world where God makes their doing evil impossible. What they really want is to live in a world where they can do whatever they want, but nobody else can do bad towards them. They probably already know the answer to this, but they just haven't worked it out this way. So when they ask "Why doesn't a good God make evil impossible?", they have just agreed that if someone were to do that, it would not be a good thing, it would be a bad thing.
If they reply that there is no good or evil, that it is all relative, then their objection vanishes. You see, their objection depends for its force on the fact that objective evil exists, not merely subjective evil. If evil is subjective, that means it is merely a way of us assessing external things, but the assessment is subjective and internal to me. It is in here, it is not out there. The only way you can construct a problem of evil for the existence of God is if evil is out there objectively. If it is just subjective and evil is just a matter of tastes, that's like saying, I can't believe God exists. Why not? Because of brussel sprouts. Why would brussel sprouts cause you not to believe in God? Because I hate those things, they are disgusting. And my response is, I happen to agree with you but there are a lot of people who like them. Why do you think God can't exist just because there are things that don't appeal to your tastes? You see. This becomes a non-issue at that point. That is why I believe that only the theists can even raise the question and be intelligible.