Posted by Thomas Perez. September 14, 2009 at 12:43am. Copyright 2009.
In more recent times, Plato’s approach has been used as an assault on the coherence of Christianity. 20th century British philosopher and atheist, Bertrand Russell, formulated the problem this way in his polemic against the faith, Why I Am Not a Christian: If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.
Russell’s version is an attempt to show an internal flaw in the Christian’s notion of God and goodness. Is a thing right simply because God declares it so, or does God say it is good because He recognizes a moral code superior even to Him? This problem presents a dilemma because one is forced to choose between two options, both ultimately hostile to Christian theism. The believer is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, God reigns and His Law is supreme. As the ultimate Sovereign, He establishes the moral rules of the universe. His commands are absolute. We must obey.
Ethicist Scott Rae in his book ‘Moral Choices’, describes the view: “A divine command theory of ethics is one in which the ultimate foundation for morality is the revealed will of God, or the commands of God found in Scripture.” This view is known as ethical voluntarism. At first blush this seems correct, until we realize the liabilities. The content of morality would be arbitrary, dependent on God’s whim. Though God has declared murder, theft, and debauchery wrong, it could have been otherwise had God willed it so. Any “immoral” act could suddenly become “moral” by simple fiat. Further, it reduces God’s goodness to His power. To say that God is good simply means that He is capable of enforcing His commands. As Russell put it, “For God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong.” This is the position of Islam, but it is unacceptable to the Christian.
Morality is not arbitrary. God is not free to call what is wrong right, and what is right wrong. The text is clear: “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18). God cannot sin. But the alternative seems no better. If the Christian asserts that morality is not arbitrary, he is caught on the second horn of the dilemma. If the standard itself is absolute such that not even God can violate it, doesn’t this make the Almighty Himself beholden to a higher law? The Sovereign becomes the subordinate. In each case, Christianity loses. Either God is not good, or He’s not sovereign. That’s the dilemma.
Plato’s challenge forces us to consider an important detail in any discussion on the nature of morality: grounding. According to ‘Webster’s New World College Dictionary; 2nd Edition’, the word “ground” originally meant “the lowest part, base, or bottom of anything. In philosophy it refers to the foundation or logical basis of a claim. The founders of our country argued that even governments are subject to a higher law. Certain truths are transcendent, they argued, grounded not in human institutions but in God Himself. This appeal to higher Law was their rational justification for the morality of the American Revolution. The problem of grounding morality is a difficult one for atheists who claim one can have ethics without God. Certainly, an atheist can act in a manner some people consider “moral,” but it’s hard to know what the term ultimately refers to. It generally means to comply with an objective standard of good, a Law given by legitimate authority. However, without a transcendent Lawmaker (God), there can be no transcendent Law, and no corresponding obligation to be good.
Trappist monk Thomas Merton put the challenge this way: In the name of whom or what do you ask me to behave? Why should I go to the inconvenience of denying myself the satisfactions I desire in the name of some standard that exists only in your imagination? Why should I worship the fictions that you have imposed on me in the name of nothing” (Philip Yancy; ‘The Other Great Commission’). As I wrote in Relativism, “a ‘moral’ atheist is like a man sitting down to dinner who doesn’t believe in farmers, ranchers, fishermen, or cooks. He believes the food just appears, with no explanation and no sufficient cause. The atheist’s morality has no grounding. Does the Christian fare any better, though? That is the challenge of this dilemma.
Conclusion to These Thoughts
The general pattern in Eastern religions is to consider evil as the effect of spiritual ignorance. The first noble truth proclaimed by the Buddha states that the only reality of human existence is the all-pervading reality of suffering. This perspective is valid for most of the Eastern religious thinkers that followed the period of the Upanishads. The only possibility of escaping suffering is to know (gnosis) the true nature of things and so to escape from the dominion of ignorance, karma and reincarnation. In the dualistic religions, evil is co-eternal with good. Matter and embodied existence are evil, and our ignorance keeps us from attaining perfection as angelic beings. According to Christianity, evil is neither created, nor a natural, or necessary element. It is a parasite state that perpetuates itself by misusing God’s good resources and by following a wrong direction. It is the illness of beings that are no longer in communion with God. Therefore, world religions harmonize with each other in explaining the meaning of evil by the means of dualism. In the modern world of thought; via critics of religion, evil is an illusion similar to Freud’s, ‘The Ego’. However, this conclusion does not guarantee an answer to the word, ‘why’. Why do we base our lives and governments on a presumed injuction of what is good or evil, right or wrong, if such percepts did not emanate from some place else, or better yet, someone else?
The Knowledge of Good and Evil: A Better Understanding Pertaining to the Question of Evil
The majority of believers who see two separate forces at work—are all dualistic in nature (Zoroastrianism, Marcionism, Gnosticism, Manicheism, Bogomilism, Catharism, Judaism, and Christianity). Those that see many gods, as in eastern religions, miss the point due to their belief concept of pantheism. What must be realized in pantheism, is the conceivable cancellation one deity my have over the other due to one who might be more omnipotent than the other. But, the problem is not quite easy as that, for the Scriptures make it clear that God, on a number of occasions, does evil as well as good, while the Adversary, the exponent of evil, may appear at times as a messenger of light, and light in itself is good. But, again, if we are to say that good emanates from God and evil from Satan, how are we to explain the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” which God planted in the garden of Eden? Here we have the knowledge of the two things brought together in the same tree, which was planted by God! Furthermore, (and this is most vital), if good finds its origin in God and evil in Satan, how can we be certain that good will triumph in the end? If a force of evil has arisen in the universe apart from God in the past, how can we be certain that it will not become so powerful as to defeat God or at the least His purpose? Indeed, if a force has arisen in the universe apart from God, then He has already been taken unawares, and His omnipotence has already been shaken.
The following excerpt is taken from John Essex; The problem of Evil
But the Scriptures themselves set our minds at rest. In (Isa 45:5) “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me. I girded thee (Cyrus – see verse 1), though thou hast not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside Me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” “I create evil.” What does this mean? The Hebrew word here translated “evil” is “ra.” The word is also translated “sorrow,” “wretchedness,” “adversity,” “afflictions,” “calamities,” but is never translated “sin.” God created evil only in the sense that He made sorrow, wretchedness, etc, to be the sure fruits of sin. But the word “ra” is translated “evil” no less than 445 times in our Authorized King James Version. Therefore, it surely means evil. And Isaiah tells us plainly that God created evil. As a friend once told me “To live is evil, as soon as you are born you are dying” How true and profound is such a statement when we view the result of our mortal decay due to our “ra” – sorrow.
God Does Evil But Does Not Sin
Notice carefully what Isaiah says, or rather, what God Himself says through Isaiah. “I form the light and create darkness.” God did not necessarily create light, because light was always in being, since God Himself is light (1 Jn 1:5). The light in reference to Genesis is the light of the universe, of which God created from Himself. Thus, creating the darkness (space) from the light, as we see it today (Gen 1:3-4). He had to create darkness because darkness was something that was not originally in being, but had to be brought into being so that the light could be appreciated. If we never experienced the darkness we would never know the light, we would take it for granted like the air we breathe. It is only when the air becomes foul that we really appreciate what fresh air is. Similarly, God says, “I make peace and create evil,” Peace did not need to be created since it was always there where God was. But, evil had to be created in order that good could be understood.
Evil is a necessity in God’s purpose for good to be appreciated. Moreover, that is why God created evil. But not only do we learn from the Scriptures that God created evil, but we also learn that sometimes He does evil. Now this may startle some until the facts are fully considered. We are so accustomed to the idea that God always does good (much like the atheist above). The Bible insists that God always does right; He cannot sin, He cannot commit iniquity. Abraham, you remember, put the question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). But, it is sometimes right to do evil that good may follow. When a parent punishes a child, for instance, he does evil to that child in order that the good may ensue and the child may be blessed. This is often so with God. He cannot sin, He cannot commit iniquity, (because He chooses not to), but He can do evil. God is not limited, such is the omnipotence of God. In the book of Jeremiah alone, there are more than thirty references to God either doing evil or repenting from evil which He had purposed doing, and there are similar passages in other books. For example, in (Jere 11:10), we read of Israel and Judah having broken the covenant which God had made with their fathers, and then comes this passage, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape.” Notice that God does not say, “I will allow evil to come upon them,” but “I will bring evil upon them.”
The Lesson of the Potter
Again, in (Jere 18:5-10), we find the prophet writing (after he had been taken into the potter’s house, and seen the potter make a vessel on his wheel and then crush it after he had found a flaw in its make – up), “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter?” saith the Lord. “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in Mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.”
In this example, we see God as the Divine Potter, the great Creator of all, insisting upon His right to do either good or evil toward His creatures, and He exercises this right all through the Scriptures. The great flood, the Deluge, was an evil to all the people of the earth except for Noah and his household. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an evil to the inhabitants of those wicked cities save only the family of Lot. The plagues sent against Pharaoh, after God Himself had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he should not repent (Rom 9:14-18), were terrible evils to the Egyptians, but brought blessings to the Israelites. The destruction of His Own beloved Son on the cross was the greatest possible evil that God could do to Him, yet afterwards it brought untold blessings upon Jesus himself, and, through Him, upon all creation. But, someone may well ask, “Are you saying that God did evil to His Own Son? Surely it was the Jews, with the concurrence of their Roman overlords, who crucified Jesus.”
But, what did Peter say on the day of Pentecost? “Ye men of Israel, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22-23). The Concordant Version is very similar, “The bold words are so important that I have quoted them from both versions, so that no one may say that I’m twisting the words to suit my purpose. God’s hands were not wicked. Nevertheless, Jesus was delivered by the determinate, or specific counsel and foreknowledge of God into the hands of those who were wicked enough to crucify Him. No wonder Jesus cried out in His anguish, “My God! My God! Why didst Thou forsake me?” Yet, through the blood of Christ’s cross, God is able to make universal peace, and reconcile all in heaven and earth to Himself, as we read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians in chapter 1 verse 20. Such is the potter. Similarly, Jeremiah, saw the potter at work, molding the clay into either a bowl or a vase, or else a pot, or whatever he willed. Moreover, Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 9 verse 21 confirms this, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” In (Phil 2:5-11), we see a correlation of this (from honor to dishonor, then to ultimate honor. See also Jn 17:5), achieving Gods’ ultimate plan of perfection through Jesus Christ our Lord, for such is the potters plan.
There is nothing in the basic material of the two vessels to make one different from the other. The difference lies in the design of the potter. There is no reason within themselves why one should be a lamb and the other a tiger. It is not the lamb’s fault or the tiger’s fault that they were made thus. Out of the same lump of clay, which God turned into humanity, He can produce in the same generation a Cain and an Abel, a Cain who is self-centered and an Abel who is full of faith, a Cain who is a murderer, and an Abel who is a servant of God. Out of the same lump, out of the same kneading, He can produce a self-righteous Pharisee and a self – abnegating Publican.
Jesus, in His conversation with His Father in the garden of Gethsemane, acknowledged the fact that God had given Him the twelve disciples, and included in these was the son of perdition, or the son of destruction. Judas was one of the Twelve, and Jesus indicated that He had lost him in order that the scripture might be fulfilled (Jan 17:12). God knew beforehand that Judas would betray Jesus, yet God chose Judas along with the others. It was necessary that one should betray Jesus. It was necessary for the salvation of all that God’s Son should be crucified. It was necessary that “the Firstborn of every creature” should forfeit his life in order that He might become “Firstborn from among the dead,” in Whom all could enter into newness of life, untrammeled and untainted by sin. Without those who would betray Him, and those who would revile Him, and those who would actually nail him to the cross, this could not be done. There had to be vessels of dishonor as well as vessels of honor.
God is a God with a purpose, which He conceived in the beginning and planned through to the end. This purpose required the evil as well as the good, and God provided for the evil just as surely as He provided for the good. Had this not been so, then God’s purpose would have been all good, but none of us would ever have been able to realize the greatness of His goodness, for there would have been no evil to set it against. Yes, the same God Who made the lamb also made the tiger. The God Who made the lovely flowers also made the nettles with their stings. The God Who made the harmless worm also made the poisonous serpent. The God Who made the good, made the evil also. Yet some would maintain, “the tiger become fierce because of the fall, but originally all was created good!” Yes; it is true, all was created good. Yet, I would maintain and say “God knew (The Fall) would come to pass and in so knowing, thus allowed it to come to pass within His predetermined design. The Fall did not take Him by surprise!
From Whence Came Satan?
The God who became the Lord Jesus (The God – Man through the incarnation of the Holy Spirit), created the Adversary, Satan, who would be His chief opponent, ever seeking to usurp his glory and to obstruct and nullify His purpose. How can we reconcile the thought that God is love with the creation of such an implacable enemy? This question has puzzled many who cannot readily accept the fact that God could create such a waster to destroy, and that His hand could travail with such a crooked serpent. But was Satan an adversary from his beginning? Some have argued that Satan was originally a good being, who allowed evil thoughts to enter his mind, so that he became a usurper. That school of thought is debatable. Actually the train of thought should promote a question. The question being, ‘where did the evil thoughts come from’? From another being, outside of himself, or from within himself? Whichever way we answer, we must find some source of evil. Rather than enter into such speculations, it is far better to believe the words of the Lord Jesus Himself when He said of Satan that he was “a man killer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, for the truth is not in him” (Jn 8:44). “He is a liar, and the father of it.” The rebellions of Satan did not take an omnipotent God by surprise. However, the omniparous (He is able to do, knows all, He is present everywhere at the same time, and He is producer of all) of God allowed it to be such, in order to reveal His purpose and love.
The fact is, God required an adversary in order to reveal Himself and in order to develop His purpose. This adversary must be extremely powerful. It is, indeed, necessary for him to be greater and more powerful than any other created being in God’s universe with the exception of the Eternal Logos – who became flesh in Christ Jesus. No lesser being could hope to challenge the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ, no lesser being could hope to deceive hosts of messengers and turn them away from God; no lesser being could recruit the sovereignties and authorities among the celestial’s among his subjects; no lesser being could sustain an unremitting opposition to God throughout the period covered by the eons; against no lesser being could God demonstrate so fully His absolute supremacy. In a revealing passage in (Jude 9), it is recorded that Michael, the chief messenger, and one of the highest in the heavenly hierarchy (Dan 12:1), dared not rebuke Satan concerning the body of Moses, but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!” Whatever may be the exact interpretation of this passage, it does show the power of Satan. Yet; Satan is not all – powerful, only God is, as we learn in the book of Job. God showed His power in His dealings with Job.
In (Job 1:12), we learn that, in response to his own suggestion. Satan was permitted to touch all that Job had, but not the man himself. Later, in (Job 2:6), he was permitted to afflict Job himself, but not to take his life. Always there is a limit to the authority given to Satan, and we should take comfort from this. But there was one short period in the history of God’s universe when Satan seemed to have been given all power. In the case of Job, Satan’s power was restricted, even though he was allowed to afflict grievous suffering on the patriarch. But in the case of the Lord Jesus, we read, concerning God, “He Who spares not His Own Son, but gives Him up for us all.” God spared not His Own Son, but gave Satan the power to do with Him whatever he would up to the moment that he had ensured His death on the cross. Then God imposed His authority again, for He would not suffer His Holy One to see corruption. Nor would He leave His soul in the unseen (Gen 3:15, Psa 16:10, Acts 2:27).
During the whole of Jesus’ ministry on earth, Satan was unable to exercise any power over Him. At the conclusion of the testing in the wilderness at the very beginning of His ministry, when Satan in person confronted Jesus, our Lord told him to go away, and it is recorded that the Adversary left Him (Matt 4:10-11). In Luke’s account, it is recorded that “the Adversary withdrew from Him until an appointed time” (Lk 4:13). What this appointed time was, we shall see in a moment. Meanwhile, Satan’s instruments, the scribes and the Pharisees, continued to seek to destroy Jesus, but He was always able to defeat them. They could not take Him captive, nor could they succeed in condemning Him for what He was saying, though they often tried. Frequently we read that “His hour” (the appointed time) had not yet come (Jn 2:4, 7:30, 8:20). Notice particularly this last scripture, “No man laid hands on Him, for His was not yet come.” In (Matt 26:45), we read that the hour has become near, “and the Son of Man is being given up into the hands of sinners.” In (Jn 17:1), “The hour has come.”
This hour, when it came, would be a very dreadful experience is evident from some of our Lord’s references to it. It has two aspects. On the one hand, the Son was to be glorified in order that He in turn might glorify God (Jn 17:1), but then there came to Jesus the full realization that that glorification had to be preceded by such an experience as would cause His whole being to recoil from it. So terrible was the prospect facing Him that He even contemplated asking His Father to be saved out of this hour (Jn 12:27), and actually did pray that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him (Mk 14:35). How intense this last prayer was is shown by the fact that, addressing God by the most endearing name possible, “Abba, Father,” He reminded Him that “all is possible to Thee,” and then added, “Have this cup carried aside from Me, under great stress; sweating drops of blood. ” Praise be to God that Jesus immediately subjected His own will to that of His Father. “Not what I will, but what Thou wilt!” What was it that made this hour so dreadful? After the evening in Gethsemane, and after Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss, Jesus Himself uttered a most remarkable statement, which largely explained the dreadfulness of the hour. He said to those who sought Him, “At My being daily with you in the sanctuary, you do not stretch out your hands for Me, but this is your hour and the jurisdiction of darkness” (Lk 22:53). And the next moment they apprehended Him, and He did not resist them, for it was the will of God that He should be given up to the power of Satan.
The Jurisdiction of Darkness
The jurisdiction of darkness is the rule of the Adversary. In (Col 1:13), it is the opposite state to the kingdom of the Son of God’s love. Here Satan is being given authority to do whatever he will, and nothing is spared from the afflictions of Christ. Indeed, from this moment everything seemed to be going right for Satan. He claimed Peter, the chief of the apostles, and Jesus had not disputed his claim, but instead prayed that Peter’s faith might not be defaulting. In the event, Peter renounced his Master three times. All the ten remaining apostles forsook Jesus in His hour of trial, and fled. Jesus was given up to be forsaken on the dreadful cross even by God Himself. Was not this Satan’s greatest triumph? Yet in all, Satan was only carrying out God’s intention, unknowingly, of course, or he would not have done it. As it is written in the scriptures, ” Which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Cor 2:8 compare with Jn 12:31, 16:11, Eph 2:2, 6:12). The word of the cross became both the power of God and the wisdom of God, for it becomes the basis of both salvation and reconciliation. All this was ordained of God from the beginning (I Cor 2:7).
When God gave up His Son to the jurisdiction of Satan, He gave up all, seeing that all has its cohesion in the Son of God’s love, and thus, was complete as we read in (Col 1:17). Cohesion is the opposite of disruption. When the Son of God was crucified, that which kept the universe together, once again, gave all creation a reason for its existence – an outlook for the future. All that was extinguished, in human terms, God replaced; when He gave up His Son. Nothing would have delighted the Adversary more than to have destroyed completely the purpose of God; and with the destruction of Him (Christ) around Whom that purpose was built, and in Whom all had its cohesion, and for Whom all was intended – all is created through Him and for Him (Col 1:17) – with the destruction of this One (Christ), Satan seemed to have secured a complete triumph. But, such is the supremacy of God that He can turn even the Adversary’s fury into praise for himself. In the experience of the cross and resurrection above all else in Scripture. We can see that Satan, the chief exponent of evil, can only be an instrument in God’s hands. His greatest act of opposition can only further God’s purpose.
God Is Directing All
The assurance and a comfort to us all, is the fact that God controls all. As Paul tells us in (Eph 1:11), He is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will and that all includes the evil as well as the good (Rom 8:28).