Monday, December 30, 2013

What Atheists Want is Heaven on Earth

As I was reading through Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great about God, he often mentioned the complaint of many skeptics, agnostics and atheists regarding the problem of evil in a world that includes a good and all-powerful God as its Creator. For me, the single most disappointing aspect of D'Souza's book is his lack of attention to the fall as a means of explanation. I expected to see mention of the fall when he expounded upon the Anthropic Principle but was disappointed.

Elsewhere I have stated that God does not have a problem of evil and suffering (link), which, perhaps to some, appears rather simplistic, naïve or dismissive; but this conclusion incorporates the notion of the reality of the fall. When people complain that evil is a problem if there truly be an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, I think that from the perspective of God, the problem is solely ours, not His. We are the ones who disobeyed God by the abuse of our own freedom; because of us the earth was subjected to entropy; because of our sin we experience disasters, sin, and evil. God does not have a problem of evil -- we do. The problem of evil belongs to us; yet many deny responsibility and shift the blame for evil to the only innocent One in the known universe: God. No other aspect of our existence so displays our depravity than charging God with evil.

From all appearances, the only antidote to the problem of evil commensurate with a good and all-powerful Creator/Being/God is what we know to be heaven, God's abode. For in God's presence is where He will wipe away every tear from the eyes of His regenerate and redeemed children, and "death will not exist any more -- or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist" (cf. Rev. 21:4 NET). We await the fulfillment of this promise; this place and time has yet to come; we cannot expect a heavenly context within our fallen context. But this seems to be the demand of atheists. D'Souza comments:
If God were to take our protest [about the problem of evil] all the way to its end and "fix" the problem, either by taking away natural calamities or by getting rid of free will and free choice, that end would be a world in which we as conscious, rational creatures would not exist. At best, we would exist as lower animals with no moral culpability and no deep suffering, like the dog or the gazelle that has no ability to frame or feel the question, "Why is this happening to me?" For God to remove our complaint in this way is to remove the possibility of a complainer!1
The world cannot be other than as it is; we cannot have a perfect world until we have been perfected -- until His perfection has arrived, and until He has established His perfect, eternal reign. This fact leads D'Souza to explain how we cannot exist in a world with fallen human beings, endowed with free will, without having to endure evil choices.2

Now, someone has complained that if God were good then He would protect us from all evil. After all, an earthly father would move heaven and earth to protect his son from all harm. But I think this argument fails on two counts: 1) there are times when a parent must step aside and allow the child to experience the consequences of his choices and actions; so that, no amount of attempted protection can shield the child; and 2) for God to protect each one of us from all harm in toto, He would be obliged to manipulate each and every choice we make, guaranteeing a positive consequent.

I remember hearing Dr. John Lennox ask an opponent: "How much sin would you prefer God to stop? All sin? Some sin? My sin? Your sin?" In our fallen frame of reference, the only method of God shielding us from the effects of sin is for Him to make our choices for us, thus not allowing for any wrong or sinful choice. Yet, such a scenario is not desired by unbelievers. The "problem of evil," however, will be directly confronted, challenged, and eradicated in the eschaton -- the time when God will dwell with man forever. The universe will be renewed (Rom. 8:20-22); God's children will be redeemed (Rom. 8:23); and sin and death, the enemies of Christ, will be placed under his feet. (1 Cor. 15:25-26 NET)

We cannot expect heaven on earth at this time without having first experienced the redemption which Christ will bring with Him. The saddest aspect of the complaint of the problem of evil from atheists, however, is that they reject the only remedy for this problem: Jesus Christ. He is the one who is coming to establish eternal righteousness, thus solving the reality of evil; but He is still rejected by those who complain that He has not yet brought about this solution in their way and in their time.    

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1 Dinesh D'Souza, What's So Great about God: A Reasonable Defense of the Goodness of God in a World Filled with Suffering (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013), 247.

2 Ibid., 247-48. I added the notion of us being fallen human beings; D'Souza did not include the concept of the fall here. 

2 comments:

Thanks, pastor Steve. I was thinking about you last night as I was studying eschatology. You know, you should have challenged me harder on my posts, haha. You're too kind.

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