Evil & God {2}: I’m a Heretic, I Fear


This is my final post in a discussion I’ve been having with a very good friend of mine, Austin Ricketts, about the relation of Evil to the Nature of God. For more on the background of this discussion, see  Part 1 of this reply, although you should be able to gather a good idea of the conversation from this post. After this, I’ll let Austin have the last word, if he’d like.

Pressing into the Story of God’s Nature

I’ve been saying that God’s Nature is not static, but, just like us humans, it’s like a Story, unfolding in time (click here for more). Further, it’s a Story that includes Evil and Death within in. Hopefully I can clarify some points all the more by drawing out the “Story” metaphor further (because, at the end of the day, that’s all this whole “Narrative” framework is).

When I write a story about redemption and healing, I include evil in that story–evil that ends up being resolved and healed in the end. The thought of that evil (whatever it may be) is borne from my mind and existence. Just because the thought of that evil has “existed” in my mind, does not, however, make me evil.

Similarly, just because a comedy may contain some deception, lies, or other wickedness, the presence of those things in the story does not change the fundamental genre of that story as a comedy.

If you can forgive my use of such a human term, it is my contention that, in a sense, the “genre” of God is, indeed, Love. And what is love? Two verses after writing “God is love”, John also tells us what Love precisely is: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” To say “God is love” is to proclaim that God is a story involving death, sin, loss, and redemption. Just because this “Storied Essence” of God contains “plot points” of sin and evil (to be done away with ultimately), does not change God’s basic “genre” to anything other than Love.

I still maintain God’s fundamental goodness, and I still would never discuss Evil in the Essence of God by using the language of “characteristic” or “attribute”. In my framework, what we normally talk about as “attributes” of God would, in the language of these posts, be referred to as “genres” of God. Just like a story can be many genres at once–a “romantic action dramedy”, for example–so to can God be Love, Holy, Just, and Good all at the same time, and still employ Evil at the deepest parts of the “plot” while not changing this basic genre.

This “Evil” would not be fundamental or defining, but rather more akin to a set-piece, theme, or motif that moves the fundamental story along–a story about the destruction of that Evil. Like I said before: “simple” or “brute” Evil does not exist in God, but only Evil in the service of the Story of Redemption.

To use other Aristotelian terminology, one can look at this similarly to his substance/accident distinction (as Aquinas also did), and say that God’s substance is Love, even when the accident is Evil. Evil in the service of God’s Story to destroy Evil does not make God evil.

Conclusion: I am a heretic, but help me

Reading through these posts, I am reminded of a line in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man where the main character, Stephen Daedalus, is talking to a girl with which he is infatuated. He is trying to impress her with the sophistry of his own philosophizing. When he is done portraying himself as profound and innovative, she looks at him blankly and simply says, “I am afraid you are a heretic.”

He simply replies, “Are you much afraid?”

I am much afraid.

I write and read all this and fear it’s far too easy. As Austin said, all my logic fits. But still…I wonder if it’s like the political theory of some of my friends: yeah, I get what they’re saying and why they’re saying it; I just don’t think it’s an accurate representation of reality.

I feel and fear that I am indeed guilty of Austin’s initial critique that we’ve become too careless in discussions of God’s nature in our discourse. I know for a fact that I have not been gripped by the fear and trembling and awe that should grip a man wandering into such depths as these–a fear and caution I know Austin walks in. For me, these posts have been dangerously, coldly intellectual.

So, for anyone that shares this fear on my behalf, help me. Here are the 5 things that continue to bring me to the conclusions I have laid out in these posts. These are the “premises” to my logic that Austin mentioned in his post. If you disagree with me on what I’ve written, then address these things, and I will recant:

(1) I cannot believe that there is anything that exists outside of the Nature and Character of God. You can establish as many secondary and tertiary causes to Evil as you want, but it still does not absolve God of his responsibility and honor of being the fountainhead of all things.

(2) I truly believe there there are biblically-consistent, soul-strengthening, and worship-inspiring aspects drawn from the idea that Christ truly, in the deepest of ways, took on sin, death, suffering, and evil on the Cross–to the point that to experience these things now is to actually participate in the experience of the Divine. I believe this offers such encouragement in doubt and is a powerful explanatory apologetic for our faith–more so than any of the alternatives I’ve so far encountered.

(3) Relatedly, I still hate talking of Christ as having “two natures”–one human, one divine. I get what’s trying to be conveyed by this historical articulation, but I fear this falls into the Platonic errors (and Arian heresy) I spoke of in an earlier post. I prefer thinking that Christ had one nature that was both human and divine. I don’t think that Christ’s “natures” are distinct in the sense that the “human part” of Jesus could experience things (like Evil, Suffering, and Death) that were not also part of the eternal experience of the “divine part”.

(4) I also refuse to believe that the Cross was “Plan B” after we messed up “Plan A”. The Bible over and over affirms that this Story of Redemption is the only Story there ever has been. Yes, I know this is hyper-Calvinist-sounding to the max, but can I genuinely affirm what I just said and still say that humanity has full responsibility for their choices and absolute freedom of will (within the bounds of their own natures)? I think I can, and I believe that post-modernity has given us this ability to hold two seemingly-contradictory statements at the same time. So, I affirm both of these.

(5) And lastly, I really don’t want to accept any framework for this stuff that is at the expense of God’s power; that establishes some sort of “Sovereign Satan” or “Sovereign Free Will” idea that leaves God as the weakened maid, tasked with helplessly watching us destroy ourselves and then trying (if our “free wills” allow) to “clean up” the mess after us; leaving him (presumably “out of love for us”) to sit and hope we don’t mess up again or hope that that dastardly Satan doesn’t outsmart him again. I know this would be far from Austin’s view, but I feel it is consistent with most of Evangelical and typical American Christian responses to these conerns.

In conclusion, I feel this idea of the Narratival Nature and Storied Essence of God offers a framework in which all of these things find harmony, all while giving us an account for Evil that still maintains God’s goodness and sovereignty. No other principle I’ve encountered has such explanatory power.

But in explaining so much, I still wonder if it exceeds the thoughts we are warranted to think after God–that it crucifies the very mystery that draws us to ponder these things. I don’t know, but I pray my heart stays soft enough to change as He leads.

In the end, as my life and mind encounter the darkness I’m attempting to make sense of here, I can only pray alongside Mr. Mumford:

So give me hope in the darkness
That I will see the light,
‘Cause oh, they gave me such a fright.
But I will hold on with all of my might–
Just promise me we’ll be alright.

Thank God He has.

Austin, your serve.

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9 thoughts on “Evil & God {2}: I’m a Heretic, I Fear

  1. Paulos, I’ve read both of your responses, and will respond soon. This week is a bit busy, but I should have something in a few days. I did want to say that I’m sorry if my refutation felt more like a wrecking ball than a blueprint. You’re right that I didn’t plan to do constructive work in that essay, but I hope that you know that I wasn’t tearing things down for the sake of tearing them down.

    I’ll have to write a constructive vision of the Trinity eventually, but I’m not ready yet. There is a lot more praying that must take place before then. I will have some more constructive things to say in my forthcoming article, however. Let us continue to reason together. Let’s walk together a while more. May God pour his grace upon you.

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  2. Hey Paul,

    On your first three premises:

    On #1: “I cannot believe that there is anything that exists outside of the Nature and Character of God. You can establish as many secondary and tertiary causes to Evil as you want, but it still does not absolve God of his responsibility and honor of being the fountainhead of all things.”

    But what if Augustine was right after all, and evil is not a “thing?”

    On #2: Yes and Amen. That’s what the orthodox (Chalcedonian) doctrine of the incarnation implies–God truly tasted suffering and death for us in Christ .

    On #3: It doesn’t seem you’ve given due place here in your articulation to the category of person, and therefore wind up in something like monophysitism. But, I think the orthodox Christology actually has what you’re after, and it comes in the proper distinction between person and nature. Christ’s *person* is only divine. (He’s not a “divine-human person” or a person formed out of the union of divinity and humanity — that is Nestorianism) So, you really can’t, for the orthodox Christology, talk about the human “doing” or “experiencing” things that divine does not. And that’s because natures don’t act, persons do. And the person that acts in Christ is a divine person, who acts in and through a human nature. In other words, the “He” of Christ is God (the second person of the Holy Trinity), full stop. Thus, the divine person experiences fully and truly everything his humanity experiences, for it is *his*, that is *God’s*, humanity. .

    Blessings,

    Jon

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