Saturday, October 31, 2015

Faithfully Valuing the Limits of Scripture (PART 6 - COPING WITH EVIL II)

This series explores the nature of Scripture (specifically those aspects which many of us find uncomfortable) and what our approach to Scripture should be as a consequence. This exploration is needed because our intrinsic human biases cause us to assume that God's nature / aims / priorities all line up with our modernistic worldview, which focuses on detailed accurate synergistic information. However such an approach to Scripture clashes with many of its properties. Our response tends to be to curate Scripture, or to minimise our engagement with the aspects we find difficult to explain. Instead we should engage with all of Scripture as God designed it, and challenge our perspective on it when needed. What does it look like when we value the uncomfortable aspects of Scripture?

The series so far:

We've discussed how Scripture suggest that God is more interested in the non-cognitive goals of personhood, expression, and relationship, and deliberately utilises a thoroughly human Bible along with cognitive 'gaps' (biases or 'errors', according to our modernistic perspective) to achieve these aims. 

Many cognitive / experiential 'gaps' can be considered normal or conducive toward relationship. One challenge to this view is that not all 'gaps' easily line up with this supposed aim of God's - some gaps can legitimately be called 'evil' even from a relational perspective. We've been discussing how our relationship copes with these gaps in the form of faith, which again is not primarily cognitive. One strategy faith uses is to wrestle with God's purposes for these gaps, and to provide potential answers which sustain our relationship through these 'evil' gaps. These answers also demonstrate that 'evil' gaps do not ultimately conflict with God's relational aims. 

This discussion has led us to analyse 'progressive revelation' (with its obvious cognitive 'deficiencies') as a specific form of 'evil', recognizing that it still specifically serves God's relational aims, and discussing how faith grapples with Scripture.

We've already covered how the these 'gaps' are required for the expression of faith, which is the most vivid display of the authenticity and health of any relationship. To round off my defence of God's relational aims, we'll explore a couple of other potential 'answers for evil' that faith can grapple with.

Full Expression

First, In a broad sense Evil allows a more complete expression of God's character. God is not merely good, He is ANTI-evil - meaning ultimate evil (real persisting gaps in the expression of God) cannot exist. This very impossibility - God's anti-evil nature - itself needs expressing, and what better way than to give evil the opportunity to assert its own existence, only to be gloriously and satisfyingly overcome by Gods goodness?{1} Sometimes this is obvious and temporally relevant (i.e. God meets our needs when we pray to Him), but other times it is more subtle and eternally focused (i.e. by some of the other purposes for evil, discussed below). 

Progressive revelation likewise allows the more full expression of God's character. The ANTI aspects of God's nature need revealing - including the faults  of the previously biased views, which requires their existence to start with. Harmonious summary statements about God are not enough - certain aspects require a full and mature dealing, which may require a partially biased expression for a time. If these biases also produce evil gaps, it is so that they can be overcome by integration into the whole goodness of God, and so that we can enjoy the full spectrum of views and perspectives on our unified God. And the unity of God's people - under a common spirit-wrought love for Christ, in varying states of cognitive awareness - is meant to demonstrate the impossibility of evil ultimately winning, even if it is given opportunity (through the existence of cognitive bias and disagreement). 

Specific Effects

Second, evil performs its own specific purposes more directly. Some events - which are required in Gods expressive narrative - require evil in order to occur, or require evil to setup the context for another expression of God's character. Examples of these kinds of evil include huge parts of Israel's story (which gives so much meaning to the rest of God's revelation in Scripture), and the murder of God's son (which was ordained before the world was even created). Another big class of specific purposes for evil, is the individual development of our characters as free agents. Some character developments REQUIRE the existence of evil.{2} Gods relational nature wants a large number of different characters in heaven, which require various patterns of mixed experience, including (temporary) evil which is ultimately overcome by God's goodness.

Progressive revelation has direct effects as well, in terms of intended messages, directing historical events, and molding specific characters. Each revelation had an intended message and intended effect, which might change with the historical context. The bias, the truth content, and the omissions all have a necessary role in accurately conveying the message and creating the intended effects. 


Even 'evil' experiential gaps in God's expression are readily assimilated by God's relational aims. Relationships persist in the form of faith, a valuable self-evident manifestation of the health of any relationship. Faith can sustain itself by grappling with some of God's purposes for evil (such as allowing alternative expressions of God's goodness), and how it fits with his relational aims. Faith can also grapple with God's purposes for the 'evils' of progressive revelation, which (like all 'evil' gaps) allow the goodness of God to take on alternative expressive forms, enhancing relationship rather than posing a challenge to God's relational aims.

  • Does it feel wrong to attribute deliberate good original purposes to 'evil'? 
  • Do you agree that the it is better if you are given a chance to express your relationship in faith? Does this 'purpose' for evil give you any comfort?
  • Are there other purposes for evil you can think of?
  • Do you think that having good 'purposes' for evil, is enough to justify its existence? Or the existence of 'gaps' within progressive revelation?

Please comment below! I need feedback to tailor my views and stay faithful to Scripture...

Coming Soon...

  • Next I'll attempt to summarise how to approach Scripture, with everything we've already discussed in mind.
  • After that we'll explore some specific examples of progressive revelation and how a proper approach to Scripture leads ancient and modern saints to Him, but through different cognitive paths. 
  • We'll also reverse course a little, discussing some cognitive 'gaps' that WE impose on Scripture (making progressive revelation seem more full of gaps than it really is, or than ancient readers saw it).


1 - Some will object that God's goodness can't require even a temporary experience of evil for it to be expressed, as this would make Him dependant on something other than Himself for full expression of His goodness. This view has several problems, one of which is that it defines evil as something that does not originate with God. The Bible's definition of evil, however, includes things that originate from God. Also, this view simplifies the concept of God's expression down to a single mode (where everyone is aiming for an identical relationship, which includes only an abstract understanding of any evil and God's victory over it). I agree that God does not require every person to experience every form of evil and His victory over it, but people will experience varying degrees of isolated goodness vs. its victory over evil in a wide spectrum. This is a beautiful thing in the end, when we consider the natural and desirable variety of relationships God desires.

2 - God can't simply create specific characters from thin air, just like he can't perform other logical contradictions. Strength, experience, maturity, and other aspects in our souls exist precisely BECAUSE of how they are formed. They can't exist in isolation of their development - that doesn't make sense, and to try and fake them would result in poor substitutes, and we would easily and quickly discover that they lack any basis.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the write up Josh.
    I really like your thought about how God needs to demonstrate that He is anti evil, and to demonstrate to be anti-evil, evil needs to exist somehow. God being anti-evil would have no cognitive construct for us to comprehend what that even means, if evil did not exist.

    Without evil we could not have had the greatest form good - Christ's death on the cross. Namely, loving an enemy!

    To explore your questions:

    Does it feel wrong to attribute deliberate good original purposes to 'evil'?
    Yeah it does feel wrong especially at first, but when thought further about it, it an be understood.

    Do you agree that the it is better if you are given a chance to express your relationship in faith? Does this 'purpose' for evil give you any comfort?
    Yes, it is better because it encourages a further desire for and commitment to a beauty that is seen in part.

    Are there other purposes for evil you can think of?

    Not at the moment ha ha

    Do you think that having good 'purposes' for evil, is enough to justify its existence? Or the existence of 'gaps' within progressive revelation?

    Yes, when thought about it is easier to grasp and see the necessity of it. Yet is still hard to accept at times...