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Saturday, 4 August 2007

Faith and Freedom to ask the Big Questions #2: Why is Death & Decay part of Creation?

This is the second in a series of Faith/Science questions that Cliff Martin presented for discussion. Please read this introduction first. There was some excellent discussion in Question#1: So old, so vast. So Insignificant?

Why did God create the universe in such a way that it is driven by a principle of death and decay? Why would he intentionally subject the cosmos to decay in hope that it would someday be liberated? Now that we know that entropy dates back to the very creation moment, what does all of this suggest about God’s creative purposes? And what significant role does Romans 8 suggest for people of faith?.

18 comments:

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,

A couple of comments to kick this off.

1)I think most Evangelical Christians would disagree with how the first two parts of this question are phrased. They would state that death & decay were never part of God’s intention. They would state that death was a result of sin. There are different explanations for this (eg. All death was a result of Adam’s sin, pre-human death was a result of Satan’s sin) but most Evangelicals would definitely not see death as part of God’s original plan. So for many Christians, this question is not an issue at all. For me, it is definitely a legitimate question, a key question.

2) Even though it’s a key question, I’m not sure I’d phrase it exactly like this. I probably would not call the creation of the universe “driven by a principle of death and decay”. Saying that decay, destruction, and death are an integral part of the process, a necessary part of the process, but not necessarily the driving factor is something I'm more comfortable saying. Also, the phrase “hope that it would someday be liberated” sounds too unsure – for we are “sure of what we hope for”. But, maybe these critiques of the questions are just semantics and nitpicking.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m uncomfortable with the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. (I’m more comfortable with Owen Gingerich’s small “i”, small “d” intelligent design ideas). Part of the reason for this is that ID continually highlights the fact that a) the universe is finely tuned for life and b) this fine-tuning is proof that God exists. I agree with statement a) but I’m uncomfortable with part b) – in particular the “proof” claim. But more to the point for our discussion here, I believe the corollary of statement a) is that the universe is also finely tuned for death. I think this is what you are getting at here. And that is a tough question.

Ken said...

A few rambling thoughts:

1) Imagine if there were no death or decay. I have a cottonwood tree in my back yard. When that thing releases it's seeds, it looks like it is snowing -- really. I actually get "drifts" of the cotton seeds up against my garage. Now, imagine if every single one of those seeds grew into a tree that never died!

2) Look at a lion's teeth. If there were no death and the lion really "laid down with the lamb," what would the lion eat? She's not going to graze on grass because she can't. Her teeth are made for meat and to eat meat means there must be death.

3) Look at how many offspring an ant colony produces or a fish produces. If there were no death then the world would be overpopulated in a few generations.

4) If there were no decay, then plants would leach all the nutrients out of the soil and starve. Even pre-sin, the plants and trees would have to get nutrients from somewhere. God would have had to continually replenish the nutrients in the soil. "Creation" would have been on-going.

All of this, for me, points to one conclusion: I do not see God's original creation as being viable in the long term. It just doesn't make sense unless he was going to continually intervene and handle the overpopulation and other problems. (And what was he going to do -- have a cottonwood tree heaven where he transplated trees so they wouldn't die? Make wheatgrass smoothies for the lions to drink since they couldn't eat meat?) His creation depends on death and decay and so Adam had to sin. It was the plan from the beginning.

And so, I think that this means that we need to rethink death and decay. Maybe death is not as bad as we make it out to be. Have you ever been digging in rich, fertile soil and smelled how wonderful it is and felt the closeness with nature and with God? That soil is decay. Yet it is also life. Death is not the end but an intermission before the show starts all over again.

Romans 8 talks about creation being a slave to corruption and suffering the pains of childbirth. Yes, everything in nature ends up decaying but out of that decay comes new life -- childbirth. It's a cycle and we may not like it much but only because we see death only as an end.

So, more in direct answer to your questions, God's creation is not only driven by death and decay but also by birth and growth. The "hope" from Romans 8 is not like "I hope I have a rich aunt whom I never met and she dies and I inherit a trillion dollars." It's hope in something that will happen but we just don't know when.

And all this points us to rethinking our traditional views about God's creative purpose. You are right -- they don't work for us now. So it's time to stop blindly clinging to the old thought patterns and figure out what it does all mean.

Maybe not the definitive answer you're seeking but then that would take the pleasure out of the journey, right?

Cliff said...

Steve & Ken,

Thank you both for your thoughts. I have only a few minutes this evening, so I will briefly respond ...

Frist, I agree with both of you about the meaning of hope in Romans 8 (and elsewhere). When God hopes, and when we base our hope in his promises, the outcome is certain, even if for us such hope involves faith. I agree also that, though the hoped-for outcome is certain, its timing may not be.

As for the case for a death-driven universe, I hardly think it was overstated. From what we know, this universe is something like 99.9999% dead. There is no life, no possible place for life in amost all corners this vast expanse. And every source of energy (including the evergy that feeds life itself) is death. On this, the one planet upon which we know life exists, death has been its story since its beginning. Something in the order of 100 times the number of extant species living today have, in eons past, gone extinct. This universe is not freindly to life. It is inhospitable in the extreme. And God made it that way. And when he did, we know two things. 1) He had in the back of his mind a plan for its deliverence, and 2) he declared, "it is good". This strikes me as very strange unless the principles of entropy, death and decay, were are the very heart of his purpose in creation. It is as though they serve some underlying, though temporal function in his plan.

Ken, you are quite right about the beauty and wonder of life in this entropic context, and how death and decay serve life, both by providing its backdrop, and by feeding the processes of new birth, etc. But this observation does not take away the fact that our very lives are dependent upon death itself, an enemy that is to be vanquished. It is not that all aspects of death and decay are ugly or horrible. But still, we have a universe, and life inside a universe, both of which are governed by a principle that seems to be contrary to the God of Life.

More later ...

~ Cliff Martin

Jordan said...

I'm not yet convinced that animal death is so contrary to God's utopia to begin with. Scripturally, there are several passages that seem to imply that man was made mortal from the beginning. Genesis 1:29-30 says we must eat. Why eat if we were created immortal? Genesis 3:22-23 says that the Tree of Life was created so that man could live forever. Again, what purpose would it have served if man was created immortal? Very likely, the "death" spoken of in Genesis is spiritual in nature, as alluded to in Rom 5:12 (compare with parallels in Rom 5:18-19) and Rom 6:13.

Scientifically, growth isn't even possible without death. The very process of a child growing into an adult involves cell division, which in turn involves the shortening of chromosome telomeres... which inevitably leads to death.

YECs often tend to downplay the pre-Fall death of things like plants and invertebrates by insisting that these things are not "alive" in God's eyes. I read an article by Sarfati recently that pushed this view, saying that only multicellular organisms with a backbone have the breath of life. If I could, I would ask him whether he thinks human zygotes are alive and whether he has any qualms with their being aborted.

Cliff said...

Jordan,

You are correct about death predating the Fall of Man. I believe you are correct in saying that God created humans as mortal beings. That is precisely the point. Not only humans, but all life forms are created mortal. Not only life forms, but the entire cosmos is recreated mortal. This universe (if left to its natural course) is destined to die either a slow, cold, dark death, or be consumed in a cataclysmic reversal of the Big Bang. Every star in the night sky is mortal. All creation moans under the weight of death and decay. And while it might seem natural, and even pleasant from our point of veiw (hand me the steak!) for our lives to be nourished by death, the fact is that all life is nutured and sustained by multiple layers of death.

You write, "Scientifically, growth isn't even possible without death." No argument there. The question is why did God design it that way? Why would the author of life and enemy of death (Hebrews 2:14 tells us who wields the power of death) design a universe with death written into the blueprints at every turn?

Since death is an enemy to be vanquished (1 Corinthians 15), how can you say, "I'm not yet convinced that animal death is so contrary to God's utopia to begin with"? Of course it is. The utopia described by Isaiah is free of predatory animal death. Likewise, we are told of that world that it will have no need of the sun (our entropic energy source). Why? Because the very glory of God will be the only needed energy source. A day is coming when our reality will be entirely sans entropy.

Take all this information and feed it back into the creation moment. Surely it must tell us something about God's purpose in creating this cosmos!

~ Cliff Martin

Steve Martin said...

Jordan, Cliff, Ken:
All of you have pointed out in various ways how life & death are so intertwined in creation as we see it now. (And very well said in your comment Ken!) I really think, as has been pointed out, YEC proponents have not thought through this very well. Life, as we know it, without death is impossible. True life pre-sin could have been quite different, but that is not even the picture of a literal Genesis. For example, I don’t think water would even flow if, as Henry Morris claims, sin brought about the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Rivers seem to flow normally pre-Adam’s sin in Genesis.

A couple of questions / comments:

Ken:
1. You stated that “I do not see God's original creation as being viable in the long term”. I think this statement is true if you talk about a “YEC view of God’s original creation” ie. A static creation. Is this what you meant? However, I don’t believe God’s original creation was static. The YEC view of God’s creation may not be viable, but God’s real creation is.

2. You stated that “Adam had to sin”. I think this statement is debatable (both ways) but for me the important thing is that all humanity, including the “original sinners” & myself were & are morally responsible for sin. Just stating this because I know some have taken this tact & basically come to the conclusion that “heh, no choice so no responsibility”.

Jordan:
Not sure what you meant by “God’s Utopia”. Do you mean God’s original plan for creation (that was marred) or a future state (ie. Heaven)? I think this is what Cliff was getting at. My own view is that there never was an “original utopia” – so I think if you changed the word “utopia” to “creation” I understand what you are saying. I do agree that the “death” spoken of in these passages is spiritual in nature, ie. A marring of the relationship between God and humanity. As to the future state, I think I agree with Cliff that scripture speaks pretty clearly of death being vanquished. I have no clue how this “eternal life” will work since the only life we know now depends on death.

Cliff:
Maybe this is just a semantic thing again, but I still just don’t feel comfortable with the “death driven universe” phrase. For one, I think there is a big difference between “non-life” and “loss of life”. I think it's only the 2nd that can really be called death. I don’t think Biology has much to say for the first 9 billion or so years of the universe since there was no life (or death). Second, I think as Ken states, you have to balance the “death & decay” with “birth and growth”. Death & decay are part of the process, but not the purpose of the process.

Anyways, I’d be very interested in how you put this all together. You’ve stated that you believe there is some “temporal function” to death & decay. What do you think the purpose is?

Ken said...

Steve --

"A static creation. Is this what you meant?"

Uhh, not sure. What do you mean by a "static creation"? What I meant was that I don't see a literal Genesis creation (and probably that means a YEC view) as viable where nothing died and the predators didn't eat meat and everyone was being fruitful and multiplying with no natural enemies and 100% survival rate.

“Adam had to sin” ... “heh, no choice so no responsibility”

I see what you're saying and that was not my intention. I do believe we are responsible for sin. All I meant was that for the "static creation" to be viable, death had to enter the picture and so -- according to a literal creation story -- man had to sin.


Cliff--

I think Hebrews 2:14 refers to spiritual death and not physical death.

I Corithians 15 is also, I think, talking about spiritual death and spiritual resurrection. I agree that much of the chapter sounds like it's talking about a physical, bodily resurrection thus about physical death. And look at verses 36&37:

"You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else."

This says to me that physical death is a precursor to spiritual resurrection. For what is resurrected is not what died. It is a different "body."

"A day is coming when our reality will be entirely sans entropy."

And how is this possible? What if you take time out of the equation. Entropy requires the passage of time. About 8 years ago I read something in Discover about some guy who was speculating that the big bang actually started time. So, before the bb, there was no time and so there could not be any entropy. Isn't this how God is described? Outside time? There is no entropy for God and so if we are in a state similar to (or identified with) God, then we will not experience entropy; we will not need the sun to provide light; and we will live forever -- but only because "forever" is a misnomer because it depends on time passing which isn't happening.

And going back to something you said earlier about the "God of Life": I'm not so sure. After all, it was God who required animal sacrifices -- a LOT of animal sacrifices. It was God who had the Isrealites massacre entire civilizations because they didn't believe the right things. And yet it was God who took the time out of his busy schedule to go to a friend's tomb and raise him from the dead. Almost an oxymoron.

God differentiates between physical and spiritual death and the former is not always bad. For some reason, we humans always interpret physical death as bad and against God's "plan." Yet God has often been the instigator or physical death. I think we need to get past the stigma of physical death. It's part of life and it was and is part of God's plan.


That's all I've got right now. I'm sure I'll figure out what I really wanted to say as I'm trying to fall asleep tonight :-)

Cliff said...

tbrufSteve,

You ask, "You’ve stated that you believe there is some 'temporal function' to death & decay. What do you think the purpose is?"

I'm not sure at all about what the purpose might be. I have some ideas. The point is that entropy starts at the Big Bang, and entropy ends at the "manifestation of the sons of God." Surely, this has implications that we need to explore. What I am trying to do here, with you all, is to see if you agree that entropy has significance in theology. If you agree, then I am as interested in your ideas as I am in my own.

Your point about semantics is well-taken. When I use death in the context of this discussion, I am using it interchangeably with entropy. I am not thinking of biological death only. Stars also die.
Every day, we look up at the Sun which is slowly dying right before our eyes. The universe has been dying since the moment of the big bang. So when I speak of a "death driven universe," it is something of a hyperbole. But it really is true that everything (not just biological alive things) in the natural universe dies. I agree that the "non-life" and "loss of life" are not interchangeable. But I am not referring to non-life in these discussions. I am referring to the process of death, even the process that involves the death of inanimate objects like stars and galaxies. They are dying.

I used to think, like Henry Morris, that entropy must surely have been part of the curse following the Fall. When I learned that that could not be (for the reasons you cite), I moved entropy back to the rebellion of Satan. That worked for me up until the time I learned that entropy started early in the first second of the Big Bang. I have found no other conclusion than this: When God created this cosmos, his purpose had to do with the annihilation of evil—a task far more involved and ... dare we say ... difficult than we have every allowed ourselves to think. And that a necessary element in the whole process was entropy. And ultimately, life which grows up in the face of death, and conquers it in the end.

There are Scriptures which lend support to this idea. And I have more to say about it. But I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

~ Cliff

Jordan said...

Just to clarify, my use of "God's utopia" to describe the original creation was likely a poor choice of words, and thanks to Steve for calling me on it. The Garden of Eden very likely pales in comparison to heaven, the latter knowing no death, physical or spiritual.
So it seems we are all in agreement that animal death was certainly a part of the pre-Fall world. Why would God design it that way? I don't know if that's a question we can answer. Why a 6-day work week instead of 5? Why a Flood instead of a meteor? This is not to downplay the theological significance of a world created with death, I'm just not sure whether we can approach the answer. But I'll keep thinking about it anyway and let you know of any breakthroughs. :)

Cliff said...

Ken,

Your say, "I think Hebrews 2:14 refers to spiritual death and not physical death." But verse 15 goes on to say that the devil holds people in slavery by their fear of death. How many unregenerate people do you know who fear spiritual death? Obviously, the death they fear is physical. Actually, it would be a good thing if people were to start fearing spiritual death. So I have to disagree with you on this point.

Your comments about death not being so bad, or God requiring death, commanding the killing of people, etc... remember, all of this is happening in the context of the current state of affairs which had death written all over it. The most significant detail is one you left out: God himself enters into death at the Cross. But, it was never God's ultimate intention to leave things this way (Romans 8). So I will stand by my assertion that God is a God of Life, and stands in opposition to the principle of death, even if it must for now sometimes be an instrument in his hand.

! Corinthians 15 certainly has spiritual resurrection in mind. However, I choose not to isolate various resurrections into separate boxes. I see in 1 Cor 15 a principle of resurrection, of life rising up to conquer death. I see in evolution a principle of life ultimately proving to be stronger than death. As I read 2 Cor 5:4-5 (esp NIV which is a good translation of the Greek) I see the strongest statement I can find in the Bible describing the purpose for the creation of man ... and the purpose is that, in part through us, mortality itself is swallowed up by life. The principle of resurrection is the principle of life proving to be a stronger force than death. So for me, it is a mistake to cut resurrection up into individual pieces as though each kind is unique. Spiritual and Physical and Cosmic Resurrections are all manifestations of the same principle of Powerful, All-Consuming Life. And does not the language of 1 Cor 15 (which is admittedly difficult to understand) suggest to us that Paul is thinking in biological terms (in his discussion of kinds of flesh) and cosmic terms (in this discussion of various kinds of bodies in the universe). Hmm.

~ Cliff

Ken said...

Cliff--

You have obviously thought about this much more than I but I think I'm starting to see where you are coming from. All very interesting.

For now, just a quick couple comments on Hebrews 2:14,15

1) How did Jesus' physical death destroy Satan?

2) When did Lucifer fall --before or after creation of this universe? If before, then Satan holding the power of death means that death existed at the time of creation and how could even God expect that death would not enter into this creation?

3) Verse 15 could mean that Jesus' death did not free us from physical death but from the fear of physical death.

Just some thoughts whilst I continue to ponder. Hopefully more later ...

Cliff said...

Ken,

Good questions.

1) How did Jesus' physical death destroy Satan?

Destroy (katageo) is subjunctive. It does not imply that the work is finished. The foundation for the ultimate undoing of Satan is laid in the death of Jesus. How exactly? I do not know. But I suspect that this is one of the ways which believers continue to "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ." That is Satan will be destroyed, and his undoing will be tied into all faith-filled and innocent suffering, in which Jesus has gone forth as our leader.

2) When did Lucifer fall --before or after creation of this universe? If before, then Satan holding the power of death means that death existed at the time of creation and how could even God expect that death would not enter into this creation?

Again, I do not know. But here is what makes sense to me. When I ask, why would God create the cosmos as he did, literally energized by decay. I must conclude that something compelled him to do this. I believe that it may be that Satan's rebellion is the very thing that led to the creation of this universe with its built in "flaw" (I use that term very loosely ... but we know that the creator intentionally subjected creation to frustration and decay in hope of some day delivering it from those very things.) If this is true, the cosmos may be some kind of "level playing ground" in which the powers of love vs. hate, good vs. evil, life vs. death can be played out ... God knowing all along that, given enough time, love, good and life will win because they are inherently more powerful than hate, evil and death.

Thus, I sometimes think of the cosmos as we have it as a container of evil (and of the devil) and the very means his demise. Out of a cosmos which is constructed in a way that is consistent with the character of the devil, there arises (right out of the dust of the entropic earth) life that will in the end undo him.

So I obviously do not think that God ever imagined anything other than a death-dominated universe. But death simply cannot overcome the greater power of life.

3) Verse 15 could mean that Jesus' death did not free us from physical death but from the fear of physical death.

Exactly.

~ Cliff

Steve Martin said...

Hey guys, I might never get a chance to post another thing for 2 years if I have to review & think through this kind of stuff every day :-).

Ken: A static creation is the creation that YEC’s generally envisage. It’s like a photograph that never changes. And it’s impossible. Some have remarked along these same lines & then concluded that “creation is impossible” or “Genesis is obviously wrong”. My take is that yes “YEC interpretation of creation & Genesis” is impossible & incorrect – because it views a static creation, but this incorrect interpretation should not reflect negatively on the real thing – a creation that is indeed dynamic, and yes involves death. So, we are saying the same thing.

Cliff: I think I see where you are going. It actually might be similar to what I’m thinking, although, as I said before, I’m pretty sure you’ve put more thought into this. Again, I’d like see you flush this out more (have you written some of this in an essay or is this still coming together for you?). Anyways, here are some of my ideas (and yes I’m still definitely putting this together).

1. Where YEC and many other Christians get things dead wrong, in my opinion, is thinking that revelation starts in Gen 1:1 (AIG – “Defending the Bible from the very first verse”). This is NOT where revelation starts. By stating Genesis is the foundation of revelation we elevate the written word over the “Word made Flesh”. It is Christ who is God’s most direct revelation – because Christ was God. The purpose of the written word is to reveal the “Word made Flesh”, and not the other way around. I believe, as for example others have indicated (eg. Fireandrose.blogspot.com) that the modern evangelical view of the written word is virtually heretical. And although I think "minor" heresy is overrated (overfeared?) in many instances (And I know I'm stepping on a theological landmine here - Another post for another day), it can lead to the problem where the Church does not act like the Church should. In this instance, I think our bibliolatry has distracted us horribly.

2. God’s most direct revelation, the act that most revealed who he was, was the resurrection of Christ. For Jesus’ followers, the resurrection was a bombshell that exploded their view of reality. It showed that death had been vanquished and it changed all of them forever. It was literally a new creation. The resurrection was “The Much Bigger Bang”, and it’s impact reverberates throughout all creation, and all time. I know I’ve recommended George Murphy’s book “The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross” but from my point of view the real story should be “The Cosmos in the Light of the Resurrection”.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

My thoughts are always forming, and coming into greater clarity (I hope!). But most of what I am thinking has been put together over the last 7 or 8 years. No, I have never put it all down to paper. Bits and pieces here and there. But I did do a weekend seminar about a year ago in which I laid out the full picture. The seminar took 12+ hours to present, and I left much out. And we had rabbit trails to go down as there were in the group at least one outspoken YEC, some inerrantists, and some who could not see the possiblity of open-theism. I have considered writing a book, or more likley, a series of articles. And it is with that in mind that I have broached these topics with you. I need to bounce some ideas around with brothers (and ... where are they? ... sisters) who have seen past YECism, understand the inerrantist position for what it is, and share with me a view that science is unlocking keys to understanding Creation, and thus the Creator. So, on we go ...

~ Cliff

Steve Martin said...

Well Cliff, you are most welcome to use this blog as a sounding board. Very stimulating conversation. As long as you understand that part of the dialogue includes asking clarifying questions (sometimes very pointed), stating areas of disagreement, and providing cautionary warnings when other followers of Christ believe they are warranted. But, that is, in my opinion, just a function of the church being church – iron, sharpening iron as they say. And I know you agree or you probably wouldn’t have stuck around this long … :-)

I do need to think about your proposal some more. This is definitely a new idea for me – that evil existed prior to the creation of our universe. A couple cautionary thoughts:

1. This does remind me somewhat of the theology of the Gap Theorists ie. That natural evil is caused by Satan’s sin. Two things make me uncomfortable with both this & your idea: a) the scriptural support seems relatively slight –ie. You have to extrapolate a lot from only a very few references. This doesn’t mean its wrong, but I think one needs to be careful. I grew up in a background that loved speculative ideas (mostly of an eschatological nature - Left Behind series & stuff like that). I've become somewhat of this kind of stuff.
b) One runs the danger of coming to an almost dualistic worldview (ie. Satan & God are almost co-equal competitors). From my understanding of the early church (first few centuries), this was a very real temptation for them when they were grappling with the problem of evil.

2. This seems to me to make the theodicy problem, if anything, even more difficult. Ie. Now God is the explicit creator of evil. It serves a good purpose, but oh what a cost. I think William Dembski does something similar with his ideas (although for a somewhat different reason). Not sure if you’ve seen his essay at: http://www.designinference.com/documents/2006.05.christian_theodicy.pdf.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

Iron sharpening iron is definitely what I seek.

"Evil existing prior to creation"? Possible. But I conceive of it more this way. The very moment of Lucifer's rebellion (it doesn't take God long to concoct a plan) the big bang creative moment sets into motion the means of Lucifer's undoing.

Like YEC people (I was one for years) I always thought that the subjection of Creation to the bondage to frustration & decay was something that happened at the Fall of man. When I came to see how senseless it is to conceive of Adam and Eve living in a non-entropic state, and that the fossil record proves that death predated Eden, I thought that the subjugation of the Creation must have occurred when Satan was "cast down to the earth". But now we know that entropy actually started during the very first second of cosmic history.

I cannot in my mind imagine why a Creator would subject his creation to frustration (the Greek means "vain, void of force and truth, useless, fruitless, perverse, frail') and decay ("corruption, destruction, perishing, depravity"), unless something happened that compelled him to do so with a high purpose and a hope of some day being able to liberate that creation. Frustration and decay are two very strong words in the Greek! And now we know (before our generation, theologians did not have the benefit of this knowledge) that God made the cosmos this way from the very beginning. How can we not conclude that Satan had rebelled, and that God had to act in this unlikely creative way in direct response to the rise of evil in his presence.

"Satan and God almost equal competitors"? Again, I would not cast it quite that way. But I do believe that when evil, personified in Lucifer, arose in the presence of God, God knew that its annihilation would be no easy task. It would cost the horrifying suffering of untold millions of innocents, and of faith-filled men and women. It would cost 14 billion year of a "groaning" creation. It would cost even his own profound suffering and death.

If evil could be dealt with in a less costly way, if God could (as many of my Calvinist friends believe) easily squash it between two of his smallest fingers, then all this suffering, all this bondage to decay, all this death is nothing more than some kind of cosmic gamesmanship.

We know that, after all the dust settles, angelic beings will stand in amazement of the wisdom of God, and what he was able to accomplish through the faith-filled people of planet earth (an expanded and free restating of Ephesians 3:10). If the problem of sin and evil could be easily chased away, why would anyone be impressed at the wisdom of God displayed in the church. I conclude that the victory God will have over evil, sin and death will prove to be far more dramatic than anything we have ever imagined. And here is the rub, the most fascinating part of this whole picture: you and I are at the very center of this drama! Some of my kids are about to walk out the door to see The Bourne Ultimatum. The true drama of the ages will make the Bourne movies look like Mother Goose stories! But the traditional "story of the ages" I was brought up on doesn't hold a candle to Hollywood, in my humble opinion.

So, yes! I invite you to pick it apart. I want to know why it doesn't work, or how it is contrary to Scripture. I recognize that the Scripture at best contains only hints of this big picture. Perhaps for most of human history, this was a mystery that could remain unopened. But as we approach the last days, and as we couple scientific findings with Scripture, we become the potential benefactors of insights that were impossible even 50 years ago. And maybe, as the age approaches its culmination, it is the will of the Creator that we have deeper understandings of his plan and purpose.

~ Cliff

Steve Martin said...

Cliff,
To do your last comment justice would probably require a few posts in itself - and would just be a start of the conversation. But, we have another 7 questions to go, and some of this comment would probably be appropriate for those questions too. So I think I'll wait for now (besides, I'm still thinking about this).

A couple of quick clarifications:
1. It is good to rephrase questions like you are doing. It certainly helps drive to a better understanding.
2. And in the spirit of rephrasing, I'm not actually interested in "picking your ideas apart" - more trying to get clarification. So, for example, some of the things that have come out sound somewhat Deistic or Dualist (to me). I know from other things you've said that this is certainly not what you mean. But models for divine action & theodicy are 2 of the toughest theological ideas to tackle.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

You are correct about some of the specifics of the last couple of commetns being addressed in later questions.

And it is important to clarify the questions. Unerstanding the questions, and asking them is half the battle. If people do not see the problem, they are not interested in helping to find possible solutions.

I have been amazed, for example, to find many Christians (trained, seasoned beleivers) who have never pondered the problem of evil, and in some cases do not even know what "The Problem of Evil" refers to. Such people find my musings to be either boring, unsettling, or both. I do appreciate you and the kinds of conversations you are encouraging here.

~ Cliff