Guest Blogger Dan Meyer Writes on Antony Flew and Problem of Evil

Posted: November 8, 2007 by Rick Hogaboam in Ethics, Philosophy, Theology
Tags: , , , , ,

Antony Flew

There are two articles in the NY Times this morning that make me sick. They are both about Antony Flew (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/magazine/04Flew-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin), the famous British philosopher who seems to have moved from atheism (he wrote a very influential book on the subject many years ago) to a belief in the Aristotelian god, a prime mover, a being who is itself unmoved, but which moves everything else. Flew is quite old now, and possibly suffering from Alzheimer’s, but Christians and atheists are fighting over him, each side trying to manipulate him for its own advantage. So one moment Flew says this, another moment he says that. Both sides bully him intellectually and then come away with what appears to them convincing proof for their side. It’s disgraceful.
Clearly, Flew is not the intellectual giant he used to be. He is unable to keep up with current trends, and he seems to be easily persuaded – or misled.

I’m so tired of evangelical Christians doing immoral things, and being so arrogant and stupid. The Christian faith does not depend upon airtight proofs for the existence of God. Jesus didn’t commission his disciples to go into all the world and devise scientific arguments re: the origin of the universe. He told them to go and preach the gospel – and also to embody
the gospel in their lives. The gospel doesn’t need sophisticated philosophical or scientific arguments; Billy Graham has proved that for over half a century. He doesn’t argue; he proclaims. He tells the story, tells people that God loves them, that Christ died for them, that they can be forgiven and empowered to live a new life and face the challenges and crises of living with courage and strength and hope.

One of the articles is by Stanley Fish (http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/suffering-evil-and-the-existence-of-god/index.html), dealing with the problem of evil. He reviews a new book by Bart Ehrman, of Princeton, who gave a couple of lectures at Yale Divinity School a couple of years ago, is the son of a minister who went to Wheaton College and became a minister, but is now a convinced atheist. He looks at all the evil, the suffering and pain in the world and concludes that God could not possibly exist.

It’s a strong argument, one that any minister, myself included, has to face. Ministers, of all people, are constantly confronted by suffering and tragedy, not only in the lives of parishioners, but in their own lives as well. I’ve left hospital rooms seething with anger at what I’ve seen, saying to God through clenched teeth, “I wouldn’t do this to my worst enemy, but you say you love these people!” There’s no use denying that there is a massive amount of evil and pain in the world. The question is, “Can it be explained?”

I don’t think it can, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help. The help comes from the cross. The Christian faith has always believed that Jesus was God incarnate, the Word who, as John says, was in the beginning with God and was God. In Jesus God stooped to share our human condition, with all its pain and suffering. And at the cross he endured the worst that ugly men could hurl at him; more than that, the Christian faith insists that he died for our sins, that in his death he triumphed over the power of evil, as his resurrection on the third day demonstrated.

In other words, God knows the power of evil and the agony of suffering because in Jesus he experienced it firsthand. He knows what men and women go through, so the author of Hebrews can say, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And again,”We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin.” So suffering men and women are now able to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive
mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

This, of course, does not solve the problem of evil and suffering. Karl Barth called it ‘the impossible possibility.’ But it assures us that we are not alone. God knows – not just intellectually, but experientially; and he cares.

Part of the problem is that we are continually underestimating the power of evil. The Christian faith says that in order to overcome it, it was necessary for God himself, in the person of his Son, to become human and suffer the indignities and agonies of the cross. Shouldn’t that be a clue as to the strength of evil? Jesus himself prayed in the Garden, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” But there was no other way; that was the only solution available. My suspicion is that when we see God, we will know that he has been in the fight of his life. He could not overcome evil with his left hand while doing something more important with his right. He had to muster all his strength to overcome it. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” A more accurate rendering might be, “Do not bring us to the test (we are far too weak for that), but deliver us from the Evil One.”

Instead of fighting intellectual battles that can never be won, shouldn’t we be pointing to Christ and to the cross as the key to understanding our world and our lives? Then we wouldn’t be tempted to manipulate tired, confused old men to prove the existence of God, and who knows? We ourselves might be led to abandon our arrogance and kneel before the cross, “lost in wonder, love and praise.”

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