Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yes, another post on the "Problem of Evil"

James Woods has a review of Bart Ehrman's new book on the problem of evil in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Woods makes a series of arguments about heaven similar to that made by an astute commmentator of this blog:

Heaven, one of the tenderest verses in the Bible has it, is where God will wipe away all tears from our faces. In her novel “Gilead,” Marilynne Robinson adds, in a line just as tender, if a little sterner, “It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.” Robinson, herself a devout Protestant, means that the immense surge of human suffering in the world will need, and deserves, a great deal of heavenly love and repair; it is as close as her novel comes to righteous complaint. But one could also say, more skeptically, that Christianity needs the concept of Heaven simply to make sense of all the world’s suffering—that, theologically speaking, Heaven is “exactly what will be required.” In the end, Heaven, it seems, is the only tenable response to the problem of evil. It is where God’s mysterious plan will be revealed; it is where the poor and the downtrodden, the sick and the tortured, will be healed; it is where everything that we went through on earth will suddenly seem “worth it.”

But Heaven is also a problem for theodicists who take the freedom to choose between good and evil as paramount. For Heaven must be a place where either our freedom to sin has been abolished or we have been so transfigured that we no longer want to sin: in Heaven, our will miraculously coincides with God’s will. And here the free-will defense unravels, and is unravelled by the very idea of Heaven. If Heaven obviates the great human freedom to sin, why was it ever such a momentous ideal on earth, “worth” all that pain and suffering?

The difficulty can be recast in terms of the continuity of the self. If we will be so differently constituted in Heaven as to be strangers to sin, then no meaningful connection will exist between the person who suffers here and the exalted soul who will enjoy the great system of rewards and promises and tears wiped from faces: our faces there will not be the faces we have here. And, if there were to be real continuity between our earthly selves and our heavenly ones, then Heaven might dangerously begin to resemble earth. This idea haunted Dostoyevsky, who wrote a chilling fable about it called “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” in which the protagonist, on the verge of suicide, has a dream in which he has died and ended up on a pristine Greek island, a heavenly utopia where there is no sin. Then this man tells his first lie, and eventually utopia is corrupted: Heaven is just Eden all over again, and man is busy wrecking it.



Read it all here.

One Catholic blogger responds this way:

It is tempting to respond that we Christians claim to know very little about what heaven will be like, but that would no doubt sound to Wood like another shifty appeal to “mystery.” A better response has to do with the nature of freedom itself. For Christians, heaven is not the annulment of freedom but the fulfillment of it. The dignity of human beatitude depends on the drama of the life that goes before it, and the choices that shape that drama take place in time, which is freedom’s element. Outside of time, there are no more choices to be made, but only the full, immediate vision of what we have chosen.



Read it all here.

What is your response?

1 comment:

Bad said...

"The dignity of human beatitude depends on the drama of the life that goes before it, and the choices that shape that drama take place in time, which is freedom’s element."

This doesn't seem like a very useful answer. Again, the problem is that either free will is such an important thing that it legitimizes intricately designed death and suffering... but then this theology spins around and says that a timeless/eternity of no choices is a perfectly acceptable state of affairs.

Tossing in claims about the drama of human misery being necessary for this eternity to work don't really help the argument any. This person cannot show that these things are in any way necessary, and insisting that they are demanded by human dignity is, well, a little repulsively backwards. Nor does this answer any of the questions concerning the fact that freedom to choose and having good character to begin with are not at all logically incompatible, nor are any actions God might take to dramatically reduce suffering in the world.

And indeed, if a nice grandma who lives out a good Christian life in a peaceful era and a tortured child ravaged by disease and loses his family to genocide and then dies young can both live lives with "choices and drama" and end up in heaven, then its not at all clear what the point of the disease ravaging and genocide was.