Sunday, 30 October 2016

Non-Goodness in context of a wholly-Good reality? The basic, insoluble problem for Christianity, as traditionally conceived

There is a very glaring and obvious problem in Christianity as the situation is set-up by intellectual types - there is a gross mismatch.

The problem is real; but comes from a false assumption - which comes from the absoluteness of abstractions.

1. For most monotheists in general (including Christians); God is taken to be utterly powerful - having made everything from nothing, knowing and controlling everything absolutely according to his will down to the finest detail.

2. For Christians; God is wholly Good and our loving Father; who desires to raise us to become his Sons and Daughters.

3. If God is all-powerful and utterly loving - then why is the world he way it is? So obviously and grossly imperfect.

The problem, the contradiction, is non-Goodness in a wholly-Good reality.

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One attempted solution is to say that it is not this world which is perfect, but the next: after death - however this raises the question of why we don't simply get born-into the next.

(Why not?... Go to Heaven. Go directly to Heaven. Do not pass mortality. Do not collect two hundred traumas.)

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Another attempted solution is to say that everything in existence is Good except for Man - who had a Fall and (perhaps) Original Sin - and that is why an omnipotent, loving God cannot make the world Good - i.e. because Man has wrecked it.

But this is to make Man an exception to God's omnipotence; which the first assumption will not allow.

The Fall/ OS is merely to concentrate the problem of non-Goodness in a wholly-Good-reality into a single primordial exception to God's omnipotence - which isn't a solution at all.

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Or it might be said that God is wholly Good, but the Devil and his minions are wrecking the world; but that again conflicts with the fact that a wholly Good God made and sustains the agents of evil.

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My point is that the simple 1,2,3 is an absolutely genuine incoherence. Various more, or less, complex fixes have been put into place; but none of them really work - they are a sleight of hand, a self-fooling, they merely stop questioning by confusing or are kicking the can further down the road.

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THE problem is regarding God as absolutely powerful, having created everything from nothing, and knowing and controlling absolutely everything all the time. If this is accepted as a necessary assumption - and God is necessarily Good; then Everything Is Good and there is nothing more to say about it.

We must simply submit to what is. The only evil is to question.

But wait! - this doesn't work either; because where does the disposition to our questioning come-from? Why does this problem arise in the first place? Why do we notice, or seem to notice, any problem about anything? (If God is utterly powerful and controls everything...)

Back to square one.

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No - whichever way you twist or turn, there is no rational and convincing (i.e. simple and coherent) way of making omnipotence and Goodness compatible.

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(If God does not need to be Good, then this problem is soluble; at the cost of reality being understood as an incomprehensible chaos and existence a pointless torment. In other words, the problem can be solved by denying the reality of Good. Everything just happens and nothing can be said about it... The problem then becomes that in such a universe we could never know that it was such a universe. If chaos, then no knowledge - hence no knowledge of chaos. Another insoluble contradiction.)

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The solution is utterly simple - which is that God is utterly Good but not utterly powerful, all knowing etc. So, God is always working for Good; but things happen that are not God's will.

One major common objection to this is, partly but importantly, a visceral superstitious terror of 'insulting' God - which is itself clear evidence that the person does not genuinely believe in God's Goodness.

(Because to impute unloving attributes to the Christian God - such as resentment and hyper-sensitivity to disrespect - is, and always has been, very common; almost universal.)

Another objection to non-omnipotence is the 'my God is bigger than your God' boasting and clinging; the idea that my God should not only be more powerful than anybody else's God, but more powerful than anything and everything ever possible conceivable - and that worry is solved at a stroke by resorting to an infinite abstraction such as omnipotence.

(My God is better than your God by definition.)

In sum; the desire to regard God as an absolute of infinite power is itself evidence of the problem it attempts to solve. It is Christians' own unloving, untrusting, unfaithful, weak, boastful and immature nature which makes us fear to understand God as anything other than an omni-God.

This would not matter except that it stands in the path of the one thing needful which is knowing that God is wholly Good. We need to notice and repent that Christians often compromise, often dishonestly and evasively, on God's Goodness in their absolute (terrified?) refusal to compromise on his omnipotence.

All of which is certainly understandable - given the underlying lack of conviction in His Goodness - but absolutely deadly and perhaps fatal in terms of getting the fundamental Christian priorities wrong, and refusing to repent this wrongness; but instead doubling-down on un-necessary and (ultimately) contra-Christian assumptions.

And none of this would matter expect that the above 1,2,3 argument is what keeps many thinking people out of Christianity and excludes so many others and confuses and weakens the faith of countless more - because here we are not dealing with a mere paradox or mystery or misunderstanding, but a stark contradiction.

32 comments:

  1. "And none of this would matter expect that the above 1,2,3 argument is what keeps many thinking people out of Christianity and excludes so many others and confuses and weakens the faith of countless more - because here we are not dealing with a mere paradox or mystery or misunderstanding, but a stark contradiction"

    This last paragraph describes my objections and torturous difficuly to reconsile myself (despite actively and frustratingly wanting to for many many years) with traditional Christianity well into my 20's and early 30's. I "fell off the wagon" many times and declared the whole thing a fantasy several times due to the kind of reasoning process you describe. Fortunately my contact with the LDS church and reading William Arkle via this website have helped me to overcome the problems you describe by some quite simple changes in my assumptions about how reality works and the basic metaphysical setup. I am now rarely troubled by the intellectual traps in the way that I used to be and find that my relationship with God is much more peaceful and intuitive. Expecting omnipotence of God in a clearly imperfect world places a strain on the relationship that isnt really fair but where omnipotence is not to be found a sense of constant, steady and binding love that "catches you when you fall" is something much more closer to my current intuition than it had been before. Having said that, this world is for our individual spiritual growth and benefit and I now understand that a loving parent provides space for their children to grow and learn instead of being too overbearing. One cannot really learn to swim well unless there is a tide and some trials along the way but trust and faith can lighten the burden and the burden can lighten faith by trails without protecting and nurturing it against the constant assailment of the world and its incredulous unbelief and spiteful hatred of the calm and beautiful thing which faith can bring us all personally if we open our hearts to the possibility.

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  2. Can't God be omnipotent yet have surrendered some of that omnipotence to creatures in the form of free will which he won't override because love requires creatures to be free? Also this Earth is a training ground for little godlings (us) and freedom is needed for that to take place. So God actually is omnipotent but chooses not to be to bring about a greater reality.

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  3. @William - This is the classical solution (eg Aquinas, I believe, and most mainstream Christians) but it doesn't make sense to me. If God is truly omnipotent, made everything from nothing himself and controls everything all of the time; then there just is no space for any freedom.

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  4. I can't see how to proceed with this though. Why does God permit X horrific act? Even if He is not omnipotent, surely He has enough to halt a specific act if abuse, etc.?

    I mean, aren't you still left coming up with a similar explanation as the traditionalists as to why so many bad things still happen? That they are somehow unfathomably part of the greater plan, or that He would somehow undermine creation or specific souls by altering their free will?

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  5. I agree that there's only room for freedom if he gives it but I think he does give it. But if you're saying omnipotence means he controls everything all the time that's a different matter. Like you I don't think he does do that. He could but then he would live in a universe of automata and get bored like a child who has set up his model railway but can then only watch the trains going round the track. Again and again and again. So he gives his trains some power of their own which means he has to renounce some of his supreme power.

    So perhaps there are two things at issue here. Whether he had omnipotence to begin with and whether he has now. I do think though that he has built in safety mechanisms so that free will cannot be taken too far as it apparently was at the Tower of Babel.

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  6. @Bruce - In your answer to William, do you mean omnipotence seems to (by definition) prevent true independence / godhood by other beings?

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  7. "If God is truly omnipotent, made everything from nothing himself and controls everything all of the time; then there just is no space for any freedom."

    I don't think this is completely accurate. First, omnipotence is limited by contradictions: God cannot create a squared triangle or do something contradictory. The same way, he cannot make people with free will that do not have the ability to do evil. This is one of the differences between Christianity and this other religion (whose shall remain unnamed). This other religion has a truly omnipotent God, that is, He is not limited by logic.

    Second, giving free will to His creatures implies that God relinquishes some control in favor of a greater good. This is why God's plan has to take into account the free will of creatures. This is why His plan is not perfect.

    Of course, you can accept or reject that but it is not contradictory. This is why the problem of evil is not seen as an absolute impossibility among today's philosophers, like philosophers of yore.

    For a more accurate description of the reasoning I have sloppily written here you can see the following videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMOKakXm1Wc
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSOGnPtH6PI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWybzletCCY
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD0kasmWpfI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo3XAX4-b0k

    As always, you may agree or disagree with these videos, but you can't say there is a contradiction there.

    Anyway, atheism, finite goddism and polytheism (including Mormonism) do not have this problem. But there are other problems that traditional Christianity does not have and those worldviews do have.

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  8. Sorry, where I wrote "squared triangle", I should have written "squared circle".

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  9. My understanding also is that the benefits of (what we perceive as) free will must outweigh any apparent downside. What we call 'the Fall' must have been intended, and must be for the best, in the long run.

    I find it interesting that in Genesis everything is Good until God sees that Adam is alone.

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  10. Bell's inequality would seem to support the hypothesis of a God that is incapable of knowing the future: the evidence would seem to rule out *any* being having the ability to predict quantum randomness.

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  11. @William - The point is that there is no reason why a Christian, as such, should in the first place believe that God is omnipotent. The concept is abstract and philosohical and highly artificial - nobody naturally thinks that way, most people *can't* think that way, and the Bible doesn't tell its stories on that basis. Plus it leads to contradiction. Set it aside, I say.

    "So perhaps there are two things at issue here. Whether he had omnipotence to begin with and whether he has now. " - Yes, although in a universe in which everything of of God and sustained by God I can't see *how* he could relinquish this - but if that can be imagined, then that would be a solution. Although, if He does this, it does imply a God who is originally *lacking* something He cannot create, which is hard to imagine for a God who is the origin of everything.

    So, I see God as originating in plurality and building towards something he wants (multiple gods united by love); not dismantling primal divine unity into a plurality of gods.

    @Nathaniel - that is a different question, and has many answers not one - i.e. a different answer for each 'horrific act'.

    "do you mean omnipotence seems to (by definition) prevent true independence / godhood by other beings?" - There is no space for it to happen if God is omnipotent. This is obvious, really! It is trying to make space for freedom in a wholly-controlled system which is hard to comprehend.

    @Chent "Second, giving free will to His creatures implies that God relinquishes some control in favor of a greater good. This is why God's plan has to take into account the free will of creatures. This is why His plan is not perfect. Of course, you can accept or reject that but it is not contradictory."

    Well, yes it is contradictory! How can a God which created and sustains everything 'give' free will?

    @AdamW "My understanding also is that the benefits of (what we perceive as) free will must outweigh any apparent downside. " Indeed; but I see the basis of free will in the eternal existence of multiple divine essences which became Sons and Daughters of God.

    @RB - Of course Quantum randomness is, like all science, just a pragmatic, selective and simplified *model* - and not reality. But I agree that God does not know everythig about the future - because of the divinity in Men (and other entities): we are each an 'unmoved-mover', or uncaused-cause, as I have said before.

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  12. "No - whichever way you twist or turn, there is no rational and convincing (i.e. simple and coherent) way of making omnipotence and Goodness compatible."

    Yes, there is. Could it not just be that you yourself have not discovered it or been led to it, yet? You should at least consider the possibility, unless you consider yourself to have an intellect/intuition/soul superior to all those others who DO believe in this compatibility?

    As this question is so extremely important - indeed, it is the intellectual stumbling block for practically all would-be Christians - it deserves a full, carefully thought-out, exposition. I have already attempted this in part before, though perhaps I did not provide enough commentary concerning the compatibility of Free Will and Providence. It's not even a difficult argument, but seemingly only once the 'penny has dropped'. I feel that I have ways of explaining this particular understanding that are much clearer than any I have ever read in either the Scholastic or the Modern Authorities. Many people have remarked they had never understood it until I myself had explained it to them, seriously.

    I will soon provide you with a small essay upon the subject, to see what you think.

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  13. From 'Bellis' - "My problem with denying God's omnipotence is that, for me, the inescapable next thought is- 'well, what IS omnipotent then?'. But I can see the appeal in the Mormon/Arkle solution, and if it works for some people, so much the better. It's certainly not something I'd be inclined to start a schism over."

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  14. @Dualist - "unless you consider yourself to have an intellect/intuition/soul superior to all those others who DO believe in this compatibility?"

    But how do I know about the superiority of others (of vastly different and conflicting views) except through my own evaluations and judgments? And that is exactly what I am using.

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  15. @Bruce - Yes, but surely one could evaluate another person as being superior intellectually/morally/etc to themselves and then give more credence to that other person's opinion/example than one's own intuition, or at least relatively more?

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  16. @D - Indeed; and such people I mention frequently in blog posts, or have whole blogs about!

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  17. "Why does God permit X horrific act? Even if He is not omnipotent, surely He has enough to halt a specific act if abuse, etc.?"

    Because a non-omnipotent God can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Of course he certainly has the ability not to break eggs, but that ability, considered in isolation, is irrelevant. (This is basically the same argument that omnipotentists use, except that they try to argue, unsuccessfully in my opinion, that it is logically impossible to make omelettes without breaking eggs, and that even omnipotence is limited by what is logically possible.)

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  18. @WmJas - "a non-omnipotent God can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"

    Excellent point. As is the opposite implication that an omnipotent God *can* make an omelette without breaking eggs --- So why doesn't he (given that he is a Good God)?

    The idea that there are sufficient 'logical' constraints that prevent this to the extent that horrific acts occur in the actual world, is (to be blunt!) either insufficiently-thought-through, confused or dishonest.

    As a counter argument it just doesn't work; which is why it always failed to convince a skeptic.

    The other counter-argument relates to what is good in eternity being different from what is good in mortal life. And this is true, for a non-omnipotent concept of God.

    But if God is omnipotent then this constraint is arbitrary - such a God could make things right from the beginning, create whatever He needs or wants from scratch; and has no need of a contingent, unreliable, earthly 'probation' of experience, learning, choosing and suffering.

    Again - what I really want people to do in relation to this topic is to examine their own deep motivations for regarding God as certainly omnipotent; because I believe that these motives are generally unworthy of a Christian who believes that God is wholly Good.

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    1. Grand and ellaborate intellectual arguements aside, I just cannot see how a supremely loving creator would allow paedophile rings, sexual assaults, torture, cruel forms of illness, etc. Either God needs to be compromised entirely to account for the harsh reality of human life or Gods omnipotence must be questioned. I struggle to see how an innocent young child dying of leukaemia, say, could be compatable with the planned actions of a supremely loving God. It would be beyond my imagination and even a kind of tortur in itself to then counsel the soon to be bereaved parents that an omnipotent God has planned to extinguish their son or daughters life just as it is beginning to blossom. And so, after long (and necessarily imperfect and individual) prayer and brooding contemplation on the subject over a long periof of many years/decades, the answer I recieve is that God does not will it but in this transient mortality certain constrainsts exist even for God and this is a painful and difficult thing to endure even for God but is *potentially* worth it from th perspective of eternity and our spiritual development and salvation. If God is omnipotent then his actions become incomprehensible to me at a personal level and I can only see that a conversion to th other major monotheism would be appropriate to serve a totally alien and all powerful deity whose will seems arbitrary and less than personally loving; like a fathers personal love. In the end, it seems that intuition or the response that we recieve from personal prayer, must settle this question and philosophy alone is necessarily inadequate to resolve this question.

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  19. "a non-omnipotent God can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"

    Can you clarify this? This formulation sounds like God needs evil to achieve his plans. Either that or God, as a creator and father, have specific ends in mind but he knows there are things beyond his control that are evil - but in the end the glory and happiness of his children will all be worth it.

    Personally, all attempts to make suffering and evil morally comprehensible is difficult for me. That includes the notion that suffering in life is a learning experience. At least if we are talking about extreme suffering. Too say that there is some kind of learning experience for the child that is being tortured or raped is, for me, insane.
    I agree with David Bentley Hart that suffering and evil more or less must be morally unintelligible, that a God that needs or uses evil in any way participate in that evil and is, by any real definition, not wholly good.

    About omnipotence, I agree with the feeling that it is extremely difficult to reconile this world with an omnipotent God that is wholly good. On the other hand, the reason I at least in the past have clinged to the idea of an omnipotent God is an emotional fear that if there are things that is ultimately beyond God´s control then he will might not win over evil in the end. Evil becomes a kind of force of its own, an opposing principle.

    There is also a philosophical problem in that if God is not the source and sustainer of every being then questions about "Who created God?" makes more sense. And there is a risk that God is demoted to being a "Zeus" character, and we end up in an infinitive regression in trying to explain who or what created the universe. Granted, I do not know how or if Mormons treat these issues.

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  20. @AnteB - As I indicated in a previous comment, there is no single answer as to 'why suffering?'

    Anyone who is serious about knowing this will need to consider each instance specifically - and pray or meditate upon it - he *may* be granted a revelation as to why (if God regards it as any of that enquirer's business), but this would partly depend upon whether he had a genuine and personal concern.

    The way that this subject is usually discussed is little more than moral grandstanding, with sweeping speculations being about things more-or-less-vaguely heard or read about in the media or the classroom.

    Does anyone seriously expect to know, in a five minute discussion, why so many millions of Christians were tortured and slaughtered by the Soviet communists, or so many Jews by the Nazis? Does anyone really expect there to be one reason applying to each and all of of those individuals - is that how God would work?

    If we seriously want to know about the suffering of a specific person in a specific way (e.g. ourselves, a relative or friend, a close neighbour...), we should have the seriousness to give the subject the serious attention it deserves.

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  21. I don´t know if we misunderstood each others. Based on the original post I took it for granted that you meant that the sufferings (and evil) of this world cannot be squared with an omnipotent and wholly good God, thus God must be limited in some ways.

    But I´m still not sure whether you think evil and (extreme) suffering really can be a part of God´s plan because I did not understand what was meant by the "broken egg" metaphor.



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  22. @Bruce

    Ok, but that's a lot of Former-Day Saints you are at odds with :)

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  23. @D - Maybe you could take a vote?

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  24. Yes, I have not been able to find a good 'why' as to the idea of God's omnipotence. He might be, for all I know or can make sense of, but I don't know why it's *important*.

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  25. @David - You are doing what I excoriated in a comment above - you are grandstanding about broad brush phenomena you know only from the media etc. You are seeking a single grand explanation for vague evil.

    You are also setting up the enquiry with loaded assumptions: " I just cannot see how a supremely loving creator would allow... " This is assuming omnipotence.

    In sum, you have created an insoluble problem for yourself - which you will then fail to answer. You need to examine your assumptions.

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    1. Perhaps I am not communicating what I intended v well then. The point I had intended to get across was that I agree with the mormon perspective, as I understand it, from my favourite book on the subject by Fiona and Teryl Givens - the God who weeps. The book describes a loving deity (or parental deities united in spirit) that are compassionately moved by human suffering but also are constrained by things such as the gifted free will of humans and also perhaps things such as the physical laws in our 'spiritual classroom' which mean that unintended or unforseen things may happen and God is omnipotent with a small o and not a large O in the sense of total control of every possible eventuality in the sometimes traditional sense. In this context the horrors of the world are at least more comprehensible to me, although obviously my understanding is v limited, and I find I am able to make peace with that and not feel compelled to seek to blame God for the bad things (a lot of which humans create for themselves) or the Earth quakes or natural disasters, etc. But instead feel a sense of love and compassion towards a wholely loving God that seeks to bring us through a difficult period of our spiritual development and often with our lack of willing or understanding for the difficulties associated with this divine project.

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  26. One thing I think most of us can agree on is that allowing the problem of evil to lead to a rejection of God is a failure of imagination and usually caused by a desire not to believe in the first place. The evidence for a Creator, and a loving one at that, is otherwise strong and takes in many things including the beauty in the world, the love in our own feeble hearts and much else. We must either try to work out where evil might fit into a divine scheme of things or else not worry about its existence (philosophically speaking) and just get on with eradicating it from our own hearts and minds, knowing that 'here we see through a glass darkly.'

    By the way, this may seem a shocking thing to say but paedophile rings and the Holocaust are no worse from the point of view of the pain and suffering element of evil than a cut on the knee. In degree they are obviously many times worse but any kind of evil or pain raises the same philosophical point with regard to God and his purpose and/or omnipotence.

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  27. @William - "just get on with eradicating it from our own hearts and minds"

    Emphatically, Yes! That is what we must do. One of the major problems of modern nihilistic timed is to deny that there is anything bad within our individual human hearts (and collectively as a society) that needs changing. I don't think this project can be undertaken in earnest without acknowedging a creator as without that we are spiritually centreless and without direction. I feel intuitively in a powerful way that I cannot really articulate adequately that Christ is the light of the world to which we must all look to purify our hearts of evil; even if the side-arguements about the nature or evil or of omnipotence of deity are disagreed upon. I cant really justify this except to say that I somehow know that if I turn to him, no matter what the trial, he will be there for me.

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  28. I agree with what Wildblood writes. Except I dislike attempts to easily or flippantly do away with the problem of evil (not that this blog or WW does that, the opposite actually) that´s why I was a bit surprised by the tone of Charlton´s later replies. But perhaps I misunderstood.

    What I was reacting to was that broken eggs- metaphor, I was not sure whether it implied that God´s creation is so Good that "broken eggs", in the greater scheme of things, is worth it. Or if it was implied that God´s plan in itself necessitates or have use for evil. (I don´t know if I express myself clear, English is not my first language.) The later alternative is deeply troubling too me and I agree with David Bentley Hart (one of my favourite authors) that this alternative does not provide a just image of God or the Gospel. DBH focuses on this question in the book "The Doors of the Sea", if anyone is curious where my thoughts come frome.

    But enough has been said on the subject, for now, I guess.




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  29. @AnteB - I was hoping that WmJas would step in to clarify why he meant - but I shall do so. The analogy is that breaking eggs = suffering.

    In essence an omnipotent God can just make things as he wants them to be, from nothing and instantly. He can make an omlette without braking eggs by simply having it appear from nowehere ready made.

    Such a God has no *need* to tolerate suffering. Such a God could make Man as He wants Man to be, directly and without intermediate steps.

    Whereas a non-omnipotent God - who is a shaper of pre-existent stuff - must make an omelette over a timescale, and by taking the ingredients and breaking the eggs, mixing, cooking etc.

    Such a God cannot make Man as He wants Man to be, instantly; but must make him by intermediate steps.

    Indeed, since the agency (free will) of each Man is intrinsic, God cannot 'make' Men the way he wants them to be - He can only offer experiences, choices, possibilities; and each Man must choose for himself; must indeed make multiple choices.

    So, for a non-omnipotent God, Mortal Life is a very complex arena of the agencies of Men (and other entities, living conscious things) - each chiselling-out his own destiny, growing, making errors etc - this being the Only way in which Men can choose to rise to become deities.

    God's influence is also modified by the fact that all Men are his children whom he loves.

    In such a situation there are no simple sweeping answers - but the overall situation is comprehensible.

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