Thursday 20 February 2020

A Christian man who believed in an evil God - some malign consequences of of traditionalist metaphysics

I once met a man who believed, really believed, in an evil God.

He had been brought-up a devout traditionalist Christian, a practising Christian - with the usual metaphysics including that God created everything from nothing (ex nihilo). And he believed that this Christian God was in truth sadistic, was evil.

Why? This was his reasoning, so far as I could understand it:

"I have evil desires. These desires will not go away. I do not yield to them, but they torment me. My life is made extremely miserable, with no hope of relief.

"I acknowledge that these desires are evil. And that God made me the way that I am. Therefore God is evil.

"God could have made me otherwise, but God made me evil and made me miserable without relief. A God that makes an evil Man is evil; a God that chooses to inflict lifelong misery is a sadist."

(This was a specific man, with a specific and (to him, acknowledged) abhorrent sin. But, we are all predisposed to sin, he can be taken as a more-than-usually-insightful representative of Everyman.)

And I believe this man was logical in his inferences, based upon his assumptions. He was, nonetheless, wrong - because his assumptions were wrong (or, at least, not necessarily true). Specifically, he was wrong in assuming that God had created him wholly and from nothing.

If, instead, the man had assumed that he contained evil, but that this evil was not 'built' into him but was simply the way he happened to be, from eternity... If he had assumed that men differ, each is an individual - and that this was the way he 'happened to be'... then he would not have blamed God.

He may instead have seen that God was doing everything possible to save him.

My understanding (contrary to this man) is that we all lived before this immortal life, as spirits. And that this man's incarnation as a mortal on earth was something mutually agreed between him and God, as a 'chance' for this man to overcome the evil he had always suffered; and to be saved into eternal resurrected life in Heaven.

This, I believe, is how it is for all of us.

This man could have remained a spirit in Heaven with God, and his life would then have been happier. But instead he chose mortal incarnation, so that he might become more free free, more of an agent, more God-like; so that he might attain the fullness of spiritual development, as a participant in God's creation, as a resurrected immortal Man like Jesus Christ. 

It was a risk, a risk he (as a pre-mortal spirit) decided to take.

And in fact the plan had mostly worked. This man probably had been saved - all but.

He had acknowledged and repented his sin - despite that doing so made him miserable. All that he would need to do was, before or after he died, accept Jesus as his saviour and follow him through the trasnformation of resurrection to life eternal.

However, perhaps this man was still alive because he had not yet accepted Jesus as his Saviour; and perhaps he had not done this because he did not want to enter a Heaven made and ruled by 'the kind of God' who had 'made' him the way he was - who had (as this man understood it) implanted in him the desire for evil.

Therefore, in practice, this man's salvation was seriously endangered by his - largely undetected and unanalysed metaphysical assumptions.

Probably he was not even aware that it was possible to be a Christian on the basis of completely different metaphysical assumptions - as, for example, Mormons are.

But this man, like most Christians, believe that to be a real Christian one must believe in creation-from-nothing.

My impression was that this man was being severely tempted to regard his sin as not a sin. Maybe this wasn't really a sin after all? He was, I think, tempted to reject his model of Christianity with an evil God - the kind of God who would make fake sins just to torment people; and instead to seek the path of earthly pleasure and happiness.  

Instead of regarding his life on earth as having been made miserable when it could have been made easier, he could instead have regarded his life on earth as a great and successful chance to attain salvation despite the sin that he had borne from eternity.

This man might instead have felt gratitude and comfort at God's love in creating a world where this salvation was made possible; and gratitude to Jesus for having enabled him personally to attain the joy of life everlasting.

You might assert that all this metaphysical speculation is 'theoretical' merely, and would make no substantive difference to the daily (hourly) problem of suffering from sinful desires, known to be sinful; but you would be wrong.

I would answer that it makes all the difference whether God is responsible for our condition... or whether God is working with us to save us despite sin.

It makes all the difference between regarding oneself as a victim, living in a world designed by an evil and sadistic God... or living as a cherished son of God, in a world designed by a loving and compassionate God aiming at our ultimate salvation to joy. 

I believe that we are each individuals, from eternity; that therefore some men are/ always-have-been better than others overall, from eternity. Some men are (always have been) prone to particular abhorrent sins, or are more aware of their sins.

Therefore, salvation must be individually-tailored ('bespoke salvation).

This man was overall better than most men; however he was prone to a sin that he (and others) found particularly abhorrent.

This man just saw more clearly what we all ought to see. Yet perception of one's own sin is only half of what is needful - the other half is to be able to make sense of things in a framework where we can know that God, the creator, is good; and is working for our personal good.

The goodness of God is something each can know for himself, by direct intuitive knowledge - but for too many people this direct knowing is blocked by malign metaphysical assumptions; and Christianity is rejected because the Christian God is regarded as necessarily, logically evil - his goodness rejected as a false claim.

Right, real, true metaphysics can therefore - in some circumstances - make all the difference in the world.   


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"A specific and abhorrent sin" sounds rather concrete -- not an abstract vice like pride or cowardice, but something more physical, such as a drug addiction or a sexual proclivity. In that case, it wouldn't make sense to say that he had just always been like that from eternity, even before he had a physical body. In that case, it may even be the case that God gave him this specific vice or weakness on purpose -- but that, too, can perhaps be understood and accepted if we assume that God didn't create him from nothing. It may be that, given the way this man already was, this particular challenge was what he most needed in order to learn and grow.

If a math class is particularly hard and unpleasant for a given student, that situation may be something the teacher is not responsible for and does not particularly want; perhaps the student just happens to have been born without much mathematical aptitude. But it is also possible that the teacher really is making the class hard and unpleasant on purpose, not because he hates the student but because he wants him to learn. But of course that would make no sense if we supposed that the teacher had created the students from nothing -- in which case, if he wanted mathematicians he should have just created mathematicians and made learning, painful or otherwise, unnecessary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - "it wouldn't make sense to say that he had just always been like that from eternity, even before he had a physical body. "

That's wrong. You seem to be trying to dispose of the problem by restating with reductionism and abstraction.

Clearly specific sins aren't there in some kind of encapsulated isolation; but a general disposition - the way someone just is - may, indeed does, lead (under specific circumstances) to specific abhorrent sins which are the specific cause of trouble. Of course they are not isolated, yet they may be the specific cause of angst.

As I said, this can be seen as a generic problem - either all evil comes from God - or else God is Not omnipotent and did Not create everything from nothing. But I am trying to make clear with this real example a consequence of theologically insisting that God deliberately inflicted all evil - that there is no 'natural' evil, no evil existant apart-from what God made (directly or indirectly).

Anonymous said...

Dr. C:
Thank you for this extremely precise and insightful analysis of what has been for me a crucial problem in Christian metaphysics. I feel moved to comment and underline one point that you bring up. I apologize for the anonymity, I usually do not do that, but in this case, probably is is best.
Since boyhood I have been assaulted by sinful proclivities that – fortunately, it turns out – are shocking and also clearly harmful; that is, not a mere violation of “rules”, but things that would damage others, and myself. I found this contradiction between my urges and my desire to serve and love God to be exquisitely and constantly painful, a kind of “moral torture.” Anyone reading who thinks that this is some kind of hysterical overstatement is a very lucky person. Good for you.
Eventually I too decided that God must be some kind of monster to have placed me into a situation of such torment. Predictably, that was toxic to my faith; it is very difficult to trust or understand this kind of God. But something worse was coming because the devil is clever. By and by I developed the false insight that since God must not be evil, whatever proclivities I had must actually be good. Therefore, there must therefore be some way of acting on them that would please God and express the nature that (I wrongly assumed) He had given me.
Thankfully, God intervened; He told me a few helpful things. First; He assured me that whatever I was or wasn’t, this was not that important to Him, that He still offered me salvation. Second, I realized that whatever nature I had was not God’s invention; rather, it was uncaused. God was not holding me responsible for it, and He was not responsible for it either; our work was to seek to be faithful despite it. He reminded me that He would (and had been) helping me to do so. These insights were instrumental to saving my moral life, but also to helping me “de-transition” from what was becoming a dangerous path out of Christianity.
I feel fortunate that my personal sinful proclivities are as egregious as they are, because I suspect that all humans have proclivities that are equally anti God, but some are more socially acceptable. This might tempt folks to misunderstand themselves to be in a different position with regard to God than they actually are: we are all in need of faith, repentance, and willingness to follow Christ into Eternal Life. Ultimately, it is Latter-day Saint metaphysics that permitted me to resolve this potentially spiritually deadly (series of) misunderstandings. God has been very kind to me despite whatever the mortal world might have elicited from my eternal spirit. As He told me: it will be okay.