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The Existential Problem of Evil

The Existential Problem of Evil. The Philosophical Problem of Evil concerns evil in the general and in the abstract. The responses to this problem work just fine, while one sits comfortably in a nice, cool philosophy classroom.

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The Existential Problem of Evil

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  1. The Existential Problem of Evil • The Philosophical Problem of Evil concerns evil in the general and in the abstract. • The responses to this problem work just fine, while one sits comfortably in a nice, cool philosophy classroom. • But, try speaking about Plantagina, or evil as the privation of good, or G. E. Moore Shifts to:

  2. Someone dying of cancer. • A mother whose child has just been murdered in a drive by shooting. • A father whose soldier son has been executed by Saddam’s Fedayeen. • Concrete and specific evils like these produce the Existential Problem of Evil. • How can one sensibly maintain faith in a maximally perfect God when one is actually suffering concrete and specific evil?

  3. Fyodor Dostoevsky illustrates the inadequacy of the responses given to the Philosophical Problem of Evil when one attempts to address them to the Existential Problem of Evil. • [Ivan Karamazov addresses his brother Alyosha, a Russian Orthodox novice monk.] “‘I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything in Heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise . . .

  4. “‘when the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears [in praise of God] . . . . But, what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony . . . . [T]o high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it . . . . It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket [into the the harmony].’ ‘That’s rebellion,’ murmured Alyosha, looking down.

  5. “‘Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,’ said Ivan earnestly . . . . ‘Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature . . . and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.’ ‘No, I wouldn’t consent,’ said Alyosha softly.” Fyodor Dostoevsky, “Rebellion” in The Brothers Karamazov

  6. War and Rememberance • TV mini-series from the 1980’s base on Herman Woulk’s massive novel of the same name. • Tells the story of an extended American Naval family during World War II. • Natalie, the wife of the Naval family’s younger son, her toddler son, and her elderly Uncle Aaron – because of bad decisions and worse luck – get trapped in Nazi controlled Europe.

  7. This is particularly bad because all of them are Jewish. • When we meet them, they are in Theresienstadt in what had been Czechoslovakia . • Theresienstadt was a real place. • It was the so-called “Paradise Ghetto” where the Nazis kept prominent Jews in an effort to fool the world into thinking they were not working to exterminate the Jews.

  8. Actually, conditions in the Ghetto were wretched, not beatific. • We pick up the mini-series as Aaron, a member of the Ghetto’s Council of Elders, awaits the arrival of the Ghetto’s new Nazi Kommandant. • Consider how these people respond as they suffer concrete and specific evil, and consider the story that Aaron tells in his lecture.

  9. Job • Aaron tells us what Job’s reaction to his travails is. • “Naked I came forth from the womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21) • In the midst of his horrible ordeal, Job responds with continued faith in God.

  10. Before Job endures the “comfort” of his “comforters,” however, he must first endure the “advice” of his wife. • “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But, he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9-10)

  11. What does it mean to “curse God and die?” • What question does Mrs. Job ask Job? • “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” • Most English versions of the Bible translate the key Hebrew word as ‘integrity.’ • Two exceptions:

  12. The New American Bible translates it as ‘innocence.’ • The Contemporary English Bible translates it as ‘trust God.’ • It appears that Mrs. Job has given up her faith in God. • Perhaps she now believes only a foolishly naïve person could believe in God. • No one who has endured the evil she has can believe.

  13. To Mrs. Job, “curse God and die” means to give up faith in God and accept, à la the Existentialists, that reality is absurd and meaningless. • Mrs. Job has become forlorn. • She is urging the death of Job’s hope, as her own hope has died. • Her hope has died because she no longer believes in God. • She no longer believes there is meaning and purpose in reality.

  14. Why does Job hold on to his faith in God? • Mrs. Job believes it’s just because he’s stubborn. • She uses the word ‘integrity’ in a very sarcastic sense. • “You’re so bound and determine to believe as you always have, you won’t face facts.” • “Wake up, Job! There is no Santa Clause! Stop believing in him and realize it’s all just hopeless?” • Is this all that can be said about Job’s faith?

  15. Archibald MacLeish • Author of a contemporary verse play about Job, J. B. • Gave a “sermon” in 1955 at Yale University on the Book of Job.

  16. At the beginning of the story, Satan challenges Job, saying he only loves God because of what God gives him. • Satan, thereby, also challenges God, saying He is lovable by Job only because of what He gives Job. • Lucy to Charlie Brown: “Snoopy only likes you because you feed him. That doesn’t count.”

  17. Love is not love unless you love the person for who he is, not for what he gives you. This is Satan’s, and MacLeish’s, and Lucy’s point. • The only way that Job can prove he loves God for Who He is, not for what He gives him, is to have all that God gave him taken away. • But, why should Job love a God Who lets Satan mistreat him so badly? • More generally, why should anyone love a God Who lets the innocent suffer?

  18. Job loves God, in spite of everything, because that loving relationship, that intimate communion, is itself enough to fulfill Job. • Job needs nothing more than the love of God, and, if he has that, he has everything. • God is man’s Summum Bonum (Greatest Good) • Good: Whatever completes, fulfills, and satisfies.

  19. “Only in God is my soul at rest; from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my Rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all” (Psalm 63:1-3) • “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

  20. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

  21. Anne Frank • Job believes in God, despite his suffering, because, in the midst of his suffering, God’s love is all he needs to be fulfilled. • But, what is his alternative? • “Curse God, and die.” • Let his hope die and believe, with his wife and the Existentialists, that life and the world are absurd and meaningless.

  22. Many, Anne Frank being one, have come to believe that enduring great suffering is a reason to believe in God, rather than a reason to give up belief in God. • For, it is only by believing in God that, in the midst of great suffering, one can hold on to hope.

  23. “It’s difficult in times like these: Ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideas, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet, I cling to them because . . . . It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness.

  24. “I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.” Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition (July 14, 1944) (Emphasis Added)

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