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Saturday, July 11, 2009

the fifth page for July 12, 2009

Evil Thoughts:
According to Wikipedia, “The term 'Theology' literally means the study of God, deriving from the Greek word theos, meaning 'God', and the suffix -ology from the Greek word logos meaning "the character of one who speaks or treats of [a certain subject]", or simply "the study of a certain subject". It now means the science of God or of religion, typically as it is practised in a systematic and reasoned or philosophical manner.”

The fact that people study religion, and think and write about God in a disciplined way tells us at least 2 things. The first is that these questions continue to be of interest. The second is that we don't have it all figured out.

One of the greatest challenges is what has been called the problem of evil, which has implications for our fundamental understanding of God, the universe, and everything.

In their book, “Remedial Christianity: What every believer should know about the faith but probably doesn’t” authors Paul Alan Laughlin and Glenna S. Jackson refer to the four classic approaches to the Problem of Evil. I have summarized and put my own spin on them, below:

1) Evil as a value judgment: There is really no such thing as evil, and our subjective opinions are based on our preconceptions, our experiences, our values. Others may look at what we see as “evil” from a different perspective.

2) Evil as a Deprivation of / Deviation from the Good: the authors used the analogy of a spacecraft that heats up as it nears the sun, but cools as it moves away. The cooling effect is not produced because the ship is nearing a huge ice cube in space, but because it is more distant from the heat source. Evil does not have a source or substance, it is the absence of Good.

3) Evil as an Attribute/Aspect of the Good: God uses events and people to mete out justice and retribution. The Hebrew Scriptures are very prone to name a military defeat as the hand of God at work to correct a faithless Israel. This also minimizes the role of a devil- Satan is depicted as an agent of God rather than a being in direct opposition to God.

4) Evil as a Force Opposed to the Good: Satan is the Evil One, unleashing torment and affliction on humanity as part of the larger cosmic struggle. This is a significant departure from Jewish thought, which understands itself as strictly monotheistic. Some Christians seem to elevate the “Evil One” to a status rivalling that of God. One positive effect is that in the Christian Scriptures God does not appear as bloodthirsty and prone to violence as in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In my sermon for July 12, 2009, I talk a bit about the way the Garden of Eden story has been used to try to account for the existence of pain and hardship in life. It can be found at