Sunday, January 15, 2017

Good and Evil (are meaningless?)

In my conversations with my FNC (Friendly Neighborhood Calvinist), we've talked a lot about God's role in the first couple sins (Satan's and Adam/Eve's)...what that role looks like, what the consequences would be, etc.

He's very reluctant to say that God "caused" the first sin...which is both completely understandable and completely indefensible within a traditional Calvinistic framework. And given the difficulty of this position, he has at times toyed with the idea that perhaps God did cause it...but that, because he's God, he can do that for certain reasons without being evil himself.

And the thing is, I actually agree with him! I agree that God could have caused the Fall every bit as deterministically as Calvinism demands, without then being guilty of evil. Of course, the reason I agree with him is a lot different than his reasons for believing that: If God caused the Fall, then the terms "Good" and "Evil" have no real meaning. 

So: Genesis 1. Creation. You all know this story. Over the course of 6 days, God creates everything that is. And after each day, "God saw that it was good." And then, at the end of the 6 days, God looks at the big picture. "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." This is a survey of all of creation, God looking at the work of his hands and investigating the results. And he proclaims it "very good."

So let's talk about that. "Good". What does "good" mean? Well, in a Christian context, I'd think most people would probably go with something like "that which is pleasing to God." Pretty simple, right? And when it comes to "evil", most Christians would probably stick with "that which is against God's will." Showing mercy to the poor? Good. Murdering the poor? Evil. Really simple stuff so far.

Everything God made was "very good". Everything God made was in accordance with his will. Now, as an Arminian, I believe that means that God had willed for humanity to have true freedom so that they might choose to obey him...but that also means that they would have the capacity to choose NOT to obey him. This capacity is not evil, because it is a necessary consequence of humans being able to LOVE God. As an example, the things that make a good set of pruning shears are the same thing that could make it a dangerous weapon. It's still a "Good" set of shears, because the harm would come from misuse, not the intended use.

Contrast that with the Calvinist view. In the Calvinist view, God determines everything from the word "Go." From before the first atom was created, God had already determined all of human history, including human (and angelic) sin. God created Adam not just with the capacity to sin, but with the necessity of sinning. It's not just that Adam could's that Adam must sin, because of the way God created him and the context God placed him in.

And that creation - the creation with the inevitability and necessity of sin built in from the very get-go - is what God calls "good" in the Calvinist scenario. That is what God looks at and declares "very good."

To go back to the "pruning sheers" example, that's like taking a pair of sheers and adding in some fancy technology that means that at some predetermined point, they'll turn on their owner and cut his fingers off. Obviously those pruning sheers would not be "good" shears - or else, if they are to remain "good" shears, then the definition of "good" must be expanded to include "will cut owner's fingers off at a predetermined time."

So back to Calvinism and creation. The creation that God declares "good" is the creation that has the Fall built into it from the ground up. Everything about creation has been designed to facilitate the Fall and make it certain. And not just the Fall: All sins. Every robbery. Every murder. Every single moment down to the minutest detail of every single sexual assault. All of it follows necessarily and deliberately from the creation that God declares Good.

And if God declares that Good...then all of that must be included in the definition of Good. And if all of that is "Good", then good becomes meaningless, as does evil. They are both meaningless words for the things that God does and causes. Adam and Eve didn't commit evil...that would require them going against God's will, when in fact it was his will that caused them to eat the fruit! Satan didn't do something against God's fact, his every action was a fulfillment of God's will! The murderer, the rapist, the child molester...every single one of them is fulfilling God's will to exactly the same degree as the godliest saint that ever walked the earth.

In the end, the Calvinist can only really talk of "good" and "evil" as two different colors that an artist uses to paint a picture. One is not really better or worse than the other. And I hope that bothers them at least a little, when they think about it.

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