God and Cosmic Evil

10 04 2008

Origen seemed to have gotten around the problem of taking Genesis literally by suggesting that the Fall did not happen in physical history, but proposed (based upon his Platonist studies) that in the beginning God created all rational creatures (souls) and that the Fall happened prior to when souls took up physical bodies. Origen then also proposed that wickedness would eventually be destroyed through the slow process of purgation. Over countless ages eventually all rational beings would be reconciled to God.

I’ve heard some claim that Origen denied a bodily resurrection, however in my own readings of Origen it seems he does believe in the resurrection of the body in his system. Unless I’m reading it wrong, but he basically says the same body that is buried rises again, which is standard Christian teaching.

Two things for me, however, is that:

A) I don’t view Evil as having any ontological reality, Evil doesn’t exist as such but is simply the deprivation of Good.

B) I don’t interpret the story of the Fall literally, I think it generally is intended to describe some sort of trans-rational concept for why we currently exist in a world where war, death, plague, brutality and suffering takes place.

In a Christian context the story of the Fall teaches us that while all of creation is good since it was made by the Creator, it is ultimately our own choices to live outside and without the Divine Love that, to view ourselves as our own divinity, that we engage in behaviors that are destructive–the story of the Fall also implicates that human choice ultimately has effect not just on humankind but the world at large.

Within a Christian narrative context the Fall establishes a bedrock by which to recognize the pain, suffering and brutality we observe in the world every day in contrast to seemingly intrinsic notions that there ought to be something better than this. It is human nature to see pain and ask, “Why?!” and while we’ve come up with various religious, philosophical and spiritual theories to answer this question, it’s still one that haunts us.

Nobody is free from the ghastly reality of suffering in the world, each of us is a witness and participant in it.

But for the Christian narrative of redemption it establishes a platform and context in which to view Jesus, who being God comes to participate with us in that same reality which we participate in daily. To bind Himself to us in our weaknesses and sufferings which culminates in His own destruction at the hands of the Romans on the cross.

Which is at the same time paradoxically defeat and triumph. Christ’s triumph is hidden beneath the visage of despair, the image of defeat is the paradoxical instrument of triumph and liberation and this is vindicated and manifest in Christ’s rising from the dead.

I’m not very interested in a literal Adam and Eve or tree of the knowledge of good and evil or talking snakes; I am however interested in recognizing the reality in which we now currently dwell–a world in which pain happens and people suffer and I make the conscious choice to both believe there must be something better, that there is an actual good, and that redemption is real and I choose to see that story of redemption as having really taken place in historical space-time in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Which is why I’m a Christian, which is why I have hope despite what I see, why I can still say with confidence that Death is fundamentally unreal though I hear reports and witness deaths every day and am aware of that my own mortal frame will expire–but I choose to believe and have hope that this mortality is not the fundamental reality in the world but that the fundamental reality of the world is resurrection.

And it is in resurrection that I choose to view things as ultimately hopeful, and ultimately good and ultimately just. That things will be set right and that I can move in the world to live in such a way as to try and make things right in my own microcosm, by loving my neighbor and giving to those I encounter who need I can live out the kind of resurrection justice I believe will ultimately transform and transfigure the whole world when the same Jesus who died and rose will come again.

I can live in the hope that all people will eventually have peace, especially those who never had a chance or opportunity to experience even a small glimmer of peace. To believe that mourning really will become laughter, that tears of sorrow will become tears of joy, that hate will dissipate and only love will remain. Where oppression will no longer be, and there will be perfect freedom. Hope for a world in which swords are broken and turned into plowshares and spears become pruning shears. A world where lion will lay with the lamb, and a child can play without fear in the viper’s den.

Hell and Death will be no more, and all things will be reconciled and brought into the perfect and joyous life of God the gracious and loving Father of us all.




2 responses

15 04 2008
David Williams

I had my own Origen moment when in the midst of a discussion with an atheist. He and I found we shared an belief in the existence of a multiverse. For him, it made cosmological sense. For me, it made sense because I’m such a congenital Calvinist that the idea that God was not ontologically aware of all possibilities of being seems a slight against his sovereignty.

That does, in it’s own oddball way, would mean that all beings are saved.

15 04 2008

That’s an interesting idea. How would a multiverse work out theologically though? If there are five hundred versions of me existing simultaneously is all the same fundamental me or five hundred individuals who happen to be identical genetically?

Without advocating the Platonist notion of “soul”, do all five hundred versions of me share the same soul? Are we all the same rational being? What is personhood and how does it relate to this?

More interesting is how that’d work out eschatologically.

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