Monday, February 18, 2013

Jonathan Edwards on Evil

In my blog post 'Hell, Universalism and Some Remaining Questions', I interacted with the following words from Jonathan Edwards.
“It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .

Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.” 
I have always been uneasy with that type of reasoning since it seems to implicate that there are unrealized potencies within the godhead. Consider that the Triune God is completely self-sufficient and doesn't need to have evil to demonstrate His character any more than He needed to create the world, let alone redeemed it, in order to demonstrate His personality (Saint Augustine makes this points lucidly in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love). God could have left our first parents in a state of bondage, He could have chosen for less or more people to be redeemed, He could have chosen not to create at all. The only things God cannot do are those things which contradict His nature.
The implication of saying that if God didn’t have a group of people to be angry with for all eternity that one whole side of his character (namely His hatred of sin) would not be able to be demonstrated, manifested or expressed, is essentially to say that God requires an opposite in order for Him to be good, or at least for such goodness to be fully actualized or manifested? A corollary of this is that throughout all eternity, the goodness and justice inherent in the blessed Trinity was always incomplete. On the other hand, if the members of the Trinity are completely self-sufficient and could fully appreciate their own justice independent of creation, then it would be possible for God’s redeemed and glorified children to appreciate God’s goodness and justice apart from the existence of evil, unless we can first produce an a priori argument to the contrary.
Consider further, if evil is necessary in order for God's goodness to be manifested, and if the manifestation of such goodness is a crucial part of what it means for God to be Lord (since otherwise God’s hatred of sin couldn’t find an outlet), then it follows that creation is necessary in order for God to be Lord since creation is itself a precondition to evil. In that case, God would not be Lord prior to creation. Ergo, creation is not an overflow of God’s abundance but something that was necessary in order to realize a certain aspect of His character. This lands us uncomfortably close to what some Arians have proposed. I have met Arians who said that in order for God to be Lord, He must eternally be Lord over something; ergo, the Son must be eternally subordinate to the authority of God the Father.
In The Pleasures of God, John Piper seems to go even further than Edwards, suggesting that the pain, evil and the misery of some are a necessary pre-condition for the ever-increasing enjoyment of the saints. This seems to leave us with a kind of dualism since it makes goodness eternally dependent on evil. Again, if taken to its logical consequence, this would entail that evil must be just as eternal as the blessed Trinity.


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