Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Resurrection as Theodicy and Plausibility Structure

As mentioned before, Karl Barth famously attacked the natural theology project by saying that it came up with a god, but not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What he meant by that was that one can propose an argument that nothing comes from nothing, and therefore if there is something – i.e., the universe -- the universe must have been brought forth by something other than itself, and that we would call God. Barth agrees that this argument could lead a person to affirm a creator.

However, there is no way to continue the argument in order to demonstrate that this creator holds us morally responsible, sees our misery, makes promises and covenants. Barth robustly asserts that the god of natural theology, or, if you will, the god of the philosophers, is not the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

C. S. Lewis and others recognize this issue and shifted their apologetics from creation to those attacks which specifically sought to deny the historicity of Jesus, his divinity, and his resurrection. It is somewhere in the middle between the proofs for the existence of God and the defense of the historicity of Jesus that I sense a weakness. And the spot is, as Lewis puts it, in the problem of pain.

To bring this out let us turn our attention to a recent review by Douglas Groothuis of William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's "God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist" in the summer issue of Books and Culture. Groothuis, in his review, points out that Craig’s theodicy fails to convince the atheist, but does convince him, the Christian reviewer.

"The nub of the argument over evil seems to boil down to Craig's argument: (1) If God exists, gratuitous suffering does not exist. (2) God exists. (3) Therefore, gratuitous suffering does not exist.11 Craig's strategies for God's possible justification of evils are merely speculative unless one has previously made a strong argument for a metaphysically and morally thick theism through natural theology. That is, background knowledge weighs crucially here. Since Sinnott-Armstrong denies the success of Craig's arguments for God, Craig's explanation for evil rings hollow and desperate to him. But if one takes Craig's overall, fivefold case for God to be strong (as I do), this defangs Sinnott-Armstrong's objections."
Douglas Groothuis “The Great Debate” Books and Culture July August 2008.

One is forced to ask, what good is an apologetic that only convinces Christians? Groothuis adds:

"Since Craig argues forcefully—if briefly—for the resurrection of Jesus as part of the cumulative case for God's existence, it might have served him well to invoke Jesus' resurrection as part of the solution to the problem of evil as well. If Jesus has been raised victorious over death and sin, the world is not without hope. Evil does not have the last word."

Indeed! I would go so far as to say that there is absolutely no theodicy without the resurrection. In fact, I would disagree with Craig and say that suffering that arises from evil is gratuitous, that it is without cause, for if it had a cause it could be justified, and it is not justified if it is evil. However, there is pain that is not in itself evil. But let us stay focused on suffering that arises from evil. This is what the cross and resurrection are all about. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and that is how he did it. I truly believe that this needs to be tirelessly presented as our apology in the 21st century. We need to be aggressive in proclaiming and defending the truth that God has seen our misery and taken it upon himself at the cross and overcome it at the empty tomb. And further, that he intends to restructure the world itself and the world order, and that preparing for that is the duty of the Christian community, the church.

In so presenting this core teaching we establish the Christian plausibility structure that Newbigin points us to. True, we cannot, in an enlightenment way, prove that Jesus rose from the dead with logic, and even less, prove the meaning of the resurrection as the overcoming of evil. But, the resurrection as a fact can be defended, and its meaning taught as a structure by which the world may be understood.

C. S. Lewis clearly understood this. In his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed” he speaks of being in a tool shed where light streams in from a crack in the roof. One does not sit and seek to see the light, rather, one should stand in the light and by it see everything else. I would propose that this is Lewis’ way of speaking of Newbigin’s “plausibility structure” built by the knowledge of God and the Christian teaching about God.

Thus, for Lewis the resurrection is not something one proves. One can defend the historical existence of an historical person, namely Jesus. But, one accepts the resurrection (the act of faith) and in so accepting it all other parts of life are understood.

No comments: