Posts filed under Third 30

Three Views to the Problem of Evil: View #2

By Brian Lowther  

Ralph Winter once said, “There are very many people, even Bible-believing Christians not just non-Christians, who are profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and certainly confused by the extensive presence of outrageous evil in the created world of an all-powerful, benevolent God.” In other words, if God is all-powerful and all loving, then why is there so much evil, disease, and suffering in the world?

In part two of this three-part blog post, I will explore a second Biblical view addressing this question.  [Click here for Part 1] As before, I won’t venture to interpret any scripture passages. I’ll simply list the passages that at a surface level, seem to support the view I’m exploring.

View #2: A mysterious, loving, sovereign, divine plan lies behind all evil, disease, and suffering in our world.

This conviction shows up every time someone suffers a tragedy and interprets it with a version of one of the following statements:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “God’s ways are mysterious.”
  • “There are no accidents in God’s providence.”
  • “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”
  • “You have to trust that God always does what is best.”
  • “It is the will of God...hard to understand…providence writes a long sentence, we have to wait to get to heaven to read the answer.”

Scriptural Support

This understanding is taken from the Bible, where you can read of numerous examples of God saying or doing very mysterious things, such as:

  • “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.” (Samuel 2:6-7)
  • “It is I who puts to death and gives life. I have wounded, and it is I who heals.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
  • “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Proverbs 16:4)
  • “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well being and creating calamity [Lit.,"ra", evil]. I am the Lord who does all these.” (Isaiah 45:6,7)
  • “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and evil go forth?” (Lamentations 3:38)
  • “Not one bird falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Matthew 10:29)
  • “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it in hope...” (Romans 8:20)

Key Advantage

The explanation that a divine reason lies behind every occurrence in history—including evil—has brought comfort to countless people down through the ages.

Questions

But, should we take this view to be the universal explanation for all evil and suffering? If so, some very troubling questions arise. Below I’ll illustrate these questions by paraphrasing a story from Greg Boyd’s book, Is God to Blame? [1]

Melanie’s Story 

For as long as she could remember, Melanie had wanted to be a mother. Once she got married, she and her husband began trying for a baby. A few years went by with no success. They found out that a medical condition would prevent her from conceiving a child. Melanie was devastated.

But, her disappointment was short-lived, as unexpectedly she conceived. The pregnancy moved forward without incident. Finally the day came and she and her husband went to the hospital to deliver the baby. However, during the birth the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, choking the child to death.

Melanie was understandably inconsolable and in deep despair, tormented by questions like, “Why would God miraculously give us a child, only to take the baby away while coming into the world? Why did this happen to us? And why is God preventing us from conceiving again?”

After years of depression and confusion, Melanie and her husband sought answers from a Bible teacher they respected. The answers they received were consistent with the theology she had been taught all her life: “God is still on his throne. There’s a silver lining in every cloud. All things work together for the good. Maybe God is trying to teach you some kind of lesson. Or maybe it’s just not God’s will for you to have children.”

Melanie accepted this advice, but felt extreme guilt because she was starting to lose her trust in God’s “mysterious” plan, not to mention the fact that her marriage was slowly deteriorating as well.

What was so confusing about the situation was that God had seemingly given Melanie a strong desire to mother a child and then miraculously set her up to believe he was going to fulfill that desire, only to kill the baby just before it was born. One can’t help but ask, does that seem like something a loving God would do? Can you picture Jesus doing that to someone?

In addition to these questions, this belief that a mysterious plan underlies all evil reduces the problem of evil to an intellectual puzzle to solve, needing books and devotionals to parse out its meaning. Also, if all evil is believed to serve a higher divine purpose, what is the point in fighting against it?

Conclusion

If the explanation that people suffer because of a mysterious, loving, sovereign, divine plan was the only Biblical answer to the problem of evil, I think we would all be forever “profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and confused.” Thankfully, there is at least one other predominant answer in scripture. Tomorrow I’ll explore the third view.

Endnote

[1] Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Evil, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2003) 11-13

Brian Lowther is the director of the Roberta Winter Institute. 

Posted on April 28, 2015 and filed under Blog, Third 30.

Three Views to the Problem of Evil: View #1

By Brian Lowther 

Ralph Winter once said, “There are very many people, even Bible-believing Christians not just non-Christians, who are profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and certainly confused by the extensive presence of outrageous evil in the created world of an all-powerful, benevolent God.” In other words, if God is all-powerful and all loving, then why is there so much evil, disease, and suffering in the world?

In this three-part blog post, I will explore three Biblical views addressing this question. Where I list scripture references, I won’t venture an interpretation. I’ll simply list the passages that at a surface level, seem to support the view I’m exploring.

View #1 - People suffer because they deserve it.

This conviction turns up every time a natural disaster strikes. For example:

  • The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of Japanese citizens was viewed by some as divine retribution.
  • Some blamed Haiti’s 2009 earthquake on the Haitians' "pact to the devil."
  • Some explained Hurricane Katrina as a direct result of New Orleans’ embracing gay pride events.
  • Some blamed the September 11 tragedy on liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, pagans, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters. 

Scriptural Support

This understanding is taken from the Old Testament, where you can read of countless examples of God punishing the disobedient, such as: 

  • When God ordered the Israelites to slaughter countless men, women and children in the conquest of Canaan. (Deuteronomy 20:16-17)
  • When God killed every firstborn child in Egypt because Pharaoh was stubborn. (Exodus 12:29) Ironically the Bible tells us it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart towards God's people. [1]
  • When God ordered King Saul to butcher thousands of children and babies in the genocide of the Amalakites. (1 Samuel 15:1-35)
  • When God ordered the Israelites (through Moses) to capture 32,000 young girls of the Midianite tribe “for yourselves” after killing their families. (Numbers 31:7-18)
  • When God drowned every man, woman, child, and animal on the face of the earth during the flood of Noah, with the exception of eight in Noah’s family and the animals on the ark. (Genesis 7:17-24)

One could point out that in the passages above, the wickedness of the people more than justified God’s judgment. In many of these situations, the Bible makes it clear that human violence and evil had grown to be so pervasive that it touched everything and everyone that existed at the time. The Canaanites, for example, were apparently an incredibly sinful people who practiced extreme cruelty, incest, bestiality, cultic prostitution, and child sacrifice. [2] If such acts were perpetrated today and broadcast on the news, there would be a universal outcry for retribution. 

One could also point out that, in many of these Biblical contexts, God’s judgment is preceded by warning and/or a long period of time to repent. For example, during the construction of the ark—which took as long as one hundred years—Noah is described as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) to the people around him. This means the people had perhaps one hundred years to listen to the message of Noah and to repent of the wickedness that was bringing the floodwaters upon them.

Lastly, many who contend that people suffer because they deserve it, assert that God is required to judge people for sin, simply because he is just. He has to threaten to punish sin and then follow through with those threats or the world would become overrun with crime and evil.

Key Advantage

This understanding of suffering seems to fit with our innate sense of justice, e.g., all parents instinctively seem to know that bad behavior cannot go unpunished.

Questions

But, should we take this view to be the universal explanation for all evil and suffering? If so, some troubling questions arise.

  • First is the age-old question, why do the wicked often prosper and the righteous suffer? It seems so arbitrary.
  • Second is the question of unwarranted suffering, such as the suffering and death of newborn babies. In other words, why is it that sometimes the punishment doesn’t fit the crime?
  • Third is the question of animal suffering. Wild animals surely can’t learn from their suffering, or be improved by it.
  • Next would be the question of understanding our own personal tragedies. For example, are we to interpret a terminal cancer diagnosis or a child kidnapping as God’s judgment? Isn’t this one of the main things the book of Job refutes?
  • The last question is similar to the first, in terms of the arbitrary nature of suffering. Oftentimes our suffering happens when we least expect it. Many of us know a devout friend or relative who spent their life serving God, only to be knocked down by some ghastly disease. In these cases there is rarely a direct reason from God explaining the “punishment.” This situation is similar to a parent saying to a child, “I’m going to spank you, sometimes when you’re doing right, and I won't generally tell you why.”

Interestingly, Jesus addresses this general idea in Luke 13:1-5 where he responds to two catastrophes: Pilates’ slaughtering of some Galileans and the fall of the tower of Siloam that killed eighteen people. About both events Jesus asks his audience, “Do you think these people were more guilty than anyone else?”

Conclusion

If the explanation that people suffer because they deserve it was the only Biblical answer to the problem of evil, I think we would all be forever “profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and confused.” Thankfully, there are at least two other predominant answers in scripture. Tomorrow I’ll explore the second view.

Endnote

[1] Though, we are also told Pharaoh hardened his own heart many times.
[2] https://www.knowingthebible.net/the-extermination-of-the-canaanites#_ftn6

Brian Lowther is the director of the Roberta Winter Institute. 

 

Posted on April 27, 2015 and filed under Blog, Third 30.

Looking With Foreign Eyes On Our Own Customs

Excerpted from Ralph Winter's Essay "Group Self Deception

In the case of what is called euphemistically “female circumcision” missions have made little progress. To this day it is a practice which includes 140 million women in Africa. Drastically more mutilating than male circumcision, missionary hospitals, some of them, need to devote a great deal of time to sewing up the bladders of women who have undergone what is officially called “Female genital mutilation” the reason being that sewing the vagina nearly closed anticipates bladder rupture during the birth of the first child. Without repair surgery a leaking bladder produces a constant 24/7 stench which forces hundreds of thousands of women completely out of their villages. 

The minimal progress missions have made against the practice of female genital mutilation — many do not even address the subject for fear of losing converts — is mute testimony to the awesome power of what we could call “Group Self Deception,” a type of culturally reinforced delusion. Missionaries are legitimately fearful of destructive cultural practices entering into the Christian movement, and of the puzzling power of “Group Self Deception.” 

However, we deceive ourselves if we think our own cultural tradition is devoid of “Group Self Deception.” Thus, this same legitimate fear of straying from Biblical insight has also led returned missionaries to look with foreign eyes upon some of the customs of their countries of origin. Even less likely, but nevertheless possible, is for returning missionaries to look critically upon the nature of the very religious tradition in which they were reared. This latter, very rare and difficult kind of reflection, could be called reverse contextualization or decontextualization.  

I realize that I have used a lot of my time already tiptoeing up to this subject, it is as difficult to raise issues of this kind in our culture as it is for missionaries to do so in an African society. I want to address certain major killers in the United States and much of the Westernized world which our society does little about. These are cultural traditions that are very deep and strong in the Western world, that both pervade and complicate secular society, and in so doing, also the cultural tradition of Christianity from which most of us spring.

Posted on April 23, 2015 and filed under Blog, Third 30.

Hell's Kitchen and the Epidemic of Debilitating Health-Disorder Diseases: Radical Theories from the Fringe

By Rebecca Lewis

It is a well-known oddity of investigative science that new theories and insights usually have to come from the fringes. At the center of scientific thought are the entrenched perspectives and long-held theories that resist being challenged. They are accepted as truth, as are their hypothetical conclusions. It takes those who have not been thus indoctrinated to be able to view problems from a different perspective. And this perspective merits serious consideration from anyone trying to actually reach a clearer understanding of root problems.

Since the 1940's, a vast array of previously unknown or rare health disorders have appeared, and in the last generation, have become epidemic. Diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, to name a few, and childhood and teen disorders like asthma, ADHD, autism, and schizophrenia. I call them "health disorders" because they do not appear to be contagious, but are clearly increasing in epidemic proportions, a pattern that does not result from genetic degradation. 

Many new books are being written on the subject, some postulating that these diseases are environmental or nutritional (e.g. Our Stolen Future, Altering Eden, Hell's Kitchen, Breast Cancer and Iodine, The Orthomolecular Treatment of Schizophrenia), while other books are postulating that these diseases are caused by unsuspected germs, fungi, viral assaults to our immune systems, or misguided treatments (e.g. The Germ That Causes Cancer, Dissolving Illusions, Plague Time, Anatomy of an Epidemic).  Interestingly, some are even researching the chemical breakdown of the body, and resultant illnesses, related to ongoing emotional stresses and spiritual problems, such as fear, anger, abandonment, hatred. Organizations such as BeInHealth.org, and books such as The Biblical Foundations of Freedom (by Art Mathias) and A More Excellent Way (by Henry Wright), see physical healing and healthiness as a result of spiritual and emotional healing and deliverance. 

In my opinion, none of these views paint the whole picture. Instead, each must be taken in context and enlightened by the perspective of the others. Only then will we be able to see what's happening to our bodies and our world. But what does not seem to be in doubt is that humans are not the only ones struggling with new varieties of degenerative health conditions, with everything from the collapse of entire bee colonies to the gender-warping of the fish and reptiles that inhabit our fresh waters. Indeed, a lot of additional insight can be garnered by studying both animals and humans.

One of the most unique theories of the roots of degenerative disorder, is that presented by a book called Hell's Kitchen, written by a medical doctor who began his career as a zoo veterinarian. After spending nearly 20 years successfully figuring out how to keep a wide variety of zoo animals healthy and fertile, Dr. Joel Wallach realized that most of the modern degenerative human diseases were very similar to the nutritional diseases he was overcoming in zoo animals. He went back to medical school to train as a Naturopathic doctor, while doing his own research into the history of the development of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and most other health disorders that have developed in the Western world in recent times. 

Dr. Wallach's fascinating conclusion is that Americans began to fight increasing problems with obesity, diabetes, and many other degenerative diseases when they stopped fertilizing their fields with wood ash (potash) and later also their backyard gardens. In the late 1800's with the boom in the chemical industry, farms switched to using chemical fertilizers, with a handful of nutrients instead of the 91 found in wood ash. Homes ceased to use wood ash in their vegetable gardens as they slowly switched from cooking with wood fires to using natural gas and electric stoves, as well as coal and gas fireplaces. The result is a long-term decline in soil nutrients, and thus, the nutrients available in our foods. 

Wallach's book contains many intriguing insights, though it read more as a list of historical events interspersed with insights and comments. At times he seems reactionary to the medical establishment which has shunned him. One fascinating study he did with an Amish community led to his discovering he could virtually prevent muscular dystrophy in their children by ensuring adequate supplies of selenium to pregnant mothers. He benefited much from the many years he spent tracing the deficiencies and diseases that result from nutritional changes in diverse animal species. He has much to contribute to the discussion, applying his research techniques to the study of human health problems.

This book is a prime example of how people on the fringes of the medical community might come up with new perspectives which greatly contribute to understanding the roots of modern diseases.  I highly recommend reading this quirky book for the unique perspective it provides.

Rebecca Lewis is a curriculum development consultant who serves on the RWI's Advisory Board.

The End of the World as we Know it,
 A Post-Antibiotic Era?

 Amoxicillin -    Flickr / Wil C. Fry

Amoxicillin - Flickr/Wil C. Fry

By Jeffrey Havenner

I watched the sun come up on December 22, 2012 with a certain satisfaction. It was the day after the predicted "end of the world" due to the expiration of the Mayan calendar. Little did I know, until I read it in an article on hospital-acquired infections, that we may be facing at the very least the end of another era of the usefulness of antibiotics in medicine. Has bacterial resistance really come to that? Some medical experts are suggesting so.

A favorite saying of Pasteur was that "chance favors the prepared mind." In the 1920s English physician Alexander Fleming was looking at some cultures of Staphylococcus aureus that were contaminated with the same blue green mold that is common on old bread. He could have destroyed the cultures and started over but instead he examined them and noticed that something about the mold seemed to be restricting the growth of the bacteria. Fleming is credited with discovering Penicillin, the first antibiotic.

Since that discovery, antibiotics have become a staple of medicine, as they are actual curative drugs. That is, antibiotics do not prevent one from getting a disease, as do vaccines. Instead they clear from the patient's system the actual causative agent of a disease after infection.  Unfortunately, just as Sir Isaac Newton described the law of action and opposite reaction in physics the opposite reaction to antibiotics was antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

As time has gone on, microbiologists have described antibiotic resistance genes on plasmids and so called "pathogenicity islands" that can be transferred horizontally between bacteria occupying the same environments. Some pathogens have achieved multiple antibiotic resistance to the point that there are few treatment options left. Potential allergic reactions and toxic side effects complicate the picture even more.

The problem of antibiotic resistance is twofold. The most resistant forms of pathogens can lurk in hospital environments ready to infect patients with already compromised immune systems. Along with that the rate that new antibiotics are coming into clinical use has been declining steadily since the 1980s.

Commercially, antibiotics seem to be following the law of diminishing return. As bacteria become more proficient in acquiring resistance, a certain pessimism settles in that new antibiotics could even recoup the cost of R&D and the lengthy approval process by the FDA.

So what will happen? In one scenario the Government could take over antibiotic development and production largely by contracting with commercial entities similar to defense contracting. Antibiotic research and development could become the province of Non-Governmental Organizations. Ralph Winter envisioned groups of scientifically oriented Christians fighting disease in the name of God and not for personal fame or profit. Finally, new classes of drugs could be developed that target bacterial virulence mechanisms without necessarily killing them. These might become forms of maintenance and disease-management drugs that are more profitable in the long run. We will examine these in greater detail later.

Endnote:

This is the article referred to above: http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Magazine/January-February-2013/The-KPC-Killer/. The incident caused quite a stir in the Washington DC area because it was a local event that occurred at the NIH in 2012. 

Jeffrey Havenner is a retired microbiologist who serves the RWI as a scientific consultant.

This Week's Links: What We Talk About When We Talk About Disease Eradication

By Emily Lewis

Here at the RWI we talk about disease eradication all the time, but that's partly because there aren't a lot of other institutes keeping the conversation going. The idea of global elimination when it comes to infectious disease is fairly new, and one that's only just beginning to catch-on. 

"For most of human history, we have sought to treat and cure diseases. But only in recent decades did it become possible to ensure that a particular disease never threatens humanity again." This great little TED-Ed video tells the story of the eradication of smallpox and how that story can be used to determine the possibility of eradicating other diseases. 

The Drovers Cattle Network has come up with a similar "road map" for disease eradication among animal populations. As we mentioned in our last links blog, "After smallpox, rinderpest is just the second disease—and the first livestock disease—to be eradicated." Which means we have another important piece in the puzzle.

One of the things the Rinderpest article highlights is that it was not researchers or doctors (in this case, veterinarians) who played the key role. For disease eradication to be successful it has to be joint effort between medical professionals and "laymen." As the TED video put it, "Disease eradication is one public health effort that benefits all of humanity and challenges us to work together as a global community."

"Finding a way to manage a group of people who are all quite individualistic and having them work together towards this common goal is critical," says Scott O'Neill, founder of Eliminate Dengue in a fascinating podcast series from NPR that tells the in-depth story of trying to cut off one disease (dengue fever) at its source.

  Scott O'Neill wants to rid the world of dengue fever by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria so they can't carry the virus that causes the disease.

Scott O'Neill wants to rid the world of dengue fever by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria so they can't carry the virus that causes the disease.

The message is clear: if the total elimination of infectious disease is possible, it will only be so if we work together. Let's make this happen. To again quote the TED video, "Disease eradication is the ultimate gift we can give to everyone alive today as well as all future generations of humanity."

Emily Lewis is the RWI's Content Curator and Social Media Manager.

Posted on April 17, 2015 and filed under Blog, Third 30.