Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving, the Problem of Evil, and Eschatological Hope

I have three items about last Sunday’s church service.

A.  Someone was telling the congregation about his Thanksgiving.  He was talking about sitting on the couch, watching football on TV after having his Thanksgiving meal, dozing off.  In the midst of all this, he said, he had a sense of God telling him that everything will be okay.  He said that we can have this experience when we are with family on Thanksgiving, or if we are alone.

B.  The pastor was preaching about the importance of thanksgiving.  He was talking about an experience that he had when his daughter was sick.  All of the doctors were believers, and he said that he could feel the presence of God.  The pastor said that God may not always do that sort of thing, but there are occasions when God does.

The pastor also talked about how God may have delivered us from peril, and we were not even aware of it.  Someone may have been about to assault you, for example, but God diverted the would-be assaulter’s mind onto something else.

When a Christian says this, my mind cannot help but to ask “problem of evil” questions.  Why didn’t God stop that other assault, or misfortune?  Some think it makes more sense to say that God doesn’t intervene at all, rather than to say that God stops evil in some cases but not others.  With this mindset, can we truly thank God, as if God is the source of our good fortune?

I cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil.  I do not dismiss the possibility of God’s existence, though, for there are people who have what seem to be God-moments.  I also believe in having gratitude and expressing it towards people, rather than taking people and positive circumstances for granted.  That sort of attitude, as opposed to a sense of entitlement, can help a person have a better attitude towards life, and maybe to get along with others better.  As far as the problem of evil goes, people who have should think about people who need and, if they can, they should help provide for their needs.  That does not exactly solve the problem of why God seems inactive in the face of evil, but it does hopefully discourage an attitude of being satisfied with our good fortune and leaving things there.

C.  The pastor was saying that we should get used to thanking God here, because we will be doing that a lot in heaven.  He said that there will be no football and baseball in heaven!  No, we will be praising and spending time with God, and we will be spending a lot of time with God’s people!

That reminded me, somewhat, of a Mark Driscoll sermon that I heard last week.  Driscoll was saying that God is loving, even towards people in hell.  God loves the people in hell, Driscoll said, but God will not let them into heaven where they can hurt God’s people.

What troubles me about these sentiments is that they assume that how people are now is how they will be in the afterlife.  I fare positively and negatively, according to these criteria.  On the one hand, I do enjoy spending time with God in prayer and listening to and singing praise songs.  On that criterion, I will love heaven!  On the other hand, I do not particularly enjoy socializing with Christians, and there are times when my attitude towards God is negative.  On those criteria, I won’t like heaven that much!

I suppose that one can say that God will transform Christians and cleanse them of sinful imperfections before letting them into heaven.  I am hesitant, though, to say that heaven and this life are radically discontinuous from each other.  Why am I in this life, building character, if God will transform me and everyone else after we die, anyway?  Is it so I will better appreciate my transformed state, in which I will no longer struggle against sin because I will be sinless?

What exactly is my eschatological hope?  I grew up in Armstrongism, which said that believers would become godlike beings, ruling the earth and creating their own universes.  This may beat sitting on a cloud and playing a harp, but it does not particularly appeal to me.  Some Christians talk about learning, attending lectures, and listening to Mozart playing a live concert in heaven!  That appeals to me more!  Such a conception may allow there to be football and baseball in heaven, even though the pastor has a point when he notes that God will be a significant figure there, and so maybe in the here and now we should prepare ourselves for that by loving God.

The first time I really developed an eschatological hope was when I read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.”  Edwards said that heaven is a place where people love each other.  If you do not have companions, Edwards said, do not hate those who reject you, but look forward to heaven, a world of love!  Edwards himself could get frustrated with people in this life, and his daughter, Esther, hoped even more for the millennium as she was dealing with difficult people (see here)!  On some level, Edwards may have believed that the love that believers have and show here will be continuous with the love that they will have and show in heaven.  But he and his daughter also allowed their social frustrations in the here and now to be a foil for the happiness and harmony that will exist in heaven.

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