We are all trying to make sense of reality in one way or another. Respectful, authentic apologetics interacts with people as they actually are: human beings made in the image of God trying to make sense of reality.
As image-bearers, we are not chipmunks. We are not satisfied to find our nuts and store them up for winter. We have to know why we eat our food and why predators threaten our lives. We ask hard questions about how we got here, why we are alive and what we are to do with these lives.
As we approach the existence of evil, we will have differences of opinion with other image-bearers. These differences come from universal questions in the heart of man. I am not making fun of or denigrating these alternate explanations. These alternate explanations are actually bridges to other persons made in God’s image trying to answer the same questions that we are trying to answer.
I recently posted a blog addressing Love Wins, Rob Bell’s bestseller about hell, and another blog suggesting that God’s judgments have a merciful side to them. Even if hell is a merciful “tourniquet on evil,” as C.S. Lewis says, it is still a hard reality.
But do you know what is an even HARDER reality??? That evil exists.
In trying to understand our world and the meaning of our existence, some have denied that evil exists. It is their way of making sense of our world. The denial of evil can be found in much of Eastern thought.
1. Suffering (evil) is caused by desire.
2. There is neither a self to desire nor a permanent world to be grasped.
3. Therefore suffering (evil) is an illusion.
(John Piippo’s explanation of Siddhartha’s truth)
The denial of evil can be found in some forms of modern psychology:
“Modern ontologies of good and evil are based on a denial of death; on wish projection and displacement, phenomena psychologists analyze but do not cure, except in the sense of replacing, as it were, heroin with methadone. A cure, sometimes, worse than the disease.” John Hobbins
The denial of evil can be found in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy in the religion she founded called Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy authored the foundational text of Christian Science: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (S&H). The results of a search of Eddy’s book for the word “unreal” is revealing:
XXXI.Since God is All, there is no room for His unlikeness. God, Spirit, alone created all, and called it good. Therefore evil, being contrary to good, is unreal, and cannot be the product of God. A sinner can receive no encouragement from the fact that Science demonstrates the unreality of evil, for the sinner would make a reality of sin,–would make that real which is unreal, and thus heap up “wrath against the day of wrath.” He is joining in a conspiracy against himself,–against his own awakening to the awful unreality by which he has been deceived. Only those, who repent of sin and forsake the unreal, can fully understand the unreality of evil.
Divine Science explains the abstract statement that there is one Mind by the following self-evident proposition: If God, or good, is real, then evil, the unlikeness of God, is unreal. And evil can only seem to be real by giving reality to the unreal.
Despite the hallowing influence of Truth in the destruction of error, must error still be immortal? Truth spares all that is true. If evil is real, Truth must make it so; but error, not Truth, is the author of the unreal, and the unreal vanishes, while all that is real is eternal. The apostle says that the mission of Christ is to “destroy the works of the devil.” Truth destroys falsity and error, for light and darkness cannot dwell together. Light extinguishes the darkness, and the Scripture declares that there is “no night there.” To Truth there is no error,–all is Truth. To infinite Spirit there is no matter,–all is Spirit, divine Principle and its idea.
Suffering, sinning, dying beliefs are unreal. When divine Science is universally understood, they will have no power over man, for man is immortal and lives by divine authority.
Evil is a negation, because it is the absence of truth. It is nothing, because it is the absence of something. It is unreal, because it presupposes the absence of God, the omnipotent and omnipresent. Every mortal must learn that there is neither power nor reality in evil.
What do we say to one who believes that evil is only illusion? (For this post we will focus on the Christian Scientist.) As we encounter evil daily on the news and in our own hearts, it might seem obvious to us that evil does exist. But it seemed just as plain to Mary Baker Eddy after she experienced a miraculous healing that evil was not real because sickness could be overcome in her mind. How do we move this discussion past a contradiction?
When we are conversing with someone who holds an opposite position on one point, and we are stuck there, we have to move to the meta-narrative ~ the grand story. We can take the discussion in one of two directions:
1. Internal inconsistencies or 2. Explaining power.
1. We can show the internal inconsistencies of their grand story. In this case, we could ask a Christian Scientist how they explain that Mary Baker Eddy died on December 3, 1910 of an illness, and how they explain that, contrary to her own teachings, she took intravenous medication. I mention this because Eddy was the founder of their religion, and so I do think it is worth asking. But since a person living inconsistently with the truth does not mean the truth is not true, we must speak of a more universal inconsistency. After all, sadly, we do not want the teachings of Christ measured by the lives of His followers. We can ask our Christian Scientist friend if it makes sense that every single Christian Scientist does die, if death is just an illusion. Why are there not at least some examples of death being overcome?
Explaining power of a worldview
2. We can test the explaining power of their grand story. We put the Christian grand story along side of their grand story, and see which one accounts best for reality. If Christianity is true, it should best explain reality. This is what C.S. Lewis meant when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” So we have to ask our Christian Scientist friend to tell us their grand story, and compare its explaining power with the Christian grand story. What can their story not explain?
The Christian grand story is that God created man in His own image. He also created a real universe with planets and stars and plants and animals. Man was originally good. But man was created with free will. Man sinned, and by this cataclysmic fall, brought sin and death into the world. Yet even amidst the resultant curse of God upon the earth, upon the tempter, and upon the man and woman, God also promised hope that from the woman’s seed (heritage) would come One who would defeat the tempter. This was the promise of a Savior from all of the results of the fall. God further showed His mercy and revealed something about sacrifice when He shed the blood of an animal to clothe Adam and Eve with animal skins. The process of redemption spans history, culminating in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promised Seed. God is still in the process of redeeming His creation, and promises that in the end He will make all things right.
The Christian Science grand story is that God is Love, and exists as a Spirit. Sickness, sin, and death are all distortions of the true reality that is God. Jesus came to pave the way for us to walk in the truth. We can heal the sick as Jesus did if we can overcome the error by realizing Truth in our minds. Truth is all that exists anyway. All else is illusion. The physical world is illusion. Salvation is attained when we are transformed in our thinking.
Although there is a lot of truth mixed into the Christian Science grand story, it does not explain why all the energy is expended to overcome something that is not even real. It does not explain the source of error/illusion. It does not offer a payment for the wrong that we have done ~ and therefore leaves us with our guilt. It does not explain why even very spiritual followers die. It does not give meaning to the physical world, or anything which has weight and takes up space. It does not explain why we exist in bodies. It does not offer true forgiveness in relationships with others or with God, because it denies that forgiveness is even needed. It does not give a basis for morality.
You might think of other realities that the Christian Science grand story does not explain. Be sure to ask your friend if there are realities that he does not find explained in the Christian grand story.
In the Christian grand story, evil is real. This is a hard truth, but somehow satisfying. For one thing, it makes sense of hell. Viewing evil as illusion somehow falls short of explaining reality…and leaves us without a real cure.
~ Betsy McPeak