The Life and Death of God
The scientific method is defined as “a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.”2 However, though science is a way to approach truth, it does not define truth.
While the scientific method supposes the axiom of causality . . . it can never prove it to be true. Indeed, science can’t prove anything to be true in the same way that logic can in mathematics. Scientific theories, far from being true or false, are simply better or worse.3
As scientist Thomas Ackerman points out, “all scientists are skeptics; skeptical doubt is a part of the scientific method.”4
This is not to infer that the scientific method is without value, for it has contributed much to our “scientific age.” Yet this “orderly technique of investigation that is supposed to account for scientific progress” has notable limitations. History testifies that “scientific discoveries rarely occur in this idealized, wholly rational, and orderly fashion.”5 Nevertheless, let us keep the scientific method in mind as we consider the problem of evil.
The Problem of Evil
In Judeo-Christian thought Creation is fundamentally “good” (Genesis 1), for it comes from the hand of a loving and good God. Moreover, it is explicitly designed for human existence.6 Yet, beginning around 3,000 years ago with the emergence of human consciousness,7 mankind has pondered the paradoxical reality of the existence of evil.8 Since God is generally assumed to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, how can evil exist? The Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711-1776), wrote:
Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance, surely. From some cause, then. Is it from the intention of the deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive.9
Nevertheless, we should not despair in considering the existence of evil. For although we can identify with the apostle Paul when he confessed that “now we see through a glass, darkly” and only “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12), there does exist a clear line of thought in resolving the profound paradox of good and evil.
The Origin of Evil
On the origin of evil the Hebrew Scriptures are clear:
I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. — Isaiah 45:6, 7
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know [Hebrew yada = covenantal knowing] good and evil . . . . — Genesis 3:22, emphases supplied
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put . . . the tree of knowledge of good and evil. — Genesis 2:8, 9
How could God have planted such a tree if he himself did not “know” evil? Even more revealing, on the “fifth day . . . God created great whales” (Genesis 1:21, 23, Hebrew tannînim = dragons, sea monsters, serpents) that were explicitly evil:
The word [tannînim; singular, tannîn] occurs 28 times in the OT [Old Testament], where it always (except in this passage) indicates an evil sea beast often fighting with God in cosmic combat (Ps 74 and Isa 27). It is, in other words, a mythological beast. It is also poetically paralleled with “serpent” in some passages, probably because it is so evil, its bite is death, and ancient pictures seem to depict the beast in a serpentine form. We also know the word from Ugaritic literature where it is another word for the sea god, the primary enemy of Baal and people. Another Ugaritic word for this beast is lôtan (=Hebrew leviathan). It is the OT prototype of the “dragon” and one of the OT elements behind the NT [New Testament] concept of “Satan.”10,11
Thus, evil did not ultimately derive from some original chaotic essence, from an evil deity or demon, from a fallen angel or a malicious serpent, or from a tempted man or woman. The unvarnished reality is that God himself is the Author of evil! How can this be?
In his book Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being, William Hubert Vanstone makes this remarkably perceptive observation:
If the creation is the work of love, then its shape cannot be predetermined by the Creator, nor its triumph foreknown. It is the realisation of vision, but of vision which is discovered only through its own realization; and faith in its triumph is neither more nor less than faith in the Creator Himself — faith that He will not cease from His handiwork nor abandon the object of His love.
The existence of evil must be seen as the expression or consequence of the precariousness of the divine creativity. . . . [T]he redemption of evil is inseparable from the process of creation. . . . [T]hat which is created is “other” than He Who creates . . . [I]ts possibility is not foreknown but must be discovered . . . [I]ts possibility must be “worked out” in the creative process itself; and . . . the working out must include the correction . . . [and] the redemption of the move which, unredeemed, would be tragedy.12
In considering the relationship between science and religion13, John Polkinghorne sees value in Vanstone’s perspective, noting that it “can afford us some help with what is for theology the most painful of its difficulties . . . the problem of evil.”14,15
Command, Possession and Power in Creation
The book of Hebrews represents the fundamentally loving and good Creator as the Supreme Architect and Construction Engineer of the universe — “whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, NRSV). As a builder reveals his characteristics in his work, so the cosmos is a revelation of God’s attributes.16 Thus, in observing the structure or matrix of the created order, it is clear that the Creator exercised the attributes of command, possession and power.
Before the “beginning,” there was nothing — no time or space, no gravity, no matter. Because God created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), he had no other option but to create by command. We can concur with the Hebrew pioneer of self–other consciousness, King David (about 1000 BCE)17, when he declared:
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. . . . For He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. — Psalm 33:6, 9
From God’s commands emerged all the fundamental properties of the universe. Supportive command stood behind the emergence of life and humankind. Over recent millennia God further intervened to command the moral behavior of human beings. His biblical encounters with Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Chosen People illustrate this intervention by command (Genesis 6:13ff; 12:1ff; Exodus 3:2ff; 20:1ff).18
[In the progress of love] each step is a precarious step . . . in which each triumph contains new potential for tragedy, and each tragedy can be redeemed into a wider triumph.19
In his pioneering research into human consciousness, Julian Jaynes20 concluded that God made his word universally immanent (within man) about 12,000 years ago (10,000 BCE). This introduced a heretofore nonexistent consciousness of God.21 As we have noted in previous articles,22 while mankind was controlled by this internal “god-consciousness,” human will and authority were represented by the symbolic appearance and voice of “god.” By initiating innovative human actions through possessive commands and instructions, this authoritative presence of God granted mankind enormous benefits, such as protection from natural disasters and predatory attacks, direction for migration, the domestication of plants and animals, and the development of sedentary civilization. Furthermore, this god-consciousness led to human language and writing.
Among many ancient societies, writing held an extremely special and important role. Often writing was so revered that myths and deities were drawn up to explain its divine origin.23,24
Finally, god-consciousness was the predecessor of human consciousness itself.
With the gradual universal withdrawal of possessive “god-consciousness,” beginning about 3,000 years ago (about the end of the of the third millennium BCE25), remnants of god-consciousness were retained by only a few, thus investing them with power and authority. Rulers across the world were rapidly divinized, and emerging imperial power structures quickly laid the foundation for civilization on the principle of power.
Apart from truly human, egalitarian “I–Thou” relationality and communal justice, command becomes a structure of domination and submission. This concept of the basic role of power in civilization is explicit in the following disturbing observation:
Deep below the surface of history is a giant tectonic plate that some have called macroparasitism, kleptocracy, or “the cage,” but we call civilization itself. The normalcy or even the cutting edge of human civilization in all its imperial inevitability has as its chant: First victory, then peace or Peace by victory.26
It is therefore said that “the ultimate expression of power is control.”27 Even the unedited comments of William Hubert Vanstone include the claim that “Evil is the moment of [God’s] control jeopardised and lost . . . ”28 Despite Vanstone’s other perceptive remarks, this seems to indicate a deficient understanding of the true reason for evil in the universe.
Self–Other Consciousness and the Dilemma of Command, Possession and Power
When God began to withdraw his possession of human minds and actions, human problems arose. In the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:4-8), for example, mankind sought to repossess God. In the aftermath of such misadventures, God resorted to power structures — political, religious, etc. — to rule over and domesticate mankind.29
And then, in order to counter unrestrained power, God introduced human self–other consciousness and free will. For the first time, mankind could address itself as “I” in relation to the “thou.” King David and the Eastern prophet, Zarathustra, were among the first to exercise this gift.30 For example, David declared: “ . . . I shall not want. . . . [T]hough I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me . . . Thou preparest a table before me . . . and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23, emphases supplied).31
The gift of human self–other consciousness and free will countered the unrestrained force of civilization’s power structures that emerged with the loss of mankind’s possessive “god-consciousness.”32 However, the gift of self–other consciousness introduced a new set of profound problems for both God and man. Those problems involved the fundamental tension between command, possession and power on one hand, and emerging “human,” egalitarian “I–Thou” relationality and communal justice on the other hand.
Command — which is inseparable from law — entails domination and submission. Since God had no option but to create by the use of command and law, he became the primal Dominator, and the subsistent Creation existed only in submission.
This structure of domination and submission pervades our universe and our world. Consider the “food chain” and “survival of the fittest” in nature, for instance, or the pervasive principle of hierarchy in government and society, both civil and religious. We see the same dynamic in business, competitive sports, gaming and entertainment — and all the other activities that involve winners and losers.
Yet, despite the prevalence — and often necessity — of command and law in mankind’s age of minority, they are fundamentally antithetical to the relational attributes of self–other consciousness (cf. Galatians 4:1-7). For example, while command and law are useful for the protection and development of mankind, the human attributes of faith, hope and love cannot be commanded or legislated.33 So Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). And, speaking privately to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion, he turned from a vertical, pre-human master–servant hierarchy to a relational human one by telling them, “I no longer call you servants. . . . Instead, I . . . [now call] you friends” (John 15:15, NIV).
Like command, the principle of possession is also all-pervasive in our world. And yet, as we have seen with command, possession is also fundamentally contrary to human self–other consciousness.34 This is because the principle of possession does not allow free and mutual relationality. Instead, it leads to human antagonism and competition that breed violence, bloodshed, and death of “others.”35
It has been said that torture is the attempt to “possess” another.36 Is it any wonder that one of the most notable recorded miracles of Jesus involved the casting out of the spirit of possession (Luke 8:27-36). Or that “many possessions” kept a rich young ruler from taking an honored place in history as a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22). Or that Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. . . . But for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24, 26, NRSV).
It is said that “the ultimate expression of power is control.”37 As noted earlier, even Vanstone, despite his other discerning comments, seems to have a deficient understanding of the true reason for evil in the universe, as indicated by the claim in his unedited comments that “evil is the moment of [God’s] control jeopardised and lost . . . ” (emphasis supplied).38
It was no accident that a loving Creator who is eternally committed to freedom should refuse ultimate control and endow emergent Creation with free process and self-conscious human beings with free will — even though this commitment to freedom would inevitably result in destruction, evil, and ultimately cost God everything, “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8, NRSV). Neither is it an accident that the traditional ending to The Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever” (Matthew 6:13, KJV, emphasis supplied) is an editorial gloss in the later manuscript. That phrase, with its emphasis on power, is entirely missing from earlier, more reliable manuscripts. This should be a warning to all whose lust for power is manifest in inhuman words and actions toward the “other.” Particularly should this be a warning to those who thirst for power over others while professing to be followers of Jesus.
The Death of Command, Possession and Power
We shall now turn to the death of the structure or matrix of command, possession and power in Creation — first the inaugural, then the universal death.
Before Creation, God was alone, and he wasn’t really happy without others that he could relate to. Creation was a grand plan for a relational universe, and the goal was humanity. The book of Genesis, written by King David,39 was written in future tense40 — what creation would be. It was God’s plan for creation — Adam and Eve. God was the real Adam. As Karl Rahner has pointed out,41 God adopted humanity as His own reality.
Two sides of God unfolded in the Creation plan: the relational God and the other side of God — the side that had to use command, power and control in order to create. It was this other side of God that he was determined to defeat in the person of Jesus. So in the temptation in the wilderness, we see Jesus defeating the attributes of his other side. He defeated command, defeated possession, defeated power. He rejected every one of those principles.42
Then, in order to usher in a new, eternal reality that was pure relationality — without command, possession or power — God had to put those attributes to death. So in his Creation plan, God created a universe that had death. Then, as Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:39). The other side of God was being cast out. Finally, as his enemies crucified him, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They were putting the other side of God to death.
It was this new era of pure relationality that Jesus introduced to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion, when he declared, “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I . . . [now call] you friends” (John 15:15, NIV).
Jesus emerged from the tomb as a new God. So many things are new now. All things have been made new. He is a new God, and now he has a New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6, 13; 9:15; 2 Corinthians 3:6). Everything is new: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV).
Yet we continue to live in two worlds. One world is the Old Covenant world, based on law, which is command; based on possession — look at the society’s obsession to possess; based on power, and power is everywhere — very vertically structured. Governments have a vertical structure based on command and power. Companies have a vertical arrangement. That’s the old world. And we live there. The new world is one where power will be replaced, possession will be replaced, command will be replaced. That new world will be different. We will all be horizontally related.
But this new reality has not yet been fully revealed to us. It awaits the Parousia, what we call the revealing, when this new universe yet to come will appear. That is where we join Jesus. We don’t know much about it, except as we look at its firstfruits — Jesus’ own victory and resurrection. In those events, God became human — really human.
We have not yet become truly human; to be human is still only a goal for us — the goal for which God became incarnate, lived, died, and was resurrected to achieve. But in the Parousia we join the Human One. We all join together in this ultimate reality — relationality. It is the final stage of becoming human.
This stage to be revealed at the Parousia is as radical a change as God moving from the cross to death to being resurrected into the new. It’s the death of the old reality and the bringing to life of the other. And I do not see a lot of people being eliminated from the new reality. I believe that if God can forgive those that murdered him, everybody who sincerely wants it has a future with God.
We must be born again. All humanity must be born again to become truly human. We know about as much as a babe in the womb about the next life. But in a way, we’re all looking forward to it.
That’s what I’m looking forward to now.
- Norman Jarnes, the late Publishing Editor of Outlook, died March 16, 2022, within a few days after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Before his death, he asked that his sister look at the manuscripts he had been working on, with a view to assembling an article. Though he had made several starts on it since 2016, he had never completed it. The first five sections of this article come from those manuscripts. However, for the final section, “The Death of Command, Possession and Power,” Norman had only written the heading and two subheadings, without any content. Much of the first five sections reviewed ideas explored throughout this journal, and it became clear that the article was meant to culminate with that last section. In listening to recordings of remarks that Norman made shortly before his death, we realized that his comments address the subject matter for that section. Because the final section is essential to the concept and purpose of the article, we have filled it in using material edited from transcripts of those remarks. The nature of the source is reflected in the more informal and personal style of that section. (go back)
- Definition of “scientific method,” Dictionary.com Unabridged (Random House), at www.dictionary.com/browse/scientific-method. (go back)
- Tim Andersen, “Can science answer all questions?” The Infinite Universe, July 14, 2020, at medium.com/the-infinite-universe/can-science-answer-all-questions-42ff2100cd05 (go back)
- “Examples from the Web for scientific method: Contemporary Examples,” Jay Michaelson, “Extreme Weather? Blame the End Times,” The Daily Beast (November 27, 2014), quoted at www.dictionary.com/browse/scientific-method. (go back)
- “Scientific method in Culture: scientific method definition,” The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition (Houghton Mifflin: 2005), quoted at www.dictionary.com/browse/scientific-method. (go back)
- See James Schombert, “Anthropic Principle,” at abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/cosmo/lectures/lec24.html (go back)
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976). (go back)
- See “The Divine Predicament,” Outlook (January/February 2005). (go back)
- David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, pt. X, pp. 88, 91. (go back)
- Larry G. Herr and Doug Matacio, “Creating Unity Then, There, and Now,” West Coast Religion Teachers’ Conference, La Sierra University, 2011, p. 2. (go back)
- See “Covenantal Crises III: The Origin of Evil,” Outlook (July/August 2013). (go back)
- William Hubert Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1977), pp. 63, 64. (go back)
- See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “John Polkinghorne,” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Polkinghorne. (go back)
- John Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality: The Relationship between Science and Theology (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), pp. 83, 84. (go back)
- See “Covenantal Crises III: The Origin of Evil,” Outlook (July/August 2013). (go back)
- See “Truth Triumphant I: Creation and Incarnation,” Outlook (July/August 2011). (go back)
- See Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York: Doubleday, 1998), p. 93. (go back)
- See “The Divine Resolution II: Creation by Command,” Outlook (May/June 2005); “The Divine Struggle for ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ III: Command,” Outlook (December 2009). (go back)
- Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour, p. 63. (go back)
- See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Julian Jaynes,” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Jaynes (go back)
- Jaynes, Origin of Consciousness. See also Julian Jaynes Society, “Summary of Evidence,” at www.julianjaynes.org/evidence_summary.php. (go back)
- See “The Dawn of Self-Consciousness” Outlook (October 2001); “The Divine Presence,” Outlook (January/February 2003); “Covenant and Creation,” Outlook (March/April 2003); “The Divine Resolution III: Creation by Possession,” Outlook (July/August 2005); and “Atonement I: Prehistoric,” Outlook (March 2006). (go back)
- Gradivo: “Writing Systems” at dijaski.net/gradivo/ang_ref_writing_systems_01 (go back)
- See Joshua Mark, “Prayer to Thoth for Skill in Writing,” World History Encyclopedia, November 17, 2016. www.worldhistory.org/article/976/prayer-to-thoth-for-skill-in-writing/ (go back)
- Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness. (go back)
- John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), p. 413. (go back)
- C. Eric Lincoln, Race, Religion, and the Continuing American Dilemma. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999), p. 8. (go back)
- Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour, p. 64. (go back)
- See “The Gospel for the Postmodern World III: The ‘Other Side’ of God,” Outlook (January 2008). (go back)
- Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2002); see also “Revolutionary Implications of Relationality and ‘Otherness,’” Outlook (Addendum 2016.1). (go back)
- See Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews. (go back)
- Jaynes, Origin of Consciousness. (go back)
- See “The Nature of the Human Self,” Outlook (Prolepsis 1991.5). (go back)
- See “The Divine Resolution III: Creation by Possession.” (go back)
- See “The Gospel for the Postmodern World III: The ‘Other Side’ of God.” (go back)
- ICRC report of panel discussion, “Old pain, new demons: Thinking torture and dignity today.” Moderator Brad Evans; panelists Elaine Scarry, Simona Forti, and Jay Bernstein. (July 10, 2017) at www.icrc.org/en/document/old-pain-new-demons-thinking-torture-and-dignity-today. (go back)
- Lincoln, Race, Religion, and the American Dilemma. (go back)
- Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour. (go back)
- See Gary A. Rendsburg, “Reading David in Genesis: How We Know the Torah Was Written in the Tenth Century B.C.E.,” Bible Review 17, no. 1 (Feb. 2001): 20-33, 46. (go back)
- See Yitzhak Hayut-Man, “The Book of Genesis as a Redemptive Scenario and Guide for Re-Biography,” at thehope.tripod.com/TORENOW0.htm. (go back)
- See Karl Rahner, “Dogmatic Questions on Easter,” tr. Kevin Smyth, in Theological Investigations, vol. 4, More Recent Writings (New York: Seabury Press, 1974); Karl Rahner, “The Denarius Stands for Us — and for God,” Biblical Homilies (New York: Herder & Herder, 1966), pp. 22-25. (go back)
- See “The Gospel for the Postmodern World III: The ‘Other Side’ of God.” (go back)
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