Archive for ‘Pain and Suffering’

March 26th, 2012

VT Debate–The Problem of Gratuitous Evil

by Max Andrews

One of the objections made by one of the atheists in the VT debate on the existence of God was William Rowe’s form of the problem of gratuitous evil:[1]

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering that an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (Factual premise)
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering that being could, unless that being could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (Theological premise).
  3. Therefore, There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Or, simply put:

  1. There are unnecessary evils.
  2. God would prevent evils without losing some greater good.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.
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February 1st, 2012

Thoughts on Dembski’s The End of Christianity

by Max Andrews

The following is a review I did of Bill Dembski’s The End of Christianity a couple of years ago.

The book was a fairly light read, easy to get through, yet deep and informative at the same time. I would recommend this to those who are somewhat familiar with modern cosmology, geology, and theological exegesis. If you are an adamant young earth creationist you will either dislike this book or be engaged to find more answers (which ultimately he believes to be untenable). To state the theodicy in a nutshell, both natural and personal/moral evil is a result of the Fall and God acted in anticipatory manner, though retroactively, to show the gravity of sin. I appreciate Dembski’s attempts to reconcile evil with sin and to exalt God’s grace and glory in the midst of suffering and evil.

December 29th, 2011

Dear Cancer…

by Max Andrews

Dear Cancer,

You’re world famous now. I hope you’re happy. You’ve done everything you could’ve ever dreamed of doing. Your name is known in almost every home in the world. You’re probably more known than Jesus Christ himself. I just wanted to let you know I’m getting a bit fed up with you. You’ve managed to elude our medicine and our use of science. You’ve taken so many of my family. You’ve taken friends. I’ve seen so many friends and family suffer the pains of your presence. I’ve seen so many more suffer your pains by watching others experience it. We all cheer for joy when we find out you’ve left but you never seem to leave us alone for good. I’m sure you treasure your secrets as to what form you’ll take or when you’ll come back. However, what I treasure is that you can’t answer why you come. You’re but a means to a greater purpose. Have you ever noticed that some of your victims find complete rest apart from you and in the Lord? Who knows?–Someday you may catch me. I hope not; but if you do, just know that you got second best. You can steal this life but you can never take the next. As you see, Cancer, you’re going to lose one way or another.

Sincerely,

Me

November 6th, 2011

What if God Commanded Rape? A Look at Divine Command Theory

by Max Andrews

If the Divine Command Theory (DCT) proponent is to defend his position he must demonstrate the necessary falsehood of the counterfactual:  If God did command rape then there would be a moral obligation to rape.  There will be an assumption of ethical realism since ethical anti-realism is argued for and against in completely different arguments.  The ethical realist objector [to DCT] claims that it is possible for God to command rape in some possible world, or in an impossible world close to the actual world, making it obligatory for all moral agents, whereas rape is still morally bad in that same world, thus, making DCT arbitrary and is defeated.

October 24th, 2011

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Understanding of the Divine Telos

by Max Andrews

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1821-1881), a story of four brothers in Russia is a grim description of the reality of what the world would look like if God were not to exist.  One brother, Ivan, an atheist, tells another brother that there are no objective truths, specifically that there are no moral absolutes.  Ivan’s brother then kills his father, an act that obtains no condemnation if God does not exist.

This can be understood as ☐(~Eg ⊃ ∀ϕ~Wϕ),[1] also known as Karamazov’s Theorem.  It is necessarily true that if God does not exist then any action cannot be wrong.  It may also be true if a conjunct of rightness is inserted into the theorem.  This ultimately leads to moral nihilism—a nonexistence of value.  Without God, everything is permitted.  Nothing can be praised and nothing can be condemned.  This world, as Dostoevsky understands it, is a world of nothingness.

Dostoevsky, like Camus, Nietzsche, and Sartre, acknowledges the absurdity that arises.  Every man must face the anxiety an absurdity that obtains in a world without God.  Dostoevsky’s response is that every man must face this reality and overcome this absurdity by trusting in and putting his faith in Christ.  Christ is the only one who can overcome the absurdities and relieve man’s anxiety.

Dostoevsky is Christianity’s Nietzsche.  Dostoevsky realizes the despair, guilt, anxiety, and absolute absurdity of a life without God, like Nietzsche; however, he does not self-construct his own teleology.  There is no higher state of being in a world of absurdity.  There would be no incentive to attain any state of being.  There could not be any differentiation between a higher and lower state of being since one would need an objective referent to make such a determination.  The only rational act a man could make in an unreasonable world would be to trust in the reconciling ability of God.  There would be no hope for any reconciliation in a closed system of absurdity—from absurdity only comes absurdity.


            [1] Let Eg represent the existence of God, ϕ for any action, and W for wrong.

October 23rd, 2011

Nietzsche’s Paradox–Nihilism and Teleology

by Max Andrews

It would be an appropriate evaluation of Friedrich Nietzsche to state that his mere calling for the übermensch is a teleological claim.  To call for redemption of something and to set a standard model is a purposeful and meaningful proclamation.  The desire appears to be motivated by the very thing Nietzsche is often accused of, nihilism.  Nietzsche was in despair over the implications of Christianity with no God—that was nihilism, which was a catalyst to his philosophizing with a hammer.

Nietzsche never denied there being any meaning or purpose.  His qualm was that if Christianity continues without God, which would be meaningless and purposeless.  He understood that there had to be meaning and purpose.  The teleology, for Nietzsche, was a pursuit to overcome those things, which were life denying.  Christianity, God, idols, and false ideas were all life denying and life prohibiting concepts.  Nietzsche recognized the human nature and need for a teleology, but how?  In his pursuit for meaning and purpose he calls for the übermensch to do just that.

September 9th, 2011

From Ground Zero to Ten Years Later–September 11, 2001

by Max Andrews

We all remember where we were.  I was running the mile from P.E. class my Freshman year in high school.  My mother worked at the high school and I saw her as I walked back in to the school from the track.  I wasn’t able to talk to her but I saw on her face that something didn’t seem right.  By the time I got to the locker room someone had said that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  I’m thinking a little Piper Cub.  I was wrong.

There weren’t any loiterers in the hall, everyone went straight to the next class, mine was history.  We watched the news for the rest of the day.  I saw the second tower fall. It was hard for me to grasp what was happening.  This was something you see in movies. Buildings don’t fall down like that.  The hardest part was watching people jump to their death… suicide.  Consider their thought process… “It’s better for me to jump to my death than to be in this burning building.”  Consider the hell.  Consider the peril.  Consider their subliminal existential reflection… “I’m over.”

The next day the whole school gathered in the hallways as we sat and listened to the boys chorus sing “I’m Proud to be an American.”  It’s hard not to get emotional about reflecting about that now.  I was sitting with my JROTC class at the time.  I tried to hide it.  I wept in that hallway.  I didn’t even know anyone that was directly effected by this, but how can you not weep over such murder, evil, suicide, and devastation on human life?

Last year I delivered a lecture on the problem of evil.  I spent the first hour trying to emphasize the importance of this discussion and how God can still be good and loving given such evil and suffering.  It was difficult for me to keep my composure giving the example of September 11th.  We may have forgotten the direct impact we have had but we cannot forget the value of human life and the evil that seeks perilous ends.  Yes, nationalism plays a role in most Americans… It’s the nature of being American. However, the existential value and purpose of human life far exceeds any national empathy. That’s not to note that I don’t want my nation to protect me, I do.  There are many evils I cannot protect myself from and I am thankful for that protection.

I stood where the towers once were a few years ago.  I saw some of the damage in surrounding buildings and a firehouse where they didn’t want to replace the damaged bricks.  It was haunting.  Here I am ten years later…  Where were you?

August 12th, 2011

Is a Molinist Concept of Providence Discomforting?

by Max Andrews

Not too long ago I was reflecting on my recent wedding and I realized something I found hard to deal with.  Five years ago my brother was in Iraq, and his pregnant wife died (for reasons and causes still unknown to us).  I was talking about the wedding with my mother and we both made the same observation.  We thought that there should have been a five-year old girl running around at my wedding.  I should have had a five-year old niece dolled up in a cute dress and playing with the other children.  What was difficult for me, upon further reflection, was that God thought and willed that there should not be a five-year old girl running around at my wedding.  I was at a clash with God’s will.  I thought that things should have been different.  Apparently, God disagreed and willed the course of history to be different.  As a Molinist, I found this very discomforting at first.  Let me explain the details.

The Molinist concept of providence understands God as controlling everything that happens throughout the course of history.  Everything that happens is a result of God’s will.  God both strongly and weakly actualizes everything.  Strong actualization is where God directly causes or acts in the world, which directly produces the effect.  God weakly actualizes S if and only if there is an S* such that God strongly actualizes [direct causation] S* and S* → S, where → is “counterfactual implication” (Let S be a state of affairs).  Or, in other words, weak actualization is the means of actualization where God uses free agents to bring about his will (an indirect means).  So, if all that comes to pass in the course of history is the result of God’s will, how should I deal with this (or how should anyone deal with these types of situations)?

This problem is very closely related to the problem of evil.  Now, my first reaction was very discomforting knowing that everything that happens occurs because God willed it to happen.  My discomfort soon turned to comfort.  When I thought about this the more I realized my finitude.  God knew that taking my niece and sister-in-law home was the best course of action for him to take.  I’m in no spatiotemporal position to evaluate the effects their death produce.  I know that they have had tremendous influences and effects in my life since their passing, and I trust much more will come.  I don’t have to be able to explain why God chose the course of history that he chose, I just have to demonstrate that how he does it is the most coherent, biblical, and sound model.  Who am I to judge God in his providential course of action? I do not have the cognitive scope or holy intentions that he has.

Let’s consider a non-Molinist perspective.  If God causes all things (no weak actualizations) then there are tremendous problems with the problem of evil.  I’ve discusses this issue in previous posts so I’m not going to elaborate too much here.  Suppose the Molinist concept of providence is true and that God has every detailed moment and aspect of your life planned.  What about those who don’t have a “good life”?  What about the unemployed, starving, diseased, and homeless?  Is it God’s will for them to be like this?  Surely, God’s providential means is not that of the Molinist’s concept right?  This may sound harsh but I do believe it is the will of God for the starving to starve, the diseased to be diseased and the homeless to be homeless.  Let me qualify this.  There are different orders to God’s will.  It is not God’s will, antecedently, for the starving to starve, the diseased to be diseased, and the homeless to be homeless.  It is, however, God’s will, consequently, because of the decisions made by free agents, the good that will come of it, the factor it plays into the grand scheme of things (or the counterfactual role it plays in the feasible world God chose to actualize).  Now consider that this is not true, that God doesn’t will every detail in history.  Does God directly cause all these things to come to pass? If that’s the case then God antecedently wills the starving to starve and the diseased to be diseased.  The Molinist denies that, it is consequently (because of factor X, Y, and/or Z) that God wills circumstances like those mentioned.

Perhaps it is the case that God cannot prevent such circumstances?  If that’s the case then why should we trust God?  God has made so many promises to us in Scripture, what guarantee can I have that he will fulfill these promises if he cannot prevent other circumstances?  Another hidden premise I would have to reject in this discomforting aspect or rejection of the Molinist paradigm is that God wants us to be happy, healthy, and for us to have “good lives”.  It’s primarily and antecedently God’s will for us to know him and to love him.  Our measure of a “good life” is nowhere near God’s primary will for our lives.  We need to void our ideology that God just wants us to be happy and healthy all the time with a good job, spouse, and nice dinners at night.  God may provide what is necessary for us to live but he desires us to know him and to seek first his Kingdom (see Matthew 6).

My knee-jerk reaction upon this reflection was to feel a sense of discomfort.  When I really analyzed and thought through everything I found this to be quite comforting and the best model of divine providence.  I do understand that it may be a hard pill to swallow at times.  When I say that it is God’s will for me to struggle with my own disease, to be hospitalized over and over, to be in pain for extended periods of time, for me to say that this is the will of God is certainly difficult.  However, I’m not going to deny that it is because I trust God will make good of it and that he wants me to know him, love him, and seek his Kingdom above all else.  This certainly wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, just my initial thoughts and meanderings… To God be the glory in all things.

July 9th, 2011

In a World Without God, Will There be Justice for Caylee Anthony?

by Max Andrews

Little Caylee Anthony was almost three years old when she tragically died by drowning in a swimming pool (as claimed by her mother’s defense attorney).  Her mother, Casey Anthony, whom many believe murdered Caylee, was found not guilty of being responsible for her child’s death.  Suppose that Casey Anthony really did murder Caylee but she got away with it (some may argue that’s really the case).  If Caylee was murdered and it was ruled out as an accident or mere happenstance, where is justice?

A life without God means that there will be no ultimate recompense for evil.  What goes wrong may never be set right.  I’m not saying that if you don’t believe in God then there won’t be justice; what I’m saying is that if God does not exist there will be no justice.  This is more than just the Caylee Anthony case.  Without God, man is the measure of all things.  The court system is as good as it gets for justice.  What if as-good-as-it-gets doesn’t fulfill what we known it ought to be?  Even if a court system punishes someone for a crime, the knowledge of that crime is not exhaustive and can at best be partial.  Every party’s thoughts and motives are not known like God would know them if he were to exist.  Wrongs are still hidden from the eyes of men.

This is simply a sobering thought to consider.  If there is no God, there is no hope for justice.  The only reliance of compensating for wrongs are through one’s self.  Your evils will never be atoned for and you will die a petty person unjustified.  The evils that have been committed against you will never be atoned for either.  Without God, justice is ultimately illusory and we are left in a pathetic state of affairs.

July 3rd, 2011

The Crohn’s Chronicles: Second Thoughts

by Max Andrews

As many of you know, I’ve been battling Crohn’s disease for seven years now.  Most recently I’ve been struggling through a flare up that has lasted over a month now.  I’ve been treated as an outpatient for this flare up with antibiotics, steroids, and painkillers.  This past Thursday I had an appointment with my gastrointestinal doctor.  I want to add that this was a very timely appointment for if I had not been going to see this doctor I would have been going to the hospital because I was in so… much… pain… The doctor came in and asked about my medications and I told him I’ve gotten worse since being on them.  He saw the amount of pain I was in and within one minute of him seeing me he said, “I’m sending you to the hospital.”  My doctor’s concern was that I may need to have an emergency surgery to remove this section of my intestines (which doesn’t necessarily fix the problem in the long run anyways, 50% of the time the Crohn’s returns).  On the drive to the hospital my mind started to feel overwhelmed and I told my wife, “I’m so tired of being in pain…

My doctor was kind enough to call the emergency room prior to us leaving his office to notify them that I was on my way.  When we arrived all I had to do was tell them my name and that I was a rush admittance. I waited for no more than two minutes and they got me into an ER room.  They hooked me up to a saline/potassium IV and gave me a morphine injection to help the ease my pain. The next moment they brought me my favorite, beloved, most hated hospital beverage–vanilla flavored barium (for my CT scan I was about to have).  Barium is disgusting. Leah (my wife) sat by my side and encouraged me the whole entire time.  Mid-drink Leah told me, “We’ve still got to see this as a blessing, Max.”  This statement has dominated most of my thoughts since that Thursday morning.

I recently wrote a blog post on the blessings of having a disease.  It’s so easy to look back on to something and try to pull the good out of it.  It’s hard to look forward and expect bad things to happen and to pull the good from it then simply because the definitions of the situations have yet to be set, it’s unknown.  The hardest thing to do is in the midst of pain, look at yourself, keep a straight face and tell yourself that you honestly believe that there is good in this.  The morphine didn’t do much for me in the ER.  Not much longer than fifteen minutes after my first injection I needed another.  The nurse told me that I had been given enough morphine to hold me over for two hours.

Allow me to give a context for my pain levels this past month.  I don’t quite know how to compare the actual physical pain to something more recognizable but I’ve always said it’s like digesting glass or someone reaching into your gut, squeezing intestines and twisting them around.  My mother has recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s (she was diagnosed this past month amidst all of this).  She has said the pain is similar to child-birth (and I’ve heard many people compare the pain to child-birth as well).  Anyways, the pain has progressively grown more in frequency and intensity in the last month.  Sometimes the day would be great with minimal problems–others a blur from coping with it.  I went through three bottles of [prescription] pain killers in one month trying to deal with this.  The last week leading up to this most recent hospital visit got so bad that I started to develop back pains.  I’ve had back pains in the past so I figured it was just another problem that could be treated with back rubs and Icy-Hot.  I soon came to learn that my back pain was from Crohn’s.

Well, to resume the story, I wasn’t in the ER very long at all and I never did get my [needed] injection of morphine.  While in the ER the pain got so bad again that I gave myself a fever.  I arrived at the hospital with a 98.6 degree temperature.  Modestly, I wasn’t in the ER for over an hour.  By the time I got to my room I developed a 100.4 degree fever.  My RN came into my room as I was being wheeled in and she promptly went to get me some morphine and made a comment to someone roughly similar to, “Why are they not giving him morphine? Do they not see how much pain he is in?” You couldn’t have played Bach’s Fugue in C-Sharp Minor and tell me that this nurse’s words weren’t sweeter music to my ears.  My nurse told me that my fever was developed by my attempts of dealing with the pain.  When I was being wheeled into my room that first time I noticed that I was on the oncology floor.  I asked the nurse if she knew something that I didn’t and why I was on the oncology floor.  She said that the oncology unit specializes in pain control and that it was the best place for me to be at the time.  She made me smile at that (which also helped remove oncology-related questions and concerns).

My mother-in-law came to visit me within the first few hours of my stay and while she was there I was wheeled out for my CT scan.  She stayed with Leah in the room while I made my way to X-Ray for the scans.  CT scans aren’t my favorite but they don’t last very long.  To help with imaging they inject a radioactive contrast moments prior to the scan.  While being scanned you get a metallic taste in your mouth, a sensation similar to wetting yourself (I don’t know what it is but if they hadn’t warned me about that the first time I would’ve thought I had actually wet myself…), and a feeling of intense heat running through your body.  Well, I got my results later that afternoon.  My intestines had become so inflamed that it had put pressure on and displaced my kidney.  My kidney was responsible for my back pain (lower right back) and the inflammation, directly or indirectly by the kidney, put pressure some nerves, which intensified the pain.

That first night in the hospital, Thursday, I was being taken well care of by the nurses and doctors.  I can honestly say that I’m very impressed with the Lynchburg General Hospital staff.  I had a fairly liberal amount of morphine at my will when needed.  My way of testing my pain levels was taking in a deep breath and trying to sit up.  Breathing in caused the rest of my organs to move around just enough for my intestines to be irritated and sitting up moved my back enough to cringe.  My last injection was at 10 PM Thursday night when I wasn’t feeling much pain any more.  I love my pain killers but I love getting rid of the pain over masking it and I became determined to get out of the hospital.  The rest of my stay was wait-and-see.  I was being pumped full of intense treatment, which was a couple different antibiotics and steroids.  The next day, Friday, the doctor was surprised to see how far I’ve come with all the pain.  He thought for sure I would be in the hospital until at least Monday.  I had an early discharge from the hospital Saturday morning–no surgery needed.

Leah has been such a blessing in my life.  I love my wife so much.  This was the second flare up in six months and she has been by my side every step of the way in prayer and support.  She slept over every night and the last night there she was so worn out from working a fourteen hour work day that while she was cuddling with me in my hospital bed she fell asleep with me in that tiny little bed the whole night.  The nurses thought it was the cutest thing ever.  My mother and her fiancé, Howie, visited me Saturday afternoon, which was quite pleasant and needed.  I love my family so much.

Well, though my physical pain has passed away for the time being, my emotional and spiritual pain has intensified.  I started putting my mind in the way of hard questions.  I don’t want to say I started doubting but I wanted to keep my mind balanced.  I needed to check my balance between my emotions and my academics/intellect.  I started asking questions like: “Is there a God?” and “Why would God allow this?”  Despite my situation, the questions weren’t too hard to deal with and I credit having a strong foundation in my faith to not waver in the trials.  That’s not to say I didn’t have hard questions because I did.  The hard questions and struggles came when I realized that I started living in fear of pain.  I didn’t want to eat anything because I was afraid of the pain.  I likened myself to Dr. House who always seeks a way out of his problems in efforts to avoid his own pain (both physical and non-physical pain). I was pleading with God to just give me a break.  ”God, please, no more pain!” I pled with God to just let things going right for once.  I had an emotional break down that night and wept.  I wanted to be done with pain.  I wanted to not worry about finances and whether or not I can afford to have a sandwich with a buddy and not throw off the budget.  I wanted to be able to drive across town and not worry about the gas.  I wanted to have our two vehicles we once had instead of one.  I wanted to have a job with normal work hours or to not stretch for overtime because I know we need the extra money.  I wanted to not be on medicine and if I had to be on medicine, that it not have the side-effects that they do have (breaking out, bloating, digestive problems, mood problems, etc.).

There were so many problems running through my head that I just wanted a break from!  I then stopped and thought about my situation in the bigger scheme and got mad at myself for complaining about it.  I have a house that I can get mad at when the weather rips off the storms windows.  I have family that I can bicker with.  I have a car that I can curse at yell at when it stalls in the middle of an intersection almost causing an accident. I have a job with great employers and coworkers who bend over backwards for me and visit me in the hospital.  I have medicine to treat my problems.  I have a great argument for every problem I have as to why it shouldn’t be a problem to me.  But still… I asked God, in my context, I would like things to go smooth just for a while…

This is where I am right now.  I’m trying to work all this out, hoping for things to smooth for me.  To not have these stresses build up causing me to break down every once in a while.  My life is good, it’s real good.  God has been so great to me.  The hard thing is being okay with it in my own context.  I know that the prayers of family and friends are what God used to expedite my care this past hospital stay.  I thank all of you so much for it.  I love you all.  Please continue to pray for me as I deal with the questions and that I will be sensitive to God’s work in me, that I may have His perspective on things and that I not get too entangled in my own sight and contexts.  I said earlier that the hardest thing to do is in the midst of pain, look at yourself, keep a straight face and tell yourself that you honestly believe that there is good in this.  I’ve come to learn that in the midst of pain, it’s easier to not look at myself, but to look to my heavenly Father and tell him that I honestly believe that there is good in this… even if I can’t see it right now…