CHAPTER 2 How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
Keller lives in NYC so evil and suffering in a post-911 world is no stranger to him and his faith community. The question isn’t has Keller experienced suffering first hand personally, he has both in a bout with cancer and in his wife’s ailements; neither is the question has Keller scene catastrophic evil and suffering; rather the question is what does Keller say in regards to it? For Keller evil and suffering are not evidence against God but for him, and in God’s plans of redemption not only the presence of but the purpose behind all suffering has redemptive relevance and that relevance is found in the death and ressurection of God’s beloved Son.
Evil and suffering isn’t evidence against God, but rather its evidence for Him: “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless.” For Keller Alvin Plantiga’s “no-see-ums” response defeats this argument, just because you can’t see a reason doesn’t exhaust the possibility that there is a reason. No man or institution can claim that they’ve exhausted all possible answers to that terrible questions ‘why’. And if God is great and transcendent enough for you to be upset with him, isn’t he great and transcendent enough to have the answer that alludes you? Keller deosn’t the leave the question here, in a very touching way he says not only does God have the answer but God has experienced the terrible mystery that suffering is in the death of His Son. How then is evil and suffering an evidence for God? If you believe there are such things here, you must have some supra-natural standard by which to make such a universal claim, for Keller that in itself again points back to the existence of God. He doesn’t leave his readers here though, he takes it a step further, Christianity is the only explaination that enables its followers to have hope and courage within it.
Is the answer to evil and suffering only philosophical, or is there a more personal response Christianity offers?: Tim points his readers to Jesus for that personal answer, unlike all other martyrs who died with a note of glorious resolve and triumph Jesus dies with a broken question – why have you forsaken me? Suffering typically involves deep feelings of forsakenness, in a world of suffering who better than Jesus himself can touch and heal these feelings? Keller describes what Jesus last moments where like upon the cross;
Jesus’ cry of dereliction – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”- is a deeply relational statment. Lane writes: “The cry has a ruthless authenticity…Jesus did not die reonouncing God. Even in the inferno of abandonment he did not surrender his faith in God but expressed his anguished prayer in a cry of affirmation, ‘My God, my God.’” Jesus still uses the language of intimacy – “my God” – even as he experiences infinite separation from the Father…The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.
Ultimately the personal answer to suffering and evil is found in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These offer the world both consolation in the midst of suffering, and the hope of restoration. Not just a temporary answer to ease the pain of lose, but an indestructicable promise that in God’s time all things will be restored by His Son.
CHAPTER 3 Christianity is a Straightjacket
The mantra of America is that true freedom “is freedom to create your own meaning and purpose.” Against this vision Christianity can and does look like an enemy of social cohesion, cultural adaptability, and authentic personhood; it looks like a straightjacket. What’s an answer to this straightjacket picture? Keller says its based on mistakes about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and liberty.
Truth: Truth isn’t just one person’s power play against your own, because even that conception of truth itself would have to be an additional powerplay, its self-defeating. Some kind of truth claim seems unavoidable, this in turn has implications for how we define community and liberty.
Community can’t be completely inclusive: Ok so maybe the truth is what you make it idea is itself made up, but Christianity is still exclusive and because of that its a social straightjacket! Keller doesn’t beat around the bush, you do have to believe and practice or hold as values certain things to be apart of the community, period. But such is the case with any other community in the world, every community excludes others in some way or form otherwise there’d be no distinctives to hold them together. The question isn’t which community isn’t exclusive and therefore is right, but rather which community causes its members to engage other communities with dignity, humanity, and care.
Christianity isn’t culturally rigid: “Christianity is also reputed to be a cultural straightjacket…It is seen as an enemy of pluralism and multiculturalism. In reality, Christianity has been more adaptive (and maybe less destructive) of diverse cultures than secularism and many other worldviews.” Keller kicks over the strawman argument made at times by secularism that says Christianity destroys parent cultures as it moves into the cultural neighborhood, in fact he demonstrates that it all depends on the nature of the parent cultures – at times its secularism that destroys and at times its Christianity. We should expect Christianity to do a bit of both affirming and confronting culture, Keller using Andrew Walls perceptions unfolds this;
Biblical texts such as Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21-22 depict a renewed, perfect, future world in which we retain our cultural differences (“every tongue, tribe, people, nation”). This means every human culture has (from God) distinct goods and strengths for the enrichment of the human race. As Walls indicates, while every culture has distortions and elements that will be critiqued and revised by the Christian message, each culture will also have good and unique elements to which Christianity connects and adapts.
Freedom isn’t simple and love is more constraining than we might think: Freedom is not the absence of discipline and constraint but nor is it necessarily their presence either. “Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities.” ‘When love comes to town’ everything changes and freedom as independence goes out the window, the most freeing thing in the world is to give yourself over entirely to the one you love, this is exactly what happens in Christianity, Jesus gets all of us, freedom.
CHAPTER 4 The Church is Responsible for so much Injustice
The way this argument is mounted against the church is by taking note of Christians’ glaring character flaws; there support of war and violence; and the issue of fanaticism. Keller seeks to answer each of these in turn.
Character flaws: “If Christianity is all it claims to be, shouldn’t Christians on the whole be much better people than everyone else? This assumption is based on a mistaken belief concerning what Christianity actually teaches about itself.” You don’t clean up and then come to Christ, you come to Christ because you’ll always need to clean up and his Spirit more than your good intentions makes all the difference in the world. To mix metaphors the church is a hospital ward full of sick people, of course its going to look worst than the world outside.
Religion and violence: Religion is no better than secular societies, both have produced countless pictures of violence. Keller doesn’t say religion is free of this acusation but he does say that everyone has their share in the violence at play in the world; “
We can only conclude that there is some violent impulse so deeply rooted in the human heart that it expresses itself regardless of what the beliefs of a particular society meigh be – whether socialist or capitalist, whether religious or irreligious, whether individualistic or hierarchical. Ultimately, then, the fact of violence and warfare in a society is no necessary refutation of the prevailing beliefs of that society.
Fanaticism: Keller says that fanaticism is one of the biggest concerns today regarding religion, what frees Christianity of that fear? Realizing that not everything under the banner of Christian is actually that, in fact Keller says that Christianity is not basically a form of moral improvement. Those who are fanatical actually embody a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.
Justice, Jesus, and finding the answer: At this point some people may be throwing their hands up in the air and saying well then am I not to be critical of religion at all?!? Keller says no, Jesus was in his Sermon on the Mount and he is to. Religious people can easily use the very things that are good as leverage tools which leads to both an emphasis on external religious forms as well as greed. “In Jesus’s and the prophets’ critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized…The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel…The answer is not to abandon the Christian faith, because that would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make correction.” When people like Jesus, give their lives to liberate others they are realizing the true Christianity!
CHAPTER 5 How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
Relativism in one form, degree, or expression has reared its head in several of Keller’s chapters so far, and such is the case as well here. Hell is a problem because it stands right in the path of reletivism. One of the 800 pound gorillas of reletivism is Western culture and its not afraid of throwing around its ethical weight. But Keller asks an important question, “Why, I concluded, should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court in which to judge whether Christianity is valid?” If Christianity isn’t the product of any one culture but is itself transcultural then at some piont in every culture its going to butt heads.
Still it seems contradictory that a God of love is also a God of wrath, Keller replies, aren’t loving people also angry people? In fact aren’t there instances where the absence of jugdment is the presence of injustice. Yes. Part of the problem of people allowing for hell is there perceptions of what is, and how one arrives at it. Its not the place where your last chance to turn has ended, nor is it the place where you are tortured not according to your will, at least not entirely. Hell, says Keller, “is the trajectory of a soul, living in self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever…hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.”
Hell is not a whip the church swings around at those she knows are going there, the fact is nobody but God knows the final destination of someone. And heaven isn’t the cosmic cookie pastor John passes out on Sunday to those he likes. Still the power and appeal of not believing in hell is seductive in our culture. For Keller though, this is one seduction that under scrunity falls apart;
The belief in a God of pure love – who accepts everyone and judges no one – is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical , religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.