Reading through the Bible: day 4

And now for something completely different

Job 1-5

Right, we’ll leave Genesis and the genealogies and stuff, and step into the period of the patriarchs, starting with Job. Fundamentalists take Job literally in so far as they believe it happened. It is difficult to take the theodicies offered by Job’s three friends seriously since (spoiler alert!) God is super angry with them at the end of the book. Also some claims seem to be obviously false, take Eliphaz’s first speech (Job 4,5), where he seems to imply a proportional relationship between sin and unrighteousness, and suffering. If this were the case, then we could just model ourselves after people who have greater material gains, don’t want for food; better medical care, etc. In fact, this would lead to a very unchristian outlook on morality. There is an out if one were to take Eliphaz’s claim as true, things have changed, the arrangement between God and man is different, and thus Eliphaz’s claims could have been correct within his own historical context. This would still be a tough claim to defend though.

God is testing you

The “God is testing you” answer to suffering is quite common in Christian circles, even though as a theodicy it doesn’t explain why God would test the faith of the unbeliever (they suffer too, you know). I find it interesting that here, it is the Devil testing, God allows him to, but feels no need to test Job himself. I’ve never liked the idea of God testing his subjects, but it is a common doctrine, which the first two chapters of Job seem to offer evidence against. Due to future texts, this particular discussion is by no means over.

Free will

Free will is a common defence, and central to most theodicy, here the Devil is given free will, which could argue why God allowed it. Free will isn’t the free out that so many think it is. Free will has it’s limitations, someone with congenital eye problems is less likely to become a world class cricketer than someone with 20/20 vision, so the world does show a certain level of determinism, and philosophers trying to overturn the free will defence, have made good use of this fact. So you probably need more than free will, and a better understanding of the relationship between free will and determinism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (this is by no means an endorsement of the institution, or all of it’s claims) says that there is not a single part of Christian doctrine that is not, at least in part, an answer to the question of evil. This is probably an acceptable claim, which means that a glib, “God allows free will,” response is unlikely to ever be enough.

Did I get it wrong, or right, or not even in the ballpark? What are your comments? What do you think?

The reading through the Bible tab has the rest of the necessary links for the Bible read through.


2 thoughts on “Reading through the Bible: day 4”

  1. The “free will defense”, or at least Plantinga’s variant appeals to contra-causal/libertarian free will, as I understand it. There appear to be some serious conceptual problems with free will as conceived of in this fashion (it appears to be incoherent, and at best leads to any “choices” being basically random rather than “willed” by the person in any meaningful sense).

    I see the end of the book of Job as affirming Yahweh’s lack of omni-benevolence (in any reasonable sense) – his thoughts are not like Job’s, his ways are not like Job’s. So what Job/we call “Good” is not applicable to this Yahweh, and so to call this Yahweh (morally) good is to strip the term of any significant meaning.

    1. Yes, Plantinga does seem to make the appeal you’re claiming, which is what makes his defence dubious. The problem is that the average Joe may know of Plantinga’s defence without really appreciating the implications of accepting it, which is why I said you’d need a lot more than free will. As for free will in other arguments, it is central to the two major branches of theodicy (Augustinian and Irenean), but they don’t try to make a defence of it alone, it’s incorporated, which is a better model to follow than thinking free will alone solves the problem.

      Your criticisms of Yahweh as per the end of Job is noted, I appreciate the comment and will attempt to address it when we get there.

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