Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jehovah Witnesses on the problem of evil and suffering (Part 2)

A new world order

Jehovah Witnesses believe that God permits suffering in order for people to learn that they cannot
live happy and successful lives without God. However, it is unlikely (due to freewill) that everyone will eventually agree to being ruled by God, so in the end God will have to deal with these people (and also any rebellious spirit creatures), in order for God to bring about a new world order where there is no more evil and  suffering due to the mis-actions of rebellious creatures in it.

Jehovah Witnesses believe this final 'cleansing' of the present world will occur at the battle of Armageddon, a cosmic war between the agents of good (followers of God) and agents of evil (followers of Satan). Armageddon will also bring about the end of this present age. Jehovah Witnesses believe that Jesus provided a glimpse into the sort of world God wants to bring about in the future when he showed compassion to people, healed the sick, fed the hungry, welcomed social outcasts and raised the dead. They also take literally a prophecy in the Book of Revelation, which is said to talk about the new world order:

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' " (Revelation 21:3-4)

Some issues

The view of God being suggested here seems to be one who stands by tut-tutting, while people suffer due to their attempts to live without God. In human terms it is comparable to a parent who stands by the side of a river yelling, “I told you not to go swimming!”, while their children struggles to remain afloat. Of course, Jehovah Witnesses would suggest that God is entitled to step back and watch us struggle, as we were the ones who chose to reject God (and not vice versa). God also has to leave us alone so we realise what life is like without God, and also allow us enough time to see that trying to 'go it alone' is a big mistake on our part.

However, at what stage should God be stepping in to say enough is enough? Just at the end, or maybe before that? To go back to our analogy, is any parent going to deliberately let their child drown in order to teach them that they should have listened to them, and not gone swimming? On a purely human level such behaviour would be deemed morally reprehensible. Also, when we consider the number of people who have suffered and died throughout human history due to the mis-actions of others, is it not time for God to say enough is enough? Did it require the death of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust for us learn that racism is wrong and that we cannot (and should not) live without God, for example?

In her book Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Marilyn McCord Adams argues that some people are put through such dreadful experiences (E.g. rape, torture, pedophilia and on a larger scale the Holocaust) that their character is irrevocably damaged. What about these people who are meant to be learning life-lessons and getting better for them? Adams also argues that the extremity of some evils in the world is not needed, and considers whether we can still have faith in God in light of these (seemingly) pointless and purposeless horrors.

Let's consider this from another point-of-view. Jehovah Witnesses believe the story of our disobedience in Genesis 2-3 literally occurred. They also believe that up to now God has been letting us get on with living our lives in order to learn that it is better to be obedient, no matter how much suffering this incurs along the way. However, let’s also consider this: Is it not possible that after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve wished they had never done what they did; wished they had listened to God, and also wished they could be forgiven and start again?

If it was God's intention to allow us to live in a world where evil and suffering is present to teach us to turn back to God, then all manner of human misfortune could have been prevented if Adam and Eve had admitted they were wrong and realised that it would be better to live as God intended for them. Furthermore, seeing as it was only them who actively disobeyed God at that time, why should anyone else have to suffer for their mistake?

The Jehovah Witnesses response to the problem of evil and suffering also has to address the same issues which plague the freewill defense and Irenaean theodices. In particular, they have to explain why God gave us freewill in the first place, why this was capable of leading humanity to reject God, and why everyone does not experience the same degree and type of suffering as each other. They
also need to explain why those who are never going to turn to God should be allowed to contribute to/cause the suffering of others. What are they learning from this experience?

Final thoughts

The irony of the view being presented here is this. Although God gave us freewill because, '[God] knew that we would be happiest with freedom.' (The wonderful gift of freewill, [Bracket mine]), the fact of the matter is Jehovah Witnesses consider us far better off when we don’t make our own decisions, but instead completely submit ourselves to God's Will and direction.

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