The Meredith J. Sprunger Archive
Understanding Evil in Human Experience;
Urantia Book Perspectives on the Theodicy Problem
3/2/94; Revised 3/2/99
The ultimate problem in theism is the enigma of evil—often referred to as "the theodicy problem." How can one reconcile belief in an all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful God with the destructiveness of nature, the unjust and arbitrary suffering of people, and the social evils which are endemic and culminate in events like Dachau and Auschwitz?
The history of religion is replete with attempts to answer this question. All of these theodicies have more or less failed to give a satisfying answer to these divine-human incongruities. Traditional theological answers to the problem of evil are rooted in a geocentric and prescientific understanding of the nature of the universe. The central ambiguities and incomprehensible nature of the problem of evil in human experience center in our immature and simplistic understanding of reality and God's relation to the finite universe. Scientific discovery has greatly expanded our knowledge of the size and complexity of the material universe. The Urantia Book, in a similar way, has enlarged our conceptualization of spiritual cosmology and opened a view of the astonishing complexity and variation of the forms of reality.
Man can find the love of God without facts, and man can discover the laws of God without love, but man can never begin to appreciate the infinite symmetry, the supernal harmony, the exquisite repleteness of the all-inclusive nature of the First Source and Center until he has found divine law and divine love and has experientially unified these in his own evolving cosmic philosophy. (U. B., p. 1222)
The Finite Universe
How, then, do we unify divine law and divine love in human experience? First, we need to realize that God does not act as a transcendental puppeteer in the finite universe. Except for a fragment of God indwelling the human mind, God is not directly involved in the direction and functions of the finite universes. The First Source and Center of all things and beings is actualizing his wise and loving purposes for the finite creation by delegating creative power and administrative functions to his Creator Sons and Local Universe Daughters. Second, we need to understand the basic nature and methodology of finite reality. The finite universes were created to actualize two basic divine purposes: to evolve intelligent beings with free will, who could participate, in cooperation with the indwelling Spirit of God, in their own growth toward perfection (God's will); and at the same time factualize a finite, experiential aspect of Deity known as the Supreme.
To accomplish these purposes a special form of reality was created through the evolutionary process. It is unique in nature, methodology, and control. Starting with elemental energy particles that are governed and controlled by indigenous, finite universe laws that include a complex mix of random chance and purposeful direction, the physical universe evolved over billions of years. Within the evolutionary process, physical mechanisms evolve and combine to establish a base through which mind (control functions) can operate. These physical-mindal mechanisms evolved over millions of years to produce many kinds of organisms, plants, and animals.
Inherent in the evolutionary process are mindal stimuli, "adjutant mind spirits," which are able to make contact with physical-mindal organisms at different levels of development. When evolving mind capacities reach the level of intelligence that can be contacted by the spirit of worship and the spirit of wisdom, human beings with truth, beauty, and goodness perception have evolved. Capping the Universal Father's plan to create independent mortals who have free will is the bestowal of a fragment of his Spirit in each mind that has truth, beauty, and goodness perception.
When finite, imperfect beings are given free will, mistakes, violation of universe law (evil), and deliberate transgression of spiritual truth (sin), are virtually inevitable. If human beings are to grow toward wisdom and spiritual perfection, certain environmental conditions are necessary. Experience is the basic medium of learning and education. Spiritual growth requires certain learning experiences which serve as guides to spiritual reality. To develop courage we must live amid surroundings that necessitate struggling with hardship and danger. If hope is to evolve, then must one be constantly confronted with insecurities and uncertainties.
In order to establish the love of truth in the human heart, one must live in a world where error is present and the evils of falsehood confronted. Unselfishness is acquired when we repeatedly discover the unhappiness brought on by an ego continually clamoring for pleasure, honor, and recognition. Evolutionary beings must live in an environment of relative and potential evil in order to experience and learn the validity of the higher spiritual realities of the universe. In the finite, evolutionary universe, a certain amount of evil and suffering is necessary to guide intelligent, free will beings toward spiritual growth.
The confusion and turmoil of Urantia do not signify that the Paradise Rulers lack either interest or ability to manage affairs differently. The Creators are possessed of full power to make Urantia a veritable paradise, but such an Eden would not contribute to the development of those strong, noble, and experienced characters which the Gods are so surely forging out on your world between the anvils of necessity and the hammers of anguish. Your anxieties and sorrows, your trials and disappointments, are just as much a part of the divine plan on your sphere as are the exquisite perfection and infinite adaptation of all things to their supreme purpose on the worlds of the central and perfect universe. (U. B., p. 258)
God's Relation to the Finite Universe
In the finite universe the Universal Father has chosen to work primarily through the intrinsic control of autonomous universe laws. The many violent activities of nature such as floods, fires, storms, and atmospheric cataclysms, are the outworking of universe laws and are not the direct or personal activities of God. Within the apparent randomness of physical activities, there is an integration of universe laws which makes for checks and balances in nature and an overall purposefulness creating a condition favorable to intelligent manipulation. Through the process of experience and scientific discovery, we are learning the dynamics of natural laws, so that we can utilize them to improve our safety and health, and design natural phenomena for the benefit and welfare of humankind.
God's personal contact with humanity is through his indwelling Spirit in our minds. Neither God nor subordinate universe administrators, such as angelic beings, normally intervene to suspend or countermand the operation of natural laws in our lives. The Universal Father is neither a cosmic puppet master nor an anthropomorphic trouble shooter whom we must call upon to change the realities of creation to shield us from problems and suffering. The design and purpose of the finite universe is to encourage and enable us, through our own intelligence and ingenuity, to meet and cope with the problems, frustrations, and tragedies of mortal experience. God's purpose for our lives is to help us evolve into spiritually mature people who are stimulated by perplexities, difficulties, and suffering, and who know that in partnership with God all things eventually work for good. This requires a life predicated on courage, invigorated by hardships, and inspired by divine fellowship and guidance.
Intelligent and effective prayer does not ask God to suspend natural law or perform "miracles," but seeks God's support and guidance in finding the solution of our problems. Through the guidance of his indwelling Spirit, we are often led to initiate activities which do change the outcome of natural laws. Sometimes, in extreme or critical conditions, which we do not adequately understand, guardian angels, or other supermortal personalities, may intervene to give special help that seems to change the outcome of natural law.
We see, then, that God's presence in the finite universe is primarily an immanent, indigenous reality—even in his personal, indwelling relationship with each person. The traditional religious dichotomy of the natural and the supernatural is an illusion resulting from a lack of knowledge of how God acts in the finite universe. It may be meaningful to speak of material, mindal, or spiritual reality, but anything which the creative action of God effects in any of these categories is an immanent, endogenous event. All spiritual ministrations to finite beings must be down-stepped. This is the essence of the incarnation message.
The divine plan for the finite universe was to evolve an imperfect creation in which mortals could start as the lowest beings who have the capacity for God-consciousness, and through their own free will decisions and actions, evolve immortal souls of Paradise potential. The finite creation is designed as an essentially closed evolutionary system where God works through indigenous laws, mechanisms, and overcontrol functions, instead of direct (transcendent) Deity control. This self-limitation of God is basic to the actualization of the great and good universe plan to evolve in human personality a unique quality of being which could be produced in no other way.
Everything divine which the human mind grasps and the human soul acquires is an experiential attainment; it is a reality of personal experience and is therefore a unique possession in contrast to the inherent goodness and righteousness of the inerrant personalities of Havona .
The creatures of Havona are naturally brave, but they are not courageous in the human sense. They are innately kind and considerate, but hardly altruistic in the human way. They are expectant of a pleasant future, but not hopeful in the exquisite manner of the trusting mortal of the uncertain evolutionary spheres. They have faith in the stability of the universe, but they are utter strangers to that saving faith whereby mortal man climbs from the status of an animal up to the portals of Paradise. They love the truth, but they know nothing of its soul-saving qualities. They are idealists, but they were born that way; they are wholly ignorant of the ecstasy of becoming such by exhilarating choice. (U.B., p. 52)
Irrational Aspects of Evil
Once we understand the divine plan for the finite creation, much of the imperfection and suffering in human experience makes sense. Through the educational process encountered in the vicissitudes of human experience, the creative evolutionary process is forging out of humankind the beginnings of a noble, strong, and thoroughly experienced being whose potentials transcend our fondest dreams. Human anxiety, trials, and suffering are just as much a necessary part of a wise divine plan for universe education as the lessons of childhood, the rigors of school days, and the psychic suffering of adolescence are basic to developing character in our contemporary development. There is historical, scientific, and experiential evidence which gives considerable support to this purposeful view of suffering in human experience.
Nevertheless, many troubling questions remain unanswered regarding the catastrophic and irrational aspects of the problem of evil. The first major source of such incomprehensible forms of evil in human experience are the anomalies of nature. Floods, fires, tornadoes, disease, and many forms of malfunction readily come to mind. These imperfections are germane to the nature of reality in the evolutionary finite universe. In, with, and under the apparent random behavior of the energy and mechanisms of universe laws there is divine intelligence and purpose. These innate balance and control forces and mechanisms take aeons of time to establish and consolidate their effect. Many centuries are required for the indigenous integrative and synergistic influences to become dominant. These melioristic forces are greatly assisted by human ingenuity as we learn how to use universe laws to accelerate the evolutionary process.
The second major source of evil in human experience is centered in finite personalities. Much of the suffering experienced in our world is the result of human evil—the ignorant violation of universe law and spiritual truth, and in humankind's sinful behavior—knowing and deliberate infraction of natural law and the will of God. These innumerable human forms of evil and sin precipitate crime and violence, and are socially compounded, resulting in brutalities like Dachau and Auschwitz and in wars with mass destruction like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Over and above the imperfections of natural phenomena and human evil and sin, the most destructive effect on human welfare was brought about by the misadaptations and rebellion of supermortal beings who are native to the finite universe. Our planet has suffered extensive setbacks through sinful improvisations and mistakes in superhuman universe administration. The Lucifer rebellion and the Adamic default were catastrophes of major proportions that have temporarily handicapped the outworking of the divine plan.
When we contemplate the pervasive openness and inherent autonomy, guided by benign intrinsic spiritual purpose designed into the evolutionary universe, we catch a glimpse of the enormous forbearance and love of the Universal Father. Knowing the potential hazards of sin and rebellion in the finite universe, the Universal Father has established rescue and salvaging plans. This reclamation plan uses methods which are harmonious with autonomy and self-determination. In addition to the Father's indwelling presence in the human mind, other immanent guidance techniques, such as supermortal incarnation and other forms of epochal revelation are bringing the Father's saving ministry to humanity. God's transcendent love in many down-stepped, immanent forms is at work on our world. Slowly but surely the reality dominance of spiritual truth and the drawing power of divine love is winning the struggle with evil and sin without violating humankind's complete personal-spiritual independence. God's creativity in the evolutionary cosmos begins at the lowest levels but is destined to achieve the highest ends.
We have observed that the divine plan for the finite universe is to create beings with a unique spiritual-reality quality through evolutionary experience. God's purpose is for humankind to participate in its own development and destiny without divine coercion. This requires both freedom of will, and an imperfect environment where learning is possible, where the foundations of reality are intrinsically present in the material-mindal world of experience. Here human beings can discover the enduring and dependable verities in daily living, taste the bitterness and suffering of evil and sin, and repeatedly verify the fulfilling and synergistic character of truth, beauty, and goodness. In this educational atmosphere we are free to make our own value decisions and evolve immortal souls.
The unsurpassed educational character of this kind of experience, along with the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, is the reason that, even in the face of intense and irrational suffering, the great majority of humankind remain courageous in their coping ability and steadfast in their faith in the ultimate triumph of good. God's wise, loving, and farsighted design for the finite universe will not fail. The Universal Father, therefore, does not arbitrarily "step in" with transcendent power to alter the divine evolutionary methodology for overcoming evil and sin. Indeed, error and spiritual rebellion are more clearly seen for what they are if allowed to run their evolutionary course. Over the centuries, more good will accrue in the lives of individuals and in society by this experiential process than would occur through forced, arbitrary, or revolutionary solutions.
The final answer to the problem of evil for each person resides in fellowship with the Spirit of God which indwells the human mind. Although we live in a world and universe where Immanent Intelligence is detected by inference, where the knowledge of God is mediated through all reality, we know God personally only through inner experience. By faith and spiritual fellowship we establish a God-consciousness and a living partnership with the Universal Father. As we then face the problems and perplexities of life, we are aided by divine wisdom. When suffering and tragedy enter our experience and we have exhausted our own ability to cope, an augmented inner peace, a new understanding, a fresh combination of resources undergird our life. Those who establish this inner relationship with the Father are invulnerable to life's most crushing blows. These children of the finite universe are learning "to feast upon uncertainty, to fatten upon disappointment, to enthuse over apparent defeat, to invigorate in the presence of difficulties, to exhibit indomitable courage in the face of immensity, and to exercise unconquerable faith when confronted with the challenge of the inexplicable." They are discovering that "in liaison with God, nothing—absolutely nothing—is impossible." (U. B., p. 291)