April 26, 2015
Incarnation and Theodicy
Hi Dr. Craig,
Let me first say that while not a Christian myself (although I've somehow ended up doing a theology degree...) I am a very big fan of your program of presenting rigorous and rational justification for Christian doctrine - in particular you have thoroughly convinced me on the cosmological argument! However I am unwilling to move beyond belief in a minimalist Deist creator God for several reasons, among which is the question of:
Is the incarnation compatible with theodicy?
Orthodox (small 'o') Christianity holds that, in order to save us, Christ must be fully God and fully man. I agree with the assumption behind this - that 'that which is not assumed is not saved', as only a true God-man can give us the uniquely available metaphysical contact with God we need to reach salvation.
However, it also seems that 'fully God and fully man' is oxymoronic - as the properties of God (not limited in space and time, impassible etc) contradict the properties of man (limited in space and time, passible etc). So it seems that to accept the incarnation - that God could bring about a being that is both limited in space and time and not limited in space and time - means to accept that God can do the logically impossible, such as creating stones so heavy he can't lift them and square circles.
This I think runs into problems with theodicy. If God is fully loving, it seems God would create the best possible world - e.g., a world in which people have free will is better than a world without free will, and as we cannot both have truly free will and never commit evil, the world inevitably contains some evil. But: if the incarnation is accepted, then the ability of God to do the logically impossible is also accepted. This means that there are no logical limits to the possible worlds that God can create - including, for example, one with both truly free will and no evil whatsoever. So God's 'excuse' for the presence of evil - that this is best possible world - is removed, as all worlds, even oxymoronic ones, are possible.
Really appreciate you effort in answering this.
I think I can be of help, Edwin, in removing at least this obstacle to Christian faith.
The problem lies in your understanding of the expression “fully God/fully man.” This expression is not in fact what the creeds affirm of Christ. What the Chalcedonian statement on the deity and humanity of Christ actually affirms is that Christ is “truly God and truly man” (vere Deus/vere homo). The expression you cite is problematic precisely for the reason you point out: if Christ is totally God, then he can not be human at all, much less totally human!
People who use the expression “fully God/fully man” do not mean to suggest, I’m sure, that Christ is totally God and totally man, but rather that he is truly God and truly man. But because of its ambiguity and non-credal status, I think it is better to avoid this misleading expression and to use the creedal language.
The Chalcedonian expression vere Deus/vere homo is not oxymoronic (see further my chapter on the Incarnation in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [IVP: 2003]). The framers of Chalcedon affirmed that Christ has two distinct natures, one human and one divine. In affirming that the incarnate Christ had two natures, the Church Fathers were stating that Christ exemplified all the properties which go to constitute humanity and all the properties which go to make up deity. In that sense, he had two natures and so belonged to two natural kinds, Man and God. Christ was thus truly human, but he was not merely human.
With respect to theodicy, your question presupposes that there is such a thing as a best possible world. I think most Christian philosophers would deny that there is such a thing. There may well be no upper limit on the goodness of worlds. So God, as a perfect being, has only to create a good world, not the best of all possible worlds, which may no more be possible than creating a stone too heavy for Him to lift. Moreover, you err in thinking that creaturely free will entails the presence of evil. That’s not right. It’s logically possible that everyone in every moral situation always freely does the right thing. So worlds without sin and evil are possible (even if not feasible for God).
But leave those points aside: the more important point you make is that if God can do the logically impossible, then anything is possible for Him. This actually dissolves the problem of evil entirely! For if God can do the logically impossible, then He can bring it about that both God exists and that evil exists, even if their co-existence is logically impossible! Once a person says that God can make logical contradictions come true, then the so-called problem of evil—in particular, the logical version of the problem of evil—completely evaporates.
Of course, I don’t think that God can do the logically impossible, but then the doctrine of the incarnation, when properly expressed, involves no logical contradiction.
For more details regarding the Incarnation such as how can it be that Jesus is both truly man and truly God, see Dr. Craig's Defenders 2 lectures on the Doctrine of Christ parts 1 through 8 found here