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CHAPTER 16: ORDER, DISORDER, GOOD AND EVIL

Disorder As Perception

There is great similarity in thought behind these two questions:

If everything is controlled by order, how can there be disorder?

And, if God is good, how can there be evil?

For both disorder and evil are subjective human perceptions based on personal experience.

If you go into a child's room and find toys and clothes and trash all over the floor and the bed in a mess, you are likely to say, "This room is disorderly" (or something worse). But the room is orderly in that it is exactly the way the child left it. In fact, the child may prefer it that way because he or she perceives a certain special order. The room is orderly in that the bed is not flying around the room, the clothes are not bursting into flame, the toys are not crashing into each other without any apparent cause.

Disorder refers to a lower degree of order than we would expect or want, not the complete absence of order. In a similar manner, evil results from behavior that is lower-order, more animal-like and less Christ-like.

As we mentioned in our discussion of chaos in the chapter on patterns, even something turbulent like the weather or water in the ocean is actually moving at a very complex level of order. It just requires a high level of mathematics or computer power to perceive or quantify that order.

So in one case we have less order than we can perceive, in another we have more complex order than we can perceive, but it both cases, order is very much in force, even though both could be called by some observers "disorderly."

A complete lack of order would be inconceivable. Not only would there be no physical objects, there would not even be energy in the form of visible light or electromagnetic radiation. Order has been a component of existence since the very beginning of the universe.

Evil As A Matter Of Perception

To turn to the problem of evil, it seems that the perception of evil is also highly subjective, a matter of degree, and a major reason some people do not believe in God or do not attempt to live in accordance with His will (order). This is most often true of people who have been hurt by tragedy.

A promising young student athlete dies in a car wreck.

A devoted young mother dies of cancer.

A little child runs excitedly out of church and into the street, where she is killed by a car.

An earthquake kills thousands of poor villagers.

A hurricane destroys homes and the lives of people on what was once a peaceful island.

The list, like news headlines, goes on and on. Tragic death is a fact of everyday life.

Then there are those other cases in which amazing exceptions occur.

A baby born with a damaged heart and given little hope of surviving is suddenly healed and doctors are baffled.

The top of an airplane rips off at high altitude; a few passengers are swept away to their deaths, but most survive, and the plane miraculously is brought to a landing on the runway.

A man with a crippling disease is healed in a religious revival, throws away his crutches and walks free.

A woman watching television hears a bullet crash through a window and lodge in the wall only inches from her head.

These amazing escapes are also the subject of news stories around the world.

The Mystery Of Life And Death

How is it that God seems to heal or save some, while others die, even when many people are praying for those dying people to live? How can you convince parents who have lost a child to a senseless accident that God is still a good God?

How do you account for the fact that a "fine young boy," raised by loving Christian parents, for no apparent reason goes on a "joyride" and kills an elderly couple?

The closer one comes to such tragedies, especially those that end in the untimely death of a loved one, the more difficult it is for some to continue believing in a loving God.

In some cases, such as the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis, evil seems all too real. Many people believe the devil or some power of evil is indeed real. The Bible says that the devil is real. Almost all people have experienced the temptation to do something for personal satisfaction that will or might harm others, and many consider this to be temptation by the devil – "the devil made me do it!"

Is Sin Our Natural State?

Sometimes it seems that it is much more difficult to keep people on a good track, doing the right thing, than it is to let them go on the wrong track, doing evil things. This has led many believers, including Biblical writers, to believe that sin is man's "natural" state, and only through God's grace can we be saved from sin. How do we reconcile this belief with the idea that nothing exists except order, energy and God? In a real sense, the problem of evil is the biggest challenge to the order-energy-God concept which we call Theordergy.

Each of us has to wrestle with the problem of evil for himself or herself. It is a very serious problem, the dark side of life and human existence. I can only tell you how I have resolved it, in hopes that you might find my resolution helpful in your own authentic search.

Evil And Order

I believe that the experience of evil is, first of all, the experience of the order which rules the world being at cross purposes with our own will.

All natural disasters are functions of an orderly world. All death results from functions of an orderly world. As children and even as praying adults we may wish that God would save us from the consequences of order in the world. But as mature adults, it is possible to accept that the world is so orderly that people and other living things get killed sometimes, that pain and death come to all of us – it's just a matter of when it comes.

Disease occurs when organisms such as bacteria or viruses infect the body. The progress of a disease in a body is a very orderly process, one life form against another. Usually the body's orderly defenses are strong enough to overcome invasions by disease organisms. Sometimes the invaders win.

Evil, Order And Personal Tragedy

Personal tragedies such as murder or rape seem senseless, evil. Why are people made in such a way that they can do such things to other people? Because the same orderly function of the human mind and emotions which can work for health, under unfavorable circumstances leads to a channeling of energy toward the destruction of others. I cannot say with total certainty, but I can say that every case of assault I have heard or read about was perpetrated by an individual who either had a disturbed childhood or a disturbed mental-emotional functioning. I have never heard of a case where a person who was loved and treated with respect as a child by his or her parents became antisocial and assaultive unless (a) other people such as peers or influential adults infected him or her with anger or hate, or (b) the person had a genetically defective or otherwise damaged central nervous system.

In every case, I believe, where a person intentionally harms another person, the perpetrator was harmed earlier in life, either traumatically or chronically or both.

Remember, too, that order is not mechanically perfect. Order is probabilistic, tinged with uncertainty. There is always room for error. For example, a genetic defect can cause a child to be born with a defective brain that causes him to be antisocial or unable to control his anger. More and more human problems such as alcoholism and schizophrenia are being analyzed in terms of genetic variations from the norm.

Evil And Lower Order

There is no question in my mind that we mortals have an attraction to evil and sin that represents a lower order of our existence. We can live at the bodily level of existence and seek physical pleasures, even if it means long-term harm to ourselves and others. The story of Satan’s beginnings as a fallen angel serves as a metaphor for humanity’s fall from closeness to God to an absorption in pleasures of the flesh. This temptation is always with us since we continue to live in our bodies. At our lowest level of order we are only smart animals, capable of very crude behavior. By God’s grace we can rise to our highest level of order, an on-going close relationship with Him that provides us with a correct perspective on the rest of life and on our relationships with other human beings. In this sense evil is indeed real. We may even experience a Satanic pull to participate in evil. But such evil is never the last word, never the ultimate reality. The ultimate reality is that we are always free to accept God’s offer of love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, which leads to a deeper and purer joy than any physical pleasure.

The Order Of Your Life-Path

It is possible to accept that pain, disaster and death are really functions of an orderly world. If your body crosses the path of a speeding bullet or automobile or other high-mass, high-energy object, you are likely to be hurt or killed. You can be careful and attempt to avoid such collisions, but you cannot be 100 percent careful and still lead a normal life. Life is fraught with risk.

If the world were not orderly, people would suffer pain, disaster and death for no apparent cause. What a miserable world this would be if that were so! You'd be walking down the street or sitting in your chair, minding your own business, when suddenly for no apparent reason you would scream out in pain and die.

Even the Jews who suffered so horribly in the Holocaust knew all too well what the cause of their suffering was. An entire nation had become infected with a sickness rooted in repressed anger and hate, and the Jews became the scapegoats.

The Probability Of Long Life

In spite of pain and suffering and death, most people in the Western World by the "laws" (order) of probability can expect to live past 70. As civilization achieves ever higher levels of order, life expectancies are advanced. The probability aspect of order means that human existence for each of us has a dimension of uncertainty that cannot be 100 percent predicted. But most of us will make it through many decades of life.

My father died in his early 20s because he refused to accept the reality (order) of the illness of nephritis, which is normally curable. Instead of accepting doctor's orders for plenty of bed rest, he tried to deny the illness, overexerted himself, and brought himself an orderly but early death.

My stepfather died in his early 50s after his alcoholism (probably a genetically inherited weakness) caused him to lose his job and his self-respect, plunging him into despair which eventually led to death from cancer.

But my mother, a sensible woman past 70 with the energy of someone 50, has always been devoted to God and had a spirit of optimism, has survived the loss of two husbands, married a third time, and will probably outlive him as well.

Now this is not to say that God saves those who follow His will and lets others die. The early Christians who were killed for sport by their Roman captors certainly were not saved from death in spite of fervent faith. I know of no objective study that shows a definite correlation between faith in God and longevity, although there does seem to be some correlation between Christian faith and recovery from disease. And even if there is an above-average probability that devoted Christians will live longer than average, there are still millions of cases where fine Christians die young and selfish atheists live to ripe old ages.

 

The Pain Of Orderly Existence

What I am saying is this. Most of the pain, suffering and death that humans experience are consequences of living in an orderly world. The experience of evil is the experience of encountering a threatening aspect of order that is contrary to our own wants or will. And why God allows some people to live while others die can be explained partly by the orderliness of reality, partly by the uncertainty aspect of probability, and partly by the unfathomable mystery of God.

The love of God, epitomized by Jesus' death and resurrection, is the great "nevertheless" that gives order and meaning to life in the face of evil, pain and suffering. "Neither death nor life, principalities or powers can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus."

Life is not perfectly wonderful, but it is mostly wonderful. Life is not 100 percent good, but is is highly-probably good for most of us.

Life Is Difficult

As Scott Peck said in the opening lines of his immensely popular book, The Road Less Traveled (Touchstone Books, 1978):

"Life is difficult.

"This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."

Life is difficult because the orderliness of life means that threatening objects and people cross our life-path periodically. You get in the way of a steamroller and you get flattened. Maybe you wanted to cross that road, but the steamroller was on a path that crossed yours, and it is bigger than you are. Or maybe you get hit by a random bullet because you just happen to be in the path of that bullet.

Life is orderly and unpredictable. Once we understand that and accept that fact, life does not appear evil or threatening. Once we strive to order our lives through a dynamic relationship with God, once we put our trust in the love of God expressed in the life of Jesus, we achieve a higher order, a transcendent order, and we look for opportunities to grow stronger and wiser.

Advancing Through Adversity

Atlanta minister Charles Stanley once preached a series of radio sermons on "Advancing Through Adversity." Dr. Stanley used a metaphor of God as a great sculptor who uses adversity to chisel away the fragments of life we do not need, revealing the true self that was hidden inside the marble.

Sometimes, Stanley said, God takes away physical things such as money that we have grown too attached to, so that we may be reminded of the need to be attached only to God. If you have experienced financial loss through an economic depression or recession, perhaps you can appreciate this insight even more.

Whether adversity or difficulty or pain is caused directly by God, or indirectly by the movements of His orderly universe, does not really matter. Whenever we encounter such adversity, we can use it as an opportunity to strengthen our character and our commitment to God. We can transcend it because we know it is not the last word. God has the last word. "Life is difficult." "Nevertheless.... Nevertheless.... Neither life nor death, principalities or powers can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

Use Order To Deal With Problems

When you encounter a problem, whether it is as simple as a burned-out light bulb or as profound as the death of a loved one, keep in mind that you are experiencing an orderly world. Your life is a pathway through that world, and it will surely cross the paths of other people and things moving at cross-purposes. When such a problem occurs, ask yourself, "What order is present here? What order appears to have caused this problem? Is there anything I can do to order my behavior to undo or alleviate this problem? If there is something, I will do it. If there is nothing, I will accept that."

Trusting in God's order and His benevolent will, will enable us to follow the truth of the Serenity Prayer:

"May God grant me the strength to change the things that I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference."

That is about as realistic as a prayer can be in this orderly world... tinged with uncertainty.

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