Beyond The Problem Of Evil

.. is caught in his illusion of volition . . . [This illusion], his assumption that free will exists, is also part of the calculable mechanism ( 106). When a misfortune strikes, we can overcome it either by removing its cause or else by changing the effect it has on our feelings .

. .( 108). There are elements in each of these texts–e.g., the denial of free will, the rejection of the idea retributive justice, and the recognition of possibility of overcoming our emotional reactions rather than our external environment–which resonate with the sympathetic reader of Spinoza. And while, in later years, Nietzsche loses some of his positivistic fervor, we shall see that significant similarities are retained. They can be reduced to the proposition that *an unconditional affirmation of existence is prerequisite to the fullest expression of our essence*.

Recall that Spinoza argues that the degree of blessedness which we attain is dependent on the quality of that which we love, pointing out that Strife will never arise on account of that which is not loved; there will be no sorrow if it is lost, no envy if it is possessed by another, no fear, no hatred–in a word, no emotional agitation, all of which, however, occur in the case of the love of perishable things . . . But love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind with joy alone, unmixed with any sadness. This is greatly to be desired, and to be sought with all our might (*TEI* 235). *From Spinoza’s perspective, then, if we are to achieve blessedness, we must learn to love every aspect of that which *is*–which is, in the words of Kierkegaard, *the power that grounds us*.

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This includes loving corruptible things, as such, together with the process of becoming in general. Nietzsche expresses a very similar insight, in *Thus Spoke Zarathustra*: Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you said Yes too to *all* woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored; if ever you wanted one thing twice, if ever you said, You please me, happiness! Abide, moment! then you wanted *all* back. All anew, all eternally, all entangled, ensnared, enamored–oh, then you *loved* the world. Eternal ones, love it eternally and evermore; and to woe too, you say: go, but return! *For all joy wants–eternity* (*Portable Nietzsche* 435). Leaving aside Nietzsche’s notion of eternal recurrence, his position is quite close to that of Spinoza. Reminiscent of Spinoza’s *intellectual love of God*, Nietzsche posits *love of fate* as his formula for greatness: My formula for greatness in a human being is *amor fati*: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity.

Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it–all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary–but *love* it (*Ecce Homo* 258). This is not to say that Nietzsche’s *greatness* and Spinoza’s *blessedness* are identical, but only that they are closely related. *Greatness*, which we may provisionally define as *extraordinary success in a finite context*, depends on conditions external to our essence (God’s external help/fortune), whereas *blessedness* depends on our internal virtue (God’s internal help). Having granted this distinction, I would argue that true greatness can only be attributed to those individuals who, in addition to external success, are characterized by the especially appropriate manner in which they relate to the power which grounds them and, consequently, to their own essence. By virtue of their right relation to themselves and to God, such people have, experienced true blessedness.

To the extent that we say *no* to any aspect of reality–that which is necessary–to that extent we cut ourselves off from the only source of abundant life and have, in fact, negated that which constitutes the conditions for the realization of our highest hopes and most noble possibilities. Because our essence and our authentic possibilities are inextricably intertwined with all that is and all that has been, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, in the spirit of Spinoza, teaches that redemption is achieved when our will becomes harmonized with the eternal necessity that governs the play of appearances: To redeem those who lived in the past and to re-create all ‘it was’ into a ‘thus I willed it’–that alone should I call redemption (*Portable Nietzsche* 251). Redemption, in this sense, requires that we take our stand *beyond good and evil* and seems to require that we embrace a kind of determinism. We can, it seems, *do* what we will, but we can’t *will* what we will.{8} Our real project is to discover our essential will, from whence alone our lives derive their meaning and purpose. Both Spinoza and Nietzsche seem to be saying that this discovery is facilitated by our affirmation of those aspects of reality that are beyond our control, which requires that we attempt, on the level of reflective consciousness, not to be controlled by such passive emotions as guilt, fear, and regret.{9} This is possible only insofar as we come to know, love, and (consciously) will ourselves as we are essentially, all of which presupposes–or, constitutes!–a right relationship to the power that grounds us.

This right relationship to the power that grounds us is realized to the degree that our reflective consciousness is characterized by Spinoza’s *intellectual love of God* and Nietzsche’s *love of fate*, which are, practically speaking, closely related, if not identical concepts.{10} We must not imagine, however, that the breach between our empirical or conscious self and our essential self is to be completely overcome–at least not in the course of this embodiment. Relative to consciousness, our essential self will always retain a *transcendent* aspect–in fact, we may refer to it as our *transcendent self*. However, despite the unavoidable dissonance that exists between the two, we can hope to experience a narrowing of the chasm that exists between them as we endeavor to stay attuned to our essential will, which is, in fact, the will of God. To discover and exercise our essential will is to experience authentic existence. If Spinoza is right, and the attribute of extension expresses my essence as fully, in its own way, as the attribute of thought, it may one day be the case that our knowledge of the human body will be complete enough to arrive at an experience of authentic existence through the manipulation of our physical organism.

At this point however, such a possibility remains remote and the only realistic possibility of our achieving the abundant life which both Nietzsche and Spinoza envision is to change the way we think. In the past, this was achieved through the practice of religion. We studied the Bible and entrusted ourselves to Christian ministers and mystics who functioned as guides, helping us along on our pilgrimage. For many moderns, however, the implausibility of the biblical narrative–particularly the gospel narratives (construed as a historical, empirical reality)–together with the bad impression made by those who have promoted a legalistic, provincial moralism as *the* way of salvation, have left them unable to relate to the Christian tradition. This inability constitutes a great handicap to individuals whose consciousness, in its most fundamental structures, has been informed by that tradition.

Even if it is possible for them to come to know and love their essential selves apart from the categories of Christian faith, it is nevertheless rendered more difficult by the resentment that they bear toward the tradition. At times, they come into contact with elements of the tradition which really resonate with their essential selves–i.e. with their *higher* or *transcendent* selves, in which they ceased to believe when they rejected the tradition. Such moments are very disconcerting to those whose conscience has– perhaps for very good reasons–been turned against Christianity. They imagine that to understand and identify with a part, implies the truth and, thus the necessary acceptance of, the whole as a literal, historical reality.

Their heart, for a moment, leaps within them at the prospect of embracing again that which they forsook with such agony, but a moments reflection suffices to recall their reasons for rejecting it in the first place.{11} What they fail to realize is the possibility that a myth, however false when taken at face value, is not merely a lie. Rather it is a story that is (or may be) false on the outside, but true on the inside.{12} It is my opinion that the Bible in general, and the New Testament in particular, conveys such a myth, and that insofar as our consciousness, on a very fundamental level, has been informed by that myth, we would do well to let go of our resentment, opening our minds to the possibility of learning from it once again. In other words, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. To be sure, the water is dirty–at certain times and places extremely dirty. Nevertheless, those who have a real affinity for this tradition–often reflected in their resentment toward it–are doing violence to themselves by refusing to take another look. It is in this spirit, then, that I offer in what follows an alternative approach to the Christian myth–one which is intended, practically speaking, to captivate the imagination, bringing it into the service of our essential self, without, however, violating our reason.

Its chief theoretical advantages are that it avoids the problem of evil; is not threatened by modern philosophy, however positivistic; and it escapes Nietzsche’s chief criticisms Christianity.{13} {14} PART THREE: Reappropriating the Tradition In light of the discussion in part two, we can now understand why Jesus said, The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength (Mk. 12:29). If we love God, we love his sovereign will and the eternal order that he has decreed. To the degree that we love him we become one with him and will be no more confounded by the turn of events than our heavenly Father is. We are partakers of his divine nature, and, as such, experience eternal life.

Becoming conscious of ourselves as incarnations of God, we begin to participate in the life of God, and his image begins to shine through in our lives. This is not a reason for pride, however, but for joy and thanksgiving! We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, . . . who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him .

. . in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:15-17; Eph. 2:21).

We, as members of his body, share in this eternal purpose. We are, in him, builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). This is why all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called, according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). This is why we can have no life apart from Christ.

But the name of Christ does not refer merely to Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, the truth or falsity of the legends surrounding the life of Jesus is irrelevant to the reality of Christ which we can experience first-hand inasmuch as he represents the concept and actualization (in the Hegelian sense) of our true self. He is our *formal cause* or essence (in the Aristotelian sense), as well as our *final cause* or ultimate goal. He is our freedom and our destiny. Because our essence is the essence of a for itself, and not merely an in itself, we may approach that essence as a *Thou*, rather than an *it*–the term of our transcendence; the Self toward which we are transcending; an incarnation of God.

Our essential self stands in an absolute relation to the absolute–that is, our relationship to the power that grounds us (God) is mediated absolutely and exclusively by our essential self (Christ in us). As such, a right relationship to our essential self implies a right relationship to the power that grounds it and vise versa; and, insofar as human beings share a common essence, a right relation to our Self and God implies a right relation to our neighbor, as well.{15} Suffering and death are intrinsic to life and must be affirmed (insofar as they are necessary)–Christ is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Despairing in the face of that which this seemingly harsh truth demands (the garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb), we flee our essential self and, as such, are automatically in a disrelation to the power that grounds us–cut off from the possibility of an abundant life. To the extent, however, that we come to know and love ourself as we are *essentially*, the disrelation we experience is rectified and we are able to realize our highest potential (Christ in us, our hope of glory). We begin at once to realize this potential when in the depths of our despair, we make the movement of infinite resignation, and choose to bear our cross, like Christ, freely and innocently and without the spirit of revenge (Father forgive them, for they know not what they do).{16} When this movement is made– completely and without reservation, holding nothing back–our resignation is transformed into faith and the world of which we despaired a short time before is vivified and we experience the very life and power of the Son of God–this is resurrection power. Thus, the passion of Christ is, or at least can be, a symbol of the essence of life–death and resurrection–rather than a symbol of our despair, reflecting our dissatisfaction with ourselves and with existence. The true Christian is one who does not flee life, imagining that existence is refuted by suffering and death, but rather bears with patience the problematic aspects of our existential experience, understanding that these aspects, too, constitute, in part, the conditions necessary to the highest expression of life.

When we embrace this faith, we put off the old man, Adam, who risks eternal torment by virtue of his unfortunate preoccupation with the polar opposition of good and evil (and who experiences suffering as punishment for sin), and put on the mind of Christ, who experiences abundant life, beyond good and evil (whose suffering is redemptive). Like Paul, who admonishes us to present our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and we fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24).

From this standpoint, we begin to see that [Each human being] represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature . . . the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why every [person’s] story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every [person] as long as [he or she] lives and fulfills the will of nature is wondrous and worthy of every consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each [person] the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross. Each [person’s] life represents a road toward [himself or herself], an attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path.

No [person] has ever been entirely and completely [himself or herself]. Yet each one strives to become that–one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best [he or she] can (From the prologue to *Demian*, by Hermann Hesse). CONCLUSION At the end of Part One, we came to the conclusion that as orthodox Christians, we bow(ed)–albeit, more or less, unconsciously–not to the justice of God, but to his power. Unable to think this thought, however, we insisted (as orthodox believers) on affirming the contradiction intrinsic to judgement that one can conjoin omnipotence and human perdition without attributing evil to God. But of all the evils that we can imagine, this conjunction is, perhaps, the only one which it is absolutely impossible to dispel by an appeal to our finite perspective. We attempted to make this contradiction explicit so as to permit the dialectic of the problem to carry us beyond it.

In Part Two, we found that we were able to avoid the contradiction by jettisoning the notions of free will and moral responsibility (to any heteronomous law), and by modifying our conception of God’s goodness and power, in favor of a more comprehensive view. We realized instead that our only duty is to will our own essence. Furthermore, we saw that God is, indeed, infinitely good, but can be percieved as such only by those who love him with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. His power, too, is infinite, but *he is*, in fact, *that which he is*, and cannot be otherwise. We are justified in bowing before his power because it is the power which grounds us. Our unconditional love of God constitutes perfect self-love.

This is not the kind of self-love which leads to self-destruction, but that which, for the tradition, is characteristic of the life of Christ. By bringing this thought to consciousness, we bring before ourselves the possibility of consciously and deliberately choosing to enter into that life, or consciously and deliberately refusing that life. Saying yes to life is giving conscious assent to that which, as Augustine pointed out (*On Free Will* 3.7.20), we already choose, viscerally, as it were, on a pre-reflective level. However, the ability to say yes to life remains a grace. We admonish people to choose it because it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them which believe. Insofar as we recognize the choice and reject the life which is proffered, we suffer the penalty–unhappiness, Augustine said, is the just reward of ingratitude (*On Free Will* 3.6.18).

In my opionion, the tradition has permitted its adherents to make this choice only on an unconscious level. It is only by letting the dialectic of the problem carry us beyond good and evil that we have become fully conscious of that upon which our life depends. In Part Three, we presented an alternative approach to the Christian myth–one which was intended, practically speaking, to captivate the imagination, bringing it into the service of our essential self, without, however, violating our reason. Its chief theoretical advantages were said to be that it avoids the problem of evil; is not threatened by modern philosophy (however positivistic); and it escapes Nietzsche’s chief criticisms of Christianity. It remains for the reader to decide whether or not this dialogue between the tradition and those opposed to the tradition has been fruitful.

For me, its fruitfulness is confirmed by the renewed relationship I have experienced with my Self and my God. END NOTES 1. This contradiction is presented poetically in *The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam*–see Appendix A, below. 2. This is C.S. Lewis’s approach to the problem in *Mere Christianity*.

See Book Four, Chapter 3, Time and Beyond. Cf. *The Screwtape Letters*, Letter XXVII. 3. *Apropos* of justice and power, the following text from *On Free Will* is quite interesting: If you are not in your own power, then someone must have you in his power who is either more powerful or less powerful than yourself.

If he is less powerful the fault is your own and the misery just. But if someone, more powerful than you are, hold you in his power you will not rightly think so rightful an order to be unjust (3.6.19). 4. The Apostle Paul dealt with such objections, not by defending the justice of God–and especially not by appealing to free will –but by pointing out the absurdity of the creature passing judgment on the creator: Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardenth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Romans 9:18-21).

There are elements of this in Augustine’s approach, but his extreme discomfort with the core of the problem is evident–a discomfort which is not evident in the writings of St. Paul. 5. At this point, I beg those staunch defenders of orthodoxy who truly know and love the Lord their God to bear with me. Despite the seeming harshness of my criticism, I assure you that I am not your enemy.

And, despite their reputations, neither are Spinoza and Nietzsche, to whom I now turn. 6. Such external powers are not essentially opposed to me. In another context, the same power might work to my advantage. 7. Nietzsche himself calls Spinoza his precursor (Portable Nietzsche 92).

His discovery of Spinoza seems to have come after the publication of the Human, All To Human. 8. By will, here, I indicate our desire to do that which is within our power, not a mere whim or wish. 9. It would not be desirable to eliminate such emotions insofar as each has a positive function.

10. I have emphasized the practical similarity of these concepts. For a more detailed theoretical analysis that emphasizes their differences, see Spinoza and Nietzsche: *Amor dei* and *Amor fati* in Volume Two of Yeimiyahu Yovel’s *Spinoza and Other Heretics*, Princton Univ. Press, 1989. 11.

What many find unacceptable in Christian thought (or at least in some, not insignificant, strands of it) is that 1) In the name of piety, attempts are made to limit freedom of speech and thought; 2) the body, and the temporal order in general, is disparaged as intrinsically flawed or evil; 3) it is demanded that one accept mythic and religious imagery as scientific/historical explanations of phenomena; 4) various prevailing cultural norms are accepted as absolute moral imperatives, not subject to rational criticism; and 5) particular texts are idolatrously accepted as the essential foundation rather than the creative expression of religious faith. 12. I came across this definition of myth in a Jungian analysis of medieval romance, the title and author of which escapes me at the moment. 13. I am merely asserting the last of these three theoretical advantages and do not attempt to defend it explicitly in this paper.

14. At this point, I feel somewhat like Paul, whose gospel was, to the Jew, a stumbling block, and to the Greek, foolishness. Orthodox Christians imagine (understandably) that the legitimacy of their faith depends on the historical truth of the gospel narratives. They stumble at the notion that countless millions, past and present, have had a similar experience of faith and salvation–people who never heard the name of Christ, or have rejected the name because of that which they associate with it; people who, despite their ignorance of Jesus of Nazareth, or their repugnance to traditional Christianity, may, nonetheless, know Christ–in the Spirit, as it were–just as intimately as any orthodox believer. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to consider all god-talk to be foolishness. Preoccupation with such things, they might say, is a vestige of a more primitive (or perhaps infantile) stage of human development–something that one should cast aside in maturity. 15.

The right relation to our neighbor is more accurately construed as the effect, not the cause of our right relationship to God, although it may be the case that the two are inseparable. 16. Zarathustra teaches, *that man be delivered from revenge*, that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms (*Portable Nietzsche* 211). Philosophy Essays.