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Questions that death prompts

Clinton
Chisholm

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The year was in the early 1980s, in my hometown, Montego Bay. The event? A funeral at Calvary Baptist Church — the old location on Market Street near Sam Sharpe Square. It was a packed church and yard. Most of us who were just passing by had to stand outside the fences hoping to hear the public address system to have an idea what was going on in the service.

For the very young and the forgetful, 1980 was the year that Jamaica began its ghastly affair with murders; people were being killed like it was the latest fad.

At this funeral at Calvary Baptist a man who was very late asked a deceptively simple question of no one in particular, but it registered with me: “A dead 'im dead ar a kill dem kill 'im?”

He got no answer, as I recall it, but it did not matter.

There is a profound edge to that seemingly simple question. His question was, no doubt, on many other minds; he simply voiced it.

Was the individual allowed the expected luxury or right to die (of infirmity or old age) or was his life cut short by murder?

The recent brutal death of young Shantae Skyers understandably provoked questions about life and of God and 'Earth runnings'. The primal questions 'why did God allow her to die this way?' and 'where was God when she was being raped and murdered?' are perfectly understandable and come even from Christians.

As members of Gregory Park Baptist Church we lamented the brutal murder of one of our young girls, Tricia-lee Wynter, months ago, and no doubt some of our members wrestled with the same questions.

Two clergy colleagues/friends have provided sensitive responses to the questions regarding Shantae's murder. I refer to Rev Dr Wayneford McFarlane (Methodist) on Television Jamaica's Smile Jamaica on Easter Monday and Episcopalian priest Fr Raulston Nembhard in the Jamaica Observer newspaper last week.

My little addendum here adds to the appeal my brothers and others made to the dynamics of human free will, a mischievous [irreverent?] counter question, especially for critics of religion, plus an attempt at clarifying a popular misconception about qualities/attributes of God.

The mischievous counter question is this: Why does God allow any of us to live and do badness, misdeeds or evil in exercise of our free will? And lest we forget it, God is where God always is, no matter what we are doing.

Isn't it a bit odd that we question God's existence and location only when we see the awful consequences of free will exercised by others, but never when we are the ones indulging free will to do wrong/evil? God's existence and location do not matter when one is sleeping around, defrauding others in business, treating people like trash, etc, etc! I find that interesting, if inconsistent.

Clarification is needed on the divine attribute of omnipotence. As my former philosophy lecturers William Lane Craig and J P Moreland say, “God's being omnipotent does not imply that he can do logical impossibilities, such as make a round square or make someone freely choose to do something.” ( Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, IVP, 2003, 538)

As the renowned Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga puts it, “Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely.

“To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.” (Cited in Ronald H Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith, Academie Books, 1988, 190)

So, then, God could either create a world with free-willed creatures (including the possibility of evil) or he could create a world minus free-willed creatures and minus the possibility of evil; but he could not create both. God chose to create a world with free-willed creatures; therefore, he cannot be held morally accountable for failing to do what he could not do.

Let me emphasise that, for Plantinga, “being significantly free” means being able to decide among options that are morally good or morally evil. Machines, however complex, do not attract moral responsibility for what they do. As the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft says, “If there is no free will, all moral meaning disappears from language — and from life.” (In his Handbook of Christian Apologetics, IVP,1994, 137)

Short of ongoing occasional divine intervention in our world and personal lives, one cannot avert the reality of bad things happening to good people at times. The comforting assurance is that if these good people are servants of God then even through these bad things God will work out his purposes (Romans 8.35-39).

By the way, there is no logical inconsistency between the 'omnis' concerning God (omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, etc) and the presence of evil in the world, as noted non-Christian philosophers like J L Mackie and William Rowe have admitted.

As we bewail the natural evils in our world, let us confess and repent of the moral evil within us.

My Jamaican and standard English versions of the petition in Psalm 90:12 that I shared at my murdered nephew's funeral last October may be apt in closing. The Jamaican version is in what my erudite friend Professor Carolyn Cooper would call chakka chakka spelling. Here it is: “Laad, mek wi count up de likkle time wah wi hav yah an' suh nuh live lakka eediat ar leggo beas'.”

My standard English version: “Teach us to count our days that we may wisely make our days count for you.”

 

Rev Clinton Chisholm is academic dean at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. Send comments to the Observer or clintchis@yahoo.com.