Can Faith Be Rational in the Face of Evil?

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Published:
September 29, 2022

The final Adult Bible Study Guide for 2022 focuses on death. Its writer, or “principal contributor” is Alberto R. Timm, who was named last month to be the associate director of the apologetics-focused Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference. In 1995, Timm earned his PhD from the Adventist Theological Seminary with a dissertation titled “The Sanctuary and the Three Angels’ Messages.” Originally from Brazil, Timm previously served as president of the multicampus Latin-American Adventist Theological Seminary. In this video, he explains that this quarter’s topic was not his choice but suggested by Cliff Goldstein, the ABSG editor. 

The memory text that kicks off this quarter’s exploration of the meaning of death is often associated with describing Lucifer, although the linguistic history is complicated. 

“How you have fallen from heaven, you star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who defeated the nations!” (Isa. 14:12, NASB).

The Hebrew word hêlēl is really more of a classical epithet, meaning “bearer of light,” which is what the Latin word lucifer means. Neither is a proper name in the Hebrew text, nor is it biblically associated with satan or the adversary of YHWH in the book of Job. The verses in Isaiah 14 are clearly discussing the king of Babylon, but the ABSG makes an argument for a shift in verse 12ff:

Isaiah 14:3–11 describes the fall of the haughty and oppressive king of Babylon. Then, Isaiah 14:12–15 moves from the historical realm to the heavenly courts and highlights that a similar proud and arrogant spirit generated the original fall of Lucifer.

But in this week’s lesson, those linguistic details are minor compared to the larger need to use the text to kick off our three-month exploration of the cause of death. It’s evil. Yes, we are discussing the Great Controversy theme. 

As the first day of the lesson states, “We need to go back, even before the Fall, in order to find the source and origins of the evil that so dominates our present existence and that at times can make it pretty miserable.” In paragraphs that seem to repeat much of the Genesis-focused Sabbath school quarterly from April–June, this opening to the lesson explores ideas such as “Creation, an Expression of Love” and “The Price of Pride.” It’s death. Drawing on a variety of proof texts and Ellen G. White, the lesson blames evil on this Old Testament tempting composite character, the prideful light-bringer and antagonist of the divine and human. As it concludes the Wednesday lesson, “Here are the mysterious origins of evil in the universe.”

For those looking to mix some philosophy with mystery, Robert Audi, the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, gives a lecture at the College of the Holy Cross titled "The Problem of Evil: Can Faith Be Rational in the Face of the Horrific Evils of this World?" In this talk, “Audi draws upon epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics to argue that moral wrongs and natural disasters are rational under God. Rather than focusing on the cosmic perspective on the problem of evil, he also proposes a theocentric approach: Could a combination of good and evil in the world be of value to God's experience?”

 


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum

Title image: Fallen Angel by Alexandre Cabanel, 1847 (public domain)

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