Stump Symposium on Evil: A Few Questions


I’m wondering if anyone can help me with these clarificatory questions that have arisen after reading Professor Stump’s thoroughly interesting article.

1) As Stump presents Saadia, he is of the opinion that those who are mostly righteous are punished in this world so that their remaining sins do not prevent them from enjoying eternal reward. I’m left wondering when God decides to enact this punishment? Here’s the problem I see. Suppose person S qualifies as one of Saadia’s (mostly) righteous. Suppose S is 70 years old. Now, assuming 70 still has time to repent for her remaining sins, there still remains time for S to forestall punishment due for those sins. But once God punishes S for those sins so as to ensure S gets eternal reward, God has closed off the opportunity to S to repent. Is this a problem or is Saadia happy to accept that God knows in advance that S will not repent for those sins and hence undertakes to punish S during the remaining years of her life?
2) On page 537, Saadia is presented as understanding a trial to be undertaken by God if and only if God knows that the agent will endure it. Does Saadia have anything to say on the following verse in Genesis found after Abraham had passed his trial “Do not stretch your hand against the lad … for NOW I KNOW that you are a God-fearing man” (22: 12). In other words, the verse seems to indicate that trials do not involve God’s knowing the result of the trial. I realize that this point opens up the God and time can of worms, but I find it an interesting component of what a trial is and therefore a hinge on which a theodicy must swing.
3) Assumedly a trial of a seemingly innocent person will engender doubts or questions about either God’s being just or God’s existence in those around him. This feature of evil is demonstrate, I think, quite nicely by the conversational nature of Job and the traditions in the Midrash that Sarah died upon hearing that Abraham had “killed” Isaac. Can Saadia account for the “collateral damage” of a trial on those around the tested individual? Surely those seeing a seemingly righteous person suffer aren’t themselves being punished or punished for the sake of future rewards. Are they enduring this evil for the sake of character building, Saadia’s second category? Would this be a suitable answer from Saadia?
  1. Anonymous

    I appreciate these helpful questions. As for the first, I don't think that for Saadia repentance always finishes the job of healing in a person's psyche what that person's wrongdoing wrecked. Just as overeating and other unhealthy lifestyles leave their marks on a person's body, so wrongdoing leaves its marks on a person's psyche. It can be that repentance does not remove all those marks. In that case, for the psyche, some kind of suffering can do the job, just as exercise and fasting can in the case of the bodily marks of unhealthy living. No foreknowledge or middle knowledge is needed for God to know what he needs to know in order to apply suffering well in such cases; knowledge of the past and present is sufficient. As for the case of Abraham, the issue is not whether God is successful in figuring out what the state of affairs as regards Abraham's psyche is. The issue is whether there is something determinate to know in Abraham's psyche. Until Abraham makes his decision to sacrifice Isaac, there is an indeterminacy in Abraham's pysche that prevents knowledge, since there is as yet nothing there to know. For a lot more detail on the story of Abraham, and especially the story of the binding of Isaac, you might want to look at Chpater 11 in my WANDERING IN DARKNESS.NARRATIVE AND THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING. Eleonore Stump

  2. Anonymous

    I am sorry to have posted as anonymous, but I am traveling; and the only thing the internet system here will accept to let me post a comment is ANONYMOUS. So that's how posts from me will go till I get home again. Eleonore Stump

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