Cliff's Edge

Cliff's Edge

What is 20 or 50 or 89 years of bad in a cage fight against an infinite time of good?

Clifford Goldstein

The pain in the world always outweighs the pleasure,” wrote Arthur Schopenhauer. “If you don’t believe it, compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is eating the other.”

How nice to get pleasure from your spouse’s kiss, even if, just beyond the sound of the smooch, a 6-year-old is, maybe, being molested by daddy. Is your delight in a chocolate mousse diluted by the bloated belly of a starving child across the sea? A cost-of-living increase is great, even if at day’s end a homeless man’s empty cup isn’t. And how does one compare parents’ emotions at a child’s diploma with those at a child’s death certificate?

I have a Bible, 1,175 pages long. Of those, only pages 1 through 3 and 1174 through 1175 outline a Paradise in which the good outweighs the bad because there is no bad. In contrast, pages 4-1173 are, even with the hope of the gospel echoed in each one, ravaged with violence, war, sickness, death, corruption, incest, crime, lust, greed, revenge, hate, starvation—every imaginable evil and every evil imaginable.

What’s the logic, then, that argues that the God revealed in the Bible can’t exist because of evil, when the Bible that reveals this God records, simultaneously, the evil that supposedly negates His existence? Bible writers who recounted all the evil affirmed not just the existence of God but His love and goodness as well. Even amid the ravages in pages 4 through 1173 of the Bible, the goodness of God and the grace He offers exist. These writers, obviously, saw no contradiction between the one (evil) and the other (God’s goodness).

Of course, five pages of Paradise (pp. 1-3 and pp. 1174, 1175) to 1,770 pages of a fallen world (p. 4 through p. 1173) is a dismal ratio. However, on the last page, 1175, a text about the redeemed saints reads: “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).

“For ever and ever”— that is, infinite time. Though dealing with finite numbers is hard enough—having read a bit about mathematician David Hilbert’s work with different infinities (yes, there are different infinities)—I know that when infinity is introduced into the equation, weird things happen. And in this case the weirdness is great news.

Yes, a ratio of five to 1,770, with five the good and 1,770 the bad, sounds depressing. But a ratio of 1,770 to infinite time, when 1,770 is the bad and infinite time the good, creates another reality, one eternally in our favor. What is 20 or 50 or 89 years of bad in a cage fight against an infinite time of good? Divided by “for ever and ever,” this dismal existence here comes to nothing, even less than nothing. Our hard lives end in a death that seems to us, when dead, a quiet moment only before we awaken to an eternity of the good.

In depicting the scriptural ratio between good and evil, God made the math work in our favor, infinitely so.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book, titled Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is set to be released this fall by Pacific Press.

Clifford Goldstein