Jerry C. Brewer
The above title is a descriptive phrase of this world and its environment in which we live. The phrase was coined by the English poet, John Keats, in a letter to his brother, George, and his wife, just a few days before he died, describing one of two views he held of the world. Keats was born Oct. 31, 1795 and died at age 25 on Feb. 23, 1821. Keats used the phrase in a way that was not necessarily descriptive of the Biblical view of the world, but it does, in fact, describe the world, according to Thomas B. Warren in his book, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?.
In it, brother Warren refuted and annihilated the argument atheists have always made against God’s existence because of “the problem of evil” and set forth a proposition saying, “This world is as good as any possible world for the purpose God had in creating it (that is, to be the ideal environment for ‘soul making’)” (p. 21). In arguing the proposition, he described our world and its environment as “a vale of soul making” in the Biblical sense in the following words:
Relevant to the explication of proposition W9 [the proposition stated above, JB] is the teaching of the Scriptures that prior to his creation of man and the world, God, because he is omniscient, had a plan. The plan involved the creation of a being (who would have descendants like himself) who would be capable of entering into fellowship with him, who would be capable of becoming a son of God, who (thus) would have to be capable of deciding to freely believe him, to love him with all of his heart, to submit to him in obedience, and whom God could love and eventually glorify. In the light of Bible teaching, we conclude that this is basically the one purpose which God had in creating the world. Because God is infinite in knowledge, he foresaw (if such is proper language in referring to God, who transcends time) that in order to have such a being, that being (man) would have to live in an environment which was ideally suited for the accomplishment of this purpose. The ideal environment would surely be one which allowed man to be a free moral agent (thus providing an ‘epistemic distance’ between man and God). It would reveal God to man without overwhelming man, so that he is not really free. Yet, it would not necessitate a ‘gap’ so large that man could not be drawn to God” (pp.44, 45).
His argument for this world as a “vale of soul making” is predicated wholly upon man’s free moral agency. As I view the “gap” he mentions above, I am reminded of Paul’s statement in Romans that one can know God’s eternal power by the “invisible things of him from the creation of the world” (Rom. 1:20). That is the physical “gap.” God does not “overwhelm” men by his appearance to them. That would remove their free moral agency. Neither does God draw men to Him and save them in a direct way. That, too, would violate God’s purpose of creating man as a free moral agent. The spiritual “gap” is that man (as a free moral agent) is provided the choice and opportunity to know and come to God through his own intellect by being drawn through the gospel (John 6:44-45; Rom. 1:16), because man, of his own free will, desires fellowship with God. He further argues that this “vale of soul making” must be an environment that offers “challenges” to man. The first, he says is the challenge to “become and live as a son of God and a brother to one’s fellow man at a possible very high price (a great deal of sacrifice)” (p. 46).
He continues to delineate his meaning by noting that, “…it would allow the occurrence of various forms of adversity …by which all lesser events might be interpreted properly” (p. 46). This, he said, “…would allow man (if he reacted properly) to rejoice in the various forms of adversity or tribulation” (ibid). Then, after noting many of the ways in which men suffer, brother Warren says,
If man is to be truly free, it must be possible for such things to happen. …not even Omnipotence can prevent a man from mistreating his neighbor without infringing upon his character as a free moral agent. As surely as there are free moral agents living in a law abiding physical world (so that when a lead bullet is shot at a man’s head destruction will follow) there must be the possibility of human suffering (as well as animal pain) (pp. 70, 71).
One of atheism’s arguments addressed by brother Warren is that of human suffering—that an Omnipotent God would not allow the good to suffer as well as the evil. But he shows that this “vale of soul making” is designed with the possibility for all humans to suffer because they are free moral agents. If God prevented any human suffering, He would not be God and man would not be a free moral agent.
If…one could avoid any and all adversity (pain, disease, suffering, etc.) by simply becoming a (spiritual) son of God, [i.e. being ‘born again’: John 3:1-5; Gal. 3:27-27; Rom. 6:3-5], then man would not be living in an ideal environment for soul making for the simple reason that he would not have a situation in which a challenge would be involved in his decision to become a son of God. Men would be tempted to become sons of God solely in order to escape having cancer, being injured or killed in an automobile accident, etc. Becoming a son of God must involve the challenge of possible suffering because of such a decision.
It is also true that, in some instances, righteous men suffer longer and more intensely than do very wicked men. …In the case of the suffering of righteous persons (spiritual sons of God) there is the added factor that the sufferer himself can profit from the suffering. Suffering can be a value even to the faithful son of God: there are some ‘mountains’ of spiritual attainment which can be reached best by going down through the ‘valleys’ which lie in front of them. The son of God thus can see better that this life will soon be over, that the truly important things in human life pertain to the soul (of himself and of his neighbor), etc. and thus be helped to a better understanding and appreciation of the love of God (pp. 78, 79).
If we understand that life in this physical world, which is a preparatory state, lasting only a moment in view of eternity, is to fit us to live with God forever, and challenges us in both spiritual and physical ways in coming to God, then this life becomes more bearable because of our hope in Christ. Jesus suffered far more than any of us, though He was guiltless, thus becoming our example in suffering in pursuit of eternal glory (John 17:4-5).
And, finally, Paul expressed what brother Warren set forth in his book: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). This life, though it may extend beyond three score and ten years, is not even an infinitesimal “blip” on the radar screen of eternity.
Work Cited: Thomas B. Warren, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?, 1972, The Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville.