Saturday, July 05, 2008

Is God Good?

Lore says:

"As for Birth Defects, your omnivirtuous God allows this to happen to devout Christian families, like he lets floods indiscriminately kill believers and non-believers alike. You may argue that God's love persists past life, but God then must think nothing of the feelings of the people left behind."

I says:

Theodicy is a theological term which refers to justifying God's ways. Is God just? Why would God, for example allow the planes to fly into the Twin Towers? Why would God either allow or send a tsunami? This is a topic which has received a vast amount of attention, thought, etc. The Bible covers it in the book of Job. The basic answer in Job might be characterized as "I am God -- and you are not!".

Beyond this, the first fact that must be emphasized is that we live in a fallen world. Mankind's rebellion against God, characterized in the account of Adam and Eve, was catastrophic. It affected not only man's nature, so that human nature is a fallen nature, but it also affected nature itself. God sets boundaries. Chaos and disorder results in violating the boundaries God has set. Whether it is a tsunami breaking past the "lawful" boundaries set for the sea, a rebellious cancer cell breaking into the good cells, or the breaking of sexual boundaries. For example, God created us as male and female. Told us to multiply. And told children to honor their parents -- mother and father. We are now in a whole world of pain because man has violated those boundaries -- with the latest preposterous headline being that "Man gives birth", and the State of California making it illegal for teachers to teach children that there are "boys" and there are "girls" -- because this is now considered a politically-charged, contentious, potentially discriminatory statement. Sin is, in this sense, violating the good boundaries that a good God has set. And we complain when it has consequences we don't like!

There is also the Devil. Atheists generally are materialists. As materialists, they must deny the reality of any immaterial thing. This includes a whole raft of things including God, angels, spirits, and devils, not to mention, as I have been arguing, the objective independent reality of immaterial things such as love, honor, boolean logic, authority, law, consciousness, will, etc.

So into this stew of a good, almighty, and wise God, a rebellious angel who took a third of the heavenly hosts with him, a fallen creation and a fallen human race, we come.

So, yes, "bad things happen to good people" and an innocent couple give birth to a child with birth defects who is dearly loved by God. This was a problem for a rabbi, Kushner, who wrote a book. He, like others, rather than sacrificing the goodness of God, said that God in fact was not all-powerful.

I come at it a different way. I believe we look at the problem anthropomorphically -- from a human's viewpoint; we need to look at the problem from God's point of view. I believe we vastly over-estimate the innocence and innate goodness of human beings and vastly underestimate our sinfulness, our fallenness, our pride, our rebellion etc. And I say this from an experiential point of view. Having delved into the holiness of God, and the demands of God for obedience, discipleship, etc. I can echo Jeremiah's estimation: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?".

According to a theistic as opposed to anthropomorphic viewpoint, man's sin (the degree to which he falls short of God's glory) before God is huge, his guilt in rejecting God and going his own way is huge, the disrespect he shows towards God by refusing to acknowledge him is huge, his over-estimation of his own goodness and self-righteousness is huge, etc. etc. I believe that is why, when it came time for Jesus to designate mankind, he refers to us as "sinners" -- in the eyes of God, this is our defining characteristic. And yet we are so blind we don't even see it!

In this light, God would be perfectly just in abandoning the project entirely, destroying the human race, and starting over, (this would please the multiverse crowd who dream of millions of universes popping into place). And, in a couple of places in Scripture he hints that that was an option. Instead, starting with Adam when he clothes Adam and Eve and promises the coming of the man (Christ) who will bruise the serpent's head (Satan), through the call of Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and then culminating in Jesus Christ, He has been at work to redeem (buy back) the human race and call it back to himself.

So, the problem re-stated is not, "why do bad things happen to good people?", it is "why do good things happen to bad people?". The real problem is, given our state of rebellion, and God's holy and just removal of his presence from us, is why things aren't much worse. And that is because he is good.

The couple with a child with birth defects. What did they do to deserve this that the couple next door with the healthy child did not? Probably nothing. Here's the point. Sin entered the world. It has infected everything. It's like contaminated air, contaminated drinking water, contaminated everything. And, sin is not fair. Sin does not work on a system of justice. It works on a principle of chaos. That is one of the reasons that sin is so sinful -- it disrupts the justice of God, it creates the chaos I talked about. The birth defects could be genetic, they could be because of environmental contamination, they could be because of spiritual conflicts, direct sin, any number of causes in this fallen-into-disorder world.

Let me also underline the point about God's withdrawal from the planet. (Not entirely, of course. He is still omnipresent, but he has largely withdrawn his felt presence which was the original intent of creation -- that there would be a material world and a spiritual world interacting and in harmony.) God gave the Earth to Adam. And he was serious when he did this. Adam effectively handed the reigns over to Satan, whom Paul characterizes as the god of this world, whose main job is to blind the hearts of men and women so that they cannot "see" God. So God has withdrawn, because he was "dis-invited". But he is working to redeem and restore. He sent prophets; we killed them. He sent His Son; we killed Him, compounding our guilt. A recent sign at a rally in favor of a particular form of sexual licentiousness said, "if Jesus comes back, kill him again". So, the rejection of God is not just an act in history, it is ongoing. With God's presence withdrawn, it's like a tire without air, a car without gas, trees without sunlight, etc. -- it is disordered.

In the light of man's stubborn rebellion, God's acts of love and mercy are huge. Not only does He reveal his grandeur in nature, which anyone can see, He sends us prophets. He performs miracles to display his power and confirm his message. He sends His Son. And, here's the kicker, not just so we may be forgiven and be restored sons of Adam. What he offers us is much, much, more. He offers to adopt us as his own children, to become, not just sons of Adam, but to become sons and daughters of the living God in union with Christ, God who became a man, so that in Him, man could inherit the divine nature and the position of sons of God. That is why I say that "the gospel is too good not to be true" -- no man could imagine or make it up: man's pride is debased, God's glory re-asserted, and yet God elevates us to a place undreamt of at great personal cost and humiliation to Himself.

It is perhaps in the light of all of this that the apostle Paul says that the present sufferings in this world are not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed.

The Christian faith thus satisfactorily answers both the question, "why is this world so wonderful and good?" and the other side of the coin, "why is this world the pits?".

So yes, God is good.

* * *

Lore says:

"If GOD did his job well, we wouldn't have to ask why. We'd believe because it was obvious."

God has structured the present fallen world so that there is sufficient external information and sufficient inner longings, to motivate persons to seek whether of not there is a God, and if so, does He have a particular name or identity. Here's the rub: the idea that we can work it all out by ourselves with the information in front of us appeals to the man's pride of mind: "I can figure this out"; "I have the intellectual smarts to decide whether God exists or not", etc.

In fact, the Bible teaches that God is revelatory. While it does characterize those who do not believe in God as "fools", it also states "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?". Think of the birth of Christ. God did not reveal his birth to a single one of the professional religious figures living in Jerusalem, not to a single intellectual, etc. He revealed Christ's birth to outcast shepherds and to (gasp) Gentile astrologers in a foreign country. That was His choice, his right -- and He exercised it.

This puts God in charge, not man -- exactly the appropriate remedy to debase man's sinful pride.

Jesus specifically said that no man can come to Him unless the Father draws him, and no man can come to the Father except through Christ. So, the knowledge of God involves intellectual investigation, but it also involves the disposition of the heart, and (gasp again), prayer.

"You're whole argument is specious because anything you can say in support of God, I can poke a shadow of doubt in. No evidence holds up. You haven't provided anything that I haven't been able to shoot down."

Well, you tried to shoot down the fulfilled prophecy argument, but the restoration of the Jews to the land of Israel after 2,000 years of not being a nation, as prophesied in the Bible still looks pretty good to me. It's unprecedented. You can always say coincidence, but I think it holds up pretty well. And, the prophecy that the gospel would be preached to the world has some weight. If the Jesus movement had petered out, or shriveled to a minor sect somewhere, it would negate the prophecy. But the gospel has been preached in all the world and is being preached in all the world.

I think you might have suggested that Jesus Christ didn't even exist. Even secular historians don't say this anymore. And I think the evidence for the resurrection, on purely historical-critical grounds is rock solid. And I think the evidence of the anthropic principle, by itself, is compelling -- I'm going to do a fresh post on it.

I think cumulatively the evidence holds up pretty well. And remember this: most of what we believe is based on probabilities, not "proven" to a mathematical certainty.

"In the end, people should believe in whatever gives them comfort. People should not push their beliefs on others (including their children) and should not denigrate those who disbelieve."

People should believe what is true.

No comments:

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"