Jan 16, 2012


What is serendipity, you might ask?  Pondering over a blog entry on another facet of the loss of faith only to see that only 42% of Americans are prepared to answer in the negative when asked if "any of Tim Tebow's successes can be attributed to divine intervention."

As an undergrad at Oklahoma Baptist, I was annoyed by classmates saying: "Good things happened, therefore God is good!"  Well, "Bad things happened, therefore God is ..." what, exactly?  If my friend on Facebook was correct when he posted just now that God prevented deaths in his car wreck, then what about the wrecks where people did die?  If God intervenes in the universe so as to be held responsible for the good, then why is he not responsible for the bad?

I knew a girl ... abandoned by her vile mother, raised in an orphanage, raped as a pre-teen, abducted by would-be child pornographers, dragged onto national TV over said incident, and then, later, abducted again by a former boyfriend, tortured for weeks and dumped at a bus stop only to linger for a month for a brutal series of operations and infections and then die.  I was considerably affected by her death, and I mention it specifically as it provided a key part of the emotional impetus necessary to leave faith.

We are asked to believe that an all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful being presides over the universe.  I find this proposition difficult to reconcile with the horror of Kinche's life--or with the lives of any of the hundreds of kids that I met in the orphanage system.  God--in the Christian conception--wanted to stop this from happening, knew how to stop this from happening, and was capable of so doing, and yet ... didn't.

There were many people who failed to stop what happened to her, of course.  I couldn't save her, because I didn't know how.  The doctors couldn't save her--assuming that they did their best (which I don't), they simply did not have the power in skill and technology.  But what do we say about a person who knew exactly where she was being held, knew exactly how to help her, and yet refrained?

Well, he had better have a damn good reason--maybe his resources were limited, maybe he was physically incapable of doing what was necessary, maybe even Superman has to sleep.  But none of those reasons really apply to God.

Now, other traditions get around this problem in various ways.  In Greco-Roman polytheism, the gods aren't necessarily good.  In the Norse tradition, they are noble, valiant, and wise (if flawed and not exactly nice) but neither all-powerful nor all-knowing.  The Calvinists sidestep the issue entirely and call god evil.  But the grandiose claims of Christianity allow for no such easy out.

The best that I could do in struggling with faith--the best that anyone has ever done--was to posit that God has some sort of prime directive: a non-interference policy, if you will.  Perhaps He values human free will enough to leave us be--though in cases like children dying in natural disasters, even that's a stretch--or maybe there is some other, incomprehensible reason.

But there's no way out of that problem that allows for the willy-nilly interventionism of God mucking about in football games on behalf of a certain ostentatious exemplar of Matthew 6:5, or for God to have a wonderful plan for you life, or be watching over you.  The girl I mentioned was a believer in the evangelical sense: profession of faith and all.  What was the wonderful plan that God had for her life?  How was the outcome any different for the fact that He was watching over her?

Incomprehensibility ("My ways are higher than your ways") might solve the problem, but it raises another: if we can't understand God's plan, then what grounds do we have for calling it good?  Non-interference might solve the problem, but this leads us deeper still.  In my previous entry, I asked how we could tell the difference between us talking and God talking--and if we can't, then how can we tell that there is a God?  If He sends rain on both the just and the unjust alike, then how do we know that it's Him sending the rain at all, and not, say, the water cycle?  How do we tell the difference between a universe wherein God does not act, and a universe wherein God does not exist?


  1. Wow, sounds confusing.

    The evil God challenge, the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, and not to mention the relationship between faith and reason.

    Not the best idea to confuse these even though they are interrelated.

    Sounds like you've been exposed to a lot of leave-your-brain-at-the-door christianity. You even reproduce it on call, 'The Calvinists sidestep the issue entirely and call god evil.' Regardless if it is true or not, this is polarised (north american?) christian rhetoric that people (you?) are fooled by, which you evidence with the stupidity that you cite in the post earlier with the Teebow stuff.

    Instead of producing either or scenarios as the (north american?) church seems to excel in, which you seem to be replicating, perhaps an I don't know, or some balance might be appropriate at times.

    Perhaps God is something other than created which we cannot know fully as created beings. Maybe this calls for some intellectual humility on our part as we grapple with it all.

    Don't confuse intellectual humility with leaving your brain at the door. They are not mutually exclusive ideas.

    Happy journeying:)

  2. Don't confuse a cheap (though well deserved) shot at Calvinism with regurgitation; most of the opinion leaders of the denomination that I grew up in ARE Calvinists, I hardly got that from them. It's just that ... well, it's a theological system that would make HP Lovecraft wet himself, as I've mentioned on this blog before. Would post the link, but it's hard from the phone.

    I haven't confused the ideas, I'm merely using a set of interrelated questions to get at the problem of knowing. Intellectual humility is always called for, at least insofar as it means acknowledging the limits of human minds, but not when it amounts to special pleading. Admitting that we might be wrong is one thing, but claiming that we're still right even though we have no idea how it may be so is another altogether.

  3. Mindless Christianity does significant damage to the concept of a loving, caring God. Like extremists anywhere who purport to KNOW that their brand of religion has THE answer for all, they are self-serving children looking to feel better about themselves and their self-righteous ways.

    I experience "God" in the people around me and the inner goodness that struggles to live through my very selfish nature. When I spend time cultivating that inner goodness and simply learn to be present I find that I encounter a presence within me that astonishes me with its richness and beauty.

    I commend to you the writings of John Shelby Spong. Here's a tiny sample....

    "The God I met in Jesus was not an invasive divine power who entered this world from outer space. I rather experienced God as the primal life force that surges through all living things, but which comes to self-consciousness only in human life and was somehow uniquely seen in its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth. I also experienced God as that power of love that always expands the levels of consciousness in which all of us share and into which we evolve as we become more deeply and fully human. This was for me a breakthrough into a new religious understanding. "

    I see God as Spong does - a power of love that we can either embrace or not at our own will. This isn't a God who reaches down and decides who lives and who dies or whether or not someone gets healed by the power of prayer. Those concepts are simply ridiculous.

    Is it possible that the combined mindpower of prayer directed toward a given outcome might actually make a difference? I simply don't know that answer. but whatever that answer is, I'm convinced that it has nothing to do with an intervention by "God" unless one defines "God" as the combined will of a group of people.

    I wish you well as you travel your journey and will leave this with a quote that has been helpful to me by a person that has dramatically influenced my life.

    "People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost." - the Dalai Lama