Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Problem of a God Who Allows Suffering, pt. II

This is a bit of a rehash on the topic found in a previous post of mine, The Problem of a God Who Allows Suffering. But as I often re-examine my own ideas, I try to see them from different angles. This time, my thoughts were prompted by the questions a friend of mine posted on Facebook. He asked,
"Whenever something 'bad' happens everyone asks for prayers. Everyone says God answers prayers, but if what they're praying for doesn't happen they always say 'it's what God wanted'. 'It was their time' Then why pray if God is already making the decision?"
 Below is my response. What are your thoughts on this issue? I'm always glad to hear them!

I do believe in God, but I don't think God operates on our terms. A ton of
problems humans face are created either by the actions of other humans, themselves, or by systems that humans have set up. In this regard, I think the purpose of faith is a complete change of character, in how we treat others and how we organize the systems which rule our lives. In this way, God ends up acting through the lives of human beings.

As far as natural things that hurt and kill us (earthquakes, floods, disease, asteroids, etc.), I think that these stem from the necessary amount of chaos which exists in the universe to allow for things like free will or uncertainty of action (probability) while also allowing for a relatively stable universe (determinism). If God is actually a God who desires personal relationship with people, then that would only be possible if their actions were probabilistic instead of deterministic. We find an analogy in physics, where many things in quantum theory are probabilistic, while the overarching standard laws of physics tend to be deterministic in nature.

Which means, again, that it is up to human beings to reflect the desires and compassion of God in how we react to such disasters (i.e. through aid to the needy, disaster relief, etc.) When we choose to care for each other, we best reflect the character of God. This is why Jesus says the entire Torah (Jewish Law) can be found in two rules: Love God with everything we are, and love our neighbor as ourself. We fulfill the first by doing the second. And we do the second when we sacrifice what we have, even what we are, for others.

While I think it's good to ask God for help, I think its better to ask God how we can reflect God's character in the situation we are going through. We are given a hint of this character (I believe, anyway) in the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He becomes the model by which we live, and the redemption and resolution we find in a life following Him is the vehicle God uses to spread grace throughout the world.

You might say, “Why doesn't God just intervene and stop the nonsense?” I think the key to answering this is in just how we define God. Most people define God through terms of knowledge: God is omniscient (knows everything that is and will be), God is omnipresent (everywhere), and God is omnipotent (all powerful). I don't think these are exactly correct. I think they were when God created the cosmos, but once chaos was introduced into the mix (“the void” or “the seas” is a term the Bible often uses), it meant that the future could change. I do think that God is present in the future as well as the future, but that's a little misleading, as there is no thing called “the future.” There are probable futures, and God is present in all of them.

This means that no matter what possible suffering we could experience, God suffers with us. We may not experience every possible future, but I believe God does, including the one we will eventually face. So, instead of omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; I define God by the attributes found in the revealed Christ: God is imminent (experiences our suffering, and indeed the movement of every particle in the cosmos), God is transcendent (God extends beyond the cosmos, to all possible futures, and even into non-existence), and God is good (despite the suffering we face, as fellow creatures of freedom with the ability to create and destroy, God loves us and has compassion on us – and desires that we do the same).

So does praying do any good? I think it helps us to quiet ourselves, commune with God, and hopefully better reflect God's character in the midst of our suffering. But will God always intervene miraculously? Not if we are to remain creatures of freedom, created in God's image. If all suffering, chaos, and freedom were removed from the cosmos, we would just be a lab experiment or puppets on a stage and would no longer really be human.

I think that sometimes God does intervene miraculously (and definitely did so in the life of Christ), but only to the extent to which we are still able to make our own future and on a statistically negligible basis. I say statistically negligible, based on recent studies regarding the efficacy of prayers for patients in hospitals. I think that if, and when, God does heal someone, it's on His own terms.

#suffering #God #atheism #christianity #DivineIntervention #Providence #probability #determinism #arminianism

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