Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Holding God accountable.

I've been reading some different posts, in terms of reconciling the amount of suffering in the world with an all-loving, just, good, omnipotent God. You know, the usual problem of evil.

I'm going to pull from what one blog posted. Marie, at http://www.unbelieveanot.blogspot.com/
said the following:

I am reading a book about the war in Bosnia. Here is a passage...

"For a moment I could see nothing in the smoky gloom. My torch began to flicker, dimmed and died. I beat it back to life on my thigh and looked again. Three women looked back at me. They were kneeling in a small box-shaped pit sunk into the stone floor, huddled together in fear, their arms and hands entwined in support. Normally the hole would have been used to store grain and covered with the wooden trapdoor that now lay upright on its hinges behind their backs. It would have been the ideal place to hide. Close the lid and the pit would be nearly invisible. There would have been just enough room for three people to lie beneath it. What gave them away? I wondered. A cough? A sob?

Two of the women were in their twenties, the third was an old lady. Someone had shot her in the mouth and her shattered dentures cascaded with her own teeth down her front like mashed melon pips. One girl had been shot repeatedly in the chest. It was difficult to tell whether the other had her throat cut or been shot; a great gash of blood cresented her neck. The expression on their faces had survived the damage. It was so clear. A time-valve that opened directly on to those last moments. So you saw what they saw. I hope beyond hope that I never see it again."

He also describes a man whose youngest daughter was raped beside him when he was on his death-bed. -- end quote from Marie's blog.

Those experiences are suffering, and they are evil. Plain and simple. It would be hideous of anyone to approach those people and say that it is all part of God's plan, and God's plan is good, and that God loves them so much.

The standard response to this is free will. That the above is a consequence of God giving man free will. Unless, of course, one is a Calvinist, and if that is the case, there's no issue. The problem with the free will argument is that it comes across as God valuing free will above all else. If someone decides to kill me and succeeds, my free will wasn't respected. The murderer's was. My free will was overridden by somebody else's.

Everyone has the freedom to make a choice, yes. But the freedom to make a choice does not coincide into the freedom to act on that choice. If our child is about to make a poor decision, we stop the child from using his/her free will. If an adult is about to commit a crime and we know about it, we are to report that adult, and thus stop the adult from acting on his/her free will. If we do not, we are held accountable for that crime, in the sense that we did nothing to stop it.

So wondering about evil in comparison to the Christian God is valid. Take the current situation in Darfur. It is very, very hard to hold onto any concept of justice in the world when atrocities like that occur. If you think about it enough, it can lead to questioning one's faith.

What's the most interesting part about those questions is the response it generally creates. Marie isn't the only one questioning, Slapdash is going so as well. Here's what I've seen so far.

Common response one: God isn't a genie, and only gives us what's best for us. Simply because you personally have had some bad things happen in your life is no excuse.

Problem with that response: The focus of the question is on situations such as Darfur. It has nothing to do with the individual, so that the response does is change the focus of the question and then attack the questioner as prideful and sinful. But this is attacking the person, rather than addressing the topic.

Common response two: God gave you free will, so you might choose something that's bad, but God also wants to make sure that you choose to love him, if you decide to do so.

Problem: Again, the focus shifts to the individual, and any bad things that might happen to the individual. It completely removes Darfur from the equation, and how the free will of those victims is violated over and over again. This has nothing to do with my free will, and again is attacking me, rather than addressing the topic.

Common response three: Who are we to question God, who is so far above us?

Problem: If you don't question God, how do you know you're actually following God? More to the point, how do you know you're following a good and just God, unless you ask questions? Otherwise, you run into the whole 'I was just following orders' mindset, and we've seen where that can lead. Plus, would you say this to a Holocaust survivor?

Common response four: God's ways are mysterious, and we're just a blip on eternity.

Problem: If God's ways are that mysterious, then again, how can you know anything about God? And if the whole point of this life is to get us to the right location in the afterlife ... what do you use for proof? If God is in fact not saving people from situations such as Darfur when people are praying, what guarantee is there that God would answer prayers in terms of getting to heaven? Or that the concept of salvation is correct? And again -- would you say this to a Holocaust survivor?

Common response five: Man is sinful, and this is the cost of his rebellion. We deserve nothing less.

Problem: This is a horrific viewpoint, holding all of humanity accountable for the actions of two people, and it's pretty much what a man who hits his wife or children would say. Also, would you say that someone who survived the Holocaust deserved that? Would you say that to the survivor's face?

Ultimately, none of the common responses deal with the matter on hand: why is there so much unrestricted evil in the face of claims about God. All of the responses turn the focus back to who is asking the original question, and lets God almost slide off the hook, letting the original problem dangle. And by accountable, I don't mean yelling at God about how everything is his fault. I mean accountable in holding God accountable to claims that God utters, as we would do for anyone. If God says that his character is all-loving, and all-just, what support is there for that, and can we see support of that in the world today?

Basically, the situation in terms of Darfur, or any other atrocity on that scale is essentially holding God accountable to what is said about him/her. If we are told that God is all-powerful, can we then be pointed to a demonstration of that power? Can we see prayers be answered by an all-loving, or just God, in order to back up the claim of God's characteristics? If we can't see a full-scale demonstration of that here, what validity do we have for holding onto a blissful paradise in the next life?

This post has nothing to do with anger, and nothing to do with pride. It has nothing to do with demanding that God answer my every fulfillment. It has to do with a sense of frustration in watching people asking honest, heart-felt questions, and watching the answers attempt to rip them apart without ever addressing the actual problem. I have a great deal more respect for someone who does hold to this view of God and says to me that they don't know why so much evil is allowed, but that they've experienced what the Bible has promised, compared to someone who smugly informs me that I'm a spoiled sinful person who simply wants my own way and God is all-good and such. Because I'm not asking on my behalf: I'm asking on those who have no voice, on those who seem to be put here only to suffer. It also has to do with the fact that if someone wants me to honestly evaluate their answer, they need to honestly answer my question, and not shift the topic to something self-focused. My life is incredibly blessed compared to about ... well, most of the world. Almost all of the world, actually. I am very aware of this, and grateful for this.

34 comments:

Marci B. said...

Have you ever read, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," by Rabbi Harold Kushner? He deals with these very questions, and his discussion is both challenging and validating. I think you might enjoy this book.

As a Jew, I have to wrestle with many of these questions, particulary in relation to the Holocaust, as well as many of the other persecutions that we have had to endure throughout our history. I do not believe, as some Jews do, that the Holocaust was sent to the Jews as punishment for something. I refuse to believe that God would do such a thing.

Anyway, thanks for letting me riff for a bit. I enjoy your blog.

Slapdash said...

My sister is reading that book right now, marci. I plan to borrow it when she's done.

From what she's told me about it, I think Rabbi Kushner concluded that God is not omnipotent, right?

Slapdash said...

Heather, thank you so much for writing this. My tone seems to be getting in the way of people engaging the actual question...I am thinking of directing people from Stupid Church People over here to check it out.

Heather said...

Hi, Marci.

Thanks for stopping by. I haven't read that book, but I've heard a lot of good things on it. It sounds like the author tackles the topic in a serious fashion, as opposed to diverting from what's being asked. I'll have to add it to my reading list.

The Holocaust and other events are always tricky to write about. It can be too easy to sling those around, while forgetting that it happened to actual, innocent people, and went unchecked for so long.

Slapdash,

Feel free to link to this. The post has been sitting in my head for a while, but your encounter at 'Stupid Church People' was pretty much the straw that broke the camel's back. :)

Mystical Seeker said...

I read Kushner's book many years ago, and I thought it was very good. It is true that Kushner believes that God is not omnipotent, but I believe that is the only way of resolving the problem of evil and still accept the existence of God.

Regarding common response two--I never understood the idea that free will is such an absolute virture that it is okay to exercise it in such a way that it make others into innocent victims. What about the free will of the victims of evil? Doesn't that count for anything? If I am a witness to a crime about to happen, and I can prevent it, should I stand back and do nothing out of respect for the free will of the perpetrator? This whole "free will" argument is nonsense. I have free will to make morally neutral choices--like what cereal to eat, who to love, what poetry to write. But free will that is not mutual between the parties involved, when evil takes place, isn't free will at all.

Common response three sounds like the ending to the book of Job, which I never cared for. It is a cop out, as far as I am concerned.

zilch said...

A very good post, Heather. I suppose it's fairly obvious that one solution to this paradox is to not believe in God, as I don't. This immediately dissolves all these unanswerable questions of how evil can exist if God is good: there simply is no God, and there is no evil.

But there remains suffering, and the violation of the free will of innocents. Being an atheist doesn't make these very real problems any easier to solve, unfortunately.

Mystical Seeker said...

As Marcus Borg and I'm sure many others have said, when one says that one doesn't believe in God, "Tell me the God you don't believe in, and I probably don't believe in that God either".

There may be reasons for not believing in God, but the problem of evil is not one of them. When people say that suffering is an argument against believing in God, my response is simply to point out that the real problem is with the attributes that they are assigning to the God they don't believe in.

zilch said...

Well, God is commonly assigned the attributes of being almighty (whatever that means) and good (whatever that means). If one does not feel that the suffering of innocents is good, then there's a problem with those attributes, or with believing in God. At least one has to do some powerful apologetic squooshing to get these things in one sack without one or another popping out.

But for the record: I'm an atheist because I'm a naturalist, and I don't see any evidence for God's existence, but I see lots of evidence that people make stuff up, and stuff that builds societies gets saved and sanctified.

Nothing wrong with that, as long as it works. But there's nothing supernatural about it either.

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree that reconciling a benevolent and an omnipotent God is a pretty difficult task. However, God is assigned lots of attributes by different people. The point is that there is nothing inherent to the conception of God per se that requires omnipotence. I always feel like I need to stress that, because sometimes people who point to the problem as evil as an a argument against the existence of God are betraying a certain set of unstated assumptions about the nature of God, and omnipotence is one of them.

Spiritbear said...

These are all valid questions and viewpoints. I too am questioning but not to the level of Slapdash and Marie. I think that may be because they say God hasnt answered them and I believe he has answered me. Not in a voice or miracle but just in still small voice. I believe because I know Jesus is real and he loves me. Which brings me to what to do with things that seem out of his character. I am big on free will and have been accused of leaning toward deism because of my God doesnt intervene belief. I believe Calvin was a heretic and mentally ill.

How about the fact that for thousands of years people have tried to use God as an excuse for doing bad things. Dont quote scripture at me. I dont necessarily buy it. I think there is a lot of truth out there in the Bible but its tainted by the Jewish and Catholic slant.

I dont claim to understand genocide, but it seems out of the character of the God I know personally and see in the teachings of Jesus.

Also I find it interesting that people who have a problem with suffering (me included) have suffered some but the early Christians and the Anabaptists were willing to hold fast in their own suffering unto death.

You should watch the Radicals. Its the story of Michael Sattler who is a man I admire a lot. They beat him, cut his tongue out. Shoved hot pokers in him and ripped him up and while still alive burned him at the stake. Who did this? The catholics. He held fast. I guess its fine for us to say why does god let that happen but when I get to heaven I am gonna ask Michael Sattler his thoughts on why God let that happen to him.

Its all about perspective I guess.

I am confused and questioning and dont make sense too. I condemn no-one. Please dont call me a heretic because I question the letter of the law.

My Jesus is a friend and he wouldnt hurt nobody.

SocietyVs said...

The problem with suffering on a national level and individual one is what we are tackling here (with mentions of Bosnia, Darfur, the Holocaust) - which is extremely a deep issue - one could write books on it - nevermind comments.

But I think casting off the free-will arguement for me is a little too soon to do so (maybe not for others). Everything is done by choice - a choice by someone or for something to committ an action. In each every story I have ever heard that is what I have concluded thus far. Does it solve the problem of pain and hurt - no. Does it try to - no. Is it realistic and is what is happening - yes.

Governments and people make choices - to say otherwise is to point to a machine incapable of knowing 'what they are doing'. I could ramble on about a million episodes of choice and it would never make a difference about the outcome - but nonetheless - choice is what stares me in the eyes when I look in the mirror, read a book, or watch something happen. It's the inevitable evil and good we have to live with.

But what will start the path to changing these outcomes is also the problem - choice. I have come to see choice begets its outcome (and this is reflected all over the place and abounds with the type of choice made). If someone chooses violence, violence can only be begotten again - until someone begets peace or forgiveness - then a new path is started (possibly ending the paths to violence once created by many choices of the past). It's some weird law we all live by 'do to others as we would have done to us' - this idea does not reflect inherent 'good' in it (or evil) - but the idea of change - a birth of something new (good or bad) into the realm of existence - and this is dependent on one's own choices/perspectives.

But in the end the solution is seeing things with a new set of views - one that values a humans life above a bullet...or above a dispute...or above preconcieved racisms...or above sex...or above what we are and want to control. Throwing out free will as an answer (or you room to make a choice) is tantamount to saying 'you cannot stop the problem' - because all you can regard is the suffering and stand still. Not saying this will cure someone's pains/hurt/dire need but it is part of that path - since in suffering we can continue to beget that hatred we were allowed to know - but violence stops somewhere - and it's a human choice to see things in a different way (sound cold - it is not - it is the answer to such things).

So you wanna stop Darfur? You have choices to make - and even if one of them is examining the problem - that is neither the end or solution to someone else's suffering. G-d gave us choice for a reason - maybe we can petition govt's, get behind movements to provide support over there, go over there and help the depleted, etc...there is no end to what you can do - only you.

Slapdash said...

***So you wanna stop Darfur? You have choices to make - and even if one of them is examining the problem - that is neither the end or solution to someone else's suffering. G-d gave us choice for a reason - maybe we can petition govt's, get behind movements to provide support over there, go over there and help the depleted, etc...there is no end to what you can do - only you. ***

I like much of what you have to say here, but it seems like you're just describing the reality you see which is that all of us have choices. I don't dispute that one iota. I try to make good choices in my life, certainly for the people and things closest to me. But individuals just can't seem to make a real dent in the national/international crises of the day. I sign Darfur petitions, I've gone to Darfur rallies. The genocide in Darfur is still happening.

Which is why I have increasingly been crying out to GOD to do something, because we humans fuck it all up, ALL the time.

I've spent years doing various kinds of faith-based service projects, as well as studying and working in the conflict resolution / human rights / relief / development spheres in which I think about, write about, work in, and witness BAD SHIT.

My biggest takeaway? One person can't make that much of a difference, because there's too much of a tragedy of the commons problem.

Your classic high school missions trip at church? It's a nice experience for the HS kid. But rarely does it create actual impact in the place/community the service project takes place.

You want to help start schools for girls in Afghanistan? Uphill battle all the way. And when you've had enough of living in a war zone and come home, your progress is likely to slide right away.

Want to support a credit union in Cameroon? Sweet. How about you go over there, study it, evaluate it, and form relationships with all of its leadership to be sure it's on the up and up? Then how about you wire some money over a couple of times a year, to augment their revolving credit pool so that subsistence farmers can get loans to buy seeds? Awesome. Oh, except come to find out a few months later that the director has been embezzling money the whole time.

It all seems kinda futile: even if you make progress one one problem here, it bubbles up over there. How could the world community let Darfur happen, after our shameful, shameful, SHAMEFUL, response to Rwanda? And yet, it did.

When God is doing nothing despite all these promises we have that he is good, loving, wise, all-powerful, etc, it kind of begs the question (for me) of what the point of God is in the first place. God seems pretty impotent if I look around me at what's actually happening in the world, and I STILL can't understand why God can prize our ability to make choices over everything else.

I don't want a warm fuzzy God who will make sure I can have my Starbucks latte every day. I want a God who will stem the tide of suffering in this world.

Spiritbear said...

Oh come on dont you want a cuddly wuddly fluffy Jesus that you can cry on when your Latte is cold or your mercedes get a scratch?

Slapdash said...

Nah...I have a cat for that!

SocietyVs said...

"God seems pretty impotent if I look around me at what's actually happening in the world, and I STILL can't understand why God can prize our ability to make choices over everything else." (Slapdash)

So if God stops it all - you will be happy/happier? What do you require in that situation from God that would suffice - as far as mercy (for the good) and justice (for the evil)?

Irregardless of what any of us think - someone in Darfur, Cameroon, and all the other horrific acts on this planet are people(s) making choices to do exactly that - committ that exact evil (how they can self-justify is beyond us). Yet we want to serve a God who MUST take away their actual decisions (and I am guessing destroy them) so we can have peace at night regarding ours? I don't think the problem lends itself to God not intervening - but humanity not listening (as in these regimes that committ awful things) - so by all means - don't stop speaking out!.

Now we don't like the facts they have choices to make - and honestly it pains us to see such brutality and horror - but it is an aspect of free will and to take away choice - well - this is unspeakable. Cause where do we think God should stop in that endeavor? It is fairly apparent in the Adam/Eve story God does not intervene in human meddlings - namely those where they have the honesty enough to know what's right and still do not obey. What more can be done really?

As much as I hate to say it - choice is - and it is the source of every evil and possible good we can imagine.

Sorry it doesn not alleviate the problem or the pain - but it is what it is and we have that social construct to use anytime we want.

Mystical Seeker said...

I want a God who will stem the tide of suffering in this world.

The universe as we know it came into being over billions of years of cosmic evolution, and life on earth also took billions of years of evolution as well. This should tell us something about how God acts--not by just "making it so" as an all-powerful being, but by coaxing the universe forward.

It isn't up to God to fix human suffering, because that isn't God's nature to just "fix" something. It is instead incumbent on us to listen to God's voice and act accordingly to do everything we can to end suffering ourselves.

Mystical Seeker said...

Somehow I lost part of what I intended to write in my previous posting. The other point I wanted to make is that God is not a magician who just waves his magic wand. I think it is clear, because suffering has been around for a long time. I think the idea of a God who acts by dint of coercive force is a relic of a bygone era. It makes more sense to me to see God as a persuasive, rather than a coercive, force in the world. While I would also love to just end suffering with a snap of the fingers, this is magical thinking in my view. The reality is that the universe just doesn't seem to work that way, and neither does God. I just don't think that it is in God's nature to act coercively.

Slapdash said...

Is that a process theology sort of view, MS?

I could see God as persuasive and not coercive if I stopped believing he is omnipotent. But if God is omnipotent and STILL doesn't step in to stop horrific suffering, that's where my problems begin.

Mystical Seeker said...

Slapdash, yes, I admit that my view is influenced by process theology. I agree with you about the problems with an omnipotent God that intervenes in history but who doesn't stop suffering.

Slapdash said...

***Now we don't like the facts they have choices to make - and honestly it pains us to see such brutality and horror - but it is an aspect of free will and to take away choice - well - this is unspeakable.*** (societyvs)

Is there free will in heaven?

jennypo said...

***As much as I hate to say it - choice is - and it is the source of every evil and possible good we can imagine. (SocietyVS)

- applause -
Society, thanks for saying this. I couldn't agree more.

***Is there free will in heaven? (Slapdash)

I like the way you think. Not swallowing anything whole, are you? Slapdash, your questions open up whole windows of thought for me.
I find, to my surprise, that I don't think there is any free will in heaven, at least not in the way we experience it here, because we will have made our choice already. No creator can create something equal to herself. God has, however, done something unique with human beings, because he has created a being that is like him in that we are able to love (necessarily by choice) AND we will be perfect, as God is (in heaven/eternity). We will have chosen to love and then we will be set free to love as God loves. He hasn't created puppies to adore; he has created peers; friends, who have chosen him.

zilch said...

Hmmm. Mystical seeker, if for "God" you were to substitute "enlightened self-interest" I would agree with you, at least about what should direct our choices now. Of course, "enlightened self-interest" didn't create the Universe, and I find it a bit peculiar that God is considered mighty enough to have created everything, but not mighty enough to answer prayer or present Him/Her/Itself to us unambiguously.

Slapdash said...

jennypo, i posed my same question (free will in heaven) on your blog before I saw that you had responded here.

***I like the way you think. Not swallowing anything whole, are you?*** (jennypo)

Not anymore, I'm not. :)

I think the lack of free will in heaven creates some real difficulties in the argument for free will on earth. Why is it okay for God to restrict our free will in heaven but not in the least tiny little bit on earth?

I swear you have said elsewhere that for God to restrict our free will would be for him to be a tyrant and for us to be robots. (Though, curiously, I am guessing you still pray for God to do something about Darfur. How is that, exactly?) Anyway - how can it suddenly be okay for God to remove our free will in heaven just because we have "made the choice" to follow him? [what constitutes 'making that choice', by the way? praying the sinner's prayer?]

***I find it a bit peculiar that God is considered mighty enough to have created everything, but not mighty enough to answer prayer or present Him/Her/Itself to us unambiguously.*** (zilch)

Amen, Zilch!!!!

SocietyVs said...

"Is there free will in heaven?" (Slapdash)

I wish I knew but if this life is the pre-cursor to another (which is the only way we know of life) - then yes there has to be free-will in heaven or else we cease to be truly us - free is will part of being human. I know it might create problems - fire away - I am nowhere near the specialist on all things heaven related (I am speculating) - for all I know - I could be wrong about every pre-conceived notion I have about a heaven, a hell, or an afterlife in general (having nothing to put it all into my reality at this moment). I just think it exists at this point.

Slapdash said...

I admit we know very little about heaven. Traditional ideas of it being a place where we worship God all the time always sounded, well, boring to me. I always hoped heaven was actually on the 'new earth', and that there would be water skiing.

Back on point, though: heaven is described in Rev 21:4 as a place where there is no death, sorrow, crying, or pain.

So seems like there are two possibilities: we have no free will. There is no death, sorrow, etc because we cannot choose anything other than God. (That sounds a lot like the robotic existence that some have argued against in this world.)

Second possibility: there is free will in heaven, but somehow either our choices or the consequences of our choices get constrained such that we experience no death, sorrow, etc. Which then begs the question of why God will prevent death etc in heaven, but not here on earth.

jennypo said...

*** think the lack of free will in heaven creates some real difficulties in the argument for free will on earth. Why is it okay for God to restrict our free will in heaven but not in the least tiny little bit on earth? (Slapdash)

We are the stewards of the earth. God has given it into our hands. It is a place unique in the universe where God restricts himself in order to let us choose. Heaven belongs to God. He makes all the rules there. We will be there BECAUSE we have chosen love over sin. When we get what we want, we won't need free will anymore.
Free will is not something great in itself - rather it is necessary for love. Once it has been used to choose, we will be freed from the struggle of having to exert our choice over a sinful body. We will be set free from sin and allowed to be what we have already chosen to be. It is not a matter of God restricting us, or taking away our choice, but rather, allowing us our choice. If we could never have what we choose, what point would there be in choosing? You are right to fear being "locked in" because you are still gathering information. But I have chosen Love, and I long for the safety and the freedom there is in knowing I will never again act in weakness or distraction again. I look forward to the day when all of my actions will be in full accord with the choice I have made.

***I swear you have said elsewhere that for God to restrict our free will would be for him to be a tyrant and for us to be robots. (Though, curiously, I am guessing you still pray for God to do something about Darfur. (Slapdash)

It is very possible that it was me who said that. We would be like "robots" because we wouldn't be able to choose. We wouldn't be able to love. God's way allows us to choose, but he doesn't leave us there, choosing love but full of the struggle that ensues when love and sin be brought together in the same body. At last, we are brought to be with him from whose presence sin is banished - and we live not with no choice, nor with constant choice, but with the results of our choice, on the basis of our choice.

I pray for the people of Darfur, but the request I make for them is not that God will halt their suffering and let them be like us. I ask for much more, because I may. I ask that they will know Love and Truth. I ask that I will know Love well enough to be willing to suffer with them and Truth well enough to be able to suffer with them, and with other suffering people on the earth. I don't ask God to exert my choice over other people's choices. I ask him to reveal himself despite other people's choices.
Slapdash, you have a broad range of experience in helping the suffering. I have a little. But one thing you have said is that one person can do so little, and this is true, if it is our help we give. We are so powerless over a world in which evil has so much power. It is always ten times easier to destroy than to build up.
But because I have given my choice to God, I can influence what happens in Darfur. God can't override our choice, but he can choose for us when we allow him. If I allow him to choose for me, that is going to affect others in the same way my choice for evil affects others. Imagine you could shoot love as you can a bullet. That's what prayer is - a gun for love. Except that love costs a lot more than bullets. As I give Love place in my life, I take my place in defense of those who have been wounded by hatred and selfishness and sin and blinded by lies and darkness. If my choice for evil would affect them, my choice for love will, too.
Let me tell you, Love is the strongest force in the universe. It is stronger than physical force. We may pound for hours on steel with a hammer to no avail, but a flame may reduce the same steel to any shape we choose for it. Love's strength is like a flame: easy enough to snuff out, but able to change everything when it is allowed to burn.

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. (Song of Solomon 8:7)

***what constitutes 'making that choice', by the way? praying the sinner's prayer?] (Slapdash)

If it were so easy as that, Slapdash, most of us would change our minds again just as easily. Our choice is not only difficult to make, it is mysterious. This is not because it is vague, but because it is a uniquely personal thing. Those of us who know we have made this choice can only talk about the events surrounding it, our thoughts, what we came to understand. What sticks out in each of our minds to tell is different depending on personalities, cultures, individual knowledge and experience. It is a moral choice, an act of the will over the desires of body, mind, and heart. Some have made it without analysing the process or the result. Many have tried to draw complex maps of the process, but it is different for each of us. The constant is this: a choice for love ends in the God who is Love, Light, Truth. All other choices (except love) end in selfishness and sin.
Notice I didn't say that a choice for God ends in love. Many have chosen a God who is not love. We have to start with what we know of love and let God find us rather than beginning with what we think is God and hoping it will end in love.
That choice for you MAY involve the sinner's prayer. For some it no doubt does. For me it did not.
One thing is for certain - it is not an easy choice, because a choice for love is a choice against self, and self raises a might ruckus when she doesn't get her way!
God knows your heart and mine, and he knows where we've been, and he knows where we need to go in order to be sure that what we want is HIM. Or not. In any case, deep dealings with HIM are never like pantyhose - one size fits all.

Mystical Seeker said...

God is considered mighty enough to have created everything, but not mighty enough to answer prayer or present Him/Her/Itself to us unambiguously.

Actually, process theology is consistent on its position regarding Divine omnipotence, so the contradiction that you suggest doesn't actually exist within it. That's because it doesn't consider God to be "mighty enough to have created everything." Instead, it sees God's role at all times as being the same--namely, presenting what process theologians call "initial aims" at each moment of each activity. This is seen to be the case at each moment in the universe's evolutionary history. God's role is to act as a co-creator with the universe, which is an evolutionary process. There is simply no divine omnipotence, as it is typically conceived, in this model. The same God who acts by persuasion rather than coercion in the evolutionary development of the universe is also the God who cannot intervene in other traditionally conceived ways.

Slapdash said...

Does heaven/hell/sin/Satan exist under the process theology construct? These seem to be things that would require design by divine fiat - at least heaven/hell do - and would seem to require some kind of divine decision-making as to where to send people after death.

Are there any good websites to consult on process theology?

Mystical Seeker said...

Slapdash, check out . There's a lot of information there about process theology.

Mystical Seeker said...

Whoops. The site is http://www.processandfaith.org/.

Heather said...

Mystical
**I always feel like I need to stress that, because sometimes people who point to the problem as evil as an a argument against the existence of God are betraying a certain set of unstated assumptions about the nature of God, and omnipotence is one of them. **
This is true. It would be a lot easier to believe in a God that had certain restrictions, in terms of God is bound by what happens here, and can’t just step in. Some things have to unfold, and God has no choice but to let that happen, because of things put in place. As Zilch says, it’s when people start saying that God is omnipotent, omniscience and all-loving that things get tricky, especially when looking for evidence of that in this world.
Spiritbear

**I guess its fine for us to say why does god let that happen but when I get to heaven I am gonna ask Michael Sattler his thoughts on why God let that happen to him.**
This would be the complication in terms of heaven – as you hold a deistic belief, you might not run into this. But if God is an all-just, all-powerful, and all-loving God, and I see no evidence for that in this world, what guartentee that there is a ‘better’ world after this? Or that heaven even exists?

**go over there and help the depleted, etc...there is no end to what you can do - only you. **

I do want to stop the situation in Darfur, and agree that much of it is up to us. The problem arises when we throw an all-powerful God that could step in, but wouldn’t. As Slapdash says, when God does nothing despite us being told time and time again that he is good, loving, wise, all-powerful, and yet I see no evidence of that, then why have faith?
It’s not a matter of serving a God who takes away the ability of one to make a choice – it’s a matter of asking God why doesn’t he rein in the person’s ability to follow through on that choice? Soemone can make a decision to kill three people, and yet be stopped before the actual murder. If your five year old was about to slash her wrists, wouldn’t you step in and stop her? Or if your five year old was about to stab another child – wouldn’t you step in and stop her?

That’s what many of us are asking here. Why is the free will so unrestricted, and seemingly valued above all else? Because even in situations such as Darfur, someone’s free will is restricted – no one would choose to have those atrocities occur to them. So if we have free will within reason, and that is just and loving, why do we not see the same mirrored in God’s actions (if God is defined as all-powerful, all-loving and so on).

Jenny,

**I don't ask God to exert my choice over other people's choices. I ask him to reveal himself despite other people's choices. ** Except with Darfur, we would be praying to ask God to honor the choice of the victims, in stopping the violence. And there are situations where it is just to exert one person’s choice over another.

zilch said...

Mystical- thanks for the link. I will check it out when I get back from S├╝dtirol in two weeks. In the meantime, though, I admit I don't understand what you said about God's omnipotence, or lack of it. Is the process-theological standpoint that God created the Universe, or not? I can see an array of possible logical positions on how much God intervenes in the already existing Universe: for instance, ID says that evolution occurs following natural laws, except for the hard stuff like bacterial flagellae, where the Designer has to lend a Hand; but many fundamentalists say that God created every species separately.

But I don't see any logical in-between with the creation of the Universe: either God did it, or not. And if God did create the Universe, that would necessarily make Him/Her/It, if not omnipotent, at least rather powerful. Of course, one can argue (and one does!) that even though God is, say, immensely powerful and knowledgeable, He/She/It is still constrained somehow: by logic, desire for love, or the pursuit of some divine Plan we mortals cannot divine.

But I am still troubled, as I believe Heather's point in her post was also, by what seems to be a discrepancy between what God supposedly represents, love and justice, and what many innocents are served in our poor world in the way of love and justice.

Slapdash said...

Zilch, I have the very same question! God's activity in creation -- whether as *POOF* "cool! here's something from nothing", or as *NUDGE NUDGE* "here's a little help, little evolving bacteria thingie" -- to me implies a heckuva lot of power, such that even if God's not omnipotent, he surely isn't impotent. As such, I think there is still a dilemma of how come God can't do more today.

From the little I've read of process theology so far, I am drawn to it. But more for the ideas of interconnectedness and realizing one's potential. I'm not so sure I need the God part to respond/incorporate/live out those ideas.

SocietyVs said...

"when God does nothing despite us being told time and time again that he is good, loving, wise, all-powerful, and yet I see no evidence of that, then why have faith?" (heather)

I agree - we have no reason to believe that.

"no one would choose to have those atrocities occur to them" (Heather)

One problem, someone does choose to have those things exist and they for some reason are in power (go figure) - must be some historical trend within that culture that was allowed to persist (likely by other humans like-minded). Again this is brutality and nothing more we are discussing - and we are even limited here in some sense - not being brutal to others.

"So if we have free will within reason, and that is just and loving, why do we not see the same mirrored in God’s actions (if God is defined as all-powerful, all-loving and so on)." (Heather)

Don't you mean 'in-action' or 'lack of action'? An all powerful being doing nothing to intervene? An all loving God doing nothing to alleviate the suffering? If this is the biblical antedote to all situations then I would say 'you are correct' - problem is this is not the biblical narrative in all situations - concerning choice - just because God is all loving and all powerful - does not mean his intervention is pre-supposed?

Even when Jesus was in Israel evil still happened - and even to him. Shouldn't God have intervened there too? Or in the Babylonian captivity? Or a few hundred years before the Exodus event? This list can go on and on - including Saul, David, and the deaths of some disciples - all within the biblical narrative - intervention seemed obvious. But choice was made - and this does not suppose God liked it (which is obvious by the teachings themselves) - but they are part of the human construct and if anything - this is what the 'good news' is supposed to prevent and enlighten humanity above - our choices - our value paradigm.

I think it is grand we all despise the despotic regimes world-wide and call out the evils existing and voice ourselves adamantly about that (ex: Live Earth) or even do something about it. But it starts in us - these choices of finding value and good - and eventually they end with us - should God intervene to make us all the same? We want decency worldwide - we are part of the voices ringing out and asking for this - eventually those voices do no go unheard.

But again - I offer a perspective - not the answers to the whole problem - I am a single piece in the social construct called humanity.