Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today I shall be a tetonic plate.

I remember a time when I could read something like this and just appreciate the insight into how theological viewpoints operated.

Now, I immediately start analyzing the content. Given the tone of the article, I'm inferring that the author is Christian.

There's a lot to pick from, so I'll just pick a couple.

The God detractors would want Him to act on every occasion we make personal choices and yet if He should do that He gets criticized as a capricious God who does not want to allow the freedom to exercise our faculties.

The article starts out addressing the issue of people asking where God was for the Haitian earthquake. It then goes into the matter of God's sovereignty and concludes ... that atheists are ridiculous for criticizing God for failing to act every time someone makes a personal choice? That we, and we alone, have the choice to become alcoholics, drug addicts, teachers? How is the matter of someone's personal choice in any way relevant to the earthquake? How can my potential ability to become an alcoholic influence the movement of tectonic plates? The author didn't address the main issue at all -- the main issue of God's intervention in terms of the earthquake. Instead, he sidesteps the issue and says that people make the choices, not God, and God isn't a packet of salt to take off the shelf.

And I'm sorry, but the freedom one may have to make choices is nowhere similar to a calamity in nature. Do tectonic plates "choose" to move the same way one might "choose" to become a teacher?

Many of the social perversions that we accuse God of can be corrected if we are willing to face ourselves and do the work that is necessary to give our lives stability and wholeness.

I agree that the world would be a much better place if humanity as a collective whole worked to improve matters. But what the author seems to imply is that the *only* way the world will improve is if humanity does the work. Not if humanity turns to God, not if humanity prays to God ... only if humanity actually does the literal work. In which case, why would God even be necessary?

15 comments:

Lorena said...

That article is one amazing piece of ...you know what.

Funny how they always start really well ..."Atheists don't understand how God works."

And you may start thinking, "OK tell me how he works. Tell me something I haven't heard before."

Then they always go to the sovereignty of God...he can do whatever he likes...his ways are higher than our way. BS!

What does god ever do, anyway? Christians spend all their time explaining why god doesn't do this or that, because if they had real actions to prove god by, they wouldn't need to defend him.

The reality is that if we go by god's actions, we can easily conclude that in his sovereignty, he's decided to do nothing, ever. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

**"Atheists don't understand how God works."**

Yes. And then it seems to descend into the idea that Christians don't understand how their God works, either, because of how mysterious He is. But if they can't understand how God works, how can they then say that non-Christians don't understand?

**ecause if they had real actions to prove god by, they wouldn't need to defend him.**

Maybe the response can start being something along the lines of "If one sees little evidence in this life of a loving, caring, compassionate God who intervenes to help those who suffer, then what basis can one conclude that there's a God in whatever comes after this life?"

Xander said...

** "If one sees little evidence in this life of a loving, caring, compassionate God who intervenes to help those who suffer, then what basis can one conclude that there's a God in whatever comes after this life?" **

In what way is He supposed to intervene?

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

This answer is going to be more of a general overview, rather than specific examples.

When dialoguing with Christians, I see a lot of them say how much God loves us, how much of a Father He wants to be to us. He's a very present help in trouble, He's a shield or a sword. It's a very active description, and says that God is a participating entity.

So let's take the idea of God as a Father. I know my (earthly) father loves me, and I have several examples I could use. I also know that if I were attacked, or if I were in trouble, my father would help me. For instance, say someone was beating me with the intent to kill me, and my dad came across that. He'd intervene.

I can't apply that same principle to God -- in so many cases, there's no evidence of intervention at all. Yet the claim is that God loves the same way an earthly father does. Yet an earthly father would intervene, and that would be consistent with loving behavior. To not intervene when aware of the attack does not match the definition of "love." To not intervene is to be something other than "a very present help in times of trouble."

Yet God doesn't intervene in a lot of cases. People are still beaten to death. People starve. People die of horrible illnesses. Is God required to intervene in any of those cases? No. But if Something doesn't, then the label of "compassionate" or "loving" cannot longer be attached to that Something, because the lack of intervention violates the definitions of those words.

Xander said...

You need to burn your blog so I can subscribe for email notifications. Tired of missing posts when I get busy and forget to read. =D

I can see your point and it is valid. I wish I could say that God shows up every time something bad happens to us and stops it from happening, but that isn't the case.

Part of any explanation about God and tragedy is going to be with the temporary physical life. The Bible even says that crap is going to happen to you just because of your beliefs, so don’t expect an easy life. My version of course. Sometimes I wish the word crap would be in there more often. Anyways, most believers don’t read that part or they are sold the everything is great with Jesus line. You have already heard the life after death line, so not going to use it on you =D.

Never heard the claim that God loves like an earthly father, since that love is considered inferior in the church. But taking your example, if your brother is beating you to death, how does your father stop it? If he can only stop it by killing your brother, what does he do?

With God, you would die, but He still has a chance to redeem your brother. So no one is really lost. That is life after death, so only easier to handle if you believe in that. Other wise you got screwed over.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

**You need to burn your blog so I can subscribe for email notifications. **

I don't know how to do that.

**God shows up every time something bad happens to us and stops it from happening, but that isn't the case.**

Looking over history, and seeing the amount of people who have suffered, I would say God hardly ever shows up.

**The Bible even says that crap is going to happen to you just because of your beliefs, so don’t expect an easy life.**

And that's fine, except I don't see how this viewpoint can be combined with the idea of God loving you or being a compassionate God. Take the Haiti Earthquake, for example. A lot of Christians are saying how they must go there and show God's love for the Haitian people, or be God's hands and feet. Except God did nothing to stop the earthquake. So if God is loving, and yet God did nothing to stop the earthquake ... something's got to give. I either redefine what "love" means, or redefine "God" or something. But the two sentences don't connect.

Especially when I consider that there's a 99.99999999% that if no one responded to help Haiti, all those people would die. The only reason why they're not is because people are donating money, and showing up in person to help. Technically speaking, to say that they must go and show God's love should really mean that they should show up and do nothing.

**Never heard the claim that God loves like an earthly father, **
I think this ties back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says that if your child is hungry, you don't give him a stone. Since you -- who are evil -- know how to do that much, think how much more your (heavenly) Father will do.

**But taking your example, if your brother is beating you to death, how does your father stop it?**

Sedation, hitting on the head, shooting a knee cap ... I'm somewhat morbid, so I can come up with a whole list. :) But I know enough about my father to realize that if my brother were the attacker, he'd do something. If it meant killing my brother ... then he'd quite possibly do that.

**With God, you would die, but He still has a chance to redeem your brother. So no one is really lost.**

Not necessarily. If I'm not redeemed and I die, then I'm incredibly lost. But the thing with God, though, is that God's omnipotent. He wouldn't be constrained the way that an earthly father would be.

The other thing with this is that, in a lot of ways, it's an "ends justify the means" outlook. If there's a chance the brother can be redeemed, then allowing me to be beaten to death is justified. Allowing horrible things to happen to anyone is justified.

Xander said...

www.feedburner.com You can sign up for an account there and they will give you a widget that you can add to your blog's code. You might check it out if you are bored.

How does He show up is the issue. Do we determine if God is present by our idea of how we would do things if we were Him? Take hungry people for example. Should manna start falling from the sky in order for them to eat? That would show God's power, but not compassion. Is God less present when people feel compassion for those who are hungry and donate food or their time? Does the fact that not everyone feels compassion for that situation mean that God doesn’t care, or that those people have turned away from His calling to take care of others? He is not there in a supernatural way. No tangible evidence of God in the flesh being there, but what He has called people to do is still happening to some degree. I know you can attribute the behavior to a basic humanistic attitude, but love for your fellow man is supposed to be a command from God, so isn't He showing up?

For the earthquake. Christians should be helping. They should help with resources, food, clothing, shelter. This is not the time for the usual bs of you did this because your ancestors sold their souls and now you are going to hell crap. Could God have stopped it? Yes. Does he stop it from happening because 1,000 people died? What if only 1 person died? Do you stop it then? Does He stop the earthquake because the government there is crooked and would rather horde the money then build adequate housing for the people? God could stop the earthquake from happening, but the pressure from the tectonic plates is still building. The pressure has to be released, and the other option is a volcano. Which is the desired outcome? Could the earthquake have been more powerful and killed more people? What is the right answer?

** But the thing with God, though, is that God's omnipotent. He wouldn't be constrained the way that an earthly father would be **
Your right, but how is God supposed to stop someone and still say there is free will? Does He stop all murders from happening? What about robberies? No one would be allowed to speed. No jaywalking. No profanity. No law breaking would ever happen. What is the standard by which God should stop things from happening? Now that nothing bad happens, no compassion or love can be shown to those who are hurting or in need, so now God has created a society where He is not needed.
I wish I had more answers, but I don’t.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

I'll look into the feedburner aspect.

**Do we determine if God is present by our idea of how we would do things if we were Him?**

But this isn't how I'm approaching the scenario, in terms of "this is what I'd do if I were God." This isn't trying to humanize God, it's trying to reconcile the way God is described with the definition of the word. What I'm saying is that love is defined as [X]. God is Love. Yet God is not doing [X]. How are the two reconciled?

I'm going to blatantly borrow an example from DagoodS blog. Say you have a cat, and you tell me that your cat loves you. Yet I witness your cat constantly clawing you and biting you. I would then have to ask how you reconcile your cat's behavior to your use of the word "love." Because behavior defined as love doesn't include clawing and biting.

Same with God -- God's described as loving and compassionate. The Haitian Earthquake wasn't stopped, which isn't loving or compassionate behavior.

**Take hungry people for example. Should manna start falling from the sky in order for them to eat? That would show God's power, but not compassion.**

Why wouldn't it? Feeding hungry people does match the definition of compassion.

**I know you can attribute the behavior to a basic humanistic attitude, but love for your fellow man is supposed to be a command from God, so isn't He showing up?**

So is your definition here "God shows up because people show up?" I'd see a few problems with that: the reverse is that when people don't show up, it means that God doesn't show/up care. If not, it means that the definition of caring/showing doesn't remain consistent. It also puts the whole thing entirely on human endeavors. The goods/medicines/help only show up after the proper paperwork is filed, after they travel a certain distance, after they get to certain areas in time, after they know how to properly dispense of the help ... which to me comes down to pure people showing up, and no divine influence.

**God could stop the earthquake from happening, but the pressure from the tectonic plates is still building. The pressure has to be released, and the other option is a volcano.**
Isn't this confining God's nature, though? If God is omnipotent, the pressure of the tectonic plates doesn't stop Him. He can deal with that in a supernatural way.

**Your right, but how is God supposed to stop someone and still say there is free will?**

But there isn't constant free will in this scenario. What about the beaten person's free will? She would choose not to be beaten, and yet she is. Her free will is not taken into consideration here. And, if respecting free will is paramount for God, then even that doesn't match with loving or compassionate behavior. Even in families, we don't respect free will as paramount over all other considerations. Out of love for children, we put a stop to their bad behavior.

**What is the standard by which God should stop things from happening?**

This is a separate question, though, from my original one -- how is God's behavior reconciled with the definition of words such as "love" or "compassion?"

**Now that nothing bad happens, no compassion or love can be shown to those who are hurting or in need, so now God has created a society where He is not needed.**

But if nothing bad happened, no compassion or love in the sense of helping hurting people would be needed, as nothing bad is happening. Love and compassion as a whole could still be demonstrated -- you could go out of your way to help someone, for example.

Xander said...

I guess I would need to understand your definition of love or at least your understanding of how the love of God has been described to you. My understanding of it is, it is not an emotional love.

Had a whole other answer planned and decided to change it.

I am going to give into you on the free will, because in part I think you are right. God has a plan of action. He has His will and what He is going to do. Your freedom is to agree with it or not. I still don’t think repercussions deny you that freedom though, but you know you are either with God or against Him. This is why non-Christians are blessed. An unchangeable spiritual law is that God blesses those who are about His business. The Church as a whole has been called to be His hands and feet, but as a whole, it often sucks at that job. God isn't present just when the Christian label is attached to an action. God is present anytime someone is loving and caring for another. When no one is there, God is still there. I have seen things happen with no outside help, so He isn't limited to people just showing up and doing His will.

Did I go off the deep end? I really do enjoy talking to you.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

Is there any definition of love that would allow for the behavior I'm describing? For behavior that allows an earthquake to occur and that level of suffering? I'm thinking of the love where you care about the well-being of another person, where you help them if they're hurting, maybe sacrifice for them if necessary.

**God is present anytime someone is loving and caring for another. When no one is there, God is still there.**

But if there's no actual help, what good does this do? To give you an example, I read the best-selling Christian book "The Shack." It was written from the POV of a man whose young daughter had been murdered. God ended up explaining to the man how much He also suffered at the death, and how He was with the daughter as she was being murdered.

If I knew of a person who was in the physical presence of a young child being murdered, and yet did absolutely nothing, I'd be appalled. That is not loving behavior. I think any of us would be appalled. Yet when the situation switches to God, no one's appalled at all. Yet God's still described as loving. The situation hasn't changed, only the person witnessing the event has. Yet the witness is one is a horrible person, and the witness in another is still considered good. How are the two reconciled?

**I really do enjoy talking to you.**

I surmised as much, given that you keep commenting and want e-mail updates. ;)

Xander said...

It won't be understandable as you don’t believe in ever after. The physical life will have pain and suffering. The believer's goal is to move closer to God as He sees us through it. It isn't understandable unless you believe that way. Thus the impasse.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

I neither believe nor disbelieve in the afterlife. I have no idea what occurs after death, other than my physical body ceases to function. I'll find out once I "get" there. If there is somewhere to get.

However, the issue isn't what the believer's goal is. The issue is reconciling the characteristics of God, based on the definition of those characteristics, tied to the concept of any other situation where this type of behavior is deemed acceptable. To say that it won't be understandable unless I believe in an afterlife doesn't sound like we've reached an impasse, it comes across as shifting the scope of the argument.

Xander said...

Love by man's definition:
1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?
9. affectionate concern for the well-being of others: the love of one's neighbor.
10. strong predilection, enthusiasm, or liking for anything: her love of books.
11. the object or thing so liked: The theater was her great love.
12. the benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.
15. to have love or affection for: All her pupils love her.
16. to have a profoundly tender, passionate affection for (another person).
17. to have a strong liking for; take great pleasure in: to love music.
18. to need or require; benefit greatly from: Plants love sunlight.
21. to have love or affection for another person; be in love.
22. love up, to hug and cuddle: She loves him up every chance she gets.
23. for love, a. out of affection or liking; for pleasure.
b. without compensation; gratuitously: He took care of the poor for love.
24. for the love of, in consideration of; for the sake of: For the love of mercy, stop that noise.
25. in love, infused with or feeling deep affection or passion: a youth always in love.
26. in love with, feeling deep affection or passion for (a person, idea, occupation, etc.); enamored of: in love with the girl next door; in love with one's work.
28. no love lost, dislike; animosity: There was no love lost between the two brothers.

In the Bible, you see Jesus using the terms philo and agape, with philo being the inferior.

philo- or phil-
1. Having a strong affinity or preference for; loving:

agape
1. the love of God or Christ for humankind.
2. the love of Christians for other persons, corresponding to the love of God for humankind.
3. unselfish love of one person for another without sexual implications; brotherly love.

Agape is labeled, but is not really defined. The love of God does not describe it.

Per Paul: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
It always protects. I figure you will focus in on that one for this discussion. The word is stego which is to cover closely (so as to keep water out), generally to bear up under. Changes the view of protects in this case.
We suffer for a variety of reasons. If you stub your toe, you feel pain. Your dog/cat/fish/other animal dies, you feel a loss. You suffer when your sick, heartbroken, denied something that you want, cold, hot, thirsty, hungry, etc. It goes on and on. Your father will try his best, but he can’t keep you from suffering.
When you look back at all of the things you have suffered in your life, do you focus on those or look at your whole life? If God is concerned with your whole life, if suffering will make you turn towards Him and avoid hell, would He really not want you to suffer at all? If you suffer and God wants to use someone to end that suffering so that they can either be saved or provide an example of His love so others can be saved, would He not allow you to suffer. I am not saying He wouldn’t heal any damage you got from any suffering, but we will still suffer.
Suffer is a subjective term though. Would any child who gets spanked or put in timeout or grounded not say they were suffering? Did they really suffer or did they feel like it at that time?

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,


**I figure you will focus in on that one for this discussion. The word is stego which is to cover closely (so as to keep water out), generally to bear up under. Changes the view of protects in this case.**

This would depend on which Bible one reads, though. the King James version has it saying it "beareth" all things, with strego corresponding to "To roof over, ie (figuratively) to cover with silence (endure patiently; (for-)bear, suffer." The way the concordance has it doesn't really correspond to what "protect" means.

**Your father will try his best, but he can’t keep you from suffering.**

No, nor would I expect him to be 100% successful, as he's not omnipotent.

**Suffer is a subjective term though.**

I see this happen a lot in discussions like these. Suffering is brought up, such as torture or the Haitian earthquake as to why someone has a hard time reconciling a loving God with those allowing those acts. Or why someone doesn't believe in a God described as loving. A believer will respond with cases where the suffering was to the person's benefit, such as the child example you provided.

Here's the problem -- the two aren't comparable by any means. When someone asks about a loving God in terms of suffering, they aren't referring to what the child goes through, they're referring to something like rape. Torture. Horrific natural disasters. These cannot be reduced to the same level as a grounded child, nor can they be set aside by stating that suffering is a subjective term. These are concrete examples, that need answers directly addressing them.


**If God is concerned with your whole life, if suffering will make you turn towards Him and avoid hell**

I have a big problem with ideas such as these, because what it boils down to -- how I read it -- is that so long as the person is saved from hell, any suffering they might experience doesn't matter. If they're raped -- doesn't matter, so long as they're saved from hell. Or tortured, or pick another big example along those lines. It also doesn't matter, because God will heal it the end, regardless.

Say I have a child, and I want to teach that child to be self-reliant. In order to do this, I decided not to feed him for a week. He needs to learn to feed himself. And he does so. I also decided not to clothe him, because he needs to learn to do this himself. Even though he's walking around in winter with no clothes on, and has to have a limb amputated -- he needs to learn to be self-reliant.

The end result is that the child is self-reliant, and the end result is considered a wonderful thing. Even though that result is a wonderful thing, it does not excuse my behavior in withholding food and clothing.

In terms of looking back on one's life, and how much suffering would focus in it ... picture this: someone tells you that they witnessed a brutal attack, and said that they didn't step in, because when that person looks back, they'll have their whole life, not just that one attack. Or that the suffering from that attack could actually be good for them, as it'll help them end up in a better outcome. How would you feel about that person?

Xander said...

** This would depend on which Bible one reads, though. the King James version has it saying it "beareth" all things, with strego corresponding to "To roof over, i.e. (figuratively) to cover with silence (endure patiently; (for-)bear, suffer." The way the concordance has it doesn't really correspond to what "protect" means. **
The word is the same regardless of which version. Only the English translation changes. I don’t always agree with the translation as the English language is so jacked up it gives people a false understanding of what is being said.

** Here's the problem -- the two aren't comparable by any means. When someone asks about a loving God in terms of suffering, they aren't referring to what the child goes through, they're referring to something like rape. Torture. Horrific natural disasters. These cannot be reduced to the same level as a grounded child, nor can they be set aside by stating that suffering is a subjective term. These are concrete examples, that need answers directly addressing them. **
I really do understand how it is inconceivable to say that God loves me when something bad happens. Rape is a traumatic experience. It breaks down all levels of trust within the person. They don’t feel safe or secure and dealing with people is hard because no one understands what you went through. If the person does not heal from the experience it will stick with them their entire lives. So why does it happen? I really don’t know. I do know that He takes the bad and turns them for good. It isn't right away, but it is possible.
It sucks even more when you don’t see judgment come upon the person either. They might not have been stopped, but at least they should pay for what they did. It is harder to reconcile that with a natural disaster. Family's are without loved ones and don’t feel safe. Houses can be rebuilt but family that have died are gone.
You an see a picture of suffering in Job. I still don’t always understand it.
** The end result is that the child is self-reliant, and the end result is considered a wonderful thing. Even though that result is a wonderful thing, it does not excuse my behavior in withholding food and clothing. **
He wants us to be dependant on Him, so the example doesn’t fit what God is doing, but I see where you are going. Are there not people providing food and clothing to the poor? Are they excused because they do not feel compassion for these people and help them out? What about those who see the people who need clean water because they are dying everyday? Are they let off the hook because they would rather buy a Christmas gift instead of helping out thousands of people with the money they spent on a trinket? So if people see and God wants them to step up and do something, who is responsible? God will find someone else to step in and help. The other person is still going to be held accountable. People still suffered and died. Would you trade 5 years of suffering for 1000 years of peace and joy? Is it the fact that you can't reconcile the 5 since you don’t know there will be the 1000?

** In terms of looking back on one's life, and how much suffering would focus in it ... picture this: someone tells you that they witnessed a brutal attack, and said that they didn't step in, because when that person looks back, they'll have their whole life, not just that one attack. Or that the suffering from that attack could actually be good for them, as it'll help them end up in a better outcome. How would you feel about that person? **
Would I be angry at God is something happened to me that He didn’t prevent? Yes.