Good God, Wicked World

How can God be good, and loving, yet allow so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world? This is an acutely agonizing question that has been asked for centuries with no really satisfactory answer. Yet, of course, there have been plenty of explanations put forth by philosophers, theologians, religious scholars, priests, rabbis, and so many more. Whether one seems more acceptable — or shall we say digestible — than the others is, perhaps, up to the individual considering the subject.

Alvin Plantinga, for example, says that if God is good then it logically follows that God would create the best of possible worlds, so that if we grant that God is, indeed, good, then we must conclude that this world, as it is, is the best of all possible worlds. Two questions come to mind, though: 1) why is it so many of us humans can conceive of a much better world than the one in which we reside if this really is the best possible world? 2) And even if it is, does this really “excuse” God for all of the pain, suffering, wickedness, natural disasters, etc.?

Surely an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, and good God could do something, and would do something, to dislodge the evil. But, then, was it David Hume who said that either God is omnipotent and omniscient, but not good and loving, or that God is good and loving, but not omnipotent and omniscient? It’s easy to see his reasoning on this point, (if indeed it was Hume who made this observation), because it seems utterly senseless that an all-loving and good God, who is also all-knowing and all-powerful, would allow so much pain and suffering.

It may be, then, that God is not quite “GOD,” but rather “god,” and so s/he is quite loving and beneficent, yet simply unable to exercise sovereign control over all of life and the entire world.  Or it is very possible that God is all-powerful and all-knowing (and everywhere present, for that matter), yet is also malevolent. Or it may be that there are two equally powerful gods, one being completely good, while the other is completely bad. Although some would say evil in the world is not God’s fault at all; it is humanity that is culpable.

This is a particularly frustrating argument from free will, though, as several questions come to mind: 1) who gave humans free will in the first place? 2) Who instilled within humanity the capacity to commit evil, atrocities, acts of violence, and so forth? 3) Who “set the stage” in which these evils could be committed? 3) How are victims of atrocities, violence, and so forth at all responsible for their suffering? 4) Does free will cover every human being anyway, such as: infants, invalids, the mentally handicapped, sufferers of dementia, etc.?

Then again, maybe God counter-balances all of the evil with good … maybe more than counter-balances it. Perhaps s/he outweighs the evil with an overabundance of good. Within this we could/should very well include eternal life in the bliss of an heavenly realm, of course. Certainly an eternity spent in heaven — perfected with love, joy, peace, happiness, health, and so much more — would make up for all of the pain and suffering, for all of the wickedness and atrocities, right? Many human individuals would say unequivocally, “no.”

Naturally, the atheist takes care of this nasty conundrum very neatly by merely pointing out that, of course, there is no God. The atheist is, nevertheless, left with the problem of evil in the world, but s/he can always foist that off on the brutal, impersonal, and naturalistic/materialistic world in which we live. In other words, we are no more than biological machines fighting, not only for survival, but for our own perceived greatest good, or fortune, thus humans oftentimes act worse than fierce animals all to satisfy themselves.

There is another explanation laid on the table, however, and it is that of an aloof, cold and detached God…. perhaps the God of deism. In this case, God created the cosmos and at least kicked off life within it, but then just “sat back” to watch it all unfold, maybe like some grand soap opera on a divine scale. Who knows? But this is definitely not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of Christianity. What precisely is the God of Judeo-Christianity is an open question and has been for, perhaps, just as many centuries.

Is there still another answer? Surely we have not exhausted all of the explanations for evil, pain, and suffering in the world. There are, in all likelihood, many more to consider, but at present they escape the author’s knowledge … except for possibly one more. It seems in one sense the least satisfying of all answers, but could it be that God simply has an altogether different “measure” of, or perspective upon, pain and suffering and evil? Could it be that all of this looks quite differently from his/her vantage point? Doubtless, this is the case.

Does this satisfactorily explain the presence of so much evil, though? Well, as humans we would not charge the dog with an act of wickedness in catching and killing a rabbit; rather, we would say that this is just a dog being a dog, instinct and all. And again, we would not claim the cat is acting wickedly in prancing on a mouse, for that is what cats do as part and parcel of being cats. Perhaps, then, humans are also living out very fundamentally human lives — both good and bad, righteous and evil — and this is what God sees.

And maybe this leaves God rather undaunted by war and pestilence, disease and starvation, violence and gross neglect, and all sorts of pain and sufferings endured by countless millions upon millions of individuals, families and communities. In other words, it may be that God views all of this from an entirely divine perspective without being able to relate to the uniquely human viewpoint. Which is almost (if not entirely) to say that God cannot, perchance, “lower” him/herself to the crude level of humanity.

This won’t fly with Judeo-Christianity, though, because this is exactly where the Incarnation of Christ Jesus comes into crucial play. According to this central doctrine, God the only-and-eternally-begotten Son was conceived in the human womb of the Virgin Mary, from whom he assumed an authentically and completely human nature. And it was in this capacity that he suffered torture and death on the cross, being completely innocent of any wrongdoing, enabling him to literally understand pain, suffering, and victimization, (and so much more.)

Moreover, through his resurrection he is said to have somehow sanctified pain and suffering. At least, believer-followers of Christ are somehow able to mystically participate in the sufferings of Christ Jesus in and through their own pain and suffering. Does this satisfy the question/problem of the good God and wicked world? Well, it does seem to move closer to an important resolution, that is: God did not (and does not) stand idly by, watching all of the evil and wickedness in the world… No, s/he has actually, fully participated in suffering.

This still does not quite answer why an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, completely good God would allow so much evil, pain and suffering when it (seems) well within his/her ability to mitigate it all. Yet this may well be where some kind of free will argument, coupled with some best-of-all-worlds claim, enters into the equation … both carefully refined and nuanced, then astutely tied in with the argument from the Incarnation. Even still, this probably cannot be sufficient. So long as horrendous evil exists, nothing will likely entirely satisfy.

Advertisements

In the One Same Game

Saints and sinners all play in the same game,
Sometimes wild, sometimes tame,
Sometimes intriguing, sometimes lame,
But never the same as the players change,
And so does the range of play from day to day,
And no one can stay in the same spot
Though they may look like an ink blot;
Everyone must move — this way or that,
Up, down and all around — even if bound
For nowhere in particular, but somewhere,
Anywhere but where they were, that’s for sure;
And rarely can one return to where they were
Because the field never remains quite the same,
Though who could blame someone for thinking
Somewhere stays the same for some time,
But time chimes on in alteration of creation
With very little stagnation or resignation
To immutability — only a divine attribute —
Which does give credibility to the game of life
In which both saints and sinners are destined
To play both day and night, in dark and light:
In the same one game famously called life . . .
But, odd as it is, all seems to remain the same!

From the Halls of Time Forgotten

Awake! What is this that soundeth from the Halls of Time Forgotten?
For the sake of flesh and blood doth the Voice of the Philosopher
Arise to gainsay those who’ve lost their way; to query what the Lady
Doth teach of power, of love, of wisdom, of happiness descended from
Above? Tis to turn away from fickle Fortune, harlot of ill-minds
Who doth bind heart and soul, corrupteth body, and open the mouth
Of the grave wide on this side of Hell. Ah! But Lady Wisdom doth call
Forever to the youthful spirit, whom Passion driveth unrelenting and
Unbending to bend lads and lasses, one and all, with call to satiate
Unending appetite; and her Voice she raiseth in street and marketplace
By choice, never compelled, to save from ruin whom Passion and Fortune
Would enchain to such baneful life of short-lived pleasure bought
With many tears brought forth from scarlet eyes and heaving bosoms…
Awake! Dost thou hear the call, the true Voice over-against Fear
Of fickle Fortune and the whore of Passion to abhor both sisters
Sprung from the belly of Abyss at bidding of Hades, ever god of death
Lurking in the shadows for souls to steal, what Wisdom could not save
From such destiny? Listen to Voice from the Halls of Time Forgotten,
For thou only hast to remember that which Mankind forgot to learn
To save thyself from doom of burning, everlasting flames…
Awake!

Note: Inspired by Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.

God, Preachers, and Healing

“You don’t need medication for depression,” the minister taught
As he brought out his chart. “Studies show what you should know;
Nobody gets better with pills for meals, trust the Lord to heal!”
Several mouths in the congregation gave their “amen” approbation.
But the man of cloth saw a sloth in a pew that gave him his cue.

“You there! You look skeptical, not a receptacle of God’s glory!
You’ve never believed, have you? Never received the holy Spirit?”
I shifted on the seat, sifted through my thoughts, and drifted
Back to times gone by for lack of anything to say with no dismay.
“Listen to me, the Lord can heal everything with which you deal.”

elmer-gantry

Smiling, I looked at him sweating and lying; would I start crying?
As he was flying into an holy frenzy, I was trying to keep my cool,
But my face must have given a trace that I thought him a disgrace;
“You don’t trust the Lord, but even dogs eat crust from his table!
Go ahead and tell me, if you die are you going to heaven or hell?”

With that question posed, I rose up tall and straight, without hate;
Looking into his eyes, I could see the lies, and the roil of turmoil;
Slowly I spoke, not to provoke, but suddenly something in me awoke.
“Sir, God has been good; she has never turned her back nor do I lack;
And for so long now the Spirit has been mine and treats me just fine.”

Burning-bible

Already stunned by reference to “she,” the minister could hardly see.
“But you, sir, seem to me like a man who struggles with the repression
Of very deep depression, saying and braying what he wants to believe
Rather than what he needs to receive; a man telling his congregation
What they want to hear, selling them lies while hearts cry with pain.”

Shocked silence hung thickly in the air, blocked any word to be heard
Except mine, so I continued to opine, “You are one sinister minister
And only half-believe and then deceive from your own torn-apart heart,
Instead of talking like a real human instead of balking at the truth;
Instead of being brutally honest, you snootily look down with a frown.”

Truth

Mouth open, spirit broken, he looked now like only a token of ministry;
Among the congregation there were a few cheers, yet some were in tears;
“Now all of you listen to me, see, and be enlightened, not frightened,
And I will tell you, it’s true, God loves you and gives you life anew;
Our mothering God her Spirit freely gives that you and I might live.”

All eyes were fixed on me with mixed emotions, but no bit of commotion;
“Jesú came offering light, life and love from above, but what is unseen
Is far more than what is seen, and no one is keen enough to understand
To steal from heaven, nor leaven the truth with acquired fire of desire;
You ask, but do not bask in glory; your task is in your unfolding story.”

tumblr_lzrm3oqtcT1r1akzco1_500

Still finely suited, the now-broken minister wept, no more pretense kept;
Among the people, some cried, some smiled, some tried to keep their calm,
Applying balm of prayer lifted high into the air, but some would not spare
Freeing themselves in agreeing with what was spoken as some angelic token
Gifted for them to be lifted out of cruel endless course of insane remorse.

Asked what next, I answered, “Go to cross and steeple, but also to people
Who will help bear your burden, and know that medication is not dedication,
But physiological remediation; fly to the good Shepherd, hold him and cry,
But try to remember Jesú called physicians in admission among his apostles;
And our Mother God has been revealing healing medicines since time began.”

ChurchillQuote

.

Homo Naledi and the Excitement of New Discovery

The recent discovery of Homo Naledi by the Rising Star Expedition in South Africa[1] seems to have elicited quite some controversy — at least on social networks, like Facebook — between hardcore, atheistic evolutionists and “scientific creationists,” with agnostics and theistic evolutionists (religious or not) sanely caught somewhere in the middle, but practically muted by the cacophony of bitter accusations, speculations, name-calling, insults, and what-have-you. The discovery is fascinating, and it does not really change the theory of evolution, nor does it directly involve religious faith. This is a story of monumental, exciting discovery by scientists doing what they do: Researching, exploring, discovering and sharing with the rest of the world.

Of course, this has not stopped people from making asinine comments, such as: “They found old bones of a monkey, or disfigured man and call it a new human. This is nothing to get excited about. Thousands of years from now when they dig up Patrick Ewing, they will claim they found another species of human, too.” And, “Of course you’ll stick to your contemporary mythology Tom N. It’s too hard for some to overcome the fear of a vengeful, psychopathic deity.”[2] And one of my favorites: “You bible thumpers do realize god doesn’t exist, right?” To which I could not resist answering:

Umm … no. And “bible-thumpers” are by far not the only ones who believe in the existence of God (or the divine, supernatural, etc.) Besides this obvious fact, your question itself is quite bizarre: Why would “bible-thumpers,” as you refer to some, “realize god doesn’t exist?” If they realized this ~ which certainly is not the case ~ then, of course, they would not be “bible thumpers.” Very ill-thought and pedantic of you, Scott. Think before you write, please.

All of this is completely unnecessary, of course. As I tried to point out amid the raging controversy, there are plenty of scientists, who are women and men of faith. More than this, however, science is not about attempting to disprove the existence of God, divinity, the supernatural or numinous – yes, despite Dawkins and company – and religious faith is not, or need not be, about disproving science.

Yes, of course, there are naturalistic materialist who claim that all causation is completely naturalistic and materialistic, only an “interaction between material entities.” As philosopher Jennifer Trusted points out, for the materialist “consciousness has to be admitted but as a mere epiphenomenon … matter is the sole ultimate reality.”[3] One does not have to adhere to some sort of fideism to reasonably conclude that naturalistic materialism is ultimately untenable. But perhaps here we need to make one very important and sharp distinction: There is science (properly speaking) and then there is philosophy. Oftentimes in rancorous discussions, such as the one I’m here addressing, the two are terribly confused … or, really, not thought about at all! Thankfully, the former, very renowned atheistic philosopher-turned-theist, Anthony Flew, makes the distinction quite well:

You might ask how I, a philosopher, could speak to issues treated by scientists. The best way to answer this is with another question. Are we engaging in science or philosophy here? When you study the interaction of two physical bodies, for instance, two subatomic particles, you are engaged in science. When you ask how it is that those subatomic particles – or anything physical – could exist and why, you are engaged in philosophy. When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking as a philosopher.[4]

As stated above, scientists properly do what they do when they research, explore, discover and share with the rest of the world what they have learned. They do not ask questions, as professional scientists, about the purpose and meaning of life; about the intrinsic value of the homo sapien or other creatures; about the existence of an unseen numinous sphere, etc. What am I saying? There are philosophers, ethicists, theologians and other professionals for a reason; science is not kingpin. By the way, one needs to know and understand the difference between “science” and “scientism.” Scientism is “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation, as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities.” Just as “materialism” is “the theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.” [5]

In contradistinction to this is the metaphysical, that is, “that which relates to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses,” and this falls outside the purview of science, strictly speaking. Besides, what was actually discovered in South Africa by the Rising Star Expedition is astonishing beyond what can be precisely termed “science.” Researchers have concluded:

[B]esides shedding light on the origins and diversity of our genus, H. naledi also appears to have intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, a behaviour previously thought limited to humans… the context of the find has led the researchers to conclude that this primitive-looking hominin may have practiced a form of behaviour previously thought to be unique to humans. The fossils — which consist of infants, children, adults and elderly individuals — were found in a room deep underground that the team named the Dinaledi Chamber, or “Chamber of Stars”.[6]

In other words, they intentionally practiced “sacramental” burial. Science cannot answer the question, “Why? This was evidently important, and an exact, consistent practice, but why?” This question, and the answer, simply lie outside the limits of science. I believe the late Oxford scientist, William H. Thorpe, “hit the nail on the head” when he wrote:

The materialist scientist of the last century (19th), looking downward into the basis of material things, thought that he had found material entities behaving according to mechanistic determinism in a lawful and invariable manner to constitute the material world. At the other end he had the curious illusion that his mentality was also determined by mechanistic-materialist laws. Now, as we have seen, materialism at the basic physical levels has been transformed into events involving entities which are certainly not ‘physical’ in any original sense but as ‘vectors’ to be described only in non-physical terms – as ‘mental,’ as ‘purposive,’ or as ‘spiritual.’[7]

Touché! And so, again, we have philosophers, anthropologists, historians, ethicists, theologians, etc., all working properly in their respective fields (ideally, at least.) It is only when some, like Richard Dawkins, attempt to cross over into another field in which he has no real expertise that we have problems – completely unnecessary problems! And, too, when avid atheists and fundamentalist, “scientific creationists” jump in the ring where neither belong – this causes unnecessary complications, too, and all so unnecessary, really. In the final analysis, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn offers, perhaps, the best advice where living out our collective lives in this stunningly beautiful and still very mysterious world is concerned:

One thing should be said at the start: the answer to (the fundamentally important questions) cannot be found by opposing faith and knowledge, religion and science, but only in a shared effort of thought, research, and also belief.[8]

And to this, may I say, “Amen and amen!”

.


.

[1]Rising Star Expedition Reveals New Species: Homo Naledi as posted by the University of Witwatersrand, accessed on September 14, 2015

[2] Note: Grammatical and spelling errors corrected and names abbreviated by author of this article

[3] Jennifer Trusted, Inquiry and Understanding: An Introduction to Explanation in the Physical and Human Sciences, 88

[4] Antony Flew, “A Pilgrimage of Reason,” Francis S. Collins, ed., Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith, 309-310

[5] Sources lost and forgotten, or (perhaps) written out from various sources by author; however, these definitions may certainly, easily be checked for accuracy

[6] Ibid

[7] William H. Thorpe, Purpose in a World of Chance: A Biologist’s View, 114-115

[8] Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith, 112-113; Note: parenthetical mine

.

God…

Sélená stood near, and spoke for me to hear amid the wondrous animation of creation:

God

15 - 1[5]In the wind that blows and water that flows…
In the trees that dance and creatures that prance…
In the smiles of people and miles of lush plains…
In the mountains that tower and volcanos of power…
In the sand of seashores and the band that plays…
In the clouds of sky and in the baby’s sweet cry…
In the awesome steeples and goodhearted peoples…
In the giving love of friends and in rain from above…
In the flowers of beauty and those of faithful duty…
In the very air we breath and every care we carry…
In the glory of heaven and every good leaven of life…
In the stars that sing and the great joy they bring…
In the heart of the earth and the birth of new life…
In the charity of the humble, and clarity of truth…
In the bloody cross, and in the peat moss of memories…
In the sphere of grace, and in every face you meet…
In the mercy revealed, and perfect love unconcealed…
In the soft whisper to soul, and in the foot-wash bowl…
In the dying to this lying life to live without dying…

By the brook that trickles round each crook and corner,
By the moss that crawls and every green cos wildly grown,
By the toss of wild sea and every honey-collecting bee,
By the wild jungle-fierce lion and the mild pasture sheep,
By the little girl crying alone and trying to live forlorn,
ChristSophialarge-240x300[1]By the worn taxi cab driver and the torn mega-city survivor,
By the bay of large barges and those who stay night and day,
By the great leviathan of dark depths and stark-slick python,
By the all city gates of glory and slates of mythic stories,
By the fall of false prophets and deposits of religious vomit,
By the call of highest eagle and the goddess of regal summit,
By the lonely soul searching and the goal of truth reaching.

So said Sélená in vision of creation, to offer precision
Of knowledge of wisdom with no derision, only provision
Of sweet truth and peace, an increase of life harmony.
.

Note: Selena (GIF) by Carolina Gomez; “Christ Sophia” by Robert Lentz

.

Breaking Down the Walls, Part II

You. Who are you? And when they say ‘you,’
Is it You they’re really speaking to?
Or the silly, vacant ‘you’ that’s not true
To You as the ‘I’ you are, so far removed
From the vacuous him or her leaking words
In empty speaking, so impersonal, because
You are different, aberrant, indurate …
But ‘they’ made the ‘I’ you are the scar
That scares them into distant uncaring,
Wearing fake smile while malice bearing,
Tearing you asunder, while they blunder
Through theology, etiology, skewed biology
In endless tautology of doctrinal calumny
From their twisted psychology, and so they
Never really know you as the genuine ‘You’
True to who God made from sod and Spirit,
Not flawed, but an art that awed all angels,
While creation sang and heavenly music rang
At you, the new ‘I’ that Eye saw and smiled,
New child, unique and sweet and mild; but
Who beguiled you into hiding the ‘I’ you
You are ~ bright star, radiating so far ~
When you live in charity, pine for clarity
And truth, spirit youth; in loving dedication
In union and communion with Lord and companion;
To spread your board with feast for the least
Of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers?
More walls to tear down, or drown under frown
Of condemnation, though you live like Jesus
Who frees us; no more stalling at the walling!
Time for the ‘I’ you are to be You ever true
For them to clear-see and know, but ne’er again
To be just another sick brick separating you
From the world around, bounded in sheer fear;
Time for liberty from captivity; for every ‘I’
To be a ‘you’ to you, for you to be You, too!

.