I’ve been going through a difficult season lately. And things in my life seem to be funneling out of control. I don’t like to dwell on it, but it keeps on reappearing, the thought that God is distant, or He is not there for me in my life. It goes deeper, to the edge of crisis as I contemplate the depth of evil and suffering in the world, and in my life.
A Meditation on the Problem of Evil, the Existence of Spirits, and God
If God indeed exists, he is either in control of the world, or leaves the world completely free to make it’s own decisions. Or it could be a complicated mixture of both.
The first argument is pure predestination, that God controls everything, very much like a puppeteer controls his puppets to do his will. Nothing is much of a surprise to God because he controls everything according to his will.
The second argument is much like a watch-maker who creates a watch, tweaks to the exact calibrations, and then stands aside. This is a God of ultimate free will, who doesn’t ever intervene.
The third argument is God is somehow in control of the world, but yet gives us freedom to decide for ourselves, and our choices have consequences, and we are partakers in this world. God occasionally intervenes in this world through miracles and in subtle, subversive ways.
The problem of evil is extremely madden. If God is truly in control of this world, and everything has a purpose in this life, God is also the author of evil, God controls people into committing such sickening, sinful crimes, such as rape, murder, sexual-abuse, war, etc. This view could be as the same time very comforting because God is using such evil for his means, but equally problematic because God is the author of such evil.
The second is equally problematic, if God is completely unwilling, or unable to intervene, he is a powerless God who is akin to committing such atrocities. He allows people to kill one another, he allows rape to occur, he is like a fireman who refuses to save people from a burning building or to put out a fire. God is either a sick person, or a completely weak person undeserving of our praise and affections. The strength of this argument is that God is not directly responsible for such actions, because he didn’t cause them in the first place. However, it seems far too chaotic and unloving for a God who does not intervene in history.
The last view is a paradox, an ontological conundrum. According to my knowledge the Pharisees of Jesus’ time believed the same. God is somehow sovereign, and control of the universe, and supports and binds it according to his purposes. People are free-agents, making decisions thus being accountable for their life choices and decision making. God is somehow able to guide the works of both evil and good towards his will. God is beyond time and space, he looks over time somehow like a straw, and he can see both beginning and ends.
The problem with the first and second views is they lead to either a God who is ultimately a control freak, who is inflexible, and domineering, and no one is essentially accountable for their actions, or even their sins. The second lends us to a God who is powerless, and ignorant of the ways of humanity. God is a bad parent who leaves the child in a kitchen as they fiddle around with the kitchen stove, knives, and smoke detectors.
The last one may feel like a cop-out but it is the only one that makes reasonably sense to me, and a God who I could truly worship. He is somehow omnipotent, and loving at the same time. He is able to intervene into history, do miracles, save people from their hellish conditions, and at the same time honor free-will, decisions, and consequences. Throughout the OT, God allows his people to make stupid decisions from worship a gold cow, to rising up against their savior Moses, yet he accomplishes his ultimate plans, no longer how long it takes. He even takes Balaam’s curse against Israel and turns that into a blessing.
I don’t know much about the spiritual realm, I’ve never had any visions, or any spectacular miracles beyond reality. I’ve never heard the voice of God before, although I thought I heard someone say my name in the dark, but it could have been my imagination while I was falling asleep. I’ve never seen an angel before, I’ve never seen the devil, or evil spirits before. I don’t really fear these “spiritual forces” because I’m protected from these things anyways, and they are beyond my rational comprehension. I don’t like to blame my sin, or even others sins on evil spirits, because it takes away personal responsibility, and seems a bit like a cop-out to me. Call me a modernist, but I think most of these “feelings” are based upon psychological blind spots and tricks we pull on inadvertently on ourselves. I am not saying there is no possibility of “spiritual beings” or specters, but they play a very minimal role in my life. I don’t pray to angels, I don’t blame accidents and maladies on demons, spirits, or any other forces.
I’ve been a Christian most of my life because I think I’ve experienced God. I feel God, although it might be my imagination. I am well aware of confirmation-bias, looking for evidence which affirms my presuppositions, or my desires. Or the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia, when one sees patterns in random data. But in many ways, we are all bias, looking through different lenses, based on our ethnicities, nationalities, experiences, social statuses, family upbringing, genes we inherit.
I was born in a Christian family, and my Dad is a pastor. I’ve been surrounded by Christian communities, and sometimes I think the people around me are a bit eccentric and crazy. I don’t know if God is speaking to them or it’s just their own imaginations. As Catholic theologians teach us Truth is ultimately God’s and whenever we seek truth we will find God.
I’ve been trying to pray, differently than I’ve been before. I’m asking God to reveal himself in a tangible way. He has been silent for quite awhile, and I’m trying to hear and listen to his voice. I’m asking God: “Where have you been? Have you been listening to me God? Why can’t I feel you anymore?” Very much like Aristotle, I am revisiting the past, trying to clean the slate and look from some type of limited objective standpoint. I am looking at instances in my life and believing whether God was there or he was not.
Three things that guide me away from being an atheist:
1. If God didn’t exist, the only reason for me to live, if I had no faith would be for the “good” will of all man. That “good” will would be somehow arbitrarily based on my presuppositions. Furthermore, there would never be true justice, and restoration for the hundreds of people who have died, suffered, under totalitarian regimes, dictators, killers, rapists, husband-beaters, child-pornographers, etc. There is no justice for these people, and their lives would have been a waste of needless suffering. The idea of injustice would be far too overwhelming and maddening for me. The eschatological argument that the “good” are redeemed, and blessed and the “evil” are punished accordingly, is fully fleshed out here.
2. Being a Christian is the only reason for me to act counter to the most basic desire to love my enemies as I would love myself. This commandment is counter to every fiber of my being, that I would rather have all my enemies hung on the gallows or burned on the stake. Jesus’ most basic commandment, hinges upon the idea that God first loved us, and that God himself is love.
3. I would like my thankfulness to be directed upon a source which is relatable, knowable, and tangible. Any blessings I’ve received in this life, is a product of my creator’s lavish grace bestowed upon me, without any pretenses. I can be thankful for a being, instead of thanking mere chance. Origins of the world (the how) doesn’t concern me, but on “who” and “why” the earth was created. And I can be thankful that there is even a purpose, end goal to a seemingly meaningless world.