One of the problems with Richard Barnett’s article (referred to in Part One) is this: when one wears biblically-informed theological glasses as a Christian talking about free will, it becomes too easy to gloss over the incredibly complex problems posed by the fact that while God does operate within bounds set by individual and corporate human free will, He can and has and does transcend natural laws of biology, physics and more.
Barnett thus fails to acknowledge that miracles are a historical reality (although I’m sure he believes that – he just didn’t say it!). But that fact places even greater pressure on Christians who argue that the evil and suffering in the world is a consequence of sin. What exactly is sin? And how has human sin caused natural disasters? Wars? Yes. That’s very human. But a tsunami? If God can do miracles, why does He do miracles sometimes and not others?
If you are not a Christian and you are reading this, then you should know that I fully agree that most Christians simply have nothing useful to say about God and evil in the world. You should also know that I don’t have a problem with you thinking that I have nothing useful to say either.
But I can also tell you that God is simply not interested in you believing in Him as long as you don’t ask any hard questions. That’s kind of how most Christians I know have grown up. And for that reason, many of them leave the faith.
A blog post like this – even in more than one installment – cannot hope to answer such difficult questions conclusively. But it can point towards ways of thinking to perhaps different answers than you may be comfortable with. Let’s run a scenario.
Say that you happen to be an atheist who has accepted evolution. This would also presuppose that you deem human reason – which depends on sufficient physiological functionality to include adequate brain health to ensure that genuine cognitive functionality (a process of mind, not brain) can take place – to be the highest order of understanding and comprehension.
Even genuine cognitive functionality is not a guarantee of a mind possessing well-ordered reasoning faculties. Logic may be a technical term beloved of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, but most of us would accept that we need to understand this word to make any sense of life in general.
Has logic evolved, then? Or our understanding of it? Christians who have delved into apologetics love word/phrases such as macro-evolution and micro-evolution, but most have no real control of these concepts. So let’s not try to do surface-level madness. What exactly are we saying has evolved in terms of homo sapiens? Mental capacity? Physical capacity?
What about morality? Has that evolved? If you answer yes, here’s my next question: what exactly would constitute material proof of this assertion?
Here’s where I’m going: evolution, however predicated (newsflash to the conservative Christians who think that they think when in reality others think for them: evolution is not a simple idea for ignorant fools), requires the acceptance of the principle of chance. However sophisticated the theory of chance may be, it is still chance. So as an atheist (yes, we’re still pretending), you’re saying that the entirety of human existence and experience is a by-product of chance. And yet, somehow, you also want to claim that human rationality – itself a part of human existence and experience – and therefore a product of chance – is the most important means by which we are to ascertain truth??
Yes, this has suddenly gotten technical, but it is still very far from an actual theodicy. That was nothing more than an exercise in reason with a sting in the tail. The relevance is: if our capacity for rationality is a product of chance, it is pretty fanciful to then argue that we are definitely supposed to understand everything that happens in our world. Forget religion completely for a second – if you are not a believer in a God – never mind a good God – never mind an all-powerful God – then you need serious faith to accept that you are actually in your right mind. What would constitute material proof of sanity? The tests devised by psychological and psychiatric science? Really? Are you aware of the controversies and litany of major errors in these areas, some of the consequences of which have wrecked many lives?
Coming out of our little hypothetical scenario – a person has nowhere to go with the argument that if they could understand everything that takes place in the world, and see God in it, you might then believe in God.
A God who created the entire universe could not possibly be understood by His creation. That’s basic logic, with no faith-strings attached.
But for those with a theistic outlook (which would naturally include Christians), we got problems too. Because a whole bunch of us seem to have decided that believing in God means that God is supposed to act on our behalf at all times in ways which make sense to us.
This is the most preposterous idea ever and Isaiah 55:8-9 puts paid to it.
So we have a minimum of two sets of people, one Christian, one non-Christian, both with expectations that God’s actions in the world are supposed to fit within their comprehension.
I have some serious news for you all.
The Gospels tell us that God came to earth as a baby – a human being – and defeated sin ‘in the flesh’ so that we could be reconciled to our Maker. Now, could someone please explain what is easy and ‘understandable’ about that? Surely, when Adam and Eve sinned, faced with the risk of divinity imploding within itself if Jesus had failed the test, it would have made much more sense to totally eviscerate the human race and return to the drawing board.
Jesus did not do that. He came and died just so that we could continue to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Him on our own terms. And while we are talking about Christmas – the point of Christmas is that there would one day be Easter.
God cares about pain and suffering more than we do. He loves with a purer love than we will ever know for ourselves. And Christmas is the proof that He cares.
Because He didn’t have to come. But He had to come in order to destroy sin – but without destroying the entire human race as well. Christmas is the reminder that God wants to do more than make us feel good. He wanted to destroy the power of sin forever – so one day no-one will ever, ever sin again.
And that’s why we call the gospel ‘good news.’ It’s more than good…