Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Problematic Theology Made Simple
My entire youth spent in church, a year in Bible School and 3 years in Seminary and I never once heard it explained quite as well as this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic:
Theodicy is a theological problem that predates Christianity (See Epicurus) but sad to say, 2000+ years of theological pondering has left us no closer to an answer. Well, if you want to be technical it has left us with a great many volumes of answers but none of them are particularly satisfying (hence the many volumes). The problem is simple, on the one hand you have a perfectly good God who is all-knowing and all-powerful. On the other hand you have the messed up world we live in. One of these things make it very hard to believe in the other and the problem with reality is that we are kinda stuck with it. The problem, like I said, is simple - if God is so great why is the world so evil? The answer is also fairly simple, all you have to do is change something about God to make Him fit the state of the universe. Problem is that the moment you start tinkering with God you change Him into something less godly and usually you end up with a God as ugly as your universe - which makes the whole exercise pointless. Honestly, I don't see what is so bad about the skeptical view here. Surely an uncaring universe is preferable to one governed by a malevolent or apathetic God? Also, if you're going to have a God that can be overruled and marginalized by your (and everyone else's) choices at all times then why bother having a God at all?
In all fairness, I think CS Lewis made a pretty good case for free will as a solution in "The Problem of Pain". I can agree with him that for God to actually stop every evil thing that happens would require near constant miraculous intervention and having the laws of physics and reality altered every couple of seconds does seem like an absurd expectation to have. The problem is, even the free will argument breaks down after a while. Let's say I'm walking down the street and I find a teenager who tried a dumb stunt on his skateboard and ended up with two broken legs at the bottom of a sewer drain that is busy filling up with water. He got into that situation by his own free will, no doubt. However if I ignore all his pleas for help and just leave him there to suffer I'm not respecting his free will, I'm being a dick! Where it falls apart for me is not that bad things happen or that evil exists, it's that there seems to be no divine help when you beg for it.
Ye gods I am sick and tired of the weepy, impotent God of modern Christianity! I was reading The Shack which explained how God was right there when the protagonist's little girl was abducted, molested and murdered, crying with her and feeling her pain. I have found that this is a Godview shared by many evangelical Christians and it's meant to be comforting. Comforting?! Comforting my ass! You know who can cry along in empathy when children get molested? Me! Also: You and anyone you know with even a shred of humanity left in them. We don't need God to do our crying for us. A God who could have saved that little girl, now that would be a praiseworthy God! I don't need a God who can get weepy about my pain, I need a God who can help.
How I long for the Old God, for the God of Elijah and Moses! He walked the earth in fire and lightning, He was powerful and He was present! When Elijah wanted to show who served the true God he didn't have to break out the ontological argument or anything like it because he had a God who answered with fire! Moses didn't show up in Pharaoh's court with the Cosmological Argument because he had a God who could turn a staff into a snake, bring down horrific plagues on the land and split the sea in half! Their God may have been terrifying but you knew without a doubt that He was real and you wanted to be on His side!
Or how about an eating, drinking, miracle working God-with-us like Jesus? You don't need to discuss "first causes" and "unmoved movers" when you can walk on water and raise the dead! If you were on the side of power and the status quo He was every bit as terrifying as the God of Elijah but if you were amongst the outcast and the broken you had no better friend. He didn't go through the land feeling sorry for people, He healed and restored and helped! He was present and He made things better for those who called on Him in a real and tangible way! Jesus of Nazareth was nowhere near as emo as the neutered Jesus of modern suburbia.
I guess what I really long for is a God who lives in reality and not in philosophy. Is that too much to ask? I don't think I'm alone in this either. Despite all his apologetics and philosophy, even CS Lewis ended up inventing a God more majestic, compassionate and present than the one he preached about in his theological works.