It is a common argument against Christian thought that scripture calls for us to not question God when he does something we do not understand. This can apply to times that God does not save those who are suffering, times in the bible in which Jesus performs miracles that are impossible in the natural physical world, or times when God does not answer prayers. Admitting that there is no way to comprehend God’s means or reasons for doing what he does is an easy way for Christians to come to terms with this cognitive dissonance, but I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. The majority of Christians that I’ve met are not stupid people. Some questionable logic is generally necessary for reconciling various fantastical claims in scripture that can clash with our reasonable, observable conclusions, but it doesn’t stop believers from doing their best to apply logic to these situations.
I understand that the basis of Christianity is that its followers operate on faith rather than evidence, but many, many Christians do study various fields of science and come to a logical, science-based conclusion that there is, indeed, a god. While I do not agree with this conclusion, I respect their skepticism and studying far more than I would respect the conclusion of “God exists because he says he exists,” or other ideas along those lines. I’m glad that so many Christians believe what they do because they see it as logical, but much to my dismay, I still continue to see those who believe solely on a faith-basis, and they don’t think to question God’s ways or his seeming contradictions or naturally inexplicable tendencies.
I came across a post last week from a blogger who showed great humility and honesty in her writing, but I can’t help to be baffled by something that she said: “I’m begging you not to get so conceited about your relationship with God that you think you understand his reasons for doing anything. ” My problem with this is that it’s such a common Christian viewpoint and response to things like the problem of evil, which was essentially the topic of the post. Even if you aren’t able to reach a conclusion that can well explain the problem of evil, it’s unnatural and incongruous with our natural logical tendencies to not even ask why.
In a class I took last year, the professor did a great job of teaching different worldviews in an unbiased manner, and that meant going through criticisms of Christianity in a logical and honest way. We did talk quite a bit about the problem of evil, and we read parts of “God, Evil, and Suffering” by Daniel Howard-Snyder. Our reading came to the conclusion that there are six theodicies of why there is evil in the world:
1. Punishment Theodicy – all evil is punishment for sin
2. Counterpart Theodicy – you can’t have good without evil
3. Free Will Theodicy – God wants a relationship with people so that people can choose God so that their relationship has a meaning
4. Natural Consequences Theodicy – we must suffer in order to be brought back to God
5. Natural Law Theodicy – without the laws of physics, we couldn’t predict things and probably a lot of us would die; unfortunately, these laws require natural disasters
6. Higher-order Goods Theodicy – compassion for suffering, working together to fix something bad, freeing slaves, courage in dangerous situations; evil is needed for these good things to come together
Howard-Snyder concluded that even if any of these six theodicies can explain the evil in the world, they can’t explain the amount of evil. Even after doing as much research and giving as much philosophical thought as he did, the author essentially decided that just because we don’t see a reason why there is so much evil in the world, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a reason. We just don’t know what it is. (Note: Howard-Snyder defines God as “an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being,” and he defines evil as “undeserved, intense suffering and pain and/or horrific wickedness,” so if you happen to not believe in evil as a naturalist, you can still follow along with Howard-Snyder’s ideas.)
As I said before, in addition to God’s mysterious reason for not preventing evil is his mysterious ways of defying physics throughout the bible. I didn’t have much to write on this topic, but thankfully, I was forced to attend my home church this morning, and I got my first taste of our new pastor’s ridiculousness, which tied in perfectly to today’s post. It was like an answered prayer, except not.
The focus of our bible study lesson was Luke Chapter 1. The first part of the story is of an angel telling Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth was past her child-bearing years, so she was unable to conceive naturally. As might be expected, Zechariah didn’t believe the angel’s illogical statement, and asks “How can I be sure of this?” Not surprisingly, the angel didn’t appreciate his skepticism. Rather than biologically and reasonably explaining how this barren woman could have conceived a child, the angel silences Zechariah and causes him to be mute. I see this as the equivalent of if, during their debate, Bill Nye had tried to use scientific evidence to demonstrate why evolution is a reasonable conclusion and model of human origins, and instead of responding with a valid argument, Ken Ham zaps Bill Nye so that he can no longer speak. Ken Ham wins by default and doesn’t have to answer any hard scientific questions.
The next story that we studied was when the angel Gabriel reveals to Mary that she has conceived the baby Jesus. Obviously, she doesn’t understand how this could have happened since she is a virgin. The difference between Mary and Zechariah, though, is that Mary accepts this preposterous and biologically impossible news without question, and the angel appreciates her lack of skepticism. The moral of the story is: don’t ask questions.
This is exactly what the pastor concluded. Don’t question God’s ways. When the bible tells you that God can do the physically impossible, don’t ask for proof. Don’t fight it (he literally said both of these things). The pastor even went on to say that we should take God’s word at face value, even when it makes no sense to us and it can’t be proven. God impregnated a virgin? We believe it. God changes red wine and wafers into his son’s literal blood and literal body for us to eat and drink during transubstantiation at communion every week? Sure. God will raise the physical body of every (Christian) person who has ever died and put their bodies back together so that they can physically join him in heaven? Alright. We won’t question it.
All three of these examples were things that the pastor actually talked about in terms of “don’t fight it.” Don’t demand proof. Don’t even ask. Live forever in darkness, and don’t try to comprehend why or how your God would do the things he says he does.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to sit back and listen to this without at least being deeply saddened. These are smart people who are being told to suppress their natural desire to understand the world through their innate (some would say God-given) logical capabilities. Christians aren’t stupid, and they’re not blind, but it’s greatly disappointing when their church expects them to be.