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Fruitbat 57M
1556 posts
1/30/2016 10:26 am

Last Read:
2/6/2016 3:16 am

Practicing for Sunday

I have to speak in church next week. I have not done this for a long time, so this is me putting some thoughts together. It will need some editing.

Over the years I have been through something of a spiritual journey. At one point, when I thought my faith was systematically well sorted and ready for anything, I hit an iceberg that left many of my safe hand holds of my faith seeming decidedly insecure. Which left me confused. Added to which was my job, which required me to teach the philosophies of religion and explore the challenges to them.
And the thing was, there were a lot of challenges.

The popular challenge that scholars threw around, and also my students, was, if there is a God and he is as loving as you say he is, then why is there so much suffering in the world?

I felt ready for this one. Suffering is not God's fault, it's man's fault. The great disasters in the world in the vast majority of cases, can be tracked back to the actions of man. We are autonomous units, we make our decisions, we cannot blame God for our actions.

There are philosophers that would argue that if God is loving, could he not arrange that we could be free but also not liable to make bad choices, which might seem plausible theoretically, but it means that we are not free, we cannot know God's grace in it's true depth, and it would mean creating a situation that we want to make sense that does not make sense. For philosophers, particularly religious philosophers, that is not as strange as it sounds, but still, could God make us free but not free is a flawed challenge.

However, this still leaves is with the problem that sin causes so much suffering, could not God manage it in some way? The goal of getting people to know God through freewill means that some people suffer disproportionately, sin may be man's creation but those that suffer for it are frequently not those that cause it, doesn't God worry about the injustice of it? The freewill debate, from a human point of view, is inconclusive, it does not disprove the existence of God, but it doesn't provide satisfactory answers for the existence of suffering and God.

We could counter this with another theodicy, which makes the point that we haven't seen the end product. We see the underside of God's creation, at the end of time, we will see it in all its perfections. Which had validity, but it still allows a lot of people to suffer and go through torment and not see the end product. A common criticism could be does the starving to death in a famine, or someone brought up in criminality and poverty, who winds up dead, figure in this. They don't see justice, they don't see the end product. As sinful humans, we could take the Calvinist argument that we all deserve death anti is God's right to save those whom he will, which would have to be the truth, yet it is not consistent with the values of justice and also compassion, that are so promoted in the bible.

William Paley, a mathematician and a philosopher wrote about the world's function implying a designer and that designer was God. Which, like many theodicies will work if you already believe in God, but for the non believer seeking to find their way to God, presents difficulties. In fact, the universe and our world would seem to be imperfect. From black holes to earthquakes, there seem to be a mass of imperfections. We could put forward the argument that the world became corrupted when man sinned, but that requires a step of faith, it it not an empirical step in our reasoning. In fact, Paley himself became disengaged with his own theory, and wrote undermining it.

I don't believe there are easy ways to reject the criticisms of the conflict of a loving God and a suffering world. This shouldn't be too surprising, God, by definition, has to be infinite. We are finite. For the finite to explain the workings of the infinite is not possible.

Thomas Aquinas put forward the original ontological argument, an argument that seeks to prove God's existence by reason.

God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
For God to exist in reality is greater than for him to exist in the imagination.
Therefore, God must exist.

Later on, Rene Descartes will argue, God is far too great for my finite mind to conceive, yet I can conceive of him. Where did I get the idea from? It must be God.

These are simplistic precis of the arguments, and they created a world of debate about what you can conceive and the necessary nature of God's existence. But they lead to the thoughts of Immanuel Kant, who said they were looking for God in the wrong way. To go through finite human reasoning to prove (or disprove) the existence of the infinite, is generally a circle of confusion, where most people will reject the arguments and be convinced by their own preconceptions.

Kant argued you should look for God's action as evidence, not your own reason. For there is a lot we cannot answer. Why is there something and not nothing? If the universe has a start, what was there before the start?

In the midst of my confusion, I found some very some simple thinking helped me.

Jesus existed. We have more and better evidence for the existence of Jesus than we do for most historical figures. The writings of St Paul could be as early as 59AD, certainly no later than the destruction of Jerusalem, (a huge event in Jewish history that Paul would have found it impossible to ignore, but he doesn't mention it), and in historical terms, 30 years is almost on the spot reporting.

And Jesus was truly remarkable. Consistent, compassionate, educated though he should not have been, able to speak to people in a way that transformed them, saying things which either meant he was deranged or that he absolutely wasn't. And Jesus showed no sign of being deranged. Deranged people do not do consistent wisdom.

However the technicalities of existence work, and how God's nature is, Jesus is the compelling part. On the pulpit of the college where I studied id a plaque, a quote from James 12:21; 'Sir, we would see Jesus'.

That's the important thing. For me, that's what I must look for and hold onto, because nothing else provides any answers.

Urban_Hermit 68M
317 posts
1/31/2016 2:45 am

Ravi Zacharias and John Lennox help answer these questions. They are worth listening to. If this is your field you probably know them already.

Judgement Day will be interesting.

Fruitbat replies on 1/31/2016 9:09 am:
I've read a little of them, but not as much as I should. John Lennox I have head speak and he is really impressive, thanks!