Friday, October 07, 2011

God and Catastrophes 1

I think I'm getting close to finishing this strangely evolving series relating to the problem of evil and suffering.  I put in some headings to give a sense of the organization.

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations

What is evil?
Pain is not Evil
What is sin? 1
What is sin? 2

God doesn't directly cause evil and suffering.
Does God tempt? 1
Does God tempt? 2
God and Catastrophes 1 (today's)

Ultimate Questions
Why did God create evil?

Today, God and Catastrophes
So far, we have argued that evil has to do with intent to do wrong and to harm.  Pain thus is not evil in itself when it does not come in some way from someone's intent to do wrong.  We have argued that God allows evil to take place but does not generally cause it directly. In this section, we want to complete the circle and say that God allows pain, suffering, catastrophe and such, but does not generally cause it directly.

This notion flies in the face of a great deal of popular teaching about suffering, because many Christians comfort themselves in the middle of their problems with the idea that God is trying to teach them something.  Maybe God is disciplining them because they have not been paying attention to him.  Maybe he is getting them ready for something bigger that is coming.  Some Christians act as if God is behind the scenes orchestrating the minute details of their lives, down to which jello they picked for lunch.

Of course who is to say that God does not directly intervene in our lives?  Christians believe in miracles and God interjecting himself into the stream of human and natural cause and effect.  Christians are not deists, who think God created the world but is no longer involved with it.  In all that we are about to say, we are not denying that God can and may, from time to time, interject himself as a cause in the stream of otherwise "natural" causes and effects.

But there also seems something decidedly narcissistic and immature about the way popular Christianity thinks God is directing the minute details of their lives.  This view creates a world in which it's all about me and what God's doing in my life.  Sure, he's doing it for you as well--I'll let you share and be happy about it too.  But now it's my turn to share about what God is teaching me right now.

There is something curiously American about this approach to things, not to mention something curiously post-Freudian and post-Romanticism.  It is a symptom of modern introspection and psychology, atypical of other times and places in history.  It is a by-product of the world after Sigmund Freud, who taught us that who we are today is a product of key events that took place in our childhood, which has led the west to scour their individual past for significance.  It is a symptom of the hyper-individualism of the west.

Of course the Enlightenment of the 1700s went too far in the opposite direction.  Fascinated with the newly discovered laws of nature, some thinkers went so far as to say that God never intervenes in the world.  To them, the world was just one big machine that God created, wound up, and then gave a push to.  The rest is simply the pool balls bouncing off one another according to the laws of physics.  If we knew all the variables and the math, we could predict everything that would happen for the rest of the world.

We are suggesting here something in between these two extremes.  We are suggesting that God largely does let the natural world continue in its normal sequence of cause and effect...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't understand the direct correlation to cause and effect, though I know that behaving illegally will have consequences. Such thinking does tend to blame someone or "God" for the consequence, as someone must be responsible!

Catastrophes are just to tragic for there to be simplistic understanding of "cause and effect"! Catastrophes are about colliding and conflicting ideals, opinions, values, and physical realities (like hurricanes, toronadoes, etc.)! This is the environment of our culture wars, where both sides claim "God", but neither allow for tolerance toward the other view! Such a state of affairs cannot help but bring about "wars" whether ideological (the cause) or political conflict (the effect).

A libertarian position is our only hope to defend against absolutist claims about political realities and how to resolve them! Acknowedgement about one's politcal philosophy and the reality of social problems and how to resolve them are what our wars are about.

"God" has little to do with the actual realities about life, as "God" , as well as science can be useful to discriminate, justify "effects", blame the other side for the "cause", and make for a divided and conflicted nation!

davey said...

"Pain thus is not evil in itself when it does not come in some way from someone's intent to do wrong"

It would seem to be more consistent with your line to say that even here it is not the suffering caused by evil that is evil, only the intent to have done the evil. How can anyone not think there is something wrong with a theology that says God can create a world in which there are even vaster amounts of suffering than in this world (hard to imagine!), but that world actually be good, but they do!

Scott F said...

"Maybe he is getting them ready for something bigger that is coming."

This is exactly the interpretation that Tom Nelson made on Ecclesiastes on a video we viewed in SS yesterday. I think it is a very common view.