Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making Excuses for God

One of the biggest challenges to my understanding of the religious mind is that so many believers continually insist on making up excuses for their god when things go badly. For example, the quintessential excuse used when prayers seem to go unanswered is, “God answers prayer in his own way and in his own time.” So, in other words, either God is behaving capriciously or God is not answering prayers at all. Christians are all too eager to continue praying to a seemingly capricious god, because the other choice is not an option for them. (Muslims, Jews, and other religious people are as guilty as Christians, but I come from a Christian background so my focus is on that branch of religion.)

And then there is always the excuse, “God knows what’s best for us and answers prayer accordingly.” Again, either God knows what’s best for us and hasn’t let us in on his little secret, or prayer only seems to be answered or not answered randomly, as if God didn’t exist.

What about all those suffering extreme burdens or hardships, many of them devout Christians? Why doesn’t God help them out? The excuse given is, “God does not put any more on us than we can handle.” Really? Maybe he does sometimes. Maybe that’s why people commit suicide, because they can’t handle the pain or stress. Why didn’t God see that one coming? Some people suffer heart attacks or strokes because the stress of life has become overwhelming. So how can the Christian excuses explain those instances?

What about all the hardship and suffering in general? How can that be explained if there is an all-powerful and all-benevolent god? The excuse Christians give for God’s seemingly total lack of compassion is, “God allows us to suffer for our own sakes, because suffering makes us stronger and builds character.” Really? How does it build the character of a baby who is born with so many birth defects that it suffers and then dies after a few days or weeks of life? Maybe it was a lesson for the parents? So God creates horrible suffering for an innocent child in order to teach the parents a lesson? Maybe that idea should be sent to M. Knight Shyamalan so he can use it to write a sequel to Signs.

Suffering has always been God’s biggest problem. It has even spawned a whole area of theological study called theodicy. Theodicy has never been able to successfully explain how a good god can allow suffering. Of course, that doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but it does pretty much seal the deal on the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful god; such a god is incompatible with so much suffering. There can be no real excuse for it all.

That, of course, doesn’t stop Christians from making up excuses. “God works in mysterious ways.” “God is punishing us for our sins by causing us to suffer.” “The devil causes us to suffer and God allows it because it is all part of his divine plan.”

If a child came up with excuses so lame for his poor behavior, the parent wouldn’t buy it for a second. But God gets a pass. Why? It’s because everybody wants God to exist, and they want him to be all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But to be all those things, and still allow suffering is not possible, not even for God. There really is no excuse.


Beth said...

Wonderful post, Jerry. All perfectly legitimate questions...and they are never answered satisfactorily, are they?

Anonymous said...

I randomly came across your blog; and really, rarely make any comments. However, I'm in a certain frame of mind today that makes me want to simply ask: when or where did God ever say there would be no suffering. I understand what Christians say, and do, does not always accurately represent the God of the Bible - the theodicy argument that many turn to as the ultimate and irrefutable argument against the existence of God is based on what people say about God, not what God says about Himself. My obvious perspective is that God has revealed Himself through the Bible - and nowhere has He promised "never to give us more than we can bear"; or that there would never be suffering. Why are we expecting God to keep promises He never made; and why are we so intent on judging His existence by those same standards?

Jerry Wilson said...

I think this part of the post answers your question: "Of course, that doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but it does pretty much seal the deal on the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful god; such a god is incompatible with so much suffering. There can be no real excuse for it all."

God may not have promised us no suffering, but we judge what is good and what is evil by God's standards a la the Garden of Eden's forbidden fruit, so how else are we to interpret God as anything other than either non-caring or impotent. He either can't stop our suffering or he doesn't care that we do. If either is true, then God is not the Christian god as Christians would have us believe (all-loving, all-powerful).

Newt said...

You've addressed exactly what I am struggling with now as I am in constant horrible pain with no end in sight. I don't want to live but I don't want to die either. I see god as a tyrant who does not answer to me for anything. Living in this pain I am in hell, and if I die by my own hand then I'll go to hell. So there is no hope for me regardless. His silence is deafening to my ears, and I am in awe of his inability or refusal to show me mercy.