Sunday, December 21, 2008

He shall give his angels charge over thee

I’m going to pull some things out of the combox which are worth addressing on their own:

“[Heather MacDonald] An actress playing one of the three wise men tragically fell to her death while suspended over the stage during a Cincinnati Christmas pageant Wednesday night. According to my stepmother, God sends his angels to hold up the retaining wall of her Los Angeles house in answer to her prayers. Her angels couldn’t have gone out on loan?”


“How should one answer this common provocation from atheists about unanswered prayers and generally why didn't angels (or God or prayer) save this person if they saved that person and so on.”

Several issues:

i) MacDonald’s challenge is predicated on her stepmother’s superstitious believe that angels are propping up the retaining wall of her LA home. That premise is not a serious basis on which to build an argument, and MacDonald knows it. Her stepmother may be a wonderful person, but her stepmother is not a theologian or Bible scholar. This is a case of attacking Christianity by attacking its weakest representatives. It’s a straw man argument. Christian theology isn’t synonymous with what any particular Christian, however unqualified, happens to believe.

ii) You don’t have to read very far into the Bible to see that tragic things happen to God’s people. For example, Adam and Eve lost a child to murder. That’s every parent’s nightmare. What is even worse, he was murdered by his brother.

The Bible is full of stories about believers who suffer personal tragedies of one sort or another. Hence, the Bible doesn’t justify the expectation that bad things can’t happen to God’s people. Just the opposite.

iii) We also need to take reasonable precautions. You assume a certain risk when you allow yourself to be suspended over a stage. An unnecessary risk.

I’m not saying that’s wrong. Life isn’t risk free. It isn’t inherently wrong to take a calculated risk. That depends on the situation. On the level of risk.

But if you gamble, you may lose the bet. You need to be prepared to accept the foreseeable consequences of your actions. If you engage in risky behavior, you can’t blame anyone if things go wrong.

For example, many people enjoy water sports. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. But water sports involve an element of risk: a danger of drowning, or encountering a dangerous marine creature. You take a risk when you go boating or surfing or swimming.

iv) Natural evils are natural goods. What makes them “evil” is if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. Gravity is a natural good. Our life depends on gravity. It’s a medium we need to respect and exploit.

Imagine a gravity-free environment—like astronauts in outer space. While that might be fun for half an hour, it’s actually quite limiting. Quite impractical.

v) We live in a dangerous world because we live in a fallen world. That exposes us to various perils. In my opinion, even an unfallen world would have its share of natural hazards. But in an unfallen world, we would not be as vulnerable. God would protect us from catastrophic harm.

vi) Imagine a fallen world in which God doesn’t ever allow a sinner to hurt himself. What would be the consequences of that?

Too many sinners already take life for granted. In a harmless, risk-free world, they would be even more frivolous, even more indifferent, even more careless and callous and superficial.

vii) We naturally tend to focus on the disadvantages of living in a fallen world. But a fallen world also has one great advantage for you and me. We are products of a fallen world. We exist because sinners begat us. We exist, as the unique individuals we are, due to the unique circumstances of life in a fallen world.

If Adam and Eve had never sinned, they would still have children, but you and I would not exist. A whole difference set of people would take our place.

That would be a good outcome, but it wouldn’t be so good for you and me. So there are benefits to life in a fallen world: benefits to the fallen.

viii) We’ve all grown up with SF stories in which the main character suffers a personal tragedy. He loses someone he loves.

He goes back in time to prevent that tragedy. And he succeeds.

But his intervention has unseen consequences. In changing one thing, he changes many things. His action has a ripple effect.

Life is all about timing. Take procreation. Which sperm reaches the ovum. An hour earlier, an hour later, and you have a different person in the womb. You conceive Jim instead of John.

That’s not necessarily a bad outcome. A bad alternative.

But there’s a tradeoff. It comes at a cost. John pays the price. John will not exist. Jim took his place.

In this case, what’s good for Jim is bad for John, and vice versa. Each alternative may be equally good, but they’re not equally good for each of the interested parties.

ix) It’s a tragedy when a teenager dies. He had his whole life ahead of him. Now he’ll never marry, never have kids.

Either alternative has a branching series of consequences. Supposed he lived. His kids will make friends. His kids will have kids. That one action ripples out in many different directions which you and I can’t begin to predict. All the lives they touch—for better or worse.

“Also, they say when God restores an amputated limb, as a response to prayer, then they (the atheist) will believe. Etc.”

i) God doesn’t want everyone to believe in him.

ii) There is more to Biblical faith than the bare belief that God exists. Healing an amputee doesn’t make an amputee a true believer. It may simply make him regard God the way he views a politician: “What have you don’t for me lately?”


  1. I emailed this post's link to Heather MacDonald at

  2. I also sent the link to her Manhattan Institute address, due to the blog having a guy going by "David Hume" (who seems to work for the U.K.'s Guardian -- secular*right*, right?) who has taken it upon himself to protect his colleagues from criticism and may delete the email.