Thursday, January 10, 2013

In moments like these

I didn’t sleep well last night and I woke up sad and unsettled. For some reason, killing these 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut yesterday burrowed deep into my heart and has decided to stay put for a while.

What kind of a God would let…..

This sort of thing happens all the time. We all know that. In recent months the news has been full of these “stories.”

But it’s actually far worse. Violence against innocents–whether at the hand of individuals, groups, tribes, or nations–is as old as recorded time. Violence and the drama of human history go hand in hand.

And people have been asking, in one way or another, “Uh, excuse, me, God?” ever since learned scribes began writing about God/the gods on rock, clay, animal skin, and papyrus.

What kind of a God would….    Indeed. In my opinion, this is the grand struggle of any faith in God, a higher power, whatever.

It’s an age old question that no one can solve, but that every college philosophy student and seminarian has to take a deep look at: If God is all loving and all powerful, why do things like this happen? Why does God let them happen? Why doesn’t he do something–now, right here?

Good questions.

Well, like I said, who cares what I think. But these moments test one’s faith more than most. And it makes other “challenges to our faith,” like whether there was a historical Adam or whether the Bible was written after the return from Babylonian exile, look like a splash in a shallow puddle compared to the deep, black, ocean storm of 5 year olds getting shot because they went to school one day.

I can easily get my arms around a God whose book begins with a mythic story of a naked first couple holding a conversation with a serpent, or a Bible that wasn’t written until the 5th century BC. But yesterday? There is nothing “easy” about it.

i) There are good answers. Enns is either ignorant of the answers, or ignores them.

ii) Enns is an OT scholar. Hasn’t he noticed that the OT documents many atrocities?

iii) Thousands of children die every day. That doesn’t make  headlines. But it’s a daily, hourly occurrence.

iv) Enns doesn’t have much faith to test.

But these moments test one’s faith more than most.

i) That’s a theological cliché in some religious circles. A moralistic affectation. Mock piety. 

I think some people say it because they think that’s what they’re supposed to say in situations like this. They think it would be wrong not to feel that way.

ii) Speaking for myself, moments like these are not a test of my faith. For one thing, you get used to it. I know that may sound like a terrible thing to say, but it’s like living with chronic pain. If you have chronic pain, you become accustomed to living with chronic pain. That doesn’t make it less painful. But it doesn’t come as a shock. You adjust to it as best you can. You have no choice. It’s something you’ve come to expect. Something you dread, but something you know is going to happen.

I grew up on nightly news coverage of the Viet Nam War. After that there were the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Burundi genocide, the Columbine massacre, and on and on it goes.

Even assuming this is a test of faith, it’s not a test you need to retake every time there’s another atrocity.

iii) More to the point, suppose a believer fails the test of faith in the face of Sandy Hook? What’s the significance of dead children from a godless perspective?

Kids are merely biological replacement units. Had they lived, they would have procreated their own replacement units, and so it goes–like a vending machine that keeps dispensing chilled soda pop after everyone was incinerated by a thermonuclear device.

Natural selection has brainwashed us into valuing kids because that delusive, reflexive, instinctive sentiment confers a survival value on the species. But our tender feelings are the result of psychological manipulation by a mindless, pitiless, uncaring process.

From a secular standpoint, we’re like ants whose anthill was overtaken by wildfire. The anthill is littered with dead ants. Fried by the wildfire. The surviving ants are in disarray. Above it all and through it all, the universe remains supremely indifferent. 

If atheism is true, then when we die, it’s like putting a match to a strip of paper. The flame works itself up from one end to the other, reducing all our memories to ashes.

So, no, moments like these don’t test my faith. Not in the slightest.

Apostates are a living contradiction. Their scruples lead them out of Christianity. And so they take their precious scruples with them. They transplant their scruples to the dry, rocky, barren ground of atheism. But their scruples have no air, water, sunshine or nutrients to survive in a godless environment. That’s just a hangover from their abandoned faith.

iv) But what if your own child was murdered, someone may ask? That might be a test of faith, but let’s be clear on what kind of test that would be. That would be an emotional test of faith, not intellectual test of faith.


  1. Here here. Thank you, Steve. I couldn't have said it better myself. I go over the tests of faith in my mind when I hear people say that sort of thing too, and I wonder why it is they think it's such a huge test, on any intellectual level. All sorts of horrible things have happened to me too, but it wasn't a test of my faith. I never even thought to consider them tests of my faith because I didn't think my devastated emotional state had a thing to do with whether I could continue to believe in God. He exists whether I'm happy, sad, or shocked, and I didn't start not believing in him when something bad happened/heard of something bad happening.

  2. Thanks for this post - no event, no matter how horrific, will shake the faith of those who believe in the Judeo-Christian god. Even though you profess to believe in a deity who actively intervenes in the world, no act or omission will convince you of the contrary.

    1. Of course, it's easy enough to say the same sort of thing about you and your atheism. The natural mind sees God in nothing, not even spiritual things.

    2. We definitely don't see any sign of a benevolent deity in nature. Not sure what you mean by "spiritual things". Human consciousness can certainly conceive of god - that is how I contend god was created (i.e. in the minds of men).

    3. Why would horrific events logically cause us to lose faith in the God of Scripture? The Bible itself records many horrific events, and predicts other horrific events to come. Yet the God of the Bible is also a God who actively intervenes in the world.

    4. I have seen animals which normally kill and eat prey actually care and nurture the offspring of its prey. That seems to be a sign of God intervening.

      I have seen people who were doomed to die by flood somehow to be "magically" provided with an avenue for escape. This seems to be a sign of God intervening.

      I've seen too many signs in my life (before I believed in Christ) to say there is no god who cares and intervenes.

  3. The Atheist Missionary

    "Human consciousness can certainly conceive of god - that is how I contend god was created (i.e. in the minds of men)."

    Human imagination can also conceive of God's nonexistence. So by your logic, atheism is just an imaginative construct.

  4. steve, in the end it all comes down to the evidence. I won't quote mine the Bible but your scripture says plenty of things that just ain't so (prayers will be answered, Jesus would return within the lifetime of some of his followers, virgin birth, dead flesh resurrected, etc.). If Yahweh wished to make Himself known, he could do it tonight live on CNN. Why won't he? [Perhaps he will - if he does, I'll buy you a beer on my way to the fryer or maybe you'll join me there]. Divine hiddenness can well be construed as divine nothingness.

    1. I'm aware of spooftexts against the inerrancy of Scripture. You really think I haven't dealt with that before?

      And don't be naive. If Yahweh appeared on CNN, you think infidels wouldn't dismiss that as a CGI simulation?

      I've also addressed the so-called divine hiddenness problem. You'd have a hard time coming up with an objection I haven't rebutted. Your canned objections don't cut it here.

    2. Atheist Missionary,

      Here's a post I wrote for people like you.

      Anybody who's interested can search the archives for some examples of our prior interactions with the evasive Atheist Missionary.

  5. As I've said before on Facebook to a friend, if you've been a Christian for decades and you haven't yet come to grips with "the problem of evil," you're probably fooling yourself regarding your faith. The answer is what it is. I may not like it, or understand it, but I will accept it but no one ever has or ever will come up with anything better.

    Especially good point about not having to re-test one's faith every time something horrific occurs.