Thursday, 14 March 2013

Why does God do things in such roundabout and indirect ways?

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I have often found it difficult to understand why God constructed such a long-term, elaborate, and apparently unreliable means of salvation - involving hundreds or thousands of years of Jewish history, the failed experiment which preceded The Flood, a new experiment characterized by numerous trials and lapses, a sequence of persecuted and sometimes ambiguous prophets; culminating in the necessity for a trailblazer in John the Baptist and a small scale, mobile, oral ministry of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, perhaps the hardest thing to understand is that the prolonged and apparently contingent sequence of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was necessary in order to allow humans to be saved.

One would suppose that an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God could do things in a much more direct fashion.

At least, so it seems to me.

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That the narrative of the Bible was necessary seems to entail at least two constraints on God's activities: the free will or agency of humans (and angels), and the autonomy of mortal life on earth.

1. God either will not or cannot circumvent free agency, so everything must be done via and around uncontrollable human choices.

2. The earth and its life is autonomous from God at least to the extent that the evil free choices of humans (and angels) can neither be prevented nor 'removed from the system' (or, at least, not without destroying the earth and killing everybody on it and starting again).

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But if God will not allow himself to overcome these constraints, then God cannot be what we could understand as a wholly-loving God - because the consequences of these constraints are just too horrible.

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(God might make earth as an adventure playground to train humans in choices - with the possibility of falling off the apparatus and getting shaken up or lumps and bumps; but it would be a sadistic God insofar as humans can understand these matters who placed poisoned sharpened spikes under the climbing apparatus, and populated the playground with bullies who enjoyed pushing weaker kids onto the spikes - and furthermore this God made the kids so they had a vast capacity for experiencing pain and suffering.)

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If God chose to make the earth as it is, then God is incomprehensible, and we must simply submit to His will.

And only if God cannot do any better than He does in terms of pain and suffering, could He be wholly loving in a way which we can understand.

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Everything falls-into-place (it seems to me) if we acknowledge that God cannot overcome the free will of Men and Angels; and is limited in His capacity and modes of influence on the earth and mortal life.

In other words, Men and Angels just have free will or agency as an intrinsic property; and God has no alternative but to work-with-this fact.

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So God's hopes and plans can be thwarted, or at least significantly delayed, in detail and in essentials (on earth, in mortal life, at a particular point in time) by the choices of Men, and the actions of fallen Angels.

At some points, things may get so bad that God can only scrap the experiment as a failure, and start-all-over-again - as happened with The Flood - and He cannot ensure that the experiment works-out in exactly the way He hopes. 

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From this perspective the large narrative of the Bible becomes easily comprehensible as the history of a wholly loving but (although immensely powerful) limited God always doing his best in face of the intrinsic realities of the situation: including the free agency of other entities; and as a consequence, autonomous evil.

This kind of God is a real loving Father, and like earthly loving Fathers will always do his utmost for His children: but what he can do at any specific time and place is limited by the scope and nature of his power, and by circumstances. 

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In other words, I think Christians are faced by a clear choice.

Since we can make no sense of an omnipotent God who does not behave in what we understand as a wholly loving fashion, we must choose between either:

1. an omnipotent God (who cannot be, in any meaningful way, understood as our Father - in other words not the Christian concept of God, but in fact the God of Christianity's greatest rival);

or

2. a wholly-loving God-our-Heavenly-Father - who is of immense power, but certainly not omnipotent.

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So, why does God do things in such roundabout and indirect ways?

Because God has to do things that way. 

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(The extreme natural hazards of earthly life - volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, burning heat and freezing cold etc - which themselves can cause vast human suffering; are likewise explicable in terms of the ultimate intractability of matter, and a God located within the totality of the world including within Time. God made and shaped the earth and everything on it from matter, over a certain timescale; but as matter is autonomous from God (not created by God) He was constrained in the extent to which He could shape it.)

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