Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Supernatural help - and when it is refused...

In the modern era (although, apparently, not much before this) Western people often express confusion and anger over the lack of supernatural help in response to prayer; or that the difficulties and sufferings of our live are not pre-empted. And this is a reason for rejecting Christianity.

For example, God is both loving and extremely powerful; yet a person prays for help or relief and none comes. This 'failure' is taken as evidence that God does not exist, and that 'therefore' Christianity is a lie.

What people fail to realise is that this common scenario and its rationale contains the basic and false metaphysical assumption that a loving and powerful God would have created us in order to be happy and not to suffer during this mortal life on earth!

Since the reality is that we indeed suffer and are sub-optimally happy here on earth; then, logically from these false premises, the idea of such a God must be fraudulent. Either God made a mess of creation, or God is not loving; or God is not real...

The error, as usual, is in background and baseline assumptions: specifically, 'during this mortal life on earth'.

My understanding is that God is indeed loving and also extremely powerful (although not 'omnipotent' whatever that mind-numbing absolute-abstraction might mean in real-life...)- and that therefore help is always available during our mortal lives.

But the proper question is 'help to do what?' What does God want for us?

Given that we are immortal beings whose souls live eternally after 'death'; clearly God's ultimate goal is Not going to be restricted to optimising happiness and minimising suffering during this relatively brief mortal life, here on earth...

Our mortal, physical well being is surely of concern to God, but is not the only concern, and not the primary concern. God's primary concern is not with finite mortality but with our post-mortal eternity, and not with our time-limited bodies but with our souls, which survive the death of our bodies.

Indeed, one primary reason for our mortal lives on earth is precisely that this life will (if done properly) benefit our eternal souls.

We are God's children, so to understand the issues we can imagine how we regard our own children as the grow up to adulthood.

Childhood is extremely important, and we want our children to be happy and do not want them to suffer - and we often give or offer help... But we do not give absolute primacy to the short-term feelings of the child, and we do not always give help when asked; because we are thinking of the long term, and we wish growing children to learn to help themselves.  Children need to learn by trial and error, by doing their best and discovering the consequences.

Indeed, a good parent will only respond to requests for help when this help does not undermine the child's responsibility. This is, indeed, one of the most difficult aspects of being a parent - to refuse help, or even deliberately to inflict suffering in the short term because we believe it will be of greater benefit to the long term.

There are many examples: any form of behaviour discipline that contradicts the child's current desires, deliberately inflicting valuable but unpleasant or painful medical and surgical treatments, confining children to schools for long periods...

The point of these examples is not to justify them specifically; but to demonstrate that saying No to requests for help, failing to optimise here-and-now happiness, and indeed 'inflicting' suffering (intending ultimate benefit) are a necessary part of normal and good parenting; indeed a necessary part of the most ideal parenting.

Since help is always available in God's creation, and God is an ideal parent, part of faith is to trust that help will be given when it is good for us - 'good' in terms of the ultimate reason for our mortal lives here on earth.

In other words, unless we know that there is indeed A Reason* for our mortal lives here on earth, and have some understanding of the nature and fulfilment of that reason; then we are not in a position to appreciate why God sometimes gives help... but more often withholds it.

Note: That Reason is, very briefly: we incarnate into bodies in order to enhance our agency/ free will; we live on earth in order to have experiences from which we may learn - if we use our agency well; and our incarnate bodies die in order to be resurrected to everlasting life.