God created a good world and put humankind it that world to explore, play, and build civilizations. We sometimes have not done well at these tasks, building cities on the flanks of volcanos, torturing each other, and making a muddle of things. Civilizations make people happier, but also increase our discontents.
In the light of eternity, where we will live in the future, all of this might seem unimportant, but it is a school for our souls. A proverb says: It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. This is not for God’s entertainment, but for our salvation, to use a Bible word. We must be changed and made fit subjects for the Kingdom of God.
Death is both a curse to us and a doorway to the next life. The day will come when the last of us will be born and the last born will die and then time will be no more. The school for souls will hold last classes and everyone will have graduated to their proper place. This is a good thing, but humankind can make it difficult.
God commands cleanliness, bends history toward justice, and presses literacy on His people. He nudges us in the direction of health in this life, but God forces little on us. He gives us all the liberty God can while presenting a cosmos to explore. A good way to view the Bible is as a warning that God exists and that this life is a preparation for the world to come. God spoke these words over centuries to people whose very vocabulary was too limited to express certain ideas. You cannot hand out calculus texts to people who do not have numbers, but God was unlikely to do so. Mathematical objects and ideas were out there for us to discover, just like islands in the Pacific. Sadly, when people discovered mathematical objects, even after centuries of progress, they still have misused them and given dictators horrible powers that could destroy us all. Thank God we had such abilities no sooner! When people came to the most beautiful places, we would always create a mix of beauty and bestiality. We learn to prolong life, but we use that longer life for mixed purposes. When we prolong natural death, using the talents God has given us, then we complain to God about that suffering.
With this in mind, we come to a question from my wonderful interlocutor M*, who asks:
- Can you think of any good reason that God did not reveal germ theory to the writers of the Bible? It would have saved millions of lives.
First, I am unsure how God would have done this for us for most of human history. We had not even developed the mental categories for such a complex idea. God did urge cleanliness and sanitation: cleanliness may not be next to godliness, but those Christians who glorified dirt had missed much of what God had said about separation from filth.
Second, the Bible is not about that topic. It is a good topic, one humans should have considered far more than the time and effort wasted on how to kill people or seize their stuff. With a concerted focus on one major idea (monotheism), it still took God centuries to help us understand the implications of the idea. Polytheism or the notion that God was really our god was always seizing our imagination. Since God was most interested in eternity, which is quite sensible, God put what He could do in preparing us for that time. We will die eventually after all!
Finally, suppose for a moment God had broken His own educational rules and dropped a fully developed germ theory into our heads. I can assure you that next a critic would ask why he had not helped us morally. We have killed millions in the last one hundred years for believing in God. Why couldn’t God make angry atheism impossible? Why couldn’t God speed our moral development?
This would end at what point? How many clues do you wish? How infantile can we become before we simply are never brought to mature mental adulthood? Suffering is after all not all bad. As Captain Kirk might say: “Don’t take all our pain. We need our pain.” It is sad we fouled our own water for centuries in cities and killed ourselves, but I am unsure why God should prioritize helping us do what any sensible human (think of the stench of London!) had good reason to avoid just to love our neighbor.
Jesus told us, straight up, to love our enemies. We have found ways to avoid this fact. God told Israel to keep their waste away from the camp. He made it stink to us. He had flies, not pleasant to anyone, attracted to waste and people decided to handle their waste foolishly. God made our waste repulsive to us in many ways, but we missed that fact. What else would have had God do? Tell us what? Bury our waste. He did. We ignored him. Tell us why we must bury our waste? He told us to love our enemies and why and we ignored this . . . so even assuming the vocabulary was there, why would that have helped?
We are here to learn and relieve short term suffering as God will relieve all suffering in eternity. As a result, mainstream Christians always have supported hospitals and almost always medical advances. We simply do not think it the most important thing for a man to learn. What does it profit a man to prolong his life and ignore the loss of his soul?
*M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions. I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions: