“Where was God when my 9-year-old son was drugged and raped?”

This was sent me last week:

Dear John,

I am a secular humanist who practices Buddhism. I am writing to you because I appreciate your writings regarding people like me who do not follow Jesus. I would like to share some of my history with you, and explain why I no longer follow god.

When my son was nine years old, he was raped by his best friend and his best friend’s parents. All together. All in one night. He was drugged, and when he woke up in the middle of being raped, a gun was held to his head. He was told that both he and I would die if he told anyone, or attempted to stop himself from being raped.

Anyone who allows that to happen to a nine-year-old boy, or who has foreknowledge of such an event and does not stop it, is evil, and deserves no more respect than the actual perpetrators.

I had no idea this had happened at all. My son hid it from me because he was in fear for my life.

My son is now sixteen years old, and deeply troubled. He physically lashes out; his behavior became increasingly sexual and inappropriate. Finally, he tried to harm himself. He was admitted to a mental hospital, and has bounced from hospital to hospital ever since. He hasn’t been able to make it on the outside for more than a couple months at a time.

I had always taken my son to church. I prayed over him every night; I read my bible daily (and knew it well). I believed and trusted god with my own life—and especially with my son’s life, since he was born three months early. I dedicated him to god while they held him nearby the operating table so I could see him before they whisked him off to the neonatal intensive care unit.

I also believed god through my first (very young, very brief) marriage, and also throughout my second marriage to a philandering preacher’s son, who beat me and my son, as his father had done to his mother and children before him.

With regards to this second marriage, every single leader of my church—from the head pastor, to associate pastors, to bible study leaders, and all the way down—told me to stick it out. One church leader told me that I should “pray the bruises away,” literally. They said that. And I heard this exact same thing from the leaders of more than one church, because we moved a couple times.

So those are the big reasons why I no longer follow god. I’d rather burn for eternity than follow someone who would allow all this.

Since leaving God behind I have less guilt, and have been building a more solid and secure life for myself. It is hard sometimes to not be able to place all my burdens on Jesus; it would be nice to have someone else carry them for a while. But he couldn’t help my son, so he certainly cannot help me. I believe it is a matter of self-delusion to find peace from faith; I find the same peace nowadays when I practice meditation, which involves no deity.

The little reasons I don’t follow god? They are all ones I find in your articles: the inconsistency of believers, the greed, the judgmentalism. The hate spewed by followers of Christ—or followers of any religion, really—seems to be poisoning the world.

I hope you will take the time to respond to this. I would be interested in your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Dear woman who has suffered so much I barely know how or where to start with this:

It means more than I can possibly say that you trust me enough to bring this to me. It’s a genuine honor. Thank you for it.

You amaze me. You have ultimately responded to the morass of dark pain that has been so much of your life by lighting your own way out of it. That is absolutely inspiring.

Instead of staying beaten, as most anyone would, you’re rejuvenating. You’re meditating. From all through which you’ve thought and fought you’ve forged an actual, practical philosophy. So I cannot be in anything but sheer awe of your strength.

That said, I pray that you will not find too offensive my saying this: God did not harm your poor child. God did not beat you. God did not tell you to pray your bruises away.

It was not God who did those things. It was ignorant, vile people.

Your complaint against God is that he didn’t stop those ignorant, vile people from doing the ignorant, vile things they did.

What you are in essence asking about God is what throughout time people have always asked about God: Why does he allow evil to exist?

And that excellent simple question has an excellent, simple answer: God allows people to do whatever horrible, vile, evil things they want to, because to do otherwise would be to violate people’s free will, which is something that God’s love for all people absolutely prevents him from doing.

God gave us free will. And he will not take it from us. And we do not want him to take it from us. Free will is what defines us. It’s our most precious attribute. Without free will we are at best animals, and at worst mindless automatons.

God gave us our free will because he wants us fully independent. He so loves us, in other words, that he gave us the power to reject him. That is love, and full respect. We would not want, or stand for, anything less.

The great downside of free will is that it grants each and every one of us the capability of violating the free will of anyone weaker than ourselves. That’s a despicable thing to do, of course: it is what crime is. Ultimately all crime boils down to one person exercising their free will to in some way override the free will of another—which we all understand as such an egregious thing to do that we punish the perpetrator of such a violation by in turn removing, via imprisonment, their free will.

Life is about the exchange and negotiation of relative free wills.

The irreducible truth is that right now, if I want to, I can beat my wife. She is weaker than I; she could not stop me from doing that. I am free to commit that atrocity.

What you would wish is for God to stop me from doing that, to stay my hand. You wish for God to look down, see that I am about to strike my wife, and somehow arrest that action: freeze me in mid-motion, paralyze my arm, instantly replace my crazed fury with peaceful thoughts and feelings.

You want God to in some way directly and purposefully violate my free will. You essentially and explicitly want me, at God’s will, to at that moment transform into God’s puppet.

But the truth is that you do not, in fact, want that. Because you would not want God to also be able to at will transform you into his mindless, will-free puppet. Ultimately you would insist for me what you certainly insist upon for yourself: absolute freedom.

Every blessing carries its own curse. The blessing of free will is the curse of human evil. The two are inseparable. That cannot change.

If you want will that is truly free—if you want everyone to have the kind of autonomy you certainly desire for yourself—then you want stronger people to be able to victimize weaker people. I know that feels pretty distinctly counterintuitive—but, if you think about it, that is where you arrive. It is where we all arrive. No human being wants a God who is constantly busy monitoring their every action and thought, and preventing or suddenly changing those which he feels cross the line between good and evil, between right and wrong, between acceptable and unacceptable.

None of wants to exist on a slope so weird, slippery, random, and out of control. Not you. Not me. Not anyone. We don’t want God interfering with our lives and identity that way. And we can’t wish for others what we don’t want for ourselves.

I’d be the last person in the world to blame you for rejecting God. But the hard truth remains that it was not God who betrayed you. It was people. And God did not stop those people from committing their horrible transgressions against you and your son for the same reason he did not stop you from recovering from those transgressions in the valiant, ennobling way you have. With all my heart I hope that the damage done your son is in time similarly undone.

Below is a video about this very matter that I once wrote and produced via the free online tools available at xtranormal.com. (When you make these things, you have no control over the look of your chosen setting, character, or character’s voice—and you have few enough choices for either those. So you just … do what you can.)

Again, I’m profoundly humbled and honored that you wrote and allowed me to share in this manner your gut-wrenching and ultimately inspiring story. As I say, I’ve zero interest in trying to turn you into a Christian. But, man, I know that if I were Christ, I’d want nothing more than to have on my team someone of your quality, drive, and integrity. I don’t know much about much, but I’m certain of one thing: God would love to have you back.

As, most certainly, would I. Please write me again sometime, and tell me how you and your son are doing. In the meantime all my love to you, and thanks again.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Joshua Salmans via Facebook

    That is a delicate question and needs a delicate answer that only a few can provide.

  • Gary B. Mann via Facebook

    He was the same place when His Son was beaten and crucified.

    • Will

      “He was the same place when His Son was beaten and crucified”

      I’ll buy that. But the question is still “where”?

      • Brena

        Will, think quantum where, not physical where.

        Consider that Hebrew mysticism said that YHWH (the four symbols representing God) were the four energies of God. There are four forces in the Universe: electromagnetic, strong force, weak force, and gravity. Short-hand it all (because I am tired) and you get active, neutral, passive, and transitional energy. Hold that thought.

        Jesus said that as the Way (success, why success, because it is the way that works, duh. which way to the restroom? that way the other way has no success in it, etc.), the Truth, and the Life and no man gets to the Father but by that path.

        Then we have the ultimate divine experience: when we are manifesting success in truth while encouraging, supporting, and nurturing life and we experience that in active, neutralizing, pacifying, and transistional ways. That is what we believe Christ brought us online for and so that is a place where all of this DIVINITY came together. So that was a place God was.

        • Brena

          *Jesus said he was the Way…

          • Will

            LOL! Brena, you are so sharp!

            You answered the question behind the question behind my question!

            My simple mind was asking where? as if the answer might be…

            A. Hunched over, sobbing in helpless agony and sadness.

            B. Stalking about, fists clenched in impotent fury.

            C. Out to lunch with His buds, kibbitzing over bagels and lox.

            D. Some undisclosed location known only to those with top secret clearance, on a need-to-know-basis.

            E. None of the above or all of the above.

            Clearly I am anthropomorphically & anthropomorphously confused!

            Silly Wabbit! :D

          • Brena

            The spirit of God is in us and on us. I hesitate to say this but there is zero blame in my statements. The spirit of truth speaks the truth to us always. We catch what we comprehend. Unfortunately, in a religious power mad system we have taught obedience to proper authority and neglected the 2,000 yrs we should have been using to find out how that spirit communicates with us. (Oh, please, do not think I am promoting a certain doctrine, denomication, or whatever.) I have no doubts that alarms went off with the poor child. I have no expectation that a young boy would question the authority of baby sitter even with the alarms unless he had been taught to listen to himself. In that regard the mother has made a great growth step in listening to the internal truths and abandoning faith in the man in the sky who leads us like we are little children. It takes the faith of a child to see heaven but Jacob cheated and wrestled with God and was renamed Royal. Child-like faith but wrestling with truths like a Boss is the pattern we see in the Bible. No one but the offenders are to blame, but I am sure human conditioning to “be good” gets in the way of actually being excellent sometimes. And, I would say this: Samson was dangerous and wild and God’s man. I think it is reasonable to see that he fell for Delilah (sp?) not as much because of sex, but because it is easy to see that she thought she was doing the right thing in stopping him. (He ripped people’s heads off if they argued!) Delilah did not seem like a bad person, maybe?

            It might have been hard to see the babysitter as a predator if she was from a family that used guns to the head to rape people. It’s harder to see when the victim joins the bad guys than it is to spot the bad guys themselves because it happens first as another forced layer to their vicimhood and then later by giving up to the dark side.

            Am I defending abusers? No! While most who abuse have been abused, it is also true that most victims never abuse. But if we encounter someone in the midst of shifting loyalties we can all be duped.

          • Brena

            *doctrine, DENOMINATION (oops, it was late) :/

  • Robert Wood via Facebook

    You seriously have some balls and a lot of faith man. I quite honestly don’t know if I would have been capable of addressing that question to someone in that situation.

  • Steven Tedesco via Facebook

    Great letter and response.

  • selene

    I can accept the idea of not violating free will in some circumstances, but not in others. In the instance of a child being raped, if any person were present, knowledgeable, and powerful enough to stop that from happening to a child, they would be morally responsible for not doing anything. I don’t think God gets an exemption on that one. I can’t accpet a God that would allow an innocent child to be violated any more than I can accept a God that causes an innocent child to be violated. I’ve come to the conclusion that God is only as powerful as people are active. In that sense, I probably fall into the line of humanism. I’d rather believe in a God who’s power is limited to human beings being willing to act than to believe in a God callous enough to withold his protection from a child in the interest of “free will.” I have to agree with this woman that the kind of God that would do something like that isn’t worth worshiping in my mind.

    • LizMc

      I’m with you selene. The more I reflect on the infinite vastness of the Universe, which could have life in forms we can’t even imagine, light years beyond light years away from us, I have a much harder time believing in a concept of God who is intimately involved in the day to day details of human existence. I do believe in a Divine Something, but I think much more of the responsibility is on us.

      • HJ

        LizMC, I feel the same. My mind often drifts to the vastness of the universe, and there my mind crashes as it grapples with the God that we of the monotheistic religions are familiar with, involved in individual day by day existence. …There is most likely life elsewhere… Do they have “free will” also? Did God give them a “son” also? Is the life on their planets less evil than ours perhaps, so such an intervention was unneeded?

    • Tim

      Selene,

      As both a man who was raped as a child and as a Christian/semi-professional philosopher (to the degree a BA in the subject gives you a professional opinion) I don’t think you actually mean you want to go there. Much like I assume John does, and I think God does, we wish there were another option. The problem is, Free will is an absolute thing. You have it or you don’t. Philosophers of the non-Christian type largely agree that you don’t, that it is an illusion, but we can get into that in a more appropriate forum for that.

      The problem is, if the man that hurt me and my siblings (call him K) didn’t have the freedom to do evil (and he did much more evil than what he did to us, and I would say worse evil eventually) he also wouldn’t have had the option to do good. This is the foundation on which an ethical life is based–the assumption we could have done differently and better.

      The problem with evil is that it has the possibility to produce profound power and good, more of itself, or a mix of both. I still have self-esteem issues from that and an otherwise poor childhood, and my sister has physical problems still from it, but all three of us are by far better, more determined, and more whole people coming from the other side. We each got a mixed bag from it, but God uses that to make me the best friend and student I can be, to make my sister an amazing Mom, and my brother the best tech geek I know. K did great evil. I forgive him. He made bad choices. But looking back asking God to prevent that would have violated all the potential for good K could have chosen and maybe a large amount of the actual good I and my siblings do in this world. It is a trade God has to make every single day, and for those most damaged by it the Balsam of heaven (whatever that ends up being) is more than enough to heal.

      • Erin D.

        “If he didn’t have the option to do evil, he wouldn’t have had the option to do good.” What an amazing statement from a man who was hurt by evil. Welling up for you and your siblings, and all of your tremendous courage.

      • selene

        I don’t think you meant to sound arrogant, but you kind of came across that way in your first paragraph. I also am a victim of sexual violence and a semi-professional philsopher/psychologist/ex-Christian. I’m not sure what you mean by your skepticism about my “going there.” If by that you think I’m not qualified to question deeply and come up with my own beliefs about how I think the Divine works, then yes, I do want to go there and I, like every single other person on this planet, am more than capable of going there. Again, I’m hoping you didn’t mean that to be condescending and insulting, so I will let it go at that.

        I never denied free will. If you re-read what I said, I specified that there are moral responsibilities that even God is subject to, just as much as humans. Since people do indeed have free will (I’m not suggesting otherwise), I choose to believe that God isn’t omnipotent (and there are many philosophers who would agree with that sentiment). I believe the Divine can be powerful, but only when humans are the channel for that power. When humans stand back and say “God will protect them” and do nothing to help, it’s about as effective as me staring at meat saying, the stove will cook it, but never actually turning it on or putting the meat in a pan. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong and I’m prepared to accept that. I think we all ultimately choose what kind of God we want to believe in. I’ve chosen that both the mean God and the inactive but all-powerful God are not worth my time. If you find a way to reconcile an omnipotent God with your beliefs and experiences, that’s your path and not something I will attack you for. But this is mine. I empathize with the writer of the letter, and I expressed that because I assume she’s reading. I still believe in a Divine. I still believe in the Divine’s ability to interact/influence things. I just think it’s limited to human action/reception. And maybe animals; I’m willing to consider the possibility for animals acting as agents of the Divine. I’m not willing to accept a God who can act but chooses not to. I don’t think that denies free will at all–just God’s omnipotence.

        • Tim

          Understood, Selene,

          I didn’t understand at the moment how far little power you were willing to grant to a God. This makes me understand better.

          Then I guess my argument is on another plane, given we agree largely on free will. The problems are concurrent to this, however. I am curious as to how you come to accept a God who isn’t omnipotent.

          Most of the time people who are theists or deists argue that God is all-capable but not necessarily interested or somehow otherwise constrained. I simply don’t see how a God whom isn’t omnipotent is relevant to anything, if we ascribe to this God anything near to the personal value most people (including myself) see as prerequisite for having the discussion.

          In the end, I too have various different conditions on what I simply can and can not believe. The God I grew up with (as a Jehovah’s Witness) struck me as distant, defiant, demanding, perfectionist. I couldn’t square that. Both as a deep thinker about things (and I have been since I was 5, for some reason, and I get embarrassed by the video every time I visit my mom) and as a Christian I simply can’t make a God whom isn’t omnipotent, omnibenevolent (not sure how often that is used outside of my school, but essentially all-loving), omniscient, and omnipresent compute. Without all four conditions, I don’t see the biblical mandate met and I don’t see the logical necessity for the being.

          Of course, this comes with the caveat that that leads me to make certain assumptions about the morality of God’s actions and the absolute untouchable value of free will. You seem to meet this part way when you tip your hat to receptivity to the Divine in our everyday life. it sounds very evangelical to me to say that submission is a large part of discipleship, but then again, I am as much Pentecostal as I am gay or philosophical, so there you go. I am all in for God having an impact in as many people’s lives through us as possible. I also think that is in general preferable to God’s direct action except in the most desperate of circumstances.

          You also have my apology if I sounded condescending. I surely didn’t intend that. You wouldn’t have heard it had I spoken it to you. I find my manner of speaking/writing translates poorly on mediums such as this. We have both been through the same ringer, it seems. I just was shocked by the proposition. Seems more people here agree with you than me, however. And yes, my “go there” assumed some limited withdrawl of free will, which I think really isn’t a plausible or defensible theological or philosophical argument, though I’m glad to see it defended if someone can prove me otherwise.

    • Edwin

      Without freewill there may no longer be human evil but there would also no longer be human kindness, charity, tolerance, love etc… God created a world subject to chaos and then gave us the tools as individuals to seek out and create order in that chaos and allows us to choose good over evil, to choose to build or destroy, to love or to hate. These dualities exist simultaneously inside of us and in our natural surroundings. We can choose to follow the light inside of us, we can choose God (LOVE), we can look inside of ourselves and allow ourselves to live in God. Your Buddhist philosophy may not call it God but it is God that you are seeking and God that you have found inside of yourself.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      Perhaps those of you could take a moment, step back and consider how debating the conceptual and theological merits of free will on a thread where a woman is simply sharing her story and is looking for some support is totally and completely making it about *you*.

      • selene

        DR, I understand your trepidation that this woman is not getting proper support. I don’t think anyone intends to be callous, but I do think that her purpose for writing in was very likely to get some sort of perspective on the issue of why God didn’t protect her son. Do you think John is as wrong in his response as the rest of us who dare to give our points of view on God? You seem to be under the impression that we are out of line, but we’re merely responding to John’s thoughts with our own. And in turn responding to each other’s thoughts as well. As long as it remains respectful with no one assuming superiority over another or diminishing the others experiences, I don’t think discussion on this topic is harmful.

        I truly feel for her, and I’ve been in similarly painful circumstances. I can’t fix the situation or tell her what to think, but I can express my experience as it has been and hope that she finds something to draw from that. It’s a tough subject, no doubt. But if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t want platitudes, I’d want answers. And while those answers can only ultimately come from herself for herself, it may help to hear how others have dealt with similar questions. I’m sure if she is truly bothered, she could ask John to take the post down or submit a comment/response asking for a different mode of interaction. Everyone would respect her wishes on that if she expressed them as such.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          I think there’s a big difference between John sharing a letter that contains some seriously, seriously emotionally-laced stuff to it and his response vs. a bunch of people jumping in and starting to debate the theological merits of it (as well as calling his response ‘abusive’). For me (and I’ll specify that), both responses lack a certain kind of emotional intelligence.

          Is it also a triggering mechanism for debate? Sure. I some of that appropriate? I don’t know, I guess. But I’m just weary of these responses from people who laser in one one, minute aspect of a response and then latch onto it, making “free will” the point of the conversation instead of this woman. I find that it uses the people in question.

          But all this to say, I don’t really know what she needs which is her call. Perhaps understanding different perspectives on free will is exactly what support looks like for her, Dan was right it’s up to her to outline that. That people jump right in and start slamming away at the theological concepts without nary an acknowledgement of her suffering? I have a big problem with that and I suspect I’ll continue to.

          • Tim

            Your views are respected, DR.

            I’m not sure John’s opinion on this or his motives. I’m not sure of this woman’s beyond explanation or support. The letter seems to be making an argument, a point. That triggers the discussion of her conclusion and why that does or does not hold water naturally, and without violating her grief. We all feel for her. Many of us have been through a lot of the same. (see Selene and I) and some of us find the debate healing in and of itself. often times the best way to get over unwanted feelings is both a large dose of logic and a large dose of love: reaffirmation and refutation.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Could be. Appreciate this. Thanks Tim.

        • Diana A.

          True. I’ve been really thinking about my responses to this blog post and the comments therein before responding, exactly because I don’t wish to cause more damage where damage already exists.

          My hope for Courtney and her son is that they will find the peace of God that passes all understanding and that they will be healed from the pain of this horrid event.

    • Christy

      I find Selene’s original post supportive of the letter writer while expressing a difference of opinion about free will and have to agree with her.

      • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

        I get it but have a problem with it. Would we do that in a room of people with her sharing her story? Would we take over the conversation and turn it into a debate about concept and theology? There is a sensitivity chip that’s missing there for me – it just is. But certainly also know that it could just be my own issue and my own reactions, of course, debate and dialogue are both excellent things. It’s probably my issue with this forum and why my participation is dwindling. We read of an agonizing story and then it becomes reduced to a bunch of opinions which no one will really ever remember. I don’t think I want to be about that.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          (the short of that is that it’s my own issue, not anyone else’s. But I do need to reduce my participation when that occurs, it’s just way too objectifying for me).

        • Christy

          I think people write in to get guidance and support from John as well as express themselves – share their pain – because there is healing in that: “This happened and it was really shitty.”

          I think they also have come to anticipate guidance and insights from his readers. “We” have no control over what others are going to feel is useful or insightful with regard to that process nor how they choose to express it (both the letter writers and the readers). Some readers are going to disagree with John’s answers sometimes, even those who agree with him most of the time. Without disrespecting the letter writer, I think the community has to be open to receiving those commenters who have a different point of view on his responses, and realize that sometimes those disagreements ARE supportive of the letter writer, as I believe is the case here: Sticking up for God based on the free will argument – not so warm and cozy and just not doing it for some people. This time I happen to be one of those people. Ultimately in this space, I think we can do both: offer support to those in pain, challenge the wrongs that continue in our world, and debate and critique John’s answers as well as those who disagree with him….for as long as John is willing to allow us to do that.

          I agree with your sensitivity chip. You have a lovely one.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            I don’t know Christy, for me timing is everything and sensitivity is pretty simple. But again, mine is only one opinion of many, including yours. Thanks for the reply!

  • Lymis

    John,

    I agree with just about everything in your answer, but I think it is missing the next couple of paragraphs. I won’t presume to figure out what you would say next, but I know what comes next for me.

    The biggest reason that God allows all of what you point out that He allows is that God sees us from the viewpoint of eternity. He sees our bodies, our emotions, and our memories, but he also sees us as the immortal souls He created. Just as a loving parent stands by while their children win or lose baseball games, fall and get skinned knees, and undergo the angst and traumas of first loves and failed friendships, God knows that nothing that happens to us here in our human lives is the end of our stories.

    There is literally nothing that can happen to us while we are alive that God cannot soothe, heal, and redeem in eternity. So it isn’t that God has to allow actual permanent harm to who we really are in order to allow us free will, it is that since nothing can harm who we really are in God’s eyes and in God’s vision of us, allowing us free will, with all its possibility for both good and evil, as much as we feel the pains and deal with the consequences, it isn’t what we really are. Our human experiences are real, and they are important, but they aren’t final, and that makes all the difference.

    • Diana A.

      Thank you, Lymis. I’m inclined to agree with you.

    • Libby

      Incredible perspective Lymis… absolutely incredible.

    • Jamie

      I struggle with the idea of Free Will and Divine Miracle. The arbitraty nature of a miracle to save someone’s life vs absolute free will is a problem for me. It’s a very hard set of ideas to reconcile. I firmly believe in Free Will and I think I’ve witnessed miraculous events. Maybe that latter is just dumb luck. Maybe I on, frequent, occasions would like to offer a nice “Forget You” to the almighty for various things that are allowed to happen to his people here on earth (I believe I’m allowed to be confused and angry at God, humankind has done this forever- and He should be big enough to take it, like any good parent).

      I can see the letter writer’s point of view and I grieve for her and especially for her son. I don’t think offering up the pain and troubles she’s experiencing and the hell on earth her son is currently enduring as “it will all be better in the by and by” (as another response offers) is a valid response to her and especially her son’s pain.

      I take my faith seriously and have a lot of questions I don’t sweep under a dogmatic rug. I sure hope I’ll get some answers but I can certainly appreciate the feeling the writer poured out to you. I’ll pray and wish for her strength and for her peace as she can find it.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      THANK YOU for this.

    • Will

      Lymis, your answer resonates for my spiritual need,

      without dismissing my logical and philosophical needs.

      I have wondered the same thing that you have expressed so well.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      This is so profound. Man!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Brunner/1590544567 Rob Brunner via Facebook

    Sharing this immediately…

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jewbroad Jennifer Armstrong via Facebook

    This was such a beautiful response.

  • http://raymack2009.com Ray McKinnon

    John! Great response. I love your heart. Forge ahead in truth, love and the audacity of your convictions. I love you, brother!

  • Lee

    OMG FUCK THIS FREE WILL BULLSHIT! What garbage! If you can’t trust God to intervene, yes, just like he seemed to do all the time through passages of scripture, why in the world would you ever trust this God? If there is a God, that God is not interested in you and can not be trusted. The letter writer did the best thing they could do – they walked away. The curtain has been pulled back, God is not intervening in our lives. Believers choose to ignore it, they scream over the silence that answers their prayers. They cover their ears and eyes at the grave of Jesus and still claim he is alive but alas no where to be seen. Don’t abuse this woman further by saying God just couldn’t intervene because He gave his creation free will. Do you people listen to yourselves? This is sickness at best and just absolute ignorant abuse at worst.

    • Gary

      Lot of hurt in your words Lee. I can feel the pain and it is raw and honest.

      That being said…the truth in your words is in your sincerity and brutal convictions…but not in God. There is no truth in your characterization of Him.

      • MJM

        Lee is right. The author of this letter discovered the devastating and brutal truth – there is no god watching out for us. This free will defense is a bunch of garbage AND its ZERO comfort to the suffering.

        • chrisnu

          I agree with the conclusion that there either is no god watching us, or the one which does isn’t specially interested in us humans. Regarding the free will defense, I actually think John doesn’t take it far enough. I think this is because the extent to which it has been used still affords the utility of making moral value judgments which seem prescriptive. I think the truth is, if a god wanted us to be entirely free, universal categories of “right” and “wrong” no longer exist, and value judgments become entirely subjective. Thus, a god would not intervene in any situation because everyone is acting in ways which s/he intended. That may seem horrifying, but that’s just one point of view.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Those of you who are actually taking this woman’s experience and actually using it as a platform to magnify your own agenda regarding “free will” is so deeply unsettling to watch. I’m sure you’re “horrified”, right? Ugh.

          • chrisnu

            I’m not using someone’s suffering “as a platform to magnify your own agenda regarding ‘free will’”. I’m explaining why I think John’s defense of his concept of god in light of this woman’s suffering isn’t working. It attempts to say that God wants you to have free will, but then doesn’t want you to use it.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Well I’m sure she appreciates you speaking on her behalf.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            And no. It doesn’t say that. I know that’s what you read, but that’s not what it says.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Speak for yourself.

        • Gary

          Nonsense. You don’t get to speak for all the suffering. And denying that the love of God exists makes you biggest monster of them all…one who would deny comfort to the hurting.

          • Brena

            I am confused as to how expressing thoughts and doubts and opinions and beliefs is making anyone a monster, let alone “the biggest monster of them all.” Have we forgotten the family that raped the 9 year old? Let’s keep our hurt feelings in perspective. Denying God is not monster-ish.

          • Gary

            If one deliberately leads one away from the very source and author of love…that’s how. I get that not all believe that God exists…and yet I pray that those who are hurting and seeking His love don’t have their search for Him cut off by those who would deny Him.

          • Christy

            There’s quite a lot of defense cropping up here. I wonder why that is.

            That we cannot tolerate another’s understanding of God and must defend our own is a function of our own short-sightedness and insecurities.

            About: “I get that not all believe that God exists”

            I’m thinking more along the lines: I get that not all believe that God exists in the same way that I do – but that their understanding is no less God. I’m with Brena, but will add: Denying God is not monster-ish particularly when at the core we may only be denying the way another person understands God.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Brena, it’s possible that it could be for someone who needs to believe in God.

          • Brena

            So, we throw around the term “monster” for denying God to show God’s love?

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            You’re focusing on the semantics instead of the point behind the semantics.

          • Christy

            I don’t think she is. I think she’s showing a great deal of insight.

          • Brena

            Words are from the depths of us at most and at least they show our intended thoughts when we take the time to type them. There are hundreds and hundreds of scriptures on the mouth and controlling our mouths. I think keyboards fit those scriptures.

      • Brena

        I believe in God. But how can you prove it? Atheists stick to evidence and not beliefs. If we confuse beliefs with evidence then we are avoiding the conversation Lee is having. Many people are discussing how they wrestle with the belief in God’s love and the harsh reality of him not granting wishes. It will only offend Lee to use beliefs as an answer for his expectation of evidence. And there is truth in his characterization of God. God is distant and is no respector of persons. Job sinned not, and yet…

        • Christy

          Thank you.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      Lee, yours is an anger that is undoubtedly rooted in rock solid good intent for this woman. And given you seem like someone who’s committed the truth, I’m not going to mince words.

      Comments like these are self-absorbed, they reflect someone who’s already decided what all of this means. And that’s fine – who cares – you get to have the last word on all of this for yourself.

      But thats stops at you. This woman *reached out* to John and this community after I’m sure, a lot of experience in knowing the tone and spirit of it. How dare you suggest that his reaction is one that is “abusive” – you’re projecting your own drawn conclusions onto her – onto everyone else *outside* of you – and you’re out of line.

      Have your story with Christians. Seriously. I don’t care. I don’t care if you think we’re mentally ill. I don’t even care if you think I’m an asshole, I really don’t, I can live with that opinion (though I wish it wasn’t true, I actually get it). But stop interjecting yourself into a story that’s not even yours to begin with. Have some respect for her and what she hopes to get out of this.

      • Will

        DR, who are you talking to?

        Why is your opinion and input to this discussion more valid than anyone elses?

        “using (this forum) as a platform to magnify your own agenda” is no less than what you do constantly.

        Please stop using the word “we” as in “we Christians”.

        You no more speak for all Christians than you speak for Jesus the Christ.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          I’m talking to anyone who’d seek to use this woman’s experience as a platform to promote their own agenda or ax to grind regarding the generalities of faith instead of reacting directly to this woman’s need. That’s who.

          As for “speaking for all Christians” I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about. I’m speaking for myself. Try it sometime.

          • Will

            DR January 30, 2012 at 11:26 am; “As for “speaking for all Christians” I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”

            DR January 30, 2012 at 11:06 am; “Have your story with CHRISTIANS. Seriously. I don’t care. I don’t care if you think WE’re mentally ill.”

            I will agree that you “have no idea what the fuck…” Are you on meds?

          • Gary

            Your quotes do not mean what you think they mean. She was clearly identifying AS a Christian in the quote you provided…not attempting to speak for them.

            Sheesh…get your chip off your shoulder and grow up will ya!!

          • DR

            Yes, exactly. “I” don’t care what his story is with Christians is, if he believe that we – speaking as a Christian myself – are mentally ill. So I appreciate you underscoring my point I was making to you, ironically as you spew generalities all over the place.

            As for being medicated, nice slam on those who actually require medication. Whoa.

          • Brena

            Might I suggest that atheists wish to view the world in sharp, realistic focus and the most sane of we believers also want to see what is real and want it in focus. The difference is believers add an extra layer so that when atheists look at what we are looking at it is fuzzy and out of focus. It is the difference between watching a 2D movie and a 3D movie. Same movie, same reality (for sane believers) but without the glasses it is never in focus and even with the glasses some areas get fuzzy. They don’t want to mess with the glasses. They think we look stupid in the glasses. They may not be wrong. We like the added depth. So, we better get used to them thinking we look stupid. :)

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            I couldn’t agree with this more. And it also supports my perspective. Everyone’s beliefs do well to define themselves, they serve as the lens through which s/he views the world. We get to choose exactly what that lens is.

            That we decide that lens is applicable to everyone and make that both conclusive and declarative is where it stops being rational and starts getting invasive (for all of us).

          • Gary

            Who are you responding to…a bit confused.

          • Brena

            It is sorta responding to heated feelings left over from some of the athiest comments. Just an attempt to cool the temp a bit. But it did not necessarily end up where I thought I aimed it. Carry on.

        • Gary

          @ Will – DR is spot on with this comment and I applaud her for it.

          @ DR – I often times find that you speak for me quite well…as does John most of the time. I get tired of those atheist bullies insulting and degrading all who disagree with them just as much as I do the Christian bullies following the same behavior pattern. I have found that there are mean spirited jerks (aka fucking pricks) in every belief system.

          You keep on bringing your brand of common sense here…I for one find it very refreshing.

          • Will

            DR January 30, 2012 at 11:17 am

            What. The. Fuck.

          • Will

            Rev Fred Phelps; “God hates fags. Yer all goin ta hell.”

            Will; “That’s not right. That’s the opposite of Jesus’ message. You are crazy if you believe that. Get some professional help.”

            Gary; “That Will is such a bully!”

            DR; “And did you notice how he’s bigoted against people with mental disease?”

            :D

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            This would be pretty awesome if you actually got the words right, but you even misquoted yourself which I’m sorry, is just making me laugh now at this point. Silly.

            Dear Will, consider putting the ego pipe down. You misunderstood me, you overreacted. It doesn’t matter. Life goes on.

            OK. Now I’m done. Peace!

            Cheers!

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Thanks Gary!

        • Brena

          I think since the woman herself chose to stop believing in God then the atheist opinion is as relevent here as the believing opinion is. As for the Bible based believers in this argument I would remind you that we are instructed to not be easily offended so…

          As far as the atheist opinion:

          It is a fact that they are in the minority in the U.S. and often feel villified for good reason (maybe not from anyone here, but we all know they are) and so it seems reasonable that they may show ire and fury toward whatever face they encounter that represents a system that quickly calls them monters and incapable of love and whatever else. It is also frustrating for all of us when questions and facts and disagreement is met with a “you just don’t get it” attitude and not a conversation actually discussing points.

          • Brena

            *monsters

  • http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com James Pate

    If God does not absolutely violate free-will, then why are there places in the Bible where God kills people on the spot (e.g., Er, Ananias and Sapphira), or stirs people to do what he wants (e.g., Cyrus)?

    • Diana A.

      1) Keep in mind that the human race was younger than–we are older now, though perhaps no more mature.

      2) I have a belief in something that I call leanings (for lack of a better word.) I believe that God works with what is already within us to encourage us to act in the world.

      3) Lymis gives a really good answer below–though you may not like it any better than you like John’s answer.

      4) All that said, what happened to that poor boy was horrifying and I totally get why his mother feels betrayed by God. She has a right to her anger and pain. If something like that had happened to a child of mine, I might well feel like flipping the double-eagle to God myself.

    • Tim

      If people surrender their will to God voluntarily, this isn’t a violation of their will.

      Also, God does reserve the right to punish, but the few examples in the Word of immediate punishment didn’t prevent the evil from doing their evil, but instead showed the good that God wouldn’t stand for it and set the limits on the early church/Israel. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram come to mind. The Isrealites were already showing a tendency to be fickle in their faith, and God showed them the consequences and stifled an infant rebellion.

      • Will

        Was it the free will of this 9 year old to be raped?

        When he was threatened with death would you say he surrendered voluntarily?

        Isn’t the threat of punishment by everlasting hellfire similar to putting a gun to his head?

        “I give you free will to disobey Me and burn in hell forever.” ???

        Is that what you claim God says?

        What you describe as God would be called a criminally abusive parent here in the real world.

        I say that the God of punishment does not exist and a person would have to be severely disturbed to worship/praise/glorify him.

        I am NOT saying that God doesn’t exist.

        But I must say that the opinions of men as recorded in the Bible are no more reliable than the opinions in this or any forum.

        Your opinions, my opinions, and Paul/Saul ‘s opinions aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

        “I read it in a book.” does not constitute proof of truth in any way shape or form.

        Can we all get that?

        • http://writegina2.deviantart.com Gina

          yes

        • http://writegina2.deviantart.com Gina

          …as in yes we can all get that

          • Will

            Thanks Gina. :D

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Stunning.

        • Tim

          There is a lot of anger or hate or something in that post, Will. I’m not sure what, or at what it is directed.

          I don’t see how I impinged on the will of the child. See my above on that.

          But the adult (not the other raping child by the way, who is just as much a victim if his parents were involved) has free will. I don’t know why these children were not big enough in the broad scheme of things for God to intervene, although he seems to have largely stopped such grand intervention after the exile and especially after Jesus and his apostles.

          Also, I wouldn’t deign to talk about God if I were only referencing the Bible by itself. It is definitely key, but I’ve come to that point of faith rationally, and there are 3500 or more years of tradition and lives impacted by this God.

          Are the opinions of the Bible any more reliable? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that divided right the ideas there have done wonders for me and millions of others, and that divided wrongly they have spelled disaster for a similar number. This says nothing about Moses, Ezra, Isaiah, Jesus, Peter, or Paul. It says a lot about those who read them.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Love this. Thank you.

  • Shannon

    This is why process theology has become quite appealing to me as I get older.

    • Kara

      If it weren’t for process theology, I’m not sure I’d even still be a Christian.

  • Kara

    I actually think the answer is even simpler, if not as satisfying. God can’t stop sin, because God’s not omnipotent. Knows all, loves all, works for the redemption of all, yes. But at the same time, literally cannot just make evil go away. The only hands God has are ours, and even then only if we so choose. When folks choose evil instead, God grieves with us and is there as we work to pick up the pieces. God can’t be all-powerful and good. It’s simply not possible. And as hard as it is to lose the idea that God is sovereign, it seems far better than to accept that God condones atrocities like those that this woman has endured. Nothing could justify it.

  • http://nopartyline.blogspot.com Brian Meadows

    Tremendous all around. From that mighty woman and from you too, John. If I might use the expression, the choicest of spiritual ‘red meat’!

  • Dirgham Tamas

    You know…I’ve never thought of God as all-powerful, in the sense that He was able to prevent such things. I always imagined Him watching from afar, weeping, and sending what comfort He can.

    • LSS

      how is that still God? *a* god, maybe … but not The God.

      (i mean no disrespect but i am still struggling with this issue, too, and i am not yet -or rather, no longer- buying the standard and non-standard explanations.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/douglas.sewell Doug Sewell via Facebook

    Very good article!

  • Mary Ellen Mayo via Facebook

    I think she has taken a good path. There may or may not be a God, it isn’t provable one way or another. I got tired of being treated as an exploitable resource years ago. The current political climate is not encouraging me to believe that the Christian churches care if I live or die, and if I do die, to die as painfully and slowly as possible. I had to walk away to save my sanity and my life, and I’m sure she did too. If I hadn’t walked away from fundamentalist and institutional Christianity I probably would have ended up a suicide statistic.

    • Will

      Mary Ellen, you are not alone.

      I also feel that the “current political climate is not encouraging me to believe that the Christian churches care if I live or die, and if I do die, to die as painfully and slowly as possible. .”

      Fortunately I have found a loving Unity church where the message is very clear that they do care.

      As in Jesus’ time, there is a huge chasm between those who want to exemplify and extend God’s Love, and those who would mete out punishment and condemnation, wickedly misusing the name of God to justify cruelty.

      For example Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are far more “Christian” than Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps or Mark Driscoll will ever be.

      • Brena

        Check out the Christian Left facebook page. It might be refreshing.

  • Robin Clark Kuppusamy via Facebook

    You amaze me. Every time I read your blog I see the holy spirit in it, guiding you and giving you words when they should fail.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chelse-Lang/740260460 Chelse Lang via Facebook

    Powerful argument you make there, John. I always have trouble when my atheist friends suffer some hurt and want to know where is my God… I’ll keep your words in mind for the future.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    That this woman and her child have suffered is undeniable. That she is striving to find a way out of her pain is noble.

    But reading her story over, there is one question I have to ask.

    I most emphatically do NOT believe in blaming the victim. I absolutely DO believe every accusation of abuse or violent crime deserves to be investigated.

    But her story says her son was raped at age 9 by his best friend and his best friend’s parents after being drugged, and now at age 16 her son is bouncing from one mental institution to another.

    The question I have is this: Have the perpetrators been convicted of their crime, or have they confessed?

    Because if her son has been in mental institutions, it is not unfair or improper to ask if he has mental problems because of his traumatic memory, or if he has traumatic memories because of his mental problems.

    Neither answer is comforting for the mother, and if it has indeed been proven her son was victimized then I sincerely apologize.

    But she does not provide information in her story as to the outcome of her son’s case. And there are absolutely people who suffer from false memories created by any number of conditions.

    • Courtney

      Hi, I am the writer of the original letter. My sons experiences have been fully researched and investigated. They happened. I didn’t want to believe it at first either. The perpetrators have escaped justice because they moved before anyone knew this had happened and before they were found the statute of limitations expired. And for the record, it sounds like you are blaming the victim.

      • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

        Courtney, as I said, I apologize in advance, but your post was not clear. We are all aware of the spate of false child abuse cases in the 1980s and 1990s (the infamous McMartin case being the most notorious among many). This is why whenever such accusations are made, they must be treated seriously, neither ignored nor acted upon w/o verification.

        I am sorry for all pain you have felt in this and for what your son must be suffering through.

        • http://writegina2.deviantart.com Gina

          The letter is addressing why she is no longer a christian, not the validity of a case. I don’t think it needed to be clear on all the details of the incident to prove it truthful.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Buzz, stop it. Seriously. That you even felt the need to ask for clarification when things like this have happened and continue to happen everyday is complete nonsense, it has nothing to do with what she’s asking and what she needs. This happens constantly. Let’s be done with questioning her please.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          And by the way, buzz. Any apology that is accompanied with a “but you weren’t clear” is fucking bullshit. How about just an apology period. Good Lord.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

        There is a statute of limitations for rape and torture? Considering that it often takes years before victims feel brave enough to tell what happens, that needs to change. Considering that the task of the victim having to prove their story, after the fact knowing damned well that they may not be believed just makes it rougher for them to come forward and report the crime. If they suffered emotional damage as well…

        You have my respect for the strides you have made for yourself and your son, Courtney. I find that admirable.

        • selene

          sadly yes. In some states, the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse doesn’t start counting down until the person turns eighteen. In others, it’s merely __ years after the incident. Unfortunately, by the time a child understands what has happened or has the opportunity/safety to talk to someone, it’s very often too late. Statutes seriously need to be done away with.

          • Diana A.

            “Statutes seriously need to be done away with.”

            In these types of cases, yes. Just like there is no statute of limitations on murder, there should not be in these types of cases either.

        • LSS

          i was under the impression that the only crime where there weren’t any statutes of limitations was murder. that’s just a vague memory off of TV detective shows, though.

      • Will

        May I recommend to you the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

        Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His wife and both parents died in different camps.

        “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory….”

        (Man’s Search for Meaning, Part One, “Experiences in a Concentration Camp”, Viktor Frankl, pages 56–57 in the Pocket Books edition)

        Courtney, I can’t say I blame you for your anger over the real pain you and your son have suffered. I can’t blame you for being emotionally raw.

        I hope you will come to see that Buzz meant no harm and was not challenging your account of the events as you described them.

        But, as a self described Secular Humanist you must be concious of human beings foibles, and peccadilloes and more focused on proof when humans say anything.

        Just as it is reckless to believe everything you read, it is just as reckless to believe everything that people say. No matter how close we are to that person or how much authority a person has.

        Wanting proof that the authors of the Bible aren’t just telling stories is valid.

        Demanding that strangers take anything shared in a forum as “Gospel” is unreasonable.

        Blaming the victim is a very popular game.

        But I am reading Buzz’s post and in no way was blame intended.

        My wish for you and your son is peace. :)

        • Brena

          I LOVE that book!

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      What. The. Fuck.

  • Carl Johnson via Facebook

    Excellent responsive help, John. Sharing this now.

  • Maria

    This is a hard one because if another child was about to be raped, and something happened to stop it, people would be thanking God for sparing that child and saving them. Why does one child get to be saved and the other has to suffer. I don’t believe that God just sits back and watches. If we want to say he allows bad things to happen because of free will, then we cant really give him credit for good things, can we? I mean, isn’t it just the free will people who allowed a good thing to happen?

    I fully believe in God. I do not believe that he wants bad things to happen to us. I do believe that people are who hurt this woman, not God, but I understand her anger towards him. We are not promised lives free from pain, when we follow God. In fact, it seems to me that the bible tells us that we will suffer and there will be pain. The promise of God is that we will make it through and spend eternity with him. That our path could be horrible and suck terribly, but our destination will be amazing and he promises to get us there.

    I have no idea what the proper thing to say to this woman would be, but sadly, I feel like this response is lacking something. I hate to say it, because I love everything I read on this blog, but I cant shake this feeling. I pray that her hand her son continue to heal I hope that someday, she finds the answers she needs and deserves.

    • Diana A.

      “I have no idea what the proper thing to say to this woman would be, but sadly, I feel like this response is lacking something.”

      I think you’re right, but I also think there is no human response that wouldn’t lack something. What happened to this woman’s son is unspeakable. Trying to explain it or why God would permit it is well beyond human thought. Only God can comfort this woman’s heart and heal her son–and she’ll know that when it happens and only then.

      In the meantime, I don’t blame her a bit for deciding that God is not worth the time of day.

    • Donald Rappe

      I agree with you. It does not mean I think I have a better answer. I agree with the philosopher who said “Evil cannot be redeemed”. I think it was Sartre, so he probably said it in French. If I consider the horrors that have occurred during my lifetime, they cannot be redeemed. Neither can the injury to this woman’s son. To his credit, I don’t think John makes this claim. I cannot accept as my own a faith that is not tempered by this reality. I believe that Jesus really died in horror. I can only “believe” the Resurrection, I cannot explain it. I disagree with my own priest’s heretical idea that the resurrection is a “physical” event. However, the reality is that we (some of us) experience Christ as living and sending God’s instruction (Torah) out to all people.

      • LSS

        “I disagree with my own priest’s heretical idea that the resurrection is a “physical” event.”

        Wait, what?! ours, or Jesus Christ’s?

        • Don Rappe

          Both. The scriptures do not portray the event as physical. First, Aristotle wrote his Physics a couple hundred years earlier. The Greek word was available to the writers of scripture, but they do not use it. The Risen and Transfigured Christ is not hindered by locked doors, vanishes and reappears in ways that have no relationship to physical. Paul’s comments to those who inquire about the method of the Resurrection begin (in the KJV) with the words “You fools”. This is the oldest account of the Event. I should clarify, tho, that just holding this opinion is only a mistake, not a heresy. My priest makes it a heresy by teaching that the Resurrection is useless if not viewed as he sees it.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            But John the Evangelist seems to make a point of countering the by-then-already-budding Gnostic heresy that the resurrection was but spiritual. And all four gospels concur that the body of Christ had in fact, under its own power, gone out from the tomb. Of course, Paul writes that the resurrected body is a spiritual body, but it is nevertheless an important point—one the denial of which has historically been widely considered heretical—that that body is a human body, constituted of real flesh and blood.

          • Christy

            I remain open to the possibility that the Gnostics got a bum rap.

          • Robert W

            The Gnostics did get a bum rap. They were simple other sects of Christianity that some people didn’t like. Yet many of their concepts and practices got appropriated into Christianity. The Gospel of John is a Gnostic gospel. The Gnostics liked Paul and most claimed succession from him. The mechanics of the Trinity is derived from Gnostic thought. Sainthood is a variation of salvation by gnosis.

            Also most scholars are wanting to do away with the term “Gnostic” since it’s pretty much just a catch-all term for Christians that St. Irenaeus and Tertullian didn’t like.

          • Christy

            It is similarly true for the catch all term “pagan”. Which is why I have trouble calling Gnostics heretics rather than another perspective on early Christianity that didn’t win the favor of the powerful and whom the powerful chose to attempt to erase. As is too often the case with the shortcomings of humanity: We tend to dismiss/fear/malign that which we don’t understand.

          • Robert W

            “Pagan” was a slur used by Christian and non-Christian alike. It was like a nasty way of saying “redneck”, which is why the urbanus religions took offense to being called “pagan”.

            Yeah that’s what Karen King, David Brakke, and Michael Williams is saying. They were just a different set of Christians who contributed more to how Christianity developed than is given credit and had a lot of their stuff tucked away and added into what became the orthodoxy.

          • Robert W

            “Gnosticism” didn’t exist until St. Irenaeus created the term. It was basically Christians he didn’t like. The Gospel of John was used by Gnostics so I’m failing to see how it counters “Gnosticism”.

      • Don Rappe

        I suppose I misspoke a little here when I used the word “only”. I accept the Resurrection on faith, but, I can not explain it as I do with physical phenomenon. Our modern notions of physics and biology would be completely foreign to those who first experienced the “coming to stand again” of Jesus. I simply meant to say that Jesus does not redeem evil. The victims of evil do not need to be redeemed. They are like Christ and stand with him in judgement of all things.

    • vj

      “The promise of God is that we will make it through and spend eternity with him. That our path could be horrible and suck terribly, but our destination will be amazing and he promises to get us there.”

      What a wonderful perspective! This makes so much sense to me, thank you.

  • carl

    John, That was a great compassionate answer. I had tears in my eyes for both her reaction and your response. I hope she responds to you again.

  • http://writegina2.deviantart.com Gina

    The stories in the Bible set the tone for people to believe that God DOES intervene on our behalf and for his kingdom. The Bible does not present us with a “hands off” “leave us to our own will” type of God. Churches reinforce this expectation as well, so then we are left with the apparent randomness of answered prayer wondering why some people swear God intervened in their situation and seeing that he clearly did not act when someone else needed him to. This is the core of my own struggle. Does God act? The Bible says he does, but my experiences are random at best and when things come to a place of crisis for me, I pray and hope and sometimes I think I have experienced answered prayer and sometimes I don’t… I really don’t know if it means anything in the end. I know one thing, I have heard all the answers presented here and in other places and they are never good enough (both the atheist answers and the christian answers).

    • Will

      Gina, I so admire a person who has a brain and is not afraid to use it.

      We may never come up with all the answers,

      but at least we can ask the right questions. :D

      • DR

        Will, here’s a new flash. People who come up with different conclusions regarding Scripture also ” have a brain”. They use it to draw some different conclusions than you do.

        • Will

          DR, please present your reasoning as to how you came up with your conclusions. That is how people with brains participate in a discussion.

          • Dr

            Sick burn, Will but so far with me you’re 0 for 2 and I sense your ego couldn’t handle strike 3. So I’m going to focus my energy elsewhere but thanks for the offer.

          • Will

            Too bad. I would have been interested in your reasons and ideas in a thoughtful discussion.

            It’s a shame you would rather withold them and are content to lob spitballs from the kiddie’s table.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Will, hopefully you’ve cycled through what appears to be a temper tantrum. It’s clear that you’ve misunderstood much of what I was saying from the get go (which Gary clarified) and you weren’t willing to actually go back – read – and realize that which is fine, I’m cool with being misunderstood.

            I’ll go ahead and allow you to have the last word now – I sense you need it a lot more than I do. It is nice to see you not being an ass to other people though, perhaps we’ll connect better in the future.

          • Brena

            Not a burn. Just a fact. That is how thinking works. Feeling is messy and rude.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Well Brena, that’s what the Puritans thought as well and look at where they got us! :)

          • Brena

            Puritans thought thinking was … I don’t follow.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Never mind. This was a really unproductive turn in the conversation and I both allowed it to happen and helped it happen. I have some issues with how people respond to really sensitive topics but it’s my *own* issue, mine to manage without asking others to do it. By adding all of my own concerns with how people respond to posts like these, I made the same bad choice I get frustrated with other people making. So I’m going to refocus on the conversations that are more productive (for me) but thanks for the reply.

          • Brena

            Love ya, DR!

  • Russell Mark

    Selene,

    I fully understand your statement. It is so hard to work through this – how could a loving God allow such hate upon an innocent. It has been a very long journey for me to grasp, but I believe God’s love for the innocent is no greater than God’s love for the perpetrator. I know that justifies or excuses nothing. But it does help me gain some perspective on how God views each of us and the importance we each hold to our Creator. I also feel that all responsiblity for allowing free will and its inevitable consequences – good, bad and even horrible – Christ took upon himself at the cross. That may be small comfort in the grip of horrors we perpetuate upon each other – but for me, it is a light of hope in what can be a great darkness. If enough of us move to take beneficial action in our lives; if enough of us truly open ourselve to all that God created us to be, then we can change the world. We can change a piece of the world right now by beginning to change ourselves. Let me put it this way – I may not be able to stop a war, but I can certainly stop a war within me – and that will change how I deal with the world. The perpetrators of hate – even those in the church – are people consumed by fear – bullies who have been bullied, even to the point of pathological behavior. John is so right in his assessment. God does shoulder (so to speak) the full responsibility of free will and God embraces the pain, the suffering and the accusations we hurl. But God also gives us the will to love and to heal through that love and to teach each other through that love. We are called to be the perpetrators of love, even to those who perpetrate hate and harm against a stranger, against our neighbor, against our loved ones or against ourselves. Can we learn to love as unconditionally as God says we can? That is our cross to bear.

    • Diana A.

      I love this too.

    • Christy

      And so very similar to what the Buddha understood and taught.

  • Robert W.

    My take is that God is where ever truth and goodness are. The woman realized that she needed to get her son out of this situation and she needed to leave the abusive situation she was in, there was God in action. God moves us to do incredible things, often by upsetting social constructs and illusions. God is that inner strength that moves us to do what is loving and honest, especially when it is at the sake of others. Even if it means flying in the face of some long held tradition. I don’t see God as some sort of superhero or superking who is going to randomly come out of the sky to save us. He is the one that empowers us to be our own hero and to be a hero to others. He empowers us to be loving to ourselves and to others. He empowers us to be honest and honest with ourselves.

    • Diana A.

      Fascinating. I kind of like this.

      • Robert W

        Thank you. I do believe that God intervenes but it is through us as being willing agents does his will be done. Since his will is based in goodness and truth, it can only be “blocked” or avoided for so long until someone grasps at the nudge being given. If that makes sense. I am aware of Mysteries being out there but it is though people that the Mysteries take form. This is how I reconcile miracles with free will. It’s us as willing agents who must bring the miracles to life, for better or worse. If we don’t try then nothing happens.

        • Rachel

          I agree wholeheartedly Robert. I have been reading through the comments with great interest, and tremendous respect for this woman’s bravery in sharing her story, and her son’s story too. Yours is the first posited theodicy that makes any sense to me. When my son died I had the overwhelming sense that God had turned his back on us. It was a Catholic priest who lifted me out of despair when he answered my “Where was He?” cry with, “In every loving embrace, every reaching hand, every tear shed on your behalf, every word of comfort spoken and every expression of tender concern you will find the arms of Christ, the face of Christ, the love of Christ.”

          • Don Whitt

            Like.

  • dan

    I’ve thought about the free will argument quite a bit when I was a Christian(agnostic now), trying to understand the same questions that this woman asked. I can understand this argument from the point of a deist, who believes that God created the world then stepped back(which doesn’t let God off the hook, in my opinion, but explains his lack of interest) and left us to fend for ourselves, but from a Christian point of view, not so much. The free will argument is contradicted many times in Scripture by a Biblical God who seems quite willing to overrun the freewill of men/women when it suits His purpose. He is either willing to intervene(hardening the heart of Pharoah as one example) in history or not. Biblically, seems that He is. Or, He is so caught up in His program he cannot see to take time for a vulnerable nine year old.

    Second — He didn’t have to violate anyone’s free will in this situation. He could have simply put someone in the situation who could have stopped it. Or directed the child elsewhere that night. Hell, take a page from the Sound of Music and have a couple nuns remove the carborator from the car that drove the kid to the house. Anything.

    Anyone remember praying “deliver us from evil”? Is this prayer a violation of God’s character and our free will?

    • josiah l

      Dan,

      You, as an atheist, have a better understanding of the Bible and freewill and logic than John. God could have done any number of things that would not violate f”reewill” or man’s responsibilty and yet would have prevented this incident. And yet does God not preventing it make him morally responsible? What is ultimate good anyhow? If God really loves me, why do bad things happen to me. But we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good. That is, even when my brother gets leukemia and suffers for 4 years and then des, God is bringing about good in his life and mine. It was hard, sure, for both of us, harder by 100 times for him, but even he acknowledge God’s soveriengty in the matter and thanked God for it. God works things together for our ultimate joy IN HIM, not in our idols of health, and comfort, and safety, and wealth.

      • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

        Jesus Christ – how about we all leave the “free will” debate off of a thread where a woman just told us her son was raped. Seriously. Is it just me or is this kind of back and forth tussling totally creepy in the midst of this conversation? It might be me, I don’t know, but it makes me sick to my stomach that those of you both for and against free will are using this woman’s experience to debate it but perhaps I’m being overly-sensitive.

        • http://writegina2.deviantart.com Gina

          John Shore’s reply was all about the free will debate.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            It was a response to her that included “free will”. he did not start a “free will debate”, Gina. Big difference.

          • Marcey

            I think free will is a big issue here. Either we have it, or nothing really matters. It is difficult to believe in free will in the face of such a tragedy, but to go on, one must find a way. I recounted how I found a way after the death of my daughter somewhere on this blog, but I can’t find it now because John’s page is so popular! Finding free will without blaming the victim is a high wire act over the Grand Canyon on a long piece of thread, but with persistence, and a little help from the holy spirit, your guardian angel, enlightenment, friends, or whatever you want to call it, it is possible.

        • dan

          Not sure in this case. Normally when someone brings this sort of thing to my attention, my response would be a sincere “I’m very sorry” and an offer to help in any way, if that is even possible. But this woman came to this blog for a reason. She’s struggling with these issues, as are/have many of us.

          She is reading these comments, and responded to one, so maybe she can instruct us.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Good call. Thanks for the reply.

      • dan

        I think the belief that all things ultimately work out for the good is a powerful thing and can be great motivation to find change and growth in difficult situations. But trying to apply that Scripture to an abusive, horridly cruel situation is kind of tough. It brings me to the same point as John’s theology does. If God was looking to bring about ultimate good, could he have found another way? Maybe not letting a nine year old be raped? And did things ultimately work out for the good of the nine year old? Not sold.

        But that being said, I will continue to struggle to find opportunities to grow in my difficult situations, even though I know that at some point, people will be talking of my demise as the opportunity for their own growth. What is the alternative?

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Dan, the very nature of free will means there’s going to be victims of poor choices as a result of free will. Victims and perpetrators are two sides of the same sick, evil encounter – perpetrators choose to be perpetrators which in turn, create victims. The victims have their own free will to draw upon but the damage often incurred from the perpetrator’s choice limits their ability and willingness – their capacity – to do so. Increasing a victim’s capacity to heal from such evil seems to be a worthy focus.

          • dan

            A hearty agreement on increasing the victim’s capacity to heal(for victim’s that survive). And I do believe we have free will and that it has consequences. I just have problems when we bring in an all knowing, all present, all powerful being into that equation and somehow try to balance it out! Which is why I am an agnostic.

          • DR

            First, I apologize if I assigned any ill intent on your part, I have an overt active protective gene that can speak without thinking at times.

            Second , I’ve appreciated all you’ve said here and it’s given me a lot to think about. Thanks Dan.

          • dan

            Thanks for your encouraging words! I didn’t take offense to your post.

    • http://writegina2.deviantart.com Gina

      “Anyone remember praying “deliver us from evil”? Is this prayer a violation of God’s character and our free will?” Very valid point. That really hits home, doesn’t it. How does God deliver us from evil if evil is the result of someone’s “free will”? And why would we be told to pray that if God is not willing to or can’t do it?

      • http://rindle.blogspot.com Lyn

        Perhaps it’s as much a prayer that He would deliver us from our own evil intentions than that He would deliver us from others’. In other words, “Deliver us from our tendency to commit evil.”

  • Libby

    Wow… just, ya know, wow. John, you are truly gifted, and your heart? Well, I am a fan. I read this woman’s story with tears in my eyes, and then I sobbed reading your response. There is no clearer, compassionate answer than the one you have given. I hope it aids the healing of this courageous woman and her son. Thru dark times in my own life, I have often wondered how these things could be happening… I turned from God at times, ranted at Him at others, and outright cussed Him out some too. I pictured Him then, as I picture Him now with this woman, grieving with her, and saying “I know, I HATE what happened to you and your son too. I hate it so much…” His weeping was genuine then and now, His heartbreak real. His Hope is the same as yours, and now mine. He would love to have her back. My prayers will now include this woman and her son…

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    My heart goes out to this woman and her son. I hope that both find peace some day. I also understand her thoughts on God having myself questioned why such things are allowed.

    I know the advice she was given by well meaning religious leaders, and I finally came to the conclusion that their version of God was not mine. I struggle to grasp the concept of free will, especially as there seems to be no stem to the flow of people doing horrible things to other people. All I know is to exercise my own free will and try to stand as a message to do the opposite. Yeah its a fruitless endeavor…maybe.

  • Gina Cottrill via Facebook

    I like your blog, John, and your heart for this woman. I hear brutal, raw truth in her letter. I have yet to hear a response to this problem that feels as real, though.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

      Ok, I’ll go out on a limb here. But what is the problem? The author of the letter gave an honest assessment of why she cannot follow the god she thought she was supposed to believe in. I don’t blame her one bit. Considering what she and her family have gone through, I think she’s done rather well, by stepping away from religion. Like it or not, we faithful can make things worse for the victims of life’s horrors then better.

      Do I think God still loves her? Dang tooting I do. Do I think God is still active in her life? Yep. Do I think that her current path is something that could very well be purposeful for her and her son’s benefit? Again yes. She finds comfort and peace in meditation. Even though there is no deity defined there, it works for her, which is good.

      Is she finished in her quest? Well, I doubt any of us are when it comes to the questions we have about life, belief, faith and the whole messy conundrum. What I do admire about this letter writer is that she admits where she is, what she rejects, why, and is still willing to look further. An out of the box thinker….Good for her!

      • Brena

        Do I think God cares if empty platitudes and beliefs that had been called God get replaced with self-care, meditation, logic, healing, and reality and she makes that her God instead? No, I think the second list are the qualities of God and none of us know his real name beyond them.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

          Yeah. I think that second list covers some of the attributes of the divine rather nicely.

        • Marcey

          I like your thoughts, Brena.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Brena, would you mind if I copied this and quoted you on my blog? This is a profound comment.

          • Brena

            Copy away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/valeriebarlowhorton Valerie Barlow Horton via Facebook

    Oh I pray she and her son find the peace and answers they deserve. That poor child.

  • Yhing Serapio via Facebook

    Very well explained!!…will pray for that woman.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wolf198 Steven Stanley via Facebook

    No he was to him helping that guy.

  • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

    I don’t have any words of comfort or solace for you. I’m sure if I did, they wouldn’t matter. I’m never going to forget this letter, or you, or your son. The evil that you’ve both had to face – out of people that you trusted – that kind of betrayal and that kind of suffering doesn’t seem like suffering that humans are able to endure, let alone understand. That you all survived it is remarkable. I’m devastated for him and for the impact this must have had on you. Any reasonable person would have these questions, questions for which there are rarely any answers. But I’m so glad you asked because at a certain level, we all ask them. It’s the great illogical, horrible gap of the narrative behind a loving God. Some of us can reconcile it and some of us can’t. That you are pursuing peace and are hopefully, experiencing it is my hope for you and your son.

  • erika

    i am so sorry.

    • Courtney

      Thank you.

    • Courtney

      Thank you Erika

  • J M Green

    John, although I admire your compassion, the answer you give is simply an evasion of the implications of what the Bible claims about God. The Bible claims to record numerous divine interventions/interferences in human affairs, including manipulating the ‘free will’ of the individual (i.e. hardening Pharaoh’s heart). If God indeed intervenes sometimes, then he is indicted in the times that he fails to intervene. What would we call a Child Protective Services agent who only steps in to intervene in child abuse cases once in a long while, and ignores the multitude of abuse going on? Certainly not just, good, or loving. Yet this is exactly what the God of the Bible does. Case in point – God warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod was going to try to kill baby Jesus. Then, God does nothing while Herod slaughters all the children under the age of 2. In fact, looking at the story, the only reason Herod got tipped off to start his slaughter was the star which announced the birth to the wise men didn’t lead them directly to Jesus so they had to stop and ask directions from Herod. THEN, the star guides them to the exact house. Look it up in Matthew 2. So, God could have bypassed Herod and guided them directly to Jesus from the start, thus sparing the deaths of many children. But hey, according to Matthew, there was a prophecy about dead children and weeping which needed to be fulfilled, so I guess the slaughter was necessary. The only comforting thing in all of this is that no historians from that time document Herod’s slaughter of the children (though they mention a long list of his misdeeds) so perhaps the story was made up by the writer of Matthew, for dramatic effect.

    God doesn’t have to violate free will to intervene either. For example in the recent horrifying case of Josef Fritzl who imprisoned his daughter in his basement for 24 years, continually raping and impregnating her- why wouldn’t a loving God provoke someone to discover what was going on, so the poor girl could be freed from her monster father? If God can guide wise men to a house with a star, surely he could have used, even a more mundane way to reveal Joseph Frtizl’s evil hideway. The conclusion which follows is that either God doesn’t care, doesn’t exist, or exists and cares but is impotent to intervene.

    Anyway, I appreciate your heart, but in reality, your proposed ‘free will’ answer is no answer at all for anyone who thinks it through.

    • Brena

      I am going to start my reply with this:

      There are two basic types of people who believe in God, the ones who do so from personal, psychological, relational, logical, and philosophical benefits gotten through that belief, and those who want a magic to love them and care for them.

      As for myself, I see God to be real and therefore see Him as interchangeable with reality. As a person who adheres to her belief in God for the benefits listed above, I find that elevating scripture (while inspired by people’s experiences with and quests toward the divine) to the point of over-riding reality is cult-ish and foolish.

      Here I will show how I see belief and faith as different:

      Faith in the Greek that Paul wrote with was one of two words that either meant the knowledge one gains from experience or the beliefs one develops from that experience; both were translated into English as the same word, “faith”. I get this. There is a scripture that says faith is the evidence of what is not seen and the substance of things hoped for. In too many churches the emphasis is on unseen and hoped for not the words “evidence” and “substance”. How can we have evidence of the unseen? The love we have for each other is unseen except in evidence. When we collect evidence that we are loved by someone we have faith in that love. That is the realm and scope of faith.

      Believing is choosing to think a thing is true. I believe in God. I have faith in reality and I personally benefit from faith evidence of the unseen and hoped for and I call that God, too. As for me, I see that it would be very hard to have personal healing and growth and strength without faith. The fact that this woman gave up religion and a belief in God does not erase the fact that she is gaining evidence of unseen ways of healing and hoped for peace and strength. She is becoming a person of faith.

      If we believe first and base our faith on beliefs that have been chosen we are building on a slippery slope. If we build a strong faith foundation (sounds like “believe what I tell you as a foundation”, but we know better), then we can stretch out to believe more and test those beliefs with personal experience. If the evidence comes then we add those beliefs to our faith.

      Given all of that, I also argue that complex philosophies and ideas need a good story to solidify them in our minds. How many times did I read up on the news that scientists had discovered the Higgs-Bosan particle and did not comprehend? Until I heard it was the God particle that takes free energy and drags on it to make it slow so that it collects mass and becomes a useful particle capable of becoming “stuff”. Since I have personally believed that God deliberately slows me down to make me grow up and grow wiser, my “this is how God treats me” belief/myth makes understanding the particle that does this to energy to make matter a lot easier to understand. And now I have evidence of the unseen belief and now I call my myth proven and have it as faith.

      Arguing the myth of God does not harm reality. If I find in death that there is no God it will not change the benefit the belief has given to my personal growing faith in what is true and good.

      And then I would share this: I believe in the trinity in a huge scope and I believe Jesus embodied that trinity. The source of all the universe and truth as we know it= Father. Creation and the divinity and truth told with it= The Holy Spirit of Truth. The divinity that we make when we do right action, right thinking, right choosing, and above all, when we love= The Sons of God

      I believe Jesus made it possible for all to be sons of God. But I have no evidence. I do have faith that the world is cruel because we are cruel. It is unfair because we are. I am told that justice only exists in the human mind and I respond, “So does math, music, science, and money and that does not mean it can’t change the world if we practice it.” So, scripture is made for man not man for the scripture.

      • Will

        Brena, I agree with much of what you say.

        I admire how you are able to articulate your reasoning.

        Especially where you present that God is Reality and Truth, not a magic being to grant wishes.

        Did I understand you correctly?

        • Brena

          Yes, you do understand correctly. There are two types of logic sane people use. Logic of the common reality that is based on empirical evidence, repeatability, and withstands being tested and tried by peers. But we also thrive with the use of personal logic that is based on “how it works for me.” How many ways can we discuss the best place to keep objects in our homes with other residents of the home? What is the best way to take notes for a test? Should the dog be on the furniture? How many mind games do we have to play with ourselves to do the grown up thing like waking up on time, eating more healthy, working out, etc.? These are all personal logic areas. Most cruelty in the name of religion comes from confusing these two ways of being logical.

          I will never have empirical proof of the ressurection, but the more I know about psychology and patterns of behavior then I have some empirical evidence that loving others as we love ourselves truly is a law of humans. And since I believe that the most intimate part of the trinity of God is through us, I agree with logical conviction that loving your neighbor as yourself is a law comparable to the first (love God) and all the law hangs on it. It is provable that how we judge and see and love others is a reflection of how we value, judge, and nurture ourselves. I choose to believe the ressurection because it fits my personal logic, but it would never be my proof for an answer to anyone else’s need. But letting people know that liars assume everyone else is lying, the untrustworthy do not give trust, and in general how one treats others tells us all we need to know about what they think of themselves is provable and so it is a basis for my faith.

          It is when we get adament about personal logic and beliefs and how those beliefs work for us to the point of trying to force others to fit in our belief box that we do harm. It is then that we go from being a witness to the growth and healing we are striving for into being cruel taskmasters. (And throwing tax free money in the mix makes the stakes higher and the injured more common.)

          • Will

            I’m with you 100%.

            If you teach, I sit in your class.

            If you preach, I sit in the pews.

            Thank you. :D

          • Brena

            If I ever finish my book I know I will sell 1 whole copy! lol

          • Will

            Yeah or maybe I’ll wait for the movie.

            Who would be best to portray and give to the audience the real you?

          • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

            Brena, I love both this reply and the original comment. As Will notes, you articulate your reasoning incredibly well. Thanks for taking the time to write all this out to share. I feel very blessed by it.

    • Will

      JM, those are some very good points.

  • Marcey Schwarz

    When we lost our daughter, my husband was a Christian and I was an Atheist. My husband was so mad at God, he wanted to give up his faith. I told him if he gave up his faith, he would have nothing, like me. I truly felt like a dead, empty shell. I did not even know how to start to pray at that point. I asked the holy spirit to come into my heart and help me. I experienced things, including hearing my daughter’s voice, that I did not even know were possible. I don’t want to go too far in to my complicated, custom-made theology, but I have found reincarnation not to be at odds with Christianity, and it helps me accept a lot of things I would otherwise not be able to accept. If we look at the history of the church, reincarnation was voted out during a time the church was quite secular, and it was done for reasons of political control. Jesus had his chance to dispute reincarnation when he was asked why the man was born blind. The people asked if it was the sins of the father or of the child. How could a baby sin?

    I don’t know if this adds anything, but I am at peace with what has happened, and I don’t question it anymore. There are a lot of things that would have been different in my life and others if this had not happened. It is an ugly, painful spot on the back of the tapestry. I can’t wait to see how this was woven in, and what the front of the tapestry looks like. I would say that if you feel like you can’t pray, ask others to pray for you and watch what happens.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      This is often such a powerful part of these horrifying letters – we get to see and hear so many different peoples’ stories and the beauty in them, how they healed (or in process of doing so).

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        yes

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      The man born blind thing:

      My father always used to point that out to me as evidence for reincarnation being compatable with the Bible/Christian story. According to the people at the church I used to go to – it was excused with “Well, since God knows everything, the diciples figured it was a punishment for something he *would* do in life” (preemtive strike)?

      I think my dad’s position makes more sense, honestly.

      All I can say is that “I don’t know, but I like the idea.” – If nothing more than “What if I don’t want to go to Heaven right away, but would rather make amends somehow?”

    • Courtney

      Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. I cannot imagine losing a child, and I am so sorry you have experienced that. Thank you for sharing the wisdom you have gained. Love to you.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    I am deeply moved by Courtney’s letter. I can’t imagine the depth of her pain and that of her son, and I admire her intelligence and tenacity. My heart breaks for what she and her son have endured, things no one should ever have to experience, to cope with.

    John, your response is touching and so sincere. I am continually impressed by how much compassion and care you have for people and how masterfully you write. I agree with Lymis, and I love the depth that those paragraphs added to what you already said so beautifully.

    I see already that the comments section on this post is going to go down as one of the more relevant, intelligent and reciprocal in the history of this blog.

    I perhaps do not have the academic/theological credentials to make a sound argument about the concept of free will. That said, I have a lot of experience as a person growing up and out of the concept of codependency, and really, I see much of the human experience and the discussion of free will as being tremendously related to the argument at hand.

    If we believe that God or any other person must intervene to save us from ourselves and others, we likely also believe that we are responsible for intervening in the lives of those we care about to protect them from themselves, from every possible hurt or danger. And that, in a nutshell, is codependency. Freedom from codependent thought and action means that we accept other people’s bad choices as their right to make. We also accept that they suffer the consequences of their actions and we don’t try to rescue them from them. As a parent, I want to protect my children, I would protect them with my life if it came to that. They are young still, and even when they are grownups I still believe I would give them the beating heart out of my chest if they required it to live. But as they grow older, there are more and more things in life that I cannot prevent. There are lessons they need to learn as they grow so that they will be healthy adults.

    One of those lessons, and one that I struggle with, is that things that happened to me in the past as the result of another person’s bad choices cannot continue to dictate how I live today. My birth family is an example. Of the five siblings that my birthmother kept, all were raped and sodomized for years by her second husband. All five represent varying degress of being controlled by or choosing freedom from their past. My oldest sister, who was abused in ways from the time she was five until she was fourteen in ways that would make you nauseated to hear, has spent many years overcoming PTSD, addiction, physical trauma and difficult relationships. She has made the choice to not be ruled by her past. Her son is now in his second year of college and she was an amazing, strong parent to him. She is a loving, confident and powerful woman. She lost her second husband, the love of her life, to a heart attack two years ago and the grief and loss from that have made an already hard journey just that much more difficult. But she still has faith, perhaps even more so than she had before. She doesn’t believe everything happens for a particular reason, but that things happen and we have to deal with the aftermath, good or bad.

    My other siblings have varying degress of addiction, brokenness and terrible choices. My younger brother died of AIDS four years ago, which he acquired in prison while he was serving time for molesting children. They still want someone to fix them, and there is no one person who can do that.

    It would be easy to say “there is no God” in light of the injustices they suffered. But I believe, like Lymis, that God is the one who holds us in that pain, who suffers with us, who believes the best in us, and who will absolutely flood us with His love and concern as we struggle. This life might be too short and often too painful, but there IS more, and God as I believe in Him knows that so much more fully and perfectly than I.

    I’m sorry this is such a long comment. The existence of evil and the evil behaviors of human beings is a foundational issue for so many people. I think anyone who believes in God or who has opted not to believe has spent – and will in the future spend – a great deal of time wrestling with the concept.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow. Thank you for all of this, Bar. Amazing. Powerful. Just … wow.

    • DR

      I will continue to read this, there is so much here to soak in.

      Man, I learn so much from people here re if they share my specific beliefs or not.

    • Elizabeth

      That comment about codependency has been a lightbulb moment for me!! Thank you!!

  • Michael

    just opinion of course, but I think johns answer is insufficient. a ‘good god’ would create humans who by their nature would not abuse free will so terribly. However I do not mean to say god does not exist, rather my point is that this whole argument is pointless. Good and evil are just ideas. lowly, human ideas of which god is transcendent. That being said, the god of the new testament, Jesus’ god, seems to be unlikely in the above scenerio.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    Hmm. I don’t have much in the way of awesome or healing to say, but I’m remembering conversations I’ve had with a friend on just this issue. Sometimes, our conversations are prompted by something I read on here that I’ve shown her, sometimes they’re prompted by talking about the art and craft of writing.

    And that’s where it always goes back to – We either wind up talking about writing (ie. you wouldn’t want *me* to be God becuase when I am “God” to the worlds I write in, I’m out-and-out sadistic to characters sometimes, for my own purposes they do not comprehend in the course of the story), or we wind up talking about my friends “Sims” games. Sims- I play videogames but I haven’t played that one, strangely enough – my friend, on the other hand, is quite into her Sims. She tells me she prefers the “Free Will” setting to the micromanaging setting, too, even though Sims are stupid and often do stuff she doesn’t want them to that way.

    I don’t know – I just wonder about meta-worlds sometimes, dimensional levels and weird stuff like that, and I wonder if God is more like this than we give “him” credit for.

    All I know is – follow whatever give syou peace and at least *try* not to look down upon others for what gives them peace if they aren’t hurting anyone by it. As for me, I believe that God exists, but I’m not sure if God is completely benevolent, at least in an immediate way. I don’t think it makes me an evil person to think that “something exists.” I love Nature, after all, and acknowledge nature as a brutal mistress.

    Hope I don’t offend. Only posting ’cause some people encouraged me to keep on.

    • Will

      Shadsie, your beautifully understated honest sincerity is a gift that comes only from the heavens.

      Believe me when I say,

      On the days when I have to list the pros and cons for the existence of God,

      your name goes in the pro column as solid evidence that God Exists.

      Even though we appear to be opposite ends of external personality traits,

      one of us being a manic extrovert and the other being more subdued,

      I believe you offer a quiet truth that I value greatly.

      Thank you for sharing your wisdom. :D

      • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        You’re so sweet – and you don’t know what your words mean to me.

        I mean… many are the days when I think the world would be better off with me not existing. So thanks for saying I should.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Ever since you’ve posted that you might disappear, I want to figure out a way of helping you understand how valuable your comments are. I read each one carefully and they are these beautiful little breaths of fresh air. Creative and important. You’re such an essential part of the dialogue here, I can’t imagine it without you (but I’ll understand if you need to be away. )

          • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

            I was just feeling a little paranoid about offending John, you know? I worry that I do that on occasion and it’s his blog – I don’t want to be an impolite guest. Sometimes, I worry.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            I do too. He’s a straight shooter though, he’d let you know if that was happening. And that you would even worry about it makes you pretty great.

          • Marcey

            I don’t worry about offending John. He is a tough guy. He is not easily offended. Perhaps one of the reasons I feel so comfortable on this page is because one of the first articles I read described human judgments of people as not particularly important. I’m not sure if it was titled, or just themed, “Who the____ are you?” Btw, sorry about speaking of you in third person. Love you, John! lol

    • Christy

      Yes, do keep on. In all the ways that can mean, we mean it.

  • Joyce

    My heart is broken for you and your son. That absolutely should never have happened to your son. It sounds like you have found a way to heal. I pray that your son will also find healing and wholeness, soon.

  • Paula

    John, I’d have responded this same way. (In my dreams–I actually couldn’t have put the words together this well.)

    BUT, I still wonder. I still wonder for this woman, as for the rest of us, if there is a visceral sense that this is not good enough. Not a good enough answer. Like we want to push on and ask , why did God create the world this way then? Was it really worth it, for all the crime, the atrocities, — not to mention the natural disasters and disease that cause so much suffering — don’t you ever wish it had all been over with Noah? That God had stopped this project, and started again — before the Holocaust. Before slavery. Before this woman’s child could be hurt in this way? Doesn’t “free will” sound a little bit too neat? Anybody who has suffered like this is not about to say, “oh, free will. Right. All rightee then. Guess it was all worth it.”

    I’m thinking Job has it right. There is no answer. Not this side of the grave. It just is, and our job is to do everything in our power to make it right. And that’s all we can say. For now. Because if I have to think this boy’s suffering was worth it for my “free will” –well, I just can’t.

    Job does us the merciful service of offering absolutely nothing. I think I like that better.

    • Dr

      This describes what goes on in my mind and heart with these thpes of situations so beautifully. Thank you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Who said anything about anyone else saying “Guess it was all worth it”? And what is “neat” about the idea that God won’t stop people from doing whatever they want? It’s an explanation, not a solution.

      • J M Green

        John, I think she is saying that the free will explanation you are offering is a pat answer. It’s an easy answer which fails to interact with the claims the Bible makes about God’s character and nature.

    • J M Green

      Very poignant post Paula. I have wondered the same things.

      When it comes to Job though, the book of Job, I don’t find it satisfying. Even though Job is not given an answer (other than “I am God. Can you do all the amazing things I can do? Well then, be quiet.”) himself, the book of Job give us an ‘answer’ in the first two chapters – that Job’s suffering was the result of a wager between God and Satan. This is not comforting. Neither is Job 2:3 where God complains that Satan incited him against Job, to ruin him for no reason. This would seem to say that you can be completely righteous and yet God can be tricked by Satan into destroying your life. “Oh” some would say “But God gave Job everything back and more at the end.” I’m sorry, you can’t just replace 10 dead children with 10 others. They are not possessions (even though the Bible views them that way). And Job’s wife gets to go through 10 pregnancies to replace the children God let Satan kill? I’m sure she was thrilled.

      • Paula

        Right. I think the seminary education I got about the book said exactly what you are saying. There is no good resolution to Job — it is finally an argumant against the wisdom tradition, because its happy ending is so absurd. (Everything always turns out fine for people who are good, the world works according to some rules, etc.) Anyway, not worth exegeting Job in detail here.

        I once heard ElieWiesel say that he still believed in God, but believed his tradition gave him the right and the encouragement to protest. And that he got from Job. The invitation to lift his fist and shake it at heaven. None of the friends with their explanations were right. The folktale itself ridiculous (the prose portions in the first and last chapters) and God’s speeches –not an answer. Essentially, it collapses of its own weight.

        So I guess for me, no answer to this question is better than any I’ve yet heard.

  • Soulmentor

    The difficulty in rationalizing this kind of question, situation, agony, human problem lies in the anthropomorphism of God. We attribute human like feelings to God and then can’t understand when God appears to behave inhumanely. We give God human attributes, I think, because there is no other way possible to grasp God intellectually. It reminds me of the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophenes, who remarked; “If horses had Gods they would look like horses.” ….which appears to be an abbreviated form of what he said. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenophanes

    Perhaps if we focused less on “God” and more on Jesus we would get a more accurate image of God. In Jesus we see not an anthropomorphic God, but rather a SPIRIT of Love who, it must be noted, responded to but did not INTERFERE with the affairs of this world; politics, conflicts, wars, illnesses and abuses or even death (he healed a relative few individuals apparently but did not put an end to illness and cripplings and mental illness or slavery or wars or evil in general). He showed us not a God that was like us, but a God that is a Spirit of Love that gives us a way to cope with the capriciousness of human life. He showed us how we can find that within ourselves….just as this woman in the story has done and is doing and as we see happening daily among people everywhere. She has not abandoned God. She has found IT within.

    • Will

      “a SPIRIT of Love who, it must be noted, responded to but did not INTERFERE with the affairs of this world”

      Soulmentor, you’re good, real good.

      (I’m trying to do Christopher Walken)

      “a Spirit of Love that gives us a way to cope with the capriciousness of human life.”

      I like it a lot. :D

    • K.E.

      I hope it’s okay that I copy/pasted this response of yours into a Word document and saved it. It really spoke to my heart regarding why God sometimes acts in a very “real”, obvious way in our world (a la miracles, etc.) and other times seems to be unresponsive to what’s happening (like not intervening on behalf of this poor boy). The idea of responding but not interfering with the world… it’s exactly what I wanted to articulate but did not know how to. Thank you so much for that.

      Also, to dovetail on that, I think very often we expect that when God does hear and respond to our cries (and He does, the Bible is clear that He hears us and cares for us), that he will do so on our terms, in our ways. We expect that when we are being hurt and we pray for God to save us, that He will jump in and, in the way John illustrated, suspend time. Move a hand. Change a heart. That He will act in a physical, tangible way in our world. But I think in many cases, God’s response is more subtle and spiritual, something we don’t notice right away but most certainly receive with time. His response to our painful situation may not be stopping that situation – but it may be healing our spirits in the aftermath, bringing us closer to Him, allowing our lives to be utilized to help others in pain and distress.

      In line with your quote from Xenophanes, I once had someone tell me that understanding God’s ways would be like our dog trying to understand our ways. Dogs don’t understand why we do most of what we do, they just aren’t intellectually on the same plane that we are. But they do know that we provide for them, that we care for their needs, and that ultimately all of the weird, random, nonsensical things that we do are for their benefit. (Even when they are really unpleasant, like going to the vet for shots!) You never see a dog come home from the vet and decide that they no longer trust the food their master feeds them, or the places their master leads them. They just trust, and love. We are arrogant to believe that we might be able to dumb God down to our own level of intellect and reasoning.

      So anyway, thanks again for what you wrote, and thanks to John for the compassionate, clear-headed response to this woman’s letter. I pray for her and her son’s healing.

      • Soulmentor

        You are most welcome. Of course I don’t mind if you want to save what I wrote. You, and Will above, honor me with your responses. Thank YOU both.

  • Christy

    I’m a mother with a nine year old son. My heart breaks for them and with them. There are no words. In whatever way they can – through the love and support of those they hold dear – may peace and healing find them.

  • Heidi Thibodeau via Facebook

    Amazing. Best explanation I’ve ever heard.

  • Courtney

    Hello, 

    I want to thank you all for your sympathies, support, encouragement, and prayers. I have been following the comments all day and have found them inspiring and healing. I wish I could contact each of you with a personal note of appreciation! Reading simple expressions of you sharing my grief is like a healing balm, and the deeper discussions are helping me think things through too. 

    It seems some people feel very protective of my son and I, and I appreciate  the visceral response to the situation. When John asked me if he could share my letter, one of the reasons I agreed is because I have never known anyone who has experienced anything like this and I want there to be a record for the next person who walks this path. Your responses will help them too.

    I’m going to keep following the comments, but I wanted to be sure to thank you all now.

    -Courtney

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Much love to you, mama.

    • Will

      Thank you, Courtney.

      Thank you for having the courage to present yourself to this forum and share your innermost feelings concerning such a painful experience for you, your son and family. It is bravery like yours that makes the world a better place for all.

      Thank you John Shore, for providing this safe place where spiritual comfort is found and ideas of Faith, Life, and Love can be discussed.

      I’m grateful that I have found here in this forum that John Shore has blessed us with, many who speak to my sense of reason and logic as we all search for God /Love/Truth.

      I am grateful to those who agree and those who vociferously disagree with my comments. We may come from different places, we may stand on different viewpoints, but if healing occurs we will all end up together in Christ.

      That is God’s Will for all of His children. Isn’t it?

      Thy Will Be Done.
      :D

    • http://salamanderslam.com Dave H.

      Hi Courtney. I want to thank you, too. I’m glad you’ve made yourself known here.

      I read John’s response to you. I respect him very much, and appreciate his writing. I appreciated his response to you well enough, even though i didn’t think it was quite sufficient for what I wish could be explained for you (and for me).

      The best I can ever come up with is also something like, “God can’t,” and John said it all a lot better than I ever could (of course!), but at the end of the day it just doesn’t seem like enough. Probably no words are enough. I don’t know if it’s enough for you or not.

      I’m still a Christian, still in the game, but it’s hard for me sometimes. Some days I wake up and wonder if I’ll be a Christian tomorrow. So far I’m hanging in there, but stories like yours and countless others make it pretty touch-and-go at times.

      This limited snapshot of your life makes you out to be an incredibly strong, peaceful, loving and engaged human being. If you had to leave religion to become that, I guess that I’m saying, as a Christian, I’m glad you did.

      I hope you don’t mind me saying God bless you. God, described as love, is still the best thing I can think of, so please take it in that spirit. God bless you, sister.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      Courtney,

      You’re the kind of mama I wish the world has and now, a big part of it that reads this does. I kept thinking of you today, dealing with the burden of this little boy you have and how this evil is making it that much harder for him to become who you’re raising him to be as you’ve outlined his current struggles.

      I hope you’ll consider this a community who wants to absorb some of this pain (and rage, I’m sure) when it may cloud you and exhaust you (if it does). I’m sure you have that kind of support and it’s clear you’re discovering the spiritual path for you that’s providing you with the peace you’ll need for yourself and him (thank God for that). But if there’s something specific you need or he needs, I hope you’ll tell us.

      Anyway. I’m without words, your story touched me so deeply. I don’t say that lightly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    excellent, John. you are a gift to the hurting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcos-Hilditch/100001943661714 Marcos Hilditch via Facebook

    Utterly exquisite. Tremendously well-written response to the age-old question of why God allows evil. Great stuff.

  • Larry Munoz via Facebook

    GOD was there….but he was being blocked by CONSERVATIVES.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fyrecreek Kaede Fyrecreek via Facebook

    I am not Christian. I think that’s the best answer to why there is evil in the world that I have ever read.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.gerlick Thomas Gerlick via Facebook

    We all hear about the “free will” argument. It would have been this couple’s choice to drug and rape a 9 year old. But the attraction to children does not exist in the mind of a healthy, mentally sound person. If there was a supreme being who has guided over our evolution then it would seem to me that anything as against our ethics as pederasty, or other severe mental disorders. If any deity allows people to exist with these disorders then he is pretty capricious and uncaring. My answer is much simpler and clearer: “God” allows heinous acts to happen because he’s busy not existing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LekKoswig Lek Koswig via Facebook

    Thanks for the response. Might use it sometime if that’s OK? One thing though (and I don’t mean to diminish your fine work). Jesus has green eyes in the vid. Sorry.

  • Lesley Pegg via Facebook

    This is an incredible response and your concern for this hurting soul is evident. Her response to everyone’s responses shows true love and what the One we follow is all about. Thank you for giving a voice to Him and to help her (and many others like her) in their hurting. *That* is the face of Love which we all know is Him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patty.simmons Patty Simmons via Facebook

    Thanks for sharing her moving story and your response.

  • Katy Gentry via Facebook

    I am on a journey to find what forgiveness is all about. Many are like her and the church is silent. Thank you, John.

  • Margie Gage via Facebook

    Wow. Thank you getting to the heart of this age-old question.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cindy-Shields/575253125 Cindy Shields via Facebook

    Thank you so much, John for your wise and loving response. As inspiring as this dear woman’s spirit. God bless her and her son. Hope we’ll all remember to pray for them. XO <3

  • andie

    Even disregarding all the terrible things that happen to people, I don’t understand why a person would be Christian when they could be Buddhist. Buddhism is very comforting.

    • Diana A.

      Buddhism is comforting for you. Courtney appears to have also benefited, which is a good thing. Not all of us find Buddhism satisfying. Different strokes for different folks!

    • Christy

      Some of us see how they are compatible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.tjostem Paul Tjostem via Facebook

    Powerful response John….and so well put and handled. I will pray for that woman and her son…and seek forgiveness if I ever become the type of Christian that would make anyone turn from the grace, love, forgiveness and healing that Christ offers.

  • Mark Hull

    J M Green – I appreciate your reply not because you are ” debunking ” the bible and all the faith filled believers believe every word but because Adam and Eve were never intended as a cosmology of the planet. And bad things do happen to good people. John, I did appreciate your answer over all btw. :)

  • Andrew Raymond

    Courtney,

    I have little to offer that others have not offered more eloquently before me. John, as ever, really put it in perspective. My feelings are much like DR’s 11:14 post above. I will pray that you and your son both find peace, through whatever path will take you there. Every good tree brings forth good fruit.

    Andy

  • http://www.facebook.com/dland Dave Land via Facebook

    You clearly have a gift of pastoral care. I think I’ve read you say that it’s not so, but your tender, clear-eyed response to this woman says otherwise. I’m grateful that you are showing the online world another face of Christianity. I struggle to stay associated with Christianity when I see Kansas legislators twisting the Bible into a prayer for the death of the President, but then, as you point out in your letter, I realize that it’s not Christianity that is at fault, it is vile, ignorant people assuming the title of Christianity who are at fault. Thank you for being “blessed to be a blessing” to your online flock, brother John.

  • Amy Hurst Hoag via Facebook

    Your response was thoughtful and well said. I appreciate the fact that you handled it that way and didn’t dismiss the concerns she had…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Linda-Cayhill/100001685098690 Linda Cayhill via Facebook

    Very well put. No matter what God loves us all.

  • Francie Sartain

    Dear Courtney,

    I work with sexually abused people and John’s answer is exactly what I tell people too. I also would add that while people are being hurt Jesus is crying with them….

    This is what survivors have taught me…

    May God bless you,,,

  • Jason Cobb via Facebook

    But a god who is so burdened by his love for us and our free will would allow us to steal the free exercise of it from one another? I’ll be damned than believe in such a god.

  • Lori S. Harding via Facebook

    We will never understand while we’re in this world.

    • Sharla

      Maybe not completely, but God gave us brains so we’d try. Remember the story of Jacob in Genesis (chapter 32, I think): it wasn’t till he struggled all night that he received a blessing. I can surely understand why this woman’s struggle has led to a rejection of God. Will that rejection be permanent? Maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, God hasn’t rejected her, or her son. if that makes any sense.

  • Scott Dennison via Facebook

    I enjoyed reading your response. It seemed heartfelt and, clearly, came from a perspective of love and caring. That said, one of the many reasons I am no longer a Christian is because of instances like the one described. I’m certainly no theologian, but your response seems to confirm that prayer is every bit as useless as I found it to be. In any event, if there is an omnipotent god who simply chose not to act to save this boy, then I want nothing to do with him/her/it. That, to me, is worse than the thought of no god at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    no sense of comedy in your response John, just a good dollop of Jesus…. well done sir. well done.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaun.c.spelman Shaun Conde Spelman via Facebook

    Wonderfully put and encouraging.
    You can tell from the wording of the replies that there’s been a lot of hurt on the side protesting God doesn’t exist.
    Instead of focusing on the hate and the hurt, focus on love. Loving all those around you, regardless.
    That’s something everyone can get behind no matter what you believe. It’s easier to hate because love takes determination…especially when you’ve been wronged.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    If I may add… this isnt the fault of “the Church” its the fault of the people who were the members of it who chose to allow evil to happen without acting in faith and moral courage- Jesus knew all about that, and it ended on the Cross- the same one he calls every believer to. Thanks again John- and yes, the world is continuing to watch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jake-Kampe/1043349133 Jake Kampe via Facebook

    Great response, John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rossblocher Ross Blocher via Facebook

    John takes a very kind and respectful tone, which I appreciate. Still, the free will argument is not sufficient in a world where miracles occur and prayers are answered. If God ever takes a role in changing the course of events, then we have to ask why he intervenes in some situations and not others. Surely if the boy had been saved from being raped, God would be credited and thanked as having saved him. If God can intervene in a situation at all, then he is immoral not to prevent the rape. You can’t have it both ways – if it’s free will, then it’s free will all the way, across the board, and you can never give God credit for playing a role in the bad OR good. If God gets credit for the good, then it is natural to ask where he was when the bad happened. The best solution remains that it IS free will across the board; and there’s no God to intervene in the affairs of humans. (Other options would be a capricious God or multiple gods, but I doubt anyone on this thread is championing either of those hypotheses.)

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      What if someone (me, for instance) said “There’s no God” is too easy an answer?

      I don’t know how to explain it, but even while the “free will” is one I continue to find unsatisfying, I also find “there’s no God” to be equally unastisfying if not less satisfying. It just strikes me as “too easy” in an infinitely complex existance for some reason.

  • Tracy Lynn via Facebook

    I enjoyed your response to this woman John. I often find it hard to understand where God resides in this evil world. If we have free will however and evil is free to reign as long as we let it, in what way does God answer prayers? If changing situations in our world is a conflict of our free will, is it possible that God would help me find a job for financial stability in my life but was not able to help this young boy? I hope that makes sense…it’s always on my mind. Who is worthy of help and miracles from God?
    Regardless, I do enjoy your writing and way of thinking and appreciate your input. Take care!

  • Tom Blegen via Facebook

    i think part of the miracle is that this kind of thing isn’t happening all the time among us all. in exodus god calls a people to live by a set of rules and to hold each other accountable to those rules. i see this as god acting through all of us in community with all our individual weaknesses…

  • Micah Selu via Facebook

    Not following Jesus =/= giving up God, fwiw.

  • Terry

    Actually, I have a different take on this. While you clearly are compassionate, I think your answer after the expressed compassion is mostly cold. If I had that kind of pain (and I work with those who do), I would come back with a very clear “yes in fact I DO want God to take away free will if that is what it means.” It is a “head” theologian answer and not, I would say, a heart of Christ answer. Francie started to hit at this. Clearly what happened to this woman and her son is horrible. The problem is the theology she was taught, not God. In the old testament, you were looked at as good or bad by how you prospered or not. By the time of Jesus, that started to fade and Jesus made it very clear how he stood on the matter. The beatitudes are impossible to understand if you have a “Santa” God or punishing old man God image. Ultimately, Jesus’ life and passion say that God ultimately is faithful, not that bad things don’t happen. Jesus was tortured and very likely raped. He willingly went through that to demonstrate that life is more than what happens to us and that we are more than what happens to us and God is not a watch dog, but love itself. This woman is a living testament to the power of light over darkness and that Love and the Light will always prevail in the end, that Easter will come. Good Fridays do happen and will happen. We are not promised anything different than what Jesus experienced. But now, through Jesus we understand that we are never never never alone. Jesus incarnated experienced true horror. To be able to reach out to that presence now and know that Jesus understands the horrible humiliation and is there can be very powerful. Ultimately, what I have experienced in my own life and in many of those that I have walked with is that people who have had to face great darkness, but worked through it side by side with the Light, have become great warriors of the Light. Once you realize you have survived that horror and have come out the other side. Once you realize the petty boxes we put one another in and the petty arguments and political fighting and arguing over sign posts and ignoring the One the sign points to…a new freedom in Christ emerges. Most people don’t get there. All the “church” people she came across weren’t there. So many of the “saints” and mystics suffered in their life and their conversion, their transformation into such amazing beings didn’t happen in spite of the suffering, but because of the suffering. Such is the paradox. But not so surprising. We are so very comfortable with our laws and rules. There is a reason they killed Jesus. He pushed people too far. He challenged the rules and notions and practices that kept power in place and God in a box and people in boxes. But very very few people can follow it. Love your enemy? Pray for those who persecute you? The last shall be first? Don’t worry about tomorrow? Blessed are the poor in spirit…for they shall have no where else to turn, but God. Ultimately, I think this woman is finding the true Christ. She just doesn’t know it because it doesn’t look anything like the God or Jesus she was taught. But the presence she encounters in her silence. Those moments she senses peace and awe. She has encountered the Other. As she does that more and more and begins to deepen in that relationship, then all names and theology fade away. I think she is on her path. And no talk of “free will” is going to help her get there. At least that’s the way I see it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I don’t think telling her that she really still is a Christian (“Ultimately, I think this woman is finding the true Christ”) would have been anything near warm and compassionate; to me, that’s necessarily intrusive and condescending. Her spirituality is her business—and she seems to be attending to it well. I’m telling her nothing more than why I think God doesn’t stop the evil people do. That’s not “cold”; it’s simply than the most rudimentary sort of philosophical reasoning. I’m confident she can handle it.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      I don’t know Terry, there seems to be more than one right answer in this sharing the burden of being victimized by evil and what to do about a belief regarding a loving God who’d allow that. To take free will off the table as not one of those answers – as the wrong answer – that’s pre-supposing what a lot of people need when in fact, they might need that (and a lot of what you offered as well).

      Those of you who are reacting so strongly to free will, who are assigning these characterizations of “cold”, “insensitive”, etc. to it brought up in this experience – I can’t help but wonder if it’s bringing up more for you and you’re bringing that into this conversation. Free will is the elixir of the universe and along the lines of the *actual Christian narrative* is a pretty powerfully beautiful thing, there’s nothing that honors being human – a created human in God’s image – more than that.

      • Terry

        DR: it is a fair enough challenge. Projection is always part of our interactions and musings. In fact I think that is the crux of our challenge with God. We project our view of life and justice and linear thinking onto God. My response was obviously stream of conscience and not an edited response. So let me clarify that I 1) I think the free will part of the equation is an important aspect. 2)John: I never meant to imply to say to her she was still “christian”. I think labels of “Christian” are problematic because believes are not universal and this wonderful thread exposes the weaknesses of labels. But it is what it is. A better way for me to have put it was to say that I would have liked to see more balance in the response and many others have covered the rest of the response I would have like to have seen…others have said it beautifully. It is a good thread and a great service. Thank you John.

  • Ryan Collins via Facebook

    Mental disorders can both be caused by external actions of others, and can compound over time from generations of abusive family members, and from physical defects of the brain. God interfering in either of these situations is still a direct action that would fundamentally change the way a person behaves. Of course, I am biased as a process theologian who believes that God works with us far more than he works us over.

  • Chuck Dodds via Facebook

    What happened to this woman’s child is unspeakably horrible. I certainly can’t blame her for being disgusted and angry with whatever God is out there. No human being could ever find a way to justify what happened to that boy.
    However, if there is a God, I don’t think we have a right to expect Him to justify His actions (or inactions) to us. He’s God. We’re only human.
    I’m a human being, and as such I will never have 100% unshakeable faith in anything, let alone a Supreme deity. I’ll never get anything perfect, and will never have all the answers. Christ teaches that all that imperfection doesn’t matter. God loves us the way we are. After all, that’s how we were made.
    A true Christian, in my opinion, doesn’t give God lists of expectations. A true Christian tries to follow the teachings of Christ. Treat your neighbor like you want to be treated. Be kind to each other.
    The awful people that raped that boy need our prayers, too. Somehow, I think the best I can do is to pray that they get everything they deserve. It’s not a perfect prayer, but Jesus said that’s ok.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julie.valderramawright Julie Valderrama-Wright via Facebook

    Tell her to read The Shack, this might help :)

  • David Fisk via Facebook

    Is god all knowing and all powerful?

  • Kathleen Grimes Ricker via Facebook

    I think denominations that cast God as some kind of supernatural, anthropomorphic superhero (God-Man(tm)) help foster this delusion. I’m kind of a deist, and I frankly don’t know what God is. But reading this story put me in mind of an interview Studs Terkel once did with Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till (the black teenager who was bludgeoned to death for whistling at a white woman). The pertinent part is here–it’s very moving:

    http://lindy1950.tripod.com/mamie-mobley.html

    She drew a parallel between Emmett’s suffering with that of Jesus, and that it pointed to a greater purpose. But I began to think of it as Jesus suffering with Emmett, that perhaps that was the real meaning of Jesus’ death–not to atone for the world, but to suffer with the world. And that his mother must have suffered the way Mamie Till Mobley did–and the way this mother is now suffering.

    I don’t think God can stop evil; it’s part of the world he/she/it created. And perhaps that makes me an apostate; so be it. But I believe God suffers with us, as Jesus and his mother did…even when there is no purpose (and I refuse to believe that what happened to this child, or even to Emmett Till, could possibly be part of some larger design). If God is at all sentient, then it is an act of love, compassion, and penance that he would subject himself to the same kind of pain suffered by creatures of the universe he created.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eleanora-Grey/100003314483878 Eleanora Grey via Facebook

    Wow, my heart truly broke for her and her son. I hope she writes to you again. I, myself was raped for years by my much older brother. I have asked many of the same questions she has…. and sometimes I still ask them. I completely understand her position and respect it. Man… just can’t say much more than that.

  • http://thedivinemissc@gmail.com cciv204

    i understand that god so loves us, he gave us free will. that is what my religious friends tell me when i question why my mother beat me both physically and emotionally. when i question why her brother molested me as a child. but why should their free will take precedence over mine?

    • Will

      cciv204, your mother was a sad, sick, self-hating, confused and mentally ill person. Her illness and the rage it brought on had nothing to do with you.

      You did NOT deserve to be treated like that!

      You deserved/deserve to be treated as no less than God’s Beloved Child.

      Because that is who you are.

      It is/was terribly unfortunate that you happened to be within reach of your mother when she needed to express the mindless rage that was inside of her.

      I have to admit that logic fails to overcome the imbedded suffering that comes from abuse, even if that’s all I have to give.

      I hope it is helpful to you to ponder the idea that you no more deserved what happened to you than the victims who died in the World Trade Center deserved what happened to them due to the actions of misguided, deluded mad men.

      As you heal I hope you come to accept that just as we give God a capital “G” as a gesture of respect, you deserve a capital “I” as His creation.

      Peace.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      You’re owed an apology for how those people treated you. They were part of your abuse (well-intended people can also abuse). There’s a lot of us who want to take responsibility for their ignorant, simplistic, callous responses to you. I hope with time you’ll let us here know how we might be able to be a part of repairing that (if that’s something you’d even want).

  • Mike Reaves

    I appreciated the honesty of this letter, as well as the thoughtfulness of the response. However, the reply begs another question: if God will not violate our free will, how does he cause his will to be done on earth? Would not any intervention in human affairs be a violation of free will? Any thoughts on this are very much appreciated. :)

  • Keith Osterberg

    Ross makes a good point. And just as evil exists, so does the arbitrary nature of life and death, suffering and pleasure. Why does one child die and another live when neither child deserves death or suffering, and when both are prayed for fervently by godly people? Why does the man who drinks and drives survive an accident while the passengers of the church youth group die? It seems to me that intervention, for good or ill, is not God’s modus operandi. So, why do I still believe in God at all? I believe because I feel God consoles me. I can understand why some chose not to believe in God at all. I choose to believe because I find it comforting to feel that God cares, even if God either cannot or will not intervene in the events of humankind. Believing saves me from a life of despair. Some would say I delude myself. Perhaps so, but it comforts me, and that may be one way that God does, in fact, intervene in my life.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Keith: I love this. Thank you.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Beautifully said.

      Deluded? Yeah, so what. Maybe you’re crazy. I know I’m crazy. The way I figure it, the whole world’s crazy, we’re all just nuts in different ways. Maybe hoping for a meaning to Life at all is a delusion – in which case we all “suffer” (it being human nature to search for meaning, even if it’s temporary). As long as our respective and collective “crazy” is the good kind – it’s all gravy, or should be.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      I adore this. I’ll keep it. Thank you.

    • Donald Rappe

      Well said. This self delusion is what I mean by faith. I believe there is no psychological difference between faith and self deception. Here, following Sartre, I mean true self deception, not the knowing kind that is not deception at all. Here, if there is to be a difference, it is not in the psyche of the faithful, but, in whether or not the object of ideation is real or illusory. Many years ago, when my mind was still soft and flexible, and my conversion experience was still recent, one of my friends at work had a young infant baby. This child used its free will to gum some lead off an object which was never discovered. He suffered a disease which left him blind deaf and permanently fixed at his then current state of mental development. His mother and I were teaching at a very small Catholic women’s college and my faith felt this as an attack. I searched around in the pages of the Bible, to see if I could find any help. All I could find was this. That infant, and this mother and child, each have a powerful and holy angel which stands forever before God and looks into his face. Other than this, I found nothing.

  • Bryan Ballenger via Facebook

    Well done, John! One of the best explanations of free will that I’ve read!

  • Calvin R. Griffin via Facebook

    Geez, that’s a really tough one, John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Worthington-Long-Enslow/1284198849 Worthington Long Enslow via Facebook

    My comment elsewhere when I reshared this…”As we all know true Christians are rare. I think John Shore is one of them.”
    Kudos.

  • Lynn Galliano via Facebook

    That was outstanding. Amen.

  • Anita Gillette

    I have had a life full of every kind of abuse one person can put on another person but by many different people. I have asked God why and He always comes to the same answer – He can put it all together so that it has a good ending for me. He said that I would not be the person I am now if I had not gone through it. I have a heart of love for hurting people. I take them into my arms when I get the chance and show them what God is like. I show them love, acceptancce, understanding, a shoulder to cry on and an arm to lean on. It was worth it in the long run.

    • Will

      Anita, I admire how you have transcended the abuse and used your experiences to be a comfort to others.

      Now THAT’S what I call being a Christian!

      • Donald Rappe

        Yes, I believe this, in its peculiar way, shows the omnipotence of God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chad-Parker/1567055733 Chad Parker via Facebook

    I have never understood this particular rationale for disbelief. When she was a Christian, did she think bad things never happened to people? Now, I no longer believe in God (in the ordinary theological sense) but it’s not because I discovered that bad things happen. I already knew that when I was a believer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeannie-Boen/613045659 Jeannie Boen via Facebook

    Prayer may be pointless to change other people, Marybeth, but I believe it’s true purpose is to change us. I have never witnessed a miracle. And I surely have experienced and witnessed injustice. IT doesn’t matter. My faith is a source of personal strength to me. It changes me for the better, so that I can give of myself better to others. To me, that is answered prayer.

  • otter

    This family’s path to growth and peace may well be through the 3 gems of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. I wish her well and pray the correct teacher will become available to her. She may find comfort in knowing the karmic debt accumulated by her son’s tormenter’s will be paid.

    I offer this: from my personal experience: The teachings of Jesus have only come alive for me when I learned to listen to them with Buddhist ears.

    • Donald Rappe

      I like this.

    • Christy

      Thank you, Otter. Having ears that can hear can often help illuminate the teachings of other traditions as well. Blessings to you.

    • Courtney

      Thank you Otter! When I first found out what happened to my son, all I could think was what I’d do to the perpetrators if given the chance. Then I transitioned to thinking about what karma may do to them, now I want them to be stopped from doing anything like this again, and there is a visceral response still in me that would like them to suffer, but when I really look at it, life is too important to waste on thinking about what should happen to them. I am content to let the universe sort it out (overall, though like anyone, I have my “bad days”). I thank you for sharing. Namaste’

  • http://www.facebook.com/raquel.hellenbart Raquel Hellenbart via Facebook

    Jeannie I am a product of drug addicted parents and I prayed that God would remove their affliction and it happened, I only pray that God give me the will to do his will for me, I pray for others and it works!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mad-Maddie-Mendelsson/783945797 Mad Maddie Mendelsson via Facebook

    Maybe God could hear this prayer. It is an abomination when anyone is raped and it happens far too often on what is supposed to be God’s creation. This is an abomination. Humans deserve to have good lives. Their lives are not good if they are being raped. Maybe God will finally hear this prayer, maybe today (in human time). Maybe God will finally do something about people who go around drugging and raping people and doing other horrible things. I’m waiting, God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jandarlenehastings Jan Darlene Hastings via Facebook

    If god IS the creator of all things, whatever evil exists, whatever cruelty and violence we are capable of, it can only exit because god created it. Think of us all as a computer program. If god didn’t install the capacity to begin with, it wouldn’t ever happen or come to pass. We wouldn’t have the choice between right and wrong if god didn’t create right AND wrong. Just couldn’t happen.

  • Danielle Perata via Facebook

    (I had a weird hiccup on my phone when I tried to post. Feel free to remove if this is a duplicate train of thought either here or on the webpage.)

    Like the woman who so bravely shared her story, I also love this page because it creates a safe and loving atmosphere in which people can share their experiences and be comforted. And, like her, I am also not a Christian. I am a mixture of Vedanta and Buddhism, I suppose.

    Eastern religions understand both God and sin/evil a little bit differently. The separation we think exists between us and God, or between one another, really, is an illusion. God is never absent and God is in all of us. How then, can their be evil? Without getting into the particulars of karma and maya, it is, in short, ignorance. If we knew our true nature and realized that it was in all beings, we would not ever do the sort of cruel, horrific things we are capable of doing. (Of course, if we knew that, we’d be enlightened.) When our ego gets in the way, we can find all kinds of justifications for our bad behavior. We can even invoke our religion in the process.

    To my understanding of spirituality, it does not ultimately matter whether or not she will ever be able to believe in God or return to Christianity. All paths are sacred. However, I would say this–without that spark of divinity within, (whether you call it God, Brahman, the Atman, your Buddha nature, Higher Self…) and some kind of deep connection which she had forged with it in spite of the hell she has experienced, she would not have been able to heal herself as profoundly as she has.

    Many blessings on your path, dear, brave woman, no matter where it leads.

    • Courtney

      Thank you. Namaste’.

    • Christy

      Thank you for this, Danielle. Yes, that spark hidden by our lack of understanding ourselves and our relation to the Divine. Beautiful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    Is God our Father? What father who knows that this was going to happen would stand by and do nothing all in the name of protecting everyones freewill. If you were a father and you had the foreknowlege this was going to happen to your son would you do nothing just to protect everyones freewill, I think not. This freewill answer doesnt cut it for me. Should freewill be protected if it means that innocent human beings are harmed and not protected from the devastating effect of individuals who choose to do evil and hurt others.

    • vj

      “Should freewill be protected if it means that innocent human beings are harmed and not protected from the devastating effect of individuals who choose to do evil and hurt others.”

      That, unfortunately, is what free will necessarily entails. PEOPLE are not required to protect everyone’s free will, and PEOPLE can most definitely be expected to at least WANT [to TRY] to prevent from happening any evil act of which they have any foreknowledge (hence anti-war protests etc). Any act by a person to stop ONE person from exercising his/her free will by committing an act of evil DOES NOT interfere with the free will of ALL people. However, if we want GOD to interfere in particular acts that we find most egregious (and the story in this letter is definitely in that category), then that does start to impact on the very essence of free will.

      My husband showed me some YouTube videos recently about extreme endurance events (sorry, the actual name escapes me at the moment). The soundtrack to the videos is a speech (again, the source escapes me) with the premise that “our greatest fear is not that we are weak; our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. God is not going to stop us from doing whatever evil we set our minds to (although He has provided many exhortations to us to choose life and love, rather than evil and destruction) – we have to stop ourselves (and others) where we have the knowledge/means/opportunity.

      As Spiderman says: with great power comes great responsibility. We should not imagine for a moment that God allows any of us to exercise the gift of free will without CONSEQUENCE. And those who harm children are warned of particularly severe consequences (Matt 18:6).

  • Erica

    I also like the idea that God is simply not omnipotent or omniscient. There is a fundamental property to matter that is by definition unknowable. That’s the Uncertainty Principle. So whether an electron will be here or there a second from now– not even God knows. But when evil happens, the Holy Spirit weeps with us, the Spirit of God is in pain with us. And it’s for us to experience that. So it’s better to not believe in, but experience God. I think a lot of people who don’t believe in God can still try to experience Her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-Horan-Sedelmeier/1259286822 Sarah Horan Sedelmeier via Facebook

    But really, if God is powerful and capable enough to create an entire universe and give us all (including rapists/murderers) the gift of “free will” and “independent” thought, then why can he NOT prevent evil (such as this innocent boy being hurt and traumatized for life)? If God is loving and merciful, why would He create evil or why would He let it occur? You can’t say God is all powerful but just not powerful enough to stop suffering/pain/torture/evil…these are the issues I struggle with….

    • vj

      God is indeed loving and merciful. In the midst of the greatest pain we go through, He wants to comfort us, heal us, restore us, redeem us, embrace us. This young man’s story is not finished, and there is always hope that God will “work ALL things to the good”.

      Which is not to say that recovery from such evil is going to be easy or straightforward… But there is no need to walk the road alone.

      • Christy

        I love what you contribute, vj. I do. I am wondering though how this is different from what Rick Santorum recently said about women who are raped “making the best of a bad situation” by being required to carry a resulting pregnancy to term and calling that child a “gift from God”.

    • http://www.rethinkingyouthministry.com Brian Kirk

      I think Sarah has raised the real issue here. You can’t have an all powerful God, one that we think at times steps in when we pray for healing or protection, and at the same time a God who stands back and gives us all free will to commit horrible acts of violence. A “parent” who cares for us when we are sick but stands by and does nothing while we are tortured is no kind of parent.

      • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

        Brian, you’re reconstructing the Christian narrative based on your own conclusions. Which you can certainly do and if that is logic that appeals to you then fine. It’s certainly not the narrative that millions of Christians are working within so while your “option A or option B” works for you, you seem to be stating it in a very declarative way which seems short-sighted given Christians here who have suffered tremendously as victims of violent crime and are also, quite comfortable reconciling both (and millions do, successfully) isn’t productive.

      • Christy

        I think he raises a valid question that many people have and it is why they have trouble reconciling God as both all-loving and all-powerful. It seems if we could let go of some of those notions about God and admit that maybe God doesn’t work that way then we could reach some more common ground. I see a lot of defensive positions about “what God is like” that we are holding on to here that aren’t absolutely necessary for having an understanding or relationship with the Divine.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Wow. Yes.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Which is actually more powerful:

      – to wave your magic wand and freeze evildoers in their tracks, or

      – to watch someone you love make a choice that will hurt themselves and others and force yourself to sit back and let them suffer the consequences of that choice, even thouhg you know it will cause them tremendous pain

      I sort of compare it to the parent or spouse of a drug addict. If you child chooses to shoot up heroin, you have two choices. You can lock them in their room and drive yourself crazy trying to control every move they make so that they can never do drugs. In the process you will lose your own sanity,probably your job, maybe your house and most certainly all other personal relationships that are important to you that you will no longer have time to honor. You will sacrifice things you don’t even realize, and in the end, the minute your iron control slips for one single second, the likelihood is that your kid will get out, do drugs anyway, and all you have suffered through is for nothing.

      OR, you can set boundaries on the assistance you will provide. He will make choices on how he behaves. He may make terrible choices. He might die. He might kill someone else (my nephew overdosed his cousin AND his girlfriend, almost fatally – my other nephew overdosed himSELF). But you have allowed him the dignity of his own choice and as well the learning experience provided by his consequences. You have not stopped loving him or having compassion for him, and when he decides to make better choices, you will be there for him with full compassion and without continually reminding him of his past failures.

      Which takes more strength?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Liz-Peryam/100000746253028 Liz Peryam via Facebook

    We just do not know how much evil God has prevented.

  • http://www.facebook.com/10KRyan Kelley Dolan Ryan via Facebook

    I believe John left out a very important part of this sentence, “then you want stronger people to be able to victimize weaker people”. I believe it should have ended, “BUT CHOOSE NOT TO”. No one WANTS stronger people to victimize weaker people, we want stronger people to CHOOSE not to victimize weaker people. But I agree that the overall point is the key word Choose. Choice is the business of life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Morwell/1127510145 Robert Morwell via Facebook

    The reality is that if God intervenes directly to stop every evil thing (and in some cases, evil is decidedly relative, though not in this particular one) then we cease to be human and become only sophisticated robots with no need or opportunity to make choices. And, we have no need to learn love or practice it. We lose the very things that makes us human and which we share with God. We pay a terrible price for the opportunity to be able to think and act freely, which are necessary conditions for the ability to be loving and creative. Our failure is when we chose not to be. The only way God can preserve the very conditions which make us human, is to give us freedom, and then seek to persuade us to use it wisely and lovingly. The irony is that forcing us to be good, takes away our capacity to be good, because goodness MUST be chosen and not imposed. And, if the Incarnation means anything, God has chosen to plunge into the muck, mire, blood, and misery or our human condition to show us how to love, and willingly took on the pain that mission entailed. God shares in our suffering, but refuses to abandon us to it, even when that would be the safer alternative. That’s what love does, and how love heals.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      Yes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    Robert Love also protects!

  • vj

    Wow, John. I never ceased to be totally in awe of the grace and compassion you extend to the deeply hurting people that send their stories to you. I believe that, in these cases, you truly are “a man after God’s own heart” – this is just the kind of loving response that we see Jesus give to all the hurting people He encountered in the Gospel accounts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.brisson1 Tom Brisson via Facebook

    God was there…weeping.

  • Hallie McCormick via Facebook

    Danielle, what a wonderful, informative post! Thank you for this point of reference.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jwhitteberry Jan Whitteberry via Facebook

    Thank you for posting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffany.mulford Tiffany Mulford via Facebook

    Great job brother! Thanks for representing Christ and His love for us….and everyone.

  • Gina Powers

    Yeah, the only objection–if you will–that I have to this post is something Kelly D already pointed out from this sentence: “If you want will that is truly free—if you want everyone to have the kind of autonomy you certainly desire for yourself—then you want stronger people to be able to victimize weaker people.” What I’m guessing John was REALLY getting at was, as Kelly pointed out, you don’t want people to do evil in order to have free will–you want people to have the ability to CHOSE to do right or wrong. Cool idea on God’s part, even if it still kinda sucks simultaneously. ;) But again, I’m pretty sure that’s what John was going for anyway. Yes, I know, redundancy, anyone? ;) And while I’m still struggling a bit with the notion of God vs. good/evil, excellent post as usual, John.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I didn’t say anything about wanting people “to do evil in order to have free will”: I can’t actually follow what that means. I simply said—well, what I said: wanting free will for yourself means wanting others to be able to victimize weaker people. “To be able to” = “to be able to choose to … “, minus the two superfluous words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elissa.stahl Elissa Stahl via Facebook

    I think this is an issue that even Christians struggle with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    Maybe this illusion of individual freewill is the problem. The very nature of love requires constraint and self-control, we fool ourselves to think we have freewill because in doing so we give ourselves the right to choose to hurt others and destroy our environment. When we think we are free to do anything we like we ultimately destroy our ourselves and the world in the process.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leigh.kelly Leigh Pinkston Kelly via Facebook

    It is unfortunate that so many people believe that YHWH will prevent bad things from happening to people of faith. The “ask and it shall be given to you” and “faith of a mustard seed passages” in the NT contribute to it though. They were useful recruiting tools but they certainly led to a lot of unrealistic expectations.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      We need a “like” button. Because I would click it for this comment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathy.elings Cathy Elings via Facebook

    He was holding his heart and crying with him. He was in his heart, helping him survive if he did, and waiting for him in heaven to embrace him and erase all his pain, if he did not. God gave everyone free will. That means evil people will do evil things. Sometimes even not so evil people will do evil things. We are all here to love and protect each other, that’s how we glorify God. However, there are those who choose not to. That is our free will. God does not allow bad things to happen. People do. You can’t control someone else’s free will do be as evil as they choose. People choose to do horrible things, and it breaks God’s heart. He is there inside all of us to strengthen us through our suffering in this life. All we can do is accept his love and strength in us and survive and thrive through the evil others do to us.

  • Brian Davis via Facebook

    I’ve had this discussion countless times, most recently “Why did God let the love of my life die in my arms?” At some point in grief counseling I usually point out that God isn’t Spiderman. What happened to her son was tragic, but unless you pray to Spiderman, that’s not the way faith works. The short version of what I tell people is God made the board game and wrote the rules to it, but He isn’t looking over everyone’s shoulder to make sure they play fair. That’s our job as the players.

  • Mundy Hendrickson via Facebook

    Ok, down to basics. People can EITHER believe in free will OR an all-knowing, all-powerful god. This is where I usually get confused. (This isn’t toward the original post, which I don’t think I have the stomach or heart to read) just the comments about free will. So are people actually admitting that god is not all-knowing/all-powerful? Just wondering.

    • Otter

      If we saw our existence as a repeating cycle of lifetimes devoted to growth and learning, and not as a one lifetime event, then the possibility that our current circumstance is part of a larger tapestry of events offers itself.

      I have read (somewhere) that early versions of the Bible contained references to reincarnation, that have since been edited out. Do any of you worthy Bible scholars have any comments on this notion?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrice-Wassmann/734712174 Patrice Wassmann via Facebook

    Mundy, you have to read John’s reply to her. I think he makes a good case for both being true.

  • Amy Ramsey via Facebook

    As I read this, I realized that in essence, the removal of someone’s freedom to choose is a kind of rape. We would not want God to impose that kind of control on us, and yet I am angry because I was raped when I was young, and again in an abusive relationship just a couple of years ago. I sometimes scream at God for not protecting me from those horrors and I have wondered if there was some reason why he didn’t love me enough to do so. In reading this I came to understand that he loved me (and all of humanity) so much that he gave us freedom. It isn’t his fault if some humans abuse that freedom. Thanks John Shore – you reached me. And it wasn’t the first time.

  • Wendy Harrington via Facebook

    John’s response is absolutely correct, and full of God’s love.

  • Naomi

    I’ve heard this argument, and it is better than others, but…

    The problem is this: You say that we, meaning society, punish those who take away the free will of others by taking away theirs, meaning sending them to jail. If this is a good way to go (I’m not sure, but that’s another discussion), why doesn’t God swoop in and put abusers in “jail” by revoking their free will for a time?

    And of course there are also natural disasters to cope with. The whole theodicy thing is not so easily solved. That’s why it’s got its own name. Not many problems have their whole own name.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      People continue to have free will while in jail. They may not have certain rights, or freedoms, but their free will is still completely intact.

      • Naomi

        That’s absolutely true, in that they still have the free will with which to make decisions in a narrower range, but they do not have the ability to make decisions that other bearers of free will generally have, like when they will turn the lights out, or whether they will leave a certain room. I think, though I’m willing to be corrected, that this is what John meant when he said

        ” Ultimately all crime boils down to one person exercising their free will to in some way override the free will of another—which we all understand as such an egregious thing to do that we punish the perpetrator of such a violation by in turn removing, via imprisonment, their free will.” (This is an excerpt from the post above)

        So, to ask my question more accurately, why doesn’t God swoop in and put abusers in “jail” by revoking their free-will ability to make the choice to abuse for a while?

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          The narrowing of choices people can make – like changing light switches – doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the foundational concept of free will but I see what you’re saying I think – why doesn’t God limit the ability for bad people to exercise their free will in ways that victimize others?

          To answer, I believe he does via the free will of those who choose to pursue Good. The constraints of our very existence depend upon the choices human beings make, we actually *create* things by our intention and our will to put those intentions into practice and if enough of us practice those intentions, what we practice becomes institutionalized which becomes are norms. So if enough people pass laws to put certain kinds of behaviors in bars, then that is God protecting His people.

          In short, I don’t think we have any idea of how powerful we are. I think we’re scared of it and collectively – if I used myself as an example to generalize – we’re too lazy to discover it. It’s *hard* to exercise free will for the betterment of people around us – we seem as human beings, quite focused on using our free will to simply make ourselves and our family as comfortable as possible.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            (Clearly I’ve thrown in the towel and I’m engaging in the debate. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!)

          • Naomi

            Good work, towel thrower! This is the 1st time I’ve become engaged in debate on this cite too.

            Perhaps you are right. I mean, we are powerful when we work together. So perhaps what you’re proposing is a non-interventionist God. I could get my head around that. But…I don’t think I can accept “God wants to help and does, he just does it in an indirect and not terribly effective manner.” I could totally accept “God sees and feels for the world, but limits himself to feeling for us.” I don’t think that’s what you’re saying though. Is it?

          • Naomi

            oops, site, not cite. sorry.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            It’s so hard to have this conversation in written text, the nuance of meaning is super difficult.

            I see why you’d get that I believe in a non-interventionist God (I love that term, by the way). Maybe I do to the degree that it interferes with our free will? Here’s a better way of saying it (I’ll try). I take the “made in the image of God” quite seriously. I think that has nothing to do with what we look like and everything to do with our capacity. I think of those moments of sacrifice, where someone does something incredibly kind for someone else and it brings tears to all of our eyes. I think of Pope John Paul 2, visiting the man who shot him in jail and just hugged him and hugged him. This extraordinary capacity we seem to have to love and this *joy* we get when we do – the healing that occurs when people watch us do that.

            There’s something very “god” like that to me. When I *choose* to love well, go beyond myself instead of being *obligated* to do it by some kind of cultural norm. I think atheists are actually, an excellent example of loving well because they do it without any eternal pay off – they do it because something inside of them says “You are human. This is a very good thing to do. So do it.”

            I’m rambling a bit here so let me try to bring it home. I believe the universe runs on free will, that being human would not be “humanity” without it. That we are also sick and damaged is a reality. That free will is abused and perverted and that it makes no logical sense when a loving God doesn’t intervene with saving these innocents from these acts of evil is a valid question asked by sensitive, reasonable people who love GOOD, who aren’t satisfied with pat answers. Who think the concept of a loving God should have some consistency and substance behind it when things get hard, just like we say about people.

            And ultimately, I believe all of this is eternal. That monstrous evil lives for a season that seems unbearable to endure but perhaps, has some kind of story now that triggers some kind of domino board of consciousness for us. And that God is in that so deeply than none of us would have the words to explain it, even if we understood it.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            which becomes are norms = which become *our* norms, as in “societal and cultural norms”.

          • http://www.rethinkingyouthministry Brian

            I afraid all this is simply inadequate. Could you make these sorts of explanations about God to a child about be gassed to death in a prison camp or to a person being tortured in some wacko’s basement? What about those who are harmed and no one steps into help –no one exercises their free will to do “good”? (case in point: Joe Paterno and those who ignored child rape on that university campus). These are all fine academic arguments, but how could we possibly say these things to the person actually experiencing the harm and say “This is happening to you because your all powerful and loving God gives your abuser free will to do these things. And even though there is no one around to help, God isn’t going to step in and stop the abuse.”

          • Naomi

            “a person being tortured in some whacko’s basement”

            I think we are already talking about this extreme scenario. The cases you cite are also horrendous, but the awfulness of the even in this letter sent to John is already bad enough.

          • J M Green

            I agree Brian. It is very inadequate. The Bible makes claims that God intervenes in human affairs, often striking people dead. What better candidates for being stricken dead than rapists with a gun to the head of a child? In Acts, Ananias and Sapphira struck down for lying about their finances and Agrippa for proclaiming himself a god. In Corinthians, Paul warns of believers who have died because of partaking communion in the wrong fashion. I guess child rapists are too low on the Almighty Priority List for smiting. Do you think the poor boy cried out to God for help as he was being assaulted (even if only in his heart)? I bet he did. And no help came. Horrible! In everyday life, we hold those in positions of power and authority liable if they fail to intervene when they are aware of an abusive situation. How much more should be indict a God who looks the other way? Hell, any employee at the school district where I work would be criminally charged if they ignored an abuse situation.

          • http://www.rethinkingyouthministry Brian

            Yes JM. Ditto all you just said. As one wise fellow pastor once said to me “Why should I worship a God that behaves worse than we do?!”

          • Christy

            Yes.

          • Washington.A

            I like your post , it brings deep thought to me in us existing as humans on earth. I’am going to paraphrase words from scripture in my case in which I mean we didn’t ask to be here on earth going back to Adam and Eve they didn’t ask to be created nor the devil. Some may wonder why did he have to cast the devil to earth and not some other planet or somewhere else other than where he made human life I don’t know… and that he knows everything that is going to happen from beginning to end as well as the angels rebelling against him … I ask why … we read it is all apart of his plan but I ask myself he knows who will accept and who will reject him , then the part of him being all loving and creating and allowing the sin he hates and only he can take away, but wouldn’t one feel that God is contradicting who he is ? Or he is just an all powerful crazy being ? I had these thoughts … but back to the boy who was violated , yes we have free will and are sinners saved by grace and also there is a devil with demons on earth, knowing the enemy works to kill, steal and destroy would leave one to explain to the mother of this boy that its the fallen angels working on hand. Sorry I know this long but to my final point another paraphrase : the bibles says we all fall short of his glory could this be karma coming back to the child for something he did ? not trying to point fingers or sound mean but just thinking through , thank you for reading.

          • Christy

            Re: “could this be karma coming back to the child for something he did ? not trying to point fingers or sound mean but just thinking through , thank you for reading.”

            No. And it is mean and cruel to say so. It is the kind of thing no loving God would do – ever – especially to a child.

          • Washington.A

            You didn’t fully understand what I was implying, I wasn’t saying this was an act of God and never would I believe God will to a child but knowing he is a just God that takes revenge for his people and punishes sin I just wanted to make this factor known , but knowing that we all are fallen from and no one is innocent especially to sin I was implying that could this young boy done something before that know one knows about , but only God and his fate was carried out back to him, not blaming God and then also knowing the devil and his demons at work on earth could this situation be ruled out from the following two explanations I just explained ? and no I wouldn’t wish this to happen to anyone but just keeping an open mind.

          • Christy

            And again I push back with a resounding – NO.

            1) This is a child. By some traditions not even at the age of accountability

            2) NOTHING anyone does adult or child makes them “deserve” karma, or the universe, or demons, or God coming round again in this way. A few rare exceptions. Hitler, perhaps. But that is what you are saying. That somehow the child is complicit in this horrific crime being committed upon him and THAT is an evil thing to suggest.

            Please do not pursue this line of thought a moment further.

          • Christy

            The reality is that bad things happen to both good and bad people. And good things happen to good and bad people. Good and bad things happen. To everyone. This is reality.

            It is also true that sometimes the things we do directly contribute to our suffering. But to apply the inverse: that when bad things happen to us it is because of something we did or omitted to do – does not hold. This is the lesson of the story of Job as well as what Jesus said in Matthew 5 about God’s rain and sun shining on the righteous as well as the wicked.

          • Christy

            “Do not return evil with evil – but return evil with good.” If God is going to bother to incarnate himself in order to come to earth to teach us some things – I gather that this same God – and the universe we postulate that God is in charge of -plays by the same rules he taught while he was here.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Washington A,

            To suggest that someone “earned” being raped in a former life – to speculate on such a thing when you don’t even know if that’s accurate – that *that* is the damage that religion and Christianity bring upon this world and it’s exactly why people run from it (and why they should).

            No, it’s not a good idea to consider this. No, it’s not healthy, wise or productive to “keep an open mind” about this. No, I won’t think it through and yes, you should absolutely never say this to anyone again who’s been a victim of a violent crime, ever.

          • Washington

            There was a big miss understanding , I never implied he earned what happened to him. Also yes it does rain on the just and unjust, but just was implying knowing we as Christians that are coming into the knowledge of God knowing he does punish those who rebel and sin , again this applies to the sinner that’s saved by grace knowing now whats right or wrong. I understand he is a child and not at the maturity and don’t expect or know where he stands with God , to also I can’t speak on it because I don’t what is accurate like you said above . When I mentioned that comment I said is it a

            POSSIBILITY that what occurred could be something that was done , and I say this graciously knowing that we ALL fall short of his glory. Never was I wanting to say he deserved this or any one then coming back to my ending point knowing this is an Demonic deed of satan and his angels that they come to torment us. I never said God was the one who directed this act , but I was implying that he allows satan to go so far with souls and on earth especially the ones who are still in the powers of darkness ,to then saying I can’t judge this boy because i don’t know where he stands , but was just giving my point on how God operates in dealing with sin and of what could have been a possibility . My dearest apologies for the confusion on my comment , I hope I was able to clarify.

          • Christy

            Re: “knowing he does punish those who rebel and sin”

            This is one theological point of view that not everyone holds: a God of retributive justice – a punishing God. I hazard a guess that many, if not a preponderance of people on this thread do not believe in such a god. Many, if not most, believe in an unconditionally loving God. The God of retributive justice is more commonly found in conservative, evangelical, and fundamentalist circles.

            Re: “When I mentioned that comment I said is it a

            POSSIBILITY that what occurred could be something that was done”

            And we are still emphatically saying NO to even the hypothetical possibility of it.

            Re: “never said God was the one who directed this act , but I was implying that he allows satan to go so far with souls”

            Whether you beleive God punishes us directly for our bad behavior by making us suffer at the ahnds of others or whether you beleive God ALLOWS satan to harm us is a very fine thread so fine that it matters very little whether God harms us directly or permits things to happen to us: neither of which I am willing to allow to be said to this suffering woman about her situation even in the hypothetical.

            I know you want to defend yourself here Washington as having not said anything INTENTIONALLY hurtful – but it was. And it still is essentially saying the same thing even if you aren’t seeing it that way.

            I appreciate your apology, but your hypothetical theology, even as a possibility, is still unpleasant to me. And my response is still No. I do not believe in a god who intentionally either by acts of commission or by acts of omission causes harm to befall us or permits harm to be done to us by Satan or demons or anything else because we are disobedient to a particular set of standards as interpreted by humans.

            God loves us. God is not the author of our pain.

            Life is full of pain. This is the way life is. But life is not God.

          • Christy

            This goes to the very point of John’s response. Free will. (And now I’m going to be forced to agree with John even though I didn’t love his reply.)

            People do bad things to people. Not God.

            I know this is tricky, but the way God is explained in the Old Testament is not the same as God is explained in the New Testament. To take literally the God of the Old Testament out of context and apply that same vengeful god to situations of today is not applicable. God no longer strikes people dead. (Some would say God never did that in the first place). You are applying a very literal interpretation of the OT understanding of God to modern day and it doesn’t fit.

            God does not send hurricanes to flood cities because of US policy or how “sinful” that city is perceived to be by a certain faction of religious people. God did create the earth and the weather and science – and if we did a better job of studying it and learning how it works and applying what we know and how we build our cities in coastal areas – we could better prepare and avoid tragedies like New Orleans.

            God does not send earthquakes to destroy countries who are not Christian. God did create the earth and tectonic plates move under the earth.

            God does not allow Satan to give people cancer to torment them or test their faith – even though that’s what the story of Job says. This is a literal interpretation of Job rather than one that says – bad things happen to all of us whether we are righteous or not. It has nothing to do with our righteousness. In the face of trials do not lose faith or hope, for God is always with you. It is not a punishment.

            Satan and his demons do not inhabit people who kidnap and torture people. People who have been horribly mistreated, who have been abused themselves, who do not know what normal is, or who have been allowed to think too highly of themselves, who feel they can do no wrong create an alternate sense of normal in their mind – a place of unreality – in order to deal with their own pain and act in ways that are not in keeping with the rules of society which can and do cause people harm. God created psychology, but God does not tell people to live in unreality nor allow Satan to trick people’s minds.

            People hurt people. Not God. Not Satan.

            Do you see what I’m trying to say?

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            I understand he is a child and not at the maturity and don’t expect or know where he stands with God>>>

            Yes, he does. He’s deeply loved and cherished and absolutely nothing that he or anyone did in a former life or this current life – or the state of Original Sin – contributed to any kind of role on his part in being raped. He was a victim. An innocent victim. Period.

            I can’t speak on it because I don’t what is accurate like you said above . When I mentioned that comment I said is it a POSSIBILITY that what occurred could be something that was done>>>

            Well you did speak to it by saying it was a possibility. I know you didn’t intend to cause harm but even when we do so accidentally it’s important for those around us to say so in order for us to repair it. This kind of speculation is something that is very damaging. Please, in the future, don’t even speculate about any kind of “possibility” that sin as it relates to the victim of violent crime is any way, shape or part of them being a victim. Again – I understand your intent was not to harm. I’m focusing on the impact.

          • Christy

            Thanks, DR.

          • Courtney

            How could anyone say such a thing? How could you? This is my son you are talking about. No one EVER deserves what he went through, not even his attackers. Suggestions like yours are the type of thinking that puts children into mental hospitals. No one with compassion would suggest a rape victim is at fault, especially one who is 9 YEARS OLD!

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Courtney: I’m terribly sorry I didn’t delete Washington’s comment before anyone had a chance to read it. I try to keep on top of that kind of nonsense, but that one slipped through. Sorry again. Love to you.

          • Courtney

            Thank you, John. Its ok. I am grateful to see Christy & DR’s responses as well as your concern. Washington aside, the entire comments section is amazing and I am gaining so much from everyone’s compassion and wisdom. I thank you so much for making it possible. Love to you too!

          • Washington

            First off let me apologize for the misunderstanding , no where did I say he DESERVED , what happen but just questioned the situation that happened over all . I am sorry if it sounded that way to you never would i would want to just to be arrogant and say he deserved what happened to him but just was thinking it from both side of the situation. I understand he is a child and that there is a certain level of accountability he can bare at that age especially being a Christian. There is one scripture I forgot to quote which was Psalm chapter 1 verse 1 : blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the path of sinners nor sits in the seat of the scornful. Please don’t take this wrong and I am not saying your son is at an level or place to discern his Christian walk of accountability , but knowing the world and peoples rebellious demonic deeds could have have it role in that horrible situation to simplify he wasn’t the guidance of God’s way during the situation. Please believe when I say this is that I am not blaming him but knowing simply that a child knows no better, and yes it does also rain on the just and unjust , I hope I was able to clarify what I was trying to say and not make it seem that I just felt that like he got what was coming to him for what ever reason in any evil way.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Washington, you absolutely did imply it. You did right here:

            “I was implying that could this young boy done something before that know one knows about , but only God and his fate was carried out back to him”

            There’s nothing about his “fate” that was “carried out back to him”. Just stop back tracking. You were wrong, there is no room for excuses. Just *learn*. Stop taking, stop justifying – just learn so you never, ever say anything like this again to a rape victim’s mother or God forbid, a rape victim him or herself.

          • Christy

            Yes. Please don’t do that again.

          • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

            Explanations are received only when people are really seeking answers, answers that make some kind of sense. So the answer to your question is yes, if someone was actually looking for that.

            But here me when I say this, please. I don’t think people are really looking for an answer when they ask this question – at least I’m not. When I’ve asked God “Where the fuck were you and WHY did you let this happen?” I knew I’d not get an answer. I knew somehow I’d never understand. For me, I was grieving the innocence of believing in this Presence that I trusted. Perhaps like me, many who ask this question aren’t really asking a question, perhaps they are mostly, expressing their rage, their grief and disappointment in a “loving God” who would allow someone to keep a man around kids who raped little boys. I find it ironic that loss seems to be mostly, the univeral human condition and it’s rare when any of us can grieve while at the same time, hope. I think it’s way too hard to hope in a loving God who’s disappointed us in such shocking, savage ways. What was freeing for me was to realize that God didn’t expect me to – I was not made with that capacity. It just after a long time, started quietly showing up again.

  • Karen

    People can exercise their free will to harm us, but we can also exercise our free will to decide how to respond to that harm. We can ask God for guidance on how to respond in the most constructive way, not through bitterness and vengeance but through compassion and assistance for others who are suffering.

    The OP and her son may find healing in support groups for crime victims and eventually come to the point where they can be a source of healing for others whose victimization is more recent.

    This may seem like a facile suggestion from one who has never undergone such a traumatic experience, but in the lesser traumas of my own life, finding a way to convert the experience into a catalyst for positive action has been the key to healing.

    • Christy

      Karen what you speak of is what the Buddha discovered: we mitigate our own suffering by working to alleviate the suffering of others.

  • RoeDylanda

    The problem I have with “Free will” as the answer to why terrible things happen (especially to the innocent) is that it seems that most Christians want it both ways. If something terrible almost-but-doesn’t-quite happen (near miss car wreck, good Samaritan shows up and stops assault/mugging/rape in progress), people are quick to credit God for the intervention. If something terrible *actually* happens, we’re back to the free will of the perpetrator. That is incredibly theologically frustrating– if God sends a well-timed stranger to frustrate the free will of some rapists/muggers/drunk drivers, why not others?

    • Sharla

      Perhaps the person God wanted to send ignored the call…

      • Bryan

        THIS is just as offensive.

        • Chris

          How is that offensive?

        • Christy

          Yes. How is that offensive?

          • Jim

            That God is relying on us to save ourselves and others.

    • Lymis

      I think you’re mixing your metaphor here.

      The well-timed stranger has free will, too – and used it to step in and put themselves at risk rather than drive by. Even when people say that “God sent the person” they are rarely saying that God overrode the person’s will – just that the person responded to the promptings of the part of themselves that is their best self.

      I have more problem with people who pull the “thank God that God saved us from the tornado by directing it to destroy our neighbor’s house instead” trick than with people who thank God that another human being rose to the challenge of being decent, courageous and helpful.

      For me, it still comes down to the same sort of idea that “what kind of loving human parent wouldn’t make sure that their kid wins every game of Monopoly by stacking the deck and giving them extra Monopoly money.” Because that’s not what the game is about, and who the kid grows up to be is more important than feeling good about owning Boardwalk every time -and spoiling a kid that way ruins them for life.

      Well, “when I was a child, I thought as a child… now that I am a man…. and what we will become has not yet come to light.” Whatever else is true, what happens to us on earth is only the start of our story, and it’s very possible that having a safe and pleasant and effortless life is the best answer for us in the long run.

  • Debbie Yeaton Pendleton via Facebook

    I think the test is to keep your faith in these most trying of times. John is right.

  • http://ivydruid.deviantart.com/ Laureth Curran

    I have worn a similar pair of moccasins as the OP and I’ve walked a more than a few miles with the same burden. I don’t follow the God of the Abrahamic religions. I can’t. However, I’ve also come through stronger, with my spirituality intact and strong. I think perhaps, because of your monotheism, you seem to have an ‘all or nothing’ kind of tone. God either is, or is not attentive. He allows free will or doesn’t. He is loving or vengeful. Yet, there’s so many situations that are, say, not black and white but shades of grey. I don’t have this point of view on my path, which allows for many gods who can indeed, interfere at random, however usually won’t without good reason. In other words, its all grey to me. In the example of “God’s will” vs “freewill” I believe a just and merciful deity would indeed weigh the ‘harm’ of free will violation in order to save his/her follower for even more severe ‘harm’, especially that of the innocent and in need of protection. Its only a short step from “Hate the sin not the sinner’ to “Its not his/her fault” to “Its a disease” to “S/he was asking for it, dressing like s/he wanted it/drunk so its all their own fault”. After all, it was their own free will that put the victim in the place at that time in order for the rapist to attack them. That point of view, or a deity who would allow that to happen without a serious counter karmic backlash, is anathema to me. I’m sure most survivors of sexual abuse would have cheerfully given up a few moments of *ahem* “free” will to avoid the years and years of pain that follows such an expression of someone else’s “free will”. So your argument really doesn’t work to comfort anyone much, and if what you say is true, of what use prayer or other forms of supplication? Or even, what use is church, if not to comfort and provide hope for needy, and answer the seemingly unanswerable?

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    Thinking upon this some more…

    At present, I don’t think there *is* a satisfying answer to this question. Really. I find myself wanting a big steak dinner and everyone I’ve ever read feeds me crackers. I hope that I’ll get that steak dinner someday, is all I’m saying.

    Another thing I know is that when people have told me “Things happen for a reason” and not just your usual “god-wads” but I’ve had folks who “believe in karma” tell me this, too (particularly, someone I know at work whose specific religion I do not know, but “believes in karma” – which can make her anywhere from Buddhist to New Ager… I have never asked), I can kind of accept it. It’s a pat answer, but I guess I accept it because I really *want* it to be true, I really *hope* that things will work out in the end.

    At the same time, I consider that “FOR ME” – not necessarily for others. It seems that the crap of my life always works out in one weird way or another. Maybe it’s just a matter of perception (I do think we are slaves to our perceptions, in the end). In the midst of pain, I don’t really want to hear “everything works out for a reason” – I know enough NOT TO EVER tell that to somene who is in pain. At the same time, if someone were to come up to me while I was in pain and say “Oh, you’re in pain because there’s no God and it’s all just Nature, you stupid praying-person” I’d smack them upside their fat lip and tell them to shove their words so far up themselves they can taste them.

    One example from my life to illustrate my weird perception: A couple of years ago, at work, I fell down a flight of stairs. Cracked a bone in my arm. Bruised a kidney, too, but I didn’t know that until three days later when I could no longer ignore the stabbing pain in my side that I thought was “just gas” or “me just recovering from being bumped around and being a wimp.” (I was afraid to go to the hospital for “nothing,” you see, ’cause I’m poor). I considered it a miracle to be alive, though, since I did slam into *solid concrete* AND my head avoided a *jagged cinder block* someone was using as a doorstop and had at the food of the stairs *by a hair.* By all rights, I shouldn’t have been going “I’m fine, I want to get back up and finish my work!” and trying to get up after I’d fallen. I should have busted up my spine or cracked my skull open and died/become paralyzed/become a jibbering brain-damanged mess. Nope – relatively minor injuries.

    Still painful, though. I’ve thought “If it was a miracle, if I was saved by God, caught by an invisible angel or something, why did I fall in the first place? Why did I have to be a month out of work with a broken arm?” It turns out, I actually learned a lot from the experience, primarily about trusting people. Trusting people is something I have a difficult time with – and here I find out that not only did my significant other love me enough to visit me in the hospital every day (though he probably had to go through rigamaroll since we aren’t married and I was treated at a Catholic hospital) – and this is better than my family has acted toward me in similiar situations – my boss was willing to pay all my medical bills and keep me on the payroll even though I’d only been working for her a few months. (Most would have found an excuse to fire me – I know). As an “agricultural worker” in my state, I didn’t qualify for Workman’s Comp. My boss actually paid out of her own pocket for me – including physical therapy. For a good long time, I’d convinced myself that she was an angel in disguise. At present, I just think of her as an extrodindary human.

    This is a situation in my life in which I suffered pain, but think I needed to in order to learn stuff. I was spared pain I should have “by nature” had. I’m not sure I’m “worth” being alive when others have not survived similar situations, I just know that I am. It’s one of the many things in my life that’s “weirdly worked out” but possibly only because of my own perspective and perception on the matter.

    But I’m not going to say “everything happens for a reason” to you or to anybody else. I consider that little pat condesnension philosophy something that’s “for me” and probably why I still believe in God even though I don’t have any “logical reason” to, and, perhaps in an any given person’s eyes, I’m “evil” for doing so. *Shrug.* I’m a slave to my perceptions.

  • Bryan

    Here’s what didn’t get said above: God didn’t reject you and hasn’t yet. End of story.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      Bryan, to say that to someone who no longer believes in God is – to many, from what they’ve indicated – not about what they need but more about what you need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Morwell/1127510145 Robert Morwell via Facebook

    @Holly Tieken: I would agree that God does protect. But, there is a difference between being protected and being invulnerable. God does not promise the latter, and cannot without violating our humanity…or so frequently contravening the laws that govern our universe that the very fabric of relaity would be shredded in the process. What happened to this poor child is monstrous, vile, and heartbrekaing. But, I daresay it would happen much more often, if there weren’t people and organizations that work to prevent it. I sincerely believe God works through their choices to be the guardians of the innocent. I also believe God is at work in the people who work so hard to help the victimized to recover. The voice of God is heard in those who cry with the victims and cry out against any further such atrocities.

  • Anna

    John, Thank you so much for sharing this. I had to share it with my Facebook friends. It so clearly explains everything. I didn’t know what to say to an atheist who posted a question similar to this when I shared something on FB about faith.

  • Don Whitt

    Awesome, John. The free-will to sort through life’s ambiguities as we see fit is the essence of life. There are always going to be people at either end of the spectrum – the incredibly evil and incredibly good, with the rest of us falling in the big part of the bell curve. You can’t legislate evil out of existence or pray evil away or force people to be good. You can only make sure what side of the curve you’re on. Atheist, agnostic or religious, you can only control you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gordon.herzog Gordon Herzog via Facebook

    I certainly don’t want to trivialize what this woman and her son have been through. But, expecting God to actually prevent bad things from happening is like expecting God to intervene and make your team win the football game. What happens when two devout players for opposing teams both ask God to make them win? On a larger scale, what about two devout soldiers from different armies asking God to make them the victor on the battlefield? John’s point is that God has given us free will and is determined to support that gift no matter what we do. Therefore, we don’t get to blame God when bad things happen, no matter how incredibly horrible they may be. I cannot imagine the horror of discovering that my child had been drugged and raped. I would probably lash out and blame everyone I could, including God and myself. But…when it comes right down to it, the only people to blame are the perpetrators of the crime. And they need to be punished and prevented from ever doing it again. It’s not satisfying, but it’s the only recompense we get.

    • Dianne Mc

      Good reply Gordon!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brainbliss Bryan B. Bliss via Facebook

    You forgot to say: “You may have rejected God, but God hasn’t rejected you.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      If I had wanted to say that, it would certainly be true that that would now be something I had forgotten to say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Darcy-Dore/100000520847902 Darcy Dore via Facebook

    I have finally realized that it is not God who let bad things happen to people it us as people who allow the bad to happen. It all starts with us….

  • Isabelle Russell via Facebook

    I can understand where youre coming from Maddie

  • Mundy Hendrickson via Facebook

    Ok, so god created all this, and now he is just sitting back to see how it all plays out…? Does he know what is happening, but doesn’t stop it? Or does he not even know? Sometimes people say stuff like “It’s all in HIS plan” or “God works in mysterious ways”, as if all the terrible stuff is part of the script. So are we believing in omnipotence and omniscience, or no? Just wondering. I heard on a radio show a very long time ago, about a belief system that included a god that created the world (because of the exactness of our ecosystem that allows life to thrive, from the amount of gravity to the closeness to the sun, that it almost HAD to be created by ‘intelligent design’) – but then God promptly went on his way to go create other worlds or something because there is no sign of him after that.

    • Elizabeth

      As John put it so well, it is because of our free will and sinful, rebellious nature. No, God is not ignoring us, but I highly doubt you want Him to interfere all of the time. What He does do though, is take bad things that have happened to us, and heals us and turns them around for good. I was molested as a pre-schooler and never told anyone. I got into drugs and alcoholism at a very young age and was raped at 13, went through a series of cheating, abusive boyfriends and lost all hope for anything good to ever come my way, because on top of that. my family was poor and I was always working. Then, I met my now husband. He and I met and we both gave our lives to Christ and He has turned those horrible experiences into lessons and I am now able to help other hurting women who have gone through similar things, and I am much wiser and smarter because of it, and I now have a daughter who I can warn to stay away from certain situations and be there for. The world is evil, God said that we are going to have trials, troubles and tribulations and that it rains on the good and the bad. But the one’s who hold on to God and never lose faith, because of temporary circumstances are the one’s who are going to have eternal life.

      • Christy

        I think the rain in that verse from Matthew 5 along with the sunshine was a metaphor for good will not tribulation and a moral lesson for us all to learn treat all with goodwill whether they are our friend or our enemy.

      • Jim

        Elizabeth, my heart goes out to you for the suffering that you endured as a child. But now, as a “Christian,” what do you believe would have happened to you if you had died fore learning to “hold on to God and never lose faith?”

        Would you be sent away to eternal hell for such a “failure” on your part? Did you save yourself, or did God save you? And what will He do with those who aren’t as lucky or as “strong” as you are?

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Jim it’s clear you have a pretty strong point of view about free will, God, etc. That you’re now passively-aggressively attacking the solution that someone like Elizabeth used and continues to use to find perspective and healing is gross and inappropriate and you’re doing it all over the place.

  • Rebecca Olszewski Forfar via Facebook

    Wow!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jandarlenehastings Jan Darlene Hastings via Facebook

    @Mundy…I think a comic once referred to god as an absentee landlord.

  • Kate

    John – I want to thank you for something about your response. I was very afraid that somewhere in there you would try to go with “we can’t know what god knows”, as if there could be a higher good here. My own 16 year old son was shot and killed while working his second day at a fast food drivethru. Three young people waited for him to leave (leaving only the manager inside), held a gun to him to get the manager to open the door, and then shot and killed him. It was a bad thing. God does transform situations and bring some good out of evil, but that doesn’t mean he allowed it because having him shot and killed was somehow “good” for me or him. It was an act of evil. I was a Christian before. I’m still a Christian. But I was stunned….where was God? I realized that somehow I expected to get special protection as a Christian – that evil things would not happen to my own family (if so, wouldn’t we all be Christians?) Now I know that man can choose to harm anyone, and that my family and I are in the world with everyone else. I believe the answer to “where was God” is, that he was with my son, suffering with him, and later with me, sharing my suffering. I do get strength to carry on thru God, and am currently going back to medical school in my 50′s to carry both medical care and the gospel internationally – because where there is an imitation of Christ and a true presence of the Spirit in people’s hearts, they treat one another as the precious children of the Father we all are. Some people give lipservice to religion (any religion, including my own)without treasuring the Creator’s spirit in each of us, but it is easy to see those who are genuine. I have no doubt that God continues to care for me and that my son had the privilege of finishing his growing up in Jesus’ household – looking forward to seeing how he turned out !

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      This is just so … dead-on beautiful/touching/ennobling/heartbreaking/powerful/perfect. THANK YOU, Kate. I’m so inexpressibly sorry for what happened to your son.

    • Courtney

      I am so sorry for your loss, I cannot imagine how awful it must be/have been. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me.

    • minda

      Love you Kate, wish I could hug you! First response that brought tears to my eyes. You nailed it.

    • mae

      greatly appreciated this. Thank you so much for sharing

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    Quite possibly God’s power isn’t the sort of power that knows absolutely what will happen ahead of time or can control all that happens. Perhaps free will is not only God’s gift to us but a fundamental reality that God cannot change, along with some of the randomness and unpredictability of our quantum world. Could be that the kind of power that is the love of God cannot absolutely prevent such things but is lovingly present, suffering with us and supporting us as they happen. Perhaps God saves whatever it is possible to save for good from such situations and weeps and screams and labors bring out new life from them even though evil seems to have prevailed. I don’t believe God is an absentee landlord and I do believe God has power– but it’s the power of suffering love, not of paralyzing force. I don’t blame people if that’s not enough for them– but a God who could stop such a horrible thing and did not would have to be a demon, and we don’t worship a demon.

  • Mundy Hendrickson via Facebook

    Ok, see I would be much more ‘down’ with that kind of a god; that was never how it was presented when I was a kid. It was he is all-knowing and all-powerful AND we have free will, nevermind the obvious contradiction. He had already written down in some heavenly script everything that would ever happen. (So, you come to a stop sign, and you THINK you are making the decision of whether to turn left or right or go straight, but of course, you are not actually making a decision, it was written eons ago that you would turn right.) This kind of god sounds more like a ‘force’ and you wouldn’t even have to call it ‘god’ you could call it fate or the universe or whatever and you’re talking about the same thing. And this kind of thing would bring way more people together. If we could all embrace the fact that we don’t KNOW, and be okay with that, and then get to work on the things we do have some control over…we’d have solved half the worlds problems by now. Has anyone here seen Zeitgeist? Or read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? Just some interesting things to throw out there if anyone is interested. :)

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      I read somewhere that “Zeitgiest” (whatever that was) was a fraud. All I know is that I used to know people on a message board that would link to parts of it all the time, but I the last time I searched for it on YouTube, I couldn’t find it.

  • Lisa

    I have a hard time with believing God is both All loving and All powerful. To me, the fact that such horrible things happen proves that he can not be both. So I choose to believe he is all loving, but not all powerful.

    and what about evil that is NOT caused by people? For example, babies born with terminal illnesses. I would be very interested in your thoughts on that, John.

    • Christy

      Life is full of suffering. But life is not God. I agree: all loving. About the all powerful I have to say, God doesn’t work like that.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      I seem to remember arguing once that I thought that Human Stupidity was the most powerful force in the universe (possibly more powerful than God).

      I also seem to remember the people I was arguing with insinuating that I was stupid and evil for daring to propose that. *Shrug.*

  • http://www.facebook.com/wularozanne WuLa Dawson via Facebook

    What a courageous conversation!

  • http://www.facebook.com/LekKoswig Lek Koswig via Facebook

    In the Anglican (Episcopate in USA) Church’s lectionary, yesterday’s Gospel was was Mark 5:21-43 (the woman who touched Jesus’s cloak; the father who begged JC to save his critically ill daughter, and he did), it occurred to me, have we been poorly trained or incorrectly guided by a contemporary/dumbed down version of Jesus’s life (misconstrued so as to make Christianity more appealing, perhaps) that we SHOULD expect the hand of God to appear from the sky and ‘fix’ things?

    Is that why we’re angry when evil and pain is inflicted? That no-one is accountable? In a child’s simplistic and therefore pure and natural view, then it has to be God’s fault.

    Let us pray.

    • Courtney

      Amen

  • Ryan Collins via Facebook

    Everyone should check out the process theology point of view. This is a brief intro, but here ya go. http://homebrewedchristianity.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/What_Is_Process_Theology.pdf

  • Dianne Mc

    All the comments have been amazing,…. amazing as only human beings can be. Different thoughts, different opinions, different backgrounds, different faiths or no faith. I always stand in complete awe of this world and all it contains. My precious son was diagnosed with cancer when he was six, I saw him suffer and fight for his life. He relapsed 5 years later and it was even worse. I watched a 2 year old, a 4 year old, a 9 year old and a 16 year old die in the 3 months we lived in a transplant unit in a major hospital. I heard parents pray to God, curse God, praise God and deny God. I fell on my own knees in the bathroom floor one night and screamed out at God and to God and questioned the faith I had accepted as a child. It was certainly put to the test. I was told by some surely my child was being punished for my sins, I never truly believed that for a moment, but I did question everything. I would not worship a God that would not let me ask questions and seek a truth that I could accept. My mother was not an educated woman, but she did bring me up in a faith that made good sense. With or without God, life would not always seem fair. Would I choose a life as a robot where nothing bad ever happens to children but void of the depth of love for a child that can bring that sort of grief when something horrible happens to them? I am pretty sure given that choice at that moment on the bathroom floor I would have screamed YES…I do not want pain. But in all reality, how can we be real human beings without both? There is an old song that says, “We will understand it better by and by.” Maybe I am naive and a little old fashioned myself, but I believe that. I didn’t get all the answers when my child was so sick and suffering, but I did get a peace and a strength that was supernatural and the things that experience has led our family to be able to do since then is nothing short of a miracle.

    • Diana A.

      Everytime I hear that a parent has been told that his/her child is being punished for the parent(s)’ sins, I want to scream. Such a God would be a monster.

      I’m glad that your mother brought you up in a faith that made good sense.

    • Courtney

      I am so sorry for all you have been through and have seen close up. Thank you for using your experience and wisdom to help me.

      • Dianne Mc

        My prayers and my heart is with you at this very moment. Thank you for sharing with us and opening the door to a question that if everyone is honest…we have all ask ourselves at some point. You are remarkable!

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      I’ve not experienced what you have, but your account of how diferrent people respond to the same/similar situations reminds me of an addage I’ve heard:

      “Disaster doesn’t change us – it makes us more of who we are.”

      I recall first hearing that over the radio on 9-11-01. The context was in different responses to the terrorist attack. There were rumors of looting and someone on my local (Arizona) radio spouted that, comparing looters to all the people lined up at the blood banks, eager to help. I think 9-11 is a good way of thinking about that, too. In the days and weeks that followed, how varied was the response? You had some people get scared and get guns. You had some people trying to sell you things – everything from “skyscraper parachutes” to commemorative coins. You had some people eager to pitch in and try to help any way they could, even if there was nothing they could do (that was my response: I was annoyed that my local blood banks were turning away people with my blood type for having too much of a supply)! You had some people beseeching God – whatever their conception of “God” was, asking God “WHY?” and acknolweding their vunerability in life. We saw some praising the stories of survival. Then you had people writing and publishing and buying books like “The God Delusion” and “God is Not Great.” (I’ve not read those works, but I have a suspicion they wouldn’t have been nearly as popular – perhaps even not have been written or published – had 9/11 not happened).

      Different people, different responses – and most of them mad at each other for responding in ways different than “what they did.” In the end, I think that people’s brains/minds/souls/whatever you want to call it work differently. We’re all going to respond to pain in a variety of ways. People might hate you for still talking to a “God who did this to you,” but that’s only becuase they don’t understand your conception, and probably can’t, and then, you’ve got to let them deal with pain the way that makes sense to them (as long as they aren’t hurting others).

  • Christy

    Dear Letter Writer,

    The most healing memorial service I ever participated in was also the most difficult because it was for a person I deeply loved. I still do. It was in Hollywood and was organized and attended by a host of Jews and Atheists. I’m sure Buddhists were also well represented. I took notice of how the people came and went through the house. What was said and what was done. The fine print within the slow motion surrealness of it all.

    It had been a tragic death. An untimely death. And, most certainly, an unnecessary one. She was not done mothering nor creating nor living, and we were not done loving her. The hole was immediate and deep. What I noticed in that week of pain, beyond the outpouring of compassion by the community, was what was beautifully and graciously missing: the all too common phrases I had learned from my Conservative Protestant upbringing in times of sorrow and loss about God’s will and God’s plan and how we don’t always understand God’s ways, but, rest assured, God knows what God is doing and how my grief and these children losing their mother was part of it. And when I reflect back on why the week was noticeably absent of insensitive, inane remarks or bad theology it was that in the face of such tragedy no one tried to make sense out of it. Or explain it. Or give it meaning.

    It just was.

    It was unwanted. It was unfortunate. It was and is devastating. There seemed to exist a collective awareness of this while we were there. That some things make no sense. There is wisdom in the ability to say, “I don’t know” and still be comfortable there.

    I used to buy into the party line of my religious rearing. I don’t anymore. What the Jews and the Atheists and the Buddhists in LA knew was that some things don’t make sense. And, at least for me, attempting to make sense out of them was and is an act of futility. What was beautiful in those days was that no one needed to find meaning in it. No one asked why or tried to answer it. It hurt, and it was real, and we held each other.

    The Buddha discovered what all of humankind has discovered: life is full of suffering. This is the reality of life. No one wants to experience suffering, and, yet, in various and sundry ways, we all do. What the Buddha taught is not so different from what Jesus taught: by doing what we can to eliminate the suffering of others we also work toward eliminating our own. This is the paradox of the Divine reality: we help heal our own pain by healing the pain of others. We get what we give. We reap what we sow. Compassion begets compassion.

    The God I believe in doesn’t commit acts of violence upon us any more than God omits to protect us. The God I believe in is a Divine presence – a Divine possibility – in all of us. That some have been so pained in this life that they canot connect with and act on the goodness within them speaks to the great power of human suffering. Our job as Christians and as Buddhists is to work to eliminate suffering in all its forms so that the suffering of one does not cause nor contribute to the suffering of another. This is what John refers to in his example of the boy who would have cured cancer in the video. This is our calling. In service to others, we also heal ourselves.

    Blessings to you on your journey as you continue to find peace.

    • Otter

      great post!

    • Courtney

      Thank you. I agree one hundred percent, and your letter helps reinforce that and bring me peace. I appreciate you. Love to you.

      • Terry

        Amazing post. Just amazing. Thank you.

    • LSS

      OK, this kind of makes sense, as much as it can make sense. (i say that as someone appreciating and semi-studying Buddhism, knowing it’s beyond sense as much as the things of life are beyond sense.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericathemeyer Erica Meyer via Facebook

    You’re brilliant. A true messenger of God (and I’m not a Christian, but it’s clear to see).

  • Karen Miller via Facebook

    My previous job exposed me to the most horrible, vile, evil things in the world. My morning meetings consisted of viewing all the photos of fatal accidents and crime scenes from the previous day. The photos of a vicious rape and strangulation of a 17-year-old girl made my blood run cold. No movie, no books, nothing, can prepare you for the horror of a violent rape and murder. I wanted to kill the perpetrator. I really and truly wanted to kill him. As I was driving home a sudden thought flashed into my head: this man, this horrible man, could go to heaven if he asked for forgiveness.

    I could not reconcile this. I did not want anything to do with a God that would let this man into heaven. I was a mess, a total mess. I have a preacher friend and sought his counsel. He told me that God alone would be able to determine the man’s sincerity if he truly asked for forgiveness. And my friend told me that yes, if indeed God judged him sincere, the man would go to heaven. I still have a hard time accepting this. I have a hard time accepting that a sin is a sin is a sin. I have a hard time grasping the idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin. I no longer work at this job, as it caused me a lot of emotional turmoil. Some people are able to distant themselves from the victim. I, unfortunately identified with the victims, and brought their sorrow home with me. Sorry this went off topic but after reading John’s original post, this young girl has been on my mind.

    • Courtney

      You are not off topic at all. You are actually right on point. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Kimberly Moser Musci Phillips via Facebook

    God’s big enough to take our pummeling, especially when we don’t think He’s “doing His job”. But you nailed it, by being both theologically sound and compassionate in your response to her.

  • Mundy Hendrickson via Facebook

    See? I knew I shouldn’t have read it, lost a couple hours of sleep last night. I prepped myself before I read it, “It’s just words on a screen, heck, it might not even be real, maybe John made it up so he could ‘respond’ and make a point” (not that I think that IS the case, just trying to deal). So here’s where I am this morning: We treat god like a spoiled rotten teenager. We give credit, praise, even worship for everything GOOD in this world, but we can’t blame him for anything bad. It’s not “his fault”. This ‘being’ that said let there be light and there was, let there be seas and plants and animals and there just magically WAS, he couldn’t have put in some kind of limit on human viciousness?? And, in yet another strange contradiction, at the same time that we treat him like a spoiled teenager, we always refer to him as The Supreme Parental Figure. God our father. No, I wouldn’t want god to step in and take away all free will. But any halfway decent parent, if he walked in and saw (this is obviously in the god-sees/knows-everything scenario) one sibling raping or killing another sibling, he wouldn’t simply stand there feeling all broken hearted.

    • David

      Here, here.

    • Flustered

      Yes. This.

    • LSS

      yeah. if there’s stuff he can’t do, that’s not really The God.

  • Mundy Hendrickson via Facebook

    Also, I find it strange that people feel they have to separate god/religion and science. The kind of god that can create a universe could surely weave the thread of evolution into the fabric, no? The only way I can think of god as real would pretty much be to think of him as The Scientist. And all of this is just an experiment. Because if he can see everything going on on this planet/petri dish, you would have to think any loving god would have pulled the plug a very long time ago. During the Inquisitions, perhaps? MY life happens to be pretty wonderful, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing how very terrible many people in the world have had it. So if he’s “up there”, he must just be taking notes, scratching his chin, saying, “hmmm, very interesting” [and, I would like to think, every now and then, when something happens like what happened to this woman's son, even saying WTF?!] And I feel for ALL of them. The victim and his family, of course. But even the predator parents were obviously truly messed up in the head, and they probably got that way from some totally f’ed up thing that happened to them when they were younger. The kid wasn’t “responsible” (if, he must have been around the same age…?) and is obviously going to be truly messed up in the head too, and this ‘gift’ just keeps on ‘giving’. Can they even comprehend how broken they are? And how broken they have made this boy? He has to carry this with him his whole life. It’s not one night of crazy BS and then they think “Boy, that’s totally f’ed up, we should never do anything like that again” and everybody forgets about it and goes on to have a normal life. I think people like that HAVE to be SICK in the head somehow, it’s the only explanation. And it took 6 years for that boy to even tell anyone, who knows what has been going on since then. I hope they have been locked up…!!!

  • Mundy Hendrickson via Facebook
  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.jansen Ken Jansen via Facebook

    Thank you for that message, John. After an almost 20 year marriage to the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, that’s the most realistic explanation of God allowing evil to happen that I’ve ever heard or read. My heart goes out to the lady that wrote you, and like you said, it wasn’t God telling her to suck it up and go on, it was people. I’m at a point in my life, where I haven’t rejected God, I’ve just rejected religion. Thanks again for what you said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    Personally I think there are limitations to freewill and in reality we ARE NOT FREE because we are all interconnected, we only find our true humanity and freedom in loving one another, in loving our neighbour and love does not seek its own way, love places constraints on oneself, love protects, love exercises self control. In reality we are not free to do what ever we like because the consequence is destroying ourselves, destroying others and the world and I do not believe to learn love there has to be the existence of evil or suffering there are plenty of people who are loving individuals who have learnt to be so in the context of a loving family.

  • Adam

    “If God is so good, where is there evil in the world?” I like to respond to this statement by saying, “If good were not so good, why would He send His Son?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more. – by Luther, Martin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    In human freedom in the philosophical sense I am definitely a disbeliever. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. ~ Albert Einstein

  • LSS

    only made it through less than one page of comments, so far, but i’m still not buying it.

    am i the only one that *would* perfectly well want to be made into God’s “mindless, will-free puppet” if it meant never hurting anybody ever again?!

  • Robin

    I think there’s more to it than simple Free Will. Everything – every *thing* (person, planet, star, starfish, amoeba, lightwave, LOLcat, sulfur dioxide molecules, and rainbows) – is interdependent. We exist, we are self-aware, we have free will, we are able to act upon ourselves and others because we are the culmination of a gathering of universal laws – biology, chemistry, and physics – that defines God’s creation. We cannot be other than what we are without violating those universal laws.

    That being said, I do believe there is an end to evil. It is in Jesus’ teachings. When we love one another as we love ourselves, when we love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, our priorities change. It’s no longer “how can I afford a new X-Box” or “when can I have sex again”, it becomes “how do I help this woman and her child who have suffered so much?” as well as “how do I prevent the damaged and ill people who hurt them from hurting others.” We gnash our teeth and wail and rend our clothes over the evil that exists in this world, and we forget: we possess everything we need to end evil. God gave it to us when He created us.

    Look at what we’re capable of: we wiped out smallpox. It used to kill millions of people a year, and now it’s extinct; we’ve cut the rate of childhood leukemia deaths in the US by better than 90%; we’ve sent our brothers to the Moon, and we’ve sent our own creations to Mars and beyond the Solar system; we rescue abandoned animals; we respond with compassion and charity to those who have lost everything in a natural disaster.

    It’s all there. Jesus spoke and told us what we needed to do. We should be doing everything in our power to comfort this woman. We should be funding research and treatment for victims of sex crimes. We should be working to bring those who hurt her child to justice – real justice, not some cathartic mob-style retribution. We should be doing what we can to ensure that such crimes never happen again.

    We have everything we need within us and among us to create God’s heaven on Earth. We just have to decide that it’s important enough to put the other stuff aside.

    • Terry

      Wonderful. From the heart. The promise from God (outside of Old Testament understanding) cannot be that each person is protected from suffering or that some are and some are not. We are all interconnected and the specific “protection” I might want from God may go against what someone else or many others need. In that way of thinking, God is deciding who’s needs get met… then you end up with a theology that says God is negotiating between.the person who wants the nice day outside for their dying son’s birthday party or the farmer who needs the rain. The universe as it is set up just cannot work that way.

      It calls for a completely different way of seeing the world where it isn’t about not suffering, but about loving. If we understand that we are LOVED no matter what and that we must LOVE no matter what and reach out to one another as you say under the guidance of the “Greatest Commandment(s)” of love, then ultimately, the system of love wins out and as Julian of Norwich says…”all shall be well, all shall be well and every manner of thing shall be well.” She wasn’t pollyanish, she was living during the black plague. But she saw differently. Sometimes in this lifetime we get to see the Good Fridays transformed to Easters, but we have to assume, that if not here, then it does happen later…some how. I’ve seen enough crazy situations like minda’s where evil is transformed…transcended to glimpse that the answer to “why is there suffering?” is that “the question is the problem”. How we see the problem IS the problem. I think the free will answer is a good one along the journey, but eventually for those who have been able to walk further down that path, even that answer fades away as they learn to see differently. We are coaxed by those who have made it to learn to accept where we are along the journey. But our conditioning in this world to be fearful of rejection and feel separate from God and one another and to be so filled with shame, makes the concept of true self acceptance and unconditional love and then love of neighbor excruciatingly difficult and most of us frankly continue to struggle. I personally trip and struggle at every step. So at least we must follow the law of Love as best we can. And as you say, continue to do real work to build “the kingdom” of peace and justice with persistence and know that it is Grace that is in charge.

  • minda

    It is hard to believe with over 400 responses already and several days having passed, that the woman who wrote this would still be listening. But then many things are hard to believe and that does not make them impossible. If you are still reading, writer, please contact me. I have had some of your same experiences. I have a daughter who was violated and abused by someone even more trusted than a neighbor kid and his parents. I have a previous marriage that was very damaging. I have a string of “helpful” christian commentators who couldn’t wait to advise me on a situation they couldn’t hope to understand. Who can understand these things? But I also have some perspective that you haven’t had time yet to gain, you are in the middle of the aftermath of the pain that was inflicted upon you and yours by people, flawed, free, beloved people. I’m not going to lecture you on how its all gonna get better. I’m also not feeling I can push you back to God. But I hope if you contact me my experience will be a light for your way in the coming years. My daughter is now married, and just had my first grandchild. She is a beautiful, whole, healthy woman who forgives the one that damaged her and who has gone a long way to full healing from the experience. The day I saw her hand her precious baby daughter to that person was the day I realized the miracle that God is. He walked with her to a place where she can forgive to that level. She can believe that she is safe and her daughter is safe even when the past looks completely different. Who am I to not also forgive? Somehow in the past ten years since I was told of this travesty, God has worked a miracle and I also have forgiven. I have learned that although I never did those horrible things to anyone, I am also dangerous. I am also destructive, if in less humanly unforgivable ways, then in other, more subtle and therefore more deadly ways. God loves me. God protects me. I know how ridiculous that sounds in the face of just a little bit of the history I’ve given (and there is more, trust me!) but it is True nonetheless. That is something that only God could transact. There are people who do not know my daughter or I well who say we are victims. We are stupid. We should shut out the one that did this to her. But I can tell you there is no greater joy in my life than the day I realized I fully forgive and love that person, although they are not a daily part of my life. I cannot understand what it is like from their perspective. How do you ever forgive yourself for that? But I know the miracle God has worked in our lives, and I am sure he can fix that too. More importantly, I don’t care. I only know that my hatred of that person was seperating me; from God, from life, from my daughter even, and from trusting others. I have my love back, my confidant God back and as John Shore pointed out, we are both stronger for the experience.

    But enough of that, if you reach out to me, I’m not going to preach at you anymore than that. I just want you to know that here on earth you have a person who partially understands and who loves you and who believes that you and your son can come through this. Don’t let that family that hurt him win. Cast aside the damage they did and don’t give them an even greater victory of destroying more of your son’s life and yours. Believe for him that he can heal and move past this, until he can believe it for himself. Show him the way to moving past this. You have been there for him all along, show him the way out of this. Forgive for your own sakes. For your life.

    • Nancy

      My heart sank when I read this story of pain. It hurt to know that a young boy endured such treatment. I have never known such a horrific act. But I have struggled my whole life with hurts that I blame against others. I want to be free. I would want to find my way to that place of freedom. My soul welcomes your voice of love Minda.

    • Terry

      Minda: Thank you for this. You have said what I don’t think anyone else has been able to say. I have some of my own version of this and have walked with others in the same way. The simple answers are satisfying intellectually, but not helpful to the one who has suffered so deeply. In the end, the walk through suffering towards forgiveness and transcendence and understanding the truth about forgiveness and the deepening relationship with the “other” that we call God is such an amazing experience, that myself and others I know actually come to a place that says…”I wouldn’t change what happened to me, because it got me here.” That sounds absolutely insane from the beginning of the journey and for those who have not experienced it, but it is the reality for many people who have walked the road of healing. For many agnostics that I talk to, when I ask them what “God” they don’t believe in, they describe a God that I do not believe in as well. A God of an early faith development stage who is an old man who intervenes like a human would, punishing, conditional and …human for all purposes…except omniscient and omnipotent. To walk a journey through the dark night of the soul is to discover what has been called the “Cloud of Unknowing”. You enter into a relationship with no easy or simple tidy answers. Free will is not even in the equation. It becomes all about relationship and connectedness with that Divine Mystery and knowing we are all connnected, all loved, all “the Beloved”, and all have been conditioned and brainwashed in this world to think we are our egos. And so we live not as child of God or ego, but in a “both and” both a Beloved child of God and as a human with an ego. Once we can accept this and see that we are all indeed dangerous when we come from the wounded ego and we work to forgive and accept ourselves, then we can do that for our neighbor…yes, even when they have committed horrible acts. I know I’m not saying this very well. Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, Teresa of Avilla, John of the Cross…Julian of Norwich, all have said it much better. But minda, you get it…you have walked through the dark night of the soul and hence you see with different eyes than we do…the eye of the soul. And that makes all the difference. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Holly-Tieken/100001360582231 Holly Tieken via Facebook

    The thing is Im not interested in having a nine year old boys innocence sacrificed to protect my right to freewill. The concept of freewill was introduced by Augustine, and I think as christians we like to give simplistic answers to explain evil to !) relieve the suffering of those who have been subjected to evil behaviour and 2) to find some answer that gets God off the hook. The problem is when the church teaches concepts of a omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God people will naturally wonder where was God when this evil act happened and why did He not prevent it from happening especially when in this ladies case she had regularly prayed for her sons protection of course in some way she is going to hold God accountable as well as the perpretrators. I think the church needs to rethink some of these concepts from freewill, to eternal conscious torment, to penal substitutionary atonement etc. My question is why as christians do we accept these concepts which were introduced by men how long ago? For goodness sake its 2012. There have been advances in the scientific understanding of the human mind which shape our conception of freewill. Are the cognitive sciences revealing that freewill does not exist, or are they merely shedding light on the inner workings of agency? And do the answers to these questions have implications for moral responsibility. I think we need to stop giving clear cut simplistic answers to one explain God and two explain human behaviour http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yp3Wr2yKrY&feature=fvst

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes, you’re right: before Augustine no one had free will.

      sigh

      I so tire of people insisting that clear, simple, rationally defensible answers can’t be good answers; that in response to a real question demanding real answers it’s somehow more mature, or more intellectually honest and/or sophisticated, to essentially assert that it’s just all too complicated to comprehend. If you want to play the intellectual card, really play it. Don’t just link to a 90-minute lecture on free will. Offer a credible, logically sound argument for why exactly my answer to the theodicy is flawed, or untenable.

      • Dianne Mc

        John, that was priceless..lol

      • Will

        I thought I had free will once. But mom said no.

        I thought I had free will when I grew up. But my wife says no.
        :D

      • Jim

        John, you make an excellent point. Unfortunately I do not find that your answer is “rationally defensible,” and so I have chosen to respond in length. Please see my response and know that I do not intend it to insult you, but to point out where I see your logic as flawed.

        • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

          Jim, why in the world would you expect something rooted in *faith* to be logically defensible?

          • Jim

            I understand your point concerning those things which we take on “faith” and cannot prove empirically. I was commenting on John’s view of “free will,” one that he tried to demonstrate as “rationally defensible.” Please see my responses to his article above. While I certainly do not view John as “irrational” – in that he is making what can be taken as valid points – but I think he overlooks all the factors which point to my conclusion that our wills are not in any way “free.”

            Whether or not God exists, which I think is a big part of the point you are bringing into question, I do believe that science (psychology/neurosciences) has demonstrated that the “free will” that theologians claim exists, in fact does not.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Hey John,

        I hope you’ll forgive my inserting my sometimes somewhat blunt two cents in this regard.

        As Holly Tieken’s quote from Martin Luther points out, we cannot milk houses but build cows. Yet there are many ways in which God—for our benefit, many believe—violates our free will: No matter how hard you jump, you’ll always fall back down to the earth, every time. God isn’t about to let you just float off into space, whether accidentally or even if you wanted to: Sorry, you need a spaceship for that. And even then, there’s no way you’re getting too close to the sun: off limits, out of bounds. It’s seems clear to me that free will is not paramount in our world, even as regards how we feel: maybe someone’s bad mood reflects an inherent imbalance of their brain chemistry; or what we think: maybe someone has a bad dream because they happen to eat a burrito that for whatever reason didn’t agree with them.

        To whatever extent God allows such a possibility as one person’s violation of another’s free will, He is not really holding free will first and foremost after all. What kind of just and benevolent God makes it so as—out of some strange respect for free will—an hour-long exercise of one’s free will may rob the free will of others for—in some cases—a lifetime? Or would you suggest that victims do have their full free will restored the moment their victimizer finishes exercising his—that, for instance, Ms. Courtney’s son could really just snap out of it any time if he really wanted to?

        And why—oh why—are certain people granted the physical strength to do so, and others, not necessarily of their own free will, are not given sufficient strength to resist?

        Now, this also appears at odds with what seems to me the predominant lay theology of our day and age, upon which are hinged the hopes of many: Many cling to a belief that everything happens for a reason. While I am quick to note that we can never know what that reason might be, it must also be acknowledged that we cannot know that that isn’t the case.

        Further, I do not allow that, as God’s paramount respect of free will and the personal liberty intrinsic thereto seems ultimately, invariably to be taken to imply, we should respect as God-given some strange right of man to be wrong, to act wrongly, including by the saying of ultimately wrong and/or hurtful things (which is *not* to say that I disagree with the *civil* right to freedom of speech).

        When you say, “you wish for God to look down, see that I am about to strike my wife, and somehow arrest that action: freeze me in mid-motion, paralyze my arm, instantly replace my crazed fury with peaceful thoughts and feelings,” must we really go looking for moments in history where God would seem has done just that, or the equivalent?

        Now, you interfere with free will in deciding that someone can or can’t post comments on this blog. You have to—someone has to: You are obliged to protect the environment of the blog and the safety and freedom it enables others to enjoy. What your theology seems to be saying is that, rather than God do such things, you’d rather have men, if only the best of men, such as yourself, deciding who has the enactment of their will interfered with, instead of God’s sending natural powers to intervene (as He surely always could, and so not violate freedom of thought in any case; unless one takes it to include the way that that would surely mess with your head—that every time you’re about to do something wrong, something stops you. But this is really only how it seems to us from such a perspective where we cannot imagine *not* having this freedom; it really only messes with your head the same way that God’s application of a law of gravitation results in your brain’s immediate rejection in general of such thoughts as to exit a tall building by leaping from the window). Yet even with such excellent men as you on the job, could not God do it better handling it Himself? It does not seem to follow from God’s intervention in cases of, for instance, murders or mean-spirited blog comments, his interference in your own life personally, or more than one might hope for in mine. Couldn’t he practice the same limited interference in the world at large as you do in the world around yourself, and others do unto you every day, without its being necessarily anything you truly don’t want?

        What of Steffany’s, and perhaps many really would rather do the same, volunteering to give up free will that such a thing not occur? Or does she not really know what she’s asking for in saying so, effectively limiting her capacity for free will in the matter?

        Or what exactly is free will to you, John? Until we understand that, this stance seems to me to be nothing rationally defensible at all.

  • Steffany

    “God gave us free will. And he will not take it from us. And we do not want him to take it from us. Free will is what defines us. It’s our most precious attribute. Without free will we are at best animals, and at worst mindless automatons.”

    This is probably my least favorite argument for all of this. It used to 100% make sense to me and then I grew up and started actually evaluating things ad I realize now how ridiculous it is.

    If God walked up to me tomorrow and said “Hey, a kid is about to get raped and I can stop the people that are going to rape him but I need to take away your free will to do it. Is that ok?” I would absolutely 100% give up my free will immediately forever. If me giving up my free will meant there were no more child rapists in the world I would do it in a second. I would give up my free will forever if it meant there would be one less child rapist in the world, and if you wouldn’t than you are not a Christian, because I would and I’m not so sure I believe in anything.

  • Jim

    John, I have enjoyed all your articles and see much truth in them. However, concerning your views on “free will,” I must completely disagree. To begin with, if we are in BONDAGE to sin we most certainly do NOT have FREE wills. If our wills (our decision makers) are SUBJECT to ignorance, deception, and multiple experiences both good and bad outside of our control, then they are again most certainly not FREE.

    Was Osama bin Laden exercising his “free will” when he “choose” to be born into a system of religious extremism and be taught to support it with all the vigor that Christians claim to support their system with? And how many thousands lost any faith in God after praying unsuccessfully for Him to save their parents in the World Trade Center? If we have “free” will as you claim, then when did it start? Before birth – in choosing your own sex, personality, physical and mental capabilities, and the country and family in which you would be born? Or after, when you “chose” to be stronger than those “weak” others who succumbed to the atrocities in their lives and lost faith?

    The notion of “free will” is a delusion of mankind – developed by the religious in order to avoid blaming God for anything bad that happens. It is then used to put responsibility on man and deny the sovereignty of God.

    If God is truly sovereign then He must be ultimately responsible. No, He did not reach down and force those sick people to rape that woman’s son, but as the creator of all of us the “potter” alone is responsible for every “clay vessel” that He makes. And that means that He alone is responsible for healing and restoring not only the woman and her son, but those who so brutally harmed him. Otherwise the assumption is that we must heal ourselves (both victim and attacker) or God will have no choice but to throw us away, which has led to the equally ridiculous notion of an eternal hell for unbelievers.

    If God is obligated by His “love for all people” to allow free will to have its way, He is then essentially forced to allow the “bad luck” of being born into a non-Christian family, or the “bad luck” of being raped, to prevent us or drive us away from believing in Christ.

    If you really meant what you said – “I’d be the last person in the world to blame you for rejecting God,” then are you also willing to admit that the experiences that drove her to reject God will result in her, and her son’s, eternal damnation because of that unbelief? I highly doubt it, but what are you then proposing as the consequences for that same unbelief? Will you tell that mother that she needs to “just be stronger” and somehow “find” the faith that this horrible experience has ripped from her?

    Yes, the world is broken. And broken people do bad things to other broken people. But who is ultimately responsible for it being broken, and for every man, woman, and child being subjected to corruption and futility?

    And Who alone is able to save it?

    Is God going to save (restore) ALL people, or only those strong enough to save themselves, or lucky enough to be born into prosperous Christian families?

    • Diana A.

      “If you really meant what you said – ‘I’d be the last person in the world to blame you for rejecting God,’ then are you also willing to admit that the experiences that drove her to reject God will result in her, and her son’s, eternal damnation because of that unbelief? I highly doubt it, but what are you then proposing as the consequences for that same unbelief?”

      Speaking strictly for myself (as John is more than capable of speaking for himself):

      1) I don’t believe that this woman (Courtney) and her son are eternally damned–because of unbelief or anything else. Ultimately, I believe that all people are saved–some more slowly than others, but all are saved. Also, anybody can claim to believe or disbelieve anything, but what God looks at is the heart–and God being merciful understands exactly why Courtney does not believe anymore and loves her anyway.

      2) As for consequences for unbelief–this implies that unbelief is a misdeed for which people deserve some kind of punishment. I don’t believe that either. Again, I believe that God looks at the heart, knows the complete truth of what we think, feel, and believe and ultimately leads us to him anyway–sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but ultimately in the words of the hymn “all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.”

      Anyway, my two cents. I could be wrong, but this is what I believe.

      • Jim

        “God looks at the heart, knows the complete truth of what we think, feel, and believe and ultimately leads us to him anyway–sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but ultimately in the words of the hymn “all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.””

        I completely agree with you. And I would also add that in God looking at our hearts He is not judging us, for being the potter He is responsible for the hearts of his vessels, and will therefore heal whatever misconceptions and ignorance lie within our hearts, and in so doing mend them.

  • Jim

    To outline quickly what I see as the differences between John’s view on free will and mine as I commented on yesterday:

    As John so correctly observes, God will not stop your body from doing those things that your will directs. But as I see it your will is not in any way “free.” It is constantly bombarded by the influences of our consciences, PLUS the influences of ignorance, misconceptions, fear, religious upbringing (which includes all of those influences previously mentioned), etc., etc. Very simply, a will under INFLUENCE is not FREE.

    The closest thing we have to “free will” among humans today is the sociopath or psychopath, who is “free” to either do harm or good — He feels no difference in either case. Those of us with so-called “normal” minds have the physical ability to rape children, for example, but our wills (under the overpowering influence of our consciences) would not allow us to do so. The psychopath has no such restriction. For those like the rapists mentioned in the story, their “sick” minds have overpowered the influences of guilt and remorse (which again don’t even exist in the psychopathic mind), allowing them to do what the rest of us see as horrific.

  • Holly Tieken via Facebook

    “I so tire of people insisting that clear, simple, rationally defensible answers can’t be good answers; that in response to a real question demanding real answers it’s somehow more mature, or more intellectually honest and/or sophisticated, to essentially assert that it’s just all too complicated to comprehend. If you want to play the intellectual card, really play it. Don’t just link to a 90-minute lecture on free will. Offer a credible, logically sound argument for why exactly my answer to the theodicy is flawed, or untenable.” In response John I think its bloody hilarious I didnt realise I was trying to play an “intellectual card” and sorry that you feel that a 90 minute lecture discussing external influences on the human will isnt sufficient for his highness in offering a credible, logically sound argument regardless of the fact its not like you yourself are expressing anything original but rather Augustines ideas on freewill. Unfortunately like Jim, I do not find that your answer is “rationally defensible” and Im not interested in engaging in a theological argument I will leave the theological posturing/arguing to the “superior” intellectual men like yourself! I hope in your attempt to avoid putting God on trial by presenting an all loving, all good, all powerful God who puts “freewill” for the masses above the care and protection of an innocent young boy sits well with his mother! Freewill for the masses, rape and degradation for a nine year old boy, now thats what I call “rationale”. Up yours John Shore!

  • Courtney

    John,

    I so appreciate you. Thank you for posting and responding to my letter. I thank you for the sensitivity you have shown in what you have published, you have proven that it was safe for me to share my story with you. Most of the comments posted have been very helpful, thought provoking and healing. I needed to hear/read everything constructive people have shared. My beliefs, or my understanding of spiritual things is now more nuanced than I thought they could be.

    Thank you,

    Courtney

  • Naiomi

    I concur with those who have issues with the free will argument. To me it just boggles my mind that we can let “God” off the hook for not intervening when any human being would rightly be condemned (unless of course they are a celebrity, but that is another issue) for not intervening and stopping a horrible event from happening if they had the power to do so. Some will argue, “well God’s ways are higher than our ways” which to me appears to be nothing more than a justification for a deity that if he/she exists choose not to intervene during the most heinous crimes. To me it is not about free will, this about horrible situations happening and the traditional understandings of God not really providing a satisfactory answer. Personally, saying that God does not intervene because of free-will, sounds like a defense/excuse for a deity that for whatever reasons chooses not to get involved. After the Holocaust, Jewish theologians struggled with how that horrifying event impacted how they viewed and understand God. They wrestled and came to a variety of different conclusions with some going so far as to maintain that God is not all-powerful. They struggled and that event, has impacted Jewish theology (understandably so.)

    My issue with the free-will argument is that to me, it shuts down that struggle and provides and pat and unsatisfactory answer. (This is just me. no offense to those who subscribe to it). It is also particularly confusing when some who ascribe to that free will argument also believe that God healed their children, or that God intervened in a certain event in their life, for example they had a feeling that they should take a different exit or go to work late and as a result they avoided a catastrophe. The question then becomes, “why did God get involved in that event, and not others?” Not to mention that if one subscribes to the understanding that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, one has to wonder, why did he decide to get involved then? (Atonement and the numerous surrounding theologies are also fascinating to explore)

    I don’t think that there is an answer as to if there is a Deity, why he/she does not get involved. In fact, any answer I think would be incomplete and unsatisfactory. I think the struggle and conflict is important. I think trying to wrestle with how we understand God and what our theology (if we have one) says about ourselves (many times, I argue, our beliefs around God say more about who we are as individuals and what we value than what it says about “God.”) I guess this is my long winded way of saying, I am weary of answers, especially answers that seem to dismiss or nullify any need for struggling with the traditional understandings of God.

    • Naiomi

      but this is just my opinion. I don’t mean to sound rude or like a jerk.

  • Todd Erickson

    People always talk about “Why doesn’t God stop this” as if there is an obvious line to what God should stop, and it’s always other people’s problems.

    Okay, God should stop things like the Holocaust, or those people raping the woman’s son.

    Should God stop those bankers who caused the economic collapse? At what level should he stop them? how should he stop them? If the bankers were engaged in something with society, should God stop society?

    Does God get to stop you from speeding? How about eating things that are unhealthy for you? Does God get to make you exercise, since we all recognize that exercise is necessary to healthy living, but few of us actually do it?

    Can God stop you from watching something that will put negative thoughts in your head?

    Does God get to make you hold the door for people, or pick up trash somebody left on the floor?

    Where does it stop?

    People act as if there’s an obvious limit to what God should and shouldn’t be involved with. But when Jesus came here, He said that those who followed Him would have true life, and they would behave through a matrix of unconditional love toward those around them, even those who tormented them.

    We seem to want God to stop the unconditional things without us having to love anybody who isn’t nice to us. We keep taking ourselves out of the equation. It’s God’s fault, it’s God’s problem, we’re just innocent bystanders.

    But God says that no, we’re actually part of the problem, and we have to participate. If we refuse to, then the world will continue working as it does.

    • http://www.examiner.com/christianity-in-allentown/naiomi-gonzalez naiomi

      I don’t think anyone’s denying that we humans are part of the problem. At least I’m not. I do think that we humans are ultimately the ones who do horrible things. Furthermore, there is a difference between someone not picking up the trash and someone allowing a group of people to be murdered and slaughtered. People look down not only on governments that perpetrate such horrible crimes, but also on those who simply watch and do nothing. in regards to the holocaust, people were disgusted not only by the actions of the Nazis, but also by the fact that a large number of Germans claimed ignorance and did nothing. And to be fair, we all do that to a certain extent. Which is not right and which we all need to struggle with to become more aware of what evils are going on in the world and do what we can to stop it. with that being said, I do not like a theology that seems to give “god” a free pass to sit around and do nothing. we are rightly disgusted when we or others sit around not doing anything, for me it is only natural that people be disgusted at the formation of a theology that says the same thing. Especially when one holds to other aspects of theology that say, “god is all knowing, and all powerful.”

      Humans do horrible things, however, I personally believe that theology says more about the humans who follow it then it does about any deity. But that’s just my two cents.

      • Christy

        I accept the possibility that God – or whatever concept of the Ultimate Reality we have – just doesn’t work that way. Todd speaks the truth. Here’s the earth with humanity on it. Either do or do not. There is no try. We all have the capacity for good and for evil within us. The one that grows is the one we feed. Chose to do good. Even in the face of evil as Jesus said: “Do not return evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.” If you’re searching for “The Meaning of Life” that’s it right there. That piece of wisdom is what turns the ship around.

        We’ve been given all the tools we need to live in peace with one another, including the gift of each other. We continue to fail to use them. That’s on us.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        “I do think that we humans are ultimately the ones who do horrible things.”

        By the most liberal of estimates, the Holocaust may have claimed the lives of around 17 million souls.

        By the most conservative of estimates, the Black Death claimed over 75 million.

        The attacks of September 11, 2001, took the lives of 2,977 victims

        The tsunami of December 26, 2004, killed over 230,000.

        Need I go on, because frankly looking up the statistics is kinda depressing?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Ahh … reason. Thank you.

      • Naiomi

        How is this reason? First it gives the impression that those killed in hurricanes, earthquakes, etc are not really that important. Secondly to compare the black death and the holocaust is not really historically accurate since at that time of the black death, the human population was a lot smaller than it was during the 1930s and the 1940s. Thirdly it reduces humanity to numbers. Well natural disasters “only” kill this many people, but human evil does this.

        Now I know people disagree with me, that’s fine. I think it is fascinating how many different points of view there are to this issue. I may think that theology is not very compassionate but others will argue that it is the perfect example of compassion. I may think it is unreasonable, others may think my position is unreasonable.

        I don’t think there is one answer to this. In fact I don’t think one answer is more “truthful” than the other, since all points of view about God, including mine are based on one’s interpretation and biases. I just think that there are some answers that appeal to certain groups of people more. For some the free will argument really appeals to them. That’s great. For others, not so much.

        I’m just trying to point out why some people find this theology not really comforting.

        • Christy

          Naiomi, John’s reply is in response to Todd’s. That’s how the nesting works, so that might help clear that up a bit.

          I’m having trouble following your logic in the next part of your note, but perhaps it will help to know that I don’t find the free will argument comforting either, which is why many of us offered other words of comfort to the letter writer. The trouble is John is right. We have free will. Todd’s response is a reasoned, rational one. That we want God to swoop in and save us from harm is natural. That we don’t want God to inflict us with boils because we broke a rule or get swallowed by a fish because we chose to go to the wrong city is natural. That we can’t see how we must take responsibility for our own human actions and how they have ripple effects across all of humanity and how we are all connected is also natural. And that we wish to assign blame for natural disasters because of our collective grief from human suffering rather than accepting that storms and suffering exists as an unavoidable state in this world is also natural. That we search for answers for reasons why is natural.

          Living in reality is one of our highest callings as human beings. May it be so that we all have eyes to see.

          • Naiomi

            But my whole point of view is that to me, personally it does not make sense for God to be given a free pass in abstaining from preventing evil, when we would rightly condemn other humans from doing the same. I don’t see this as a matter of free will or For example, if I stopped someone from murdering a child, am I impeding the other person’s free will? And if I am, which is more important the individual’s free will or protecting the child?

            I also am not negating human responsibility. I am just calling for a different interpretation of the traditional (western) understanding of God and the nature of free will. In my mind how one views God, impacts how we treat others. Like I said before, I think theology says more about human nature than it does about the divine.

            and I agree, I don’t think that people should negate their responsibility for the evil that goes on in the world. I just feel as if there has to be a different way of understanding the divine and suffering instead of saying either, “God has to get involved in every single thing and humans do not need to take responsibility for their actions” or “well we have free will and God does not want to mess with that.” I feel as if both are extremes. I think that there as to be a middle way somewhere… I don’t know if this is making sense

            Now there are alternative theologies that I am looking at to answer this question of suffering, God’s place in it, and and humanity’s place in it.

            Also the second part of my statement was a response to the I the feeling I was getting that some people were feeling defensive and offended by my questioning of free will. I didn’t want to give that impression that I’m like, “well I’m right and you all suck.” But that’s jut me. Sometimes I go to one extreme and am rude and other times I am super apologetic.

          • Naiomi

            But anyway. Thanks for the responses and the discussion. I am still trying to figure out what I believe about this whole free will, human responsibility, God’s responsibility etc. So you gave me a lot to think about. and sorry if I was confusing/didn’t always make sense at times.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Although there is indeed no clear point as for where exactly God “should” (or seemingly so) draw the line and intervene, the issue of where it ought to be is a wholly separate debate from that regarding the question of whether there should be such a line drawn anywhere at all, or rather a more anarchic state of affairs.

      You ask, “Where does it stop,” as if to invoke a slippery-slope argument. But that only applies if the gradation is indeed slippery, and the immutable law of God—whatever it may be—surely is sticky as hell (pun intended): so it stops wherever in the hell God wants it to.

      That said, I do believe there is a deep, deep connection between the problem of the existence of evil and the problem of—at least, as with that of the existence of evil, quite a difficulty, as you suggest, for man (woman included) to truly come to grips with—the existence of love.

  • Davi J Martin

    I have lived this mother’s pain. I have felt the guilt of not recognizing the signs that one of our five adopted children – who had not been properly nurtured while in a Korean orphanage his first four years of life – would become a sociopath – incapable of empathy – compassion – love. As a 14 year old he sexually molested our 6 year old daughter for 8 months. We all mistook his sudden attention to her as sincere binding. No, he was grooming her her. Fortunately the vile matter was discovered – we had him arrested in order to obtain treatment – only way. He committed suicide at age 21 – was estranged not by us but by his choice. At first i asked how did this happen – I, trained physician – missed the signs. was reassured by psychologists and others there was no way of seeing the evil – I/we were too close. Through it all, I asked for a reason from my God but never blamed him. Perhaps because my Faith has brought me to realize that good and evil exist in our world. It is not God’s plan for harm to come to any one of us. Life happens – good & bad. In 2006 my 21 year old daughter died tragically; my son committed suicide in 2010 at 23 9the pedophile0. I have been totally rejected for “coming out” to my wife of 38 years – 3 years ago…my son made life hell for me – gradually edged out of my home because he would not accept my wife & I living together – my remaining a celibate gay man pursuing ordination as a Catholic deacon – would sublimate my gayness in service to the Church. He assaulted me on Church grounds and because of “appearances” I was dismissed and excluded from my ministries – having done nothing wrong. This lead to finding an accepting LGBT home Catholic Church where de facto I serve as a deacon to my gay brothers & sisters. I live separately – now happily partnered – my church would say I am inherently disordered and an adulterer – but in my heart – the Holy Spirit has brought me peace and happiness. No person, no institutional Church is my judge. To this Mother I would say – seek the comfort you will find in accepting what has happened – moving on – supporting your son – there is hope – and no matter how terrible this tragedy appears – healing is possible for both of you. You must first be open to the graces which a loving Father will impart to you. Blame Him – no…even though He understands and does not reject you. But it is time to place the blame on those warped persons who perpetrated this vile deed while still praying for them to realize what they have done – this is a form of forgiving them, though you will never forget. But anger and hatred for them will only consume you both – bring not peace. I know. Namaste.

  • Liz

    When I read things like this the only thing that makes me able to keep believing sometimes is Jesus. He suffered the intense pain of humanity – humiliated, tortured, beaten nearly to death, murdered. God is real. He does care. Jesus is what it all comes back to; without Him I’d just go jump off a cliff at the horror of it all.

  • David Milloway

    John, your argument used to make perfect sense to me. It was, in fact, my argument to that very question. But I have to say that age and experience has really left that argument dry and cold to me. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes.

    Why is it good and true for me to stop the murder of a child, but a violation of our sacred ‘free-will’ for God to do the same? How can an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God have less moral agency than I? Did Jesus violate the free will of those who would stone the adulteress? Why is that different from God staying the hand of the murderer?

    But, honestly and sincerely, what upset me most in your response was your assertion that this is a simple question with a simple answer. It is perhaps the most troubling and profound question and answer for those who have experienced the senseless abuse or death of a child. There is nothing simple about it.

    In the end, it may be a profound Mystery why God does not intervene, but the once cerebral and sublime answer of “Free will!” just doesn’t seem so cerebral and sublime to me anymore. It seems more like a cop out.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Okay. All I can say (I guess) is that I can’t understand how you can’t understand what a failure of logic it is to go from “I should stop one evil act’ to “God should stop all evil acts.” Those … aren’t even close to comparable propositions.

      I can’t help that it’s not complicated—nor that people prefer to insist that it is.

      • David Milloway

        Those questions I ask above are sincere. They really do trouble me.

        I know you are talking “big picture” here. And maybe in the Great Scheme of Things God allows these things to happen for a Greater Good. But it doesn’t change the fact that God allows these things to happen, even if in the end it _is_ for the Greater Good. He chooses to not intervene or he is somehow incapable of doing so. And that is . . . troubling.

        Forgive the imperfect metaphors, but it’s like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Churchill’s decision to not act on intelligence about the imminent bombing of an English town in order to keep secret the knowledge that we’d broken the German Enigma codes. You could say those were simple decisions that in the end saved millions of lives that otherwise would have perished via prolonged warfare. And they were simple in a cold, calculating way. Lives had to be sacrificed for the greater good. Tough decisions that had to be made.

        But still, those decisions are troubling, doubly so for those whose lives were sacrificed with neither their knowledge nor consent.

        In much the same way we live in a fallen world where, by the ‘free will is supreme’ argument, God has decided that ‘free will’ is so important that he will allow a child to be brutally abused or killed rather than halt the hand of the abuser and thus violate his free will. Maybe it is right to do so. Maybe in the end it leads to less suffering over all in the world, or brings the Kingdom even quicker than it otherwise would. Maybe it really is that simple, though it doesn’t seem so to me.

        But it is also troubling, and deeply so.

        This isn’t an intellectual exercise for me, John. For me, it’s not even about free will. A few years ago I witnessed the slow, agonizing death of a child with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy. If you are unfamiliar with SMA1, I’ll keep it short: It’s a death sentence. There are no miracle SMA babies. They all die, usually before age two unless drastic external measures like permanent tracheotomies, breathing machines, or iron lungs. Ollie was diagnosed at three months and I watched and cared for him with his parents as his muscles withered away, unable to talk, unable to cough, unable to muster the strength to breathe, slowly suffocating until he died a day before his first birthday, smothered by his own body.

        God can heal physical ailments. It’s right there in the Bible. Jesus healed the lame, cured the leper, made the blind to see. But he didn’t heal that poor little beautiful boy. Maybe there is are good intellectual, theological arguments for why God, having the ability to heal, chose not to.

        But I am deeply troubled by the answers, however simple or right they may be.

        • Will

          Hi David.

          You have some great questions.

          Unfortunately there are no answers for them here on Earth.

          There are only opinions.

          I speak for myself and no one else. But this works reasonably well for me.

          1. Jesus of Nazareth, the man, was the exemplification of divine love.

          2. The Bible is a book of stories some of which were about Jesus.

          3. The world is harsh and the only way to get through with a modicum of sanity is to be loving and be loved, as Jesus taught.

          Jesus lived love. Jesus spoke love and acted loving.

          Jesus said, “Everything I do, you will do and more.”

          Which to me means that I am to be more loving.

          A human being whose intention is to be loving is the pinnacle of what Jesus lived and taught.

          That is what we can be. That is all we can do.

          Any supernatural descriptions of what Jesus did are the wishful imaginings of people who worship superficial superheroes.

          Jesus was a real hero. A heroic man who put his fellow humans above money, power, fame and all else that gets in the way of real loving relationships.

          That’s my opinion.

          It might be worth no more than anyone elses. But it gets me through.

          Just remember that an opinion printed in a very old book is still an opinion.

          There is no magic in books. But there is love in human beings.

          • Christy

            Thanks, Will.

        • Allie

          It IS troubling, and I don’t think anyone knows the answer, not even John. At least I know I don’t find his answer satisfying, personally, and that I’m not alone in that.

          One thing I do know, though, is that you don’t get in trouble for asking the question. Read Ecclesiastes. Read the Psalms. People before you have asked the same questions, and instead of sweeping them under the carpet or brushing them off with pat answers, the wise people who wrote the Bible put the questions in there, unanswered. We’re told that David was one of God’s favorite people, and David bitched at God all the time. “Why, God? What’s wrong with you? Answer me. My life sucks.”

          So don’t be afraid to ask. It doesn’t make you a heretic. It doesn’t make God hate you.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            It’s true people have said they don’t find my answer for the theodicy “satisfying.” But, in any way that’s logically consistent, they never seem able to quite say why. It just doesn’t feel right, so they think it must be wrong. But no one’s ever articulated a clear logical flaw in my reasoning on this matter. I’ve given a very serious answer to a very serious problem. “I don’t find that answer satisfying” isn’t a serious response to that answer.

          • Allie

            Isn’t it? A God who leaves people unsatisfied is a problem.

            I think you’ve been answered logically, and more than once. Looking at a world in which people are crushed by falling rocks and then saying that’s not God’s fault, it’s mankind’s fault for not inventing the rock-shield fast enough, well, it’s far out there at best. Your answer about free will is a fine answer as far as human sin is concerned. Not so much the pain that comes from nature.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            A God who leaves some people unsatisfied isn’t a problem: it’s an inevitability.

            And it’s funny how casually you toss out your acknowledgment that my answer does, in fact, comprehensively address the problem of human sin. That’s one massive chunk of resolution.

            (And point me to this “logical answer” you say I should have seen more than once. I’m comfortable saying it’s not there, but would happily be shown differently. I believe that what we’ll find is that we have radically different ideas—well, clearly we do—about what qualifies as logical.)

          • David Milloway

            (Apologies for the length. I can’t seem to use one word when three will do.)

            When I say I don’t find your argument satisfying, I don’t mean that it “just doesn’t feel right’.* I mean that I find the argument insufficient. An answer can be logical and yet inadequate.

            Maybe I can illustrate my misgivings with it.

            Take this hypothesis. Let’s say a mugger is about to stab a woman and one of two things happens.

            1. A policeman happens by, rushes in, and grabs the mugger’s arm, preventing him from stabbing the woman.

            2. God grabs the mugger’s arm, preventing him from stabbing the woman.

            Why is the first a good and noble thing, but the second a horrible violation of the mugger’s free will?

            Why does the first place all the value on the freedom and life of the victim, but the second turn the mugger into an ‘automaton’?

            Why is the policeman not violating the mugger’s free will? He could, after all, allow the woman to be stabbed and then arrest and punish the mugger. But we recoil at that thought, don’t we? And why shouldn’t we when/if God does the same?

            Or take another hypothetical: A man makes a slave of another human being, locking her in a cage, and breaking her will with physical and psychological abuse.

            Why is it a greater evil for God to violate the slaver’s free will by halting his violation of the free will of the slave?

            Can you see why I don’t find your argument sufficient? It is because that argument is missing something. What it is, I don’t know. Maybe that missing piece is a Mystery.

            * – I will refrain from taking offense at you calling my perspective “unserious” and a matter of ‘feelings’. My perspective may be mistaken or flat-out wrong, but it is not held lightly or without actual reason. You should be careful of dismissing people who have serious trouble with your answer to this question, as many of them have very real and personal reasons for doing so. You could easily cause hurt. Likewise, I wish to apologize for calling your argument a ‘cop-out’ earlier. I did not mean it personally, but it was dismissive. I should not have done so.

            I’m finding it a little awkward to be at such loggerheads with you. I know you don’t know me from Adam, but I’ve been reading you for awhile and generally I’m right on board with 99% of what you write. I consider you an ally, just so you know. Not an adversary.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            David: All I can say is that within this piece I’ve already answered, very specifically, the exact questions you’ve here posed. I don’t know how to say this without sounding dismissive or … rude, or whatever, but you either didn’t read this piece, or you didn’t read it carefully enough. But it must be one of those two things, because you keep asking me questions I’ve already answered, in very clear language, in the piece. Which leaves me with virtually nothing more to say or add. If you were addressing a concern, or had a question, that I hadn’t already answered in this piece, we have a place we could go. But right now you’re just … continuing to ask me for directions to a place to which I’ve already drawn you a pretty simple map. And pointed. And told you exactly how to get there.

            So now I’m just … left without words. There is no “mystery” here. At all.

            I mean … you can try this piece, if you’d care to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2007/07/10/evil-surprise-it%E2%80%99s-a-good-thing/

            but it’s basically the same thing I’ve said here.

            I just can’t go anywhere once you’ve …. again equated one person stopping one evil act from God stopping all humans, forever, from ever having any even slightly negative thought or impression. Again framing your question as you have is again a very definite, manifest, overt, humongous, utter failure of, as you put it, actual reason. If you can’t see why that is—and can’t see how within the piece I’ve already explained why that is—then … I’m afraid I’m out.

            But I do of course absolutely wish you the best of luck working this problem out for yourself.

          • David Milloway

            John,

            I understand the basics of your argument, I just think they are flawed. With all due respect, I honestly don’t think you’ve answered my question.

            Why is the man who stops the knife not violating the knife-wielder’s free will? Or if he is, why is that a bad thing? Or if it isn’t, what is it about God doing the exact same thing that makes it a bad thing?

            You say you have the power to beat your wife, and you wouldn’t want God to stop you. But why wouldn’t you want God to stop you from hitting your wife? Why would you resent that more than, say, your brother reaching out and grabbing your wrist before you can land the blow? How does that violate your will any less?

            In that article you linked, you say “The only way for God to stop people from doing evil would be to stop people from ever thinking about doing evil.”

            But that’s not true, anymore than your brother grabbing your wrist makes you stop thinking about the evil you were about to do to your hypothetical wife. It just stopped you from doing the evil. Your thoughts are still your own.

            You’re making the assumption that God would have to mind control you to stop evil from being done. But that isn’t the case.

            When you stop your son from biting your daughter, are you treating them like mindless zombies? When you refuse to give your drunk friend his car keys, are you treating him like an automaton?

            Asking “Why doesn’t God stop evil?” is not the same as asking “Why doesn’t God turn all humans into mindless zombies?” That is, in my opinion, a false assertion.

            I understand if you’ve tired of the argument. We do seem to be going around in circles. Best of luck to you as well.

          • vj

            The difference in your hypothetical situation is that the policeman is a finite human being, only capable of being in one place at one time. He has limited ability to intervene – and there is no guarantee that he will always be able to effectively intervene. While his intervention interrupts one instance of the expression of one person’s free will, and does not affect anyone else’s free will. He also didn’t give the mugger his free will in the first place.

            God, however, not only gave us our free will in the first place, He is present everywhere, all the time, and has absolute power to over-ride that free will. If we want God to over-ride the mugger’s free will, we have to be prepared for our own free will to be over-ridden as well – at any time, under any circumstances. God sees our intentions and heart attitudes, not just our actions, and in order to allow us to be free to make our own choices He does not violate our free will – however much He wants us to always make good choices.

          • David Milloway

            I see what your saying, but I am troubled by the implications.

            (Forgive me if I am mischaracterizing your words.)

            This argument seems to imply that because the policeman can cannot stop all muggers, and because he has an imperfect (or finite) knowledge of good and evil, therefore it is right and proper to stop this one mugger (or any amount of muggers, I assume, up to [all muggers - 1] ;-).

            God, however, has perfect knowledge of good and evil and the ability to stop all muggers from stabbing their victims if he so chose. In addition, can also easily see the intentions written on all hearts, muggers and victims alike. And therefore it is wrong for him to stop even one.

            I don’t know about you, but this seems almost a reversal of what should be. Shouldn’t a more perfect understanding of good and evil, the power to stop said evil, and the ability to read even the intentions behind those who commit evil, give more ethical responsibility to intervene, not less? Who is more likely to take the precise action needed to see that both mugger and victim come out of this situation unhurt?

            The argument “Free Will Must Trump All” seems to me to be based on the fear of Big Brother, of a powerful human entity watching our every move and ruling over us based on their own imperfect understanding of what is good and what is evil, biased by their own selfishness and greed. I myself fear such a thing. There is no human agency that should be granted such power.

            But God is not human, and his understanding is not imperfect, and there is not selfishness nor greed in him. Why then should we fear his hand at stopping us from doing evil? Why should the fear of the loss of our autonomy to do evil (actual objective evil) to another trump the well being (and free will) of the innocent to whom that evil is done?

            Finally, the last distinction you make is that God gave the mugger his free will, not the policeman. I’m not sure how that matters except in a theoretical sense that if God stops the mugger, he’s taking his gift back, at least temporarily. But if you give a man a gun to do with as he pleases, and then he immediately turns and points it at another (intentionally or unintentionally), is it wrong of you to intervene and try to take the gun from his grasp?

          • Christy

            Allie, Rocks falling and crushing people happen. Bad things happen. Things we don’t want to have happen. People we love get sick and die. That’s life. That’s reality. That’s how the world works. We do much to further our sense of peace and joy in this life when we stop struggling against accepting these realities.

            Change what we can. Accept what we cannot. Have the wisdom to know the difference does in fact lead to serenity.

      • http://a-bright-blog.blogspot.com Jason Bachand

        I’ve always found it prudent to be wary of people who suggest that complex moral problems have ‘simple’ solutions. It usually indicates a failure of intelligence or an ulterior and questionable motive.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Complicate away, then.

        • David Milloway

          For the record. I don’t think John has ulterior or questionable motives. I think he honestly believes what he says and it is my opinion that we are just having difficulty explaining things to each other. We are coming in at right angles to the other’s point of view and having difficulty adjusting to see what the other sees.

          I also think John is a smart fellow and a heck of a nice guy.

    • Diana A.

      “Did Jesus violate the free will of those who would stone the adulteress?”

      I think that it’s important to note here that Jesus didn’t violate the free will of those who intended to stone the adulteress. What he did was to shame them out of it by reminding them of their own sin.

      I don’t know what this means (if anything) in the larger context of the discussion, but I do think that it’s important to note.

      • vj

        I think that’s a great insight! And I think He is still doing the same thing – the Bible is full of God telling us that what He wants is mercy, not sacrifice; instructing us to break the yoke of oppression and set the captive free; telling us that what He requires is for us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. To feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, tend to the sick, visit the lonely. Jesus lived this out as our example to model our own lives after. IF everyone on the planet was living out His example, the world would be a better place – the vulnerable would be protected. WE are the weak link when we DON’T live according to His ways.

        • Christy

          Love it, vj!

      • David Milloway

        That is a very good insight. Thank you for the clarification.

        But here’s a question for you. What if the shaming had not worked? What if they had insisted on stoning? Would Jesus have done nothing? Surely not! Surely he would have stood between her and the stones, or raised her from the dead afterwards, or perhaps even have sat down beside her and died with her, making that the Passion rather then the crucifixion.

        But what if he hadn’t? What if he had said, “I love this woman with all my heart, but I will not stop you from killing her because that would violate your free will,” and then allowed it to happen?

        Because that is what the ‘free will trumps all’ argument attempts to justify today. God loves us all and has the power to stop evil being done, but chooses not to in order not to violate the free will of the evildoer.

        It’s the idea of the three qualities of the traditional Christian God that I cannot reconcile. All powerful, all knowing, all loving. It seems to me in this fallen world of floods and earthquakes and genocide and holocaust that you can only pick two.

        To be at peace, I have chosen the last two. God knows all and loves all, but for whatever reason, is incapable of intervening directly in this world. He requires us to be his hands and feet, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, tend the sick, and visit the imprisoned. For whatever reason, he cannot spare us from suffering and sorrow, but is with us in both until the very end.

        • vj

          I think we tend to loose sight of God’s eternal perspective – we want everything to be sunshine and roses for everyone, right here and now. I believe that God also wants us to have sunshine and roses, but, for reasons that we cannot yet understand, we don’t always get the happy ending in this life. But, there is a life to come, which will be eternal, and once we are living that life then the pain and suffering we have endured here will both make sense and fade into insignificance. That, for me, is the hope I have in Christ.

          And yes, you are quite right that God uses us as His hands and feet – but I think that is because He chooses to give us the joy of loving and serving Him and our fellow humans, rather than because He is *unable* to intervene.

          • David Milloway

            I love and appreciate your perspective vj, and I hope that you are right, that when we reach the eternal it will all make sense.

            But until then, I will keep asking the questions and looking for the answers.

            I know you did not mean to be dismissive, but the sunshine and roses comment felt that way a bit to me. I’m not asking for sunshine and roses for everyone, right here right now. I’m asking for less suffering and torment, or at least a better reason for why it happens than “free will.” I believe it’s a false dichotomy to think it’s either suffer the child to die of a horrible disease or live in a hallmark card. There is a huge range between those two poles.

        • Will

          David wrote; “What if they had insisted on stoning? Would Jesus have done nothing? Surely not! Surely he would have stood between her and the stones, or raised her from the dead afterwards, or perhaps even have sat down beside her and died with her, making that the Passion rather then the crucifixion. ”

          David, let us not forget that thousands of prostitutes have been murdered by self-righteous mobs. Let us not forget that hundreds of thousands, nay millions of innocent women and men have been tortured and murdered and even burned alive by people who claimed they were doing God’s will. Their deaths were not prevented. Their suffering was real.

          There is no “what if”.

          There is only what has happened and what continues to happen.

          God does not step in. People suffer and die everyday. Bad things happen.

          How shorted sighted of us to read a story about one prostitute who was saved from a mob by one man and extrapolate that to mean that God saves people.

          Ninety nine people die in an accident and one survives. To say that one was saved by God is not only foolish but cruel to the loved ones of the ninety nine who God didn’t save.

          Can anyone present a person who has had 150 birthdays, because they were “saved by God” from old age? No. Of course not.

          Sooner or later everyone dies. Whether there is anything beyond physical existence is debatable. I’m certainly open to that possibility.

          As to what God does or doesn’t do and what life is or isn’t, try The Book Of Ecclesiastes. You may find a whole new spin on the discussion.

          Ecclesiastes 9

          A Common Destiny for All

          1 So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad,[a] the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.

          As it is with the good,

          so with the sinful;

          as it is with those who take oaths,

          so with those who are afraid to take them.

          3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope[b]—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

          5 For the living know that they will die,

          but the dead know nothing;

          they have no further reward,

          and even their name is forgotten.

          6 Their love, their hate

          and their jealousy have long since vanished;

          never again will they have a part

          in anything that happens under the sun.

          7 Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. 9 Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

          Does that explain everything? Not really.

          There may be no answer that is satisfying to us because we are all too quick to reject what we don’t want to hear. Because that is what we humans do. :)

  • Burt

    I think the problem here is that while you’re looking at the “big” picture, you aren’t really looking at the biggest picture. Let’s say that your argument is true, and that God does not intervene in the evils of man because it would violate free will. According to the Bible, this isn’t exactly a pledge that he has honored throughout history. It is only “post-bible” that God conveniently refuses to show up for anything. Sure there’s going to be some kind of reasoning for it, but the reasoning doesn’t hold up. You can say “God has made it clear in the Bible that he will not return until Judgment Day” or whatever, but why? as soon as you start applying “why” to all of these statements, they collapse; because ultimately, Christians themselves have to admit that they just don’t know why. That’s why faith has become a synonym for “just do it and don’t worry about the details”.

    Ultimately, people who aren’t comfortable with “just do it” aren’t going to be Christians.

    Personally, I find it pretentious of you to claim reasoning for something God does or doesn’t do, when you don’t actually know. You simply provide your own logical reasoning for it, and as long as it makes sense, it’s fine. This is the problem with Christians today. Any reason will do, if you must have one. As long as it makes some small amount of sense, the issue can be safely put away in the back of your mind. You have no business setting out to answer a question that is truly rhetorical in nature – if the question is why God does or doesn’t do something and you feel you’re qualified to answer, then you need to go examine your life. It doesn’t matter how polite you are to someone who has gone through so much pain – you don’t know the answer.

    This isn’t to say that I find athiests or agnostics particularly great by comparison. Everyone is subject to the less admirable aspects of human nature… but I feel the need to speak out against Christianity on issues like this because while you ignore these issues and attribute them to God’s mysterious will, you’re merely enabling yourself to forget about them. We don’t fix problems that way. We fix problems by bringing them to light and fighting them.

  • Godisalie

    The truth is there is no god. God is a concept that was created to control people. God is a lie. If god is real he is evil and cruel and hates human beings. Anyone who can’t see this is living a great lie.

  • Allie

    John, I really feel this deserves to be deleted. 19th century freak Mischa doesn’t get to hurt a woman who has already lost her child for allowing the child some semblance of a normal life and/or having a job.

    • Matt

      I agree with Allie. The fault is never anyone’s but the perpetrator’s. Had they decided not to do what they did, her son would have been safe. Nothing and no one else could have stopped what happened.

  • http://www.lavondastaples.com La Vonda R. Staples

    I needed your words so very badly this morning. My friend, you have truly fed me. I will read your famous post again and again. And what’s more? I would like to add my voice to yours and apply your essay to inculcated victim status as well as intra-racial relations (how Black Americans treat and mistreat each other).

    I write my blog in order to have a healthy outlet, a method of coping with my cancer diagnosis, being Black in America and also my thoughts on why women interact with each other in an entirely disparate departure from their communications and non-verbal signals to men. In short, I wish the minorities would be nice to each other! I wonder why Black people still judge each other in accordance within ancient and evil schemes based on skin color gradations. I wonder why women assess themselves along the lines of unreachable parameters. Finally, I wonder how I will free my own mind of subconscious actions that have derailed my progress on my path away from God’s plans for me.

    Thank you again and again and again,

    Vonda

  • Christs warrior

    This is the third time I’m writing this. Man!! I don’t know if your still around but I’m 35 years old and this happened to me on several occasions growing up AND as a grown man. It’s freemasons and other occultists. they even character assassinate and have people stalk me all day. It’s all satanic. It has nothing to do with God. It’s why he’s coming back VERY soon. STAY PREPARED!!! Look into gangstalking.

  • Rosida Macualy

    This is a testimony that I will tell to every one to hear. I have been married four 4years and on the fifth year of my marriage, another woman had a spell to take my lover away from me and my husband left me and the kids and we have suffered for 2years until I met a post where this man prophet jakula have helped someone and I decided to give him a try to help me bring my lover back home and believe me I just send my picture to him and that of my husband and after 48hours as he have told me, I saw a car drove into the house and behold it was my husband and he have come to me and the kids and that is why I am happy to make every one of you in similar to met with this man and have your lover back to your self. His email: prophetjakula@gmail.com.

  • Richard Quail

    You know what I have to say to that dude is that God has intervened in human affairs many times and even put a hedge around Job. God protects certain individuals and some he doesn’t it’s simple as that.

    This poor woman has no other choice than to continue on as damaged goods
    while the perpetrators go unpunished. Her kid is addicted to drugs and alcohol and in all probability may commit suicide, why isn’t God helping?

    • Bones

      God protects certain individuals and some he doesn’t it’s simple as that.

      Nope.

  • Bones

    The irreducible truth is that right now, if I want to, I can beat my wife. She is weaker than I; she could not stop me from doing that. I am free to commit that atrocity.

    Ummm.

    If I knew you were beating your wife, should I do something to stop it?

    Or would that violate your free will?.

  • nickrcf

    Sadly, this woman wrote to this blogger instead of consulting the only source of full truth; God Himself. His Word is replete with examples of total divine sovereignty & total human responsibility. Maybe she will consult someone with true Biblical understanding like Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Ryle, Sproul, Keller, or best yet… The Bible, instead of this fool Mr. Shore.


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