She’s losing her faith

This came in today:


I have been reading your blog for a while now and I hope you can help me. I have been a Christian for most of my life (I am 56) but I am having a tough time maintaining my faith lately.

It seems that every day there are more reports of children–babies, teens, all ages–being severely injured and/or killed. (I have even started avoiding news programs whenever possible because they have been depressing me so much.) Then I happened upon a photo of a young child with his skull looking like a cracked egg and I am wondering: Where is God? I know these things have been happening for centuries, but if He really cares so much why does he keep allowing these atrocities to happen? I am starting to think that maybe he doesn’t really care about what happens here. Are we just some kind of reality show?

I have written quite a bit about the apparent incompatibility of evil with a compassionate God. Here are three such posts on that matter:

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

How can God allow Child Abuse?

Christian woman: “She’s pulled the plug on her own son, whom I love and cared for. How do I deal with my anger?”

The quick answer is: God doesn’t do evil. People do evil. And any person is free to do anything he or she wants—including violating the free will of a weaker person, which is always what evil boils down to—because stopping a person from doing whatever he or she wants would necessarily mean violating that person’s free will. And free will is the thing that makes us human. And God will not violate—will not steal back from us—the singular most precious thing he gave us.

But if you’re serious about this question, please read the above posts. At the very least watch the video at the end of the second one.

Also, do avoid television news programs. I haven’t watched a television news program in at least ten years. I hate the idea of CNN or FOX or any other broadcast “news” show unexpectedly showing me something emotionally traumatizing. Life is troubling enough without having The Nightly News turning pain into a cheap exploitative product I’m randomly and suddenly force-fed. The Internet and/or National Public Radio and/or The New Yorker (or other magazines) provides me with plenty o’ information about the world.

And just by way of being clear: when it comes to any given person violating the free will of another—when it comes to the reality of kidnapping, murdering, raping, bashing, exploiting, etc.—you are stuck having to believe one of four things:

1. God is too weak/cruel/uninterested to stop anyone from victimizing anyone else.

2. There’s a perfectly good reason why God never interferes with anyone victimizing anyone else (see above).

3. There is no God.

4. It’s impossible to understand what’s going on there. (See my Agnosticism: The perfect answer that can’t deliver.)

For my money, the horse to bet on is clearly number two.

(P.S. As to the inevitable question of all the suffering that’s not caused by humans: please see this comment below. Thanks.)

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  • Kirk Childress via Facebook

    I have to say that I cannot endorse not watching the news. if you have to hide yourself from reality to maintain your faith, then your faith doesn’t mean much. you have to face up to the evil in the world. and do something about it. [how can you do something about it, if you don’t allow yourself to know that it exists?] If your faith survives this interaction, mazel tov. if not, there are plenty of atheists in the world who are facing reality and making a positive difference.

  • Um … read again.

  • Kirk Childress via Facebook

    ok…. “Also, do avoid news programs. I haven’t watched a television news program in at least ten years.”

  • READ ON already. I didn’t way I was uninformed. Sheesh.

  • Kirk Childress via Facebook

    sorry, john. I don’t see anything in this blog post that says to stay informed. and I do see something that says to avoid the news. I respect you a lot. but this is too far. how will you know that women in afghanistan are burned with acid because they “besmirched the honor” of their families unless you pay attention to some news source? how will you know that activists are being arrested in russia for standing up for LGBT rights unless you pay attention to the news? How will you know that Iran very likely just executed 4 men for being gay unless you pay attention to the news? and how can you take any action at all in regards to these injustices unless you are informed of them?

    how do you stay informed if you avoid news?

  • nai

    I never found the notion that god does not intervene because god does not want to violate free will very compelling. I guess that is why I personally left “traditional” Christianity. Over the years, dealing with the problem of pain, evil and suffering has caused me to rethink how I view the divine. I view the divine more as a “force” or all pervading spirit of love, who mourns when evil is done but who nudges people to do what is right. However, this “god” does not intervene, because he/she can’t. I don’t think saying that god is “weak” is exactly correct, but I guess compared to the view of God being all powerful, all knowing, and all present, my version of god is considered to be “weak.” I don’t think this made any sense at all, but I guess I am still struggling to reconcile a belief in a divine force with the issues of suffering and pain. This is just for me, but I just never found comfort in the free will argument. But I’m not sure though, that any notion will be fully satisfactory…

  • Naiomi Gonzalez via Facebook

    well there are other ways to be informed that watching the 24 hour news station-in fact I think fox, cnn, and other broadcast news are the worst places to receive information especially since they seem to turn pain and suffering into an entertainment business. he says to avoid the broadcast news, which I have to agree with him. People should stay informed, and especially with the advent of the internet people can stay informed. (although one needs to be discerning about where one gets said information. for example, in general I consider yahoo news to not be particularly helpful)

  • Barbara Rice

    Dear Nai,

    Maybe try to think of it this way:

    If God intervened by causing people to only do what is right, true, and kind – then we would only be puppets with our lives completely at God’s pleasure. Sort of like surviving by the pleasure of the government. To me, it would then follow that if the puppet string broke, that God would tire of us and toss us aside.

    Maybe that’s carrying the analogy too far. But if God intervened in every single case of evil around the world – what would then be the point of Jesus dying on the cross and being resurrected?

    Blessings to you.

  • Kirk Childress via Facebook

    and “the internet and national public radio” are subject to the same critiques that you apparently apply to the rest of the media. the trick is to listen/read/watch as many of them as possible and to understand their filters and biases. then make rational decisions for yourself based on what you can glean from each of them.

  • Sue Hulett via Facebook

    John doesn’t say he avoids learning about current events. What he SAID is he doesn’t watch the “if it bleeds, it leads” infotainment that today’s “newscast” has become. I myself also avoid watching TV newscasts because if there is a shooting, for instance, they spend more time sticking a microphone into the face of the grieving family than they spend on investigating the cause of the event. I read the news. I don’t need to watch “live” video of some reporter standing outside a hospital or courthouse reading a script.

  • nai

    I don’t actually believe that Jesus was physically and literally resurrected and I view his death the result of his social justice teachings. So for me the analogy still does not quite work. So I sympathize with the original poster. For me questioning such as that have led me to discard most of what one considers to be part of “traditional” Christianity. Not suggesting that the original poster do the same thing.

  • nai

    shoot I put this in the wrong space. this was supposed to be a response to barbara rice. sorry about that.

  • My husband constantly pores over news – internet news, TV news, whatever, and sometimes he gets more involved than he can handle. That’s when I say, “Step AWAY from the computer and the television. Turn the news OFF.” There’s a difference between being informed and being saturated by the same stories reheated, rehashed endlessly. While there is a tremendous amount of information out there, there is very little discernment.

  • Suz

    Yep. Free will. People will commit evil and God won’t stop them. Ma’am, it sounds like you’re losing faith in a God that has been defined in human terms. God is bigger than any definition you or your church can assign to him. I agree with John – turn off the damn TV!!! The world is full of good and evil; if you watch TV, you’ll end up buried in the bad. Reject it. Period. You can’t control it. Focus on what you CAN control – your own thoughts and actions. Seek out positive influences, that’s where you’ll find the strength to endure evil.

    Sound shallow? It’s not. Your attitude and your connection with God are all you have. If they’re solid, you can not only endure, but you’ll have something to give. If they’re weak, evil will make good use of you.

    Look beyond your assumptions about God.

  • Barbara Rice


    My personal take: Christianity is a journey. Those who believe they have found The Answer are living off what someone (Mencken, perhaps?) called their intellectual fat. Questioning is healthy.

    I don’t have the answers to your questions, but I think the fact that you are struggling means you’re going in the right direction.

  • You’re still the man… thanks for this

  • Anna Joy

    Oh, theodicy sucks. Not John’s, but the fact that it is necessary. Personally, I don’t find free will a compelling argument either. The most I have is Jesus, Godde in human form, died in solidarity with us. Godde suffered too. It might not justify every instance of evil, but it does tell us that Godde gives a rip. Or, more than a rip actually. At least three nail marks, a pierced side, and a crown of thorns…and that He’s not up in the sky playing a harp while the world goes to hell…

    I happen to be a Christian universalist, so in effect, no matter what has happened on this planet, Godde is/was/will come and make it all right with His love in the end. This does not tie up the loose ends, nor does it answer all the questions. It just makes them easier to deal with. I don’t know what your views on this are, letter writer, but…if you can, become a universalist. Lol.

    Not to be flip, of course. I mean that in all seriousness. If you can consider it, it makes suffering more coherent (more, not completely) and less senseless…

    But, that said, all I can say with relative certainty is in Jesus, we see Godde caring about everyone a very great deal…very invested in our lives

    I send love your way.

  • Anna Joy

    Agreed. You can be informed and involved in changing things you can change, though saturation in the news can become, at times, masochism…especially if you do not feel able to help in any meaningful way. It’s way too much to ingest at one time.

  • Kirk, for God’s sake – a lot of people avoid TV news and get their news from the Internet.

  • Elizabeth Fullerton via Facebook

    I’m so retrograde, I get most of my news through Facebook. I’m doing it now.

  • DR

    Can someone please help me understand what blog post Kirk Childress is reading because it can’t be the one I’m reading.

    Kirk, where do you think people from CNN GET the news?? They get it from the internet for God’s sake!! What a douchey comment.

  • I don’t watch TV news at all. But I’m extremely well-informed. I read the news aggregates such as addictinginfo, thinkprogress, mediamatters, dailybeast, dailyKOS, TPM – I could go on.

    After reading that Chris Hayes apologized for what needed to be said about the overuse of the word “Hero” in the US, which cheapens the concept (if everyone’s a hero, nobody’s a hero), and knowing that conservatives almost NEVER apologize – you’ll get an idea of why I don’t do TV News.

    I’m sure John has his sources on the Internet and needn’t rely on TV “news” either.

    I do watch the Daily Show, however. Not “news” – but better.

  • Suz

    Avoid TV news. Find stories on the internet and explore the whole issue. Don’t swallow that garbage from the boob tube. Stories are chosen specifically to get an emotional reaction, not to inform. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

  • Kirk, you do get that the “scoop” the network TV gets is from the Internet, right? So if you’re getting your news online instead of CNN, you’re getting it faster (and without benefit of editing and massive production).

  • Thanks, DR. But … he’s not even almost listening. That happens.

  • DR

    It’s so fascinating to me.

  • Elizabeth

    He’s watching TV news somewhere.

  • Brilliant.

    There is evil in the world because God does not do evil. Stopping evil necessitates God to take away free will from lesser human beings, which is evil.

    This begs the question: do angels have free will, and if they do, how are they related to human beings?

    I am inclined to think they also have free will, which is the reason for Lucifer’s rebellion. I have no idea about their nature, however.

  • DR

    Dear OP,

    I really understand this note, I bet a lot of us do. If one is truly awake, truly paying attention, then the truly horrific things human beings experience/are born with are cruel. I think it’s a reasonable person who actually doubts.

    For me, where this all ends is that faith is a choice. I choose to believe the narrative because I think it makes sense and it reconciles so much of what I think is true. But we all have to make these little choices along the way. I still struggle with how a loving God can exist when His followers are so terrible. But then I remember the story of Grace and how it helps me go beyond the anger. Then it makes sense (but it’s always a choice).

    Be well.

  • John, I’ve been a big fan of Answer #2 most if my life. Until I had a pleasant lunch conversation with my pastor, in which I told him I was still struggling with “the deaths of Innocents.” He looked at me sideways for a moment, and in the most challenging way I’ve ever heard from him before or since, verbally slapped me with “who the HELL do you think you are?!” He denies to this day remembering saying that, but it’s the best spiritual direction I’ve ever had. Read the end of the Book of Job, and it’s basically what God told him. Since then, your Answer #4 is my answer. We can’t know. It’s not ours to know. Not this side of the veil. Not until we shuffle off this mortal coil. And I’m good with that.

  • Aliyah Aldridge via Facebook

    You define evil as the violation of another person’s free will. But is that really the extent of it? What about cruelty? What about needlessly inflicting suffering on another person? If I walk up to an old lady and punch her, I’m not violating her free will. I’m not stopping her from doing anything she wanted to do. So would random acts of geriatric violence not be considered evil, so long as the victim was not prevented from doing anything s/he wanted to do?

    Okay, so I think we can agree that it’s also evil to needlessly inflict suffering on someone, right?

    Now imagine a universe without suffering. You could stick your hand on a hot stove and not be injured or feel any pain. No person could hurt another. Sure, they’d still have free will – they could even violate another person’s free will – but neither party would feel pain. Nice, isn’t it?

    See how you can imagine that? So, given the infinity of all possible creations, couldn’t an omnipotent God do the same thing? And c’mon. You know the Eden story is a lame excuse for a universe full of agony. Try telling a child dying of starvation and AIDS in the third world that he’s in all this pain because six thousand years ago, two people ate a piece of fruit even though they were specifically told not to. Bad! Bad descendant of Adam and Eve! Oh, but the punishment apparently isn’t evenly distributed. Somehow the guys on Wall Street manage to avoid getting the Adam & Eve smackdown of the Lord.

    The option of evil doesn’t have to exist for free will to exist. You can’t choose to fly or read minds, but you still have free will. You could have free will without the option to hurt or be hurt.

    So God did not have to create suffering. Therefore, all suffering is needless. And since the needless infliction of suffering is cruel – and therefore evil – suffering is evil. And as the origin of all suffering, God would have to be the most evil of all.

    And the argument that God doesn’t take away people’s free will doesn’t hold up either. Who freely wills to die of cancer? Who freely wills to die at all? Who freely wills to be hit with a natural disaster or born with a genetic disease? Who freely wills to be born?

    As to the argument in Job, as a victim of God’s violence, I have every right to protest and ask what the hell He thinks He’s doing. I have every right to be mad. I have every right to shake my fist and call any creator of this universe a psychopath. It doesn’t matter where I was when God laid the foundations of the Earth, if He screwed it up, as someone born onto this planet ***without my consent – no free will here***, I have a right to call Him on it.

    I wish I found any of the arguments other than 1 and 3 compelling. I really do. It has to feel really really good to believe that there’s an omnipotent, benevolent being running things and if things suck, it’s just because we don’t understand God’s plan. But I look around at the world and I just can’t even fake it.

  • Christelle

    “The Internet and/or National Public Radio and/or The New Yorker (or other magazines) provides me with plenty o’ information about the world.” – John Shore

  • Allie

    Yes. I have found in particular that reading the local news site will make me hate my fellow Memphians, while getting out and meeting my fellow Memphians will make me love them. The news is understandably skewed towards the worst in people, and comments on news sites are skewed towards argumentative and idiotic people. In a sense it’s “being informed” about reality, but only about a very limited slice of reality. Imagine basing your view of what human life is like on patients in a hospital – you would get the idea that everyone is always too sick to visit the toilet.

  • vj


  • Allie

    Pretty sure hitting someone is stopping them from living a pain-free life, which most people want to do.

    I’m with you on thinking the free will argument doesn’t go far enough, especially in its lack of ability to explain suffering which isn’t caused by human agency. The usual explanation is that the world wasn’t created with suffering and all suffering is a result of the Fall, not because God punished us for our ancestors’ deed, but because the inevitable result of life separate from God is suffering.

  • Aliyah Aldridge

    Okay. If you’re right, then causing someone to suffer is violating their free will to live without suffering. Thus, all suffering is a violation of free will, and by the definition given above, it’s still evil.

    “The usual explanation is that the world wasn’t created with suffering and all suffering is a result of the Fall, not because God punished us for our ancestors’ deed, but because the inevitable result of life separate from God is suffering.”

    Who created the consequence? The consequence of suffering can’t exist if suffering doesn’t exist.

    Since God created suffering, God violates free will all the time, thus God does evil all the time, meaning God is evil.

    God still bears guilt for suffering caused by human agency because God created the option of causing suffering. God could have created a world without suffering or a world where humans did not have the ability to experience or cause suffering, but God did not do that, and thus God is guilty when humans cause suffering as well as when we experience it.

    There’s no way of avoiding it. Either God is the origin of all things or not. If God created all things, God created suffering and evil. God does not just *allow* those things, God *makes* those things. Otherwise, God is not the creator of all things, and God is not much of a god at all.

    Lest it come across that I’m an antitheist or merely a troll, I’m neither. I’m an insomniac agnostic with PTSD and a few bones to pick with the universe. The questions about suffering and evil are personal, not just things I’ve seen on the news. I’ve put a lifetime of thought into them. And from what I can see, there simply are no good answers.

  • I’m going to make a leap of faith and suggest in this case that Kirk replied to a bunch of posts without awaiting replies to other posts he submitted.

    Yeah – I’m probably wrong. We’ll see.

  • I’ve encountered similar feelings in people that I know and those I meet. They are looking for comfort and sometimes, some sign – any sign, any words that might draw them back somewhere around the faith they lost. *If* they are able to take comfort in anything I say (or you say) and *if* they are so inclined – their faith is forever altered and would have been anyway.

    Maybe this is just part of growing.

    So – and with all do respect to John’s answer, I generally offer up an alternative to a very basic Christian understanding of “evil”. I don’t look to convert anyone, just offer a different perspective.

    Thanks to Paul’s syncretism, a LOT of later non-canonical Christian Apocrypha and a little bit of Dante, Christians have a “negative” God on which to blame “evil” in general upon. Satan, Lucifer, the Devil – whatever you want to call him. God’s little helper “Saitan” in Job isn’t the same guy. “Gehenna” isn’t the same place as Christian Hell. And “Gahanna” is a little berg south of Columbus, Ohio.

    I generally ask the person if they’ve ever considered who and what “Satan” might be. Is he God-like? What power to you ascribe to “him”? Well…we generally leave that part of the discussion with, “So ok – no, I guess he isn’t really “God-like” but he’s a supernatural being and lives in a place called Hell and he fell from hea…” I usually stop here and ask the person how he/she knew that Satan was a former angel, pissed off God by making claims of equality and was kicked out of the clouds to rule in “Hell” and usually come to the understanding that the whole story is extra biblical.

    You’d be surprised at how much of the extra-biblical material – their stories, have been passed down through the RC Church and into Protestantism, even though the books themselves were purged.

    Very briefly – Arab local culture and certainly the culture of 1st century Judea – hell, even the culture of the Elizabethan era, invented all sorts of little demons (or “Jinns” in the case of the Arabs) and gave them all sorts of funny names like, “Beelzebul/Beelzibub”, and my personal old time pagan favorite, “Baphomet”, who made new friends at the end of the 18th century. None of those little dudes have any biblical reference.

    So what if God is “all things”? What if the concept of Satan as understood by some (but not all) Christians is a chimera preventing one from seeing the guy behind the curtain? And what if you drew the curtain on an evil event, or an evil action and saw…God?

    This is the God-Paradox of Job. You have two choices with that story: Give God excuses – ascribe to him such a high level of awareness, knowledge, intention, power – and tell yourself that we can’t possibly understand why, with malice aforethought, God would torture the shit out of Job, or…

    The other choice is to see God for what he is. Everything. Darkness and light, good and evil. On or off. 1 or 0.

    This is what Jews are raised to understand and it is perfectly justifiable, from a Jewish perspective, for Lewis Black to say, “You guys got the God who went to anger managment training! We have the God of Israel – and he’s a prick!”

    Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. Listen, Israel! The Lord your God is ONE!

    So what’s the point? Its ok to blame God. I believe its in his nature to understand our doubt and grief when we encounter evil. He created it – or created the source that produced it. Where was God during the Turkish genocide of the Greeks or the Armenians or the Kurds? Where was he during the Stalinist purges? Where was he during Shoah?

    We don’t know. Martin Buber didn’t know either, nor did a myriad number of other Jewish theologians from the 20th century. So we’re back to where we were. How can you have faith in (a) God who permits…

    My answer: God gave us the intelligence to recognize evil and oppose it. You can’t “win” with ignorance or bigotry or prejudice or intolerance. You win by exposing it. Faith and knowledge and hope are the only tools we have. Its not a pretty picture – it doesn’t answer much. But if realizing God is All, even the bad stuff – may help with the perception. The tetragrammaton, “YHWH”, “Yahweh” – its a verb. He is who is, or “I am what I am”, or I am what IS. The Universe – the whole shebang.

    Make a leap of faith: For all of recorded history and long before formal religion(s), man had an inherent sense of right and wrong. I call that God, too.

    Ok – enough with my philosophical belching. John said in one blog post that any 6 year-old knows you can press any point you want by quoting the Bible – and any 6 year-old Jewish kid knows what I wrote above.

    Ok, fire away. This is a GREAT topic and the letter above is, to me, heart-rendering. I hope the person who wrote it can make another “leap of faith” and find…hope. And yes, I’m shamelessly stealing the analogy John made a few days ago about faith and hope being equal and therefore, tangible.

  • “heart RENDING”, above – Gaaaah!

  • There’s a lot of truth in most of what you’re saying, Aliyah. I only counter that “free will” is limited to what we ourselves, can control. I cannot control my family genetics. Even if I eat right, don’t smoke and all of that, I may still develop cancer. I might be able to stretch my lifespan a bit by health decisions, but in the end, the cancer will likely win.

    On the other hand, I can seek medical treatment if cancer develops. That’s an exercise of free will.

    I don’t believe in a God who knows the future BECAUSE He gave us free will. Remember the line from “Oh God”, delivered by George Burns? He’s big on the past, not so much on the future.

    We don’t have to have Nuclear Winter. We can save ourselves. Isn’t free will, collective, a “team” effort? We don’t have to wait for Global Warming to completely screw up our climate. Collectively, we can exercise free will.

    Free will – its the only “responsibility” gospel I believe in.

  • Lymis

    “So God did not have to create suffering. Therefore, all suffering is needless.”

    I can’t come to that conclusion. What I find is that it doesn’t make sense if you try to evaluate all of our eternal human experience solely in terms of what happens during this life.

    If we are talking about what people do to each other and what people experience, and keep the whole of the scope of the discussion in the human plane and in the course of the length of time we have to be alive, then absolutely, we have no justification for being awful to each other, and every motivation for working to minimize pain and work for justice and peace. There is no excuse or justification within that framework for needless suffering – because in that framework the suffering is real, and it absolutely matters.

    But as soon as we add God and God’s motivations to the discussion, we aren’t talking human experience and short human lives any more, not even for the human people involved. We’re now talking about the human experience of being immortal as seen through eternal eyes on a much bigger timeframe. Nothing we can do to each other can hurt someone else’s soul, no human hurt cannot be soothed by God, and we have real indications that what we do while we are alive on this planet is only a part of our story.

    I don’t ever want to minimize people’s pain, but you could make the same argument that “a loving parent would never let their child lose at Monopoly” or “if you are writing the rules of baseball, all you have to do is write them so there is no scoring and nobody ever loses.” You can certainly have a valid discussion about play and games without winners and losers, about things like the effects of always getting picked last for sports teams, and so on, but it’s not a fair statement in the larger context to claim that letting your child play a game that has consequences inside the game isn’t loving.

    People on both sides of this discussion often seem to imply or even to state bluntly that if you accept that there is more going on, that there are eternal reasons for things, or that God has a bigger plan, that we have to think that human suffering is some sort of objective good that we are supposed to ignore or even celebrate. That simply isn’t true, and it isn’t the great big “gotcha” that so many people think it is – a lot of people use it as their “proof” that God can’t even exist.

    Human suffering is all caused by other humans or by the natural world in which we live. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to eliminate it, or that we have to justify it. Nor does it mean we have to cast God as some sort of Cosmic Sadist who sits on a cloud and hurts people for fun.

    People hurt people. God makes sure that hurt is temporary.

  • Allie: As to suffering which isn’t explained by human agency: I touch upon it at the end of the video in link #2. But, more, here’s this, from my post There’s Nothing Natural About “Natural” Evil:

    As to “natural” evil—disease and earthquakes and tsunamis and so forth. We ask ourselves why God allows those things to happen, why he visits upon us such terrible tragedies.

    My answer for that is that in asking God to relieve us of the suffering caused by “natural” causes, we are neglecting to take into account what we humans might very well be able to do ourselves to mitigate or eradicate the suffering caused by such calamities. We have not, as a race, chosen to pool and channel our energies and resources toward making that discovery. We spend some of our money and energy on trying to eliminate disease and poverty, and on trying to predict and control storms and earthquakes and so on. But, percentage-wise, we don’t spend much of it at all on those sorts of concerns. Certainly not as much of it as we spend on, say, killing each other in wars.

    We have no idea to what extent we can control or mitigate the effects of disease, famine, earthquakes, floods and so on. What we do know is that we’ve never come together as a race and dedicated our attention and resources to finding that out. Until we do that, I think we should be embarrassed to ask God to come do for us what we’re clearly too lazy and mean to do for ourselves.

    No fair reaching up to heaven before we’ve reached out to one another.

  • Jeff: Good job. If you’re interested, you might check out my post about why most people find agnosticism completely unsatisfying.

  • The problem with so many stories like this is that we tend to think that God should think and act the way we do; you know, the ol’ “If-God-wanted__, He-would-have___” nonsense. Frankly, I think 99.999% of us don’t have a clue of who God is or how he thinks or acts. And the .001% who might be on the right track won’t be found on some popular media outlet. BTW I would agree to taking a sabbatical from the news for a time but you should still stay informed. Some of the local news around here is nothing but a half-hour crime/accident report with sports and weather thrown in.

  • But I am informed.

    Man. I wonder what it is about this post that makes some people totally not read the “The Internet and/or National Public Radio and/or The New Yorker (or other magazines) provides me with plenty o’ information about the world” part?

  • Aliyah: You said, “If I walk up to an old lady and punch her, I’m not violating her free will.” Of course you are.

  • John,

    After I write this I’ll go back and re-read what you wrote to make sure I’m not missing a point you made. But is the exercise of free will in your opinion meant to cover random occurrence? Whether Aliyah intentionally hits me with a car or accidentally (provided I have no ability to react – let’s say I’m standing on the sidewalk minding my own business and she hits me from behind) – I have no control over that.

    If I don’t know her – and have given her no reason for “vengeance” (in which case, “control” is back in my corner), or I’m just in the wrong place at the wrong time – again, I have no control.

    I’m sure I’m missing something here. I’m off to re-read what you wrote previously on the subject. Otherwise – my free will, my domain.

  • Amy B

    John, I think the confusion is that you said you avoid “news programs” but it’s possible you meant TV news programs. Most of NPR is news programming–both ATC and Morning Edition are news-heavy, and you also read lots of news. So what you are doing, and advising the letter-writer to do, is avoiding the visual assault of TV news that brings up sickening/disturbing images, uninvited, before your eyes. Yet presumably you could read about those same incidents or listen to a news story about them. I have heard several people advising going 1 or more weeks a month with no news at all–avoiding news on the internet (very hard with Facebook) and all radio and TV news. When you are back in contact with the news, the important news that happened while you were away will still be available and most of the fly-by-night stories will have faded. It’s a compromise between protecting one’s psyche and remaining informed. This puts me in mind of a saying I have over my desk: “My desire to be informed is at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

  • DR

    How, exactly, did people “stay informed” before TV? They read, would be my thought. Which is exactly what people do online, they read. There are in fact, way more independent, non-biased, international, non-produced news sites online than there are on TV.

  • textjunkie

    as a side note re: angels, there is a school of thought that they had one chance at free will–they could choose to rebel with Lucifer or not. After that choice, whatever side they chose, they had no more free will. Unlike humans, who get free will all the time, and thus are considered higher than angels.

    I do not find the free will argument all that compelling either, though–besides “First, do no harm” ethical value there is the corollary “And do not allow harm to occur to others through your inaction.” By saying “oh well, I have to respect their free will”, God is allowing harm, serious, nasty harm, to come to others. I can’t buy that. Given the way God by all accounts was willing to interfere with Pharoah’s free will and others, something becomes inconsistent pretty quick. I’m more in the Job camp at this point–we just don’t know.

  • textjunkie

    To the original poster: Definitely step away from the TV shows and look around at where humans are doing good, loving, generous, uplifting things that never get coverage on the TV. It may or may not affect your faith in God, but it’s definitely better for your mental health. 🙂 And it could help you see the face of God in your fellow human.

  • @Aliyah, cruelty is often the fruit of free will (unfortunately). A woman getting punched isn’t “random”, there was intention to harm her and that intention was willfully selected by the person doing it. We are victimized by the free will and bad intentions of others when they actually had a choice to behave in a non-cruel way.

  • DR

    Sorry, one more comment and then I’ll stop. I don’t understand why those of you continue to assert there’s confusion, here. It was written so clearly. Clearly John has made that point a number of times but for me, this is an example of when people refuse to read clearly and then continue to assert why it was the writer’s fault that they (perhaps you) misunderstood – because they (you) did not read clearly.

    OK. I’m done.

  • But I said, “I haven’t watched a television news program in at least ten years.”

    Wait: I see a way to make this even MORE clear. All right. Cool. Thank you.

  • Hannah Grace

    Not all suffering is caused by human beings.

  • Hannah Grace

    If God is everything, why call suffering evil and avoid it? If it’s just an expression of God

  • see my new P.S. at end of post

  • Soulmentor

    They read, yes, when it was available but, depending on how far back one goes in history, THEY DIDN’T GET NEWS beyond what was local word of mouth and rumor. Local communities were isolated pockets of people that depended on travelers for news and depending on where one lived, even they were rare. Imagine living with no national news of any kind for weeks or months on end. Even during the Civil War era it could be weeks before news got from east to west.

    Today, our lives are, or can be and mostly are so interconnected that we have no clue what it would feel like to be so blissfully(?) isolated. The most I’ve ever experienced something like that was backpacking with my sons for a week on the northern Minn Superior Trail. (Rained for three of those days and when drying my combat boots, one of them fell in the fire and burned out the lace. Fortunately we had some twine so I could finish the trek! Arrggghh!!!!!!!)

  • Aggie

    Great discussion here. I’m agnostic because saying that metaphysical ideas are convincingly true doesn’t seem honest; to say that I know that any particular divine being exists (and what that being (s) would be like) also would not be honest; to say that the Bible is the best expression of reality does not seem at all accurate.

    It took me a while to get to this point, but not believing such things does not make me lose hope. I subscribe to the ethic of the golden rule (or at least try to) because I think that’s the best way to live for everyone. People do horrible things, but they also do wonderful things (unfortunately, these aren’t as newsworthy…). I would say that I only know some things about life; I find projecting strong beliefs when I don’t know is both not deep-down authentic and also setting myself up for disappointment.

    Thank goodness, people of all faiths and no faith at all can be kind and work for the good of humanity! I find kinship with folks on this site for that reason– if you were from another faith and did the same things to help others, I would still say that we agreed on the essentials and differed on the unknowns. I would say that I lost my “faith” but I haven’t lost the part of it that matters most.

  • All I really can get from this is that people really don’t have to live on the shorelines where hurricanes hit. Wouldn’t that be avoiding hurt through free will? Of course, one would then say that the thought of closing up coastal cities is silly. I still wonder, personally, why people take that risk. I wouldn’t, now that I really think about it.

    But nowhere on earth is safe, right? One could just as easily be hurt and suffer from a landslide on a mountain as a hurricane on the coast, or a twister on the plains. So I don’t get how free will related to natural disasters.

  • Mike H.

    Because we think in terms of good and bad. Look at the rhetoric of the RC (and other) churches. Is suffering not, “good for the soul”?

  • Soulmentor

    Read THE ORIGIN OF SATAN by Elaine Pagels. Profoundly enlightening.

    Breifly…Sa Taan (Hebrew language) was an ancient Jewish method of argument we now know as playing devil’s advocate (Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert could be interpreted that he argues with himself as we all do at times in our lives). Over time, it morphed into evil itself and eventually to evil personified in an actual entity, Satan, in the Roman lexicon, the Evil Daimone(the Devil). Diamone was the Roman word for Demon and they believed in many not necessarily evil demons as “the forces that energize all natural processes”. But Christians believed in only one God so naturally any others (demons) were in evil opposition to God. And since any group needs a leader, they invented a honcho Demon, a being opposed to God.

    So much of what we think of today as settled tradition is actually the result of a millenias long “telephone game” of passing along information that morphs and gets re-interpreted as it moves along. So it has been with the development of Satan.

  • Very nicely said, Aggie. Thanks for this.

  • Soulmentor

    Exactly. My 8 year gay partner finally succumbed to his Catholic guilt and left me for the “glories of suffering and self denial” and crawled back even deeper into the dark “mystery” of orthodox Catholicism where he doesn’t have to think and struggle with his demons because all truth is given to him from on high; demons that were, ironically, the fruits of that very guilt. Seriously, early in our relationship there were nites he awoke me with his cries of fear as demons crawled onto the bed to get him and I held him and loved them away. Gradually, they ceased to appear, but he never could ultimately resolve that deeply inculcated sense of guilt and couldn’t keep his grip on our Love. He was just another of the sad results of that profoundly evil religious tradition.

  • Yup, precisely. I maintain, however that some Christians and most Muslims actually believe in 2 Gods – God and Anti-God (Satan). Others, have a slightly more mature view of what they think Satan represents but nevertheless maintain the existence of 2 unique “entities”. I maintain there’s only ONE.

    I LOVE Elaine Pagels! “The Gnostic Gospels” is a great companion to the Nag Hammadi Library. I definitely add “The Origin of Satan” to my bucket list of books I haven’t read yet.

  • Linnea

    I agree with Nai. I think there are things that are outside of God’s control, like the forces of nature.

    Here’s a very vivid example from my own life: this past Sunday night, during a violent thunderstorm, my church was hit by lightning, and was completely destroyed in one of more spectacular structural fires seen in this area in recent years. Did God cause this to happen? No way! Nature is nature, and it’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. God does not intervene in, say, one person killing another… because God can’t. That’s not the way She works. What God *does* do is surround us with Her unconditional love, and work through us to make the world better, a little at a time.

    Or, put it another way. God is often spoken of as all -knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. The three cannot simultaneously be true. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, God cannot be all-loving. Therefore, I choose to go with the idea that God is all-loving, at the expense of power and possibly knowledge. (This is a very simplified version of what is said in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner.)

  • [Christine: I’ll insert, within brackets, whatever comments I might have directly into your response below.]

    Here’s where your reasoning breaks down for me.

    We’ve discussed on other threads, and you have argued quite convingly for in other posts, the idea that the morality of God is not of a different type than human morality. Greater, but not qualitatively different. [I’m quite sure I’ve never said anything about God’s morality being “greater” than ours.] This has mostly come up in the context of hell – that justice is not eternal punishment for finite crime and that this moral idea applies to God as much as people. That if God’s morality and human morality were different, the idea that God’s is loving or just would be meaningless.

    Now, if a person sees someone being harmed by someone else, not only would we, but we have a moral obligation to help if we can. If I stop a rape in progress, have I been immoral for violating the rapist’s free will? [No, because rape is an immoral act, so stopping a rape is a MORAL act. Saying that every evil boils down to a violation of a weaker person’s free will by a stronger person is not the same thing as saying that all violations of a weaker person’s free will by a stronger person are immoral. All non-fiction books are books, but not all books are non-fiction books.] Similarly, we find it moral to jail people including for the protection of others. We limit their freedom (not their desire for anything or choice to do anything – but their physical ability to do so) to keep them from harming others. Would this be morally repugnant in God’s view? [No: see my last comment.] People are always limited in their physical capabilities, but do not consider these physical limitations to be a violation of free will.

    Your #2 above may still be correct, but God not violating free will doesn’t makes sense as that reason. [Yes, it does.]

  • Linnea

    meant to say, “one of *the* more spectacular structural fires”

  • Amy B

    Great post, Mike. All I wanted to comment on is the first part of your post where you talk about the extrabiblical story of the fallen angels. I credit the popularity of that story, down through the ages, to Paradise Lost. Milton took a vaguely familiar story and wrote an amazing, captivating and exciting poem-story about the war in Heaven, the fall of Satan and the many angels who joined him in battle and fell to Hell with him. If Milton’s epic poem, which many high school and college student read for years, hadn’t been so compelling, I think the story would not have had the “legs” that it had. Also, your position that God is all of it, the good and the bad, makes it harder to want to worship him.

  • Soulmentor

    Now you finally got me to wondering about you, John. *****We have no idea to what extent we can control or mitigate the effects of disease, famine, earthquakes, floods and so on.******

    Well, yeah, we do, some of them, earthquakes for instance. They are the result of the movement of the techtonic plates over which we do not and I can’t imagine ever will have control. Some things like that and weather really are limited to the Gods.

  • I’m with her on the meaning of “free will” being really strange in your post. It’s not an exercise of my free will not to be punched in the nose.

  • mike moore

    wow, I really love the way you approach this. I have often said, ” I lost my faith.” And yet I still feel like I have a kind of faith. Thanks for helping to define what that might mean.

  • Tell you what, Soulmentor: When human beings stop spending all they do on war, and hoarding all they do for their own selfish needs, and instead redirect all that money and energy toward mitigating the effects of, say, earthquakes–and after they have been doing that for a generation or so—then we can talk about what is and isn’t possible, and what ramifications we might then be looking at relative to our conception of God. Until then, though, I’ll stick with my conviction that we have no idea what’s possible for us to do or control.

  • vj

    Lovely, as always, Lymis.

  • Diana A.

    I agree with you. We may not be able to do everything, but there’s a lot we can do–even more if we’d just cooperate with each other.

  • mike moore

    Here is where mainstream Christian theology falls apart for me: what/where is the nexus between the belief in free-will and the belief in prayer?

    I believe and agree: God does not do evil. People do evil.

    Still … ultimately, how can I avoid being offended by the notion of a personal God? “Sorry, My children, My divine intervention into human sex trafficking will mess with the Free Will I’ve given you … but Mr. Tebow, don’t worry about that football game next week … heard your prayers, and I’ve got you covered.”

  • Ack! MILTON. Not Dante – thanks for the correction. Paradise Lost is precisely the story I had in mind. I must be getting old.

    As far as making it “harder” to worship him, again – its perspective and what you’ve grown up with. Jews have no issue with this but we grew up with the concept. But really, which is more difficult? The paradox of God or God and Satan? If one wants to pin blame on a “Satan” – didn’t God create him/her too? Do fallen angels have free will? Oops, shit…sorry – wrong thread. 😉

    It still comes back around to who’s doing the “evil”. If you believe God is inherent to Man and Man creates evil – hoo boy! Who do you “blame” for that? An evil “fallen angel”? How’d he get in there? Seems like we’d all be candidates for exorcism…

  • mike moore

    I may no longer believe in a personal God, but I do agree with John that we have no idea of the possibilities within us.

    Measure the past 100 years against the past 5000 (5-million?) years … and then pull out your smart phone. If my 8 year old niece set it up properly (too confusing for me) then I have almost the entirety of the world’s combined knowledge at my fingertips. Within seconds, I can speak with friends around the globe and conference us all together.

    Tectonic plates? Hell, where did I my atomic super glue for molten lava? And if not … well, I hate when I have to reveal what dork am I, but to quote Donnie Darko:

    “I hope that when the world comes to an end I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.”

  • Yeah, the news is pretty much dirty laundry. It may seem like more bad things are happening to more people, but bear in mind, we live in a world with more people – and it’s the job of journalism to pick this stuff out. Sure, there’s a feel-good story or two every night, but they’re token to the DESTRUCTION! DISASTER! DEATH! DANGER! that permeates simply because that’s what gets our attention.

    I can’t remember where I read it, but some scientist or another propose that we are, in fact, wired to pick out the negative more than the positive because when positives happen in life, it’s no danger, wheras, for all our pomp and circumstances as humans, our monkey-brains are still on the alter for predators/disaster/danger/the untrustworthy. Sometimes, you have to actively stuff that down and avoid constant feeds of it in order to look around and see the loads of good that exists.

  • Allie,

    You say, “I have found in particular that reading the local news site will make me hate my fellow Memphians, while getting out and meeting my fellow Memphians will make me love them.”

    I say, “That is a very beautiful comment and it carrys a ton of truth.”

  • Kathleen

    I would argue that the core of agnosticism is humility, not ambiguity. That human’s are, generally speaking, wildly uncomfortable with “I don’t know” shouldn’t push an idea out of consideration. That something is unsatisfying does not make it untrue.

    I don’t know if there is a God or gods or nothing. I do not know. Nor do I believe anyone on this planet with me knows. And that keeps me humble in the face of the big, important questions that life asks of me.

  • Angels are different from humans. You don’t turn into an angel when you go to heaven. A writer named Peter Kreeft has put together the following info on them. He has a book, “Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know About Them?” I haven’t read the book, and I don’t agree with most of his theology that I have read, but I have found the following list to be interesting, to say the least. By the way, you don’t pray to angels, but it is ok to talk to them and to love them. I know that because Jesus loved them.

    1. Angels really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.

    2. Angels are present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.

    3. Angels are not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or “cool”. They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.

    4. Angels are the real “extra-terrestrials”, the real “Supermen”, the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.

    5. Angels have more brilliant minds than Einstein.

    6. Angels can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.

    7. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms are real.

    8. Angels are aware of you, even though you can’t usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.

    9. You really do have your very own “guardian angel”. Everybody does.

    10. Angels often come disguised. “Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares.” That’s a warning from life’s oldest and best instruction manual.

    11. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.

    12. Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster– for bodies, for souls, and for nations.

    In other words, they are awesome.

  • I’d say that once you start believing that prayer affects the outcome of football games you’ve already departed from “mainstream Christian theology”.

  • mike moore

    maybe I should have referred to prayer as in the way it is used by Christian churches, Christians, their prayer vigils/groups/breakfasts/circles, and the admin/faculty/students/alumni of my old school, Westmont. Sorry ’bout that, silly me.

  • mike moore

    Dan, sorry for snarkiness, I hear where you’re coming from.

  • I really think the answer is somewhere between your points #2 and #4. Free will may be the ultimate reason why evil occurs (at the very least it defeats the idea that God and evil are logically incompatible), but in many ways free will seems unsatisfactory because it fails to offer the type of deeper meaning that we so desperately crave. We want to know that a child died not because God values our freedom of choice above all else, but rather because God wanted to spare that child even greater trauma or because that death will inspire others to an extraordinary amount of good that they might not have done otherwise. When trying to come to terms with the evil in the world, we tend to weigh it out on a mental scale: on one side is an enormous amount of horrible things that continue to pile up at an alarming and disheartening rate and on the other side is…free will? Intuitively this just doesn’t cut it…we want an even larger amount of good on the other side of the scale…we want the balance to be tipped decisively in the favor of GOOD. And when the world around us seems to be going very much in the other direction it’s only natural to begin to have doubts about the goodness (or even existence) of God.

  • No worries, I hear what you’re saying and agree completely. There’s a big difference between “mainstream” meaning “commonly practiced” and “mainstream” meaning “traditional and orthodox”.

  • @Aliyah, I know your not going to read this. I know your not going to even care. You’ve probably already unliked Johns page by now and this comment will go ignored and unread. I guess it says something horrible that i honestly can’t imagine the same universe as you. I can’t imagine a world with free will without cruelty. I just can’t. Belittle me if you want about that, it won’t change my head anymore then it’ll make a giraffe into a unicorn.

  • Aggie

    By chance (? I’ll let you all sort that out…), I came across this today,

    “There is nothing better than to know you don’t know.

    Not knowing, yet thinking you know–

    This is sickness.

    Only when you are sick of being sick

    Can you be cured.”

  • mike moore

    fate (chance?) and God … that feels like a whole other conversation … but, I’m half-way there … I don’t know how much I don’t know.

  • John shore

    Doing this on iPhone ; a first. Nothing I have said precludes the possibility of the meek ultimately inheriting the earth. I have remarked on nothing beyond the specific and very limited context of perpetrator and victim. You are pointing to something way beyond that. You beating me up today–or even driving me to suicide–does not mean that tomorrow I will not be victorious.

  • The answer to the question “Why doesn’t God do something about evil and / or human suffering?” is always going to be “That’s why you’re here.”

    Do what you can where you are with what you’ve got.

  • Ok, I get the comments, but they don’t seem to mesh with the post. Here’s how I see it:

    Q: Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?

    You: Because that would be a violation of our free will.

    Me: Ok… but humans physically stop other humans from doing bad and we see that neither as (a) immoral, nor (b) a violation of others’ free will. So, why would it be either immoral or a violation of free will if God intervened to stop evil?

    You: All violations of free will are not evil, such as when they are preventing evil acts.

    Me: Right… so, if violations of free will are not themselves immoral, then that doesn’t explain why God does not stop evil?

    You: Yes, it does.

    You see what I mean? If stopping evil acts is moral, why doesn’t God do it, unless divine morality is being measured completely differently than human morality.

  • If you’re first statement were true, it would also mean that humans stopping evil is evil.

  • I think John’s answer to this is that God would have to stop everyone from doing any evil they might ever do, and that free will would thus be meaningless. There’s a point at which stopping someone from doing evil becomes evil. If someone commits rape, or attempted rape, they generally aren’t locked up for life, or castrated. It’s possible that the assault on free will that would be necessary to create a world without suffering would require God to operate us all like puppets, or to do things to our free will that would be evil.

  • Allie

    I think it’s clear now, but I’m not sure just saying “the internet” without any qualification is any improvement. After all, Fox has an internet site, and even reading Huffington Post (which I assume you approve of, since you write there sometimes) for any length of time will make you want to jump off a bridge. The main thing is to know when you’ve ceased informing yourself and are just stuffing your emotions with junk news for the cheap sugar rush of someone else’s tragedy.

  • sorry, john. I don’t see anything in this blog post that says to stay informed. and I do see something that says to avoid the news. I respect you a lot. but this is too far.

    There is such a thing as context. Telling someone who’s being dragged down by TV news to quit watching it is not saying, “Stick your head in the sand and ignore the world around you.” No, he didn’t say “Make very very sure that you stay informed by reading X, Y, and Z.” But so what? The post wasn’t about the importance of staying informed, but about how to mentally reconcile the idea of evil and how to acknowledge how much evil there is in the world without despairing. He didn’t tell her to eat her veggies, brush her teeth, or look both ways before crossing the street either.

    If he tells someone they need to get away from an abusive family member, are you going to chastise him for suggesting that they sequester themselves away from all human contact? If he tells someone not to eat something they’re allergic to, are you going to accuse him of urging them to starve?

  • Amy

    I gotta weigh in with Christine here–she nails it. Which means that for me, John’s answer isn’t as convincing as I thought at first. The truth is, bad, horrible things sometimes happen and God’s NOT stopping them is not the same thing as OUR not stopping them–but why? I’m thinking that in fact it has to do with two understandings of “free will.” If God were to intervene and make it impossible for someone to do something evil (say, a rape)–that is wholly different from a human intervening by restraining the person or tasing him or otherwise rescuing the victim. If we stop someone, or even if we incarcerate someone for past behaviors or to prevent future behaviors, we are not wielding power over them that is qualitatively different than his own, whereas if God did, it would be qualitatively different. Not sure why this seems important to this (age old) debate, but I think it helps John’s point somehow, though I still really like Christine’s reasoning here.

  • TV News =/= “reality”

  • Matt

    I always have the feeling that people make God really, really small around these kinds of discussions, trying to fit Them into a tiny black and white box.

    I can only think of the million and one reasons humans are willing but not able, able but not willing, neither, and both. Then I think of God, so many orders of magnitude more complex, and the whole question just gets ridiculous to me.

    But I do know where such questions come from. They come from the loving heart that is given to us, that cries out, “It hurts! I feel for another! How can I stop it?”

    It’s beautiful, agonizing empathy. Thank God we have it. Because the day it stops hurting, is the day you stop living.

  • Scott Presnall

    When someone has avoided “bad for you” foods, has never smoked, maintains good-to-superior physical health, and is then stricken with a form of cancer, your belief crumbles and leaves the room.

  • Why would stopping some evil – let’s say child molestation – require stopping all evil? Maybe some things are atrocious enough that they should off-limits even “within the system” (reference to Lymis’ comment, which I thought was great, btw). There can be consequences and suffering even while some horrific acts are prevented.

    I didn’t really get your point. Whose incarcerating people for life or castrating them? Stopping an evil act and punishing it are completely different.

    And whose talking about puppets? Or instrusions of free will? If I can stop the rape without making the rapist a puppet, why couldn’t God?

  • I’m sure God could work a taser.

  • Christiane: Surely you see the difference between asking one person to stop one act of evil done by one person, and asking God to stop all acts of evil done (which, if you think about it, must also include all THOUGHTS of evil) by all people. They’re not comparable at all. God removing the POSSIBILITY of anyone doing evil is God eliminating free will. You don’t want that. You don’t want Big Daddy in the sky being able to, at random, stop people in mid-action for doing things that HE has judged too mean-spirited or immoral. That’s not even a judgement that’s possible to make: can you not see what an infinite number of shades of grey such a system would have to be predicated upon? Where exactly in the chain of the rapists’ life does God stop the rapist? As he’s APPROACHING his victim? The moment he touches her? As he’s raping her? When? And how exactly would that work? Where does the mind control you want God to exercise begin, and his out-and-out, real-space-and-time interference with the physicality of others end?

    Where does God stop the mother spanking her child? Who decides where acceptable punishment ends, and cruelty begins?

    When have you gone too far in a fight with your husband? If you’ve said to much, been too mean, what would you like to happen? Would you like God to freeze your throat, rob you of speech? For how long? Should he also take your husband’s voice, so he’s not allowed to just SAY stuff to you?

    When a death metal band goes too far, should God just kill all the speakers at the concert? Render everyone in the band suddenly unconscious? Make everyone in the audience go deaf?

    Is pornography immoral? If so, what should God do as people are in the middle of making it? Freeze them? Have all the studio lights suddenly go out? Stop them from thinking the thoughts that lead to them making it?

    Next time you cut in front of someone in traffic, what would you like to happen? All traffic just FREEZE? God suddenly flatten your tires? Time rewind?

    You’re insisting something be true which literally cannot be.

    We don’t get a Big Moral Judge in the sky moving us around like puppets. It’s up to us, moment by moment, to do the right thing.

  • um. forget it. i give up. (you, allie, are now officially my Most Quibbliest Reader. Watch your mailbox for the trophy!)

  • Or we could pour infinitely more resources than we do into curing and preventing all cancers.

    Back together again; back in the room.

  • She meant it’s not a violation of the victim’s free will, even if it is an exercise of the perpetrator’s free will.

  • Don’t get me wrong…I think recognizing the gift of free will is extraordinarily important and a crucial step in beginning to understand how God relates to humanity. But in thinking through these issues myself, I find that “free will” falls short as an answer to “why is there evil?” To put it in more theological terms, I think free will solves the logical problem of evil, but a full-fledged theodicy is necessary to address the evidential problem of evil.

  • Speaking practically, that is a full-fledged theodicy. It takes everything appreciable into account. God allows people to do evil because … well (again) see this comment. It leaves nothing on the table relative to the question of why God doesn’t stop people from doing evil—which is what 99.9% of people want to know relative to the relationship between God and evil.

    What it does leave on the table—and what I think you’re referring to—is the question of why a person would want in the first place to hurt another person: why would anyone be driven to override the free will of a weaker person, and to in so doing hurt or kill them? Now that’s an interesting question. And I have an answer for it. But that’s hardly a conversation to get into here.

  • “And I have an answer for it. But that’s hardly a conversation to get into here.”


  • No, I mean, it’s a clear, clean, comprehensive answer. But the foundation for it has to be laid out. That’s the book I’ll start writing the moment I’m done with this book I’m currently ghosting. I’d say it right now if it was at all possible. But there’s just no way to express it outside of the context of … what it is.

  • Aliyah Aldridge via Facebook

    @Natalie, I read it. I haven’t unliked John’s page. I’m a huge fan of John and his fans. I go to John’s page because the existence of people like John and his fans gives me some hope for humanity. He and I don’t agree on much, but I need to know that people like this exist in the world, because my view of humanity overall is rather dim.

    You may be able to see by my photo that my complexion is very light. I’m an albino. I’m legally blind from birth. I am physically incapable of driving a car, performing brain surgery, viewing constellations, and other things involving sight. No amount of volition can change that. Those options are not available to me. Do I lack free will?

    We do not have unlimited options. There are things that are impossible. You can’t will yourself to time travel or teleport no matter how hard you try. But you still have free will. You have independent volition, even though you don’t have unlimited options. Take away the option of cruelty, and you still have other ways of exercising choice.

  • DR

    Where does it start and stop? Where does God “intervene” and where does he not? How do we not know, in fact, that he intervenes whenever possible in ways that protect us from ourselves? You’re assuming that we can manage the standard that controls God.

  • DR

    Exactly, which is my point. Free will is not what is done *to* us. It is what we *choose to do*. Free will does not play any part in what someone chooses to do to us in a moment, against our will. To bring it into the discussion in this context doesn’t make sense (at least to me).

  • DR

    then causing someone to suffer is violating their free will to live without suffering.>>>

    We do not have free will to live without suffering. Free will is about who we choose to become as a result of what we do, think, say, speak and write.

  • DR

    No it doesn’t. Free will – what we choose to spend money on as a country – could cure cancer. We choose to allow this disease to be deprioritized.

  • Scott Presnall

    Nice thought, but it won’t bring her back.

  • Jonathan

    What about Bart Ehrman’s argument that the evil that other people do does not explain the tragedies of natural disasters? Note that I am playing devil’s advocate.

  • DR

    Scott, use this same logic on the people of color today who are no longer terrorized by the probability – not possibility – of getting lynched for looking at a white woman the wrong way. A few decades ago when we started making different choices, we created the reality we have today. That’s free will.

  • DR

    In a world with free will, accidents happen. The only way accidents don’t happen is if our behavior is controlled 100% of the time which only underscores the point being made.

  • DR

    It’s someone choosing – out of free will – to punch you. We are victimized by free will as much as we are empowered by it.

  • DR

    Natural disasters are a term we’ve coined to describe changes to the earth. Are people dying always a result of evil? If so, why? Death is part of the circle of life that comes from being in a broken world. It’s possible that in a world without sin, no one would die but do we even know that to be true?

  • DR

    An example would be the volcanic eruptions that created Hawaii. The earthquakes that shook our continents apart. There are so many examples of the earth shifting and changing that we’ve coined “disasters” due to the damage we’ve done – but does a loving God need to keep the earth moving, spinning, and shaped via these phenomenon? I really don’t know but I’m fascinated by how we’re so self-absorbed that we define an earthquake exclusively by its ability to kill us (I do it too).

  • DR

    Sorry, damage “they’ve” done. Not we’ve done.

  • Scott: I didn’t suggest that it might, or should. (I’m terribly sorry for what sounds like your very tragic loss.)

  • No, it absolutely does NOT need to involve stopping acts of violence. My point is exactly that God could physically prevent much suffering WITHOUT having to alter people’s volition, their desire to do evil. God could intervene on exactly the same scale humans can, but doesn’t.

    Again, the point was made earlier – limiting physical options is NOT limiting free will. God eliminating the possibility of time

    travel or the ability to breath under water does not in any way

    negate free will. And neither would It if their were instances of God putting a physical barrier on harm.

    You see, we DO try to put just those limits on human action – it’s called the law. And indeed, we don’t want police physically intervening in every instance of a moral question. But we DO want them intervening in some instances – and we would love a system in which every rapist knew that they had zero chance of rping anyone before the cops showed up and stopped them. We all think that would be a great system.

    You ask question of how God would intervene and when as if they were impossible. We make these determinations for law enforcement officers all the time! These are questions we seek to answer, that we believe have real answers. The fact tht it is complicated in no way removes our desire for such a system or our sense of its moral necessity.

    Again, no mind control! My quip about God being able to use a taser was meant to illustrate exactly this. Physical restraint is an option for God as much as people, surely. Again, I did not say to prevent all sin. Actually read what I’m writing.

    Nor did I even disagree with your option 2. My point is that God intevening would not necessarily even require an intrusion on free will and, even if it did, there are times when that would seem good a warranted – not a reason to not intervene – and this can be illustrated clearly in what we view to be human moral obligations in the exact same circumstances.

  • First line should have been “all thoughts of violence”. No interference in thought at all.

  • annnnnnnd scene.

  • Allie

    I don’t agree with Christine either but I think some of your argument is weak. God describes himself repeatedly as judge of all the earth. Judging is not a problem for God. I also feel certain that God knows exactly when proper punishment ends and cruelty begins. Suggesting that God has the same difficult figuring that out as human beings do is bizarre to me.

  • DR

    My point is exactly that God could physically prevent much suffering WITHOUT having to alter people’s volition, their desire to do evil.>>>

    How do you know He doesn’t, Christine?? Who are you to say He isn’t preventing even MORE suffering every second of every hour of everyday??

    God could intervene on exactly the same scale humans can, but doesn’t.>>>

    You have no idea what God prevents that we don’t even see or comprehend. With all due respect, how dare you suggest that you do. Every second on this miserable earth, we’re given an opportunity to turn suffering into joy, into opportunities to stop thinking about ourselves and focus on other people. God should have and could have wiped us off the face of the earth the second a child was raped or the second we allowed a gay man or woman to be vilified in the name of Jesus. But in His Grace, we’re allowed to exist. You don’t have a clue of what God does to protect us from ourselves.

  • DR

    Am I crazy? I have read and re-read everything you’ve written and I don’t see where you’ve suggested that God somehow doesn’t know the difference between judgment and cruelty.

    (These are the moments when I realize I could never run a blog like this, I have zero patience for this kind of thing).

  • With all due respect – this blog post and its resulting threads seem to have jumped the shark. This woman, in simple but eloquent language, articulated the very same question that we’d been asking since the end of WWII: Where is God? Doesn’t He care?

    What do you suppose she would make of most of the resulting comments, particularly some of the painfully sophomoric comments regarding “free will”?

    One needn’t apply cosmic ramifications to the exercise of free will. Free will can be described very adequately and succinctly in human terms – you don’t have to infuse mystical purpose to it.

    “DR” nailed it completely: “Exactly, which is my point. Free will is not what is done *to* us. It is what we *choose to do*. Free will does not play any part in what someone chooses to do to us in a moment, against our will. To bring it into the discussion in this context doesn’t make sense (at least to me).”

    That’s pretty much all there is to it. Free will is the exercise of choice. I can choose any road I wish to travel. I cannot stop or alter the route of a bus sliding out of control on an ice patch and killing or injuring me. I can’t stop a Ted Bundy from killing except through the application of scientific methods of deduction to capture him and the discovery of science by which the minds of similar persons might be surgically or otherwise altered to prevent them from killing in the first place. Or the creation of heated roads or whatever other science and invention that might preclude the formation of ice on driving surfaces. Choices – choices, choices.

    But what the hell does all of this talk about “free will” do to address her feelings or assuage her pain – how does it answer her question, “Where is/was God when X happened”?

    In a Universe that may be infinite, with millions of millions (literally) of galaxies that are incomprehensibly large in human terms, with “billions and billions” of stars and to the best of our knowledge, a very large percentage of them with planetary systems and the likelihood of a large percentage of planets in, from our perspective of what is needed to harbor and sustain life, the “sweet spot” in terms of distance from their sun and the very good possibility of other life forms – some of which may be intelligent –

    WHY must we assume that God’s relationship to each and every single event that occurs in the lives of 9 Billion people, be His problem or His concern?

    The problem is not faith. The problem is not whether He/She exists. The problem is trying to pull all of our respective faith stories (scripture) and force-fit them into a picture God that matches belief. Beliefs vs Faith. I can talk about my Jewish faith or my Jewish religion or my Jewish belief and perspective all day long and it doesn’t mean shit. Its just a belief system. A “channel” by which we try in some fashion to “know” God or get “closer” to Him/Her.

    I said before, YHWH – “I am who is”, or “I am what IS”. Its a verb. Whoever the writer was in ancient Israel or thereabouts who came up with that verb was BRILLIANT. God inspired? I don’t know, but brilliant. The watchmaker analogy is still the best answer to give her. For many Jews struggling with “why did God allow the Holocaust…”, its the only answer that ultimately makes sense and allows us to get on with our lives and still acknowledge God’s existence and presence. We have the comfort of our faith story and our traditions and culture, but with a more mature faith and view of that faith, without inventing or ascribing to, celestial warfare wherein God is at war with Satan and we are his little soldiers.

    You may as well continue to believe in “evil humors”.

  • BEST answer. Thank you, DR!

  • It really is that simple, isn’t it? Thanks, Buzz.

  • Aliyah Aldridge

    I’m with you on free will, but how is the watchmaker analogy any better? Isn’t that just answer #1? If God’s not really involved in our lives, then God’s not relevant while we’re alive, so why have faith at all? Sure tradition, ritual, and community are nice – but that doesn’t explain why a distant watchmaker God would be of any comfort.

  • Aliyah Aldridge via Facebook

    I’ll give it a shot.

    Dear Letter Writer,

    I’m writing to you from the other side of the gulf. You are traumatized by images of abused children. I was traumatized by being an abused child. You have been a Christian for most of your life. I have refused to convert to Christianity at gunpoint.

    I am sorry that you have experienced pain from these images. But there is beauty in your empathy. It’s good that you are troubled by the suffering of others. It hurts like hell, but it means you’re not a sociopath.

    The question of whether God allowed evil or created evil or the humans created evil or free will created evil or all that doesn’t actually matter that much to that poor kid’s skull. I know it matters a lot to you, but it doesn’t change events in the world. Only one thing is certain. The person(s) who did that to that kid are fucking monsters.

    Another thing is pretty certain. You’re not a fucking monster. You sound like a pretty nice lady from your letter. So what are you? You have the same creative power and free will that those monsters have, don’t you? What are you going to do about it?

    I spent a few years trying to convert to Judaism, and I remember hearing one story that stuck with me. I thought it was beautiful – maybe you’ll like it.

    It’s that we are all partners in creation with God, responsible for perfecting the world. We have creative power and free will, and we can destroy the world as well perfect it. What if God is not the only creator? What if you are also a tiny little creator? You can’t control what some other asshole does, but you can form your little piece of creation for good. And that’s the best you can do. In response to evil, create more good.

    If that doesn’t work for you, then here’s the bottom line.

    Is Christianity a good thing in your life? Do you like being a Christian?

    Then keep being a Christian. Argue with Jesus. Get mad at Jesus. Ask Jesus all the questions you want. Yell at Jesus when you watch the news and praise him when you see a beautiful sunrise if you have to. But it’s your life and you have to live it. As long as Christianity works for you, keep being a Christian. If you are able to muster any faith, even if it’s a strained and struggling faith, keep it. But just as much as you are troubled with the problem of evil, try to celebrate the good in the world and take that into your faith too.

  • Because God “IS” – He is alive within you. I think Jesus’ words, “Be perfect, like your Father in Heaven is perfect” apply here. Unless there is a mental aberration involved (socio or psychopathic), we all have an inherent sense of right and wrong. We always seem to have had this. I call it “God”. You can choose, like Charles Worley, to filter that sense of right and wrong through scriptural interpretation or through taught bigotries and prejudices or you can filter it through faith, and seek truth and light from scripture as you find it and recognize it.

    Armed with that sense of right and wrong which I maintain is God given because God IS – we are His/Her creations, you can choose paths that may enable you to, “be perfect”. Charles Worley, and now this Curtis Knapp idiot, were shaped to be inclined toward bigotry, toward prejudice and hatred for homosexuals, altering their internal sense of right and wrong. And instead of questioning those prejudices (which I can guarantee are deep-seated and heartfelt) by the acquisition of knowledge, i.e., reading, getting to know homosexuals as people and God’s own creations and changing their hearts and minds back to the state God created them (or gave them), they choose NOT to be perfect, and hide behind the Bible to justify their failure. And in public, which is all the more dangerous and obnoxious.

    Is being true to God the same as being true to yourself? Depends on what “yourself” has become.

    Seeking social justice, “right wrongs”, tilting at windmills. Isn’t this a reflection of your love of God, and of the love HE created?

    I see no need to dispair in seeing God as much bigger, more vast than we can readily comprehend. The watchmaker made the watch, designed its movement. With “loving care”.

    So God still “loves” us and empowered us with the tools he gave us to maintain the part of the mechanism we’re responsible for. I’m responsible for my domain, a very teeny-tiny part of the watch. However, if I choose to be a research scientist and do my damnedest to find a cure for say, pancreatic cancer – I’ve expanded my domain a bit.

    Putting your arms around someone and telling them you love them – what a glorious expression of your faith and your hope! I adore the lyric from Les Miserables:

    “To love another person is to see the face of God”.

    I couldn’t express it any better if I tried. Reaching out to the oppressed. Being a physical representation of the Beatitudes. Does this describe you, or does it describe the likes of the Charles Worleys and the Curtis Knapps?

  • Aliyah Aldridge

    I’ll give you a serious response a bit later this evening, I promise. It’s 5a.m. here, which is getting close to what my circadian rhythm says is bedtime and my alarm clock says is time to get up, so I would be giving you a far less than coherent reply at this point. Thanks for the conversation.

  • No problem. I live in Germany, so its 11:30AM here.

  • vj

    This was really beautiful, Aliyah.

  • vj


  • DR

    You continue to move the conversation to something you can control so God will somehow be excused from you being abused. It’s a natural response that abuse victims have (including me). Abuse victims often try to use our intellect to not feel the feelings of being abused and address the seeming illogic of a loving God not stopping it. I have no idea of your life or if any of this is true. To me, it seems like you are moving God to your own terms to dismiss Him because He didn’t help you. Which is normal. It’s also about control and trying to maintain that is problematic when we are trying to have an experience of God as The Other.

  • DR

    You continue to assert that *your* free will has something to do with how you’ve been limited or victimized. It’s hard to understand why you keep maintaining that position when the actual discussion here is rooted in the free will that creates either personal victimization or unconscious victimization over years of repetitive bad choices that become institutionalized (like racism).

    Free will does not mean we have an option to live a painless life without suffering not in a broken world. It’s possible that free will is the key that could eliminate suffering if we chose perfectly 100% of the time, perhaps. That’s the nature of the argument and we really don’t know. But certainly as John has suggested, it would eliminate the majority of it.

  • mike moore

    “Is Christianity a good thing in your life? Do you like being a Christian?’

    Aliyah, your “bottom line” is an odd way of measuring whether one should or should not “keep being a Christian.” When I read this letter, I remember my own struggle with giving up on being a Christian.

    Being a Christian was, on the whole, a good thing in my life. And I liked being a Christian. But many could say the same thing about their fraternity or sorority.

    In matters of faith, hanging on to “being a Christian” can be the most dangerous a Christian can do.

    My questions were much like the letter writer’s. I couldn’t reconcile the notion of a personal God with the reality of the world and the actions of self-identified Christians.

    I recall feeling like I was dangling my fingertips, as if from a ledge hanging over an abyss. One by one my fingers slipped away. I was terrified. And I fell.

    There was no abyss. I landed on grass, which turned out to be growing right under my feet. The freedom from dogma and judgement and wondering why this so-called “personal God” was so impersonal and capricious was exhilarating and reinvigorating. I strolled through grass and discovered worlds of which I never dreamt. I became open to the world’s other wise men and truths of other faiths.

    I also made some wrong turns. Dark places where God couldn’t be found.

    Ultimately, I found that while the bible may be a strange book with more of a political agenda than a godly one, this Jesus fellow — as with other transcendental people — is still worth knowing.

  • But I do know that things still happen which we would feel, if we were able, a moral responsibility to prevent. If a person sees a child being molested and does nothing, we find that morally repugnant. That person is like scum to us. But God does the same and that’s ok because it could be worse? And if that person who let it happen said: I didn’t want to interfere with the molesters free will? Well, you’d want to put that person through a wall you’d be so angry. This free will argument is far from sufficient.

  • Hmmm… Good argument, John.

    You take my point to the extreme (in terms of ends and means) and argue the strawman outcome. I show you where even humans manage to do what you claim God couldn’t and I get that reply?

    I don’t know if you mean to say that you think I’m being overly dramatic or it’s just your way of ending the conversation, but the fact that you don’t really want to dicuss it seems clear.

    Fair enough, then.

  • Wait… did you just say God should have exterminated all humanity as soon as one person did something so horrifying?

    “God should have… wiped us off the face of the earth the second a child was raped…”

    I guess so. I’ll take that to mean that you think God has the right to end His “humanity experient” whenever He chooses… and not that we all deserve death if even one human is an asshole.

  • Aggie

    Great post Mike. Be as deeply honest and courageous as you can– and then call it whatever name you like…

  • Excellent post!

  • I think the watchmaker as you’re employing it here raises a question about the object of God’s love: all of creation together, humanity as a collective/species, or each person individually. Allowing humanity to “work itself out” through learning first hand the evil and suffering we can do to each other might be best for the species. Letting us all kill each other off if we can’t get our act together might be best for creation as a whole for that matter. But the non-intervening/watchmaker God does not seem as loving to individual humans? Interested in hearing your thoughts.

  • No, she’s saying the exact opposite of what you think she is. She is saying exactly the same thing you are. You agree with each other.

    It’s * John * who was saying that being a victim or having any physical limitations is limiting to free will, in the original post. She’s just responding.

  • Luke

    Very well put!

  • Again, someone else’s free will being exercised but not a violation of MINE.

  • In considering my response, I have to admit that I’m addressing the needs and concerns of the letter writer, and not your own, Aliyah. And you’re asking a much different question: Why did God do this to ME/Why did God allow this to happen to ME. Its much more personal than the letter writer’s question.

    If I were a real jerk, I could approach this by comparing your situation to someone who suffers a worse affliction (off the top of my head, I came up with Stephen Hawking) and then pointing to the good they’ve done in the World, what they’ve produced and who its affected. Bad, bad approach.

    The other problem when dealing with such a personal issue is that I’ll sound “preachy” and you would be perfectly justified in telling me I have no idea what your life is like.

    First, I agree with DR. I don’t think you should consider this a question of Free Will. God implemented a process of life. Is that process flawed? I don’t think so. I think rather that the interaction and sometimes negative affect of other creation upon it is random. The results of human creation are sometimes…different than the expected outcome. Men once labeled the results, “aberrations…monsters…freaks”. Mankind has been singularly unkind to all that is unexpected.

    A quick parenthesis: I’ve never investigated or read how their respective albinism affected the lives of Edgar and Johnny Winter beyond what is physically evident. I’m not a follower of their work or music. But boy are they talented, from what I’ve seen on TV. So I decided to see what was out there. I found this: And interview with their Dad.

    Read this if you will then let me know how it touches you. I’m asking because I need to know a little bit more of how you feel life has affected you vs how life has affected two other people “afflicted” with albinism who also happen to be reasonably well known. And yes, we’re back to me comparing you to someone else. But in this case, I assure you no judgement on my part, just looking for some contrast.

  • I tend to look for evidence of God’s love. If I feel “loved” by someone else. I guess I try to avoid trite “puppies…kitties…babies” type crap.

    Since God IS (remember the verb, YHWH) love, then all love is His. He touches us an individuals – but all at the same time. I look at that perhaps just a little differently than “collectively” although I used that word in an earlier post.

    Is God “impersonal”? I don’t think so. I just don’t think we should try to make him behave the way we want Him to. I reposted on Facebook, one of those nifty “message” photos. The text went like this:

    “You know when you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the same people as you do.”

    I used to blame Him for a lot of my own pain and suffering. I may be at this stage in my life, reasonably happy and contented. I feel extremely loved by my wife – in fact, in a why that no other person has ever loved me, and I’m not talking about the physical aspect.

    I decided to quit blaming God when I ditched that person that I was when I was a ridiculously conservative Republican. I thank George W. Bush for my “conversion”. I saw him, and people like him, as representative of notions of God that are inclusive of blaming Him for disaster, OR, praying to Him to “destroy our enemies”. Who is my enemy? My list of personal and public enemies is a short one these days. I probably could have, at one time in my life, been considered a homophobe insofar as I was affected by the influence of friends, family and peers growing up. My reaction to the Bush years was literally soul changing as well as mind changing.

    I was raised a Roman Catholic. I tried so hard for so many years to find Jesus the GOD in the NT. I studied the Bible, I studied textual criticism. I poured through every copy of the Christian Apocrypha I could get my hands on, including the Gnostic/Christian Gnostic Apocrypha represented by the Nag Hammadi Library. I studied the history of the early Christian Movement.

    And I discovered something. I discovered that the awful feeling I always had, that I just couldn’t bring myself to believe in the Christian Faith story, was perfectly justified and it was “OK” for me to feel that way. And yet, and especially half-way through the Bush debacle, I even grew fonder of the wonderful Jewish wisdom of Jesus the Sage.

    Because I had an interest in Judaism as well, I discovered its vast literature beyond Torah and Talmud. I discovered Maimonides. And then I discovered Martin Buber.

    I converted to Judaism. Full, Halachic conversion. And only because it felt good and the right thing for “me”. I can express myself better through the perspective lens of Judaism far better than anything else I ever read about. It suits me perfectly. And I can still, as Buzz said earlier, rejoice in the teaching of Jesus without being a “Christian/Messianic Jew”.

    I am at peace with that which I call, “God” and am satisfied that on HIS terms, not mine, that he loves me.

  • I forgot to include, thanks for a great reply and question, Christine!

  • And I forgot to include, that via my first wife, I was introduced to the philosophies of the “Independent” Baptist Faith. I asked the preacher one time (and mind you, I as still a “conservative” at this stage), about what was always my favorite piece of Jesus’ teaching – the Beatitudes. I asked him why he didn’t preach more about it from the pulpit.

    His answer? “That’s kid’s stuff”. Really. His “mission”, his ministry, was all about important stuff like…soul winning.

    He also proved to me that all this whining and gnashing of teeth that the other Christian denominations feel toward Roman Catholicism was living, breathing, walking hypocrisy. Buh..buh…buh…but the Pope says he’s infallible!!! Buh…buh…buh…

    That same preacher said from his pulpit during one service, “I may be wrong about a lot of things but I am NOT wrong about what this book says!” I’ve met all kinds of Christians, preachers, priests, whatever, who considered themselves infallible when telling other people what the Bible says, what it means, who God is and how they should live their lives. I related a story earlier in some other thread about the obnoxious bastard who worked in our area and who was part of the “reconstructed” (or whatever the hell its called) church and who was so heavy-handed with his own kids and otherwise was a complete pain the ass to deal with. When it came to his church, what it taught and how he raised his kids – believe me, he was INFALLIBLE. He certainly bullied his children into believing it.

  • Thanks. I think you’re right about the love touching individuals regardless. On the original question of why evil is permitted, the sometimes clash between what’s best for the species’ development versus what’s best for an inidividual seems at the crux of my own thinking on the issue. Not sure what I think about it yet, just that it seems significant to the question.

    I think, too, it’s hard to draw a line between wanting God to behave the way we want Him to and wanting God to be good, loving and just in a way that’s relatable. We know we aren’t perfect, but we hope we have a basic understanding of right and wrong most of the time.

    I appreciate the other stories, too. Some of those run-ins with Christianity sound pretty familiar.

  • We want God to be good and just. But that’s where the free will thing kicks in. People create evil. God can be evil, by our definition of it (God-Paradox, Job) again, because God IS. If creating a proxy for God called “Satan” makes one feel better about it – I don’t judge.

    Y’know – this made me think of something. “Man’s inhumanity towards Man”. I sometimes wish the modern conservative Christian could board a time machine and to spend some time with an early Christian group from say, around 150 CE. I think it would be a real eye-opener because I think the individual would be truly…appalled – at their behavior! I think he would find them in reality to be truly brutal people in their general outlook, regardless of their “faith”. For the most part, they probably only condemned say, the Roman Games due to their martyred brothers, not necessarily due to the realization of how brutal and horrifying the Games really were. Death and brutality were part of life.

    At the same time, a tiny bit of enlightenment that predated the Christian era a bit on the part of the Jews. Talmud is clear: A Sanhedrin that condemns a single person to death once in 70 years, is a blood-thirsty Sanhedrin! I often wonder how the Jews came to that conclusion and the likely answer is that when you’re subjected to the brutality of Romans for a about a hundred years, you probably rethink your own level of brutality.

    Fast-forward to the 15th century. Luther, who himself spent a great deal of his adult life under the threat of being burned as a heretic himself is recorded as saying that HE would gladly burn anyone HE considered a “heretic”.

    Then something interesting happens about 2oo years later. In England. In the mid 16th century, Queen Elizabeth is particularly brutal in addressing an early conspiracy and the perpetrators are subjected to hanging, being cut down alive, and then disembowled while alive, their intestines burned in front of the crowd. Suddenly – a public outcry! And it was an outcry loud enough to be heard and reported back to the Queen’s court. It wasn’t just a few citizens – it was a whole bunch of ’em and was so loud that people were wanting the Queen held accountable! So much for that sort of brutality during the Queen’s reign again. She never repeated it, other than beheading or hanging as capital punishment.

    We’ve grown so much since then, collectively. But it always seems to be 1 step forward, 2 steps back. I still see God’s hand, working slowly but steadily…

  • Yeah, the whole God being evil part just puts it in a whole different conversation than is happening elsewhere in the comments.

    I agree with you that, on the whole, things are gradually, slowly looking up – though I’m aware that’s not a consensus view. I’ve spoken with some who whole-heartedly believe the opposite. But the collective betterment does not negate the fact that certain individual acts are as horrifying as anything that ever preceeded. we’re back to indivdual versus collective, means versus ends.

  • Lyn

    There’s a difference between subjecting yourself to randomly flung horror and, say, reading the headlines on a news site and choosing which videos to watch and articles go read further. I’m friends with a former news writer. She said the rule was the lead story was pretty much always some horrific event– a multiple murder, a school shooting, a plane crash, a train derailment, a tornado, a factory fire, and so on. You could tell how good life was in your locale by how far away your news program had to go to find their lead story. It’s ghoulish. A person can be very much aware of events without subjecting themselves to video of a kid being beaten or a pregnant woman leaping from a burning building of a crowd being swept up in a tsunami.

  • I don’t know…I seem to be seeing a reflection of Lewis Black’s line, “We have the God of Israel…and he’s a prick!” going on in some of the other comments.

    God IS. Bad things included. Its really hard to get across to those unaccustomed to the idea or who grew up believing in “The Devil”.

  • Lyn

    Somewhere in the multiverse is a universe where God more closely intervenes in human affairs, where no one ever dies in tornados or hurricanes, where God stops gang shootings and heals bullet wounds, where no one has heard of cancer or AIDS or heart attacks. And somewhere in that parallel world, someone is questioning the existence of God because of the existence of evil people who give black eyes or trip people and give them skinned knees, because of the horrors of warts and colds, and where they suffered a great tragedy when their beloved apple tree came down in the storm and all their ice cream melted during a power outage.

    I have to wonder if God does interfere in our world. If these horrors and evil we suffer are nothing compared to what they could be if God’s hand weren’t in the events of our lives.

  • Lyn

    But where does it stop? Who’s to say that God *doesn’t* stop really atrocious evil things from happening? But even if he does stop some, there’s still evil, and some of it is worse than others. From our limited perspective then, God should stop that. And then, if we lived in a world where God stopped those evils, there would be something else that would *still* “prove” that God is evil, and so on all the way down to us being puppets.

  • That’s a scary thought, Lyn. Both that there could be acts of violence and cruelty beyond what does sometimes happen in our world, and that if those didn’t happen that we would end up so petty that we thought a loving god couldn’t exist because our ice cream melted. Personally, I think neither is very likely.

  • I think it’s because people learn that God deserves our worship because He has infinite love and that He’s infinitely better, as in good-er, than us. God having an evil side totally negates that, doesn’t it? Then, aren’t you worshipping God because He is powerful?

  • I don’t think so. Sometimes a few scrapes and bruises, physical and emotional, that are good for us – character building, learning to get along. I see a point to some suffering, some disappointment. And then are things are just plain brutal. I think there’s a qualitative, not just quantitative difference.

  • That’s the thing. There’s no “evil” side. God IS everything. On the other thing, who the hell is Satan? What is he? Where does he live? What kind of power does he have? Is he nearly equal to God? And have the person you’re asking stick to the Bible and not Milton. Did he suddenly spring to life during the Christian era?

    I guess its harder for me to “believe” in a Satan, than it is to believe God IS.

  • Soulmentor

    Well, I will agree in light of what Jesus suggested was possible with enuf faith, which I interpret as mind control over matter. Perhaps we can indeed move mountains……someday. Would that make us gods?

  • Determining if God can be evil doesn’t need to have anything to do with satan.

    So, would you disagree with that rationale for worshipping God?

  • Aliyah Aldridge

    You seem to be responding to multiple responses, but the contexts of those responses are very different.

    In response to you, I’m asking in a general sense why a distant watchmaker God is relevant at all, and why a faith centered around such an uninvolved deity would be – well – not completely pointless. If God isn’t involved in life, why care whether or not God exists? You’re never going to interact with It in any way. Even atoms and abstract mathematical laws can be tested – but if God’s just an uninvolved watchmaker, the question of God’s existence is completely moot. The secular and the religious can make peace because there’s nothing of substance to argue about.

    You mention my albinism, so you’re responding to my response to Natalie. (Also, the Winters Brothers kind of creep me out. Brother Ali is pretty badass though, and Connie Chiu is teh hawtsawce)

    I’m not angry with God about my albinism. Being legally blind from birth is more of a nuisance than a true disability. I disclose it specifically in response to Natalie (who argues that without the option of cruelty we can’t have free will) to point out that although certain things are impossible for me, I nonetheless have free will. I then point out that she can’t teleport, but she still has free will.

    That being said, the question of suffering is no less valid if asked in the first person than the third, and the tragedy contest is a red herring. The issue of why an omnibenevolent omnipotent God would allow me to be born with a disability (a minor inconvenience) is the same logical problem at its core as why that same deity would allow a child to be born into poverty, starvation, and AIDS in Africa (unspeakable horror). It’s the problem of suffering. The degree of suffering is irrelevant. The person who is suffering is irrelevant. The question is the same, and it’s the one people have been asking for as long as people have been positing the idea of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god.

    My position remains the same. We have been asking this question for ages. We’ll continue to ask it. We haven’t come up with any good answers, and we probably never will. But if there is any hope it’s that in the asking of this eternal question, we’ll contemplate the state of the world, and in doing so make a better world.

  • I was also responding to DR’s post below, although now I can’t make out if she was responding to me or to you.

    And I agree – as long as there are believers (or people contemplating a belief) in God, there will always be that question: Why, God?

  • Oh – I left out part of an answer to your other question, “If God isn’t involved in life, why care whether or not God exists? You’re never going to interact with It in any way.”

    I disagree here with the conclusion. Believing in a “watchmaker” doesn’t preclude interacting with Him or communing or communicating with him. I think this also brings to question, whether God answers prayer.

    Our “Gates of Prayer” Siddur (Prayer book), reads:

    “Prayer invites God to let the Divine presence suffuse our spirits, to let the Divine will prevail in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”

    I agree with this whole-heartedly. But there again, it depends a lot on the belief system you’re used to or ascribe to. People choose a belief system they feel brings them closer to God.

    In a similar manner I’ve been asked, “What’s the point in worshiping God if you can’t believe His son died for our sins? Without Jesus as the intermediary, you depersonalize God.”

    So loving God with all your heart and all your soul means for me, loving the Earth and its People and wanting and hoping for everyone’s happiness and contentment. I simply see God as represented by his Creation. Faith and Hope in God is Faith and Hope in his Creation. Some of the people He created are “Good” – some of ’em aren’t. That’s part of the paradox.

    And again, my apologies for delving into your albinism and making assumption. I was under the impression that DRs response below was addressing you and working it with your discussion with Natalie. Its hard to tell. Guess I’ll ask her!

  • See my answer to Aliyah above, I think it probably answers this question decently.

    I need to be mindful that if you haven’t grown up around or studied Judaism, a lot of it is alien to Protestant Christians.

    This Rabbi teaches at a Tennessee College. In this series of articles he talks about the trials and tribulations of teaching the God-Paradox in Job to students who are Evangelicals.

  • DR,

    I’m unable to tell whether you were addressing me or Aliyah here? I’m happy to respond if you’d let me know.

  • Can’t believe I put a question mark after “here”. I type too fast!

  • Translator

    As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. (Proverbs 27:17).

    As you know, I am one of those weird sort of agnostics. I think that the fact that we are all so outraged at the amount of evil that can take place in the world is, while cruel, a good thing.

    God or no God, these things are bound to outrage. We are here. We have some degree of power (however small it may be). So the real question is: if there was no God to help or care… would you follow the same code?

    I know I would.

    In my own experience, I do my best work when I am absolutely fucking outraged. It is all about learning to channel that anger.

    So what’s your angry talent?

    P.S.: Sorry if there are any mistakes. Too tired.

  • Translator

    Just read my comment again, and in case someone is wondering: I am NOT arguing in favor of violence. Just saying that when you get to that furious point, you need to channel it into something positive, but depending on your particular talents/knowledge, what you will choose.


  • Donald Rappe

    I read the commentary of Aliyah and Mike M. with great interest. Thanks. This subject seems to force us to combine our best thoughts about God (the Divine) with our best thoughts about the nature of our humanity. It is my personal opinion that the course of the physical universe is completely determinate, yet I do not feel like a robot or puppet. I reconcile these notions by realizing that, if for no other reason than the laws of large numbers, the events future to our time of consciousness are unknowable. I feel comforted when I pray: “I trust your hands with my body and soul and everything that I have. Let your holy angel take care of me, so the wicked one will stay away from me.” As a little child, I try to approach God’s realm.