Why Would a Perfect God Create an Imperfect Universe? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Our Question That Haunts Christianity comes this week from Lausten North. Lausten has racked up 300 comments on this blog. He’s a thoughtful skeptic who has been “extremely disappointed” with my answers in the series thus far. So I thought I’d reward his faithfulness to reading and commenting with a question all his own:

If God just was, before time, before the universe, and he was perfect, why did he create the imperfect universe with us imperfect humans? If he wanted us to choose to love him, then he wasn’t really perfect before, he was lacking love in some way. If we are actually perfect as we are, then that is a strange re-definition of the word perfect. If you say there is a plan and we just can’t understand it, then you are just avoiding the question.

Let’s see if we can’t get Lausten an answer that satisfies him.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    See Robert Adams “Must God Create the Best?” Brilliant!

    Short hand version: By creating our world, God has not wronged anyone. It could be argued that every person in this world was given a life that was worth living. It could also be argued that you and I would not exist in the best possible world (because you and I hurt other people intentionally).

    Building on this, God may have motives for creating you, both because he likes you, and because people like us give God an opportunity to exercise his grace (something he could not do in the best of all possible worlds).

    Thanks for you work Tony.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Hey Jeff, I know you’re a professional philosopher and stuff…but I have a really hard time with accepting the explanation of “God may have motives” – we just don’t or can’t know what those motives are. I hear this a lot, and I probably can’t explain my distaste…but I don’t like it.

      But, I do like coffee.

      • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

        I put what the motives could be, and they seem reasonable ya?

      • mk

        it bothers you because it’s so extremely intellectually dishonest, like arguing that I’m the wealthiest person in the world … and the reason you haven’t heard of me is because I’ve paid lots of money to make sure you didn’t. You of course would not buy that argument … it’s far more plausible that I’m *not* the wealthiest person in the world and that my argument is pure fabricated BS. That’s how it is with those who argue for the existence of God … it’s pure fabricated BS and by far the more plausible explanation is that there is no God.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      And I just realized that I read your comment wrong the first time. So, now I will go drink some more coffee.

      • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

        Ah – Enjoy!

    • Craig

      Consider a child conceived through rape (the mother, walking through the park at night, was grabbed by the complete stranger and raped in the bushes). The child grows up thinking that her father (the rapist) has wronged her. Has he? As Robert Adams notices, it is hard to see how the child could legitimately complain, on her own behalf, about the father’s conceiving her in rape. After all, she wouldn’t have been conceived apart from the rape, and her life is at least marginally worth living. And so Adams likewise argues no one can complain on his or her own behalf of God’s creation, however relatively miserable that creation might be. So, while the analogy isn’t perfect, maybe it will appease Lausten to think of God along the lines of a great metaphorical rapist, conceiving illegitimate and estranged and miserable offspring who, as it happily turns out, lack any grounds for complaint on their own behalf.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Existence is better than non-existence, but without the ever-present threat of non-existence, there would be no existence.

        • Amy

          For many years I felt that non-existence would be way better than existence. I only continued to exist because I didn’t want to hurt my husband and children. Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore. But I’m sure there are people for whom existence is just tragic and horrible.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            Sometimes all we have is that we are needed by others. I believe everyone has a reason to be. Glad you stuck around Amy. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

        Not sure this analogy holds in a variety of spots.

        • Craig

          Yes, you have to abstract away the park and bushes.

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        I gave the Robert Adams piece as much time as could find on a busy day, but didn’t have time to critique it. I’m assuming this is sarcasm from Craig, or if not, assume it is what I would have said, sarcastically. The piece wasn’t all that horrible, but it had some glaring missing parts, like addressing the responsibility of a father to do more than just go around “creating”.

        I’m not angry with God for giving me existence on this lonely planet on the edge of lesser galaxy, actually I’m quite happy here. I just can’t reconcile that existence with any known description of the Christian God.

    • Bjoern

      > It could be argued that every person in this world was given a life that was worth living.

      That would be a heck of an argument. A baby who dies one day into her life, a fetus dying 5 months into the pregnancy, babies born into famines or born with severe brain damage.

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    Creating others wasn’t an act born frim lacking love, but being the source of it; being love Himself. Other words are used in the Bible to describe him; they are adjectives. “Love” is a noun. God IS love.

    So He created us out of that love.

    He gave us choice because love does not insist on its own way.

    And love can’t be expressed if it is not chosen from an alternative. The alternative is self. Love for self, taken to extremes, leads to evil. Love for God leads to good and seeks the good of others.

    The plan is for us to mature out of self and into love for others. It’s not that hard to understand. It can be hard to accept, because giving up self out of love for others and God can lead to a cross. It did for His Son.

    Fortunately, it also leads to an empty tomb.

    • mk

      Intelligent people don’t base their arguments about God on what it says in the Bible.

  • Charles

    For the finite to contemplate the infinite may be an exercise in futility. However, it does provide the contemplative mind a sense, a fleeting glimpse, of the infinite.

    My anchor (Jesus’ teaching) these days is actually a paddle, helping me navigate and explore the white rapids of my faith journey. If we don’t contemplate, explore, study, test new paradigms, we remain stuck in still waters (stagnent waters?), or caught in an eddy going around in circles.

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    As a Mormon, I would have answered: God did not create an imperfect universe, because that would not have been possible. Instead, God created Adam and Eve with free agency so that they could choose to transgress and bring sin and death into the world, which was God’s intent from the beginning.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    I think it’s first important to contextualize the discussion. Lausten, in terms of what informs your question, how are you defining “perfect” where “God” is concerned? How are you defining “perfect/imperfect” where the universe and humans are concerned?

    I have my own perspective regarding what “perfect/imperfect” may mean, but in order to contribute an answer that speaks most directly and meaningfully to your question(s), I’ll need to know what your perspective is on the meaning of “perfect/imperfect.”

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      Primarily, the question addresses the particular types of theology that assume unknowable perfection. In that theology, we can’t know God, we can only place our hopes in the glimpses of a better way that He gives us. So we can’t define perfect, other than as something beyond anything we know.
      Certainly pain and bad design are examples of imperfection. The known physical universe requires a lot of death and destruction to continue with its creation. You could say that is a balance, but I consider it imperfect and incompatible with the existence of a loving God who claims to have performed the miracles found in the Bible.

      • Phil Miller

        Certainly pain and bad design are examples of imperfection.

        This is somewhat of a tangent, but without a working pain response, most animals wouldn’t survive very long. Pain is what tells animals that something is wrong, and it’s what causes them to do something about it. Perhaps like suffering itself, being able to experience pain is simply part of what it means to exist.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        Lausten, thanks for the added clarity.

        Based on your initial question and the follow-up response above, I’ll outline what I see as certain presumptions about “God” that are innate to the theology/theologies you’re highlighting:

        God is a being with personality characteristics.
        God is “perfect,” i.e., omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, imperishable.
        God intentionally created all things.
        Love is God’s foundational, even elemental, trait.

        1. If we were to assume, for the sake of this discussion, that all the above points are true, then your first question cannot be answered: why did [God] create the imperfect universe with us imperfect humans?

        This first question also assumes a few things, which follow the presumptions I outlined at top: 1) the nature of the universe and the nature of humankind should reflect the nature of God; 2) it is illogical that the nature of the universe and the nature of humankind would not reflect the nature of God.

        If the theologies you refer to include the presumption that a perfect God can only make a perfect thing (meaning that anything created would bear the nature of the Creator), then your question is valid. But if the theologies you refer to do not presume such a formula (i.e., perfection can only create perfection), then the question is entirely unanswerable.

        2. Now to the second part of your question: If he wanted us to choose to love him, then he wasn’t really perfect before, he was lacking love in some way.

        Your question begs a qualifier: does God’s appropriation of choice/free-will upon humankind diminish his own nature of perfection, and thereby negate any existence of love in his character? If so, why? Would not such appropriation actually magnify his innate perfection and love? If so, would this not then signify that human imperfection and the resulting consequences (pain, conflict, death, etc.) are humankind’s choice, and not God’s?

        3. Finally to the third part of your question: If you say there is a plan and we just can’t understand it, then you are just avoiding the question.

        I agree with you in large part here. There is the presumption among many that some “plan” actually exists, and we are not yet aware of the details. This, I agree, is a cop-out. But when stripped down to its fundamentals with all presumptions removed, it speaks to the most valid answer that can be given, which is: we do not have the answers.

        4. You wrote, “The known physical universe requires a lot of death and destruction to continue with its creation. You could say that is a balance, but I consider it imperfect and incompatible with the existence of a loving God who claims to have performed the miracles found in the Bible.

        To say “death and destruction” are qualities of the physical universe is to engage in subjective semantics, which you confirm by your conclusion (where you wrote “I consider”) saying those qualities are incompatible with the existence of a loving God. But I would ask you, why is this incompatible, at least insofar as the physical particulars of the cosmos are concerned? And how does your question relate to the miracles of the Bible?

        (Again, all of this assumes, for the sake of discussion, that the four points outlined at top are true. As such, any answers to your questions can only be given within the context of those four theological presumptions. Personally, I do not subscribe at all to point 1, and only minimally agree with points 2 and 3. I do fully agree with point 4, but with an understanding that doesn’t even come close to classic theology.)

      • ram kumar

        surely there was/is some confused intelligence in the universe (before and after) which is suffering with a big question WHO AM I ? unable to find the answer with its own RAM, Processor, intelligence, it would have mutated in to multiple intelligence to increase the speed of calculations and conclusion about its basic problem i.e., who am i ? so we are all the network computers connected through WAN to that master confused intelligent computer to solve his messy question he shared with all of us.

        The day he realises how foolish it is to search for that unwanted question, he may stop all this drama of creation, sustainence and destruction like a crazy kid and we also can rest in peace without searching for answers in Bible, q’uran and bhagavathgita.

        On that day, no more neusence like God and evil, sin and devine, heven and hell, good and bad, happy and sorrow, love and hate, success and failure, christ or allah etc.,

        Let us pray that the master computer attains realisation early

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com Mike B

    the question: why did [a perfect God] create the imperfect universe with us imperfect humans?

    Before we get too deep into discussion we would first have to wrestle with the terms “perfect” and “imperfect”. What do we mean by these terms? Is the question really dealing with the problem of pain? Or the problem of design? Or with why God even bothered creating anything in the first place?

    • http://deadheroesdontsave.com Mike B

      Certainly pain and bad design are examples of imperfection. The known physical universe requires a lot of death and destruction to continue with its creation.

      C.S. Lewis does a good job of explaining/exploring these topics in the Problem of Pain.

      The problem as he defines it:
      If God were almighty He would be able to do whatever He wants
      If God were good, He would want His creatures to be perfectly happy,
      The creatures are not perfecty happy.
      Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or does not exist.

      I suggest reading the book but a quick summary:

      pain is a requirement for existence. An almighty God cannot do nonsensical things (make square triangles, rocks to heavy to lift and such) and one of these would be to create a universe w/o pain. Lewis shows that pain must exist if there is going to be the existence of individuals with free will interacting in the physical world.

      a good God who loved us would want us to be more whole/complete. The process may cause some pain but results in what is better for the individual. One example is how we raise and teach children. If we only desire to make them happy we raise spoiled self centered brats. If we discipline them, they may not be happy but they (and others) are better off for it.

      therefore He concludes that an almighty and good God is not incompatible with the universe we live in.

      Whether the universe’s design or ours for that matter is optimal/perfect/good or not is going to be somewhat subjective. But no matter where one falls in the spectrum of creation views the idea that creation is no longer in its original state is a major premise for Christian theology. Therefore, in addition to man abusing his freedom and causing pain, death, destruction the creation itself has been corrupted and is not longer in its original intended design/state.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    Perfect, in the evangelical sense of being “sinless,” non-contingent, and so on, to me just wreaks of power over people. I, personally, have a hard time giving anything or anyone that kind of authority over me – or anyone else.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Maybe a little Derridian action on this…

      What if perfect and imperfect are not absolutes at all, but rather interpenetrate each other? Each is haunted by the other, but neither ever “arrives.” To actually experience “perfection” would actually be to cease to exist, because existence is contingent upon an imperfect perfection.

      Therefore, a perfect God does not exist.

      Amen.

      • http://christopherbaca.wordpress.com Chris Baca

        This.

      • Tony Yarbrough

        It seems the key to your argument is “existence is contingent upon an imperfect perfection.” (because you indicate that this fact means God does not exist.)
        . . . What?! . . . Lemme break this down for you:
        ‘Is contingent upon’ means ‘requires,’ so “existence requires an imperfect perfection.”
        Perfection (by definition) cannot be imperfect. Therefore, ‘an imperfect perfection’ is ‘something that cannot be.’
        So, “existence requires something that cannot be.”
        This would mean existence cannot be, which we know is untrue because we witness the existence of the people, animals and objects around us.

        “existence is contingent upon an imperfect perfection.”

        Poetic, but meaningless.
        The key to your argument is poetic but meaningless.
        You can win an argument by confusing people, or you can win an argument by being correctly making valid statements: The choice is yours.

  • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

    I’m sticking with the process folk here and claiming creatio ex materia (for the time being). God formed the universe, God did not create it out of nothing. What we see before us is the only thing God could have created with the resources God had. To quote the venerable John Caputo:

    “Einstein once said that God does not play dice. On that point the great man should have stuck to physics and left God to the theologians…For the creation is nothing if it is not a dicey business, both for God and for us. Life, existence, creation are nothing if not a risk; but for anyone worth their salt, they are what Levinals would call a “beautiful risk.”

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thanks for dropping some Caputo.

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

        I’m always looking for an opportunity to drop some Caputo bombs!

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com RD

          WORD!

  • Lee P.

    There is not a good answer to the question. There just isn’t.

    How does perfection create imperfection and then get off the hook, as it were, for his own creations faults? If he were a perfect designer then his creation would be perfect. If part of his perfection was to create imperfection then we can’t no longer understand the words we are using to describe any of this at all.

    Mormonism actually has a better answer to this than traditional Christianity. In Mormonism their God is just one of many God’s, and while he is certainly cosmically bad ass, he isn’t necessarily “perfect”.

    • Pax

      If he were a perfect designer then his creation would be perfect.

      I think the opposite is true. Any creation has to be necessarily less than its creator.

      • mk

        No doubt that’s true of *your* paltry creations.

  • Sven

    Over and over again, these “Questions that Haunt” are amusing. They are tricky from a Christian theological standpoint, but they are really very simple from a non-theistic one.

    Several of them, including this one, essentially boil down to ‘why is God indistinguishable from random chance?’ Hmmm. I wonder why……..

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I would not consider myself a “theist” either, but you’ve got to at least consider why you keep coming back to read blogs like this, if you find it nothing more than “amusing”…

      • Sven

        Isn’t amusement a perfectly reasonable excuse to read a blog?
        I started reading Theoblogy when I heard Tony was starting up the “Questions That Haunt” series. Finally, someone is offering to take a crack at the troubling contradictions within Christianity! Sadly, I have been a bit underwhelmed.

        • Jesushimselfbloggingfromthecross

          I think I read this blog because I’m a masochist…

    • Pax

      And there are no philosophically difficult questions for non-theists?

      • Sven

        Morality is a little more nuanced when you can’t fall back on “God says so”, but that’s pretty much it. There doesn’t have to be a philosophical REASON behind ‘why suffering exists’ or ‘why the universe is imperfect’ or ‘why bad things happen to good people’.

        The finer details of abortion is a classic example of a tough philosophical issue that people wrestle with, even from a non-theistic point-of-view. You don’t need superstitious strings attached to understand why it’s controversial.

        • MarkE

          Sven, you need to get out more. Most Christian’s I know do nuance morality and are not satisfied with “God says so.” Based on my readings, Christians have been taking a crack at the troubling contradictions for some time, and continue to do so.

          You only need a philosophical reason behind suffering if you are coming from a philosophical point of view. I believe the series is an attempt to provide some reasons from within the Christian point of view. It is understandable that these reasons may not be satisfying to those who do not hold this point of view, but they often are no more or less satisfying to Christians as your non-theistic moral nuancing must be to you.

          I am glad us with our “superstitious strings attached” are providing you and your flame-thrower an amusing target, but it is making it difficult to engage with what I am sure would be your more thoughtful points.

      • mk

        “And there are no philosophically difficult questions for non-theists?”

        None that are *theological*. Of course there are plenty of *secular* philosophical questions that are difficult … for non-theists and theists alike (well, ruling out the stock theistic explanation, “goddiditandthatsallthereistoit”).

    • MarkE

      hmmm…you assume it is apparent that God is indistinguishable from random chance. Random chance may be a simple answer to these questions, but hardly satisfactory. The “random chance” answer ends the discussion in the same way that “God says so” does.

      • mk

        “you assume it is apparent that God is indistinguishable from random chance”

        No he didn’t.

        ‘The “random chance” answer ends the discussion in the same way that “God says so” does.’

        Oh, right, so when the Mayans tried to deal with the occurrence of storms by sacrificing humans to the gods, their approach as as valid as chaos theory.

        One can always count of godbots to be intellectually dishonest and grossly ignorant.

  • Pax

    I really like to speculate about this question. It seems to me that there are at least two parts that can be looked at individually:

    1) Does God’s will that we love him mean that he is lacking in some way? I don’t understand God’s love in that way. God’s love for us is agape: selflessly willing what is best for us. However, when we love God, there’s no need to wish what’s best for Him, but we can have agape for each other – loving the things He loves. So, our love for God includes conforming our will to His, which ultimately makes us (and others) better, and so it’s not for God’s benefit but for ours. It’s not something that God needs for His own sake.

    2) Why would a perfect being create something imperfect? I think anything that is not God must stop short of Him and therefore must be imperfect. Thus, a “perfect creation” is a logical contradiction. It’s like asking if God could create a stone so heavy that He couldn’t lift it. But, of course, we can talk about degrees of perfection. So, why didn’t He create us more perfect than we are? Actually, I think that’s what He’s doing. We’re all in formation to become more and more perfect. The imperfections of our world have tremendous value in our formation.

  • Phil Miller

    I think the better question is why do we as human beings have a concept such as perfection or imperfection. If we live in a atheistic universe governed entirely by random chance, these concepts lose meaning when speaking of the overall “design” of the universe. One can only complain about the imperfection of the design if they’re assuming that there’s a designer.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      I think we covered this in the “If He Knew We’d Sin” question.

    • Jesushimselfbloggingfromthecross

      Huh, Phil? You really can’t think of an answer to your question? You really having hard time getting why people have the concept of a perfect or at least a better world? You really can’t understand why people who go in hunger dream of french fries? Can’t understand why people who wake up in the middle of the war zone might wish to move? Can’t at all begin to see why people dream, have fantasies, imagine a life with no worries? What is your question even suppose to mean? I suppose people have the concept of perfection, because this very world we live in is such a perfect (ha ha, no pun intended) example of imperfection.

      • Phil Miller

        Is this Lausten?

        Anyway, speaking of “perfection” and “imperfection” assumes that the universe or our planet has an underlying teleological or eschatological endpoint, or a state of being that it needs to be restored to. From a Christian perspective, it certainly does make sense to ask these questions, and I think there’s plenty of good ways to talk about them. But if an atheist is asking them, they make no sense.

        Perhaps I’m not understanding the purpose of this series. If we are Christians answering these questions, our answers are going to be based somewhere on the spectrum of Christian theological and philosophical thought. Unless atheists are willing accept that framework as valid, than they won’t be satisfied by our answers. A lot of these questions seem to come from the underlying question of whether or not it is reasonable to believe in God, or specifically, the Christian concept of God. I’m not seeing the whole “haunting” aspect of it as it comes to Christians. Sure, Christians deal with these questions, and they’ve been dealing with them throughout the last 2,000 years. But I don’t know how many people are haunted by them.

        • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

          Nope. Some other trouble maker.

        • mk

          “Anyway, speaking of “perfection” and “imperfection” assumes that the universe or our planet has an underlying teleological or eschatological endpoint, or a state of being that it needs to be restored to. ”

          No, it doesn’t assume any such thing, and only a very stupid and/or intellectually dishonest person would think so.

  • Jim Armstrong

    Lausten – I really like this question. It, along with its kindred kind, invites us to some pretty basic questions. I spent much of my life in a fairly conservative (and benevolent) Christian world, but in time with growing numbers of unaddressed questions that would not go away, including some variations on this very theme.

    That said, my shorthand response (out of my present sense of things) is that God IS (my chosen starting point), …that the universe is a PERFECT created thing, and that God is “perfect” virtually by definition, an intrinsic attribute of that creative infinitude (to use a poofy term in an effort to in some way represent our relationship to such a creator).

    The stuff that WE experience as “perfect” or not, is characteristically relative to our own experience, and seems unlikely to equate with that transcendent perfection. It would seem pretty presumptuous to think that as humans we could have much of a grasp of the full intent (arguably the measure of “perfection”) of such a Creator.

    When it comes to love, I – like so many others here – grew up with a little children’s song that says in part, “God is love. God is love.” And though the phrase still sounds lovely [subconscious evidently at work], still it seems to me that this is likely part of our inclination to anthropomorphize God. That anthropomorphism is truly understandable, given the boundedness of our humanity, and limited means of conceptualizing and expression. But its attractiveness can certain lead us into a man-focused and therefore very sense sense of “the Infinite”. I take it that God is benevolent and provident in that we are here, living, sentient, choosing, capable of relationships among our own like love, …etc. That’s pretty nifty love in and of itself. But I’m not too sure what “God is love” means.

    The flip side is that I’m not so sure that we have much of a clue as to how to love such an entity as the Creator God. My best shot is something like being aware, and curious, and thoughtful, and appreciative, …and seeking the best apparent way (among the alternatives) to live and be as-created in that Creation. We say among our own kind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So if there is in fact an imprint of the divine on us, …in our being, …then perhaps our best praise, …our best worship, …our best love, …is to do just that.

    Scripture indicates that God can even find the smoke of our burnt offerings offensive. I think the idea that God “needs” anything from us is pretty absurd. But that does not mean that somehow something like pleasure might be experienced if the creation winds up functioning as intended, …perhaps surprisingly as hoped, …especially if that comes about through choice exercised by the created!

  • Dean

    It is precisely this question that made me take the leap theologically into Open Theism. For those of you who are interested, you can check out Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible, or the Openness of God by Clark Pinnock, et al. Basically, Open Theism suggests that God actually experiences the passage of time, he is not “immutable” in that sense (he is immutable as to his character). So to answer the question, the act of creation was a risky endeavor and one borne out of love, meaning God purposefully created a universe where free-will beings actively participate with him in how the future plays out. So while he may not know exactly how things will progress, he set the ground rules (laws of physics, etc.), knows all the infinitely possibilities of human decision making and can respond accordingly, and will eventually reconcile all things at the end of the age. So the future is essentially partially open and partially determined in that sense.

    I know it’s not without it’s flaws, but Open Theism for me provides the best explanatory power for all sort of things, such as why creation happened at all (because God is a creative being, it’s what he does, and any act of creation entails risk and uncertainty by definition), why bad things happen even though the Bible says God is good (because free will creatures can thwart God’s plans for us in the short term), how to explain why God gets frustrated and disappointed or experiences regret in the Bible, the purpose of petitionary prayer, just to name a few. Most importantly, I think it jives with both the literal biblical text AND our everyday experience (how can one have a personal relationship with an immutable, impassable being that stands outside of time?).

    Anyway, I think it’s by far a better model of both reality and God’s character than the traditional notion that God has known exactly what would have happened since the beginning of time and that this existence is just a big play that we’re acting out for God’s amusement, which itself is odd because how can one even be amused if one already knows precisely the outcome of everything that will ever happen? Certainly Open Theism is far more elegant than the mental, logical and ethical gymnastics that is required for hyper-Calvinism, which more and more folks are getting into these days.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Lausten, turning your question around, or upside down, or inside out . . . what (with the theology you’ve presented for analysis in mind) do you imagine the universe and humankind should look/behave like if God is the perfect Creator? What specific expectations ought people have of the God you’ve described?

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      I’m asking the question about the specific God of the Bible. If we were talking about what haunts me about Shiva, or what troubles me about Plato, we would have no problem agreeing on many things. I ask the question because there are so many who claim this specific God is working for them. These are my neighbors, these are the people who cancel my vote and want me to live like them.
      That God was supposed to help the descendants of Abraham build a kingdom in the land of milk and honey. That worked out for a while and differences between Elohim and Yahweh were fading but differences between Moses and Aaron split the kingdom and eventually both fell. That was quite a while ago, and I’m seeing a lot of people in need of milk.
      That’s my first criteria, the end of chronic starvation. We were supposed to get back to living under the laws of Moses, then God would be back on our side, but who has ever unscrambled those laws? Second criteria, a clear sense of what it means to lead a good life. This one really shouldn’t be that hard, but so many fail at it while saying they are righteous.
      Then God comes down and says that soon everything will be done, and we just need to live by the law of love. It was an improvement, but too much was left to chance and the laws were still unclear. Not even a statement on slavery, that should have been an easy one. Now simply too much time has passed and too many prophecies have gone unfulfilled.
      I’d like a world with no death and very little pain, but even just some incremental steps towards some of the promises of the Bible would be nice.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        Lausten, from what I gathered, your main issues are with the following: 1) inconsistencies of insistent Bible-believers; 2) temporal and moral inconsistencies of Bible pronouncements; 3) unfulfilled Bible prophecies.

        You also mentioned objections to chronic starvation and slavery. In most cases, starvation is a result of regional wars and conflicts (e.g., Darfur, Ethiopia, Iraq, etc.). Man-made events. The same with slavery. It is a man-made thing. Not God-made. So starvation and slavery is on us, not God. Therefore it is up to us to solve our own errors.

        As to the Bible . . . I would say that it is also man-made. God-inspired? Perhaps. But inspiration is not authorship. The most rational conclusion I make about the Bible is that while it contains godly words, it is not the “Word of God.” It is ultimately the product of man. And so any disappointment you may have about the inconsistencies and failures of the Bible’s pronouncements and prophecies should come as no surprise.

        As for the God of the Bible . . . with the Bible being a product of man, logic requires us to accept the probability that the image of God in the Bible is a reflection of man’s ideas, not cosmic/universal reality. The God of the Bible is an icon borne of human imagination. Ultimately, a fiction. (This isn’t to say that, where the nature of “God” is concerned, there are no “diamonds of reality” in the otherwise vast “dunghill” of Scripture, as Thomas Jefferson once eloquently put it. But the diamonds are scatterings, and not representative of the whole.)

        As for those believers who insist that the fiction is a reality, and try to impose that fiction on others . . . well, their imbalance will only create imbalance. We can either engage it with balanced humanity, or lay expectations on a fictional God to handle it for us.

        Like you, I would also like to see a world with no death and very little pain. Outside of the uninterrupted natural progression of our human lifespans, we create death and we create pain. How do we create death? By our own destructive and self-destructive behaviors. How do we create pain? Through those same behaviors, but also by the attitudes and values we embrace and which inspire those behaviors. We are the creators of most of our suffering.

        So the solutions to almost everything you’ve mentioned rest in our own human hands.

        • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          Amen to that.

  • Frank McManus

    I came to Christianity from adolescent atheism, and somehow questions like this have always irked me. They somehow seem unreal. To me, the world is what it is, including its imperfections. I really can’t conceive of anything else that’s not simply a fantasy. That’s the first premise, the first assumption, the basic ground rule — before I ever think about God. So when I do think of God, the kind of questions I ask are: what does “God” mean in THIS world, as it is. And I go from there.

    This question seems to be trying to force me intellectually to reverse this order of thinking — to start with a “perfect” God, then to be puzzled about why that “perfect” God emitted a creation that’s so fucked up. To me the question makes no sense because that “perfect” God is just my projection; it’s just some word I applied to whatever it is that I think is the highest and best and is the source. But how can I have even the slightest idea of what “perfect” means except by abstracting from the imperfections I know by experience? And if that’s what I do — if that’s really how human thought works, how it HAS to work — then isn’t it presumptuous to be intellectually perturbed about the disjunction between “perfect” God and “imperfect” world?

    “Perfect” God? I don’t even know what that means. God just is.

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      Sorry to irk you Frank M. But these are questions that haunt me about Christian theology, not questions about how the universe works. Either someone can address it, or they have to admit something is wrong with their theology. So it is intended to get you to think about exactly what you described. It is backwards. By asking the question, my hope is you would abandon that backwards thinking and come around to the forward thinking that you use. You are just a step ahead. Yes, the universe is. We can all agree on that, at least as a premise. Maybe we are wrong, but there isn’t much point in thinking about that. What’s important is that it is the right place to start asking more questions, to start building a view of the real universe.

      • Evelyn

        Ok. Let’s start with the real universe. The universe is. We see many things around us and they are imperfect. Lets assume that we begin to think and we think of ways to make our imperfect world better and then we begin to think about a perfect world. We decide that the perfect stone would be perfectly round, a chair would have perfect attributes of chairness, all the children in Africa would be fed, none of the children in America would be obese, all of the far right wing republicans would become more humanitarian, and all of the far left wing democrats would become more sensible. Does it make sense to talk about these perfections even though they don’t exist? If we are to consider the validity of these perfections, what would our world be like if things were perfect and how can we begin to take steps towards perfection? Should we even try? Who has authority to decide what perfection is anyway?

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    I’d like a world free of death and pain, too; but this world involves choice, so there’s going to be sin, death, and pain.

    For now.

    Just for now.

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    I can’t be sure what you’re implying, but I can guess based on Christian theology and your blog. You are just moving the question down the road a little. I can accept that the world is what it is, and most days I do. But if you are going to claim something else is unfolding then you need to provide some reasons for why that is.

  • https://twitter.com/ConneelyD Darach Conneely

    Just saw this, here my take.

    Maybe because in an imperfect universe life could evolve, and through the struggles and dangers life faced in an imperfect universe, altruism, intelligence slowly evolved too, creatures in God’s image capable of sacrificial love. That could still leave the universe a cold and uncaring Petri dish except that God was willing to share this world of troubles with us and love us with sacrificial love too, and through that sacrificial love, Jesus’ death and resurrection, bring us into the perfection that was God’s plan from the beginning.

  • MarkE

    Lausten,
    We all find ourselves in a world that is what it is, including cruelty, suffering, and narcissism, as well as compassion, wholeness, and community. Most of us have observed or experienced both ends of that spectrum in life. Some have decided that they want to plant themselves on the good side of that spectrum and join forces with others to make this world a better place for all. Some need a home to support and encourage that desire.

    I don’t doubt that one could find such a home within many different traditions or among no tradition, but I doubt that they do an equally good job of it. I guess that is where the reconciliation part you refer to comes in. Do you doubt that Christianity can provide a productive home to nurture the desire for a more perfect existence for all? From my vantage point within, it certainly has some incredible stories of hope and goodness – despite the baggage that must be dealt with (a struggle not unique to our tradition). I think this series has demonstrated that there is sufficient room within the tradition to deal with – if not dispense with – the troubling bible passages, have faith in the goodness of God, and keep one on the good side of things.

    I applaud your desire for a more perfect existence. It is a desire that I share as a Christian. That puts us in good company. If you have found a home for that supports and encourages that desire within atheism, Godspeed with that. Thanks for helping us push back against the baggage within our tradition.

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    And thank you MarkE

    Do you doubt that Christianity can provide a productive home to nurture the desire for a more perfect existence for all?
    Given the current structures, I have serious doubts. That doesn’t mean it is impossible or that I have completely given up. One project I currently pin my hopes on is “Imagine No Malaria”. The Gates Foundation, a secular org, choose the Methodist Church as the best partner to distribute bedding nets and the education that needs to go with it throughout Africa. If they could see the value of a community based organization, that is, the church, as the right partner in this fight, then I’m sure there are more opportunities like that. And it works both ways, I hope the church sees their part in the partnership and continues to reach out to the secular community without requiring conversion as part of the bargain.

  • Jim Armstrong

    I love that “No More Malaria” collaboration as well, for just that reason. It actually builds on and extends a pre-existing “Nothing But Nets” campaign which about now has delivered something like 6.6 million mosquito nets into this region.

    Again, I find it helpful to differentiate between “perfect” from a human perspective, and “Perfect” from a divine view. My take is that Creation is in fact even now “Perfect” from a DIVINE view (and in one way, ours as well, else our only chance of “being” would be in some reality other than the one that we exist in!). That said, IMHO our work (should we accept it) seems logically then to be in large measure making it more “perfect” from a HUMAN perspective (Thy kingdom come on earth), …if for no other reason, because we have that capacity, and it is our best interests. But if we as Christians (or other people of faith, for that matter) choose to direct a portion of our lives with appreciation and intentionality into that stewardship, we can accomplish considerably more as individuals and collectively. And in so doing, perhaps the two “perfection” perspectives draw a little closer.

  • Jim Armstrong

    I inadvertently deleted a part of that last post, and that concerned the absolute life-enabling necessity for imperfection (by man’s sensibility) in our world. Imperfection is woven inextricably into the very being and functioning of Creation. We could live without imperfection. We would not be here (at least in this universe) were it not for imperfection.

    One such example – the BIGGIE – via biology is mutation, …imperfections occurring here and there in DNA. This susceptibility to imperfection, and the inheritance of “defects” between succeeding generations of living kind is at the very core of biological evolution, of the very engine of biological creativity on Earth.

    Imperfections in the rocks on mountain slopes give purchase for seedling trees. Imperfections in semiconductors enable the technologies that inhabit our pockets these days. It is not the symmetries and perfections of art that appeal to us, but the endless variations (imperfections) embodied that appeal to us, …that tell us that we are looking at genuine human creation, and not that of machine. It seems clear that perfection is an ideal that calls us, that shapes us, …but is not something that is, or ever did exist in human experience and perspective. To be perfected is to suggest invariant property and behavior, unaffected by human choice. That is far from our experience and far from the progressive revelations via the multicolored windows of science.

  • Mary

    ‘Perfect, in the evangelical sense of being “sinless,”’
    Perfect in the Hebrew actually means “complete”. This changes the discussion entirely.
    ( Frank McManus is on to something: ‘how can I have even the slightest idea of what “perfect” means except by abstracting from the imperfections I know by experience?’/ “Perfect” God? I don’t even know what that means. God just is.’)
    Creation by its very nature is on-going, both a noun and a verb. So, in a sense it can never be complete. However, the God of Genesis said it is Good- not Perfect.
    Perhaps we are agents in that “perfection”:completion:creation. Change involves pain and failed attempts(sin) but is existence worth it? It is for me.
    All things have a purpose toward “completion”. Perhaps the question is what is our purpose in that.

  • Pingback: God Is Not “Perfect” [Questions That Haunt]

  • Dell

    Only God is capable of perfection, God would not have wanted to create another God

  • mk

    A perfect god would be able to create an entire universe without even existing — ha, it did!

  • Alberto

    Lausten North, are you still around for answers?

    Yours is a perfect and a “must ask” question for someone who wants to see things as they are regarding a Creator, instead of just making up stuff like religions do.

    I have found out at least a big part of the answer to your question.

  • Charles

    Disagree…. Perfect is perfect…. We all have a sense of what that is… And I am far from perfect…. Furthermore I am instructed by scripture that I am not God… That the responsibility for perfection lies in Him that created us… So I hereby demand that God fulfill his perfectness by making me and all of us perfect to one another… I am told He is the All Powerful, Omnipresent, Alpha and Omega… Not me … So what say you…

  • Robert

    I have never seen the word Perfect ever used in any scriptures in the Bible. Man created that word and put their own meaning of how they view someone or something to be this so called Perfect. There is no such thing as Perfect. It is a misleading and deceptive word. Have you ever noticed the word Perfect when used seems to leave a empty and void feeling in your stomach and mind? That is due to the fact that God never once said he was Perfect or created a Perfect world. There is no such thing as Perfection. It is a delusional way of thought that has no firm foundation on any topic at all.


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