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What kind of a God...

In a recent discussion on Facebook, one of my colleagues raised an interesting question which, although certainly not new, prompted me to craft a more detailed answer - for her, and for myself - than the size-limited FB comments permit.

The background: One of my friends sent me this picture to post:

and you can imagine that this prompted a bit of a discussion. Somewhere in the thread, I responded,

"Hey, I didn't write the sign, I just posted it for my friend who wasn't sure how. I have my own philosophy around theism and its antithesis, and it boils down to "Don't be a dick." In the end analysis,thinks I, God cares less about which Church you belong to, or don't, than how you're treating your fellow man."

To this my colleague wrote (hope you don't mind my quoting you here, Sonia):

"That would be the only worthy god, i think. Who could get behind the guy who demands one sing his glory every minute of the day, but who can still go and make Claire die giving birth to her 3rd little baby? if god exists, he better be powerless against the laws of nature, otherwise, he's gonna have a lot of angry people to answer to."

A fair question, and one that is asked by many people in a world where so much seems capricious and unfair.

In the mid 70's, I lived and worked in Austria for two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Amid the standard rebuffs of "Nix, nix, ka' Zeit und kein Interesse" and "Wir sind alle Katolisch hier, wieso gehen Sie nicht zu den Heiden?" I had many discussions about faith in general with a populace who was only one generation away from the depredations of World War II, and who had been, by choice or by chance, on the losing side. For all their traditional adherence to the Catholic faith of their fathers, many Austrians put no stock in religion - I can't count the number of times people vehemently protested the existence of a God who would allow such horrors as they had witnessed in their own lifetimes.

And the wars and the horrors go on...

For myself, I have to be able to be at peace with the world I see around me. I have chosen to do this with a strange mixture of faith and secular practicality.

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

As for reconciling myself with the existence of God in a world of unexplainable tragedies, my mind turns to Corrie Ten Boom, the author of The Hiding Place. When she was 10 years old, she once asked her father a piercing adult-themed question. She went on to relate,

"He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor. “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. “It's too heavy,” I said. “Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.” And I was satisfied. More than satisfied – wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions. For now I was content to leave them in my father's keeping.

I do not believe in a God who causes or allows terrible things to happen and approaches his human family with the attitude, "Haha, life's a bitch, ain't it? Now kneel, suckers!" This kind of God is less believable than the pure secular causality of "hydrogen atoms evolved to consciousness."

My heart tells me that neither scenario is the case, that we're playing a on a far bigger stage than any one of us can possibly see. I see mortality is a school to which we are sent by a loving parent; the classes are harsh - life gives us the tests first, and the lessons afterwards - but when we graduate to the next phase of our existence, whatever that looks like, we will all see that life, with all its seeming vicious unfairness, had purpose, and that it was all for our good, growth and development.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter to me whether the humanists are right, and it's all a huge cosmic crapshoot, or whether what I belive about Divinity is spot-on or way off. Either way, my responsibility is to live life in such a way that I can go down to my grave content in having done all that I could do to raise the human condition.

That is how I find peace.

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Nov. 13th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
I'm always amazed at a God who is omniscient, omnipresent, ubiquitous, all-knowing, all-powerful -

and still falls for the bullsh*t people try to hand in on Sunday morning. They don't think He/She/It/They/Xhu can *tell* when you're lying?

Ah, well.
Nov. 13th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
I think many people who do that are just trying to impress their peers.
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
Chris: Ultimately, it doesn't matter to me whether the humanists are right, and it's all a huge cosmic crapshoot, or whether what I belive about Divinity is spot-on or way off. Either way, my responsibility is to live life in such a way that I can go down to my grave content in having done all that I could do to raise the human condition.

Here, I fundamentally agree with you. Whether you believe or not (I don't) doesn't change a thing. You still must live in a way that does more good that bad around you. If you can in addition to that raise the human condition, then, well, "thaar be gold".

Sonia, posting anonymously 'coz I'm s'posed to be working and can't be bothered to create an account right now.
Nov. 14th, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)
My dream is a world where there is no "us" and "them". That's what I'll be busy with until they put me in the ground. Thanks for your thoughts!
Nov. 14th, 2009 04:21 am (UTC)
just saw The Battle for Terra. it's billed as a children's movie and the scenario is a tad simplistic, but it illustrates your last point to perfection. actually, i don't think it is that simplistic. i think it speaks the truth, but we've trained ourselves to believe that that truth, living together without an "us" and a "them", is impossible because we (as a species) find it difficult to not "win", overcome the other, and to not have everything for ourselves. just ask children how they feel about their siblings... that's the direction we, humans, need to grow.
Nov. 14th, 2009 04:22 am (UTC)
ooops, forgot to sign: sonia, again. seems i'm going to have to create an account if i am so driven to participate in the conversations here...
Nov. 14th, 2009 06:09 am (UTC)
You are correct. The greatest addiction - greater than drugs, food, power, money, sex, domination, anything - is the individual's addiction to being right.

The difficult takes time. The impossible only a bit longer.
Nov. 13th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
I believe in a God who has three basic commands:
1) Love the Lord, your God, with all your Heart, with all your Soul, with all your Mind, and with all your Strength.
2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
3) Love one another.

I have pounded these three commandments into the heads of the youth at my church, and now I'm working on getting it from there into their hearts. And while I am at it, I am working at getting them into my heart, too.

This is a God worth worshipping; He's not interested in the fiddling small details of how and when and where, only that we serve and love Him. And in the midst of great tragedy, we can find comfort that He loves us, too. Corrie Ten Boom found many places where God was taking that too-heavy case for her, not the least of which was her sister's passing, sick and weak in the Ravensbruck hospital. But before she did, Betsie was full of life lessons for Corrie; thank God for fleas! Thank God for the overcrowded bunker, so that so many could hear the Word of God. Thank God for the guards, who had been taught how to hate and now could be taught how to love. Thank God for Ravensbruck itself, because here was a place where God shone, a small, small light that fully illuminated such a dark, evil place. Corrie did not understand right away, but by time she wrote The Hiding Place, she had learned what it meant to serve a loving God, in spite of all that she saw around her.

This is the God I serve in my meager, unworthy way. If I someday am one tenth of the person that Betsie Ten Boom was in Ravensbrook, then I will have become a mighty servant of the Lord, indeed.


Edited at 2009-11-13 11:42 pm (UTC)
Nov. 13th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC)
for as long as these topics can be discussed in a mature fashion with the acceptance that there is no provable conclusion that can be found in our lifetimes, there is always hope for humanity.

"Secular Humanism" is like saying "The Church of Athiesm". It implies an organised group of disbelievers, whereas most people that get lumped into this category are just people going about their lives rather than wave a flag for a cause.


The Old Wolf

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