Friday, December 26, 2008

So... although this is a continuation of the previous post, none of this is really in The Shack.  It's just what I've been thinking about since I read it.  The story addresses the classic conundrum of faith, which can be phrased in any number of ways that we've all heard.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  how can a good and loving God allow evil to exist?  There are a number of different ways to say it.  And there are plenty of proposed answers out there.  Books and books have been written on this topic.  Some of the most remarkable and compelling writing out there-- from the dawn of recorded thought practically-- comes out of human beings' attempt to answer questions like these.  

But of course no one really knows.  The Shack takes a very similar tack to the answers I was raised with:  God's love for us is most strongly expressed through God's commitment to allowing us to exercise our free will, our ability to choose to act in whatever way we want.  True love would never force us into acting or believing a certain way (the argument goes).  So, God cannot intervene to protect us from harm without infringing on our (or someone else's) free will; therefore, God lets us screw up.  It's a creative solution, with enough flexibility and complexity to allow for any situation in which people are hurting people.  And it has the benefit, for Christians, of being grounded in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.  There isn't any direct reference to free will in the Bible, but it is implied right from the start, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden-- whether you read it literally or metaphorically.  God didn't have to allow them access to the forbidden fruit, but God allowed them to choose.  God shows his/her love for creation not by preventing evil from happening, but by redeeming the evil that we've participated in through the act of Jesus on the cross.  I think most of my readers are familiar enough with this that I can get away with that shorthand version of explaining something that is actual a very beautiful and complex theology.

But one of the main problems with this beautiful bit of theology is that it only works when you are inside the belief system.  It takes the raw material of our experience of bad things happening, and the basic tenets of the Christian faith, and comes up with a solution that works.  But if you're not inside the belief system, this set of beliefs looks remarkably like a smoke screen that allows us to continue to believe in God when in fact God may not exist at all.  We've come up with a way to explain away God's lack of action to prevent evil, but wouldn't it be just as easy to look at the evidence before us and come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as God?  don't you have to at least allow for the possibility that the emperor isn't wearing any new clothes at all?

I've heard it said, by yet another creative theologian, that it is part of God's nature not to act in any way that would force humans to believe in him (or her, although that seems slightly unnecessary here since this type of belief usually goes along with seeing God as Father).  In other words, God will never act in such a way as to unequivocally prove that God exists, because doing so would force us to believe in him (/her), and that would be an infringement of our free will.  Another creative explanation, which may be true.  But it also might not. 

As an aside and an excuse and an apology, I'll just say here that this isn't turning out to be a linear train of thought, I'm just typing what I've been thinking.  it may not make much sense.

I was not encouraged to ask these kinds of questions when I was growing up, and I don't have the kind of personality that would have forced the issue by persisting in asking them.  I'd much rather get along, smooth things over, and keep everybody happy.  I was more than willing to accept pat answers and go along for the ride.  The problems didn't arrive until many years later when I was deep, deep into a particular religious viewpoint and it no longer explained the things that I wanted explained.  So I am left at this point in my life with a deep suspicion of (and resentment of) ideas and arguments that want me to shut up and stop asking questions.   And that's often how these arguments feel to me.  

have to run.  to be continued.

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