A Reasonable Christian's Questions

Jospeh is a reasonable Christian who has asked a few questions of other Christians here. You might want to read what he said in context, but here they are:

He asks, 1) "To start with, does it strike any Christians as odd that we have to do so...much explaining for God?" 2) "Do we really know that God...does not intervene to stop evil simply because he wants us to learn a lesson? It seems to me that the stories of the Old and New Testaments mitigate against this and would lead us to believe that God likes to show himself faithful and true by taking an active role in our reality." 3) "Is it merely coincidence that as humankind has become more scientifically advanced, God has decided to stop talking to us, getting involved in public ways, performing miracles, proving points, etc?" 4) "Does [God's] utter silence and refusal to intervene not make you the least bit suspicious?" 5) If it's true that we are all this way and that God could say or do nothing to guarantee [that] the majority of us do the right thing, doesn't that make you wonder about the way we're "built"? I mean, how can an all-knowing, wise, powerful God...design a "good" human being that would almost instantaneously become commandeered by sin, which would subsequently take over his whole nature? To me, that betrays a God who has lost control (as does the epidemic of evil), or perhaps never had control to begin with."

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These are good questions. I particularly liked question three.

20 comments:

Super Happy Jen said...

Re: The way we're "built"

I always say that if there were a God, he would want me to be an atheist otherwise He wouldn't have made me so skeptical.

speedwell said...

I'm an ex-Christian, but it was a long time coming. I'd like to answer these questions, if I may, as I think I would have when I considered myself faithful and devout. I thought it would be an interesting exercise.

1) "To start with, does it strike any Christians as odd that we have to do so...much explaining for God?

No. What did strike me as odd was that there was so much resistance to the message. After all, we should naturally see God as the very source of all good things. To the extent others didn't just follow like ducklings when we started talking, it was our failure as finite and sinful human beings to properly give out that message. We got in the way; it wasn't God who failed to be attractive enough.

2) "Do we really know that God...does not intervene to stop evil simply because he wants us to learn a lesson? It seems to me that the stories of the Old and New Testaments mitigate against this and would lead us to believe that God likes to show himself faithful and true by taking an active role in our reality."

No, I have to think about this a different way. Sin just has unpleasant consequences. (This isn't necessarily to say that all death and pain is caused by sin, only that some is.) If it didn't, then the sacrifice of the Cross would have been unnecessary because there would be no consequential unpleasantness to save us from.

God may intervene sometimes, here and there, to steer the world in certain ways (like the little movements you make to keep the steering wheel straight when you drive a car), but would keep those interferences at a minimum basically because the whole of Creation had already been declared to be "good." Wholesale and constant tweaking would be tantamount to saying that God either didn't create properly in the first place, got in a mess trying to fix things that didn't need to be fixed, or lied about Creation being "good."

Evidently the notion that sin has consequences is morally "good" and thus part of God's goodness and the declared "goodness" of Creation.

3) "Is it merely coincidence that as humankind has become more scientifically advanced, God has decided to stop talking to us, getting involved in public ways, performing miracles, proving points, etc?"

God doesn't do anything without a reason. The most plausible reason to me is that it's sort of a backhanded compliment. Humans have unquestionably gained in knowledge and power since the "age of miracles." As we are more and more able to take over the work of healing, teaching, and building that God did in the past, God allows us more and more freedom. We can use this freedom for good or evil, but we are constantly gaining the capacity to be moral actors in general, so it's theoretically possible that a group of "elect," "good" men of faith and works might get to be "fit" to claim salvation, not by their own doing, but by the fact that they are more perfectly in the will of God.

4) "Does [God's] utter silence and refusal to intervene not make you the least bit suspicious?"

Frankly, yeah, this wigs me the hell out. I can't say anything about the refusal to intervene, but the total failure to communicate? Come on, isn't it the "Word" of God? Why would a God of truth not come right out with it? I mean, we were made to speak and to listen, but this is the one thing that God consistently refuses to use to teach and guide us.

Would it hurt so bad to say a few private words of guidance, compassion and hope to some grieving, suicidal schmuck on his knees in despair? Really, would it?

5) If it's true that we are all this way and that God could say or do nothing to guarantee [that] the majority of us do the right thing, doesn't that make you wonder about the way we're "built"? I mean, how can an all-knowing, wise, powerful God...design a "good" human being that would almost instantaneously become commandeered by sin, which would subsequently take over his whole nature? To me, that betrays a God who has lost control (as does the epidemic of evil), or perhaps never had control to begin with."

And here you come to one of the pivotal questions that made me an atheist. I had to admit, finally, that if the choice was between a God who purposely set us up for a quite literal Fall, and no God at all, I'd really rather have the "no God." The Bible couldn't be right. And if it was wrong about that, what else was it wrong about?

Dillie-O said...

1) "To start with, does it strike any Christians as odd that we have to do so...much explaining for God?"

Not really. Is our reality THAT simple?! At first we were happy enough to believe that if we toss an apple up into the air, that it comes back down due to this gravity thing. However, as humans, our CONSTANT thirst for knowledge makes us more and more inquisitive. I could rephrase the question the other way and say does it seem odd that atheists have to do so much explaning that there is no god? I mean come on, look at all that science has shown us, yet all these bone headed people still thing there's a god. The nature of our life is anything but simple, though there are "simple" answers out there.

2) "Do we really know that God...does not intervene to stop evil simply because he wants us to learn a lesson? It seems to me that the stories of the Old and New Testaments mitigate against this and would lead us to believe that God likes to show himself faithful and true by taking an active role in our reality."

There needed to be a Pharoah, there needed to be a Pilate, there needed to be a Sanhedrin to execute the evil deeds and the deeds needed to be done to accomplish a purpose. God does show himself quite often in the Old and New Testaments. Heck, that's what the whole prophets passage appears to me as being. This repeated God comes in to intervene at point A so that we can see His love. Then we go and do our own stuff again and suffer consequences. Eventually God comes back in to redeem things again.

3) "Is it merely coincidence that as humankind has become more scientifically advanced, God has decided to stop talking to us, getting involved in public ways, performing miracles, proving points, etc?"

Not at all. I think God is still performing miracles on a daily basis. Look at the medical miracles. Not just medical technology in general, but the countless stories of those folks with cancer ruptured bodies that a week later, or less, come back as perfectly clean when the doctors admit that they saw no hope. Look at the auto accidents that have cars crumpled to a core, yet all people walk out uninjured. It is easy to give credit solely to modern engineering, which does deserve credit, but look also to the circumstances, the most probably outcome, and the highly unprobable result.

4) "Does [God's] utter silence and refusal to intervene not make you the least bit suspicious?"

I guess I answered that in 3, He isn't silent. 8^D

5)I mean, how can an all-knowing, wise, powerful God...design a "good" human being that would almost instantaneously become commandeered by sin, which would subsequently take over his whole nature?

I ultimately attribute this idea to the fact that we have free will, and there ramifications of that I still sift through in my head on a daily basis. The "quick" answer could be that Satan tricked Eve with the apple, so shame on Satan, but shame on Adam for doing what he knew he wasn't supposed to, but that leaves plenty of holes. The bigger issue, far too wordy to answer here is if we acknowledge that God created us, then the free will option was the best route to go, knowing what would follow. What would be the "other" way the world would function. Free will, but not the ability to do evil to others? That's not quite free will and I'm sure you'd be far angrier with God if he said you had all the free will to do what I'm going to make you do.

Jospeh said...

To Speedwell: I appreciate your thoughtful response. Reading what you wrote reminds me of how far I’ve drifted in my own thinking from what I used to believe so passionately. What you said describes my sentiments only six months ago. What changed for me? I guess I just finally allowed myself to be shocked by the breadth, depth, and magnitude of moral evil and physical suffering in the world today. As a Christian, I was deeply bothered by this—emotionally, yes, but most of all intellectually. My first response was similar to Jennifer’s in the previous post’s comments—this is our call to action as Christians! We must be God’s hands and feet!

The problem is Christians have trouble getting together on much of anything, these days (well, besides stopping gay marriage)!! Yes, pockets of Christianity do unite behind common causes like Katrina (along with all the atheists, JW's, and Mormons), but the majority of us are still split along doctrinal lines. So, if God’s kingdom can’t mobilize effectively, if his hands and feet are crippled, then what? All we can really do is throw a few buckets of water onto a raging fire. Unless (and here’s the key) we can get God to pull out the big fire hose. Until then, we can only shake our heads at how bad the world is, do what little we can within our exclusive denominations, and comfort ourselves with the thought that any innocents lost or damaged will find their reward in heaven.

This is when I started to get peeved at God. Not so much at God personally, but the idea of God that I had based my entire life on for as long as I can remember. Christians can think up brilliant explanations (we think) to explain (apologize for) God’s absence, but in the end, what is his silence really telling us? That he’s not there at all? That he wound up the world and left it to wind down to utter destruction? That's he limited? Or that he just wants us to figure it out, with a subtle nudge or two every thousand years?

The POE wouldn’t be so devastating to me if there wasn’t so much emphasis on a personal nature of God in the Bible. A God who sees the sparrow fall and keeps count of every hair on our heads (Luke 12). A God who is an “ever-present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And don’t forget everything is says about faith “moving mountains” (Mark 11:23) and sending rain to the earth (James 5:17-18).

So, for the past several months I have been in limbo—trying to believe in the God of Bible (or at least my mental construct of him based on my evangelical moorings) and wondering why he did so much in the book of Acts, but not today. In the meantime, I feel selfish praying that God will help me ace the GMAT or give me a promotion, when there are so many pressing needs out that he hasn’t gotten to. Maybe I’ll just stop jamming the airwaves and give a clear frequency to the cries of the helpless and brokenhearted.

Jospeh said...

Dillie-o: With the deepest respect and sincerity, you are not telling me anything that I haven't myself preached passionately from the pulpit before. I wish those answers were ultimately satisfying, but they aren't anymore. In my mind, Christians would be better off responding to the POE by saying, "I don't know why these things happen. It's terrible. But let's see if we can't do something about it," rather than putting forth these 'educated guesses' about why God allows evil (many of which aren't even articulated in pages of Scripture).

David B. Ellis said...

Indeed, Jospeh, I think "I dont know but he must have some reason consistent with his love for his creations that hasn't been revealed to us" is the best answer a theist can give.

There's a major problem with even this answer though.

I think most christians who are presenting the "how can our puny human minds and limited imaginations claim with confidence that its unlikely God has a good reason" argument would find this same argument quite a stretch if presented by someone from a religion that practiced human sacrifice and called it the will of a loving God.

And rightly so.

Its technically true that we don't absolutely know that a loving God doesn't have a reason for commanding human sacrifice which is in harmony with his loving nature.

But I think we can still judge the plausibility of such a claim with a fair degree of confidence as being extremely low.

And, on a separate issue, I think that a person who truly values compassion and simple decency would have to actually have that harmonizing reason revealed to us before he could feel justified in worshipping or revering such a deity.

I am reminded of the Stargate TV series where this dilemma of judging whether the "gods" one has been raised to worship was so often a central conflict within the stories.

If the characters in those stories took the same attitude as our "who are we to judge God" friends on this blog then they'd still be slaves to the G'uald.

SteveJ said...

... I think "I dont know but he must have some reason consistent with his love for his creations that hasn't been revealed to us" is the best answer a theist can give.

There are theists who give other answers -- maybe not great ones. For example, Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches that God is not able to stop every occurrence of evil.

Jospeh said...

I don't even go so far as to assume that God has "some reason" for the superfluous evil and suffering in his world anymore. I've become almost bitterly agnostic to the entire question.

Michael Ejercito said...

God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings; He does whatever He wants, whenever He feels like it.

Jospeh said...

"[God] does whatever he wants, whenever he feels like it."

Michael, the theistic argument is bound to come to this, isn't it? The sovereignty of God always trumps the depravity of man. None of us deserve one iota of God's grace, says the Calvinist; we deserve hell. This is supposed to silence criticism and send us on our way, accepting whatever the apologists feed us. Accept it, smile, and be grateful. Well, I'm not so content to swallow this hyper-macho view of God.

John @ co. are certainly better logicians than I and they will tell you that from the standpoint of pure logic, the Calvinist answer is no answer at all. Let me quickly tell you where I am coming from. I am a lay preacher of 20 years, third generation, whose ministry has encompassed several conservative evangelical congregations, in-depth classes, sermons, home bible studies, articles, tracts, you name it. But I make my living not as a minister, but as a businessman. I hold an BA in Business and an MBA, and am aspiring towards a PhD. I say this not to flaunt any credentials (they pale in comparison with others in this forum and perhaps your own), but simply to say that I am approaching the POE from the standpoint of common sense. I write as a practical businessman, who doesn't like to have the wool pulled over his eyes, be it in the marketplace or in the church.

With that as a backdrop, I come to the Bible and find a wealth of scripture telling me God is supposed to act faithfully, in accordance with his unchanging, righteous character and word. Jeremiah, for instance, writes: "[God's] compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." It seems that the Biblical writers expected God to act in a consistently compassionate manner. They even called upon God to intervene in their lives, to save them from their earthly troubles. David is constantly pleading with Yaweh, "Remember thy lovingkindness and tender mercies." Jesus portrays God as a merciful father who "sends his rain on the just and the unjust."

But, let's assume you are right for a moment and say that God cannot be expected to intervene to stop human evil or physical suffering because, well, he just does whatever he wants, no questions asked. Here's what I'm wondering: can we really put our trust in such a God? Is he a solid rock of reliability or an island of sand that will erode from beneath our feet when we least expect? Can we really know from one moment to the next whether he loves us or hates us, whether we're saved or lost? (I contend that many Christians aren't sure about these very things, but have never given themselves permission to ask why.)

In the world of business, I know that when someone doesn't communicate clearly, withholds information, says one thing and does another--in other words, does whatever he wants--that person is failing to live up to his end of the partnership. And that, my friend, spells bad news. It calls for a critical reevaluation of the contract and the relationship itself.

If God is capricious and acts in ways that conflict with his own word and revealed character, I submit that we cannot put our faith in him at all. Nor can we say that he is all good, loving, merciful, and wise. We cannot even be sure that he will be there for us and our loved ones in the hour of need, no matter how faithful a Calvinist, Lutheran, Catholic we are.

So you see, there IS a real problem with the POE here. It's not a straw man, but a juggarnaut. The God of Christian theology seems content to stand by and watch the rising tide of evil, even though it is simply over our heads right now. As a practical, thinking businessman these are the conclusions that I come to.

David B. Ellis said...


There are theists who give other answers -- maybe not great ones. For example, Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches that God is not able to stop every occurrence of evil.


Yes, there are a wide variety of theodicies. And as bad as the one above. The problem is not just that God doesnt stop EVERY occurence of evil.....he doesn't stop countless millions of them.....and that when you just take one particular class of them (as in my congenital deformity example).

I haven't read Kushners writings so I don't know what reason he gives for Gods inability. If its that he isn't omnipotent then, of course, the problem of evil doesnt apply since its only directed at omnipotent beings.

But to claim an omnipotent being cannot ease a vast amount of the extreme suffering we see in the world is another highly implausible hypothesis.

But I'd have to read his argument to address before I can say more on it than that.


I don't even go so far as to assume that God has "some reason" for the superfluous evil and suffering in his world anymore. I've become almost bitterly agnostic to the entire question.



I sympathize, questioning one's cherished beliefs is almost always a painful thing. My own 2 year process of deconversion was a difficult time to put it mildly.


God is Lord of Lords and King of Kings; He does whatever He wants, whenever He feels like it.



When I imagine what it would be like if a loving God existed I can only think that he would take such words as a slap in the face.

Dillie-O said...

So if I'm hearing everybody correctly here, if God is supposed to be all loving and caring and we find one single instance of evil triumphing, then God must not be all loving and the God of the Bible doesn't exist?

Should we be examining more on how the universe does run and figuring things out that way as opposed to how the universe should run in our eyes? Don't take this as a ploy to "just accept what God does, because I don't", I just think the approach to it may be coming from the wrong direction.

David B. Ellis said...

I, for one, am not claiming it disproves the existence of a loving omnipotent god.

I am saying that the idea that a loving god exists but designs the world in such a way that it serves, in effect, as a torture chamber for many born into it (as in my infant with congenital deformities example) is implausible in the extreme.

Just as much as the claim that a loving God commands, for example, daily human sacrifices.

Even though both of us is incapable of knowing the mind of a god I think we would still find such a claim utterly implausible and rightly so.

Michael Ejercito said...



So if I'm hearing everybody correctly here, if God is supposed to be all loving and caring and we find one single instance of evil triumphing, then God must not be all loving and the God of the Bible doesn't exist?

Evil triumphs in the lake of fire.

Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire.

Jospeh said...

BTW, just noticed the link below ("Answers to an [Un]Reasonable Christian's Questions"). It's answers like these that make me more comfortable discussing the POE with an atheist or agnostic than many of my Christian brethren. Tolerance level for those who question...and press those questions, seems to be rather low.

Dillie-O said...

Quote David B. Ellis...
I am saying that the idea that a loving god exists but designs the world in such a way that it serves, in effect, as a torture chamber for many born into it (as in my infant with congenital deformities example) is implausible in the extreme.

Hmm, I think that's where we differ. If we are to believe the creation story, then God created the world and humans good with the capability of free will. From there, it was man's fall that created the problems that we have today due to sin. Yeah, it sounds pretty harsh to think that one little apple bite wound up causing so much havoc around here, but even then God had plans to remedy the situation.

I guess that's where the crux of the matter lies, establishing whether God's intent for this world was to be a place of suffering or just a big screw up because he failed to account that free will would cause so many problems.

SteveJ said...

I haven't read Kushners writings so I don't know what reason he gives for Gods inability.

Kushner watched his son die a slow death from progeria, a disease that speeds up the aging process so that children turn into old men. He got fed up with religious people telling him why God allowed this to happen, e.g., "God wanted you to learn strength," or, "God is going to use you comfort others through this." His response was that God, if He were really omnipotent, could have produced all these good effects without letting his son die in such a terrible way. He further reasoned that he couldn't believe in both God's omnibenevolence and His omnipotence. Something had to give. So he opted for a God of perfect goodness who is not all-powerful.

David B. Ellis said...

Then, of course, the POE doesn't apply to his version of the God-concept.

I always thought the Zoroastrian approach made more sense as well---two deities, one good, one evil, who are almost perfectly equal in power.

David B. Ellis said...


I guess that's where the crux of the matter lies, establishing whether God's intent for this world was to be a place of suffering or just a big screw up because he failed to account that free will would cause so many problems.


Actually, the crux of the problem is far greater than that. Since God designed reality and establishes the rules governing it then it is HE who choose what the consequences of Adam and Eves sin would be.

And I have heard no reasonable explanation for why he would set things up so that the whole of creation collapses into a degenerate state because the first two humans disobeyed him.

Was he, for example, incapable of simply punishing the two individuals who actually committed the sin rather than causing the whole of creation to suffer as well (including the animals)?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Michael:
(I could have asked this after any of your posts, but this is as good a place as any.) Can you tell us more about yourself, at least your 'religious self'?

Where do you get your theological ideas from? (And please don't just say 'The Bible" unless you are a total auto-didact. ANY Christian, from Rushdoony to Troy Perry, from Falwell and Hagee to the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury would claim their ideas are, initially, based on the Bible, but obviously their interpretations of it differ.)

That is, if you ARE a Christian. The only reason I say this is because your picture of God is far closer to the arguments I heard from Muslims when I was debating with them than it is to what most Christians see him as.
(I might have seen you as a Calvinist had you not said "and life without freedom would be meaningless." As we've seen with Bnonn, this is opposed to the Calvinist position -- and why didn't you take him on when he said that man had no freedom?)

I wonder if your position is close to that of Eastern Orthodoxy -- but I admit I know almost nothing about that branch of the Christian tree. (As I say to the cats when their dinner is late, "I'm working on it, I'm working on it.")

So, if you would, please give us more of the background of your religious ideas.