Saturday, April 11, 2009

Musings on Nietzsche Saturday

My brother wrote on his blog about an encounter he had with someone which prompted a lot of questions, the most basic being, "Why does God let bad things happen to good people and kittens?" The post got me thinking about the nature of God and our perception of Him, and while I don’t come even close to claiming I have all the answers, this is how I answer these questions to myself.

I think some of our dissatisfaction with God comes from an incomplete view of who He is. God is the most powerful entity in the universe, and He is not answerable to us. His only constraints are the ones He imposes on Himself. This is not a concept that sits well with Americans. The most powerful man in the world is the president of the United States, and he does what we tell him to. President Bush was so unpopular because he kept doing thing the American people didn’t like. Then along comes Barak Obama saying, "I will do all the things you wanted Bush to do but that he refused to do," and America voted him into office. And if, in four years, America is as dissatisfied with President Obama as it was with President Bush, there will be someone new in the Oval Office. But we don’t get a vote as to what God is like or what He will do, and we cannot vote Him out of the office of creator and ruler of the universe.

Today the message seems to be, "Jesus wants to be your best friend. Become a Christian and Jesus will fix all your problems." While there is a lot of underlying truth in that trite saying, it ignores the awesomeness of God and says nothing about sin and the fallen nature of the world. A God that kills kittens or lets kittens be killed has no place in this world view. But God invented kittens, and every kitten that exists does so because He lets it. And if God were to decree tomorrow: "Thou shalt kill all the kittens in the world for they are an abomination to Me, excepting the gray tabbies, for they alone are beautiful in My sight," that would be all right and good because God is boss and all kittens are His to do with as He pleases.

God created a perfect world, with a plan for how the whole thing would work. And He put man in charge of the world to take care of it. And man decided he had a better plan than God’s, and so brought sin and death into the world. Humans became mortal because of Adam’s sin. It is possible that death did not exist at all until Adam’s sin, and if that is the case, it is not God’s fault at all that kittens die. And we continue Adam’s legacy today. Every time I sin, I do my part to make this world a worse place to live in.

And yet, even though God has no responsibilities to us, His creations, even though we continually try to come up with a better plan than His, even though we continually blame Him for making us dirty after we have been wilfully rolling in the mud, even though He would be completely within His rights to completely wipe humanity off the face of the earth and start all over again with Adam 2.0, He came up with a new plan so that we can once again be right with Him. He sent His only son, Jesus, to die for us so that we don’t have to spend eternity separated from Him. He didn’t have to do that, but apparently He thinks that we are worth the trouble. The plan does not always make sense, but since God is not answerable to anyone and can do whatever He wants, it doesn’t have to.

And so I think it is an encouraging thought on this Nietzsche Saturday that the God who can do whatever He wants, went out of His way to provide for a bunch of losers like us.


Matthew said...

Hullo. I linked here from Josh's blog.

>God has no responsibilities to us, His creations ...

That's kind of counter-intuitive. It seems to me that when you create something, you have tons of responsibility toward it. Take children, for example.

> God is boss and all kittens are His to do with as He pleases.

Again, this seems odd. I don't see that a being's power has anything to do with his or her moral responsibilities -- might does not make right. You're essentially equating power with goodness, which takes the meaning out of the statement "God is good" and replaces it with "God is powerful". That's certainly an option, but I think it's important that we mean something when we say "God is good".

Josh said...

Hullo. I linked here from my own blog. Mackie is in school right now, but she asked me to relay these thoughts.

I agree that we must take God for who he is, and not who we want him to be. However, that in no way exempts him from moral scrutiny. Put another way, "real" does not necessarily equal "good." A king with unchecked power can do whatever he wants, and the citizens of his territory would be wise to play by his rules if they value their lives. But does that make him good, just because he makes all the rules? Hardly. To do so wold be to redefine the term "good" to mean, "Whatever God wants." Saying "God wants things because they are good," is totally different from, "things are good because God wants them." If we equate the two sayings, the term "good" as we know it loses all meaning.

Concerning the creation of a perfect world: I don't actually believe that, but for the sake of argument I can roll with it. God gave us choice, which I am a big fan of. I'm also a big fan of taking responsibilities for our choices, both good and bad. I blame much of the evil and pain in the world on bad choices made by humans. But even if you believe in a sinless creation, God created us with an enormous propensity for screwing things up. Why? If he really wanted the world to be awesomely awesome, and he hates sin so much, why even allow the possibility? Especially if you believe in God's omniscience, how can you not hold him responsible?

Suppose I make cars. My cars run great, but if they aren't driven to my exact design, they break down irreparably. Brake too suddenly, turn the wheel a couple degrees off, don't turn on the headlights at the exact right instant, and suddenly mein Auto ist kaput. I can argue that I made perfect cars, but the drivers screwed everything up. But shouldn't responsibility fall on me for making cars that no one can drive? If we are created with such a strong tendency to roll in the mud, aren't God's hands dirty?

As to the notion that God has no responsibility to his creation, I will simply echo Matthew's thoughts. (That's my heretical friend Matthew, not my brother).

As it turns out, I do believe that God is good and that he knows what he's doing. But I follow him because he's good, not because he's God. And so I will keep questioning, in hopes that he will continue to hold up under my scrutiny.

Thanks for commenting on my blog and giving it a shout out here.