July 16, 2012

Confusion of the Blessed: Part 1

Why did this have to happen?

It's incredible how often I hear people say they are blessed. They claim that God provided them with something in a time of need, protected them from some impending danger, healed them from a terrible sickness, or arranged for their local grocery store to stock their favorite coffee. No doubt these are all situations in which gratitude to God is to be expected. But I got to thinking about this. If we say that God blesses us with "things", health or coffee doesn't this imply that he is choosing to withhold that same blessing from a different individual asking for the same thing? To put simplistically, does God have favorites?

A few years back Gordon College hosted a debate between a conservative Christian, Dinesh D'Souza, and a Christian-turned-agnostic professor of religion, Bart Ehrman. The topic of the debate was "theodicy, God and suffering", or restated in much more basic language, why do bad things happen to good people (yes, all my seminarian friends, this is an oversimplification).

The crux of Bart's argument was essentially that if God cares about his people and has the power and ability to prevent atrocities, pain and suffering why does he not intercede? In sum, if God truly existed he would act. His idleness is proof of his nonexistence or at a minimum evidence that he does not care about His creation.

Dinesh countered by saying that God created a world precisely the way he intended and that, for example, minuscule alterations to the earth's tectonic plates would cause huge land masses to be thrown into the ocean (e.g. California) or constant earthquakes and tsunamis, etc. For obvious reasons, this didn't satisfy Bart. Namely, because couldn't God just create another world with the same tectonic plates that didn't have natural disasters? Dinesh then said God created our world just the way he intended to allow for virtue, charity and free will to exist, and he actually also has already created a separate world free of pain, suffering and overpriced coffee: Heaven.

Bart, again predictably, had problems with this argument, primarily because no one knows for 100% certainty, heaven really does exist; stating that no one had ever gone to heaven, stayed for a few nights and returned raving about the continental breakfast. Dinesh responded by talking about humanity's deep-seeded longing for something beyond this world and the inherent "good" that prevents us from doing things like pushing old women down stairs. It's this "longing" and "inner moral compass" which point towards a creator and an afterlife.

It is at this point in the intellectual exercise that I usually throw my hands in the air, wave a little white flag and say something like, "I guess we'll never know for sure." In fact, I'm tempted to just trash this blog post. I probably would, if it weren't for a conversation I had with a friend of mine several months back. We were talking about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (on an aside, how many blog posts do I need to write before I start calling myself K.L. Krass?), and their ability to not only articulate incredibly complex ideas and theories, but simply to intellectually arrive at these elaborate and rich truths. My friend made a comment about how he thought that individuals like Lewis and Tolkien didn't necessarily have a more sophisticated intellect but simply had more stamina to think these things through. When we reach a point where we don't quite understand something, how often do we 1) just stop thinking about it and say something like, "we will never know",  or 2) succumb to skepticism, doubt and disbelief.

Lewis & Tolkien

I wonder what would happen if we would just hang in there a few more rounds. There is a line in the movie Cast Away that I've always been found of.  After Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks' character) is rescued, he is asked how he made it on the island--essentially, how he survived. His response:

You just have to keep on breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide will bring.

I love this line.  But I don't want to just, "stay alive." I want to deliver some body shots to this conversation. I want to be able to yell Adrian, I mean, "SARAH!" at the end of this thing. So yes, in a way, thinking about these things may leave you looking like this:

Tom Hanks in Cast Away

But I would much rather look like this:

I should say, I don't plan to stumble on something revolutionary. My goal is to merely arrive at some solution, even if it's one that seems trite to most. So here are the terms of the arrangement: 1) I will not use scripture in the argument. In many ways, like Dinesh did, it's somewhat easy to say that, "present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Not that this isn't true (thanks John Paulson for passing along Romans 8 via Facebook). In fact, I personally believe this is very true. However, using scripture in a discussion with individuals that do not view scripture with the same reverence is like dancing tango with yourself--you just kind of spin in circles.  So the bible is off limits.

Calle Florida in Argentina. This was pretty cool.

2) The deadline for part two of this entry is Sunday at 11:59 P.M..  The editor of this blog (my wife) will have to keep me accountable to this. This deadline is somewhat ironic because I honestly believe the more time one wrestles with this dilemma the richer one's response to it. I'm very young, and not very intelligent--a tough combination. But I think there is value in wrestling through these things regardless of age and IQ. 3) I'm not allowed to arrive at, "I guess we will never know", "Only God knows", or any other short pseudo-placating maxims.  That's been done before, and frankly is a little infuriating.

So, let the challenge begin. I hope to have something up within a few days. If I have not posted by Sunday, check with my editor.

Sarah, cue epic, incredibly motivating training montage!!!



  1. I remember that debate. I remember thinking Bart sounded bitter, and Dinesh was just recounting other people's answers.
    This is an admirable and challenging task you have set for yourself; I look forward to reading what you thoughts you come to by Sunday.
    I do think that the full answer to this question is found in a life, with each experience, each year, providing another stone with which to build. And the 'answer' you have this week will no doubt be different than the 'answer' you give ten years from now. Thank you for the challenge to not give up asking simply because the answers seem hidden!

  2. I completely agree. I was rereading a few things I wrote just two years ago and I disagreed with almost everything I said!!!

    I felt the same way after the debate, I thought that Bart made several compelling cases but overall let his emotions get the best of him. Dinesh was good, very articulate, but not earth-shattering.

    Thanks for the comment!