Thursday, January 17, 2008

On the Freedom of Choice, and On Suffering

In this article, an atheist (we'll call him Bob) vehemently calls foul over Christians' use of the "Parental Analogy" when answer the Problem of Evil. That analogy basically runs like this: God allows evil and suffering in people's lives to serve as a punitive learning experience for our own good, just like any good parent who allows their child to suffer the consequence of their error in order to learn from their mistakes.
Atheist Bob calls this analogy "asinine" for the following reasons:
  1. "If God created us and gave us freedom, then as a loving parent his moral concern should be that we that we don’t abuse the freedom he gave us in the ways we do. The giver of a gift is blameworthy if he gives gifts to those whom he knows will terribly abuse those gifts." Pretty self explanatory: God should not have given the ability (or full ability) to choose right or wrong until we were capable of handling that responsibility.
  2. "Why should we as human beings have to learn the consequences of our actions by such draconian kinds of sufferings when we err? When my children misbehaved or didn’t understand the consequences of their actions, I didn’t send a proverbial hurricane their way...No caring father would let [their children] suffer the full brunt of their mistakes--no father." Translation: God is too harsh.
  3. "Not communicating to children who seek to understand is being an unresponsive parent...Reflective and responsible children, if they are to be treated as the adults they are about to become, require answers, reasons, and evidence. This is not what I see from the God who supposedly is a good parent." Translation: Why is God so cotton-pickin' mysterious?
Why didn't God wait until we were responsible enough to handle the freedom of choice? Answer: He did. Adam and Eve were innocent (neither inherently inclined to good or evil) and rational (able to think within the bounds of reason). How much more capable does one have to be in order to keep four simple commands: (1) Rule the earth, (2) Enjoy the earth, (3) Fill the earth, and (4) do not touch the forbidden tree? Get it through your heads: the Fall is our fault, not God's. Quite frankly, shifting the blame on Him is one of the most childish things ever.
After the Fall, why didn't God simply limit mankind's freedom of choice until we became more responsible and mature enough to handle it? Because: we would never become more responsible and mature. The Fall was not simply the first mistake in a long line of mistakes. The Fall was the mistake that caused all the other mistakes. The Fall caused a change to occur in humanity: where once we were innocent (neither inherently inclined to good or evil), now we are fallen (inherently inclined to evil). We chose to disobey God; we chose the evil. Now we are bound to it. No amount of time will ever change that, will ever allow us to learn our way out of it. It is a part of our inner human disposition that we cannot get to. Only God can "get" at it, and that is exactly what He did in Christ. Quite simply, God did not have the option to limit our freedom of choice when we fell. He only had two options: destroy us, or save us. We Christians worship Him primarily because He chose the latter.
Why is God so harsh? Frankly, I don't know much about hurricanes, but I do think Christian "wrath-casting" is presumptuous and (like real weather forecasting) unreliable. God sends the rain on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). "No caring father would let [their children] suffer the full brunt of their mistakes--no father." Right; and neither does God. The "full brunt" of our mistakes is not hurricanes, but Hell. Christ came and took the "full brunt" of our mistakes on the cross. If you refuse that gift, you will suffer the "full brunt," and it will be your own fault. God is harsh on Sin because He is righteous and holy. Sin has to be dealt with, not overlooked.
Why is God so mysterious? Because we are fallen. The Sun is forever a mystery to a blind man. C.S. Lewis dealt with this same problem in his novel Till We Have Faces. The main character asked the same question: "Why are holy places always dark places?" Why doesn't God just make Himself plain? The question is answered later on by the same character: "How can we meet the gods face to face till we have faces?" Translation: How can we know God when our present fallen state means that we are not even in the proper standing by which we can begin to know God?
You want God to stop being mysterious? Impossible. His ways are "past finding out," beyond full comprehension. Christian doctrine has always taught that. In addition, it also has taught that the joy of Heaven is knowing God for all eternity, and because His ways are beyond full comprehension, throughout all eternity there will always be another mystery, another surprise, another adventure. We cannot, however, even begin this process of knowing until our eyes are opened by the gospel of Christ and we accept what He has done on the cross as our means of salvation. If God is just completely in darkness to you, it is simply because you never have been regenerated into the life of God by the redemption of Christ. Period.

In conclusion, God does not let us suffer consequences so that we will learn from our mistakes. He lets us suffer the consequences so that we will know (1) there is something wrong with us, and (2) there is something wrong with the world. That is not Him being a "good parent." That is Him being a holy and loving God. The analogy is asinine, not because it is wrong, but because it is incomplete. As fallen creatures, we can never learn from our mistakes; we can only learn that there are mistakes. We cannot fix ourselves or the world. Only God can, and Christ is His "fix" so to speak. In Christ, God became one with our sufferings and bore them in Himself. That sacrifice provided the way to escape suffering, not immediately, but eventually. For now, we are to spread the good news that although suffering and evil is real, they are not the end. There is a hope beyond all of it. There is a way out.