The Good Good Father vs. The Straw god

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A true tragedy within contemporary culture is the great amount of people, some even claiming to be Christians, who do not understand the character of God.  In some cases, their animosity does not seem to be based in mere misunderstanding, but in strategy.  Willingly or unwittingly, they create gods of their own choosing, what I will call Straw gods (small “g”).  Like straw man arguments, these ideas are formed in order to defeat a god who is fallible, limited, not all-powerful, not holy, or all-knowing.  Below, I would like to give a few examples of just such questions or statements that confuse a Straw god with the God of the Bible, explain the inherent problems with them, and even try to answer them in a way that will not support their faulty premises.  To do that, I will humbly borrow the theological gravitas of Arthur W. Pink and his book, “The Attributes of God”, from which I will quote extensively.

Before we begin, I want my readers to know that I sampled these questions from various atheist/ Christian Facebook groups.  These are real questions that should demonstrate to us the magnitude of our culture’s inability to understand who our Good Good Father is.

Let’s proceed.

 

Question #1.  Shouldn’t a god who commits mass murder be held accountable?

The answer is yes.  But a god who commits mass murder cannot be the God of the bible.  The questioner, here, posits a Straw god who can be convicted of a crime (murder) and then be held accountable for said crime.  The holiness of this god is called into question, as well as his sovereignty.  One is moved to ask if this god that isn’t all good or all powerful or all moral is worthy of our praise?  Truly, the one named in this question is not.

The Bible tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John1:5).  Certainly, a being without darkness would not be a murderer.  Such diabolical claims are most often made in relation to Old Testament commands to utterly destroy enemies of Israel, punishing them for their grave disobedience.  Either way, it is our sinful world that deserves God’s punishment.  Punishment, not murder.  These deaths occurred due to the despicable things done to one another and done to a people who had been warned, but remained in direct rebellion against their creator.  Pink explains:

“Because God is holy he hates all sin. . . It follows, therefore, that he must necessarily punish sin.  Sin can no more exist without demanding his punishment than without requiring his hatred of it.  God has often forgiven sinners but he never forgives sin; and the sinner is only forgiven on the ground of Another having borne his punishment . . .” (page 54)

Other times, questioners may conflate the existence of natural disasters, like hurricanes and tsunamis, with a murderous god.  After all, aren’t God’s decrees the “counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).  The problem here is that these “acts of God” seem to be the only acts attributed to Him.  Isn’t a beautiful warm summer day an act of God?  A cool refreshing breeze?  Rain for the farmer’s crops?  But when we see an event happen that, with our limited knowledge, we deem to be negative, doesn’t it seem that these are the only acts God must be responsible for?  Pink offers:

“O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to children of men” (Ps. 107:8).  Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of his beneficence; yet it is often withheld from out great Benefactor simply because his goodness is so constant and so abundant.  It is lightly esteemed because it is exercised toward us in the common course of events.  It is not felt because we daily experience it.” (page 77)

A page earlier Pink talks about examples of God’s goodness revealed in our human experiences:

“With comparatively rare exceptions, men and women, experience a far greater number of days of health than they do of sickness and pain.  There is much more creature happiness than creature-misery in the world.  Even our sorrows admit of considerable alleviation, and God has given to the human mind a pliability which adapts itself to circumstances and makes the most of them.”  (page 76)

Truth is, the proof of God’s eternal goodness cannot not be explained by the results of a  temporary existence.  Exiting the material world does not mark the end of the human experience of those who love God.

Still, they will call Him a murderer or genocidal.  If we are to accept this characterization of our Good Good Father, we also must ask ourselves the following questions:

How is it possible for the creator of the morality to be immoral since immorality is a deficiency of perfect morality?  It is not.  God is the maximal Being.  He cannot exhibit traits that are not perfect.  

By what standard can we judge a being who made us?  It is one thing to pass judgement upon someone who resides on our same footing, a coworker, friend, or neighbor, but it is an entirely different story to act as judge over a being of infinite perfection.

The question then asks shouldn’t God be held accountable.  Whom could He possibly be held accountable to?  If there is one, to which, our God could be held accountable, that being would then be God.

We, as believers, rejoice in the fact that our holy God has absolute authority over creation.  Clearly, the Straw god in question #1 is about one that is unholy and not good and without authority.

Question #2.  Why would a loving God send anyone to hell?

So the Straw god put forth is one that cannot reconcile his loving nature with his nature of wrath.  This is not the God of the Bible worshiped by Christians.  According to His word (1 John 4:8, Ps. 7:11), God is all loving and yet the wrath of God is another perfect facet of his Divine character.  To infer otherwise, as this question does, misunderstands both attributes.

In his book, mentioned above, Pink lists several qualities related to His perfect love and makes the point that “it is not simply that God ‘loves’, but that He is love (1John 4:8).  Love is not merely one of his attributes, but His very nature” (page 98).  So because He is love and He is sovereign, infinite, holy, immutable, and gracious, it stands to reason that so is His love.

After having defined God as love itself, the skeptic might propose that His reaction to the rebellion by His creation to His face should also be loving, which is in keeping with his identity.  To this, I would say that God’s response to those violating the law is wholly loving.  His response is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.   Folks that are moved to respond to this supremely loving act are saved, given eternal life. For those who are unmoved by Him, He respects their will to remain separated from His presence.  Moreover, “How could he who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly?” (page 106)  In other words, how should a being whose every nature is perfect respond to what is “impure and vile”?  Wouldn’t not judging evil be, in fact, unloving and violate His divine character?  In effect, wouldn’t it also be a “moral blemish” attributed to a morally perfect God?  Pink says, “Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper” (page 106).

Clearly, in order for God to be God, He must be able to reconcile all his Divine characteristics.  That is the Good Good Father that deserves our worship.

Question #3.  Can’t god get rid of evil?

It should be noted that often the same skeptic who has asked questions #1 and 2, at another time, may turn around and ask question #3.  Which creates a no-win situation.  One where God can neither punish evil or let evil reside without accusation.  And clearly, if this questioner is one that adheres to materialist belief, it should be asked of them how their concept of evil is grounded, since if material is all that exists, they cannot possibly believe in such a thing as evil in the first place.

But back to the subject.  The question is really the first part of a famous quote of ancient philosopher Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.  Is he able but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Then whence cometh evil?  Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God?”

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?”  Of course, He is able.  Pink opens his chapter entitled “The Power of God” with this:

“We cannot have a right conception of God unless we think of him as all-powerful, as well as all-wise.  He who cannot do what he will and perform all his pleasure cannot be God.  As God hath a will to resolve what he deems good, so has he the power to execute his will.”  (page 58)

It’s really this simple.  Any god who is limited in any way cannot be the God of the Bible.  The question most people get hung up on, and I suppose rightly so, is why He would allow evil.  Please remember though that with His power, as Pink comments, comes wisdom.  God is not like a bully on the playground who does not know his own strength.  He has reasons, perfect reasons, even though we do not know what they are at every moment.  But, ask yourself, why would we know the absolute motivations of a perfect being when we are as we are?  We are woefully dependent upon Him and His providence.

Admittedly, the information above does not prove or serve as evidence for the existence of God.  It is to serve as somewhat of a guide for your conversations with seekers or non-believers about our Good Good Father.  With this culture war, we cannot allow skeptics to reintroduce the Him as a less than perfect being.  We must defend the true God of the Bible, instead of the Straw god promoted by a secularist culture whom is simply set up to fail.

God Bless.

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Pain, Suffering, and a Good Good Father

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A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw a film called “Miracles From Heaven”.  It was okay, as faith-based films go.  It was based on a true story about a young girl and her family as she struggles with a disorder that prohibits her from digesting food properly.  We were drawn to this story because the young girl’s disorder is similar to the rare condition our daughter has called Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS).   Again, a fine family film about believers facing tough situations.  There is a point in the film, however, where the mother, played by Jennifer Garner, asks her pastor a familiar question:

Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?  

At this point in the film, the mother is disillusioned with her faith.  She refused to return to her church because the answers didn’t seem to be there.  The pastor didn’t even seem to know how to answer her question.  His response was something like, “I don’t know, but God loves you.”  It was an answer as unsatisfying to me as it was the movie mom up on the screen.

The popular lament calls into question God’s loving nature.  It asks how can He be truly loving if turmoil exists in the lives of even those who love Him.  Skeptics, ultimately, use this idea as a backdoor way to promote doubt for God’s existence, making it easier for those who are swept up in the emotional nature of their burdens to adopt their premise.  Truth is, when you factor in our gift of freewill and God’s purpose in creation, the presence of pain and suffering actually supports the existence of a loving Good Good Father.

At this point, I would like to caution my readers that the reasons for pain and suffering discussed in the article may not comfort someone currently facing a trial or burden.  The ideas here may seem insensitive in the wake of whatever hardships lay before them.  My hope is that we all may understand more deeply the function of pain and suffering in our lives.  The last thing I would want is for my words to inflame an already emotional situation.   So please, if you are struggling with something big, you are welcome to save this article for a better time.

That said, “Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering” is, nonetheless, an important question that has been asked for centuries.  It was the ancient philosopher Epicurus who asked:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Then whence cometh evil?  Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God?”

See, the thinly veiled accusation here is that since pain and suffering exists, a creator God who doesn’t act against it lacks value.  

So what, specifically, would a loving God have to alter to effectively banish these situations from the world?  To start, it seems that much pain and suffering could be prevented if God would simply limit our freedom of choice.  I mean, do we not suffer for the most part because of our bad choices?  Bankruptcy comes from poor choices with money.  Marital strife can emerge from the choice to lust for someone other than your spouse.  Friendships often dissolve due to our choice of words.  Bottom line, most times of trouble in our lives happen due to actions we take that we could simply stop, but we don’t.  So why doesn’t God simply eliminate these poor choices for us?  So that stealing, for example, just isn’t an option.  Clearly, if pain and suffering were not to exist, He would have to do this, right?

But then, we have another problem.  If God halts our ability to choose wrongly, doesn’t He, at the same time, prevent us from choosing rightly?  In encouraging God to act in this manner, don’t we relinquish the ability to define what is right?  Or what is right about humanity?

So what, you might say.  We would have a greater, better world.  One without divorce, incarceration, hurt feelings, and rejection.  The list of examples could go on and on.

Right.  But in what kind of reality would this leave us?  We currently live in a world where the shadows prove the sunshine.  Meaning that within the weaknesses of humanity, we also find our strengths. So it stands to reason that, in eliminating our weaknesses, we lose those strengths as well.  For example, since villains wouldn’t exist, neither would heroes.  There wouldn’t be victory without loss.  The concept of sacrifice would be just that, only a concept, if not played out in real life.  And can love truly exist in a world without the option of hate?  Ultimately, a world without the shadows leaves us in a world without the sunshine.

You might say, fine, but there are plenty of things that cause pain and suffering that don’t rely on our choice.  For example, hurricanes, famine, and cancer in children.  Why wouldn’t a loving God stop even these things from happening?

I would then ask if God’s “loving” act of stopping these events would actually satisfy the person asking this question?  For instance, what if God rid the world of hurricanes?  Would the skeptic now believe that God was loving and good?  Or would they continue down their list to the next item that causes pain and suffering?  Would they say, “Wait, it’s nice that we don’t have hurricanes anymore, but how can a loving God allow famine?”  Childhood cancer?  In response, God bans famine and childhood cancer from His creation.  Gone.  Now is God loving and good?  Would this satisfy the questioner when there are still things like earthquakes, floods, and droughts in existence?   Interestingly, as we go down the list, each of the most heinous violations become less egregious than the one before it.  Humanity would continue to cry out over the hardship of mental illness all the way down to the relatively benign discomfort of a simple hangnail.  Clearly, if we suppose God can only be loving based on his removal of pain and suffering from the universe, he can’t truly be loving and good if ANY examples of pain and suffering still exist no matter how small.

So how can God still be loving and good despite the presence of pain and suffering in our lives?

Well, to start, we need to go way back to the beginning of time.  It is widely accepted by the scientific community that the universe had a beginning.  The beginning may have started with a massive explosive event (Big Bang?).  In order for this to happen there needs to be a limitless, overwhelmingly powerful, immaterial, and personal mind that dwells outside of time and space to cause it to happen. Something not confined by the physical forces created in the presumed Big Bang explosion.  This is what we call God.  So before the creation of the universe, there was nothing.  No-thing.  And because God decided to, He created the universe.  His decision is the reason there is something instead of nothing.

The important part of His character for this discussion is his personal nature.  Meaning, he chooses to create.   And when something is created, it presupposes purpose.  Otherwise, why create?  Why create something when nothing will do? 

Because of God’s purposeful continual creative actions in the universe, isn’t it reasonable that our Good Good Father has a purpose for our pain and suffering too?  Even the tough seemingly unexplainable examples like childhood cancer?  Certainly, our limited understanding serves to prevent us from understanding the motives of a limitless, powerful, immaterial, and personal God.  For example, put yourself in place of the young daughter in the illustration below.

A father knows that in order to keep his young daughter safe from sickness and disease that she must endure an uncomfortable shot, a vaccination.  Due to limited knowledge, the child cannot see past the pain felt in that moment as the needle pierces her skin.  Frightened and confused, she wonders why this is happening.  She thinks, “My father is supposed to love me and take care of me.  How could he bring this pain upon me?  How could he stand by and let this happen?”

It isn’t until years pass and the daughter matured, having her own child, that she saw the value of the vaccination that she barely remembered as such a terrible betrayal.  Having gained more knowledge about the world, She realized that the pain and fear she felt was, in fact, a small price to pay for the sake of her health.  Best of all, she completely understood that her father loved her.

Are you familiar with how the young daughter feels?  What about the daughter, now older, in the second paragraph?  Of course, in this illustration, the father represents God and the daughter is all of us, His children.  So possessing the knowledge of children, in comparison to His knowledge, it is likely that we would not know His plans right now in the midst of our struggle, but the Bible, His inerrant word, tells us He is for us (Romans 8:31).  He loves us so much that He allowed His son to die so that we may one day live forever with Him.  So, faced with this great sacrifice, we are challenged to trust in Him and in His purpose for us.  Author Kevin DeYoung offers some insight in his book, “The Good News We Almost Forgot”:

“This is a sad world we live in, one in which God not only allows trouble, but at times, sends adversity to us.  Trust, therefore, does not mean hoping for the absence of pain but believing in the purpose of pain.”

DeYoung’s words highlight how we are often trapped within our struggles.  We rather hope for the absence of pain instead of it’s purpose.  The good news is that purpose opposes indifference.  Purpose infers a goal, an ending.  A plan.  The existence of purpose means that all the pain and suffering we face is not wasted.

Our daughter has a day-to-day struggle with pain from her condition.  She doesn’t always share with us how she feels, choosing instead to tough it out in order be treated like a normal teenager.  My wife has had to learn to sense when she’s having trouble most of the time.  Other times, it’s quite obvious.  My daughter can’t always eat what everyone else eats or be active after eating.  As a young girl, doctors accused her of being anorexic because she simply could not keep her food down and her symptoms fit the profile.  She’s dealt with long periods of time with a feeding tube fed through her nose into her stomach.  And my wife had to spend years tirelessly searching for medical advice for a disorder that, at the time, only hundreds of people, in history, have been diagnosed.  So why did a loving God let her be afflicted with this?  

There’s that question again.  At this point, it feels like the wrong question to ask.

Maybe we should ask, “What does our loving Good Good Father want with her?  Or, Lord, what are you trying to show us?  What are you preparing us for?”  Because what I believe is that with our daughter’s SMAS, our Good Good Father is making her who He created her to be.  Who she needs to be to fit His purpose for her life.  And if we do not understand this purpose right now, that’s okay.  We can trust that one day we might, God willing.

God bless.