Stupid 'Mysterious Ways'

I am sick and tired of being fed this apologetic when disasters strike/innocents suffer horribly/insert bad incident here.

It goes like this: someone says, “If there is a God, and He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, why did He let this happen?”

The response is usually like this, “Well, you just don’t know as much as God does. When you were three, and your mom stopped you from drinking drain cleaner, you got mad and unhappy because she was ruining your game, but she was really saving your life; when your parents made you stay home and study instead of going to parties, they were preparing you to have a good life, not trying to make you suffer. You just can’t know what God has in mind. Maybe those nursery-school students getting shot to death made someone else grow emotionally, or made a mother treasure her young child even more. Don’t question God, He has more information than you, and He’s doing it for your own good.”

The problem with this argument is that parents are not all-powerful, so they have to help their kids negotiate a sometimes-hostile world that has poisonous drain-cleaner and unemployment and STDs and so forth. If God is as described above, he wouldn’t be limited like this. He could make everyone happy and loving and spiritually complete without making them lose loved ones and get horrific diseases. So why doesn’t he? The answer seems to boil down to him creating this grand experiment in which he creates imperfect creatures, then uses various forms of torture interspersed with ambiguous promises of reward in order to make them improve themselves.

I’m sorry, but I think this disqualifies him from the all-benevolent category, and it annoys me when people state this argument as though it explains everything. Then they usually try to get me to go to their church.

This is an excellent question, and one which every religion must confront. Best I can figure, the consensus seems to be that God is not all powerful after all. There apparently are some inherent natural laws which even He must be consistent with. Apparently one of these is that the presence of good requires the presence of evil, in some form.

I hope this adds something. But the question is better then the answer.

Actually, the correct answer is that God does have all the information, but he’s just a a bastard

I think (at the moment) that God created people with free will, and the ability to use it. So, when that maniac shoots a bunch of kids, or some idiot rebuilds his house in hurricane country for the third time & then gets wiped out AGAIN, or kids engage in ubsafe sexual practices, they are exercising their free will.

Tragic? You betcha. Stupid? Absolutely. Is God a prick to let this happen? I don’t think so, but then again, what do I know?

Of course, this argument isn’t appropriate for every scenario, but I’m at work & can’t create a really long, convoluted post :).

I agree with the general sentiment of your post (I hate the “God is doing this for your own good so just accept it” line). But I always wonder just how much of the “malevolent God” idea is based on specific ideas about how the world should be in someone’s opinion.

For the sake of debate, I’ll ramble:

Let’s review some of what I take as your assumptions:

1)We are “imperfect creatures” because we’re not always happy.

You say “he creates imperfect creatures” and then tortures us by causing things to happen that hurt us. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be hurt when loved ones die, but implicit in your logic is the idea that there’s something “imperfect” about the fact that we do, or the fact that loved ones die. So in a “perfect” world we’d always be happy? Or at least, never suffer? IE, all feelings of suffering are bad or imperfect?
2)The world is either “imperfect” or “torture” because it contains things which can harm us.

So, if the world were truly “perfect” there would be no things that cause us suffering. Loved ones would never die because that hurts. Either it shouldn’t hurt (point 1) or they shouldn’t die (point 2).
3)“Benevolence” means putting us in a situation where no matter what we do, we can never be unhappy and never get hurt.

Which follows from statement #2 and your post.
I suppose if you believe those things, and then you’re confronted with this world, you’re bound to end up feeling that God is malevolent.
What about these ideas:

  1. Both suffering and joy are natural human emotions, both of which have equivalent worth. Weird as it may sound, one could have a life philosophy in which, even when one is suffering, one actually appreciates the ability to feel suffering. I.e., terrible tragedy (death of loved one) may occur, but instead of just feeling angry at God, you can get to a point where you realize you wouldn’t be feeling angry if you hadn’t LOVED in the first place. Along with love comes pain at losing love. Can’t have just one. Therefore there is no flaw in feeling pain. In fact it’s a reminder of love (in this case).

Thought: Isn’t part of what motivates a feeling of love the realization that you could lose it and it would hurt? If we set it up so we could love without feeling loss, would that still feel like love?

As for the tragedy:

  1. Terrible things happen not because God caused them to specifically, but because he created and environment in which they could occur and then just let the “machine” run. The “benevolence” is in the desire to give humans a broad range of experience, which includes tragedy, not in the desire to always keep us happy. After all, we could have been set up to feel nothing. It’s part of the design that all kinds of things happen and not all of them are ones that bring joy. Some cause pain. In fact, things just happen. For those people that never knew the loved one, his or her death may mean nothing. Or at least, not cause nearly as much pain. So again, those things which we consider tragic are to some extent determined by how involved we get emotionally and not necessarily just a function of the environment. Here’s a thought to help illustrate: Bug zappers kill millions of bugs every year. Does this thought cause you pain for the bugs? Should it? Whatever your answer, it’s dependant upon your value system and not the state of the universe.

3)So God isn’t so much “benevolent” or “malicious” as neutral. And we decide which is which. For instance, consider a sporting event where one side has to lose. The winning team might go on and on about they “thank God” for the victory while the other side will never thank God for the loss… But it’s the same event and the same God. It’s we who set ourselves up in this case.
Just some thoughts.

FWIW, A) I don’t really care whether there is a God or not, so if this sounds like proselytizing, it’s not. B) The part about “it’s for your own good” that REALLY gets me is that in a time of pain I want support, not self-righteous witnessing. I’d rather hear “I’m sorry for your loss” than “it’s good for you”.

You can’t prove cause and effect without all the facts - and even then, it’s pretty damn hard. That’s not the bible, that’s Karl Popper.

By the way, I believe in God, but I’m not sure He wants me to. Sometimes I think that He wants us to grow up and learn hpow to deal with things on our own. He created us, and he’ll probably save us from extinction, but the rest is up to us.

Izzy: Thank you for the compliment, and I agree with you on the “physical laws outside the deity’s ambit” idea - religious belief would make a bit more sense then.

Friedo: love that comic - I liked the hand puppet as well!

EJsGirl: The question is why would God give us free will if he was all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent.

Ren: When I mentioned imperfect creatures, I meant the folks trotting out this argument seem to think that humans are missing something or need to learn, and that God is inflicting pain to facilitate that learning or growth. The question becomes, why did he make us that way, then, unless he’s a sadist and wanted to watch us struggle.

As for your “no joy without pain” argument, there isn’t supposed to be suffering in heaven, so the idea that suffering is somehow good or necessary in this theology is not really believable. You seem to think that God is doing us a favor by giving us a range of experiences, many of which are universally viewed as negative. How is that benevolent when he could just as easily make all existence bliss from the moment we’re born?

BTW, I don’t personally struggle with this question because I realize that there are in all probability no gods, at least not like the major religions picture them.

Alessan, I have no idea what you’re talking about here. Whose trying to prove cause and effect?

You also seem to presume that there is something beyond God that we have to “learn how to deal with on our own.” My point is the God being marketed to me is the be all and end all, and if that’s true, there’s nothing for him to let us learn to deal with. He could make us all happy but chose not to.

In the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, this indeed creates a problem, and I have yet to see a convincing solution.

While Buddhists are agnostic, their system nonetheless manages to resolve this conundrum, similar to the way ren did:

Except that a Buddhist would distinguish between “pain” and “suffering,” saying that while pain is inevitable (and neutral), suffering is created by desire and thought. Therefore, human suffering has a human cause, not a divine one. God doesn’t make you suffer, you make you suffer. Further, they would say that our belief in a discrete individual who suffers is a kind of optical illusion of the mind. The mind creates a separate identity that does not really exist. When, through meditation, we see that there is no self, suffering ceases. Alhough the nervous system may still experience pain and even emotions, these feelings are stripped of their personal nature.

I believe that the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta has a similar solution, but I don’t understand it well enough to attempt an explanation.

fasten your seatbelt dorothy, kansas is going bye bye.

if you look up the word SHEOL you will find that it is the hebrew word translated as HELL in the old testament. it really means “place of the dead.” the hasidic(sp?) jews believe in reincarnation.

there was a christian theologian, Origen (183-254) who taught the pre-existence of the soul and reincarnation. he was declared anathema in 553ad and disappeared from official history. see:

there is a book:

        OLD SOULS by Tom Shroder

which claims on the cover “scientific evidence for past lives” it is the study of children with previous life memories of someone who died so recently that people who knew the deceased can still be found.

                                             Dal Timgar

This is a truly outstanding topic and has been handled, IMO, very well by the posters of all persuasions. Naturally, I want to throw in my opinions as well.

I have had what is traditionally called a “conversion experience” – a subjective event that appeared to be an encounter with the God whose “mysterious ways” are under question here. And he saw fit to give me neither an abiding trust in the Bible as the be-all and end-all of explanations nor clarification of why he does what he does. But I do have some (hopefully) useful points to contribute to the discussion at hand.

The apparent character of the God of my encounter was one of love, one who cares very deeply about me (and all my fellow men) and calls for an ethic that has been dealt with at length in other threads, particularly the Christianity and Love thread. He also seems to hold “free will” in high regard and rarely if ever acts to contravene his creatures’ exercise of that free will. He has created humans as more or less social animals, enjoying some solitude but in general desirous of social intercourse (and yes, I am aware of how many puns that remark can evoke; you find a different generic term for everything from cuddling to posting on a message board to watching Greek tragedy).

To me, the answer would be that I’m not in possession of all the facts and He presumably is, and that there is a love relationship between Him and me that calls on me to trust His decisions implicitly. This does not mean I am called to justify atrocities that He is alleged to have called for 3000 years ago; it’s been really easy for humans to blame Him for their hatred and stupidity since they first encountered Him. Fred Phelps’ ancestor calling for wiping out the Amelekites differs to me not a whit from what he has to say today, except that tribal wisdom enshrined that in their holy book. And He’ll take the blame rather than impose on us by force that it was some anal-retentive scribe that suggested it was His idea.

Now, I grant that the God I describe is not the traditional one preached by the fire-and-brimstone crowd. That one, who insists one proves one’s faith by disbelieving anything science may come up with that contravenes the book He dictated more-or-less verbatim, and who tortured His Son to satisfy His own sense of justice about His having created humans in such a way as all but the first two carry the burden of sin and are therefore damnable, as He knew when He created those first two, I have christened the Divine Weasel. And I reject this ‘inspiritation’ of an alleged God with every fiber of my being. If He is truly in charge, then I cast my lot with the lost. But I’m certain He is not.

It is my feeling that the ethic that the God I believe in differs in almost no way from that suggested as appropriate by the ethical atheists who post here, with the obvious exception that He expects that those who have found Him believe in Him (not “believe that He exists” but “trust Him”) – the “George Michael rule.” And I am quite comfortable trusting Him to handle the “mysterious ways” quetions that come up, knowing Him to be loving and providential. I am quite clear that there is plenty of evidence of evil and disaster in the world that He could easily prevent – but there is an apropos quote from, of all people, Niccolo Macchiavelli: “God is not willing to do everything, and therefore remove from us that share of glory which is rightfully ours.” For whatever reason, He has made a world that works through natural laws and does His work inside it largely through people. I’m content with that, trusting Him.

I realize full well that this formula is simply the point that the OP complains against restated, but within the context of a trustable deity it makes a bit more sense. I’d welcome critique of that viewpoint.

Well, yeah, my arguments do not necessarily correspond to some people’s understanding of what heaven is or what the “rules” in Christianity are, you’re obviously right.

If I understood your OP, you were referring to those that insist that both heaven and God’s will on Earth are simply “beyond our comprehension”. By that logic, just because there’s no suffering in heaven doesn’t mean it’s pointless on Earth. From a theological perspective, I don’t really have a problem with the “God is ineffable” argument, but you seem to be saying here that that notion is invalid because it doesn’t follow your “rules” for how God should operate.

Your Q was “so why doesn’t he?” meaning, I assume, just do away with suffering. I was musing (and quite intentionally from a Buddhist perspective) about how there might be other ways of conceptualizing suffering which give God an out.

I guess I was focusing on the “why is there suffering” part, not the “here’s how you get into heaven” part. That part seems to me extremely juvenile carrot-and-stick stuff.
It’s hard to “think logically” about heaven, you get those folks who just go on and on about how great heaven is - you get preachers who say everyone’s gonna have their own car, for heaven’s sake (pun intended) - and I’m not sure they’re really doing anything but selling “waterfront” real estate in Florida…

dal_timgar please adjust your medication.

Recently there was a death at my school. It was a tragedy for such a well known boy, only a year older than me, and 7 days until the end of the school year to die. Later that week at our youth meeting, our pastor decided it best to bring up the topic and talk about it. It was hard even for him to understand, but this is basically what he said:

“First of all, do not turn away from God for doing this. Most people say that God has a path for all of us, and that’s fine to think, but in truth he does not. I can’t really explain why “your friend” died. God has to some extent a path set for each of us, but to say that he has it all set, is taking him too for granted. You have freewill and choices…that’s what God has set for you.” He went on to talk more about it and it really was confusing, but now that i read this…i am beginning to understand it better…it’s really a hard topic to explain though…it’s so complex and hard to imagine…

A little bit of my own thought going off of his…

With everything we do, every little choice…to move our foot…to write this reply…it changes our future in some way. For good or for bad. We can’t stop it, but we can guide it by making correct decisions on the ones that the right is staring us straight in the face. God gives us the strength to do what is right, to help us keep our future good, but it is up to us to fulfill it.

I also think that sadness and unperfectness is needed in this world. How could we grow, become a stronger person, learn more about life, find and fulfill our expectations without greif and obstacles?

Just my 2 cents on the topic.

are you implying i’m not drinking enough black russians?

what’s with this board, that so many people make snide remarks but don’t explain what they are reacting negatively to? i have no problem with explaining my ideas/attitudes but pseudo-intellectuals with delusions of grandeur give me nothing to respond to.

                            the bullet-proof, Dal Timgar

Very well. My point was: What exactly does your first post here have to do with the topic? Do you normally drop into a conversation and then just start talking about something else? If so, here’s a tip: That’s rude. If you’re not going to contribute to the discussion here, start your own thread.

If you mind being teased about your failure to do that, then take this advice: Instead of whining about “what’s with this board?” why don’t you take some time to familiarize yourself with protocol? It’s better to ask questions about how to do things than to just jump in and annoy others.

maybe not but are you listening to the ideas/attitudes of others as well? Your post here doesn’t show that.

AerynSun, here are some other perspectives of people who have written about this topic. These are mostly mystics and poets. None of them really solve the philosophical Problem of Evil, but taken together, they may point to better ways of looking at the question.

The poet George Herbert imagines God creating humans, giving them blessing after blessing—strength, beauty, pleasure, etc. The last blessing is Rest, which God holds back, saying:

So God creates tragedy to turn our eyes toward Him, and away from the world. Rumi, who is an ecstatic Sufi poet, says something similar. He talks about a monk who thanks the thieves who regularly beat him and take his money. Why? The monk says, “Whenever I forget, they remind me that what they want is not what I want.”

Rumi actually devotes a fair amount of his writing to the concept of suffering. He gives a version of The Mysterious Ways Defense that would make Johnny Cochran proud. He tells a story about a nobleman who sees a poisonous snake crawl into a peasant’s mouth and into his stomach while he is sleeping. The nobleman, overcome with concern, gets on his horse, wakes the peasant and chases him around screaming at him. When the peasant is exhausted, the nobleman forces him at knifepoint to gorge himself on apples until he vomits the snake out of his mouth, at which point the peasant falls to his knees and thanks the nobleman. The peasant asks, “Why didn’t you just tell my about the snake in the first place?” The nobleman says, “Then you would have died from fright.”

I know this story isn’t really satisfactory from your perspective (“Why did God create the snake?”). But understand that, to Rumi, the goal of religious life is not the heaven that Christians go to, but a mystical union here on earth. So God isn’t withholding the meaning of suffering to test us, but rather, He is protecting us from a truth that we aren’t ready for. When we reach a certain level of spiritual development, it is revealed to us.

Which brings us to Bernadette Roberts, a contemporary Catholic contemplative. She talks about actually wishing for tragedy and suffering as a way of proving her faith and love to God. She admits that this is illogical, but says that, at a certain point, personal suffering isn’t a meaningful concept because your own ego doesn’t matter. Only God matters. And if you think about it, any proof of love requires some kind of self-sacrifice. She suggests we aren’t capable of truly understanding suffering until we reach the unitive phase of contemplative life. Then we see that it’s really a joy. She says that this is the real meaning behind the Book of Job. Her views aren’t official Catholic doctrine though.

Finally, we have the Dalai Lama. In the Tibetan tradition, metta, or compassion, is the highest purpose of human life. The Dalai Lama points out that suffering is a prerequisite for compassion. No suffering, no opportunity for compassion. I have seen this position translated to a theistic tradition like this:

Questioner: If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he do something about all this suffering?

Theist: He did. He made you.

The question becomes a challenge to the questioner. Here, God’s compassion is expressed through the lives of believers. In order to express that compassion, God requires suffering.

All these people share the notion that problems may seem tragic from the limited perspective of the ego, but there is a way out. However, the answer isn’t clear until we get to the other side. These explanations assume a religious orientation, and are more for the believer than the nonbeliever. None really answer the question, “If God is omnipotent, why didn’t He just set it up another way?”

ren said:

True. But then we need to smack those people who walk away from a horrible situation and “thank God” for their survival.

You know the ones I’m talking about – those who are part of the 50 people who survived the airplane crash that killed 200 others, or got out of the burning building that killed many of their neighbors, or whatever. I get awful sick of seeing some of these folks thank God for their survival and talk about how great he is without acknowledging all those who perished in the same incident. What were they, chopped liver?

OK, OK, end of rant. :slight_smile:

God does not make humnan suffering, but he gave the humans free will so that WE can cause the suffering, or stop it. Our choice. He does not (usually) send or cause natural disasters either. He made the world*, and gave us permission to live whither we wish.

*or, in my religion, set inplace processes that caused the world to be made.

I’ve always been intrigued and disturbed by this idea. If overcoming the self brings an end to suffering, doesn’t it do the same for joy, for everything? What’s left? Acceptance? Death? Donuts?

DumbOx mentioned budhists. I have quite a few budhist friends. One of the biggest problems for budhiss to resolve is that if something happens to you it’s your fault. Yes, I know that this is an amazing oversimplification but, bear with me. Now, that’s ok for most people. But, saying that a 4 year old was molested and it was her fault is pretty hard. But, budhists have to do that to remain consistent. Which they do remarkably well.

I have serious doubts that God sits up there behind some giant computer terminal pushing buttons and saying, “O.K. today we’ll have a hurricane and J.Q. Public will get hit by a car.”

IMHO, it seems more reasonable to me that he set everything into motion upon creation of the earth and now monitors all of it. It also seems to me that if everything was absolutely perfect and there were no bad things of any kind, God would be out of business. We would all be mindless robots just doing nothing but existing. There would be no free will, no choices to make, nothing. Personally, I would rather be able to make choices, whether they be right or wrong.

As for those that thank God that they survived a plane crash, that’s o.k. but I think it would be, at least reasonable, for them to pray for the families of those that did not make it, IMHO.