At Latin mass this morning, the priest said that questioning God on account of the bad things in life is “proud”, and he told us that God may send us afflictions to bring us closer to him.
That reminded me of an essay I read last night in theologian Miroslav Volf’s book, Against the Tide. Volf refers to a lady who asked him why God allowed tsunamis, and his response was that her concern about the disasters caused by tsunamis only makes sense if there is a God. After all, if there’s not a God, then why should we expect life to be kind or fair?
To his credit, Volf realized that this response probably wasn’t what he should have said in that situation. But he goes on to make a profound point: that our protests against God are a sign, not of our unbelief, but of our belief.
This sort of issue came up in the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi David Wolpe that I watched yesterday. Wolpe (if I understood him correctly) was asking Hitchens why he was ranting against a God he didn’t even believe was real. Hitchens responded that he’s speaking in hypotheticals: “if there is a God who designed everything, then he’s a poor designer.” (Hitchens was referring here to the scientific view that the universe is heading towards nothingness. Hitchens was wondering why God would design things that way.)
Many atheists have expectations of what life would be like if a loving God were ruling it, and it doesn’t look like the life that is before us! John Loftus has an interesting list of things that would be true if there were a God: see here. For Loftus, God would make his existence more obvious to people. God can do this. Why doesn’t he? The answer I get from some Christians is that those who don’t believe wouldn’t believe even if they saw a sign, so that’s why God doesn’t show them one. Maybe, and maybe not. But why can’t God at least give them a chance to reject him and his evidence?
Why are atheists mad at a God they don’t believe is real? Many of them are not. They actually make peace with the world as it is once they stop expecting it to be fair because of a God who rules it. Some of them stop there, content at their peace of mind. Others go on to try to make this world a better place.
But many atheists are mad—not so much at God, but at believers. People whose faith has led to ills in society. People they expect to be better morally on account of their faith in God.
Is questioning God “proud”, or is it an indication of faith, as Volf asserts? Not long ago, I read Andrew Park’s book, Between a Church and a Hard Place: One Faith-Free Dad’s Struggle to Understand What It Means to Be Religious (or Not). Park talked about going to a humanist meeting, and the people there were gasping at something they read in one of Joyce Meyer’s books. (I believe it was Battlefield of the Mind.) Joyce said that God told her not to stress over trying to figure everything out, but to trust in God. The humanists saw this quotation as anti-intellectualism at its worst. (To their credit, they themselves were not overly closed-minded. They told Andrew that parents should take their children to church, just so the kids are exposed to the various beliefs in the world around them.)
But I don’t think that Joyce’s words necessarily have to be taken that way. There are things in this life that I don’t understand. I can stress out, complaining at life being unfair. Or I can trust in God and cope with life as it is, even as I try to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. At the same time, for me at least, it’s good to ask questions, to wonder why God does things as he does, to come up with possible answers. There’s room for intellectualism in faith. I’d be bored if I couldn’t ask questions!
It’s when the questions get tough that just trusting the Bible is difficult. I can let God be God, trusting that God knows what he’s doing when he allows problems in the world, affirming my faith that God at some stage will intervene into this world and set things right. But suppose there’s a homosexual who wants a relationship with someone of the same sex, and he hits a brick wall because the Bible says “no”? Should he have to give up happiness and live a lifetime of celibacy because of a book?