Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The heavens declare the glory of God, the earth is less secure . . .

Michelangelo's God
Sistine Chapel
He does look sort of like an angry old man . . .
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a post on Japan's recent earthquake, "God's Love, Delivered," my cyberfriend Malcolm Pollack noted nature's apparent indifference to human purposes:
The hideous indifference of Nature! Again it yawns and extends a finger, shearing us away en masse, and I think: "we are nothing".
Despite the title of his post, Malcolm doesn't actually make an explicit point about God, though perhaps "Nature" stands in for "God" here. In an "Addendum," Malcolm notes that one reader objected:
To me, G_d is synonymous with the Explanation for Everything; for you, He is an angry, immature old man.
Actually, the deity in Malcolm's post seemed more bored and indifferent than angry, and not necessarily a man, but possibly Mother Nature. At any rate, Malcolm demurs that he doesn't believe in the sort of angry-old-man God inferred by the reader, but then explains his reason for the post:
I've been re-reading the Bible and the Koran over the past few weeks. That's the sort of "God" I'm referring to here; and it's the one that most people believe in, and that they think of when they use the word "God". It amazes me that people are capable of the cognitive dissonance required to witness natural disasters like this, or the awful earthquake in Haiti that killed and maimed multitudes of the innocent faithful, square it somehow with the idea of an involved, active, personal God who is nevertheless infinitely loving and merciful, and then keep coming back for more. It just boggles my mind [in the same way that it boggled Voltaire's mind after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755], and I can’t help remarking on it from time to time.
Hence the post "God's Love, Delivered." Malcolm states that he finds the belief of many people in an "active, personal God who is nevertheless infinitely loving and merciful" to be mind-boggling since it appears to run counter to all the evidence. Well, I have a simple, quasi-psychological suggestion that might help unboggle the mind:
People want to believe that life has purpose, and the apparent indifference of nature only serves to reinforce that need to believe, and since purpose is identified with the intentionality characteristic of persons, then people believe in a God who is personal.
I think that this helps to explain why so many people maintain theistic beliefs. Whether such a God exists or not is, of course, another issue.

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27 Comments:

At 6:03 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

I agree with Pollack. The ancient Greeks had a very meaningful phrase to describe a tsunami: "Poseidon's slap". In their religious views, events like that could be interpreted like that.

Whereas in the "standard Cristian" version, i.e. a personal (decision-making) and loving God, explanations prove either ridiculous or offensive.

Pollack's remarks have been unsurpassedly expressed by Giacomo Leopardi, 19th century, in his poem La ginestra (The wild broom), starting from the image of a city destroyed by a volcano. Here's part of it in an English online translation:

"(...)
As a little apple that falls from a tree:
late autumn ripeness,
and nothing else, bringing it to earth:
crushes, wastes, and covers
in a moment, the sweet nests
of a tribe of ants, carved out
of soft soil, with vast labour,
and the works, the wealth,
that industrious race had vied
to achieve, with such effort,
and created in the summer: so the cities
of the farthest shores
that the sea bathed,
were shattered, confounded, covered
in a few moments, by a night of ruin,
by ashes, lava and stones,
hurled to the heights of heaven
from the womb of thunder,
falling again from above,
mingled in molten streams,
or by the vast overflow
of liquefied masses,
metals and burning sand,
descending the mountainside
racing over the grass: so that now
the goats graze above them,
and new cities rise beside them, whose base
is their buried, demolished walls
that the cruel mountain seems to crush underfoot.
Nature has no more love or care
for the seed of man
than for the ants: and if the destruction
of one is rarer than that of the other,
it’s for no other reason
than that mankind is less rich in offspring.
(...)"

 
At 7:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree that the statements often made by theists to explain the "moral" reason for a particular natural disaster are usually offensive.

Far better for the theist to admit, "I don't know why."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:31 PM, Blogger Scott said...

"multitudes of the innocent faithful, square it somehow with the idea of an involved, active, personal God who is nevertheless infinitely loving and merciful"

Going by the Bible, who are the innocent - since the dawn of original sin?

In the Old Testament, Jews offered continual sacrifice for on going sins. In the New, Christians were to accept that following God's law to perfection (thus being innocent of sin) was impossible - that being "innocent" was impossible - which led to acceptance of Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for all sins - past, present, and future (for those who accept him).

Next, as with the "everyone will go to Heaven" post, the Bible does not support the idea that an "infinitely loving" God must love everything, every action, and everyone. This particular line of thought is most clearly from outside the faith (well, at least the texts that define orthodox faith). It is highly unscriptural - especially in the Old Testament but in the New as well.

Lastly, the above also assumes that an active God must be the direct cause of every action - like a tsunami.

Taken to an extreme, which it seems arguments like this imply, God is supposedly thought to be responsible for everything by many who are Christian or Jewish. As if God had a hand in whether I chose a Coke or a Pepsi for a beverage this afternoon. Ultimately, pushing the idea of an "active" God like this denies the free will of the created beings specifically given free will as described in the biblical texts.

A connected branch of this line: Pushing God to be the source of all action denies that other actors are described in the Bible. Satan (as well as man) has a say.

Job might be the perfect example to look at here: Job is not "pure" in the sense of innocence, but he is defined as not having deserved the horrific things that happened to him in the book, but he was clearly made to suffer horribly.

Were those horrible things directed by God? In the book, no. They were specifically done by Satan. They were, however, permitted by God.

Why?

Job fumed in the book that he would demand an answer from God to that very question, but when brought face to face with the magnificence of the deity, the question escapes him and he collapses in awe and worship --- the very man who suffered all those things for no cause of his own.

For our discussion, I think the Job example shows that followers of the Bible would say that - not all bad things that happen are attributable to God.

The Bible has plenty of examples of God punishing sin through violent acts of nature or man, for sure, including punishing an entire nation, but not all violent acts are done by the hands of God or his people.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I thought that the view that God loves everyone was within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:51 PM, Blogger Scott said...

I don't think so. God is shown to hate sin. He is also shown to unleash his wrath on those who reject him - especially those who worship other gods. He describes himself, in the book, as being a jealous and vengeful god. I'd think the "God is love" as in "God is ONLY love" is a modern concept that bypasses a fair amount of scripture.

 
At 3:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, what's your opinion on this topic?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:53 PM, Blogger Scott said...

In Malachi 1, God says he loved Jacob but hated Essau and that the hate is forever:

""I have loved you," saith the LORD. "Yet ye say, `Wherein hast Thou loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" saith the LORD. "Yet I loved Jacob,

and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness."

Whereas Edom saith, "We are impoverished, but we will return and rebuild the desolate places," thus saith the LORD of Hosts: "They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them the Border of Wickedness and the people against whom the LORD hath indignation forever.""

 
At 6:20 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

God (...) is also shown to unleash his wrath on those who reject him - especially those who worship other gods

Are you saying, Scott, that God sent the tsunami and all that followed, because most Japanese people are Shintoists, or Buddhists, or the like?

It's wonderful to discover that, once in a time, I was SO right...

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger Scott said...

No. I'm not claiming anything about the particular event. I'm commenting on the general ideas - especially expressed in the part I quoted.

In short, the God of the Bible does punish. His love is not universal. (I'd say making it universal would greatly diminish it: A just God would love Hitler? The Devil?) And all acts that happen are not directly attributable to God.

As for the possible supernatural cause of the tsunami, I'm certainly no person to define that, and I don't put stock any any human who can tell me what God is thinking on something like that. Man is too limited for that.

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"A just God would love Hitler?"

I suppose that one view of justice would that only those who merit God's love would receive it.

Another view might be that no one merits God's love, but God is just in that he loves everyone.

There could be other positions.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of work to do, so I probably won't be able to contribute much to this fascinating topic.

I do hope, however, that all discussants will make an effort to treat each other with respect on what could prove to be a very volatile issue.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:36 PM, Blogger Scott said...

For me, the key point in the start of the discussion was not the extent of God's love but whether or not the idea of an active God means we can attribute all events - like a tsunami - to God himself.

 
At 7:42 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

OK, many thanks, Scott. I just wanted to better understand; I met people who 'explained' natural disasters in an immediately-theological way.

The Answer, of course, is the one provided by Jeffery in Comment n. 2.

 
At 7:58 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so ar my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Like I said, I don't listen much when someone starts interpreting something like the tsunami in terms of God's will. They are talking way, way above their pay grade...

 
At 10:27 PM, Blogger Scott said...

I lost the first part of this comment and will try to recreate:

In the book of Job, the bulk of the story involves Job's three friends - all very pious believers - berating him, trying to force him to admit --- the horrible things he suffered must assuredly be a result of something Job did.

At the end of the book, God steps in and tells them to -- shut up - that they have no business passing judgement on Job and talk of things beyond their understanding.

That is a part of the Bible that seems to speak directly to those who want to attribute something like a tsunami or earthquake to God's judgment...

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger Scott said...

For himself, Job spends the bulk of the book defending himself - and - saying that he is going to hold God accountable for the things he suffered unjustly -- that he is going to judge God - by demanding an accounting from him - for why he allowed terrible things to happen to him (or did terrible things to him without cause).

But, when he comes face to face with God, Job collapses in the face of God's magnificence.

Specifically:

Job 40:1-5 The Lord said to Job: "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!"

Then Job answered the Lord: "I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer-twice, but I will say no more."

And again - Job 42:3 "You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know."

-That isn't very satisfying as an answer to why God allows bad things to happen to people who don't deserve it, but it was clearly good enough for Job...

In terms of a possible supernatural cause for something like the tsunami, it is interesting that in this last section of Job, when God comes in after Job as been saying he will demand an answer from him, God -- in illustrating his magnificence - talks about the leviathan - which as described seems clearly a supernatural creature - Job 41 particularly verses 31-33 :

[The leviathan] makes the depths churn like a boiling caldrong and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair. Nothing on earth is equal-a creature without fear.

-The point God seems to be making is that Job has no business questioning God, because Job can't even lift a finger against the leviathan - whereas the all-powerful God can - so who is Job to judge God's will or ways?

It is interesting, because the leviathan is elsewhere linked to the devil or the forces of the devil:

Isaiah 27:1

In that day the LORD with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

-That day, in the context of chapter 26 and 27, is the day of judgement of the End Times.

Which brings us back to one of my original points in this thread: Why assume that an active God must have a direct hand in every major event? Why not assume, if we are going to attribute supernatural causes to it, the hand of evil?

We don't have to attribute any supernatural causes for it at all, and I don't believe any human has the authority to define the issue one way or another.

Inotherwords, this should not be a dichotomy between an active or passive God - or a loving or non-loving God.

If going by scriptures in the two religions mentioned, God is not the only major, supernatural actor involved in the universe. So, it does not make sense to automatically attribute every disaster to him...

The question as to why God "allows" disasters to happen naturally or through the hands of the devil is a different matter, however, and one in which the skeptic would have better room to argue.....

 
At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not qualified to elaborate on this topic, but I will add my two cents worth. I hope I am not over evaluation my contribution.

Scott has some good points, so I will just add a few thoughts.

Regarding Behemoth and and Leviathan in Job chapters 40 & 41: Being a young earth creationist, i believe these two creatures actually fit the descriptions of a land dwelling dinosaur (Behemoth) and a water dwelling dinosaur (Leviathan). Possibly some of the dinosaurs survived the deluge of Noah's day.

Regarding the source of sin, evil, disasters and suffering in the world, I believe man is to blame:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12).

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
And not only they , but ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
(Romans 8:22, 23).

The book of Revelation reveals that God is going to judge this Christ and God rejecting world, but eventually the entire creation will be restored to perfection and perfect peace and righteousness.

Cran

 
At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first two words somehow became scrambled.
They should be "Since I..."
There are other possible typing errors.

Cran

 
At 6:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I looked again, and the first sentence should read: I am not qualified..." I am not only unqualified, but also imperfect, unlike JK.

Sorry.

Cran

 
At 7:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I deleted the scrambled comment since it was otherwise identical to the previous one.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:42 AM, Blogger Scott said...

My New International Version, the amplified Bible, and Matthew Henry's commentary all like the Leviathan of Job to the crocodile.

I certainly defer to their scholarship, but I still wonder - why would God in Isaiah single out the crocodile for judgement???

I can see the behemouth of Job being an elephant as described in the book, but I have doubts about the leviathan. It could be both actual and symbolic....Matthew Henry, in dealing with the Isaiah reference, sees it as both - linking it to worldly tyrants.

 
At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read those descriptions again of Behemoth and Leviathan.

Does a Behemoth have a tail like a cedar tree? Or is he the chief of the ways of God?

And Leviathan is so fierce tht none dare stir him up. And he is called a king of all the children of pride.



These descriptions would have to be poetic exaggerations to fit either the elephant or the crocodile.

Perhaps the concept of a fire breathing dragon, spoken about in some cultures, is based on reality.

The only reason that people think that dinosaurs died years before mankind appeared is the evolutionary theory and the assumed long ages connected with it.

You might like to look up the Institute for Creation Research, or Answers in Genesis. They are on the internet.

The book, THE GENESIS RECORD by Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb is still in print, and available in Christian bookstores, or can be ordered.

Cran

 
At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that John 3:16 indicates that God loves all mankind, and the offer of salvation to all through His son is a valid offer.

And that 2 Peter 3:9 indicates that God has not determined that anyone should perish, but that all should have an opportunity to repent.

In addition, 2 Peter 3 in its entirety speaks of a universal flood that destroyed the world.

It also speaks of a universal destruction of this universe by fire, and new heavens and earth.

I don't have all the answers, but hope to when I get to heaven.

Cran

 
At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Behemoth as the elephant, I should have asked, "Does the elephant have a tail that moves like a cedar tree?"

I can think of several dinosaurs that do.

Cran

 
At 10:57 PM, Blogger Scott said...

I'd think God offers all salvation, but not all accept it, and some, by nature of their constitution, will never accept it.

As in the 2 Peter 3:9 quote: "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

The key word likely being "wanting".

The primary online preacher I listen to said that, after a couple of decades in the ministry, he came to believe that some people can cross a line beyond which they are beyond salvation -- that after so many opportunities to repent, only to harden their hearts, God gives up on them and doesn't hear them if they have a future momentary asking of mercy during a time of trouble.

I'm not sure I believe that, but it is interesting when considering scripture.

He cites Pharaoh in Genesis - saying that the first couple of times Pharaoh's heart is said to be hardened, it is by his own will, but in the later plagues, it is described as God doing the hardening.

I vaguely remember other passages in other books where it is said God hardened someone's heart.

It is something interesting to consider in terms of the idea of the infinity of God's love and whether He does have hate for individuals as well as acts.

I'd have to say, though, that the Malachi quote I offered in an earlier comment is plain and direct in this context.

 
At 4:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott:

We seem to be kindred spirits.
Since this is nephew Jeffery's blogspot, any further discussion might be better by email.

Cran - at cen81464@centurytel.net

 
At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first thing that came to mind is in they eyes of "divine punishment" it's actually more caused by human hubris, and if "god's hand" did have a role in this, we as a species had more than enough fair warning…to stop fucking with an energy that can destroy the planet if harnessed wrongly or if multitudes of missiles go off.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, nuclear testing on earth and sea and the devastation on the environment.

Yet our Pride as a species says "naaah…it won't happen again".

If accidents are "acts of god" how many times do we need to be told "stop fucking with it!"?

It's like "kid…don't play with that…oh great now NO ONE can use that room again (area of earth)…have you learned your lesson now? Ok…wait WTF you did again how many times?! Ok but now you won't play with that shit again right? Ok? Alrig-OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU CHILDREN?!

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. Zero Kazama, thanks for the comment (but keep in mind that this is a family-friendly blog).

Not every disaster is caused by humans, and natural evils are the ones difficult to reconcile with a loving God.

Jeffery Hodges

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