In my last four posts (Answering the Unanswerable Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV), I answered questions (as best I could) from atheist Club Schadenfreude who commented on a previous post about Christianity, Atheism, and Morality. As I write this, not all of the posts have been posted yet, but Club Schadenfreude has commented on the first post, and I have no reason to suspect she won’t comment on all of them. If she does, you can go read her comments.
What I was doing is called “apologetics.” It’s explaining God to people when his actions seem wrong. Club Schadenfreude would say (and did!) that there’s something wrong with a God who needs apologetics. I obviously disagree. But I don’t think apologetics is for God. It’s for us, especially those of us who are new the the Christian faith. We aren’t used to thinking about things in eternity.
And we aren’t used to thinking about God at all.
As a result, apologetics can help the new believer think differently.
God is not a man
I think one of the first mistakes we can make in attempting to understand God is to treat him as if he were not God, but a man. Of course, from the Christian point of view, Jesus was both. But let me explain what I mean when I say that we can make a mistake by treating God as if he were simply a man.
Have you ever heard someone say something like this: if you could go back in time and kill Adolph Hitler when he was a baby, would you?
Questions like this are used by philosophers (and leadership gurus) to explore morality. You may have heard it like this: there are seven people in a life boat and sharks surrounding the boat. The lifeboat can only hold six people safely. They then describe the seven people and ask, who do you throw overboard to save the other six? The old guy? The confessed murderer? The single lady? The obese video gamer living in his mother’s basement?
Normally, this kind of question has boundaries put around it. So, when discussing Hitler, you can only go back in time to that one spot when Hitler was a baby. You can’t wait until he actually implements the Holocaust and tries to take over the world. He’s only a baby and doesn’t even have the mustache. Knowing what you know, would you go back and kill Hitler in the crib?
God and Hitler
But God is already in this position. As I say in my Kindle book The Attributes of God (which is a chapter in the tome Solid Ground), God is outside of time. When Hitler was born, God could already see Hitler’s future and the sorrow and evil he would bring.
So, should God have killed Hitler when he was a baby?
If a man had done so, claiming he could see the future, it would have been murder, and the man certainly unbalanced. But God is certainly in a different position. Would it be moral for him to intervene before Hitler could kill his first person?
In my first post, I discussed the times when God did take a child — and more than once. He took the baby who was a result of David’s adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba. Had he not done so, could things have been worse than if he hadn’t? I submit you and I don’t know. He also took a child who had something good in him toward God. And I quoted a verse explaining that God takes the righteous man away from pain when that man dies.
God is thinking not only about there here and now, but eternity. But if you don’t believe there is and eternity, you can leave that out of your moral equation.
The Age of Ultron
Or should God wait until Hitler did something wrong? Well, how wrong? Before he killed his first person? After he killed his first person? Our society (I’m writing in America) lets many murderers live, sometimes releasing them for good behavior. Should God wait until Hitler had killed ten people? Sixty? At what point should God have intervened? And if he did, would something else worse happen?
One of my favorite comic book stories (not the movie) was the Age of Ultron story line in Marvel comics. In it, Ultron finally takes over the world and kills most of the Avengers. Some of the remaining Avengers go back in time to kill the man who created Ultron. They do so, but when they get back to the present, things are worse! They have to go back again to stop themselves from killing the man.
It amazes me that a comic book story can so easily demonstrate that meddling in things can only make it worse if you lack complete knowledge. Sometimes things are better left alone because trying to make it better can actually make it worse. Only God is in a position to know when to intervene and when not to.
God and Hitler, part II
Well, God didn’t stop Hitler by ending his life in the crib. And we had World War II and the Holocaust as a result. So, at this point, some people ask: Why didn’t God stop kill Hitler?
The reason for this is so obvious to me, that I’m surprised people write entire books condemning God for not doing it. Peter says this in 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. You and I might point at someone else and say, “God should take that person because he is evil. He shouldn’t have an opportunity to repent.” But many an evil man, like Saul the persecutor of the church, became Paul, and apostle of God.
If God looked ahead and removed every man who might sin, are you sure you would be safe? When Jesus says that just getting angry or lusting is similar to murder and adultery, aren’t we all glad God doesn’t take us all out? Well, if you aren’t, I am. Instead, he gives us all a chance to know him. We can repent and be forgiven. And if you say, “I’m better than Hitler and deserve to live and Hitler deserves to die,” aren’t you in danger of becoming the Pharisee in Jesus’s parable? (Luke 18: 9-14)
I think God allows evil so we have free will. But that free will means that even our planet is imperfect because of the sin of man. (Romans 8: 18-25) And horrible things happen. If God uses human judgement to pick and choose who dies, I believe he would be harming that free will, or even doing damage! There’s even a parable about that! (Matthew 13: 20-14 has a parable, and Matthew 13: 36-43 the explanation.) I believe God does intervene to make things better on planet earth, but we often do not notice that he has done so — because some things never happen. Or we think he should intervene when he doesn’t, little knowing that if he did, things might actually be worse!
But apologetics is insufficient
I (and other smarter (and certainly better) Christians than I am) could go on like this for a long time. But at some point, apologetics can only do so much. At some point, you either believe or don’t.
Jesus tells a story about a poor man, Lazarus, and a rich man. (Luke 16: 19-31) Both die, and the poor man goes to Abraham’s bosom (heaven) and the rich man goes to Hades (hell). The rich man asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers that they not come to hell. Abraham tells the rich man that the brothers have Moses and the prophets, but the rich man is convinced that if Lazarus comes back from the dead and warns his brothers, they will listen. Abraham says “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
I have seen many miracles over my lifetime. I remember the first one I saw, and I was relating it to another young man, and I could see on his face that he was discounting what I said. It wasn’t rational! Well, miracles seldom are. Not quite having learned my lesson, I remember talking about another miracle (a cancer that vanished), and the woman I was speaking with said, “The first one must have been a misdiagnosis.” I have learned that there is no miracle God has done or can do that can’t be explained by saying either: “It was a mistake.” “It was a coincidence.” “It never really happened.” “You must not have seen that right.” “It must have been mass hysteria.” “It was a spontaneous healing.” “It was a trick.” or the worst one: “You’re lying.”
And so, except in the most general sense, I no longer talk about what I’ve experienced, at least not in a post like this. You either believe or you don’t. I don’t believe that faith is irrational; I believe it is beyond rationality.
And so, apologetics has its limits. If not met with faith, apologetics does no good at all. But if it’s met with trust in God, there can be some small benefit to the new believer — and even the old believer.
In these posts, I hope I have done more good than harm. And, actually, I pray I’ve done no harm at all.