Saturday, September 17, 2011

Watering the Seeds of Doubt

I found the following on my old blog. It's an excerpt from a paper I wrote for a theodicy class four years ago.

These are the premises set out for us by both orthodox and popular Christianity:
-Our god is omnipotent, a god of infinite and perfect power, reigning over the natural world and the spiritual realm
-Our god is benevolent, a god of infinite and perfect goodness, caring for us as a parent cares for a child
-Humanity experiences suffering, existing in a fallen state of pain, disease, and violence

This is where the questions begin. If our god is so good, why are we allowed to suffer? Does God not have the power to stop our suffering? Or, if God can prevent human suffering, then is God cruel and uncaring, choosing not to rescue us from pain? 

The traditional solution to this problem is to examine the three premises of omnipotence, benevolence, and suffering, and to deny or mitigate one.   

The first solution denies the reality of human suffering as a natural experience. Suffering results from our failure to fully surrender our lives and wills to the will of God; if we only had enough faith then we would transcend suffering. This is the view taken by modern traditions such as Christian Science and the prosperity gospel movement.
Conventional Christianity reinterprets the goodness of God, making the claim that our understanding of good is incomplete, and that when an omnipotent god permits human suffering, it is acceptable within God’s complete knowledge of the nature of good. What we believe to be good and what we believe to be best for us is wrong. Our understanding of good is either incomplete--we see only a fragment of the human history of salvation--or is at odds with what is truly good--we see black when God sees white; we see up when God sees down. There is an element of predestination in this view of God’s actions. The strength in this view is that God’s supremacy assures us that our pain is not meaningless; God has good intentions for our lives, and uses suffering to guide us down the right path.

This model can also be extended to mitigate God's omnipotence as well as God's benevolence. In traditional Protestant theology, there is conflicting nature and will within God’s self. God’s nature demands perfection. It demands righteousness, and it demands a sacrifice in order to bring about justification. God’s will is to save every person, but the sins of humanity are too great to be redeemed under our own power, and so God enacts the incarnation. God’s nature is one of law, and so suffering will continue, but God’s will is one of mercy, and so there is grace in the midst of suffering.
A different source for a mitigation of God’s omnipotence is the existence of an intelligent force of evil. The concept of Satan in the conventional sense presents a dynamic of two nearly equal opposing forces. Is God truly all-powerful if there is another supernatural being that acts constantly against God’s efforts?

In models that mitigate human suffering or God's goodness, humanity’s experience of the world is reinterpreted and found to be lacking. In models that mitigate God's omnipotence, it is God who is less than we expected.

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