Sunday, August 20, 2006
This "proof" against God takes various forms. One that virtually all believers have faced at one time or another is the "proof" that God must not care or must not be adequately powerful or He would put a stop to evil and suffering. A later chapter will address this particular argument, but we can lay a foundation for that discussion by considering the core fallacy in such challenges to God's omnipotence.
Cannot Versus Will Not
The problem arises in part from a semantic issue, a misuse of the little word can, and in part from a nearsighted perspective. It seems far more appropriate to ask questions about what God will do than about what He can do, especially given the "can do" He demonstrated so amply in the creation.
Some things God will not do. In one sense, He cannot do these things, but the reason has nothing to do with a power limitation. Rather, He cannot do certain things because He is powerful enough and righteous enough to choose not to do them ever. God cannot lie or distort the truth. He cannot do evil. He cannot accept evil. Nor can He ever overlook evil. Why can He not do these things? He cannot because He is perfectly consistent. His character is immutable; it simply does not change. His perfection, holiness, love, truthfulness, goodness, and faithfulness (among many other attributes) remains unchanged and unchangeable. They do not begin and end because He does not begin and end. His unchanging character reveals His power, a power that we do not possess, to maintain complete character consistency. He is not subject to the immaturity ignorance, lack of love, short sightedness or genetic and chemical factors that influence our judgments, decisions, and actions and so often render them inconsistent. We could say He has the power to maintain Himself perfect with perfect self-control.
God's Freedom to Refrain
Time and again, we humans are tempted by our own impatience to question God's inaction. We cannot fathom why He does not intervene in the affairs of humans, preventing or overruling their wrong choices with a display of His extra-dimensional powers. The irony of our question might be humorous if it were not so terribly arrogant. We must ask ourselves how sensible it is for us humans to stand in judgment over what God will or will not do and when He will or will not do it given the immeasurable differences between His moral character and ours, His power and ours, His dimensional perspective and ours, His love and ours.
The Benefit of Moral Perfection
How often have we heard sceptics say "If God is good, why did He . . . ?" or "why didn't He . . . ?" In asking this question, the inquirer has either knowingly or unwittingly exalted his or her judgment of what is good, what is warranted, over God's knowledge of such things. The inquirer implies that God's goodness cannot be believed or trusted.
Jesus set the record straight on this matter when He was approached by a self-righteous religious leader who flatteringly addressed Him as "good teacher." With penetrating insight into the man's puffed up self-evaluation, Jesus replied, "Why do you call me good?" Then He added, "No one is good--- except God alone." Jesus' statement affirms a truth revealed throughout Scripture, as well as throughout nature: God is the one and only source and essence of goodness. What He created He declared "good," and He encourages us to do "good" to both our friends and enemies; but goodness emanates from and is ultimately defined by Him alone.
From a mathematical and dimensional perspective, the Creator's goodness may be described as infinite. Though we humans have the capacity as spirit beings to recognize and express to some degree His goodness, we have no capacity for goodness apart from Him. If God did not exist, or if God were not good, we would not even know such a quality were possible.
The Benefit of Power
How often have we heard sceptics say "If God is good, then He must be weak, otherwise He would. . . . " Again, some fundamental fallacious assumptions lie behind the challenge.
One of the fallacies is the expressed certainty that we can discern the absolute best course of action in a particular situation. All we can really know of absolutes is that they must exist, for God exists. While God has absolute knowledge of everything, we humans possess absolute knowledge of nothing because of our finite limits (see chapter 4).
A second fallacy lies in our mistaking the exercise of power as the measure of available power. A limited expression of power or a restraint of action cannot be used to indicate what power is possible and available. It cannot be used to infer weakness or lack of power. If we see a well-muscled man carrying a twenty-pound backpack along the trail, we would not reasonably conclude that twenty pounds is the maximum load he has the strength to carry. We would demonstrate better logic in concluding that for today's outing, he needs only twenty pounds' worth of supplies. And what if he were to put down his pack for a while as he stops to take pictures or to do a little fishing? Could we reasonably assume that he has lost his strength to carry the pack, that it has suddenly become too heavy for him? A better guess says he does not have reason to carry it right now, but he can and will pick it up again when the time is right.
If God chooses to refrain from exercising a power that He showed He possesses in creating the space and time dimensions, the matter and energy, and the physical laws of the universe, we have no basis for assuming He no longer possesses that immeasurable power or is no longer willing to exercise it. We can only infer that His exercise of that power is subject to His choice. He can and will use it however, wherever, and whenever His goodness and other character attributes direct.
The Benefit of Perspective
"Timing is everything" may exaggerate the case, but the point of this familiar expression merits attention. Who of us has not learned the hard way that right actions at the wrong time thwart our efforts and our purposes? If a man decides to help his wife by making dinner for her, he has done a good thing-assuming he knows how to cook and what she likes. But if he does this right and good thing on an evening when she has plans to eat out, his efforts will probably fail to accomplish the purpose for which they were intended. Perhaps he did not ask, or perhaps she did not tell him when he did ask, but in either case, he lacks the ability to read her mind. He needs tangible clues.
Because God possesses the equivalent of at least one more time dimension than we human beings do, and because His space or other dimensions give Him a complete view of us, inside and out, we can be confident of His timing in exercising His powers and capacities. He not only has the goodness and the power, but also the knowledge and perspective, to time His actions perfectly. As the apostle Peter wrote, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness." His timing will be based not only on what He knows about us
individually in any given moment but also on what He knows about the entire human race and all the angelic hosts for all time(s) in our current dimensions and beyond.
A swift and loving resolution to the problem of evil and suffering, thus, must certainly be within God's grasp and must be part of His plan. So far, however, we have said nothing about God's specific strategies and means for eradicating evil and suffering. That we will address in chapter 15.
The Ultimate Goal
Scripture tells us that "God is love," and the creation testifies to that truth. As with goodness, God Himself gives meaning to the word. He is love's source and essence. Humanity's hunger for love, a higher love than we can know in any human relationship- as wonderful as that human love can be-- reflects a universal hunger for God. The more love we experience in this life, the keener our anticipation for the love that awaits us in His domain, in His tangible presence.
Whatever love is, we know we want more of it to give and to receive. But our dimensional boundaries hem us in. Loving takes time, because loving takes knowing; and knowing, for us,
takes time. Our three-dimensional bodies for now contain, and in some ways conceal, a more-dimensional or extra-dimensional being, a spiritual being. When we transition to the more-dimensional or extra-dimensional realm, we will gain new capacities for knowing and thus new capacities for loving.
But whatever love is, both here in these dimensions and there in our future home with God, we know it involves choice. Love cannot be coerced and still be love. It cannot be programmed and still be love. If it is not given freely by choice, it is something else, such as duty, and we yearn to give and receive so much more than obligatory care.
Since love involves choice, it also involves risks. In the chapter ahead, we will consider the paradox of an omniscient, omnipotent God who risks giving humanity, and the angels, too, real freedom of choice so that real love is possible. And yet He never relinquishes or compromises His sovereign control.
This statement of the two truths side by side strikes our minds as a contradiction, or perhaps as an inscrutable mystery, because it is a mysterious contradiction-in four space-time dimensions. But remember, we have discovered that there are more than just those four.
Knowing God's reality encompasses more than four space-time dimensions, we can rejoice, too, that God has something better than Eden in store for us. As beautiful and pleasant as
Eden must have been for Adam and Eve before they turned from God's way to their own, God's goal for humanity far surpasses an earthly paradise. He awaits the moment when He
will escort us, who choose to enter, into the new creation. Building and maintaining the new creation involves more of God's extra-dimensional capacities than did Eden. It will involve much more than just our dimensions, too. The new creation is majestic, rewarding, and enduring beyond anything we can think or imagine. When we read the Bible writers' attempts to describe it, we know that the wonders of the place can never be exaggerated.
We will consider some of the specifics of the new creation in chapter 17. However, an appropriate appreciation of those specifics is only possible given a satisfactory resolution of pertinent aspects of the paradoxes of our free-will choices versus God's plans and control; whether believers can be eternally secure in their commitment to God; evil and suffering versus God's love and power; and God's love versus eternal torment in hell. Before considering the glory, majesty, and reward of the new creation, we will devote a chapter to each of these issues…