Wrestling with the Big Questions

By | March 15, 2008

I was thinking again last night about the question of origins. I thought about how crazy complex the universe is, from subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies. The big problem with naturalism is the idea that anything at all came from nothing. But it’s quite a stretch to think that all this came from nothing.

Then I thought about the idea of intelligent design, of a higher power having created everything. I thought about the complexity, and how much that entity would have to know and how much power it would have to have in order to create everything. I thought, wow, that’s about as much of a stretch to believe as everything coming from nothing. I guess I never thought about it quite like that before, but in a way it does seems like suggesting something ridiculous to work past a difficult problem, though in reality it may be suggesting the improbable to explain the impossible.

Anyway, if you say God created everything, then I believe it logically has to follow that God has virtually infinite knowledge and power. From there, some questions are, “Why did God create?”, “What role does God play in the events of the universe?”, and “What is God like?”. These questions could be difficult to answer in a definitive way, but perhaps we can hazard a guess.

The question I want to focus on for the moment is the second one, “What role does God play in the events of the universe?” I suppose there are a couple of possibilities here. My initial thought is that if God was powerful enough to create everything, he ought to be powerful enough to have power over everything, to be able to control everything. I suppose it’s also a lesser possibility that he created in such a way that his creation is now out of his control.

If you say that God is all powerful, as do many or most christians, then you run into the problem of basically blaming God for everything that happens. This situation may well be the truth, but it is not without its philosophic difficulties. If something good happens, praise God, but more often, it seems to be a matter of “Why did God let this happening?” (or as some people see it, “Why did God do this to me/us/them?”). Of course people try and answer this by coming up with all manner of explanations as to why God may have allowed some “bad” thing to happen, though to me I often feel like these answers come up short, and all the more so the worse the “bad” thing is.

So I’ve wondered if there is another, more plausible explanation. Previously I’ve come to the conclusion that God allows a lot of things to just happen, and that they don’t necessarily have a reason. This could be true, but it doesn’t completely answer the previous difficulty. You still have to come up with an explanation as to why God chooses to let most things “just happen”, if he has power to do something. This could be an easier question to answer than why God lets each specific bad thing happen, though the answer may also be less satisfactory (well really less comforting as it’s more philosophical).

Could there be another possibility, something in between the extreme of God being responsible for everything and the opposite extreme of there being no God at all? Moreover, could we find a reasonable possibility, one that seems to align with reality and not merely be highly theoretical? I’ve heard it suggested once that God may be all powerful in a similar way to a king being all powerful in his kingdom. While what the king wishes will ultimately happen, there can be an amount of time while that is being worked out. However I’m not sure that this explanation, in essence limiting God’s power, is an entirely satisfactory explanation. It seems difficult to say, though possible, that the God who spoke the universe into existence now has more difficulty in keeping it under control.

Another difficulty comes in the form of miracles. If you believe in miracles, and you pretty much have to to be a christian, then you must wonder why miracles happen in some cases but not others. It seems that if God was somehow limited by forces at work against him, it would be as difficult to perform a miracle in one situation as another. On the other hand, maybe not, because different situations are different. If you believe God is all powerful, then why does he perform miracles in some situations but not others? Either way, the question of miracles is not satisfactorily answered.

Considering all this, I think the most plausible explanations so far are the latter one just mentioned, and the idea that God is all powerful, but chooses not to interfere most of the time for one reason or another.

This question, what basically amounts to the problem of the existence of pain and suffering in the world, isn’t a new one. Yet I wonder how long it has been asked. If it is as big of an issue as it seems to be today, why isn’t addressed more directly in the bible? In a way, it is answered, but not in a way that seems satisfactory to us. Of course, the answer is that pain, suffering and death are in the world due to rebellion. This happened in part due to temptation brought forth by the presence of evil. God’s answer is that he is going to send a messiah, Jesus, to reverse the curse of evil.

The problems are, first, why wait so long to send Jesus? Also, Jesus came a couple of millennia ago, but it seems that there is still just as much pain, suffering and evil in the world as before. Yes, Jesus is supposed to come back and usher in “a new heaven and a new earth”, but again, why wait so long? And even if this does happen, will it really make up for and make right all of the wrongs that have come before? On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if it is only in our culture that we think we ought to be able to avoid most pain and suffering. (Should a differentiation be made between the struggle to survive and actual abuses?)

Well, I believe I’ve now brought up more questions than I have answers to, so I will end here for the time being.

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