Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Open Questions for My Christian Friends

After almost a solid two months of non-activity, I thought that I'd get back into it with something controversial.

These are some question I have for my Christian friends that I have been toying with a for a little while now. Rather than ask people in person, which could pretty quickly become confrontational and awkward, I thought I'd post them on the internet where people are free to read them, think about them privately and then (only if they really want to) post an answer in the comments. I'm not asking these to be hostile, but rather because I am genuinely curious as to how you answer them to yourselves? I suspect, based largely on conversations with certain ex-girlfriends, that many people don't even think about them, push them aside with an off-hand "God works in mysterious ways." But here's hoping I get some genuine, thought-inspiring and passionate answers on how you reconcile your faith in God with my questions.

Or, more likely, hate mail.

Firstly, I want to talk about poverty. The number of people who live below the poverty line is simply astonishing, and I've already talked about the ease with which we could change this in an earlier post. There's no lack of resources, but there are still thousands upon thousands of children dying in horrific conditions day after day. Why does God allow this? I'm not talking about AIDS, which some have tried to argue is a punishment for promiscuity and homosexuality. I'm not talking about adults, who you could (if you really wanted to) say are being punished themselves for their sins, or even for their lack of faith. I'm talking about children, children who have never been given the opportunity to sin or to be saved, children who suffer hugely simply because of the conditions of their birth. And please, although I am genuinely interested in your views, do not dare to answer that these people suffer so that we in developed nations have the opportunity to be kind, or charitable, or to become better people. I don't like moderating comments, but I will not tolerate that unspeakable presumption on this site.

Second, I want to ask about Jesus. All mankind is tainted by sin, and it is only through Jesus that we can be saved from sin, correct? Then what about all those prophets and preachers and ordinary people throughout the Old Testament? None of them accepted Jesus; not because they rejected Him, but because He had not yet died for their sins. If they lived before Jesus then they could not have accepted Him, so surely they were not saved from their sins and they burn in hell with the rest of us.

That brings me to my last question. How does a loving God judge us? If He truly loves me, then why does He allow me to go to hell for not believing in Him? Surely that is not an action of love, but one of jealousy and craving; why would we worship the man who acts as judge, jury and executioner if his only condition for our innocence or guilt was our worship? Perhaps this sounds self-serving and defensive, but let me ask you this. If God made me, and God knows me, then He knows that the manner in which He made me means that based on all the evidence that He has so far presented me with in my life, I cannot believe in Him. It is not a question of choice; I am a rational person and based on what I perceive of the world I cannot reason the existence of God. He made me in this way, He showed me all the evidence that for me does not add up, so why does He punish me?

Please do answer any of the questions that you fee comfortable with in the comments below, Christian or otherwise. I would be very interested to see what my Muslim or Jewish friends have to weigh in on this, though my questions are very much aimed at the Christian conception of God. Keep it PG, try not to insult anyone unless it's really called for... and thank you :)


  1. Ahhh Bruno. How I miss your musings. I have nothing of substance to add at this point other than the fact that I enjoy you. Hope you're well! Portia x

    1. Thanks lovely, hope you're enjoying Canadia! :) x

  2. Your first point is very relevant here, but an even better example is America - the country where you can attend a church that is so huge there are giant TV screens so the people in the back can actually see what that tiny little dot is doing on stage. Why spend millions of dollars on these pathetic mega churches when, as you rightly say, poverty is rife?

    1. An incredibly good point, though I'm more interested (in this post at least...) in why God would allow such disparity in circumstance, rather than why Christians would contribute to it.

  3. Righty-ho, this looks like fun, let me try. I will start by answering your questions with a question of my own... just kidding.

    I will start by querying your definition of 'Christian'... there are far more facets than the simple fundamentalist/conservative approach, as I'm sure you understand, although its dominance lends to a salience bias. As a probably-so-called-liberal-Christian (I don't really think in those terms), my answers to your questions will probably be much closer to yours. Let's see.

    1. Poverty - why? Firstly, I am curious as to your vehemence regarding the "intolerable presumption". Certainly, it may be an abhorrent proposition, but that does not necessarily make it wrong. That's not my answer, though, just an observation.

    I guess I believe in a minimally interventionist God at heart. Poverty exists because humans suck. There is no 'why' to it, no concept of punishment required. It exists because it does. Why doesn't God intervene? Perhaps because if He did, where would his interventions end? Intervention ultimately destroys free will.

    I suspect a conservative Christian would have a similar response to this - while perhaps believing in a God who does intervene on a (more) regular basis, that is on a micro scale, not a macro scale. I probably can't take that any further.

    With these views in mind, the proper question surely is why the existence of poverty does not torment us (me) as much as it should.

    Perhaps the only other point of note is that I believe in Ultimate Justice - that is, all things will be made right in the end (afterlife), somehow. THAT is certainly an appropriate time and place for divine intervention.

    Now, question 2...

  4. 2. The pre-Jesus question. Here's a great article I just found:

    The same question applies to the un-evangelised. Again, I take a liberal Christian approach to this, partly based on two scriptures that I cannot now recall. One says something about how the very
    rocks cry out that God exists, so everyone has heard. My conclusion on that is that what is "required" for salvation must only be belief in a creator, and Jesus is the conduit. The
    second relates to the NT comments about the Old Testament prophets (something like "Moses believed and it was accounted unto him as justification" or some other big words). And, most
    of all, it's based on my belief in an exorbatantly loving God. I guess I fit into categories 6-8 of the above link.

    I am surprised at your suspicion that this is one of the not-often-thought-about topics - it is one that has completely changed my own conception of faith. I know that you are right in that
    a tragic number of Christian do not or have not considered such issues - or considered the logical consequences of what they do believe.

    Last question...

    3. How can God judge me? This has largely been answered by the above response, but I think you must be on the right path with your thoughts there. My simple answer to your "why does he punish me?"
    question - I don't think He will.

    Of course, my approach raises numerous other questions (why bother trying to be a Christian, etc), but I think I can answer them all.

    If anyone is interested, I became a fundamentalist/conservative Christian at uni, and became liberal in the last 6 or 7 years based on two things. The first was the second and third questions that
    Bruno has aptly raised, which I felt I could not answer from a conservative background given a loving God. The second was a book I read about Near Death Experiences (of all things), which I was
    initially very cynical about, but it summarised hundreds of studies about NDEs and found inexplicable similarities. This led me to believe that, after death, after an often quite brutal Life Review
    (which essentially counts as punishment for all our bad deeds, and rewards for our good deeds) we all go on to a loving place of peace. Yes, even Hitler. To me, this fits closely with what I
    understand/believe from the Bible.

    So those are my thoughts, take or leave them. I'm happy to expand on them some, if anyone likes.

  5. Firstly, I think about this stuff relatively often, but yes most Christians don’t enough, but don’t judge them to harshly on this – there are plenty of atheists etc who don’t think hugely deeply about what they believe or why they believe it. Every group of people will be made up of those who like to think & discuss and those who don’t so much.

    Secondly, I generally agree with what ‘Sam’ has written above regarding points one and two, it is good & I only differ on a few points such as ‘minimally interventionist God’ and on the third point but both of those differences aren’t pertinent to this discussion.

    Point Number One:
    People do not suffer SO that we have the opportunity to be kind etc – that is an appalling idea!! God made the world without suffering but with free will. The original sin was pride – an inflated opinion of oneself. What happens when you have an inflated opinion of yourself? You generally think less of other people, or you think that they are less important than you. What does that look like? It looks like: I have a chicken, you need a chicken but I care more about me having a chicken than I do about you needing one. Upscale that and you have global poverty: I have abundant wealth & resources, you need wealth & resources to survive, but I like having more wealth & resources more than I value your existence. Poverty is easy to solve: teach everyone how to love other people; teach people to put others’ needs higher than themselves. So why does God allow poverty? God allows this to keep happening because He made us to have free will so that we can choose a relationship with Him (discussed further below). Instead of choosing a relationship with Him which would result in us being enabled to love in a poverty-ending way we choose to do our own thing which inevitably causes other people to suffer. A book that you could read on this topic is The Problem With Pain by C.S.Lewis. I haven’t read it myself but I have heard that it is a good book on this subject. C.S.Lewis in general is a brilliant author, extremely logical – I highly recommend you read his autobiography, Surprised by Joy which is fantastic.

    Point Number Two:
    There is an old covenant and a new covenant which correspond conveniently with the respective testaments. The old covenant commenced when God gave the commandments to Moses at Mt Sinai and said ‘you will be My people; a nation of priests’. This was said to a people who had recently been rescued from 400 years of slavery and oppression. They were slaves. These commands were to show them how to be human; how to love. But, yes because they were tainted by sin they struggled & failed to follow those commandments; they failed to love. Consequently they had a system of sacrificing flawless animals, one by one, each time they did it. New covenant time!! Jesus was flawless, like the sacrificial animals. His death, was the atonement for ALL my sins, for ALL my life. That makes it possible for me to follow the commandments and to love. What happens to those people who were before Jesus? If they believed in God then Jesus’s death was for their sin too and they are saved by it. They did not have to accept Jesus (obviously, cos they died before He got here) but His sacrifice still counts for them. In Old Covenant you were saved by the Law (Ten Commandments etc). Scripture says that Jesus was the fulfilment of that Law. The Old Testament people had to believe by faith that God would pay the penalty for their sin; they had to have faith in a future event, the reverse of how we have faith in a past event. They did not understand everything; but they did understand that they were sinners, they needed a saviour and that God would provide a saviour. The reason they did all those atonement sacrifices was an outward display of the faith they had in the eventual coming a once-and-for-all saviour. It was to demonstrate the reality of their salvation by Christ though they did not yet know who He was.

  6. Point Number Three:
    Your question, ‘why would a loving God let man go to hell’, could perhaps be rephrased as ‘why would man choose hell over a loving God?’ and in doing so give you a little insight into the matter. Whether you get into heaven or not is as simple as you saying ‘Yes, thank you God I would like to be in a relationship with you.’ Or ‘No, thank you I’d rather not’. Since we have to be perfect to be with Him (because He is perfect and sin is incompatible with Him), when we say ‘yes’ Jesus’ death & resurrection ‘gets applied’ to us and now we have both chosen to be and are enabled to be in a relationship with God. When you say no, God respects that. I do not think that He likes it; I believe that it grieves Him. But God understands that a relationship without a choice to be in that relationship will lack love. That is unsatisfying for God and He is God so it is all about Him!!

    I think Pinocchio is a great example. Gepetto created a puppet which did what he wanted it to. But he desired to have a relationship with a son who could love him back. So he wished for Pinocchio to be a real boy. Once Pinocchio was a real boy he was able to choose not to love Gepetto and he ran away and ultimately got swallowed by a whale. But Gepetto had a relationship with a son who could choose to love him back because that was more valuable to him than a puppet he could control. I think you would find Bruno, that the idea of a God that forced you to love Him is highly unpleasant.

    Side point: I believe that God is jealous; it says so in scripture. Jealous for our hearts and our time and our lives. I do not think that makes it any less an act of love. Jealousy in the world is often destructive; God’s jealousy is not, it is for good.

    In regards to your question of ‘why hasn’t God shown me enough evidence?’, I have a twofold response. Firstly, if you cannot find enough evidence then look harder. Scripture says that those who seek God will find Him. Look deeper, read wider, change your perspective, and broaden your definition of what counts as evidence. I recommend that you do some reading. Several goods books are: Evidence that Demands a Verdict By Josh McDowell & The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel (there’s also Case for Christ etc). If you are looking for a ‘burning bush’ perhaps redefine what you call a bush.

    Secondly, believing in God requires faith. You are a rational person Bruno; God has indeed made you that way. But that does not mean that you get to believe without having faith. When you believe in God you have to take a risk. You have to believe in something that you cannot see, touch, or prove empirically. Faith is hard but it is also powerful. God will not be proved by a science experiment with certain percentage accuracy. You believe in God by faith alone.

    1. I knew you'd have some great answers Katja, and thank you for them. Your second response in particular cleared up something I really had been wondering about for quite a while. But as to your third point, I guess I'd like to clarify that I'm talking less about a God that forces me to love Him and a God that MADE me to love Him.
      Why did God make me different from you? You grew up in a Christian family and a Church community, which you must admit sets you up to have a relationship with God much more than my upbringing did (though my sister did end up being baptised, so there certainly is room either way). There is a leap of faith required for a relationship with God, but I'm not a person who can make such leaps, and nor would I want to be...
      I guess this ties back to my first point again, the place of birth. I'll accept free will, and that human causes suffering to other humans. But why babies? Surely God could utilise some sort of selective fertility to ensure that all babies are born to supportive homes out of poverty that foster and encourage relationships with Him from day one. It's not a violation of free will, as there are many couples who are for many reasons unable to have children. Some of these couples are Christian, some not, some live in poverty and some live in affluence. If God is ok with making some people infertile, seemingly at random, then why would He not be ok with the idea of selective infertility to ensure that all babies are born with equal opportunities to live their lives and find God? When I put it like that I really do sound like a socialist don't I...
      Thank you for your response, thought-provoking as ever :)