Monday, January 19, 2015

Not Knowing God's Purposes and Wondering If He Exists

In The Business World...
In my professional career, I have been in the position of management a few times. One of the responsibilities of such a position is to communicate decisions of upper management to my employees. Often when my directors communicate the decision to me, they also communicate some of the reasons for the decisions, some of which I am not to communicate any further down the chain. When I communicate the decisions, some are received with a positive attitude, and others are received with a negative one.

I have interacted with many different types of personalities in these situations. Primarily with the negative ones, people begin asking questions about the purposes for the decision in order to evaluate for themselves if the decision was the best possible to make given the circumstances. In many cases, the employee is satisfied with the purposes that I provide; however, there are times that is not the case. The employee believes that based on the purposes communicated to them, a better decision could have and should have been made. They often leave the meeting dissatisfied and with less trust in the members upper management.

Unless we are those who make all the final decisions, we all can identify with the employees provided with a decision and the chosen purposes. I feel comfortable with saying that no person has been fully in agreement with every decision made by every management team in their career. To fully make sense, we need the whole story, and that level of transparency is a rare, if not, non-existent luxury.

This scenario is not limited to the business world, though. Any hierarchical relationship where absolute transparency among the parties does not or cannot exist exhibits this issue. Every relationship from familial to clubs is affected. Today, I want to draw two analogs of this familiar scenario to address two challenges to the existence of God.

God's Existence
But before I describe the two analogs, I want to point out something very important. Never in any of the scenarios that we can imagine do people conclude, from their disagreement with the decision, that the higher authority does not exist. That would be illogical, and frankly, purely emotional, and people know that. What does follow is that we believe that we could have made a better decision if we were in the position of authority. But without all the knowledge of all the purposes and all the options, we cannot say that we would definitely have chosen a different (better) option. So even though many do try to come to the stronger (fallacious) conclusion, they still would not take it as far as to say that the people making the decision do not exist. Just because we disagree with God, does not mean that He does not exist. It merely means that we believe that we could do better if we were God.

God's Creation
It is quite often that I see on social media, blogs, popular press, and even peer-reviewed sources that someone is discussing a feature of the creation (such as a feature of the universe, our planet, our bodies, or life's DNA) that they say, "If I were the creator, I could have done better." They conclude from that that the intelligent creator-God of Christianity does not exist. Unfortunately, I see this often from people who are on the front lines of investigation of the systems, and this attitude (and emotional conclusion) rolls "downhill" from the research scientists to the popular level (hitting everyone in between too).

As scientific discovery progresses (including new understanding of systems and their interactions with other systems), we are constantly discovering that what scientists initially concluded as a "bad design" actually turns out to be beneficial for the overall system or even vital to the system. Junk DNA is the first that comes to mind. Simply because proteins do not code for a function (or one that we have discovered yet) does not mean they do not have a purpose. Purposes for these proteins are constantly being discovered. Thus new "purposes" for their existence is being discovered, and the conclusion that the overall system could have been "better designed by me" is being dismantled. Biochemistry is not the only scientific discipline where this argument (against God as the designer) is losing its power; astrophysics and astrobiology are two more. For more on these, I highly recommend:

These do not address every instance that I have encountered of someone claiming to be able to design a feature better than what they have discovered thus far. However, these books will help the reader get in the habit of thinking about the interactions of multiple features of multiple systems to discover if what they believe to be a bad design is actually necessary for the function of another system. And for those who insist that an all-powerful God could overcome such biological or biochemical limitations, please pay close attention to the importance of the specific laws of physics in our universe (described in Origins of Life and Why The Universe Is The Way It is), because such claims to "simply overcome" will have to take place within the given laws of physics without disrupting the origin of life and the thriving of advanced life that is prior to your being able to "discover" that you "could have done it better."

However, this is not the only area of reality that our lack of knowledge of God's purposes causes us to prematurely conclude that we could have done better (or that He doesn't exist). The other area is in our experiences- the events that characterize our lives and often shape our worldviews.

God's Decisions
If the Christian God exists, then He allows for many experiences in our lives that are painful. Unlike the challenge above, this one is not limited to the skeptic or the Christian who is investigating creation, it affects skeptics along with Christians. So its applicability is further reaching.

It is rare that we can see all of God's purposes for allowing such events to take place, and we often believe that we could do better, thus fostering a dissatisfaction and even contempt for God. This is much stronger than a challenge to God's designs, because "now its personal." As already mentioned, logically we cannot conclude that He does not exist from experiences that we do not agree with. What we can conclude is that perhaps we could have done it better, but that is dependent upon our understanding the purposes God had for allowing the experience in the first place. Could we really have done better?

But disagreement is not necessarily the foundation of the conclusion that the Christian God does not exist. Rather it is the idea that the morally good God of Christianity does not have a morally sufficient reason for the particularly bad experience in our life. For both challenges to be addressed ("we could have done it better" and "God does not have a morally sufficient reason for the experience") we simply need to address the second one, because if God has a morally sufficient reason, then there is no way that it could have been done better.

If the Christian God exists, then His purposes include (but are not limited to) the drawing of more people to His Kingdom and the continued growth of the depth of His relationship with those in His Kingdom. Without having to know all God's purposes, if we can see how an experience can help grow the Kingdom and/or bring a believer closer to God, we have sufficient reason to conclude that the experience is not incompatible with God's morally perfect nature (thus neither is it incompatible with His existence). I provide a powerful example of a devastating experience that the person looked for and discovered how it met this challenge in my post Tornadoes, Flat Tires, and Moore.

Understanding that God does have a purpose helps us to avoid the temptation to use the experience to justify rejecting God during the pain. But that does not do much to alleviate the pain of the experience. Rather that is something that the Body of Christ has been tasked with. Scripture commands believers to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15) and to "carry each other's burdens" (Galatians 6:2). These instruct Christians to be there to offer comfort and assistance to those who are in pain. Christians, especially those who have had similar experiences, need to make themselves available for those in pain who are seeking the comfort.

Recovery time from painful experiences vary based on the experience and the person who experienced it. So, the Church needs to continue to be there in the time of need. But when the recovery comes to the point that the person is ready to discover what purposes God had for the experience, they can begin actively looking for that purpose, and if that purpose requires a decision on their part, they can act. In many cases, multiple purposes will be discovered over time. Fortunately, we do not have to look too far to get started. Again, "weep with those who weep" and "carry each other's burdens." Who better and more equipped than the one who has experienced the pain, first hand? If you have had a painful experience in life, you are not the only one. God can use you to offer comfort to those experiencing the same. Make yourself available and be an active part in strengthening the faith of a brother or sister or sowing the seeds of faith and demonstrating the love of Christ for an unbeliever. Doing either of those for even one person will have eternal implications that will make the suffering that you suffer pale in comparison- "I consider that our present sufferings will not be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). For more on God's purposes for suffering I highly recommend the book The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias.

It is quite tempting to dismiss God when we see or experience something that is attributed to Him and wonder "what the heck was He thinking?!" Not understanding God's purposes behind what He has created or allows in our lives is no logical reason to think that He does not exist or did not have a reason for doing it the way He did. In creation, it is up to us to decide to look wider than just the system we are questioning and deeper into that system to see if the overall performance of the system and all connected systems is optimized based on the presence of the disputed feature. In experiences, it is up to us to recognize ways in which the experience can be used to bring ourselves or others (who have similar experiences) closer to God and show the love of Christ to unbelievers in similar situations. I am reminded of two more passages from scripture that speak to God's desire to be known and our responsibility to search for Him:

  • Psalm 34:8- Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.
  • Jeremiah 29:13- You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

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