Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why I Believe in Providence and Free-Will

After some recent political rants, I want to return to some theology. What is my theology of providence? What about suffering? The million dollar question is why do good people suffer? The most consistent challenge to belief in God has been the problem of evil and human suffering. The essential beliefs Christians hold about the nature of God seem incompatible with the evil that is so prevalent in the world. We believe that God is good (omnibenevolent), all knowing (omniscient), and powerful (omnipotent). The difficulties are, therefore, if God is good, and loves humans beings, why doesn’t He always act to deliver those He loves from suffering? And, if God is all-powerful, is it not reasonable to expect Him to deliver His people from suffering? Without dismissing these concerns, a better question for people of faith might be, what can God accomplish by allowing suffering? Human survival is one answer. For example, pain exists as a biological warning system. If I place my hand into a fire, I will recoil, but imagine the horrific result if my hand felt no pain! Pain and suffering often lead to growth in knowledge and power. Athletes know that temporary pain will lead to a stronger body. The world needs a system of ordered regularities – the “laws of nature.” Pain is the price of an ordered universe and human free will. Also, is it true that a good person must necessarily always stop pain when they have the power to do so? For example, when my mother first took me for immunizations, the needle being jabbed into my arm hurt! I was suffering, and my mother did nothing to stop it. So, was she a good mother or a bad mother?

Here are some central questions. Can God be in control of some things without constantly being in control of everything? Do humans have free will in a created order governed by God? What is the nature of divine sovereignty? Is it to alleviate personal suffering on an individual basis, or is there a higher purpose? Scripture provides some answers to these questions. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22, it was to teach Abraham that freedom from suffering is less important than God’s covenant. The story of Joseph, and his rationale to his brothers is Genesis 50, teaches that the suffering of individual people sometimes brings about good for God’s collective people. Job teaches that we are God’s, to do with as He pleases. “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11). God is our Creator. He graciously gives us life, and every breath is a gift from Him. I have no “right” to expect one more breath! In the New Testament, the example of Christ teaches us that freedom from suffering is less important than God’s redemption of the world. In John 9 Jesus’ disciples ask him why a certain man was born blind. Did he sin, or did his parents sin? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).

Can we make deals with God? This question is not often asked as bluntly, but it is asked implicitly. The belief that good people should not suffer because of their own righteousness is rampant in both Jewish and Christian life. Many people of faith believe that they should be able to avoid the calamities that afflict the less pious. This, in essence, is attempting to make a “deal” with God – “I’ll do what you want so that you will do what I want.” Believers, as well as non-believers, seek to reconcile the existence of God with the fact that good people suffer. But an equally appropriate question is, “Why shouldn’t good people suffer?” Rabbi Harold Kushner once asked, in this regard, “Should a pious person be able to go out on a freezing night without a jacket and not get sick?” And yet many Jews and Christians believe that if one observes God’s laws it is therefore unjust for the righteous to suffer. But unjust according to who’s definition of justice? This attitude may help to explain why unjust suffering can be so devastating to people’s faith. For many religious people, the problem of how a just, loving, and powerful Creator can allow terrible injustices is compounded by their belief that if they suffer while doing good, God has reneged on a “deal” with them. But the purpose of religion is to change the behavior of the believer, not God’s behavior. God will reward good and punish evil in the afterlife, not necessarily in this life. If God always rewards the righteous in this life, then the opposite must also be true – suffering is punishment from God. This belief is as prevalent as it is wrongheaded and cruel. I have heard Christians tell people who are suffering that if they prayed more and got closer to God their suffering would be alleviated! This belief renders the question, “Why do good people suffer?” self-contradictory. Those who believe that being righteous will protect them from suffering have already answered the question – if you suffer, you’re not a good person! The answer is not to make deals, but to understand God’s providence. Divine providence is rooted in the character of God, particularly His love. God’s desire to love and to be loved caused Him to create, and His continual desire to love causes Him to interact with that creation. Out of His love, God created humans as moral free agents because virtue cannot be coerced. Divine providence does not imply a tyrannical God who controls the universe at every level. In His great love, God has granted to humanity the power to choose its own destiny through choices. For me, a “puppetmaster” God negates the concept of love (for further guidance watch “Bruce Almighty”). Our understanding of providence provides answers to the tragedies of life by informing the Christian community that love is central to the nature and character of God, and love implies risk since refusal to control another being is a demonstration of love for that being. The outcome of God’s work in the world is not a foregone conclusion since God’s actions are predicated on human decisions. Even His plan for the redemption of humanity had the potential for failure because it depended on choice. In a Christian sense, providence means that God is more concerned with the eternal state of humanity than our temporal level of comfort. This understanding of divine providence is inextricably intertwined with the theology of creation. If God refuses to act as a universal tyrant, determining through foreknowledge, the course of every event, then the world He created necessarily has the potential to evolve freely. In such a system, humans have the intrinsic capacity to commit evil. The dialectic of good and evil is built into creation from the beginning. In a sense, God’s great love makes Him subject to His own creation. He is grieved when evil is committed, He changes His mind when pressed, and He is moved to act when we approach Him in prayer. Believing that God is tied to His creation because of love has implications for how we interact with creation. Any view of providence must dismiss the Deistic view that God has created, and then moved on, never interacting with His creation, but rather watching from afar. On the other end of the theological spectrum, determinism also tends to negate the love of God. In a word, I believe in free will because of LOVE.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Internet is in Danger

I won't go into too much depth here, but you need to know that the machinery is in motion to turn the operational control of the Internet over to the United Nations. It's "unfair" for the U.S. to control all this information and technology. Where can this go? Let's consider for just a moment the document that Bill Clinton called the greatest document ever written by man in support of human rights and freedom. That would the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document is supposed to be the great international blueprint for human rights around the world. The document says that it represents “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” Does the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights protect free speech? Well, in a word, yes it does. Article 19 says that everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression. So far, so good. The declaration also says that everyone has a right to rest and leisure and a right to a standard of living. Interesting. It also says that all mothers and children are entitled to “special care and assistance.” Problematic to say the least, but let's go to Article 29 Paragraph 3. “These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”

Do you need to read that again? This one clause negates every single right recognized in this so-called “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” You have no freedom of speech. You have no freedom of expression. You have no right to property. You have no right to your precious “standard of living” - you have nothing if your exercise of those rights interferes with the goals of the United Nations.

Now, back to the Internet. When the United Nations gains control just how far will it go? Will it start censoring the Internet to make sure that nobody posts any information or opinions that might interfere with the “purposes and principles” of the United Nations? There is talk, for instance, of a world-wide income tax to fund U.N. operations. Would I be allowed to post an opinion in opposition to this scheme? Are you worried? You should be, especially when you consider that more Americans are concerned about Tom Cruise impregnating Katie Holmes!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

American Myths – for the Thinking Person

In keeping with the theme of this blog – “hostility toward every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” I would like to correct what, in my opinion, are three American myths. Let’s work backwards.

Myth # 1: George W. Bush is a conservative.
Don’t get me wrong. I like George Bush. Sure, he’s an evangelical Christian, and he has an “R” next to his name, but conservative? By what definition of conservative? Radical leftists and socialists call him conservative, but this only serves to demonstrate that anyone can be “conservative” or “liberal,” depending on what they believe in relation to you. So what non-conservative things is “W” guilty of?
Cozying up to the Clintons.
Support for moderate rather than conservative Republicans in state primaries.
Allowing Ted Kennedy to write the education bill.
Throwing obscene amounts of money at education – something the imperial federal government has no business in.
The Medicare prescription drug benefit – an unnecessary and bloated entitlement.
Too few tax cuts.
Micromanaging an armchair war in Iraq – and making a mess of it.
Throwing Israel under the bus with the “road map” to peace, including pressuring the Gaza pullout.
Throwing vast amounts of money at Katrina relief.
Being the biggest spender in all of U.S. history – he has not vetoed a single spending bill, including the pork-laden highway bill.
Being AWOL on border security.
Signing the Campaign Finance Reform bill – a brutal assault on the 1st Amendment.

Myth # 2: Republicans are racist while Democrats care for blacks.
Going way back, the Republicans (Lincoln) freed the slaves, and 100 years later Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act despite severe Democratic opposition in the Senate. The Democratic Party had a stranglehold on the south during the 50’s and 60’s – they (Gov. Wallace) were the ones blocking the school door, while Republicans (Eisenhower) forced integration. Today, Democrats still keep blacks on the plantation of dependency, and the results are disastrous – see recent events in New Orleans. Affirmative action, likewise, smacks of the bigotry of low expectations.

I could go on, but due to all the banter about Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, the next myth is the real issue I want to get to.

Myth # 3: The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 prolonged slavery and declared the intrinsic worth of blacks to be less than that of whites by way of the infamous two-fifths clause.

Please, I beg you, continue to read! Why? Because George W. Bush has already appointed 2 justices to the Supreme Court – people who will profoundly affect our lives for decades. Bush said, in one of the 2004 presidential debates, that he would never appoint someone who would rule the same as the Dred Scott decision. I understand that was code language to pro-life evangelicals, but Dred Scott was a GOOD decision. “How?” you ask. “How, by declaring a black person to be the equivalent of only two-fifths of a white person, was that a good decision?” This does not mean, as modern school textbooks assert, that a black person, as an individual, was thought to be intrinsically worth less than a white person. It had to do with a fight between the northern and the southern states over the issue of political representation in Congress. The south wanted to count its blacks as whole persons to increase its power because representation in Congress is apportioned on the basis of population. The northern states wanted blacks to count for nothing - not for the purpose of rejecting their humanity, but to maintain an anti-slavery northern majority in the Congress. It was a Pennsylvania abolitionist, James Wilson, who proposed the three-fifths compromise. The effect was to limit the south’s political representation and its ability to protect the institution of slavery. Even Frederick Douglass called the three-fifths clause “a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding states which deprived them of two-fifths of their natural basis for representation.”

Just remember, you really have to ask hard questions and dig a little deeper to understand history.