Simplistic views of the Judeo-Christian God

Heather Mac Donald’s fundamental point is reasonably sound; “the arguments for conservative values can proceed on reason alone.” (Emphasis mine.)

One problem with her argument is that it depicts a grossly oversimplified view of the God of Judeo-Christian faith. She acknowledges that she is making some assumptions, such as her comparisons to a human judge or father. More telling is this passage:

I am happy to live with a conception of God as completely inscrutable, as long as that conception is consistently applied. But I constantly hear believers confidently interpreting God’s intentions when something good happens to them or to others. When God saves a child from drowning, a believer knows why God acted: It was because of his love for the child.

Religiously Arguing – Heather Mac Donald, National Review

Even a cursory study of the nature of God reveals that his action in saving a child from drowning is either one of mercy or of grace. While these ideas are compatible with God’s love, this doesn’t mean that they are equivalent. What’s sad is that believers and unbelievers alike don’t understand the distinctions. I believe the faulty conclusion above is based, in whole or in part, on this misunderstanding.

As to the idea that a loving God would not sit idly by while his children suffered: Many parents of adult children have had no choice but to do exactly that while their children have descended into the self-destructive behaviors of substance abuse. Some of these parents weep daily. Most offer everything they can to help an alcohol- or drug-dependent child up and out of their miserable condition. In spite of it all, there is nothing that a parent, loving or otherwise, can do to force an unrepentant, unwilling adult child to get the help that they clearly need. At least, not in a country where personal freedoms are cherished and celebrated.

“But he’s God,” you say; “why doesn’t he just force the issue?” To this I answer: why do we assume that he should? Do we claim to know what plans God has made? Perhaps a teen walks by a man passed out in a gutter with a bottle in his hand, and decides right then and there that they will do everything to avoid ending up the same way. Perhaps a young doctor sees the ravages of heroin and commits to doing everything she can to educate her community, ultimately saving even one life. I am not saying that it’s okay to be an alcoholic or a junkie. I am saying that maybe, just maybe, some bad things are allowed to happen because it will awaken the good and noble in others.

On the other hand, there are times when a parent may legitimately choose to let a child suffer pain, even though this goes against one’s own desire. I’m a parent of young children, myself (all of them under 10 years old). This experience provides plenty of examples. Let me choose a silly, small example: let’s say my kids have enormous difficulty in keeping their room clean (hard to imagine, I know). After months of reminders, and repeated all-afternoon Saturday cleaning sessions, they’re simply not getting the point. In a change of direction we decide to inform them that it’s time to clean, secure a positive acknowledgment, and then go set a kitchen timer. When that timer goes off, anything that’s left out – favorite toys, clothes, whatever – goes into storage until further notice.

The worst part of this is when you have sentimental attachments to some of these items, perhaps as much as your children do. There have been tears of sadness and disappointment from both parent and child. You hope, though, that the child has learned a few important lessons, not the least of which are the law of consequence and a sense of personal responsibility.

The Judeo-Christian God doesn’t offer to routinely, or even occasionally, deliver human beings from the consequences of their actions. Rather, he asks us to trust him in spite of whatever may lie ahead. This is not incompatible with reason. It merely requires us to acknowledge that we don’t have all of the relevant information upon which to make a determination. I’m okay with that.

By the way, from the perspective of the eternal now, things that seem significant to us – trapped in linear time, as we are – can take on an entirely different meaning. I’ll explain more about this idea some other time.

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