Even in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy, such as the Aurora shootings (Alan’s comments about whether comments on it should still be going on aside), there are common themes in responses to tragedy, and what answers you have to give concerning it. As Dr. White is fond of saying – and I’m fond of repeating – theology matters, and your theology determines your apologetic. I had this story linked to me, earlier this evening. It sounds truly remarkable, and I appreciate that he related this story. What I didn’t appreciate, however, was the answer he had to give when the so-called “problem of evil” was raised. See, one of the first comments on the post, predictably, was your local village atheist.
July 23, 2012 at 4:14 am
Petra is a very lucky person and I’m very happy that she will make a wonderful recovery and that her family won’t have to suffer any more hardships. That said, why is this random chance being called a miracle? Modern medicine is the miracle because even with that defect, she still needed life saving surgery. Why were all those other people who were KILLED not saved by God, including a 6-year-old girl? I guess he likes to play favorites… I guess God is the Joker.
Forget that this pastor knows these people personally. Forget that he has had personal involvement with the entire situation. Even laying that aside for the sake of argument, this comment is utterly absurd and incredibly insensitive. First, note the assumption made after the obligatory “I’mma let you finish” clause; it is assumed, without argument, that this is “random chance.” Given what we teach regularly, this should not surprise any of our regular readers. We expect this. What we also expect, however, is a challenge to this assumption. Secondly, we see the “thank the doctors, not God” canard we typically find, in today’s reddit saturated internet atheism. I mean, far be it from me to point out the obvious – but since when has God EVER failed to use means in accomplishing His ends? Should we thank the frogs and the angel of death for the Exodus, not God? By the same logic, it follows; by the same logic, it fails to be anything other than ludicrous. Thirdly, were I speaking to Mr. Village Atheist, I’d ask whether he’s ever read Romans 9, and walk him through the “injustice with God” objection found therein. None of this is difficult, theologically, nor is it unprecedented, nor is it an original application. Jesus addresses the same sort of subject when he speaks of the tragedy of the Siloam tower in Luke 13, or when he speaks of the man born blind, in John 9, addressing the same flawed thinking displayed by the atheist here. Tragedy is addressed extensively in Scripture. Addressing tragedy with Scripture would seem to be extremely apropos, you would think. I mean, God forbid that… God would play favorites! Except, God doesn’t play by arbitrary atheist rules. What is meant by “favorites” here? Are we speaking of God’s will concerning His creation? Election? It isn’t said – and frankly, I doubt that our atheist interlocutor even knows what he’s objecting to. What we believe is that God doing as He wills under heaven is not “favoritism” but that He determines all things whatsoever that come to pass for His glory, and the good of His people. What is this pastor’s answer to these exceedingly tired and superficial objections? Exceedingly tired and superficial answers, of course. Not only that, but answers which concede the entire field from the onset of the discussion.
I’m going to break up his response into sections, and respond in between quotes. I have the names bolded to help you track when the players change.
Brad Strait says:
July 23, 2012 at 8:53 am
Thank you, TJ, for weighing in on this, and for the kind attitude.
I guess, for an atheist, these are kind words. At least he didn’t say the girl should have died, as a drag and a weight on society, for believing in bronze-age superstitions that relegate us all to science-denying fools. I’m sure, of course, that this has been reposted on reddit, with the predictable comments to match what I just outlined. Of course, he couldn’t resist throwing in his two cents on the blog comments, either, could he?
You may be right, and everything may be random in our world. For much of my life I believed this as well.
Well, I’m glad he took that miracle so to heart. After all, what did Christ say about miracles in Luke 16? “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'” Well, I guess that’s about how convincing that was to our pastor, too. I mean, after all, it’s not like the girl was raised from the dead. So, if raising from the dead won’t persuade you – why should another, lesser sort of miracle? There needs to be another, rather particular sort of miracle take place before anyone believes “the exact truth of what you are taught.” (Luke 1:4)
Not only that, but look at how he just gave the field away. There’s no certainty to be found here. I mean, after all, you have to give doubt the appropriate street cred. Just ask Michael Patton. If you don’t embrace doubt yourself, how can you expect to answer the doubts of others? Well, I think you know what I believe about that sort of thinking. By giving away the “may”, you already gave away the “possibility” – by giving away the possibility, you just acceded to the impossible state of God not existing, not ordaining all things whatsoever that come to pass – and all they have to do is run you to ground on that concession. You lose. You just agreed to have your hands tied behind your back, and argue from a “neutral” ground between the two of you – to have “mutually agreed upon rules” that turn out to be not very neutral after all – because you just agreed to play by the rules they lay out for you.
But if I can offer a bit of respectful dialogue, too?
If we are honest, we must admit we cannot explain everything. It seems to me there are often several ways to look at and resolve “odd happenings.” How we choose our world view then has impact on how we come to conclusions. And in any world view, there are things which don’t fit well. The death of some and the living of others trouble me sometimes. I was with the family of the six year old in the ICU waiting room. Their pain is not theoretical to me. I care, and grieve.
Now, this is where I did, actually, appreciate the attempt. He does try to show that where you start determines where you end up – the problem is, when he does so, it’s a man-centered focus, not a God-centered focus. It’s all about him, we, us, you. “[W]e must admit,” “we cannot explain,” “seems to me,” “we choose,” “we come.” It’s all about man, man, man. Also note the admission that in every world view, there are things which don’t fit well. What he seems to be saying is that there is not only an apparent contradiction, but an actual contradiction – even in Christianity. We’re all in the same boat, and it’s a leaky boat. Why? Autobiography – “trouble me sometimes.” Again, it’s about man. He does make a good point, and something for the atheist to consider – that he was there with the six-year old and that family, as well. Notice something here; the pastor is being better than his world view. He gave up the field, but he still believes. He’s being better than his worldview actually is. We are glad that this is so – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out that fact. Often, people act better than their principles. We, as Reformed Christians, attribute that to God’s restraint of their principles for the sake of His people – “for the sake of the elect.”
Still, out of my research, thoughtful faith, and life experience, I choose a world view in which there is a good God. (For me, science, the Big Bang, quarks, string theory, entropy, paleontology, global techtonics, and medicine, etc., fit well within this world view.) I also believe that God does not control every event on this planet, or every choice a person makes. We are free to act for good or evil. Choices lead to consequences, for good or evil. Is the parent responsible for all the actions of the grown, self-willed child? Not in my world view.
Again, it’s all about man. He chooses the worldview that has a good God! I don’t know if this is supposed to impress the atheist, because he just confirmed the atheist’s position on our worldview – it’s just one of many just as irrational responses to an irrational universe. For all their talk of reason, and logic, note that it all arises from and because of random chance – which is definitionally irrational. If God doesn’t control all things in this pastor’s worldview, what does? He ceded the field, and has practically denied Isaiah 46, which says God has declared the end from the beginning.
I also believe that sometimes, for reasons that are mysterious to me, God interacts in the normal course of events in such a way that outcomes are changed from the normal workings of the universe. A Christian Mystic calls this non-normal happening “a miracle.” Is this God playing favorites? I don’t know. Is it unfair? I don’t think so.
Note his conception of “mystery” – he doesn’t know, but he believes God does it anyway. For us, we know – because God reveals this to us – He tells us why. Not in every detail, but sufficiently.
He doesn’t know whether God plays favorites – but he doesn’t think that it is unfair! What does he think is not unfair? Miracles? The question not being asked is “what is meant by ‘unfair’?” The other question not being asked is “what is meant by favorites?” This discussion doesn’t address those underlying questions. They talk past each other, as a result. There’s an almost arbitrary feel to his responses. I attribute that to the utter lack of scriptural references in his response.
I think God might be working with bigger purposes in mind, with a view for impacting humanity for good, and for eternity. I gain some peace because my worldview tells me the six year old is now experiencing heaven, full of life and love. This biological life is not all there is, for me, and the spiritual future is filled with many good things.
Quoting Gandalf: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it…White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
For me, my worldview has offered me meaning for life and peace in the times of trouble. But I confess I may be wrong. I wish you well.
Whether God is working with “bigger purposes or not” – God has to deal with the cards He’s been dealt, in this guy’s worldview. So, as it seems, there is a bigger purpose than what God has – and that purpose is man’s. I mean, whether God wants to “impact” for good seems irrelevant – God can only impact for good as much as He is allowed to by man. Whether he “gains peace” also seems to be irrelevant, because that’s his choice, too. If he doesn’t gain peace from it, I think that’s also his choice. He has essentially confirmed to the atheist that he is engaging in wish-fulfillment, as is often asserted. Using the “for me” qualifier simply relegates this all to the realm of subjectivity. In Christianity, the “peace of God which surpasses all comprehension” is the gift of God. Yet, for him, this is his peace, not God’s. He chooses this worldview for himself – it’s not pressed upon him necessarily by the inevitable teachings of Scripture, and the knowledge of the Holy. Yes, the worldview (which he chose, under that same worldview) offers him a subjective peace, and a subjective meaning. There is so much more than this – because, after all, he repeats – he could be wrong. What else can you say, when you repeatedly assert that your worldview is all about you? Theology matters, and the answer you have to give people is grounded in what you believe about God. If you believe wrongly, and your theology is really disguised anthropology, your apologetic will be just as anthropological.