God Works in Mysterious Ways

God Works in Mysterious Ways

It is a common argument against Christian thought that Scripture calls for us to not question God when he does something we do not understand. This can apply to times that God does not save those who are suffering, times in the bible in which Jesus performs miracles that are impossible in the natural physical world, or times when God does not answer prayers. Admitting that there is no way to comprehend God’s reasons for doing what he does is an easy way for Christians to come to terms with this cognitive dissonance, but I like to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The majority of Christians that I’ve met are not stupid people. Some questionable logic is generally necessary for reconciling various fantastical claims in Scripture that can clash with our reasonable, observable conclusions, but it doesn’t stop believers from doing their best to apply logic to these situations.

Take It on Faith

I understand that the basis of Christianity is that its followers operate on faith rather than evidence, but many, many Christians do study various fields of science and come to a logical, science-based conclusion that there is, indeed, a god. While I do not agree with this conclusion, I respect their skepticism and studying far more than I would respect the conclusion of “God exists because he says he exists,” or other ideas along those lines. I’m glad that so many Christians believe what they do because they see it as logical, but much to my dismay, I still continue to see those who believe solely on a faith-basis, and they don’t think to question God’s ways or his seeming contradictions or naturally inexplicable tendencies.

I came across a post last week from a blogger who showed great humility and honesty in her writing, but I can’t help to be baffled by something that she said: “I’m begging you not to get so conceited about your relationship with God that you think you understand his reasons for doing anything. ” My problem with this is that it’s such a common Christian viewpoint and response to things like the problem of evil, which was essentially the topic of the post. Even if you aren’t able to reach a conclusion that can well explain the problem of evil, it’s unnatural and incongruous with our natural logical tendencies to not even ask why.

Don’t Question Why God Created Evil

In a class I took last year, the professor did a great job of teaching different worldviews in an unbiased manner, and that meant going through criticisms of Christianity in a logical and honest way. We did talk quite a bit about the problem of evil, and we read parts of “God, Evil, and Suffering” by Daniel Howard-Snyder. The essay came to the conclusion that there are six theodicies of why there is evil in the world:

  1. Punishment Theodicy – all evil is punishment for sin
  2. Counterpart Theodicy – you can’t have good without evil
  3. Free Will Theodicy – God wants a relationship with people so that people can choose God so that their relationship has a meaning
  4. Natural Consequences Theodicy – we must suffer in order to be brought back to God
  5. Natural Law Theodicy – without the laws of physics, we couldn’t predict things and probably a lot of us would die; unfortunately, these laws require natural disasters
  6. Higher-Order Goods Theodicy – compassion for suffering, working together to fix something bad, freeing slaves, courage in dangerous situations; evil is needed for these good things to come together

Howard-Snyder concluded that even if any of these six theodicies can explain the evil in the world, they can’t explain the amount of evil. Even after doing as much research and giving as much philosophical thought as he did, the author essentially decided that just because we don’t see a reason why there is so much evil in the world, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a reason. We just don’t know what it is. (Note: Howard-Snyder defines God as “an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being,” and he defines evil as “undeserved, intense suffering and pain and/or horrific wickedness.”)

As I said before, in addition to God’s mysterious reason for not preventing evil are his mysterious ways of defying physics throughout the bible. I didn’t have much to write on this topic, but thankfully, I was forced to attend my home church this morning, and I got my first taste of our new pastor’s ridiculousness, which tied in perfectly to today’s post. It was like an answered prayer, except not.

Punishing Skepticism

The focus of our bible study lesson was Luke Chapter 1. The first part of the story is of an angel telling Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth was past her child-bearing years, so she was unable to conceive naturally. As might be expected, Zechariah didn’t believe the angel’s illogical statement, and asks “How can I be sure of this?” Not surprisingly, the angel didn’t appreciate his skepticism. Rather than biologically and reasonably explaining how this barren woman could have conceived a child, the angel silences Zechariah and causes him to be mute. I see this as the equivalent of if, during their debate, Bill Nye had tried to use scientific evidence to demonstrate why evolution is a reasonable conclusion and model of human origins, and instead of responding with a valid argument, Ken Ham zaps Bill Nye so that he can no longer speak. Ken Ham wins by default and doesn’t have to answer any hard scientific questions.

The next story that we studied was when the angel Gabriel reveals to Mary that she has conceived the baby Jesus. Obviously, she doesn’t understand how this could have happened since she is a virgin. The difference between Mary and Zechariah, though, is that Mary accepts this preposterous and biologically impossible news without question, and the angel appreciates her lack of skepticism. The moral of the story is: don’t ask questions.

Don’t Fight It

This is exactly what the pastor concluded. Don’t question God’s ways. When the bible tells you that God can do the physically impossible, don’t ask for proof. Don’t fight it (he literally said both of these things). The pastor even went on to say that we should take God’s word at face value, even when it makes no sense to us and it can’t be proven. God impregnated a virgin? We believe it. God changes red wine and wafers into his son’s literal blood and literal body for us to eat and drink at communion every week? Sure. God will raise the physical body of every (Christian) person who has ever died and put their bodies back together so that they can physically join him in heaven? Alright. We won’t question it.

All three of these examples were things that the pastor actually talked about in terms of “don’t fight it.” Don’t demand proof. Don’t even ask. Live forever in darkness, and don’t try to comprehend why or how your God would do the things he says he does.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to sit back and listen to this without at least being deeply saddened. These are smart people who are being told to suppress their natural desire to understand the world through their innate (some would say God-given) logical capabilities. Christians aren’t stupid, and they’re not blind, but it’s greatly disappointing when their church expects them to be.

16 thoughts on “God Works in Mysterious Ways

  • May 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    I grew up with this version of faith, and I remember all of my Christian friends looking at me like I was crazy when I experienced doubt for the first time as a college student. I believed it too, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t suppress my doubt. Eventually I realized that I could either honestly question my beliefs and maybe end up changing them OR I could wait while my doubt slowly eroded my faith as I pretended to ignore it. For some of us, doubt is unavoidable, and people like that new pastor can cause us a lot of unnecessary pain. I’m glad you escaped that.
    One more thing – you mentioned Christians who unquestioningly believe and those who question but still believe. There’s a third option, too: Christians who honestly question and change their minds when necessary. This is the great Liberal tradition, which I love. Thinkers from Schleiermacher to Tillich fit in this box. I found a way to be a Christian without having to believe or rationalize the nonsense.

  • May 7, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Regarding Mary: She doesn’t doubt what the angel is telling her.

    She, being free from Original Sin, believes that, yes, she, though a virgin, will conceive and bear a son.

    But she asks for more specifics in order to more fully be able to carry out God’s plan.

    Hence the angel is not upset with Mary for asking “How?” and, thus, she isn’t silenced.

    Regarding Zecharia: He does doubt what the angel is telling him.

    He asks “How can I be sure of this?” because the angel’s words are not enough for him.

    Hence, he is silenced for his lack of faith.

    We see similar scenarios in day-to-day life:

    Imagine you had a friend who has a reputation for being truthful.

    One day, they tell you of a traumatic event they’ve witnessed.

    In shock at hearing of such trauma, you ask “Really?”

    Your friend, upset at your doubt, exclaims “Why would I lie about this?!” and hangs up the phone.

    Your friend has silenced you — they refuse to hear or consider your words because of your doubt.

  • May 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    growing up catholic, we were not encouraged to read the Old Testament, and our parish priest ‘forbade” us to watch or read anything about magic. Or to question our faith.

    The magic ban intrigued me. I had always loved a good stage magician, sleight of hand, all of that. After this ban from the priest I began to notice similarities between the stage magicians and the ‘miracles’ in the Bible. Every one of them could be explained away, with anything from misprints (“Oh dear, I blotted me copybook”) to sleight of hand, to mass hypnosis. Water into wine? ever seen a magician pour milk out of a cup of water? Loaves and fishes. All those miracles that depend on both misdirection and mass hypnosis. And some, of course, were just plain apocryphal, meant to illustrate a point in a discussion, and taken as “it really happened”.

    What saddens me, here are all these good people, following along in the slipstream of a man who might never have existed, and a God who also might never have existed, and they never look up, or out, or around to see the bloody miracles that go on continually right under their feet. Or if they do, they give God the credit and walk away. They never exercise those brains in wondering why.

  • May 7, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    All religions does exactly the same! Logic is lost when it comes to religions. Sometimes I feel we have very stupid brains! 🤔😁

  • May 8, 2017 at 1:16 am

    Speaking of miracles, it was “miracles” that got me to think of myself as a “failed Christian” and leave the faith entirely. When I was very young, believing, in total faith, was a natural for me. You could say that faith was a perfect suit – no room for questions or doubt. But when I began reading the Bible, particularly the New Testament, I came across two irreconcilables. One, the Luke 6 commands of Jesus which are simply impossible in a real world… unless… a later promise by Jesus was fulfilled by him: I go to the Father and I will send you the Holy Spirit who will teach you all things… etc. I would have the power of God to raise the dead, make the blind see, feed, clothe and care for the poor without limits, i.e., as Jesus promised, I would do greater things than he ever did. I would be able to speak to anyone, anywhere in her own language and be perfectly understood. Hence, I would be able to live according to the Luke 6 commands, which are only possible through this power of God to sustain one thus. That the package concluded with being rejected, hated, persecuted, tortured and killed because of this power didn’t faze me: I wanted it. I’d never seen it in any other Christian but that did not matter: I took those promises at face value and prepared myself to live that sort of life. Well, guess what: nothing happened. Whatever I did accomplish I finally had to admit I had done myself, using my own time, labour and money. God simply never showed up. I trained for the job, showed up ready and on time… and the “employer” never showed up to equip, guide, direct or empower. What was I to do: live the typical hypocritical pretend Christian life, or declare to myself, and all and sundry, that I was a failure, that God didn’t empower me because??? Well, because if he had, it would have blown his carefully erected house of cards called “the Church” literally to kingdom come. Logic, gentlemen, logic. We are logical beings and the very creator of such a being would have us deny our own nature? Something doesn’t add up, and I know what it is. My motto now is, believe all things, believe in nothing.

    • June 17, 2017 at 10:51 am

      I was forced to stop and consider your comment, even though I had not planned on leaving a comment. The first thing I thought of was how disappointed my cousin, Richard, was when he found out the cold hard truth about a children’s show called “Zoom!” In the opening song there was this promise: we would learn how to fly. Well, imagine his disappointment when it finally occurred to him that they weren’t really going to teach him how to flap his arms and soar into the blue. But was the show lying? Was it being deceitful? Was there really cause for abandoning the program?

      All I really want to point out is that the basis for your lack of faith should not be founded on John 14:12. The word in question (“greater”) does not – to paraphrase a word from “The Princess Bride” – doesn’t mean what you think it means. So, since I don’t want to come across as a scholar, please allow me to attach a small clip – just one from many different scholarly sources – which might give credence to my point.

      Shall he do also (κακεινος ποιησει [kakeinos poiēsei]). Emphatic pronoun ἐκεινος [ekeinos], “that one also.” Greater works than these (μειζονα τουτων [meizona toutōn]). Comparative adjective neuter plural from μεγας [megas] with ablative case τουτων [toutōn]. Not necessarily greater miracles and not greater spiritual works in quality, but greater in quantity. Cf. Peter at Pentecost and Paul’s mission tours. “Because I go” (ὁτι ἐγω πορευορναι [hoti egō poreuornai]). Reason for this expansion made possible by the Holy Spirit as Paraclete (16:7).*

      *A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jn 14:12.

      So, should you continue to disbelieve in God (I prefer the large “G”), that is up to you. I would just encourage you to rethink this particular argument.

      • June 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm

        Thanks for your scholarly input – and yes, I’ve heard that explanation many, many times. So I look at those “greater” (quantitative) works of the church universal, and what do I see, historically and currently? Schisms and chaos. Bloodshed, slavery, genocide. War after war, “In God’s Name” and “Gott mit uns” and “Allahu akbar.” The cruades; the “Reformation” and the massacre of helpless peasants caught in the political swell, large parts of Europe devastated. I see dark ignorance and the imposition of beliefs upon conquered, or subjugated peoples; the inquisition (probably the lowest point of the Church universal). There is no doubt the Church has done “greater works” than Jesus ever did, but based on my reading of the synoptic gospels, those are not the works Jesus was talking about. I don’t need to believe “in” god because I know that god exists, but I choose self-empowerment. If there is a fair judgment, it is god, and those who believe “in” him, or in the plethora of gods as they show up through history, who will have to answer for crimes against humanity and this world. I’ll be on the prosecuting team, and we will win our case, hands down. Remember, I say “fair” judgment, not one weighted in favour of superior power and elitist (elect) expectation and entitlement. The world-changing movement started by Jesus of Nazareth has been co-opted to become the Whore of Revelation, she who consorts with the political and financial Powers of this world and sits in her bloody thronwe in that same Babylon whose end, as predicted, we can now see as inevitable. That Whore is God’s consort on earth, no mistake.

  • May 31, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    I wrote that. First of all, I’m a woman. Second, I don’t mean to not question God. The context of the quote you used was that when something bad happened to my friend, someone else said “that’s because you sinned.” That is the conceit about which I spoke. I think you’d agree that it was conceited of the person to tell my friend why the bad thing happened to them.

    • May 31, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks for clarifying! I agree that they shouldn’t have said that. It makes more sense in context (as most things do). Also, sorry for referring to you as a man. I’m fixing it now.

  • June 29, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Again, you have written a good blog.

    I would agree that most Christians are not stupid. However, many of them lack the critical skills necessary to evaluate their faith properly (mainly the fundamentalists because of limited education). I use the word faith instead of belief because, while I belief could be claimed, it is a belief under a skewed epistemology.

    But, what I really want to comment on are the six theodicies you listed. My first set of responses assume that god does not exist in any form once so ever.

    Punishment theodicy – There is no sin (at least in a religious context), since there is no god to sin against. So, punishment cannot be the explanation for evil.
    Counterpart theodicy – Ordinarily, knowing good does not require knowing what is evil. I know it is good for me to eat a nutritious diet without knowing what is bad for me. Of course, I also know what is bad for me to eat, but it is not necessary for me to know what is good. Plus, good and evil are labels we human beings attach to certain actions that have a moral context to them. These labels are not inherent in the world.
    Free will theodicy – Free will in this case is misunderstood. Some philosophers argue that free will is compatible with determinism. This is there is no logical conflict between the two. In most cases they argue for the idea that freedom is to act without being forced or coerced, and some would add certain mental illnesses prevent some acts from being free. I for one, while I do not disagree with these philosophers, happen to believe free will is real phenomenon. It is a feeling or emotion, and that is why we cannot not deny that we have it by lived experience. (For a fuller argument for my concept of free will see my blog post “Why Are People Afraid of Their Brain?” @ https://aquestionersjourney.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/why-are-people-afraid-of-their-brain/)
    Natural consequences theodicy – Are suffering is perfectly natural, whether by events in the world, or by others, including ourselves. With no god there is no supernatural reason for why we suffer.
    Natural law theodicy – Volcanoes or earthquakes or any other natural event have no intentions of doing wrong; therefore there is no natural evil. Evil implies a person doing wrong.
    Higher-order goods theodicy – You do not necessarily need suffering in order to benefit someone else. A simple example is helping to tutor a student. We also often choose solutions that provide a win-win outcome.

    Without god none of these theodicies need come into play.

    But, what if god in some form does exist? I will state to start that I do not conceded this.

    Punishment theodicy – Supposing punishment were necessary, why the disproportionate amount written in the Bible. In the Old Testament we have death for breaking the sabbath, sassing your parents, adultery, and having a same sex partner. In the New Testament eternal damnation for not believing in Jesus on, I would add, insufficient evidence. These examples lead me to think that if a god, especially a Christian god, did exist, than this god is less than all-good.
    Counterpart theodicy – An omnipotent god would not need to contrast good with evil. This type of god could only give us examples of good. So, the Christian god could not be omnipotent if he had to include evil.
    Free will theodicy – While this may work for evils committed by people, it does not let god of the hook for natural evil. It cannot stand alone.
    Natural consequences theodicy – If a god has to resort to suffering to teach us lessons, god does not have much of an imagination—so much for perfection.
    Natural law theodicy – We have know way of knowing if the universe could have turned out differently so that natural disasters would not occur. If so, god botched his job of creation. Death I can accept for all living beings, but does that have to include a painful death, or as painful deaths that occur in the world. In mammals there is some release of endorphins to mitigate pain to some degree, why could it not be strong enough to lessen the feeling of pain more deeply, especially long suffering pain. Again, it looks like god screwed up.
    Higher-order goods theodicy – As with natural consequences, why would an omnipotent god need to create a world were to accomplish something good, something evil has to occur.

    • June 29, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      Sorry about the formatting. WordPress does not seem to accept LibreOffice’s

    • June 29, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      Thank you so much for your insightful and thoughtful comment! I don’t know if you opened and read the essay, but it has a lot more information on the theodicies than I provided, but it looks like you took them down pretty thoroughly already. 🙂

  • July 12, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Hi! I really appreciate this post- I am a Christian, but have grown up with many, many atheist friends and I love learning about the opinions of others regarding religion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a well written way.
    I am definitely not a scholar about religion or anything and I have completely, totally struggled with doubting God’s existence, God’s goodness, and God’s reasoning. Gratefully, I went to a church that didn’t encourage me to suppress this. Also, to give some insight into why some Christians may seemingly follow God despite contradictions, I will share what has eased my doubts: God has been so completely involved and evident in many instances in my life. I’ve seen Him work time and time again. I struggle with anxiety and He has literally been the only thing that has pulled me out of despair. Because of all the ways He has provided, it leads me to trust everything else that He does/what happens in my life. It’s kind of like when my mom is annoying or makes life difficult with rules or chores or whatever–sometimes I don’t get it, but I know her love for me and what a great mom she is so those negatives are kind of canceled out.
    I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but basically God has been so present to many Christians that continuously doubting Him just doesn’t feel possible.
    Again, I’m sorry that you had that church experience and I seriously appreciate your post. 🙂

    • July 12, 2017 at 11:38 pm

      Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for your comment.

      First of all, I think that it’s really cool that your church welcomed rather than suppressed skepticism. Whatever your view is, asking questions and seeing where they take you is sure to help you find the most accurate answer.

      I understand what you mean when you say that you believe in God because you have seen him help you in your life and because he was there for you when no one else was. In my post “What Type of Atheist Am I?” I wrote that I do think that some theists are justified in their beliefs in a god. What you’ve expressed is one of the really good reasons that I could see someone having for believing. You remind me of the Christians I know that are deeply comforted in their belief because it gives them solace, especially in things like their loved ones being in a better place after death.

      I don’t know if you’ve looked around on the comments on this post, but Catholic in the 21st Century mentioned a similar “analogy” with a friend as you did with your mom, comparing them to God in that you trust them when they do something you don’t understand because they’ve proven to be trustworthy in the past. I don’t know that I totally agree with it, but you’re definitely not alone in that line of thought.

      Thanks for reading and for the thought provoking comment! I’ll be sure to check out your blog too. 🙂

      • July 17, 2017 at 3:55 pm

        Hi, sorry for such a late response! I was definitely blessed to be in that kind of a church! Also, I did check out the post you mentioned and agree that that’s probably the most convincing thing for a lot of Christians. Anyway, I totally understand your reasons for doubt and hope we can keep up with each others’ blogs even though they’re so opposite haha. Thanks for helping me understand other points of view as well! 🙂

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