Monday, November 09, 2009

Teenagers, Questions, and Answers

My teenage daughter is currently attending an Evangelical conservative church. (The current boyfriend is the draw.) She questions some things she’s been hearing and told me the following story:

Yesterday the teenagers were asked to submit questions to a Pastor. (“One of the big guys who knows the answers,” as she puts it. *grin*) She and the boyfriend put together what they thought was a pretty clever question—basically “Why does God allow little kids to die of cancer?”

The ol’ Problem of Suffering.

What my daughter found interesting (and slightly amusing) was how the pastor hemmed and hawed, talked around the question, but then she noted this: He never answered the question! She said the closest thing to an answer was, “I don’t know.”

What struck me was how she picked up on that particular problem and how she was savvy enough to see how he didn’t answer it.

See, there really isn’t a good answer. There isn’t a cutsey little phrase, or snap bumper-stick capsulizing in digestible form a coherent response.

Everything we understand about morals, and charity and doing the right thing includes deep involvement in reducing pain and suffering as much as possible, to the point of elimination if possible. We’ve spent millions of hours and probably trillions of dollars research ways to reduce cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, polio, influenze, small pox, malaria, AIDS, and numerous other diseases.

To claim there is a God who can reduce it, but doesn’t, raises the huge question, “Why?” The fact the Christian cannot answer this very basic fact about God demonstrates why I reiterate any claim about God is unenforceable, because God is unobservable and unverifiable.

If you don’t know enough about your God-concept to explain why such a God wouldn’t cure cancer in a five-year-old, don’t tell me how it writes books, or provides you a parking space, or gave your child the winning shot in the J.V. basketball game.


  1. Frankly, I think that "I don't know" is an excellent answer. The only problem I see with it is that it's inconsistent with belief in a magic book that contains all truth.

  2. Unless the answer is along the lines of "We deserve nothing from God in the first place ..."

    But while it's easy to give that type of answer in terms of adults, saying that a child doesn't deserve to be cured of cancer is quite another thing.

    Or the answer is about God's mysterious ways. And that's fine -- God is perfectly entitled to be mysterious. But then what's the basis for a trust in an entity who is that mysterious? Who's ways no one can figure out? How mysterious does someone have to be before you start questioning some of the person's characteristics?

  3. My counter-question is, When would it be OK NOT to cure the cancer? My Mom just turned 80. If she got cancer, must He cure her, too? I'm 45. If I got cancer, would He have to cure me? It kind of reminds me of the scene in the comedy "Young Doctors in Love" when the doctor asked an old man, "What's ailing you, mister?"

    "It hurts when I pee."

    "How old are you?"

    "I'm 83!"

    "You've pissed enough." He leaves to tend to another patient.

    Was the young doctor playing God or was he playing a human being playing God? My point: you've taught your daughter to have a stunted, human-centric idea of God. [I think she'll figure that out. Kids can smell the error in their parent's ways.:-]

    If God is eternal, how important can it be to him that we must experience no pain in this life? What difference is it to an eternal God whether we live to be five or 105? It's merely a spec compared to eternal life. There's really no mystery other than our own confusion.

  4. Jim Jordan,

    As I pointed out previously, I find you stuck in a 21st Century mind-set, incurious, Americanized, evasive, and completely inconsistent.

    Worse, you are dishonest by repeatedly misrepresenting me as demonstrated here and here.

    As I indicated before, conversations with liars—with you—are useless.

    For any lurkers interested, I am baffled as to how Jim Jordan’s comment provides any insight. Listing even moreareas where the God-concept fails to reduce suffering does not make the original question go away. At most, it points out the question was not sufficient, and there are even more problems with such a God-concept! Well played.

    Further, to claim the eternality of such a God means our limited time’s events are not significant equally (and completely) misses the point. If our lives are so insignificant, why do the sins occurring in these meager 5 – 105 years require God to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself? Why is such a God so interested in every minute detail of our lives…just not our pain? Why is such a God so enamored with communicating to us, he had to assume human form to do so? If these few years are so insignificant and all…

    One can’t have their cake and eat it too. One cannot claim each and every minute sin is an affront to this God, and then claim minute pain is “no big deal” because God is so eternal. Can’t have it both ways.

  5. Dagoods

    Maybe its important to look at it this way. In the eyes of Gods eternity, the time it took you to respond to JJ wasnt a complete waste of time. ;)

  6. Can’t have it both ways.

    Theology is nothing more than a millennia-long effort in having it both ways.

  7. ah, but you can have it both ways. ask any schizophrenic.

  8. I know you may never get the idea of a real God through your narrow, cross-examination mind Dag. Your whole worldview is based on the comic thought, "If I were God, I would..."

    #1 - The 5-year-old's death is not insignificant, only the child's pain next to the infinite joy that God gives.

    #2 - "require God to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself" is nonsense. We killed Jesus, not God, or are you a Calvinist atheist who believes God must have delighted in the murder of his son?

    #3 - You are the one who wants it both ways, Dag. On one hand, you want sin to not be bad, and on the other, you don't want God to be all that good (and this you do by denying his existence). Your goal is to give yourself enough slack to be able to make the most of what little evidence you have for your own case.

    Would you use the same mind you used on dissecting Luke's Acts of the Apostles on your own version of the truth? I sincerely doubt it. Regards.

  9. Jim Jordan,

    Why you think I care about one more lie from you regarding my position is beyond me…

    In case a lurker is actually interested in honestly looking at our position, I will blog out an entry.

  10. DagoodS, stop denying the truth, Jim is right and you cant handle it.

  11. Demosthenes,

    I hope you appreciate the wry amusement within your comment. I have caught Jim Jordan repeatedly lying—either with contradictions as to his previous statements or in misrepresenting what I state.

    To tell me to “stop denying the truth” means I must embrace the opposite of what he says—since he lies.

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  13. ...To fall in love with Jesus said...
    I think you have your concept of God confused. God doesn't exist so that we can get what we want... in fact, we exist so that God can get what he wants, in particular, glory and praise.

    You probably think that's lame- a God who creates us to be worshipped? But the truth is, truth isn't determined by it's lame-factor. I think it's lame that if i fall off a 200 foot cliff, my bones will probably break, or I might even die. As lame as it is that I have to suffer from falling off cliff, it doesn't take away from the truth that Gravity exists.

    You may or may not make sense of this, but from a biblical perspective, Praying to God isn't about getting what we want. Prayer is about wanting what we get. God's will is the goal of a believer, to allign our desires with his, rather than trying to allign his desires with ours.

  14. So God created me to praise him for his goodness. Of course, I am incapable of determining whether or not anything he does is good because his actions cannot be judged by any notions I might have of what is good and what is evil. I am simply to accept on faith that whatever God does is good because he has done it.

    Such discussions bring to mind for me the parable of the talents. If there is a God, he gave me a brain with which to try to figure out what is good and a will to strive for it. The only God worth praising is one who would prefer my exercise of the talents he gave me even if they lead me away from him to my denying my reason and mindlessly chanting "hosannas."

  15. "But the truth is, truth isn't determined by it's lame-factor."

    A statement isn't true just because it's lame, either.

    However, it is definitely the case that the notion that there is an omnipotent creation of the universe that's hungry for the sorry-ass, trivial worship and praise of any human being is so ridiculous and stupid that one must suspect the intelligence and even the sanity of anyone who believes it.

  16. …To fall in love with Jesus,

    Perhaps I was unclear in my blog entry. What my daughter asked demonstrated how little we can ascertain about these God claims. Without any ability to observe, claims about a god are mere speculation and demonstrated as such by the believers inability to give a cohesive answer to these and other questions raised.

    For example, you state, “…in fact, we exist so that God can get what he wants, in particular, glory and praise.” What method do you use to determine what a God wants? What method can we apply to an unobservable, indeterminate, non-natural being to ever state what it “wants” or does not “want”? If I proclaim God “wants” humans to be the food source of His beloved mosquitoes—what method do you use to demonstrate I am correct or incorrect? Other than merely stating it.

    Oh, I ask that when I am quoted, you give a citation so people can look to the original source. Thanks.

  17. I apologize for not citing you (I didn't know how to, but i figured it out). I've added a link for readers to read the original source...which is an interesting request. I understand that you want people to read what you stated in it's full context, so that people will know where you're coming from. You state, "What method do you use to determine what a God wants? What method can we apply to an unobservable, indeterminate, non-natural being to ever state what it “wants” or does not “want”?"
    In the same way, we should go to the source. I come from a worldview that is shaped by the Bible as the source, the message from God, through chosen men. My method to determine what God wants comes by going to the source, and reading IN CONTEXT what God desires and wants. From the tremendous amount of internal and external evidence, historical and archaelogical evidence, textual and critical anyalysis, we can determine the reliability and the historicity of the Bible. If we can prove that the Bible is a reliable, historical source, we can determine that what it says is true. My Biblical worldview, shaped by what the Bible says, tells me that the Scriptures are God-breathed, and written as "men were carried by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). So this is how we can determine what God wants: He has made it known to us through men he has created and chosen to communicate his message to man through the Scriptures.

  18. I forgot to mention... I think it's important for people to read the Bible in it's full context before making claims about God, and assumptions about what he can or cannot do. Many of the people responding to this post assume many things about God, but I wonder on what do they base these assumptions? It sounds as if they are basing it on their own logic and their instinctive understanding of God. I think many Christians do the same.

  19. Why should we believe the Bible is anything more than just a collection of myths and literature of primitive goat-herders? Their infantile fantasies were understandable and excusable; with two thousand years of history between us and them, what excuses our own infantile fantasies?

  20. …To fall in love with Jesus,

    Mmm…I’m an interesting guy. My preference with citation has more to do with my profession than anything else. No apology necessary. I asked; you provided. No big deal.

    O.K. we now have your method. You indicate we should accept what one set of humans claim a God wants, as compared to all other human claims for what a God wants. Of course, this only takes us so far, as we next would need a method to determine which human claims are correct.

    Throughout history, there have been billions of claims about God made by various humans—simply telling us you have a preference over one set as compared to others isn’t very helpful. So do all the others. What method do you propose we objectively use to determine which human claims are correct, and which ones are not?

    You do touch on this by stating, “From the tremendous amount of internal and external evidence, historical and archaelogical evidence, textual and critical anyalysis, we can determine the reliability and the historicity of the Bible. “ Apparently only “reliable” and “historically accurate” human claims about God can be correct.

    There are three problems with this:

    1) There are other claims at least as reliable and historically accurate (the Tanakh, Qur’an, Book of Mormon, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Biology 101, Poor Richard’s Almanac, British Encyclopedia, etc.) so we while this may cut out a few, it leaves us a huge plethora to still choose from.

    2) The Bible is not historically accurate. Nor is it accurate in the fields of geography, biology, cosmology, astronomy, anthropology, writing, geology, and botany to name a few. If it is not accurate on the things we can investigate…why should we trust it to be accurate on the things we cannot—i.e. God’s desires?

    3) Finally, and most ironically, even if you rely upon the Bible to tell you what God needs or wants, the Bible itself tells you we cannot know these things! “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven-what can you do? Deeper than Sheol--what can you know?” Job 11:7-8 “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” Rom. 9:20 (and surrounding verses)

    [And yes, I see what you have done there with the term “IN CONTEXT.” This is a clever trick where, if the Christian doesn’t like what the verse actually says, they simply say it means something else, with the footnote “in context” as if this absolves the problem.]