The Age of Enlightenment elevated reason as the path to knowledge at the expense of faith. So for a moment, let us use reason and try to make sense of this world. It is easy to look at the pain and suffering we see everyday and come to the conclusion that a loving and omnipotent (all powerful) God would never allow this to occur. Many atheists adopt this approach because it is difficult to rationalize just one instance of child sexual abuse with a God who supposedly has the power to prevent it. But let us not stop our analysis there. Given what happened to Jesus when He was here, it would appear that this omnipotent and loving God is so weak He could not even save His own Son. When our analysis is based purely on reason and our frame of reference is limited to this world, this conclusion is inevitable. So what is wrong with this logic? How can we rationally believe in an omnipotent and omniscient (all knowing) God given the suffering that occurs every day is this world?
To answer this question satisfactorily, I think that we must change our basic assumptions. Let me propose an alternative view as to why God allows suffering to occur. Before I do, let us start with a more basic question - why are we here? It is generally thought, without much basis, that we were created when conceived in this world. We live out our lives here and then go to Heaven or hell for eternity depending upon the decisions we make while here. For Christians, there are the additional assumptions that if one has never heard of Jesus or rejects Jesus as God’s Son, then that person is damned forever regardless of how such person led his or her life. I have broken complicated theology and metaphysics down to these simple assumptions but, if we analyze them for a moment, do they make logical or rational sense? Would God really consign a child born into a Muslim country to hell for eternity because this child was never taught that Jesus was God’s Son? Yet many unquestionably believe this because this is what our Christian culture has taught us.
I propose that we need to reassess many of our assumptions and then use our reason and logic to find answers that are consistent with what we see but yet gives God His due. Maybe something is happening here that we have missed. Let us start with the concept that God is omniscient (all knowing) and follow this idea to its logical conclusion. If God is omniscient, then God knows before anyone is born who will be raped, tortured, mutilated, addicted, murdered, abused, etc. God also knows who will commit these atrocities. God knows that wars will come. God knows that humanity has created countries that are so divergent in lifestyles and utilization of resources that women in some parts of this world have to prostitute themselves to survive or, worse, sell their children into sexual slavery to survive. How can a loving God permit this to happen? Or more importantly, why would an omnipotent God allow it to happen? These are questions that have challenged humanity forever. Frankly, it is amazing to me that anyone believes in God given the way this world runs and yet millions do. So what is the answer? Why would God create this world in the first place and why are we here?
If we only use a frame of reference that is tied to this world, then we must consider the possibility that either there is no God or God is neither omnipotent nor omniscient. It is easy to see how atheists arrive at this position given that some people’s lives appear to be a total waste, some never make it here at all because they are aborted while others make it but arrive in broken or diseased bodies only to suffer and die. Even among those who are born healthy, there are frequently life-changing accidents or damaged relationships that forever alter their happiness. And then, of course, we all suffer and grieve when we lose loved ones and, finally, we all die ourselves. Voltaire, who was an atheist, summed it up well when he said:
What is the verdict of the vastest mind? Silence: the book of fate is closed to us. Man is a stranger to his own research. He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes. Tormented atoms in a bed of mud, devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
So how do we understand this world and discover why we are here? How do we confront Voltaire’s logic? To me, the answer cannot come from a frame of reference that is limited to this world as Voltaire has presented that position very well.
Let us return to Jesus’ life for a moment. Was Jesus’ life a failure because God did not save Him? Years ago I was speaking with a Rabbi scholar and asked why the Jews did not recognize Jesus as their Messiah. This Rabbi told me the answer was because, “Jesus did not get the job done.” If we review history for a moment, we see that the Jews of that day were looking for their Messiah to be an earthly king with the power to smite their enemies just as King David had done in earlier times. Clearly, if that is your perspective, then Jesus did not get the job done. But what if the Jews were using the wrong frame of reference? Realistically, if God were the creator of all peoples, would there ever be a time when God would send His Son to slay another part of His creation? If the answer to that question is no, then we have to ask why did God send His Son? What did God want Jesus to accomplish? What were Jesus’ jobs? Consider for a moment whether one of Jesus’ jobs was to demonstrate to the world that there is more to this life than appears on the surface. What if one of Jesus’ job was to come and answer Voltaire’s questions by demonstrating through the way He lived His life that there is more at stake here than just suffering for suffering’s sake.
C. S. Lewis, a famous Christian teacher, once said about Jesus and His life the following:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Mr. Lewis knew that Jesus and His life were critical to our understanding of this world and how to live within it. Using language describing business innovations today, Jesus and His life were “disruptive” to the cultural understandings of His day and have been ever since. The problem is we may not be learning the correct lessons.
Before we analyze Jesus’ life though, I want us to consider why Jesus came at all. If the Bible is inerrant, then why was it necessary for God to send Jesus? Where did God’s perfection in the Old Testament fail? What did God not dictate to the Old Testament writers that the world needed to know or be reminded of? Using just our reason, it is difficult to embrace the conflicting concepts of God’s perfection with God’s inability to dictate what we need to know. Therefore, I propose that we consider another answer. Assume for a moment that God will not violate our free will. This means that God necessarily limits Himself by only acting in ways that respect our free will. This concept is certainly consistent with unconditional love because there can be no control in love. Love and fear are incompatible and, given that control is just a form of fear, God will not try to control us if He truly loves us. Therefore, I suggest that we have to examine the writings contained in the Bible another way. Let us assume that when we have no fear, we can hear God clearly. If that is true, then the opposite is true as well. When we are filled with fear, then we cannot hear God clearly. This principle would certainly explain why there are such divergent and contradictory concepts contained in the Old Testament. If an Old Testament writer were embracing God’s love, then he would clearly hear God speaking. But if he was filled with fear, then he could only hear the dark speaking. Just for a moment, let us also assume that the dark exists and is constantly fighting against God. If that is true, then the dark must be constantly trying to get us to believe things that separate us from God. These concepts could explain why there are parts of the Old Testament where God is portrayed as fearful and unapproachable. It would also explain those sections were God is commanding that whole villages be killed down to the last man, woman, and child. This revelation would also explain why Jesus had to come. If the Old Testament does not perfectly represent knowledge God wants us to have, then those imperfect beliefs would have to be corrected. God would need to devise a way to help us and yet His approach would have to be consistent with us retaining our freewill. Consider whether God sent His Son to teach us by example as a way to correct the cultural errors we had embraced. From what we know about Jesus life, He always acted consistently with love. This is why He said that there were no enemies here and that we needed to forgive seventy times seven. Both of these statements are logically inconsistent with the “eye for an eye” narratives contained in the Old Testament and they were exactly what the world needed (and needs) to hear.
Let me return to the concept of freewill. If freewill is the defining principle God embraces when interacting with us, then I believe we have to examine our assumptions about when each person’s life begins. If God will not violate our freewill, then we have to assume that we did not come to this world by chance. This would mean that each of us prayed to God to come here knowing beforehand the challenges this world presents. Freewill would also explain why there are those opposed to God. Freewill by definition means that you can choose to accept or reject any path. The Bible has many references to Lucifer’s interaction with Jesus. (Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13) While Jesus was in the wilderness, Lucifer attempted to entice Jesus to focus on Himself instead of focusing on self-sacrifice for others. Therein lies the choice for all in this world. Lucifer has chosen to reject God and wants others to join him in that separation. This is the battle that is this world.
For a moment, suspend your disbelief, and consider whether the following scenario could be true. God created this world many eons ago and appointed four angels to help Him here. But, angels have freewill just as we do. Assume that one of those angels became angry with God and decided to not only reject Him but to actively try to destroy all that God had created here. This disillusioned angel then began to try to hurt all souls who came into this world by getting them to reject God. Also, assume that God permitted this disillusioned angel to keep his knowledge about how this world works. Assume, too, that God has very precise rules for those angels who follow Him so that no one’s freewill is violated. Now assume that this rouge angel rejected these rules and would violate any soul’s freewill if given the chance. Finally, assume that there is a window into this world from Heaven where souls from Heaven can see the suffering of those whom the rouge angel has trapped. What if some of those souls in Heaven were brave enough to pray to God to allow themselves to come here to serve God by helping to release those who were trapped? Would this scenario explain what we see happening around us? And if this scenario is true, then every soul came here willingly as God’s servant knowing beforehand that he or she was entering a war zone where evil thrived. It would also mean that no one here is a victim.
So why would souls come here knowing this? To answer this question, let us expand our frame of reference. Assume that we are really immortal beings of light created by God who will live forever. Assume also, that, from Heaven all know this world is really just an illusion created by God to teach us important lessons as we get our prayers answered. We come knowing that nothing here is permanent and that our bodies are just temporary manifestations created from dirt by God to hold our souls for a moment. We who ask to come know it will be difficult but we have faith that God will heal all that the dark does to us while here. This faith in God is complete because we know that once we get here we will have no memory of where we have come for, if such a memory existed, then the experiences we wanted would not be possible. Would this scenario explain what we see?
If this scenario is true, then God and His Heavenly Hosts (the angels who also prayed to serve God here) are always with us. But the opposite is true too. The dark is here too and inhabits those parts of us it has been able to separate from Heaven. The dark thrives on fear while the light thrives on love. Because the dark cannot abide in love, it is constantly trying to get us to embrace fear. This means those in this world can at any moment choose to abide in Heaven with God and His Heavenly Hosts or not.
Earlier I stated that, if this scenario is true, then there are no victims here. I want to elaborate on this concept. Once you view yourself as a victim, then it is difficult to heal from what the dark has done to you because part of the concept of victimhood is helplessness. An excellent article on how thinking of yourself as a victim keeps you stuck in your psychosis can be found at http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/blaming-your-parents-hurts-you-most-0311134. I do not believe anyone would call Jesus a victim. Yet He was poisoned, beaten, and crucified. The reason we do not view Jesus as a victim is because we know He came to this world to accomplish very specific goals. What if the same is true for each of us? It is if this scenario is true.
One of Jesus’ goals was to demonstrate to us how it is possible to live in this world regardless of what the dark does. While Jesus could not control what the dark placed in front of Him, He could always control how He responded. His life demonstrated that each person’s escape from the effects of what the dark has done can only come through love and forgiveness. These then are the challenges. First, we need to understand what opportunities this world provides us. Second, we need to learn to love in the face of evil’s provocations. The article I cited above shows that once you think of yourself as a victim, you are doomed to live with the effects of what the dark has done to you. This is why the culture of victimhood is so damaging to our relationships with others as well as to us individually.
Let me for a moment explore more of the ramifications of freewill and return to Jesus’ life. We Christians point to Jesus’ crucifixion as necessary to atone for the sins of humanity but was it really? Was God’s sense of justice such that someone had to suffer for these sins? What if the following scenario is true? God’s love for us is unconditional meaning that there is nothing we can do or say that will stop God from loving us. Unconditional means just that. But let’s assume too that the dark is constantly trying to get us to judge ourselves unworthy of God’s unconditional love. The dark is very smart and cunning. What if the dark is able to come into us and get us to hurt others or ourselves without us knowing of the dark’s presence? What if the dark is then able to convince us that we are unworthy of accepting God’s love? Freewill being what it is, once we believe that we are irredeemable then we are irrespective of the truth. If this is true, then it would be necessary for God to send His Son to demonstrate what true unconditional love looks like inside a body in this world. So Jesus crucifixion was not necessary theologically but it was necessary to reach those whom the dark had trapped by coopting their freewill. Jesus’ life also demonstrates how much God and Jesus love each person here and that there is so much more to this world than just suffering for suffering’s sake.