Welcome to An Examined Life. Occassionally I delude myself into thinking that I understand some part of my life (or life in general) and I thought it might be a hoot to share those thoughts with whomever happens to stumble across this. I hope you find something enjoyable here. If I'm really lucky, I'll make you stop and think for a moment.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What I Don’t Understand about God (Part 1)

My Mom and Dad split up when I was young, so I don’t have many memories of doing things with my Dad when I was growing up. One thing I do remember is this. Back in the spring of 1965, I was six years old and just finishing first grade. We had moved to Northern Virginia at Christmas and I was still getting used to the area. One thing that was different was that I had to ride a bus to and from school. Before the move I had walked to school. This was a long time ago and I was young, so a lot of the details are fuzzy, but apparently I wanted to walk home from school. I’d been paying attention on the bus ride, so I knew the route.

Then I got my chance. One day my teacher was sick and we had a substitute who didn’t know who was a walker and who was not. So, when the office secretary came on the intercom to announce that the walkers could leave, I left. It was a bit over 2 miles from the school to my house (2.19 according to MapQuest) along some fairly busy roads with no sidewalks. I was young. It never occurred to me that it would take me longer to walk home than it did to ride the bus.

When I didn’t get off the bus, my parents were understandably upset. I’m not sure what they did, but they found me as I was climbing the hill to our house. I’m not sure what happened when I first got home, but I do remember ending up in a bedroom with my Dad, scared and expecting to be spanked.
But I wasn’t spanked. I remember my Dad took off his belt, folded it in half, and then he held the ends together in one hand and the midpoint in the other hand. When he pushed his hands together and then snapped them apart, his belt made a slapping sound. He did that a couple of times. I think he asked me to scream when he did it.

I don’t remember what he said to me that afternoon, but I never tried something like that again.

Did my Dad have a reason to punish me? Yes. This wasn’t my first transgression involving getting home from school (I’d been caught taking a forbidden shortcut before we moved). You could even say that he had an obligation to punish me. I’m sure some who read this might fault him for sparing the rod and spoiling me. I will say this, though. What he did worked. I never did that again and I knew that I was loved. And, ultimately, I think I turned out ok.

So, what is it that I don’t understand? In an earlier post, I said that I had been raised Roman Catholic, but ended up agnostic. There were simply too many things that Catholics believe that I did not for me to call myself a Catholic. Eventually, I realized that I had the same problem with Christianity in general. There are some aspects of Christianity that I just do not understand.

Recently, I’ve been talking about God and religion with a friend. I even attended the Christmas Eve service at her church. I ended up having a really good night’s sleep that night and a very peaceful Christmas Day. By peaceful I don’t mean quiet – I’m often home alone, so it’s often peaceful that way here. I’m talking an emotional peace of a kind that I’ve rarely experienced since Jonathan’s loss.
And that has me once again reexamining my beliefs. Ok, so what’s that got to do with my Dad not hitting me when I was a kid? Well, one of the things that I don’t understand is the very basis of Christianity: the notion that Jesus died to atone for humanity’s sins, so that those sins might be forgiven.

As I understand it, it goes something like this: God made The Rules, declaring that certain acts are sins and a whole bunch of other acts are not sins (another thing I don’t understand is why an omnipotent God couldn’t make creatures capable of following The Rules, but I digress). If you sin and do not atone for that sin, when you die you will die forever or go to hell forever or some other such nasty fate. To prevent that from happening, God in His mercy sent Jesus to die for all humans, so that we wouldn’t have to die to for our sins. All we have to do is accept Jesus as our savior and ask forgiveness.

But why did anyone have to die?

I mean, He’s God, right? He made The Rules. If He wants to forgive a human’s sins, can’t he just do that without the bloodshed? Can’t He just say, “If you accept Me as God in your heart and ask Me for forgiveness, then I’ll forgive you.”

My Dad figured out that he didn’t have to hurt me to keep me from “sinning.” You’d think a God could do that, too.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dr. Daily,

    Here are some scattered thoughts that might go some way to answering your very excellent question. Full disclosure: these are written from a Roman Catholic theological standpoint.

    (1) The issue isn't quite as simple as "God made The Rules, declaring that certain acts are sins and a whole bunch of other acts are not sins," as if the moral law were invented arbitrarily and could've easily taken on some other form. Rather it's the case that God, having created man with certain goods in mind, cannot fail out of love to enjoin us to pursue those goods and to avoid things that detract from those goods. It's rather like a car company issuing an instruction manual advising owners to get the oil changed every 3,000 miles or so. That wasn't an arbitrary rule they made up, that's just a logical demand of the internal combustion engine the way they designed it. Likewise, to give just one example, the moral obligation not to overindulge in trashy food (the sin of gluttony) wasn't an arbitrary decree from on high, it is a logical consequence of the human digestive system, and his explicitly forbidding gluttony is an act of love: he is telling us to avoid something that's bad for us, because he wants us to have life and have it abundantly.

    (2) The highest good in which man was created to participate was moral responsibility: we have reason and free will, hence the capacity to know and seek the good consciously, not just on instinct. A logical consequence of moral responsibility is justice. It's good for us to face the consequences of our actions. Hence it is good for heroes to be rewarded for their good deeds and criminals to be punished for theirs. I think it was Aristotle who said that the worst thing that could befall a criminal would be his getting away with his crime. To refuse to punish a criminal would be to deprive him of the very real good of moral responsibility for his actions.

    (3) If I break my neighbor's window, I owe it to him in justice to confess what I did to him and attempt to make restitution. I can do this because I have a surplus which I don't owe to my neighbor, from which I can draw that which I do owe him. But if God created and sustains man in existence, then logically everything man has, he already owes to God. When man trespasses against God, then, there is no surplus from which he can give to make reparation: even if he gave God everything he had, he would only be doing his bare-minimum duty -- he is in the case of a man who, having missed one payment, has only enough money to make the minimum payment, not the late fees. This is why the Incarnation was necessary: man had to pay the price for sin, but only God (who owed nothing) could. So God became man, at once satisfying the demands of his justice and his mercy, paying a debt he didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay.

    I hope this helps!