Yesterday I wrote about how our offense and struggle with evil and suffering in the world is often detached from the feelings and words of those that actually endure much of it. I said that intense Suffering doesn’t seem to produce an extinguishing of faith to those that experience it.
People have often said that the deep suffering and injustice of the world is one thing that led them to Atheism or skepticism, but this seems to be more the case for those that observe and think about the idea of suffering, more than enduring it themselves. Yes, there are stories of those that lose their faith in the midst of their suffering, but they really are so few and far between.
This is one of the main themes of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The most powerful argument for Atheism I’ve ever read is in the famous “Grand Inquisitor” chapter. After reading it, I was so deeply shaken for a few weeks after. And it was written by a Christian.
One of the central themes of the book is that Atheism is an absolutely logical and reasonable system, but not one that can be consistently lived out. When observing the world and its injustice intellectually and from a top-down perspective, Atheism is probably more easily sensible than Christianity. But, as the book goes on to show, no matter the philosophical veracity of Atheism, no one can truly live real, actual human life as a fully-consistent Atheist and flourish as a human, in human relationships, and in human society.
Even if people think about suffering Atheistically, people usually live in the midst of it religiously.
Update: Part 2 is up.
In the religious circles I walk in, I hear about injustice and suffering quite a bit. Theology friends constantly muse about how to view these things in light of biblical revelation. Atheist and skeptic friends constantly point to these things as the inherent illogical inconsistencies that undermine religious faith.
And caught in the middle are many, many more friends, who live their lives trying to navigate their jobs, families, and relationships the best they can–all while these questions haunt them in their quieter moments or right before they sleep. Unlike the other two groups above, they don’t feel like they have answers. And this can lead to periods of doubt, insecurity, and frustration.
For every group, though, questions abound in these conversations. Oftentimes, they have a religious flavor. Why does this stuff happen? How does this relate to the goodness of God? What does it mean for the reality of God? How is God just when this stuff is real? Why does God seem absent?
These are almost never the questions I hear from the people actually going through the suffering.
“…the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world.” –Revelation 13.8
“…you were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot, who was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last time for your sake.” –1 Peter 1:18-20
“Jesus Christ and him crucified… a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” –1 Corinthians 2:1,7
Today, I just want to briefly introduce the Lent series I’ll be doing (while listening to some free Lenten music!). It will be a meditation on an idea that only explicitly appears a few times in the Bible, but it’s truth echoes throughout the Scriptures. It’s mind-boggling in both its scope and implication, and yet gets so little treatment from mainstream Protestantism.
The idea? That Christ was slain in eternity past–before anything was; before any sin had been done by a single human.
[First off, this is a long one, and only part 1 of 6, so beware before you start reading.]
On Facebook, there appeared a status by an old atheist friend of mine from undergrad named Larry (supported by another friend Christopher). Here was the thesis of the post:
Regarding moral relativism the christians are hypocritical. They say they believe in a moral objectivity given by god…but how is it then, that they believed slavery was a product of the old days, as it was applicable to the time it was practiced (and sanctioned by the bible) but now condemn it? The bible, last I checked did not change. I think this is a PRIMARY example of moral relativism exhibited by the church and christians. So how can they sit here and tell us that a proof for god is moral objectivity?
In other words, how could the ethics of Christians change over time if the book they supposedly base their ethics upon has not changed? Either the God that inspired the Bible was completely incompetent in his revelation or there was no God revealing anything at all. The note caused a discussion that resulted in almost 90 comments, and I quickly realized that if I were going to respond, it would need to be in a more lengthy manner than a Facebook comment (which is not the most helpful of mediums of debate). So here it is. I’d like to respond to the ideas that came out in the discussions. I want to disagree with them on the basis of five ideas: