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I was recently chastised by a couple of friends (at least, I hope they're still my friends) for thanking God on Facebook for the fortunate timing of the arrival of a replacement hard drive for my computer. Their immediate reaction was that I belittled the suffering of starving children in Africa, for example, by thanking God for something so insignificant and unimportant by comparison. How dare I?

And in some ways, I don't blame them. In fact, I'm glad they care so much about the plight of starving children in Africa, if indeed they do. Not enough people on this earth have that much compassion for those outside of their own line of vision (and we've become very good at averting our eyes when they are in our line of vision, as if pretending they don't exist is somehow the better option). However, these are not people who believe in God in the first place. The underlying theme of this "attack" was not so much to do with helping these children as much as it was that a good God would not allow so many children to starve and die without providing them food and then go ahead and provide me with a stupid hard drive. Fair point, despite the completely unnecessary personal judgment and hostility.
A little more recently, I was tagged in the above photo and asked to comment. Of course, before I even saw it, about 50 other people (I'm slightly exaggerating) had already commented. Just for the record, I appreciate those who saw a need to stand up for me, even though the tag and request to comment were not entirely hostile.

So is it right for me to be thankful to God for something trivial when clearly there are much more devastating things going on around the world? And could God even exist if he cares about seemingly insignificant things like locating car keys or scoring a touchdown while children in Africa are literally starving to death? These are the two issues at hand.

I've taken a while to respond, partially because of not having the time or energy to address the point until now, and partially because I would rather not respond in haste or emotion. My first reaction probably would have been a defensive one, but the more time I've had to think about it (and pray about it), the more I think I might actually agree with the person who posted this, or at the very least with the point that the picture is trying to make (to a certain extent). 

Three other people shared the above photo on their own Facebook walls after the original post. One of them is a friend of mine who is a Christian. She posted the photo on her wall with the caption "Please forgive me." I was momentarily shocked when I read that. Shocked, I think, mostly by her humility. Her reaction was not a defensive one at all; it was a self-reflective one, one where she, as Dawson Trotman once suggested we all should do, sought the truth in every criticism. That is what I desire to do as well.

The answer to the question of whether I believe there is a loving God who cares for the poor, the sick, the suffering, the persecuted and the hungry in this world is "yes" to the core of my very being. The answer to whether I think he helps any of those people is also yes. The answer to whether I think God cares about me finding my car keys is a slightly more difficult question. I still think the answer is yes and I will briefly explain why, but I also think after reflecting on it that the problem with this kind of situation or "request" is not God, nor even his plausibility. It's me.

That being said, to deal with the first issue at hand, is it wrong for me to thank God for help with the small problems in my life? I don't think so. I'm still thankful to the person who lets me into traffic, even if a fatal accident looms ahead. The two issues are nowhere near equal in importance, but I'm thankful nonetheless for even the trivial things which are done for me. I'll tell you what. I care about starving children in Africa. But I also care about finding my car keys. These are two very different things, and I care about them in two very different ways. Nevertheless, I do care about both of them. If it came down to saving a child in Africa or finding my keys, I would without the slightest moment of hesitation save the child. There is a vastly different prioritization there between the two issues for me. And I fully intend to do whatever I can do in my life to help the plight of starving children in Africa. I also fully intend to find my car keys. Caring about my own seemingly insignificant needs certainly does not come at the expense of caring for those needs of others. But that's only one of the issues. Even with this example, my own prioritizing of helping children in Africa over finding my car keys would suggest that God would intervene in the much more serious issues of our world over the relatively unimportant ones too. Could God even exist if he supposedly helps only with those things which absolutely pale in comparison to the world's larger problems? To again use the car keys and starving children example, I believe God cares about both of these issues too (again, in two very different ways).

I think God does care infinitely more about the suffering of his creation than for me to be 15 minutes late to a meeting. Since he allegedly cares for all people, clearly it makes sense that he would care about both situations, but on very different levels. But how could he sit back and not just solve every problem of human suffering around the world if he is so caring and loving? The assumption is that God could not possibly have good reasons for temporarily allowing evil and suffering in this world. Here are at least four reasons why that is not necessarily the case.

Firstly, the question of whether God could allow temporary evil and suffering in the world for good reasons partially depends on the question of whether or not there is an afterlife. If you believe that this world is all that there is, then it absolutely makes sense to focus on the suffering of so many people around the world as the primary issue on this earth. If this world is all there is, then addressing the physical and emotional suffering of people should be the first priority above all else. The assumption is that this world is the point. However, if it's not--if there is actually an afterlife, as the vast majority of people around the globe believe there is--then that means that this life is not the point at all. This would in no way belittle the suffering of so many afflicted people around the world, but it affects the scenery heavily in that there is a promise of something beyond what we currently experience, where there is no suffering for the afflicted and the righteous, and eternal suffering for the wicked. Such an afterlife would make this life just a blip on the radar in light of an eternal existence. It would offer eternal rest for many who have suffered in this life and eternal unrest for many others. Again, this in no way gives less significance to the suffering of so many, but it does mean that God would not be in the position of having created people exclusively for an experience of suffering. It opens up the possibility for there to be a greater purpose for even the deepest suffering. "The Biblical view of things is resurrection--not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had, but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater" (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God). The skeptic will likely not be satisfied with this proposal and will claim that it does indeed belittle the suffering of so many, but their sensitivity to others' suffering (which I respect and appreciate as I resonate with it also) does not affect the legitimacy of this proposal that this life may not be the point.

Secondly, and related to the first point, God's primary concern (at least according to the Bible) is not our physical afflictions, but rather our spiritual ones. God's first concern is where we stand in relationship with him. Again, this certainly does not mean that he does not care for the physical suffering in this world. The Bible is riddled with exhortations to help the poor and the afflicted, and as with the previous example, in the same way that I care for both starving children in Africa and finding my car keys on two totally different levels, so God cares for both our physical and spiritual afflictions, but on two totally different levels. If there is an afterlife, and thus if this world is not the ultimate point, then God's first priority is our afterlife. Therefore, in using this life to bring us into a willing relationship with him, he would thus be giving us access to that eternal experience of total peace and rest as opposed to total unrest and separation from him as the alternative. The choice is ours as to whether we turn to God and to a relationship with him or turn away from him and choose to be separated from him. However, in my experience, circumstances are a powerful method of bringing people to a place where they are more or less likely to turn to God and not away from him. Thus, if God's primary concern is our spiritual well-being, it is not only possible but highly likely that he would use our physical circumstances as opportunities to try and bring us to a place where we may be more open to his presence in our lives, or where we might recognize our need for him. Some circumstances and tragic events in this life seem overwhelmingly evil and as if no end could possibly justify their means. I get that. But if temporary suffering could lead to eternal joy and peace and rest...well, I think it may actually be worth it in the end. C.S. Lewis put it this way: "They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory" (The Great Divorce). I know many people who would consider themselves to fall into this category of actually having been brought into a relationship with God through tragic circumstances. Again, the skeptic is likely to disagree on the basis of their sensitivities to the physical suffering of others, and this I respect and appreciate. However, again, it does not alter the legitimacy of this suggestion about reality. As minister and author Timothy Keller points out in his book The Reason for God, "Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless. This reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can't see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn't mean there can't be one."

Thirdly, God actually chooses to use people as one of his primary means of intervening to ease both physical and spiritual suffering in this world, again at least according to the Bible. A lot of skeptics fairly question whether God ever really intervenes in the world today. I believe that he most certainly does and that there are a plethora of examples of him doing so, but it is also important to realize that the suggestion of Christianity is that God primarily chooses to use people for his purposes, as his agents of change in the world. We see this in the command of Jesus for his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-20), and we see this in the history of the early church recorded for us in the book of Acts where physical healing, financial giving and loving their neighbours as they loved themselves were all integral parts of how Jesus' command to make disciples played out in his followers' lives. And we can see this today through organizations like World Vision, Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse and Gospel for Asia, organizations which exist to show the love of God to suffering people all over the world through helping them physically. I actually think it would be an incredible gift for us to get to be a part of participating in God's plan to change the world and bring physical and spiritual healing to people everywhere. It would also be completely consistent with what the Bible says about God's purpose for our lives. This would mean that God is in fact intervening in the world, both directly and through those who believe in and follow him.

Finally, another premise of the Bible is that God has suffered incredibly too, both physically and spiritually. The ultimate climax of this suffering obviously is in the person of Jesus, who according to the Bible, was God in the flesh who came down to die in our place. In doing so, he not only endured incredible physical torture, but also spiritual torture in his separation from relationship with God the Father.

"Christianity alone among world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and god-forsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us" (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God).

This, of course, does nothing to answer the "why?" of suffering, but, if true, it does everything to show that God does indeed care for the suffering of his creation, so much so that he stepped into it intentionally. Keller also raises perhaps a fifth point, which I will not address in detail here, that God would in essence need to erase humanity in order to erase all evil and suffering.
 
What I see as a problem here is my own lack of recognition of how insignificant some of the things I ask God for help for really are in light of what is going on around the world. Of course, I pray for those things too, so there really isn't a huge amount of inconsistency here. I thank and praise God for the lives I believe he is saving, both on a physical and spiritual level all around the world. But I also realize that the difference in prioritization in my life needs to be clear, both to me and to the world around me, not just in my words, but in what I do with my life. For that, I am thankful for the wake-up call.

Please forgive me.
 


Comments

Megan
12/13/2011 5:46pm

Well held and supported. Thank-you also for being realistic about the issue... kudos.

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Tim
12/15/2011 6:35pm

Good stuff, I think you did well to find the core of the issue: 'Is it wrong to ask God for help with the little things in my life?' and "And could God even exist if he cares about seemingly insignificant things like locating car keys or scoring a touchdown while children in Africa are literally starving to death?". It's interesting how you found the latter question hiding inside the proposed imagery / question. Excellent use of resources to demonstrate points. ^.^

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Elvenpath
09/03/2012 2:12pm

So many, many lines of thoughts, trying to explain, why a loving god helps to find car keys, and does not help starving children. So much use of brainpower, to solve that mystery.
But there is much simpler explanation, providing an elegant, perfectly logical cause: There is no god.
And knowing Okhams razor, this is the truth.

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10/25/2012 9:15pm

Hey Elvenpath, thanks for your comment! I actually completely disagree with you. The explanation "there is no god" is the single least intellectually satisfying answer to this question in my opinion. It makes very little sense to explain something's existence by removing the presence of any cause at all. I definitely do not think that this is elegant or logical in the slightest. Would you mind explaining why you believe this is so?

Occam's Razor is very controversial at best regarding this topic, especially as you appear to be using it. Your statement requires a far greater number of assumptions than my very thorough explanation in the post above. You are assuming that matter of such complexity as this world and we ourselves are can be created from literally nothing, among other massive assumptions. I would love to hear your justification for your statements.

Wes

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Elvenpath
09/09/2013 5:15pm

I respond. After one year :-D

I made only one assumption: Our universe depends only on physical laws. Nothing more. And this assumption is confirmed. Times and times again.
You really think, that "a supernatural being created everything and rules everything" is intellectual satisfying? That is ridiculous.
Finding out complex physical laws, is millions of times more intellectual than "God made it so".
If all the scientific knowledge is "not enough intellectual" for you, you seem to be the greatest genious of all times. Are you?
Science can explain what happens in the sun. Can your bible?

I removed nothing, but an invention of man: "Gods"
But you, you remove logic, reason and knowledge, so you can propagate an extremely simplistic worldview.

It is childish to see everywhere the will of a supernatural being, just because there are things science can not (yet) explain, or the scientific explanation is hard to imagine.
But mans imagination is extremely limited. Nobody can imagine that all the matter in the universe was once on one point compressed. No one can imagine that time can stand still, so that there is no "before". Nobody can imagine the vast space of universe. Nobody can imagine the evolution of species running many millions of years.
But all of this things are proven facts.
Just, because we can't imagine, it does not mean, that we can ignore the facts, given by observation and research .

Everything, that happens in our world, is the result of cause and affect. It explains everything. Perhaps not to your satisfaction, but in reality.
Your assumption of "god" explains nothing. It can't. That's why it is often said: "They ways of the lord are unpredictable". Haha.

If you take one incident, like your replacement drive. You can theoretically verify it's way to you. And you will find out, that there is nothing miraculous in its arrival time. Every day there were thousands of drives on their way. And there is a percentage of drives which are in time, and some, which are not in time (faster or slower). And this percentage depends on the quality of the logistics. So, if logistics improve, your "god" will deliver the drives more often in time.

Same thing in health: The amount of people "rescued by god" is directly associated with the quality of health care in that country. What a surprise.
I have learned one thing in life: If you follow things to the bottom, you will always find a logical explanation. And no "god".

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Rene Yoshi
09/09/2013 7:40pm

You state that evolution of species running many millions of years is a proven fact. However, Darwinian evolution (macro evolution of one kind to another) cannot be observed as science demands in order for something to be a fact. You are believing and trusting something you yourself cannot observe nor replicate, which means you have put your faith in evolution and scientists.

Secular Humanist
11/22/2012 11:26pm

I think your missing the point sir. I don't know your friends but I doubt that they were trying to prove how important feeding third world children is to them. I think that they were pointing out how arrogant it is for people to think that they are so important that the creator of the universe would intervene on their behalf with regard to something so trivial when he won't intervene to save a starving child. People who publicly thank God for helping them win an award or something think that it makes them look humble but to me it makes them look arrogant. If there were a god (which I highly doubt) I'm pretty sure he would have more important things to worry about.

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11/25/2012 12:46pm

Hi there, "Secular Humanist!"

Thanks for commenting!

I don't think I've missed the point at all. It would seem to me that you have not read very carefully if you think that I have not addressed the issue of why it makes perfect sense for God to care both for starving children as well as the seemingly trivial things in our lives:

"That being said, to deal with the first issue at hand, is it wrong for me to thank God for help with the small problems in my life? I don't think so. I'm still thankful to the person who lets me into traffic, even if a fatal accident looms ahead. The two issues are nowhere near equal in importance, but I'm thankful nonetheless for even the trivial things which are done for me. I'll tell you what. I care about starving children in Africa. But I also care about finding my car keys. These are two very different things, and I care about them in two very different ways. Nevertheless, I do care about both of them. If it came down to saving a child in Africa or finding my keys, I would without the slightest moment of hesitation save the child. There is a vastly different prioritization there between the two issues for me. And I fully intend to do whatever I can do in my life to help the plight of starving children in Africa. I also fully intend to find my car keys. Caring about my own seemingly insignificant needs certainly does not come at the expense of caring for those needs of others. But that's only one of the issues. Even with this example, my own prioritizing of helping children in Africa over finding my car keys would suggest that God would intervene in the much more serious issues of our world over the relatively unimportant ones too. Could God even exist if he supposedly helps only with those things which absolutely pale in comparison to the world's larger problems? To again use the car keys and starving children example, I believe God cares about both of these issues too (again, in two very different ways).

I think God does care infinitely more about the suffering of his creation than for me to be 15 minutes late to a meeting. Since he allegedly cares for all people, clearly it makes sense that he would care about both situations, but on very different levels."

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Secular Humanist
11/25/2012 9:48pm

"That being said, to deal with the first issue at hand, is it wrong for me to thank God for help with the small problems in my life? I don't think so. I'm still thankful to the person who lets me into traffic, even if a fatal accident looms ahead."

You're still missing the point. It's not arrogant to be thankful to anyone who does something nice for you whether it's a deity or a person. What is arrogant is to assume that a creator of the universe is intervening on your behalf every time something happens in your favor no matter how trivial that thing is. How do you know that you didn't just get lucky?

I don't believe in any gods but if I did I wouldn't automatically assume that he must have been intervening for me every time something went my way.

I have a friend who survived cancer. She believed that it was divine intervention. Apparently she believes that her life is more important to God than the life of all those people who die from cancer. That seems arrogant to me and it seems more arrogant still when people presume that divine intervention was involved when anything trivial happens in their favor.

Wes
11/25/2012 11:13pm

Hey again,

You are mistaken in thinking that I am assuming the role of the creator in the universe. I am simply pointing out that I think he would care. You are absolutely correct that I theoretically could just be lucky. My belief that God does in fact play a role stems from the fact that I also believe I have a personal relationship with him.

My explanations of suffering in the post address your point about your friend. Believing that God has kept her alive does not by any means necessitate a belief that her life is more important to God than the lives of others.

It is not arrogant for somebody to believe that an all-loving God would care enough about their lives to help them. What would indeed be arrogant would be thinking that your life is actually more important to God than the lives of others. But nobody is claiming that. The decision of God to intervene could have many more factors involved, such as the prioritization of eternal, spiritual existence above this physical life, as I suggested in my post.

I don't think that you are really making a new point here, and I do believe that your points were addressed in the original article. I certainly said that I do NOT think God cares more about my car keys than starving children in Africa.

Elvenpath
09/09/2013 5:48pm

"but on very different levels."
That means, you have to philosophize endlessly, to construct a "reason", which fits in your worldview. Of course, there is no proof of it.

Elvenpath
09/09/2013 6:02pm

I'm gathering together some of your posting.

"Cause and effect is the precise reason why the existence of God is the only logical option." NO!!!!!
You can philosophize as long as you want. The outcome is incorrect, because your presumption is incorrect. And this is "complexity as this world and we ourselves are can't be created from literally nothing,".
The facts say otherwise. And these facts are gathered by the most brilliant genies in the world. And they are proven. By experiments, observations and calculations.

Secular Humanist
11/22/2012 11:38pm

"It makes very little sense to explain something's existence by removing the presence of any cause at all. I definitely do not think that this is elegant or logical in the slightest. Would you mind explaining why you believe this is so?"

Elvenpath didn't attempt to explain existence. He was pointing out that it appears that the universe is indifferent to suffering. Nature is very brutal and full of suffering. This makes a lot of sense if the universe is governed by blind natural laws. It makes less sense if the universe is governed by a benevolent creator.

Let me ask you a question Wes. Do you believe anything exist without a cause?

Reply
11/25/2012 12:53pm

Hey again,

Again, I'm afraid your comments seem to completely ignore everything I've written in my post, which doesn't really make them comments at all. I have detailed very clearly that there is a great deal of seemingly inexplicable suffering in the world, and I have also provided several logical reasons why this fact does not necessarily by any means conflict with the existence of a benevolent creator, given the conditions I have explained. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the explanations I have provided make MORE sense than a universe governed by blind natural laws that came into existence from nothing, by chance and accident, which also just so happened to produce complex human life, thought, reason and emotions.

In answer to your question, no, I do not believe anything exists without a cause. That is why "Cause and Effect" is one of the most principal and foundational laws of science.

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Secular Humanist
11/25/2012 10:48pm

Whoa sorry, I kept trying to repost because I was getting an error message saying that the post failed and to try again. Feel free to delete all of those but one.

" have detailed very clearly that there is a great deal of seemingly inexplicable suffering in the world, and I have also provided several logical reasons why this fact does not necessarily by any means conflict with the existence of a benevolent creator, given the conditions I have explained."

You did and to me they don't make sense. Besides the universe seems to be indifferent to suffering. This is exactly what I would expect from a universe governed by blind natural forces. If this is the case, no further justification is needed to explain why there is suffering in the world.

On the other hand if there is a benevolent, omnipotent god, then you need to do some explaining to explain why there is suffering in the world, such as the four explanations that you gave. Therefore if you assume that there is no benevolent, omnipotent god you can do away with the other assumptions.

Also I want to point out that saying something is the result of natural processes is NOT the same as saying that it is due to chance. Nuclear fusion for example is the result of natural processes but not of chance.

"In answer to your question, no, I do not believe anything exists without a cause."

Okay please explain who or what caused God to exist. I'm told he has complex thought, reason and emotions as well.

11/25/2012 11:06pm

You are correct in saying that my explanations would be unnecessary if we were to assume or know that there is no God or creator. However, it is literally impossible for the universe and life to have come into being from nothing, making my explanations far more plausible in my opinion. Feel free to explain why they don't make sense to you.

Your example of nuclear fusion is a good one. Nuclear fusion does indeed not happen by chance because it requires human intervention in order for the natural processes to take their course. Thank you for illustrating my point perfectly.

Cause and effect is the precise reason why the existence of God is the only logical option. The initiator of our universe would by necessity exist outside of our universe, and therefore outside of our time-space continuum and natural laws as well. Without a restriction to linear time and space, such an initiator would not be forced to exist with a beginning, an end or even cause and effect. It or he does not operate within our universe nor within the scientific laws of our universe. It or he would be eternal in nature. It is indeed difficult to wrap our minds around, but actually less so than the illogical belief that something has come from nothing.

Secular Humanist
11/22/2012 11:41pm

Sorry I meant to ask if you believe that anything can exist without a cause,

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Secular Humanist
11/25/2012 11:38pm

"it is literally impossible for the universe and life to have come into being from nothing, making my explanations far more plausible in my opinion."

How do you know that the universe coming from nothing is impossible? And even if this is true why are the only two options 1. A supernatural intelligence did it and 2. it came from nothing?

"Your example of nuclear fusion is a good one. Nuclear fusion does indeed not happen by chance because it requires human intervention in order for the natural processes to take their course."

This is not true. Nuclear fusion would happen even if there were no humans at all. Nuclear fusion is why stars shine, but it is a natural process and it is NOT due to chance. It's due to atoms following natural laws. Therefore saying something has a natural explanation does not necessarily mean that it is due to blind chance.

" Without a restriction to linear time and space, such an initiator would not be forced to exist with a beginning, an end or even cause and effect. It or he does not operate within our universe nor within the scientific laws of our universe. It or he would be eternal in nature."

That is special pleading. If anything could exist without a cause it may just as well be the universe as God.

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Secular Humanist
11/25/2012 11:56pm

"Feel free to explain why they don't make sense to you."

1. God allows suffering because it will be made up for in the afterlife.
Whether or not there is an afterlife it would still be better if there were not suffering in this one.

2. Suffering makes people realize that they need God in their life.
This could only explain some of the suffering in the world. It couldn't explain the suffering of a child who dies shortly after birth from a horrible birth defect since the child never had a chance to learn about God. It also could not explain the all the suffering in the animal kingdom.

3. God uses people as a means to intervene.
Clearly not all the time though because I notice there is still plenty of suffering.

4. God has suffered so we must also suffer.
That doesn't follow. If god is omnipotent, then he has the ability to prevent suffering, including his own. If he is benevolent then he wants to prevent suffering. So that doesn't make sense

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Elvenpath
09/09/2013 6:26pm

The "afterlife" was always the way to calm poor people down, so they don't revolt against the wealthy and mighty leaders.
A trick, which almost every religion uses.

The whole argumentation of Wes comes down to one point: He can't imagine some scientifically proven things, so he looks for a simpler explanation, which fits into his simple worldview.

The last point "God has suffered, so we must also suffer" is a very good example, of what contorted maneuvers you must make, when you try to make a god hypothesis plausible. :-D

Wes
12/03/2013 5:49pm

I just realized a year after the fact that I missed these comments and never responded to them.

"That is special pleading. If anything could exist without a cause it may just as well be the universe as God."

Sorry my friend, cosmology has all but proven (and has almost universally agreed) that the universe did have a specific beginning. As for your other points:

1. This is an assumption you have made which you cannot verify, nor could you without being God yourself.

2. You're right: suffering does not only exist to point people to their need for God. It also exists because we have disobeyed God and the consequences have messed up our planet.

3. This is to some degree dependent on the choice of people to actually allow God to use them.

4. You've invented this point. Nowhere is it claimed that we must suffer because God suffered. Quite the opposite: God suffered on our behalf.

As for Elvenpath's comments, they reveal a closed-mindedness and extreme point of bias, unfortunately.

09/08/2013 9:37pm

Thank you for posting this. I think you explained things very well. :)

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