Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Can we subject God to questioning?

Something that always perplexed me about the Book of Job is that it seems God doesn't consider Himself accountable to His creatures.

From Wikipedia:

God's speech also emphasizes his sovereignty in creating and maintaining the world. The thrust is not merely that God has experiences that Job does not, but that God is king over the world and is not necessarily subject to questions from his creatures, including men. The point of these speeches is to proclaim the absolute freedom of God over His creation. God is not in need of the approval of his creation. It is only the reader of the book who learns of God's conversations with Satan; Job himself remains unaware of the reason or source of his sufferings. The traditional interpretation is that, humbled by God's chastising, Job turns speechless, giving up and repenting his previous requests of justice. However, another interpretation is that Job's silence is defiant, and that what he gives up is not his belief that justice be done, but his confidence that God will behave justly.

I don't mean that God has no good reason to allow suffering. God may have a fantastic reason. My concern was I didn't understand why we can't hold God to account.

For example, surely if you had a child who was suffering, while their parent was standing around and could seemingly assist that child, then it would be reasonable to demand that the parent explain their inaction. Maybe the parent has an excellent reason, e.g. the pain involved in the medical operation was necessary for the child's future health. But, at least with parents, courts can demand an explanation for apparently negligent actions.

It occurred to me that one way to justify the Book of Job's position might come from the definition of God.

Consider these verses:

James 1:13: "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone"

Titus 1:2: "in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago"

Hebrews 6:18: "God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged."

They seem to say that God is unable, not just unwilling, to sin (maybe because sin means acting on some untruth, and truth is so firmly planted in God that He cannot so act).

If you define God as a being who is unable - not just unwilling, but unable - to commit evil, then asking God whether or not He is committing evil seems a bit silly. It would be like defining a triangle as an object with three sides and then asking why there is no fourth side. E.g. the answer why there is no fourth side is that a triangle can only have three sides. Similarly, if God is defined as unable to do evil, then you already know whether that particular God has committed evil before you even ask the question.

Under the definition of God as a being who is unable to commit evil, it's fair to say that you shouldn't demand that God tell you whether He is committing evil. Why? Because, with that assumption, the question doesn't make sense. If you already accept that God is unable to do evil, then the answer has to be: God didn't commit evil.

So I suppose you can make an argument that if you are running with view that God is unable to commit evil, then you shouldn't question God because the question is nonsensical.

Applying this to Job, one main difference is that even though the Bible tells us that God is unable to commit evil, by looking at the world we can have some doubt about that. So are we really in the position of being able to say God cannot commit evil before we discuss the problem of suffering?

If we can't start off with that assumption, then you can't say that questioning God is nonsensical.

I would say that if we look at the world, then yes, we don't know that God is a being who is unable to commit evil, but consider the issue from the point-of-view of a God who is unable to commit evil and created the world. According to this God's point-of-view, He is allowed to disagree with our negative impression. For this God knows the real situation. So from that God's point-of-view, maybe He is allowed to say, 'Well, if you knew the truth, then you would know it is nonsensical to question me', and put forth this view to His creations.

In summing up, I think that for people who don't know that God cannot commit evil, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to question God. But this doesn't take away from the fact that from God's point-of-view, questioning His goodness is literally nonsensical (assuming us Christians are right), on the basis of inability. That is, on the basis that God is unable to do evil, it makes no sense to ask whether God did evil. So I suppose that God could in this way have a right to tell people they are unable to question His ethical conduct.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abraham and Moses both did it in the OT without God smiting them, so my answer to the question "Can we subject God to questioning?" would be a simple yes. Christian thinking on the subject is too influenced by (I guess) Thomas Aquinas or Augustine and therefore holds that questioning God is a sin or something. But questioning someone is part of a living relationship. If you don't question, you have no relationship. Hence Abraham asks God "Will not the Judge of the Earth do right?" when haggling with him on how many righteous souls must be found in Sodom for God to not destroy it, or when Moses stands between God and the Israelites when God said to him "Stand back and I will destroy them and make of Thee a prosperous and numerous nation." The Christian view of God is that of a miser/tyrant who will smite you for the least amount of questioning, and so no relationship is really possible with him. I still remember growing up how the story of Gideon's golden fleece was preached as if Gideon sinned by asking God for a sign, despite that NOT being the point of the story as the OT tells it. There is this nonsense preoccupation with setting God up as a distant and capriciously malevolent lunatic who can't abide any sort of normal discourse. If he is our Father, then we ought to be able to disagree at times, or even argue, as we do with a loving Father. Is he an abusive Father as Christian teachers make him out to be? or is he the loving Father who put up with Abraham and Moses' questions/challenges? Job also questioned, but Job is inconvenient to modern Christianity in numerous ways!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My interpretation of Job is very different from what is outlined in the wikipedia blurb. Mine is this: It is not so much about theodicy, why bad things happen to good people and the like. Its about those who hold that God cannot be pleased vs those who hold he can. Job's friends maintain that God must condescend to view the stars, and the angels are filthy in his sight, so its not possible for a man to be righteous before God. Yet we know from the intro that God has called Job righteous in conversation with Satan! So Job is struggling throughout the book more with his friends and their nonsense Calvinistic fundamentalist "you're not good enough; its not possible to be righteous" nonsense more than with his actual physical ailments. When God finally appears he may not provide an answer on why Job was put through all the physical problems, but he does put the perverted theology of Job's friends (with which they've been torturing him all though the book) to silence. God points out how pleased he is with a silly bird like the ostrich, far from perfect, which demonstrates God can be pleased with an imperfect righteous man like Job, and then he says to Job's friends "You have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has." He makes Job their priest even! Job's position, that God can be pleased, is vindicated, and the ancient pre-Calvinist Calvinism of "even the angels are filthy in his sight" is refuted by GOD HIMSELF. That's the point of the book to me.


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