“God, Why ?” Questions, Part II

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Why, God ? – Depends On Who’s Asking

Atheists, agnostics, and believers ask the “God, why ?” questions in different ways.

A typical atheist question is: If this all-good, all-knowing, all-loving god you are trying to prove exists, why is there physical pain and human evil all over the world you allege that he made ? [atheists do not use upper case capitalized letters for God and God pronouns].

Agnostics have a different spin on this: Why don’t you doubt whether or not God exists, since there is evil and pain in the world ?

We believers, start from the position that the all-_____ , the infinite, and the all-______ God does indeed exist –  most weeks we stand up and say publicly, “I believe in God . . ..”  – so  we ask this way:  God, why is there evil and pain in the world ?  We directly address the God in whom we believe.

The Explanation Is Not A Direct  Answer – Aquinas & Bonaventure

The belief in God by those who ask “God, why ?” questions is not the answer to those questions, but it is the basis for understanding a correct response of a creature of God, who realizes she or he is God’s creature,  he or she is not God, and she or he is made by God in God’s image and likeness.  This is the conclusion of F.C. Copleston in his discussion of the problem of evil in the chapter entitled “God and Creation,” in his book, Aquinas. This is also an insight of many Fathers of the Church and of later theologians. Copleston discusses the thoughts of St. Bonaventure and of St. Thomas Aquinas. For Copleston:

To this question, why God chose this world, foreseeing all the evils which would in fact occur, no answer, I think, can be given. That is to say, no answer can be given which would be accepted by an objcient as a ‘solution’ to the problem of evil. St. Bonaventure remarked that if anyone asks why God did not make a better world or make this world better, no answer can be given except that He so willed and that He Himself knows the reason.

Regarding how St. Thomas would deal with the “God, why evil?” question, Copleston says:

At the same time he [Aquinas] was convinced that the metaphysician can prove the existence of God independently of the problem of evil, and that we can therefore know that there is a solution to the problem even though we cannot provide it.

There is an implicit humility, and act of hope, and act of faith in the approaches of St. Bonaventure and of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Once one accepts “God is God, my God, and I’m not Him,” and the fact that this God-I’m-Not loves one with a not finite love, then one knows that the “God, why?” questions have an explanation; God’s reasons are loving, good, and divine; and the  answers are divine answers –  even though one may not know them.

St. Augustine

In his classic masterpiece, City of God, Augustine asks a long series of “God, why ?” questions, in  a section entitled “That in the Mingled Web of Human Affairs God’s Judgment is Present, Though It Cannot Be Discerned “(Book XX, Chapter 2); for example:

. . . why the ungodly enjoys good health, while the godly pines in sickness; . . . why he who is full of crimes is crowned with honors, while the blameless man is buried in the darkness of neglect.

From the accepted beliefs that “ . . . on this account are God’s judgments unsearchable, and His ways past finding out (City of God, Id.), Augustine goes on to say that:

 . . . when we shall have come to that judgment, the date of which is called peculiarly the day of judgment, and sometimes the day of the Lord, we shall then recognize the justice of all God’s judgments, not only of such as shall then be pronounced, but, of all which take effect from the beginning, or may take effect before that time. And in that day we shall also recognize with what justice so many, or almost all, the just judgments of God in the present life defy the scrutiny of human sense or insight . . .” (City of God, Id.)

Don’t Lose Your Halleluia

In his book entitled On The Psalms, Augustine again dealt with “God, why ?” questions:

Whatever then happeneth here contrary to our wish, thou wilt know that it happeneth not, save by the will of God, by His providence, by His ordering, by His nod, by His laws: and if we understand not why anything is done, let us grant to His providence that it is not done without reason: so shall we not be blasphemers. For when we begin to argue concerning the works of God, “why is this?” “why is that?” and, “He ought not to have done this,” “He did this ill;” where is the praise of God? Thou hast lost thy Halleluia. (emphasis added, On The Psalms, Psalm CXLVIII, Chapter 9).

St. Augustine sees the very real possibility for a human being, even a true believer, to ask “God, why?” questions and get spiritually bogged down by them, and misled to the point that one ceases to worship God. The next step can be, then, to deny He exists.

Conclusion

In arrogance, putting one’s  faith and hope in peril, one can ask “God, why ?” questions, and, then, ask them again and again. This is especially easy when God does not speak out loud to one from the whirlwind or even from the gentle breeze.

Buttessed by an initial belief in the loving, good God, one can turn the “God, why?” questions around and use them as the basis for saying with St. Bonaventure,  echoing Job, “I don’t know the answer, but God knows. He knows His own good, divine reasons for doing creation, including man, as He did.”

We can know with St. Augustine that all those judgments of God which “defy the scrutiny of human sense or insight,” are indeed the results of divine justice.

We can be confident with St. Thomas Aquinas that there are solutions to the problem of evil and every spiritual and theological problem we can dream up. These solutions that we cannot see are divine.

And then, when we ask or hear another’s “God, why?” question, we can see God at work, and we can say Halleluia!

 

 

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21 Comments

  1. The Supreme Sovereign Being is the infinite act of being. Only in the human nature of Jesus Christ, the God-man does God exist, as in coming from the infinite God and being Himself.

  2. To the atheist I would ask: What is your source of hope, if not God?
    Placing your hope in God rather than yourself provides you a caring partner in life. And if you believe God will help you He will. You can personally experience the help of God and it is not imaginary. Go to some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and see for yourself how it works for others.

  3. Oh the faith of a little child..the trust there within that tiny heart. The unquestioning faith that resides in them. No wonder Jesus has a child placed on His knee and recommends that we too shall become small in our understanding but enormous in our child like trust. We don’t have to have all the answers to love.
    We just have to believe.

    How our Father loves us so when we happily accept our finite knowledge and expand our Trust in Providence.

    Our Lady at 14 or so, wondering what the ramifications of being the Christ bearer would fully entail, was placed second to her Trust. One question from her to Gabriel..How?

    Not a thousand questions, but one.

    Let her confidence be ours and the doubtful, when God questions come to our hearts and minds.

    I love the line from the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life, St. Joseph
    is asking God the Father who they should send to assist George Bailey; It’s that clock maker’s turn, Clarence. “He might not be very smart but he has the faith of a child.”

    I am not advocating stupidity not promotion of ignorance… (however my application of grammar might speak otherwise).. but I am amazed how much one grows in Faith when one just trusts in God.

    Recalling Blessed Solanus words;

    “We should ever be grateful for and love the vocation to which God has called us. This applies to every vocation because, after all, what a privilege it is to serve God, even in the least capacity.”

    Trusting in God and living in the moment…the JOY of our youth in our twilight years. Well…over-the-hill years anyway.

    Peace.

  4. To Michael Dowd, as an atheist I can tell you that hope can come from different sources, whether it be confidence in ourselves, the love of others close to us, or the compassion that can come from large groups of people. As far as getting hope from the Christian god, while there are a great many people that believe this (including some of my friends and family) I wouldn’t point to that as proof of his existence. There are others who possess a faith in deities you and I would both say do not exist, yet they draw strength from them in the same way as a Christian would.

  5. Thomas had just placed his hand in the nail holes of Christ’s wounds; “My Lord and my God!”

    To all that don’t believe in the God-man Jesus Christ, I ask you to please consider this.

    Starting today. Ask the son of God to reveal himself to you in some personal way. Ask and you too will join St. Thomas…..My Lord and MY God.

    Don’t fear him. He believes in you even if you don’t believe in Him.

    Merry Christmas Eve.
    and
    Peace.

  6. To Mike O’Leary
    God is the infinite act of being, with no beginning and without end, infinite.
    Your comment Mile O’Leary begs the question: From WHOM do all of your sources of love, hope and compassion, including the artificial sources, all of whom are finite sources, receive their infinite love, hope and compassion to bestow on others?
    The finite mind of man, as it is, cannot comprehend the infinite, unless God infuses through contemplation knowledge of the Beatific Vision. Heaven is up hill all the way.
    Andrei Rublev’s icon of The Blessed Trinity is fascination.

  7. To Mile O”Leary, in your quest for God, you will not find Him insulting Him by spelling His Name (“I AM WHO I AM” IS HIS NAME) and His followers. by spelling His Name with a lower case “g”. I find this insult detestable and as detestable as Saul, the future Saint Paul, slaughtering Christians to stamp out God. Man up or get out.

  8. Hello, Mary De Voe . First, you can’t define God into existence by claiming he is existence itself. I know Christians believe this to be true, but existence could very well be without thought or will. Next, it’s only begging the question if by necessity hope has to come from a conscious source (a “whom”). Again this is something that I understand Christians believe; but demonstrating that, unfortunately, is another matter. Finally, my use of a lowercase god was in no way an attempt at offense, but merely proper grammar. If we refer to the specific entity known as God then we are to use an uppercase G. If we use the term god as a descriptor then we use a lowercase g. For example, if I make a statement about the Baha’i god it’s lowercase. It’s like using the address “Mr. President” (a proper noun) as opposed to a president. I hope that helps, and Merry Christmas.

  9. “First, you can’t define God into existence by claiming he is existence itself.”

    Ontological arguments as to the existence of God, an example is that proposed by Saint Anselm, have been debated by some of the greatest minds of the West. They are not my preferred arguments for the existence of God, but they have a very respectable intellectual pedigree and do not lend themselves to combox back and forth.

  10. The Ontological Argument, specifically the part that tries to make the leap from there being an imagined something to there having to be a real perfect something always felt like a cheat. Gaunilo and his perfect island demonstrates that well.

  11. “Gaunilo and his perfect island demonstrates that well.”

    A perfect island isn’t God. A better argument by Gaunilo is that humans lack the ability to comprehend God and that any human efforts to imagine God are therefore flawed. However, this type of debate isn’t appropriate for Christmas Eve or Christmas. Come back on December 26 to continue the debate.

  12. Hello again, Donald. Just one quick point about the Ontological Argument: We agree that it doesn’t work for most things (whether it be islands, buildings, or wombats). Where we disagree is whether it can be applied to a deity. To say it does is kind of on odd version of special pleading (since usually it\s applied saying a rule is correct except in one instance, but for this it’s incorrect in all but one instance).

  13. Mike, in regard to God we have the Supreme Being, and that is an essential element in regard to Saint Anselm’s argument. A good analysis of that argument is at the link below:

    https://www.iep.utm.edu/ont-arg/

    I think the best criticism of Saint Anselm’s argument is that mustered by Saint Thomas Aquinas:

    While St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) believed that God’s existence is self-evident, he rejected the idea that it can be deduced from claims about the concept of God. Aquinas argued, plausibly enough, that “not everyone who hears this word ‘God’ understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body.” The idea here is that, since different people have different concepts of God, this argument works, if at all, only to convince those who define the notion of God in the same way.

    The problem with this criticism is that the ontological argument can be restated without defining God. To see this, simply delete premise 1 and replace each instance of “God” with “A being than which none greater can be conceived.” The conclusion, then, will be that a being than which none greater can be conceived exists – and it is, of course, quite natural to name this being God.

    Nevertheless, Aquinas had a second problem with the ontological argument. On Aquinas’s view, even if we assume that everyone shares the same concept of God as a being than which none greater can be imagined, “it does not therefore follow that he understands what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally.”

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