Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Thinking About God

Professor James McGrath, offers some very provocative thoughts about how we think about God in the modern world. He points out that the Bible itself displayes a shift in thinking about God (from a polytheistic worldview to a monothesitic one), and asks whether it makes sense to freeze our view of god to the understanding of the ancient peoples who authored the Bible:

In the Bible, studied critically, we can see some steps in the process of the shift from a polytheistic view, which personified the forces of nature, to a monotheistic (or proto-monotheistic) one that explained these various forces of nature in terms of a single personified agent behind them. We see the results of this as the Biblical authors rewrote the traditional flood story in light of their revised thinking about God, and the result is perplexing yet represents progress in perceiving an underlying unity to all things and helping to get us to the scientific approach that built upon this foundation. They had no other way of making sense of such stories than to assume the flood happened and assume God had a moral reason for inflicting it on humans.

Today we have more information and to stop our thinking about God at the stage of the Biblical authors would represent a really bizarre decision on our part. Thanks to our better (although far from perfect) understanding of the universe we inhabit, we do not need either to personify forces of nature, or blame "acts of God" on God. Unless we seriously rethink our concept of God in light of such new data, we end up with a very troubling view, as one blogger I read insightfully points out. It makes little sense to argue that God wants us to not seek our own glory, to not repay those who dishonor and harm us in kind, and yet to depict God as the ultimate glory-seeker who beats up (or one day in the future will torture) those who refuse to respect him. If we realize that the Biblical literature indicates points on a trajectory rather than a static God-concept, then we are free to avoid such troubling inconsistencies and think of God in ways that are in accordance with our highest moral standards.

Charles Allen pointed out that we can pay metaphysical compliments to God without thinking about what they really mean. For instance, if we say that God is omniscient, are we willing to maximize that at the expense of God's freedom? If God foreknows everything, we end up with what I call the 'bored view of God', where God spends eternity doing what God knew that God would do, powerless to change anything since that would cause God's foreknowledge to be in error.

If we unthinkingly attribute to God the maximal attributes in all areas, we just end up with a God who is omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent and omnivorous...

Read it all here.

So, what do you think?

1 comment:

Michael said...

I think it is reasonable to blame God for things that go terribly wrong. It is not that I think God inflicts pain on us for some strange reason. I just don't think he cares.

The state of our world I think is a clear indication that if there is a God, that God does not feel the pain we suffer when some sort of apocalypse occurs.

Or perhaps there is a God but is not all powerful. Perhaps our God is helpless to protect us from calamity.

I think of the torture and loss some of us have endured. The unanswered prayers for help.

The usual admonishment to these kinds of questions is to have more faith. That does not answer the big question of our suffering.

The really bad news is that no one has answered this with any kind of logic. How could God care and still let bad things happen?