Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Paradox of Fate and an American Tragedy Part I

 It is Father’s Day, so I will allow myself the luxury of typing over some coffee for an hour or so.  I miss these times as they are rare anymore and were so dear to me at one time.

Firsts, there is an item of old business that I want to address.  I have no clue what is happening but I’m continuing to get thousands, if not tens of thousands, of “visits” to this blog daily from Germany.  It corresponds to the time of the German work day.  Even within my greatest narcissistic tendencies, I doubt if these people are coming here to read posts.  I suspect it is either a computer glitch where Google is reporting the traffic but the traffic is not real. The other possibility is a deliberate cyber-attack (as some bored nerds are known to do just for entertainment).  But the reason I don’t think the visits could be real is that no one is commenting and that would be impossible with so many real hits. But if anyone has a clue what this is happening . . . I’m all ears.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the issue of fate . . . or chance. I know I’ve written about it many times. But the philosophical concept of fate has been one of the greatest paradoxes for both philosophers and theologians.

I’m certain you could feel your way along the slippery veins of this debate back to the invention of language. However, I will start with the Greeks.  They struggled immensely with this problem. It always comes down to the problem of positioning of their God or gods.

If the Greeks placed their gods behind fate, where fate stood between them and their gods, then they would have to define the personalities and characters of the gods as ambivalent at best, and cruel at the worst.  But man cannot live contently with a cruel god because there is nothing but labels that would separate him/her from the devil.

So they tried to move their gods to this side of fate, where the gods stood on the same side of fate as men (meaning “mankind” of course).  But like something that stands between you and a distant object, for that distant object to continuing influencing you, you have to beat down on the near object until it is small enough to see around.

This is exactly what the Greeks did.  Their gods had to be beaten down to the same size as the Marvel Superman.  Their gods were of incredible power, but to be benevolent they were never in the full control of fate.

The Christians have fared no better with the debate than the Greeks.  They would like to think so.  I’ve heard many pastors and Christian teachers claim that the Christian God is unique in solving these problems.  But He has not . . . or at least not in the way we present Him.

The Christian God has been presented as being far behind fate . . . being totally sovereign over even the most minor detail. They try to answer God’s then problem of justice by weaving in mystery.  Mystery is fine.  We will never fully understand God, so mystery must fill in the gaps.  But in this case, I see this mystery as a Styrofoam filling to hold things up.

In our Christian circles we say things like, “God is in control.”  When we are at the small things, this reasoning works fine. But when we get to the big things, such as tornados drowning little children, we apply mystery. But the problem is that we apply mystery in the wrong place. We say that God did cause the tornado, He did direct it towards the School, He did cause the horrible deaths of the little children, but the mystery is in his motives.  He did this for some good reason and that good reason is beyond our comprehension.

But while we say those on the surface, our sub-consciousness never can believe it because it defiles reason, the reason that God has given us. From that point forward, our relationship with God changes forever (a deep emotional change).  We may still smile and say that God is in control, but we no longer trust Him. While we say intellectually that He is control, emotionally (which can be tied to reason on the subconscious level) we believe that He is cruel.

I will pause with the discussion points to tell two real stories. But now it is getting late and this is getting long, I think I will tell just one story and come back with a part II.  Then at the end, I want to give a new way of solving this ageless problem.

Brenda has been on my heart this entire week.  She is a fine woman and has never made any major errors in her planning that I know of.

She was married to a “godly man.” This godly man was also the associate pastor of a small charismatic church.  Brenda discovered that both he had been sexually molesting their two small children, but that he had a sexual addiction. Not only was it in his imagination with porn, but in reality by having sexual relations with the church secretary.  Like most manipulative men do in these situations, he convinced the secretary that she was really special.  He accused his wife, and children, of lying about the abuse. It was some demonic plot to destroy him . . . his words, not mine.  He eventually persuaded this young secretary to marry him and he divorced his demonically-influenced wife (because she had “made up” the stories about him molesting the children).

He and his new wife move to another city where he helped to start and pastor a new church. Since he never paid child support, Brenda had to work two low-paying jobs to make ends meet. By the time her two children were in high school, both of them started having serious mental health problems.  They would admit that their problems were stemmed in a full frontal hatred for their father . . . a very “godly man.”

To move this story on quickly, the son eventually finished high school, became addicted and homeless. The daughter wrestled with serious (life-threatening) anorexia.  Brenda was deeply involved with both children in a loving way.  She was devoted to them.  Brenda was a stellar parent despite the hardships and working long hours.

Brenda, suddenly became ill. She was diagnoses with terminal ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  She is slowing losing her ability to walk and move well.  She is near the poverty line.  Both of her children live in other cities now.

Her daughter seemed to having turned the corner in her life from a mental health stand point.  She was in a relationship with a good man. Her mother was excited that despite her son still struggling with his demons, living in the streets, that her long hours with her daughter and unyielding love and acceptance, not to mention her unceasing prayers were paying off. Her daughter became pregnant and was so excited about becoming a mother and getting her life on the right track.

Brenda seemed more excited than I have seen her in years about the thoughts of her daughter getting her life together, and a grandchild on the way.

Brenda’s daughter suddenly became gravely ill and was hospitalized. A therapeutic abortion was done to help save the mother’s life. It seemed to have worked as she was discharged from the hospital doing much better.  Brenda was deeply shaken up by the event but she was hopeful.

Brenda’s daughter killed herself this week.

How do you look at Brenda and tell her that this was God’s intended will?  All of it? IS there a temptation to make theological sense by blaming Brenda or her kids?

In my opinion, Brenda deserves sainthood.  I think her kids did the best that they could with what they had been dealt.  I was mentor to her son for a short period of time and I know that he wanted to Know God . . . in an honest way. But he was thrown in the river by life and the baggage of his father’s sin was pulling him under.

I will finish this story next time and raise the question, what role did God have?  Did He really do all of this to teach them patience? May God have mercy on those who think this perverted way.


Vega Magnus said...

In such situations, I often find myself completely leaving God out of the equation. Tornadoes become simple natural disasters, abusive spouses/parents do evil things because of their fallen human nature, etc, etc. Bad things happening to good/innocent people becomes just a random aspect of the world that we all have to experience. In other words, there is no explanation beyond life sometimes sucking. It's basically an atheistic perspective, but it's a lot easier to stomach than someone saying that it was God's will, that we are being tested, or, my own personal favorite, that it could be way worse and we should be glad that we aren't dead like all of the martyrs who died for Christ. I don't know if my position should even be considered from a theological perspective, but when it comes to just trying to deal with life's problems, I find that those are much simpler to understand and cope with.

jesuswept said...

My heart is very sad, just very sad
for Brenda and her kids. what do you say to that...the broken hope her kids have had all these years.
You just want gather all three of them up and blanket them with protection, with healing, with something more than what they have had. My heart is just sad....

H. Lee Angus said...

There is no way to make these horrible events part of a good God's plan. As you imply, if the suffering of innocents is God's plan, then God is the same as Satan.

Intellectually, I have to agree with VM above, and with the way Rabbi Kuschner put it in "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People." (Not at all by the way, the rabbi's son died of the "premature aging" disease at age 11.) The rabbi said, basically, there are three statements, but only two can be true. Pick the two you want, but you can never believe all three:

1. God is all-powerful.
2. God is all good.
3. Evil and suffering exist.

Myself, I've had to discard #1.

But I think most people don't approach this intellectually. They say stuff like "God has a plan," or "Everything happens for a reason," because such statements make them feel better; that's all. Not that they're terrible people, but most of us are just unable to process the fact that statement #3 above, which is blindingly obvious to all, *must* force you to reject either statement #1 or #2.

Or maybe I'm just tired and sad too, about Brenda.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

1. God is all-powerful.
2. God is all good.
3. Evil and suffering exist.

Myself, I've had to discard #1.

Calvin and Mohammed effectively discarded #2, leaving them with "A God who is OMNIPOTENT but NOT benevolent."

Herminator said...

Yes, people come her from Germany to READ YOUR POSTS! I´m one of them. And although I do not comment often on the blogs I read I love the stuff you write! I am a member of a german free evangelical church and it seems to me that is something very different from the kind of evangelical that you describe. Always thoughtprovoking - not always would I agree- but that is the way life is!