What is a Challenge for God?

I read a book a couple of years ago called God’s Debris. It was a free online book by Scott Adams. In it, the main character debates what God would want to do. He reasoned that an omnipotent God would be quite bored by almost everything, since there would be no challenge. Thus, the character concluded, the only real challenge to God would be to see if he could destroy himself. The character posits that God did and that’s what the Big Bang was: God blowing himself up. Everything in the universe is “God’s debris” and as part of the divine essence, we are all gradually coalescing back into his consciousness.

cosmic dewdrops

This is an unrelated image, but it looks cool. Source

Now, the book is just a thought experiment. The author (most likely) isn’t suggesting that this is really what happened, but it got me thinking: what is God’s motivation? As an omnipotent God, what would interest him? One answer is that God has created the universe so that his creation can give glory back to him. That, of course, isn’t a challenge. God created angels, too, to give him praise and worship him for eternity. So what is a challenge to God?

I don’t think God is interested in destroying himself, but it occurred to me that the real challenge for God is to create something that’s uncreatable. In fact, that is what he is doing right now, and Christians are uncreatable beings in the middle of the process.

It is paradoxical to say that you can create something instantaneously which requires a process. We, as humans can build a car, but we cannot build a tree. That is something that requires a specific, time-consuming process. In the same way, a woman can give birth to a baby (and even that is a process), but not a mature adult. That would be a paradox, since a mature adult is not a product of an act of creation; he or she is the result of a process over many years.

In the same way, God cannot simply create a being who has chosen Him of their own free will, who has grown to know Him and love Him over time. It is a long, sometimes painful process and we are in the midst of that process. To find the endpoint of that process, the uncreatable being, the Bible says that we will be perfected, to be like Christ. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, the ultimate conclusion of this process of being a Christian is to become “a little Christ”, though not on our own merits but only through him.

A Girl Named Grace

Girl Named Grace

I know a girl named Grace
She drops by just when I need her
I don’t deserve her but she doesn’t care
She brings me treats from far away
Favorite foods I’ve never known

I know a girl named Grace
She found me standing by the road
Lost and hopeless
She brought me home, coaxed me to health
And gave me hope again

I know a girl named Grace
Who joys in the sunshine and the rains
And my feeble attempts to give back
She drops by just when I need her
And God love her for it

The Sociopath Thought Experiment

I’ve been thinking lately about what makes an action wrong. I think we would all agree murder is wrong since it deprives someone of their life and deprives the people around that person as well. Theft deprives a person of property they worked to obtain; assault causes them physical and emotional pain. There is a clear moral basis to say these are wrong.

Consider a thought experiment for a minute. Imagine there is a sociopath who lures a person into his house, restrains him and injects him with a cocktail of drugs that cause him excruciating physical pain and mental agony. Then, at the end of the day he gives him another drug that completely erases the memory of that day and lets him go. All the drugs are designed to be gone from his system within twelve hours. For good measure, the sociopath gives himself the same drug, completely erasing his own memory of that day as well.

Did the sociopath do anything wrong?

The immediate answer that comes to mind is, yes, of course. Clearly torture is wrong. But why is it wrong in this situation? The man has absolutely no lasting effects from the torture, no memory or psychological scars from it and no one else knows about it, including the person who inflicted it. It was wrong while it was happening, since the prisoner was suffering intensely, but afterwards it has been totally erased from the collective minds of the human race, as if it had never existed. You could argue the sociopath did wrong by depriving the victim of his freedom for a day, but that would be true even if he kidnapped him and made him play Uno for a day. I’m talking specifically of the torture aspect.

The point I’m try to get at is if morality is dependent on an observer having knowledge of it or if it is an absolute, outside of any observation (by observer, I mean someone with knowledge, either directly or indirectly.) It’s kind of the equivalent of the question of if a tree falling in the forest makes a noise when no one is around to hear it.

My belief is that morality has to be dependent on an observer because morality outside of sentient minds has no meaning. However, I believe it is also an absolute since God is the prime observer of all reality. He sees everything and even if no one else sees something or remembers it, God sees it and can judge it on its merits. He is outside of time and so has access to the past, present and future at once.

I think every normal person, no matter what their beliefs, would agree that torture is wrong. What I’ve been pondering is if there is a basis for saying something is wrong if there is no observer or memory of it, in a belief system without God, a prime observer.

What do you think about this? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

Creation from Nothing

It may seem like a paradox to think that God created the universe from nothing, as Christians contend. After all, where did all the matter and energy we’re made up of come from? Where was it before? It’s hard to wrap our minds around.

The Bible says that we were made in God’s image and as such, we are also creators. In fact, we create things from nothing all the time. Let me give you two examples.

black_dragon_attack_2

Copyright el-grimlock

In the picture above, there is a dragon. If I asked what the picture is made of, the answer would be different colored pixels on your screen, although originally it might have been graphite and ink. However, while the picture is made of pixels, the dragon and other things in the picture are not. They are made of muscle, bone, metal, etc., maybe even things we could never find in our own world, like mithril. The picture is in our world, but the things in the picture are not (probably for the best). The artist has created a window to a world that had not existed before, using pen and paper, or pixels on the computer to create an actual, flying, fire-breathing dragon out of nothing, which exists in its own world.

Another way to create is through language. Read the next sentence:

“The girl sat at the edge of the well and looked down into the swirling darkness, resisting the tug of its grasping tendrils on her legs.”

With this one sentence, we have a window into a world that did not exist before I wrote it. The sentence is made of words, but the world is not. The girl is flesh and blood, the well is made of stone (most likely). Where was this flesh and stone and other matter that makes up her world before I wrote the sentence? It was created from nothing as I wrote.

This might seem like a cop-out. It’s not real, you might say and while I would contend that it’s all real for that girl sitting by the well, it is true that all of these worlds that we create exist only within our minds. The difference between these and God creating the universe is that he has the power to make it real and also to set us free from himself. When I write a story, characters make their own decisions and have their own thoughts, but they cannot do anything I don’t want them to do. They don’t know I exist, but I am like a puppet master making them think and do the things they do. They cannot do anything unless I have them do it.

However, I believe God has given us  free will to do what he wants us to or to do our own thing. He has also given us the capacity to create things of our own, small craftsmen working away under the loving eye of the Master Craftsman himself.

Waiting on the Lord

I don’t suppose anyone really likes waiting. It’s bad enough waiting for Christmas to come, or the end of the school year. It’s even worse when we don’t how long we will be waiting. I lost my job a few months ago and although I have kept busy with writing, looking for jobs, and other things, there is a feeling that life is on hold since unemployment in our society for someone my age is an unnatural state.

One problem is with our perspective. When we wait, it looks like nothing is happening, but that is not the case. Things are happening, being prepared behind the scenes, although they are invisible to us.

It’s a bit like when the computer lags and the small wheel starts spinning. It’s an aggravating situation, especially if it’s frequent, but the fact is that it’s not like nothing is happening. The computer is running and preparing to carry out the command that we put in. Sometimes we don’t need to wait long, or at all. Sometimes we do.

The one good thing about waiting is that we are forced to trust that God is working and every time that we wait and God comes through for us, it is an opportunity for our faith to increase, even if it’s not easy.

The other good thing about waiting is it can be a time out from other things. I once had surgery on my knee and was in the hospital for a week. I had nothing to do but wait to be released, but in that time, I had time to rest and read and do other things I wouldn’t have had time to do had I not been stuck there, waiting.

Paul says in Philippians 4:12b, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (NIV). In the same way, it is a great thing when we can be content whether waiting or charging full steam ahead.

Could God Create a Rock Too Heavy to Lift?

This is a paradox that I’ve heard my whole life. It’s supposed to show the flaw in the idea of an omnipotent being. After all, how could an all-powerful God create a situation where he wasn’t all-powerful, but on the other hand, how could he not?

I don’t believe there are any true paradoxes in the world, although there are many apparent ones. There is always some piece of information that is the key to solving the paradox. It might be a problem of language setting up a paradoxical situation, or it might be some information or perspective that we are not taking into account.

So, can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift?

Simply put, no, he can’t.

“Ah ha!” yells the skeptic. “God can’t be omnipotent after all.”

The problem with this paradox is the starting assumption: specifically, is God part of the universe? Christians believe that God is not part of the physical universe but is outside of it, which means that, at least figuratively, he can hold the whole universe in his hands. A rock, or anything physical, is necessarily inside the universe and so cannot be greater than the entirety of the universe, something that God can contain anyway.

Let me put it another way that’s less abstract. I like to play Minecraft on my laptop. In the game, I build lots of things, including huge structures and buildings. However, it would be absurd to ask if I could build anything in Minecraft that I, the player, couldn’t lift. After all, Minecraft or any computer game is in a virtual world contained within a computer. I can lift my computer, so I can always lift anything in the game, even though the size of a Minecraft world is seven times larger than the surface of Earth.

Of course, someone could ask if God could create something outside our universe that he couldn’t lift, but there is no way to even comment on what things could be like outside our universe. Christians believe that outside (or adjacent to) the physical realm is the spiritual realm, but discussions of the (meta)physics of a spiritual boulder are a little too speculative, even for this blog.

 

Why Christians Are Not Atheists Minus One

Richard Dawkins, in the book The God Delusion, contends that everyone is an atheist, at least concerning some gods. He says, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

Here is what he means. As a Christian, I don’t believe that Zeus was a god. I don’t believe Dagon was either, or Molech, or Horus, or Vishnu, or Thor. Dawkins and I agree 100% on these, since neither of us believe in the divinity of any of these. We both believe they were only myths and stories. We only differ on the issue of one deity among millions. Thus, why not go the whole way and wipe the board clear of all deities, since I’ve already discounted 99.99% of all deities?

Dawkins approaches this as a mathematical problem, so let’s use a mathematical metaphor to look at it a bit closer. Let us compare Hinduism, Christianity, and atheism. If one god equals $1, then the Hindu is a millionaire, the Christian has one dollar, and the atheist is broke (or if you prefer a negative metaphor, the Hindu is hopelessly in debt, the Christian is $1 dollar in debt, and the atheist doesn’t owe anything.) Thus, a Christian is seemingly much closer to an atheist than to a Hindu. Dawkins’s whole argument hinges on this proximity.

Here is why he is wrong.

How much is a god worth?

In the above example with money, someone with one god seems closer to someone with no gods than to someone with 10 gods, since 1 is closer to 0 than to 10. However, how much is a god worth?

To better illustrate what I mean, let’s multiply all the numbers in the above metaphor by a billion. While 1 seems closer to 0 than to 10, we know that in practice a man with 1 billion dollars is vastly closer in status and lifestyle to someone with 10 billion dollars than to someone with no money at all. In fact, for all practical purposes, the two billionaires are identical in how they conduct their lives, and only the number in their bank account shows the difference.

Not all gods are created equal

Of course, the number of discrete deities a person worships is not the whole story, because as everyone knows, the question is not one of gods, but of belief systems. Religion is rarely an à la carte menu where we pick and choose. I doubt you could find a person in the world who worships Thor, Ganesh, and Manitou and only those three.

Not to mention, not all gods are created equal. Most gods who are part of a pantheon are simply overpowered humans, in their behavior, appearance, and actions. There is a reason why Thor is part of the Marvel superhero universe and the God of the Bible is not. A trillion minor nature gods of woods and streams collectively do not compare in the least to the Creator of the universe.

Theism is binary

Finally, the real distinction between polytheists, monotheists and atheists is not one of numbers: it is binary question, a matter of existence versus non-existence. Does the world exist of only the things we can see and experience and measure with our physical senses or does it only contain a spiritual dimension that is unknown to our five senses? The Christian and the Hindu (and all other religions) see the world in the same way, the natural world with a spiritual realm overlaid on it, while atheists see the world as nothing but the natural world.

This is the real distinction, and it is an irreconcilable divide that cannot be bridged. If there is a God, then the purely naturalistic world of atheism is smashed to bits, and if there is no God, then the theistic worldview is destroyed. There is no congress of belief between a monotheist and an atheist merely because the number of deities they believe in differs by one.

 

The Window of Words

I love words. They are like small windows that open up onto huge realities. Even grammatical words can hold large truths in them. There are times when our language is simply not capable of expressing what we need it to, but many times words contain a great deal more than we ever think about. This is especially true with the Bible, where a lot of meaning can be packed into only a few words. I feel sometimes that if we could fully understand a single verse of the Bible fully, we would be wiser than any person in the world.

Take Psalm 23 for example. It’s probably the most famous chapter in the Old Testament. Many people have it memorized (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”) especially in the King James Version. The problem is that the more we know something, the less we think about it. Do you actually think about what every word means when you sing the national anthem or Happy Birthday? Probably not. Those don’t matter much, but when it comes to the Bible, there can be a lot of truth hidden in every syllable. Let’s look at the first verse of Psalm 23 in closer detail:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1 (KJV)

The — This means something that is unique and definitive. This excludes any others from the same plane, letting it stand alone in our minds as we invoke it.

Lord — A king and a ruler. The monarchical term is a metaphor for God’s relationship not only with us, but with all of creation. He is above all, ruling and overseeing everything. (Here, of course, we see a limitation in human language: the English word Lord indicates male even though God is neither male nor female.)

Is — Even though it’s small, this is one of the most significant word in the whole language, a statement that something exists. It is in the present tense, which indicates not only existence in the present moment, but for an unspecified amount of time, stretching into the past and on into the future.

My — This shows there is a personal relationship on some kind, a connection to myself. We are not talking abstracts here: this is something that affects each and every one of us intimately.

Shepherd — This is a metaphor that shows the nature of the relationship. There is a lot packed into these two syllables. It contains the image of a flock of sheep ranging around the countryside, seemingly on their own, but always under the watchful eye of the shepherd. When they wander away, he finds them. When they get stuck in a bush or fall down a hole, the shepherd gets them out. A sheep has nothing to be boastful of. It is constantly and totally dependent upon the shepherd for safety, food and water.

I — Like “my”, this makes it personal. However, “I” is the subject, the one who must do something. The first sentence was a statement of fact. This is where we come in to do our part.

Shall — This word isn’t used much anymore, but is similar to “will”. “Shall” is a word of definiteness. If words like “might” and “maybe” are sand, “shall” is a granite boulder, something that can be depended on. We can rest in peace within the promise of this future certainty.

Not — This word is a solid wall that divides the existent and non-existent. “Not” nullifies of what comes after it. We can have faith that God will keep us always on the right side of “not”.

Want — In this situation, this mean being insufficient, or lacking in some way. It brings up the image of hunger, loneliness, parched throats and empty spirits. In God, we will not lack for what we need, because God does not know insufficiency. He is completeness itself and joined with him, no part of us can remain incomplete, any more than a submerged cup can remain empty.

 

And that is just one verse. Behind all words, especially ones that hold such great truths, there is a whole universe waiting.

 

This piece is an updated version of one I posted on Facebook in 2011.