Saturday, February 2, 2013

Thanks, God, for not killing me today.


The conversation you are about to read took place entirely in my head, after hearing a friend attribute her car-crash-survival to the direct intervention of God. 

This conversation is not about her, though. Rather, it is about all the times I've heard Christians blaming God for making their lives easier. 

The character of Evangeline is not, therefore, to be thought of as my friend who made the comment. Instead, she's a manifestation of the arguments my earlier, more mainstream-evangelical self made to try to justify that sort of thing.

- - -

EVANGELINE: It was, like, BOOM! And then, KACHOW! It was--well, I'll just say the Lord obviously placed a strong hedge of protection around me out there on that asphalt, or I most certainly wouldn't be here, today.
JOSH: Wait. I don't get it. If God protected you from dying in an accident, why not protect you earlier so you didn't have to go through torquing your differential and doing a bunch of expensive damage to your car?
EVANGELINE: We cannot expect to understand the Lord's mysterious ways.
JOSH: Absolutely, yeah. But if that's the case, then why are you attributing the fact that you didn't die in this particular accident to divine intervention?
EVANGELINE: It happened, didn't it?
JOSH: What happened?
EVANGELINE: I didn't die.

JOSH: Well, yeah. And I'm glad about that -- believe me. But you also didn't die every other moment of every day of your life leading up to now... So, why are you choosing to say that this particular second in which you didn't die is an example of divine intervention -- that God stepped in here and specifically pulled an end-run on the natural consequences of the decisions you made that led up to the accident, thwarting causality so that you could--
EVANGELINE: Wait a minute... are you saying it's my fault I got in an accident?
JOSH: No. Not your fault. Causality isn't a moral law, it's a physical property of the universe. You got up, right?
JOSH: You got out of bed this morning, right?
JOSH: And if you hadn't done that -- if you'd stayed in bed all day watching your DVD box-set of Downtown Abbey, you wouldn't have been in your car to hit that ice patch. Your decision, your consequences.

EVANGELINE: I don't watch that lascivious show, but I get your point. Don't you agree, though, that everything that happens falls within the will of God?
JOSH: Personally? Yes. I believe -- for reasons I've never quite fathomed -- in an omnipotent God, an Artisan who's somehow working things out into some sort of inexplicable masterpiece. I don't really understand that... but I believe it.
EVANGELINE: Okay, so: if God's all-powerful, and everything happens as a result of his "inexplicable masterpiece," as you call it, then you've got to agree that he was the one who saved my life, there.
JOSH: Well, no. First of all, I don't have to agree to anything -- and I'm just ornery enough, I probably won't. Like, say, I don't have to agree with you when you use the masculine pronoun to describe God. But more importantly, I don't have to agree that God bent the laws of causality to keep you from dying.
JOSH: First, because as I already implied, I don't understand this stuff: God, the Universe, Causality, Evil -- none of it. And second, because if I grant that God intervened here, then I'm forced to acknowledge it to be an act of will on God's part when God doesn't go out of the way to avert other people's tragedies.

EVANGELINE: Wow, you're working hard to avoid using those masculine pronouns for God.
JOSH: That's for sure. Like all idealists, I can look pretty ridiculous trying to force a hard-and-fast rule onto a world chock-full of ambiguity.
EVANGELINE: So, with what you've been saying, can I conclude you're a deist -- that you see God as some sort of clockmaker who built the world, then abandoned the universe to play out as it will?
JOSH: You can conclude whatever you want; but no -- I think of God as an active sort of Artist, who's still involved in making things on an ongoing basis. Again, don't ask me why... because I'll just start humming and edging toward the door.
JOSH: Didn't I just tell you not to ask me that?

EVANGELINE: Well then, what are we going to talk about?
JOSH: Why don't we talk about how you always attribute the good things that happen to you to God's beneficent intervention (at least, when you bother to notice them) but the bad things you either ignore, or attribute to Satan. I mean, is God all-powerful, or not? Who's this Satan dude?
EVANGELINE: Satan's a fallen angel, who--
JOSH: I know that. But why's he able to do bad things and thwart God's goodness at all, especially when the main point of Christianity is that he was himself ostensibly thwarted, once and for all, by Jesus on the cross?
EVANGELINE: No problem with the masculine pronoun there, I see.
JOSH: Well, no. The Bible refers to Satan as a male, after all, and since I'm not sure he wasn't intended to be read as a mythic creature -- a literary foil, so to speak -- then I--
EVANGELINE: Wait-Wait-Wait! Satan's not real?

JOSH: I didn't say that. I said, mythic. Possibly mythic.
EVANGELINE: Same thing.
JOSH: No, it's not.... Why do I feel like you're intentionally avoiding my earlier question?
EVANGELINE: Why do I feel like I'm talking to a liberal, Jesus-Seminar whack-job with whom I have no common ground, so what's the point of trying to have a conversation?
JOSH: Wait. So, if we disagree on the reading of a few pieces of obscure Satan-text from a two-thousand-year-old document, then we have no grounds for a conversation?!?
EVANGELINE: Well, yeah. At least, not about this.
JOSH: What... theology?
EVANGELINE: Sure. I mean, if you're not gonna hold to the same basic presuppositions, theologically speaking, then what are we gonna talk about? You and I are not really Christians in the same way, and if all the terms mean something different to each of us, how can we expect to communicate--
JOSH: Wait-wait-wait... "not Christians in the same way?" What's that supposed to mean? From my experience with that sort of statement, I'd guess you mean that your way of being a Christian is right (or at least, more right than mine) and that I'm the one who's therefore not really a Christian (Just like, say, that Obama faker); but it still raises an important question for me.

EVANGELINE: What's that?
JOSH: How many things, exactly, do we have to agree on before you will grant me the title of "Christian," so we can have a meaningful conversation? The existence of a physically-measurable entity called Beelzebub? Penal substitutionary atonement? The Westminster Confession? The Apostle's Creed? What?!?
EVANGELINE: Calm down, buddy.
JOSH: I am calm. I'm just baffled. You seem to be suggesting that two people shouldn't try to communicate unless they agree and have the same presuppositions, but that seems to me to draw a belief-line in the sand. It also seems defeatist, destructive, and frankly, well... un-Christian.

EVANGELINE: Geez. I'm still here, aren't I?
JOSH: Well, yeah. But that might have something to do with the fact that you're a figment of my imagination.
EVANGELINE: Fine. Sure. Whatever. Blah, blah, blah... Okay, you got me. So, lets get back to whatever question it was I was supposed to be dodging, there. What was that, again?
JOSH: I think it had to do with the problem of evil. Like, if God's all-good and all-powerful, how come God doesn't just stop all bad things from happening. I mean, God could at least clear the rubble out of the way for the people who're in the right club, amiright? And if God's all-powerful, doesn't saying "the Devil did it" just kick the can a little further down the road?

JOSH: So...?
EVANGELINE: Well, people chose evil over good in the garden. God's perfect and holy and can't countenance evil, so they deserve to burn forever in the lake of fire. He lets us live and enjoy life for a while, doesn't he? Where's the justice in that?
JOSH: What about the babies?
EVANGELINE: Uh... I... I'm not really sure what you mean.
JOSH: Do babies deserve eternal torture?
EVANGELINE: Um... I... uh... maybe... uh, maybe not, no.
JOSH: No, no... no. Don't back down. Don't try to sugar-coat it. As little biblical backing as I think you have for this line of reasoning, you've got even less for the suggestion that babies get some kind of free pass. That's another line in the sand. Even if you can weasel out of the baby thing by saying that babies do get a free pass, and that God'll make it up to them for the bad things that happen to them before they die, you've still gotta deal with the idea that God chose to let them suffer for a while, for no other reason than that he (your word, not mine) wanted to. Besides, I'm pretty sure the Age of Accountability Idea is a Jewish, cultural concept, not a biblical one. I'm afraid you're going to have to stick with your hardliner brethren and say that the baby girl whose momma burned her to death in scalding water deserved that pain -- and far, far worse -- for all eternity. All because some dude and dudette ate a piece of non-mythical fruit, six thousand years ago. No, it's all or nothing, darlin'.

EVANGELINE: First of all: don't call me darlin'. And second: you can't jump from me claiming God kept me alive in a car wreck to saying I'm some sort of young-earth fundamentalist! I'm an educated person, here. I have a complex set of nuanced beliefs that can't be articulated in a punchline.
JOSH: Well, they're not my beliefs.
JOSH: So, you can't really be a Christian.
JOSH: Ha-ha! Who's calm, now? No... I'm just jerkin' your chain, here. Wanted you to know what it felt like to have your faith denied.

EVANGELINE: Are you saying I made you feel that way?
JOSH: Actually, no. I don't really care that much what you think about my faith. My faith isn't about you. The truth is, it just makes me a bit sad that you live in a world that's that small, but are still running around erecting new fences, trying desperately to make it a little smaller.
EVANGELINE: Okay, you pretentious braniac... how do you think it all works?
JOSH: I don't know.

JOSH: I. Don't. Know.
EVANGELINE: So, why are we having this conversation?
JOSH: I don't know that, either. It's pretty awesome though, isn't it?
JOSH: Well, yeah. Because we're talking. We're making something. We're creating a-a-a... a little piece of something bigger -- some tapestry we'll never really see, 'cause we're a part of it. We started out rambling, and now something exists that wasn't there, before. Also, I've gotten inside your head.
EVANGELINE: How's that?
JOSH: The next time something good happens and you try to flippantly attribute it to God, you're gonna think about this conversation. It'll be in there, under your skin, and it'll bug you. It might even change your mind.

EVANGELINE: So, what? You think I shouldn't thank God for the good things that happen to me?
JOSH: No. I think you should thank God for everything that happens -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have no idea how you're gonna pull it off (I personally suck the camel's tail in the gratitude department); but if you happen to be more dedicated to the gratitude project than I am, I think you'll probably still come to a place where it all seems pretty ridiculous -- where it's just a big, crazy paradox. And then, I hope, you'll shrug your shoulders, plug in your Journey 8-track, and keep on believing, if that's what it takes to keep you living gracefully, lovingly, and well. Me, I tend to think that as an Artist, God's the Great Intervener -- mucking about in pretty much everything... but that, in some mystical way, that doesn't make me a puppet. I've got no proof of that and it doesn't make much sense to me, but I think it helps me be a better lover... which is, I think, what being a Christian is all about.

EVANGELINE: What are you -- some kinda theological pragmatist?
JOSH: Nah, nah... I'm an artist. I eat paradoxes for breakfast, then weave all that madness into the art.
EVANGELINE: Well, you're right about the madness part, that's for sure.
JOSH: Absa-friggin'-lutely.

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