Complaints Filed with the Invisible God

I should draw attention to a particular feature of various objections to the existence of God. That being, that they are primarily reformulations of the singular objection that one should not believe in a God who cannot be proven to exist.

It is not my intent to rebut these arguments, nor to trivialize them by pointing out that they are all the same. There is, however, some deception involved in asking why bad things happen to good people, why prayers go unanswered, why God does not heal amputees, and so forth. The one who asks such questions is not interested in good things that happen to good people, prayers that appear to have been answered, or people who appear to have been healed of incurable illnesses. He is interested in pointing out, in varied and dramatic fashion, that there is no absolute proof of God’s existence.

The significance of this is that one serious question corresponds to one serious problem. Someone who has merely believed in God has made a single leap across one chasm–not a thousand vaults over a thousand arbitrary gulfs.

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7 Responses to “Complaints Filed with the Invisible God”

  1. Interesting point, though I’d point out the issue isn’t not being concerned with good things happening to good/praying people, it’s aligning observation with the predictive and repetitive nature one would expect from a statement like, “God is omni-max, hears prayers, and is known to have said, ‘Ask anything in my name and I will give it.'”

    Does that make sense? The issue isn’t that people who pray don’t have good things happening to them at all, it’s that the question is, in my view, trying to highlight that the occurrence of both good and bad things both in times prayed for and times not… is not distinguishable from chance.

    And through one more lens: remove the god being hypothesized from the world and paint me a picture of how it would be noticeably different. I think that’s a helpful question.

  2. Hello.

    What I meant to point out was that while people’s stories (a profound answered prayer, healing, etc.) may amount to one or more significant experiences that seem to transcend, for that individual person, the boundaries of chance and regularity, an overall predictive and repetitive pattern to answered prayer (consistently visible to any observer) would simply be a scientific proof of God’s existence. Most people who believe in God have accepted his not being readily visible to the naked eye, so to suggest that there ought to be proof of his existence manifest in the results of prayer is to raise a difficulty that they have already accepted (even if they are not aware that they have accepted it).

    This being said, it is clear that people’s regular prayers “for things to happen” are, at their very best, an exercise in the open acknowledgment of their desires and aims in life, and their attempts to properly align them with what they perceive as God’s will. The expectation that prayer is a “bonus” sort of thing that increases one’s luck over the course of a lifetime does not even have a basis in faith, let alone reality. So yes, you’re right.

    It is not a recent discovery that praying for a mountain to throw itself into the sea is not efficacious. For some reason this fact did not affect the people who originally heard and accepted such statements, though it affects people today.

    I think that the existence of God as a “difference in the universe” is really a disguised category mistake (that is, it assumes that there are realities “with,” or “without,” God, whereas only one of these two is a real possibility). It is a helpful question; however, I think it is better phrased as a question of why an individual person believes in God. Such belief doesn’t change the facts. From the individual’s perspective, the inclusion or removal of God from the world does make a noticeable difference, because it changes the interpretation of the facts.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for the reply. Not much to add except that it would be wonderful to have a time machine set to around 0 AD 🙂

    On that note, I do wonder about your statement here:

    For some reason this fact did not affect the people who originally heard and accepted such statements, though it affects people today.

    Sure, we have no reports of anyone in gospelian times actually trying to move a mountain… but we have individuals healed by shadows and garments of apostles. Also, provided that god knew the bible would serve as the eternal handbook, it would have been fantastic for a high ranking early church member like Peter or Paul to document his reaction to an unanswered prayer. To my knowledge, we have no such documentation — no failed healing or revival of the dead… only successful ones.

    So, on one hand you’re correct. No one cried foul back then about mountains and such. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like the plethora of encouragement today of “Just keep trusting in the lord, he knows best” has any mirrored form in the just-post-Jesus era. If the scriptures are documenting the attitude and behavior of that time, there is no evidence of such a form of expectant-faith-but-with-trust-even-if-nothing-happens.

    Re. your last statement… I suppose you are correct if we assume that god’s existence will only be ambiguously known. I guess it is my stab at trying to stop it from being ambiguous as I find that horribly unsatisfying. I’d prefer to know with certainty the answer to the most important question(s) in the world. You do also assume (but given your worldview, it’s to be expected) that there is no world possible without god. I disagree, not to assert an alternative explanation but only to say that no one has any idea at present, regardless of what being or theory they currently hypothesize, how to explain existence.

  4. That would certainly solve (or create, depending on how you look at it) a lot of problems, wouldn’t it…

    I agree. My conclusion is that the attitudes found today are, at best, in poor alignment with the original attitudes of the church, and at worst, totally in error.

    I didn’t mean to say that there is no world possible without God–only that whatever the case may be, the alternative is necessarily unreal and incoherent. My point was primarily to assert that these “alternatives” we discuss are necessarily false paradigms, whether we know it or not. I think this is absolutely true. My conclusion (and perhaps I am wrong about this) is that we ought not to talk about this issue in terms of a “difference” in the universe, although it is perhaps permissible to make observations that point in either direction. A Christian response would surely require a mention of Jesus, on the “difference in the universe” point.

    In the span of one paragraph, you’ve expressed a desire for certainty about the most important questions in the world, and capped it off by acknowledging that we have none. Unfortunately, the question is not if there will be horrible dissatisfaction… but how.

  5. Very good points and thanks again for the thoughts.

    Unfortunately, the question is not if there will be horrible dissatisfaction… but how.

    Love it!

  6. You’re absolutely right :

    Unfortunately, the question is not if there will be horrible dissatisfaction… but how.

    Now if someone could just avail me as to why prayers for things that you know from God’s word would be his will go completely unanswered, or the answer is no that’d be a big help.

    Don’t get me wrong I’ve been as guilty as the next for asking in prayer selfishly, but more times than not I’ve prayed for the very things that He told us in His word to pray for…and nothing…crickets chirping.

    I totally get what you said on the other post about not needing to explain why He stays “hidden”. But you would think with the admonition of “seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given” that He would desire to be found when one is earnestly seeking. I’m not talking about coming down from heaven so I can see Him. I just would like to somehow KNOW He’s there.

  7. Hello,

    Unfortunately I don’t have any helpful responses to that. The inability to find anything upon seeking is a fair argument against the possibility that he is there. On the other hand, it is hard to quantify those kinds of things.

    By staying that one “doesn’t need to explain” why God is not plainly visible, I was primarily defending someone’s right to believe without “evidence.” But that’s assuming the person already believes. The issue of not being able to believe God exists in the first place is rather separate. My only point in writing that most recent response was that we don’t appear to be able to know anything at all (rather, anything deeply helpful) with the kind of certainty that we would like. Perhaps need. This is an important starting point for anyone, when it comes to (almost) anything.

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