Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Giving up on God

I found this article in The Guardian and posted a comment on it. The link to the article and my comment are here:

Article: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/25/ebola-africans-die-god-american-doctor?

Comment (appearing on Page 8 of the comments section):

I think this is an important question to ask. Is Dr. Brantly justified in thanking God, when many others are dying of the same disease, some even after receiving the medicine that Dr. Brantly did? I think the answer, unfortunately for most people, is not and cannot be simple. We have all heard the reasons that believers tend to give: that God has a better plan for everyone that we cannot see, that man, not God, is responsible for these deaths, because of our callousness towards those in need, that God’s purpose in suffering is to save or strengthen souls.

While these explanation serve to strengthen faith in believers, people who ask questions like the one Ms. Hanson asks are not looking for these answers. For each question there is a context, and Ms. Hanson shares hers: the inability to relate to God as being transcendent from physicality (this is significant, and not puerile- as a transcendent God could be misunderstood to be absent or uncaring), the lack of divine retribution for offenders (or as a corollary, sorrow and pain for many devout), a view of the faithful as being intellectually impoverished and as peddling God. These do not cover the range of reasons as to why people disbelieve, but they are some that are mentioned in the article.

It is important to realize that God’s goodness does not necessarily equate to principles we have derived, say from nation-building or economic efficacy. Therefore it does not translate to pleasant lives for all- or for that matter, even pleasant deaths; or equal economic status or rights. This is not to say that such things are not good- but our judgment of God is not based on whether several thousand die of Ebola, is it? Isn’t it based on the question why even one person has to die at all- of Ebola or anything else? Or in other words, isn’t it based on why there is any suffering at all?

Works by people like Dr. Paul Farmer show us how in history human beings have created systems that have killed others. Poverty has not appeared in a vacuum. It has been even intentionally created and perpetuated by people. In his book, Infections and Inequalities, he demonstrates how diseases like AIDS, Ebola and TB, as well as natural disasters strike and kill the poor disproportionately. The 2010 Haiti earthquake cost the country its entire GDP, and 250,000 people died, while millions were injured or displaced. Earthquakes do not kill many people directly, falling buildings do. We have the technology to prevent these building collapses, and they have been proven only recently in California, how even with a moment magnitude of 6.0 no lives were lost though there was financial damage- a mere $2 Billion as one newspaper estimated.

People looking for a simple answer to God’s workings are not likely to get it, because such people are not asking real questions. For example, you could ask me: “If God exists, what does his toenail look like?”- as Ms. Hanson asks in the article, clearly in a facetious manner, but the point is well taken. That question is not so much a question as it is rhetoric. Ms. Hanson clearly gave up on God much before she says she did. The question to ask, then, is this: “My heart and mind are looking for meaning, in my life and in the lives of others. When people die of horrific circumstances in the millions, I fear that there is no meaning. Is there meaning anywhere” The search for God is a sincere search for meaning.

I would like to tell you that there is indeed meaning, and it is people like Dr. Brantly, Dr. Farmer, Dr. Gary Haugen and several others who follow God’s call to serve those who are victimized, who find it. Many others do as well, even without such sacrifices. It is not my place to judge them. They are content with the answers they have been given. Each of us must seek God from our own vantage points.

If the history of our struggle against suffering could be juxtaposed against our agonizing questions, we find that God has indeed intervened on our behalf. We claim science has delivered Dr. Brantly, and not God. Dr. Farmer’s research, as that of many others, shows that pills alone don’t make anyone well. The heart of God makes ways to reach each of us, despite our active campaigns against it. “Giving up on God, ever” is a statement that reveals intent, not conclusion. I pray that you will continue your search.

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