Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why worship God?

I invite you to listen to Stephen Fry on God. It's difficult for a Christian to listen to, but I wonder what your reaction is. Do you want to leap in to defend God, or do you believe that Dr Fry has a point?

Stephen Fry is an intelligent man with a level of sophisticated rhetoric on a par with Christopher Hitchens and clearly no less passion, He is giving a voice to what many people in society think about God. We always come back to the problem of Evil.

It is the Atheist J.L. Mackie who tries to put forward the idea that God does not exist because His defining attributes are incompatible.

The argument goes:

1) God is omnipotent, i.e. He can do all that it is logically possible.
2) God is omniscient, i.e. He has a perfect knowledge of Creation.
3) God is omnibenevolent, i.e. God is perfectly good in the morality that He defines.
4) Since God is omnipotent, He can choose not to create Evil.
5) Since God is omniscient, He knows whatever is Evil.
6) Since God is omnibenevolent, He rejects all that is Evil.
7) Since God rejects all evil, knows what Evil is, and can choose not to create it, Evil cannot exist.
8) Evil exists.
9) Therefore God cannot be omnipotent. onmiscient, and omnibenevolent.
10) Therefore God cannot exist.

There are problems with this. First of all, it needs to be proved that it is logically possible for Evil not to exist. If we can talk about Good, the only way that we can ever determine that Good exists is for us to be able to discern it somehow, and we can only do so in contrast with its antithesis in the same way that we can tell what blue is by knowing also what it is not. This is not an answer to whether it is logically impossible for Evil not to exist, but I think it raises a big doubt in the truth of the argument. It's also prudent to remember that since Evil is a privative, i.e. an absence of Good, it is not a thing in itself but an absence of a thing. Thus God does not create Evil: it is only where good is not.

Secondly, the argument contains the assumption that it is not possible for God to allow the existence of Evil for morally justifiable reasons. Given that Christians believe that God offers eternal bliss beyond this life to all who would receive it, it does make it difficult for things such as transient in this life to have a hold on the next. We may suffer now, and suffer horribly, but, if God exists then that suffering can somehow bring about a greater good that surpasses the nature of the misery.

Yet, Dr Fry is giving voice to an emotional reaction to the evil in the world. You can see how he hates the suffering of little children. The same is true of Christopher Hitchens. Both Dr Fry and Mr Hitchens are intensely moral gentlemen: they honestly seek the good of human beings and they are calling out even God for the evil that they see in the world.

This is where much of the West stands at the moment. The simple truth is that secular society does not believe that God is worth worshipping, either because He doesn't exist, or because He's morally reprehensibly capricious, or because He's somehow powerless to intervene, kept alive in a jar like Pullman's Authority.

This is the Christian challenge. We have to show that God is worth the worship.

First, we have to understand what we mean by worship. It means that we give God the top billing in our existence, that we see Him as being worth more than anything else in our lives, including our lives, indeed to the point of laying down our lives. That's a tall order! How on earth can we do this?

Second, the difficult untruth we have to dispel is that God in some way needs us to worship Him. The theological fact that Hell exists does demonstrate that He does not, though again the Church really does struggle in showing the world that God is trying to save people from the Hell that they are creating for themselves. God has given human beings capacity for creation and the freedom to create. It is we who construct Hell for ourselves by rejecting God.

As I grow older, I begin to see that some things that I used to hold to aren't healthy. I am having serious questions about saying the filioque in the creed. I also have significant doubts about an Augustinian view of Original Sin. Brilliant and so beautifully human as he was, St Augustine cannot be allowed to hold the sole ownership of the title of Doctor of Salvation, especially given his view on the souls of unbaptised babies. I have always rejected the (hyper)Calvinist view that our free-will does not play a part in our Salvation: we have to choose to open the gift of Grace that God offers us: we have to choose to walk through the prison door that God opens for us. Yet this dreadfully inhuman view that we are God's puppets to do with as He sees fit is deeply embedded in Western Society. Love does not treat people as puppets, so any god that does is morally reprehensible in the morality that this god defines. Stephen Fry is right: a god that plays fast and loose with his/her own moral character, or is so utterly unconcerned with human suffering is clearly not loving nor lovable.

Thus to modern ears, God is either irrelevant to how we live life, or so morally repugnant as to be avoided.

The trouble is that this does fall down at the cross. Many atheists regard the Christian doctrine of the Cross as a sort of Divine sado-masochism. I'm still trying to work out why they cannot see the cross at the very least as God standing alongside human beings and going through the sheer torture that living life in a fallen world can be. If the Biblical account of God is true, and Christianity believes that it is, the Cross demonstrates that God does so love the world, that there is a Divine desire to pull humanity out of the tyranny of the rejection of goodness and into the warmth of the Divine nature,

Yes, there are (horrible to relate) worms that eat their way out of the eyes of children. Yet, how did those children find themselves in a position for those worms to get there? Is it actually the fault of those whose riches are so great that they force others to sit in the dung heaps where these flies live? Could the reason that people do suffer horribly be always directly or indirectly considered the fault of humanity? Can their suffering be a result of MY pitiless indifference to them when I should be obedient to the will of God and do something to help? If I am God's beloved child, why am I not living up to my Father's example, being obedient to my Father's command, not seeking to promulgate my Father's love? If God has given me free-will and wants me to love Him because He has loved me first, then why do I accept a lifestyle that means that a baby starves to death in Ethiopia?

What is wrong with the world today? With G. K. Chesterton, I cannot but answer "I am".

That's why I need to worship God. He has no need of me whatsoever, but He loves me and I do matter to Him. I need to worship Him because my own involvement in this world without Him leaves behind a legacy of failure, emptiness and suffering. I trust Him to do something about the dying baby, though I weep so much for that child. I trust Him to make all things new, better, right, beautiful, and ultimately to transcend the fallenness of my humanity. I trust Him to envelop each and every human being with love, not just me, so that if we choose we can be lifted out of the depravity we have made and drawn into perfection and love.

The atheist will accuse me of being hopelessly romantic, choosing to worship God out of a fear of misery rather than a regard for His being. However, I see God as being utterly loving, loveable, and lovely. I feel Him walk through my being and know Him to be with me. I can only trust my own experience. Atheists will say that I am deluded, but they also rely on their experience in order to deny God.

What must the Christian do?

We must each of us seek to be an instrument of God's blessing to this world. We must exist as channels of God's grace, doing the little we can and bitterly bewailing that it is only a little. We must then trust God to do the rest and eventually wipe away the tears from the eyes of humanty. We cannot seek to convert people at all, just to bless them, listen to them and bring their cry to God. It may well be that as the most strident critics of God  that both Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry are closer to Him than the leaders of the Church: they are honest in their dealings with Him. We too must be honest in our humility and seek the love of God in all things to the destruction of Evil. We must pray, confess our sins and shortcomings, and bring the love of God to all His Creation.


JD said...

Just curious what made you start to feel uncomfortable about the Filioque? I'm not asking to be deliberately provocative,as the Filioque has always vexed me as well.

David Chislett said...

This is a spectacularly good essay. Thank you, Fr!

Warwickensis said...

Thank you, Fr Chislett for your kind words. God is good, and I know He has blessed you with fine words too.

JD, good question, and one that I don't yet possess the language for, though I am still trying. There is an inconsistency in subscribing to the Book of Common Prayer as the standard of liturgy that has the Filioque, and subscribing to the doctrine of the Seven Oecumenical Councils where it is not present. Until the ACC has a Holy Synod where the Book of Common Prayer can be amended, this inconsistency will continue to cause a headache. I know I am not alone. I need to think more about this, but I do worry that perhaps I do too much philosophy when rather I should just kneel down and adore. To everything there is a season, I suppose.

JD said...

Father,that's a good point regarding the Book of Common Prayer and the Seven Councils. What has swayed me the most against it is precisely that one must always justify the Filioque with lots of philosophy but without it one just has to pray the nicene creed as it was originally. No muss,no fuss as the saying goes. Of course there's more to it than that, but for me it's been more about returning to simplicity in prayer.

At any rate,keep writing,you have a great blog.