Reddit Queries 1

I'm going to try something a little different here. The New Testament series is ongoing, but I'd like to vary what I'm writing about a little bit. I also want to broaden the perspectives I'm exposed to so that my spiritual life isn't totally in a vacuum. So it is that we have a new series.

Introduction

I often lurk on reddit's main Christianity sub, but am self-conscious about participating much. Usually I wouldn't be able to add anything, and also I recognize that I wouldn't be coming at something from an actually-Christian perspective. (I prefer to to think of myself as Christian-adjacent.) In addition, I worry that having some knowledge of Greek could add credibility that I don't actually deserve. When I do post, I usually spend half my time adding disclaimers. While the sub itself has been nothing but welcoming, I will just feel more comfortable and more willing to be honest if I'm posting here (which was why I started this blog to begin with). There's also a broader issue of wanting to maintain this blog for me and not because I'm trying to teach or proselytize; if I don't get something out of it I won't stick with it. Plus I can be more honest when I'm simply trying to get my own thoughts organized than I would be trying to write for a broader audience.

Still, as I said, I am interested in expanding my thinking beyond the more theoretical. I want to start thinking more about practical application of my own spiritual life. There's no reason there should be a divider between thinking about God and what I do day-to-day, and someone asking for advice on a practical matter will be a good way to address this. Plus there's the simple wisdom of the crowd: there are bound to be questions I haven't through of!

The plan is to look through recent questions people have asked on the sub and give my own responses here as if the person had come to me specifically. So sometimes I may dispute the premise of the question itself, but that'll just depend. That said, my goal is that someone could see their question here and not be hurt by my answer, even if they may be challenged by it.

I'm not going to link to the threads themselves (or name the user who asked the question), and my own answers may very well match something in the comments. If someone else answers in a way I like, I might very well steal the idea (probably without attribution), but will at least try to add my own spin. Sure, you can doubtless find the original thread if you really want to, but I don't think that's especially important one way or the other.

I'm calling them queries in homage to my Quaker background, since Quakers frequently use queries as a way to prompt self-reflection and growth.

On to the show!

Q: Why does God expect us to search for him?

There are actually a couple questions or thoughts in this one.

There are people that have made it their life mission to search for God. To search for truth. Some have even hurt themselves to draw closer to God. There are so many conflicting voices suggesting that their path is the right path. We have thousands of religions. We have thousands of Christian denominations. They can't all be right. Many contradict each other.

It would seem to me that a loving God could make it readily clear what the right path is if he revealed himself. I am at a loss for why it has to be this hard.

It is true that there are lots of religions and subgroupings within them. But I don't see this as evidence of God's absence, or him somehow failing us.

For one, I'm not sure I accept the premise that “[t]hey can't all be right.” There's an analogy that I've found helpful for this.

Imagine we have a cube sitting in some field. Each of the cube's faces is hundreds of miles long, and it's oriented with the cardinal directions, meaning that one face is pointed due north, one due west, etc. Now imagine you and I are standing at different places relative to it. You're at 6 o'clock, say, and so you can only see this flat surface. But I'm at about 10:30, or due NW. This means that I see one of the corners. If we were to call each other on a cell phone, we'd describe what would seem like very different objects, and the other's descriptions would be completely inconsistent with what our own senses were telling us. So it would be easy to say that the other person was wrong, or that the descriptions were contradictory.

But the reality in this scenario is that the descriptions are simply incomplete. Whether God is truly infinite isn't really an important question to me, but my experience is that he is certainly far beyond us in any way that matters. This means that no human model is going to encompass him fully. So just as with our cube, we can be looking at different facets of the same thing and see something wildly different. I also think that there's another message there, which is that we can get a better (but still not complete!) picture the more viewpoints we get.

I have prayed to Jehovah many, many times with one request. Help me to find the path that honors you. How can I at such a young age really know what the right path is? I am surrounded by conflicting messages.

This is a good prayer. I think the answer is to listen, but don't expect a literal voice to just come down and say “this is the purpose of your life” or “this is the path I want you to be on.” But just as none of us can fully conceptualize God, we're not going to be able to fully understand what it is he's telling us. Any divine message has to be condensed down into something that will fit within the bounds of this world, which means fidelity is lost. When we search for something, we need a filter to distinguish the thing we're looking for from everything else. But if that filter is too narrow or two specific, we can go right past what we actually need. After all, if the whole point is that we don't know what message God is trying to give us, how can we then presume to know what form it will take? Sometimes you have to get your brain out of the way.

I also don't believe that anyone else can tell you specifically how to get there. Other people can fill in some of the gaps from their own experiences, as that's ultimately what communication is about. But no one can tell you what it's like to be you.

In addition to his absence, God allows Satan to have authority in the world? So, you've left your children with an abusive parent? Why would you be shocked if you return to see the child has become like the parent?

This is an excellent question. It's often referred to as theodicy or the Problem of Evil: why does a loving God allow bad things to happen.

My question is: why do you? (To be clear, I don't consider myself exempt from this question.)

The first thing, though, is to be clear on what this question means. It can often be couched as a reason to disbelieve in God's existence, which doesn't really make sense if you think about it. Just because he does things we think are wrong isn't then proof that he doesn't exist. Now, it may be sufficient reason for someone not to worship him or want him to be a part of his or her life, and I think that's a reasonable position to take.

Ultimately, I don't know the answer to this. Maybe it does all stem from free will, and that's certainly the most cogent argument I've found. There's something to the idea that a good deed is meaningless if it wasn't possible to do anything else. Maybe God is flawed, and goofed a little during the creation of the universe (and of us). Maybe the Gnostics have it right, and our universe was created by an imperfect or even evil being. Remember, the mainstream Christian view of how the universe is put together and God's place within it is far from the only one, and even then was something debated for centuries.

How can God exercise judgement over people that were never given a fair chance to start in a corrupted world?

I don't think that he does, at least not in the sense of “condemnation.” This is actually a big part of why I'm a universalist.

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