Russell and Duenes

How Do You Reconcile the Death of a Nine-Year-Old with a Merciful and Loving God?

with 6 comments

One of my faithful commentor’s asked the following question, and rather than answer it in the comments section, I thought I’d put my answer out here. He writes,

Recently, a family that lives near me (I do know know them, but I know people who do) was traveling on Christmas day to visit grandma. As they drove, a tree fell on the car, killing a popular and much-liked 9-year-old girl, and breaking the back of the father. (He seems to be recovering somewhat.)

My question was: as a religious believer, how do you reconcile this “Act of God” (to use the legal term) with the idea of a merciful and loving God?

Let me begin by noting that the man who asks this question is an avowed atheist. So, let us begin by taking his atheism as true and think of the question first from that standpoint.

There is no God, and so human beings, like everything else in this universe, are just conglomerations of chemicals and compounds who have no souls, no reason for existing, no purpose,  and no eternal destinies. Also, concepts such as “mercy” and “love” are absolutely meaningless because mere mixtures of chemicals do not, by definition, show mercy, love, or anything else. They merely react, much like a giant bottle of Mountain Dew when one shakes it up. Further, there is no suffering because chemical compounds do not suffer, and so because there is no God, what we call “feeling bad at the death of someone” is not really that. Rather, it is really just certain molecular reactions happening because certain temperatures and conditions happened to come about and some synapses started firing in the brain, which leads to chemicals being released and…it’s all very scientific.

But wait, all this means that on atheistic grounds, no one has any right to feel bad about anything. There’s no cosmic justice in front of us, no one who is going to set wrongs right. There are no wrongs to be set right; there is just brute chemical reductionism, and then we turn to fertilizer to be eaten by worms. That is what atheism means. So there is really is no problem, given this worldview. The girl was a chemical composition that, as Darwin put it, came into existence purely by random mutations and accidental processes, and so her chemical composition simply changed after nine years (actually, the nine year old, given atheism, wasn’t the same person she was 7 years earlier because every person’s physical body has entirely new cells every 7 years or so) and she did what we’re all destined to do, without any purpose or explanation for it all. As Douglas Wilson has said, “There is no soundtrack to consistent atheism. No swelling violins in the background but rather stark, everlasting silence.” So that’s the first part of my answer.

Now of course, God is there, so whereas the consistent atheist can have no problem with nine-year-olds dying (but many inconsistent atheists, unwilling to come to terms with their atheism, do), I find myself having to wrestle with how a loving and merciful God can not only allow nine-year-old’s to die, but indeed, bring about their deaths.

Suffice it to say that whole books have been written on this topic, and I find my time and space limitations here inadequate to address the question, but I’ll do my best. One should speak with fear and trembling when purporting to give any indication of the mind of God on such matters, but I find the best and most humble guide is to go with what God has revealed.

So my first thought about how a loving and merciful God could allow such a tragedy to occur is to turn it around and ask a different question: How come the nine-year old, and everyone else, received so much mercy and love from a holy God against whom she, and everyone else, is in high rebellion? In other words, the original question starts from the wrong place. Life is a gift, which God is under no obligation to give. Not only is life a gift, but the parents, food, clothing, shelter, love, and care that sustain our lives are likewise all great and precious gifts. And they are gifts from a God that the Bible says is a holy, righteous, and awesome God who is without stain or sin. Why is God so merciful to me…and to the nine-year-old?

My second thought is: Why does anyone, particularly nine-year-0lds, die in the first place? From whence comes death? God says that death is the “wages” of our sin and rebellion against him. When the man and woman sinned, they plunged the entire creation into darkness, destruction, and death. This is what we have wrought. The blame cannot be laid at God’s feet. God is gracious and merciful and provided for every conceivable human need and desire, yet man sought to be as God, to arrogate to himself what he would and would not do; as such, he brought ruin and judgment. Yet even in judgment, God is loving and merciful. God opens his hand to all living things, God “sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” God “causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust.” But death comes to us all because that is the penalty for violating God’s law and for treating God as though he were a mere trifle. We wonder sometimes why there is so much suffering, degradation, squalor, and death in our world. We are rightly horrified by it, because it was not meant to be like this. Sin is not the condition in which God made man to live, and yet we chose it.

Finally (at least for this post), God has not visited anything on us that he has not undergone himself. I suppose God could have looked down on us in our rebellion, sin, and death, and pronounced final and inexorable judgment. But no! God indeed came down here himself, became a man, laid aside his divine privileges, and willingly endured the tortures of death by Roman crucifixion. This is love. This is mercy. This is justice. This is where hope is found. This means that there is the possibility of eternal life beyond the grave. God laid upon Christ, the God-man, the punishment for our rebellion, and in so doing, brought redemption for all who bank their hope upon him. That is the hope I have for that nine-year-old, and many others like her. God is loving and merciful because “he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.” “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” All things are made new in Christ, and so death no longer has the victory. God saw what sin had done to us, and he allowed himself to suffer the wages of that sin – death – only to rise three days later and victory over sin and death. And he promises this resurrection life to all those who put their confidence in him.

So this is how I reconcile a loving and merciful God with the present reality of death. Death is indeed a great enemy, and we rightly fear it and loathe it. And if there is no God, then none of it has any meaning. But through the humble submission of Jesus Christ to His Father’s will, the grave has been conquered, and God’s love is eternally available to you, and me, and all who will call upon Him.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

January 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

6 Responses

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  1. I’ve become weary of the words “agnostic,” and “atheist,” but as far as I can see there is no worthwhile and serious evidence for the existence of the being known as “God.” As far as I can tell, you genuinely believe God exists. This is an irreconcilable difference between us that no amount of discussion bridges.

    I will, however, indicate that we share quite a few (if not all) values about what is ethical behavior. That is, neither of us believes in or engages in murder, assault, theft, and similar activities.

    Probably about 95% of human beings are not sociopaths, people without empathy (the capacity to imagine and share the feelings of others.) Empathy is probably the foundation for what we think of as ethical and altruistic behavior. It is only a foundation, not the actual reason for good behavior. That is, empathy is a capacity, something like swimming. Most of us have the capacity to swim, but without some training, practice, and experience, we cannot swim. Some will prove to be better swimmers than others.

    The capacity for empathy is probably genetic at base, but social conditioning by our culture is required to enhance it. Social conditioning by our culture can destroy or undermine it. In our culture (2012 United States) most people (religious or not) behave reasonably well. However, some behave very badly.

    Most small children exhibit from a very young age both selfish and unpleasant tendencies (grabbing toys away from other children) and empathic and caring behavior. The empathic behavior requires more effort and training to get started and established. Most children learn to share toys, share food, and take turns. It’s not easy to establish this behavior in a child, but it is not (in most cases) nightmarishly impossible, and most children after a bit begin to feel good about engaging in such “good” behavior.

    Religious belief and training is an effective and time-tested method of promoting and enhancing empathic behavior, but people of religious beliefs other than Christianity and many atheists also raise children with empathic and altruistic values and behavior.

    At the same time, members of every major religious belief have engaged in violent and destructive behavior. We don’t really know with certainty the details of the beginning of Christianity (in my opinion, as this is one of the areas where we differ strenuously). My guess is that in the early years of the religion, Christians were mostly loving, kind, and peaceful (regardless of whether Jesus actually existed). My guess is that he did. My guess is that he was not born of a virgin and did not rise from the dead, and was not the “Son of God.” Again, this is all in the area where we differ strenuously.

    As time went on, Christianity gained some power and became somewhat corrupted. As this process continued, some (not all) Christians lost most or all of their empathy and engaged in persecutions of variant Christians (“heretics”), Inquisitions, persecutions of “witches” (much worse in England by Protestants than the relatively small-time problems in Salem in America), and so on. Over the last few hundred years, most Christians have reformed themselves (Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants) and now most of Christianity demonstrates values of empathy, kindness, charity, and altruism.

    However, almost all cultures throughout human history have promoted and practiced empathic, altruistic values. Just as individual animals “compete” with each other in the process we call evolution, cultures and civilizations compete with each other. By and large, a culture where everyone acts in a sociopathic way creates problems for itself. There HAVE been sociopathic cultures, ranging from Sparta in the distant past to Nazi German, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China in the recent past, and these cultures at time had disturbing amounts of success, but in the long run (at least so far) they have not triumphed.

    So when you say:

    Further, there is no suffering because chemical compounds do not suffer, and so because there is no God, what we call “feeling bad at the death of someone” is not really that. Rather, it is really just certain molecular reactions happening because certain temperatures and conditions happened to come about and some synapses started firing in the brain, which leads to chemicals being released and…it’s all very scientific.

    I do not react to suffering because I am a random collection of chemical compounds (though I probably am such a creature) but because I evolved to be a creature with empathy and because my parents, my relatives, my teachers and my culture encouraged and developed these capacities.

    Evolution is probably another area in which we have irreconcilable differences. However, all mammals care for their young, indicating one of the ingredients of empathy, and many animals function together as “teams” in flocks and packs and herds. An evangelical Christian once asked me something along the lines of “Why don’t we [humans] just rend each other like wolves?” I regard such a question as typical evangelical naiveté. Wolves don’t rend each other nearly as much as humans rend each other. Male wolves fight each other a bit for mates, all the wolves strive a bit to establish “pecking order” (dominance order) in the pack, and then they get along quite sensibly, using their ferocity to get food as carnivores. Wolves don’t organize themselves into armies and fight wars, telling themselves that God is on their side.

    modestypress

    January 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm

  2. You also say:

    God says that death is the “wages” of our sin and rebellion against him. When the man and woman sinned, they plunged the entire creation into darkness, destruction, and death. This is what we have wrought. The blame cannot be laid at God’s feet. God is gracious and merciful and provided for every conceivable human need and desire, yet man sought to be as God, to arrogate to himself what he would and would not do; as such, he brought ruin and judgment. Yet even in judgment, God is loving and merciful. God opens his hand to all living things, God “sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” God “causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust.” But death comes to us all because that is the penalty for violating God’s law and for treating God as though he were a mere trifle

    First of all, this (like the pea under the shell) is the hidden assumption that God exists. Along with this is the assumption that because of one event (almost certainly mythical), the disobedience of Adam and Eve, all humans are guilty and must be punished forever and ever through all generations. I find this both unbelievable and offensive.

    There’s a pungent expression, “Follow the money.” (originally uttered in the movie All the President’s Men about the downfall of Richard Nixon. It means, I think, what is the payoff when something fishy is going on?

    In evangelical Christianity, there is a huge emphasis on OBEDIENCE. We must obey God. Now, in my opinion, God does not exist. In my opinion, the Bible is not the “Word of God.” The Bible is a collection of beliefs and tales written and a revised and edited thousands of years ago, when the standards of evidence and research and “fact checking” were not what they are today (and they are still shaky).

    So if we do not know what God wants, WHO do we obey? Why, of course, the people (mostly male) who claim to know and interpret and explain what God wants. That’s the payoff to follow. To obey God, obey the leaders who claim to represent and interpret him. Why have there been so many religious wars over the centuries? Why does Protestantism have so many Denominations, not to mention the ones such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (which are kind of gentle Protestant heresies)? Well, lots of people want the power, and until God writes his intentions in the sky with fingers of flame, religious leaders (and atheist leaders) are left scrabbling for piece of the power pie.

    modestypress

    January 31, 2012 at 8:22 pm

  3. I happened to come across your blog when searching for some info and references… I found your writing and discussions interesting, and read many entries.
    Then I wondered why you decided to go to law school?
    What is it you expect to learn and do with it?
    What knowledge can it provide to you?
    What type of law do you expect to learn and make use of?
    If as a BAR licensed/registered professional lawyer, how will you as a man, be able to help, serve, or do anything for a man or woman with the knowledge you will possess?
    Will you be at liberty to share all your knowledge with everyone?
    Will you ask the hard questions of your teachers, and do you expect to receive the truthful answers?
    What is the position of a lawyer in the world and how do they stand?
    What is the difference between a legal retainer and a contract for legal/law services?
    Who and what can and does administrative law deal with?
    Why is this important?
    Who can speak and be heard in court?
    What is the foundation of all man’s creations of law?
    What is the meaning of and differences between legal, law, code, regulation, statute, registration, and on and on…
    What type of court can interact with common, equity, and ecclessiastcal law?
    Why would this be an important issue?
    When you finish Law School, will you have the full understanding of Usufruct and Usufructuary? And how it relates to the interaction of you, the world, and your relationship with Jesus the Christ?
    What is the origin, history, and meaning of words used in legal/law?
    In what does a man trust?

    Luke 11:45-47

    King James Version (KJV)

    45Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.

    46And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.

    47Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.

    Luke 11:51-52

    King James Version (KJV)

    51From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.

    52Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

    ***********************************************************************************

    And to comment on the subject of your subject post:
    A friend’s 13 year old son unexpectedly died a few weeks ago…
    http://www.4shared.com/mp3/IH6S1NnT/mem-serv.html

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    danofthedust
    You have my consent to communicate by private email

    Thank you!

    dan dust

    February 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    • Dan,

      It’s seems there’s an unasked question lurking here about Christians being lawyers in general. So maybe you can ask THE question beneath your questions. Your questions strike me as being of the “have you stopped beating your wife” variety, so I admit that I’m wondering what your agenda is in peppering me with the kinds of questions you have. Perhaps you can enlighten me. But if you are insinuating that Christians cannot be lawyers and be faithful to Christ at the same time, I’m not terribly interested in having a dialogue about it. My convictions are quite settled on the matter.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      February 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      • You have asked a good question…
        How will one be faithful as a “lawyer”?
        Why should such a question even be asked?
        You will become the Gatekeeper of Knowledge…most of which is never shared or known…by intention.

        But the few questions were actually basic ones, which should be easy to find the answers to when in Law School.
        If so, then how do the answers match to your faith, convictions, or presumptions?
        If not, then the question should be, why not and what is the meaning?
        I am simply curious…
        It is difficult to get lawyers, etc. to share or communicate their knowledge.
        Someone in Law School has the opportunity to gain special insight and is not yet limited!

        dan dust

        February 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm

  4. Also, what is the origin, history, meanings of the word, “con-vic-tion”?
    Deconstruct the word…

    And I have worked as a professional litigation consultant….
    Curiousity arose when you stated you wanted to do the same with the Law as you had done with Theology….
    Exactly what did that mean?
    The way Jesus the Christ taught is not theology, religion, law, etc… which is where so much confusion develops…
    But it is about living Law… love, giving, peace, creation, good…
    Whereas, man’s law is about war…

    Thanks for the reply

    dan dust

    February 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm


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