the mudpond

It's good to let things breathe in your imagination because often your initial response to it is not the best thought-through response. I savour little glimpses of life. Mine and those of people who turn me sideways and around. Friend or stranger. Even a child. (the world looks different from down there) Sometimes an author, photographer, artist. I let things saturate and incubate here. Hopefully, deeper meanings can percolate up and flower.

Name:
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A stray cat.

10/09/2005

Where is God?

It’s been barely a year since the deadliest undersea earthquake of the century sparked a killer tsunami that took 220,000 lives in Asia. Just over a month since Hurricane Katrina claimed over a thousand lives in Amercia. Now as then, at a loss to explain the massive losses in human lives and property, the oft-asked question is:

Where is God?

As the quake death toll in India and Pakistan speeds past 2,000, a poor villager grieving the loss of his 14-year-old daughter spoke of God’s wrath:

"When the earthquake came it was like Judgment Day,"

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune said the death toll in Pakiston may be speeding up to 30,000.

Like latter-day Jobs bewailing our fates, we ask and ask, as we have asked of the Holocaust, of the African genocides, of Darfur, of 9-11, of the blasts in Bali and London and Bali again... Is there a God?

In grief and suffering, anyone’s faith will be tested. I can only guess at the anger and pain that the bereaved feel. Who can blame any one of them for directing it like a guided missile at the very foundation of whatever beliefs they have.

Why did this happen to those poor folk, most of whom, whose lives surely, were already miserable enough?

Disaster understandably causes people to doubt the existence of God.

But tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, cannot, in reason, have any possible bearing, by itself, on the question of whether or not there is a God. It cannot amount to a revelation, or even a confirmation, that God does not exist.

Still, we ask:
Why would God allow such suffering?

A perfectly legitimate question.

There is an uniquely belief-undermining quality about natural disasters on the scale recently seen. But why on earth should that be so? We know all too well that undeserved pain, injury, disease, and loss of life are daily facts of life for hundreds of millions of people on the planet. Indeed, presumably in the course of human history, billions of people, rich and poor, weak and strong, have suffered and died from causes not of their own making but as a result of a terrible accident.

Natural disasters seem especially faith-threatening. Partly because of their scale. Partly because for most of the first few thousand centuries of human history, such events were ascribed to some divine force.

As if, somewhere in our genes, there is a tendency to take a little too literally the insurance company terminology that even lightning is an“act of God”.

Human beings have always told stories to explain natural disasters. Most cultures have deep at their core a flood myth in which the great bulk of humanity is destroyed and a few are left to repopulate and repurify the human race. In most of these stories, God is meting out retribution, punishing those who have strayed from his path. The devastation starts a new history, which will be on a higher plane than the old.

I find such explanations repugnant. It is repugnant to imply that the people who suffer from natural disasters somehow deserve their fate.

Tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes. Tragic and horrific as they are, they are simply irrelevant, or at least supernumerary, to the question of whether a benign God exists.

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23 Comments:

Blogger Calentropus said...

It is a fact of existence that horrid things happen to people (and other living things), which have nothing to do with whether they are good or bad. Hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. All these take their toll regardless.

On this basis alone, it is evident that the notion that "God looks after the individual", cannot be correct. The evidence literally points to the contrary.

It is therefore clear, that we have notions of God which are not entirely correct. I think, our notions of the creator are more based on selfish instincts than truth.

Most people who believe in God, believe that they will be rewarded if they do good, that the bad will be punished, and that all the pain and suffering of life will be justified in the end. What is all this, but selfish human wishes?

I think, God's plans (very simplistic, I know), extend way beyond justice to the individual, and more likely than not, considers the existence of a much much larger holistic entity, of which we are but a small part of.

Justice and welfare of the individual? I doubt it. Else people would not get obliterated for no reason other than for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Lucia Lai said...

whenver i heard of such tragedies happenning, while saying a silent prayer for the victims (and family of victims), i also said a silent prayer for myself that how fortunate i am to be living in malaysia, where we are free of natural disasters.

how many times have you heard this - i will put it in my simple english, not ala wits0 greek style :)

"when something bad happens, you blame god, but when something good happens, you forgot to thank god."

talking about 'why does god allows suffering', it sound like a book i had read a long time ago. or maybe it was 'why does suffering has to happen.'

i also read a book by someone who suffered a most horrific means during his imprisonment at the nazi conentration camp, and like to quote this from his book: "for life to have meaning, there must be suffering."

12:21 AM  
Blogger Spot said...

I am an agnostic. I can readily accept that there may be pantheons of gods or perhaps one universal omnipotent being. But I don't quite care, either way.

What I am firmly convinced of, is that there is no omnipotent Good or Bad god. There is always an equilibrium btwn the two concepts.

Privately, whilst I see no need to blame any particular god for natural disasters and especially, child abuse, the very existence of such events is proof enough for me that there is no true omnipotent Good god.

The reason why christianity takes the brunt of criticism is because far too many go around stressing on how "God is Great, God loves everyone, God is Good and All-Powerful (as opposed to benign)".

That's just an invitation for non-believers to expect you to put your money where your mouth is, when push comes to shove.

Which is why I can't agree that the question of "where is god" (in a christian context) is irrelevant to whether or not an omnipotent Good god exists.

I do realise you said benign, but I do think that's not the basis that the critics are going on.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

U guys must've forgotten that MWT Wong who used to quote, "You create your own reality", quoting the Seth of Jane Roberts.

In many ways I agree with that statement.

Spot : "I think, God's plans (very simplistic, I know), extend way beyond justice to the individual, and more likely than not, considers the existence of a much much larger holistic entity, of which we are but a small part of."

Right Spot. Don't call yourself Agnostic. It is unnecessary. Too many non thinkers already call themselves agnostic or freethinkers for convenience. You have depth.

God is a Concept with variable meaning/depth according to the the one who creates/holds that conceptual belief. He(It) is definitely not a partisan One(since we're in God's language and symbolism). He simply cannot be a partisan one under any circumstances.

Percolator, the question of deservingness or not is something far more elaborately involved.

If you keep perceiving yourself as an owned vehicle (even of God) rather than an independent self involved in the creation of events, individually and en masse(unconciously), there is no rationality deriveable from the usual conventional doctrinal faith.

If you believe in just one lifetime, one earth, one dimension for sentient existence, you won't be able to resolve the reality.

Yes, if you believe that time is greater than God - that he needs to await the passing of time to effect a judgement day. Neither can U ever determine such a question as the beginning of existence.

If you believe in a single lifetime of experience in such a constricted and linear way, you'll never understand the greater meaning of "deservingness" wrought by unconcious free choice.

Yes, though U regard all these as Greek, no matter. Just consider how much abstract flexibility is clearly necessary to understand a little bit more about the Reality of Existence. U need to percolate by a different stroke, breaking some conventional bonds of tired doctrinal Faith alone. A quantum leapt in thinking and understanding has to take place and it always start at the individual level first and foremost....some knowledge has to be unlearnt before the real one can enter(some). :D

Percolator, can it be possible to imagine that victims unconciously chose the events, individually and en masse within the drama for good reasons within the greater Reality of this particular sphere of existence? We just don't live just once and then move on to hades or Heaven.

~wits0~

4:39 PM  
Blogger percolator said...

There are generally three responses (tell me if you know more) to innocent suffering:
1) the atheistic response: Since suffering exists and is incompatible with a good, powerful God, God does not exist.

2) Since God is good and powerful, those who suffer must have done something wrong to deserve it (either in their current lives or past lives, or perhaps through the taint of original sin). Okay, it is true that some people's behaviour brings suffering to themselves. But unless you believe in sins from past lives, suffering visited on the innocent, say, infants, does not square with our sense of justice.

3) God is good and powerful, and there must be a purpose to suffering, but we can't see it because of our finite human comprehension. What's important is how we respond to the pain and make something out of it.

Obviously my inclination is towards the third. Yes, it does begs the question of why anyone would want to cling on to a belief in God when it appears irreconcilable with the fact of suffering.

My answer is simple and non-rational: I believe because I need to, because the implications of living in an amoral world of meaningless suffering are too horrendous for me. At an experiential level, I also believe because I see God in my daily life.

Faith can never be circumscribed by logic. And so millions hold on to what Karl Marx considered an opiate and Buddhism considers an illusion - the idea of a supreme spiritual Being who loves, consoles and redeems.

For me, the starting point is that God is. And God is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere). But I'll admit I'm not so sure about omnipotence (all-powerful).

My context (to uncertainty about omnipotence) is this: There are at least two limitations to God's power and they explain why suffering takes place. The first is free will, and the second is the set of natural laws he has set in place. God's will ends where our free will begins.

God can do anything - except force a free human being to believe in him, or stop man from doing what he wants. So you have the Holocaust, murders, abuse of innocent children by their own parents, and a host of other truly evil deeds - because man chose to exercise his free will to do evil.

The second limitation to God's power is natural laws. God could conceivably turn water into wine, raise the dead. When he does, which is seldom, it's called a miracle.
Most of the time, God allows things to happen in accordance with the laws of Nature. So tectonic plates shift in a geological shrug and there is catstrophic loss and damage.

Is God then a bystander watching from afar when his natural laws wreak havoc on man?

Christian theology teaches that God is here, with the suffering. The story of Jesus is precisely that: of the divine Being made incarnate, who suffered with man, for man. Even unto experiencing dereliction, abandonment - Godforsaken-ness.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Spot said...

witso: You've misattributed the first commentator's quote to me. :)

percolator: I don't know what the label for my response to innocent suffering is; it borders on a kind of apathy. There's beauty, there's ugliness, there's good, there's bad. It just IS, for me.

Fyi, I've tried reading "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis...phew...too much for my poor brain!

Your explanation of the two limitations sounds logical, reasonable. BUT. Limitations are inconsistent with omnipotence. Therein lies the major problem I have with Christianity.

The absolving of God's omnipotence and thence credibility as an Omnipotent Good and Just god, by shifting the onus onto Man's free will totally ignores the innocent third party, the victim. It's effectively saying to the victim of child abuse that "Sorry kiddo, you're on your own. This guy who's raping you? He's got free will, so I can't stop him. Bad shit happens, but hey, I love you, so that makes it all better".

If the premise was that there is a god, but an impartial one, I'd have no problems accepting the fact of evil and suffering in the world. Which is why I'm happily an agnostic.

That said, my position when it comes to religion, is exactly as you've said it...faith cannot be circumscribed by logic. The two co-exist on parallel courses. There is therefore absolutely no point in debating religion from a logical premise.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Percolator, I can conceive of how you view any other 'foreign' viewpoints wrt faith, your faith, as a potential threat of dilution for your instituted Faith and its mainstream doctrinal flow.

"BUT. Limitations are inconsistent with omnipotence. Therein lies the major problem I have with Christianity."

Haha, isn't it?! But when all is said and at the end of the day, Christianity does not tell certain of its members to wage holely to slay unbelievers in its book. The fierce verses are much less, it's recent history has departed largely from belicosity.

You rest on Faith and feel incapable of more advancement ; yet you see God everyday! :p Give my best regards. Tell Him I don't mind loving Him but also tell Him not to expect both Love an Fear showered upon Him. You cannot love and fear simultaneously! I do feel that where there's fear, there cannot exist love.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The RCC has dotrinal provision for Limbo. :

Limbo Roman Catholic Church. The abode of unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls, as those of infants or virtuous individuals who lived before* the coming of Christ.
A region or condition of oblivion or neglect: Management kept her promotion in limbo for months.
A state or place of confinement.
An intermediate place or state

* and after? Go straight to Hell?! LOL

~wits0~

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"faith cannot be circumscribed by logic."

Faith can however be clarified by realization of the Truth - the timid herd normally cannot attain that. Besides they expectedly fear the erosion of their static faith and see any input as against their faith. Quite understandable.

Truth is, or it's not....but "God" in the various monotheistic tradition has such variable anthropomorphic attributes that only a moron may announce that people actually have the same "God"! Not under such terms, no way.

~wits0~

12:56 PM  
Blogger percolator said...

"I can conceive of how you view any other 'foreign' viewpoints wrt faith, your faith, as a potential threat of dilution for your instituted Faith and its mainstream doctrinal flow."

Hey, I want to say this as politely and as inoffensively as I can: How you can conceive such is totally beyond me. It is an inaccurate reflection of my sentiments and position on the issue. ABSOLUTE MISCONCEPTION. I DO NOT view differing viewpoints as a potential threat to my personal standpoint/beliefs. Especially not in matters of faith which I view as a deeply personal matter.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Most of the time, God allows things to happen in accordance with the laws of Nature."

All the time the Law of Nature works adequately and independently of non-agreeing God concepts. The Law of Cause and Effect and then the Effect becomes the Cause, kinda. Things also always work in a cyclical manner in Nature.


~wits0~

1:06 PM  
Blogger percolator said...

If atheists want to 'knock' the notion of an all-seeing, all-powerful benign deity, constantly engaged in and altering the tide of human events, they do not need a natural disaster to prove their point. :)

The knowledge that just one child somewhere was dying of cancer would bring the whole fantasy crumbing down.

But then, this post is not some idle tilt at atheists. Putting a natural disaster such as this in the context of the anonymous enormity of human suffering is but an attempt to shed some light on what it is that believers (like me) believe about humanity, and the complex nature of its relationship with life and God.

Put it this way: imagine for a moment, that there were not only no earthquakes, floods and storms, but that there was no innocent suffering and never had been in the history of the earth.

Imagine if, every time a faulty gene was on its way to being transmitted to an unborn child, the hand of God dipped in and the gene was corrected.

Imagine a God frantically circling the globe redirecting every train headed for a faulty bridge, reprogramming every failed computer in a hospital operating theatre, and printing money every time some undeserving chap got down on his luck.

Imagine, in other words, if everyone since the beginning of time lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed, or at least died a death precisely commensurate with his moral contribution to the earth’s happiness.

Such a fair, challengeless world might be a wonderful place to live. But I don’t think that it would be recognisably human.

If we have reason to doubt the point of our existence in this world, surely we would understand it even less in that one. And if I were God, and had created Man, I am not quite sure that I would see the point either :P

3:52 PM  
Blogger Spot said...

I know it's so unnecessary, but i must disassociate myself from grandiloquence! ;)

I like this post for its self-reflection. I like the gentle steadfastness of the belief it articulates. So much better than the unthinking zealotry that gives Christianity a bad name.

We're starting from different premises. But that certainly makes the world much more interesting. As you say, a challengeless world ain't realy worth the living. :)

4:26 PM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Without faith, I am nothing. Without faith, I am lost...perhaps it is my way of explaining to myself of the things that I cannot comprehend or control....at least from my tiny puny brain that is. :|

The blog and comments are interestingly thought provoking.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a challengeless world ain't realy worth the living. :) "

Unchangingness do work for the opportunistically fanatical religionists because it implies obviously everyone must for evermore stick to their rigid control. Its an easy living anyway and egotism can be raised to the highest heaven this way. Thats why religion must not be part of politics. Deny to one's own peril.

Otherwise clearly Civilzation must stagnate if selfish human agenda is allowed into religion. External observances cannot replace Spirituality but humans are usually suckers.

Can anyone name an item, atom, whatever that does not change, disappear and eventually reappear in this (our)Space Tine Continuum at a varying speed?

We are impermanent and things are being constantly created, disappear and recreated. The force behind is Mind derived from Energy. Even Time is not invioably constant [ermanent or the similarly experienced in different Spheres of Existance ; it's an illusion which is part of Phenomenal existence.

The ancient Vedas made verbose elaboration about our illusionary existence but not many ordinary layman has the patience for verbosity in archaic like expression. Only from a higher level is this existence illusionary. But in Samsara, even an antbite hurts....because all our senses are made to focus and adapt to this present existence/dimension/domain, the 3D world and Universe Infact at the highest Level, Time does not exist. Shockingly abstract. But if things are as simple as most mesmerized humanity can abstractly conceive, hgow nice! It does not happen to be so

Brilliant Einstein deduce that the speed of light cannot(within our sphere of exidtence) exceeds 186,000 mph. But that does not mean that this holds true elsewhere, that time is the same in another dimension/universe, does it? Unless one is absolutely stuck to linear, consequetive time conception of Reality. Yes, the greater Unknown Reality that sets the framework blieprint for this one.

Why did Jesus tell his flock that the Kingdom of God is within you? One woukd have expcted that to be up there(external). He did not say that that Kingdom is not realizeable until after Judgement Day....that you cannot attain that now itself in terms of realization.

If God is Power, why not call that Energy


If one can accept intellectually that all matter is Mind created and Mind interchangeable with Intelligient Pure Energy(may even call that Spirit) and that all things here have been blueprinted from a higher Reality, then things become clearer to so perceivers. Mind creates Matter, never the other way around.

Matter is just slowed down energy and everything vibrates within this energy field. Our five senses are that Mind's specialist designed tools that make this present sphere real to us and also blind us to any other greater Realities.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

t'was me above.

btw if the speed of light is never gonna exceed 186,000 moh, how could space travel actually be viable beyond mars? Alpha Centuari may as be forgotten.

~wits0~

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pssst...raoul, you are being fatalistic and accepted helplessness ;)

~wits0~

1:35 PM  
Blogger percolator said...

Tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes. The realisation that Nature can be pretty brutal is no great revelation. They remind us ALL of our fragility and vulnerability. And our helplessness.

The way the universe is arranged, while some may argue it indicates a real mind at work in its creation, also offers some dramatic developments which astonish astronomers and the rest of us into a dignified silence.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're "helpless" only in respect of our own choice unconciously, individually and en masse, participators. We are the cocreator of this island earth and universe. Whether Man hold a God image in their worship don't change this. We invariably have to take responsibility for ourselves, our actions.

Backward "civilization" and its theology cannot hold a lofty version of that God but paradoxically the more backward ones tend to be most adamant, fundamentalitic, prideful and fatalistic.

Obviously, there is cause and effect and then the effect becomes the cause. The endless cycle. The Natural Laws are not altered by impeaching any envisioned "All-That-Is".

I've never found any such a personal (monotheistic)God satisfactory ; the impersonal and impartial aspect is much more sensible comparatively. Sorry to have to suggest removing your Comfort Blanket.

Suffering is actually USELESS if it does not teach Man to avoid it. To do that is not easy - certainly. It calls for Understanding which is enabled by the individual, and is hardly spoodfed institutionally.

The Greater Reality is Within, the outer is where we are conditioned to be blinded by it. People clinged to symbols without understanding. This is the age when institutionally proclaimed teachings cannot satisfy their followers because they expect to remain unchangeable.

~wits0~

12:52 PM  
Blogger percolator said...

wah. I guess nothing astonishes you, then eh? ;D

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction: Speed of light = 186,000 miles per secomd, not minutes.

Dear percolator, otoh, I'm so surprised by the friendly good natured affection of most animals once they befriend you. Total unconditional trust and loyalty! To 'em you're not just a quartermaster but family! This is constantly amazing to me.

I am disgusted at those who regard dogs as as "dirty" while sparing refernce to cats! Yet how many times have sniffer dogs saved their ass?!

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apology for the typos which always occur when you're strapped for time and working from a crummy cyber cafe.

~wits~

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

btw, imo, to say that God test Man through suffering and privation is one of those unacceptable and inchoate nonsense wrought into usage by archaic monotheistic traditions. Cos this hints this loudly at the implicit sado-masochistic inclination of a anthropomorpic God. And it teaches wrongly that Man must submit to a capricious God. Also that God doesn't know what's around the corner.

Arthritic dogmas cannot satisfy Man's expansion of consciousness nor have they the essence of natural ethics on deeper analysis. They can only impose medieval morality for self agenda sake.

~wits0~

11:06 AM  

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