Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Divine Hiddenness?

J.L. Shellenberg came up with an interesting argument for the nonexistence of (a Loving and Omnipotent) God. The Argument from Divine Hiddenness (as he calls it) is compelling as arguments concerning the existence of God go. It can be summarized as: If God loves us, he would do everything He could to increase the "good" in our lives. Clearly, if a god like the Christian God exists, this good would be a relationship with Him. However, there are people who, through no fault of their own have not experienced such a relationship (some of whom even undergo emotional duress at the lack of this relationship), and so a loving God must not exist.

This post is a response that is almost as short and incomplete as the summary I gave above.

My response boils down to answering the following question in a different way than Shellenberg: Is nonresistant disbelief something inherently beyond the control of the (non)believer? If it is, than his argument holds sway... a lot of it.
On the other hand, a loving God would allow the beloved the choice to reject Him (I believe Shellenberg admits this.) If nonresistant disbelief is not beyond the believer's control, then the disbelief is still a willful decision to reject God on the part of the believer, and God's actions at that point* cannot be held against Him. If I am in a relationship with you, and you choose to leave, I have no say. Even were I omnipotent, if I loved you, I would value your freedom, and patiently hope for you to return to me. I would even try to convince you to come back, but force has no place in love.**

So, is nonresistant disbelief beyond the believer's control?
More than once I have been on the verge of apostasy. In each case, it was hardly because I was resistant to God, rather, I was feeling something akin to what Shellenberg describes at the beginning of the linked document. I have been one step a way from that discouraged rejection often.
Shellenberg will likely suggest that this is the situation he describes later, concerning God's temporary withdrawal for some sort of spiritual growth, or other higher temporary purpose. This, it would be claimed, is why I was always "one step" away, but I never took that step.
The problem with that response is looking back on each of these situations, I always wonder what I was thinking as I wandered away from God-- he was consistently providing a way for me to come to Him, for me to accept Him again, and grow closer to Him. So why didn't I take these opportunities? I chose to ignore them. Finally, when there was one step left before I did reject Him, I stopped ignoring Him and accepted His hand.

The point is, it was my choice to begin to wander from Him, and my choice to continue to wander. And finally, it was my choice to "walk away", yet I did not make the choice. Certainly, there were influencing factors beyond my control, hence I would consider my apostasy to be "non-resistant", but I was still resisting God, in that I was choosing to separate myself from Him.

And so it is, my experience suggests, with all "nonresistant" disbelief. This does not make nonresistant disbelief any less sad, nor does it mean that people who have so chosen are weaker, or anything else. I have been fortunate enough to always have enough support from community to keep me alive during these times of duress, not all have such a community... a fact which requires constant prayer and action.

*I say "at that point" to avoid arguments concerning God's culpability for previous actions... that is a different debate.

**take this sentence with a grain of salt... Again, a different debate.

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