the motivations of g-d.
On thursday nights I go to this little bar and grill type place where they have a dance night. I’m not an avid dancer; I mean, I can shake it pretty well, but I’m not the guy on the dancefloor night after night tearing it up like it’s my job. I mostly go for the company. There’s a few friends that have made routine of these thursday nights, so every once in a while I like to go and sit with them, have a few beers, and chat. I feel most alive when I’m in conversation with other people. In some way it validates my existence to know that there is another person present to accept what I’m saying and to provide me with the same service.
Last week I was sitting with a friend who made some comment about going out every night, being sociable and whatnot, when I made a halfhearted joke about being “an old man”. She then got very defensive, telling me that that was dumb, that I’m only 23, and she’s experienced more in her 19 years than I have in my lifetime. This isn’t the first time someone has patronized me in my supposed naivety because my life has been some walk in the park when compared to theirs, usually focussing on divorce and drugs and the like. It used to really irritate me, and I suppose it still does to a certain extent. I don’t like the idea that I don’t know suffering because there are things I haven’t experienced first hand. I don’t like the judgment on my life, that I’ve somehow been sheltered from pain and therefore have no real frame of reference for the tough questions in life. Often I want to point out to naysayers that I have the burden of faith on my shoulders constantly, that I struggle every day with a belief system that for all intensive purposes seems like lunacy. That I have experienced the terror of the unknown afterlife, of the potential for hell, or the possibility that I am wasting my time on false ideas. And the reality of it is, I am incredibly thankful for the life I’ve had. It’s actually been pretty incredible. I’ve had the opportunity to see and do amazing things, and it really humbles me to realize it.
I just got off the phone with Timbre, and the concept of pain and suffering came up, specifically in relation to the people around us, and how it dictates what kind of relationships we can have with them, but it made me think about the whole big thing. One of the TOUGHEST questions Christians have to answer is always, “if there is a compassionate god in charge of all of this, why is the so much suffering?” This is a question that has weighed on my heart for the longest time. But my answer came by looking at it all from a different perspective: what is God’s motivation in all of this?
A few years back I visited a friend at American University in Washington, D.C. It was towards the end of the semester (I believe my school in Florida was already out for the summer, but don’t quote me on that), so students were cleaning out their closets of unwanted clothes, books, etc. I came across this tiny book in a freebies box in the lobby called God’s Debris, by the cartoonist Scott Adams. Seemed like an easy read, and I was a fan of the Dilbert comics, so I decided to pocket the book. I read it later that week at home. The book was a theoretical dialogue between the protagonist, a bike courier in a major city, and a very old man known as the Avatar. They get into this big philosophical conversation, all the Big Questions. At one point the Avatar turns to the young man and asks, “If you were God, what would you want?” I felt like my entire faith scaffolding had folded from under me in a single sentence. This was something I had never, ever considered before. I had been going to church for all this time and I felt like, in the thousands of years since Abraham came into communion with Yahweh, no one had bothered to ask this core question: if there is a God, what’s his motivation? He must have one, because the core of our being, which is supposed to be a mirror’s reflection of this being called God, is motivation. We operate because we are motivated in some way or another. So what is a challenge to God?
The Avatar’s answer scared me even more: “I can conceive of only one challenge for an omnipotent being-the challenge of destroying himself.” By this time I’m nearly in tears. It seemed the only logical answer. What difficulty was there in creation for a god that can do anything? Where’s the satisfaction?
This question haunted me for weeks. Then at some point I began to ponder the concept of free will. Its so funny how many of these ponderances about spirituality weave in and out of each other, because I found my answer in the idea of free will, and in the idea of God as Father. I began to consider God’s omnipotence, and what that truly meant, to be completely in control of everything; nothing is outside the power of omnipotence. How could free will coexist with a God who can foresee the future, who knows the exact math equation that tells how every atom in my body will jiggle in its orbit, and how baby pandas are born, and when the sun will die out, and how many flights will leave from O’Hare airport from now until the end of time? Then i considered the analogy of God as a father figure. Of all the people in my life, my mom and dad have shaped who I am, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Whether through genetics or through their parenting skills, I am the way I am today because their influence. I love them, and they love me. It’s their motivation to change my diapers and teach me to ride a bike and take me on hikes in the mountains. They want me to grow into a good man. If God is a father figure, does he not want us to grow in the same way? If he loves us, isn’t it his desire to see us develop into beings that can be in perfect communion with Him? I realized that all this was the answer to my questions about free will and God’s motivation.
I think that there are two motivation’s to an omnipotent God: to destroy Himself would be one, but to put Himself into a position of less-than-omnipotent control could be another. It would be a challenge to Him to give up his omnipotence in relation to His creation in order to develop a deep relationship. There is evidence of this echoed in Christ’s sacrifice of his own mortality to come among us, flesh and bones as we are, and point to God as the ultimate salvation from this messed we’ve entangled ourselves in. Heck, even the angels in Heaven envy us for this relationship we are capable of building with God. I mean, here are divine hosts of heaven, who stand in His presence, but cannot know Him in the way that we can. Isn’t that something? Because of the pain and suffering of life, we can learn to depend on Him in a way that would be superfluous if we were also perfect! Jason Lee has a great line in the movie Vanilla Sky: “Without the sour, the sweet just ain’t as sweet.” Basically, we cannot know what happiness, joy, or goodness are without their opposites. They wouldn’t even exist. Something is “good” only when it’s sized up to something that is less than “good”. So we couldn’t know a perfect relationship with God unless we get a taste of what life is like without Him. The trials of the mortal world prepare us for being in a place where we are in perfect communion with Him.
Our interactions with God are mirrored in our interactions with each other. If we were all perfect beings, there would be no need for us to interact with each other; we would have nothing to offer. Yet there is pain in the world, there is suffering. And through it, we bind ourselves to our fellow man in order to survive.