If I was God, I’m just not sure I would have done it. Create humans, that is.
When I look around at the world, I wonder …… Have you wondered too?
A big question mark
Have you ever imagined what you would have done if you were God? Even if you don’t believe God exists, treat it as a hypothetical. Would you have created?
Creating the universe, I can understand. It would be fun to work out all the details. Anyone who’s designed a house or decorated one, or laid out a garden, or painted a major work or written a novel, knows the joy and challenges of creation. So many possibilities, so many choices.
Imagine the fun of setting up the laws of the universe so that galaxies form, with stars and planets, all with different properties and geography. It would be like a giant sim universe computer game, except a zillion times more fun.
But would you create life? Or set up the laws so that life formed and evolved until human beings appeared?
Why would you want humans to exist?
And would you allow humans to start wars, to torture and enslave, to commit crimes and to hurt each other emotionally? Why would you allow that?
Or would you somehow make sure they only did nice things, good things, constructive things, fun things?
It is a challenge to think why God did it. And how it could perhaps have been different.
Maybe God was lonely?
Sometimes people get pets if they feel lonely. Perhaps God was the same. Animals are fun, but maybe God wanted more – companionship, or someone to teach. Perhaps God wanted to feel needed?
I guess we could be like his pets. But if we were created to give him pleasure, are we achieving that? Is all the pain in the world pleasing to him? It hardly seems so. Christianity, like most religions, teaches a standard of behaviour much higher than the human race has so far achieved.
So that can’t be the reason. God’s loneliness isn’t being much reduced by the human race, and we don’t seem to be making him happy.
Maybe God made a mistake?
Maybe all this human pain took God by surprise? He started the universe off, expecting a happy result, and ended up with all the messiness we know as life?
Or maybe it’s just an experiment gone wrong?
It certainly seems like our little part in the universe hasn’t turned out as God wanted, but it’s hard to believe that someone who could design the laws of the universe to such a fine degree that, against all the odds, galaxies, planets and life formed, couldn’t predict how it would all turn out.
So maybe God did it for us?
There is pleasure in giving and helping. Parents know that a new child in their family will cost time, money, energy and emotion, but they still do it. Not for a selfish reason (hopefully) but so they can create a new life and love that child so much it can hurt.
The gift of life is precious. So it seems most likely to me that God created a universe that would bring forth life because he wanted to give of himself to us. That makes sense to me ….. up to a point.
But how does it work?
So who gets to receive God’s love and care? And how do they experience it?
This life or the next?
Some people apparently experience God and his love in this life, through experiences of healing, love, joy and more. But most of us don’t seem to. Even for many believers, God seems very distant or hardly there at all, and for unbelievers God must be even further away. (Of course, life itself is a gift of God’s love, but I’m thinking of something where God’s love is clearer and more tangible.)
And many people experience pain, alienation, illness, abuse, injustice, oppression and unhappiness in this life. It seems that if God did create us to love us, his plan must entail more than what this life offers.
So logic seems to lead to the conclusion of many religions, from the ancient religions of the Egyptians or the Norse, to the more sophisticated teachings of the great monotheistic faiths. If there is a God, there is an afterlife where the hurts, injustices and inequalities of this life are evened out, or compensated for.
But then, what happens to those who perpetrate the injustices, hurts and pain?
Is an afterlife only for a select few?
Most religions (not all) teach that there are strict conditions we have to meet to receive God’s love and favour. Believe certain things. Do certain religious duties. Follow certain commandments.
Stuff that most of us can’t achieve, either because it is too hard, or we live in the wrong place and never heard the right message.
If it is only the select few, God’s love for us is very limited. You’d think he’d want more people to receive his love and care. You wouldn’t think he’d want his love conditional on being in the right place and the right time to hear and believe and obey. And you’d think he’d choose to have mercy on people whose life doesn’t live up to God’s standards through no fault of their own.
And what happens to those who aren’t among the select few? Do they miss out on God’s love and care in the next life? Are they punished in some sort of hell? It seems very wasteful and unloving if God did it this way. Maybe God gives us the dignity of choice and our willingness to receive God’s love determines what happens next? But would God create a world where so many miss out on life in the next world?
Maybe everyone receives his love in an afterlife?
This is an attractive idea. Maybe every person who is born into this world receives the gracious gift of life in the next, regardless of what they did and how they lived?
It’s attractive in theory, until we think of people whose lives have caused much misery, pain and violence to others. You can pick your own villains here – there are plenty to choose from, unfortunately. So should they have just as much a reward in the next life as those who live altruistically or sacrificially to serve others?
Some christians who believe in “universal reconciliation” believe that all people who haven’t responded positively to God in this world go to a nether world where God’s love is made very clear to them. They can choose to respond to his love, repent of the harm they did in this life, and receive God’s gracious gift on a new life. Or they can hold out as long as they choose. But eventually, God’s love will win them over and they will make a free choice to accept his forgiveness.
That’s a plausible version of an attractive idea, and it may be true. But we may question it. If it’s true, why do virtually none of the major religions recognise it and none of the major religious gurus teach it? Was God incapable of getting it across to them? Or is it just just now being revealed? As a christian, the fact that Jesus didn’t seem to teach this is a significant difficulty.
Further, it makes you wonder why God created this present life in the first place. If this life isn’t the place where we make decisions about God, why create it at all?
(My only thought on that is that God gave us this life to create ourselves from the basic genetic building blocks given to us – another example of God giving us great freedom of choice.)
Despite these difficulties, universal reconciliation remains a possible answer to some of life’s deepest questions.
Is it somewhere in between?
Maybe between a world where only a few are blessed with life in the age to come, and a world where everyone is blessed in that way, there is another option?
Perhaps many more people make it than we think, but nevertheless God honours our choices. If we choose to go our own way and live in ways that don’t please him because they are harmful, this life is all we receive. But if we sincerely seek truth and try to live according to whatever light we have been given, God recognises our heart and we receive his grace, regardless of which religion we follow, or if we follow none?
Choosing the “right” religion will still be important because it helps us orient in the right direction, but it may not be crucial.
I find this to be the most believable option myself, because it allows God to be loving while also allowing us deep freedom, autonomy and responsibility.
When too much choice is barely enough
But the question remains, why does God allow so much pain and evil? Doesn’t she care? Or is he not powerful enough to stop it?
The classic explanation is that God created us in her image, with freedom of choice and responsibility for our actions. That is a great good. But it also opens the door for using freedom for personal pleasure at the expense of others, and too often we walk through that door.
But for me, this explanation falls short in two ways.
Firstly, it doesn’t account for the pain that comes from the natural world and not from anyone’s bad choices – earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and disease, etc. Couldn’t God have created a world with less of these dangers?
And secondly, couldn’t God have tipped the balance a little in our characters? Couldn’t he have made us a little more inclined to altruism and a little less selfish, while still allowing us freedom? Just shifting the boundaries a little within which we exercise our freedom?
I feel the force of those questions. The only way I can see a solution is that God chose to create life via evolution, maybe to give the universe greater autonomy. Evolution is built on natural selection, which in essence is based on competition for scarce life resources. To some degree animals, or groups of animals (or genes), have to be selfish to survive and to predate on others. So we have come from that heritage, and now we need to overcome that predisposition to be selfish. That’s another value of religious belief – it gives us greater incentive to break out of the bonds of natural selection.
I don’t feel that “explanation” fully addresses the existence of pain and suffering, but it goes some way and is the best I have come up with so far.
Nevertheless, the majority of people worldwide are happy with life, so there are so manmy positives about being alive, despite the problems.
All viewpoints have their difficulties, though not all of us are willing to face them.
Atheists cannot really satisfactorily explain how the universe came to exist and how it is so well-designed in its physical parameters to produce life. Nor how humans have free will as we experience it, nor how things can be truly right or wrong as we all believe and live. For these reasons (and others) I find it impossible to not believe there is a God.
But believers find it difficult to explain why God allows so much evil and pain, and who in the end receives life in the age to come (if they believe in an afterlife at all). I find these matters difficult to resolve, but not strong enough to outweigh the reasons to believe.
I wonder how you resolve all these questions?