Saturday, June 18, 2016

Why proofs of God's existence don't thrill me

The other day one of my Catholic apologist friends (I have many online) posted a link to "An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God" given by Edward Feser. My friend claimed that atheists shouldn't start with the Bible, but rather with reason and logic, in order to arrive at belief in God's existence.

Now, I don't think atheists should start with the Bible, either. Most people don't when they come to faith--at least, not the whole Bible. If you try to read the good book cover to cover in search of some sort of proof of God's existence, you will only find it by a miracle (which I would not rule out, but neither would I hold my breath). Ordinarily, such a straightforward reading of Scripture will lead you to many scandalous passages and incomprehensible claims about God, and to stories whose meaning is rather obscure without some additional cultural context. Certainly the story of Jesus himself is provocative enough to sell itself, but even in the gospels one is as often perplexed as not.

But I'm not sure the classical "proofs" of God's existence hold much water. Professor Feser is certainly a brilliant man, and his exposition of the argument is solid, but I've just never been impressed with Aristotelian/Thomist arguments that The Unmoved Mover/Uncaused Causer/Purely Actual Being/whatever exists. The same holds for Anselm's Ontological Argument, and any similar methods of proof.

It's not that I wouldn't want to have such a proof. It's not even that I don't like entertaining the arguments. On the contrary, such abstract lines of reasoning are fun for me (which is why I chose mathematics as a profession).

The problem is, I just don't think abstract reasoning reveals God. As much as I love my profession, I don't think its tools are appropriate for theology. In fact, I think of mathematics as the simplest and humblest of all the sciences, whereas theology is the loftiest and most difficult. But I'll get to that.

The word "abstract" literally means "to draw away." It is well known that logical arguments in philosophy or mathematics lead us farther away from our direct experience. This makes them considerably less attractive as aids to knowing God, whose presence is everywhere and is therefore constantly part of our everyday experience.

Not that things which are omnipresent can't be the subject of abstract arguments. Atoms are everywhere, but we need theoretical physics to understand and know them. Yet the problem with atoms is that they are small, not that they are difficult to understand. In many ways, atoms are like numbers. They are highly predictable, following precise patterns expounded by the laws of physics.

Anyone reading this might find remarkable that I say an atom is not hard to understand. But I stand by that claim, and I say that math is even simpler. I appeal to a wonderful quote from the great John von Neumann: "If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is." Mathematics and physics have made such incredible progress by concentrating on things which are simple, meaning predictable, utterly bound by rules. Thanks to this form of simplicity, our abstract arguments are applicable no matter how "drawn away" they become from direct experience.

Neumann hit the nail on the head: how complicated life is! How amazingly different it is from proving a theorem! Living things are not utterly rule bound. Human beings make choices, act spontaneously, and often actively resist the rules which are supposed to apply. How, then, do we seem so comfortable with other humans, and how do we know them so well?

The question would really be a mystery if abstract reasoning were our primal way of knowing, but that is not the case. There is nothing more natural in the world than getting to know other human beings, and it is not because we know what they will do at any given moment. It is rather because we have a built-in desire to be with others. More is gained through the direct experience of their company than through being able to predict their behavior. Only marketers are interested in understanding human beings the way physicists understand atoms. The rest of us just want to be loved.

Which brings me to proofs of the existence of God. No son has ever asked himself, "How do I know my mother exists? What are the properties she should have? From what starting principles might I argue toward the existence of such a being?" A son knows his mother because she is there--to feed him, clothe him, clean him, comfort him--and she always has been. Before a boy can do any abstract reasoning whatsoever, he must learn words, most likely from his parents. The primal form of knowledge is the direct experience of someone. Their presence alone is the start of every other kind of knowledge we could possibly have.

It is true that a son whose mother has long been absent must reason abstractly, saying, "All humans are born to a mother and father, therefore I too must have a mother whom I don't know." This is, at best, the type of theological knowledge which Aristotelian/Thomist/Anselmian/etc. arguments can give us. It is a theology of orphans. It is only useful or necessary if God is absent, and has been for a long time.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." If I understand the Christian faith correctly, I would say that the only thing separating us from God is our sin. God's constant presence ought to be perfectly clear to us, but we are blind. Christ does not offer theorems but rather a way to see again.

I catch glimpses of God from time to time. If I really began to fully repent, perhaps I would see him all the time in everything. But "surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning." (Ecc. 7:20) I only know it is that direct experience which sustains me.

I don't want to say that "existence proofs" are a total waste of time. God does often feel very absent, and perhaps we need these arguments to give us a hint of his presence. But I think it's very telling that in Scripture, to know God is to do justice, more than anything else. Christianity's great intellectual tradition notwithstanding, I say it is more a religion of doing than of reasoning.

And I think our theology ought to be done accordingly...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Libertarianism's surprising virtue

There is a virtue which I have found--to my surprise--to be far more deeply cultivated among libertarians, as a political movement, than either progressives or conservatives. That virtue is gratitude.

I say I am surprised by this because before I started reading a certain collection of libertarian media, I associated libertarianism with a certain angry crowd who complained endlessly about the government and the downfall of freedom. Now, there is certainly room to complain endlessly about the government. But what I have found is that between Reason Magazine's regular coverage of technological and social innovation, or the quietly optimistic tone of blogs such as Marginal Revolution ("small steps toward a much better world"), or especially the Cato Institute's new project, there seems to be a trend among libertarians of a more intellectual variety to emphasize the positive.

More deeply, libertarians start with the premise that for us modern humans, especially Westerners, our entire way of life is nothing short of a miracle. They then form a political philosophy based on the study of how that way of life came into being, combined with intuitive moral reasoning (which, it is often acknowledged, is itself a product of our way of life). They conclude that a maximal amount of individual freedom and a government firmly restrained by the rule of law is not only how we got here, but also the way we continue to advance in leaps and bounds.

There is a certain cheerfulness in the whole story. Although most of humankind in all times and places struggled to get by, today we are blessed to have received the right kind of institutions which allow both freedom and prosperity to flourish. If we can but use that freedom, in part to defend those institutions but mostly to pursue whatever good ideas we are fortunate to stumble upon, then the potential for future progress is practically infinite.

Now contrast this story with progressivism. Especially when speaking about poverty, progressives tend to assume that if something is wrong in the world, it must be our fault, or more particularly the fault of big bad rich people. Never mind how any of those riches got there in the first place. The conversation most certainly does not start (or end) with gratitude, but rather with a demand. The poor are entitled to progress, and if we don't give it to them we are thieves and bandits.

Conservatives, too, suffer from a lack of gratitude, but for a different reason. While conservatives wholeheartedly agree that we ought to be thankful for having inherited the right kind of institutions, their gratefulness is soured by a pessimistic view of future progress. It seems that conservatives have very little faith in the very institutions for which they are so thankful. Especially when speaking about immigration, they bemoan any major cultural change as an existential threat to our way of life.

I don't deny that both progressive and conservative impulses are necessary. At times progress must be demanded, and at other times it must be critiqued. But I think both sides ultimately propose policies that are built on a distortion of reality, and society pays for that. Whether it is the ever expanding welfare state proposed by progressives or the ever more authoritarian federal law enforcement agencies bolstered by conservatives, the cost and burden of government continues to grow. This is truly a cause for concern.

Yet despite the continual errors of conservatives and progressives in government, I deeply appreciate how libertarians have not lost their spark of optimism. We indeed have so much to be thankful for, and we have so much at our disposal to make the world a better place. As technological progress outpaces government regulation, experimentation will lead to better ways of doing things before our leaders get their hands on the brakes. Cultural change is nothing to be afraid of, so long as we succeed in transmitting the fundamental ideas which have served us so well until now. The institutions which make freedom possible are not fragile; they are alive and well.

As a Christian, I think the very first step to a happy life is thanksgiving. We did absolutely nothing to cause our own existence. We owe every molecule in our body to inheritance. What we do with that wonderful inheritance--and in our day it is more wonderful than our ancestors could have ever imagined!--is up to us, but we will most likely do better if we start by recognizing how good it is.

So I think it is fitting that our politics should start with gratitude, as well. Let no discussion of any of society's problems begin without first acknowledging what we have to be thankful for. And once we study and determine where all these good things came from, then let's decide how we can do even better.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Steven Weinberg on scientific progress

I'm a big fan of this passage from The First Three Minutes, Chapter V (emphasis added):
In following this account of the first three minutes [of the universe], the reader may feel that he can detect a note of scientific overconfidence. He might be right. However, I do not believe that scientific progress is always best advanced by keeping an altogether open mind. It is often necessary to forget one's doubts and to follow the consequences of one's assumptions wherever they may lead--the great thing is not to be free of theortical prejudices, but to have the right theoretical prejudices. And always, the test of any theoretical preconception is in where it leads. The standard model of the early universe has scored some successes, and it provides a coherent theoretical framework for future experimental programs. This does not mean that it is true, but it does mean that it deserves to be taken seriously.
It certainly begs the question which prejudices are the right ones!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

God's belated wrath

It's easy to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and feel overwhelmed by how angry God is. Long passages of Scripture dwell on all of the ways God will punish and destroy. For instance, Deuteronomy 28 spends 14 verses describing all the blessings the Israelites will receive if they obey the law; then it spends 54 more verses describing in increasing levels of horror all that God will do to punish them if they do not obey. And not all of it is hypothetical. Elsewhere we can read of plagues, venomous snakes, and the earth swallowing up Israelites because of their sins.

All of this, of course, becomes fodder for skeptics to throw at Christianity. It becomes a stumbling block for Christians like me. It's not easy to see how to reconcile "God is love" (1 John 4:16) with these passages of Scripture.

But let's back up to the beginning. In Genesis 3:3, Eve explains to the serpent that "God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" Of course, Adam and Eve did eat the fruit, and they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Some say that this was a spiritual death. Christian tradition has often taught that human beings were created immortal, and that through this first sin they lost immortality. But what does the text say?
Then the Lord God said, 'See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'--therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23)
The text does not at all indicate that humans were immortal. On the contrary, God wanted to prevent them from becoming immortal. So what happened to the threat, "Or you shall die"?

The very next story is far more telling. The second generation of human beings--Cain and Abel--manages to introduce murder to the world. So what does God do to Cain, who murders his brother? He doesn't kill him. On the contrary, God protects Cain: "Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance." (Genesis 4:15)

Ten generations go by, from Adam to Noah. Then God looks down and sees the wickedness of humankind. "And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." (Genesis 6:6) So he decides to wipe out all the creatures with a huge flood--except, of course, sparing Noah.

In other words, God waits ten generations (the number ten may have some significance...) before finally unleashing justice on humankind. Even then, he can't go all the way through with it (he spares Noah and his family). Then, in a telling passage, he says,
I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. (Genesis 8:21, emphasis added)
Now, consider that not only does God promise never to wipe out humankind again, but he even takes away the one punishment he had given Cain, the first murderer. Why? Not because human beings are good, after all, but rather because they are evil! One can hear a tremendous sigh in this passage, like an incredible divine realization that humans are beyond hope.

It is interesting that God, after this covenant made with Noah, finally introduces the death penalty for murderers (Gensis 9:6). Then he blesses Noah and gives him the rainbow as a sign of his covenant never to flood the earth again. We think of a rainbow as pretty and colorful, but let's not forget what it is. It's a bow, that is to say a weapon, pointed toward the heavens. It is as if God is saying, "May the arrows of his bow strike me if I should ever think to flood the earth again."

And so Noah and his sons go out from the ark to repopulate the earth--a fresh beginning. So what happens? Noah gets drunk and is violated by his son, thus absolutely confirming what God says in Genesis 8:21.

Generations go by. Then human beings once again try to obtain immortality, not by eating from the Tree of Life but rather by constructing a tower to heaven. Just as in the Garden of Eden, God is wary of this outcome: "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." (Genesis 11:6) Much as he shut out Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden, so he now shuts down the Tower of Babel by confusing the people's speech. Such is God's terrifying act of wrath...

After this story, ten more generations are listed, starting with Shem and finishing with Abraham. Just as Noah became the father of all nations, so now Abraham's very name means "ancestor of a multitude of nations" (Genesis 17:4). Abraham is God's new hope for a renewed humanity, just like Noah was.

So is it time for another judgment? It is. God hears a cry against Sodom, and he tells Abraham that he is going to send judgment on it. In a famous passage (Genesis 18:23-33), Abraham negotiates with God to see how many righteous people there would have to be left in Sodom in order for God to stay his wrath. God patiently listens while Abraham whittles the number slowly down from 50 to 10, after which the conversation ends in a chilling sense of foreboding--there aren't even 10 righteous people left in Sodom, are there? God has waited the maximum allowable time, until there is simply nothing left to do.

But I have skipped over something. God promises to Abraham the land of Canaan. He says,
Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation they they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Gensis 15:12-16)
What an odd plan! God very forthrightly admits that he is going to tolerate oppression and injustice for four hundred years until finally judging the oppressors. And as for the Amorites who occupy the land promised to Abraham, God freely admits they are already sinful, but he would rather wait before sending judgment on them. Four hundred years, no less!

All of this lays God open to the charge that in fact he is not quick enough to enact judgment. He is indeed "slow to anger" (Exodus 34:6) but when his anger finally arises, how terrible it is!

This theme of God's belated wrath is taken up once again in the New Testament, where Paul declares,
While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)
And yet, here we are, two thousand years later...

All of this should give us a bit of a framework in which to read the rest of the Bible. Since it does talk so much about God's wrath and how imminent it is, we find it easy to be taken aback. But there are at least two points to consider. For one, perhaps when God says his wrath is imminent, it is really not so imminent, after all. This is why Peter has to urge his readers, saying, "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) The prophets, who probably have the longest extended passages describing God's wrath, probably should not be taken too literally, and they should always be read keeping in mind that the goal is to urge the people to repentance.

Another point to keep in mind is that if God is harsh with Israel, it is because he doesn't want to make the same mistake (!) that he made with earlier generations. "Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you." (Deuteronomy 8:5) I have often struggled with that verse. Surely sending fiery snakes and plagues is a little more harsh than the discipline one gives a child. But then, perhaps the literal meaning of these stories is not so important as the spiritual meaning, by which we understand all these acts of judment to be a cleansing of God's people. Or maybe we ought to believe that God can use death itself as a tool of discipline, saving our eternal souls by putting utterly to death our present bodies of flesh.

In any case, if we keep in mind the whole story that the Bible tells, we cannot possibly see God as some cantankerous deity waiting to throw thunderbolts on a whim. On the contrary, the psalms often complain that he is too slow to do so! God's patience almost seems blameworthy--why did he wait so long before finally judging the earth which was so full of wickedness, or before giving his people justice and saving them from slavery? Yet it is precisely this patience which gives us the chance to repent and find salvation. This tension is difficult to resolve.

And so often it is with the Bible, that ultimately we never find resolution, but we live spurred on by that tension. "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." (Matthew 24:42) If we are led by faith in Jesus Christ, we must always live as if judgment is just around the corner, and yet we must continue to believe in God's infinite patience. That is just one of the many paradoxes, it seems to me, of the Christian faith.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Anthropocentric religion?

One of the criticisms of Christianity I've heard a lot is that today we know how vast the universe is, and how small a place humans have in it, and therefore how insignificant we are, and therefore how silly it is to think there is a Creator of the universe who cares about us, loves us.

I suppose that would be a strong critique, if only the Bible were not so full of similar sentiments. Whether it's Psalm 8:4, "Whare human beings that you are mindful of them?" or Ecclesiastes 3:18, "I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals," or Isaiah 55:9, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts," the Bible is full of famous passages which demonstrate human beings' insignifance next to God. Job, the book of the Bible that most directly deals with the problem of evil, culminates with this haunting answer from God: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" If we cannot answer this question, the implication is that we have no right to demand an account from God for our suffering. In the Bible, human beings are very clearly put in their place.

Which is, of course, what makes its more "anthropomorphic" parts all the more powerful. The idea that God loves human beings is simply fantastic, as in Psalm 8:5-6: "Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all thins under their feet."

Now, let's be clear about something. No matter how much we increase in scientific sophistication, in our knowledge of just how vast this great universe is, Psalm 8 is still fundamentally accurate. There is a silly modern interpretation of the theory of biological evolution which states that human beings are not special, since we are just one of the many cousins descended from the same basic life forms billions of years ago. The silliness of this interpretation is self-evident. What other species even asks whether it is special? What other species has a word for species? What other species ever stops to wonder whether God is justified in creating this universe or not? What other species ever writes down extended arguments and passes them on, so that future generations may write back? What other species feels responsible for other species?

In other words, the Christian tradition is no more anthropocentric than mere common sense allows. The fact that the world is billions, not thousands, of years old and that our species emerged as a gradual process of evolution makes not a shred of difference. In fact, perhaps we should be all the more mystified and perplexed that humans exist at all. If intelligence is really the result of purely natural processes, why don't we see it more often? Why is it apparently so unique in the history of the world? And if it is not unique, what happened to all the other intelligent species?

(To be fair, it's a bit hard to know what a Christian would do if faced with intelligent species from other planets. But C. S. Lewis (as well as others, I'm sure) has dealt with this quite imaginatively in his Space Trilogy, so it's not as if Christians need be completely agnostic on that question. I have no idea if the Word became flesh on other planets. Would that be so troubling? It would certainly change certain doctrines, but to me that's hardly a concern.)

There is something troubling to me about a tendency in modern thought which, in a desperate attempt to get rid of theology, seeks to demean humanity as far as possible. Of course we are small, but we know we are small; of course we are insignificant, but we thirst for significance. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." It is not to feed our anthropocentric pride that we so desperately need the gospel, but, on the contrary, it is to remind us how far down God was willing to come in order to satisfy this desire for the transcendent.

Or are we simply a meaningless clump of particles, searching for meaning where there is none? In that case, what sense does the word meaning have in the first place?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The voice of God

My firstborn son left the safety of his mother's womb on April 26. After the initial euphoria of the birth, there is a certain let down as one realizes, this baby barely knows how to feed, much less communicate. Other than his (sometimes violent) cries, I have no way of hearing from him, no way of knowing that he needs something.

That doesn't keep me from speaking to him, of course. I have heard that babies like their parents' voices. I've seen first hand that it can be soothing. More importantly, I take it as self-evident that without hearing his parents' voice, he will never learn our language.

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The immediate application is of course humility, but I think there is a deeper corollary (which is not at all detached from humility).

I have often wondered why, if God truly speaks, I do not hear him. But I do hear him, all the time. If God governs all creation, then every single thing that exists is available as a symbol of communication between God and humans. It is just that I don't yet speak his language.

Life is essentially growth, a process of constantly advancing toward maturity. Unless we humble ourselves and realize that it is a long process to learn the language of God, we will never hear him.

In the meantime, what, then, are our prayers? "We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." Our prayers are mere cries of anguish. We do not even understand what we need or what we are hungry for. "Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask it." Thankfully, God is not a new father; he knows why we cry.

I realize all of this can sound very cruel, because life is very cruel. How can it be for our good that we watch the innocent die? How can it be for our good when we see oppression or are oppressed ourselves? We so often feel helpless, unable to get justice for ourselves or for others. It is as if "God is testing us to show that we are but animals." How, then, can we call God Father?

But there is no growth without suffering. Creation itself cannot exist without destruction. Existence is meaningless without non-existence.

When we hear the voice of God, we will not find that it says what our weak spirits want to hear. We wish that no harm would come to us. But what does he say to us instead? "Anyone who does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

There are many people who seem to listen for the voice of God in order to find some serenity in the midst of a world full of anxiety. But God is a refuge for the time of battle, not a retreat away from this world.

How do we go so quickly from children to soldiers? "When I was a child, I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish things. ... Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." I don't think the point of becoming a child is to enter the kingdom of heaven and remain a child. It is to grow up into a citizen of that kingdom, and if there's one thing the Bible makes clear, it's that every citizen in this kingdom must be prepared for war. Not literal war--"for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh"--but a war against "the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

In this way the Christian life is a bit like a fairy tale, if I may say so. Chesterton was fond of fairy tales, and he thought they were much better education for children than any modern rationalism could ever be. I think probably he was right.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Evil and nothingness

A good deal of Christian thought treats evil as having a lower ontological category than good. Everything God created is good, so evil can't possibly have any genuine existence. Here's St. Maximus the Confessor, for example:
"[I]ndeed, mere fantasy deceives the mind and, through passion, causes vain attachment to objects that do not exist, but provides no foundation in reality." (Ad Thalassium 64)
That's from a translation by Paul Blowers in the collection, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ from the Popular Patristics Series. There's also a footnote that says, "Cf Gregory of Nyssa's famous dictum that man 'invented' evil."

I'm not sure I agree with that exactly, but I do think evil must be in a different ontological category than good. God created light, then separated it from the darkness. He did not create the darkness.

The existence of evil is an eternal puzzle, but one way to explain it is as a perversion of something, for which I cannot find the right word, which must necessarily exist. Perhaps I'll call it "non-existence" or nothingness. Existence needs non-existence. Light needs dark. But there are good and bad ways for this nothingness to exist.

If light existed without darkness, there would be only light and nothing else. But in that case there would really be nothing. A pure unitarian existence is no existence at all, because such an existence cannot differentiate between something and nothing.

Since everything which is both important and true about God must be stated as a paradox, I would not hesitate to say that God's existence is both absolutely necessary and dramatically contingent. The threat of God's non-existence is precisely the drama that unfolds in His trinitarian union. God the Father does not want to lose God the Son, and vice versa. Whatever else love is, it means desiring the continued existence of the other, and if that is to mean anything real, there must be a genuine threat to that existence.

Indeed, that genuine threat is played out in the drama of creation and, ultimately, in the cross of Jesus Christ. God actually died. To say otherwise would be to deny the greatest mystery of the Christian faith, And a tremendous corollary: the Father actually lost the Son. In this drama, God's love is proved more real than it ever could have been otherwise. The threat of nothingness was so real that it was actually fulfilled.

This drama is played out in all of creation. Why, I asked earlier, would God risk creating a world which is capable of producing evil? Because such is the only kind of world that can genuinely exist. And in our world the threat is so real that we see its fulfillment on a daily basis. We see nothingness win over existence. We see chaos triumph over order. We see creatures separate themselves from their Creator.

The difference between us and God is that we do not use nothingness in support of existence, death in support of life. Our pain becomes suffering because we experience it in isolation. Because we make our existence entirely our own, any threat to that existence becomes a threat to our entire universe. That is what evil is.

But God does not let nothingness turn into evil. As the psalmist writes, Even darkness is not dark to you, the night is as bright as the day. When God died, when God lost God, He raised Him up from the dead. In dying He defeated death; in not existing He showed that He truly exists. As Jesus said, Those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Which means we always have the chance to become like God. Instead of wanting to be free from the drama of existence, we ought to embrace it. Life is risky; everyone knows that. The source of eternal life is not the elimination of all risk, but rather than paradoxical joining of the absolute assurance and the total uncertainty of our future existence--and not just our own, but that of everything else, as well.

I don't think this "lets God off the hook," so to speak, for terrible things that happen. He could have intervened, so why didn't He? If we love God, this question will come up again and again. To stop asking it would be to deny the essential drama of life, which is that paradoxical union of God's presence and absence.

So it is not about coming to God's defense, but rather finding the way forward which concerns me most. If we have lost, let us mourn that loss. If we have gained, let us rejoice in that gain. Either way, let us always desire life all the more. Not a monotonous, stable existence which is equivalent to nothingness, but rather a dramatic, risky existence which never ceases to puzzle the imagination.