theodicies part 1: squaring the circle

August 24, 2006

I never fail to be amazed by the knots that theologians tie themselves into whenever they attempt to reconcile the idea that God is good with the belief that he is also all-powerful. Invariably, common sense has to be suspended and one side of the equation has to be stretched to the point of absurdity. Sometimes they argue that although God doesn’t tamper with the laws of nature He created, He could if he wanted to. So God rules, OK. I’m not sure I want to worship a God like that- it’s like giving a prize to a car designer whose vehicle doesn’t have a steering wheel. Others claim that anything God allows to happen must be good because He wants it. Which, as honest clerics admit after events like the tsunami, makes Stalin and Hitler look like choir boys in comparison. So if God is good He is not God; if God is God he is not good.
Applying what I naively believe to be common sense, it seems to me that the problem is not so much in the apparent contradiction of an all-powerful God allowing bad things to happen to good people, it’s simply in the idea that there is a ‘good’ God. I’m assuming that most people who think He is good, believe that ‘good’ means ‘good’ for humans, or at least ‘good’ for non-sinning humans. But I don’t see why a God should necessarily think that the best thing He could do is to favour one particular species on this particular earth. Maybe He is more concerned with what is good for the planet, for the universe or just for the duck-billed platypus. After all, there may well be little duck-billed platypuses(i?) running round thinking God made them in His image. God is supposed to be above things human and out of reach of our comprehension and yet we continue to apply our own concepts like good, loving, cruel and so on to Him.
My own view, for what it is worth, is that God is neither good nor not good. Goodness is good. God is God. Neither is God omnipotent- what happens happens and any pattern we find in it reflects our perspective rather than some overall grand design. Religions use the idea of God for three purposes- first, to give a rationale for things, second to persuade people to be good and third to give hope. The trouble is that our anthropomorphic view of God explains nothing; removing from God the label ‘good’ also loses the idea of divine punishment and reward. So, in other words we have to stand on our own two feet and make the best of it,
Well, that’s blown any slim chances I had of joining the celestial ranks, assuming He reads this blog. Better check the stats, so far I haven’t seen any visitors from places nearer Heaven than Belgium.

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