A Christian's Dilemma
Good, Evil, & the Circularity of Faith
Two years ago, May 2020, I penned a confession of sorts, expressing my disillusion with belief in God. First is the deliberation of good and evil, and then later with what I had called the ‘circularity of faith.’ A passage read:
“To believe in this God, I thought, was self-centered. To claim that we can feel Him in our lives, and that He is there over us, would neglect the many others that believed in their own time of need, who received nothing— would this not be self-centered and selfish. It might be that these thoughts are still childish, and I feel the weight of their immaturity, but that a God can exist who we can attribute all good things in life to, while rejecting the idea that He has anything to do with the bad is childishly foolish at best. So, men like Augustine would seem to fall into this self-centered category, wouldn’t he? Unless we can accept that God did specifically work in his life to persuade and show the lot of us the Truth.”
Reading back on this I can see how unsophisticated my thinking was. I was only in dialogue with myself as though I’d find a definitive answer somewhere in my emotional projection. I argue that it is self-centered to believe God is in our lives because of the many believers who experience life as though he were not there, with all of the pain that comes forth; and so, if we were to attribute any good to God, we would also have to hold Him responsible for the bad. I then put the onus on God for revealing the truth: unless he proves his goodness, he is both good and bad simultaneously. Schrödinger may call it ‘God’s cat.’
But I could have considered Aquinas’ view that all things are good, and all things are good because they were created by God and God is good. (But if all things are good, then Satan would also be good). Satan is good insofar as he was created by God with the good inside of him, but he is no longer good because he has lost those perfections, and actively works against Divine Law. This means that evil is the absence of the good, but not a thing existing on its own. So if all things are good because they were made by God, and God is the perfect good, then he cannot be responsible for evil that is done because that would signify some lack; and God, by definition, cannot lack anything, otherwise He is not God. In other words, he is actually infinite, not potentially.
And just like that the onus shifts back to me to prove that God can even potentially emanate and create anything but good. It no longer is evident to me why we would argue that point, so I concede the objection and admit that God is all good and is responsible for nothing but the good. But even then, how can we not look at so much evil and not feel neglect; and ask if there is no moral culpability for Him not thwarting it away rather than acting on what He is greater than…unless he is not greater than evil or knowingly watches from the sidelines, or the bleachers, or farther than that to exercise his ‘all-mysterious’ passivity.
The confession continues to briefly offer a resolve to the question, ‘why does God allow evil?’ and we will end with my experience with Christianity’s ‘circularity of faith’:
“Such would have been my line of thinking. But something about it doesn’t seem right. Not all truths of God are easy to hold, or to contend with. So do I think God causes evil? No. But He doesn’t stop it either. I found it plausible to believe that if there’s a God, he’s a non-interventionist. Such a policy might contradict believers that testify to His presence in their daily affairs, but I am close to admitting that these sentiments may be nothing short of self-centered delusion. I can’t entirely extricate myself from this view, however, and present it as though it were brute and objective fact.
Believing in God has been a disappointment, because I have grown farther away from Him. And although it is written that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love (Romans), that may be farther from reality; in fact, we grow farther away from God all the time, most times inadvertently. Because of that, whether or not we are loved, we do not feel loved—and it is hard to feel loved when there is nothing that compares to personal touch. “Blessed is he who believes without seeing:” so I suppose I, along with many others are not blessed.
It has amazed me, confounded me, the egoism that is embedded within the idea that God must love us and guides us, even as many other Christians also go without feeling His love, never minding the billions who are without knowledge of his presence and yet pray to emptiness, doomed without salvation. But let’s not worry, God works in mysterious ways.
And then, should we feel devoid of Him and His guidance, it’s our fault. It isn’t enough to have a relationship with Him, we must accept that we may travel blind, hoping that where we seek and how we pray, and how we love, and what we do and don’t do is good enough to bring us closer to Him; but sometimes it isn’t and we’re drowning, and the only way to float up is to have faith. So we choose to believe that, despite our lot, all will be made okay. And so we wait, but our faith dwindles because we hear only silence on the other end of this relationship. We think, well that’s not how human relationships work: they’re supposed to be understanding, with the two communicating with honesty, with love and support in the face of both good and bad. And I thought, that’s right—human relationships, if they are qualitatively different than the relationship with God, are better, because they require two mutually active actors within them.
But what a devout Christian would say is that we must have faith in the way God works, and we may not understand Him because His love for us is so inconceivable: like that of a father, he knows what is right, although we may not see it in such a way. So have faith. Okay, I’ll say. I’ll trust in Him. and so I live my days hoping to feel; and if I don’t then I must be doing something wrong: perhaps it’s because I’m not going to church, and we need community if we are to walk with God. Communities reaffirm our faith. Or perhaps I left church because my faith felt impaired; and so I prayed to God to forgive this doubt and restore and nurture my faith but nothing comes. And perhaps it is because my faith is not even the size of a mustard seed; so I pray some more—but nothing. So I ask how I could restore that faith by asking God, the same God in whom my faith is broken. But the answer is simple:
I need only trust that His love will certainly come, and has never left. It takes patience. My heart needs to be tested: to see if I will place the blame of misfortune on Him, or curse Him. It’s why Job was given the silent treatment for so long. To prove the strength of his faith, even as he felt it weakened by absence.
Ah, but then some would say: He does speak! You must only ‘turn aside’ and listen. Of course, it would be foolish of me not to see that once again it was my fault. And so, I try to stay vigilant at every waking moment to hear the voice of God. But how would I know that He’s speaking?: Ah, you just know. It’s a self-authenticating spirit!
And so I wait, but nothing comes; and I realize that my faith is perhaps more broken than it was. But He will build me up. His timing is always right—and I will be better for it. So I’m left now without even a seed of faith and an indefinite time to be touched by care (well, maybe God is backed up with all of the other more important life-threatening prayers sent up in hopeless desperation). So while I’m caught in this paradox of faith, a constant waiting and seeking and praying and a simultaneous diminution of faith, I need only have faith in Him and will be transformed. I must believe that God is not a liar.
I suppose I’m failing the test (Oh, sometimes that’s part of it. I am a step closer to being renewed). And I realize then, that if much of the effort comes from me: that these problems are my own, then I can fix them. I’m trapped in spiritual purgatory, but I don’t need to be. I know what I want, or at the minimum, have the ability to figure it out. I want to be free from the burden of believing, and emancipate myself from this circularity.
But if God is a father, then maybe like a father he lets go of our hand to wander even in the darkness because He loves us. Like letting your child fall because she must learn to walk. Love is sometimes hard in that way, a form of letting go. But if God is a father, then it’s plausible to wish that also like a father he picks us up when we’re down. Because good fathers don’t abandon their children, and good fathers reassure their children that even if they must do this alone, they are not alone.
Where’s that father? Where’s that God?”