Listening to the Whirlwind: Theodicy for Deists

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows

—Robert Frost

Ever tried to talk to a grasshopper?  Of course not.  Yet the moral, intellectual, and existential divide between God and humanity is obviously greater than the gulf between people and insects.  So why do so many human beings expect to hear from God?

Our Judeo-Christian heritage leads us to assume that God is both creator and creation.  (God is in all things but somehow He is also an omnipotent overseer.)  We assume that God must be perfection.  We assume that God must be infinite in relation to both time and space.  And then we expect this marvelous conglomeration of mystery and paradox to speak to us as we would speak to one another.

Unfortunately, God exists in a realm so many notches above our level of understanding that we utterly lack the necessary equipment to understand Him.  Attempting to contemplate God with a human brain makes as much sense as trying to cut the sun in half with a pair of scissors.

Jon Dryden eloquently expresses the folly:

How can the less the Greater comprehend?
Or finite Reason reach Infinity?
For what cou’d Fathom GOD were more than He.

This simple observation makes me deist. (Although I should hasten to add that Dryden explicitly rejects deism in Religio Laici.)

I don’t know what God is; I will never know what God is, and I’m not going to waste my precious time on earth trying to figure out what God is.

Does this make me a candidate for Winston Niles Rumfoord’s  Church of God the Utterly Indifferent?  My answer is an unequivocal maybe.  (Getting mired in a swamp of paradox is perhaps the greatest peril of groping after God.)  Maybe God cares about humanity; maybe God doesn’t care.

My fellow human beings, however, tend to assume that God cares a great deal about us.  And Christians anthropomorphize God to the point that He can actually feel our pain because a God who cannot suffer is insufferable.

But if God loves us so much, why is our world full of suffering and injustice? Unfortunately, there is no humanly comprehensible answer to this question. But there is an entire branch of theology dedicated to “reconciling God’s traditional characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience (all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, respectively) with the occurrence of evil in the world.”

Humans have been looking for someone to blame for our lot since Gilgamesh. And as long as we insist upon anthropomorphizing God, we are stuck in the cul-de-sac of asking ourselves why the universe is the way it is.

Interestingly, the Old Testament provides an answer for this question which is as profound as it is unsatisfying:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?….

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place….

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.

Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof….

Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;

To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man;

To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?

Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  (Job 38)

So God’s answer to it all is: It’s none of your damn business and you wouldn’t be capable of understanding it if I told you anyway.

Or, as the wonderful gospel Midrash (You Can’t Hurry God) He’s Right on Time succinctly notes:

I’m God all by myself/And I don’t need nobody else.”

This vast, spectacular universe is not about us.  But then again, of course it is.  (Another paradox.)

If we read the Book of Job imagining God and Satan sitting in a couple of celestial director’s chairs as they toy with Job for sport, then we must conclude that God is a sick, sad, wicked creep.

But once we reject the silly notion that God is merely some sort of human being who lives in outer space, the Whirlwind begins to make a hell of a lot of sense.

by Richard W. Bray

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