Answer #1: In order to save us and reconcile us with God.
The Church teaches—and our own experience confirms it—that we live in a world of sin. We need look no further than the chaos of the last century or the heaviness in our own hearts to see sin’s effects.
Yet, as hard as it is for us to imagine, since it is so far beyond our own experience, this was not God’s original plan for the human race.
God’s original plan was for us to be blissfully happy, close to him, and this plan hinged on human freedom and a few simple rules. Yet our first parents freely chose to separate themselves from God. God’s original plan for humanity ended because of their own free choice.
At this point our skeptical modern minds, keen on finding the biltrix hidden in things, naturally say, “Come on! The eating of an apple and the ruin of the whole human race? Nice try, but way over the top.”
So, in order to see the malice of their sin, we have to look into their minds and see the enormity of their sin. We must remember the perfection of Adam’s nature: Clear intellect; unclouded by passions, he understood thoroughly his dependence on God and his duties towards him. He knew too that his sharing in God’s life by grace was dependent on obedience to God, and he clearly understood that if he lost that friendship by sin, grace was lost not only for himself but his offspring. Knowing all that, he calmly and deliberately decided to rebel against God’s express command, and by his pride and rebellion he rejected God’s plan for the happiness of the whole human race.
Force is not part of God’s pedagogy. He is not a dictator or a tyrant. He never imposes but always proposes. He proposed blissful happiness and asked obedience. And when one proposes the other can accept, or not—as ever nervous gentleman who has made a marriage proposal knows. Love demands freedom and a free response, a gratuitous giving of self, and this is something that can’t be forced.
Adam and Eve responded no to God’s proposal and so sin and its effects entered the world. What was God’s response? Condemnation? Abandonment? To start over? No. That is to human.
God’s response was to make a new proposal. Since our first parents had rejected his initial plan for their happiness God decided to glorify himself through his mercy. His new proposal was to draw near to man again, by becoming one of us, and redeeming us. Who among us can resist a baby? This is God’s proposal so strikingly revealed at Christmas; a new invitation, made in love, to a new life in Christ, thus reconciling us with the Father.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa summarizes it nicely when he writes:
“Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back for us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?” CCC457
Why believe in God when it’s so obvious that he doesn’t exist? Not only does the Bible contain numerous contradictions, factual errors, and impossibilities*, but it’s also incredibly hateful, and it paints God as a vile, wrathful, monstrous being who only cares about being worshipped and praised, and who doesn’t care about all of the people who are suffering through more than they can bear.
It’s like Epicurus famously said: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” In other words, according to your religion, God can do anything, no matter how impossible it seems to us, correct? Therefore, God could get rid of evil without taking away our free will, even though that seems impossible to us. Yet he doesn’t do that, which means that he himself must be evil, since he doesn’t care one bit about the thousands of people who are suffering as a result of the existence of evil, so why worship him and call him “God” at all?
I mean, can you even prove that God exists? If not, then why believe in him at all? Seriously, think about it.
*Proof of this claim can be found at the following websites:
I will probably regret taking the bait here…
It helps to read the Bible (I mean actually read it yourself, not just listening to Christian preachers or reading atheist websites) without prejudices and with historical perspective. The Bible is not a textbook. It is a collection of works gathered over a millennium, with roots going back to the remote bronze age. Some parts are poetic or mythological, others are historical. The different authors often disagree with one another. Obviously the Bible has some of the limits of bronze age authors, such as the attitudes towards war, but even then your cartoon version of an evil old testament god is a result of cherrypicking Bible verses. For every scene where God comes off as a jerk, there are plenty off other images of God’s love and fidelity. There is also a progression in the Bible from a primitive to a more sophisticated notion of God. It seems like you are expecting something from the Bible that it does not claim to give.
I personally do not think God’s existence can be proven, but that does not mean belief is irrational. Pure logic cannot prove that my friends and family love me, but that does not mean that it is irrational for me to trust them. Logic is valid, but within a broader stream of rationality that helps us keep balance. If God exists and he is intelligent and free, it is reasonable that humans should know him through faith; you do not know a person through textbooks.
If I remember correctly, the Catholic Church teaches that God cannot do anything that would contradict his nature, so one of the premises of your argument above is wrong.
As for God’s attitudes towards suffering, well, I don’t know anyone who claims to know the perfect answer to that one. I guess it has something to do with human freedom, and the simple fact that we are limited beings. The problem with throwing this argument in the face of Christians is that they believe in a crucified God. For whatever reason, God chose to deal with human suffering not by taking it away, but by immersing himself in it. That gives suffering a mysterious kind of meaning. If you prefer meaningless suffering, be my guest.
Keep thinking for yourself Hannah! Just make sure to use your whole head and heart and you’ll be OK.
Great response, Dave!
Hannah I really admire your courage to stand for your beliefs. It’s really interesting because when I read your comment I saw myself in the mirror a few years ago. I used to think the same way and I thought it made so much sense since God was “responsible” for my parents divorce and for all the depression, emptiness, and wounds I had. I sort of prayed once in a while and NOTHING happened so I asked God “what the hell is your problem theres no way you exist or care enough about me to help me out!” I searched for love in so many different places especially through sexual pleasures to try and fill the voids and empty wounds of my heart. I am not sure if this is how you have felt before but if it is I totally understand how you feel. Its a feeling of how God must just not exist since he doesn’t seem to care about pain. One day I hit my limit as to how much I could do and control in my life. Everything was going wrong and I needed some help from someone and I didn’t know who. So I prayed. Prayer never did anything before because my heart was not in it and I really did not give a damn but this time I had hit rock bottum and I was crying out for help to heal my wounds and to help me get rid of my addictions that were chaining my life to the pits of hell and I couldn’t break free. I said “God, I am going to put my faith in you because you are all I have left to gain my freedom back. I need you and I need your love because no matter what I do it doesn’t work. Save me from my misery.” All of a sudden a priest showed up and asked me if I was ok. He said that the Holy Spirit told him I was “conflicted” and he wanted to help and pray over me. I agreed and as he began to pray I started to cry. By the power of the Holy Spirit (who is God) he healed my internal wounds and cast out four demons that were strongly influencing and oppressing my life. They had gained access to my body since I had been living a life of continuous sin and allowing them to keep feeding me these fake pleasures that never bring fulfillment. Since that day my life radically changed and I was able to live my life without feeling ashamed, weigh down, hurt, insecure, suicidal, extreme sexual temptations and withdrawals, and a knew outlook on life and the redemption Christ brought in my life after I simply gave up on myself and let him take full control of my life. I am a piece of garbage and until I was able to accept that then God was not able to work through me because before I had too much pride and told him I only needed him a little bit or certain times. I agree with you that God may not be “physically tangible” but experiencing Him and his love in my life was more real then anything else. He is amazing and from a scientific standpoint, I should have had chemical withdrawals when I stopped my addictions and I never did. From a psychological stand point it should have taken months or years to heal from my past wounds that I almost committed suicide from and they were gone in a minute. I totally sympathize in what your saying and I will be praying for you so that one day you can experience the love and affection I felt from Christ and the breaking away from bondage. We all have wounds and living life for pleasure only made them worse for me. Only Christ was able to patch them up and save my life from a horrible future of depression, suicide, and emptiness. Even though I don’t know you I love you Hannah and I will be praying for you.
Moving testimony, Jona. Thanks for sharing it .
Beautifully stated, Fr. Jason! Thank you for this post.
Actually, it wasn’t beautifully stated, since I was able to refute it all quite easily. Nice try, though.
Hanna, thank you for your note. You packed a lot into two paragraphs! I’ll try to address some of the issues you raised little by little in my Saturday posts and look forward to continuing the discussion. Fr Jason
Hanna there are two things not valid in your statements. 1. You don’t prove something just by saying it is obvious. 2. That God be all powerful doesn’t mean he can carry out a contradiction for he is all wise. If he wants his spiritual creatures to have free will then this implies they can choose evil. If he were to do away with evil he would have to do away with free will, which would be contradicting himself.