Saturday, July 14, 2007

Where to Turn for Help

Back in November of 2004, I posted a blog entry entitled Why Does God Let Good People Suffer? On July 14th, 2007, this post got its fourth comment, the second one being one that I posted to provide a live link to Attorney Robert Sutherland's Book of Job website, which was mentioned in the first comment, an anonymous one. The last two comments were also anonymous, and they appeared to be made by people who were struggling with the question squarely addressed by my original post. To wit: Why does God let good people suffer?

The comments left by the anonymous posters that I mentioned above seemed to focus on the notion that God was not treating them and/or someone close to them in a fair, benevolent, and/or loving manner. I can only wonder if they actually read the theodicies that I recommended and/or read my followup post in May of 2005, God Has Much to Answer For. If they had, they would have discovered that they were not the first people that believed themselves to be treated unfairly by God, and that confronting such a reality is the beginning of true religious understanding.

All too often good people who turn to God for help in their time of need find that their prayers go unanswered, a legitimate complaint repeatedly made by God's faithful servant Job, the difference being that God actually does appear towards the end of the Book of Job to answer Job's claims of unfair treatment for the innocent, the good, and the faithful. In most other instances, those who turn to God for help or guidance find themselves dying long before help arrives and confronted with the reality of a God that is seemingly indifferent to their plight, a sad state of affairs that God does not deny when he appears before Job and vindicates Job in the presence of others. Simply put, there is no practical worldly benefit for believing in God or in praying to Him for help or guidance, so many people make the rational decision to live their lives without worrying about whether or not God even exists.

I consider myself to be a Christian, but my religious beliefs are more closely aligned with those of Unitarian Universalists. Unitarian Universalists trace their roots to Christian Protestantism, but they are self-described as "a creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality." And if there is one central tenet that seems to bind Unitarian Universalists together, it is the idea that a search for religious truth should not be a reason to abandon rational thought. Consequently, most agnostics and atheists would probably find themselves quite at home in a Unitarian Universalist Church, provided that their decision to question the existence of God did not preclude them from believing in some sort of universal moral code that found its first form in the Old Testament of "the Bible."

A cousin of mine who is a self-described Fundamentalist Christian once asked me whether or not I "believed in the Bible"; if not, why did I study it? I've answered this question elsewhere, but the answer bears repeating. I believe that "the Bible," in its many forms, is an unfinished story of a search for God by various groups of people who believe in "the Bible," and I believe that much of "the Bible" is fictional and/or just plain wrong. I also believe that if people started their biblical studies with the Book of Job, they'd keep reading "the Bible" because the Book of Job is a candid admission of the fact that God lets good people suffer. Elsewhere in "the Bible," God offers sound moral guidance, particularly in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus advises people to love one another without passing judgment on each other. That's a really good place to start, but that's not much help for people with more pressing worldly needs.

So, if God cannot be counted on in one's time of need, where should one turn for help and guidance? As children, most of us turn to our parents, almost instinctively. As we grow and learn, we recognize the limitations of our parents, and we turn to others, such as our friends who seem to know what were going through, or authority figures who seem to know more than us, our parents, or our friends. Many of us stop our personal evolution right there, but some of us learn to question authority, whether it be parental, peer, or teacher, or even the anonymous authority of the crowd, and we start thinking for ourselves. But even those of us who think for ourselves can find ourselves in over our heads from time to time, so we turn to those who seem to be trustworthy and have expertise. Other things being equal, there's nothing wrong with that, but blind faith in anyone or anything can cause you great harm or even get you killed, so set boundaries, and be very wary of anyone who offers to solve all of your problems for you.