Religious folks are often heard to say God works in mysterious ways. Ironically, when they say that, they’re usually trying to explain away an instance in which God apparently didn’t work. The child died of cancer. The promotion didn’t come through. The penis enlargement herbal remedy didn’t bear fruit.
His ways aren’t our ways.
The problem with this whole God Works In Mysterious Ways refrain is it turns Him into a . . . a . . . the right word eluded me as I was drafting this post. Originally I used a certain two-syllable expletive. You know the one. But my mom’s been asking me not to curse so much in my blog, so instead I used jerk in an early draft. When Mom read that early draft, she suggested the word wasn’t potent enough and offered monster. Seems to me that monster is more offensive than my two-syllable expletive. So . . . a mysterious expletive/jerk/monster. Take your pick. Whichever you use, He has a lot to answer for, which is why so many atheists are so ill-tempered, at least on the Internet. An atheist meme I saw on Facebook recently said, “Would you look the other way while a child is being raped? Then you’re more moral than your God.”
(As an aside, I should note that my mom also objected to the term “penis enlargement.” I hesitated but then figured she should be grateful I used “penis.”)
The only way out of this puzzle is to admit that God is impotent in important ways—that He’s not “all powerful.” The classic refrain is God can’t be all good and all powerful, or there wouldn’t be suffering. Theologians have wrestled with this dilemma as long as there’s been monotheism.
I say we apply Occam’s Razor.
Do we want a God who could stop bad things from happening but chooses not to? (Easy for Him to say. It’s not His child being raped.) Or a God who hates the badness we suffer but can’t do a damn thing about it?
If those are the options, I’ll take Door Number 2.
In other words, God doesn’t do in so many, many instances because He can’t.
Can’t. It’s the simplest explanation.
It all boils down to the concept of power.
It’s no wonder God seems so powerless. Think about it. There is nothing that happens in the world that doesn’t happen in a physical/material basis. So God’s activity—to the extent He acts—is always unseen. There’s no miracle until the water becomes wine, but the mechanism of that transformation eludes us. Evolution we can explain. But what is the desire behind evolution? God’s power, like God Himself, remains invisible.
The best we can say—and salvage any idea of a powerful God—is that what God does in the world, He does subtly. He acts on the world the way a beautiful woman walking across the bar floor acts on a straight man. (I say that because it just happened to me, and the effect was subtle yet profound. She did nothing, yet she did everything.)
God romances creation.
Which means, from our point of view, that He’s frustratingly patient. He’s willing to wait millions of years for homo sapiens to emerge—with all the false starts and painful deformities—and then it’s hundreds of thousands of years after that before those hapless bipeds first form the rudimentary concepts that will lead to “God.”
He’s playing hard to get, as it were.
God is about process—incrementalism. (That’s a nod to my mom, who is a student of process theology.) That’s why He “uses” evolution. Even religious folks, if you push them, will admit that God works in their life in incremental ways. In the early years of the Christian church, leaders struggled with the conundrum that people continued to sin after being baptized. Imagine. The solution was the concept of sanctification—becoming more godly bit by bit—what Orthodox Christians now refer to as theosis. Essentially, it’s evolutionary salvation, which suits everyone fine, even the Young Earth Creationists. You can’t argue with the facts. No one become a Saint In A Day. (Though most religious folks, if they’re being honest, will confess to feeling better than nonbelievers.) Even Mormons, perfectionistic Mormons—God love ’em—will trot out the refrain that we learn “line by line.”
I’d go further. God’s activity in our lives—once again, to the extent He acts in our lives—is so incremental so as to be indiscernible. So it seems as if we’re on our own in this Grand Process, which brings up the importance of forgiving oneself on a daily basis, as we’re apt to misstep. To my way of thinking, that’s much more important than asking God to forgive us. He’s the one that put us in this situation. He gets incrementalism.
Now it’s our turn.