Monday, September 23, 2013

Christianity Is Not a Crutch

If Christianity is a crutch, than atheism is a wheelchair. I've never liked the crutch argument; it's always carried the punch of a "Straw Man" to me. Christian faith is not for the faint-of-heart or short-of-breath. Only those who are willing to walk tightropes, dig graves, and turn cheeks are worthy of the call.

As I understand it, the argument goes like this: Faith is for those who are not strong enough to  bear their own pain. Belief in God helps people make sense of loss, grief, and tragedy. People of faith demand meaning where there is none, which helps them persevere.

In other words, it shows greater strength to view suffering as natural, random, and morally neutral. To declare life as a bunch of happy accidents and chemical reactions takes true grit.

I disagree.

Faith makes several bold assertions. "There are no happy accidents. We are more than chemical reactions. We are intelligently designed creatures by an infinitely wise God, who has not left His world alone, but actively engages with human affairs."

Such claims require Christians to interpret life through a cipher of divine purpose. God has His reasons for flash floods and prostate cancer and unanswered prayers and domestic violence. Of course, these reasons are not written in neon (or Scripture, necessarily) for public viewing. Any Christian who claims inside information on why God permitted tornadoes in Joplin or armed lunatics in Navy Shipyards, has turned his crutch into a bludgeoning tool.

What a Christian can claim with confidence is that God has built cause and effect into his creation. Hence natural consequences abound. Diabetes isn't the result of a malevolent God, but malnutrition. Criminal activity isn't prompted by a distant God, but by fatherless children. I oversimplify to stress one side of the argument.

I also must acknowledge that God permits these bad things to happen. In some cases, He even prescribes them. A recent sermon series through the book of Habakkuk has made that evident. Even before Habakkuk, God prescribed genocide for Canaanites, flood waters for Noah's neighbors, and boils for Job. After Habakkuk, he prescribed death by crucifixion for Jesus.

Nevertheless, these examples are anecdotal. The mass extinction of Hittites does not explain the Killing Fields. (That was Pol Pot's neurotic evil). Job's skin disease does not explain my grandmother's cancer. (That was cigarette's deadly carcinogens.) The Great Flood (Gen. 6) does not explain the recent destruction in Colorado. (That was an accident of global warming and residential zoning.)

The thinking Christian must constantly walk the tightrope, wondering if the tragedy of the day is an act of God or law of nature. She must also recognize these ideas may overlap. So the crutch becomes their balancing pole.

We must respect that God has a reason, even if He does not tell. We must fight the urge to import theological meaning to  natural disaster, even if we have biblical precedent. We must look for a bigger picture, even if momentary pain blinds our eyes. We must cling to the hope of heaven, even if archeologists and telescopes have uncovered no such place. We must swallow our pat answers in the face of another one's pain, even if we believe God has a greater good in mind.

If it is a crippled psyche that searches for meaning in the face of tragedy, I am happy to limp on a line. For as long as I limp, I am alive.

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