Christian Response to “Why I Raise My Children Without God” – Week 5 – God Is Not Present

blog - God is Not Present

Last week, I addressed the fourth of the seven reasons Deborah Mitchell cited in her controversial CNN article “Why I Raise My Children Without God.”

Mitchell’s 7 Reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God” were, as follows….

  1. God is a bad parent and role model.
  2. God is not logical.
  3. God is not fair.
  4. God does not protect the innocent.
  5. God is not present.
  6. God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
  7. God Teaches Narcissism

This Week: 5) God is not present.

Mitchell writes:

He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.

What About This Statement Is Wrong?

What does it mean to be “here”? Mitchell clearly takes a materialist viewpoint.  Materialism has long been discredited as an all-encompassing explanation for the universe, since it’s so easy to disprove.  For instance, no one today would dispute the existence of gravity.  And yet, gravity is the result of matter, but not matter itself.  In other words, you cannot see, smell, touch, or hear gravity, but it’s still obviously there.  Therefore, sensory perception simply cannot be the final measuring stick of whether or not something is truly “here.”

Would anyone suggest that by teaching children about gravity, we’re brainwashing them into following along with our imaginations?  Of course not.  Material existence, one that can be perceived through the senses, does not equate to the whole of reality.

Materialism denies the existence of both deity and soul.  Everything is just that, a thing.  And so are you.  Consequently, consistent with a materialist mindset would be to treat you as a mere soulless thing.  But every human knows that would be inappropriate.  Most people would be terribly offended if you treated them as though they were just a sack of chemicals, soulless matter.  We know there’s more to us than the mere atoms that create our physical reality.  If there isn’t, then why do we care for humans or grieve the loss of humans differently than, say, a plant?

When you can acknowledge that a “physical existence” is too simplistic of an explanation for human life, then it’d seem natural that such a definition would not suffice for the God who many believe created such humans.

What About This Statement Is Truth?

If there is such a being as Creator God, which I obviously believe there is, it’d seemingly make sense that such a being would exist in ways that go beyond the comprehension of his creation (i.e. humans).  The Bible confirms this.

Granted, the presence of God is a fairly tricky thing for finite humans who operate primarily by sensory experience to nail down.  Nonetheless, the Bible says that God exists everywhere at once (Jer. 23:24), when believers gather together (Matt. 18:20), in the “Real Presence” of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, 1 Cor. 11), inside of us by his Spirit (2 Tim. 1:14), and with each of us personally for support (Matt. 28:20).  How can one God have so many different forms of presence?  Perhaps the better question to ask is why do we assume that something can only have one presence?  The answer is that the natural laws of our universe seem to allow every creature only one local presence.  The problem with using that logic, however, is that we’re applying it to one who created the laws of nature, a supernatural being, not one who is bound by the laws of nature like you and me.  It’s necessary to keep this in mind when debating the presence of God.

Mitchell also suggests that when we teach kids about God, sometimes it’s just a matter of sharing with them a perception of God that is “based in our fears and our hopes.”  I think that’s a fair criticism for some.  I’m sure there are many parents today, for instance, who teach their kids that “a loving God would never send anyone to hell” or that those who go to hell simply “cease to exist” (called “annihilationism”).  That may be their own personal hope about God, but that’s all it is.  Because they find it difficult to reconcile the idea of a loving God with an eternal hell, they teach their children the doctrine of their imagination.  It’s a belief not grounded in Scripture whatsoever.  Whereas modernist thinkers tended to be painfully and divisively doctrinal, many postmodern thinkers tend to be overly non-doctrinal and form their beliefs through unsubstantiated imagination.  I think Mitchell correctly identifies that mistake.

How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?

One of humanity’s greatest fears is to be alone.  While hard to measure, I think it’s a fair guess that more resources (time, energy, dollars) are poured into finding loving relationship, the intimate presence of another, in this world than any other pursuit.  And yet no matter what form of love, what relationship in this world, it can and does break at some point.

Deadbeat fathers leave.  Boyfriends and girlfriends come and go.  Husbands and wives cheat or check out emotionally.  Kids go away to college.  Friendships dwindle.  And even if all our relationships remain intact throughout life, the inevitable conclusion to loving human relationships is…….we all die.  Every purely earthly relationship ends.

But according to the Bible, relationships that are rooted in an eternal God remain forever.  “After that, we who are still alive and are left (i.e. believers on earth) will be caught up together with them (i.e. the saints) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thess. 4:17)  Since God is eternal, like the hub on an indestructible wheel, every spoke that is attached to him is subsequently linked to every other spoke forever.  Believers who die in Christ live forever in Christ – eternal, relational presence.

Furthermore, before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)  Is it possible to believe that without seeing it?  The Bible says such belief is the very definition of faith (Heb. 11:1).

Others in this world can, and some probably will, leave you.  But he will not.  Everyone else in this world invariably dies on you.  But he dies for you, so that you can live with him and those who die in him.  We might not always get the presence of God that we’d prefer from him here in a sinful world, but it’s precisely so that we can get his eternal presence in paradise.

Three Summary Points to Consider:

1) Just because I can’t see something (or taste, touch, hear, or smell it), does that mean it cannot be present?  If so, how do you explain things like gravity?  How do you account for things like love or thoughts or morals?  Are such things all not real because you cannot quantify their presence?  Are they perhaps merely the product of chemicals?  Or is it possible that there is more to this world than the physical?

2) Does it make more sense for a Creator God to only have the exact same local presence of his creation or that he would have a presence that transcends the merely local, physical, and visible?

3) According to the Bible, God is actually more present than any other person or thing in our lives.  If I adjust my definition of “presence” to include more than the purely physical, is the Bible’s claim so hard to believe?

Christian Response to “Why I Raise My Children Without God” – Week 4 – God Does Not Protect the Innocent

blog - God Does Not Protect the InnocentLast week, I addressed the third of the seven reasons Deborah Mitchell cited in her controversial CNN article “Why I Raise My Children Without God.”

Mitchell’s 7 Reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God” were, as follows….

  1. God is a bad parent and role model.
  2. God is not logical.
  3. God is not fair.
  4. God does not protect the innocent.
  5. God is not present.
  6. God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
  7. God Teaches Narcissism

This Week: 4) God does not protect the innocent.

Mitchell writes:

He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can’t God, with all his powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?

What About This Statement Is Wrong?

Again, Mitchell’s complaint is nothing new.  Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) voiced the same attack when he 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?

There are several problems with the assertion.

First, who exactly are the truly “innocent”?  Generally speaking, irreligious people with a liberal worldview tend to see humanity as basically good.  Yes, there are some who commit unconscionable crimes, but they were a product of unfortunate social and environmental circumstances and were ultimately driven to bad behavior……or so the argument goes.  Conversely, highly religious people with a conservative, traditional worldview tend to see humanity in terms of good people and bad people.  Conveniently, they also always tend to land on the side of good people when they’re categorizing.  And in the end, when God is determining who he allows into heaven, like Harvard Admissions, he welcomes in those with the highest moral performance scores.

The Bible holds neither of these views.    The Bible says things like, “There is no one who does good.” (Psalm 14:1; Rom. 3:12) and “every inclination of his (i.e. all mankind’s) heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8:21).  So again I’d ask you the question, where did you get the idea that anyone is truly and fundamentally innocent?  Not from the Bible.  That means that you must have learned it from your surrounding culture.

Okay, so prove that people are innocent.  I’ll make it even easier.  Prove that children are innocent.  You won’t be able to do so experientially.   If so, come to the Preschool at my church and show me how these cute little 3 and 4-year-olds, who, relatively speaking, have more moral education than most, are wholly innocent.  Impossible.  And if you reason, “Well, they’re not old enough to fully grasp that what they’re doing might be wrong” – in other words, that limited cognitive faculties or awareness should produce a verdict of innocence – you’ve just made a defense that suggests no drunk driver should ever be held accountable for his/her actions.

Furthermore, the supposed “innocence” of children makes no logical sense from the standpoint that the concept of childhood is unquantifiable.  Granted, some churches have tried to define it – often referred to as an “Age of Accountability” – but it doesn’t take long to poke holes in such a concept.  For instance, when should such an age begin or end?  When does a child actually become accountable for his/her behavior?  Age 10?  If I murder someone on my 10th birthday, should I be punished for my evil, but if I’d committed the same crime at 9 years 364 days, should I be acquitted?

Do you sense the flaws in such a way of thinking?  Isn’t it simply easier, more accurate, and more sensible to say, “There is no one who does good, not even one”?

Mitchell is here suggesting that the innocent don’t deserve the bad things they face in this world.  I’m suggesting that she’s actually going to have to prove to me that there is such a thing as a truly innocent person on this planet.  In world history, I count one.

What About This Statement Is Truth?

Mitchell doesn’t come right out and say it, but the spirit of her message in this point is that there should be defense for the oppressed and downtrodden and marginalized and sick in the world.  And that message is certainly in harmony with what the Bible itself says.

In Scripture, what does God say about treatment of the guilty and innocent? Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the Lord detests them both. (Prov. 17:15)  While in a broad sense, none of us is truly innocent, in a narrow sense, God absolutely does not like for people to experience injustice in this world.  No child deserves to be molested.  No hard worker deserves to be robbed.  No wife deserves to be beaten.  While such victims are still sinners who need their sins paid for, they have not done something to warrant the specific crimes committed against them.  And God hates such injustice.

There are great anecdotes in the Bible that show instances of God sparing certain individuals from his righteous wrath.  Remember when Abraham bartered with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of Abraham’s nephew Lot (and family).  As it played out, God was more gracious than what Abraham was even asking for.  Lot and his family were spared.  They were still obviously sinners (cf. keep reading in Gen.19).  But they didn’t apparently have the same willful impenitence as the rest of the city.  Similar things could probably be said about Jericho’s destruction (Josh. 6).  God’s track record suggests that he does not want humans to suffer unjustly and he’s certainly capable of intervening and acting on their behalf or sending his mighty angels to do so (Psalm 91:11).

Still, we do in fact observe injustice in the world.  We do see the innocent (again, “innocent” in the narrow sense) facing unwarranted suffering and death.  Why?  Well, please read my previous three posts if you’re looking for an extended answer to that, but the short answer is that God would only allow something unpleasant to come upon us if it was for our eventual greater good (Rom.8:28).  God’s ultimate goal for his children is that they be happy, but not just for some measly 70-80 earthly years.  He wants to bless us for all eternity.  To do so, is it possible that God might take the life of a little child so as to prevent some future challenge or fall from faith?  Is it possible that God might allow a young woman to face such physical injustice that she hates this sinful world and yearns for a better life, a life without manipulation or abuse, which ultimately draws her closer to her Savior?  Is that really so far-fetched?  Look, I’m a guy who will openly point to my own previous bouts with anxiety and depression as some of the most important influences God has used in my life to draw me closer to him.  Could God have protected me from an anxiety disorder and depression?  Sure.  My life on earth may have been easier and more enjoyable.  But I’m glad he allowed what he allowed, because I don’t know where the rest of my eternity would have been spent if he didn’t.

How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?

Jesus doesn’t just defend the innocent.  He, the only truly innocent, defends the guilty before God.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13)

In the courtroom of God’s Kingdom, Jesus, our defense attorney, appeals to God’s justice.  He essentially says to his Father, “Since you have collected payment for all mankind’s sins through my death, if you are a just God, you simply CANNOT collect payment from my people.”  Brilliant defense.

Mitchell’s argument for not raising her children with God here is that God doesn’t protect them as she believes he should for their 70-80 years.  But the Bible says that God loves you so infinitely much that such love cannot be adequately expressed in a 70-80 year window.  Therefore, he will allow whatever he deems necessary in this life so that he can love and protect you for all eternity.

God always loves you more than you give him credit for.

Three Summary Points to Consider:

1) What does it mean to be truly innocent and who would fall into that category?  Does your definition of “innocence” come from an admittedly relativistic society?

2) According to the Bible, God hates injustice even more than you do.  And his method of operating is to protect people for all eternity, not just this lifetime.  Therefore, like giving a child a vaccination, could temporary pain possibly be for long-term protection?

3) To defend the innocent is one thing.  To die in the place of the guilty is an entirely different level of love.  Has anyone ever really loved you the way the Bible says that Jesus does?

Christian Response to “Why I Raise My Children Without God” – Week 3 – God Is Not Fair

blog - God is Not FairLast week, I addressed the second of the seven reasons Deborah Mitchell cited in her controversial CNN article “Why I Raise My Children Without God.”

Mitchell’s 7 Reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God” were, as follows….

  1. God is a bad parent and role model.
  2. God is not logical.
  3. God is not fair.
  4. God does not protect the innocent.
  5. God is not present.
  6. God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
  7. God Teaches Narcissism

This Week: 3) God is not fair.

Mitchell writes:

If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?

If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.

What About This Statement Is Wrong?

Mitchell isn’t really writing anything new when acknowledging that God’s sense of justice doesn’t seem to match up with mankind’s sense of justice.  In fact, the Spirit of God fascinatingly even inspires psalmists to record their anger over God’s non-human brand of justice.  “For I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.” (Psalm 73:3-4)  We hear similar sentiments throughout the Book of Job and from the mouth of prophets like Jeremiah (Jer. 12:1).

There must be a reason for these divinely recorded rants.  Apparently God finds some value in allowing his people to read the vents of frustration that came from previous believers.  They didn’t like the injustice of a sinful world either.

What Mitchell really fails to recognize in her statement, though, is a truth that even many Christians fail to process as well – that God answers ALL prayers, just not always the way we desire or at the time we desire.  Like a parent who doesn’t immediately give their child EVERYTHING they want at the very moment they want it, God loves us more than to merely spoil us.

What if we really got what we wanted all the time?  Can you even imagine the monsters we’d be?  It’s very interesting to me that a largely secular American entertainment community has even picked up on this.  In 2003, Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman starred in Bruce Almighty, which tells the story of a man who constantly complains that God isn’t doing his job right.  The main character, Bruce Nolan, eventually gets the opportunity to “play God” for a week to see the challenges that come with governing sinful humanity.  It’s a fairly sacrilegious film, but nonetheless did a superb job of highlighting the challenges and snafus of managing a world full of inherently self-centered, self-destructive creatures.  In one scene, Bruce discovers that if, as God, he simply replies “yes” to all prayers, it will destroy civilization.

Similarly, in 1990, Garth Brooks hit #1 on the country billboard charts with a song called, “Unanswered Prayers.”  In the lyrics, he writes about a man who went back to a football game at his old high school.  There he sees the girl who, back in high school, he believed was the “girl of his dreams.”  He recalled how he’d prayed feverishly that God would let the two of them be together forever.  But he then realizes how much both he and this woman have changed over the years.  And finally he introduces her to his wife, concluding that the woman he was now with was much better for him than the woman whom he previously thought he was supposed to be with.  He then humbly expresses gratitude to God for not always giving him everything his heart desired.

To suggest that you know EXACTLY which prayers should be answered, in which ways, at which times, would be to suggest that you yourself know all things.  In other words, you have then indirectly called yourself, by definition, “God.”  You see the foolish pride in that, right?

The moment you realize that humanity would be a wreck if God gave us everything we want is the very moment you realize that failing to get everything our hearts desire in this world is a temporal and practical necessity.

What About This Statement Is Truth?

God absolutely is NOT fair.  We do NOT get what we deserve.  And we shouldn’t want it any other way.

The Bible is very clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  No one, Christians or otherwise, really dispute that.  Sure, some believe they are without sin in the sense that they refuse to acknowledge universal morality and therefore “sin.”  But I’ve never met one single person who claimed that they were perfect.  In other words, we all know we’re flawed.

Since we’re all in agreement that we’re not perfect, then we’re all in agreement that none of us deserve a perfect life.  But that’s exactly what the Bible says God gives those who believe.  The very next verse of Romans 3 says that all “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:24)  Because God is more of a Father than a boss, he doesn’t pay wages, he gives gifts.  Salvation is a gift.

The 70 or 80 years which we flawed creatures may or may not get in this flawed world will likely, in fact, be flawed.  Why would that surprise us?  But an infinite and eternal life is awaiting those who recognize the gift of forgiveness that God has given to us in Jesus.

We do not get what we deserve.  We get what Jesus deserved.  And he got the hell that we deserved in exchange. (2 Cor. 5:21)  Doesn’t sound fair.  I know.  Salvation for mankind is contingent on God NOT operating according to the “fairness of man.”

Furthermore, Mitchell points out in her argument the occasional pettiness of many Christians’ prayer lives.  That’s probably a legitimate criticism.  When Jesus taught us to pray, he explained the importance of praying for spiritual things above and beyond physical things (Matt. 6:9-13).

But to get angry at God for the sins of flawed Christians is misguided.  Gandhi made the same mistake when he said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.”   Everyone would agree that misguided anger is unhealthy.  So be angry at some Christians.  But it’s illogical to let that jeopardize potential for relationship with God. 

How Is the Gospel of Jesus More Beautiful Than This Belief?

Grace.

It’s the most beautiful thing someone can experience.  And it’s sadly foreign to this planet.

Think for a moment about why you love the things you love.  Generally speaking, we love the things (or people) who “do something” for us.  I love pizza because it tastes good.  I love basketball because I find it to be exciting and it helps me stay in shape.  I love my wife and my family and my friends because they’re great to me.  Even God himself.  I love him because he first loved me and did amazing things for me (1 John 4:19).  This is what we might call “objective love.”  It’s loving something based on the value of the object to us.

That is NOT how God loves us.  When Jesus gazed down from the cross that was sucking the life out of him, upon the people who put him there, he loved them.  He didn’t love because they were so incredibly lovable.  But he still loved them simply because his heart is intrinsically filled with love.  This is what we might call “subjective love.”  It’s loving something based on the goodness of the subject doing the loving.

In her article, Mitchell repeatedly cited the sadness of parents whose children are either born with defects or die prematurely.  God doesn’t like defects, disease, or death either.  In fact, the Bible makes the bold claim that God actually loves your sick and dying child even more than you do, which is why he gave his own life to give your child eternal life and a resurrected body that will never face pain or deformity or disease.

God is not fair to us.  He’s gracious to us.

Three Summary Points to Consider:

1) What would the world look like if God gave everyone everything they asked for in prayer?  And wouldn’t suggesting that you know what prayers God should and shouldn’t answer be an insinuation that you yourself had God-like knowledge?

2) The Bible claims that God is just, but not “fair.”  Every crime is accounted for, but God gets out his own wallet to pay for the damages.  Does such generosity strike you as fair, less than fair, or more than fair?

3) How much of challenging God’s “fairness” is actually our struggle to understand God’s grace, an entity that is so foreign to this world it almost seems too good to be true?