C. S. Lewis on Suffering

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Why does God allow us to suffer if He is all-good and loves us? Many today confuse love with kindness. C. S. Lewis wrote:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.‘” (Source).

This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi:

“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-8).

A loving God, according to many, would simply dote on His children. Many think He should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to the parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means that He, like any good parent, allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents, as their children learn to walk, never allow them to fall down? Parents do not like to see their children hurt or upset but it would be a spoiled child who always had its way and never once got hurt.

Again, it is because God loves us that He allows us to suffer. It is part of His plan for us to become like Him. We should not confuse love with kindness, as C. S. Lewis so eloquently pointed out. When people ask why God allows us to suffer, they do not understand the nature of God or His plan for us. This is not necessarily their fault but the question is evidence of ignorance or at least temporary blindness.

Science and Religion: The Creation

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I do not generally write posts like this one but I had to comment about something I read today. Yesterday morning I saw a bumper sticker that had the following words: “Creationism is a product of the Christian Taliban.” The inflammatory comparison is obvious but the whole statement is ambiguous at best (i.e., if you ignore the spurious comparison, the statement – according to a very narrow definition of creationism – could be interpreted as true by some).

First, the idea that the earth was created by a supreme being or higher power is as old as religion itself (actually, it’s older than “religion”; besides, it is true). The broader term creationism simply refers to any idea that the earth was created. In this sense, that bumper sticker is blatantly wrong. However, the term creationism was not coined until the early 1900s, when conservative (fundamentalist) Christian groups started a major backlash against evolution (more accurately evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, which had all animal life – man included – descended from a common ancestor like branches on a large blossoming tree of life). Today some people equate creationism with intelligent design. However, while intelligent design is a subset of creationism, the two are not exactly the same. In other words, all intelligent design is creationism but not all creationism is intelligent design. It is only in this very narrow interpretation of creationism that the bumper sticker could be viewed as true (again, completely ignoring the inflammatory conservative Christian / Taliban comparison).

This we do know – the earth was created by Jesus Christ. We do not fully understand the process by which He created the earth (and the “heavens”). We can glean a few golden kernels from the book of Abraham. As an example, here is a selection from the creation story:

“And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time” (Abraham 4:17-19).

The first key point is that during the creation, “the Gods [a reference – at least – to the Godhead] watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” Those involved in the creation watched and were active in the process until what they had ordered obeyed (i.e., finished the process They started and maintained). The creation took time; a lot of time. In fact, that is the second key point from these verses: “it was the fourth time.” The creation did not occur in “days” it occurred in different periods of time. The Genesis rendering of the creation using the word “day” is not wrong because “day” can be used to reference a particular span of time – 24 hours on earth – or some other interval of time (e.g., a “work day”, which might consist of 8 hours or some other length of time and might occur during the day or night; or, another example is where “day” is used to reference an event and not necessarily an actual time: “the day of vengeance of our God” {Isaiah 61:2}).

At least some scientific explanations of the origin of the universe and the earth can be interpreted as being in harmony with the gospel (one example is the Big Bang but I will not explain here how that can be viewed as being in line with the gospel). I’ve found that the more I study science, the more I do science, or just about anything, the more I believe in God. Non-believers may balk at that statement but when I see the beauty of the brain or in mathematics or physics or nature, I, like Alma, believe that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

In the end, that bumper sticker I saw is nothing but a cheap political shot at Christianity (ostensibly it is only a cheap shot against Christian fundamentalists who deny evolution but it really is an attack on Christianity in general). We do not understand the creation. We do not even understand science and anyone who places his or her trust completely in science (or, at least the preachings of scientists) really does not understand science. It is in God that we must place our trust. Whenever science and the gospel seem to clash, there are at least two explanations: the science is wrong (or at least partially wrong) or our understanding of the gospel (specifically, the extent of what has been revealed or our understanding of what has been revealed) is incomplete. Unlike science, the gospel is never wrong. So for me, if it ever really came down to a decision between science and the gospel, the gospel would always win.

Truman Madsen’s Timless Questions, Gospel Insights – Notes Part 1

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What follows is a transcript of my notes of Truman Madsen’s “last lectures” called Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights. He stated that if he could give one last series of lectures, these are the lectures he would give. These notes come from the first of the lectures. The notes are quite disjointed – they are nowhere near an exact transcript of Truman Madsen’s words; however and hopefully they still are interesting.

“What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? It doesn’t matter” said the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Some philosophers speak of man as tripartite – three parts – nous, psyche, and soma: reason, spirit, and body. These three parts constitute the “soul” of man. What is manhood? According to Plato, it goes beyond this world. Truth, beauty, and good are the basis of much of Greek philosophy. These philosophies led to a change in Christian and Hebrew theology. Hamlet’s famous musing: “To be or not to be” to a latter-day saint could be phrased “to become or not to become.” This describes our potential. God is the ultimate extension of intelligence. God cannot create or destroy this – or Himself. We are all eternally self-existent. “Joseph Smith said, “God never had the power to create the spirit of man, for all intelligence is spirit…” We are beginningless. Greek notion – time is non-temporality. Joseph Smith also said [this is Truman possibly paraphrasing], “God found himself in the midst of intelligence and glory and was infinitely more intelligent. He set laws wherewith these intelligences could become exalted like himself.” This is good doctrine; it tastes good and is sweet.

If there is no God [as some people claim], we have to go to the laws of chance to get everything. Start with mere atoms and get these remarkable selves [people]. This is a sad doctrine [in that] there is nothing to look forward to. This leads to existentialism – which is a philosophy formed around human existence. One branch of this is phenomenal logicalism. Sartre was part of this movement. He said that L’homme est une passion inutile – man is a useless passion. You create you from nothing – you are responsible to no one. Sartre also said, “Hell is other people” and he may be right. Existence precedes essence – you exist before you think. Then there is the threat of non-being; this is the ontological shock – we only exist as long as we project ourselves, our nature, on that around us.

We believe that we are stuck with ourselves forever. We must be a pleasant person to live with. You have a body forever. This is bad news if you are hard to live with; good news if you can live with yourselves.