March 7, 2019

Their Preferred God is Just Testing Us

Hands holding the world

One of the most common attempts I have encountered from Christians desperate to explain the unexplainable involves the idea that their preferred god is testing us. If their god is all-powerful and wants us to believe in it, why wouldn't it appear before us and remove all doubt? Because it wants us to believe in it on faith, of course. But why? It is testing us. Those who pass will be rewarded with heaven, and those who fail will be tortured forever.

Why does their preferred god allow so many horrible things to happen to so many decent people? We may initially be told some absurdity like how their god does not give anyone more than they can handle, how this is part of its plan, or "mysterious ways," but it often seems to come down to a test of some sort. Their god is testing these people to see if their faith persists. The book which some Christians insist is "holy" is filled with tales about this god subjecting humans to cruel tests of faith. I think one could easily be forgiven for thinking that this god is a sadist.

To make any sense out of this, it seems like we must start with the premise that faith (i.e., belief in the absence of evidence) is extremely desirable. For reasons we may never understand, this appears to be what this god wants from us above all else. Again and again, we are told that belief is even more important than behavior. As desirable as faith is to this god, it appears to be regarded as too easy a virtue to warrant heavenly rewards. We need to be tested so this all-knowing god can properly assess the strength of our faith. And that means we need to be put through the ringer. As great as faith is, it is even better when we cling to it despite being subjected to whatever cruel misfortunes this god has in mind for us.

Sally is a devout Christian who attends her evangelical fundamentalist church every Sunday. She hates all people her bible instructs her to hate, and she's raising her children to believe all the same nonsense in which she believes. She's one of the true believers and not just someone going through the motions to signal her virtue to her neighbors. She's serious about her faith. Unfortunately, that isn't good enough. Let's see whether Sally's faith falters when she's brutally raped. Her faith remains strong? That's great! Let's see what happens when her youngest child is diagnosed with Leukemia.

A loving being would not put people through such torment unless that was the only way it could accomplish some higher goal. A sufficiently powerful being would not be limited by what it could accomplish. An all-knowing being would have no use for such tests because it would already know their outcome. Are the Christians who believe in such a god worshipping one that is evil, weak, or stupid? I think it seems far more likely that they are worshipping something that does not exist.

When harm befalls you, is it really more comforting to conclude that your "god" is testing you and unnecessarily subjecting you to pain because it is curious how you will respond (even though it already knows) than to suspect that there is no divine intelligence at all? Personally, I find the second possibility far more likely and no less comforting. I'd much rather be ignored because there isn't anybody else here than to be tormented by a presence that is evil, weak, stupid, or some combination of the three.