I posted a thought for the day earlier today:
We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them. ~Kahlil Gibran
My friend and colleague Duncan responded, “Profound. I’m a firm believer in the Lord chastiseth those whom he loves. Some sorrows are in many cases not of our choosing but rather chosen for us by someone who knows what is good for us.”
This particular aspect of faith, though, is one I struggle with on a visceral level. I’m not entirely sure I believe that, on an individual, human basis, the Creator has our individual happiness and best interests at heart, at least here on this earth, during this lifetime.
Imagine a giant, divinely inspired maze, with God the mad scientist and we faithful – or somewhat less so – humans the rats. (No, this is not a special edition of Who Moved My Cheese; I detest that book.) In this cosmic model God administers jolts of joy and sorrow to his lab subjects to steer them toward their reward, whatever that may be. Purina rat chow? Increased rat status and pay raises?
Although I am not a biblical literalist, the most specific assurance of God’s love for individual humans that I am aware of is here, and it seems somewhat indirect and conditional:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
This seems to say that God defines the reward at the end of the maze. What if the reward is a published paper for God the mad scientist? That’s not very motivational for the average rat. Oh, wait, I overextended the metaphor.
Balancing that assurance, we see many stories of God allowing anguish, pain and suffering for His/Her glory. In the old testament, don’t we have examples like Isaac, Job and Jonah? And in the new testament we have Lazarus, Stephen, and the crucifixion of many of the apostles.
This would be the rat-maze equivalent of God directing his favorite rats through the maze with a taser. Or a BB gun.
If I could choose between living a peaceful, joyful, fruitful life here on earth, or painfully enduring to my maximum capacity, serving as an example and/or cautionary tale for God, I’d surely prefer the former, as I think might much of humanity.
So, how can a God who loves us ignore our agonized pleas for help and relief and instead administer a plan that serves His/Her glory rather than mere human happiness? I’m not asking “Why does God allow suffering?”, but “How can I serve a God that prioritizes His/Her own glory over individual happiness and welfare?”
On a related note, I also realize prayer, even in the desperate, darkest hour, isn’t a giant wish list in the sky. In many ways it primarily serves to draw us nearer to the divine, rather than the converse, which is actually rather amusing when you reverse the phrasing that way.
Still, my initial concept, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them,” is essentially, to me, one of self-determination. Our intentions and our beliefs drive our actions and create self-fulfilling prophecy in our lives.
I am fine with a God who randomly drops joy or abundance into my life – but random sorrows, as part of some cosmic, divine rat-in-a-maze plan, just don’t fit comfortably into my theology. I’d really rather wander the world without that particular type of help.
I have friends who are religious and philosophical scholars, of both a Christian, pantheist and atheist bent, who can probably expand on this subject much more eloquently than I.
My faith continues to have blind spots the size of the Bermuda Triangle, and yet I stumble on. I wonder what’s around the next corner?