Professor Jacob Needleman
An Honest Exploration of God and the Human Soul
The theme of this paper will be on my own personal reflections of the nature of the relationship between God and humanity through the use of both philosophical inquiry and the contemplations of the human soul. That being said, the structure of this essay will be, essentially, a diary in a sense. There won’t be a serious argumentation that I presented in my last paper in the defense of historical Christianity versus Christian mysticism. Instead, I will like to take this opportunity and write about my own thought-processes concerning my own personal relationship with God as a Christian. The vibe of this paper will hopefully be more relaxed and informal in terms of academics, but possibly more tense, painful, and dark in other aspects.
The omnipotence, omniscience and absolute goodness of God.
To begin, as a Christian, I accept all the omni-attributions given to God; however, the one I struggle most deeply with is the goodness of God. But first, I will talk about the two prominent omni-attributions of God before I dive into the trickier issue of God’s goodness. God’s omnipotence, I believe, is already naturally integrated into the human conscienceless concerning the concept of God. As a layman, wholly independent of serious philosophical inquiry, there was a natural inkling to the reality or existence of such a being that we attribute the name “God”. This is how I came to accepting Christ [God], not by philosophical arguments, but simply by ignorant, childish faith.
Originally, I was a Buddhist by birth; however, at an early age, I always believed or prayed to God. Childish faith or hope, has lead me to believe freely without doubt that there was a God who could help me, as Eckhart wrote, “By this agent [hope], the soul has such confidence in God that it imagines that in all God’s being nothing is impossible to it.” (1) This is probably my first experience of God’s omnipotence. Later on in my life, studying philosophy as a college student, I became exposed to God’s omnipotence from the arguments for God’s existence such as the cosmological arguments [Leibniz and Kalam], the ontological argument, and argument from the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. (2,5) These arguments helped me ground my natural disposition to believing in a God who already possessed these characteristics. To conclude on this aspect of God, I have no trouble as a philosopher or layman about God’s omnipotence.
Next, on God’s omniscience, again, there is no deep-seated issue concerning this aspect of God that cannot be handled. According to the ontological argument, God, as a maximally-perfect being, must intrinsically possess perfect knowledge. (2, 3) As a believer, I struggle between human free-will and predestination. On Calvinism, which constitutes a theory of salvation as divine sovereignty, God in his omniscience, pre-destined the salvation of particular individuals and disregard the unselected group. Free-will on Calvinism seems to be extinct. As William Craig wrote, “Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents.” (7) Intellectually, based on my own philosophical scrutiny and contemplations, I resorted to Molinism as a means to marriage divine providence and human free-will. Molinism’s explanation of the relationship between God’s providence and human freedom is the most compatible with the scriptures and teachings of “mere-Christianity”, namely, the idea that humanity has the ability to resist God’s grace, hence, rejecting salvation. (7) This hypothesis seems most satisfying both in the respects of reason and faith. With Molinism, my understanding of God’s omniscience is, for the time being, secured. Concerning God’s absolute goodness, I will transition to talking about God as the locus of goodness and his nature and commandments as the foundation for human morality in respects to the shadow of evil and suffering in the world at large and in my own personal life.
God as the Ultimate Source of Ethical Values and the Existence of Evil
As a Christian philosopher, I hold the belief that God is the terminus of moral goodness; specifically, from God’s nature and commandments, humanity’s sense of morality has objective grounds. (3) These are the views adopted by various Christian philosophers, specifically, J.P. Moreland and Will Craig held these perspectives: from God’s nature, human being’s moral value is obtained and sustained, and from God’s commandment, humanity derives moral duties. (2,3) Based on this background information, the problem of evil seems to already be tamed based on intellectual reasoning, namely that, human moral consciousness of good and evil draws their source from God’s moral goodness. In this respect, evil cannot be a direct cause of God, since the nature of God is pure moral goodness. Therefore, the logical problem of evil is rejected. This hypothesis alludes to the contradiction of the existence of God and evil. (4) However, this hypothesis, as of recent, has widely not been defended for good reasons. Instead, opponents of theism resort to the evidential argument of evil, which holds the position that the existence of evil count as evidence against the probability of the existence of a good God. (4) The heart of this paper emerges here. The argument from evil, both the logical and evidential version, I argue holds no detrimental force to disproving the existing of God; however, I believe, and other Christians and the layman may also agree, the emotional, spiritual, and tangibleness of the existence of evil makes all arguments for God’s existence, in my opinion, garbage. At the end of the day, no one cares about beautifully crafted arguments for God’s existence; what an individual really wants, what I want is to know that God loves me and sees me in the ocean of other souls. This being said, we shall move from philosophy and reason, and progress to the matters of the human heart and soul.
Faith versus Reason: Means of Accessing God’s will.
The biggest struggle in my Christian life and with my relationship with God is whether the God of the universe truly loves me and sees me. Eckhart wrote, “Creature comfort is never perfect. It is faulty and never comes unmixed. God’s comfort is pure and without any admixture.” (1) What I realized is that the majority of my knowledge of God is merely head-knowledge and without any connection to my heart. I cannot find comfort in this. True, one can argue, God is the inspiration of logic and reason, and from those gifts one knoweths God. Great. Textbook answer. The famous medieval philosopher, Aquinas, “clearly distinguished between “preambles of faith,” which can be established by philosophical principles, and “articles of faith” that rest on divine testimony alone. A proof of God’s existence is an example of a preamble of faith. Faith alone can grasp, on the other hand, the article of faith that the world was created in time.” (6) In my life, I am full of reasons and arguments for God’s existence, but it seems that I might be lacking in the faith department, despite the fact that I do possess faith in God. I personally believe, although it seems contradictory to what I have had written, is that reason does not satisfy the problem of evil, but faith does.
If I held on to reason, like white on rice, then I would have been cooked and eaten up. [Chuckle] The illustration serves a point. While we live, we encounter countless evils: little ones, big ones, worldly, and personal evils. For example of worldly evils would be: the 9/11 incident, disasters in Haiti, and human trafficking, etc. Personal evils would be: my father had an affair, which lead to divorce, and ultimately, scared my whole family. Call me selfish. I am sure I am not the only one. But I don’t give a rat’s ass about the worldly evils. My main focus would be on the evils in my personal life. My dialogues with God usually go like this: “Why did you let this happen to my family? Why is my family so poor and broken?” Deeper dialogues would be: “God why did you even create me? The best gift you could have given me is the gift that was not given. It would be even God. No suffering. No joy. This is truly fair.” When all is said and argued in a philosophy classroom or when a Christian and an atheist debate on their worldviews, and so on. One doesn’t bring reason back home and pour out one’s frustrations, doubts, anger, fears, and sadness to reason; on the contrary, we cry out for hope and faith.
We abandon reason and look to faith. Faith that God is good and He does love us and sees us. This is the will of God, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom… but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:24) We can only believe God is good and loves us through faith. And faith, I believe, is the only way to resist the urge of disbelief in the existence of God while encountering countless evils. In the goodness and faithfulness of God I put my trust and let go of my reason, and place my worries and fears in His caring hands. The story of the footprints on the beach reminds me of the silliness of human reason. The story begins with you and God walking on the beach. There are two sets of footprints. You encounter trouble, suffering, and hardship. You see only one set of footprints. You are dismayed. You cry, “God, why have you abandoned me?” In humor, God replies, “Those are my footprints. I was carrying you through your hardships.” This story always warms my heart while in the presence of great suffering and hardship. Faith does this. Reason, as in the story, leads a person to experience sorrow and despair.
Proposed Meaning of Human Life
In summary, my own conclusion to my explorations of my relationship with God is simply, faith; reason comes secondary to faith. Just trust and obey. I don’t have to like my pain and suffering, but I can rely on the fact that God is good. Anyways, if I were to abandon my faith, I would become insane because I can’t accept the consequences of a supposed reality without God. Like the realization the late Nietzsche, one of the bravest and most honest atheist, arrived upon when he contemplated the depths of his atheism, which is nihilism: the destruction of all meaning and value in life. (2) I agree with Nietzsche that without God, life is meaningless. To conclude, as wise as Nietzsche was, Solomon, the so- called “wisest man who ever lived”, came to this same conclusion when he explored all the comforts of the world; he concluded that everything is meaningless, except one thing: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Blakney. Raymond B. (1941) “Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation.” Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
- Craig, William Lane (2010-03-01). “On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision.” David C Cook. Kindle Edition.
- Moreland, James Porter; William Lane Craig (2009-08-20). “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.” Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
- Rowe, William. “The Evidential Problem of Evil.” Readings in Philosophy of Religion: East Meets West. Blackwell Publishing. 2008.
- Swinburne, Richard. “How the Existence of God Explains the World and Its Order.” Readings in Philosophy of Religion: East Meets West. Blackwell Publishing. 2008.
- Swindal, James. (Accessed Spring 2014) “Faith and Reason.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Duquesne University. U. S. A. http://www.iep.utm.edu/faith-re/
- William, Lane Craig. (Accessed Spring 2014) Molinism vs. Calvinism.