When I was a child, I attended a Christian academy. One day, in our black and white dresses and white shirts with khaki pants, we were crowded into a recording studio in town and performed a rousing rendition of “Children, go where I send thee.” There are actually many versions of the song, and it’s a Negro spiritual, but none of that matters for today. What matters is the core sentiment of the song.
The line “Children, go where I send thee” is representative of the average Christian’s wish. The desire to do the will of God is second to nothing that I can think of in the Christian life. Hundreds of songs and hours of sermons are dedicated to it. A tearful father might struggle understanding the will of God when told his child has down syndrome, or (and this happened to me recently) a friend might second-guess a decision to move elsewhere because she doesn’t know if it is in God’s will. In the Christian worldview, it is paramount to know and to do the will of God. But there are several big problems with this.
In the Christian worldview, it is paramount to know and to do the will of God.
First, let’s talk about knowing the will of God. Is this possible? Most any Christian will tell you that it is not. It is not possible to unequivocally and completely know the will of God. For this concession, Christians will pay a price, and the price is this: If you can never truly know the will of God, then nothing you do is based on it. Instead, your actions are based on your interpretation and understanding of the will of God, which is very different. If God is really as indescribably, uncontainably, placing-the-stars-in-the-sky-and-knowing-them-by-namey as you say that He is, and that you’ll really never be able to fully understand him, then you’ve just admitted that you will live your whole life acting, not on God’s will, but on your subjective understanding of it. But even assuming that you could get to complete knowledge of God’s will, there is another severe problem with this line of reasoning.
Nothing you do is based on the will of God, but only on your subjective understanding of it.
Without getting too philosophical about it, let’s assume that God has free will. And how could he not, really? He’s the chief badass of the universe, sultan of space and time, the alpha and omega and all that. This means that God is free to do what he would like to do. Sure, the claim that he’s good puts a couple of categories necessarily out of his reach, but inside that circle, he’s still got tremendous leverage.
Here’s the problem: If you attach your morality and your reasoning to a being with free will, then your morality is not objective, but subjective, based on the will of that being. And just in case you’re tempted to argue that God is objective and unchanging, remember that there are plenty of Bible passages to support the fact that God changes based on time and circumstance, position and willingness, culture and goals (Sodom and Gomorrah, Jonah, His “regret” of creating us, etc.)
God changes. Just ask Abraham, Lot, or Jonah.
Consider how big a blow this is to Christian faith. Most Christians don’t have a problem with saying they’ll do anything God says because they understand him to be good. But if, as is claimed in my particular ex-faith (Adventism), God and the Devil are embroiled in some kind of great controversy in which God is vindicating Himself for the whole universe to see, this means that His nature cannot be determined to be good as of yet. A charge is being leveled against God by the snake here, namely that his laws are unjust and that he is not good, a charge serious enough to warrant God sending His son as a sacrifice to redeem mankind and prove it false (yes, it’s convoluted, but stay with me here.) The takeaway is that God’s character is in question at the moment, and therefore resolutely assigning complete ownership of our beings to Him is not, in the least, wise.
If Christianity offers the promise of evidence after we die, why should we believe it before then?
This is exactly what I hear Christians being afraid of when they consider atheism, because they’re terrified of the idea that you live by a subjective morality. But from what I see in my own life, that’s the only way it makes sense to live. Different inputs have different outputs, whereas in the Christian paradigm, all inputs lead to God, the ultimate output. I will never apologize for using my common sense, reason, logic, and yes, emotions to understand any given situation and act accordingly. It’s exactly what we all do. Christians, you already live by a subjective morality – and that’s ok. Welcome to the club.
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