If I said that someone survived a car crash with barely a scratch, but three others in the car were killed outright; many (most?) people, religious or not, would likely observe, "stuff happens for a reason!" Behind that observation is the popular religious belief that God controls the universe, and there is a divine reason behind things that happen to us. But if I were to ask, was there some reason for a bird dropping poop on my forehead rather than my shoulder this morning, many would think my question silly. Nevertheless, a serious issue lies behind both situations: Is anyone or anything completely in control of the universe?
One answer is that God micromanages the universe. If so, then all things do happen for a reason. A micromanaging God would scarcely leave anything to chance! This line of reasoning, however, leads inevitably to the conclusion that even bad things are due to God's deliberate management. By popular definition, however, God, can do no wrong; therefore everything apparently bad must really be good—and that includes even the bird poop on my forehead. A micromanaging God might have had good reason for the bird poop—for under the theory of divine micromanagement, God makes everything happen for a reason.
Perhaps God only casually manages the universe, however, and is not responsible for everything that happens. Under casual management some things are divinely manipulated but other things are just allowed to happen, as they will. Under this theory the universe has been set up to work in a well regulated way, and God only intrudes now and then for whatever reason strikes the divine fancy. For the most part, things do seem to work fairly well in our world. The world turns with general regularity—and only the occasional glitch. This theory, however, raises the question: how can we ever really be sure what is deliberately caused by God, what is part of the regular pulse of the universe, and what is a glitch in the system? The bird poop is well accommodated by this explanation, however. It is just one of those billions of little things that never registered on the divine radar scope, or simply are part of the regular pulse of the universe where many things happen for no particular reason—like a leaf falling off a tree, or bird droppings. I happened to look up this morning at the precise moment the bird pooped. Such occurrences are part of the regular design of things: leaves fall off trees, and birds poop all over the place. But under this theory one can never be sure of what God does or does not do.
It is also possible that God has chosen to be an observer of events in a universe designed to run itself, more or less—or worse, God has gone missing. "How could that be possible? God created the world, so why abandon it?" Good question! But since we cannot even prove that God exists, how could we possibly know whether God is missing? A missing God, however, does make a sort of perverted sense out of our human situation, and could account for natural disasters and unconscionable human suffering—in short, for whatever reason no one is minding the store! Bird poop on the forehead would make excellent sense in a world like this, however; a God absent for the big things could scarcely be expected to show up for the little things.
Perhaps we have simply misunderstood God's character. If God were a bit devious, it might explain the general regularity of the universe and its benefits when things work without the glitches, and also accommodate the glitches, such as natural disasters, the tragedies of disease, and fatal "accidents." In short, God may be prone to be a bit "impish," so to speak. Certain passages in the Bible seem to support such a theory—at least the early Israelites and Christians must have thought so by some of the ways they portrayed God. The book of Job is a case directly on point. Bird poop on the forehead is precisely the kind of thing one might expect from a mischievous God.
Of course, it is always possible there never was a God. The only difference between this possibility and the last is that human tragedy and natural disaster could not be caused by a nonexistent God, but must be the result of randomness in a universe that never had a manager of any sort. We could be alone in a sort of well-regulated universe—except for the occasional glitch. Such a situation accommodates regularity, natural disasters, and bird poop on the forehead.
These five possibilities for explaining bird poop and divine management of the universe boil down to this: should one choose to believe in an uptight micromanager, a lax casual manager, a God gone missing, a mischievous manager, or in no God at all? One could choose to ignore human experience (what is found in the Bible), and fashion a God of one's own choosing. I suspect that is what most of us do—as did the writers of the Bible!
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
*C. W. Hedrick, House of Faith or Enchanted Forest. American Popular Belief in an Age of Reason (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), 13-15 (slightly revised).
Hope life's blessings are abundant for you and yours in this celebratory season.
You've given us a careful analysis, but I find myself rejecting all five possibilities for God's nature. We simply don't know. The only sure thing is that humanity is the thinking part of the universe, and is responsible for the outcomes of decisions and actions which try to frustrate or control or encourage the inevitabilities of nature which are in our own self-interest. In this sense humanity plays the role of God.
On the lips of Jesus we find God functioning in different ways. At one level, Nature is God, showing no favoritism to the rich or the poor. At another level, compared to humans, he is incapable of giving anything but good gifts. At another level he is interested in establishing a kingdom where welcoming the other was the behavioral rule. At another level, he disappears at the moment of one's greatest need. At another level he is capable of replacing human death with life. This is the revealed view of the Jesus follower.
As in the previous topic I find humanity to be capable of reason, but finding God is not one of the capacities.
I dunno, Charlie, the idea of a divine, omnipotent practical joker kind of scares me. :/
I could not describe God's character, about which I know next to nothing. I was trying to describe the options for describing God that might account for a universe in which there seems to be little rationale in events from who lives and who dies in an auto accident to bird poop on my forehead. Those were the options I came up with. Are there other options do you think? Are some of the ones I mentioned not possible and why not?
Good Afternoon Jane,
Thanks for weighing in. You and I may not like the idea of a divine practical joker. But that seems to be one of the possible options, given the situation in which we find ourselves in the world. Or do you think it to be an impossible response?
You mention the possibility of God being like a divine practical joker and other possibilities of God's nature. Think of the roll of several dice. Each time the outcomes are very different as each of the die comes up with it's various possible outcome. Most of human outcomes are similar to the dice rolls with an added significant influence due to each human's choices and actions. When the dice are thrown, God does not control each outcome. Neither does he control the outcome of a car wreck. The human drivers can avoid or initiate the wreck. The passengers' actions can also influence their injuries-maybe even chose to not get into the cars. Then the nature of the universe controls both the dice rolls and the car wrecks. Human choices and actions are also parts of the nature of the universe. Some may see the operation of the natural universe as actions of God.
Taking your question at face value, Charlie, I'm not sure God needs to be a consideration. Do things happen for a reason? Certainly there are reasons, some the actions of humanity, and others the result of forces of nature. But, we humans being human and likely to consider ourselves superior and unique, look for reasons, particularly when bad things happen. That's often when God comes into the picture. The Christian God has been endowed with characteristics such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, as well as justice and mercy. How, then, can such a being allow bad things to happen? I'm inclined to think if there is a God, we have no understanding of what that is.
Good morning Charlie, it sounds like you don't think God should allow any suffering- that you think he needs to do something about it. Why shouldn't God allow suffering to take place, whether it's car accidents or bird poop on foreheads, etc? What in your opinion should he do about the suffering that is taking place? Eliminate it altogether? Why?
Many thanks, Elizabeth
If I understand correctly, you are saying : "God does not control human actions." Your last sentence suggests that whatever happens is in conformity with the nature of the universe--which may be viewed as actions of God. Your comment as a whole seems to avoid the issue of intent or rationale. That is to say is there a particular mega reason behind whatever happens in the world?
Your final sentence expresses my sentiments exactly; we only know what we are told about God or invent on our own.
Good Morning Elizabeth,
I think that given the nature of our universe, God (if God there be)could not eliminate suffering, evil, and bad things happening without changing the character of the universe. And further it demeans God (if God there be) to assume that God alleviates the suffering of some, but allows the suffering of others to continue.
What might the options be, for describing God, which could account for a universe where people like me walk along the edge of insanity. Since late childhood I've found myself talking to God/Jesus as if believing there were an open line, real or fiction, of consciousness between us. There is no actual auditory experience or proof of response from the "other," it's just what I do, like an ongoing desperate prayer with the only outcome being self-comfort and self-doubt grinding against one another. I've mentioned similar experience before on your blog.
Is this the universe of a micro-manager, a lax casual manager, a God gone missing, a mischievous manager, or no God at all? Some blend of the the final three, maybe?
My only comfort or hope is a story of hope, the cross and resurrection of the Messiah. If a God there be, she is surely a critical intervention manager. The Jews have pretty much always said that.
On a day of dipping temperatures: Good afternoon Gene,
I particularly appreciate the honesty of your first paragraph. I had a similar experience at some point in the past when I suddenly became aware that I was the only one in my head when I was praying--something of a shock actually. But I would not describe people who pray as "being on the edge of insanity," as you put it. I think there is a place for prayer conceived as personal meditation and introspection rather than as address to an all powerful Deity.
To answer your titled question: "Do things happen for a reason"? I would answer definitely yes! Everything happens due to the natural laws under which the universe operates and this includes the actions of humans. As I have stated in previous opinions, Science is the best mechanism yet invented by humans that reveals the true nature of the universe. Prior to Science humans merely observed & guessed about this universal operation. Human quality of life has exploded since Science began revealing our universe. Recall after several thousands of years of human existence, the simple fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the opposite was not discovered until the 15th century with the implementation of Science.
Science best reveals the nature of God!
Good Morning Jim,
Most of your well stated statement I agree with, but I disagree with your main point. We had earlier disagreed (see above) on science best revealing the nature of God. I think the question "Why?" is not adequately explained by your idea that the "natural laws" of the universe give the reasons why things happen. For example, science can explain the circumstance "how" the bird pooped on my forehead but not "why" it did. Such an event involves a randomness principle that begs the question "why": why did it happen to me at that precise moment? Hence my conclusion that science can explain the how of events but not the why. Most people sense that conclusion instinctively, and hence we invented the gods counter-poised against the universe or in control of the universe to answer it.
Hi Charlie and Jim,
Perhaps even more than begging the question of why something happens, it seems to me that science begs the question of value of consequences.
For example, consider the robotizing of the auto- mobile industry. Science tells us we can do it, has demonstrated that we are doing it, but can say nothing about if we should do it either before or after experiencing the consequences.
The same critique can be made for medical interventions, advances in controlling cosmic space, communication technologies, and on and on.
The assumption of science seems to be that just because one can do something one should do that something. Now, if the universe were built correctly it seems to me that God's role would be to provide guidance about how necessary and appropriate that something might be. If She refuses to do that humanity seems stuck on the fear that if "we" don't do it "they" will, thus removing all controls on the scientific process, thus threatening itself with extinction.
Re: "Jim, I think the question "Why" is not adequately EXPLAINED BY YOUR IDEA OF UNIVERSAL LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE".
I again disagree with your opinion about the inadequacy of explaining why the bird pooped on my head. It is merely the universal laws combining to place the bird with the need to poop being precisely over my head at the same time. The bird has to poop at some time, and I happened to be at the precise location at the same time. What is so mysterious about this particular isolated incident? This is the ONLY "why". Making any more of this event or any other event than the simple explanation is one's imagination gone awry.
I'll grant you that when human actions & thoughts are involved, e.g. car wrecks & injuries the explanation can become a good bit more complex, but still with the same simple basic explanation.
Good Morning Gene,
The practical applications of scientific discoveries in industry and elsewhere is not the science of discovery that I think of. My definition of science is this: in brief "science is a way of explaining the universe in which we live." But Jim will likely have a better definition.
Good Morning Jim,
We actually are in agreement, except for you insisting that you have explained "why" the bird pooped. As I read your first paragraph it clearly and accurately explains how it happened that you came to have bird poop on your forehead, but does not explain why it happened. The why relates to the reason for the event: reason is a statement in explanation or justification for the event. Most people want to project some higher reason for what happens in their lives. The example of bird poop or a leaf falling from a tree illustrates that what happens is simply the way of the universe. There is no higher purpose. If there are reasons for what happens, it is we who invent them in hind sight,when looking back over the course of our lives. Explaining "how" things happen is as good as it gets.
Re: "Most people want to project some higher reason for what happens in their lives".
I stated in my previous comment "making any more of an event , i.e. a higher reason than the consistent operation of the universe is one's imagination gone awry". It is a never ending search for the unanswerable-maybe the non-existent. In either case thinking gone awry.
I'm the one who just emailed you about the Gospel of Judas. God is love and you are asking too many questions. Mind is far too limited to understand. That's why Gnosisis the Way. ;)
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