The case against blind faith


#1

When Abraham hears that God is going down to Sodom to investigate its wickedness and, if necessary, punish it, Abraham does a remarkable thing. He challenges God:

‘Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?..Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”’ (vv. 23,25).

In the last sentence, Abraham makes a specific differentiation between what God does and what is right. He answers Plato’s question: an action is not right merely because God does it. He then goes on to bargain God down to sparing the city if only ten righteous people are to be found. Abraham challenges Almighty God, and God, rather than scorching him to a cinder or even merely rebuking him, participates in the conversation.

When Moses spends too long on Sinai, the Isrealites decide to make a new god, the golden calf. God decides to annihilate the Israelites, and tells Moses that he will be the father of a new nation. Moses’ response, rather than being pleased at his new role, is to challenge God:

“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (v12).

Not only does he question the reasonability of Almighty God’s action, but he goes on to issue instructions (“Turn”, “relent”, “do not”) to God, instructions which God subsequently follows.

When the Angel of the Lord (i.e., the angelic representative of God) is distressed by the plight of Israel under God’s wrath, the angel questions God:

"Then the angel of the LORD said, “LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” (v.12).

Rather than being angry at a subordinate who questions divine policy in front of a mere mortal, “the LORD spoke kind and comforting words to the angel” (v.13).

In each case, a lesser being questions God’s decisions, effectively placing another value (mercy) above obedience to God. By doing so, the lesser being judges the righteousness of God’s actions according to a value independent from God. Plato’s question is answered consistently. Not one of them is rebuked for this.

The most popular counter-example to this line of thought is, of course, Job. Many people read this text too hastily, and leap to the assumption that God condemns Job for having questioned divine authority. The text says otherwise. Job demands an accounting from God for what has happened in his life. God arrives, as demanded, and responds by questioning Job. This is the first point: God validates the possibility of such a conversation by engaging in it. God’s first question is “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:2, my emphasis). Job then repeats the question at the end of God’s discourse. Thus, the question is the frame of the entire discourse (42:3). Within this framework, the questions which God directs at Job are consistently epistemic (regarding knowledge). Thus, what God condemns in Job’s action is not mere affrontery, not mere failure to meekly obey, but the foolishness of ignorant questions. Job himself is not condemned, and God finally tells Job’s friends, who preached meek obedience, to ask Job to pray for forgiveness for their “folly”.

The Bible, then, validates the role of the believer as one who can determine right or wrong for him-/herself, and who can question Almighty God regarding the righteousness of a given action. If [/FONT]“Test everything” applies to the words of God, how much more must it apply to the words of the Church!

“Companions, the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra)


#2

A few years ago, I heard a Christian theologian, a rabbi and an imam (no, this is not a joke) discuss Abraham’s significance in their respective faiths. Afterwards, I asked both the imam and the rabbi whether they thought that we should question God as Abraham did. The imam’s response was that the Qu’ran (in sura 11:76) has a different take on the event: God tells Abraham not to bother his little head about it, and Abraham shuts up. Islam is rightly named “submission”. The rabbi’s response was much simpler: he said, “Of course!”


#3

[quote=Mystophilus]A few years ago, I heard a Christian theologian, a rabbi and an imam (no, this is not a joke) discuss Abraham’s significance in their respective faiths. Afterwards, I asked both the imam and the rabbi whether they thought that we should question God as Abraham did. The imam’s response was that the Qu’ran (in sura 11:76) has a different take on the event: God tells Abraham not to bother his little head about it, and Abraham shuts up. Islam is rightly named “submission”. The rabbi’s response was much simpler: he said, “Of course!”
[/quote]

Did you ask this of any Catholic theologians?


#4

[quote=stanley123]Did you ask this of any Catholic theologians?
[/quote]

I have not yet, no. However, hopefully a few of the Catholics here will comment, and then I will learn something of their views.

I did not ask the Protestant one there at the time because I was so unimpressed with his work as to not think the effort worthwhile.


#5

[quote=Mystophilus]When Abraham hears that God is going down to Sodom to investigate its wickedness and, if necessary, punish it, Abraham does a remarkable thing. He challenges God:

[/quote]

Would this be characterised as directly challenging God, or as pleading with God?
Anyway, it looks as if God really did not yet make up His mind when he said (right before the “challenge” of Abraham:
Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
The word challenge might indicate that what was decided was unjust and therefore you would dispute that. But if the thing had not yet been decided definitively, it seems like it might be a pleading, not a challenge to argue for a particular issue?


#6

I see it as pleading, and the revelation of a merciful God coming even more fully. Remember that God reveals Himself in stages, and this is most apparent in the Old Testament. God *is *Mercy. We know that now. Moses and Abraham were figuring this out, and they pleased God in doing so. Appealing to His mercy and trusting in it, is extremely pleasing to God. If you want to read more about this, I suggest reading the Diary of St. Faustina, which is very enlightening in the matter.


#7

Peace be with you.

God governs us, but prayer governs God.
God is just and slow to anger.
He is ALL merciful and definately not as we are.
What you pointed out was what God would do for the least of in His children in His infinate mercy. Jesus would have died for just one person. Thats the simple meaning of the passeges you gave.
God hears and answers all prayers but not with the justice we decide.
What about when Mary told Jesus to something?


#8

[quote=stanley123]Would this be characterised as directly challenging God, or as pleading with God?
[/quote]

You are certainly right about the fact that Abraham pleads with God: he attempts to persuade rather than coerce. However, what he challenges is not so much God’s action ipse, but the aboluteness of the sovereignty of God’s position. He does this by directly implying that there are things which God should not do, when he says, in verse 25, “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The adjuration and question both assume the possibility that God could do wrong, and thus that righteousness is a value external to God, by which even God’s actions can be judged, rather than being a derivative of God’s choices: an action is right because it is right, and not because God chooses it. What I think is even more significant is the fact that God allows Abraham to do this.

This is one of my favourite parts of Scripture, because it very clearly characterises the God of the Old Testament as not a tyrant by the fact that God permits such impertinence. A Greek god, for instance, would have incinerated the impudent mortal where he stood. The God represented in these texts is the One in Whom I place my faith, heretic that I am.

Anyway, it looks as if God really did not yet make up His mind when he said (right before the “challenge” of Abraham:
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The word challenge might indicate that what was decided was unjust and therefore you would dispute that. But if the thing had not yet been decided definitively, it seems like it might be a pleading, not a challenge to argue for a particular issue?

In the text, God’s announcement of intent to investigate is followed immediately by Abraham’s question “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” The inference that Abraham takes is that God will destroy Sodom and so he moves immediately to characterise such an act as inappropriate by initiating his plea with this leading question. Thus, he moves immediately against what he perceives to be God’s intention.

I would say that Abraham was right in his assumption; I think that God knew exactly how many righteous people were in Sodom before the conversation began. Even knowing that Abraham would lose in winning, God gave him the opportunity to argue his point, and it is that in which I rejoice.


#9

I have always liked the story of Jonah because he had a feisty relationship with God. I have never thought God minded when we challenge or argue with him. It shows a tremendous amount of faith to do so with the Lord, a real working relationship. I figured he got a kick out of it that someone cared enough to be so engaged with him.

cheddar


#10

In the last sentence, Abraham makes a specific differentiation between what God does and what is right. He answers Plato’s question: an action is not right merely because God does it. He then goes on to bargain God down to sparing the city if only ten righteous people are to be found. Abraham challenges Almighty God, and God, rather than scorching him to a cinder or even merely rebuking him, participates in the conversation.

Your assumption is that challenging God therefore creates a situation in which both parties speak absolute Truth. Unfortunately, though he was a good man, Abraham had limited intelligence (as do all of us) and only God spoke perfection. To his knowledge and limited intelligence the action of God to Abraham would have been percieved as wrong. He was judging God by the very laws God had given him, however remember that God is all knowing, He knew Abraham would try and change His mind, and taught Him an important lesson in the process, i.e that God knows best, in the end, it is determined that God original action was best. Although God chose to use a roundabout method of proving His point.


#11

[quote=Magicsilence]Your assumption is that challenging God therefore creates a situation in which both parties speak absolute Truth.
[/quote]

Actually, I assumed no such thing, and I am not sure whence you drew the idea. I firmly believe that all humans make mistakes. This makes God’s allowance of the attempt more important.


#12

[quote=cheddarsox]I have always liked the story of Jonah because he had a feisty relationship with God. I have never thought God minded when we challenge or argue with him. It shows a tremendous amount of faith to do so with the Lord, a real working relationship. I figured he got a kick out of it that someone cared enough to be so engaged with him.
[/quote]

:thumbsup: Jonah has always been my favourite because he was not a righteous man: he was a sinner, like me. He hated the Assyrians so much that he wanted them to die. He could not tolerate the idea of God forgiving them and so he tried to avoid preaching to them.

“That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)


#13

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