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LuckyGuy's avatar

Can some faithful (religious) person please explain this apparent paradox to me?

Asked by LuckyGuy (34875points) December 12th, 2012

I do not mean to be disrespectful. I just don’t understand and need some help from a religious person. If we must do this by PM that is OK. I don’t want to start a debate or flame war. I just need to “get it” enough so I can respond sympathetically to this situation.

Recently a coworker, about 50, passed away suddenly while at home, working out. He (let’s call him Al) was a genuine nice guy: wonderful family man, hard worker, healthy, good build, non-drinker, and, oh by the way, quite religious: bible study, youth minister, etc.
I happened to be talking with another guy in his bible study class about this situation. He said (paraphrasing) “It makes me rethink my faith. I thought I was ready. But then something like this happens and I realize that maybe I am not as good a person as I think. Maybe Al was taken because God thought he had been tested enough and he passed the test. He did not have to prove anything any more.”
I said nothing but was screaming on the inside!!!

About 2 years ago another guy about the same age died. Let’s call him Zack. He was overweight, a drinker, made horrible lifestyle choices, divorced twice, big party boy, and, oh by the way, not religious. Nobody was surprised to hear Zack had died.
Did God think he had been tested enough? Did Zack also pass the test and did not have to prove anything any more?
Did the baby that got killed in the tsunami pass the test too?

How do the “faithful” (he used the term, not me) justify picking and choosing the explanation? Is this not a paradox? Why does that make sense? Do you just say “Well, God acts in strange ways unknown to us?”
My explanation is heart disease and statistics. You can adjust it a little with diet and lifestyle choices. But I am an engineer and not a faithful follower of any religion. If there is a test and death is the reward, I want to fail.

How am I supposed to answer when one of that group comes up to me and wants to talk? Any input would be appreciated. I promise I will not debate. I just need a little help here.

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27 Answers

Seek's avatar

I will answer from my former perspective as a religious Christian. At least, I will try to.

God has a plan for everyone. He knows from our date of conception which will be our last day on earth. We have no idea what God’s plan is, but it’s our responsibility to be ready for that day when it comes.

The youth minister, presumably, was on God’s good side, and thus has only good things to look forward to.

The other guy, well, clearly brought his fate on himself. This is because we aren’t going to blame God for a death that likely doesn’t end with a soul entering Heaven.

Back to real-time me, the ultimate answer is that God gets all the credit for the good, and we bring the bad on ourselves. No, it doesn’t really make sense, but when you follow a religion because it brings you comfort, you have to explain away the uncomfortable bits somehow.

problemlikemaria's avatar

Please understand that the views of the man you spoke with are not those of all Christians. I’m religious, and I’d still go with the heart disease explanation. Bad things happen to good people and to those less good.’
If you’re interested, I’d recommend reading The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. It might give you some perspective on the subject, and on the larger question of why a supposedly good God (“omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent” as Aquinas put it) would allow suffering to continue.

Judi's avatar

I think that your friend might have been processing out loud. The Christian community has a wide range of belief systems so knowing which church your friend attended could help to understand his perspective.
The traditional protestant belief is that salvation is God’s doing and not something that we do.
In recent years (last 100 I would say) with the rise of the religious right, more emphasis has been placed on being a “correct” Christian both personally and politically.
There is a movement sometimes referred to as The Christian Left, which is causing a correction, but that is for another question.
Personally, as a Christian, I feel for your friend. He seems sucked into this fear of damnation type of faith instead of being drawn to the goodness of God.
My hope is that he will work through it and realize that God’s grace is sufficient. (1 Corinthians 9:12)
I hate the way church’s try to control their followers with fear of hell rather than spread the good news of the freedom in Christ. How did they take Jesus radical message of hope for the hopeless and care for the suffering and turn it so upside down? It was never ever supposed to be about fear.
Since it’s Christmas time I will end with a part the radical message that Mary proclaimed when she found out she was pregnant:
He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Your friend feels this way because he doesn’t understand the Gospel. To tell you the truth, I think I know more atheists that act Christlike than I do Christians. Good thing God loves us all.

Ron_C's avatar

Why would anyone want to be involved with such a capricious, ill-tempered, and untrustworthy entity. Based on my readings, it’s the devil that wants to help man live better, doesn’t worry about loyalty tests, and generally fights against god’s ill-temper and irrational behaviour.

I am not recommending following either of them. If they do, indeed, exist, it is best to stay as far away from them as possible.

Judi's avatar

@Ron_C , it looks like you’re asking a question, not answering one.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Judi, @Seek_Kolinahr, @problemlikemaria That’s exactly the kind of info I was seeking. Thank you!

@Ron_C Don’t worry, Pal. I’m not going to change my belief system. I am just trying to be respectful to the other guys who are really broken up about this and want to talk. They are grieving the loss and I want to be able to say more than “Hey, S… happens.”

CWOTUS's avatar

Isn’t there a Bible quote that sums this up pretty well?

“The rain falls on the unjust and the just alike.”

Have I got that right? Everyone dies. It hardly needs an explanation, other than a “cause of death” for the Death Certificate, but that’s a purely temporal / administrative thing.

It also seems to me that the Christian explanation that “God works in mysterious ways” is fine… as long as the believer doesn’t then try to rationalize and ‘explain’ the inexplicable. If you want to believe in “mysterious ways”, and I think in many cases that’s fine to do – our curiosity can hardly extend into every single question that we have, and we can’t make a study of every question that we can’t understand our life’s work – then accept that “it’s a mystery” and let it go. Don’t think that you can have it both ways: “mysterious ways” and “here’s why”.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I do not know their exact faith. I just know they tie up a conference room during lunch each day and spend the time studying the Bible. Just like I cannot tell Shiites from Sunnis or Tutsis from Hutus I cannot tell which Christian belief system they follow. It is all foreign to me I will not ask. (That would be like asking a coworker his name after working together for 15 years.)
I’ll spend a little time studying up the info @Judi gave me and keep it in my back pocket.

@CWOTUS I like that rain falling on both the unjust and just. Is it really a Bible quote?

starsofeight's avatar

People die.

God is not concerned about the physical outcome.

God is a spiritual entity, and is interested in spiritual matters.

He has never been, and never will be, any one’s genie to rub for three wishes.

He has his own agenda.

People will always have issues with these issues—until they finally ‘get it’ that God is a spiritual God.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@starsofeight The spiritual part and having his own agenda. That is good stuff.

I think it is pretty obvious I should just steer clear of the “passing the test’ lines.
It would be like handling high explosives – best left to the professionals.

Coloma's avatar

Just proves my point that you might as well slide out sideways, wine in one hand, chocolate in the other, body all used up, screaming “Woooo whatta ride!” haha
People have all sorts of ideas and ideologies to explain away the basic, existential questions of life. I have an old friend, a super new agey, esoteric type that believes in reincarnation and claims the mantra ” of everything is perfect” being that we all are just fatefully being recycled on the karmic wheel. Why feel bad for the homeless guy, just his karma, he must have been a baby raper in a past life. Drove me freaking nuts!

The bible is subject to myriad interpretations and most people find their own, as needed, not necessarily as they were intended, whether one believes or not.
Personally I believe we are all just organisms that have come to be, and that, as just another life form, our birth and passing is no more or less “special” or “divine” than a sea turtle or a redwood tree. Although redwood trees do live longer than most other species. lol
Just goes to show, you never can tell, and attatching religious sentiment to the natural cycles of birth and death are just ways us terrified and in the dark little human organisms try to make sense out of what our egos cannot comprehend.

Bottom line, life IS short, 50 years, 80 years, 100 years…it’s all an infantismally fractional drop in the history of time and the universe.
Whether one treats their body as a temple or leans towards hedonism, really, doesn’t matter and god has nothing to do with it.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LuckyGuy The proverb @CWOTUS cites is derived from Matthew 5:45. It’s a paraphrase, but a very close one.

filmfann's avatar

The first guy you talked to doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Only God knows why these people died, and he doesn’t share that information.
Faith is important here. When my Father died, I did not question why God did this, though my Father was a relatively young man who had faith, and his passing caused great difficulty on my Mom and my family.
Second guessing God was responded to (I think in Job): Where were you when I hung the stars?

bkcunningham's avatar

I think the thing that the faithful and those without faith can understand is that none of us has a promise of tomorrow here on this earth.

The thing that took me along time to come to really, really understand with a deep understanding and acceptance is that this isn’t the world God created for us. God didn’t intend for us to be in this world of disease and sickness and babies being buried and bodies that wear out or hearts that stop beating or arteries that clog.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Thank you all for the information. By tomorrow morning I will be prepared. I found an online Bible site and looked up the references you gave me.
I’m set. Thank you! Thank you!
I love this place!

I guess I am thankful to Ben and Andrew for setting this site up. ;-)

JenniferP's avatar

That man was just saying his opinion. It doesn’t reflect fact. The man simply died for whatever reason. It wasn’t because “God needed another angel” or “it was his time” or whatever. Something went wrong in his body. The good news is that he is awaiting a resurrection. Currently he is in a state of nonexistence (Ecclesiastes 9:5) but the Bible says there will be a time when “memorial tombs will be opened” and the earth will be restored to a paradise. Not every good person goes to Heaven. Psalms 37:9–11; 29. Even the Lord’s Prayer says “thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven.”

JLeslie's avatar

I am not religious, but I think he is just venting, maybe you don’t really need an answer to what they are saying. I mean if that is what they believe, then that’s what they believe. If they ask for your opinion you can certainly say that you think life is more random, or the thing about heart disease, that you don’t think there is some grand plan. But, mostly they probably just want you to listen.

bkcunningham's avatar

Okay. So help me get this straight. You can tell someone grieving that their loved one’s death has nothing to do with God’s plan, but instead tell them their friend/loved one died from eating to much grease and they had heart disease. Got it.

But you can’t tell a fat girl she’s fat? Now I’m confused.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham Who exactly are you talking to?

livelaughlove21's avatar

“How do the “faithful” (he used the term, not me) justify picking and choosing the explanation?”

Isn’t picking and choosing what Christianity is all about? It’s one huge contradiction in the first place. ‘If I was being a good enough Christian, I’d be dead like Al.’ What?!

Yeah, God works in mysterious ways, not all Christians are like that – blah blah blah. It’s all a cop-out, so they can feel like they’re right, because how exactly does one argue with that “logic”?

Christians interpret scripture in whatever way is most convenient to them, so this situation doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. If you’re looking for some rational explanation, there isn’t one. At least, not one that doesn’t raise even more questions.

On a related note, I can’t stand when people say “he/she is in a better place” after someone dies. Really? I admit it’s an uncomfortable situation and I never know the right thing to say, but I’m fairly certain that’s not it.

_Whitetigress's avatar

@starsofeight I recall reading about keeping the body healthy in Corinthians.

ucme's avatar

So, if god “takes away” the little ones, “suffer the children” & all that, doesn’t that make him a pedophile?
Or at the very least a cold, heartless, sadistic bastard with little or no regard for toy sales everywhere.

Shippy's avatar

Death and sickness is not from God, it is not his decision to take people away to test people.

Paradox25's avatar

I’m not religious, but I’m open to the possibility that every ego/personality which exists, is a part of what you could consider to be God, though I prefer the term Mind (maybe known to others as the cosmic consciousness) when used in the way I’m defining ‘God’ here. From the spiritual teachings that I take most seriously, it is claimed that ‘we’ exist as an extension of this single Mind, so it could have meaningful experiences and interactions with its individual mind fragments, through us!

What if I’m posting here has any truth to it (obviously I’m open to this possibility), then think of what it would be like for a single disembodied sentient entity to exist without nothing or nobody to relate to for billions or more years. Perhaps this Mind is not omnipotent, but had enough power to manipulate its existence of purpose/meaning through the illusion of the individuality of each of its own mind fragments.

According to the filter model of the brain, which says that the brain acts like a filter of consciousness instead of generating it, the brain could act as a check valve (one way valve) so information obtained from our enviroment is processed and experienced. This would filter out information overflow from ‘our’ subconscious mind, since according to some models pertaining to the filter hypothesis, the subconscious mind is a single mind with near infinite power and knowledge, thus boredom and lonliness are avoided. I’m just giving you another possible way of relating to God and its purpose without taking up most of the space of this thread.

Coloma's avatar

@Paradox25 Ever study Adviata Vedanta?
Talk about a mind F—K! lol

Paradox25's avatar

@Coloma There are a growing number of respectable scientists, most of whom are nontheist, who are starting to agree with what I’ve posted. Too bad I won’t be around in a century or so to tell you I told you so. ;-)

Coloma's avatar

@Paradox25 I agree and believe it, absolutely! :-)
Non-duality, “god” experiencing itself through everything manifest.

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