Christian theologians have debated the meaning of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection for over 1200 years. Why did God send him? What was his divine and human nature? How exactly did his passion, suffering, and rise from the dead enable the forgiveness of sins and redemption of mankind? What is his relationship to God the Father and the Holy Spirit; and what are the separate and distinct functions of each part of the Trinity?
Yet, there was very little debate in the early Church about the even more crucial question of why God sent his Son to earth and why at that particular moment of history. The traditional Christian answer is ‘To save our sins”; but if one uses the Ten Commandments as a yardstick, men have been lying,
cheating, disobeying, committing treachery, adultery, and murder since the first human settlements.
Why did God wait so long? Given what he saw had become of the descendants of Adam and Eve, he could have intervened much sooner, offered his promises of salvation and redemption as early as the first Homo Sapiens or, in Biblical terms, soon after the Fall. Did he want to see if mankind would turn itself around? Or did he feel that a million years of unredeemed sinful behavior and denial of heavenly rewards was the punishment that the human race deserved?
Perhaps this chronology is off; and that one should not count from the beginning of mankind but Moses’s receipt of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Ararat in the early Hebrew period. Earliest man, although sinful by post-Mosaic standards, were ignorant of God’s law and therefore could be exonerated. Yet that argument holds little water, for murder, rape, incest, deceit, charlatanry, duplicity, and theft are still heinous, anti-social, and disrespectful acts, even though cavemen had no idea of the divine seriousness of their offenses.
Not only is one forced to wonder why God waited so long, but why he chose the method of redemption and salvation he did. Some say that the story of the virgin birth, evangelical odyssey, crucifixion, and resurrection of a God-Man was a good and right choice because it is so mythic. People need a storyline to make theological abstractions real. Similar stories or myths were not unknown in the Greco-Roman and Hebrew world. Such familiarity and the tendency, as Dostoevsky pointed out, for Man to look for miracles, mystery, and authority rather than a sophisticated theology. Yet he had to have known that reliance on traditional myth and storytelling would erode the majesty and complexity of his message.
Some Christian apologists contend that God had good ‘scientific’ reasons for waiting as long as he did to create life on earth. This chart citing why God decided to create the world when he did is a good example of reverse inference and reverse causal reasoning; and demonstrates how attempting to justify God’s plan through scientific reasoning makes both look even sillier than they should be (www.godandscience.org)
Display God's Glory
Evil must be limited
- Universe must be very large
- Earth must display God's handiwork
- Earth must be old
- Earth must display a long history of God's creatures
Humans must choose
- Evil must exist
- Human choices for evil must be limited through restricting humans to a small part of the universe….gravity must exist to restrict space travel; complete separation of humans from God’s domain (heaven) during the time they choose to commit evil deeds:
- Limited human lifespan (death must exist)
- Complete, permanent separation of humans who refuse to choose good over evil
The Early Church Fathers took God’s will for granted, and their deliberations were less about why he did what he did and when, than what his actions meant. No one can know the mind of God, they argued, so theology must be based on what he has revealed, and the Holy Scriptures are his absolute word. The arrival of Jesus Christ on earth was considered a fait accompli. God desired it, willed it, and it happened.
Universe must be temporary
- Humans must have free will to choose
- Good choices must exist
- Evil choices must exist
- Humans may choose to participate in spreading God's message
- Human language must exist
- Technology must exist, requiring
- large deposits of metallic ores (produced over long periods of time)
- large deposits of fossil fuels (produced over long periods of time)
- Requires the first and second laws of thermodynamics
- Requires the existence of time
The question of why God bothered at all with Creation let alone resurrection and redemption is equally perplexing. In all the infinite possibilities of an infinitely powerful and omniscient being, why did he create this dog-eat-dog world of brutal evolution, wars, genocide, and rapacious territorialism? What was wrong with the Garden of Eden?
As Dostoevsky suggested in the Grand Inquisitor chapters of The Brothers Karamazov, man is quite happy to live by bread alone and trading sufficiency and freedom from want for the possibility of salvation was illogical. In fact, the Grand Inquisitor goes on, Christ/God could have easily lifted the burden of penury, misery, and painful death from mankind; and the fact that he did not was an existential betrayal.
If God in his omniscience knew exactly how mankind would turn out – sinful, nasty, brutal, and unthankful – why bother at all? “No one can know the mind of God”, believers say, but for the rest of us these essential questions get at the very nature of religion.
Hindus perhaps have the more rational and reasonable approach to religion, and do not duck these questions. There is no particular reason why mankind was created. Human existence is simply an expression of God, and it, like everything else in the universe will be destroyed, recreated, and destroyed again in endless cycles of becoming until all is folded back into a timeless and eternal Oneness (or Nothingness). Although getting around the conundrums of purpose and design, Hinduism still sticks to myths of Creation. Indians like all the rest of us have difficulty living in a totally random world.
Nihilists and philosophical determinists are quite content with this stochastic view of the world. We are accidents of a universal nature with no purpose for being, no heaven or hell, only the consoling thought that in an amoral, purposeless world, there is absolute justice and fairness. Everybody is equally at the whim of fate.
Why is any of this at all relevant? Why can’t one either be happy with the ‘mind of God’ response or a belief in a meaningless, purposeless world which exists independent of any divine force and is no more depressing or hopeless because of it?
The most important reason is that if all Christians were to put aside ‘the mind of God’ and the a priori assumptions of the existence of God and the Trinity and began to ponder questions of divine existentiality, they would end up concluding that not only Christianity but all religion is myth.
There are simply too many illogical, unreasonable, and unnecessary actions attributed to an omniscient and omnipotent Judeo-Christian God to make sense. There is no reason at all why God in all his omniscience and omnipotence should have created this Earth and the humanity that populates it, nor why he decided to do it when he did; nor why he created a sinful, reprobate version of himself; nor why he waited so long to fix things and to offer some kind of recall.
Christianity – and Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam for that matter – are perfectly reasonable and legitimate codes for moral behavior, escape from suffering and hopelessness, and promises of a far, far better world than this one. As myth, they make perfect sense, for their story lines coincide with all men’s need for mystery and miracles, a supernatural world of eternal happiness, and a gritty story of suffering, passion, and impossibly wondrous events.
Christianity involves the willing suspension of disbelief and an a priori faith; and for most Christians, this is more than enough.