Suffering and the Alien-ness of God

One of my favorite science-fiction series is Thomas Harlan’s _In the Time of the Sixth Sun_.  It gets lots of cool points from me.  I enjoy the spacefaring-Aztecs backstory of the trilogy (which interacts with and informs the plot in all sorts of interesting ways), but most of all, I like the aliens.  Harlan’s aliens are truly alien. 

In this, Harlan avoids the besetting sin of science-fiction and fantasy authors, which is to make the unknown understood.  Generally, by the time I get to Book 3, the cool scary mysterious bad guy from Book 1 has been so thoroughly explained that I know what color his socks are and what he likes to have for breakfast.  Cool and scary and mysterious can’t survive that level of familiarity.

By contrast, in _In the Time of the Sixth Sun_, even to the very end of the series, things happen that the reader is not allowed to understand.  He never fully reveals his aliens, so that they remain intimidatingly Lovecraftian.  They stay beyond the grasp of the human mind.

I don’t have an opinion on the existence of UFO’s, but I think it is easy for human beings, even Christians, to fail to appreciate the alien-ness of God.  The Scriptures do the best possible job of explaining Him to us (not least in the person of Jesus), but because of the limits of human language and understanding, their depiction is vastly incomplete.

God doesn’t have a material existence like we do.  He doesn’t think like we do.  He doesn’t experience emotions like we do.  He doesn’t interact with us like we do with one another.  We know that He is loving, just, merciful, holy, and so forth, but those human concepts can never be more than echoes of the reality and totality of God.  He is a fundamentally alien being.

This poses serious, indeed insuperable, problems for the suffering-based critique of God’s existence.  This critique attempts to set up a contradiction between God’s perfect goodness and power on the one hand and the existence of human suffering on the other.  If God could eliminate suffering and does not do it, He is not perfectly good.  If He wants to eliminate suffering and can’t, He is not perfectly powerful.  As a result, the existence of evil appears to indicate that a perfectly good and powerful God does not exist.

However, this line of reasoning isn’t really about God.  It’s about human beings.  Most of us would agree that a human being who could prevent suffering and doesn’t is not perfectly good, and that a human being who wants to prevent suffering and doesn’t is not perfectly powerful.  Even here, there are problems with blanket claims (If I allow my son to suffer the consequences of his disobedience, does that mean I don’t love him?), but generally, we think that good, powerful people prevent suffering.

God, though, is not a human being.  Most obviously, He is omniscient and we aren’t.  Less obviously, He simply doesn’t process reality the same way that we do.  Maybe we would process reality like God if we were omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal in both directions.  Maybe not.  There’s no way to tell.

As a result, God’s actions are unfathomable and unpredictable to us.  We can tell what He has caused or allowed from our own observations, but we can’t tell why He has caused or allowed those things.  His ways are not our ways, and we can never presume to trace out the paths of His reasoning.  The secret things belong to God, and they always will.

Indeed, the closest we can come is in His revelation.  No perfectly good God can be a liar.  We can trust Him because He says that we can and because the record of His interaction with humanity has proven that we can.  He makes no guarantees concerning earthly happiness and the absence of earthly suffering, but He does promise an eternity of joy spent with Him.  If we continue to trust in Him, even through trial, we will surely receive it.

One thought on “Suffering and the Alien-ness of God

  1. I have been taught from an early age af the danger of committing an unforgivable sin against the HOLY GHOST. Therefore I take care not to do so, but, your points on the things that God can’t do causes me to tiptoeon things such as God is an Alien is (incorrect), as we know he is rather the only true and living God, and he is without likeness, except the Man and Woman,who he made in his own likeness.

    I lack the ability to believe in Aliens, and believe in the Creations told in some detail in the Holy Bible. I do find this opportunity to read about such new ideas has been exciting and for that I thank the also thank Brother Bassford.


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