Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Why Is God Subtle?

A commenter on my previous entry about God’s “tinkering” with nature asks: If God interferes (making miracles, making species) to show us that he and we are free, then why doesn’t he make that more transparent? 

Why is it so hard to distinguish between [God’s] actions and the results of natural law and chance? Surely he could have made his tinkering more obvious and, therefore, more instructive. It can’t be because he is trying to be subtle — that would conflict with his motive to be a teacher. All you’ve done is turn God from a bad creator into a bad teacher.

It is, once again, all about our freedom. Back to basics, now. Why did God create us? Another classical source, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s The Way of God, summarizes in brief terms: “God’s purpose in creation was to bestow of His good to another” (1:2:1). Many other Jews and Christian alike have said similarly. 
Then why not simply plant a nice garden and water it? Why not be content with a menagerie of cats and dogs? Why not angels, for that matter?
Because only people are free. Only we make choices. Just as our relationships with each other are more meaningful than our relationships with plants and animals because other people choose to have a relationship with us, God too seemingly responds to having relationship partners who choose this for themselves.

It would be very easy for God to overwhelm us with his Presence, if he wished. Luzzatto, writing in the 18th century, affirmed that the Creator’s existence can indeed be “demonstrated from what we observe in nature and its phenomena. Through such scientific disciplines as physics and astronomy, certain basic principles can be derived, and on the basis of these, clear evidence for these concepts deduced” (1:1:2). (So much for intelligent design not being “Jewish.”)
Yet if the “evidence” were as clear as the commenter asks that it should be, it’s hard to see how our freedom to choose a relationship with God could be preserved. To say you “believe” in a God whose Name is literally inscribed in the heavens would mean little. To “choose” a relationship with an all-powerful God who conversed with you in the same way your spouse or parents do would also be fairly meaningless.
There are valid reasons for religious doubt. One assumes that in terms of the providential plan of creation, that’s intentional.
It is only in the context of an exquisite balance between revealing and concealing himself that God can offer us the relationship that he sought in the first place when he created us.
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John Pieret

posted April 22, 2009 at 8:42 pm

That was me before (your commenting system here is a little tricky).
So God teaches us a lesson by not teaching us it? He makes it look like he isn’t there so we will believe he is? We have to assume the plan of creation in order to see it?
Yep. I’d call those valid reasons to doubt your religion. It sure as hell is valid reason to doubt your science.

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posted April 22, 2009 at 8:59 pm

David: Yet if the “evidence” were as clear as the commenter asks that it should be, it’s hard to see how our freedom to choose a relationship with God could be preserved. To say you “believe” in a God whose Name is literally inscribed in the heavens would mean little
Seems to me you’ve just made the case for evolution. If God made the world so that Genesis were literally and demonstrably true, that would be too blatantly obvious, right? But if He set up the world so that it evolved and changed over billions of years, so that we could not on the face of it distinguish it from random chance, then He is indeed subtle, right? The true subtlety is that when you get into philosophy and see that science can’t explain the existence of the universe as a whole or explain why it’s so well-suited for life, then you see God’s fingerprints. Not through an absence of natural processes or evolution.
It’s like Einstein said: “Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.” (“Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.”)

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Albert the Abstainer

posted April 22, 2009 at 11:56 pm

If God is, is God omnipresent?
If God is not, then we can stop here as there is nothing more to say.
If God is and is not omnipresent, then God is also not omniscient or omnipotent, and other than God exists in itself. So why call such a limited being God?
If God is and is omnipresent, then God is unchanging/eternal, and hence is unable to experience thought, (which necessarily infers change in the state of the thinker.) Further, whatever else is, is inherently bound to God, and is inseparable from God, (since God is all-present). This also removes free will, since only God is in fact. Distinguishing other from God is a false distinction. QED
The monotheist has some difficult things to mull over. If free will is regarded as factually true, then God is not omnipresent or does not exist. If God is omnipresent, free will is a persistent illusion rather than factually true.
On the other hand, if a monotheist embraces the implications of omnipresence, the difficulties which result from attachment to duality collapse.

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posted April 23, 2009 at 1:10 am

To be omniscient then God would have to perceive all (even though He may not change his mind) therefore no dichotomy exists. He decided to create man (theoretically, perhaps via evolution). Being omnipresent and omniscient He would never change his mind unless he misperceived something (in which case He lacks one or the other) and so the monotheist’s mull-over comes quickly to an end.
{To “choose” a relationship with an all-powerful God who conversed with you in the same way your spouse or parents do would also be fairly meaningless.}
That depends on the ‘way’ one’s spouse or parents communicate with him or her (it can get downright nasty sometimes for some of us ;-)

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Albert the Abstainer

posted April 23, 2009 at 6:02 am

Tom, you miss the crux of my point. That which is all present is not subject to change. It is a quality that lies at the root; it is not mutable, and it permeates all. The closest example I can give you is the relationship between a fractal equation and the instantiation of that equation. The equation does not change, and it defines the limit of what is able to be expressed by its instantiation. The instantiated fractal unfolds the potential or “contents” of the equation. The equation is hence omnipresent with respect to the unfolding of its instantiation. The form is inseparable, and no part of the form is independent from the virtual, eternal equation. This is how I see the relationship between eternal God and unfolding universe. This idea is not alien to monotheism, but an essential foundation if God is omnipresent.

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posted April 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm

It’s an odd formulation, isn’t it? What would we say of a father who insisted on remaining, say, forever invisible and silent to his children, because he did not wish to “overwhelm” the youngsters with his presence, because he wished his children to approach him only in freedom.
I think we know what we would say of such a father.

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David Klinghoffer

posted April 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm

InkStained, you are talking about a human father. I’m talking about God.

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posted April 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm

David, then the stakes are that much higher.
I’m afraid it’s still an odd formulation (to paraphrase): His invisibility and silence assures us he is there — and he loves us.
OK. If you say so.

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posted April 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Then the stakes seem to me to be higher.
To paraphrase: His silence and invisibility assure us he is there — and assure us of his love.
Sorry. Still pretty odd.

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zakaria mehkri

posted May 10, 2009 at 8:39 am

No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision; He is Subtle well-aware

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posted November 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Because this world is a test. You have to believe in him without seeing him. If you believe in him you go to heaven and if you don’t your going to regret it. If he made it so clear then everybody would believe.

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posted November 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm

True that, its our choice which path we choose

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