The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want

God put eternity into our hearts (Ecc. 3:11) so that we can, if we aren’t too distracted, sense that something more awaits us.

Photo cred to Deb Zeyher

To CS Lewis was posed the following proposition and question:

“Many people feel resentful or unhappy because they think they are the target of unjust fate. These feelings are stimulated by bereavement, illness, deranged working or domestic conditions, or the observation of suffering in others. What is the Christian view of this problem?”

Today, the same question has taken on a sharper edge aimed at Christianity and the character of God: If God is all good and all powerful, why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Either God isn’t all good; or God isn’t all powerful; or God simply does not exist.

CS Lewis answered the question put to him as follows:

“The Christian view is that people are created to be in a certain relation to God. If we are in that relation to Him, the right relation to one another will follow inevitably. Christ said it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt, 19:23; Mk. 10:23; Luke 18:24), referring, no doubt, to riches in the ordinary sense. But, I think it really covers riches in everything – good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.

“All these things tend, just as money tends, to make you feel independent of God. Because if you have them, you feel happy already and contented in this life. You don’t want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness, as if it could last forever.

“But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently, He may have to take all these riches away from you. If He doesn’t, you will go on relying on them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it?

“But I am beginning to find out what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a cruel doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows work punishment, but I find in practice that, when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a punishment it becomes easier to bear.

“If you think of this world as something simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable. Think of it as a place of training and correction, and it’s not so bad.

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think of it as a hotel. The other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is what comforts and strengthens you in the end.

“The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world become pessimists; the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

I like to say that perspective changes everything. Because human beings are finite, our perspective is limited. Change it, and the world looks different from the new angle.

Lewis had a perspective of this world that allowed him to see it as beautiful, for what it is worth. Perhaps, he was colored by his experience as a late teenager fighting in World War I. He knew the worst the world had to offer.

When he became a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he found the “silver lining”. He found hope and light in the darkness of the world.

Many people who live in the late 20th and 21st centuries have had a relatively good time of “this life” compared to people just a few generations before us (and even more dramatically compared to people of centuries past). Our perspective is colored by our relative prosperity. In the United States today, even those who live below the poverty line live higher and better than most of the people in the rest of the world (and in times past).

The comparative riches we have tend to make us feel independent of God. Indeed, the shift in the question of the problem of evil from focusing on individual unfairness to thinking it is proof that God does not exist is a product of our perspective.

We have enough that we are willing to accept that what we can gain in this life is all there is. We have embraced a shadowy happiness in lieu of true joy that God offers to those who seek Him.

Continue reading “The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want”

Free Will and Free Won’t

Science suggests that the decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision.


Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.

Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.

The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.

This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.

But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.

Continue reading “Free Will and Free Won’t”

Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1)

Love is a key component to understanding the problem of evil.


I introduced the problem of evil in a previous blog post, looking at God in light of the evil in the world. My writing is prompted by the discussion series being conducted by over 800 churches in the Chicago, explore God, taking on some of the big questions about faith.

I have tackled various aspects of the problem of pain before, but getting to a place of understanding is an ongoing process. I write as a way of working through issues to gain understanding. My understanding continues to grow and sometimes to change.

In the previous post, I suggested that we should approach the problem of evil in a similar fashion to the way we approach science,. Not that faith questions are susceptible of scientific inquiry, per se, but the answers aren’t always obvious. Sometimes they take considerable work on our part. We shouldn’t be lazy and give up simply because the work is hard.

As with science, we need to start with a premise. For the theist, the premise is that God exists. For the Christian, the God who exists is revealed in Scripture. He is a maximal being – maximally great, maximally good and maximally powerful. Of course, this is where the problem of evil arises for the Christian.

The problem of evil takes on different form, depending on the way each religion describes God. Not all religions describe God as a maximal, personal and volitional Being. For the Christian, therefore, the problem of evil leads to the question:

How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil, pain and suffering to exist in the world?

The skeptic would say: 1) either God isn’t all powerful, or 2) God isn’t good; or 3) God doesn’t exist at all (at least not as Christians conceive God).

I am not going to argue for the existence of God in this article. I am going to assume God exists as Scripture reveals Him. The proofs are satisfying to me, and I believe intellectually and experientially in the God of the Bible.

If God is God, then, how do we reconcile the issues posed in the problem of evil?

As with any complex problem, we need to hold to the premises we are given. Is there a way to do that? Can we harmonize these things? I think we can.

Continue reading “Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1)”

Self-Sufficiency Sufficient to Love God

It’s axiomatic that, if God exists, we are not God, and this isn’t our universe.


“They [Adam and Eve] wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.”

The quotation is by CS Lewis in the Problem of Pain. As he notes, tt’s axiomatic that, if God exists, we are not God, and this isn’t our universe.

By “God” (capital G), what is meant is a “maximal being” – that is a Being having maximal qualities. Thus, we say of God that He would have to be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-just, all-merciful, etc. All characteristics of which God is the standard find their greatest expression in God.

We are not talking about flying spaghetti monsters or Zeus-like personalities when we refer to God, capital G.

If such a God exists, and I believe this is more or less self-evident, than anything we call our own, including our own self-sufficiency, is mere illusion.

I find it interesting that many naturalists, like the late, great Stephen Hawking, agree that self-sufficiency is nothing but an illusion. We are all merely dancing to the tune of our DNA, says Richard Dawkins. Ravi Zacharias describes a lecture given by Stephen Hawking many years ago in which he eloquently laid out the evidence that we are determined (by natural influences) in everything we do. Hawking ended with the “uplifting” thought that, even though we have no control over anything that we think or do, we still feel as if we do – to which Ravi Zacharias says the audience audibly groaned.

For the naturalist, the conclusion, some say (like Hawking and Dawkins), is inescapable. We aren’t the captains of our own souls as we suppose, and our end is “predetermined” by naturalistic causes as our beginning and everything in between. Such a fatalistic view might be sufficient to undo us completely, but for our ability to imagine otherwise – even if it isn’t true – according to these naturalists. Some very small consolation!

For the Christian, however, we find our consolation in the very God whose existence belies our illusion of self-sufficiency and self-control. We find that this God made us in His image, which suggests we are made with some capacity for free will and self determination – even if it subsists within the sphere of God’s ultimate providence.

We find that God is loving and desires us to reflect Him and His love without coercion from Him. Even if our ability to govern ourselves is ultimately illusory, the fact that we believe we have this ability, is all that matters because believing it to be so, believing that we can choose other than we can, even if we can’t truly exercise this choice freely as God does, means that we can, nevertheless, reflect God’s love back to Him without coercion.

Love, after all, is not coerced. Love is the complete absence of coercion.

Though we may not be self-sufficient or self-controlling as we suppose, we can still reflect God’s love back to Him by virtue of the appearance (the illusion if you will) that we are or can be self-sufficient and self-controlling. Feeling as if we can deny God and go our own way, we freely exercise our will to submit to Him and to choose His way, and this act of love is genuine to the extent that we genuinely believe it and mean it.

The Sun Shines On Everyone

Depositphotos Image ID: 39362765 Copyright: elenathewise

The sun shines on both the evil and the good; the he rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) People often ask, “Why bad things happen to good people?” Maybe a better question is why do we live in a world that is so beautifully sustaining for life.

Why do we live in a world that is filled with beauty and blessing and good things? Yes bad things happen, but there is much good.

I think about this in the context of the revelation of Scripture. The thrust of scripture is the story of God creating us to have fellowship with us and a reciprocating loving relationship.

God made us in his own image, having a will – the ability to choose. This will God gave to us was displayed in the story of the garden of Eden and is a central theme to the story. Having the ability to choose is essential to a reciprocal, loving relationship.

How do we know that God loves us? Look at the fine tuning of the universe. The universe sits atop a razor edge of cosmic factors that are all finely tuned down to the smallest of parameters, right from the first nanosecond of the Big Bang, so that a planet like the Earth exists to support life like us.

We find nowhere else in the universe a place in which life like ours is able to flourish. (This is doesn’t man that we will never find such life, but it is safe to say that life such as what we experience on Earth is exceedingly rare in the universe, and the whole cosmos seems to be designed just so this one small planet hurtling around a small sun in a smallish solar system can sustain us.)

God created a habitation for us, a place in which we can play out our Eternal choices. A place where we can choose to love Him and, so, to enter into the purpose that was planned for us from the beginning.