God’s Broken Windows: His Standards and Ours

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"If God lived on earth, people would break his windows."

“If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.”

If only our pain were proportional to the bad that we do, we think most of the time, life would not be as bad. Yet it seems that life is not that way. It seems that whatever good we do, we suffer unjustly. “If God lived on earth,” says a Yiddish proverb, “he would have broken windows.” And why not? Do we not protest every little injustice we experience from those in positions of power? If God were on earth, we would burn effigies in front of his door like people from the olden days burnt sacrifices.

Last Friday, however, I learned a very important lesson in suffering through our discussion about the Book of Job in our World Literature class.

For so long have I viewed suffering as either punishment or a test. But I found that this was an error and perhaps, veiled by self-righteousness. It was only then did I observe that when the people I hate and disdain are suffering, too easily can I say that it is probably deserved by some form of sinful act they have done. But when it is the people I love, I am so contented in explaining it to be a mere test of faith. What is wrong with this attitude is the double standard by which I judge whether it is punishment or testing. This leads me to judge which people to comfort and which ones to stay away from.

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
At the breath of God they perish;
    at the blast of his anger they are no more.

– Eliphaz the Temanite, Job 4:7-9

This is the same thinking employed by Job’s friends and thus leads to condemn Job for having committed a great transgression, although it has been prior established that no one is as righteous as him. But I have also learned that Job is not exempted from having such a standard. It is through this idea of suffering being punitive that Job accuses God of being unjust.

“Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out?
    How often does calamity come upon them,
    the fate God allots in his anger?
How often are they like straw before the wind,
    like chaff swept away by a gale?
It is said, ‘God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.’
    Let him repay the wicked, so that they themselves will experience it!
Let their own eyes see their destruction;
    let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty.
For what do they care about the families they leave behind
    when their allotted months come to an end?”

– Job, Job 21:17-21

The problem in the Book of Job is the system by which we limit God’s justice and goodness by putting our standard of goodness above Him and judging Him based on that like we judge other people. And when somehow we are afflicted by pain we claim to be undeserving of, we accuse God of not being good or just or loving. Worse, we even doubt His existence. These are all because He failed to pass our standard of goodness.

“If only I knew where to find him;
    if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
    and consider what he would say to me.
Would he vigorously oppose me?
    No, he would not press charges against me.
There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
    and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

 

“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”

– Job, Job 23:1-9


What we fail to understand is that God cannot be judged by our standards of good and justice and love. Because He is Goodness and Justice and Love. What He does is purely good and just and loving, though it may be ugly and undesirable, and shockingly, even though when other people do it, it is to be considered evil. When you think about it, evil acts done by people are only evil because they are playing God. But surely God can play God.

In all this seemingly arbitrary characteristics of pain, we should not fear that God might be exercising His power upon us like objects of experimentation or toys. Because He loves us. He told us so. We can be sure that whatever pain we are given, undeserved it may be, is necessary. We may not know His nature and decision-making process, but we know His plan. He made it clear.

It is a hard idea to accept, especially for the hurt and suffering and oppressed: that all this somehow makes sense in the grandest scale of things. But like Job, we are permitted to mourn and weep and beat our chests at God and ask Him questions. He is real and He will answer. But I am inclined to think that we don’t. For we are so quick to lecture God about how justice should really be like.

What we should be doing is not judge God by our standards of goodness, but judge ourselves on whether we are perfectly submitting to His standards. Because whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, God knows what He is doing. There will be times when this idea would be so hard to accept as sufficient, but it’s okay. We can always come to Him and ask Him about things, for we will find Him when we seek Him. Didn’t He promise that?

When in pain, talk to God. Be angry at Him, show Him how much you are hurting. But talk to Him. If you do, out of the storm He will come and will reveal Himself to you. You will know Him and you will know you. And then, there will be peace.

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.”

– Job 42:2-3

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Truth in Struggle

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Thank you for this food for thought.

The anonymous artist strikes again.

Days ago, I wrote about a writing on a wall I found about Beauty. It is wonderfully poetic that this time, I am to write about one I found on Truth. It is as if I am an allegory for the human soul, which is drawn to Truth through Beauty. Straightaway, like in the last post, I shall outline the thoughts this work of art has evoked. I hope you who read may find order in these thoughts, for that is why I write: for people, including me, to understand my thoughts.

1.) I could not help but inquire upon the goals of this anonymous writer. To dismiss these works as mere vandalism would be to take for granted the profundities they cast light upon. Truth, Beauty, as well as Goodness, are words which describe the absolute thirsts or needs of our soul, though we may be inclined to take them for granted and are seldom reminded that of our need for them.

I am not qualified to argue for or against whether we really need these things, or they are merely words which count for nothing, especially if Reality is nothing but the physical, material world. But if asked what my personal basis that such needs are innate and absolute, I would merely point out the state which we fall whenever we feel the lack of them: loneliness.

What makes us lonely? Is it simply the lack of company? If so, why do we sometimes feel lonely even in the presence of other people – even if they are people whom we love? And why, whenever we feel this loneliness, this emptiness, do we turn to songs or books or the wise words of a friend or confidante?

It seems that sometimes, we do not only feel lonely. We feel empty. And if our souls have this state of emptiness, there must be something which may fill it, just as food fills our hunger or water fills our thirst.

This is why we find joy in beautiful songs and movies, in making sense of our problems, and in the acts of comfort provided even by a stranger. We feel empty. And we are satisfied by beauty, truth and goodness.

2.) What does ‘absolute’ mean? It may be defined as unchanging, or as something complete or pure, or philosophically, as a principle which exists independently of other things. Absolute truth, or rather Truth, may mean any or all of these things.

Now most of us, and I am not exempted from this, may simply dismiss the question as unimportant: “Why even bother?” Truth, even tiny bits of it, do not always bring pleasure. In fact, we are often told that Truth hurts. We ask to “break gently” Truth to us because sometimes “we can’t handle the truth.” Sometimes would prefer by comforting illusions, untrue ideas which are simply pleasing.

To quote Nietzsche: Why Truth? Why not rather the lie? I do not claim to have the answer. I also find solace in ignorance, and sometimes, even reject the truth of a statement just because it does not conform to my way of life and thinking. And to adjust everything for that bit of reality, however real it may really be is just too hard. Right?

However, this attitude may shed light to a possible explanation. Maybe the problem is not that Truth is not important, but rather it is too important. Even if we need Truth, we don’t want it because we foresee endless trouble if things turn out to be real. We find it hard to adhere to certain truths because we are afraid of being alienated, or offending, or being attached or committed to demanding creeds. And so politically, we would rather be apathetic (and/or pragmatic) than conservative or radical. Philosophically, we become subjectivists or relativists or skeptics. Religiously, we become not atheists or theists, but agnostic. We resolve that since Truth is demanding, we should suspend judgement.

This may be enough or this may not be enough. And I, too, am inclined to think that suspending the search for Truth is in fact profitable or practical. You may turn to other things: more pressing matters like bills and homework and romantic relationships. I would even suggest that if the world is neutral and nothing we do ever really does good or bad to others and the world, then we must all be agnostics and relativists and pragmatics.

But it seems that the world is not neutral. We want to experience good and we do not want to experience bad things. Things matter to us. They have meaning. Our feelings, actions and thoughts have consequences, both internally (to our character) and externally (to other people). And these feelings, actions and thoughts are dependent upon how we view the world in general. Therefore, I think that to never have time to question the things that matter the most is not only selfish, but careless.

3.) Where does God come in?

Well, if you’re a Christian, God matters to our search for Truth because He is Truth. His will is Goodness and His nature is Beauty. The emptiness we feel is simply our longing for Him. And so you must, like Jacob, “wrestle” for His blessing because then you will have everything you need. You must, like Job, practice His presence: speak to Him as if He is real, even when you doubt Him. For if He is real and if He loves you, He will answer back. Even if what He would say hurts. There it will only be a matter of pride.

If you are not Christian, or if you suspend judgement, or if you do not believe in God, you must still struggle with the idea of God. And not just the idea of a refutable God, but a God who may exist even without us having certain knowledge of Him: an unprovable God. What if He exists? What does that imply? And what are you doing about it?

Regardless of one’s belief, the search for infinite and absolute and complete Truth is a struggle. That is what wrestling means. To exert all strength. To hurt. To fight. This search will hurt our pride for pride will not win it. It is utter openness and utter humility that would win us Truth, whether it is great philosophical Truths or littler, simpler, but no less liberating truths.

We will be satisfied by Truth, no matter how hurtful or how little it may be for the time being. But we have to want it. If we don’t we will be okay, but we will not be complete. Truth may be harsh and it may be hard to find. But it is Truth. And it sure beats loneliness and emptiness and feeling lost.

Beauty in Pain

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Vandals like these are objectively better than penises.

Whoever made this, thank you.

I saw this question written on the wall by ASCAL, the pathway between Palma Hall and the CAL Faculty Center.

Rarely do I see a thought-provoking question written in blood-red spray paint on a newly-cemented wall. These, so far, are the thoughts it has provoked:

1.) Before answering the question, I would like to comment on it. I am inclined to believe that such a question is built on the premise that pain is something ‘ugly’.

I find it easy to sympathize with this notion as like most ‘ugly’ things because it does not evoke warm, pleasant feelings. Like most ‘ugly’ things, we are not drawn to it; on the contrary, we are appalled by it. Pain – in plain language – is ‘ugly’ because it is not ‘cute’. We are not made happy by pain and we are thus inclined to avoid it.

Now, while I understand where this viewpoint may be coming from, I think that pain may not necessarily be an ‘ugly’ thing. I think there is such a thing as pain which is beautiful, perhaps because of its consequences (like the pain one feels with having one’s broken tooth pulled out), or because of its motivations (like the pain one might feel in dying for one’s country), among other things.

To abhor pain, to find it ‘ugly’ for the mere fact that it hurts and to exhaust all means – whether good or bad – to avoid it, would not only be shallow and conceited, but also is cowardice.

Our pleasure-crazed culture may frown upon such an idea, but I think the notion that some experiences of pain are not only necessary but beautiful as well should not be denied. For honor, glory and excellence are not borne out of maximizing pleasure, but through laboring through and enduring pain.

2.) That being said, there is such pain that may be found to be downright ugly, even by those who think that there may be beauty hidden in pain: the seemingly arbitrary, undeserved and cruel pain, which does not seem to produce either glory nor fulfillment. Such pain may include car accidents, killing sprees, rape-slay cases, etcetera.

The torturing and killing of the innocent neither as martyrs who welcome it, nor as heroes who have fought through it and lost, but as children who do not know any better: if there is such pain which invites the question the most, it is this kind of pain. How can undeserved, unwanted and unnecessary pain ever be made into something beautiful? It is I think, the only legitimate case against an all-powerful and all-loving God. And I, too, struggle with it everytime I see cruel injustice and oppression and untimely deaths.

To answer why God would permit such evil to prevail, however is another matter for another time. But is important to note that this is what makes the question difficult to answer. There is the kind of pain which is beautiful as it builds us up, and another kind which is just simply pain which hurts and kills for no apparent reason.

3.) In answering the question, I distinguish between the two kinds of pain.

The first kind of pain, the pain-as-means-to-an-end, may only be as beautiful and good as its own end. And the way to make such pain truly beautiful is to suffer it without hiding, transcending cowardice and regard for one’s safety.

Such pain’s beauty wasted when the cause is abandoned in the name of fear or conveniece. Christ’s sacrifice, for example, is beautiful because He did not opt out. He saw it through. Even if it means death.

The second kind of pain cannot be made beautiful. It must be eliminated. It is why there are causes which require us to endure hardship like good revolutionaries: because there is a war needed to be won.

Injustice can only be made beautiful by defeating it. Oppression can only be made beautiful by ending it. Evil can only be made beautiful by destroying it.

And in suffering through the realization of Goodness, of Justice, of Heaven – whether it is in this life or the next – is what would makes us truly beautiful.