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The Problem of The Problem of Silence, II
September 9, 2013 D.J. Clark

The Problem of The Problem of Silence, II

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In my last post I offered this formulation of the so-called Problem of Silence:

  1. If there exists a loving, fatherly God, then he would pursue communion with his human creatures.
  2. If a loving, fatherly God were to pursue communion with his human creatures, then he would make himself present or at least available to his human creatures (or at least those who do not oppose finding him and/or who earnestly seek him).
  3. But God is not thus present or available to (all or most of) his human creatures; plenty of us who don’t oppose finding God and/or who earnestly seek him do not, in fact, find him.
  4. Thus, there does not exist a loving, fatherly God.

I said previously that premises (1-3) are initially plausible (on first glance it seems, “Yeah, I could see that.”) — and that is part of the reason this argument has the force it does. In this post I want to move beyond this initial plausibility and consider some other reasons to think these premises true.

(1) and (2). These premises play off of our assumptions and intuitions about what a heavenly Father — one of the most common human analogs used to describe God in the Jewish and Christian tradition — should be like. Michael Rea, a Catholic philosopher, makes this point better than I can:

“The theistic religions are in full agreement about the fact that it isbad for us to spend our lives without a relationship with God. We all know that, all else being equal, it is bad for a child to grow up without a father or a mother, or to believe—forgood reasons or bad—that her father or mother doesn’t love her. We all know that good parents go out of their way to talk to their children, to reassure them of their love, to be present in vivid and tangible ways—ways that the child can understand and benefit from at whatever stage of life she’s at— and so on. Good parents don’t lock themselves in a room day after day, waiting for their children to acquire the wherewithal to seek them out. Good parents don’t expect that their children will discover their love for them simply by way of inference from the orderliness of the living room and the presence of fun toys in the basement. Good parents go out of their way to say, “I love you,” and to hold their children and to comfort them when they’re sad. How much more, then, should we expect the same from a being who (we’re told) loves us like a perfect parent? If my daughter were crying out for my presence… I would move heaven and earth if I could to be there for her. If my son were in despair because he thought that he had irreparably disappointed me, I would hold his hand and tell him that that’s not true. How could I not? And yet I’m selfish, imperfect, lacking in resources, and short on wisdom, only human. How much more then should we expect God to respond to such cries?”

Why would a fatherly God pursue communion with his creatures and thus make himself present and available to his creatures? Because he is a perfect, fatherly God, and that is how fathers are to comport themselves towards their children. It is analogy that motives these two premises.

What about premise (3): ‘God is not thus present or available to (all or most of) his human creatures; plenty of us who don’t oppose finding God and/or who earnestly seek him do not, in fact, find him’?

Nietzsche was (unsurprisingly) convinced of this premise, and he holds no punches in explaining why:

A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention—could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and uncertainties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them… Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over that truth?

Massive disagreements throughout history regarding the intentions of God -even amongst those who hold to the authority of the very same book of Scripture; endless, painful doubts about God that folks – for all they try – cannot assuage and that causes many of them to abandon the faith; the fact that “the gospel” (and this holds for any given gospel) is not known by all men, or is known and does not appear true or compelling — all of these serve as reasons for us to think that God (supposing he exists) is strangely silent.

Thoughts?

P.S. In the next part of this series, I hope to consider some of the most common responses to this Problem of Silence argument; and note how unconvincing many of those responses are.

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