Yesterday, I saw a blog post by an atheist asking, “If I had the power to save everyone at the theater that was just shot up because I was all-powerful and all-knowing, and I didn’t do it, wouldn’t I be evil?” The old theodicy question – how do we explain a world of evil if God is all loving? It’s a legitimate question. And one that we have a hard time answering well. So, I was thinking about that atheists’ question last night while laying in bed. And then because I was drifting off to sleep and thoughts become more slippery and less reality tethered as you drift off, my mind wandered to ants. You see, my daughter Sophia had spent some time last night watching an ant colony in the rocks in front of the house. She tried to convince me to let her bring out some sugar for them – probably so she could watch ants carrying sugar crystals. I told her the ants didn’t need any help from us – they do just fine on our own. Partway to sleep, I thought about ants preparing to go off to war against another ant colony while Sophia was watching. What if she could step in to stop it? Would she? Should she? And my mind slipped back to that question – “If I had the power to save everyone at the theater because I was all-powerful and all-knowing, and I didn’t do it, wouldn’t I be evil?” Would Sophia be evil if she didn’t step in to stop an ant war? And just then the words “it’s the prime directive” popped into my head. Which woke me right up.
“Honey, what exactly is the prime directive again?” I asked my husband whose dream is to have us wear our federation uniforms on a replica of the deck of the USS Enterprise cum entertainment room.
“You can’t interfere with the internal affairs of any civilization in any way, for any reason.”
“And if they are getting ready to destroy themselves or do something really awful?”
“They have a right to their own stupidity,” he answered, “grmpzzzzzzz . . . ” (I think he’s kind of used to me asking strange, random questions when he’s half asleep by now.)
I lay back down thinking that I should go to that post and leave the comment, “it’s the prime directive, dear.”
Now, to be clear, I’m no deist. I don’t think that God created us and is just sitting back watching from a nice, heavenly vantage point. The bible and the existence of Jesus and many of our own lives all point to the reality that God is intensely interested in and invested in us. Like Captain Kirk, God has violated the prime directive many times. However, I have been thinking for a while that our understanding of God’s relationship with us is almost certainly skewed and needs adjusting.
Let’s go back to the very beginning. I have heard more than one pastor claim that Adam and Eve lived in constant communion with God. Only they just made that up. Genesis 3:8 says “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” God appears to have come to walk around. Maybe visit. Adam and Eve had been off doing their own thing – living their own lives. There has always been a separation between the lives of men and God. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” If God and Adam were living together in the garden how could Adam be alone? God may know all things, but that doesn’t mean he’s always giving his attention to all things. At least that’s not how it was at the beginning, it seems.
But the garden never was for God – it was for man. And God is not man. He is not one of us. His concerns are not the same as our concerns. I’m very interested in having a tasty dinner. God’s very concerned with my moral and spiritual development. I want God to fix my water heater. God wants to fix my heart. I want God to give me enough money to get the second car working. God wants to give me himself. God really is much more alien to me than Captain Picard ever was to the Klingons. He is more like Sophia watching ants preparing for war than like me watching the Colorado shooter prepare himself for a shooting spree. Perhaps the real problem is that we expect God to deal with us as if he were one of us – only with greater vision and power.
One of the things that happens when you reject literal creationism and embrace the testimony of the world that God has actually created is you have to let go of the fairy-tale that we once lived in a magical place where nothing ever experienced physical death and there were no mosquitoes or parasites or earthquakes or lightning strikes. Which means that God never did intend for us to live in a world which we humans would consider “perfect”. In fact, God himself never claimed that the Garden of Eden was perfect – he called it “good” and man and woman “very good”. The plan always did include us dealing with discomfort and people we love passing into the afterlife and even sickness and loss. That’s the world and life that we were made for. The plan was that we would encounter God walking in the garden – not that he’d be following us around swatting away that one mosquito carrying malaria so we didn’t get sick.
What was not part of the plan was that one man would arm himself and walk into a theater full of people to shoot them. It was never part of the plan that a mother would tie her child to a bed and beat him. It wasn’t part of the plan that a nation would work together to exterminate 12 million human beings. It wasn’t part of the plan that we would suffer at each other’s hands the way that we do. But guess what? This game belongs to us. It’s our world. And like it or not, its problems are ours to solve.
God didn’t make this world for himself. He made it for us and gave it to us and it’s high time we stopped waiting for Jesus to float down on a cloud to set the whole thing right. That’s our job. God didn’t create a cure for malaria – we did that. God didn’t create musical instruments for us to make music with – we did that. God didn’t create animals that would walk right up to us to be slaughtered or carry our loads or just sit and let us pet them – we worked that out. That’s our job – to take what God has given us and use it for good things. God has provided us with amazing abundance – we’re the ones who took it and made a world where Paris Hilton’s dogs can have their own air-conditioned mansion while other people can’t get food and water. God’s not the one who is failing us – we’re failing each other.
The question isn’t “why didn’t God stop the Colorado shooter?” The question is why hasn’t all the suffering we’ve created caused us to stop screwing around and get serious about doing things the right way? We’ve been told how: love self and neighbor with kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness. Put others before yourself. Be willing to give up everything if that’s what it takes. Stop grabbing and striving and holding onto everything and worrying about everything. Stop storing up for yourself without making sure that everyone else is OK first. And stop waiting for God to show up and fix it all for you. He’s already created a good world for us, proven himself faithful, provided for our salvation and forgiveness, given the instructions – offered himself up body and soul so that we can be redeemed from the mess we’ve made.
Asking “why didn’t God stop the shooter” is really no different than the addict asking why mom and dad didn’t pay their rent. We’re like the addict who claims that they can’t get clean because their lives are too stressful, no one loves them, they were abused, they just need some time, some money, someplace to crash, people to get off their back and then they’d be fine. But here’s the truth – just like any other addict, we have to WANT to get better. We have to want life to be different. God can offer all the instructions and all the forgiveness and redemption in all the universe – and he has. But until we want to get better more than we want to keep doing things our own way and avoid suffering and enjoy an imaginary perfection that only God can provide and we have no responsibility for creating, life is going to keep chewing us up and spitting us out. It’s our world. It’s our game. It’s our turn.