From time to time I ask religious people some form of the following question:
“Why doesn’t God just give me everything I want?”
The answer is usually something akin to, “That wouldn’t be good parenting. It’s not good for a parent — even a parent with substantial means — to satisfy a child’s every desire.”
But why isn’t that good? Well, because the child would not learn what the real world is like. Or it’s not fair because a child should earn his or her own way in life instead of relying on some sort of inheritance. And I actually agree.
However, here’s the problem with applying that logic to God: God is (allegedly) the omnipotent creator of that real world. His power and resources are not only substantial…they are unlimited. So that means He could not only give me everything I want but give everybody else everything they wanted too. It would actually be fair since everybody else got what they wanted too.
In fact, if He existed, God could make “the real world” whatever He wanted it to be. He would have the ability to satisfy every selfish, materialistic desire AND every deep, existential need at the same time without so much as batting a metaphysical eyelash. That’s the great thing about omnipotence. You can give and give and give and give without any downside at all. You don’t have to make the best decision “on balance;” you can choose “no pain, all gain” if you want to.
And yet is that the reality you observe? Certainly not. Money runs short. Innocent animals feel pain (sometimes because they are being eaten by other animals which may or may not be innocent). Relationships fail. Famines and natural disasters occur.
Loved ones die…sometimes at young ages in very painful ways. Let me share a story about just how senseless and unjust all of this can be.
My mother has been teaching public elementary school for decades. When I was in middle school, she had a student in her first grade class who already had the deck stacked against her. She had lost both her parents to addiction. Her mother drank while pregnant, leaving the child with fetal alcohol syndrome. The girl had some sort of disorder (I’m thinking immune) that required her to get stuck with a needle every night at 8 pm. No sleepovers, no parties, no nothing because she had to be home at 8 pm for that shot. She was in and out of Riley Hospital for Children for her entire life. And yet she was a remarkably happy girl.
My mom wanted to adopt her, but her custodial grandparents would not allow her to. So she did as much as she could, acting like a “Big Sister” to this girl. I’m an only child, but she was the closest thing I ever had to a sibling. She came over to our house a lot, and I tried to be the best big brother I could considering the lack of a genetic connection.
When this girl got into high school, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her dirt-poor family had to move from Indiana to Michigan to get her specialized treatment. She lost all her hair, and her face swelled up. She was 16 going on 86. I visited her, and it made me feel ill to see her like that.
And then, after a lifetime of painful treatments that left her disfigured and bedridden, she died at age 17.
My point is not that I have lost more than anyone else. I have undoubtedly lost less, and I have certainly experienced a lot of joys in life. My mother lost her father when she was 10. My wife lost her father when she was 12, and her 15-year-old cousin was brutally raped and murdered not long after. A Christian that I talk to online gave birth only to lose her son six weeks later.
Is there any sense to any of this? If God is really in control, what would possess Him to let this happen? It’s not like He would be violating anyone’s free will by letting me meet my grandfather or letting my Christian friend watch her son grow up.
I didn’t have a lot of material things when I was growing up. I never had the coolest shoes, and I wore hand-me-down clothes. We always had enough to eat and a roof over our heads, but there weren’t a lot of luxuries. I’m certainly not upset with my parents for this…they did the best they could with their limited incomes. I have two very good parents, and I’m grateful for that.
But I would be very upset about the hand-me-downs if I found out that my dad had a few billion dollars stashed away. And if God just keeps His omnipotence stashed away when He could solve all of our problems, doesn’t that make God a bad parent?
I’m not saying I actually think there’s a malevolent God up there who doesn’t love us. I’m saying that this analogy of God being a good, strict parent is preposterous when He could give us everything we want. So I’m forced to conclude that this omnipotent, loving God does not exist.