The other day I put up Three Strange But True Ways Christians Justify Starving Children – A Response Post. I’d like to firstly thank everyone for the overwhelmingly supportive reactions to my writing, which always manages to shock me. This post was far more popular than I expected it to be and I am ecstatic at the reach it has gotten.
Secondly, I’d like to note that my writing is normally an outlet for me and aimed at my non-believing or questioning audience alone, but since I’m not one for subtweeting or vaguebooking, I thought it would be sort of lame if I didn’t give the author of “3 Strange But True Reasons Why God Doesn’t Feed All the Starving Children of the World”, a chance to look over my post. Peter has very graciously commented on my response and I’d like to respond to him here. Another Christian blogger has also written a response post to which I’d like to respond to, as well. Some of my responses can apply to both of them, but I try to be as clear as I can.
If you want to read either of the responses in full, you’ll have to look at the comments from my previous post for one and read the blog link below for the other.
1. Your Interpretation of Matthew 6:26 is Inaccurate.
In your response, you said that Matthew 6:26 is a Bible verse that supports the claim that God says that He is going to feed everyone, or at least starving children. However, that is not the correct interpretation of the Bible verse.
Peter provided some links to blueletterbible.org which he calls an “Orthodox Biblical Commentary”. However, I’m a bit confused as to why, because these explanations of the verse fully support my interpretation (highlighted for brevity):
It repeats over and over, Don’t worry because God will provide your necessities such as food and clothing if you trust in him, if you believe, if you have faith. Any other interpretation I could find within this link, such as maybe “it is a sin to worry because that means you don’t trust God” seems to run concurrently with the interpretation you say is incorrect. If you try to say that only that underlying lesson is true, I have to think this is dishonest because it is ignoring the blatently obvious implications in the link that you recommended.
Your only recourse then would be to say that children who are starving must not pray hard enough, must not believe hard enough,must not live in an area where they worship the correct god, and that would be a pretty callous answer.
This then brings up the point, what makes these author’s interpretation of the Bible correct, and yours incorrect? The answer lies in how you interpret the Bible. The Bible itself tells us that the only correct way to interpret the Bible is to have God reveal to you what it means.
1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But the natural man (i.e. unbeliever) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
This verse implies that one has to be a born-again Christian to correctly understand the things of God.
Does that mean that unbelievers should not read the Bible? Of course they should read the Bible. However, unbelievers have two choices if they want to read and interpret the Bible correctly:
1. Either they can pray and ask God to help them understand what the Bible means
2. Or they can rely on a reliable Orthodox Bible commentary to help them
If they don’t do one of these two things, and they read Bible passages the way that you do, then they will make common mistakes. These are mistakes like taking things out of context, and not understanding the rules that govern the interpretation of Scripture.
We are varying a bit again from the original topic of the Problem of Suffering, but I’d like to address this briefly.
The Bible is (most Christians’) ultimate evidence of all things God, right? This is how God’s message is spread throughout the world and my eternal salvation is contingent upon me believing it is the word of God and is true. But you’re telling me that I need to already have believed in and accepted Jesus before I can read the bible and understand it. You have to believe before you can believe? What a terrible business model!
That is not how evidence works, at least not in the real world. Imagine you’re presenting evidence to a jury at a murder trial. You’re trying to convince them that the victim was stabbed to death with a sponge, and you can tell by their faces that they are not buying it. I mean, how can anyone be stabbed to death with a sponge? You show it to them — it is soft. There is no blood.
But, you have the ace of spades in your pocket. You say to them, “The key is, you must accept that what I say is true and the defendent murdered the victim with this sponge. First you must believe it in your heart, THEN you can see the evidence that points toward the sponge!”
Aaand then you get laughed out of the courtroom.
Another good example of this “believe before you can believe” mentality is the Emperor’s New Clothes story. I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. This strategy might have worked before people had access to so much information, but now?
We don’t choose what to believe. We are either convinced or not convinced by the weight of the evidence. It is simply not enough to say that only born-agains can understand the Bible. First, you’re assuming that I was never born-again (what if I said God revealed to me the correct interpretation when I was a born-again Christian, and he says your interpretation is wrong?), and second, that God for some reason would make the Bible so tricky and convoluted that it fools many people into becoming atheists even though our salvation is dependent upon the Bible.
2. Your Interpretation of Mathew 21:2 is Inaccurate
Again, you misinterpret Mathew 21:2 in your article. I think it’s sufficient to say that if your interpretation were true, then Christians would be asking God for millions of dollars in their bank accounts every day.
But any Christian worth his or her salt knows that that is not the case, and that’s not what the Bible advocates.
I guarantee you that if any Christian won the lottery right now, they’d be thanking God for answering their prayers. Now, why would that be? Confirmation bias regarding prayer is very strong — Christians associate any good fortune with a blessing from God.
This is why we are even having this discussion! Christians act like God intervenes in their life on a daily basis, by providing them food, job promotions, finding a dollar bill on the ground, etc. If Christians didn’t believe in an interfering God on the one hand and then defend him not feeding starving children on the other, I wouldn’t have ever written on this topic.
3. You Are Making Up a God in Your Own Image
The mistake that you’re making here Nancy is that you are dictating to God the way that you think He should act. Anytime that you do that, then you are making up an idol in your own image, which is exactly what point number two of my article is talking about.
I am not “dictating to God how I think he should act”. I am pointing out the discrepancies in how CHRISTIANS say God is, and how he supposedly acts. I didn’t make up these attributes — Christians did. Christians say, “God answers my prayers! I prayed for financial help and I got a promotion! God healed my father’s illness!” And on and on. I don’t claim God answers prayers — Christians do.
This is the number one mistake that atheists make when it comes to God. They have problems with the way the Christian God behaves. I can say that because as a former atheist, this is what made me leave the Christian faith to begin with.
Peter links to his conversion story, which are always fascinating reads.
Peter, thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate you trying to identify with your audience in that you did not believe in religion at some point. However, for every conversion to Christianity I could show you de-conversions to atheism or conversions to Islam. Personal experiences simply cannot count as evidence, because they cannot be verified, and because every other religion has personal experience stories also.
You are assuming that the reason you deconverted to atheism is the same reason every other atheist does. I, for one, did not become an atheist because God wasn’t there for me during one incident. I became an atheist because the weight of the evidence points to the nonexistence of any deities, especially the Christian God.
4. Atheists Don’t Capitalize “He” When Referring to God
I was joking. Feel free to capitalize “God” all you want… that aside was more for my audience’s benefit.
5. One of God’s Attributes is Missing
While yes God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, there is one at attribute of God that you didn’t mention, and that most people don’t talk about. That attribute is that God also has all-freedom.
What does that mean? It means that He has the freedom to make whatever choices He wants to make that fit His purposes, and that are often based on His knowledge of the future. Knowledge of the future is something that you and I don’t have, but God does. So in my opinion, it’s sufficient to say that God makes His own choices based on His own reasons and purposes.
Imagine if I asked my parents, “Why don’t you feed me? Why are you starving me?” and they said, “Because we can.” Would that make them a good parent? What if they said, “Well, it is Christians’ responsibility to feed you, and we are not Christians”? Or, “Because we have to save money for a bigger plan. You will see someday.” None of these are reasonable explanations for starving your child. Why are they acceptable reasons for God not to feed his children? “Because he can” is the worst answer of them all.
6. God Delivers Justice in this World and in the Afterlife
Yes, God did deliver justice instantaneously in some parts of the Bible. Then there are also parts in which He granted people an opportunity to repent before implementing His justice. Again, this is to some extent based on God’s knowledge of the future. So God can choose to deliver justice instantaneously or at a later time.
As this applies to not just feeding starving children but the problem of evil/ suffering as a whole, I’ll let Tracie Harris answer this one:
It’s okay, Tracie. You’ll understand in the afterlife.
But what about those children who do pray to God and do get fed? How about those children whose prayers are answered? I’m pretty sure that to it would be an impossibility for you since you wrongfully assume that God doesn’t exist.
I don’t know, you tell me! Did those children pray harder? Did they happen to be born in an area where their parents worship the right God? Why would God feed some children and not others?
It has been shown over and over that people have their “prayers” answered at the same statistical rate as what would have naturally occurred anyway. Christians get divorced, recover from illness, and experience poverty at approximately the same rate as any other religion. Atheists are not collectively worse off than Christians — in fact highly atheistic countries fare far better in overall societal health.
What you’re demonstrating here is cognitive bias — you latch on to the times that what you wished for came true, and called that “God answering your prayer”. The times that what you wished for didn’t come true, that’s God saying “no”, or “wait, I have a bigger plan”. It is a rigged game.
If anyone is interested, the full video is here.
Please also note that when I pointed out the errors in your article, I don’t do it maliciously or because I want to prove you wrong. It is my sincerest desire to see you come back to Christianity and to give your heart to Jesus.
I thank you for your comments and your gracious tone, and I hope you read my responses with an open mind as I did yours, and look deeper into the links you showed me that I highlighted above. Unlike you, I am not trying to convert or deconvert anyone, I just want people to question with boldness!
As I stated above, I received another response post from a Christian, Ufuoma, on her blog The Isaiah 53:5 Project titled “The Poor You Will Always Have With You – A Response Post”. I find it funny that a Christian would use a Jesus “one-liner” when we atheists are so often accused of taking Bible verses out of context. The full context:
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
As I addressed in my recent response to Ken Ham, this is one of the most callous verses from Jesus that I have read. In this story, Jesus has no concern for the poor whatsoever. This may be harsh, but Christians seem to use this verse as a way to make themselves feel better about poor people. In context, it is clearly situational, and the attempt to use this as a rationalization that “spiritual needs trump physical needs” is gag-inducing.
Why not use a different one-liner from Jesus? How about Matthew 19:21?
Sell all of your posessions, give your money to the poor, then come back and follow me.
Why is it that Jesus’ words to Judas are supposed to be for everyone, but not his words to the rich man?
Many people have wrong expectations of God. The Jews, for instance, were expectant that when the Christ came, He would deliver them from the rule of the Romans. But that wasn’t Jesus’ agenda at all. And though Jesus healed and fed many people, He didn’t heal all the sick or feed all the poor that lived in the world, while He walked on it, or even in Judae. Jesus came for a higher purpose than to make this world a more cosy place for everyone. He came to save the world spiritually! You may not agree with His priorities, but that’s just the way it is.
Again, we are getting way off-topic here, but the fact that the Jewish people don’t think Jesus fulfilled their prophecies and therefore was not the Messiah should actually be very concerning to Christians. Read more here.
God already gave us a chance for a perfect world, without sickness, sin, death and poverty! It was His original plan, to live among men in a state of Heaven on Earth. However, we all know what happened to that plan. The enemy succeeded in deceiving Eve and Adam, so that they became corrupt and could not abide in the Garden and live in that perfect world. God didn’t see Satan’s attack as a defeat, but as a challenge…an opportunity to teach, groom, and lead us to know and love righteousness.
The reason I even read Peter’s post was because it promised to be new and exciting. “The Fall” as an answer does nothing for me. The idea that Adam and Eve could even sin, when they could not even know right from wrong because they were not moral agents, and then because of them all of humanity is condemned to suffering in a fallen world, is morally repugnant. What father would punish his other children for the sins of the first?
Asking why God doesn’t feed all the starving children is equivalent to asking why God doesn’t make everyone believe in Him! You may disagree, but really, what’s the difference? If God really wanted to, He could snap His fingers and make the world perfect once again. He could, with a word, cause all men to fall in love with Him… But that’s not His way. That’s not true love, because it deprives us of our choice, and therefore, responsibility and sacrifice.
First, there is a huge difference between giving people enough evidence to believe in him and forcing people to worship him. Did Abraham, Noah, Moses, or Paul have their free will taken away when God/Jesus appeared to them? You believe in Satan, don’t you? Yet you do not worship him. Even if everyone believed in God, they would not be forced to worship him. God could still provide for the most helpless of humans, as he has supposedly promised, and those who wish to sin would still do so.
Every parent knows that their kids will never learn responsibility, compassion, discipline or even patience, if they always do everything for them.
This entire paragraph… okay. If we held God to the standard of earthly parents, he would be jailed or at the very least we’d be taken away from him. There’s a difference between letting kids make mistakes and starving them, or ignoring them.
Where is the “true love” in hiding from one’s children and in playing games with the way in which you communicate to them? Even Jesus says, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
So, what I’m trying to say here is that, there is no complex answer to why God allows evil to coexist with good on Earth. In His parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Christ answers this question even more clearly…
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matt 13:24-30)
That’s it, in a nutshell! I cannot do better than my God. There’s no other smart answer to give. At least, not one that will satisfy an atheist!
This parable fails as an analogy to feeding starving children for several reasons. It more addresses the problem of evil than the problem of suffering, but I’ll play along.
If you say that God cannot remove evil in the world without “uprooting” the good stuff, then you are admitting that God is not all-powerful. As a society, we do our best to either rehabilitate or remove harmful people from society by jailing them.
It also completely ignores the fact that there are actual children involved whom God is choosing to ignore. Jesus was not asked the question “Why does God let children starve?” and as such I don’t think it’s fair to apply this answer.
You will see that most of the people out there helping the poor in foreign lands are Christians, and they do it because they are Christian, not because they are good people.
If the only reason you want to help others is because you’re commanded to by God, I would agree that they are not good people. We should be good for goodness’ sake, out of empathy and care for others, not because we are told to, or to receive rewards or avoid punishments. There are plenty of religious and secular charities and programs, and it might also interest you to know that Muslims give the most to charity.
The fact that both life-long and deconverted atheists give to charity and do volunteer work should indicate to you that it has more to do with human empathy than religion. If you lost your faith today, would you stop caring about your fellow humans? Would you suddenly turn into an evil person, just because you weren’t convinced of the Bible’s claims? I’d hope not.
Finally, I must address this:
By the way, God won’t consider your claim to atheism as a reasonable defence against your disobedience. You say you don’t believe in God, that’s ok. You should know that God doesn’t believe in atheism either (Romans 1:18-25)! And, you know what, neither do I! Nobody wants to live in a world without God, any more than a child wants to grow up without parents. The problem is, you want a god you can control, who fits your idea of niceness and who won’t make you do what you don’t want to do. Just because we have largely succeeded in stripping parents of their power in the home, doesn’t mean we can strip God of His authority over the Earth! God is not God if He jumps at yours or my command!
This is a mistake I come across far too often. What do you know about me besides my believing different from you? Nothing? So who are you to say that I’m “disobedient” or just want to sin? What did Jesus say about judging others again? As I’ve stated above, the only reason we are having this discussion is because the claims that Christians make about God’s attributes do not match the real world.
I don’t see anything in Romans 1:18-25 that says there’s no such thing as atheists, however I find it presumptuous of Christians. Imagine if I were sitting here with a Quran saying, “Allah doesn’t believe in Christians, so you must not be a Christian.” Sounds silly, right? The problem, again, is starting with the answer — the Bible must be true, so in order to justify this you must dismiss the thoughts and feelings of millions of atheists around the world. Or , you’re calling us liars. I think Christians are mistaken, but I don’t think they are liars, and again, I find this attitude presumptuous.
Phew. 4000 words in, I’m going to end this, finally! I’d like to thank both Peter and Ufuoma for their responses. We may disagree on many things but I appreciate everyone’s civility and willingness to discuss.
As we have veered very far off the original topic, reasons God doesn’t feed starving children, and we are getting into several topics that have been hashed out over and over, I think from here on out I’ll likely restrict my responses to the comment sections.