The Academics of Faith: An Analogy

One criticism of Christianity generally goes like this:

If God is omnipotent and can overcome even death, why does he not reveal himself to us? If he does exist and does not reveal himself, is that not cruel? And if he is there but cannot reveal himself, is he then not limited and is therefore a god unworthy of worship? Critics then come to a conclusion that either God does not exist, or he is not a god who demands much attention.

In short, it is often asked why God does not reveal himself in all power in an overwhelmingly persuasive way. That is, why does he allow ambiguity and leave it to an individual choice of faith and reasoning?

If anyone has been an academic or has tried to understand the basics of how to teach another human being, they realize that in order for students to truly progress, they cannot be told what to think, but must be shown how to think for themselves. The best professors don’t bludgeon their students with demonstrations of their intellectual prowess in support of their own conclusions, but direct the students to study the available course materials, consider the evidence they encounter in lectures, struggle through their experience with any particular concept, and then reach a conclusion. He allows them the intellectual freedom to do so–what we might call liberty.

The act of searching out answers then becomes a formative factor in a student’s future abilities to be constructive in the face of uncertainty. When the student then reaches the same conclusion as the teacher, a deeper sense of trust in the method and in the professor’s mentorship becomes the result. When ambiguities arise further in the student’s life, they then are well-equipped with the ability to cope.

So it is with our spiritual lives. In my faith, we believe in the inspiration (though not the inerrant nature) of scripture and in modern prophets (such as Moses). We believe in personal revelation through the instrumentation of the Holy Ghost.

One core purpose in life is to study the available materials (scriptures), synthesize what we hear in the lectures (the words of the prophets), and review our lecture notes (our own experiences with the Spirit), and do our own homework (making decisions and viewing the results) in the hopes of reaching the same conclusion as the Master Teacher. When we do come to that conclusion on our own, we begin to trust in Him and in the methods of prayer, study, and faith. When ambiguities arise in life, we are then equipped to faithfully cope. Some students study more than others. It is incumbent upon us to be the students who study deeply.

In the eternities, ambiguities arise as well. God deals with disappointment too. I’m sure he has had his fair share of disappointments in us. Luckily, he has mastered the art of patient teaching.

But when we become the teachers, we will know how it’s done and how to place our trust in our students. Developing such skills now lends itself to our benefit–even that far into the future.

God knows that. God can reveal himself when he wants as he is still omnipotent. He is not limited to our postmodern sense of entitlement. His choice to remain unseen most of the time is not a show of callousness, but a teaching technique designed for our long-term interests, upon which he is always focused.

What more could we ask of a teacher?

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8 Replies to “The Academics of Faith: An Analogy”

  1. What if the teacher knew all the student that would fail in advance, and moreover those who fail would have to go into a dungeon where they get tortured?

    To me learning is not done under the premise that if you don’t learn you suffer because of it or that the teacher is infallible.

    Indeed in many situations it is the teacher who is at fault for being unable to teach or explain an idea.

    Just some food for reflection ☺

    WAH

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    1. Hey, WAH. Thanks for the comment.
      Luckily it isn’t the case in a doctrinal sense that we are tortured. God knows some of his students will “fail.” But in LDS theology, “failure” is not a matter of ignoring or not being able to accomplish a list of tasks, it is a willful and consistent decision not to accept the intercession and affection of Christ, or to say to him that you either don’t want him or don’t feel comfortable with him. Those consistent decisions are made by choosing not to attempt the tasks he gives, which are important markers of our own relationship to him. Choices made in ignorance don’t have a condemnatory effect because they were made in ignorance, which is an important distinction in LDS doctrine: that when Peter describes Christ teaching the spirits in prison, he was describing opportunities to learn and change, particularly for those unacquainted with God.

      “Damnation”, in the LDS sense of the word, is a stoppage of learning, growth, and progression, and is not a result of one-time mistakes or sins, but a result of a lifetime of learning, and even post-mortal opportunities for change gone unheeded. The “torture” or “dungeon”, as you put it, while very real, is not a place to which God sends us, but to which we exile ourselves.

      I agree that learning doesn’t happen out of fear, and learning on earth is not done under the tutelage of an infallible teacher-that’s why this is only an analogy.

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      1. The reality of what you preach is much worse than the analogy, I’m sorry but this is not enough.

        To say that the absolute punishment of hell is not actually gods making is to me just a copout to the hole question.

        So God has nothing to do with hell (or at least does not want people to go there) yet under the same breath we say that it is just for people to go to hell, and God is fine with that.

        God is either responsible for hell or not. God is either tiranical or incompetent.

        If your God where to be real (thankfully I have no reason to believe he is) and dies, I would reject him as my saviour and instead accept him as my captor. If I where truly free I would be able to have nothing to do with him, and not have to face an eternity of pain and torture (which you say is very real). This is not perfection, and it is not a perfect system for

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      2. How is it a cop out to the whole question? LDS doctrine asserts that both matter and energy cannot be destroyed, much like the modern conception of physics. LDS doctrine also asserts that God can act in space/time but also that He understands and follows existing natural laws (both in terms of the natural world and the moral world), and, as part of his eternal existence and our eternal coexistence, he is subject to the preeminent law of justice.
        Just as distance from a heat and light source disallows growth of a plant or ecosystem, distance from God prevents human progress. The damning (or damming) of the human being is a personal choice to distance themselves from God. God follows the moral law of agency in which he cannot force someone to choose the best thing for themselves.
        You complain about not believing in a God who has all power, then complain that if such a God existed, he would be a tyrant.
        What I am telling you is that God is all-powerful in the sense that he can manipulate matter, physics, chemistry, and the elements in the same way a brilliant scientist can (to an infinitely more profound degree). At the same time, an intelligent scientist cannot control the will of others despite his ability to manipulate the elements. God is both all powerful and perfectly happy and able to follow rudimentary rules of the universe.
        “If I where truly free I would be able to have nothing to do with him, and not have to face an eternity of pain and torture (which you say is very real).” But you’re not free from the laws of the universe. So by your definition, if you cannot be free of the law of gravity, are you ever free? Apparently not. But seeing as God is the perfect executor of the laws of the universe, you can’t be free of him either. If he gives you life, it’s hard to say you’re ever “free.”

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