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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Waiting for God? Part 1

For some reason I find myself thinking about a play I studied in college called, "Waiting for Godot." In case you aren't familiar with it, it appears that the characters are World War II resistance fighters who are standing around talking and waiting for a person named Godot. Only, Godot never appears before the play ends. We are left wondering where Godot is, or what has happened to him. Was he discovered and perhaps killed by the Nazis? Did he abandon his friends? The viewer is never told.

I brought this up because my professor told the class that some people believe the name Godot is a sort of pun or homophonic reference to God. Going with that interpretation, I've heard it argued that the play is really about how God abandoned the world during the war, or that God was just a figment of our imagination (an ideal or fairy tale) that was destroyed during the war.

This troubled me then as much as it troubles me now. The topic of war is not my issue today. But I am taking on, at least in part, the discussion of God that comes up when we talk about that stage play. When horror and tragedy disrupts our existence, can we accuse God of abandoning us?

At Issue with Secular Humanism

The first problem I have with that question is that it assumes that God owes us something. Does God obey us, that we should be able to shake our fists at Him and demand He bail us out of the messes we make? Even when we are the victim of another person's evil, is God obligated to care? By accusing God of abandoning us, we both acknowledge that God is the Supreme Being in the universe, so powerful He is capable of solving any problem, and simultaneously put Him on a leash and order Him around like a dog!

Before you start to think that I am telling you that God doesn't care or that He is not involved in our lives, I'll say that is not the case. The real truth is that God doesn't have to care, and He doesn't have to give us anything--but He does because He loves us.

The idea that man is supreme is a subtle one, but it has slipped into the consciousness of most of Western culture, especially in the U.S. I learned in college that English is really the most humanistic of the world's languages, because so much of our speech suggests (through connotative meaning) that the individual is in control of his surroundings, circumstances, and destiny. The U.S. constitution and law frequently reference this humanistic viewpoint. Nowadays, since court rulings have been steadily removing Christianity from that body of law, American culture is beginning to forget the supremacy of God.

Secular Humanism and the Bible

The earliest example of secular humanism in the Bible is the argument Satan presented to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis chapter 3). Satan questioned God's authority and suggested that Adam and Eve didn't have to take God's word as law in their lives. Beyond that, Satan suggested to them that God was denying them something that they had a right to have.

This may be a very simplistic interpretation of Adam and Eve's fall, but it appears to me that at least a small part of what made Adam and Eve's action a sin was that they were usurping God's supremacy in their lives. After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God because they still recognized His power; yet they had the nerve to stand before God and put the blame for their own actions onto others.

Human beings still try to make themselves into "supreme beings," or little gods of their own destinies. We go on doing this, even though we know we can't even preserve our own lives. Although mankind is not supreme, we have a history of refusing to acknowledge God's supremacy.

To begin to answer interpreters of "Waiting for Godot," we have to start by recognizing that God is the powerful one and that we are supposed to obey and submit to Him. God doesn't owe us a showing, and He doesn't have to explain His actions to us. This is part of God's answer to Job when he demanded an explanation for all of his suffering.

That said, God doesn't end the discussion there. God is not aloof from our problems. He does have an answer to why people suffer, and where He is when we feel He has left us. The searching soul can still reach Him. I'll continue with this discussion in my next post.