There is a common problem when dealing with children that any teacher will experience on a weekly basis, or if they are lucky, less often. The process goes something like this:
Mrs Lucy: “Jacky, please move to this seat over here.”
Mrs Lucy: “Because I asked you to.”
Jacky: “That is not a good enough reason.”
Most adults will be well aware that there is an ulterior motive for moving Jacky, we are not told in this short conversation, but it is quite clear that Mrs Lucy (presuming she was mentally sane) would not be bothered moving a student unless there was a reason she thought was important enough. this reason might have to do with Jacky talking too much in class, or doing something that needs closer attention, or even just because it will help Jacky do work more efficiently. Is this relevant to Jacky? Yes, of course it is… but that is not the real issue is it? There is a deeper question:
Does Jacky need to know why it is relevant to Jacky?
Jacky could learn a lot about themselves if told the relevance of the action. There could be great benefit in long term character development, and even greater benefits to becoming a better person. Jacky probably would gain more by knowing the relevance than otherwise. So logically, in just the simple conversation above it would seem that Jacky would benefit by a detailed explanation… of course an experienced teacher knows this is not the wisest choice, for several reasons.
- The explanation may not be accepted. Jacky may disagree with the reason given, which would just make a larger, more complicated discussion, and possibly leading to a full blown argument.
- There are other students in the class. A teacher simply can not spend all of class explaining to every student the reason for everything they do, it would be an inefficient waste of time… especially if some students do not understand.
- It undermines the Mrs Lucy’s authority. She is the managing authority of her class, she is to be obeyed. If she is not obeyed now, why should she be obeyed tomorrow? If she were to explain herself today, then tomorrow she will have to explain herself, and the next day, and the next… this is the type of thing a servant would have to do to a master, which is completely the opposite of teacher authority. And if she has no authority over this, then what authority does she have to teach at all?
So it would appear in the overall class situation that giving a reason is not beneficial to everyone, particularly the class in general. In a sense the reason “because I asked you to” is actually good enough for that moment in time. There is nothing stopping Jacky from coming up to Mrs Lucy after class and asking what the problem was.
So what does this mean for those of us that are not students? Us adults are not so arrogant as to question why someone in authority does something we don’t like… are we?
“Why does God let bad things happen?”
Yeah… not arrogant at all. It seems a reasonable question doesn’t it?
Let us simplify this slightly and keep it based upon natural “bad things” as opposed to those “bad things” humans do. Let us presume humans have ultimate free will and so things like rape, murder, theft, and so forth are the fault of humans. So we focus instead on the bad things out of human control, like a volcano killing thousands, or being born with a crippling genetic condition. It would of course seem unfair that this occurs to random people for no apparent reason. It is especially concerning when we see such things happen to those we consider innocent, like a new born baby, or even a miscarried baby.
Some religions do compensate for this with theological arguments such as in Christianity where all humans are cursed to death, irrelevant of presumed innocence. But even then Christians face the difficult reality that not everyone gets the same time in this world. The suffering of this world is one of the harshest arguments against theists that believe in benevolent god, and not just the Christian god.
The obvious argument therefore is that there is a reason for it, we just do not know it… and this does not sit will with the Jackys of this world.
A Jacky would ask God “why?”, and there is possibly nothing wrong with asking the question. After all, Mrs Lucy still answered Jacky without trouble. The problem arises when Jacky is not happy with the reason and overrules Mrs Lucy in stating that her reason is not good enough. Likewise there are very few religions that disallow asking a question, Pastors, theologians, clerics, scholars, and others are constantly asking such questions of their gods, seemingly never contradicting their religion, however a decent scholar does not deem themselves to over rule their god.
Take science for a more simplistic example. Science is generally considered an attempt to determine how nature works, but has its limitations.
Nature: “Time only flows one way.”
Nature: “Because it just is.”
Scientist: “That is not a good enough reason.”
The scientist can not determine why, because science is based upon time always flowing in one direction. It relies on cause and effect to exist. If time were to flow in different directions then experiments as we currently know them would fail as causes come after effects. Scientists have to accept it as a fact of nature. To choose to ignore it suggests they are over ruling nature itself. In fact it is entirely reasonable from the view of science to have time flowing one way (even though most people do not understand this reason). Time may in fact flow multiple ways, but we can not perceive it. Consider that if you were to exceed the speed of light (300,000 km/s) then you would possibly travel backwards in time, but according to every observer in normal time as disappearing… the effect of travelling that fast is therefore destruction. It is not possible to observe time travel as an outside observer.
Dismissing time being the way it is is arrogant, and not scientific… unless science is wrong (but let us not consider that horrifying concept right now).
So back to suffering and a benevolent god.
A god most likely has a reason, but we do not directly observe or recognise it. We can come up with possible reasons, but those reasons are our own, not necessarily from a god. Consider for a moment if a god were to explain suffering. Lets look at the results from Mrs Lucy’s class mentioned above:
First the easy one:
1.The explanation may not be accepted.
Yeah, we see this all the time. This is why we have multiple religions, and some that accept no religion. This seems the most obvious explanation. Presuming a god does explain the suffering in the world then we may not accept it, even if logical. Have a glance at social media to see many logical explanations that people just choose not to accept.
Lets get a bit tougher:
2. There are other people in the world.
With an omniscient god who can be everywhere, then it would seem reasonable for such a god to be able to explain to everyone what is going on. So lets say a god decided to spend a day walking to every house on Earth (they are a god so manages this somehow). A bunch of people let the god in to explain and have tea, eat some muffins and presumably are satisfied with the explanation. A bunch of other people are too busy to waste time listening so tell the god to come back later. Another bunch of people just do not give a damn.
I presume you see the problem here. A god trying to explain things needs to be available when we want, not when the god has time… and that presumes we care enough anyway. Getting their message written down might be a better idea…you know in some sort of book that is readily available.
Ok, the toughest one for the modern world:
3. It undermines a god’s authority.
I think Muslims often understand this better than Christians, even though the Christian bible and Jewish Ketuvim has a story dedicated to this issue. If a god has to explain himself today, then they will have to explain himself tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… eventually they become just a parrot repeating a reason you really do not care about. He (or she) becomes our slave, rather than our god. We may as well create a giant super computer to run our lives, it would be as effective.
A god that is so much greater than humans due to the fact that they created the universe would likely have a reason to do something, an intelligent programmer does not program a simulation with code unless that code is useful in some way. As such there is a reason for suffering, but there is also no sufficient reason for the god to explain themselves in a way we understand, or have time to understand.
In the end a teacher such as Mrs Lucy never need explain her actions, only that they are the right ones for the situation. In the realm of a classroom a teacher rules benevolently and justly… at least one would hope, Mrs Lucy is only human after all.