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The Question Non-Christians Should Ask - But Don't - John Clark

The Question Non-Christians Should Ask – But Don’t

3 minutes

Summary

Christians get many questions by those who don’t really want answers but John Clark wonders why this question, for which he has no answer, is never asked.

From the "Top 20 All Time Most Popular Articles."

Editors Note:Originally published September 25, 2014.

The story is told that a bishop was giving a speech at a progressive university, after which he invited the audience to ask questions.

One skeptical wiseacre chimed in with a question evidently designed to make the bishop—and Christianity—look foolish. He asked: “Bishop, do you really believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and lived inside it for three days?”

The bishop responded, “Yes, I do.”

The wiseacre followed up: “Well, can you tell me how something like that could happen?”

Unflustered, the bishop responded: “I don’t know, but when I get to heaven I intend to ask Jonah.”

Thinking he had the bishop in check, the wiseacre countered: “Well, what if Jonah didn’t make it to Heaven?”

The bishop responded: “Well, then you ask him!”

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Official scoring: Bishop takes pawn.

While the wiseacre in the story had plenty of questions, one thing is obvious: the college student was not looking for an answer. Non-Christians may not realize this, but the truth is that we Christians get those types of questions all the time—the type of questions that do not seek real answers.

Of course, this is nothing terribly new.

In the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark, an exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees. A paralytic man had been brought by his friends to Jesus, in the hope that Jesus would heal him. And Jesus did heal the paralytic, but in a way that his friends were perhaps not expecting: before healing his physical ailments, Jesus forgave his sins.

The Pharisees responded with questions: “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Indeed. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” There was nothing lacking in their question, but the Pharisees did not want the answer. They could not bring themselves to accept the divinity of Jesus.

Today, one of the most popular questions that atheists like to ask is: “Who made God?” (accompanied by the mandatory snicker and eye-roll). They seem to consider this the coup de grace of all gotchas. But if there is an element of this question that is confusing, it’s not the question itself—it’s the fact that atheists consider it to be a gotcha at all.

While writing this column, I stopped and presented this same question to my eleven-year-old son, Bonaventure. He looked up from the book he was reading and responded: “No one created God.

He had no beginning.” and then went back to his book. When he had finished his chapter, he poured himself a glass of water and explained to me that, while it’s hard to understand, it must be true that there is someone who had no beginning.

If rudimentary metaphysics and causality is evident to an adolescent, why does it escape the vanguard of American intelligentsia?

There is an answer to that question. The answer is that many people don’t want an answer.

However, for people like the young college student in the bishop’s audience, for all the atheists and agnostics, for all of those who have been trying to make us look foolish, I will let you in on a little secret: there is one question that stumps me. There is a question for which I have no great, metaphysically provable answer. I can’t turn to Aristotle for an answer, nor Plato, nor Descartes, nor Augustine, nor Aquinas.

Here it is: Why does God love me?

What have I done to warrant the love of God? What have I done to warrant His affections? There is just so little that I can point to.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that God does love me. That much is obvious. It’s the why that I find inexplicable. In my finest moments, I am only giving God back what He has given me.

As C. S. Lewis put it:

“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. (Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 143). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

And those gifts are returned only in my finest moments. Truth be told, many of my moments are exquisitely lacking in fineness.

Yet God sustains me in being. He sustains me in love. He restores my soul when it is tarnished. He comes to find me when I am lost. He exhibits a patience of which only the physician of souls is capable.

God loves me. And that fact is what gives me and every one of us an inestimable worth. Ultimately, the why is known only to God. But that is enough.

No offense, but all these questions of whales and causality are a bit boring. It is love that is exciting.

I don’t know that I’ll spend much time in Heaven asking about whales—or, for that matter, asking about anything. As Lewis put it:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

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About John Clark

John Clark
John Clark is a homeschooling father, a speechwriter, an online course developer for Seton Home Study School, and a weekly blogger for The National Catholic Register. His latest book is “How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape.”
  • St. Kolbe

    So why atheists always the aggressors (intellectually speaking). The atheists argument is weak and their logic circular. They have conclusions they cant prove yet with misguided faith, speculate theat science will prove it one day. I love that level of faith. It is absolute certainty. But nonetheless they cannot prove the bulk of what they ‘believe’. so why are we not hammering away…at them.

    • Michael B Rooke

      Archbishop Chaput spoke of this.

      “My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be…”
      http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/01/4575/

      Leon Festinger’s concept of cognitive dissonance (1957) postulated that when people hold conflicting ideas they would act to reduce that dissonance. The discord that is within them. That Festinger termed dissonance reduction.
      Atheists and secularists in an attempt at dissonance reduction either by insulting religion or the belief of others hope it will go away and will reduce their pain of cognitive dissonance. Hence some spend so much time inhabiting the pages of Catholic Newspapers instead going away and being ‘happy atheists’.

      Note also that Pope Pius XII in when speaking to French students and academics spoke also of (cognitive) dissonance in 1946 some ten years before Leon Festinger
      “Seek the truth, seek the light, look for Christ and you will see in its clarity, to reconcile all contrasts, harmonize all discords, will solve all the puzzles.”
      (Cherchez la vérité, cherchez la lumière, cherchez le Christ et vous verrez, dans sa clarté, se concilier tous les contrastes, s’harmoniser toutes les dissonances, se résoudre toutes les énigmes.)
      http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/speeches/1946/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19460425_universitari-francia_fr.html

      • DougP1

        Perhaps Abp. Chaput had in mind the Reformation and its aftermath. Especially during the period when Europe was parceled out among Catholic and Protestant kings, and each country had its ‘national’ – albeit nominally Christian – church. Not many “Christian” acts in evidence then. And, “So it has always been …” was noticed earlier: Ec 8:9,11
        In fact both World Wars involved Christian-vs-Christian killing, like the Thirty Years War.
        But “always” is a long time. Is it possible that such things will end?

    • FredZ

      I guess I’ll bite at this. Atheists (at least the ones I know) don’t claim to know how the universe began, or if it even had a beginning. We accept the current scientific viewpoint, but know that it hasn’t been proven yet – it’s just a hypothesis based on the data that has been observed about the universe.

      The “Who made God” question is intended to illuminate the fact that believers don’t really know how the universe was create either. If the universe had a beginning, maybe God did too (we cant know). And if God is the uncaused cause and is/created everything, well…why can’t we just call whatever that is “the universe” and say that it was always here?

      Even if we conceded “heck, we’ll call it God for the sake of argument”, you’d then have to convince atheists that it was the Christian God that was that creator, and not Allah or Odin or Ra or any of the other gods that have been believed in throughout the course of history. To do this, you’d have to show that your God was real, the other gods are not, and that your God really does all that you say he does.

      I’m not sure how you would do that. I read somewhere that people were praying to cure Stephen Hawking of ALS, to show that God was real. I don’t know if that alone would do it…but maybe if you prayed to cure everyone that has ALS and it happened…that would go a long way.

      Course, at that point, we would have to have a serious discussion of the problem of evil.

  • John

    Was not the unnamed bishop in your story actually Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen?

    • Mike

      Yes. From his autobiography “Treasure in Clay”:

      “This reminds me of a lecture I was giving to a group of university students in Minnesota. In the question period that followed,one asked me how Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days. I answered: ‘I have not the vaguest idea, but when I get to Heaven, I will ask Jonah.’ He shouted back: ‘Suppose Jonah isn’t there.’ I said: “Then you ask him.”

      • Howard

        I didn’t recognize the quote, but I *did* recognize the humor!

    • Graytown

      No one was sharper than Bishop Sheen.
      I have had Catholics question some of the Old Testament stories – like Noah and the Ark .
      The funny thing is, they seem to have no problem with the idea of a little Jewish girl giving birth to God.

  • Agnes Goh

    Great article, Mr Clark.
    God is uncaused, and God is love. He does not love us because (whatever). He simply loves us. That’s it. It’s his nature to love us. And thank God for that!
    God bless!
    Agnes

  • Dan DiLuzio

    John, I think your closing quote from C.S. Lewis is a succinct answer to your question: God loves us because He is. As John states in his first letter, “God is love.” It is His very nature, and He can no more not love us, His creatures, than he can stop being good or choose to be immoral.

  • douglas kraeger

    Just as your son knew that God has no beginning, I am sure your son also knows that God is the infinite perfection of every virtue we can know and practice. Therefore your son knows that God must be the infinite perfection of the virtue of a good father who wants to share all the good He has with his son. And therefore God must be infinite willing of sharing HIMSELF with everyone. And God cannot be thwarted (CCC 275) therefore will succeed in sharing himself with everyone. Therefore God must have created free will such that when we are given the truly infinite graces needed to receive God completely, so that partial knowledge ceases (CCC 314) and so that God is everything to everyone, all in all (CCC 130, 1 Cor 15:28) we will still have free will and everyone, with truly perfect free will, each will choose to do God’s will, even if that means they choose (by God’s infinite grace) to go to hell forever and ever and ever….. where they have the peace, love, joy, thanksgiving and sorrow for sins that Jesus had on the Cross.
    That we find it hard to understand how free will will be truly free when given infinite graces and it chooses to do God’s will is not too surprising. We are only humans, we are not God. But, who is going to seriously say that God is not infinitely powerful enough to create free will such?

  • grateful1

    Lovely piece — thank you!

  • Jeffrey Job

    It is His nature to love as it is the sun’s nature to shine light. Just as the sun shines on the beautiful landscape and the toxic waste dump equally so does His love shine on sinner and saint alike.

    He doesn’t love us because we’re lovable, we BECOME lovable BECAUSE we are loved.

    The first move is always His.

  • DavidM

    “I believe that God does love me. That much is obvious. It’s the why that I find inexplicable.”

    In that case I think you’ve got it backwards. It’s obvious why God would love you: you are his creature. Why would he create you if not to love you? But that God in fact loves you is not so obvious. Why would you say that it is? If you get beyond rather crass and thoughtless formulas and mantras, not much about love is obvious, especially God’s love. It’s intrinsically mysterious.

  • Jerry Rhino

    God created each of us to be a receptacle of His love. That is why we are worthy, He created us to be worthy receptacles. We are not worthy because of anything we do. A man builds a granary to store his grain. God builds men because, “He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …”.

  • mary salmond

    Thank you. I feel better. It’s true some people who asks questions do not want the answer. I remind myself of this often. If someone is serious, I ask them to pursue this with me later. If someone is baiting me, I give them the short answer.

  • KOJohnson

    Limiping along with the English word “love”. Won’t work. Look up the Latin caritas some time.

  • Ed

    Another difficult question atheists ask is: “If God is love why would he have his Son tortured and crucified so our sins could be forgiven. Why can’t God just forgive our sins without the cross?”

  • wva88

    To paraphrase something I heard at some point, “Jesus is the answer, it is up to us to figure out the question.” Something very Jeopardy about that…

  • JMC

    Why does God love me? Because God IS love. ;D

  • sparks1093

    A child need do nothing to make his Father love him. Every time I held one of my sons for the first time I loved them and I continue to love them to this day, even when they do unlovable things. I would lay down my life for them without thinking.

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