In one of my old posts on the problem of suffering, I told of a memory of when I was three, and my mom washed my hair, I hated the process and thought she was going to drown me. The point was to see the analogy of God as our parent, and that when we have trouble reconciling His professed love for us with the suffering that He allows to exist, we should keep in mind that our inability to resolve a theological difficulty (and the problem of suffering is the grand-daddy of them all) and understand the full picture does not mean that there isn’t a perfectly good reason known to God.
One of the possible rejoinders to this line of thinking (and over they years I’ve heard many, and even come up with some of my own), is that
while we can readily envision an ultimately benevolent parent appearing (to their child’s eyes) indifferent or “mean”, the child in this scenario has the benefit of hearing the parent’s professions of love directly, and experiencing their presence in the moment.
Sure, if God appeared unmistakably to me today and said “look, I do love you, but there are reasons why I have to let these bad things happen, and at your age you won’t understand my explanations fully”, I think that would calm any remaining doubts on the topic, because while I may be a three-year-old compared to God, I am no longer a three-year-old human and can see the analogy. The analogy starts to break down when it’s about God; for most of us, we’re hearing about God’s love indirectly, reasoning about it indirectly, sensing it only vaguely.
God’s absence is of course is a whole other topic, which I discussed at some length here and am not going to rehash at present. My only new insight today is to shift the terms of the analogy from parent-washing-hair to parent-dropping-off-at-school.
I can remember as a kid being somewhere I didn’t want to be, thinking it was a waste of my time, and wondering if the adult world was wrong for putting me there. Let’s put aside for the moment the possibility that my childhood self was right (a matter of some debate, see here and here, for example… not sure exactly where I stand on all that). The simple incremental improvement to the analogy I’m making is that loving parents don’t always guide their children through bad experiences, they sometimes drop them off somewhere unpleasant to deal with whatever’s there. And if the parent chose wisely, the experience does contribute to the child’s development, in ways beyond the child’s grasp. So if the hair-washing analogy didn’t help you, maybe try thinking of life as a school where we’ve all been dropped off by a loving parent, who left us here on our own to figure things out and hopefully grow from the process.
Consider this post one under the new regime I just laid out. I’m not going to overanalyze whether undercutting a prior post helps or hurts the effectiveness of the blog. I’m not going to try to anticipate and refute in advance several additional objections. I’m not going to wonder whether this is worth posting. I’m not going to search the web until I find a cool quote from CS Lewis saying “if this analogy helps, great, if not, please disregard” in whatever elegant way he put it in one of his books. I’m just going to publish this post, record my thoughts, and go along with my day. God bless.