American TV executive Chuck Lorre is well known for writing, directing, and producing such shows as Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Dharma and Greg, Two and a Half Men, and one of my favorites, The Big Bang Theory. Lorre also, in his own enigmatic way, has become popular for his somewhat random comments on different facets of culture that he posts in paragraph form following the credits at the end of his shows. You actually have to hit ‘pause’ or go on to his website to read them all.
Most recently, after the last episode of the season for Big Bang, Lorre wrote about his struggles with tragedies and, as he put it, “the age-old question, ‘Why does god allow so much suffering in the world?'” Lorre’s solution? Become a “polytheist;” so that you have no particular god to blame and every possible god to whom you might pray. Therefore, no one god is in control which makes it is easier to understand why chaos seems to be so prevalent at times. On the flipside, Lorre says, a polytheist can “micro-target” his or her prayers for specific needs or wants. Aphrodite for lovers . . . Poseidon for the anglers . . . Dionysus for the oft-inebriated. In the end, Lorre says, “whatever the crisis might be, there’s a god ready to take your call. What are you waiting for?” (If you would like to read Lorre’s full post — it is included at the end of this article.)
Well, Chuck, I suppose that is one option. But how does having many gods make life and its tragedies less complicated than having only One? I should also mention how inconsistent the Greek and Roman view of deity is with what I would call the clear trajectory of the universe. If the universe began with a “singularity,” as the majority of both creationists and non-creationists affirm, the universe was not a multiplex at its very beginning. In other words, the trajectory of the universe was initiated from a single point and not from multiple points. I realize that most of the ancient polytheists did not believe all of their gods were involved in creation; but most believed that a group or a family of gods were involved.
To be sure, a polytheist may simply believe the gods themselves came into being with the universe. This leads to another “age old question,” however, that resembles the chicken and the egg — which came first? If the gods came into being within the universe, who or what initiated the singularity and who or what created the gods?
On the contrary, a monotheistic view answers this question quite neatly. Consider the words of God as delivered by Moses in the Shema, which are the most foundational words in the Hebrew Old Testament:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Not everyone who believes in a singularity believes that God is its source. Whether or not one chooses to believe that this singularity was initiated by a supernatural being is one thing. To argue that the singularity was initiated by multiple supernatural beings is another. If a deity was in fact responsible for creation, a monotheistic god fits the bill much better a pantheon of gods. The majority of Western religions would agree, and the Bible teaches that this God was YHWH who also came to dwell on earth in the person of Jesus.
For those who are open to the idea of a creative origin of all that exists, the belief in ONE God is essential to the logical trajectory of the universe. The Hebrews often rubbed shoulders with the Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, and thus the Hebrews were prone to pick up on some Semitic polytheistic (many gods) and henotheistic (many gods with one who is in charge) ideas. When God introduced himself as YHWH, which is VERY singular, He provided all the clarification we need. (This clarification might have been necessary because one of His other oft-used names, Elohim, is plural). God was not simply one of the gods or the first among the gods. He was not like Baal in the Canaanite pantheon, Amon-Re in Egypt, or Marduk in Babylon; He is the ONE and only God and He is in complete control of things.
FROM ANCIENT GREECE TO ST. AUGUSTINE
Several centuries after the death of Moses, the earliest philosophers also saw this trajectory. While they may not have been worshipers of YHWH or even theists, they still saw the evidence of “one substance” that lies at the core of the universe, and its beginnings, and brings unity to everything that exists. For Thales (600 years before Jesus) the “one substance” was water. Heraclitus (500 years before Jesus) argued it was motion or change; Parmenides (400 years before Jesus) said it was permanence; Democritus (400 years before Jesus) actually hypothesized that there existed tiny, irreducible particles or “atoms”. For Plato, it was ideas; for Aristotle it was matter. One substance, one source.
Augustine of Hippo, perhaps the greatest theologian since the Apostle Paul, spoke of a time when he had created a “second substance” in his mind on which to ascribe blame for the failures of the created order. This, according to Augustine, made it easier for him to avoid speaking against God.
(From Confessions 20, my modernized translation)
For a time, I held the opinion that there are two substances and foolishly committed myself to talking that way. Soon, that second substance became as if a god which transcended infinite measures of space, and I imagined it to be like You (the One true G0d) and thus it became like a temple of its own and an idol in my heart. This was an abomination to You. But, after you cleansed my head of this foolishness and closed my eyes so that I might not “see worthless things” (Psalm 119:37), I broke away a little from my self-centeredness and my madness was rocked to sleep. I awoke in You, and I saw that only You are infinite, though this time I saw You above and beyond my own fleshly understanding.
Augustine’s conclusion: God is not to blame for everything that is wrong with creation; nor does evil arise from another god or some kind of divine “other” substance. On the contrary, evil and sin arise from the “perversion of the will” of mankind that has itself turned away from the perfect Being that is the One True God. Thus, evil and suffering do not disprove the existence of the One True God who is Good. Evil and suffering come from the sinful thoughts, desires, and actions of mankind. When man is compared to God, God’s goodness is even more apparent.
Do you believe God is good, and do you trust Him? Trust often implies a lack of full-disclosure. We can believe God is and good and trust Him without having perfect answers to all of life’s most difficult questions.
IN ALL FAIRNESS TO CHUCK LORRE
Nevertheless, Chuck’s “age-old question” is certainly a fair one. How do we deal with tragedy, injustice, or the loss of a seemingly innocent person, especially when we can find nothing redemptive in it?
We can find no good reason.
Well, we can over-react, push the ONE God of the Bible to the side, and come up with some illogical conclusions. We can offer shallow platitudes, blind justifications, or look for someone to blame.
OR, we can be honest about it.
- We can begin by acknowledging the fact that tragedies are hard and in many ways life is never the same as a result. C.S. Lewis, when he lost his wife to cancer, described himself as a ship which use to have both port and starboard engines which now “chugs along somehow” with only the port engine. (A Grief Observed, 33-34)
- We have to take the time we need, or allow others the time they need to adjust to their “new normal.” I reckon this process to a turtle who finally decides to cross a four-lane highway; sometimes you just have to start moving forward and hope for the best. We eventually get back in the game, knowing that we might get beat up, bruised, or worse.
- In Christ, we can have hope that things CAN get better. God is the God of the brokenhearted, and He too is grieved over the deep “wrongness” that exists in our world. He has promised us that it will not be this way forever, and that if we continue to follow Jesus He not lead us astray, but rather into eternal life where brokenness will no longer be an issue.
In the end, it comes down to what we believe about God. Do you believe God is good, and do you trust Him? Trust often implies a lack of full-disclosure.
I’ve been thinking about becoming a polytheist. No, this has nothing to do with missing Battlestar Galactica. And yes, I realize my blasphemous notion flies in the face of a few thousand years of “Ye shall have no other gods before me.” (To be honest, even when I was a kid that commandment troubled me. It sounded like a jealous girlfriend saying, “If I catch you looking at other girls, you’re in big trouble, Mister!” And don’t get me started on how “no other gods before me” kinda implies that there might actually be some other gods loitering about.) But my main reason for considering becoming a Pagan (Pagish? Jewgan?), is that it neatly answers the age-old question, “Why does god allow so much suffering in the world?” When tragedy strikes, the monotheistic approach can only offer the tired old, “It is not for us to question god’s will.” Really? Why not us? Who else is in the questioning business? But look what happens when we ask the same question from a pantheistic perspective. Why do the gods allow so much suffering in the world? Because outside of their particular area of expertise: farming, war, fertility, what-have-you, they are not even remotely in control. The buck stops nowhere. (In this scenario both the Old Testament and New Testament deities are off the hook as far as your general suffering is concerned.) But here’s the really good news: with a polytheistic approach to prayer we can micro-target our beseeching. Trouble with love? Take it to Aphrodite. Not catching enough fish? Poseidon. Are you regularly waking up from alcohol-induced blackouts in the sleeping compartment of long-haul trucks that carry circus equipment and little people? That sounds like a job for Dionysus. Need your sitcom pilot to get picked up for the Fall season? Les Moonves. In other words, whatever the crisis might be, there’s a god ready to take your call. What are you waiting for? Call now and receive a free goat-sacrificing kit! (Goat sold separately.)