There are four words I never wanted to say to my kids. I heard these four words frequently from age 2 to age 18, and you likely did too. You probably felt the same way about them as I did, and felt just as disheartened and disappointed in yourself the first time they finally slipped out of your mouth. Because I said so.
You get a glimpse of infinity when your 3-year-old learns the word “why.” You realize that each answer of this inquiry simply precludes another “Why?”—and that the cycle would be unbound by time if it weren’t eventually exhausted by your child’s attention span. My goal has always been to answer the question until she stops asking it. It goes something like this:
“Sweetie, put your jacket on.”
“Because it’s cold outside, and we need to go to the store.”
“Because we need to get groceries.”
“Because we need to have food in our house.”
“Because you need to be able to eat.”
“Because we don’t want you to starve”
“Because then you wouldn’t be healthy.”
“Because your body needs to use food for fuel.”
At this point, I get into the biochemistry of metabolism. She quickly loses interest and runs off to her room to put on her jacket. She might be overwhelmed by information, but she will grow into that. At least she does not feel ignored. She doesn’t feel silenced or shut down. Of course, there are times when my patience is the limiting factor—and I utter the four forbidden words. “But that’s not a reason!” she says as she crosses her arms and stomps her foot. And suddenly, I see myself in her. She’s just like me. She needs more. She needs reasons.
Reasons to believe. Reasons to trust. Reasons to worship. These are what I seek. And so far, I haven’t been satisfied by the answers I’m finding. Why should I believe? A T-shirt comes to mind: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Good for you, but no—it doesn’t. And even if I had evidence that led me to believe that God is who scripture makes Him out to be, would He be worthy of my worship? Is He good?
For as long as I can remember, I have had morals. I can’t tell you for sure if they came built-in, or if they were downloaded to my personality by my parents—or some combination of the two. There are things that feel right to me, things that feel wrong, and things that I struggle with classifying in this way. Even if morals were taught to me, one could prudently ask who taught morality to my teachers, and who taught it to their teachers, and so on. It had to start somewhere. Humans try to measure up to some moral standard, and this has often been used as a kind of “proof” of God—the standard, the rule against which all else is measured. For years, that argument worked for me. Then I dared to ask a question: If God is the standard of perfection from which my own morality is derived, why does He not measure up to my own definition of “good”—a definition that supposedly came from Him? On December 18th of 2012, I wrote a letter to a friend and asked this question (in different words). The response? “How can a good and loving God…owe me an explanation?” There it is again. Those four words (stretched into eleven). Because I said so.
I hear the same thing from most Christians. He is God; I am not—I must let my words be few. If I don’t understand how He is good, it is because His ways are higher than my ways. I bristle at His actions in scripture because I am rebellious—because I have said no to His authority in my life. And who am I to question God?
Do you want to know why my generation—twenties and thirties—is leaving the church? It’s the same reason that exasperated 3-year-old girls pack their dolls up in a Doc McStuffins backpack and announce that they’re running away. We need reasons, and because I said so isn’t good enough.
We want to know why God demands perfection but allowed evil to enter the world. We want to know why jealousy or anger or lust is punishable by death. What ever happened to an eye for an eye? Why doesn’t the punishment fit the crime? We want to know why God allowed—even encouraged—rape and murder in the Old Testament. Why did He create mankind at all if any would have to perish? Was it worth it for the relative few that would get it right and worship Him throughout eternity? Why won’t He accept our lack of faith as the natural consequence of His failure to reveal Himself? Why won’t He show me who He is? Why has He not given us sufficient evidence that He exists in the first place?
A reader asked me questions about morality. Is there a standard? Who is the authority? Can truth change?
Yes, I believe there is a standard. The standard appears to be as follows: That which promotes survival and reproduction is good. We have been allowed to evolve into what we are because of an instinct that tells us not to kill each other. We have populated the earth because of an innate desire for companionship, consummated by a very enjoyable process by which children are born to us. So the standard is survival. The authority is the evolutionary process—the traits that promote survival and reproduction will outlast the others. Can it change? Yes; it evolves as we do at a rate so slow that we usually fail to perceive it. An example is the relatively recent development of monogamy—something that was not necessary in most pre-human species when young offspring were less vulnerable and did not require the attentive care of a mother while a father provided food and protection. So today, killing each other and polygamy are generally perceived as bad. Monogamous marriage and sex are generally perceived as good. What will be true tomorrow? Whatever the evolutionary process (the authority) dictates for survival and reproduction (the standard). This makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is a God who says that an infant deserves death from the first gasp of air because of moral imperfection. What doesn’t make sense is a God who would make Himself a mystery, yet demand that we know Him or accept eternal torment—a God who created some for destruction. I don’t want to worship a God who does not meet my own standards for morality. Fortunately, I don’t believe He exists, and that makes things a lot easier for me.
Because if I could find a reason to believe in Him, I’d have to hate Him for how the Bible portrays Him.
Because if He is God, I’d have to acknowledge the fact that He has rejected me by not calling me to Himself.
Because I currently do not have sufficient evidence to believe in Him without sacrificing my intellect.
Because God’s morality as portrayed in scripture is just not good enough.
Do I need any more reasons than these?