In a recent thread at the Orthosphere, Rusty bravely shared his doubts about the Incarnation – and, ipso facto, Christianity (as distinct from mere theism). Rusty is not hostile to the Faith. On the contrary, he has lost his former faith, misses it terribly, and wishes there were some way he could regain it. His comments are truly heartrending to read.
Rusty, first: Thanks for your candor. I am praying for you.
Second, I would like to address the nub of your difficulty, because it is something I have often seen troubling thoughtful people. You say that even given an omnipotent God – a notion you seem to credit – you cannot help thinking that the Incarnation, and by extension the Redemption of the world, are simply unlikely.
[The Incarnation is not] impossible, [just] unlikely. It doesn’t make any logical sense that it would happen. But that’s supposed to be the reason that it is likely. Here’s the leap I have trouble making anymore.
You are in pretty good company. In one of the essays collected for his famous book, Why I am not a Christian, Bertrand Russell made the same argument, although unlike you he employed acid sarcasm. Russell asked how likely it was that God would trouble himself with little Earth’s affairs, when He had billions of galaxies to run.
The question relies upon our natural approach to the notion of omnipotence. We naturally tend to think of God’s omnipotence by extrapolation from our own span of control, our own capacity. We naturally think of God as powerful in the same we are, but to a superlative degree. In other words – and this is key – we tend to think of God as having an inconceivably large, but nonetheless limited “budget” of ontological capacity, that He has to allocate among His various creatures.
But it won’t do. This natural way of thinking is radically inadequate to its subject. God’s power is without limit. He could create a trillion trillion universes, and His infinite power would not be exhausted even one little bit. Note also that His omniscience – a department of His omnipotence – is likewise infinite, so that without straining at all He can feel everything that each of His creatures feel, in all of those trillions upon trillions of universes, with even more attention and acuity than any of those creatures can bring to bear. Not only does He know your suffering, He knows it infinitely better than you do.
The way I made sense of this was to think of it in terms of economics. Say that you were the richest man in the world, 100 times richer than all the rest of the Forbes 400 put together. Say that God came to you and said, “Rusty, if you will sacrifice one penny of your wealth, I will ensure that everyone who ever lived on Earth, or ever will, has a chance to get into Heaven. Whether or not they take that chance is up to them. If you are not willing to pay that penny, they’ll all go to Hell. What do you say?” What would you do? You’d fork over the penny, right? Of course you would. Even a man who was a million times more miserly than Scrooge would take that deal in a heartbeat.
That’s what God does, in redeeming every world that ever Fell, or ever will Fall. It is infinitely easier for God to recreate limitless numbers of worlds – worlds as far as the eye can see, worlds without end – than it would be for you to fork over that penny. And because He feels all the feelings of each of His creatures, His will toward their good, and thus toward the overall beauty of His creation – i.e., His love – is also without limit. So, His motivation to redeem all Fallen creatures is without limit.
Thus from a mathematical point of view, the likelihood that God would not redeem this world is 1/∞: infinitely small.
I hope this helps you. Do please keep writing to us about your courageous struggle. You are not alone, however much it feels that way.
NB that for believers, the cost/benefit ratio of personal righteousness is likewise some finite quantity x of ascetic discomfort over everlasting glory: x/∞. It’s like, one penny in exchange for endless perfect bliss. Yet we hold back from that deal.
Sinfulness is just dreadfully irrational.