Friday, October 21, 2011

When God is Silent

There are, it seems, three basic categories of human experience with a silent God. First, there are those who experience God's silence and find evidence that there is really no God (or god, or gods) at all. In an interview, when Richard Dawkins was asked what he would tell God if he met him at judgment in the afterlife, he quoted Bertrand Russell (I believe) who, when asked the same question, said, "Sir, why did you work so hard to hide yourself?" (close paraphrase). God's silence is proof he doesn't exist.

Second there are those who simply don't see a need to care about whether God exists. They are content with his silence and see no need to question it or make inference. God's silence just means he doesn't talk.

Third, there are those who see God as alive, who have experienced something that can only be categorized as a God who, as when he spoke and light shined forth in the darkness in explosive creation, also spoke to their entire being an explosive life-giving light. There is created then a dependence, to one degree or another, on this life-creating God. As a child with a parent learns to be dependent on them for every step of life. Then at some point, they cry out ... and no one answers. And then day after day there is no answer and the weeks turn into months. God is silent. Why?

We have recently come out of a long stretch of time (almost 3 years) where it felt like God was just silent. We look for direction one way or the other and there is no answer. We know and hold onto some certainties about direction in life that God had brought us to 5 years ago or so, and yet nothing happens; no progress ... just ... waiting. Sometimes prayer and reading his word almost seem too much because such faithfulness doesn't seem to get anywhere and results in more frustration just from the resulting silence. Then one day, a glimmer of light shone through the clouds and not only did God act, but life became a whirlwind. God showed up in such a decisive way that it seemed like he had his arms around our shoulders. (Though, not like life just turned hunky-dory.)

In reflection, there are a few decisive shifts in our perspective; life-lessons if you will. First, it is very easy to get attached to the notion that such suffering should somehow be alleviated by our faithfulness to God. But he promises no such thing. All such things are according to his will and timing. We are to simply be faithful.

On the flip-side, it's easy for the idea to be embedded somewhere that some sin of ours caused such silence. That we are somehow responsible to some degree. While this may always be true on some broad level, it is dangerous to attach some tit-for-tat notion to God's dealings with man. Sometimes you can be a generally righteous person and you get the short end of the stick (read Job); and vice-a-versa. But God doesn't owe us a thing. And while we may know that in our own personal theology, living it daily isn't easy.

With this in mind, it is imperative during such times to eschew self-deprecation as if God isn't helping you because there is some insidious sin that is rearing it's head that makes God turn away from meeting your petitions. Sometimes God's accomplishing his purposes for your life has nothing to do with you (so to speak) so stop trivializing him and putting him in a box. He's bigger than that!

I think more often we simply need to be taught. God is silent because he is making and shaping us into new people. And turning our thoughts to this we should praise his silence, knowing that he has made and considered us worthy to suffer for his glory and our transformation, that he should work with us to change us and use us rather than simply abandon us.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Do Your Economic Duty: Get Married, Stay Married, and Have Kids!

A new report "co-sponsored by six international institutions and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia" indicates that the “long-term fortunes of the modern economy rise and fall with the family” (HT: Tom Gilson per The Washington Times). A PDF of the study can be downloaded here. The report, entitled "The Sustainable Demographic Dividend, What Do Marriage and Fertility Have to Do with the Economy?", give four conclusions from the analysis:
  1. Children raised in intact, married families are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become well-adjusted, productive workers.
  2. Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers.
  3. Nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman.
  4. Key sectors of the modern economy—from household products to insurance to groceries—are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children.
The report analyzes various population statistics in major world countries across various continents in tandem with marriage, cohabitation, and divorce statistics, religious and social marriage values statistics and trends, and demographic spending statistics. While such a study is not deductively conclusive (and indeed cannot be!) the analysis appears very compelling; and indeed the burden of proof is placed on those who'd disagree. The statistical information is cast broad enough and the results are stark enough that the logical correlations follow naturally.

Among the more salient statistics are:
  • The average woman in a developed country bears just 1.66 children whereas 2.1 children per woman is required for a sustaining a population (note that the U.S. hovers at 2.0 children per woman). Accordingly, the number of children age 0–14 is 60.6 million less in the developed world today than it was in 1965.2 Primarily because of their dearth of children, developed countries face shrinking workforces even as they must meet the challenge of supporting rapidly growing elderly populations.
  • This means that though the world population is increasing, and is still projected to be 7 to 10 billion over the next 90 years, this is a different type of growth where the increase is from people over 60 instead of increased children. This means birth rates could start falling by the turn of the century.
  • In the 53 countries investigated, those that attend religious services less than once a month average 1.69 children and those that attend once a month or more average 2.21 children.
This last point is particularly interesting. The report gives 10 policies that are appropriate in an aging society. The tenth and last "appropriate policy" is "Respect the role of religion as a pronatal force."

In recognition of the contribution that religion makes to family life and fertility, governments should not persecute people of faith for holding or expressing views that are informed by religious tradition, including ones that buck progressive or nationalist sensibilities. Alas, such persecution is now common in some countries around the world, from Canada to China to France. Faith brings hope, and ultimately it is hope that replenishes the human race. (pg. 23)
The significance of this with respect to, say, Richard Dawkins and fellow neo-atheists should be evident. It seems "survival of the fittest" as a philosophical guiding principle is self-defeating.


Alongside the conclusions are 4 line of action that should undertaken to promote the family structure.
  1. Companies should use their cultural influence to get behind positive, family-friendly advertisements and public education campaigns.
  2. Countries should increase access to affordable health care and lifelong learning to strengthen the economic foundations of family life.
  3. Public policy should support marriage and responsible parenthood by, for instance, extending generous tax credits to parents with children in the home.
  4. Corporate and public policy should honor the work-family ideals of all women by giving families the flexibility to pursue their own preferences for juggling work and family.
If anything seems questionable about these recommendations one should note the context: this is about economic factors and geared towards businesses. However, one has to question the nature of suggested action. When is a study going to be done on the effectiveness of corporate policy and government law at changing value-systems? This doesn't mean it would have no effectiveness at change, but such has to already rest on a value-system shift. Indeed, one may argue that change could be affected in such ways -the report references such action during the Renaissance - but I'd argue that it becomes merely another step in the chaos, a fad with no lasting power. The economic motivator serves itself, not the family, and to do both is to be in unstable tension.
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