What do you mean God speaks?

S3E17.17: So, what -is- God's part in a famine or whatever else?

September 03, 2023 Paul Seungoh Chung Season 3 Episode 17
What do you mean God speaks?
S3E17.17: So, what -is- God's part in a famine or whatever else?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What began as a supplemental episode has become a rather long and hefty discussion about the question of suffering or evil in a world spoken forth by God. This is far from a complete answer. What this episode is doing is to outline a larger framework, along with a set of prior questions and considerations in order to really understand this question. 

Too many of us today think this question in terms of whether we can still believe that there exists a benevolent, super-powerful entity, if he will not prevent bad things from happening. But, that actually isn’t the question. It is about how to understand reality, how to understand what it really means for God to speak forth a world, so that we can understand what it means for something bad to happen as a part of what God speaks.

And the answer to that is not as simple as we’d think (hence the length of the episode).
         
 1:03     Return to the question, "Why is there suffering if God is good?"           
 8:45     What "part" of what happens is God, and what "part" is us?           
 17:31     The speech-like character of reality as God speaking           
 27:20     So, why -is- there something like a famine?           
 35:10     Why we've got it backwards            

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This is a supplemental episode to season 3, episode 17, “God as the Author of our stories.” There were some points and ideas, especially in the latter segment in that episode that I thought would benefit from further development and clarification, before moving on to episode 18. But, to do so, I would need to at least touch on some more technical ideas and discussions, which required a separate full-length episode: 

[ music / ]

Welcome to "What do you mean, God speaks?" where we explore important ideas, insights, and stories in Christianity, for the skeptics who want to understand religion, to the Christians who have questions about their own beliefs, and everyone in between.

I am Paul Seungoh Chung, and this is episode 17 point 17of the third season, “So, what is God’s part in the famine or whatever else? The line between God and the world.”

[ / music ]

Our previous episode—episode 17 of this third season—returned to that perennial question: “If God is good, why is there evil and suffering?” To be specific, that question reared itself as we explored the life story of Joseph as recounted in Genesis, which was after all fraught with suffering, like betrayal, slavery, imprisonment, solitude, and even an unprecedented famine that struck the land of Egypt and the Levant. Yet, Genesis also presents God as the Creator of the cosmos, sovereign over all things, speaking forth everything that happens—including what happened to Joseph—which in turn leads us to ask, is God then causing all that suffering in Joseph’s life? Hence, back to that question: “If God is good, why is there suffering?”

Now, we’ve considered this question before, and will do so again many more times, since there are many, many sides to that question. The last time we did so, though it was phrased differently, was back in the sixth episode of this third season. That was when I made the observation that we can’t really ask this question meaningfully without first answering a more fundamental question: Why would we think that God is good in the first place? What do we mean by saying, “God is good”? 

However, that question in turn is understood and explored differently depending on what we mean by God. Nowadays, we tend to imagine some entity, a god like Zeus, but all-powerful—a Super-Zeus—residing in some celestial realm, who decreed to us our moral laws. And we expect this Super-Zeus deity to prevent evil and suffering in our world, because of his moral goodness. But, those who reject this belief in God have argued that we have no need of this entity to know what is right or wrong, or to live morally. Then they’d add that this god has also never lived up to our expectation of preventing evil and suffering. Yet, this series began by exploring why this Super-Zeus god is not what religions like Christianity really mean by God. God is not an entity in our reality; God is Reality. “God” is reality that we are immediately engaged with at all times and reality at the most comprehensive level—all of reality as a whole, with its principles, structures, and laws—yet, somehow this reality also personally speak to us. That is what theistic religious traditions across the world have meant by God, with the capital “G”.

But, this changes what we mean by saying that God is good. We aren’t speculating about the moral qualities of a hypothetical entity in some higher level of our reality; we are describing the very character of reality as a whole that we are experiencing right now. So, what do we mean by saying that reality as a whole is good? Well, you can review the sixth and the seventh episode of this third season, but the short of it is this: reality unfolds in a particular way in response to what we do and how we build our world. I’ve heard people say, rather simplistically, that morality is just rules that our society has set down, but, that pointedly ignores the question of why a society would set down such rules in the first place. And the answer is: these rules are approximations of which kind of actions and lives lead us, humanity, to flourish together, while going counter to these rules will lead us to perish together. I say, “approximations,” because we are still trying to get it right—and sometimes we even sneak in false rules that will let us have power over other people—but, at its basis, it is about what will make our lives flourish or perish together. I mean, just imagine what would happen if everyone to their best ability lived by honesty, fairness, compassion, and love, and compare that with what would happen if everyone instead lived by deception, greed, cruelty, and hatred. 

This is how reality is structured, or to put it in Christian terms, this is the character of God and the world God speaks forth. This is why in that sixth episode, I was drawing connections with what Christianity means by saying that God is good, to the ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese idea of the Cosmic law, and even the modern, Darwinian theory about how Evolution underlies the development of human morality. Something fundamental to our reality leads us to our moral values; this something makes our lives flourish when everyone aims for what is good, and unravels our world when everyone fails to, or even spitefully head toward evil. This, by the way, is what is recounted in the Genesis narratives we explored in the second half of Season Two. Our moral truths are what reality communicates to us, by how it unfolds in response to what we do, and also by a kind of voice that speaks to us from within, personally guiding us in how we live. All of that is what we mean by saying that God is “good.” It is not about whether there’s a super-powerful entity preventing anything bad from happening in our world. It’s about how reality is structured so that “goodness” is what leads our lives to flourish. 

But, this does not make our question disappear; it only clarifies it. Those who believe in God hold that Reality is Who, not a what. So, by saying that God is reality, we are not saying that God is only an impersonal reality with set principles and structures; reality also speaks with us and engages us personally. It is through such engagement that those whose life-stories are recounted in the Hebrew and the Christian Bible have come to experience the more personal character of reality—of God—such as that of faithfulness, compassion, loving kindness, and so on. Their experiences, which this series is still only beginning to explore, revealed that our reality is structured in such a way that we flourish when we live by truthfulness, justice, and love, because our reality is God speaking, truthfully, justly, and lovingly. So, then our clarified question becomes: How can this reality, which is supposedly God speaking, “truthfully, justly, and lovingly,” unfold a world where there is evil and suffering—a world where Joseph is betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers, and a deadly famine strikes the land?   

To this, the standard Christian answers explore what reasons God might have for evil and suffering in our world, or how God is present in our suffering. But, that is not what we will explore here because there is yet another question we should’ve addressed before we can even begin to meaningfully ask why there is suffering in this world that God speaks forth. And that is: when something bad happens, what part of that is God?

[ Pendulum ]

At first glance, the answer to that question may seem obvious. After all, according to this series, God is reality, all of reality—or more precisely, reality as a whole is God speaking. So, wouldn’t that mean that everything that happens—including evil and suffering—is God speaking? But, it turns out to be more complicated than that. 

Let’s go ahead and substitute the word, “God” with the word, “Reality”, to understand this more clearly. So, when we do something, like say, betray our brother and sell him as a slave, what part of that is “reality,” and what part that is just, us—our decisions and actions? Or when something happens in Nature, like when a famine strikes Egypt, what part of that is “reality,” and what part that is just “nature”—climate patterns, soil erosion, and so on? And we may answer that this question makes no sense; all of our actions and every natural event are simply part of reality. So, what we do is us and reality; what happens in Nature, is “Nature” and reality. That’s just what the word, “reality,” means, which again for Christians is “God speaking”. But, did you notice? In the examples that we just considered, saying that our decisions or actions are simply part of reality do not change the fact that they also remain our decisions and actions. We decided to betray our brother, and we acted on it. Likewise, saying that natural events are part of reality does not change the fact that they remain natural events that follow fixed laws. Both are God speaking, yet they are also our decision, and natural events.

Let’s use an analogy here. Again, remember the caveat: everything we say of God is an analogy, which includes me saying that “all of reality is God speaking.” According to this analogy, reality is like a speech, with principles, laws, and structures we can describe with our speech. Yet, these principles and structures of reality could have been different, like how a speaker could have spoken something different than what was said. There is something further to this analogy, however: what God is speaking unfolds as a series of events, and so, reality unfolds like a story, as history of the cosmos, Life, humanity, and our own lives. And in that sense, God is like an author, the author that creates a world and the people living in that world. So far, all of this is something I’ve said repeatedly in this series. But, now let’s consider this analogy of God as the author, speaking forth the world as a kind of story. A good example for comparison here may be the Middle-Earth Legendarium of JRR Tolkien, which includes The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. In fact, I should add that Tolkien viewed his own work as what he called an act of “Sub-Creation,” because he believed that as God’s creation, human beings can imitate God speaking, with their own imaginative work—so for Tolkien, crafting the world and the stories of his Middle-Earth legendarium was his loving imitation of God creating the world.   

So, think about a story, which is so compelling that its world and characters truly seem to come to life—say, The Lord of the Rings. When something happens in that kind of story, such as when a character does something, what part of that is the “author” telling the story and what part of that is the “character” doing it? So, say, when Frodo musters up his courage to embark on a dangerous quest to destroy the One Ring, what part of that is Frodo’s decision, and what part of that is Tolkien’s? And one answer is: it is both. But, perhaps a more precise answer is: it depends on “where,” so to speak, we are in relation to what’s happening, or which “framework” we are using to look at it. When we are living out our lives from within the story, say, from the perspective of one of the characters in The Lord of the Rings, it is Frodo who has decided to set off on a quest. But, when we “step out” of that framework to consider the story as a whole, that is, when we understand everything as a story, then it is Tolkien penning his thoughts and imagination. But, to say that Tolkien authored Frodo’s story does not change the fact that in the story, it really is Frodo who decided to go, and embarked on his quest. In a truly good story, where its characters really seem alive, the author will not have their characters do something they otherwise won’t; likewise, the author will not have their world behave in a way it normally wouldn’t. The author speaks forth the story, but the characters and the world of that story remain true to themselves. And in the case of Tolkien, this includes everyone, including the Dark Lord Sauron and all the suffering he caused. What part is Tolkien in the story that unfolds in The Lord of the Rings? In one sense, everything. Yet, in another sense, it’s… unclear because truly great authors are constrained by their respect toward their creation. 

Everything we say of God is an analogy, to characterize reality as a whole with words that are available to us. So, our analogy is: Reality is God speaking, and reality unfolds like a story that God speaks forth as the author. But, this analogy implies that God may be constrained by His respect to everything that was spoken forth and created. I mean think back on your life—especially the times you made a decision that truly was your own, which has shaped your life ever since. What part of that was you? I mean, what you did and what happened is part of “reality”, to put it in the broadest way possible. But, it was still your decision, hopefully one you haven’t regretted. Everything you do, is your doing, even as it is also God speaking. Our analogy implies that God does not speak forth for you a life that you yourself won’t live out. God may speak to you to change—to present you with that different kind of life—but you must first hear God speak, and then decide to follow that voice, as say, Abraham did in Genesis. It is then that what God speaks forth in your life becomes what God wants to speak. 

( And even then, the line between you and God—the boundary between your “part,” and “God’s”—will remain open. What do I mean? Way back in the first season, after posting episode 10, “What do you mean God speaks to you?” I added a supplemental episode titled, “You or God? Truth and Reality – Addendum to episodes 9 & 10”. That episode specifically addresses one of the questions that was raised in our exploration of what it means for God to speak to people. What I asked then was: “If God personally speak to you with an inward voice or thoughts, where is the boundary between you and God when that happens?” After all, what you hear—supposedly from God—is coming from inside you, in your mind! And it turned out that there is no fixed boundary, but one that moves. All of reality is God speaking, but how we experience God that is speaking, is shaped by who we are—our character, understanding, and limitations. And that can change, because we can change. So, we can experience God speaking to us from within, often in the form of a better version of us—more truthful, just, and loving—that we can become, beckoning us toward itself. But, this means that the boundary between us and God is like the ever moving horizon; just like how the horizon moves further away as we move toward it, when we change and become that version of us, there is still an even better version of us beckoning to us as the voice of God. But, again, this is all in episode 10 point 10 of the first season. This is why I have described God as reality that we are immediately engaged with at all times. What Christianity means by God is both something farthest away—encompassing all of reality—and yet, closest to you, as your innermost reality that speaks deep within yourself. )

Now, do you remember how in the previous episode, I reminisced about a moment in my childhood when I realized that “everyone,” including people I don’t know and will never know, are living their lives, just as real as my own—or rather, when I realized the dizzying implication of that fact? Well, what we just considered about your life, how it is made up of your decisions and actions even as they are also God speaking, and how God can speak to you and beckon you to change in your innermost being… all of that is how it is for everyone that exists. That was why in our previous episode, to understand why God spoke forth for Joseph a life of being hated and sold into slavery, we followed the same events from the perspective of his brothers. Just as God does not speak forth a life you won’t live out for yourself, God did not do so for Joseph’s brothers when they lived out their hatred of their brother, Joseph, and sold him into slavery. And just as God can speak to you and beckon you toward a different kind of life, God also spoke to them and changed them through what subsequently unfolded in their lives, so that when they met Joseph again, they were different people. 

So, when something happens, what part of that is God? That is, what part of that is God wanting it to happen, and what part of that is God respecting His Creation, even while beckoning to them to change? And that can be very difficult to say. 

[ Pendulum ]

At this point, I can imagine two following questions—or at least, these two are the ones I had. The first one is: what about natural disasters? So, let’s grant for now that God respects our will and our decisions, and that is why people can sometimes do horrible things to each other. That is why Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery, and his master’s wife lied to put him in prison. But, what about the famine in Egypt? What about things that happen in Nature? What would it even mean for God to respect the natural course of events even though that can cause suffering to us, human beings? 

But, before we consider that question, I want to explore the second question. And this one comes from the opposite direction of how we’ve been thinking about God. Before, we were asking whether it even makes sense to ask what part of things that happen is God’s doing, since all of reality is God speaking. But now, if God quote, “respects” His Creation, so that everything have their own existence and course—if what we do are our decisions and actions, and what happens in Nature are natural events, with fixed laws and structures—why think about “God” at all? We’d just need to consider each individual thing or person in our reality, and what they are doing. This connects with a view that is called “atomism”—to be specific, the reductionist version of it—and no, this is not the scientific theory of atoms, but a philosophical position that reality is just made up of individual, constituent parts that physically exists, and nothing more than that. 

However, I just do not find this to be a good way to understand our world or to describe our reality. First, we simply cannot understand our world without any reference to its overarching structures, principles, or patterns that are beyond any individual thing. Take the word, “humanity.” In one sense, “humanity” is just a term for every human individual, like you or me, and so, one might say that humanity is just made up of individual human beings, and nothing more. But, what makes each individual human being, a human being? There is something universal to every human being—properties, capabilities, or limitations—that is what we mean by “humanity” in another sense. And this sense of “humanity” does not originate, so to speak, from individual humans like us; I have not somehow made myself human; humanity is in a sense imparted to us—we were simply born human. And this sense of “humanity” exists, as a possibility at least, even when there is no individual human being that physically exists. If that sounds strange, let me use a different example: “Robots.” Do “robots” only exist when there are individual, physical robots? If so, how did we know what a robot is, before robots physically existed? And when someone built a robot, how did we recognize that as a robot? Well, the word, “robots,” come from a science fiction play by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek (Chapek), titled, R.U.R.(Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti), or Rossum's Universal Robots, which features artificially crafted people that labor for human beings. That play was written in 1920. So, the “idea,” of robots existed long before any individual robot physically existed. [1] Yes, I know we’ve now wandered into a different philosophical debate altogether, between idealism and materialism, but, see, topics like this are interconnected.    

My point here though is that to describe our world as just a collection of individual physical things is one way to understand our reality, but that way by itself is incomplete. There is a speech-like character to reality, which cannot simply be reduced to individual things in our reality. And it is this speech-like structure that makes individual things what they are even before they physically exist. And that brings us to the notion of principles and laws that define and structure our reality. For science, this is the “laws of nature” that govern every natural process and interactions, but the laws themselves are not any individual, physical thing in nature. In fact, according to cosmologists, this physical universe, made up of individual, literal atoms, began approximately 13.8 billion years ago from the initial state of the Big Bang, but what governed that first event were these very laws—or the ultimate laws of physics that science is still trying to understand. So, can laws exist, in a sense, before or apart from the physical things they govern? That is a tricky philosophical question, but it brings us back to the point: there is a speech-like character to reality as a whole, that holds every individual thing together, and we cannot really understand or describe our world without it. This speech-like character is what Christianity calls the Logos of God, or God “speaking”. 

Here’s one further interesting point. In the fields of systems theory, in science and the arts, there is a concept called “Emergence.” You can look it up yourself, but the gist of it is, there are properties or behaviors that emerge only when individual things are placed together within a larger system. These properties cannot be predicted from individual things by themselves—so it is not a logical consequence of what that individual thing is or how it behaves. So, for example, a living organism is made up of individual, physical atoms and molecules, which can be studied by chemistry and physics. But, there is nothing in how atoms behave, or how molecules form through chemical process, which logically entail what biology has discovered about Life—about how living organisms behave in relation to its environment, or the process of Evolution of living species. Evolution is an emergent process. It emerges only when there are more than just a collection of individual atoms and molecules, when they compose a wholly new thing, a living organism in a particular environment with other living organisms, and so on. But, the thing is, as soon as Life appeared, there already was a set of principles and laws in place that governed this process—as if a new set of these principles was spoken forth. So, there are different levels to reality, with a different speech-like character to it, to use our analogy. Atoms and molecules is one level, Life is another, and according to those studying this phenomena of “emergence,” consciousness is yet another. 

Now, obviously, the philosophical debates in these topics we’ve covered are far more complex than the glimpses we’ve had in this supplementary episode, and each position and view have sophisticated, and well-thought out versions. We’re not trying to settle those debates here. I’m simply raising some very general points we need to consider whenever we try to understand our world, which will enable us to again understand what we mean by “God” and “God’s part” in a world where everyone and everything have their own individual existence. Remember: that’s what this episode is about.

So, there is an overarching speech-like character to all of reality, which holds together every individual existence within a larger whole. That is “God speaking”—the “Word” of God in the Christian Bible. Each and every individual thing, from a single atom or a sub- elementary particle, to each of us human beings, have their own existence, yes, but at the same time they were all formed by, and now are even now defined by this speech— these laws or principles. And that is God’s part in what happens; even as each thing exists as individual things and follow its own course, and each of us live out our own lives, everything does so only within this larger speech of God.

Furthermore, our reality has different levels, from the level of fundamental forces like gravity, or of spacetime itself, to the level of atoms and composition of matter, to the level of Life and living organisms, to the level of human consciousness, with each level governed by a new emergent set of principles—new “speech”. And how I just presented these levels should have reminded the old-time listeners of what we explored in the first four episodes of Season Two: the Genesis Creation account. On each “day” of Creation, as recounted in Genesis, God speaks forth a new level to our reality. First was a world of sequence and time, with Light as the first reference. The second was that of space, the third was that of shape and form, of matter, and then separately, of Life that can spring forth from matter. The fourth was the individual sun, moon, and the stars, while the fifth and the sixth were every species of life, and eventually, humanity. Each day was a new level, with new “speech” that God speaks forth. It is within that larger whole, that larger speech of God, that the individual things in each level of reality exist, behave, and interact with other things, in the particular way that they do. 

And that leads us to the answer to our first question: what about natural disasters?

[ Short Pendulum ]

Yes, I still remember our first question. I did say we need to answer the second question first. 

But, let’s take some time to get our bearings first, because we’ve covered a lot of ground, much more than I intended when I began this episode. This episode returned to a question that was raised in Season 3, episode 17, regarding why there is suffering or evil in this world that God is speaking forth. Now, the problem is: people nowadays understand this question as asking, “Why is there suffering in this world if there is a super-powerful entity that would prevent them from happening?” But, that isn’t the question, because what religions like Christianity means by “God” is not an entity that we think or hope, exists somewhere. Rather, God is reality that we’re engaged with right now—or more precisely, reality is God speaking. So, it’s not about whether we can still believe that there’s some entity that stops bad things from happening, this is about how to understand this reality that’s all around us. 

To say that God is good then, is firstly to say that reality is structured in such a way that living truthfully, justly, and lovingly make us flourish together, and secondly to say that it is structured this way, because the personal character of reality, which we experienced when this reality has engaged with us personally was the following: faithful and true, just and loving. Then, the question became: if this is how reality is structured, if that’s what we’ve experienced, so that this reality is God speaking, faithfully, justly, and lovingly—how are we to understand things in it that make us suffer? Again, we’re not asking whether there really is an entity stopping bad things from happening, but what is God is really speaking, when bad things happen, and why?   

So, we’ve come upon this analogy: reality unfolds like a story that God is speaking forth. But, what God speaks, has parts—and by parts, I mean, like roles in a story. Now, there is a speech-like character to reality—principles, laws, or structures—which sets the parameters, so to speak, within which each and everything can exist, and do what it does; that is God’s part in the story that God is speaking. But, within the parameters that God is speaking, we can live our own lives, and things in Nature follow their own courses, and that is our part in what God is speaking. Everything is God speaking, within what God speaks, each of us have parts—and how we play our parts is up to us—and that becomes part of what God speaks (yes, the pun is intended). Now, as we play our part, God can personally speak to us, to beckon us to play it differently, but we can ignore that. Likewise, what happens in Nature, as it follows the principles and laws that God speaks, is up to Nature. Hence, our current question: even if that can bring about a famine? Why? And is it entirely up to Nature? Does God speak to Nature, as God speaks to us? 

This brings us back to our previous point that according to Genesis, reality has different levels, each with its own speech-like character, God speaking at each level. Yet, when a new level is spoken forth, what God speaks at the previous level becomes fixed. For example, things cannot happen unless there is time, and that means once things start happening, what God speaks in the first day to bring forth the flow of time becomes set; God will continue to speak forth time, as long as the world has events in time. Unless there is matter, living organisms composed of matter, cannot exist, so once there are living things, what God speaks in the third day, the world of shape and forms, of matter, is set; God will continue to speak forth a world of form and matter, as long as God is also speaking forth living things. And unless there are living things, a physical world, space and time, we human beings cannot exist. And that means for us to exist, what God speaks in the previous six days, the structures and laws of the cosmos as it is now, is set; God will continue to speak that world—this reality, and those structures and laws.  

But, there’s more to this than that. In our previous episode, I quoted a passage in the Christian Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, from the prophetic book of Jeremiah. In that passage, God declares to Jeremiah that what God speaks forth in Genesis, to create the universe, the laws of heaven and earth, is a covenant. That is to say, just as what God speaks to people like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are promises that God fulfills. The speech-like character of reality, the laws that define how nature works at each level and for each individual thing, from galaxies, to each and every atom, is God speaking a promise. Again, everything we say of God is an analogy: laws of nature is like a promise that is unfailingly kept; it is God speaking forth a covenant with the cosmos. This is how we may understand our reality where laws like gravity works the same today as it did yesterday, so that for example, our planet will not just fling itself away from the sun tomorrow for no reason at all. And if you think about it, it is a strange thing—this orderly nature of our universe. There is no logical reason why these laws should continue to work; they just do, rather like a promise that is being kept.

But, again, God spoke this promise not to us, but to Nature—though I’d say we greatly benefit from that promise, since our computer works today like it did yesterday. And it seems God takes His promises absolutely seriously, whether it is with us, or with the stars in the sky, or with our planet. The thing is, from the perspective of Nature, climate patterns such as storms and droughts, or tectonic movements like earthquakes and volcanoes, are just part of itself; part of how this planet is, as it exist within that speech- like character of the whole reality—which is God speaking, and speaking a promise. 

Now, we as human beings, affected by these things, may prefer that these promises aren’t kept, but according to Genesis, these things came before us—God spoke them forth before us; God has prior promises with them. And more to the point, we exist now because all of that exists; God spoke forth humanity because God spoke forth this world, with its climate patterns and tectonic movements, and everything else, and continues to speak this world as a covenant. 

Now, could God have made a different promise with Nature? Yet, what promise should that be? How do we know which principles, or laws, or structures of reality would bring forth a world like ours, yet without all the things that we don’t like? A world without physical forms, perhaps, so that we don’t have a form that can be broken? Or a world where time does not flow, so something bad does not happen? A world where there is gravity, but we don’t fall? Do these worlds even make any sense?

[ Pendulum  ]

However, all this speculation is missing a far more important point that the Christian belief regarding God’s Creation and humanity’s place in it, presents. The “laws of heaven and earth,” as the book of Jeremiah puts it—the principles and structures of our reality—is a covenant that God promised before humanity existed. In that sense, they have priority, not in the sense that they are more important to God, but in that they came first. And that brings us back to what we explored in episode three of Season Two, which was titled, “What is the purpose of it all.” We’ve often assumed from reading Genesis that the purpose of God creating the world was us, humanity, and that the world exists for our benefit. But, Genesis Creation account implies the opposite. We were created for the benefit of the world, to rule over it—the original wording is “gain mastery over it”— but what that really means is that we rule over it as God would—as the image of God. And that means we are to love the world that God spoke forth, and to take care of it “faithfully, justly, and lovingly.” That is what makes us special. The world is not created for us; we were created for it, so that Nature is not structured to adapt to us, we are set to adapt to Nature. And yes, I just deliberately worded that in the terms of Evolution. 

But, how? By hearing God speak, because after all, every truth is God speaking to us. And this brings us to back to the story of Joseph. God speaks to the Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt that a severe famine will come, and that God will not change this future. Yet, God spoke to the Pharaoh in a dream twice, and God spoke to Joseph so that he would know what was coming, so that humanity living in that land could hear God and do something about it. By hearing God speak, they gained mastery over how this natural course of event—namely, a famine—would affect them. 

And this corrects one of the possible misunderstandings that we may fall into regarding what it means for God to speak forth the laws of nature as a promise to the rest of Creation.. This promise does not make God somehow helpless or powerless in regard to what happens in Nature, any more than the Author is helpless and powerless before his story. Nor does it mean there can be no miracles. Because again, God is Reality, and reality includes not only things that exist already, but things that remain as possibilities. And we do not know every possibility. We do not even know what exact promises, or covenant God spoke with each created thing, with each level of reality. We may have some general idea, through our scientific inquiries. But, our knowledge is not absolute. We do not know what is fixed and what is not; just less than two hundred years ago, we thought that space and time was fixed, but the speed was not—with enough power, we thought could go as far as we wanted as fast as we wanted. But, then, Einstein presented his theory of relativity, and we learned that space and time is not fixed, that space can bend, and time can slow down or speed up, while no matter how much power we have, we cannot go faster than the speed of light. We don’t know what parameters and limits God has spoken forth regarding our world. 

Instead, our reality holds unfathomable possibilities; it may be that in certain times, God’s promise with Nature will bring forth a famine, and that for some reason cannot change, but it may be that in another time, that same promise means that God will bring forth rain in an unending drought. It may be that depending on how we engage with God, things we thought were impossible may happen. And that is what miracles are. Yet, we won’t know what is possible until we hear God speak. That is a message repeated throughout the Hebrew and the Christian Bible.

However, according to Genesis, not everyone hears God speak, and even those who do, far too often ignore it. Those who do hear and take heed find that the path that the voice of God leads them can be quite difficult, requiring them to persevere and change, and the journey can take a long time—months, and years, before they reach what God first spoke to them and promised them. And all the while, they often find themselves treated with hostility by others, who either did not hear God speak, or refused to hear. 

So, Abel was killed by Cain. When Noah built the Ark—the miniature version of the human world that can still hear God speak, love each other, and take care of Creation, and so won’t unravel into a Flood—he had to build it alone with his single family. And Joseph was sold into slavery, then imprisoned, and languished in prison, before other people, the Pharaoh, his own brothers who sold him, also heard God speak. 

[ ending music ]

And a significant theme that runs through these life-stories of those that walked with God, is that because of all this, those who hear God speak, wrestles with God. This is because those who speak with God, who follow the voice of God that beckoned to them, will at times find themselves lost and out of strength during that long, arduous journey, and struggle to continue. 

So, join me for the long-delayed final episode of the third Season, as we follow the life-stories of the family of Abraham to the conclusion, and prepare for the fourth Season, where this family will eventually become a nation of people 

And please support this series, by following, subscribing, and sharing this series with others, and by rating it on your apple podcast platform, and other platforms. 

You can also support this series at buymeacoffee.com, by clicking the Support this Show at the end of the episode description.

… So, I started this, thinking that it’ll be just a short supplementary episode. So, why did it turn into this long, intense discourse on the nature of reality and stuff like that? (Sigh) Next episode is end of Season Three. Spoiler Alert: Jacob dies!

Return to the question, "Why is there suffering if God is good?"
What "part" of what happens is God, and what "part" is us?
The speech-like character of reality as God speaking
So, why -is- there something like a famine?
Why we've got it backwards