life takes over

It’s amazing how fragile your routines and life structures are, and how easily in a moment things can get dramatically turned upside down.

Which makes you wonder how people cope in difficult times without the conviction that in providence all things are being well worked out for good. A review I read a while ago of that newish book by the minister who had cancer said that that’s the kind of conviction you need to build up when things are going well. When your world is being shattered by some catastrophe, then is not the time to start working out whether goodness is one of the divine attributes. But with that conviction under your belt as entirely non-negotiable, storms are much more weatherable when they arise.

(And that’s not an apologetic point. It’s not that, since feeble humans can’t cope without a belief in providence, therefore there must be such a thing as divine providence. It’s, how reassuring providence is, given that God sustains, upholds, preserves, and provides.)

(That book is Paul Wolfe, “My God is True: Lessons Learned Along Cancer’s Dark Road,” BOT, reviewed here.)

6 thoughts on “life takes over

  1. (Minor correction – that point wasn’t from a review, it was from an excerpt from the book itself, available here )

    “This is one of the reasons — and there are so many others — why the young people of the congregation, beginning at a reasonable age, ought to be present and attentive during the sermon. They ought to be there, listening and learning as best they can, even if the subject of the sermon might appear, at first glance, to have nothing to do with them at their age. First, that appearance is misleading. After all, there are principles in every faithful exposition of the Word that have to do with every disciple, young or old. Second, children ought to listen and learn because they are never too young to be storing up God’s truth. No disciple is too young to start hiding the truth in his heart. Maybe when he is twenty-eight — or younger — he will find out that he has cancer. That is not the time to start thinking about the goodness, wisdom and power of God. Far better for him to have those truths already deeply rooted in his soul, thanks to years of faithful preaching and listening.”


  2. This is certainly a heartfelt expression of your perspective. It is a good illustration of why most humanists aren’t interested in removing people’s source of comfort (however false we think the beliefs are that provide that comfort), particularly when believers are facing difficulties such as disease or bereavement.

    On the other hand, there is plenty of comfort without a belief in divine providence. I’m happy to acknowledge that it wouldn’t be satisfying to all people (just as the comfort offered by your beliefs is something that has never seemed worth my pursuing) – but to those who have adopted a humanist worldview, and who have explored the philosophical and personal implications of that worldview, these comforts are more than enough to weather what life throws at us.


  3. There has to be a distinction made, though, between what is comforting to think of and what is actually true. People have all sorts of coping mechanisms, but just because people manage to glean some support from suboptimal sources, doesn’t mean the sources of their support have any truth or reality about them. Some people cope by thinking God loves them when maybe he doesn’t yet – some people cope by thinking there is no God, when there is – they get through life, but their hopes are built on a foundation which will eventually crack.

    There are also many Christian doctrines which are there to be believed even though they or their implications are quite discomfiting – original sin, the impossibilty of salvation for people who don’t believe in Christ alone for salvation, the final judgment, etc. Divine providence itself is only a comfort to people who are on friendly terms with the God whose providence it is. He works all things for good ‘to those that love him’ – for everyone else, he treats them kindly and fairly, but all that they have is ‘by his leave, not with his love,’ unless/until they too come inside the circle of his love. It’s fine to have warm fuzzy feelings, but only if they’re well grounded in reality.


  4. I agree wholeheartedly that the comfort one derives from an idea is not proof of the idea’s truth. I certainly wouldn’t want you to think that the comfort I derive from my view of reality is the reason I believe it.

    It’s interesting to note that I’ve never heard comfort used as a justification for atheistic or humanistic belief. I have heard it used as a justification for a variety of beliefs, ranging from belief in a god to belief in an immortal soul to belief in a partner’s fidelity to belief in Santa Claus. (Yes, I know these different beliefs are profoundly different in other important ways.)

    This doesn’t imply the falseness of those beliefs; but it does suggest that such beliefs merit extra-careful attention from those who hold them. Does the evidence actually merit belief, or is wishful thinking distorting the believers’ judgment?

    Atheists and humanists, on the other hand, seem to tend to the reverse: acquiring beliefs despite the discomfort they cause, and afterwards learning to find genuine comfort in those beliefs.

    This too, doesn’t imply the truth of atheism or humanism. It simply suggests that wishful thinking is unlikely to be the root of these beliefs.


    • CS Lewis – “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” – Surprised by Joy

      I can only speak for myself but truth is the reason for my faith, aquiring ‘comfort’ honestly never entered the equation.

      I would also say wishful thinking can be at least part of atheistic thought, atheism easier than the hard questions and consequences deriving from the existance of (a) ‘God’.


      • Yes, and I didn’t mean to imply that all believers are such because of wishful thinking. I accept that many believers, such as CS Lewis, may come to belief in a god through their interpretation of the evidence, and without reference to the comforts they may or may not derive from such belief.

        In theory, it is conceivable that wishful thinking could be part of the motivation for being an atheist. I’m just saying that I’ve never seen evidence that it is the motivation. Nobody uses the consolations of disbelief as a justification for not believing in a god. Moreover, in my experience, it appears that the consolations only become apparent after the loss of belief, and are thus unavailable as motivations for the loss.


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