An Analogy Falls Flat

So this past Sunday I went with Crista and Melanie to church at Rock Harbor. It turned out to be a question and answer day. What initially seemed might interest me quickly turned into a death spiral. It was a no-go from the get-go, in fact.

The first question had to do with explaining predestination. The answer, while well intentioned and superficially clear, hid a swirling pool beneath it. Here’s how the explanation basically went:

If I [the pastor], as the father of a 2 1/2 year old, set down a bowl of ice cream and a bowl of broccoli in front of my son, I can tell you which he would eat 100 out of 100 times. See, I give him the choice: there’s the healthy choice of broccoli and the tasty but unhealthy choice of ice cream. He has a choice, I know that he will pick, with certainty, the ice cream, but providing the option in no way forces the choice.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “hmm, that’s a good way to look at it”, but I can’t share that sentiment. Breaking the example down, let’s look at the elements and how they correlate to the belief of faith. The father in the analogy is obviously God. The broccoli is healthy, but not always what you want, yet it remains best for you. That’s God’s will, path, or way for you. The ice cream, it’s tasty, but can make you overweight, have high cholesterol, maybe even develop diabetes if the indulgence continues. This is the choice of sin in the analogy. OK, we’re good so far.

What’s not good is that the analogy only goes half way. Talking about predestination without addressing the problem of evil or notion of a just God is like teaching somebody to bake a cake but skipping the part when you get to the oven. So let’s take the analogy to it’s likely extension. I don’t think I’m taking liberties with the teaching at all, I believe this is truly the likely direction the story would go.

So what happens after the 2.5 year old son eats 100 bowls of ice cream and 0 bowls of broccoli? As mentioned above, the consequences include weight problems, high cholesterol, definitely a stomach ache, possibly temporary lower gi problems, you get the idea. What does a father do when his son gets sick like that? Well, probably he will take him to a doctor. The doctor will ask questions about the stomach ache, probably including “How are his eating habits”, at which point, the father must fess up about offering 100 meals of ice cream or broccoli. Now, what do you expect the doctor to say? “Well, that’s very loving of you, it’s good to give your kid the choice”? Not very likely. I predict the answer is something like “You need to stop offering your kid the choice of ice cream”. At the human level, we place a degree of causality and responsibility on the father. His child doesn’t know any better, it’s what he wants. If he keeps offering the ice cream, the kid will likely keep eating it. Granted, even if the doctor realizes conditioning would eventually kick in for the child, he’s going to recommend holding back on the ice cream. If you somehow object, chunk the idea down and question yourself. Is it right and good for the doctor above to give the advice I suggested? What would your moral position be in regards to the father disregarding the physician’s advice to the health detriment of the child. Finally, ask yourself the next question that comes into your head.

So, if this is the parallel presented, is the father in this example truly loving? Is this really a good example?

If you appreciated this example, let me be clear on this. I am not attacking your beliefs. I am confronting what I believe to be an example of the weak logic we perpetually rely on in the attempt to justify/defend/spread faith.

And most important above all, I’m letting you see what goes on in my head.

—Apr 27, 2006