Every time I look back over my life, reflecting upon the things that I have seen and the experience that I have had, a smile always flashed across my face and my head shake slightly in a gesture of disbelieve, amazement and joy.
Why? It is because I realize that God is always there and God is in control. More often than not, things don’t just happen without a reason or purpose. Sure, I don’t know the reason, nor understanding the purchase all the time, but I know that God is at work all the time and He is constantly looking after me.
Yes, I am like this now because of my faith in God. But I have not always been like this. Before I committed myself to Christianity, I sometimes think why should there be a plan, why do we need a reason for things to happen the way it did. Things or events or experience could just happened. No reason is needed, right?
This leads to me think whether these things, events or experiences could be explained by pure coincidence alone. Or is there something more to it, some higher power at work?
Life, or more specifically what transpire during your life each year, each month, each day and each minutes or seconds, can appear entirely random. That is, things happen purely by chance. There is no order or structure to it all, let alone a plan.
This question concerning coincidence may be looked at a number of level:
First, at the personal level. Whether, looking back at my own life, I can say reasonably say that things, events or experiences that have transpired can be explained by coincidence alone. My conclusion is that it cannot. To say that everything is due to coincidence requires more faith that to say that it is God at work.
Second, at the physical level. Can the existence of this world be the result of pure coincidence? That somehow everything came together perfectly to form this world. This begs the question: where did everything came from in the first place? Some people postulated that the university, our reality, has always existed. Interestingly, modern scientific discovery is saying otherwise : that there is a beginning and that the ingredients and fundamental forces came together perfectly to result in this world. Even a slight deviation of the fundamental constants would this world would not exist.
Third, at the meaning of life level. If the world is a pure coincidence, what are the implications? What does it mean for our life? This is sort of meaning of life stuff that most people do not border considering. This is all very interesting when you actually think about it, even at a general level without resorting to high-end philosophy (which by the way I am no expert at).
Consider the totally random scenario which says that life, our existence, is purely an accident. It is merely the outcome of a massive explosion called the “Big Bang” in the distance past. If so, I don’t think life has much meaning at all. In particular, this causes me to think why should we act or behave the way we do now? Why study? Why work? Why do anything? If there is no goal, no purpose, all these we do are really meaningless. We are going no where!
Good or Bad
This brings me to an even more interesting question: what incentives are there to be good, to act morally so to speak? In our so called civilized society there are implicit standard of proper behaviours that defines what is meant by being good. But what is the basis of this standard?
One may say that this standard is the result of our customs, culture developed over time by people behaving in a certain way that are accepted by all. But then what drive this along? Why do we have to be “good”? The thing is we can all be “bad”, in the sense that we are breaching the laws and rules as set up by our legal system, and we can still carry on an existence; it may be a very different life or civilization than the one we are living in now, but it is an existence nonetheless. The point is there is nothing that prevents this conclusion.
One answer is that we want to be “good” because it is just the way things work out to be in our world. Another coincidence? I do not think so. This may be a philosophical point, but it is an interesting one.
Some people, and I was once among this group, argue that it is possible to be “good” or be moral by one’s effort, without reliance on anyone else (let alone God). This has an intrinsic appeal particularly in a competitive world where through our own effort many things can be made possible. The essential argument is that if a person follow the accepted standard of “proper behaviour” or ethics then the person is a good or moral person. For example, by following rules like do not murder, steal, discriminate, etc.
Yes, this is certainly feasible. If the person do follows these rules or norms of “proper behaviour” then the person is a good or moral person as perceived by our society. I stress, however, that it is only “as perceived by our society”.
While this may be sufficient for those who do not believe in God, the issue is not so simple. There are, in fact, two problems in practice.
The most significant of which is that the standard or norm of “proper behaviour” is a very loose one, in the sense that many issues in this domain falls within a large gray area. For example, while many people agrees that discrimination in general is a bad thing, people’s opinion differs in relation to the subtleties of its meaning or how this notion is to be applied.
While most would agree that to be non-discriminatory everyone should be treated equally without regard to the person’s race, sex, age, disabilities, etc. In applying this principle, one group may push for the line that no one group should be given any favours or concessions because of their background. This makes sense and is consistent with the abovementioned definition.
Meanwhile, another group may disagree and say that concession ought to be given to certain minority groups to be fair in that the backgrounds and circumstances of these group gave them a disadvantage. This makes sense also. Suppose there are two job applicants, one healthy and one disabled. If one select the applicant using the same criteria, then the disable person would stood a much reduced chance of being selected. To those subscribing to the first noted view, this is not discriminatory in that both applicants are treated equally; however, proponents of the latter view, would claim that this is discriminatory in that the disable person is put at a disadvantage position.
Both argument makes sense. Both are logical.
The point to note is that proper behaviour is an empty notion in itself; it is essential to have a frame of reference. In other words, what is proper or good, if one do not know what is bad?
The question that arise is where or what is this frame of reference? As mentioned “proper behaviour” can be regarded as a function of so called values, which in turn is influenced by the environment such as social background, education, economic system, and religion. It can be observed that the meaning of “proper” or “good” is a shifting concept if it is based on these notions. For instance, societal norms do change overtime. Even religious doctrines and thinking can change over time.
The result of such shifting concept is that the meaning of “proper behaviour” will also change over time. This outcome is repugnant to me. If some act is “bad” than it should be bad in the past, now and in the future. Time should not change something bad into something good, yet this could exactly be the outcome if the standard is based on human values only.
What is required is a constant. A fixed frame of reference that span the past, the present and the future. This constant can only be God. And this God I am referring to the Christian God. One remarkable thing about the Christianity is that the Word of God as spelled out in the Bible has not changed since it was first written.
Note that this is to be distinguished from the artificial and man-made rules devised by religious leaders. I am not qualify to say that these rules are right or wrong per se , nor am I hinting it is right or wrong here. The point is that they are not the words of God. They are interpretations of God’s words. I think everyone should satisfy for themselves the meaning of God’s words based on their own reading, interpretation and importantly their relationship with God.
The second problem is that it is a big IF as to whether a person can keep to the proper behaviour. By nature people are weak and selfish. Not only is this stated by the Bible, it is also a very true description of human nature even without regard to what the Bible say. The consequent is that people are easily tempted. Thus, no one can, nor can they expect to be, good all the time.
Some may say a few occasional transgression is acceptable so long that they are not that serious and that most of the time the person is good. In adopting this attitude the person is really reducing the standard of proper behaviour. But standard are supposed to be constant. By making up excuse, the person is really changing the standard itself to suit themselves.
This is the core problem: people being selfish manipulates the rules to suit themselves. The rules or standard is used to justify their actions and behaviours, rather than trying to make their actions and behaviours confirm to the rules or standard.
People are simply incapable of being good by themselves. It is necessary to rely on someone. Who? A person can rely on their friends and family in this regard to some extent. Yet considering that these people are still people, who are themselves weak and need support. There are limits on what they can do. The only option left is a supernature, all powerful, omnipresence being of perfect goodness- God.
Yes, only God can be relied upon for support and as a frame of reference for the standard of goodness. Anything else is a compromise.