In my time debating the truth of Christianity, I have observed some skeptics (not all) ask questions for the same end to which Rumpelstiltskin asked people to guess his name. They ask questions not expecting an answer, but rather to watch the people asked squirm; i.e., they ask questions with unwarranted confidence that the people asked will not have the answer. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that the questions they ask aren’t worth asking. Rather, the motivation is false; the questions are being asked not to get information to make an honest evaluation of the facts, but rather they ask because they want to hear the Christians stumble about trying to answer.
I heard one such Rumpelstiltskin call in to a talk radio program a few days ago. His words were something to the effect of:
Hey, Jim, I can prove that God doesn’t exist. God’s omniscient, right? Well I’m an atheist and that means that God knew when he created me that I would be going to hell, right?
I have a question: what are the chances that this particular skeptic was looking for an answer to his question? This Rumpelstiltskin, like many of his kin, asks the question because he thinks that he alone, among the millions of skeptics who are collectively infinitely smarter than he, has found the Jenga block which, if removed, will cause the entire Christian edifice to collapse. So Rumpelstiltskin asks his question and laughs while the poor Christian stumbles about seeking the answer. He knows that the Christian will not have the answer because there is no answer – or so he thinks. But until he gets answered, he will run around spouting his question to unsuspecting Christians.
Let me be clear: the question Rumplestiltskin asked would be legitimate if asked honestly. Rumplestiltskin didn’t ask the question honestly seeking an answer. Rather, he used the question as a sword to slash at Christian belief. To that extent, responding to Rumpelstiltskin ultimately proves pointless because Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t want an answer. But what about the honest skeptic who wants to know if an answer to this question exists, or the church member who hears the question and wants to understand how the God who she knows exists could do such a thing? Should there be an answer for him or her? I will try to respond to this question not for the sake of Rumpelstiltskin, but rather for those who want to engage in real conversation.
First, let’s acknowledge that the answer to the question posed by Rumpelstiltskin is not easy. There is no single Bible verse of which I am aware that answers this question. The Bible is not intended to answer every question about God, but rather exists to tell us some of God’s attributes and to explain his plan of salvation. Keep in mind, God (assuming He exists) is not obligated to answer our every question. Rather, as Paul noted in Romans 9 and as the Book of Job points out, if God has chosen to not reveal detailed answers to man as to his reasons for doing things, mankind has no cause to complain.
[W]ho are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
This is similar to the answer that God gave to Job when he sought an answer to why he had suffered. In the final chapters of Job, God appears to Job, but rather than answer the question directly, God pointed out to Job that Job was not God. God, being God, can do as He pleases, and mankind does not have the right to question Him. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says,
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Moreover, mankind’s thoughts are often flawed especially when it comes to the ways of God and the flaws are even more pronounced when trying to understand those things that God has not chosen to reveal. Consider the many disagreements that occur even within the Christian church about what He is like and what he desires or commands. Must baptism be full immersion or is sprinkling acceptable? The answer is disputed. Is communion symbolic, actual transformation or real presence? Again, it depends upon the denomination and the individual. Will there be a rapture and if so will it occur pre-tribulation or post-tribulation? We don’t know. We can make arguments, but the simple answer is that we won’t know until God does it. So, when you hear a question like Rumplestiltskin’s, even when asked honestly, it appears that the answer can change depending from which tradition the answer comes.
Thus, anyone seeking to answer Rumplestiltskin’s question must approach it with humility and a willingness to admit the possibility that the proposed answer could be wrong. Those reading the answer I will propose and disagree: I ask that you approach my response with the understanding that I am making my best effort to answer a question which, to my knowledge, is not directly answered in the Bible. If I am wrong, I welcome appropriate and respectful critiques.