Blame God

So I’m talking with a friend of mine and he says something like, “God has a good thing going for him.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well,” he replies, “Who else do you know that gets thanks and praise for all the good things he supposedly does, but cops none of the blame or criticism for the bad things which, surprisingly, also happen on his watch?”

My brain seems to draw from somewhere deep in my subconscious, Evangelical past and (embarrassingly) comes out with something along the lines of, “You can’t blame God for what humanity has brought upon itself by its continued rejection of God. After all, God has given us freewill and, if we choose to go against his laws, there will be consequences.”

(I cringe now to think there could have ever been a day when I said such things; after all, this is exactly how loonies such as Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker portray their God and his interaction with ‘dirty rotten sinners’.)

My friend (let’s call him Bob) continues.

“Yeah, but you believe God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and present everywhere, right?”

I nod my head in agreement.

“And yet, in spite of the fact that God could stop the tsunami, cripple the 9/11 hijackers, bring the Pakistani earthquake below 1 on the scale, heal my mum of cancer and turn back that massive hurricane, he didn’t.”

I respond: “God can’t just arbitrarily interfere with the course of nature and, in the case of the hijackers, he won’t overrule the free will of human beings to decide to do evil.” (My response is a little weak, given that I catch myself partway trying to justify God’s actions, or kinda trying to place limits on The Almighty–and feel somewhat guilty for doing this.)

Bob isn’t satisfied with this canned, classic textbook answer.

“If you were able,” he says, lifting a semi-accusing finger to my face, “to save your child from certain death by running out in the street and grabbing him, pulling him to safety before the truck roared past, you would, wouldn’t you?”

The way he asked this question made me wonder if Bob thought I was some sort of monster.

“Of course I would; he’s my kid. I would never allow him to be harmed.”

I noticed that smug, “gotcha” look come across Bob’s face. I instantly knew where this conversation was headed.

“Yet, God—whom you say loves all of us as a father loves his children—will allow his children to go through hell, to lose family members, their health, their homes, their livelihood, and even their own lives in disasters that he himself could have stopped.”

“Yeah, but . . .” (I sensed I was starting to sound like a whining 3rd-grader) “. . . but God can’t change the natural course of things. He’s put laws in place that govern the weather, the earth and human beings. He can’t just override these laws.”

Bob laughed. “Seriously, you should listen to yourself! You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself that your God isn’t as big or powerful or loving as you’ve been led to believe. So would you say to your son when he gets hit by that truck, ‘That’s the consequence of not obeying my rule of staying in our yard’?”

He had a point. I was beginning to realise that I had created a wonderful, rather small box to contain my God. I had assumed that those who were supposed to know all about God (theologians, pastors, Sunday School teachers) were right when they taught me this catechistic auto-response, that God allowed such happenings because he couldn’t go against his natural laws and couldn’t and wouldn’t interfere with humanity’s free will.

But this put God in a predicament because throughout the Bible (it is said) he did intervene, did interfere and did overrule. If the Bible is fact, then God could choose to step down out of heaven and come to our aid (Isn’t it funny how we placed him “up there” when we say that he is everywhere? But then, it’s also humorous when we anthropomorphise God to be a male when ‘he’ is not even human. But I digress.) God could choose to stop the winds and the waves, the wars, befuddle hijackers and terrorists, or heal the young mother of her cancer.

But.

God.

Doesn’t.

Why not?

I know this has led many people just like my friend Bob to stop believing there is a God, or at least a personal, loving, interacting Deity. I can understand their frustration and the incoherence of much of what religion portrays God to be.

I am also aware of the multitude of books, articles and talks that have been published on this problem of human suffering. Most de-converted Christians would say this is the one big question that caused them to rethink the whole idea of the existence of God.

Personally, I continually try to reconcile this dichotomy in my own mind. While at one time this had caused me great concern and anxiety, I now am now beginning to see how I can live with the tension as many before me have also learned.

 

Despite this, I take a page from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, the legend of Job, from David’s psalms of lament, and from Ecclesiastes and don’t feel in the least bit conflicted when I cry out in anger to God, “Why?” when my words sound more accusing than trusting, when I place the blame solely and completely on Him who, tradition tells us, is without blame.

And I believe that God welcomes my dissent. I think it’s this honest, confrontational, letting loose that God expects from his children. As Rob puts it, God wants us to rip open our rib cage and let our heart out. It’s in these moments of openness and vulnerability that we are changed and we begin to see things framed in a new consciousness, a new understanding and a deeper relationship with the Divine.

This is not an easy answer. There is no such thing. As long as we have apparent inconsistencies, we will struggle to understand God or conceptualise Deity. We may change our way of seeing things. Hell, we may even decide it’s easier not to believe.

Regardless of what we choose to do, I’m sure God is more generous, and more loving than we could comprehend anyhow, and would still do all he or she could to get that message across to us, even if it’s in the most unlikely of sources, like Bob.

The ‘Best God Damned Version’ of the Bible? Really?

BGDVWhat one comes across online when one is casually browsing Amazon!

Steve Ebling is writing a version of the Holy Bible specifically aimed at atheists, agnostics and sceptics and has chosen to call his book Holy Bible: Best God Damned Version. While only one book has so far been released, its intent is clear: debunk and make fun of the Bible and those whose faith is in its authority and truth.

Out of curiosity, I had a look at this short volume and found it to be full of snark, ridicule, foul language and outright disdain for anyone who places the smallest amount of trust in the sacred text. It is not a translation. The author makes no apology for the fact that it is based on The Jerusalem Bible, simply because he thought the wording in Genesis was more akin to his interpretation of–or the way in which he wished to interpret–the Bible. I got through the first 4 chapters and realised that I was, in fact, wasting my time. While there is a place for sarcasm, criticism and frivolity, I don’t think I can take 66 books-worth of this type of ‘humour’ (although, from reading the introduction, I would dare say that the author had anything in mind but comedy.

I have to admit, I am surprised it took so long to attempt such a project and I admire Steve’s perseverance (assuming he does, in fact, finish this work.) I would doubt, however, that even the most ardent atheist would be able to endure several thousand pages of this type of writing. Perhaps a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the BGDV would be a less-tedious piece to endure. That said, this is clearly NOT the ‘Best God Damned Version’ out there.

There is an alternative (if you are an atheist, agnostic, sceptic, or just curious): The Skeptics Annotated Bible.SAB

This is authored by Steve Wells and is based on the King James Version which, as one reviewer calls it, is ‘The only Bible recognised by True Christianity(TM).’ (Personally, I would have liked to see a NRSV edition, but I’m sure copyright permission may be difficult to obtain given the proposed content and use of this book.)

This book is a serious and critical attempt to draw attention to discrepancies, contradictions, unscientific claims, incorrect information, and alleged character flaws of God and comes complete with a coded system in the notes to mark each category of claim. It also contains a detailed appendix containing cross-references based on themes found through the text (and hyperlinked, if you buy the Kindle version.) You can read more about this book and see some examples taken from the print version here.

This volume does make for interesting reading, though any person with a background in Bible-centric Evangelicalism will be easily able to dismiss a reasonable amount of what is said based on what is taught in most Bible-believing churches. It comes as no surprise that much of what is said challenges conventional Evangelical thought, especially if it is coupled with the double-punch belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and literal interpretation of the text.

Many in the Christian community would see such a book as a threat or a challenge to their faith and mission. I view it as a means to understanding more clearly the core purposes of our sacred text and how God’s people through the ages have understood God’s story. Those who share my perspective value the biblical text as not only a time-capsule of culture, law and divine revelation, but as a vessel for the message of God to be carried into this and future generations, albeit flawed by human agents and misunderstandings.

I am amused somewhat that so many of those who don’t believe in God seem to lump all Christians together as being literalists, naïve, and an having absolute faith in whatever their church expects them to accept. While there are many ‘brands’ of Christianity that make my skin crawl or seriously cause me to wish I could run as far away from them as possible, I still see Christianity as a multi-layered and multi-coloured faith tradition that allows room for dialogue and disagreement amongst theologians and the laity alike. It is to me a fluid and evolving understanding of faith and practice, and. generally, has a high regard for tradition, including the sacred text and the varied interpretations of that text through the millennia. This kind of faith won’t shrink from the hard questions nor the skeptic’s commentary, but will seek to respond in an informed and civil manner within the context of humility, grace and love. We are all imperfect and all have our areas of ignorance. We would do well to listen to and learn from each other, especially as we who claim the name of Christ seek to be true to what we understand to be God’s word.

Atheist Church?

Is this the world’s first atheist church? Looking everything like a normal Christian church service–apart from the small detail that God was not mentioned–this ‘church’ now holds two services a month with people being turned away at the door. News Limited papers carried this story recently:

Officially named The Sunday Assembly, the church was the brainchild of Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, two comedians who suspected there might be an appetite for atheist gatherings that borrowed a few aspects of religious worship.

790179-the-sunday-assemblyHeld in an airy, ramshackle former church in north London, their quirky monthly meetings combine music, speeches and moral pondering with large doses of humour.

“There’s so much about Church that has nothing to do with God – it’s about meeting people, it’s about thinking about improving your life,” said Jones, a gregarious 32-year-old with a bushy beard and a laugh like a thunderclap.

 The Sunday Assembly’s central tenets are to “help often, live better and wonder more” – themes that would not be out of keeping with the teachings of any major world religion.

At a recent Sunday service, which had a volunteering theme, songs included Help by the Beatles and Holding Out For A Hero by Bonnie Tyler.

The “sermon” was given by the founder of an education charity, while in a section called Pippa Is Trying Her Best, Evans had the congregation in stitches as she reported on her attempts at voluntary work.

The service ended with big cheers and – this is Britain, after all – shouts of “Who would like a cup of tea?”

I don’t know about you, but I would love to attend such a church. Sure, they don’t talk about God, and they don’t claim any particular set of beliefs except a conviction that they can and should work to make their world a better place. As the journalist seems to ask, ‘Isn’t this what church is supposed to be about anyway?’

Pete Rollins, in his book, The Orthodox Heretic, tells a story about a man who lost his faith but, in this loss, found his sense of compassion and justice awakened and, in the end, Rollins poses the seemingly antithetical question: Is it better to say you believe in God and not do what God asks, or to deny the faith yet live a life congruent with God’s love and grace?

In this I seem to hear the echo of Jesus, as he came to the conclusion of the story about the good Samaritan: ‘Go and do likewise.’

Perhaps Christianity–perhaps we--are taking so seriously our beliefs, structures, and services, and need to, in a sense, forget our faith and just do good.

Maybe singing Help on Sunday morning would be a good start.

Anyone with me?