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.

God is Good

GodPlaneThis article appeared on CNN recently.

A light plane crashes into the house and a woman, inside the house at the time, survives and declares for all to hear, “God is good.”

The three people in the plane were killed.

I thought it was amazing how God would save the life of the woman in the house, yet allow those in the plane to die. “I’m blessed. Truly God was with me.” Too bad God wasn’t with the three who perished.

  • This kind of god weighs the value of you against the value of the others and decides you deserve more blessing than them. Why? Because you are one of the ‘chosen’ who call themselves ‘Christian?’
  • Celebrities stand on stage and say stuff like, ‘I want to thank God for blessing me with this award.’ And everyone who was nominated, but missed out, isn’t blessed?
  • After many months of hunting for the perfect house, the couple finally find one that ticks every box. “God is good. He’s blessed us with this house of our dreams.” Maybe their dream house is the house that the homeless people who “live” under the bridge just down the road really do dream of.

The psalmist writes that “God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Elsewhere in Scripture we read that “God is no respecter of persons.”

Every day we read or hear or see reports of bombs going off, earthquakes, buildings collapsing, planes crashing, businesses going under, miscarriages, car accidents–are all those affected by these tragedies safely assumed to be “evil” or “undeserving”?

On the other hand, “good luck” or good fortune comes upon others in the form of business success, travel safety, high achievements, lottery wins, or health breakthroughs and miracles. Do we assume these folks are somewhat more righteous or holy than those in the above group?

Truth is, we often confuse God’s blessing with being plain lucky, fortunate, being born into a particular family, in a particular country, at a particular point in time.

One of my favourite writers (those who read this blog with any regularity know who that is) writes:

If we want to go to the mature, mystical, and non-dual levels of spirituality, we must first deal with the often faulty, inadequate, and even toxic images of God that most people are dealing with before they have authentic God experience. Both God as Trinity and Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” reveal a God quite different—and much better—than the Santa Claus god who is “making a list, checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty or nice” or “I will torture you if you do not love me” god (worse than your worst enemy, I would think). We must be honest and admit that this is the god that most people are still praying to. Such images are an unworkable basis for any real spirituality. (Richard Rohr)

God is good. This much is true. But to credit your good fortune to God’s goodness is false. God is good to all.

How do we then view those passages that seem to display an angry, wrathful God?

The writers of Scripture have said that God has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus. Jesus shows us what God is like. Jesus reveals God’s character.

I would go so far as to say that if your picture of God looks different than Jesus, then you are looking at a false god–this god is not the God who is love, who is peace and who is rejoicing over creation and calling it “good.”

What is most amazing is that we see Jesus siding with the underdogs, the down-and-outers, the marginalised, the thieves and tax collectors, the unclean, the “sinners.”  If any group would deserve the fierceness of God’s wrath it would be many in this lot. Yet we see his harshest words and actions were reserved for those who thought they had it all worked out, those who thought they were doing the right things–those who were definitely in the “nice” category–those who thought they were the “blessed” ones.

In the end, you could say that this shows we really haven’t got God “figured out”–and possibly never will until the end of our days.

Meanwhile, let us choose, in moments of good fortune, when all seems to be going well, to be grateful for good times and bad times, understanding that we can have confidence in our God to be fully present and fully good all the time.

Nothing Good Withheld

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will [God] withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Excerpt from Psalm 84KJV)

I had just purchased a brand new computer.  I was frustrated because I couldn’t get the thing to work right.  I had wireless internet and I had a brand new computer, but I still couldn’t access the Internet or check my e-mail.  In an agitated flurry, I put the computer back in the box and took it back to the store.  Surely some device or some cable had been omitted from my computer package.

The “Geek Squad” tested it and politely informed me that all I needed was in the package, but that with the new configurations of a new computer I needed new procedures to access the Internet.  The store had not withheld anything I needed; I just needed to learn how to use it.

When I think of the goodness that seems to be lacking in my life, I am often tempted to believe that for some reason God is holding back and holding out on me.  But in light of my computer experience, the problem may not be God’s lack of provision, but my failure to fully access all that God has provided.  For me, this is the promise of Psalm 84:11—God is not a withholder of anything that is good.  And this is the blessed assurance of goodness in my life—the goodness which has been revealed, and the goodness which is yet to be accessed.

Prayer… Lord, give me the faith to trust in your goodness that I cannot see, and to depend on your provisions that I have not yet realized.  Amen.

–Reflection by Kenneth L. Samuel, from StillSpeaking

*   *   *   *   *

God is Good–all the time, to all people, in every place, and across every generation. Is that complete? Possibly not. But it will do for my presently-limited understanding.

My natural tendency is to think I have to be good for God to be good to me. Other times I think I must be in the right place for him to pour out his blessings on me. Then other times I think that only I am deserving of God’s goodness and wouldn’t mind if he could shower my neighbours with a touch of whatever is the oppostie of his goodness.

(Thank God he doesn’t do whatever I wish . . . )

I remember singing this song so many times at Salisbury Baptist Church that I actually (confession) wish it had never been written. BUT I’m glad it was because it has brought to my mind the infinite goodness of God so many times when otherwise I wouldn’t have been reminded of this truth. As the psalmist writes: “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13 NIV).

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in this heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time

If you’re walking through the valley
And there are shadows all around
Do not fear, He will guide you
He will keep you safe and sound
‘Cause He’s promised to never leave you
Nor forsake you and His Word is true

We were sinners – so unworthy
Still for us He chose to die
Filled us with His Holy Spirit
Now we can stand and testify
That His love is everlasting
And His mercies – they will never end

Lord I may not understand
All the plans You have for me
My life is in your hands
And through the eyes of faith I can clearly see

God is good all the time. . . .

–God is Good All the Time, by Don Moen

Amen and Amen!