When I was a pastor, I loved the old call and response. You know, when the preacher says something and the congregation says something in response, like:
Preacher: god is good
Congregation: All the time
Preacher: And all the time
Congregation: god is good
This sort of thing used to get the pew-fillers warmed up for a good sermon. A sermon that often talked about sin and the consequences of it. It was also good fodder for testimonials — where folks would talk about all the wonderful things god did for them. These testimonials would range from the mundane (god helped them find some lost article) to the herculean (god restored the health of a dying relative).
I have to admit, I was totally vested in this thinking. But over the last few years, my spiritual perspective has changed drastically. And this perspective was altered by the bible, itself, current events, and my own personal experience. More on that in another post.
One of the tenets of mainstream christianity is the premise that the bible is the infallible, inerrant word of god. Because of this, christians are encouraged not to “cherry-pick” scripture but to embrace it all as a global construct.
Now, there are many reading this who have embraced a more nuanced, allegorical interpretation of scripture so, let me say up-front, that what I say isn’t directed at you. Also, before going any further, let me say that — for the most part — I find the bible utterly useless and it’s religion totally worthless.
Just lost a lot of folks, there, but that’s cool. If you’re still here, buckle up!
The notion that god is good is a fallacy. God — or at least the concept of god — is no more inherently good than nuclear fusion. In the right hands, it may be helpful (in the case of religion, this is rare but I digress) but in the wrong hands, it’s outright deadly.
If god is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then god would be ubiquitously good. He’d have to be, otherwise a lot of scripture comes undone. You cannot say god is not a respecter of persons and then say that faith, generosity, and morality will somehow elevate you above others concerning god’s favor. I used to preach that whatever god would do for one of his children, he’d obligate himself to do the same for all. Yet, somehow, you’d frequently see some people experience tremendous blessing while others seemed as though they were living under some curse.
I’m not talking about believers versus unbelievers (or “saved” versus “unsaved”) here — I’m talking about christians. Believers. Parts of the body of christ.
And we pastors and preachers used to love to trot out the success stories. “Look at sister-so-and-so, her faithful tithing got her a new house,” or “Brother-such-and-much got a promotion on his job because he was faithful in cleaning the church.” These testimonies were good to “motivate” others to give more or to “follow the teaching” to increase their piety.
But while I taught that “the lord” is good and his mercy endures forever, I learned that the favor of the lord was both nebulous and largely untraceable.
One quick thing — sixteen years ago I “sowed” my car into the “ministry” I was serving in. And, shortly after, my wife and I were “blessed” with a brand new minivan. Interestingly, though, the payments on the minivan would have been much lower had I traded the car in instead of giving it away. Along these lines, I used to teach that because of my obedience, I never lacked a nice car after that. Even though I always drove nice cars and, because of my subsequently increasing income, I was able to afford even nicer cars.
In other words, it had absolutely nothing to do with my faith.
But here’s the deal: if god is good and god is omnipresent, then good should be ubiquitous. Everyone who asks for healing should receive it. Everyone who needs a job should secure one. Everyone pining for a promotion should get it. My big problem, here, I seemed to be frequently blessed while people who needed basic necessities —like food and shelter — would go lacking.
Things like these brought about massive changes in my theology — to the point where I can honestly say I have none. How can god help me find my keys while children starve. How can I ask god for a promotion at work while children are being abused and molested. Surely, if this god is truly omnipotent and omnipresent and his goodness is ubiquitous and diffuse, wouldn’t he at least do something for these kids?
After all Jesus, himself, promised some horrible results for people who would mistreat children. Couldn’t god at least honor the words of Jesus? I mean, if I had the power god allegedly has, at a minimum, I’d fix every broken child. By that measure, I am (and many others who subscribe to this thinking, are) better than god.
Clearly god is a respecter of persons. And the metric for this respect is skillfully concealed. I guess you need a degree in theology to unearth it.
Which leads me to the salient point — if god is all powerful and all good, we should at least see impactful results among believers. I mean, what could be more powerful for “soul winning” than to see meaningful, tangible, life-altering results? But this god can’t even achieve consistency among his faithful followers. To be honest, many of us were taught (and taught others) that signs, wonders, and miracles were not for the faithful but for the unbelievers.
Therefore either god is not all-powerful, not all-knowing, or not all-loving. Maybe god is tone-deaf or ambivalent to the cries of the downtrodden and disenfranchised.
Or worse — god doesn’t exist at all.
When we go to our bibles for solace, we find that god isn’t good all the time. Matter of fact, god can be outright mean, sometimes. Every preacher, though, teaches that if we can somehow study and pray our way into understanding some super-secret formula, we can unlock the blessing of god. We are taught that if we are good and obedient, we will eat the good of the land. That if we keep god’s precepts unwaveringly before us, we will be blessed in the city, blessed in the field. Except the bible only reveals allegorical, situational solutions to people whom, themselves, may be fictional.
In order for god to be good, the bible must be trustworthy. Since the latter is not true, the former must be false as well. There is no more inherent goodness in god than there is in any living being.
One useful bit of advice the bible gives is “in all your getting, get understanding.” When you begin to process data into information, information into knowledge, knowledge to understanding, and understanding to wisdom, you will learn what tools and techniques are applicable to your life’s unique situations and circumstances. And when you couple this wisdom with love (empathy and compassion), you will do what is necessary for yourself but not at the expense of anyone else.
The goodness of god is a myth. Time for us to grow beyond this fairy tale.
Derrick Day is the author of Deconstructing Religion. He is also one of the co-hosts of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast and the host of The Forward Podcast. More recently, Derrick is a contributor to the new book, Before You Lose Your Mind, published by Quoir.