Don’t Worship a God that isn’t as Loving as You Are

Don’t Worship a God that isn’t as Loving as You Are October 1, 2012

In my freshmen seminar class “Faith, Doubt, and Reason,” we discussed the problem of evil, with the classic statement that (1) divine omnipotence, (2) perfect divine goodness/justice, and (3) the reality of evil are incompatible. Before exploring other possibilities which try to preserve all three, I asked students which they would remove if they had to give up one of the three in order to resolve the problem.

They all chose “3” and I must admit that I was surprised. But it turned out that they didn’t really want to deny the reality of evil – they just couldn’t bring themselves to tamper with the other two.

I pointed out that the approach they adopted seemed to be that of Job’s friends (they had recently read the Book of Job). A student then asked me which I would choose, and I answered “1” with no real hesitation, explaining my reason for my choice: because I cannot deny that there really is evil in the world, and for me, love is more important than power.

Which would you choose, if you had to choose one, and why?

Elsewhere in the blogosphere recently, Frank Schaffer has a blog post in which he wrestles with the image of God that he was indoctrinated with and the question of what to believe about God now. Here is a sampling:

Why am I a nicer person than God? I mean there’s nothing John or my other two children Jessica and Francis could do, let alone my four grandchildren could do to me that would make me condemn them forever. And that brings up another question, then maybe there is no God, or maybe my ideas about that God – or should I say the ideas I was indoctrinated with – were wrong…How to find faith, or even consider God again, when so much of what you’ve touched, let alone have been, is God-awful in the name of God?

Also on this topic is Chris Ayers’ brief post suggesting that Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is the worst sermon in American history. Would you agree or disagree and why? To be clear, I am pretty sure he is addressing its message and not the power of its delivery.

And in somewhat related news, Christians have a great opportunity to practice what Jesus preached (even if it isn’t always what we preach) and show forgiveness towards someone who desecrated a Bible, and insist that we do not want to see someone prosecuted under Egypt’s blasphemy laws for doing so.

But let me return to the title of this post. We think about God in light of our own limited human perspectives. Typically, theists say that God is greater than human beings in all our positive attributes. And so can one ever make a legitimate case for a theist – or an adherent to any other sort of view of God, for that matter – conceptualizing God as less loving, less merciful, or less just than we ourselves are? Isn’t saying “God’s justice isn’t like our justice” a cop out, or worse – in essence saying not that God is more just than we can conceive, but that, in terms of what we mean by “just,”  God is not just at all?

And if so, then don’t we need to rethink how we think about God?

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  • Kaz

    Can one give up #1 yet be left with a “Christianity” compelling enough to warrant our allegiance? Wouldn’t that make God more like Zeus than like the deity that Jews and Christians have traditionally worshiped? Wouldn’t it imply that God will be unable to bring about all that is promised in Scripture? If evil exists, not because man rebelled, but because God is weak, then I wonder why we’d continue to believe that He has the ability to eventually “set things aright”, as N.T. Wright would say. Without #1, it would seem that the best He could do is promise to do His best to set things right, but He wouldn’t be able to guarantee success.

    • I think that one can, and that throughout much of the history of Judaism and then Christianity, God was thought of as the supreme power in the universe rather than the only power. Even today, the way the world is and the stories that are told about events in the physical and spiritual realms by religious believers reflect the view that God is not controlling everything. And I am not sure that it is better to say that God could prevent evil and chooses not to for inscrutable reasons, than to say that God is doing everything possible to bring about the triumph of good over evil.

      • Kaz

        Hi James, thanks for your reply. I guess my primary question is this: If we reject the notion that God is omnipotent, then on what bases can we have confidence that he will be able to fulfill his promises?

        • I think the short answer is that we won’t. We’ll be involved in a genuine struggle to see good prevail, and we’ll know that sometimes evil things will happen to us and not feel the need to believe that somehow and for some inscrutable reason God willed or deliberately allowed that occurrence. It frees one up to genuinely regard the tragic as tragic.

          I should add that I am not saying that this is the ideal view or the only view. But if one finds that one has to tinker with one of the three points in order to come up with a coherent worldview, I think that a Christian framework would lead one to embrace love triumphing through weakness, rather than power coupled with qualified love.

  • Wright

    Though I like much of the post, it’s premised on a sort of Anselmian Perfect-Being theology, which is really to anthropomorphic. Of course we oughtn’t worship a God that is anything less than absolute love, but that doesn’t necessarily entail that we commit to thinking of God as simply the most loving being in existence, rather than Love Itself. And it strikes me that we might like to define “love” in order to properly make this kind of argument. Apart from that, good post.

    And I’d take 2) over the others any day.

    • Wright

      that should be “too anthropomorphic”

  • Victor

    (((Don’t Worship a God that isn’t as Loving as You Are)))

    I recall the story as a child when I heard that “Jesus” had saved the soul of a man who had been tied up with chains in a cemetary by the leaders of that time cause everyone was scared and the way I see it is that it was the best that the town and/or city could do to keep this human who was now controlled by evil aliens. Anyway, in so many words “Jesus” asked this man how many demons were in control of this man’s body flesh and this evil man replied after so many other words that his name was “Legion” because he had a legion of evil followers in him, whatever that means. I also recall “Jesus” telling questioners, after having saved this man saying in so many words that 7 more powerful demons would come back to try to take over this man again afer these demons learned that “IT” had all been cleaned UP again but I will leave out that many farmers owners of the pigs who killed themselves after “Jesus” allowed them to jump into their animal bodies.

    I still really don’t understand the complete point that me, myself and i are trying to make at this time except that no “Man” and/or “Woman could ever imagine the LOVE of GOD (Good Old Dad) without “The Holy Spirit” explaining “IT” and even then “I” still would still question “IT! 🙂

    I hear ya sinner vic ! Go Figure folks! 🙂

    You will also keep praying for me Jeff cause this so called Annoying Super Sinner needs all the help GOD (Good Old Dad) and His Angels can provide U>S (usual sinners)! Right NOW?