The Very Condition of Humanity is to be Wrong about God

The Very Condition of Humanity is to be Wrong about God May 15, 2015

Rachel Held Evans Human Condition Quote

When Rachel Held Evans shared these words on Facebook, I was immediately struck by how well they encapsulated a crucial point, and thoughts they should become a meme. Here’s the context:

It’s hard for me to admit when I’m wrong. It’s partly my personality, partly good-old-fashioned sinful pride, partly just what it means to be human. But I’ve been thinking today it’s also got something to do with this lingering sense that God punishes us for being wrong. Growing up, I heard a lot of Christians say that if we get our theology wrong, if we make mistakes in how we understand the Trinity or atonement or religious pluralism, we risk getting spewed out of God’s mouth and sent straight to hell for all of eternity. (I didn’t pick this up from my parents so much as the broader religious culture. My parents always spoke of God in loving, parental terms, and they approached their own faith & theology with great humility.) It’s a frightful thing – thinking you have to get God right in order to get God to love you, thinking you’re always one error away from damnation. It’s a kind of legalism, really. And to this day, I fight like hell to prove I’m right about religion and politics, partly because in the back of mind I sense there are dire consequences to being wrong. How ironic. The very condition of humanity is to be wrong about God. The moment we figure God out, God ceases to be God. Maybe it’s time to embrace the mystery and let ourselves off the hook.

 – Rachel Held Evans

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  • Yes, if God is truly merciful and loving, then surely he’ll forgive me for coming to the reasoned conclusion that he probably doesn’t exist (being an atheist).

    And if he’s not merciful and loving, then why would I want to spend an eternity with him?

    • histrogeek

      If God isn’t merciful and loving, I’d say the odds of anyone spending eternity with God would be pretty slim.
      I’d say (being a theist) that God accepts anyone who follows with integrity and compassion the path that their experience leads to, mostly because the alternative is a very empty Paradise.

      • Well, apart from seeing the odds of anyone spending eternity anywhere as pretty slim – I’d agree with your first statement.

        Not sure I get your second statement. What empty paradise awaits those who lack integrity and passion? I’m not a theist, but I rather think the sun shines and the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

        I do think, though, that we humans have evolved in such a way that we take our greatest joys in our companionship with other humans. For that reason, “do unto others” may be the best road to happiness.

        • histrogeek

          I was unclear. I meant that if God demands complete accuracy in belief then Paradise would be very empty. Since I can’t imagine why God would want to have eternal beings made in God’s image to never be in Paradise, I believe that God will accept compassionate and honest seekers.

          • Nick G

            It’s very easy to imagine that God made us for the pleasure of tormenting us forever, and just gave out the story about “Paradise” so that our shock and horror on finding that there’s only Hell is all the greater. Given the nature of this world, that sort of creator is at least as plausible as the “loving father” type. That a benevolent deity should allow the existence of any suffering or evil is inexplicable. That a malevolent one should allow a finite amount of enjoyment and good in order to heighten the intensity of subsequent agony is perhaps a bit less so.

          • histrogeek

            Fair enough. Although if a deity is malevolent, it’s not clear why it would allow complete accuracy in belief to be a means of escaping eternal torment. It would be like a combination of Cthulu and Rumpelstelskin.

      • JasonTorpy

        sounds like you’re saying that’s what god should be and recognizing all the contradictory and hateful content of most scriptures. Maybe the more likely option is that it’s made up. consider also that if salvation is necessary due to sins arising from free will and salvation leads to eternal bliss in heaven then you would have to lose free will to avoid sinning and losing heaven. another contradiction.

  • JasonTorpy

    I’m all for what you’re saying from an ethical perspective. But let’s read the words. John 14:6 Jesus said the only way to the father is through me. — pretty unambiguous that hell is punishment if you don’t ‘get God right’. Islam too. Surah 2:39 They who disbelieve will burn. Pretty clear.

    • I am not one to shy away from the problematic parts of the Bible. But let’s read these texts in their context. The one who utters John 14:6 had already been depicted as the incarnation of the light that gives light to every human being. Surah 2:39 does explicitly threaten those who reject the messahe with eternal fire. And yet elsewhere, the Qur’an explicitly embraces salvation for those who believe in one God and do what is right, regardless of their religion. And so both these compilations have inclusive and exclusive elements.

      • JasonTorpy

        right. you can find whatever you want which is why there are so many religions and interpretations of the same scripture by different people. That’s a really good indication it’s all made up. As long as you’re not claiming it’s literal truth or even a highly reliable source of truth, we can certainly find some truth there.

        • “It’s all made up” seems like an odd observation. Are you just stating the obvious? Or are you suggesting that, whether the author be ancient or modern, the ideas humans come up with are always inadequate? If the latter, then I appreciate your expressing this agreement with the point of the Evans quote.

          • JasonTorpy

            I’m saying there is no God and scriptures are all made-up. The divergence of both scripture and interpretation of scripture itself not to mention opinion of what a god might think are evidence to the arbitrary nature of scripture. You might prefer to see that as evidence that humans are inadequate to understand God, but that seems like a conclusion I cams razor should shave off as God is an unnecessary addition to the ‘humans are fallible’ hypo thesis for scriptural fallibility.

          • You used that phrase again, but it doesn’t seem any clearer. Are you saying that human texts are human compositions? If so, is this supposed to be news?

          • JasonTorpy

            lots of your religious compadres think the bible and other scriptures aren’t human compositions but rather the “inspired word of god” and certainly more reliable regarding reality and morality than other human compositions. If you agree that the Bible is just a book equal (At best) to all others and deserving of the same scrutiny as all others and not deserving of any special attention, then we’re in agreement.

          • I presume you are aware that it was the pioneering work of Liberal Protestants in the critical study of the Bible which led to the backlash of fundamentalism. It sounds as though your views have been shaped by that sort of fundamentalism, even if by way of opposition to it. Otherwise, I cannot fathom why you think it is insightful and insulting to point out obvious things such as that the Bible is a compilation of human literature. The other claim – that no work of literature ever deserves more attention than any other – likewise sounds like a standard bit of apologetics, merely turned on its head.

          • Geoff, God of Biscuits

            *I cannot fathom why you think it is insightful and insulting to point out obvious things such as that the Bible is a compilation of human literature*

            I bet you can, in fact, fathom that and are instead being deliberately obtuse.

          • I can well understand why someone might point these things out to someone else. I cannot fathom why someone would point these things out to a New Testament scholar who is a liberal Christian.

          • R Vogel

            And in further news….water is wet.


      • Nick G

        elsewhere, the Qur’an explicitly embraces salvation for those who
        believe in one God and do what is right, regardless of their religion.

        That still seems to leave an awful lot of people liable to be sent to Hell for wrong beliefs.

  • ccws

    The finite can never comprehend the Infinite; we can only approach the Mystery metaphorically. That’s why these days my theology (such as it is) is almost entirely apophatic. To steal a line from the Tao Te Ching, the “God” that can be described is not the real “God”…

    • I would explain to you why you’re wrong – but it is beyond comprehension.

      • louismoreaugottschalk

        yuh. I think it’s the old paradox/irony dichotomy

      • ccws

        BOOM. 🙂

    • louismoreaugottschalk

      I like haggar’s discription of god as ‘the god that sees me’.

    • R Vogel

      Not only can we comprehend infinity, we can quantify it using mathematics.

      I would actually submit to you that the real problem humanity has is comprehending finitude. The fact that we all individually will one day cease to exist, and another day our entire species. We cannot fathom non-existence and so we construct many ways of trying to avoid even thinking about it.

  • Yes, most of humanity has long been wrong about God; namely, about his existence. I find Rachael’s quote to be 100% consistent with this.

  • John Bosquet-Morra

    Oh no. Can we be certain of anything about God, or Jesus, or the bible, or anything (in an epistemological sense) at all for that matter? Is “letting ourselves off the hook” a certainty, or is she just making sounds that appeal to her? Is this off-hook-letting something we must do, or is it an option?

    Some discord is inevitable between Christians, and some of “getting God right” PROBABLY has something to do with being a Christian, just as getting Marx right has something to do with being a Marxist. And did she really hear people say that incorrect theology about the atonement would send people to hell for eternity, or was that something she fought over with theologians in seminary? All my life I have been hearing this nutty criticism about serious Christians — that they are insisting that we are all “one error away from damnation,” and I am yet to see anything anywhere that actually resembles this. I think this is a nutty fiction invented by orthodoxy-despising mainline protestants. Oops! Sorry if that in any way hinted that one ought to “get God right.”

    • louismoreaugottschalk

      …be not afraid! You, at least, are still asking deep questions. I think the depth is in yourself to ask & there is a bottom where you are grounded in love.

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    Oh I agree; getting it right on god is nearly impossible.

    Diamond-Hard Atheist

  • I had to look at God as my Daddy and not God, that helped me understand His personality or His heart so to say. As any loving parent would treat you when you do something you shouldn’t do, God does the same. That also applies if we believe sometning to be wrong, He will work with us to help us get the correct understanding. God, or our Daddy is a loving, gracious, and mericful God, who wants the absolute best for all of His kids. Looking at the scripture you can make it say anything you want it to say, thats where knowing the heart of God comes in, and the only way to learn His Heart is to just like any relationship, spend time with Him doing various things. Great article