God of Love or Vengeful Sadist?
What kind of deity do Christians worship, anyway?
I read Jim V.'s article on the subject this morning, and he made a number of excellent points, but he missed some critical areas. The focus on incest was an interesting angle that I had never considered before, but it missed an even more mind-bending concept, one that I've been working over in my head for a few years now, and asking various theological types about.
While I was still a member of Worldwide Church of God I went to a few ministers about this - my stepfather for one (at the time a local elder, now a pastor of some stripe - I can't keep their ranks and designations straight anymore), then my local pastor, then the "regional pastor," some of the people at Pasadena when I was there for SEP in '94, and a few other various and sundry types. I've asked Catholic priests about it. I asked my regimental chaplain (I'm in the military now), a Baptist. I've asked born again Christians. I've asked Presbyterians. I think the Presbyterians had the most realistic point of view on it - I'll get to that in a bit.
The Nature of God
There's a few basic tenets of Christianity, right?
(1) God is all powerful. God has no limits whatsoever, and can do anything. (De 32:4, 2Sa 22:31, Ps 18:30, etc.)
(2) God knows everything. God knows past, present, and future. Some contend that he exists simultaneously in the past, present, and future, but that's more metaphysics than I really care to bend my head around. (Ro 11:33, 1Sa 2:3, etc.)
(3) God loves everyone. We are all his children, and he loves us very much. (Ex 34:6, etc.)
(4) God is perfection. This is not necessarily a separate criterion, I guess - it's really a summary of the other three.
If you believe in Christianity, then you MUST believe in the tenets above, no matter what form of Christian you are. Any deviation from the strict letter and spirit of the above could reasonably be called heresy by any Christian sect, because you are placing limits on the power of the Almighty.
Now that we've set up the framework, let's look at a few examples.
Adam and Eve
We all know the story of Adam and Eve, right? No need to go over that again. Let's look at the implications for the nature of the Christian God based on the story of Adam and Eve.
(1) God is all powerful. This really ties in with the perfection issue. Being himself perfect, for God to have created mankind in his own image would have required him to create mankind as perfect as himself. Being all-powerful, the ability to create absolute perfection existed. God did not, however, create mankind perfect. Mankind was created with certain flaws built in, which resulted in the so-called "Fall of Man," and the bad choices in the garden. If you deny either the perfection of God, then you are a heretic. If you deny the all-powerful nature of God, then you are a heretic. So we must examine further the reasons why an all-powerful God would create a flawed product.
(2) God is all-knowing. God knew what he was doing when he created mankind. He knew the flaws that existed, and he knew what the result of those flaws would be. He knew that as a result of those flaws, mankind would choose the wrong Tree, and as a result of that choice, mankind would be miserable for the rest of its existence. (Ge 3:16-19. I find it ironic that, while John 3:16 talks about love, Genesis 3:16 is a curse on humanity.)
(3) God is all-loving. Using his omnipotence to create a being that his omniscience knew to be flawed, and to be doomed to an eternity of misery and agony is one of the most loving acts that any god could ever have conceived. I'm sure God must have had a perfect (no pun intended) reason for doing things this way. It all must have some part in his great plan, right?
Satan and his Fallen Angels
The bit with Adam and Eve was not God's first attempt at creation. Before the creation of mankind, God created the Angels. The same points as before apply - God chose to create them flawed, in spite of the foreknowledge of what would happen. God tells us in the Bible what will happen to Lucifer at the end of his next rebellion. He tells us that Lucifer will get his way for a thousand years or so, and then at the end of it God will get bored with it all and then put him into "the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10)."
What it boils down to is that God knew, flat out knew, what he was doing when he created the Angels. He knew that one third of them would rebel, and he even knew how the story would end, as evidenced by chapter 20 of the book of Revelations. It's pretty cut and dried. The amount of ultimate love that had to have gone into creating an angelic punching bag, to be tortured and tormented through all of eternity, is mind boggling. I'm sure God must have had some purpose for it, right? It all must have some part in his great plan, right?
Other Biblical Examples
There are so many other perfect examples in the Bible.
(1) Noah and the flood, for instance. God caused a flood that would kill every living thing except the six humans that groveled the best and a pair of every animal that could fit into a wooden boat.
(2) What did God have against Job? Nothing particular, he just wanted to prove a point to Satan. God knew that Job was full of faith and trust in him, and he betrayed that trust - he allowed Lucifer to kill and destroy every member of his family and every possession that Job owned. Just to prove to Lucifer that Job loved God absolutely, and that he wouldn't turn against God. (I wonder, did Job refuse to curse God because he loved him, or because he knew that God would do something worse to him if he did?)
(3) The seventy thousand innocent Israelites that were killed by God because David took a census are another great example. This all fits into God's plan, though - those seventy thousand people fulfilled their part. The only reason for their existence was to die in agony from a plague, so that David could learn his lesson about how much God loves him.
I could go on and on and on for hours about this, bringing more and more examples up, but I think it's time to move on to recent history.
My Own Revelations
No, not like good old Herbert W. Armstrong and The United States and Britain in Prophecy. While I was in high school, I turned these ideas over in my head to see what sense I could make of them. I was one of the so-called "good kids" when I was younger. I was the first one of the young people in my area in almost ten years to make it all the way through Y.O.U. without dropping out of the Worldwide Church of God, and after me, nobody did for three or four more. I sat and took good detailed notes in church, had intense theological discussions with my pastors, and in general was a minister-aspirant. I applied to Ambassador, and was accepted. I was getting ready to go, too, when some other college acceptances came through. Fortunately, I picked one of the others and went there. I came to my senses a little bit, and picked a school that was at least accredited.
All through my teenage years I had explored the questions that I've asked above, and talked to ministers about them. Nobody could give me a straight answer about any of it, except to quote Ro 11:33 to me: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways!" It's a very clever dodge, and explains away everything that seems inconsistent about God. "It's all part of God's Master Plan," they'd say, "Sometimes we don't understand what God does, but there's a reason for everything, even if we don't understand it."
While I was in college a few things happened to me that really started to open my eyes to what was really going on. I had drifted away from Worldwide Church of God during my freshman year - there wasn't much of a congregation in the area in which I lived, and I started going to the on-campus chapel for services on Sunday mornings.
The biggest step, though, was that I got a new girlfriend. Now, I've got this nasty habit of attracting the wrong women, and not finding out that they're the wrong women until it's much too late. I've had three broken engagements because of this, and all of them have been because of some serious psychological defects that did not become apparent until after the so-called "Big Question" had been popped. I'll tell you the story here of the first time that happened, and part of the chain of events that it began.
After we got engaged, my new fianc,e and I became sexually active. This was the first time for me, (remember, I had previously been a good lil Worldwide Church of God boy, aspiring to the ministry!), and although I believed at the time that it was her first time as well, I found out later that it was only her first time as a willing participant. The inevitable happened, and she got pregnant. We didn't really see this as any big deal, though - we were getting married anyway, right? We didn't tell anyone, and we moved the date of the wedding up. WAY up.
Well, about two months into the pregnancy, she miscarried. This happened before we were to be married. (I look back on this now as being a fortunate event, saving me from a lot of really bad trouble that I would have been in for later.) It caused her to go off the deep end completely, and I learned about a long history of rape, and sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of several men, from the time she was about 4 years old. One of the capstones of it was when, at the age of 16, she came home from school one day, and her mom told her that her best friend was waiting for her in her room, and she went to her room to find that indeed yes, she was waiting: she'd hanged herself from a heavy-duty light fixture. This was a nice cap to a series of problems, and she wound up with an extended stay in a room with padded walls. I didn't find out about any of this stuff until after her breakdown and our breakup, however. (The things you find out when it's too late, huh?) Any road, on a particularly nice October afternoon, an unseasonably warm day, she slit her wrists.
This really started me thinking about the examples that I've stated above, out of the Bible, and thinking about the nature of God. What kind of God would love a woman so much that he would put her through that kind of hell? What about the baby? God must have loved it, too, so much that he never even gave it a chance to exist, and used it as a tool to "test" the poor woman. Obviously she must have failed, somehow. Or was this a test for me, for my faith? Or was God punishing me for having drifted away from his "one true church," or for having doubts? Or was it simply a punishment for our sinful fornication? I suppose that he could have been punishing her for her whole life for an act that she hadn't committed yet. I really don't know.
The conclusions that I came to were, I suppose, the natural culmination of all the doubts that I'd been having for the past several years. The Christian God, the all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Christian God, was a myth. There is no way that he could not be a myth. There is no way that an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God could exist, and could have performed all the acts that are described in the Bible, never mind the things that go on in the world today.
So what does this leave us?
We are left with two possibilities. First, it is possible that there is no God, that everything around us is the result of random collisions of molecules. This is a possibility that appeals to some, and I have to say that I find it psychologically easier to deal with than the other possibility, which is that there is a God, and he is exactly like he is described in the Bible: a vengeful, violent deity with a very short fuse and a penchant for bloody death and as much pain as can be conveniently and efficiently dealt out.
I prefer the first option. I'd rather believe in the absolute randomness and chaotic nature of the universe than believe in a God who is as disgustingly sadistic as his holy scriptures would indicate. If there is a God who fits that set of characteristics, then to him I quote the fourteenth verse of the twenty-first chapter of the book of Job: "Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of thy ways."
All Bible quotes are from the Revised Standard Version.
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