“God's not mean...he's holy. If you cheapen that holiness no one wins and God isn't perfect...my heart is heavy again. #lovewins” -Matt Chandler
I recently saw this tweet and it made me think about suffering, and why a place dedicated to eternal suffering would exist. My honest reaction the past few years has been...God is mean. Of course I would’ve never said that out loud. I didn't feel comfortable or safe enough to admit I felt that way. But, stifling that thought made me feel even more frustrated and discouraged.
I’ve been forced to deal directly with my belief that God is in control and works all things for the good of those who love him. Previously I had never thought to question God's omnipotence, but the more I learned in college and just experienced life, I simply couldn't square genocide, war, hurricanes, unexpected deaths, etc., with a loving, all-powerful God. It seemed sick.
I began to notice comments from well-meaning people. Someone mentioned to my mom, just months after my dad's death, that her husband had also had a heart attack, but he survived. The wife commented, “God was watching over us.” So logically I wondered: was God not watching over our family? Why spare this woman's husband, but not my dad?
A lot of people make comments like this, myself included. If I just miss being in a car accident, my immediate reaction is to thank God. But would I immediately thank God if I were to be horrendously injured in an accident? Or on a broader scale, many like to think of the United States as blessed. Look around at our wealth, tranquility, high standard of living...so God has been good to us. The same cannot be said for the majority of the world, so what about them?
Martin Bashir's recent interview with Rob Bell demonstrated perfectly this false dilemma that our theology tends to create: either God is omnipotent but doesn't love Japanese people, or God loves Japanese people but does not have the power to stop an earthquake and tsunami.
These questions left me confused, and I didn't deal with it in a healthy way. I'm not saying that this was the intent of Chandler's tweet (I try not to make assumptions based on 140 characters...), but it made me feel like admitting that God--or rather my perception of God--seems “mean” is a failure on my part as a Christian. If I can't legitimately push those feelings away and hold on to the idea that God is holy and perfect no matter what happens, then surely I must be a heretic.
When I started feeling confused and disgusted, perhaps if I would have had the space and comfort level to ask those hard questions out loud, would I be in a different place spiritually right now? I wonder if the same holds true for many other present and former Christians? Maybe most of us have major issues with the way that Bashir and others frame things, but keep it to ourselves for fear of “cheapening” God's holiness or--gasp--suggesting that God isn't perfect or all-powerful?
Sometimes I wonder whether making sure your theological ducks are all in a row and that God is precisely defined comes at the expense of addressing the real-live suffering and day-to-day junk that we all face. What does it mean if you've had the time and luxury to read the books and get the schooling that enables you to supposedly perfect your view of God? I've noticed that the targets of Jesus' criticism were those who had the most theological knowledge, and Jesus spent a good deal of his time on earth as a healer, alleviating the suffering of those around him.
I love studying theology and am definitely not anti-intellectual, so I'm not proposing we shouldn't think about these things. Nor do I mean to disrespect those who have thoughtfully dealt with these issues and moved on to become atheists or agnostics. I just think we've put correct propositional truth on a pedestal, at the expense of allowing real life speak to the way we think about God. We've boxed ourselves in to a choice between a powerless, loving God or a powerful, cold-hearted God, so the space to seek a third (or fourth, or fifth...) way would be nice. To be honest, I'm growing weary of being “forced” to think that God might be mean...