Truth or Dare

I've always known that my friend Bart is a deep thinker, it's also good to know that we're both out of the theological mainstream. Here's a post he wrote (reprinted with permission) entitled "Take my God...please!" it is intensely honest and profound:

On the one hand, I've been on the road, unable to write, and feeling bad about not posting. On the other hand, I have this bit of corrospondence I keep meaning to turn into an article. If it's too long or theological for you, check back later for something short and snappy. Otherwise, here's an example of the kind of thinking that keeps me out of the evangelical mainstream...

Bart-
This might be kinda wierd, but I have a question for you. I did Mission Year last year and when you came to visit my team you told a story about how you saw a 9-year-old girl get raped and thought that God was a bastard. You sort of said the words inside my head out loud, words I had wanted to say for a long time.
Anyway, after putting this off for almost a year (i've been wanting to ask you for a long time), I want to know how you reconciled that. How did you go from, "God is a bastard" to "I can trust Him"? I can't seem to make that leap. Sometimes I think I begin to really trust Him but as soon as I think about my past abuse and those i know and love who have been abused...it just doesn't add up. I want to know the God you know- who apparently allows for horrible things in this world to happen, but remains pure and holy and trustworthy and faithful and loving.
I don't know if any of that makes sense to you, but as I was wrestling with it today I was reminded of you and hoped you might be of some help. Sarah

Dear Sarah,
Thanks for writing to me. Over the past few years, I have become convinced that yours is actually the single most important question in the world. As Rabbi Kushner points out in his wonderful book, ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’, practically every conversation we have about God ends up there. While I am sure my answer will not be as eloquent as his, I will do my best.
First of all, while I believe my ideas about God are supported by the Bible (what Christian says otherwise?), I must admit they did not originate there. On the contrary, most of my ideas were formed during that difficult time I described to you, when I was became disillusioned by the injustice I discovered in the inner-city, and suddenly trusted the Bible not at all. At that point, for the first time, I realized that everything in life does not depend on whether someone believes in God, but rather on what kind of God that person believes in. I also realized that, for better of worse, the only evidence I was could rely on was that which I saw for myself.
What I saw then, and still see now, is a world filled with dazzling goodness and horrific evil, with love and hate, with beauty and ugliness, with life and death. In the face of such clear duality, it seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, that there are but a handful of spiritual possibilities:

*There are no spiritual forces. The material universe is all. Our lives bear no larger meaning, and those who hope for more, hope in vain. In this case, considering the 9-year old rape victim, I despair.
*There is only one spiritual force at work in the universe, encompassing both good and evil. This world is precisely as this force wills it to be, and everything—including the rapes of children—happens according to its plan. In this case, again, I despair.
* There are two diametrically opposing spiritual forces at work in the universe, one entirely good and loving and the other entirely evil. Satan (or whatever one chooses to call that evil force) is most powerful and therefore will utterly triumph in the end. The suffering of that poor little girl is but a foretaste of the complete suffering that is to come for us all. In this case, of course, I despair.
*There are two opposing spiritual forces at work in the universe, one entirely good and loving and the other entirely evil. God (or whatever one chooses to call that good and loving force) is most powerful, and therefore will utterly triumph in the end. The suffering of that poor little girl - Satan’s doing - will somehow be redeemed and she herself will be healed as part of the complete redemption and absolute healing that is to come for us all. In this case—and in this case alone—I rejoice, and gladly pledge my allegiance to this good and loving God.
I cannot prove or disprove any of these possibilities, of course, based on the evidence of my experience. What I know with certainty, however, is the one that makes me want to go on living, the one I choose for my own sake, the one I deem worthy of my allegiance. I may be wrong in this matter, but I am not in doubt. If indeed faith is being sure of what we hope for, then I am truly a man of faith, for I absolutely know what I hope to be true: That God is completely good, entirely loving, perfectly pure, that God is doing all that He can to overcome evil (which is evidently a long and difficult task), and that God will utterly triumph in the end, despite any and all indications to the contrary. This is my first article of faith. I required no Bible to determine it, and—honestly—I will either interpret away or ignore altogether any Bible verse that suggests otherwise.
This first article of faith was the starting point of my journey back to Jesus, and it remains the foundation of my faith. I came to trust the Bible again, of course, but only because it so clearly bears witness to the God of love I had already chosen to believe in. I especially follow the teachings of Jesus because those teachings—and his life, death, and resurrection—seem to me the best expression of the ultimate truth of God, which we call grace. Indeed, these days I trust Jesus even when I don’t understand him, because I have become convinced that He knows what He is talking about, that He is who he is talking about, that He fully grasps what I can only hope is true.
Unfortunately, God may be very different than I hope, in which case I may be in big trouble come Judgment Day. Perhaps, as many believe, the truth is that God created and predestined some people for salvation and others for damnation, according to His will. Perhaps such caprice only seems unloving to us because we don’t understand. Perhaps, as many believe, everyone who dies without confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior goes to Hell to suffer forever. Most important of all, perhaps God’s sovereignty is such that although He could indeed prevent little girls from being raped, He is no less just or merciful when He doesn’t, and both those children and we who love them should uncritically give Him our thanks and praise in any case.
My reply is simple: I refuse to believe any of that. For me to do otherwise would be to despair.

Some might say I would be wise to swallow my misgivings about such stuff, remain orthodox, and thereby secure my place with God in eternity. But that is precisely my point: If those things are true, God can give my place in Heaven to someone else, go ahead and send me to Hell. For better or worse, I am simply not interested in any God but a completely good, entirely loving, and perfectly pure One who is powerful enough to utterly triumph over evil. Such a God may not exist, but I will die seeking Him, and I will pledge my allegiance to none but Him, because, quite frankly, anything less is not enough to give me hope, to keep me alive, to be worth the trouble of believing.
You can figure out the rest. I don’t hate God because I don’t believe God is fully in control of this world yet. Heck, God is not fully in control of me yet, even when I want Him to be, so how could I possibly believe that God is pulling all the strings out there? I don’t hate God because I believe He is always doing the best He can, within the limits of human freedom, which even He cannot escape. Consider for a moment the essential relationship between human freedom and love, and then consider the essential identity between love and God. If God is love, if He made us for love in His image, then He had no choice but to make us free, to leave us free, and to win us for His Kingdom as free agents (which, again, is evidently a long and difficult task). So He did, and so He will.
I don’t hate God because, although I suppose He knows everything that can be known at any given point in time, I don’t suppose He knows or controls everything that is going to happen. I also don’t hate God because I really believe in Satan (and in my own moving-in-the-right-direction-but-still-pretty-doggone-sinful nature). I don’t hate God because it seems to me that this world is a battleground, not a puppet show. I don’t hate God because the God I believe in isn’t hateable, and because I have chosen not to believe in the kind of God that is.
Now here is the good news: I may be entirely wrong, but even in my darkest hours, the God of love hasn’t stopped speaking to me. On the contrary, I hear His voice in places I never did before, always saying the same things, one way or another: I am with you. I’m sorry about all the pain. It hurts me too, especially when my little ones suffer. I have always loved you and I always will. Do your best. Everything will be all right in the end. Trust me.
And I do. And I hope you will too, sooner than later.
Your friend,
Bart



1 comment:

  1. It is always interesting how folks deal with the theodicy issue. The process can often make us cringe, but I think we end up in a very similar place. The key for me was dispensing with the greek philosophical terms we use to define God (omnipresent, Omniscient, etc) and rediscovering the passion and suffering of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Great post.

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