Sunday, February 15, 2009


So I'm currently taking a Sunday school class at Trinity Presbyterian called "Searching for a Better God," which is taken from the title of a new book that one of our very own pastors, Wade Bradshaw, has written.

The basic idea of the book is that there are really two critical questions when it comes to God, one of which is sometimes assumed to be the only real question--namely, does He exist?

The other question has also been asked throughout history, but it has a huge impact on today's culture: is God good? This is the question Wade means to focus on.

I have a friend who was raised conservative Baptist, went to college, and became an atheist. Of course there were numerous reasons, but the first one (both logically and chronologically) was that he found he could no longer justify the malevolent behavior of God in the Bible.

Indeed, every thinking Christian has probably wondered about these things at some point. That's why I thought I'd check out this class.

I like the book so far, and I've made it almost all the way through. Wade has a sensitivity very akin to Francis Schaeffer (no surprise there--he spent 12 years at L'Abri in England).

My one complaint (and this would not be a complaint for some) is that his answers are too classic evangelical. I've heard them before, and they're not always so satisfying as they sound.

For instance, in addressing the question "Is God Angry?" he goes through another version, albeit a much more sensitive version, of the standard argument: yes, God is angry, but not in the way in which sinful people are angry (He does not let His emotions get the best of Him, He does not take out His wrath on people arbitrarily, etc.); and He is angry because something is wrong with the world, because He created it good and people went bad. His anger is impartial, directed entirely at what is evil. And we wouldn't want a God who just didn't care about evil.

Wade makes these points much more sensitively and eloquently than I have just summarized, and I think he does a good job. I just don't know if these answers are enough.

What is this judgment stuff all about? In searching for an answer, I've begun to contemplate a different conception of God than I'm used to. I think part of the reason judgment sounds so unbelievably horrible to us is because of the model we have of God.

Christianity has come to dominate Western culture, and people have used it to justify use and abuse of power for centuries. How might that affect our image of God? The prevailing metaphor for God in our culture is the omnipotent King, who could do anything if He wanted.

So then, why doesn't He? In particular, why doesn't He just teach us all to be good, and we can skip all that stuff about judgment? (And why does He allow suffering? These questions are all interconnected.)

But where did this judgment talk in the Bible come from? Somehow we are apt to forget that the ancient Israelites were never a very important people by the world's standards. In fact, my guess is that the lack of archeological evidence for the Exodus is probably not so much a sign that the Bible is false, as it is a testament to how relatively insignificant the people of Israel really were.

I'm definitely not badmouthing the Jews or anything. What I'm saying is that the prevailing metaphor must have been totally different: they were always the underdog. If God the omnipotent King is fighting on the side of the oppressed, then there might be justice in the world, after all.

When Jesus spoke of judgment, was he not speaking as an underdog? Indeed, an underdog beneath an underdog--a rebel against the Jewish establishment, who were themselves a small minority within the Roman Empire. How might this change your view of his words?

It does seem to me that judgment in the Bible is all about rescuing the underling from the oppressors. It struck me today that we as human beings are more powerful than we think, and if only we realize how much power we have to oppress, we would be more open to the concept that we are guilty before God.

Here's where I might just have to depart from the classical theology I've been taught all my life. I think that in a very real way, God is not in charge of the world. Scripture says He created humans to take care of the land, and it does seem He refuses to take that back from us. God has placed us in charge, and that's how it has been ever since.

Why is there suffering? Because God isn't in charge. Why do people sin? Because God isn't in charge. We are in charge, and we have made a mess of things. We are the oppressors of God's creation.

So what's all this talk about judgment? Doesn't that sound like tyranny? The Bible means for it to sound like a Cinderella story. A come-from-behind victory. God, the courageous rebel against the oppressors of His people, is going to liberate us from Egypt, and take us to the promised land. It's the story that inspired the civil rights movement--it's the story we all secretly (or not so secretly) want to be part of. And the Bible says, yeah, that's what life is all about.

God has to be in charge of the universe in some ultimate way, if He's God. But I think knowing God is often about choosing the best model for understanding Him. His omnipotence is certainly not so cut-and-dry as saying, "He can do anything." That kind of shallow reasoning leaves you open to the childish retort, "Can He make a rock so heavy He can't lift it?"

So what I'm saying is that the best model for understanding God's judgment is not the old model, where God looks down on His unholy creations from a distance and says, "Ew! How pathetic." Rather, the best model is one in which God comes to His people to dwell among them, so that He can free them from bondage. Judgment means overthrowing the oppressor.

Just some thoughts, I guess. Like my blog title says, whenever I have a thought, I just write it down for the whole world to see.

I just thought you'd like to know what I'm reading.


  1. I think that sometimes the reason why the "traditional" answers are unconvincing to us is simply because we've heard them way too many times. After awhile they just feel redundant and we are no longer satisfied with them and we got out in search of some newer, more brilliant answer. Sometimes I think that we just need to look at old answers with new eyes and new hearts.

  2. I have to disagree, and one of the reasons I disagree is entirely biblical. Imagine if Moses had simply accepted what God said about wiping out all the Israelites. It's interesting how many times in the Bible mere acceptance of God's wrath is not considered a virtue, but reasoning with God is the task of a prophet, e.g. Abraham and Moses.

    Another reason I disagree is that I'm just so Protestant. I think it's good to question traditions occasionally. Sometimes tradition does preserve some horribly skewed ideas. Most often old ideas are just taken out of context, and they take on a new, less potent meaning.

    And a third reason I disagree is that it seems as if we have a certain intuition about right and wrong for a reason. I don't think the only response to questions about God's wrath has to be, "Well, I must be wrong, because this is what God says." Another equally logical question might be, have I heard correctly?

    I could just be a heretic, but I'd like to think I'm really seeking the answers with all my heart.


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