I guess things began to get shaky when I started attending public school, in 9th grade. I can already hear the knowing comments – public schools are cesspits of iniquity and lefty brainwashing, after all. But the challenge wasn’t liberal indoctrination; I was quite set in my beliefs. No, the problem was that I made friends who weren’t Christians, or the right kind of Christians, for the first time, and they were nice people. Many of them seemed to embody real kindness and love better than I or most “bible believers” I knew.
How to reconcile this with the dogma that they were all condemned to eternal torture because they believed the “wrong” thing? I couldn’t. Instead, I found comfort in a theology of salvation cobbled together from Lewis and L’Engle. A loving and just God would want salvation, not hell, for as many people as possible. He would honor a good life, lived in good faith, Christian or not.
Each successive step outside my Christian bubble chipped away at the image of God as judgmental patriarch. My very first night at college, I met someone who was openly lesbian for the first time. Much to my confusion, she was also a devout Christian. Another puzzle. I met all sorts of people I’d been taught were “worldly,” incapable of true good, enemies of the family, haters of God: Muslims, liberals, feminists, atheists…It didn’t take long to realize I had been egregiously lied to about who these people were. And it made me wonder all the more if I’d been lied to about who God was, too.
|—||Grace, “Poisoning the Well”|
God’s eschatology doesn’t need you to persuade a rape victim to keep their pregnancy. What God does need you for is to understand and support the suffering, no matter what decision they may make. What God does need you to do is shut up and listen. This is not your battle to fight, except insofar as you can come alongside the one who is suffering. This is not yours to explain. This is not your area and God doesn’t need you to persuade a person to suffer more just so They could eventually redeem. It is disrespectful to God to presume to be someone else’s Holy Spirit in a decision that has nothing to do with you.
In one of my favorite songs, David Bazan (performing as Pedro the Lion), says a line that keeps popping into my head this election season:
“You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the fuck up.”
- Dianna E. Anderson, “Theodicy, Eschatology, and Rape as a Gift”
Whoa. Whoa! WHOA! Watch this. Watch ALL OF THIS.
This is incredible.
Preach it, preacher.
The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years. Give China a pass on their murderous policies; we’ve got business interests there. Divorce your weak wife; she can’t do anything for you anymore. Those adopted kids might have brain damage; they’re “weird.” What matters is health and wealth and power. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.
…The Bible tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the “least of these,” his brothers and sisters. When one looks with disgust at the prisoner, the orphan, the abandoned woman, the mentally ill, the problem isn’t just with a mass of tissue connected by neural endings. The issue there is the image of God, bearing all the dignity that comes with that. And, beyond that, the issue there is the presence of Jesus himself.
…I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don’t speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.
And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them “weird” or “defective,” but where they joyfully sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that’s the sound of bloody cross gospel.
- Russell Moore, “Pat Robertson vs. The Spirit of Adoption”
The response took me nearly a whole day to write and a lot of help from friends:
In his first lengthy TV interview since killing Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman initially said Wednesday night that he did not regret anything that happened that night.
“I feel like it was all God’s plan,” he told conservative talk show host Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Near the end of the interview, he backtracked, saying he would tell the teen’s parents, “I’m sorry,” and that he would be open to talking to them about what happened.
“I can’t imagine what it must feel like. And I pray for them daily,” Zimmerman said.
The teenager’s father, Tracy Martin, said later in a telephone interview with the Associated Press: “We must worship a different God. There is no way that my God wanted George Zimmerman to murder my teenage son.”
I am absolutely horrified by this. I think Jesus would have some words for you, Zimmerman, and they would not be nice ones.
I hope the prison chaplain has met and will continue to meet with George, because no matter what happened that night, “it was all God’s plan” betrays a seriously un-Christian view of God. Zimmerman needs some serious pastoral care, and a good hard look at the image of God he’s willing to call on.
1) “It’s all in God’s plan…”
That you lost your baby. That your sister was murdered. That you got cancer. That your life is in shambles.
I really can’t think of a worse thing to say to someone, especially when they’re in pain.
We cannot use God to fill in the gaps between events and the people they effect. We want to give solace, to promise that there is a purpose behind madness, but if there is one thing that the cross shows us definitively, it’s that God takes the pain in the world and makes resurrection.
But we should not think that this means that God makes the world’s pain, or the specific pain in a person’s life. It’s an important distinction.
One of the reasons I left faith for a while was because I had heard too many times that God was flipping switches on people: causing children to die, cancer to spread, poverty to happen, etc.
Not only do I think that saying this to someone is adding hurt to hurt, I think it breaks the second commandment. When we say such things, we use God’s name in vain; we use it “uselessly” as the word is better translated.
So when you’re confronted with the news of your friend’s tragedy or a relative’s pain, stand in solidarity with them and scream, “Dammit!” I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I think that those who call themselves Christian don’t think enough about their words.
Frankly, I wish they’d just curse more.
|—||Reluctant Xtian, "Five Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say"|
What might be called my first “psychic break” from the Christianity I’d been immersed in for several years came when I was 20. I’d returned home from almost a year on the road with a gospel choir because my dad had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. No, the trigger for this change was not the fact of his illness. Yes, I did go through an emotional “if only” syndrome: feeling that if only I’d been a better daughter it might not have happened – yet at the same time I recognized that as an irrational but common emotional reaction. I also flirted with the idea of trying to bribe God by making outlandish promises if only he’d perform a miracle – but knew that was also an irrational but common emotional response.
I didn’t believe that either God or the devil had anything to do with it – or karma or luck or anything mystic or magical. Bad things happen to good people. I believed that what mattered was how we reacted to things and that God was there to comfort, support, and provide guidance – not to wave a magic wand and make it go away. I believed that prayer was most beneficial to the one who prayed – it wasn’t an incantation or spell that would change the external world or alter God’s mind, but would instead change the person praying. Praying wasn’t about getting things – it was about seeking wisdom. It wasn’t about “God change them” but “God change me”.
I knew my outlook was different than most of my Christian acquaintances, and radical to the crowd my family and I fellowshipped with. We belonged to a mega-church that was on the cutting edge of the apostolic, headship / submission, and prosperity fads that were becoming all the rage. I’d had well meaning church members try to fit me into their one-size-fits-all box many times. But as annoying, frustrating, and depressing as that could be, as mind-bending, manipulative, and confidence-destroying as it was, I hadn’t considered leaving. But when Dad got sick, I saw and felt the response of these “good” people for what it was – cold, hard, rigid dogma utterly lacking in compassion, empathy, or any type of wisdom or truth.