Yule Blog 2010-11: God’s Dilemma
Published on: January 1, 2011
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  • Michael

    I have enjoyed your essays for decades. This one is miserably bad: someone needs to have given you a mind for Christmas

    In December 2004, God’s love was expressed in a massive tsunami which murdered about 250,000 men, women, and children in a few days. I used the word “murdered” because, on most accounts of “God”, it is omnipotent, omniscient, and the Creator. Presumably, you believe that it created the Universe and knew that its creation would kill 250,000 persons that day. Moreover, it did nothing to prevent the horror, despite the ability to prevent it with but a metaphorical flick of metaphorical thought. That’s not “love” in any way that I understand. Is that how YOU understand “love” Mead?

    The standard “Jesus suffered for our sins” narrative you present is embarrasingly silly.

    Do you have so little respect for human liberty that you think we need an imaginary magical SkyDaddy’s laws and threats of eternal damnation to choose moral action?

    The behavior your God requires of humans should bring you to shame. Here are three examples of what that vindictive, insanely jealous genocidal tyrant requires of us:

    Exodus 35:2
    “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.

    Leviticus 20:13
    “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”

    Deuteronomy 13: 6-11
    6If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
    7Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
    8Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
    9But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
    10And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
    11And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.

    Of course, it, like any petty dictator, is not bound by the requirements of its own ethics. It murders, destroys, and obliterates us as it wishes. The Noachian Flood, the Genocide of the Canaanites and the Midianites, and a long history of “natural” disasters that aren’t really “natural” when you believe in God.

    Mead, is your New Year’s resolution to regain a measure of your intelligence?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Happy New Year!

  • Pete Dellas

    Walter, this was the “risk” God took in creating mankind with a freewill (much to the Calvinist’s chagrin). But to have created man without it would have meant no possibility of genuine love or genuine obedience. Our choice to do right, to love God, to believe in Jesus are only validated by the fact that they are freewilled. We would otherwise only be automotons and any “love” we feigned toward God or another would be our programming and mechanistic.

    It would be easy to create a world where beings did as they were designed to do. Prophecies would come true and events would be foreknown. But a truly awesome Creator achieves His ends using freewilled beings and their choices with love, devotion and morality being the only “coercion.”

  • Preston

    Like Michael I have enjoyed your blog immensely and find this series on Christmas to be very unique as you approach the subject as a student of history & culture as well as a Christian. I disagree with the nonsense that “someone needs to have given you a mind for Christmas”. His old testament examples make no more sense to us today than the holocaust prescription: “… two unblemished yearling lambs each day as the established holocaust, offering one lamb in the morning and the other during the evening twilight, …as a sweet-smelling oblation to the LORD” ( Numbers 28:3-6). In fact his post goes further to emphasize your prior points that Jesus re-ordered our relationship with God. We’ve moved from God as a mighty and stern taskmaster to God is love.

    In our current sophisticated state we must not forget that faith has sustained man through wars and plaque and famine. It has been a source of hope and sustenance. To point out that there is fundamental value in religion (Christianity in particular) is not currently fashionable. A belief system that constantly demands that we act upon our better natures is a force for good. We all fail at this, but the effort is worth it. There are many examples throughout history of how this powerful brew has been subverted to evil. However that doesn’t diminish the force of your fundamental message.

    God is love.

    Merry Christmas. I look forward to the rest of the series.

  • scjordan

    Interesting post. Have you read God or Christ by Jack Miles? Miles analyzes the God of the Old Testament like a literary character. It’s a fascinating construct in that it focuses more on God’s personality than his character. I’d be interested to learn your impression.

    Personally, it’s always helped me to think of God like a writer or movie director who’s fallen in love with his characters, perhaps even especially the worst ones or the minor ones. The story has to play out to a happy ending, but in order for it to be a story it has to have a conflict in order to be resolved.

    A lot of things follow from this premise like time, history, rules (laws), misery, sadness, mortality, tragedy, evolution and revolution. Augustine recognized the implications much better than I have expressed them here which is one of the reasons he devoted so much thought to the problem of time. I personally appreciate the gift of being to live dynamically in time, but hate the short-term tragedies.

    Another implication of Christ’s gift is how much of our morality has been shaped by him. We may not even appreciate how much he is the reason why we look back at some of the writings of the Old Testament with shame and horror. He was so unusual in his, or any, era.

    Happy New Year.

  • Peter, have you ever read John Calvin? I suspect you haven’t if you think he doesn’t believe in free will. Ultimately man’s free will and God’s sovereignty are mysteries our human understanding is incapable of comprehending. God chose us, we chose God. How both are true I have no idea, but that both are I have no doubt.

  • Luke Lea

    These are such difficult issues, in our secular and scientific age especially. We witness the suffering of innocent victims and what we take to be the unmerited happiness of the unjust, and based on what we see we infer there is no God. And yet our own emotional states, our most powerful feelings, both good and bad, are invisible to the people around us. From our own personal experience we know there is more than meets the eye, and that the true state of our feelings may be quite different than the people around us imagine. The same applies to the guilty and the innocent.

    Thus if there is justice in the universe — if there is a loving and merciful God — it will and can only be manifest in the realm of these invisible states of feeling and emotion as we privately experience them, right on up to the last moment of our lives. It is the only room left.

    As for the terrible things we find in the Old Testament, keep in mind that the ancient Hebrews were unique among peoples in honestly recording the good, the bad, and the ugly in their history, including competing visions of their God, leaving it for future generations to judge. It is one of their chief glories.

  • Peter Dellas

    Mike, it is not appropriate to have a determinsm/freewill debate in this forum. Having an earned Ph.D in Theology, I have read Calvin’s Institutes and much of his NT commentary. Calvin attempts a “soft determinism” by using clever sophestry and using verbal intimidation (and later, death) to dare any objection. His famous quote, “God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation,” says everything Calvin believed about man’s freewill. The rest is incidental. Putting flowers, statuary and frills around a murder scene doesn’t soften the effect. The god of Calvin is not he God of Biblical Christianity.

  • Really, Peter? Which God would he be then? Would that be the God of Romans 9? Ephesians 1 and 2? And there are many others which have to be explained away if one refuses mystery. But you’re right, this is not the place, and it really isn’t something I’m interested in debating anyway. I’m good with the Nicene Creed, and anyone that can assent to that is my sibling in Christ.

  • Mark Steven Zuelke

    We are his creatures and God can do with us whatever He wants. Suffering occurs and we stubbornly refuse to see the bigger picture – it is temporal and God promises to help us through it, to boot! Only when we get so short-sighted do we miss the fact we are not at all in our final destination and that until then we must endure, trusting that He has not forsaken us. Paul understood perfectly that our lives are not our own, that the perfection of life is yet to come, and even earthquakes and tsunamis are not enough to separate us from God or what He has in store for us. Even death itself has been conquered and is not to be feared!

  • Mark Steven Zuelke

    We are his creatures and God can do with us whatever He wants. Suffering occurs and we stubbornly refuse to see the bigger picture – it is temporal and God promises to help us through it, to boot! Only when we get so short-sighted do we miss the fact we are not at all in our final destination and that until then we must endure, trusting that He has not forsaken us. Paul understood perfectly that our lives are not our own, that the perfection, the justice, of life is yet to come, and even earthquakes and tsunamis are not enough to separate us from God or what He has in store for us. Even death itself has been conquered and is not to be feared!

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