About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Why I Don't Believe in (that) God

I thought that title would grab your attention!

Ever since Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" came out in 2006, I've had numerous dialogues with atheists on the subject of the Almighty's existence. I have noticed a consistent theme in their thinking. They are prone to a fallacy known as "all or none thinking."

This is how it works. They raise legitimate questions about the coherence of the traditional Christian understanding of God's nature. They may wonder how it is possible for anyone to have free will if the Lord knows everything we will ever do. They might also question what sort of God would punish His Son for the sins of others, and through that miscarriage of justice find a basis for forgiving humans of their shortcomings. When the fail to find satisfactory answers to these concerns then they triumphantly proclaim "aha! There is no God!" And off they go on their merry way.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it contains a faulty assumption: that there is only one possible conception of God.

In earlier posts I've discussed how the God of our Lord Jesus Christ has been badly maligned by well meaning theologians in the pre-modern era. It's easy to see how clear thinking, mentally healthy persons would have trouble believing in the God of John Calvin, for instance. Likewise, the deity proclaimed from many (though by no means all) evangelical and fundamentalist pulpits is far from the sort of Heavenly Father I would care to worship.

Any Being that would cast people into everlasting torment for not believing in a gospel they never heard should be relegated to the ash heap of history. The same is likewise true of a God who worries about people of homosexual orientation forming loving, lasting relationships, while ignoring far weightier matters of economic and social justice. These ideas about the nature of the Ultimate say more about the psychological maladies of their inventors than they do about spiritual truth.

If we dispense with these distorted caricatures, however, who or what do we put in their place? This very topic has been the subject of my thoughts, prayers, studies and reflections for the last several years.

I don't pretend to have found Buddha-like enlightenment in any of these matters. But I have reached some conclusions about what I think the true God of the Universe is like, and I want to share them in point by point fashion:

1.) God is in some way intimately related to the Universe, far more so than Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians have long believed. The image of a Cosmic Sovereign sitting high above and well beyond His creation is fraught with philosophical shortcomings. In its place we must develop a conception of a loving Parent, Guide and Friend who is our fellow traveler through time and space.

This God "feels our pain," to borrow a somewhat trite phrase. He rejoices with us in our moments of ecstasy and suffers with us in our times of pain and grief. He either cannot fully control our actions or, as I suspect, could do so but chooses not to.

He sees the evil and suffering which blight this world, and graciously invites us to partner with Him in redeeming it from the curses of sin and mortality. The death of His Son on the cross is an integral part of this plan, in ways that we humans cannot fully fathom. However, we can look upon the death and resurrection of Jesus (yes, I do believe that Christ rose from the dead) as demonstration of both Gods' love for us and the eventual triumph we will share with Him when evil and death have at last been purged from creation.

The question of why this evil exists at all leads into my second point:

2. ) God is not yet in full control of our world. I don't know why, but His ultimate desires for His children have not yet been realized. He struggles both with the forces of chaos and of moral evil on a moment by moment basis. As He possesses unlimited power and all possible knowledge, His final triumph is assured. However, like a boxer trading blows with an able but inferior opponent, he suffers setbacks and temporary defeats in His ages-long struggle.

These forces of chaos and of moral wrongdoing are personified in the entity known in the Bible as Satan, or the Devil. I believe that this archfiend is more than a simple personification, however. He or it is a conscious presence that pervades the Universe and actively resists God's redemptive efforts.

3.) God does not know exactly how the future will unfold, but nevertheless some things about it are certain. For one, it will bring the ultimate victory of the three Divine Persons known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit over the Evil One and his allies. This is the underlying and overarching message of the apocalyptic books of the Bible, including Revelation. The exact day and time of this event is not yet determined, and is partially affected by our actions, or conversely our inaction, as God's agents and co-workers in the redemptive process.

This victory will result in a physical transformation of the creation that will alter the laws of nature, resulting in a remaking of the world into a place of overwhelming peace and benevolence.

It will also entail the redemption of the vast majority of the people who have ever lived. If any are lost it will be a vanishingly small number who, while in full knowledge of their actions and in complete control of their wills, reject the offer of the Divine Persons to participate in this new epoch of unending harmony.

These poor souls are the ones whom Jude 1:13 describes as "raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."
Their ultimate fate will not be endless torture, but rather a merciful snuffing out of their conscious existence in the Universe.

4.)As a Christian, I believe that God works primarily, but by no means exclusively, through the church to accomplish His redemptive goals. The compassionate Jew or Muslim, the kind Buddhist or Hindu, and all people of goodwill, even those of no particular faith - all of these are God's children and His partners in the redemptive program. They will share in the final victory and the blessedness of the world to come.

5.) This will perhaps be most shocking of all to my more conservative readers, but I say with full conviction that the God I have described in this post is also the Deity described in the Old and New Testaments, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the beloved Son and the eternal Spirit. I see no conflict in holding to both a high view of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the views I have described in the preceding words.

To those interested in pursuing this last line of thought for themselves I recommend the following works by theologians, philosophers of religion and biblical scholars of widely varying church affiliations and educational backgrounds. For the reader's convenience I am listing these in hyperlink form. Clicking on them will lead to their listings at Amazon.com.

Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists

Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality

God of the Possible: an Introduction to the Open View of God

In God's Time: the Bible and the Future

God's Politics

The Openness of God: a Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God

A Wideness in God's Mercy

What does the Bible Really Say about Hell? Wrestling with the Traditional View

The Inescapable Love of God

I trust these resources will be of benefit to those who, like me, seek for the truth. As always, your own thoughts, expressed in a civil and thoughtful tone, are welcome here.