Well, here we are in the aftermath of yet another tragic natural disaster. Ironically, these disasters are some of the only times people of all races and faiths really band together across political and geographical boundaries and demonstrate that we are actually one race – the human race.
Sadly, events like what happened in Japan (which, in spite of my use of the past tense, is far from over), also bring out the false prophets who proclaim that the devastation was deliberately caused by God in order to punish people. And I respond, “Really…? I mean… really??” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I presume to know what God could or could not do. If God wanted to smite New Orleans to discourage voodoo, I suppose God could do that. After all, that’s what omnipotent means. But I don’t believe that’s what’s going on here. I don’t believe God causes natural disasters at all.
But the deeper issue here is not people claiming to know what God can and cannot do – or even what God would or would not do. The bigger problem is people claiming to know what (or whom) God does and does not hate. The worst example of this is arguably the ones who protest at funerals. And again my response is, “Really…?”
So I’m convinced that God hates everyone who claims to know what God hates.
Wait a minute… uh oh.
Yes, I know there are things in the Old Testament that are said to be the object of God’s hatred. But c’mon… It also says God walked through the garden of Eden and we don’t assume that God literally has feet. These are anthropomorphisms, in which human perception of God’s activity (or of theological assertions about God) are written in ways that make God accessible to human understanding by making God seem a little more like us. Be we live in a New Testament world. Jesus said we should love our enemies, so would God do any less? Assuming God even has enemies…
Which reminds me: yesterday I had a facebook exchange with an atheist. A mutual friend (also an atheist) had posted a short video showing Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion). In the video, Dawkins set up the tired old straw man of pointing to Old Testament examples that seem barbaric by post-enlightenment sensibilities, implying that religion is the cause of all the world’s problems. My response pointed this out, and concluded, “Richard Dawkins, I yawn in your general direction.”
I then went on to say that an atheist trying to convince a person of faith that God doesn’t exist is like an Inuit (I actually said, “Eskimo” – is that wrong?) … anyway, it’s like an Inuit trying to convince a Jamaican that palm trees don’t exist. The Inuit may have no personal experience with palm trees, but it’s a huge logical leap to go from that to the non-existence of palm trees. And the Jamaican, who sees palm trees all around him, responds with a sarcastic, “Yah, mon.”
Now, to be fair, the Christians who claim to be able to point out all the people whom God hates are not helping our case. In fact, from Dawkins’ point of view, I’m sure he would say they prove his point.
So who’s the real enemy of God here? The atheist, or the believer who usurps God’s place as judge? Well, if I claimed to know the answer, I would probably be putting myself within the latter group. But it seems to me that both sides are falling into the trap of making too many illogical assumptions. And what’s most annoying is that both sides, the atheist and the judgmental believers, are just too damn sure of themselves. And I would argue that to be too sure of yourself, is to be too proud of yourself. So at the very least, there is the sin of pride.
Me, I’m a hypocrite. I know it, and I admit it. Oh they’re hypocrites, too, the atheists and the judgmental believers. But the difference between me and them is that I’m conscious of it, and willing to admit it – and I own it. I’m a hypocrite because by the very act of writing this blog I’m being judgmental of the judgmental people (ironic, eh?). I’m a hypocrite because I don’t always practice what I preach (or write). I’m a hypocrite because I believe God loves me, and yet sometimes I do things that God probably hates.
Often a person’s excuse for avoiding the Church is that the Church is full of hypocrites. Well, duh! Did you expect the Church to be full of perfect people? Do you know any? The Church is a hospital for the soul, and a school for the heart. To say that the Church is full of hypocrites is like saying that the hospital is full of sick people. That’s where they should be. Now, I wish I could say that all the hypocrites in the Church admit to being hypocrites, but many don’t. Many point fingers at others to take the focus off of themselves.
Ironically, in the early centuries of Christianity, natural disasters were often blamed on the Christians. The thought was that by the growth of the Church, Christians were encouraging otherwise pious Romans to abandon the worship of the traditional gods, which meant that those gods had removed their protection, or were downright angry. So Christians were the scapegoats. Now I hear Christians doing the scapegoating, and it makes me sad, and a little incredulous that they just don’t get it.
I’ll admit it’s tough to find the balance of being non-judgmental on the one hand, but yet still sharing our faith on the other. As Christians, we have something worth sharing – in fact Jesus commanded us to disciple all nations (Matthew 28:19). And having something worth sharing implies having something others need. But evangelization is not the same thing as condemnation.
As a card-carrying Goldiloxian, I want to find the middle way – the place of balance between the extremes. I want to be somewhere between atheism and a judgmental confidence. I want to have standards, but I want to hold myself to those standards before I try to hold others accountable. I want to admit my shortcomings (which should cause me to cut others a lot of slack), but I don’t want to use my shortcomings as an excuse to give up on growth and improvement. I want to offer humanitarian aid to people of other faiths with no strings attached, but I also want to let my light shine so that people know that my motivation is gratitude to God, and so that God will be glorified (Matthew 5:16). I want to be able to share my faith without judgmentalism and without being lumped together with those Christians who give the faith a bad name.
I think the place of balance is conviction without defensiveness. In fact, that’s my definition of spiritual maturity. Conviction without defensiveness. I think (though I’m not certain) that this allows one to have a strong faith while maintaining respect for those of other faiths. In his Commentary on Genesis, Origen wrote, “…in matters of theology, absolute confidence is possible for only two classes of people: saints and idiots.” And I’m no saint.