Saturday, March 19, 2011

Maybe It’s Not God’s Fault

Yesterday on Facebook, Cathy Lynn Grossman posted an interesting little item from her Faith & Reason column at USA Today, “Japan’s suffering raises eternal question: Where’s God?”  Many of the early comments (I haven’t looked at them since yesterday afternoon) were fairly predictable—from “Man let evil into the world, that’s why bad things happen” to “Well, that just proves there is no God”—but in instances such as this I’m always a little surprised that there seems to be nobody putting forward a third possibility: Maybe our expectations are wrong.

Well, nobody but me, at least.

Here was my comment on the Facebook post:

    Or it could be that our notion of the nature of God and the role he may or may not play is mistaken.

(It came in the middle of a string of other comments, thus the “or.”)

Assuming for the sake of argument that there is indeed a entity behind creation—“God,” for simplicity’s sake—it seems to me that we have to ask ourselves what we know of the entity’s personality and behavior, and where we come by that knowledge. Most people will immediately point to the Bible. But of course the Bible is a human invention, and it hardly portrays a single cohesive portrait of God. I would not be the first to point out that the God of the Old Testament seems to be a completely different entity than the God of the New Testament. Some have put forward the idea that the former is a vengeful, ill-tempered God who ultimately was defeated by a loving, nurturing God.

It’s an interesting notion, and only serves to underscore my belief that what we profess to “know” about God has been invented by human beings—ourselves, and our ancient ancestors—and so when God fails to live up to our expectations, is it not in fact our fault and not God’s?

Perhaps—and again I acknowledge that I am hardly the first to come up with the idea—God’s role is to create a then step back and see what happens. In that context, the answer to the question of why bad things happen in the world is simply, That’s just how it goes. Storms roll in. Earthquakes occur. Trains derail. Illnesses take hold. People get hit by buses.

In short: Shit happens.

And we, in our hubris (and, I suspect, fear) say with unfounded certainty, “God is X, Y, and Z.” And when God instead seems to be Q or even M, we wring our hands and moan and wonder why God has “failed.” Why God has failed? Seriously?

Seems to me we have spent thousands of years setting God up to fail.

I know that scholars and theologians will object, and talk about that which has been “revealed” in texts and traditions. Maybe so. But it’s always looked like these “revelations” are the product of human endeavors. And humans get things wrong, humans have ulterior motives, humans are hidebound by their traditions and superstitions, humans are, well, only human.

All I’m saying is, maybe it’s time for God’s people to cut him a little slack.