Is God to Blame? by Gregory A. Boyd

book cover man sitting in chair arm bent on knee leaning forwardIs God to Blame?: Beyond pat answers to the problem of suffering. (2003)

First off, full disclosure, I consider myself to be an atheist. I was brought up Lutheran and have many Catholic cousins. In living around the country I came to know all kinds of different people with different beliefs, including Jewish faith, and Mormonism. When I was little, I had my doubts because every week the pastor would preach about how we are all sinners and owed money to God to get his forgiveness. Then they passed the collection plate. Well, my parents did not seem like sinners to me. My dad was a WWII hero. However, the Germans on the other end of the bombs from his B17 probably had a different perspective on things. Maybe because of the immediacy of the presence of the war in my childhood, and with it, the Holocaust and the evilness of Hitler in particular, but later of course I learned of Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, Pol Pot, et al, I had good reason to question the very basis of there being a “kind and loving god” at all. Tens of millions dead across the world because of a handful of despots. The cruelty and pervasiveness of the torture and brutality did not seem to indicate there was an omnipotent god.

From my own personal experiences, why did God give me multiple sclerosis? There is nothing noble about being disabled. I am confident that even if I was a believer, prayer would not cure me. Why is there cancer? Why did he create germs and viruses that cause Polio? Why would a parent deny medical treatment for a child and rely on provably ineffective prayer for a positive outcome, and then sigh and say it was God’s will the child should die. Like that is a freaking comfort? Why would any god, but particularly a loving god, want to cause birth defects that would mean the fetus was not going to live? How can a loving god allow a serial rapist to keep on raping without striking them dead? If there were a loving god, surely he would not want women and girls to be raped and become pregnant as some politicians have claimed: even the child of rape is a blessing. Pretty sure many women who have their lives broken and dreams crushed and are left with a living breathing reminder of the evil they had visited upon them would rather not have to raise a child by a man who so wronged them if they did not have to, much less be mandated to provide visitation rights to the rapist. No decent common human being would wish this on anyone, much less a kind and loving god.

That’s why I think that there is a massive amount of victim blaming in the rape law and prosecution or lack thereof. The “cognitive dissonance” of “loving god” does not match well with allowing rape and torture and pedophilia — by PRIESTS — and so it results in “she was asking for it” and “she should know better than to 1) walk out at night, 2) drink “too much”, 3) wear a too short skirt, 4) let her date in for coffee, 5) have sex at all. And so on. Still not sure why the men get a pass: boys will be boys, girls are distracting to them, they can’t control their sexual impulses, etc. endlessly twisting rape into regretted consent to the point that sheriffs declare it unnecessary to even test rape kits because, you know, girls just lie after consensual sex because they don’t want their parents to know. (true story) Not to mention the backlog of 40,000 untested rape kits (why bother, the women were lying, never get a prosecution, waste of time and money, lack of budget) that has recently been creating a stir of indignation (oddly rather than absolute horror).

People get raped because they must somehow deserve it rather than blow up the idea that a kind and loving god would allow such things to happen at all much less at the ACTUALLY UNDER REPORTED 1 every 3 minutes or something like that, rape statistics.

I forget who I was talking to the other day, but when I suggested no kind and loving god would let a child be born into suffering and misery of health, or poverty, or whatever, they had a ready reply. Not God’s fault! That is evil’s doing, the devil or Satan or whatever. Since this was so ridiculous on the face of it, I did not bother to attempt to discuss anything more because there was no point. For people who believe in a loving god, despite passages in bibles or whatever to the contrary (dash the other tribes’ babies brains out on rocks scripture for example) their god is never culpable for bad stuff. And yet, also omniscient and omnipotent.

So if god allows you to suffer, there MUST BE A PURPOSE, and that must be noble and good for you because what loving god would want you to suffer for no damn good reason? Rather than concluding, there is no god, they decide there is and MUST BE a moral value to suffering.

This is not to say that God doesn’t use the evil intentions OF PEOPLE and FALLEN ANGELS to further his own sovereign [!] purposes. He certainly does. Indeed, here too Christ is our definitive guide, for God used the evil intentions of people and fallen angels to fulfill his mission to defeat the devil and reconcile us to himself (Acts 2:23; 1 Cor 2:7-8).

On a personal level, we can be assured that whatever happens to us, HOWEVER NIGHTMARISH it may be, God is at work to turn the situation or our ADVANTAGE (Rom 8:29). Among other things, he WISELY uses suffering to BUILD OUR CHARACTER and STRENGTHEN our RELIANCE ON HIM.

Okay, I have to stop mid quote here. Are you fucking kidding me? First I don’t agree with the premise that suffering builds character. It seems more often to me that suffering breaks the spirit of the sufferer and they are miserable. Pretty sure the Jews and others that were put to hard labor until they died didn’t get to heaven and say:  thanks God for strengthening my character; I relied on you to help me, but hey, I know, busy busy busy with tens of millions of souls to judge and process. Pretty sure the child who was sodomized by their “father” in God’s name did not find it a character building exercise and would not choose to rely on God for further help to spare them more suffering. Not when God’s representatives on earth just got shuffled along to build the character of altar boys in another parish.

And “however nightmarish” it may be — apparently there are no limits on the horrific infliction of pain and suffering on people that cannot become an “advantage” to us (right up until they put us in the ovens or kill us with a lethal blow, stabbing, or gunshot). What fucking advantage might that be???

And for God to use evil people and “fallen angels” (which begs the question, if God is so great and Heaven so wonderful, why would angels “fall” in the first place, plus we are as God made us, in his image so he must be half evil too). In fact, I vaguely remembered reading that Satan was invented by people later on just to address this apparent contradiction of evil with an omnipotent and omniscient and loving god. So I checked out a few things on the Internet just to get a consensus.  One discussion even said that the earliest beliefs had God being both good and evil. And as I often asked, as any thinking person would, why would god create evil in the first place? Why put a tree of knowledge in the middle of the garden if not to tempt us and then, being omniscient, and having created us as curious and with brains built to try new things, punish us for acting upon the very qualities he endow us with?

One of the first articles I saw actually discussed the belief of God as being both good and evil. I was surprised. But of course, this concept was later altered to a more ridiculous but pleasing view of evil being someone or something else’s fault because it is impossible to reconcile a loving god who would allow that vast and many ways of evil in this world. Not the least of which is a Catholic dogma prohibiting sexual activity, a natural urge God endowed on us. The various nutcase schools of religious devotion to suffering, self-flagellation for example, or poverty or vows of silence, or praying on your knees for hours in cold stone chapels, is simply masochism.

Such actions do not honor any god. And certainly no loving god would want his devoted followers to suffer. Ah, but the religious among us have an answer to that too, the whole noble suffering is your TICKET TO HEAVEN! Now I’m not sure what the religious are promising today (72 virigns etc. — not too sure that is good for the virgins) for what happens when you are in heaven that makes them all so eager for the End Times, but one bible passage I saw referred to worshiping at the feet of God and singing his praises for eternity. Not my idea of heaven, that is for sure.

The religious dogma simply holds out the promise of Heaven as a carrot for their sheep to pay and pay and pay for their sins, real or imagined, to the churches so that their priests etc. can live without working by the sweat of their brows like the rest of the peasants. Just examine the ermine collar of the Pope’s robes even back in the day. How many peasants did it take for that decorative touch? And have you ever been to the Vatican? Yes the church certainly sponsored a lot of magnificent art, though paid peanuts from what I understand of Michelangelo’s life for example. Theoretically made for the glory of god but didn’t god say he didn’t want any idols? What then is the lovely image or sculpture at the focal point of churches of Christ on the cross with blood seeping from his wounds? And gee, why not focus on Christ rising and a little more positive message? Not a constant barrage of suffered for you!! You sinners!! Pay up! Pay up!

How many children could get vaccinated if they sold one painting? Oh, but “the poor will always be with us” so they are off the hook. They don’t have to prove they’re are charitable at say 80% of their tax free income or tax free church property, because they are doing “god’s work” and being charitable. No, I rather think they are a) preaching to the converted, and b) basically getting paid to give a Sunday morning (or whenever) pep talk about how people are all such sinners but that’s okay because just ask for forgiveness (and don’t be shy at the collection plate) and poof! All is forgiven. No matter how venal or evil. One wonders what the victims of these sinners are thinking? Maybe they are praying for a little retribution or remonstration, perhaps some instant karma?

While we need not assume there is a divine purpose leading to our suffering, we can AND MUST trust that there is a DIVINE PURPOSE that follows from it. Hence our suffering is not meaningless. (p. 196, italics his)

WTF? We must trust a divine purpose has put someone in a concentration camp? Or allowed someone to be kidnapped and held as a sex slave for 10 years? Or raped and murdered? The can be NO FUCKING DIVINE PURPOSE IN THESE ACTS unless you are out of your fucking mind.

Suffering is MEANINGLESS. We must stop suffering NOW ON THIS EARTH if we can rather than accept it as the divine intention of a loving god because it so obviously is not. I would like to see more heaven on earth than sing hosannas to any god for infinity.

The convoluted twisting of words and unfounded assumptions and unrealistic and imaginary assertions in this book are dumbfounding. The following paragraph makes almost no sense:

In granting that God uses evil, however, we must take care NOT to compromise the SUPREMACY OF THE REVELATION of God in Christ. This is done by those who imply that the evil intentions of agents and the resultant suffering are aspects of God’s original plan for creation.

God plants a forbidden tree and tell the people look but don’t touch, then punish them really severely for disobeying. But that was not the plan? How could that not be the plan? We are made in his image, and that implies our brains were made as curious and inquiring, and so would of course be compelled to eat the fruit. An omniscient god would know that. Wouldn’t a better plan have been to not put the tree there in the first place? Oh wait, I know the answer to this one: FREE WILL. What a great get out of jail free card for god. He sets us up to fail and then blames it on us for being the way he made us. Good plan. But no, we can’t say he was asking for trouble from the start of his plan for us because that would belie his inherent love for us. Kind of like the abusive dad that leaves something out and forbids the kid to play with it, so of course the kid does, and gets a beating for disobeying dad. Not quite playing fair if god were such a loving and superior being. The author goes on with this nonsense:

Though God perfectly and ETERNALLY ANTICIPATES a response to each evil act, he does NOT WILL IT. Indeed, evil intentions are evil precisely because they are against God’s will. [!] When we confuse GOD’S WILL with the WILLS OF FALLEN AGENTS, the beauty of God revealed in Christ is inevitably compromised.

Okay, going to have to go with WTF again. Beauty of God???? God allowing evil is not his will? Christ revealed the beauty of God — what by dying a hideous and unspeakable death? For no damn good reason. Because we kind of don’t really need Christ to forgive us since we can just pray to God to forgive us, right? If there were no new testament and Christ figure, would God based on the Old testament NOT forgive us our sins? And what about all that “angry and jealous god” stuff, and the narcissist “have no other gods before me” and his irrational and quick to judgement and severity of punishment? Lot’s wife turned around, compelled by the curiosity God endowed her with and BOOM pillar of salt for you. God’s intention to kill Moses of all people, for not circumcising his son but the wife got there in time and cut off the kid’s foreskin and rubbed it on his foot, so God didn’t kill him after all. Oh the twists the religious interpreters have on this one.

Satan the great deceiver is to blame for evil. But since God created everything, he must have created Satan. That makes it a lot easier to blame the “fallen agents” for evil and misery and suffering. Though it is not really clear to me why they WANT to cause evil in the world? Psychopathic sadistic pleasure? Just to spit in God’s face about their power and laugh while he does nothing? Laugh and laugh to hear the prayers of suffering people while God ignores them on the principle of free will? But how can it be people’s free will to give birth to a deformed child? They had no control over the factors that led to the situation. God as omnipotent could prevent, but apparently, he let’s the “fallen agents” have their free will to cause suffering. So people are merely pawns in the power games of God and Satan?

How is that fair? How is that loving? Despite the numerous elevations to sainthood of people who suffered, this simply is a ruse to prevent people from rebelling against a God who ignores their suffering on the pretense it is noble. Check out some of the stories of saints sometimes. Frequently women who had, say their breasts cut off for refusing to marry someone, get elevated, because they would rather be nuns that be forced to marry some crusty old man. They are killed for disobeying paternal will, and especially when the women use piety as a justification, they get elevated.

However, at the same time the bible says that women must be under the boot heel of the men in their lives like, theoretically, the men are to bend to God’s will. Mostly however, from what I read in history, the bending mostly seems to have gone to the MEN OF THE CHURCH and their own pronouncements of their sanctity. And who can say otherwise because there have been no cases where God dropped in on the Pope and said, dude, it is wrong for your minions to sell indulgences. Men say that God does not want women priests — because, the theory goes, Jesus only picked men for disciples. Well, maybe the men drove off the women or raped them because they were whores? Who can say? Certainly not the men who might have good reason to eliminate the threat to their power. Why did God not stop the 400 years of the Inquisition? Why did God allow “holy wars” in his name that killed his sheep and anyone in their way? Why has not God popped up now with the turmoil in the Middle East and have a good old gun slinging showdown with any other people’s gods and settle the matter once and for all? BECAUSE THERE IS NO GOD. And all the mythology and biblical pronouncements will never make it so.

Believe if you want, believe in fairy tales if you find comfort in it, but DO NOT DARE TO MANDATE WHAT I BELIEVE OR DON’T BELIEVE IN. At least so far in this country we are a SECULAR NATION and I do not choose to live by your so-called morality.

Morality does not depend on religious dogma and some of the most immoral are also the most religious: pedophile priests, corrupt churchmen, and power mad pontiffs. Plus Ted Cruz, and all evangelicals, and authoritarian theocracy proponents, the Klan, and the Birchers, and the Koch brothers et al. The author continues his bizarre proposition that all God does is good and other people and “agents” are responsible for evil.

I believe that this truth [the beauty of God?!] is extremely important to remember when we are experiencing the painful arbitrariness of life. We are in a war zone, and everything hangs on our being able to IDENTIFY WHO IS fighting against us [If you ain’t for us, you is again’ us, so it is okay for us to kill you school of religious righteousness.] and who if fighting  for us. [He offers no proof that anyone is fighting for us.] The ultimate criteria for deciding what is and is not from God is Jesus Christ. [huh?] If the one who died on the cross wouldn’t have done it, you have every reason to assume an event is not from God or part of his will.

Ah so that is where the whole WWJD comes from: What would Jesus do? I am pretty sure Jesus would not begrudge a little sex for pleasure instead of procreation, after all God made us capable of that pleasure. Religious people get mortified at the thought that maybe Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene or someone else. But why do they assume a thirty year old man would not have had sex? Is this where they are deriving the proscriptions against sex? WWJD – and since we have to testament to the joy of sex, they assume God was fulfilling enough and he didn’t need a sex life? So no women disciples, no women lovers, women should shut the fuck up, hmm sounds pretty misogynist to me. I would almost suspect the disciples of envy and jealousy excluding much mention of such things. Or I could make a joke about a thirty year old bachelor who hung around a bunch of guys, but I won’t go there.

Living with this Christ-centered perspective, we are FREED from ASKING THE UNANSWERABLE question of why life unfolds the particular way it does, and we are empowered to do something about it. . . . The painful ambiguity of life cannot crush one whose eyes are fixed on Jesus Christ. Next to this, nothing else really matters. (p. 196-197)

Really, dude? A stillborn child doesn’t matter as long as your eyes and heart and mind are “fixed on Jesus Christ.” Don’t bother your pretty little head about those pesky unanswerable questions! We can’t come up with good answers, despite trying free will, agents of evil, and the hidden (all too well) benefits of suffering. So STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! SHUT UP and pass the collection plate. I guess that is what is meant about empowering us to do something about why life can suck, just hand over a few shekels to your local church and consider yourself empowered.

The whole book is filled with blathering nonsense. But a particular favorite is on p. 65 where the author declares:

God gives Israel the choice to choose life, which is loving him, or to choose death, which is rejecting him. God obviously longs for his people to choose life, but ultimately it is up to them  to decide. They are, in this respect, free.”

Well, then if we are free to CHOOSE I guess all those religious zealots have misunderstood God’s will, and should support our RIGHT TO CHOOSE abortion or carrying a fetus to term.

God is constantly described as acting in love, but it is not UNCONDITIONAL love. We must fear and obey him or he will smite us and provide “death and destruction” if we don’t follow “him” (i.e. the Church’s rules, dogma, and doctrine).

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways. . . then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are NOT OBEDIENT, and if you are drawn away to BOW DOWN to OTHER GODS and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. . . .

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deut 30:15-19 NIV)

So much for the Bible repeatedly confirming that “people are created with a measure of freedom.” Note how plain free will has become conditional. And wow, life or death? Metaphorical of literally, not a hard “choice” to make!

The Bible also asserts that evil originates with free agents by revealing that God is frequently frustrated by the way people OBSTINATELY RESIST HIS LOVING PLANS. . . .[lol choking here, free will but, damnit, they won’t do what I tell them to do!]  (p. 66)

He quotes Ezekiel: “I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it,” the Lord decries. But UNFORTUNATELY, he concludes, “I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them” (Ezek 22:30-31). HA HA HA HA HA God was forced to destroy the land because people were insufficiently deferential to him, by praying, apparently. He goes on to say “If anyone would have heeded the Lord’s earnest attempt to raise up an intercessor, the disaster that befell Israel would have been avoided.” Again, HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. First, what exactly did the Lord do in this “earnest attempt” — did he appear like a talking burning bush to tell them that somebody better start worshiping him and fast or there would be Hell to pay? So he just had to teach them a lesson, and not just a gentle torrent of frogs, or perhaps killing their children (as he did non Israeli children in Egypt)? No, he opted for the big one, total destruction. I bet that taught them a lesson they didn’t soon forget. Oh wait, they’d be dead. But I guess it was a deterrent to the other heathens that didn’t bow down to the LORD! He claims that the LORD really doesn’t want to punish people, but they make him with their “wicked ways”  on the premise that “God has no delight in the destruction of the wicked” but gee, is total destruction the only real alternative? Think the Great Flood. Really, wouldn’t a little flood do? How about offering 72 virgins in this life instead of only giving out the candy after death? But the author carries on trying to justify God’s choice of destroying disobedient people (hmm, like he isn’t really speaking to them directly or I’m pretty sure someone would say, Oh, you want prayers, well okay then. No he “speaks” through men and we know men lie, so how do we truly know God’s actual will? Trust the priests? Tell that to the pedophile victims.

If the will of the omnipotent can NEVER BE DEFEATED, then he MUST HAVE WILLED human depravity prior to the flood. But in this case it becomes impossible to explain why a hold God would send such an evil thing and then genuinely regret the way his creation turned out.” (p. 68)

Not IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN: there is no god.

He goes on to say that the Bible teaches us that God wants everyone to accept his LOVE  and be saved. But he was the one who put the tree there that required us to be saved in the first place. And what is he saving us for? An eternity singing his praises? What do the End Times people think is going to happen?  Reunion with your loved ones? What about the out of wedlock mother, presumable she is in hell, but maybe since she gave me up for adoption that redeemed her because at least she didn’t have an abortion. On the other hand it was illegal, so not necessarily noble, maybe just inaccessible. So where do you think my biological mother is? Heaven or Hell? I suppose if she confessed to a priest and/or repented having had sex for pleasure only to be dismayed to discover God’s will was that she become pregnant, she ended up in heaven because church provides that unconditional get out of jail free card.

Yet the bible also makes it clear that many people refuse God’s salvation. Even though Jesus died “for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2), and even though God is always working in people’s hearts to influence them to accept him, some people LOVE DARKNESS rather than light (Jn 3:19). Because people must be FREE for love to be genuine, they have the capacity to THWART God’s [omnipotent] will and BRING DESTRUCTION ON THEMSELVES.

Yessir, definitely some blame the victim going on here. The author goes on a bit about how” people choose to cause suffering and act in other evil ways” but gives god an out because “Free agents devise their own plans. And the decisions and plan of these free agents do not necessarily express God’s decisions and plans.” Still not getting how a woman suffering a still birth is acting on her own plans, but I suppose a woman having an abortion would be, even though she has free will, but then if free will is God’s will, how can she be blamed for exercising free will? Still not sure how an “evil agent” is allowed to cause the stillbirth of a Godly woman’s child, or the deformation of it by the Zika virus, or any number of other horrific diseases and issues. For that matter, WTF was God thinking creating mosquitoes in the first place if not to spread diseases that kill or cause suffering because as far as I can tell, that is all they do and by the trillions.

The discussion beginning on p. 70 covers angels, and Satan as “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). “When Satan tempted Jesus by offering him all “authority” over “all the kingdoms of this world,” Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim that this was his to offer.”

Great, so God created angels with free will and some rejected obeying God, so he let them take control of our earthly existence. “creation is now governed by a powerful being who resists God’s purpose at every turn.” Okay buuuut God is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t he see this coming? Why doesn’t he stop it? He could surely do so. He certainly hasn’t done so to anyone, even those loyal praying zealots that want to kill the homos or the Mexicans or the Muslims or anyone who who performs an abortion, who has an abortion, who doesn’t go to church, who doesn’t agree with them, or holds other beliefs.

Many forms of physical oppression were diagnosed [!!!] by Jesus and his disciples as being directly or indirectly INFLUENCED BY EVIL SPIRITS. Blindness, deafness, muteness and deformities are not ALWAYS MERE PHYSICAL AILMENTS. The are evidence of our being under a spiritual regime at odds with God’s purposes. [arghhhhhh] So too spiritual blindness, hindrances in ministry and EVANGELISM, delays in prayer, the behavior of evil people, temptation and discouragement, the struggle with “strongholds,” false and LEGALISTIC religious teachings, persecutions, some life-threatening “natural” phenomenon, and even death are attributed to the INFLUENCE OF THE DEVIL OR OTHER REBEL SPIRITS. (P. 71, skipped the numerous bible citations).

Excuse me, what year is it? 2016? Let me check the phone book for a local exorcist.

God could do all this himself, of course. [fix evil] But because God is a SOCIAL BEING [!!!!!]  and his goal is LOVE, he chooses to work through mediators (humans and angels) who lovingly choose to cooperate with his plans. How they use their freedom genuinely affects he extent to which God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  (p. 72)

Yeah cause that makes it so much easier on humans to let them guess what social acquaintances god has to convey his will. And of course, the assumption that God’s will is love is yet to be proven based on Satan’s running of the world to date.

The church is teh CORPORATE EXPRESSION OF ALL THOSE WHO HAVE SAID YES to God’s saving grace and responding to his call to mediate his will on earth. As such the church is initiating God’s goal for humans to recover their rightful place as HIS COREGENTS, who “subdue” and “have dominion” over the earth. [OH HERE COME THE DOMINIONISTS!] Our original parents surrendered this authority to Satan,but now through Jesus, God is giving it back to us. (p. 73)

Pretty sure that anyone living in the Middle East right now does not see things this way. Pretty sure they would say Satan is doing a pretty good job of ruling.

Well, obviously nothing I say here will change the mind of a religious person, however contradictory and absurd the texts they follow as the “word of God” albeit written by men with a vested interest. But it does give me some satisfaction to know that my own morality and desire to help other people is definitely my own free will. There is no world but this one and it needs to be a more Enlightened place. Something religions are not accomplishing.

 

 

 

 

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