God Is Not Benevolent

copOne of the “faults” atheists find with God, and apparently some professing Christians share this thinking, is that He shows Himself in the Old Testament to be wrathful. The first conversation I had with someone about this subject made me think we simply were not defining “wrathful” the same way. She, I believed, meant that God was quick to anger, that he “flew off the handle” easily, and that He was capricious about when and why He “lost it.” I knew He wasn’t any of that.

Apparently I was wrong about her definition. She meant that God was wrong for punishing the unrighteous.

There are indeed those in the world who think God errors because He judges sin. His wrath, then, isn’t acceptable in any form. There simply isn’t room for a god who doesn’t bend his will toward making life better for the universe. Only if he did so, in this view, would he be a benevolent god.

And clearly, so these thinkers say, the God of the Old Testament is not benevolent.

I agree with this conclusion. The God of the Old Testament, who happens to be the same as the God of the New Testament, is not benevolent by those standards. The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolent as “well meaning and kindly.” Ah, but as C. S. Lewis reminds us, God is good, not simply well meaning and kindly.

God does not “mean well” in the sense that He’s hoping for the best and trying to help and aiming for what’s good. NO! God is good, does good, brings about good. But good is defined on His terms.

I can say it would be good for me to sell my book for a million dollars. But my understanding of good is limited and finite. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me happy or angry at people who I perceive as trying to leech off me once I got some cash. I don’t know if a million dollars would change my perspective so much that I’d stop doing things of value like writing blog posts and doing freelance editing. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me more prideful, self-centered, and egotistical that I’d lose all my friends. And most importantly, I don’t know if a million dollars would become my idol, if I would worship it in God’s place.

God knows these things, however, and may, for my benefit here and now, in this life, prevent me from getting a million dollars. I also have no doubt that God could give me a million dollars if that were truly for my good–if it would bring me closer to Him, cause me to serve Him more truly, make me conform more closely to the image of His Son. What’s a million dollars to the Owner of the cosmos?

But He withholds what would harm His people in the same way that a good parent doesn’t give a three-year-old candy for breakfast just because she asks. God knows better than we do what is truly good.

God Himself is good, so we can conclude that His judgment is good as well. When He says, the wages of sin is death, that’s not an arbitrary judgment–that’s the testimony of an all knowing Creator. Much the way that a policeman might point to a sign and say, this is a handicap parking zone; you’ll get a ticket if you park here, God has made plain what disobeying His righteous standards will cost.

handicap parking signSomeone who didn’t know what the handicap parking sign meant would be grateful that the policeman told him. They wouldn’t rail against him because he didn’t tear the sign down and let them park in the specially marked spot, and they certainly wouldn’t ignore the warning and park there right under the watchful eye of the policeman.

But that’s what many people want of God–that He would ignore justice for them. Of course, few want Him to ignore justice for those they consider enemies, but they reserve their idea of His benevolence based on how He treats them.

Jesus told an interesting story about a man who thought much as these people do. He owed a debt so great he could never manage to pay it back in his life time–the equivalent would be millions of dollars. His creditor said all the man owned would have to be sold and he himself would go into servitude until he paid his debt. The man begged for more time. The creditor had compassion on him but instead of giving him more time to pay, which was really an impossibility, he forgave him the entire debt.

The man left and immediately ran into a fellow worker who owed him the equivalent of about ten thousand dollars. The man grabbed his co-worker and demanded that he pay up or he’d have to sell everything he owned and go into servitude himself until the debt was paid. The co-worker begged for more time, but the man refused.

A bunch of other workers saw what happened and told the man’s creditor. And this is how the story ends:

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (Matt 18:32-34)

Was the creditor in the wrong because he didn’t treat the man in a benevolent way? Of course not. He had in fact canceled the man’s debt. It was the man himself who wasn’t benevolent, who didn’t understand what receiving a gift of forgiveness actually meant.

So, no, God is not benevolent in the way the people of today want Him to be. He doesn’t tear up the ticket we deserve. Rather, He paid it for us. The point isn’t to get us off so we can go pile up more debt. The point is to change our status from debter, to adopted child; it is to give us an inheritance far richer than any we can imagine.

Advertisements
Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 7:05 pm  Comments (18)  
Tags: , , , , ,

18 Comments

  1. Right… that’s probably why Christianity could be said to be about dying. Jesus showed us how to die, because we can’t receive the gift of new life until our old, dead lives end. Maybe the New Testament teaching of life coming to those who willingly sacrifice themselves, of joy coming to those who embrace the sufferings assosciated with selflessness, can help redeem the brutality of the Old Testament. Evil and death are real, and the whole world has to die in order to be born again. God has always been painfully honest about that fact.

    Like

    • Interesting, bainspal, that Christianity is about dying.

      The only problem about the New Testament teaching “redeeming” the brutality of the Old Testament, is that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else. He doesn’t soften the consequences one bit. If anything, His words to unbelievers were harsher–you vipers, you whose father is the devil, that sort of thing.

      Also, the Old Testament, from Genesis on, pointed to the redemption God promised (so it isn’t brutal in the way atheists try to paint it). That’s why the Jews looked forward to the coming Messiah. They didn’t miss the fact that He was their savior. They simply didn’t realize what it was they needed to be saved from.

      Becky

      Like

      • Yes, I have found the New Testament to be more terrifying than the Old Testament. The Old Testament is brutally honest about the practical reality of evil in this present world. The New Testament may seem gentler, but it looks more deeply into the spiritual reality that confronts everyone…. and the revelation is terrifying. But of course, God gives hope even as he calls us to look frankly at the terror.

        Like

  2. “Much the way that a policeman might point to a sign and say, this is a handicap parking zone; you’ll get a ticket if you park here, God has made plain what disobeying His righteous standards will cost.”

    Except unlike the cop, this god supposedly has the ability to do anything he wants. Rather than correct mistakes or make his laws clear, what does he do? He kills everyone.

    If I were a god, I would think of better solutions than killing.

    Like

    • “This god,” as you refer to Him, NotAScientist, is just and right and true. You might think death for sin is too harsh a penalty, but that’s because you and the rest of us are limited in our understandings of the eternal issues.

      Like a person who doesn’t understand the idea of a handicap parking space, who thinks it’s unjust not to be allowed to park in an empty place and who thinks the policeman ought to simply look the other way, it seems your complaint is nothing more than that you don’t like the rules and consequences. In your judgment, they are too harsh.

      Basically you’re saying you could do a better job than God. It’s a common thought–humans wanting to be God. As it happens, that’s one of the things that pushed Eve to disobedience.

      Not much has changed in the intervening years.

      Becky

      Like

      • “it seems your complaint is nothing more than that you don’t like the rules and consequences.”

        No. I don’t like consequences that are grossly too high for the actions taken.

        “Basically you’re saying you could do a better job than God.”

        The one presented in the Bible? Oh yes. I’d do a much better job than that character.

        Like

        • But NotAScientist, the idea that the consequences are “too high” is yours, not God’s. Again, I suggest this is because we don’t know enough. If you come at it from the other side, you say, Wow, death? This sin stuff must be pretty serious–more serious than I realized.

          I find it interesting that you think you can do a much better job than God. Reminds me of a friend of mine who is afraid of flying. Now if she was in the cockpit overseeing things, or even flying the plane herself, she’d have no problem.

          Me, I once had a pilot try to hand over to me the controls of a little prop plane for a few minutes, and the very thought horrified me. I wasn’t a trained pilot. I’d much rather leave flying to the experts. I also don’t feel the need to vet the pilots or research their history and experience.

          I suppose some of us are more trusting by nature, I don’t know. But my fear-of-flying friend is a Christian, so at some point she’s decided God can do a better job than she.

          That really is the difference between Christians and non-Christians.

          Becky

          Like

          • “But NotAScientist, the idea that the consequences are “too high” is yours, not God’s.”

            You could say the same sentence using the name of a dictator.

            “I find it interesting that you think you can do a much better job than God.”

            Why?

            No natural disasters. No rape and child abuse. No killing good people for no good reason.

            It’s not hard to be better than the god presented in the Bible.

            Like

          • Not sure about the dictator argument, NotAScientist. It’s clear God is not a dictator since He’s not forcing you to believe in Him. I suppose you’re thinking punishment, like God is saying, Do this or I’ll zap you to hell.

            I see things differently–He’s warning Humankind, then when we fail, He got our back. Except we have to agree to let Him have our back.

            All the stuff you want to do away with isn’t God’s stuff. It’s Humankind’s stuff. How would you go about stopping gunmen from walking into a kindergarten or onto a college campus? How would you solve corporate greed or keep environmental polluters from dumping toxic waste?

            And if there is no God, then whose fault is all this stuff? It would have to be Humankind’s fault. So that’s what I’m saying: God exists, the evils of this world are at Humankind’s doorstep, not His.

            What I hear you saying is, God doesn’t clean up the mess Humankind makes, so He doesn’t exist. Again, the reality is, He’s going about cleaning it up in a way you don’t believe in or agree with or understand. Not sure which. But that doesn’t mean He’s doing nothing.

            Becky

            Like

    • Whether or not God “has the ability to do anything he wants” is dogma. The Bible says that God is not willing that any human perish (meaning, to suffer ultimate decay in hell). However, the Bible also indicates that people will ultimately perish. So, God doesn’t always get what He “wants,” even if he can “do anything.”

      God only kills those who choose his offer of death and new life. We are all dying already, and the only way to be healed is to let God kill us alongside Christ, so that we can also be resurrected alongside Christ. Not to die and live with Christ leads to ultimate and final decay.

      Like

      • That’s a good point, Bainspal. God actually won’t violate His own nature. Because He created Humankind in His image, and gave us a free will, He won’t violate that by turning us into robots.

        And you’re right–we are all dying. “The facts are all in: one out of one persons on the planet, die.” Ironic that we think God’s greatest act should be to delay death when He actually put in motion His plan to eradicate it.

        Becky

        Like

  3. […] Tonight I’m re-posting a story (with some revision) which I wrote a few years ago here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. It seems appropriate as a follow-up to yesterday’s article, “God Is Not Benevolent.” […]

    Like

  4. “How would you go about stopping gunmen from walking into a kindergarten or onto a college campus?”

    Forcefields.

    You seem to lack the imagination that the character in the Bible also lacks.

    Like

    • So your answer, NotAScientist, is to put each person in a bubble. OK, that would stop rape and murder, but also hugs and kisses. Sorry, but I don’t see your world as an improvement.

      Any other ideas?

      Becky

      Like

      • “So your answer, NotAScientist, is to put each person in a bubble. ”

        No. Again, your problem is a massive lack of imagination.

        If I’m a god, and I watch everything anyway, I can watch and wait. And when a mass murdered pulls out his gun and tries to kill some kindergardeners, that’s when I put up the forcefield. And I keep it there until the police can arrive and take the maniac into custody.

        As opposed to letting innocent children die. And they can still hug and kiss.

        Like

      • Interesting discussion, NotAScientist. But I’d say, rather than me lacking imagination (you may not realize that I write fantasy 😉 ), I tend to think your view is shortsighted. Your force field might stop a gunman, but people bent on doing evil find ways–like flying planes into the sides of buildings.

        Not to mention that your force field, unless it is an individual bubble, does nothing to protect against sexual predators on the Internet, con men who dupe the unsuspecting (and often, the elderly) out of their life savings, pimps who lure needy women into prostitution, drug dealers who start teens on a life of addiction, parents who batter their children or demean them with their words, bigoted people who continue to treat those different from themselves with disrespect if not with prejudice, and on it goes.

        God’s plan is to change people’s hearts so they will no longer wish to treat others in such evil ways. I don’t see your idea addressing the real problem at all but only a symptom, and one that certainly got a lot of news coverage but doesn’t begin to touch upon the horrific things people do to people.

        Becky

        Like

        • “I tend to think your view is shortsighted. Your force field might stop a gunman, but people bent on doing evil find ways–like flying planes into the sides of buildings.”

          So the god you believe in is powerless against planes? Gotcha. That’s a much weaker, ineffectual god than I’ve heard most people believe in.

          “God’s plan is to change people’s hearts so they will no longer wish to treat others in such evil ways. ”

          It’s a shame he created them that way then.

          Like

        • Clearly you’ve determined to demean God no matter what I say, NotAScientist. Not surprising. But it doesn’t change the fact that God is powerful, no matter what you say. My point about the 9/11 terrorist attacks was to demonstrate the degree of evil in people–the willingness to do whatever it takes to carry out their evil ends. The only way God could stop evil once Humankind chose evil would be to do away with the species and start over. He could do that but chose instead to redeem us.

          You’re mistaken to say that God created Humankind to be evil. He did create us free to choose, and just like you, many choose against Him. Is that His fault?

          Again, I say, I’d rather have the freedom to choose than to be a robot or a slave. He has made us neither, nor has He left evil unaddressed.

          Becky

          Like


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: