Tuesday, October 2, 2007

“Isn’t God great?”

Richard Dawkins has provocatively—and wrongly—proposed, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”[1] While those of us who have a higher view of God would rightfully object to such a gross suggestion, perhaps we need to give such objections a little more contemplation.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a Sabbath School class that was discussing the story of Ahab and Jezebel. Following the lesson quarterly faithfully—as every Adventist does, of course—the teacher came to the climactic end of Jezebel’s life, using such vivid language to describe the last few moments of the wicked queen’s life. After explaining how Jezebel was thrown out her window and splattered onto the ground below, only to be licked up by dogs, without missing a beat, the teacher excitedly said to his mesmerized audience, “Isn’t God great?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, God is great. But certainly not for the reason that this well-intentioned teacher has in mind.

For some odd reason, many of us gloss over the gory portions of scripture and we take disturbing delight in reading about Israel’s many victories, however bloody they may have been. As youngsters, we imagine that battle field long ago, when little David—fresh from playing on his little harp—knocked down the giant Goliath and cut off his head. And then we say, “Wow, what a wonderful God we serve!” Or we sing, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a tum-ba-ling down,” thinking nothing of the lives that came to a premature end that day.

Truth be told, too many of us have a “Yeah! God really gave it to those suckers” attitude, as if those people simply got what they deserved, while we sit snuggly in our corner of self-righteousness, left alone by a God who could—and probably should—get rid of the whole sorry bunch that we are. And we lick our chops, looking forward to the day when all the wicked will finally fry in the lake of fire, paid back for all the evil things they have viciously done.

But some how, I don’t think God feels the same way.

When we read these sad accounts in the Old Testament—and a few, surprisingly, in the New—and hardly bat an eyelash, desensitized by the much more noble pursuit of celebrating God’s victories and deliverance, God’s heart breaks. It broke when He did it, and it breaks every time He thinks about it. Much like Israel of old, who slaughtered so many lambs that they forgot how painful it was supposed to be, we have missed the important fact that God hates to take life.

He says as much. In the book of Isaiah, when the prophet describes God rising up and being angry, he describes it as a “strange act” for God. The Hebrew word for “strange” is zur, and it has the connotation of being foreign, or literally coming from another family. What Isaiah tries to tell us is that God’s anger or wrath is not par for the course. It is totally contrary to His character.

Similarly, God plainly says in Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ ”

Why is it, then, that those of us who supposedly follow this same God, find so much pleasure where He does not? Why do we take pleasure—however deep down inside our hearts we may hide it—when Saddam hangs, or McVay fries? Why do we have a sick sense of satisfaction when a Catholic priest gets murdered in prison, or a homosexual contracts AIDS?

Truth be told, in some backwards kind of way, I feel that atheists like Richard Dawkins are mildly justified in describing God in such terms, because they are describing the god that we have introduced to them—a god who is made in our image. Can you expect anything more when someone like Dawkins gets letters from “loving” Christians, saying stuff like:

I'd love to take a knife, gut you fools, and scream with you as your insides spill out in front of you. You are attempting to ignite a holy war in which some day I, and others like me, may have the pleasure of taking action like the above mentioned. . . However, GOD teaches us not to seek vengeance, but to pray for those like you all. . . . I'll get comfort in knowing that the punishment GOD will bring to you will be 1000 times worse than anything I can inflict. the best part is that you WILL suffer for eternity for these sins that you're completely ignorant about. The wrath of GOD will show no mercy. For your sake, I hope the truth is revealed to you before the knife connects with your flesh. Merry CHRISTMAS!!!

PS You people really don’t have a clue as to what is in store for you . . . I thank GOD I’m not you.[2]

Sadly, this is the attitude far too many of us have.

But let us listen to our Lord: “As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ ”

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.

[2] Ibid., 211, 212.

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