For most of 2009, I remained unsure of some of my beliefs. Doctrinally, I had a firm foundation — I knew what I believed and why. But when it came to the subject of who would be saved and who wouldn’t, I felt like I was at a loss. I had grown up seeing things in a rather black and white fashion. As I got older, I realized that there were many shades of gray when it came to what was right or wrong. For instance, there were some things that I believed would be wrong for me to do, but I acknowledged that they may be okay for someone else who didn’t fully understand what would be wrong about them. In other words, I paid great attention to things like the Parable of the Talents, which shows God expects more from those who are capable of more. So who was I to say what was right and what was wrong? Everyone’s on their own path and learns at their own speed.
However, I did know that some things were required for salvation. I mean, God certainly has some standards. And why all the passages about Hell and punishment, why the stern demeanor in the OT, if God’s love and mercy were going to trump all that? Obviously some people would be found unworthy. It initially seemed to me that if nothing else, belief in Jesus must be a prerequisite for salvation. But as I thought more about that, it didn’t seem to make much sense. After all, where and when a person is born has an awful lot to do with the religious beliefs they eventually hold. If belief in Jesus is a definite prerequisite, then it seems like there are still many people who will be lost through no real fault of their own. That didn’t seem just to me.
So maybe God judged more on the moral actions of each of us. Maybe the truly good people from all religions would be saved. But that runs counter to everything the Bible teaches. Why all the talk of faith, why the commands to spread the word, if those had nothing to do with salvation? Many things about the point of the gospel weren’t making sense to me.
So in 2009, I didn’t make many posts on this blog. I just didn’t know what to say. In 2006 and 2007, I wrote pretty strongly about some very big subjects. I didn’t leave a lot of room for variation on those things. I believed the Bible taught a particular thing, and that’s what I wrote about. So in 2009, I just didn’t feel strongly enough about anything to write down something definitive. And in March of that year, someone named Andrew wrote a comment on a blog post I had done at the end of 2006 that tried to rationalize the OT’s brutality with a loving, righteous God. He eviscerated my article. I didn’t bother replying to him, because I actually agreed with most of what he said. Here’s how he started off:
First, let me start with one of my favorite quotes:
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Now think of how many atrocities you could commit in the name of God based on the justification the author of this article gives. My favorite quote, justifying God committing genocide, is: “All of us will die…does it really matter how it happens?” It is truly scary to me to think that millions of people think this way. Throughout this article human life is completely devalued, making actions like murder and genocide “no big deal in the grand scheme of things.” This is, almost exactly, the thinking of Muslim terrorists when they flew planes into the World Trade Center. It’s the same product with different packaging.
You can read the rest here, if you like. In September of 2009, I listened to a podcast of NPR’s program Fresh Air. I’m a huge fan. And this particular episode played an interview with Forrest Church, a Unitarian minister who had just died. The interview was outstanding, and I recommend listening to it if you have time. But one part in particular resonated with me:
God doesn’t throw a three-year-old child out of a third story window or allow a drunken driver to kill a family crossing the street. This is not part of God’s plan. These are the accidents of life and death. And if God, for instance, is responsible for a tsunami that obliterates the lives of 100,000 people and leaves their families in tatters, then God’s a bastard. I cannot believe in such a God. For me, God is the life force, that which is greater than all and yet present in each. But God is not micromanaging this world.
That did not really line up with everything I had always believed. But it did made a lot of sense. His view of morality was so clear, that he could confidently say a God that would directly ravage people through horrible accidents and natural disasters was “a bastard.” That hit me like a sledgehammer. Not only because it was such a strong statement, but also because I realized he was right. Why equivocate on things like natural disasters and the brutality of the Old Testament? His statement showed me that we shouldn’t have to make excuses for things like that — they’re simply wrong. If any of us had the power to prevent the death of 138,000 people in a tsunami, we would have prevented it. If any of us could prevent a child from suffering from a freak accident, or a horrible disease, or malicious abuse, we would. Sadly, we are rarely in a position to affect those things. But the God of the Bible could prevent them if he wanted to. This is known as the problem of evil, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I had by no means lost my faith at this point — and I wasn’t ready to say that the Forrest Churches of the world were completely right — but I was steadily realizing that there were some real problems with what I believed, and I wasn’t sure what to do about them. We’ll get into that further in the next post.