Category: Discussion

The demands of an evil god

In this post, we will be talking about why people may have difficulty taking some Christian doctrines seriously and that it is entirely our fault.

The problem, I contend, is that through failing to fully rationalise our own doctrines, when others do it for us they see not a loving God but an evil one.

Definitions

As with all my articles, I will preface with a few definitions so there is no doubt or confusion.

This article rests on the axiom that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine. In this article I am going to be talking about two topics:

  • Evil
  • Calvinism

That is not to say that one is the other, I do not wish to say that, only that one rises in the context of the other.

What is evil?

Evil, in the abstract, is a noun or verb indicating a thing, action, or entity that is in any way harmful or tending to harm or profoundly immoral and wicked. I’m going to go one step further and state that evil is the seeking or willful attainment of privilege or agency without the implied responsibility or price associated with it.

For example, a person wants a car but being unwilling to pay for it they steal it. For another example, the bully who waits until the teacher is not looking and takes the paper-round money earned by a smaller child. Both of these are privilege without responsibility.

The opposite of this form of evil, responsibility without any agency, is an injustice. For example, slavery where people are expected to work hard but not enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed.

The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed. This too was responsibility without agency.

What is Calvinism

I am going to be talking about Calvinism throughout this post. I do not intend to give a full overview of Calvinistic doctrines and would probably not do a very good job of it but here are the basics.

To quote the Wikipedia on predestination:

Reformed theologians teach that sin so affects human nature that they are unable even to exercise faith in Christ by their own will. While people are said to retain will, in that they willfully sin, they are unable not to sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. Reformed Christians believe that God predestined some people to be saved.

To summerise, Calvinism teaches that we lack a completely free will. The atonement is limited and was only for the elect. Calvinism is, therefore, a predestination, doctrine.

This is generally coupled with a doctrine that only those that accept Christ in the form of a sinner’s prayer, or similar are the elect and all other souls are bound for hell.

What is an evil god doctrine

An evil god doctrine arises when we fail to fully rationalise our own doctrines. Often when we chose a theistic framework and try to jam in doctrines that are not a good fit. In this case, you guessed it, jamming extras into Calvinism.

When fully and logically explored the god being presented mutates into a vicious and malignant being deserving of no-one’s worship.

Dissecting an evil god doctrine

The atonement is limited and was only for the elect is pretty harsh but, you know, kismet – fate is fate. Right? Yeah, I’m not fully convinced but that is another discussion for another time.

The problem arises when some Calvinists try to combine predestination with pre-reformation theology without thinking through the consequences.

This sealed fate paradigm is less than ideal for motivational recruitment. So, somewhere along the line, evangelical ideas of “reaching the lost” get added to the mix. Now you find a doctrine that heaven and hell are a done deal with a drive to go out and make converts and “save people”.

A “god” who loves everyone but you

One of the inherent weaknesses of this doctrine is that it preaches John 3:16 with God loving the world but at the same time not enough to save everyone.

This is countered with the claim that while it is true that God is love He is also infinitely just and His law is absolute. Thus we have a God angry at sinners for being sinners but some (via verses like Exodus 33:19) will get the gift of a free pass.

From the other side of the fence – as a hell-bound soul, it must seem like God is picking favourites. Whichever way you cut it, this is very hard to reconcile with claims of an infinitely loving God.

This is, apparently, perfect justice. I don’t see it myself but I am not here to discuss Calvinism as a whole. If Christians want to believe that they had no choice but to accept Christ, I am willing to let them believe that.

Blaming the victim

At the more extreme end of things, you have well-meaning and otherwise mild-mannered Christians who espouse the belief that the condemned sinner is somehow responsible for their own damnation.

Now, I should point out this is not a Calvinistic doctrine. It is not even especially compatible with Calvinism. This free will aspect is a pre-reformation idea found more commonly in, for example, Catholic dogma.

This leads quite logically to a doctrine where the choice is God’s but the responsibility for is ours. Which, as we established earlier, is the definition of evil.

You cannot blame a victim who lacks any agency for what was done to them and still claim justice has been served. The child forced to hand over his money for the “crime” of being weaker might not have any choice but that child is a victim of injustice no matter how many times the bully says “You are lucky, other bullies would beat you up as well.”

Evil god in the wild

Lest you think I am making this stuff up I present to you an actual example of this doctrine being preached. This is a blog called The Gospel Truth written by a man named Bob Hutton. I have no doubt that Mr Hutton is sincere in his zeal for the gospel but someone has sold him some incompatible doctrines.

For example:

Remember, too, that the natural man refuses to accept God’s word unless their eyes are opened (1st Cor. 2 v 14).

Either way, by pointing out that God has opened the way for people to be saved we put them on notice that, if they end up in Hell, it is entirely their own fault.

In case you think that Maybe Mr Hutton has just not made his point very clearly, he clarifies in the comments:

If you die in your sins and end up in Hell, you have no complaint because you have received justice, and the blame for your sin, and its consequences, is entirely yours.

If God plants the gift of faith in you and converts you (John 6 v 65), then He has shown you His mercy, and all glory goes to Him.

And agains, citing John 5:40 (out of context, I might add), Mr Hutton says:

the choice is God’s but the responsibility is still man’s

This responsibility without agency, as we defined already, is the injustice that evil serves. It makes for a very strange form of Calvinism. By strange, I mean self-refuting and contradictory.

The “god” presented there appears to be a bully demanding people suffer the outcomes of His choices. Mr Hutton’s answer, though not untypical, defines an evil god. This is the perfect illustration of a failure to fully rationalise our own doctrines.

This god only picks some people and the rest he condemns for not being picked. It is a doctrine devoid of love but packed to the nines with condemnation and blame.

It is also not just a little smug. The “saved” sitting there smugly telling everyone else that he or she is “teacher’s pet” and everyone else is doomed. What worries me most is that no one who espouses this doctrine is the least bit bothered by this. It is as if their very sense of justice were somehow scorched and blinded.

What is the problem with “evil god” doctrines?

The problems with this hybrid Calvinism are manifold. Not only are we unlikely to convince any rational people of a loving God while also presenting them with a self-evidently evil lying god but we look like we have no idea what we are talking about.

Much worse, though, are the implications of the evil god doctrine.

In John 5:19 we see Jesus saying that he only does as His Father does. Ephesians 5:1 commands that we also imitate God. We see in teaching’s, such as Mr Hutton’s, the outworking of that where, imitating the evil god, they effectively say “I have no pity, this is all your own fault.” The resultant behaviour is devoid of compassion or kindness. It is without love.

If a country ever enacted statutes that imitated this god, you would have a country where one person commits a crime and quite another can be punished for it. We call such regimes oppressive and evil.

The fruit of this doctrine is evil because the god (root) of this doctrine is evil. As Matthew 7:15-20 says, by their fruit you shall know them.

What’s the solution to the “evil god” problem?

There are three possible solutions as far as I can tell.

  1. Refine your doctrines to weed out the ones that do not belong
  2. Reject all your current doctrines and start again
  3. Resign yourself to worshipping an evil and inconsistent god

This extreme-Calvinist doctrine arises from a failure to think through the doctrines that have been loaded in together. Doctrines which simply do not fit together. Such self-refuting doctrines could be avoided altogether if we made even a little more effort to fully rationalise and consider what it is we claim to believe.

At the very least, we must take note of 1 John 4:1-3 and put the teachings that are presented to us to the test. Those that lead to a hate-filled god are, scripturally, anti-christ. Something I am sure zealots, such as Mr Hutton, would want nothing to do with.

I would be prepared to accept a relatively indifferent god if the Calvinistic framework were to not also include a blaming the victim mentality. I might, with some persuasion be willing to see God as loving for only saving some.

As long as some proponents of Calvinism also try to have their cake and eat it, the conclusion must be that the god they worship is evil.

What I am saying is that’s not my God.

That’s not my God

I do not know this evil god that the extreme-Calvinists preach.

The God that I worship is loving (1 John 4:8), His mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), and is well able to save us all (Isaiah 59:1).

The God that I worship does everything he says He will (Numbers 23:19). He says that His intention is to save all mankind (I Timothy. 2:4) because he is full of loving compassion (Psalm 103:8) and cares about the well being of people (Matthew 9:36) and expects us, his followers, to be the same.

The God that I worship sent His son, Jesus, to Earth as a ransom all (1 Timothy 2:6) from the grip of our imperfections (sins) and grant us the power to forgive sins (John 20:23).

The good news that makes me glad is a good news of restoration, not this dictatorial nonsense. How about you?

Towards an Inclusive Faith

I doubt fundamentalists would agree with me but I think a case can be made for a much more inclusive faith.

This is an incomplete argument for a more inclusive approach to faith as well as a weak argument for a more relaxed attitude to other faiths. It rests on the axiom of the value of all scripture. (For more on axioms).

Inclusive faith

In Mark 9:38-41 is found a report of Jesus saying this:

whoever is not against us is for us

This inclusive attitude is in stark contrast to the more common exclusive attitude so frequently encounter.

That word “against” is kata (SG2596) the same word used in Matthew 12:25 when Jesus talks about a house divided against itself.

This says to me that Jesus’ attitude was to take it as given that everyone not opposing him was on his side. This fits well with 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says that love hopes all things and, given that God is Love and Jesus was his son, it follows that Jesus would display maximal love.

This inclusiveness fits well with 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says that love hopes all things and, given that God is Love and Jesus was his son, it follows that Jesus would display maximal love.

Apparent contradictions

However, any exploration of Mark 9:40 without also looking at Matthew 12:30 would be remiss. This passage seems to say the exact opposite of the inclusive passage. However (and this is something I hope to establish as an axiom), context is everything.

A comparison within context

The best and most comprehensive explanation of the meaning in context is found on the website of Ken Collins, or to be precise: The Rev. Kenneth W. Collins, B.A., M.Div. In short, I am pretty sure he knows what he is talking about.

Rev. Collins points us to Theophylact, who was born on the Greek island of Euboia in about 1055. This Theophylact spoke the language of the new testament as a native. He was also a student of scripture.

Theophylact observes that when you consider Mark 9:40 and Matthew 12:30 in context they are talking about entirely different things. Once I saw that, it was hard to imagine how I missed it.

The Mark passage in context

In Mark 9:40 the disciples tried to stop a man who was acting in Jesus name and yet was not part of the in-crowd. The disciples had no idea who this guy was and yet Jesus says not to stop him. Others are not “wrong” just because they are not part of what you consider the “us”. In other words, just because they follow a different doctrine or have ideas that differ from your own, or come from a faith background you consider separate from your own, they are still “for us”.

In other words, just because they follow a different doctrine or have ideas that differ from your own, or come from a faith background you consider separate from your own, they are still “for us”.

Rev. Collins says two things about this passage that are striking the second I will come to in a while but the first is this:

This passage also teaches us that Jesus is biased in favor of people. Yes, God hates sin, but He loves people even more, so He sent His Son to get rid of the sin and save the people.

You can, should you be so inclined, read how each of the church traditions interprets this passage in terms of the ministry of the laity. Liaty being those who have not been ordained.

The point that Theophylact makes is that this is a passage about people.

The Matthew passage in context

First let us go wider – say, Matthew 12:26-30. Now we have some context for the quote. In English, it is all too easy to see that Jesus could have been talking about people here too. However, Theophylact (for whom this Greek was his first language) observed that Jesus was talking exclusively in spiritual terms (about demons).

To quote the Rev. Collins on this too:

If Theophylact is right, Jesus is giving us an important and simple tool for spiritual discernment—not to discern people, but to discern ideas and spirits. All we have to do is ask if the spirit or idea glorifies Jesus. If it does, it is good. If it does not, it is in rebellion against God and thus evil.

I would suggest that by comparison to the Mark passage we can go further. Here where you see spirit think not only spiritual thing but also any attitude, philosophy, or idea too. The Greek for spirit (pneuma SG4151 is a wide and encompassing word).

  • Any spirit that supports or agrees with the work of Jesus is good.
  • Any spirit that is not against us is probably for us.
  • Any spirit that opposes the work of Jesus opposes Him.

Conclusions and questions

Other Faiths

Taking the implications of the above verses, consider the other Abrahamic religions.

The Jewish faith

First the Jews. Their faith focuses on righteousness and teaching righteousness to the Gentiles. The church’s terrible behaviour towards this people group aside for a moment, the church’s mission to bring the righteousness of Christ to the world is something that the Jewish faith could get behind. The fact that historically this has not happened, owes a lot more to the aggressive behaviour of Christ’s disciples than anything else.

The fact that the early church saw itself as an extension of the Jewish faith rather than a rival to it only adds weight to the idea that the Christian church should seriously consider embracing their Jewish brothers and sisters on an equal footing.

The Islamic Faith

Now the Islamic faith. This is where I am almost certain to lose some of you but try to stay with me here. The Quran speaks, in a number of passages, about the People of the Book (′Ahl al-Kitāb). The Quran uses the term People of the Book in reference to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. The Quran emphasizes the community of faith between possessors of monotheistic scriptures, and occasionally pays tribute to the religious and moral virtues of communities that have received earlier revelations, calling on Muhammad to ask them for information.

Moreover, People of the Book have frequently enjoyed a great deal of protection under Islamic law. Dhimmi, for example, is a historical term referring to the status accorded to People of the Book living in an Islamic state. Dhimmi literally means “protected person.” Dhimmis were excluded from specific duties assigned to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.

On a people level (Mark), this is a faith that is expressly not against us and thus, in Jesus words, must be seen as for us. On a spiritual level, that is much more complicated and might not fully be understood, at least by me, in this life.

This much is clear, however, that all aggression towards Muslims in unbiblical and runs counter to the teachings of Jesus Christ. However you conclude in this area, the only attitude we can have and remain true to our faith is one of love.

Non-Abrahamic faiths

I do not possess sufficient knowledge or insight to examine any other faiths at this time. However, having established a set of principles from scripture, I hope that I have laid out a pattern by which we might modify our attitude accordingly.

Perhaps you might like to explore this area in the comments.

Inclusive Salvation

This passage raises other possibilities too. What about the width of salvation, for example?

Traditional evangelical teaching ascribes a narrow view of salvation (mostly due to verses such as Matthew 7:13). Fundamentalism takes things further and can, at times, ascribe salvation only to those who completely agree with a set of doctrines.

On the other hand, verses like I Timothy. 2:4 throw things wide open. Could Mark 9:40-41 indicate that salvation will ultimately be found not only by Christ’s disciples and followers but by all who support, bless, or are “for” them?

Rev. Collins’ other striking statement (I have not forgotten) about Mark 9:40 was this:

Quite often people preach the gospel as if everyone were going to hell unless they made a conscious decision for Christ. That doesn’t strike me as good news, exactly, but this passage has me wondering. Could it be (and I say this as a thought exercise for you) that because of Jesus’ love and His work on the cross, everyone is going to heaven unless they deliberately choose otherwise? I’d like to point out that it would solve the problems of infant deaths and people who never hear the gospel.

Apparently, I’m not the only person to wonder about it. I’ll leave you with this thought, could the role of Christians be to provide the forgiveness of sins to the rest of the world? After all, John 20:23, seems to be saying Jesus granted his people the power to forgive sins.

Your feedback is invited

As I said at the start, this is an incomplete argument for a more inclusive approach to faith in general. It seems that Jesus preached a fairly inclusive faith. Perhaps inclusive enough for his followers to develop a far more relaxed attitude to other faiths too.