In several conversations this week, I called God terrifying. The overwhelming response of people encountering the Shekina Glory of God in both the Old and New Testaments was one of sheer terror. We forget that God is not human. The coming of the Christ brought Him near and gave us His image in flesh, but God the Father remains Spirit, and utterly beyond. Even His nearness, close as our breath, is beyond us in its very intimacy. We have no truck with God’s terror these days. We’ve decided no God of Love would be terrible in that love or glory. This is hard to grasp. The ocean when it rises up terrifies us. The tornadoes that dipped from turbulent skies this week terrified the people in their paths. We are frightened of a million things, and yet a God whose power holds the potential to destroy all that is is disqualified from Godhood unless He be benign and nothing but soft comfort and healing.
Let’s say the Bible isn’t true. Let’s say scripture is made up stuff, like anything else written by humans. Let’s say God has said nothing of Himself to humanity. Of course, we could even say, there’s no God to speak to us, because there’s no God there.
Now, in the Godless world, what are we faced with? We are faced with reality, with what’s here. We are still faced with the days, the oceans, the winds, and the deaths that haunt us. We still hunger for origin and destiny, now little more than jokes, born now from nothing and headed toward oblivion. Love is a trick of biology, yet we feel anguish and delight, both states of being spun from illogical whims of millions of years. We fight over morality in every society of the world, the winners writing laws that perhaps serve the populace, perhaps serve the despot. Depends on where the power lies, because there is no metanarrative of humanity, except for the nothing nothing that led to chemical something that led to an experienced 2007, space travel, and the height of musical complexity.
Without God, we still want to know our world and ourselves, so we ask a near-infinite number of questions. We get science, sure, but when it comes to meaning, when it comes to why, we are stuck with games for answers, endless twistings of thought to kill each other over, accusations of madness flying back and forth between individuals and cultures. If we can believe history, we humans fed each other to animals for sport two thousand years ago. We stretched each other on racks 500 years ago. We lynched folks a hundred years ago, and these days its bombs and beheadings and common murders of various kinds. What will it be a hundred years out, or a thousand, or the millions between now and when the sun burns up?
Nothing changes. The body may evolve, but the human heart is stuck with a chase for the “good” life in which conditions don’t really change. How strange to appear on a planet with no cause and no destiny but now. So we make it up, and call it life.
Is this overly bleak? The simple raving of a man who woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Atheists don’t mind this scenario, I suppose, because they hold high hopes that humans can rise above the madness and become…what? Gods? In the end, in this kind of world, all the gods die, and again, in the end, what do we gain for all our labor and suffering and dreaming under the sun? History has yet to give us evidence that we are evolving higher states of compassion and love. Killing seems not to have slowed. Oh, but I forget: religion is the problem, they say. If we got rid of God, we could evolve to the higher states of consciousness, freed from our superstition?
Of course, without God, who can say which consciousness is higher? Against what do we judge? How do we know which end is up?
One reason I believe in God is that believing that the scenario of time plus chance plus nothing leads to this world’s being here seems at least as mad as belief that an Intelligent Designer may stand behind it all as first cause. It fact, it seems crazy to me that this all comes from nothing. Science can give us hows and whats, but can never give us whys. We can clone, but we cannot make life. We cannot even make emptiness—no-life—for everything in creation is packed with the energies that underpin all matter, all that is.
We say God, and in our more sober moments, we realize we have no idea what we’re saying. We dismiss Him, and have no idea Who or What we’ve dismissed. What I’m arguing for here is a basic humility toward reality, toward our religious ideas, even toward our doubts. We human beings are an arrogant species, children on a playground standing atop a small mound of dirt, and calling ourselves kings, the only gods in town.
C.S. Lewis argued that our very hunger for knowledge of what is good and evil—in fact the very presence of the categories themselves—is evidence for the existence of a Creator with a character giving rise to our own. It begins from a premise that may not be acceptable, but the move from the premise to the implication is not irrational at all. I will never see that faith in God requires any intellectual suicide.
A man rising from the grave? Most people don’t believe it. They don’t believe it because they understand the power implied. They understand that if we were there that long ago morning, sitting inside the grave, and saw the whole thing happening, it would have terrified us. People only come out of graves in horror movies, you know.
So much of our world has written the terrifying God out of their equation. No mystery, just compassion as we understand it. Well, as Job found out, if you’re going to write God out of life, you’d better “brace yourself like a man,” because whichever way the truth plays out, a human being ends up with a very large– in fact, it’s colossal–task. He either sits astride a world for a few years, and his frenzied chase of whatever is all he’s got, or he gets to face what he can’t comprehend, a God who’s been called a liar, a cheat, and a murderer all His life.
In both cases, arrogant humanity is faced down by powers far, far greater than himself. A Godless world doesn’t care how you go down, it will simply make sure you do. God, on the other hand, at least cares—in fact, scripture argues that He actually loves us.
I’ll take my chances with the love. At the very least, I won’t have to think I’m insane when I feel that love for the world around me. I’ll know it springs from Love itself, from the One Jesus described as life itself.
“…I never said he was safe. But he is good…”