One of the things I struggle with the most lately in regard to God and religion is a sense of justice. I am a compassionate person. I feel like this is one of my best qualities. I am very empathetic. Maybe too much so at times. This is how I end up with pregnant teenagers or addicted young adults living in my basement. This is how I end up giving large (for me) sums of money to homeless guys. This is how I find myself washing the walls in the home of an elderly man I had never met before. I think to myself, what if it was me? What if it was my child? They need help. Generally, I try to help people if it is in my power to do so.
I struggle a lot with the idea that everything is within God’s power to do so. He could heal every cancer, fill every hungry belly, and defeat every evil power. He could. Why doesn’t he?
This “why” torments me. Why does he allow such suffering. I know the party line, Christian answer. Sin, free will, etc. etc. None of that can explain away the part about God being the author of all. If he is omniscient and all powerful, he knew what his creation would become. He had the power to alter that. He wrote the whole story! Why? I also know the part about the desire to glorify himself. I just don’t understand it. He made up all the rules. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it is. And I dont’ understand how a compassionate God could allow it to be this way.
As a small child, grappling with the ideas of an eternal hell and a God that created it and sends people there, I had a lot of questions that were too big for me. I remember asking, “How could God send someone to Hell who had never heard about Him? How could he be punished for not choosing to follow a Christ he never knew existed?” The myopic answer was, “Well, dear. He told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. It’s our job to tell those people about him. That’s why it’s so important.” I’d like to go back in time and say, “Bullshit!” I want to say, “That’s not fair.” Maybe they would have tried a little harder with me. Maybe I could have jumpstarted my questioning earlier in life. Because that is a really effed up system. It’s not that bad if you are on this side of the equation. We just have to pray about our part in “God’s will” for evangelization. If we don’t feel personally “called” to go tell the poor schmuck in the darkest reaches of Africa that Jesus exists and will send him straight to Hell after they starve to death at the end of a miserable life fraught with violence and poverty, well, we can just pray for those who are called and send some money when we feel so led. Maybe a couple of times in our life we can raise money to take ourselves on a two week mission trip. We just need to be earnest and passionate about doing what we can in our own little worlds to share the gospel. This side of the equation is no big deal. Plug yourself into the other side, though. How would you like to be that mother in Darfur? You’re only seventeen years old. You have two children. They’re both slowly dying of malnutrition. You can no longer nurse the baby because you are starving to death yourself. Oh, and, you don’t know it, but you are HIV positive after that time you were raped walking to get water last year. Death seems almost like a relief to you. Except for, oh, yeah. You’ve never heard the name of Jesus before, and no one has of yet felt “called” to put their own life at risk to trek over here and tell you that you have to confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Son of God. So, you slowly and painfully exit a life of misery to lift up your eyes in hell?
What kind of God is that? What kind of God comes up with such a broken system? This is what I have been taught to believe. I reject it, though! I do! How can a loving God punish people eternally for not knowing him? I would not do that. I would not hold people accountable for something they had no awareness of. I wouldn’t do that because I have compassion for them. I hear a story about them and my heart breaks and I love them. If I can feel that way…me…a mere mortal who has proven to be selfish and foolish and even mean…how can the God who claims to actually be love do that? I need a God that is better than I am.
Do you hear what I am saying? I am going crazy over this. I need a God who is good and kind and compassionate, infinitely more so than myself. I need to know that God. I don’t like this God who punishes the innocent because of some inborn sin nature. Not when he was the very one who created the whole scenario.
I don’t know how my theology needs to change for me to be able to love God again. Believe that Hell doesn’t exist? Believe in some sort of universalism that says we all get Heaven in the end? He created us with the capacity to know and value justice and righteousness and compassion and love. I have to believe that He is all those things, and that what I feel is a reflection of that. I have to believe that I was just taught something that is not true. Because it can’t be true.
It can’t be true because I need a God who is better than me.