Our Father, who art a dickhead


I happened to catch a bit of Christian talk radio on my commute home the other day, and heard an exchange that was either funny or heartbreaking or possibly both. The guest was an author who had written a book about “God’s Purpose in Suffering,” or some such, and the point he was making was that God uses suffering to strip away His blessings so that we can learn to love Him for Himself, and not just for the things He blesses us with. He used the book of Job as an example, and quickly sketched out the story of how Satan said Job only loved God because God was richly blessing him, and how God said, “Fine, do whatever you want, just don’t kill him,” and boom, disaster for poor Job. That was supposed to teach us that it’s selfish of us to love God’s blessings, and call it “loving God.” God (according to this author) allows suffering to teach us Who and what we’re really supposed to love.

At that point one of the co-hosts chimed in with a story about her own suffering, and how she prayed and prayed and prayed just that God would provide her with a little bit of inner peace. Just peace. And it never came. You and I know why it never came, and we could probably laugh at her, but at the same time, it’s really heartbreaking to think that so many people are trapped in this kind of self-deception. Here she is, experiencing first-hand God’s absence from real life and His inability to do anything beyond the power of any other Imaginary Friend, and yet what does she do? She blames herself. With the help of this Christian author, she found a way to re-frame her experience of God’s non-existence, and turn it into a fanciful narrative in which He is mercifully trying to teach her a valuable lesson about love.

But think for a minute about what that lesson would really be. Take Job for an example. In the story, Job experiences financial devastation, the deaths of all his children, and debilitating disease, all with (you should pardon the expression) God’s blessing. In other words, the point of Job is to try and teach believers how to love a Person who is such a prick that he would hand over His most loyal follower to His worst enemy, for purposes of murder, ruin, and affliction, just to win a bet. Would it be out of line for me to suggest that perhaps the reason God is hard to love is because He doesn’t really deserve to be loved?

This Christian talk show host knew, at some level, that loving God is a problem. But (her self-blaming fantasies notwithstanding) the reason it’s hard to love God is not because we’re selfish, and only want to love His blessings. The reason God is hard to love is because He does not show up to participate in a loving relationship with you. Genuine love does not need to be “purified” by murdering your children and reducing you to poverty and afflicting you with physical and/or emotional and/or mental disorders to make you suffer. Genuine love, as a two-way street, wouldn’t even want such evil things. Genuine love grows out of two-way, face-to-face, in-person interaction—the kind God is supposedly capable of, according to Bible stories, and yet inexplicably is either unwilling or unable to participate in on a daily basis.

If God were really real, and were really so concerned about how we love Him, then there’s a better way to nurture that love than to mistreat us in hopes we’ll blame ourselves for failing to love Him enough. Unfortunately, the better, more loving approach requires actual existence on God’s part. In the absence of any such God, Christians have little choice: either they can give up their faith, or they can blame themselves and deceive themselves and pretend that God’s absence is really a clever plan to teach them the importance of learning to love a divine dickhead.

This is happening to good people, and it’s heartbreaking to watch.

Comments

  1. ttch says

    Old Testament culture was a patriarchy with God as the super-father, and it is a known phenomenon that many abused kids will continue to love their abusers, so it’s reasonable that there’d be at least one story showing that unflinching devotion to the father-god in the face of his abuse will ultimately be rewarded.

    Since the mythical father-god cannot actually provide any protection from the trials and disasters of life, these things must be due to his abuse. Thus, God’s non-existence becomes proof of His love!

  2. ttch says

    By the way, in keeping with “Storehouse Theory”, God questioning Job (Job 38:22-23):

    Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?

    Christians will interpret the concept of God’s storehouses of weather as a metaphor. But why would God ask Job if Job had seen a metaphorical storehouse, unless God’s just being a dick?

  3. says

    Seems to me the story of Job is a version af an agrarian trickster-god myth. Trickster gods are an easy explanation of the arbitrary and capricicious randomness of “shit happens”

  4. plutosdad says

    People will point out that this story and similiar are like parents when they have to discipline their children, but it’s more like the difference between taking their toys away for a day and killing the family pet to teach the kid a lesson. What kind of parent would do the second?

    Besides, by trying to explain away God’s evil, isn’t the book author violating the end of Job, where God tells Job basically “who the hell are you to question me?”

    Christians (rightly) are not satisfied with that answer, so they try to make up excuses for God, probably just how abused spouses make excuses for their abusers. But funny enough the Bible in a few places, like the end of Job, say we shouldn’t be making those excuses or trying to explain his behavior.

  5. OverlappingMagisteria says

    I’ve been taking the same approach with my wife. I want her to love me for ME, not for the things I give her.

    So I’ve stopped cooking dinner for her, I’ve stopped helping her out when she needs it, we have separate bank accounts and no longer share any finances. I’ve completely stopped giving her any hugs or kisses or any of that. I’ve stopped giving her pleasant conversation. I’ve even stopped giving her warm looks of love. She should not love me because of these things. She should love me for ME!

    I think she’s warming up to the idea! She’s decided to move out and is staying at a motel. I think she’s realized she shouldn’t love me for the house that we shared.

  6. harrysanborn says

    There is a schism among christians here. There are the fundies that hold something akin to the belief above with a few variations including bad things happening as a test, and bad things happening for a greater purpose (Both of these types should be drop kicked in the face for promoting suffering and trivializing other’s pain).

    Then there are the “liberal” christians who mostly hold that if it were up to god, only good things would happen. But because of original sin, we humans have created all the bad things that have happened to us (please don’t mention genetic diseases, cancer, etc). This is the god that is completely indistinguishable from a universe without a god. These are often the same people who claim that they can agree with evolution, which kind of negates the original sin, tree of knowledge… but lets not let trivialities like that get in the way.

  7. kagekiri says

    You’re doing it wrong! Your mere personal indifference to her is WAY too nice; how do you know she actually loves you unless you give her horrifying and totally justified reasons to hate you?

    Follow God’s example more closely: let burglars into the house to steal all her things, help murderers and stalkers kill her friends and relatives by giving away their personal information, and help psychopaths poison her food to make her ill.

    Not enough to kill her, we can be civilized about this, but enough to test how much she loves you even if she knows how you’re aiding evil people in torturing her in every conceivable way just to win a bet with the most evil person you know, where your personal victory (and her suffering) is the only reward.

    If she questions your actions, tell her you’re above her understanding, way more awesome than her, and you don’t owe her anything!

    God’s ways are truly higher than our ways!

  8. F says

    My mother also taught me a lesson about love by never showing me any, and by being absent in general. I learned a lot that way, and I turned out just fine!

  9. says

    I turned out just fine!

    The eternal crying of the abused, trying to justify their abuse. Very appropriate that it would show up in discussion about how much God resembles an abusive parent.

    My stock response: if you think this sort of behavior (that Yahweh exhibits) is hunky-dory, then obviously you’re not “just fine.”

  10. Nemo says

    Job is just the best example of a Bible story where, not only is God portrayed as a dick, but to me it seems clear that this was actually the author’s intent. The Tower of Babel, the expulsion from Eden, and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac are other examples. In fact, as I think of it, most of the best-known Old Testament stories fit this pattern. Geez, how do people worship this character?

  11. Jer says

    That was supposed to teach us that it’s selfish of us to love God’s blessings, and call it “loving God.”

    This is such a stupid interpretation of the Book of Job that the only refutation I have for it is “read the Book of Job.”

    The whole point of Job is that Job had done nothing at all wrong. He wasn’t selfish. He wasn’t prideful. He had done nothing wrong and bad stuff happened to him anyway. If he were suffering because God wanted to teach him a lesson then the story would have no point because he would be receiving righteous punishment from God for his wrongdoing. But God Himself refutes that idea in the book itself – he says right there in the book that he’s being cruel to Job for no explainable reason, and that anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.

    One of the main themes of Job is “stuff happens, and you can’t stop it”. The whole point is that you can’t get God to do what you want him to do. It doesn’t matter what sacrifices you make, what prayers you say, or how well you keep the Law, bad things will still happen to you. It isn’t your fault – God is capricious and unknowable and cannot be placated by human actions – you just have to suck it up and take it because that’s how God operates.

    • mary says

      #14 Jer says
      “The whole point of Job is that Job had done nothing at all wrong. He wasn’t selfish. He wasn’t prideful. He had done nothing wrong and bad stuff happened to him anyway.”
      How can it be that Job had done nothing wrong. According to the story of Adam and Eve, all men are born with original sin, all men do wrong things, and no man is conpletley righteous.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        At the time Job was written, there was no original sin. Original sin was a notion invented by Christians to justify the idea that everybody in the whole world needed Jesus to save them. (Plus I have a very strong suspicion that the story of Job originated in Zoroastrian Persia and was brought back to Israel by the post-Exilic Jews.)

      • smrnda says

        Worth pointing out. Talk to some Jews, they will look at you pretty funny when you mention ‘original sin’ since it was a later addition.

    • Brian M says

      But then, what is the point of worshipping such an entity? If the all-powerful, all knowing entity has created a universe, delliberately and with full knowledge, which requires the suffering of sentient beings, what duty do His playthings owe him?

  12. =8)-DX says

    I really enjoy Slavoj Zizek’s take on Job:

    contrary to the usual notion of Job, he is NOT a patient sufferer, enduring his ordeal with the firm faith in God—on the contrary, he complains all the time, rejecting his fate
    [..]
    Job’s properly ethical dignity resides in the way he persistently detects the notion that his suffering can have any meaning, either punishment for his past sins or the trial of his faith, against the three theologians who bombard him with possible meanings—and, surprisingly, God takes his side at the end, claiming that every word that Job spoke was true, while every word of the three theologians was false.

    Yes – that story is in a way a gem in the Bible, because it is a lovely example of how meaningless and arbitrary suffering in general is and how capricious a god would have to be to allow for it as part of some divine plan.

  13. Bill Openthalt says

    Don’t forget that true christians have a very real experience of their god. They maintain a “personal relationship” with “him”, and are convinced “he” is present in their “heart”.
    This experience conditions their perception of reality. Their filters are different from our filters.

    It’s not rational, but then humans aren’t rational creatures, and yes, we have filters too.

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