How God really works

[I have to be out of town today and tomorrow, so I thought I’d cheat and replay some old Evangelical Realism posts. This one, from August 2007, is my all-time greatest hit (according to my stats log, that is).]

A blogger at has a bit of Monday Morning “humor” that (perhaps without meaning to) gives us a good hard look at how God really “works”:

A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan . One of the courses had a professor who was a vowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you exactly 15 minutes.” The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop.

Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, “Here I am God. I’m still waiting.” It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform.

The professor was out cold. The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence. The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”

The Marine calmly replied, “God was too busy today protecting America ’s soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an a$$. So, He sent me.”

Funny stuff, eh? I mean, what’s not to love? The assault victim was not only a college professor (i.e. educated and thus automatically evil), he was also a “vowed atheist” (gasp!) and if that weren’t bad enough, he was even a member of the ACLU (swoon!). The author left out “Darwinist,” but that was probably just an oversight. Wouldn’t every passionate American just love to go around punching out liberals, atheists, and educated people? This isn’t just a joke, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Like all good fantasy, this one draws its power from making the setting seem as realistic as possible. What makes the joke really work, especially on the wish-fulfillment level, is the faithfulness with which it reproduces the way God behaves in the real world. Notice, for example, that at no point does God ever actually show up anywhere in the real world. He does not show up in response to the professor’s challenge, nor does He show up to tell the Marine, in the sight and hearing of the other students, to go up and punch out the professor.

Nor, in fact, does He show up in the war zone to genuinely protect the soldiers. If God did show up in Iraq, for example, to point out where the insurgents were hiding and where the IED’s were planted, not only would our troops be in a lot less danger, but the Marine would be able to point to God’s visible and verifiable activity in Iraq as a satisfactory answer to the professor’s challenge.

But God does not, in fact, show up in the real world, an absence that the Marine finds frustrating and infuriating. He seethes with inner rage and helplessness, because God consistently fails to behave as though He believed the same things the Marine does, and yet the Marine cannot confront God about this nor can he admit, even to himself, that there’s anything wrong with God’s behavior. To do so would be to cast doubts on his own faith and his own personal sense of salvation.

This frustrated and impotent inner tension is what drives the joke, of course. The author, and his intended readers, all know first-hand how the Marine feels. God’s behavior is clearly inconsistent with what they believe about Him, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. They can’t even complain about it, because to complain about it, they’d first have to admit that it’s true, and that would be a denial of their faith. So they’ve got all this anger and frustration building up, and nowhere for it to go. What are they to do?

The Marine, in the story, takes the only available outlet: he makes the poor professor the scapegoat for his own inner turmoil, and lashes out violently against him. Many Christians feel the same way, though most of them (fortunately) are more self-restrained than the Marine in this story, contenting themselves with name-calling and nasty jokes (like this one) directed against whoever they decide should be the scapegoat this week. Ironically, after violently assaulting the professor for what he said, the Marine then self-righteously admits that the professor has a legitimate right to free speech, which his fellow troops are fighting to protect even as he, the Marine, is busy violating it.

But I digress. The main point is that the professor gets knocked off his platform–but notice, it took a real person do actually do it. Had the Marine not acted, the “work” (knocking off the professor) would not have gotten done. The real person did the work, and then tried to claim that God deserved credit for what was done.

This is the secret. This is how God really “works” in the real world: somebody thinks they know what God ought to be doing, then they sit there stewing about it because God’s obviously not taking care of the matter, then they jump up and do it themselves, then they claim that God ought to be given credit for having gotten the job done. A classic case of sock-puppet deity. Rather pitiful, really, but so long as God persists in failing to show up in the real world it’s the best Christians have to offer.

Mr. Anonymous And Probably Fictitious Marine, I salute you. You may have acted violently, ignorantly, and unjustly, but you at least gave us a clear demonstration of how Christians perpetuate the delusion that God actually does things in the real world.


  1. rwahrens says

    You nailed it. Dead center, right as rain. I’d always wondered just exactly what was wrong with this joke in the sense of being able to express it, and you’ve just rung the bell!

    Linked to on my wall on Facebook…

  2. ImaginesABeach says

    After reading through this morning’s FtB offerings, I checked my FB newsfeed and found that one of my friends had posted the Marine in the classroom bit of nonsense. My response: Is the vet’s lack of faith in god’s omnipresence and omnipotence disturbing or something to be celebrated?

  3. Randomfactor says

    In Real Life, the Marine would be given another chance to demonstrate his god’s actions as he defends himself from the assault and battery charges.

    Surely his god wouldn’t need something so common as a lawyer; a simple appearance in the courtroom to affirm that the Marine was “only following orders” would suffice.

  4. sunsangnim says

    Great analysis. I also find the nationalistic sentiment a little disturbing. Of course God is on our side, not the side of the Jihadists who also claim God is on their side. It seems like an admission that we really are engaged in holy wars or crusades against Muslims.

    This story also brings up the familiar claim that the troops are fighting for our freedom in the middle east. I wasn’t aware that Iraqis and Afghanastanis were actually trying to limit the constitutional rights of Americans. Our government can do that without any assistance. Maybe that’s why the fear of Sharia law is so strong in the wingnut community–it gives justification to our wars.

    There’s also the excuse that God is too busy. What happened to omnipotence?

  5. Monimonika says

    There’s an aspect of this story (other than the hypocrisy and logical fallacies) that makes the Marine’s action look extremely stupid.

    Let’s say some jerk comes up to the Marine and challenges the Marine to show the strength of the Marine’s faith in his God by shooting off his own hand. The jerk goes on to heckle the Marine over his lack of faith until the Marine snaps and proceeds to shoot his own hand off.

    Did the Marine show how dumb the jerk was for challenging the strong faith the Marine and other Christians have in God?

    Heck no! The Marine was dumb to take up the stupid challenge in the first place. The Marine (or any other Christian) in the classroom story should have realized that the challenge by the atheist professor is a petty one that no person, much less God, needs to respond to.

    The classroom story not only makes Christians look like hypocrites and God look powerless, but also makes Christians look like gullible and insecure reactionaries. The GOP has already cemented that view of them in my mind, by the way.

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