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.