The Trouble With God


The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. (Psalm 145:17)

The trouble with God is that he’s too right. No negotiations. No compromise. No, “Oops, sorry about that. My fault.” Being the Being of ultimate righteousness, he’s got the corner on oughtness and by definition is always right. He always knows the correct answer and the meticulously proper way things should be done. In theory it’s nice to have somebody like this around in case you need advice. But nobody likes a morally superior know-it-all, especially when they are morally superior and rarely offer anything as advice. We all want to govern our own moral universes, thank you very much, and quietly begrudge the Great My Way or the Highway hovering over us like the sword of Damocles. Of course, the alternative—a God who blunders—is even more disconcerting considering that the office of Deity has no foreseeable term limits.

The trouble with God is that he’s too good. Granted, there are advantages to having a perfectly virtuous divinity. It’s nice to know that the guy with unlimited power is somewhat bound by a code of ethics. (I say “somewhat” because certain passages in the Bible suggest that even God can have a bad day.) The downside is that, by implication, he’s also the exemplar of goodness, which means we’re supposed to copy him. How lame is that? Goodness is so boring. Paradise Lost is a romp because Milton’s Satan is so doggone cool. In Paradise Regained, by contrast, Jesus comes off as a divine goody two-shoes. Sure, he redeemed mankind and whupped the devil hands-down, but even so, personality-wise Satan would be much more fun at a cocktail party.

The trouble with God is that he’s too big. We need things in byte-sized chunks, clearly marked parcels of meaning and experience that can be easily stored or deleted. That’s why we like sermons and the latest “secrets to the successful life” books; they’re vapid and easy to digest, a kind of spiritual tapioca—minus the nutritional value. God, on the other hand, is a sprawling mess of paradox, contradiction, mutation, mystery, and infinitude. Just when you think you’ve got the dude pinned down, he morphs on you; you think you’ve got him in the box and—poof!—Yahweh has left the building. As a general rule, Americans like big, but not when it comes to God. We want a manageable deity not some outlaw behemoth with a mind of his own. Our God has got to be programmable and fit into our pockets. The idea of the mega-god of the Bible tends to oppress us like credit card debt: we make minimum payments, but can’t seem to touch the principal.

Lastly, the trouble with God is that he’s too loving. He’s way too tolerant of jerks, ignoramuses, and various assortments of dweebs, diddlers, and Rod Stewart fans. Can it be possible that he would let into heaven rap singers, folks who let their dogs sit their laps when they drive, or anybody with subwoofers in their trunks? This divine tendency to love idiots makes it somewhat problematic for us to ignore the guys with cardboard signs or to send F-18s to bomb the crap out of the more cantankerous members of the world community. Then again, God has never been much of a pragmatist, so we allow for his weakness like we would an indulgent grandfather who insists on telling us the same stories over and over. We nod, but carry on with business as usual, protecting God through benevolent disregard from the unfortunate consequences of such indiscriminate affections. God can be such a sap.

We can’t actually get rid of God; by definition we’re sort of stuck with him. However, we can reshape him to better fit the realities of life as we know it. Some might call this rebellion, or idolatry or—even worse—average Christianity. I like to think of it as Dale Carnegie for an awkward deity. We help him understand the etiquette of the times and he gains a more realistic self-concept. Quite frankly, he needs an image upgrade if he’s going to remain titular head of the Corporation.

To his credit, though, God is very good at plagues and catering.


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