What about the charge?

July 6, 2005 at 11:23 pm Leave a comment

In his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill tells of an encounter between St. Augustine and a young bishop by the name of Julian of Eclanum. (The book, by the way, is excellent history, and very intriguing, and highly recommendable.)

Anyway, these two got into a fight one day, over the fact that Julian didn’t like the implications of Augustine’s theories on original sin. The unfortunate side effect of Augustine’s doctrine that really perturbed Julian was the assumption that God would condemn to hell all the unbaptized—including infants. Augustine justified God’s justice as inscrutable; Julian countered that Augustine’s God was a cruel tyrant.

I know, people make these kinds of assertions about each other’s gods every day. But the story forced me to think.

And…well…

What about the charge?

If God relates to us in the manner Augustine claims, what kind of deity is He?

Is He a cruel tyrant?

I pose this particular example of infant baptism not as much to suggest that Augustine is wrong as to say that we need to ask questions. And specifically, I think we need to ask one question in particular:

What do our doctrines say about God and His character?

We claim, on the one hand, that God is loving. Merciful. Longsuffering. That He longs to redeem us. Save us. Rescue us.

But I wonder, sometimes, if the God we proclaim is perhaps schizophrenic–generous when He is in a particularly benevolent mood, but with a corresponding darker side that we don’t like to talk about. We say God is love, but I’m not sure our theology always agrees with us.

After all, what about that teaching that He will condemn helpless infants to damnation?

What about the doctrine that God predestines people to heaven or hell based on no doings of their own?

And (the one that was particularly on my mind a few days ago) what about that teaching that God will torture the unrepentant in hell forever?

The characteristics of God implied by those doctrines are not what I would call love.

So, really now, what do our doctrines say about God and His character? Is this love, or is this a case of sinners in the hands of an angry God?

Granted, it is true that just because a certain teaching indicates something negative about God’s character doesn’t necessarily mean it’s false. A statement might be disconcerting or uncomfortable and still be factual.

However, the issue of what our doctrines say about God’s character is nevertheless emergent in nature, for the simple reason that Scripture claims God is good.

It is not fair to sweep the issue under the rug with “God’s ways are higher than our ways.�? Or, “God is God—He’s the one who determines how things work, and it’s our business merely to believe and obey.�?

No—I insist on asking: Is the claim true? Is God utterly and unalterably good? Or is this all a grand lie, a cosmic charade played out for God’s sadistic entertainment?

Is it possible to reconcile the dissonant images of love and eternal hellfire? Or love and predestination to damnation? Or love and the condemnation of the helpless who had no chance?

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Wrath of God Rain, rain, go away

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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