On the manic, dysfunctional, flaky God


Yesterday, I took a risk and finally started talking about the spiritual issues that I’ve been wrestling with for about a year now. Even though I stated that if the Baptist theology I grew up with is correct, then the Christmas story of Luke 2 is bullshit, I got mostly positive responses. In fact, I only got accused of heresy once!

So, that was encouraging. Thank you to all who responded (even you, heresy guy!).

Truth is, months before Rob Bell published his (in)famous book, Love Wins, I started questioning whether or not God could really send the majority of people to hell. And, if he could do that, how can we say that he is Love?

The trite answers no longer satisfied me. You know, things like, “God’s love is not like our love!” Well, geez, God’s love sounds a hell of a lot like hate if that’s true.

If we can know right from wrong–if the Spirit can convict us–then why does this version of God’s love seem so wrong to me?

If this is what God’s love is like, then why does the love that Jesus preached of seem like it’s antithesis? Why would he tell us to love our enemies, and then send his enemies to hell? Why would he tell us to do good to those that hate us, while punishing for all eternity those who didn’t even get a chance to know him?

Anyways, I don’t have answers for you right now. I’m still searching, praying, begging for God to show me the truth–to prove to me that he truly is good.

But it’s good to know I’m not alone. As I open up about these struggles, I find more and more people who are questioning the God that they grew up thinking they knew. I thank everyone in my life was willing to have these tough, confusing conversations with me.

I especially wanted to thank Abe Kobylanski. We’ll discuss this subject for hours on end. We’ll question and present one another with our feeble excuses for answers. We’ll cry and swear and flirt with atheism together. It’s hell, but we’re pushing through it together, and I’m thankful for his wisdom and insights.

This blog post (inspired by one of our long conversations) that he wrote last week has been especially weighing on my mind lately. I thought I’d close this blog post by sharing it:

It’s the manic, dysfunctional, flaky God view that I don’t get at all. So, God loved us all enough to send His son to die to save us from our sins (apparently, He didn’t love His son very much though). He tells us that we need to love people unconditionally. But God only loves us if we love Him. Otherwise, He becomes the Judgmental God and sends us to hell. But if we love Him, then we must follow His rules, or we’re not following Him and we’re slipping away from Him. Which means we never loved Him in the first place. Mmmkay…

Read the full post at Images and Words. 


22 thoughts on “On the manic, dysfunctional, flaky God

  1. We will never truly understand God or His ways. We always need to be careful when we are the one judging God’s actions and deciding what makes Him “good” or “loving”. God is God and we are not (He created us, not vice versa). I was just reading the book of Job the other day and the last few chapters of the book where God answers Job (after God allowed Satan to kill Job’s 10 children, destroy everything he owned, and cover his entire body in sores) are very humbling. Who am I to tell God who He should be? Our finite brains are trying to figure God out and that’s just not possible. I want to choose to trust that when I get to heaven I will finally see that everything God has done was perfect and good. I have so many questions now. But I want to choose to trust Him like Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

    One of my favorite verses is found in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, ” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    (Is that too trite for you?) Not a snarky question, just an honest one.

  2. Good question. Except that the context gets messed up :-)

    Please allow me to attempt an explanation :

    God is Holy. So much so that anything that is unholy simply cease to exist if it is placed at the same spiritual plane as God.

    Knowing this, God tweaked the rule to allow salvation.

    If someone *knowingly* and *willingly* rejects Salvation, then God has no choice but to place him/her into a plane where God is not present.

  3. I can’t claim to understand all of eternity myself, but as of right now, these are my personal answers for what you’re asking. (Keep in mind that my experience with God and the Church has been the polar opposite of yours: I grew up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic home where both parents hated anything having to do with Christians, church or Christianity.)

    The command to love others, to show the love of Christ, is part and parcel to set us apart from the rest of the world. At that time….and even still….the world in general is a cruel, selfish, cold place. I’ve seen first-hand how sin, at its most extreme, can lead to the ultimate, terrible end: Death. And a preventable one at that.

    By comparison (and I think I’ve told you this before), God’s love and forgiveness have, at my darkest times, been the only reason for me to hold on to the good, and not give in to evil. (To make myself clear, I’m *not* talking about anything to do with sex. That’s a completely different ball of wax with me that’s way too complex to go into here.)

    But here, you seem to be discussing Forgiveness rather than Love. Yes, God loves us all….but not all of us love Him back. And, if you’ve ever experienced unrequited love (general ‘you’, not Sarah specifically), you know what it’s like to care deeply for another person who doesn’t really care for you in the same way at all. Jesus didn’t come because He HAD to, necessarily, but because He WANTED to. In order to give us a better option out of this sin trap we seem to find ourselves in.

    The gift He offers is Forgiveness, and Eternity with Him. He offers it to WHOEVER WANTS IT. The problem is…..not everyone WANTS His Forgiveness. Or, more accurately, they want the Forgiveness without having to live by His rules. I. E., they want to be forgiven for being mean,nasty, and horrible to one another (and even themselves) without working towards being more loving, forgiving, and kind people themselves.

    I don’t know about you, but for the ones that I’ve known who truly loved God, and truly wanted to follow His most important command….to love other people…..I have found them to be the best people I’ve ever known. By contrast, often those I’ve run into who do not love God, who even HATE Him, are some of the meanest, most bitter, most unhappy folks I’ve come across.

    Again, I’m not talking about sexual issues; I feel that’s an entirely different (or at least much more minuscule) part of what I’m talking about here.

    If I knew nothing else about God than how true faith in Him transforms folks from bitter and unhappy to content, thankful, and loving, that would be enough.

    • Definitely agree that loving God can be transforming and that God loves everyone, but not all love him back. I just get a bit frustrated when I think of all the people who never had the chance to love him (because they didn’t know him or were raised in a different religion and fell in love with a God that they genuinely believed in) going to hell when they die. I have to think that there is a second chance after death. I think I’m starting to agree with the orthodox view of the afterlife that Scott mentioned in a comment above!

      • Isn’t hell just a separation from God? Why would God make people who don’t know Him or choose Him spend an eternity with Him? Other dertails of hell I am not clear on, all I am certain of is the separation.

        • Yes Hell is separation eternally from God and is also punishment for sin although God intended for Hell to be a place for Satan and his followers. And God gives us a choice instead of forcing us to follow Him. His love would mean far less if it was forced upon us just as it is with our relationship with others when it is chosen it is far more precious to us. But God cannot and I repeat cannot be around sin hence the reason we have to be separated if we have not chosen to accept the gift God has offered us through His Son Jesus Christ willingly dieing on the cross and shedding His blood for our redemption.

          • As anything identifiably Christian, I’ve only been a member of an SBC church, so of course I recognize what you wrote and have heard it many times.

            However, those statements cannot and do not describe the Christian God. They run counter to Scripture and counter to centuries upon centuries of Christian interpretation and understanding.

            Taken in order, it is simply not possible to be separated from God. Remember, our God is not only the creator God, everything subsists in him — in Christ as, for instance, Colossians tells us. In other words, all that exists is contingent on God. To paraphrase CS Lewis, to be discontinuous with God as I am discontinuous with you would be to cease to exist.

            As the Psalms tell us, there is no place we can go where God is not — even to the depths of Sheol. (And Christ fulfilled that as well by dying.)

            We see the tension between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11 ( and Habakkuk) where we are told the whole earth is filled with his glory, but one day it will be filled with the knowledge of his glory. Our God is everywhere present and filling all things. He transcends creation, but creation has no existence apart from him. (I’ve practiced a number of religions and studied even more over the years and I’m pretty sure that Hinduism and Christianity are the only two truly panentheistic religions — and believe me there is a vast difference between the two of them.)

            As far as the assertion that “God cannot be around sin” goes, that’s utter nonsense and contrary to the whole narrative of Scripture as well as the fullness of the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. From the moment God went seeking Adam in the garden, the narrative of our God is a God who seeks those who don’t want to be found, who chases those who have turned from him, and who asserts that his people is those who believe they are not his people. We see it everywhere. And he has his prophets, like Hosea, demonstrate the reality of God in their actions. Nor does he have any problem being around sinful or fallen angels — as the story of Job illustrates. He chases and remains faithful to Israel even as they are faithless. And then what do we see in Jesus? He not only had and has no problem with sinful people, he seems to actively sought them out and surrounded himself with them. Again and again, he goes to the people he wasn’t supposed to go to.

            I have no idea where this idea that God can’t handle being around sin and evil came from, but it describes a pretty pitiful and weak God, not the transcend, everywhere present Christian God. No it’s true that evil might have a hard time being around the unveiled love of God. But that’s something entirely different.

            I don’t even recognize the God you describe.

        • That’s a good point too. I wonder, though, if God would give people who didn’t know him, or people who rejected him because they didn’t understand him a second chance to know him and love him before he let them make that decision. I find it hard to accept that God would force us to make such a choice here on earth when many will never know him and others will never understand him. I mean, even we Christians don’t fully understand him. I sometimes wonder if all Christians will even want heaven once they get there and see it. I don’t know. So many questions. Definitely a good thought there, though. Thanks.

  4. I’ve learned a little about orthodox theology this year and I like what I’ve heard. I definitely need to read more into it. Thanks for sharing their view of the afterlife. It makes so much sense.

  5. First, the popular vision of ‘hell’ (and the strands that dominates evangelicalism) owes more to Dante than anything else. I would hardly call it the ‘traditional’ view of hell unless someone had a highly truncated sense of tradition. And you (and Abe) are right. That devolves into a bizarre, changing deity who seems at odds with Jesus much of the time. Even without directly considering hell, what many describe as ‘heaven’ doesn’t sound attractive to me (even leaving aside the fact that our ultimate destination isn’t ‘heaven’ but a healed, renewed earth). Who would describe as ‘heaven’ a place with a concentration camp at its center where people you have known and perhaps loved were being tortured day in and day out?

    The ‘traditional’ view of hell would have to be the Orthodox view, which can be traced as far back as we have any records of theological discussions on the subject. It’s based on the premise that God is love and God never changes, so what we all experience is the unveiled fire of God’s love. Some will experience it as warmth and comfort. Some will be tormented by the love of a God they do not want and cannot escape (for God even now is everywhere present and filling all things). His love is also a consuming fire.

    If you’re interested, I have a meandering series of my own on Hell in the categories on my right sidebar on my blog. There might be something in it you would enjoy or find helpful. You’ll probably want to read my single post on atonement (PSA, specifically) since that seems inextricably linked to the manic God as well.


  6. His heart is the earth, letters rearranged
    He who dipped the ink of his words into the darkness
    And drew the heavens and the earth.
    He who created man and woman with his very hands
    For they were the greatest of all his works.

    God, man, and woman played in the Garden
    In the cool of the day they took walks and talked
    And it was good.

    I hear you, I struggle with my faith constantly. I take that as a good thing. If I didn’t struggle, if I lived out of my own hubris to say, “I got this”, then what would that make me? Steeped in religion like a tea bag steeping in a dirty cup. I’ve given up trying to reconcile God into my humanity, into my human understanding. Most of my problems with God stem from my biological father and other people, not anything God has done. God is love. God loves me. It will probably take me the rest of my life to fully accept such a thing. God. Loves. Me. I find I spend so much time asking God why did this happen or what about this person, to avoid accepting God’s love. God is love. God loves me. I love God by loving other people as much as I love myself. And Lord knows, I love me some me.

    If I put it in a relational context, my love for God is messy and raw and sometimes we fight, sometimes there is major drama, sometimes I hurt His feelings, etc. Rules seem to choke all the poetry and soul out of an actual relationship with this completely foreign entity called Jehovah. It’s like a bunch of people decided, “Hey, we can’t deal with God actually loving us as we are, so we came up with a bunch of nonsense we call rules to control ourselves and other people because controlling behavior is more easily managed than letting people run wild loving God and loving other people.” “People: I control with rules so you can love God. God: I love you so you can be free. If you choose to love me back, I still love you. If you choose not to love me back, I still love you. You are free.”

    But the real funny thing is, how I see love is all kinds of jacked up, again due to pops and other people. But I can’t take that out on God, right? This may be somewhat all over the place, and I’m quite sick at the moment, but I like your post and want to throw in my two cents.

  7. Starting from the beginning God created man so that He may prove everything that He is. God is love but He wanted to manifest that to us. Only problem is we sinned and because of that God cannot maintain a pure relationship with us. To say that God does not love us is a completely false statement. And think about this if God is three in one then Jesus Christ is also God which means that God showed His love in the greatest form by giving Himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice in order to redeem us that way we might be restored if and only if we choose to accept this gift for ourselves. It is not God’s choice but rather ours as we slap God in the face for showing us His love and yet we still choose to sin. If God really wanted to He could have done something like the flood but instead wipe out all of mankind for our sin but yet He choose to provide an alternative to this demand for the payment that we so deserve.

  8. Just curious, have you read Love Wins? I just read it about a month ago and have been struggling with these questions too.

    • Ok, so I found Love Wins really compelling, especially because Bell’s use of scripture really seemed to back up his point of view. Since then I’ve been trying to find scripture that backs up the other, more traditional side to see whether the traditional view of judgement and hell is more biblical or more cultural construct. I was reading in Luke 13 this morning and in verses 22-30 someone asked Jesus if only a few will be saved. jesus response was, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” I’m having a hard time reconciling this passage with the inclusive God I want to believe in. What do you guys think?

      • Its not that God doesnt desire for man to choose salvation but in reality many will choose not. God did not send His Son to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. But there is still a punishment to be had for sin if a person is not willing to accept Christ then they have left God with no choice but to condemn them to hell but it is not God’s desire for this to happen.

        • The thing that bugs me though is that God doesn’t really give everyone a choice.

          • But its not the about the traditional view or the orthodox view its about the biblical view for the Bible states it is appointed unto man once to die then the judgement. Very clear that man has the chance on earth to either reject Christ or accept Him and I see no where in the Bible about a second chance after death.

      • See, I think everyone assumes that everything about Christianity is about escaping hell. We forget that Jesus talked much more about how to live here on earth. I think many people on earth will spend their lives like the rich man who didn’t want to give up anything. I think that’s a meaningless life that Jesus wants to save us from so that we can save others, like the poor, by giving to them. So, yeah, people will try and enter “the way,” but be unable to because all they want is a ticket out of hell, but they don’t really want to live the life of love that is the way of Jesus.

        • This is very true Sarah it isnt about escaping Hell but rather the purpose of salvation is to have our relationship restored once again with God just as He desires! Hell is real and it is the punishment for our sin though God does not desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance through Christ His Son and have a real relationship with them.

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