Evangelical Christians are taught that God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside of them. They are also taught that God speaks to them through the Bible, during their prayers, and is intimately involved in their lives. God is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, and everywhere. David illustrates this view of God in Psalm 139:7-16:
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me,and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me;even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
For thou hast possessed my reins:thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works;and that my soul knoweth right well.
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret,and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written,which in continuance were fashioned,when as yet there was none of them.
I consider Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer, an excellent treatment of the issue of theodicy. (the attempt to reconcile evil and suffering with the characteristics of God revealed in the Bible) For many of us former Evangelicals, God’s indifference to evil and suffering is one of the reasons we deconverted.
When we were Evangelical Christians, we were taught God is kind, loving, and gracious, and He has a wonderful plan for our lives. (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11,12) We were taught that he would never, ever leave us or forsake us. We were taught greater is He that is in us and he that is in the world. Yet, as we began to free ourselves from the tentacles of the Bible and the Christian God, it became clear to us that God is AWOL. In fact, God is quite like Baal in 1 Kings 18:
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.
And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
Every Evangelical has heard stirring sermons preached from 1 Kings 18. I have preached numerous times from the text, and my sermon on this text was considered by many one of my best. It is a story of God vanquishing evil and proving that he alone is the one, true, living God. It is a reminder that all other gods are false gods.
But, for those of us who had doubts, we began asking, where is this God who sends fire down from heaven and vanquishes the foes of his people? As we looked at the evil and suffering in the world, the Christian God seemed a lot more like Baal; a God who was too busy talking, sleeping, or using the toilet, to bother himself with evil and suffering on planet Earth.
Just today, tragedy struck a poor family in the NW Ohio community of Tiffin. A fire raged through a rented mobile home and killed five children and their father. Their mother survived because she was working. The oldest child was six.
Where was God when this fire was raging? When these poor children and their father screamed in agony as they were burned alive, where was the Christian God? Statements about God being above wrong and God being sovereign fall on deaf ears. If God is all that Evangelical Christians say he is, why does he allow such horrific events to happen? If God is all that Evangelical Christians say He is, why did He do nothing as fire burnt their bodies and smoke robbed them of their breath?
God’s way is not our way, the pious will say, and to this I agree. We sinful, frail, loathing worms would not stand by while a family was burnt to death. We would not appeal to some higher purpose to excuse inaction. Instead, we would do all we could to rescue five poor children and their father.
I have come to the conclusion that humans are, in every way, superior to the Evangelical Christian God. Horrendous and vile is the God who can but won’t. It should come as no surprise then, that many people conclude that the God of the Bible is no God at all. We can then embrace the suffering of our fellow humans and do all we can to make sure such a tragedy does not happen again. As for God? He can go to hell.
Some pious reader will likely attempt to accuse me of using this tragedy as a platform for attacking God and Christianity. I reject such a charge. When tragedies like this occur, we SHOULD take a hard look at our beliefs and how they fit the reality we call life. I am the same way with the murderous carnage at the Navy Yard today. The NRA crowd will say we shouldn't talk about guns and gun control right now. Why not? Why should we not FINALLY take a long, hard look at the American gun culture, the NRA, and gun regulations? If not now, when?
It is also time for us to have a serious discussion about poverty in America. A family of seven living in an old, decrepit, fire-trap of a mobile home. A family without a car. A family scraping to get by. Having lived in a mobile home very similar to this one in age and size, I know that they are fire-trap, filled with construction materials laced with Formaldehyde. Even with working smoke alarms, this family still perished. The poor don’t need any prayers. They need help!