Bullying God

Over at Cogito Credo, a website I believe has content worth reading (and not just because I edit for them from time to time), C.E. Moore wrote a piece that is likely to cause some controversy, from the title alone.

Right from the get-go, Moore has offended half of those likely to read his article. Offense is not always a bad thing–after all, I hear the Gospel offends–but the question of when something moves away from grabbing someone’s attention and steps into territory of actual, honest offense is a bit blurry. I’ve heard stories of pastors uttering a vulgar word from the pulpit to make a point, and I’ve witnessed a few teachers do likewise. I won’t here comment on these sorts of practices, since I would rather spend the time talking about the content of the post, though the phenomenon is interesting enough to warrant a post from someone. Perhaps that someone will be me, but perhaps not.

If you make it past the title, what you will find is a discussion of bullying in multiple contexts, ranging from the schoolyard to mainstream rap to the Old Testament to the more recent history of the Church. While I don’t agree with everything in the article, and I think sometimes the hyperbole is a bit much, there are a lot of great points in the article.

For starters, I think Moore’s conclusions are pretty solid, for the most part. Concluding that we should not take advantage of grace by attempting to ‘bully’ God is a great point, and one that we need to live out. Framing Paul’s statements in Romans 6 in terms of modern day bullies is not only a helpful way to think about grace and sin, but I think an extremely accurate picture of what sin is to God: an offense. Sin is like punching God in the face, and Moore presents a solid line of questions reflecting one common thread: why are we surprised when God punishes the people who have been punching Him in the face? While I would rather steer clear of terms like ‘snapped’ in regards to God’s reactions, since they imply a lack of control, I still think Moore wades through the topic with relative clarity.

Perhaps the best bit in the entire article deserves quoting, since any attempt of mine to summarize or respond will not do it justice. Moore writes:

It never dawns on us that this is ridiculous. We’re hopping around, decking God in the side of the head with our lives, and then act surprised when He explodes. We quote Scriptures back to Him about His grace and mercy and how He’s supposed to work in our favor. We sleep with our girlfriends and blame God when they get pregnant and we can’t afford it. We cheat on our taxes and blame God when we get audited and lose our house and family. We treat others with no kindness whatsoever “in the name of Jesus” then blame God when we’ve got no friends and people speak low of us. We treat God like a commodity, like a weak-kneed schoolgirl, then are utterly flabbergasted when He flips out and we end up limping off, trying to pretend that didn’t just happen.

While I will reiterate my hesitation for terms like ‘flips out’ in relation to God’s actions, I still think this paragraph shows extremely well our tendencies.

The question of how patient God is fascinates me, if only because the framing of the question implies an answer; God only has a certain amount of patience. I wonder–and I actually do mean wonder; this is not a piece of rhetoric meant to imply one answer or another–if we should think of God’s wrath and justice in these terms. This scale of offense that we feel when people begin to perturb us escalates until we eventually snap, and our instinct is to assume God functions comparably, though infinitely better. There are times, though, when I wonder if perhaps sin is sin, God is offended, and deems the appropriate time to send down judgment. Any time we are not punished immediately and directly for a sin, there is grace.

Even without answering that particular question, the take-away from Moore’s post–and hopefully from this one–is that we should spend less time asking why God has punished us and much more time seeking to live up to the grace we have been offered.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

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J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).