It matters what we believe.
A Condemning God?
Maybe you’ve heard this criticism of Christianity before: that God is unfair because He gives people the death penalty for not choosing Him. That doesn’t reflect the goodness they associate with their conception of God, so they feel there must be no God.
One flaw in this thinking is that God doesn’t punish us for not choosing Him. Man is corrupted in his being already, and therefore is not fit to reside with a perfect God. The Bible doesn’t say that God condemns people to hell. It says that we’re condemned to hell already. The death sentence is already in place. What Christianity holds is that Christ saves us from that sentence.
Christian devotion is a process of peeling back the layers of corruption within ourselves. Upon doing so we find that it goes deeper than we thought. In this way, the apostle Paul, of all people, came to call himself “chief of sinners.” This process can be a disheartening enterprise, except that it also reveals God to us more clearly, and that induces humility, and that induces greater closeness to God, and so on.
What this process should do for us is remove any illusions. We’re morally corrupted in every part of our being, and therefore the repair work of Christ in history (begun, from our perspective, long ago and to be completed in the future) is deeper and more thorough-going than we like to imagine.
This can lead, incidentally, to a sense that it’s pointless to try to improve; that the more we peel back the layers of corruption, the more we find that needs addressing. Why carry on?
It would have to be because we’re admonished to do so. Knowing that we can’t get to the end of the corruption is not a reason not to try. That sounds like naked Kierkegaardian Christian existentialism, but there’s more to it. At the same time we’re learning that our own orientation is to incorrigibility, we’re also learning of God’s purity, in contrast. If we love God, we love the good, the true, and the beautiful. He is the Author of those values. In fact, their embodiment.
Not to pursue God is to not pursue those ultimate values embodied in the person of God. To reject those values is to give up and let go. To fall into the abyss of nihilism.
That alternative is horrifying. Is there another? There isn’t really, so what many do, upon rejecting God, is to float through life avoiding the bigger questions, living life with blinders on, like what we put on horses’ bridles to keep them from being spooked. That alternative, after rejecting God, may seem preferable.
This takes us to what may be the best explanation of that modern phenomenon of insouciant, shrug-of-the-shoulders agnosticism. On this most important question anyone can ever grapple with, the existence of God, it seems that more and more, people say “no” to Christianity, and only then find themselves unable to replace it with a coherent set of beliefs about ultimate reality. Partly this is the result of a trick of thinking: saying what one doesn’t believe, instead of what he does. But it’s also the result of simple denial. It seems preferable not to open our eyes and accept what’s really at stake.
Christianity seems too fantastical to some people now, what with virgin birth, walking on water, and resurrection. It’s easy in this era to adopt the dogma that there is a natural explanation for everything. But having done so, it’s difficult to then accept the implications of the God-less materialism that remains.
It’s either one way or the other: the true and the good and the beautiful point us to an Author of those values; or, they are considered ground-up inventions of man and utterly without foundation, meaning, or purpose.
An omnipotent God can seem too much of a stretch. But the alternative is worse than bleak. The tensions between them might explain the puzzling tendency to try to park in a non-existent zone of neutrality.