When God Offends

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One of the lines I often hear (and maybe you also do) is: “If that’s what God is like, I don’t think I could believe in him.”

And the list of objections are all over the place. It seems to be that if a person has an objection to something that is understood about the character or activity of God, if they find part of that offensive, then the objection is allowed to rule the day. And a relationship with God is benched.

Part of this sort of thinking and responding is encouraged by those who suggest that you can define eternal truth and reality however you want. If it seems real and valid to you, it is. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. As long as you believe it, that is enough. Sort of like Disney’s “all you need to do is believe” line from Peter Pan.

Curious, isn’t it, how we easily accept that this works for spiritual reality, but quickly agree it doesn’t work for pretty much any other part of life.

I tried to tell the cop in Smith Falls that I believed there was no stop sign. He smiled. But I still got a ticket. I tried to believe, really believe, that the grass wasn’t growing last week. Still had to cut it. I tried to believe that it was only Tuesday and I had LOTS of time before my blog would get published. Alas, it is very much Thursday afternoon.

Just because I find something in the character or actions of God offensive, doesn’t mean I can just dream up some alternative reality. Maybe instead of having to “rewrite” God, what I need to be doing is rewrite my expectations of God, or rewrite how I behave in life before God, or the like. Maybe the fact that I encounter something about God that offends me is more a sign that God is real and needs to be taken seriously, than that I need to go off and come up with some sort of spiritual belief that keeps me comfortable.

Dr. Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, suggests the following as a warning if we find this sort of line dancing in our head…

“Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have…a God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination…To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?”
― Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Jesus, for one, had no trouble offending all sorts of people. Writing off, or walking away from what he says, though, would be a huge mistake. It needs to be wrestled with.

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Thanks Doug for your article on being offended by God.  I don’t know what you were thinking when you wrote this article but I think it reflects some pretty narrow thinking.  Tell me Doug, are you at all offended by or object to the Muslim concept of God?  Of course they don’t believe in a Triune God.  How about the Mormon religion in which the angel, Moroni, gave the twelve golden plates from God to Joseph Smith to be translated into English?  Do you object to such a revelation of God?  How about the Hindu religion and their belief in a multitude of Gods which are manifestations of the one big God?  Do you object to that or are you offended at all by their religion?  Those religions and hundreds of other religions could ask you the same question you ask of others.  Those other religions, like Christianity, are supported by their own infallible Scriptures which they claim have been inspired or given by God.  What makes you think that our Bible is any more God’s word than their Scriptures?  And yet I imagine you take offense at those religions and doubt their veracity.  So why would anyone other than a Christian believe what is taught by Christians or within the Christian religion?  Christianity is just one of many, many religions in the world.  Why would you think that the world would possibly believe the Christian concept of God or Christianity any more than any other religion?

But bringing this closer to home, there is very little agreement among Christians as to Christian teaching.  There are many hundreds of Christian denominations.  Christians may agree on some very basic fundamentals, but otherwise there is very little agreement.  Just ask a Catholic, a Baptist, a Pentecostal, and a Reformed person what they believe about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or what will happen at the end of time.  Already there is a multitude of things to be offended by or to object to.  Our own Canons of Dort were written in opposition to Arminian beliefs.  Reformed Christians were greatly offended by Arminius and his followers.  Our own Reformed confessions call the Baptists and Catholics offensive names.  We have a long history of objecting to the beliefs of other Christians.  Are you saying they were wrong in their objections or at taking offense?  So whose Christianity or whose Bible is a person supposed to agree with wholeheartedly, Doug?

Sorry Ken, for calling you Doug.  My bad.

This quote "What happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest,..." begs the question: don't we do that all the time? Of course, we use sophisticated theological and hermeneutical gymnastics to rationalize it (especially the way we dissect the Old Testament) and it all comes out sounding plausible, unless we are willing to ask the tough questions, read and consider those passages that we have buried. So to pretend we don't pick and choose is patently false.