The Federalist God is a psychopath

Yesterday, after the mass shooting at baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene wrote: When the Saints of First Baptist Church Were Murdered, God Was Answering Their Prayers.

I gave Fiene the benefit of the doubt. Authors often don’t choose their titles, and editors are always looking for clicks, so maybe he didn’t really mean what the title said.

I read it. He meant it. I’m not familiar enough with Lutheran theology to say whether he’s describing it accurately, but it sure isn’t Catholic theology, and he makes God sound like a psychopath.

First, let’s discuss what Fiene probably meant to say. He meant to say that God can bring good out of any evil; that good will always triumph over evil; that evildoers can kill the body, but not the soul; and that this world is fleeting, but salvation is eternal. He perhaps meant to say that suffering can be salvific, and that physical suffering is not the greatest evil that can be. All true, if perhaps not as comforting to the grieving as he seems to believe.

And he was responding to some awfully cruel and boneheaded comments from the Twitterverse. Snarky atheists are saying things like, “If prayers did anything, [the murdered victims] would still be alive.” They seem to believe that people of faith expect God to leap in like a Jedi and mow down evildoers on behalf of anyone who prays. They betray a complete failure to understand the much-abused divine gift of free will.

Unfortunately, so does Pastor Fiene. Let’s look at what he actually says, what it implies, and how wrong he is.

ERROR #1: The world is evil

When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning . . . we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

This is gnosticism. In Genesis, it says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Although creation has been tarnished by original sin, the world is still good, and goodness and holiness can be achieved in this world, in this life. When we pray “deliver us from evil,” we are not asking God to hasten our deaths. We are asking Him to draw us closer to Him in this world so we can be with Him forever in the next.

If death were an answer to prayer, then murder, including abortion and euthanasia, would be the greatest act of charity.

 

***

ERROR #2: Everyone who calls himself “Christian” goes straight to Heaven

So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

We certainly pray and hope that this is what happened. But we cannot assume that every human who finds himself inside a church is automatically heaven bound. The victims may very well all be saints and martyrs; but the murderer may also very well have shot someone mired in mortal sin. When we sentimentally and carelessly declare all dead people “saints,” we deprive them of what all the dead deserve from us: prayers for their souls.

***

ERROR #3, and the worst: Evil has a place in God’s will

Sometimes, God’s will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil.

and

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

Pastor Fiene comes very close to saying that God wills evil. This idea is so outrageously false, even coming close to saying it is nearly blasphemy.

If God wills evil, He is not God. 

God can bring good out of evil, and He does. God can use suffering to save us, and He does (if we let Him). But listen to me now.

When a man mows down a pregnant woman and her children, this is not God’s will. Not even sorta kinda God’s will, not even God’s-will-by-way-of-man’s-screw-ups, not even a little ugly streak hidden inside the much nicer and larger kind of God’s will that we like better.

God does not and cannot will evil to happen, not even so that good may come of it. God allows evil to happen, because He has given us actual free will. He accepts that evil is in the world because of original sin. But He is the only source of good, and He is the source of nothing but good. Evil cannot come from Him, and He cannot will evil to come about. This is who God is.

When horrible things happen, there is always a contingent of Christians — sometimes even of Catholics — who insist we must breathe shallowly, stretch our eyes open very wide, stare fixedly into the shiny distance, and declare all things good-fine-happy-triumphant-wonderful-terrific and joy-joy-joy-now-now-now. There is always a contingent who will say these things even to the faces of people who have just suffered immense, incomprehensible grief.

It is blasphemy. Christ wept when Lazarus died. Christ begged for his suffering to pass in Gethsemane. Christ cried out in agony and desolation on the Cross. Why? Because suffering is real. Death is horrible. It is not from God. He accepted and allowed and used all the evil and suffering that came into the world through sin, but it was not His will that there should be evil and suffering. He wept.

This is why we hoist a crucifix front and center in our churches, and not a risen Christ: Because this good, great, beautiful, lovable world is soaked with real suffering and real grief. The Christian thing to do is to weep with the ones who mourn, just as Christ did. Not to tell them that a tricksy, winking God somehow wills it, somehow doesn’t mind our blood being spilled, and it’s really all right their babies are riddled with bullet holes, because God, that bastard, willed it to happen.

The crucifix means salvation. The crucifix also means that an immortal God knows what it means to suffer, bleed, and die. It means that God, the source of all that is good, has been pierced for our sins, and that salvation flows from his hands, feet, and side to wash away sin. Only goodness flows from Him. He pours out Himself. He does not, cannot, pour out death.

If you think there’s no difference between what I said and what Pastor Fiene said, then the God you worship does not know pain and is not truly human. He is not, in short, Jesus.

28 thoughts on “The Federalist God is a psychopath”

  1. “Pastor Fiene comes very close to saying that God wills evil.”

    I am not sure how close he comes to that, but he definitely doesn’t cross that line.

  2. So, isn’t God a psychopath for not only allowing His Son to be crucified, but for asking it of Him? Isn’t Jesus a psychopath, or at least a psychopathic enabler, for agreeing to the idea? Isn’t Paul an enabler for elucidating an entire atonement theology? Is the Virgin Mary a psychopath for indirectly encouraging the children of Fatima to tie rough ropes on their skin?

  3. Wow what a response Simcha I trully enjoyed reading your article and felt goosebumps and my heart race. what a beautiful, true and accurate faith us Catholics have as you have clearly pointed out. God bless you

  4. Perhaps someone could elucidate for me the fine distinction between “willing” something to happen and merely passively “allowing” it to happen. If I sit back and “allow” my child to stick a fork in a light socket and get severely burned, while I am right there watching the whole episode unfurl before me, then how is that somehow distinct from my “will” that the child do such a thing and experience the consequences? To not act in that situation means that I am willing – i.e., I have a “will”- that this go ahead and happen.

    On the other hand, if I see what is about to transpire and I immediately jump up, grab the fork, and save the child from harm, then it is obvious that my “will” is that this never happen.

    And then you get into such fine (and to me, utterly nonsensical) derivations as God’s “permissive,” “direct,” and “consequential” will (the last one makes me want to just gag in the way it tries to downplay the fact that the all – knowing God wills that the consequence take place).

    So someone please help me understand how there is anything more than one will that God has in all situations and covering all contingencies. I’m open to better understanding, but for the life of me right now, I simply cannot see how our all-knowing, omnipotent Father has anything other than a single will in any situation, a will which covers both the actions and the consequences.

    1. Read a little about the differences of permissive will and ordained will by googling those and EWTN for example. They often have good explainations.

      But for example, you probably don’t follow your mother around to make sure she doesn’t get a paper cut or to keep her from eating too many donuts. If you did, she’d probably tell you to bug off. But just because you don’t intervene to stop everything you think would be bad for her doesn’t mean that you will bad things to happen to her. It’s a little different for a young child because they don’t yet have enough maturity to monitor their own situations.

    2. I think a better example would be letting your kid suffer the consequences of going outside in November without a jacket despite the fact you reminded him several times.

  5. When God saw that what he created was good I’m pretty sure that was before Adam sinned. Just saying. Many other problems with your theology, but I’ll stick to just one. Maybe we should read some Pauline epistles too.

    1. Creation is still inherently good, even though affected by sin. To say otherwise is, I’m pretty sure, a heresy. I’m pretty sure that St. Paul was referring to man’s disordered relationship to creation, not suggesting that creation itself is bad. I think the problem is found more in man’s disordered relationship with creation (either worshiping it instead of the creator or refusing to be a proper steward of creation) than with creation itself. Creation is good, but not the greatest good. That’s different than saying creation itself is bad.

      If creation itself WERE bad, the implications would lead to gnosticism or else Jansism, both of which are proved heresies in the church. Wouldn’t it? Because if creation is bad, then we have to reject it. What implications does that have for our relationship with nature, or even with our own bodies?

      (I was a philosophy major in school, so I LOVE discussions like this. 🙂 )

      1. Okay, so man brought corruption. Man was created. Man is part of creation. Man is no longer good. God alone is good and holy. Do we agree on these things? We could also look at the several places that God directly destroys people and also when he orders the Israelites to do so. Do we as human beings have the standing to judge something being bad or good more accurately than God?
        King David pleaded with God to spare his son even though God had determined to take his son’s life. Was God not able in His sovereign will to step down and preserve life? I agree that God does not commit evil nor is He evil. The bigger problem is human beings struggling to classify events and behaviors.
        My son died. Is this evil? Yes, but only in the general sense that all deaths are the result of sin/death entering the world through original sin. He did nothing more than any sinner to deserve death, and I did nothing more than any other sinner to deserve to suffer his loss. It is simply in the hands of God, whether you want to say that God willed him to die or that God willed not to revive him to continue to live on this Earth. The death is God’s saints is precious in His eyes (using the biblical meaning of saint, not the RCC formal thing) “Precious” doesn’t mean that he loves death, just that he is on the complete other end of the spectrum from indifference towards it. To be absent in the body (death) is present with Christ. That is where my son is. Does it lessen the pain? I can’t tell. I’ve never felt so much pain in my life. But I decide not to resent God, or question Him, or relegate Him to impotence.

        1. We disagree that man is no longer good. Man is inherently good in his existence as man, even when he chooses to do bad things against his good nature. Man can choose evil and to go to hell, but he chooses to do so in part by denying his good nature, and God honors that choice by allowing him to go to hell…yet even in hell he exists (albiet barely), and existence itself is a good. (I think we might be missing each other here over a difference in definition of ‘good’…am I correct in assuming that you come from a Protestant faith tradition? Catholic and Protestant understanding of the nature of grace and man’s fallen nature (and what that falleness implies) tend to be very different from one another. One of the (actually relatively few) areas we actually really disagree).

          God is the source of all goodness and holiness, so yes, I suppose in that sense, since to Him all goodness owes its existence. But that does not mean that we can erase the inherent dignity we have as good creations of God by sinning. We deny it, we ignore it, but we can’t erase it.

          God ‘writes straight with crooked lines’ in that He can take even the evil of death and use it for His glory, for the good. I think what Simcha is saying is that He doesn’t WANT death, but He honors the choice our sinful ancestors made in that He allows us to experience the consequences of our sin, including death…but brings glory and goodness out of it. Id hardly call that impotent. That was sort of the point of the incarnation of Christ.

          Yes, the death of God’s saints is precious in His eyes because he has been able to use even the great evil of death to bring us to Him.

          My heart goes out to you over the death of your son. As a mother, that’s my greatest fear and I cannot even begin to imagine the pain you must be in. Be assured of my prayers.

          1. Well put. Yes it is helpful to know where we disagree. Thanks for clarifying all of that. This is a much better discussion than many I’ve had with other theological contexts and arguments. Thanks again!

          2. Thought about it a bit more, thought I should add this…

            I do think God chooses when to allow our deaths, and that the reasons for His timing can be utterly inscrutable to us. In that sense, I think you’re correct about the futility of man trying to make sense of God’s actions, at least in this life.

          3. Thanks to you too for the discussion! As I said, I really enjoy talking about this stuff, and it’s nice to meet someone else who does too. 🙂

          4. I have no idea if you’re still reading this Evan, but I thought of something really important I may have given a wrong impression on.

            I just wanted to clarify that even though Catholics believe man is inherently good, we also believe that we would all go to hell, as a consequence of our ancestors sinful actions, if not for the free gift of grace of Christ on the cross ( a prime example of God using the evil consequences of our actions and making them the means of our salvation, by becoming Man and bearing them Himself).

            I just realized the way I wrote it could read like all man has to do is say “I’m good!” And he’s good to go. Not the case at all, of course. “All sin and fall short of the glory of God”.

        2. “To be absent from the Body is to be present with Christ. “. Reread that passage. Paul is saying he would prefer to be absent from the Body and present with Christ. He does not present it as a fait accompli.

  6. Meow meow meow meow,
    meow meow meow meow,
    meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow;
    meow meow meow meow,
    meow meow meow meow,
    meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow!

        1. Joe D’Hippolito has been commenting on my work for years, and I have long since learned that his thoughts are always vastly improved when translated into cat. It’s just another service I offer.

  7. Thank you Simcha. As a cradle Lutheran, now Episcopalian, I can assure you that is NOT Lutheran theology. That is the product of a sick, twisted mind. Thank you very much for your reflection on sin, suffering and the grace of God.

    1. Just curious, did you read the article she’s talking about when you proclaim “that is a product of a sick, twisted mind”? Or do you mean that the way she is describing it sounds sick and twisted. I only ask because I just read the article, and in no way did I get the picture that the guy is trying to say God is a psychopath who likes to use evil to do his will. It seemed clear to me that he is speaking of God’s permissive will because he clearly states “God allows” . Anyway…I don’t agree with everything the guy says, but he’s clearly not sick and twisted.

  8. Thank you for this. This is a beautiful reflection on how good this earth is and how beautiful His creation when we are tempted to say otherwise. The kingdom of heaven is here. Sometimes I have to make myself say it again and again. Cynicism.

    What pain to even pause momentarily, and reflect on what those poor people are experiencing! I don’t even understand how evil can be so evil.

    I take a little comfort in knowing that God comes mysteriously in the darkest hour, *except* if you are God made man, experiencing the ultimate pain:
    “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
    Great saints have experienced a taste of this too. Even the atheists don’t experience that much darkness–they are obsessed with God because they are wresting with Him like Jacob.

    There is no suffering on this earth that God hasn’t himself experienced. He has experienced the very worst. The dregs of suffering. The ultimate darkness. He has passed over that dark path before us.

  9. He may be trying to express God’s permissive will versus God’s ordained will. You actually explain it well but use different wording than is traditionally used. if that’s what he is saying then it is not blasphemous.

  10. Someone in your Facebook comment thread mentioned Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I was reminded of his poem about St. Margaret Clitheroe, which shocked me when I first read it:
    GOD’S counsel cólumnar-severe
    But chaptered in the chief of bliss
    Had always doomed her down to this –
    _Pressed to death._ He plants the year;
    The weighty weeks without hands grow,
    Heaved drum on drum; but hands also
    Must deal with Margaret Clitheroe….

    I have trouble making anything of this that doesn’t make God seem like a monster. In my experience similarly troubling expressions (in prose form) aren’t all that rare among Catholic spiritual authors when they talk about accepting what God merely permits in the same spirit as we accept what He directly wills.

    1. I took his meaning to be that God foreknew of St. Margaret’s death, and its manner, but His foreknowledge does not mean He caused it. The entire poem is a paean to her heroism in the face of torture and death; Manley-Hopkins likens her to Christ during His passion. God is not evil and never wills evil; He does, however, permit evil to bring about greater good. And if He didn’t spare His own Son, then why do we hold it against Him when He allows others to die for Him? We don’t understand what good this all can do, but then again, we see as through a glass darkly. God is by no means a monster but He is a little strange to us; He is inscrutable, and He will remain so always, even when we see Him face to face in eternity. That we accept that with the same spirit we accept whatever we can know of Him via Christ and His Church is simple faith, which can be the hardest thing of all for us.

      1. Aye, lass, but He didn’t stop it either, did He?

        That is what the atheist would reply, and something I have struggled with for years. When it gets too intense, all I can do is remind myself that He is God and I ain’t.

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