Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Dark Side of God

Living in a foreign country has helped me to understand a little bit of how Christians think outside America. And for better or worse, I´ve discovered that culture cannot help but flavour your faith.

For example, I have berated the health-and-wealth Gospel for years, although I sprang from that particular fount. The truth is that it sprang from the baby-boomer years of the 1950s when certain Tulsa-based evangelists began to declare that you can be a Christian, AND be rich! Their message found a strong following because America began to flow in that vein. That strain of faith is re-heated like bad microwave food in Joel Osteen´s "Your Best Life Now." I call it Hyperfaith-Lite.

But I maintain that Christianity tends to mirror the culture that hosts it. I became more aware of it since being in Spain, because the Church has no similarity to the American Church. The mentality is different. The approach to faith is different. The expression of the Christian walk is a stark contrast. The Spanish church has its own issues, no doubt it. We are human, after all.
I am more qualified, however, to address the severe case of Plankeye we suffer from in the American church: The commonly-held belief that God is here to work nothing but good in our lives.
Let´s be honest. Our cultural filters portray God as the benevolent Creator of all, who is here to love and shepherd us, to comfort us in our darkest hour, and to provide all of our "needs." The truth is, this distorted view of God is a very Americanized view of Him. At His core, God is love. He IS all of those wonderful things.
And yet, He is the righteous Judge who can destroy our lives at any moment. He is bound by no promise to make us rich or prosperous. He cannot have his arm twisted to protect us from all harm. No man can thwart His purposes or stay His hand by quoting the latest "happy verses" from the Bible.
Let´s face it....God has a dark side.
Not evil. Dark. Threatening to our happy little American worldview.
He destroyed nations in the Old Testament. He ruthlessly decimated Pharoah´s army in the bottom of the Red Sea. He instructed the Israelites to "utterly destroy" several people groups. These are accounts that we gloss over by claiming "that´s Old Testament." But I say that God remains the same. Grace? Yes, I´ll have as much as I can! But let´s make no mistake: God is both Savior through Jesus Christ, but He is the Righteous Judge of all. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the blessed Comforter, but He is also given to us to root out the stubborn wickedness that remains in our hearts. It´s grim stuff.
God may destroy me. I may lose all that I have in the blink of an eye. My family might be taken from me. And God is completely justified in doing it all.
And in the end, we can only repeat Job´s prayer: "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord."


scott said...

Great post, and well spoken. I wonder sometimes where the line is between Job's "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord," and David's constant questioning of why God was doing what he was doing in the Psalms. I guess the constant thread is "You are God."

The Old Testament examples you give first were people that were being "punished" by God. Other nations, Pharoah's army, etc. Yet Job was not. So how do we know when the "bad things" are a "judgment" and that God is trying to root out stubborn wickedness, or just that bad things are happening? Are we to take everything bad that happens as "this is God testing me?"

More questions to ponder on an excellent topic.

Joe B said...

Great thoughts. But let me adjust the terminology a little:
"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 Jn 1:5)
God doesn't have a dark side, but life on earth tales us through many shadows and an occasional dungeon, even with Christ at our side.
Back in Isaiah 53:3 the Christ is described enigmatically, "as one from whom men divert their eyes", just as people instinctively look away from cripples or disfigured people. Jesus stepped into the darkness, but the darkness does not overcome him. Those who look upon the son of man are healed.
Some random thoughts.

void77 said...

JoeB: "...but life on earth tales us through many shadows and an occasional dungeon,..."

Good thing I still have my D20s !!!

Macca said...

Although I said that God isn´t evil or sinister, my explanation may not have been the clearest. When I say dark, I mean mysterious, unfathomable, or incapable of being boxed in as an entity.

Look at Psalm 97:

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.

That's the sense that I was trying to convey. That is the image of God that we comfycozy American Christians can't fathom. He's not being evil, just being God. Our cultural blinders just want to see Him as the happy Jesus gentle Shepherd.

And He IS the Lamb.

But He is also the Lion.

And Eric, I hate to tell you, but although you saved your 1d20, you failed your saving throw and will be paralyzed for 1d8 turns. :(

Mr. E said...

I was recommended to your blog by Big Doofus! He said you would know who he is. I agree, God has a Dark Side. Just goes to remind us that we can't put our own created little image of God into a box to take out when we need Him. He can do whatever, whenever He wants to. After all he has, is, and will give us warning after warning to change our attitudes and relationships with him. The OT (and a few times in the NT), shows us what our God is capable of. I really don't want to be on his "Dark Side" when Judgement Day finally arrives.

Joe B said...

Welcome, mysterious Mr E.

Okay, everyboby. PILE ON!!!

Big Doofus said...

Be nice to Mr. E or I will sneak into your houses at night and replace your intestines with horse hair and spaghetti.

Now, as far as this thread goes...very astute. I agree that we tend to "Americanize" our view of God. I've heard someone twist around scripture to say that "Man created God in his own image" and I have to admit that we tend to do that. Of course, I'm not saying that man created the idea of God and that He doesn't really exist. But we DO tend to create our ideas or perceptions of God based on our own culture. Plus, I think that as Americans we tend to think that we're right all the time--which really ticks other countries off.

So, is there a "dark side" to God? He certainly is mysterious. I think about this often. Sometimes, I actually feel guilty bringing some of my seemingly trivial requests before God and yet, I know that He wants me to bring my every need and desire before Him. I just need to understand that my life is not about being comfortable.

Now, all of you be nice to Mr. E. He and I go wayyyyy back...almost two or three months now...and we've never actually met. He's a blog friend--sort of like my relationship with JoeB but without the court administered restraining order.

Now go take on your day.

Joe B said...

The restraining order lapses in 4 days, and so help me.....!

Mr. E said...

Thanks for coming to my defense Big Doofus! I hope these guys don't bite. (Just kidding!) Looking forward to joining in from time to time. My first name is Mark by the way! I am a former teacher who was called Mr. E. by many of my students. I just like the way it sounds like mystery. Kinda Cool!