When your god must die

I know the difficulties of belief in our world. As Charles Taylor point out in Secular Age, over a period of a few hundred years, we went from an enchanted world with a presumption of belief to a disenchanted world with a presumption of unbelief in transcendent realities. The story Taylor tells is complex with responsibility for this turn of events laid not at the feet of godless atheists, but in large part at the feet of the faithful trying to make a reasonable account of their belief in an increasingly skeptical world. Point is, belief is hard and sometimes Christians are unwittingly their own worst enemies.

I have friends who have given up on belief in one form or another, or at least they’ve given up on what they believed. To a person, I recognize their struggle because I struggle with the exact same things. I was listening to the Avett Brothers this morning and resonated with the lyric, “I know about Jesus and the cross, But I cannot explain the holocaust.” Actually, I think what most people know about “Jesus and the cross” blocks them from any kind of meaningful thought related to the holocaust. But that’s for another post.

Which brings me to my main point. Too often, we believe in a god that must die. I don’t mean making material things our god, or our bodies or our wellbeing, though these gods might also need to die. I mean the god we have imagined needs to die. For instance, the god whose will is expressed through the control of every event, whose sovereignty is directly measured or accounted for in relation to every outcome in life: that god must die. Ultimately, that account of God and the world will fail, and thinking believers will see right through the platitudes associated with that kind of belief.

There are other versions of godless gods. A close cousin to the god of sovereign control is the god who secures good outcomes for those with enough faith. This usually doesn’t kill the belief of those who hold fast to this confession–they believe it because things are going well for them–but kills belief in sensitive friends whose lives are not going as well. They must be doing something wrong, not praying hard enough, not living quite right. They feel that God has failed them, that God notices others, but ignores them. And at that point, all the big questions of suffering rear their heads and seem insurmountable. It’s ok to let that god die.

The god of wrath whose justice has to be satisfied with blood before forgiveness can occur. Yeah, it’s all right for that god to die.

And here’s the part I’m learning. This isn’t lack of faith. Belief is lost because people have faith in the kinds of things that God does as well. They often teach me things about God because they ask the right questions. So, I’m learning to sit patiently and quietly. It’s hard. I love these people and it’s hard to see them angry and hurt and confused. But I also know I don’t have an answer to the way they’re asking the question. And I know this as well. My god will die too. And this is the thing that makes faith in the living God possible.

About Mark Love

I am the Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who lives in Portland, OR. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and three amazing granddaughters.
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5 Responses to When your god must die

  1. Patti Bowman says:

    Thank you, Mark, as always, for this helpful & thoughful word. Emmanuel.

  2. Jerry Wolfe says:

    Letting a god die calls for grieving and the most difficult part of that is sometimes having no one in the church to sit with us on the ash pile of that grief. Good words, Mark. Thank you.

  3. Shannon Amburn says:

    I feel seen. Thanks for this.

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