Is God a monster?
Has someone ever asked you the question above, or perhaps you asked it yourself?
Fifty years ago, this question was practically taboo in America. However, a lot has changed culturally in that time. Secularism is the new religion, even when people claim Christianity, and as pluralism has won the day in the public square, this is the kind of question that Christians now find themselves answering.
It is a fair question.
Maybe, instead of getting mad that someone would even consider asking such a question, we should consider its ramifications. After all, to someone who does not believe in God (atheism), or perhaps does not know if God exists (agnosticism), the evidence to support God can easily be turned on its head. For instance, if God exists, why is there suffering in the world? Why is there injustice? Why does it seem those who have the least ability to protect themselves are subjected to atrocities that people in the States cannot fathom? (Take for instance the child soldiers in Uganda.) More importantly, if this all-powerful being does exist and he lets this stuff happen, how can he be good?
Is God a monster?
This question becomes even more complex when one considers certain passages in the Bible. Some of the stuff God tells Israel to do in the Old Testament sounds horrible. In the book of Joshua, God tells Israel to go into battle with certain nations and kill them, all of them. They were to kill every man, woman, child, and even the livestock. Then, the cities and all that was in them, everything, was to be completely destroyed.
When you look at today’s injustice, and these commands from God in our own Bible, it is no wonder people would ask the above question. Yet, the question itself reveals a lack of perception in our culture. It shows us that we do not understand God’s character, who he really is, and that we fail to understand man’s character as well.
The best way to understand someone is simply to hear what they say about themselves. It is only fair to give God the same courtesy. He has said a lot about himself in his word. The Bible is essentially God’s description of himself. It is arguably more than that, but it is certainly no less. God reveals his character in the Bible. Unfortunately, we let popular culture dictate who we think God should be instead of turning to his self-description. The pop view of God is more often than not some fuzzy teddy bear in the sky that is supposed to make things better for us when something bad happens. People try to use God like a rabbit’s foot or a vending machine, like some cosmic blessing dispenser.
That is not the picture God paints of himself.
Take the book of Exodus for instance. The main purpose of that whole book is, in God’s words, “that you may know that I am the LORD.” In the Exodus, God is anything but a teddy bear. Instead, he is a warrior, who reaches down with a mighty and outstretched arm to deliver his people from slavery. He is unstoppable. He is all-powerful, and truthfully, downright scary. He lays waste to the mightiest nation of the world at the time but with good reason. They will not heed his words and let his people go. They will not obey the only true God.
After making Egypt completely impotent, God actually parts an ocean and walks a nation across the sea floor only to close it in on the entire Egyptian army. Then, God goes before his people in a blazing pillar of fire. Imagine, a giant wall of fire marching you forward through the desert. The people reach the Mountain of God, and this fire rests on top of the mountain as a cloud.
Here, read it for yourself:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain (Ex 19:16-20a, ESV).
This God is no teddy bear.
But, Exodus does not just describe a God of unimaginable power it tells us he is holy. Holiness is a term lost in our culture today. We no longer know what it means. In most instances, the word has come to mean “religious.” Something is holy if it deals with religion in some way. It can also refer to people who do not do bad things. However, the word has a much fuller meaning than either of these contemporary definitions.
If God is holy, it means he is set apart. He is that that is altogether different from everything else. How so? Everything, except God, came from God. Everything else is less than God, because God is its creator. He is the ultimate other. Nothing can compare, as everything is less than him. Furthermore, if God is truly holy, then his character sets all standards. We do not judge God based on our categories; instead, we must make our categories based on God. He is the zero-point of the cosmos.
He is the standard for purity. He is the standard for righteousness.
Which leads us to our misunderstanding of humanity.
Despite the fact that we live in a culture of cynicism (If you do not believe me, just watch The Colbert Report, John Stewart, Rush Limbaugh or the View. I could go on.), we still think man is not really that bad. On a global level, we see societies as corrupt, but on a personal level, most of us think of ourselves as decent people. We at least try to do the right things. If most people are honest, they see others (like terrorists in Africa) as bad and themselves as decent people.
Yet, this could not be further from the truth.
When we think God’s wrath is mean or unfair, we greatly misunderstand just how evil we are. To think of God as a monster is to make little of sin. Sin is the world’s disease. It has tainted every corner of creation, and it is our fault. Mankind is so full of evil, we cannot do good. No civilization, no government, no people, no family, no individual (save one) in all of history has been anything except evil. Our sin is so much greater than we ever realize.
If we look at the great injustices in the developing world and cry out that it must stop, then how much more does God, the Holy One, look down on the earth and see all of our evil and cry out that it must all be stopped?
We praise a man as a hero if he stops a rapist or child molester, but we look at God’s commands in scripture to destroy an evil people as somehow mean. In truth, the obliteration that happened to those unholy nations is what the whole earth at the time deserved, even the people of Israel. It was instead, an act of grace that God did not wipe the whole earth clean. It is still an act of grace today that God does not wipe the earth clean.
No, God is not a monster. The only one innocent enough to blame the entire world for its evil and powerful enough to wipe it out chose to stay his hand. He should have destroyed mankind back in the beginning. Instead, in his patience, he has overlooked our sin, a sin that deserves his all-powerful wrath, and make a way for us to return to him.
Will God end this evil? Yes.
How? It has already begun, but is not yet completed. Death and evil have been conquered in Christ. He, who knew no sin, became sin, so that we could be counted as righteous.
That is not monstrous, that is merciful.