Category Archives: Theodicy
We love the book of Isaiah. It is filled with beautiful messianic prophecies and visions of the coming kingdom age when God has renewed everything. In between those visions, however, is a lot of judgment.
Assuming the prophecies are in chronological order, the book begins with five chapters of sin-blasting prophetic preaching.
A shift occurs in chapter six when Isaiah finds himself in the presence of YHWH and is suddenly cognizant of his own sin.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is an unbiblical cliché. Closer to scripture would be to say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin in myself.” “Judge not that you be not judged,” said Jesus. Judgment is God’s work. Mine is to love others. All others.
It’s about 742 BC. Uzziah has been a good king, reigning for over half a century. Now he’s dead. What’s to become of the nation, especially now that the Assyrians are on the move? Tiglath-pileser III is already brutally destroying city after Neareastern city. Many of their citizens preferred mass suicide to falling into his tortuous hands.
Isaiah now realizes he is complicit in the national sin. He is humbled and repentant, but Isaiah’s message is still not comforting in the short term. Utter destruction is coming to the northern kingdom of Israel and to most of Judea as well (c. 722 BC). Jerusalem alone will be miraculously spared, but not forever. Another even more powerful kingdom will arise. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon crushed what remained of Judea and Jerusalem in 586 BC.
Why is all this bad stuff happening to Israel and Judea? Are these not God’s chosen people?
Isaiah answers plainly, as do all the Old Testament prophets. Read through the book. Look for what the sins of Israel were.
What sorrow awaits the unjust judges
and those who issue unfair laws.
2 They deprive the poor of justice
and deny the rights of the needy among my people.
They prey on widows
and take advantage of orphans. (10:1-2; NLT)
- These religious people have not only been unjust, they have used religion to justify their injustice.
- They have not cared for the poor, the refugees, and the oppressed.
- They have not stood up for the marginalized and disenfranchised against the oppression of the powerful.
- They have accepted, even supported, corrupt leaders filled with greed.
- They have been characterized by haughtiness, pride, consumerism, and opulence.
- They have championed militarism and the official use of violence.
Listen as well to Amos:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
(Amos 5:21-24 The Message)
Does this apply to us, to me?
Some definitions are necessary:
- White supremacy is simply the dominant culture in North America. Euro-Americans hold most of the wealth and power.
- Nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism) is exalting one nation over all others and seeking to impose the culture and values of that nation on others.
- White privilege is not individualistic. It refers to the reality of natural benefits and mechanisms. It means your skin color is not held against you. Privilege includes what you don’t get (followed, surveillance, redlined, pulled over, assumed guilty, etc.)
- Black lives matter. No one is saying other lives don’t matter. Black lives matter means black lives also matter, just like other people. (And, by the way, there is no coalition that supports rioting, looting, and violence, but if I am more concerned with looting than with a police officer murdering an innocent man, something is amiss with me.)
- Systemic racism is the maintaining of the dominant culture via policy, law, and structure. It is usually not overt.
- Race is a human construct. There’s only one race – the human race. God created us of one blood. There is no such thing as a “white” or “black” race – those terms were invented to justify chattel slavery.
- Ethnicity is how we see ourselves.
I live in the wealthiest most militarily powerful nation on earth. It was built on land stolen from native people with the sweat of people kidnapped from Africa. Native American/Indigenous people and African Americans have been and are being oppressed, targeted and abused consistently by those in power.
Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, dedicated Christian George Floyd, … the list goes on. Killed by officers of the law. All but elderly Ms. Johnston unarmed.
A Harvard graduate bird watching in Central Park … faux panic that could have gotten him killed for asking a Canadian white woman to please leash her dog.
But it’s way more than this.
It’s not just a few rogue cops or an occasional racist.
It is a dominant white culture that uses its power to oppress and perpetuate injustice.
It is lynching, Jim Crow, KKK, segregation, red-lining, gentrification, lack of affordable housing, lack of access to healthcare, food deserts, and responding to “black lives matter,” with “all lives matter,” and “blue lives matter.”
It is political promises without any systemic change.
It is a freeway system purposely designed to cut off black communities from jobs and transportation.
It is monuments honoring those who were in active, open, armed rebellion against the United States of America for the purpose of maintaining slavery. It is Confederate battle flags. It is neo-Nazi rallies. It is “Make America Great Again.” America has never been great for African-Americans. Since European invaders arrived with their guns and smallpox, it has not been great for the native peoples who had lived here for 10,000 years.
It takes 11.5 generations of African American families all doing the right things to build the intergenerational wealth Euro-Americans have in one generation.
It is not by chance that COVID-19 has hit the black and native communities harder than anywhere else.
It is lack of inclusion in places of power. It is C-suites and church boards void of people of color. It is lack of opportunity.
Every empire oppresses. Every dominant culture seeks to retain power by pushing down others. Religion is used to justify dominant power.
Not so for those who follow Jesus. Kingdom of God power is expressed in service:
42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10, ESV)
Isaiah cries out with predictions of devastation and ruin. That’s not the end, however. Messiah is coming. A new world is coming,
“Come let us reason together …”
“A virgin shall conceive …”
“Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given.”
“Wonderful. Counselor. Might God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.”
“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHWH as the waters cover the sea.”
Swords become ploughshares; spears are forged into pruning hooks; children play safely in the streets; wolves and lambs cuddle; lions and ox graze side by side. Peaceable Kingdom. The Beloved Community.
The Kingdom of God is future and not yet. It is here and now. “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”
How does this new kingdom come about?
By the cross. By the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And, what is that good news?
Jesus begins his ministry quoting Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)
If it’s not good news to the poor, it’s not the gospel.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)
No divisions. No more Jew, gentile, male, female, black, white, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, socialist, or market capitalist. All one in Christ, just as Jesus prayed we would be (John 17).
One Body of Christ – one multinational, multilingual, multicultural, intergenerational Body of Christ. The church universal.
Jesus died to tear down the walls that divide humans and to create within himself one new humanity (Eph. 2:11-18). Reconciliation is just as essential to the atonement as forgiveness of sins. If we omit racial reconciliation from the Good News, what we preach is simply heresy.
Anti-racism lies at the core of the gospel. As long as we truncate the gospel into “accept Jesus and you’ll go to heaven when you die,” and relegate justice issues to an optional add-on, we miss the entire point of the Bible.
Jesus did not come just to save a few souls. Jesus came to rescue and redeem the entire cosmos. Jesus came to make all things new. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus came to create a new humanity based on cruciform love. This new humanity is the church, the people of God. They are drawn from every conceivable nation, language, culture, and ethnicity. The church transcends all social, religious, gender, and national boundaries and ideologies. It is the Beloved Society. It is just. Equity reigns. The greatest serve. Power is displayed by self-sacrificial lovingkindness.
Judea and Israel were crushed because they failed to care for the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and discounted.
When he came into the presence of YHWH, Isaiah cried, “Woe am I, I am a man of unclean lips …”
Humility involves being teachable, learning from others, listening.
Am I a racist?
My knee-jerk answer is “of course not!” I was raised in a progressive, educated, lower-middle class home where we supported civil rights. Some of my ancestors fought to end slavery.
But … the culture I was raised in was racialized; our neighborhood was all white; I had my first black teacher in junior high school; I was never taught the true history of American genocide of the indigenous, nor of the brutality of slavery. I didn’t know what redlining was, or that police forces were first formed to capture run-away slaves, or that poverty produces despair and breeds violence. I had never heard of the Tuskegee syphilis or the University of Cincinnati radiation experiments. I had no idea how prevalent lynching was and that it occurred into the 1960s. I was ignorant of the middle passage. I had no conception of what it would be like to have no healthcare or to live in neighborhoods where you can’t buy healthy food. Until I was in high school and tutored children with missing ears nibbled off by rats when they were infants and developmental delays from eating lead-based paint chips in a desperate attempt to assuage hunger, I had never seen real poverty.
I have benefitted from the twin evils of stolen land and stolen people. I am not responsible for the sins of previous generations, but I have been complicit. I have white privilege. I have never worried about being shot during a traffic stop. I have never been suspiciously followed in a store, or had women jump abruptly off an elevator when they saw me approaching, or had someone call the police on me when I was bird watching. I didn’t need to give my son “the talk.”
What to do?
“Come now, let us reasontogether, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool. (Is. 1:18 ESV)
I lament, crying in prayer on behalf of those victimized and for those who oppress.
I repent. Repentance simply means to change your mind.
Humility means I listen. I listen to the voices of African Americans and Native Americans. They really do have worthwhile things to say. I read the theological, historical, and sociological works of Afro-Asiatic scholars. I try to be teachable. I try to listen.
I use my relative lack of melanin (which oddly gives me privileges) to speak up against injustice.
I purposely nurture friendships with people of other ethnicities.
I ask the Holy Spirit to guard my heart and fill me with love.
I’m a hospital chaplain. I’ve been around grief. Some people deny what is happening. Others get angry and lash out, blaming, for example, a physician. Those of northern European decent may try to keep a stiff upper lip. Those of African or Latin decent may fall on the floor in loud wails. The only wrong way to grieve is to try to force yourself not to grieve.
The iconic painting by Norwegian Edvard Munch that he titledThe Scream of Naturedepicts the blending of uncertainty and uncontrollability in nature with human anxiety. The chaos of nature has invaded the human psyche. The painting perfectly depicts a panic attack.
Today, nature appears to have run amok.
The United States leads the world in COVID-19 infections and deaths. At last count, there have been about 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the USA.The US has 4% of the world’s population and over 25% of the COVID-19 deaths. One hundred thousand souls; 100,000 moms, dads, sisters, brothers, children, parents; 100,000 souls created in the image of God; 100,000 human beings for whom Christ died. And that’s just in this country.
The most vulnerable are the hardest hit. The homeless, those living in poverty, those who must go to work at jobs where they have to be around others, those who live in crowded spaces, those with underlying health conditions and little or no access to healthcare. The 22% of US counties that are predominantly African-American have 52% of the COVID-19 cases and 58% of the COVID deaths. Systemic institutionalized racism.
If my heart does not break, if I am not deeply moved by those statistics, I must question whether I am in touch with Jesus at all. It is time to grieve. It is time to lament. It’s the only way to get to hope. There are no shortcuts.
Had cities and states not been practicing public health measures (wash your hands, stay social distant, wear a mask), the situation would have been far worse up to this point. Out of 331 million people, only 13 million have been tested. The virus is airborne and easily transmitted. Simply by saying hello, a person with no symptoms can infect dozens of others.
As much as we long to “go back to normal,” we never can. We are in a liminal space.
“Liminal” comes from a Latin word meaning “threshold,” so liminal space is that place we get into when we have left the familiar, but we haven’t yet entered the new thing ahead. It can lead to disorientation, anxiety, confusion, a feeling of displacement, and depression. A woman has worked her entire adult life when advancing technology makes her job skills obsolete and she is unemployed. An unwanted and uninvited divorce occurs. A baby dies in utero. A man becomes a widow at the age of 60. The economy that was humming along is suddenly in depression. Many find themselves unemployed. The shop goes bankrupt. A deadly virus is all around us with no treatment and no cure. Anxious feelings arise. “What’s next?” “Now what?” Without hope, humans fade and die.
It is a mistake to despair; it is a mistake to latch onto simple answers; it is a mistake to sink into self-preservation at all costs. But we cannot jump directly from liminal space to hope. First, we must lament. A lament is a passionate expression of grief, sometimes set to music, or expressed in poetry. It is the wail of The Scream.
Richard Rohr writes: “Liminal space, or the place of waiting, is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run … anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”
We try to flee that “cloud of unknowing” in various ways. We scheme and plan. We call on all our resources to get us out of this liminal space. We distract and deny. Some of us go numb. Some of us pretend the whole thing is a hoax. Some of us promote magical cures. Some of us try to exploit the vulnerability of others to make a buck. We are tempted to try and pin the blame on somebody somewhere. Some of us get depressed. Most of us feel anxious, like we’re living in The Scream of Nature.
Jewish people have been forced into liminal spaces at various times in their history – the Babylonian exile (circa 586 BC), the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD, wholesale slaughter at the swords of crusaders, the Holocaust. Displaced from all that was familiar – homes, families, friends, careers – where was God?
Jeremiah wails in the Book of Lamentations. In the first four chapters, he speaks in the first person. His is a personal lament. In chapter five, the pronouns shift to plural – he is lamenting with the entire nation.
There are many psalms of lament in out Bible. Some are individual laments, like Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Others are psalms of communal lament. Communal lament is entering into what our neighbors are feeling, putting ourselves in their shoes, feeling their pain, expressing their pain, weeping with this who weep.
Here’s the kicker:
We hate being in liminal space.
We will try anything to get out.
Distract. Deny. Blame.
God always leads us into liminal space.
It is only there that we learn that God is all we need.
Without hope, we perish.
There is hope on the other side of liminal.
BUT, we can only get to the hope by going through first individual, then communal lament.
Lament is gut-wrenching. Lament means weeping, wailing, pouring out our hearts in complaint. Lament means reviewing what God has done in the past, expressing regrets, asking for answers (that rarely come), and crying for relief. Lament means venting to God. Lament can never be rushed or bypassed.
Most of us seek to avoid, deny, distract, blame, ignore, or despair. Pop a pill. Have a drink. Buy some stuff. Defy the authorities trying to keep you safe.
God has a better way. We so want to do something. God says, first, join with your sisters and brothers and pour out your hearts in lamentation, wailing. Let yourself grieve deeply.
Then, do nothing. Nothing but look at Jesus. Just look. Wait.
Wait. Wait. Sit with the uncertainty, the ambiguity.
“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (Psalm 80:19)
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31)
The reason to wear a mask is not to protect us. Face coverings other than medical grade PPE like N-95 masks do little to protect the wearer. The reason to wear them is because it protects others from a virus you may have without knowing it. Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is a way we love our neighbors like Jesus told us to.
Psalms 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126 & 129 are community lament psalms.
The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®). ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“God is so good! He answered my prayer!” Yes, but God would still be good had God not answered your prayer. God is good all the time.
Why are we following Jesus? To escape hell? To have a happy life? Gain inner peace? Answered prayers? Deliverance from troubles? What is our motive?
It pretty much bothers everyone who reads Jobthat the book depicts satan in God’s presence making deals and bets with God at Job’s expense.
In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) satan is not equated with our concept of a personal devil. The word “satan” is a Hebrew word (שָׂטָן) that means adversary. It is not a proper name. The figure here in Jobis more like a challenger who is invited into God’s presence. This satan does do some very bad things, however.
No one knows who Job was. No one has definitive proof he existed or did not exist. However, it would be quite rare for Jewish writers of the Hebrew Bible to simply make up nonexistent people, so the safest assumption would be that he was a real person.
According to the text, Job lived in southern Arabia, probably in the southeast corner of Mesopotamia somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 to 2000 BC, perhaps in the area that is now Yemen or Ethiopia. We gather that from the references to the Sabeans and Chaldeans in 1:15-17. Jobis included in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so it must have been written prior to the second century BC. It belongs to the genre of Hebrew Wisdom Literature, and, therefore, most scholars agree that it was most likely a very old legend about a real man who lived centuries prior, whose story was written down a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus.
Jobis wisdom literature. Wisdom literature was written by Jewish sages to instruct. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also wisdom literature. Village wisdom records short, pithy sayings, framed as parental instruction, as in Proverbs 20. Royal wisdom deals with palace politics and instructs bureaucrats on how to conduct themselves. Proverbs 23:1-3 is an example. Theological wisdom often deals with controversial topics, such as the existence of God. (See Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.) Unlike the prophets, who received their messages directly from God, Jewish sages gained wisdom by observing nature and wrestling with why the universe does not always seem to make sense in light of having been created by a good and loving God.
Much of Proverbs is based on the retributive principle, i.e., the belief that righteous people are blessed and the wicked are cursed – a cause for every effect. In Proverbs the theme arises often – be righteous and God is pleased and will bless you. That is generally true, but not always. Which brings us to the book of Job. Job is theological wisdom.
The retributive principle works fine as a generalization, but can easily lead to a quid-pro-quo transactional faith – following God, obeying God for what we get out of it. The contemporary prosperity gospel is an example. The motive is wrong. I give in order to get; my faith is based on bargains with God. My obedience is conditional.
The promises made in the context of retributive wisdom literature are not guarantees. They are observations about how things can be expected to normally go. For instance, Proverbs 29:14 promises, “If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.” That may be true in some heavenly eternal sense, but that’s not what the author had in mind. The author was observing that, generally speaking, when a ruler cares for the poor, God blesses his or her reign. But that may not always pan out. There are exceptions.
Job’s three friends assume the retributive principle. In their minds, there must be a reason why all this bad stuff has happened, so they seek to ferret out the sin, the errors, the cause. Like the apprentices of Jesus, the friends of Job assume a causal connection for the tragedies. In John 9, Jesus’ followers ask, “Who sinned that this man was born blind? Him? His parents?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus is not interested in “why;” he is interested in what we do now. Do not look to the past for reasons, but rather to the present and future for purpose. It is far more godly to relieve suffering than to assign blame.
Proverbs assumes that if you’re a good person things will go well for you. Now enter Job’s world. Here’s the godliest man you can possibly imagine, yet he suffers unimaginable tragedy and loss.
The satan, the adversary, the challenger, asks the central question: “Does Job fear God for no reason?” Why is Job a God-follower? Is he following God for what he can gain? Is he following God because doing so is the way to prosperity and blessing? Is he doing so because it leads to having a happy family? Is his a transactional faith?
How many sermons and sermon series have been preached with the implied message, “Follow Jesus and you’ll have a great marriage, wonderful family, financial success, inner peace, joy, a guarantee of eternal life?” Am I following Jesus only so that I can escape hell? If there were no hell, would I follow him? What is my motive for being his?
The central question: What is my motive? Why am I following God?
Job is entirely innocent. His friends sit with him in bereaved silence for a week. That, by the way, is the best thing we can do when loved ones suffer loss. Ministry of presence – just be there – don’t say anything. Weep with those who weep; don’t lecture them. Let the suffering person speak. Just listen.
Then Job’s friends started talking. That was their mistake. Long poetic dialogues take up most of the book – three friends locked into the retributive principle, assuming Job must have done something to cause all this suffering. In their minds, there has to be a reason.
Job’s responses are in the form of lament. God never rebukes or challenges lament. Even Jesus prayed a prayer of lament in the garden and quoted a Psalm of lament on the cross. It is never wrong to weep, to grieve, to feel the weight of loss.
Out of nowhere, a young know-it-all punk named Elihu pops up. He rebukes everybody and insists that all suffering, all evil that can befall a human, is divine justice. He insists that God causes everything. Job’s three friends ignore him. Job ignores him. God ignores him. The best thing you can do with a theological know-it-all is ignore him.
In chapters 38 and following, God speaks. Surely, God will supply the answers to the riddles of theodicy. No such luck.
Ancient Neareastern people saw the natural world as lacking order. It was neither good nor evil. It was amoral, without will-power. God brings order into the natural world. God is moral. There are, however, evil forces at work – the devil, fallen angels, principalities, powers, spiritual wickedness. Those evil forces seek to disrupt God’s order with disorder. They are immoral.
God’s message to Job (and his friends) demonstrates that there are many things beyond their understanding, the universe is more ordered than they know, things are not as chaotic as they seem from the human perspective. God does not imply that God causes everything. God is not depicted in the book of Job as doing anything to hurt Job. But, at least for now, this is simply the way the universe is. It is moral, amoral, and immoral all at once. The long historical arc may bend toward justice, but injustice remains. Bad things happen to good people. The question for us is not whybad things happen, but howwe respond to them.
Some of the bad things that happen to us are our own fault. If I drive drunk and cause an accident, I am to blame. If I smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and get lung cancer, I’ve no one to blame but myself.
Other people cause some of the bad stuff that happens to us. They might injure us, cheat us, betray us, or pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Still other things are amoral. Viruses, for example, have no will of their own. Viruses don’t target sinful people specifically. So, we ask, why would God create viruses? Without viruses to control them, bacteria would wipe out all other life on earth. But, why not, if you’re God, create viruses that only target bad bacteria, not all the good bacteria and certainly not humans?
Back to Job. The question of why is never answered. God simply describes some of the intricacies of nature. There’s more order than we realize. Nature is unfinished. Creation groans for completion. Jesus died and rose again to redeem the entire cosmos. God is rescuing all of creation, making all things new. God’s kingdom will come to earth. Everything is not yet as it will be.
God references two ancient Neareast chaos monsters – behemoth, the land monster; leviathan, the sea monster. In the minds of ancient Neareastern people – both are part of the amoral non-ordered natural world, but here depicted as under God’s control as playthings. There is more order than you know, Job. It’s not all ordered yet, but it’s not as chaotic as you assume.
And Job repents. Of what? He did nothing wrong. He was as close to sinless as a person (other than Jesus) can get. He was falsely accused. What was his error?
I think Job’s error was assuming that the universe should make sense to humans.
But the essential question of the book is answered. Why is Job serving God? Is he doing so for the benefits? What is his motive?
It turns out, Job is following God simply because God is God and Job is Job. Creator and created creature. King and subject. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
Obedience is where it begins. God is God. I am not. God speaks. We obey.
We circle back. What is my motive for obedience? Am I simply to obey because I have to, because the consequences of disobedience are horrific? In Job, God seems capricious. There may be more order in the universe than I’m aware of, but there’s still a lot that seems arbitrary. Where is God in all this?
A transactional faith relationship won’t do. The retributive principle doesn’t always hold true. Some things have no answers, at least in this life.
So, now what? Blind trust? Is God saying, “Just trust me, I know what I’m doing?” Is this a blind leap of faith?
Fast forward. Jesus. God incarnate. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” “I and the Father are one.” God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God.
Yes, the universe still seems arbitrary, capricious, irrational, and at times, heartless. Yes, bad things sometimes happen to very good people.
But the essence, the heart, the core, of all reality is perfect, unconditional, universal, eternal, impeccable, cruciform love.
I trust. I obey. Not for what I can gain. Nor for what I can avoid.
I trust; I obey because I am saturated with divine love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness. I see the beauty in God’s face. I spontaneously respond in a love that trusts Love, that knows God tenderly cares for me, that I am God’s beloved, that nothing can separate me from God, that God’s will and way are not only what is best for me, but are the true paths of eternal joy.
Why are we following God? What is our motive?
Conspiracy theories, both on the left and right sides of the political spectrum, provide abundant evidence of the devil’s subtlety and deceitfulness.
QAnon is an elusive, hard to define, impossible to pin down, widespread, and highly influential source of extensive conspiracy and misinformation. It lurks on the fringes of the Internet and is disseminated by people of all ages and from all walks of life. Most of them are decent, moral, well-meaning folks. Many are unaware they are spreading lies. People tweet and re-tweet, post and re-post, without checking for truthfulness. In the 1960s a mantra was “if it feels good, do it.” These days, the mantra is “if it fits my preconceived ideas, spread it.”
An anonymous person, who calls himself (or herself) Q, drops cryptic hints, which are then interpreted and circulated by others. Those hints provoke speculation but cannot be verified. “Q” is an allusion to Q-level security clearance, given only to those with top-secret nuclear authorization. The assumption is that Q is a person (or persons) with inside information about deep corruption in the government.No one knows who Q is. Speculation includes Donald Trump, a top-secret government agent, a small group of insiders with special clearance, a succession of such people, or an invention of Russian hackers.
To generalize, QAnon asserts that a person known only as Q is a US military intelligence insider who has proof that corrupt world leaders are torturing children all over the world, plotting the destruction of America, and are embedded within the so-called “deep state” of professional bureaucrats. QAnon believes that Donald Trump has been appointed by Godto defeat those corrupt powers, which, according to one Q post, “must ALL be ELIMINATED.” These corrupt powers include Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, and are enabled by many Democrats, political liberals, and some progressive Christians and people of other faith traditions. QAnon asserts that there is a worldwide cabal that must be resisted. QAnon maintains that this collection of corrupt officials is plotting to form a New World Order, but will be defeated and replaced by a “Great Awakening.”The allure of special insider knowledge attracts devoted followers.
QAnon often makes prophetic predictions about the future.QAnon insisted that COVID-19 was fake, then shifted and declared it was manufactured in a lab by Barak Obama and Dr. Anthony Fauci. QAnon maintains that “liberals” to defeat Donald Trump at the polls are exaggerating the coronavirus pandemic. QAnon was behind the extensively debunked “pizzagate” conspiracy.QAnon claims that the worldwide faction of corruption will inevitably be destroyed with the support of “true patriots” who search Q’s postings for clues. Q predicted the arrest of Hillary Clinton and said that she and Barak Obama had a 16-year plan to destroy America with drought, disease warfare, famine, and nuclear war. Q predicted that the Robert Mueller report would fully exonerate Trump. None of that happened. When prophesies don’t pan out, QAnon shifts and adjusts as did the Millerites (now the Seventh Day Adventist denomination) who predicted the return of Christ on October 22, 1844, and as did the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who predicted the second coming in 1874 and again in 1914.
In order to believe QAnon’s assertions, a person must reject the Enlightenment ideal of rational logic, abhor mainstream news outlets, mistrust “liberals,” reject mainline institutions (including traditional seminaries, churches, and universities), dismiss inconvenient science, label as “fake news” anything that would contradict the conspiratorial narrative, be suspicious of career politicians and bureaucrats, and battle apostates. If they are Christian, Q followers must reject the nonviolent cruciform message of the Lamb of God and replace it with an American warrior god. The gods of QAnon are militarism and national exceptionalism. Mars and Caesar. Civil religion.
But QAnon is not just a fringe group of crackpots. One of its most prolific promoters is David Hayes, a former paramedic and evangelical Christian in Arizona. Better known as PrayingMedic, the handle he uses when he posts, Hayes has over 300,000 followers on both Twitter and YouTube. One of his videos has been viewed over a million times, and his books are selling well. It is also a mistake to assume QAnon is aligned with the Republican Party. Some Republicans in office promote and follow Q; others do not.
Adherents resist being pinned down. Some are armed militia “patriots,” others are Tea Party Libertarians, still others are white supremacists, aging proponents of the John Birch Society, struggling factory workers, Sunday School teachers, or ordinary grandmothers baking cookies. Some are members of evangelical churches; others are not. As near as anyone can tell, they appear to be predominantly white, suburban or rural, and strong supporters of Donald Trump.
A few QAnon followers have turned to violence, which is why the FBI classified QAnon as a domestic terror-threat in 2019.A white evangelical father of two named Edgar Welch gathered an arsenal of guns and drove from his home in North Carolina to a pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong in suburban Washington, DC where he blew the lock off a door expecting to find a basement (the pizzeria has no basement) where Hillary Clinton and company were trafficking in child pornography.It was all lies. And it all came from QAnon. In 2018, a QAnon adherent in California who planned to attack the Illinois capitol was arrested with bomb-making materials. Another heavily armed man in Nevada blocked traffic to the Hoover Dam with an armored truck demanding the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails. On line messages posted by QAnon adherents are sometimes grotesquely violent.
Conspiracy theories are nothing new in America, but this one is exacerbated by the availably of technology that allows for the dissemination of unchecked assertions. Social media has handed a megaphone to everyone. It would be a mistake to simply call it a far-right conspiracy. It is more of a “don’t trust any political, academic, scientific, or media elitist” conspiracy. It sees Donald Trump as a messianic savior but goes beyond Trump. In 2016, Russian hackers, having spread disinformation to divide the electorate, assumed Hillary Clinton would be elected president and were ready to proclaim the results “rigged” and “fake.” Armed vigilantes stockpile ammunition and weapons in case Donald Trump loses the 2020 election. Regardless of who is in office, QAnon asserts that the downfall and violent destruction of this assumed worldwide collection of corrupt officials is certain. This is presented as prophecy.
What makes this movement different (and in my opinion, more dangerous) from past conspiracy factions is that it has strong elements of being a new religion. Once people accept something as religious truth, the game changes and violence often becomes inevitable. Misplaced religious fervor has caused some of the most horrific violence in history. The assertion that followers of Jesus were unpatriotic atheists led to crosses, stakes, and lions for the first three centuries of Christianity. Islamophobic conspiracy theory led to the crusades during a rash of millennial madness that interpreted biblical prophecy to conclude that the second coming would occur somewhere around 1000 A.D. The Black Death was interpreted as prophetic judgment in the 16thcentury and led to scapegoating and persecution. Antisemitic and end-times conspiracy theories were behind the rise of the Third Reich.
According to historian Norman Cohn,all end-time movements have in common the fact that they arise in places experiencing rapid social and economic change where there is highly visible spectacular wealth unavailable to most people. That defines American culture in the mid 21stcentury. Billionaires with more wealth than most nations are living lives of unimaginable opulence while millions have no health insurance, and 50% of citizens in the USA have no savings and are living from paycheck to paycheck. Wide acceptance of same sex marriage, large numbers of immigrants seeking refuge, the shifting abroad of low-skill jobs, mass exodus from traditional faith communities, demographic changes that assure that conservative white Christians will inevitably soon be a minority, and the insistence on the availability of abortion for anyone who wants it at any time during pregnancy – these things threaten the status quo and create fear in those who have traditionally held power.
The language of white evangelical Christianity has come to define QAnon. Q fairly regularly quotes scripture. The QAnon narrative is woven into the kind of apocalyptic biblical interpretations I once taught. Couple a misreading of scripture with societal upheaval, shifting mores, wealth inequality, and perceived threat to those who thought themselves in the driver’s seat, and you have a culture ripe to latch on to the blatant lies and unverifiable assertions of QAnon. Add guns, armed “patriots” claiming to be Christians, and a toxic political environment that demonizes those with opposing views into the mix, and the situation becomes explosive.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) The fruit of QAnon includes suspicion, anger, distrust, lies, scapegoating, violence, division, disunity, jingoism, and generalized paranoia. The fruit of following Jesus includes unconditional forgiveness, nonviolent resistance, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
Corruption that goes beyond the United States and includes a worldwide faction of powerful politicians, financiers, academics, scientists and religious leaders united for the purpose of destroying American ideals.
Trump has re-tweeted QAnon postings over 100 times and used language associated with Q.
See, The 2016 Election Was Just a Dry Runby Franklin Foer in The Atlantic, Vol. 325- No. 5, June 2020.
Most of the white evangelical followers of Q who support Donald Trump are under no illusion that he is moral. They know his history of underhanded business deals and sexual immorality, but they claim God has put him in office to defeat this alleged worldwide consortium of corruption. Trump is likened to Cyrus the Great, the pagan king of Medo-Persia who protected the ancient Jews.
“Great Awakening” is a reference to two historic revivals in American history, one in the 18thand another in the 19thcentury.
Nothing Can Stop What is Coming, by executive editor Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic, Vol. 325- No. 5, June 2020
Biblically, special insider knowledge known only to the enlightened is the stuff of Gnosticism.
The stuff of divination
World-renowned immunologist and physician, and, since 1984, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases.
But of course many supporters of Donald Trump are not QAnon devotees
The Pursuit of the Millenniumby Norman Cohn is a classic book first published in 1957 by Oxford University Press.