By Susan K. Smith,
There has long been a disconnect between the notion of a “good God” and the presence of evil in the world. That disconnect has caused some confusion, some angst, as people have wrestled with God’s apparent inaction in dealing with evil. There are no pat answers to explain God’s all-too-often absence and silence as evil has ravaged God’s own people. The good God has proven to be sorely disappointing.
But there may be a reason for this disconnect. According to Karen Armstrong, in her book The Case for God, religion, historically, “was a matter of doing rather than thinking.” “Doing” involved getting rid of the “self,” a flawed reality created by God but which got in the way of God’s purposes. The self has the propensity to become absorbed with itself, with its own needs and wants, pushing aside others, even God, in order to fulfill itself. God is marginalized. This Self really feels no need for God; it will do anything in its power to satisfy itself, including being cruel toward other human beings. If a human being can get to a point where he or she realizes that the quest for self-fulfillment is somehow out of alignment with God, then a shift occurs, and the self-absorbed becomes focused on the needs of others.
The way God created the world and its people resulted in a people who are theological, but not religious. We are thinkers about God, not doers of God’s work. We lift God’s name up because we turn toward God when our “Self-needs” are threatened, or when we are in trouble, but once our crises pass, we turn back to Self, i.e., religion, and leave God standing alone.
It isn’t God that isn’t good, as some are wont to think when evil has its way. It is religion that is flawed, deeply and desperately so. Religion makes the Self comfortable and fights much that would disturb that comfort. In the 60s, many churches in the South had leaders who taught that the quest of African-Americans for human and civil rights was against the will of God. The only thing that mattered was one’s personal relationship with God.
That teaching did not, ironically, lead to an abrogation of the white supremacist Self, but it instead sanctioned it as it was. It assumed a God who didn’t care much about the needs and dignity of other human beings whom God Him/Herself had created. It was religion, however, that was at fault, not God. Thinkers about God dwell on interpreting God’s will, but the interpretation is almost always skewed toward supporting a particular ideology, not the need for people who say they love God to leave religion and turn toward that same God, causing a shift in perspectives and actions.
If we think of the presence and the spreading of evil in the world as evidence of people not embracing God, but instead, religion, this so-called “absence of God” in the presence of evil makes sense. Religious people become self-absorbed with declaring their own rightness and holiness while rejecting the tenets of God. For example, though the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament requires people to “love the Lord their God with all their hearts, with all their minds and with all their souls, and their neighbors as themselves, many religious people flat out reject the command, and justify their rejection for any number of reasons. It is a basic tenet which, if practiced by religious people, might help eliminate or at least seriously reduce the amount, the intensity and the breadth of evil in this world. Religious people’s ears seem to be plugged up and there is little to no attempt by people who are the teachers of religion to give lessons that will force the wax out of those ears so that people have “ears that hear.”
Religious people think about God, but they do not do, too often, what God demands…and if they do, they set themselves up to be denigrated by other religious people
In the book of James, the writer says “be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” (James 1:22-25, KJV) Religious people cannot do that – they cannot be doers. Religious people think about God, but they do not do, too often, what God demands…and if they do, they set themselves up to be denigrated by other religious people. That being the case, people settle for being religious, but not dedicated to being connected to God and therefore bound by a standard set by God which is in direct opposition to what religion teaches.
Is there a solution? Well, simply put, yes. In order to reduce the amount of evil in the world, in order to alleviate suffering of God’s people, in order to make the “goodness” of God felt, religious people would have to stop being “religious,” stop being thinkers about God and instead become practitioners of the will of God.
Is that likely to happen? No. And God, who, one would suppose, could fix this dilemma, refuses to do so. It seems that only those who want the discomfort of doing God’s work more than they want the comfort of being religious can truly fight evil, but unfortunately, there are far too few soldiers on this battlefield. God has just enough soldiers who continue to fight against injustice to hold this world together, but right now, with political leaders all over the world seemingly ready to push a button to annihilate much of this world, it might be that religion has provided the source of destruction and not salvation and liberation for the masses.
Surely, God weeps.