Friday, July 15, 2011

Why Bitterness Towards God Might Be a Good Thing

The world of the Bible presents us with a new image of God. In surrounding cultures, the image of God and of the gods ultimately remained unclear and contradictory. In the development of biblical faith, however, the content of the prayer fundamental to Israel, the Shema, became increasingly clear and unequivocal: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Dt 6:4). There is only one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who is thus the God of all. Two facts are significant about this statement: all other gods are not God, and the universe in which we live has its source in God and was created by him. Certainly, the notion of creation is found elsewhere, yet only here does it become absolutely clear that it is not one god among many, but the one true God himself who is the source of all that exists; the whole world comes into existence by the power of his creative Word. Consequently, his creation is dear to him, for it was willed by him and “made” by him. The second important element now emerges: this God loves man.
Deus Caritas Est 9
Reflection -  We who come from a culture shaped by millennia of monotheistic Biblical faith often find it hard to imagine the world of polytheistic paganism. God for us, even if we are not especially religious or educated, is (if he exists) the Big Guy, the Head Honcho, the Man, the One.
This sense of multiple gods and goddesses reigning over different corners of the world, of competing forces treating humans like chess pieces or like toys to be played with and then tossed away, of a universe springing out of chaos, bloodshed, and strife and only precariously held in balance by gods of limited power—all of this we might know from our reading of Homer, the Greek myths, the great tragedies of Sophocles and Aeschylus, or various other sources.
But we know it from within our own deeply ingrained monotheistic conditioning. I use that word deliberately as opposed to ‘faith’, as I am thinking here of people who may have little if any religion but who nonetheless still bear the cultural inheritance of Christianity.
I think of people who have little faith and less religion, but who have a deep bitterness towards God for the injustices, evils, and sufferings of the world and in their own life. Yet why should they be bitter towards an 'uncaring' God… unless they have a deep sense that He should not be so? Only in very late paganism, the paganism that frankly was wide open to the proclamation of Christianity, does that note of bitterness towards the gods appear. A normal pagan would never imagine that the gods should be other than what they are: capricious, vengeful, bloodthirsty little two-bit despots running a sort of cosmic protection racket – ‘nice world you’ve got here… shame if something happened to it.’
And even if there is a good god who he liked, the pious pagan was well aware that some other god or goddess, not so nice, could always seize the reins of power at least temporarily and get a few licks in.
The Jew, the Christian, and the post-Christian deeply know that this will not do with our God. He made it, He’s the only Show in town, and He is supposed to love us and be on our side. This generates for us the fearsome problem of evil and suffering, which is no small matter, and which (at least in this post, which is too long already!) I have no intention of getting into.
For now, it is important to realize that our very concept of God and the world and their inter-relation is wildly different from the non-Biblical one, and that this Biblical conception, while it generates its own questions and quandaries, opens us up to a genuine encounter with the Reality behind all realities, an encounter that at least promises to be an embrace of love and care.


  1. You make some good points here Father; points which I've often touched upon in the short stories on my Blog.

    I suspect modern Christians believe, (that is if they consciuosly believe as opposed to being pre-conditioned to believe), that there is a God and we'd better keep on His right side or else.

    A bit like Shakespeare's "as flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport".

    In my experience, very rarely, if ever, does the question of who is God, and what is His relationship to us, get preached from the pulpit on Sunday.

    Priests assume that because you're in church it follows you're a Christian and therefore you believe. Sermons skirt around the Gospel of the day and are generally so "mild" as to be of no effect. It's something the priest has to do; so he does it.

    Perhaps it's time that our Church turns back to basics and teaches its congregation in clear simple terms who is God, who is His Son and the Holy Spirit.

    A shepherd with confused sheep will be answerable for his actions; for he has greater responsibility than the rest of mankind, having accepted to lead the flock to their eventual destination.

    Best wishes and God bless.

  2. You make a really good point, Victor. At this conference I was at over the weekend, one of the presenters observed that the Catholic and Orthodox churches in general do a very poor job transitioning people from childish to adult understandings of the faith. We learn about the Eucharist when we make our first communion, then never revisit the subject - that kind of thing.
    So I think there are indeed a lot of people in the pews with very poor understanding of God. In Madonna House, we are very much back to the basics of God and the spiritual life for our guests. But it's a big problem, as you say.

  3. Thank you for understanding Father. You make my point admirably.

    Sometimes when I sit listening to the sermon, and watch the congregation (some half asleep - one of our priests is known as Ontoo Long!), I wonder how many people really know what they truly believe. That was the inspiration behind my book "Visions".

    God bless you always.


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