Modern men and women have a great deal of difficulty understanding or believing a God that allows bad things to happen to people in general and even a harder time understanding how God would allow atrocities to be carried out on the innocents. To many today the concept that “God loves” must directly translate into “God takes care of.” In order for a God that loves to exist, God must shield his creation from poverty, death, discomfort, disease, disability, hate, offense, and any other sort of “bad” thing. Since those maladies exist and inflict themselves on the innocent, God must not exist. Over and again people mock “If you are God …” and when God doesn’t meet the implied expectation people complete their own thought by claiming, “Since you didn’t … you can’t be God.”
To a certain degree the aforementioned line of reasoning has always existed. Job’s wife and friends posited the absence of God as she watched Job suffer. Currently, however, the clamoring has intensified. The vitriol has increased, as people speak in harsh terms as God is denounced. Why has denying God taken such a vocal and aggressive tone? To me, the answer lies in and interconnected with a change in how people view their relationship to each other and the world around them. Perceptions of God’s existence and character have a symbiotic and self-re-enforcing relationship with perceptions of the practices of parenting and the interaction between individuals and their community.
Our concept of God does not fit with our practices as a society nor as parents. The day seems to have passed when there was a strong analogy between how God loves his creation and how fathers and mothers love their children or how we as a community should love our neighbors. Today the overriding characteristic that defines a good parent or government is one that shelters and provides for children and citizens in every aspect of their lives. In the realm of child-rearing the hover parent has become the norm. Parents not only inject themselves into little-league sports and toddler beauty pageants, they are active participants in the college lives of their young adults and recently parents have invaded the job-searches and careers of their adult children. Not being satisfied in controlling and hovering over the lives of their children, the latest generation of parents have extended the scope of their over-protective angst to the public sphere, insisting that the government become the hover-parent of the citizenry. Cradle to grave swaddling clothes to protect everyone from the dangers inherent in life.
If one holds such an unreasonable, suffocating, and all-inclusive view of parenting and governing it is logical therefore, that any God that might exist should adhere to the same level of coddling of their creation. Unfortunately, the God chronicled in the Old and New Testaments does not meet these expectations. Good people suffered, children died unreasonably, poverty, slavery, prostitution and evil exist in bountiful amounts. Further, the everyday life of this existence demonstrates that bad things happen randomly inexplicably. So what type of God could exist that allows such a world to be created? A divine-less universe thrown together by random accidents makes a more sensible explanation for the chaos witnessed throughout human history.
The answer to “what type of God” would create an existence of good and bad, trials and failures, laughter and sorrowful weeping; the kind of God that is reflected in fathers and mothers of generations past, the kind of God reflected in the great enlightenment writings of Newton, Locke, and yes even some local scholars by the names of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin. People who understood that we were created to choose our own way even if it meant suffering negative consequences. The parable of the Prodigal Son should be embraced as an example of how complex the relationship between parent and child, between God and creation truly is. God created humanity and let us choose to run away. Parents give life and nurture and should stand back and allow the same opportunity.
The irony of hover-parenting/governing and like expectations of God, is that all-embracing removal of need eliminates, or at least mitigates, one of the most amazing aspects of human nature: compassion. The projection of care onto some higher entity be it God or the State, removes that inner compulsion that drives us to reach out to each other. We become desperately separate; insulated by an abstract sense that things are taken care of instead of clinging to each other with desperate love.
That immensely hunger-driven love to wait by the door hoping that your son comes home, that they chose you; that is God like love. The unexplainable desire to go where-ever people are suffering the most is God-like love. Caring and loving in the worst possible circumstances not the absence of those circumstances is love, not rational or tidy, but real love. From such a perspective, God can be seen. Right relationships between our-selves, each other, our Creator, and our community become comprehensible. We have, like an old family portrait lost in the attic, forgotten how we are related, and like distant relatives we sit in awkward silence. Perhaps if we open the family album we might be able to rebuild the ties that bind as they were intended.