I’ve heard it many times. Maybe you have too. In fact, maybe you have even said it. It starts with these words, “I can’t believe in a God who…” and then is followed with phrases like “lets young children die” or “would let his own Son be crucified” or “sends people to hell.” In most cases, the last few words represent something that bothers our sensitivities. If there is a God like that, we surmise, we want no part of Him.
Now sometimes when people say “I can’t believe in a God who…” they mean only that the God who is portrayed is distasteful, and they prefer to think of Him in another way, such as with a feminine pronoun. Others, however, mean that because the God spoken of is not to their liking, no God exists at all. It seems to me there is a problem with either kind of thinking.
On occasion, I ask people what their least favorite color is. One young man told me it was puke green. That sounds like a solid pick for a disliked color. After he shared with me his choice, I said, “Suppose God showed up, and to your surprise and even disgust, His entire being was a shade of puke green. You might say to yourself, ‘Boy, God is really ugly, I sure don’t like the way He looks.’ But I doubt you would say you can’t believe in a God who is puke green or that God doesn’t exist altogether. In fact, if anything you would believe in God—even a puke green God—more after the encounter.”
I know the scene I set for the young man is rather silly, but I think it makes an important point. And that point is that our likes and dislikes don’t determine whether something exists or whether something exists with certain characteristics. I, for example, might not like Barak Obama or Donald Trump, but that should not lead me to the conclusion that they do not exist or that they don’t have certain unpreferred characteristics.
This all said, it seems to me we must be careful that our beliefs about things are not shaped primarily by our sensitivities and preferences but by the actual characteristics of the object in question. This is true even when it comes to God. That does not mean that everything said about God must be believed. Sometimes what people try to pin on God is faulty and ought to be rejected because it doesn’t accurately portray God and His ways. But it does mean that if God exists there might be some things about Him that at least at first glance are distasteful or uncomfortable.
This makes me think of the biblical story of David. He had just become king and wanted to bring the recently recovered ark of the covenant back to his hometown. Along the way, a priest reached out and touched the ark when it seemed to be falling off an ox-led cart. Immediately, the priest was struck dead by God. David couldn’t believe it. Why would God do such a thing? The Bible even says that David was angry with God and became afraid of Him as a result. What it does not say, however, is that David concluded that God must not be the kind of God who would do such a thing or that God didn’t exist all. Those simply weren’t reasonable options given what David had seen.
Now please don’t read me as saying that if properly understood God will disturb all our sensitivities. I don’t think that to be so. As those made in the image of God, I think there are many things about God which we will probably find very easy to swallow, delightful in fact. But given that we are not God and are probably enamored with plenty that is antithetical to Him, we should not be surprised that as we gain a clearer picture of who God is there will be times when He comes off a bit puke green.
© 2018 John Hopper
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.