What Are We Really Mad About?

Last night I was  able to follow up with the bartender I wrote about a while back, the atheist who asked for prayers for her friend suffering from breast cancer.  She remembered me this time, and what I do for a living – something she likes to broadcast very loudly to whomever happens to be around us, while also laughingly shushing them if they happen to swear when I’m in the area.  I told her last night that if I was able to deal with her, then there wasn’t too much that I was likely to hear from anyone else in the place that would need to be shushed.

Her shot for the night was that she either doesn’t believe in God or is angry at God if there is one, because if there is one, then He let her mom die of cancer, and that’s a pretty lousy God.  She had at least one of her three sheets in the wind at this point, and so it wasn’t appropriate to try and actually have a conversation with her on the topic.  I’d like to think there will be a time when I can do so, but it’s going to take a miracle.

But should the Holy Spirit provide an opportunity for us to talk honestly and privately and without her being overly intoxicated, I might try to steer the conversation in this direction.

She’s obviously hurt and angry at the loss of her mother.  I can’t fault her for that.  It’s hard to have someone you love die.  I don’t think it matters much if it’s cancer or something else.  Death stinks.

If she denies that there’s a God or any other creative, deliberative, willful force behind our existence, then she can pretty much give up the anger.  There’s no point in it and there’s no basis for it.  Anger indicates some feeling that things have been done incorrectly or unfairly.  Her mom didn’t deserve to die from cancer, or didn’t deserve to die at the age she did, or any number of other variables.

But if we’re all just the results of blind chance and randomness, then ideas such as anger or unfairness or incorrectness lose all meaning beyond the meaning we may arbitrarily assign them.  And if we assign them that meaning they really have no meaning at all because our meanings and definitions are prone to shifting and swaying.

If you’re going to be angry, and if you’re going to make some sort of appeal to morality or ethicalness as a basis for being angry, then you need to have a rock-solid baseline on morality and ethics from which to hold such a higher power accountable.  Oh, and by the way, in the process you consign yourself to the same baseline and the same accountability.  That may come in handy later.

So  either you give up your anger and recognize that all of this has no meaning, no purpose beyond what we arbitrarily choose to assign it, or you acknowledge that deep down inside – whether you like Him/Her/It or not – there must be a higher power responsible for all of this who is somehow acting inappropriately.

Either the conversation is over at this point because the other person recognizes that they are not being consistent in their understanding of reality in denying a higher creative power and agrees to try and be more consistent (probably also with a few unrepeatable words about how rude and uncaring I am) or they acknowledge – at least for the sake of argument (and to hold on to their anger and indignation) that there might be a higher power that might have some explaining to do (or to whom, perhaps, we have some explaining to do).

If they’re talking to me, we’re going to talk about the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.  If they don’t want to talk about that God they’re going to have to talk to someone else and their god.  But you have to determine which god you’re talking about in order to understand how to proceed, and sometimes the simple fact that they’re talking to a Christian theologian will take the conversation down that road.  If they’re willing to acknowledge a higher power but not the God of the Bible, I’ll send them to the local mosque/ward/temple/etc. to talk to somebody there, as there won’t be a point in us continuing our conversation.  But hopefully an important acknowledgement will have already been reached – that either they’re truly an atheist or they’re really not.

If she’ll agree that it’s the God of the Bible that she thinks likely exists and who she is angry at, then we continue the conversation.  It might be helpful at this point for her to reiterate her basic points – God is bad and a jerk because He allowed (or caused) her mother to die of cancer, which presumes that a God should be good, and if they are good (or claim to be good) then one sign of such goodness (all other things being equal, which they never are) is that we wouldn’t have to deal with death.

After she has another chance to express her feelings, we can proceed.

First we have to lay out the ground rules so we know we’re talking about the same God.  Which means we can only judge him based on what He’s told us about things, since as creations we would have no other means of either knowing of or assessing God’s behavior.

So do we have a basis in who God tells us He is and we are for feeling that death is a raw deal?  We sure do.  Does He acknowledge and explain this predicament and how it came to be that a good God would have a creation with death in it?  He sure does.  Where does the blame lay for that?  According to the Bible, with us.  We’re to blame.  Not just some primordial ancestor but me personally as well.  I inherit a mortality, but I also perpetuate and continue it so that my mortality is not simply an unfair imposition but actually what I deserve (there’s a moral component – I knew that would come in handy at some point!).

There is a baseline (which God, by definition, defines).  We’re the ones to blame that things are messed up.  But surely a good God would have known all of this in advance, right?   Everything in Scripture would lead me to think that this was and is the case.  God was/is not shocked by my sinfulness or by the first sinfulness of Adam and Eve.

But surely a good God wouldn’t just leave us in this predicament.  Surely a good God would have a solution.  Does God say that there is a solution?  Actually, yes.

So God has revealed what the problem is and has revealed that He has a solution to that problem – the problem that means that we die.

Does this have pertinence to my bartender friend’s mother, and to her as well?  Yes, actually.  It pertains directly and completely to them.  Our faith and hope are turned towards God rather than away from him.  We can recognize him as the source of hope and joy and life, rather than as being absentee or abusive.  God has not left us alone.  Quite the opposite.  He continues to seek us out to draw us into relationship with him.  But only on his terms.  Because He’s God, and we aren’t.

Ultimately, if we acknowledge that God is there, we don’t have a right to our anger.  He takes that away from us at best, or redirects it towards ourselves at worse.  But we aren’t left with nothing.  Rather, He amazingly gives us hope.  Joy.  Peace.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Everything we weren’t – in our anger – willing to give him, yet everything we understand to make life worth living and that invariably characterizes to one degree or another the people we are most drawn to and impacted by.

It would be a long conversation.  Feelings are powerful things.  But feelings are also made to be guided and mastered and directed, rather than directing us.  When we simply allow our emotions to drive us, bad things tend to end up happening whether short term, long term, or both.

It’s not a perfect discussion, but a start.  What would you add?  What would you omit?


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