“God is good!” Can a brother get an Amen? Not so fast.
Maybe God is good because we only read those biblical passages which present us with a benevolent deity. But for those of us who have carefully read the entire text, a disturbing depiction emerges.
Yes, God is the cause of all that is good. But also, God is the author of evil.
God’s more malevolent side is described by the prophet Isaiah who has Hashem proclaiming: “I am YHWH, and there is none to rival me. I form light and create darkness, make peace and create evil, I YHWH do all these things” (45:6-7). Amos the prophet agrees, stating: “If there is evil in a city, has YHWH not done it?” (Amos 3:6).
The concept of God being responsible for evil is considered heterodoxy by the faithful. Nevertheless, the biblical witness presents us with a God who sent evil spirits to torment Saul (1 Samuel 18:10) and Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:10).
This is a God who tempts Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1). Really? How sick is this— if you love me, kill your son.
This God calls for genocide (Joshua 6:21), delights in smashing the heads of infants against rocks (Psalm 137:9) and wipes out innocent children who just happened to be the first-born (Exodus 11:4-5).
To protect God from God, passages such as these are explained away by imposing some dualistic reasoning on the biblical text. These passages of the “Old” [sic] Testament are interpreted through the lens of the New Testament.
The Old Testament God is one of anger and judgment while the New Testament God is one of love and forgiveness. And yet, we do well to remember that Jesus will one day return leading an army, and with a sword strike down pagans, so many of them that the birds of the air will gorge upon their rotting flesh (Revelation 19:11-21).
Let’s be honest. According to multiple verses in the Bible, we worship a God of violence, a violence justified because it is directed against those who are not chosen. We are left wondering how to reconcile the blood-thirsty God of the text with the God of liberation proclaimed by the oppressed.
We must wonder if inquisitors, conquistadores, colonizers, and slaveholders, who bow their knees to the Almighty, were more faithful to the biblical God than the marginalized who attempt to humbly wait for a deliverance that never seems to arrive during their lifetime.
Whatever God is, God is beyond our ability to reason and understand. And anyone who has figured out God – hold on to your soul and wallet for you will surely lose both.
Despite name-it-and-claim-it Christians, many realize that for the disenfranchised, crucifixion is usually the end of the story. To embrace the hopelessness of what’s inevitable is an honest attempt to figure out how to hold on to faith amidst the valley of death. Because hopelessness accepts the unescapable, it can propel toward praxis.
Hope often leads to self-policing. Hope of survival advocates for heads that are bowed, eyes that are averted, and rebellion that is suppressed, even as others are slain at our side.
Hopelessness, knowing no amount of work would ever set you free, is more merciful and liberating than the illusion that all things work for good at the end. Knowing instead that one has nothing to lose might create possible survival opportunities. Or it may not.
The story is told of Jewish inmates at Auschwitz, who while awaiting their inevitable deaths, held a rabbinical court to decide if God was guilty of breaking God’s promise to God’s chosen. They placed God on trial. Although this trial has been presented as apocryphal, Elie Wiesel, who was 15 years old at the time, attests to witnessing the event.
As they waited for death, three judges—masters of the Talmud, Halakah, and Jewish jurisprudence— were selected from among the inmates to hold court. Theological and biblical arguments were aired over three nights, as well as logical and practical considerations.
Was God guilty of breach of contract (covenant, Deuteronomy 26:18–19)? How does one understand, let alone follow and believe in a God of hope who fails to keep promises?
Those awaiting to be murdered were common men, rabbis and unbelievers, intellectuals and tailors, their only crime: being a Jew. While some were not faithful in following the ways of God, others lived in accordance with the Torah.
The trial concluded with the judges proclaiming chayav rather than “guilty,” which translates as “He owes us something.” All who are hopeless, along with the hopeless at Auschwitz, must place a silent God on trial as an act of faith.
God must be held accountable for refusal to speak to those hungering for God’s voice. Some word. Any word. Some recognition of solidarity, a sign demonstrating love, an assurance of accompaniment.
It’s as if they were asking for bread and given a stone. Asking for a fish and handed a serpent. Asking for an egg and offered a scorpion.
It’s as if our heavenly Father, who is good, falls short of evil earthly father who, nonetheless, knows how to give good gifts unto their children.
Based on the events Wiesel described, shortly after the barrack inmates found God guilty, they were marched to the gas chambers. As they walked to their deaths, they covered their heads and prayed.
And maybe, this final act is the ultimate proof of deep faith.
Does your faith depend on what God does for you? Or do you decide to believe, even if God abandons you, even if there is no God?
Because your very humanity is rooted in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God—regardless of the circumstances or consequences. This—I declare—is true faith.
I don’t know if God is good; but I will, nonetheless, hold God’s feet to the fire to be good.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.