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When I wrote my post Christianity, Atheism, and Morality, I knew I might tick someone off. That wasn’t my goal. I was trying to make us think about where morality comes from. But I knew it was possible, and two atheists commented. One was courteous, and the other less so. But I appreciated both taking the time to comment.
I don’t enjoy this kind of give and take, but if I’m going to write something that I suspect might raise someone’s ire, I need to be a big boy and take my lumps.
But as I said, I appreciated the comments.
Beginning with this post, I’d like to address some of those comments. Since they were left as comments on my blog post, anyone can read them. I will quote them here so you don’t have to go back and look for them.
I am not writing this to convince an atheist or a non-Christian to convert. I doubt anything I’ll say will sway anyone, anyhow. Rather, I’m writing for my fellow believers who might have been upset by some of what was written should they have bothered to read those comments. Anyone can look over our shoulder if you want, but I’m only writing for my fellow believers in this and the posts that will follow.
As written by Club Shadenfreude
A woman with the moniker Club Schadenfreude responded to me at length more than once. She has a blog on WordPress, and you can go read it if you want. Google translate failed me on this, but Club Schadenfreude explained that it means “the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.”
Among many things, she wrote this:
No reason to think you or anyone else knows what this god is “like” since Christians cannot agree on that nor show that their version is the right one. What do you think about a god that kills a child for the actions of its parents, a god taht [sic] requires a man to make a choice between freedom and his family, a god that kills a people who are ruled by a king and who can’t do anything about him, a god who kills a man who simply tried to keep this god’s magic box upright, if not vicious? If a human tried to make people do these things, killed children, etc, would you think that human vicious?
Your bible betrays your claims of a good and benevolent god.
Let me take the first two in this post
No reason to think you or anyone else knows what this god is “like” since Christians cannot agree on that nor show that their version is the right one.
Club Schadenfreude said this because I said something about knowing what God is like.
Well, this isn’t a hard one one. Think of it like this:
We’ve all been affected by the coronavirus. If you’ve been tracking the conversation, we’ve been told by scientists that the coronavirus has a 3.4 – 4% mortality rate. No, someone says it’s really less than 1%. At first, we were told there was no person-to-person transmission. Well, we know that was wrong. Someone says masks don’t really prevent the spread. Someone else says masks are important. We’re told that the coronavirus affects the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. But others worry it might affect children. Some say we need to close the country until we get a vaccine, and we may never shake hands again. Others think we can reopen safely by being careful. I’ve read reports that say the coronavirus is mutating and becoming less deadly. Other reports warn it could get worse.
These are all positions taken by different men and women in the medical profession, but we don’t stop listening to them because of that. Instead, we realize that they are trying to understand a new, difficult virus. And like media reports of a shooting, later reports bring clarity, and at times, even repudiation of what was originjally stated.
Christians are like this. We are all trying to understand God. I’ve been in two churches during the latter part of my life. I’ve never completely agreed with everything either church professed. But I understand that I don’t know everything, and I respect my fellow believers, even when I disagree with them. One reason I do that is the fact that I have changed what I believe based upon my experiences with God and the witness of the scriptures. But even here, the truth is that we agree on almost everything, with some areas of disagreement. To reject belief or criticize believers simply because two Christians have slightly different opinions … well … that’s just not reasonable. In fact, you might expect it.
Heck, sometimes I disagree with myself!
There are complexities in God that sometimes are not easy to understand with our finite minds. But we try as best we can.
But when I said I know what God is like, I wasn’t thinking about things I knew about God. I was talking about my experiences with him. I can understand why ClubSchadenFreude wouldn’t assume that. God, for her, doesn’t exist. No one can know what a nonexistent thing is like.
But we, as Christians, have experienced him. He is, for me, the best thing in this life, and his presence is full of joy, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion.
But this one’s harder
What do you think about a god that kills a child for the actions of its parents,…
While Club SchadenFreude doesn’t cite chapter and verse, I suspect she’s talking about the child that was born as a result of an adulterous relationship between King David (who already had several wives) and Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. (2 Samuel 11:1 – 2 Samuel 2:23). That’s a lot of verses, so I’ll summarize them here:
David was wondering about one night when he couldn’t sleep, and he chanced to see Bathsheba bathing. She was beautiful, and — being the king — he had her come to his chambers and slept with her. She became pregnant. Trying to hide his sin, he eventually had Uriah, her husband, killed so he could marry her and no one the wiser of the adultery. (I’m skipping a lot here.)
But what David did was evil in God’s sight (and just about everyone else’s), and God called David to account for it through the prophet Nathan. David, recognizing his evil, repents, and God takes away his sin.
But Nathan the prophet says this: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.”
David fasts and asks God not to take the baby’s life. After seven days, the child dies.
Does ClubSchadenFreude have a point?
I think she does — from a human point of view. David committed the sin. Bathsheba may or may not have been willing, but for sure David was. He committed adultery and had her husband killed. (By the way, Uriah wasn’t just a nobody. He was identified as one of David’s thirty mighty men. (2 Samuel 23:39)) But God forgives David and takes the child! It’s like God got the wrong guy! Club SchadenFreude’s point is that the baby did nothing wrong.
And I agree with her — to a point. The child did nothing wrong. But I’d like to present my thoughts about this, understanding that I’m confident I don’t have all the answers. I think believers learn several things from this story:
- God is very merciful. What David did was intentional, flagrant, willful disobedience to God, but God forgave him. Most of us haven’t committed murder like David. Perhaps some of us have committed adultery. This gives us all hope. If God can forgive David, he can forgive us, too.
- God is holy. Breaking his laws have consequences. Someone might not agree with those laws or think that the punishment is too severe, but God is the judge of that. For Club Schadenfreude, this makes God a tyrant, but for those who have faith, this makes him God.
- Our sin affects other people. That child was innocent, but David’s sin affected him. When you and I sin, it has consequences that affect other people, even innocent people. It makes sin even more sinful.
- Death is not the same for believers as unbelievers.
That last deserves explanation
When the child died, David’s servants were afraid to tell him. David had been fasting and praying for seven days, hoping that God would let the baby live! But once David perceived the child was dead, he washed, anointed himself, worshiped God, and then asked for a meal.
His servants said, “What is this you have done?”
David answers: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
David understands that he will see that child again at the resurrection. In her comments on this blog post, Club Schadenfreude says this makes David a sycophant. I think it makes David a realist.
For an atheist, death is a tragedy. It’s the end of life. It’s a tragedy because for atheists, this life is all there is. For an atheist, the afterlife is a fantasy, and that child was punished even though he was innocent. The child never had a chance to live, and to an atheist, that’s just unjust. But, from the Christian point of view, the child was not punished. He was taken to glory without going through the pain of this life.
And it’s not the only time this happens in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 14: 1-18, one of Israel’s later kings, Jeroboam, had a child who became sick . Jeroboam sends his wife to Ahijah, a prophet, to inquire of God about the child. God says a lot to Jeroboam’s wife, but the important part for this discussion is this (verses 12 – 13): “Now you, arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. All Israel shall morn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s family will come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.”
And there is this verse from Isaiah 57:1-2: The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; And devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way.”
Quite simply, for the Christian, this life isn’t all there is.
Or as the apostle Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:19: If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.