Forgiving God

I’ve been invited by my friend Jodi Haier, a Methodist pastor, to contribute a column to a soon-to-be published group study book on Forgiveness.  I have permission to publish my contribution here as a foretaste of the upcoming book.  I’ll let you know when the whole study comes out.  Thanks!

I’ve been asked to write this meditation on the subject of Forgiving God.

I have until the end of the month to finish it, but I want to get it done today, not because I’m efficient like that, but because today is April 16, 2013, the day after the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

The main religious question that arises in times like this is: How could a loving, all-powerful God allow something like this to happen?  On days like today, it seems that God owes us an explanation (if not an outright apology) for standing by, silently, while some person(s) blew up the Boston Marathon.

As bizarre as it may sound, I’m going to argue that what we need to do in this moment is forgive God.  What I mean by this is that we need to adjust some of our ideas about who God is and how God works if we’re going to make sense of situations like the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Now, it just so happens that I am both a pastor and a philosophy professor, so I’ll construct my argument from both of those perspectives.

Philosophically speaking, we’re dealing with the Problem of Evil, which says, “Any two of the following statements can be true at the same time, but not all three: (1) God is all-powerful.  (2) God is good.  (3) Evil exists.”  While many wise believers have tried to solve this problem over the years, none have fully succeeded.  Personally, I choose to remove the first statement: “God is all-powerful.”

I believe God ceased to be all-powerful when free will was created.  God could have made us like robots that always do what they are told, but God chose instead to make conscious beings that can freely choose to love.  It is a logical necessity that, if one can freely choose good, then the capacity for choosing evil must also exist.  God gave us freedom because God wanted love in this world, and there is no love without freedom.

Hence, God’s power is limited.  God is not able to create a free world where the bombing of the Boston Marathon cannot happen.  We have to create that world.  It’s up to us.  We are co-creators with God.

Honestly, I’m not sure that we’ll ever evolve to the point where we have a perfect society.  Something will probably always be wrong.  We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond.  Will we use our God-given freedom to bring more love or more darkness into the world?  Will our unjust suffering embitter or ennoble us?  Will we stand together or fall apart?

I think we can (and should) forgive God for what happened yesterday by letting go of our idea of an all-powerful deity who controls everything that happens.  That God doesn’t exist.  What we have instead is a loving God who gives us freedom and invites us to be partners in the ongoing creation of the world.

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