God: Self-Serving or Narcissistic for Judgment?
Usually, when I become aware of a new blog that has a post which I think requires an apologetic answer, I try to familiarize myself with it through the About page. Well, Fence Talk doesn’t have one of those. I had to go to another blog to find out what this one was about, and it was described as a “group blog with posts on parenting, Hollywood, social issues, nutrition, and more…” Sort of like The View, only on WordPress instead of TV.
The author of this post, who goes by Skinny Sushi, identifies herself as an agnostic. She and her husband were both raised Mormon, but for various reasons have walked away from the church. It seems that her primary reasons have to do with God’s judgment:
And any God who might be out there… wouldn’t he/she/it be rather pleased I’ve lived a good life and been kind to others? There’s just something about the notion of an all powerful being who will punish me for not believing despite the quality of my life that seems a little… self serving? Narcissistic?
In regard to the first point, Paul addressed this in the second chapter of Romans:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom 2:14-16)
So Sushi is right. People who do the Law without the Law are their own Law. No need for any divine intervention there. And, many people are good for goodness sake–without the Law.
However, Sushi doesn’t contend that God will reward those who do right, but she contends that God is going to punish those who don’t believe. In her mind, believing seems to be a “Get Out of Hell Free Card.” But is believing in God enough to get saved, as she seems to suppose? Jesus’ own brother, James, weighs in on this issue:
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (Jms 2:18-26)
The whole passage is an excellent denunciation of the idea that you can live any way that you so choose as long as you believe in God, but let’s focus closely on the relevant text: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Of course demons aren’t saved. James knew that. His audience knew that. But they believe that God is one–the same thing that we Christians believe.
So mere mental assent to the person and nature of God is not sufficient to save anyone. That’s Sushi’s biggest mistake here. Right belief does not automatically equal salvation. It’s one of the components of salvation, but by itself is not sufficient to save anyone.
The final charge that she levels at God is that he is being narcissistic by judging people who don’t believe rightly. Well, is he judging people who don’t believe rightly?
How do you get into heaven? Well, most would say by being a good person. Let’s go on that for a minute and see where it leads us. After a lengthy speech on what it means to be good, Jesus concludes, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). So God demands perfection in our moral character.
Can we achieve that? Think about this:
- Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prv 4:25)
- Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight. (Prv 11:20)
- The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. (Prv 14:14)
- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. (Prv 21:2)
- As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. (Prv 27:19)
And Jesus himself reminds us: “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34).
With that in mind, let’s look at the sins of adultery and murder. I much doubt that Sushi has been unfaithful to her husband, nor do I think that she has killed anyone.
Here’s what Jesus had to say about adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28). So, merely undressing someone with your eyes is a sin. That’s bad news.
And murder? Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5:21-23). So, if you’re mad at someone and use some choice language to them, that’s pretty much the same thing as murder.
This perfection thing is pretty harsh. It doesn’t look like I can get into heaven that way, after all. And, if Sushi were honest with herself, she probably will come to the same conclusion.
Or maybe not. In her article, she says:
In fact, our background in the church might have given us a little too much morality… For years with both had some issues with guilt and self-consciousness when it came to intimacy even though we were happily married, thanks to years of being told how wrong sex was. So maybe it’s not such a bad thing that our daughter won’t get any religious themes when it comes to morality. A cleaner, simpler lesson for her will be to just do the right thing. Do it because it’s right, not because you fear retribution or judgment.
Too much morality? Yikes. Maybe she won’t come to the same conclusion that I just did.
But the real point I’m driving at is that God isn’t just punishing us for unbelief. That’s one of the many things that he’s punishing us for. He’s really punishing us for our actions, which is what Sushi thinks he should be judging us for: “And any God who might be out there… wouldn’t he/she/it be rather pleased I’ve lived a good life and been kind to others?”
The real problem is one of definition. What is a good life? Jesus defines it much differently than you or I do.