Unfortunately, a commonly accepted understanding of God in Christendom is tainted by an Augustinian depiction of God as sort of a divine yin-yang, God being partly light, and is partly darkness. Well there’s a problem with that view, since:
1 John 1:5
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Most people that hold to yin-yang understanding of God’s character don’t explicitly acknowledge it as such. Instead, in essence what they say is this: that God is light, and yet he can do evil things, and when he does, they are not evil but good, since God does them with a greater good in mind. So then, God can inflict pain, harm, or disability on someone for greater good, which is usually presented as some form of “drawing one closer to him”.
There are physically handicapped people who are known in Christian circles who have attributed their disability to a direct, willful act of God, along with any positive changes in their character that followed. That’s a very misinformed outlook, and a dangerous one at that.
There are numerous problems with this view.
First, if you try to inflict pain, harm, or disability on someone, they will never want get close to you. Instead, they will run away from you as fast and as far as they can, or they will fight back with all the strength they got. Try it on a pet rat and see how far you get. Please don’t try it on humans, it’s been done, and it never worked.
Second, if that’s your view of God, and you simultaneously believe that God is love, you’ve just completely redefined what love is.
Now love is no longer this:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. […]
Love of the yin-yang God is something else entirely, which has no human equivalent that we can take for a reference point. So now, God is no longer relatable on the most fundamental level.
But that’s not what the Scriptures teach:
9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
We were made in God’s image. Therefore, God can be easily related to by any human being. Comparing God to a loving, sane father is a very valid, Scripturally sanctioned reference point. Also, note how a loving fatherly character acts, based on the quoted Scripture passage. Love is not an emotion, it’s a choice to act in the best interest of the other party, even at the expense of your own well-being:
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
I believe God proved his own position on the matter of love on the cross of Calvary quite decisively and unequivocally.
So then, it must be concluded that the yin-yang view of God, whether explicitly stated or implied, is nothing but a glaring, giant contradiction. And it’s not only a philosophical issue – this worldview has very real practical implications. Let’s take this line of thinking where it logically leads, all the way.
If you believe that God is in the habit of hurting and harming people for some greater good – then, to fulfill the commandment of “loving God and loving your neighbor”, you are free to imitate God and inflict hurt and harm on your neighbor, hoping to bring about greater good (or trusting God do derive such good based on your actions, which in that theology would be perfectly aligned with God’s character). After all, God does it, so shouldn’t we act likewise to represent him in our actions? Well, maybe not laity, but at least “clergy” – aren’t they, after all, the “vicars of Christ” on earth?
Incidentally, that theology was the prevalent view of the medieval Christian church in the West, and in the course of centuries, guided the slaughter of thousands to millions of people, depending on how you slice the statistics. Relative to the overall Christian population back then, such high numbers are indicative of serious systemic issues with the Christian worldview back then. This very erroneous and perverse image of God is the single most important factor that provided a theological justification for ongoing gruesome and inhumane treatment of fellow human beings, who are created in the image of God.
We need to be mindful of the fact that such errors in one’s worldview sow the seeds that over time can take root and produce very tangible chaos and disaster.
Augustine tried his best to rectify numerous heresies abounding in his day. Unwittingly, he introduced a few of his own. The worst one, perhaps, is his extreme view of sovereignty of God, at the expense of human responsibility. That was eventually taken to its final logical outworkings by John Calvin. That was one of the main theological drivers that led to the universal church’s passivity, and put the brakes on God’s “kingdom on earth” program for centuries and centuries. Billions (that’s billions, with a “b”) of people have felt the tangible consequences of those errors.
Martin Luther’s strong disdain of the Jews was a marginal issue relative to his rediscovery of things like sola fide (by faith alone). However, his antisemitism, largely unchecked, gave an ecclesiastical justification to the Nazi regime of Germany to exterminate millions of Jews.
In his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer wrote:
“It is difficult to understand the behavior of most German Protestants in the first Nazi years unless one is aware of two things: their history and the influence of Martin Luther. The great founder of Protestantism was both a passionate anti-Semite and a ferocious believer in absolute obedience to political authority. He wanted Germany rid of the Jews. Luther’s advice was literally followed four centuries later by Hitler, Goering and Himmler”.
So, we need to be extremely careful of where our unexamined religious zeal guided by faulty theology may take us. As Blaise Pascal once said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” History has proven him right.