You cannot simultaneously state two things:
1) that God personally causes (directly or though one’s agency) and approves (or wills) everything that happens in the world, including all the evil,
2) and that God is love.
The two are in irreconcilable conflict, and no amount of religious sophistry and verbal calisthenics can make this equation balance out.
The reason that the hyper-sovereignty view of God at the expense of God being love appeals to so many is that humans lust after power and control after their fellow human beings. That’s part of the fallen human nature. Vulnerability is perceived as a general liability, and about the only place one can afford to be legitimately vulnerable in a modern increasingly secular world is on a tear-stained recliner in the psychoanalyst’s office.
One well-known evangelical preacher said this not too long ago:
“In Revelation, Jesus is a pride-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
Wow. Really? Mr. Preacher must have forgotten that Jesus WAS beaten up, hung stark naked on a blood and faeces-stained wooden pole in front of his own heart-broken Jewish mother, in a culture where revealing as much as one’s knees while running was considered shameful for a male. If that’s not utterly vulnerable, I don’t know what is.
Some of us think Jesus crucified is an embarrassing necessity, but Jesus the pride-fighter is who he really is. Are you sure about that? You really think the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ takes the mask off of crucified Christ, and reveals the Jesus for who he is – a “pride fighter with a commitment to make someone bleed.”
In my Bible, the commitment to bleed was already fulfilled on the cross.
This ying-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 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. I understand that it must have been comforting to think that way when Rome was getting sacked by barbarian hordes. However, that thinking put God’s “kingdom on earth” program on hold for centuries and centuries, and billions (that’s billions, with a “b”) of people have felt the tangible consequences since then.
Martin Luther’s strong disdain of the Jews was a marginal issue relative to his rediscovery of 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.
Perhaps we don’t kill and maim in the name of religion, the way it was done just a few centuries ago. But the sad fact is that there are still a lot of huffing and puffing Christians out there, who grudgingly tolerate their “pagan” neighbors out of a sense of “Christian duty”, and not-so-secretly hoping for the day when Jesus would whisk them away in a cloud of glory, and would unleash hellfire and a world of hurt and pain on all the feminists, secularists, lawyers, celebrities, and politicians.
We need to be extremely careful of where our unexamined religious zeal 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.