Does God Get What He Wants?
I haven’t written another chapter review from Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” for a while but today is probably as appropriate a day to answer the question posed by the title of chapter 4. “Does God get what he wants?”
There is a reason atheists are often angry. A lot of people that I see who don’t believe in God are also angry with God regardless of the obvious inconsistency of the two ideas. The nagging question many of them deal with is “is THIS what God wants?” meaning this world of suffering, death and corruption.
Throughout most of human history most peoples around the world easily assumed the jeopardy that the spirit world posed to people. The spirit world was a hazardous, dangerous place where humans, living or dead, needed powerful allies in order to not be its victims.
It is easy to psychologize away this fact of human history if you’re an ardent secularist or an atheist as simply human privative projection based on fear of an overpowering natural world. The difficulty with this kind of position is that the natural world, despite a definite increase in human power and creature comfort still completely dominates out future. One way or another human life will end according to every imagined scenario of the universe and everything we’ve ever loved or cared for will be gone and remembered or cared about by no one. If there is no future there is no ontological meaning today.
In my review of chapter 3 and the love of God I noted that our loss of this assumption of the threat of God to us is a product of evangelical success. God has been recast into an omni-nice parent whose real goal is to never have to say “no” to any of his creatures. It of course echoes Harold Bloom’s assessment of the God of American religion that “God loves us and is just dying to get close to us”. See also Christian Smith’s Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.
This basic assumption of ours, deep within our culture, deep within our church culture too in fact, asks us to perpetually ask of our lives “Is this what God wants?”
This question in this age of decay becomes a very burdensome question to bear. When the tsunami hits we ask “is this what God wants?” When we lose our jobs or our life is threatened by illness or chaos “is this what God wants?” When someone fails us or betrays us we ask “is this what God wants?”
The question haunts us because of our omni-nice assumptions of the Almighty and the obstinate refusal of the objective order to confirm to our individual demands.
So Bell in his book will assert that in the end God gets what he wants even if this requires spinning off future worlds and contexts after our individual deaths to get this.
We’ll have to return to the question of what worlds Bell is imagining to tie up the unresolved issues of planet earth but for now we should ponder the question on this Good Friday “Does God Get What He wants?”
Throughout the book, one of the things I in fact like about Bell’s book is that Bell values this world and says that God values it too. The American evangelicalism that Bell is pushing back from is overly gnostic with respect to this world and Bell is trying to make a correction. Multiplying worlds in which to resolve the problems and decisions of this world, however, may also devalue it.
So “Does God get what he wants?” Good Friday is a good day to ask that question because in a sense according to various streams of Christian theology a lot of characters get what they want on Good Friday.
From a substitutionary atonement perspective God the Father, the judge of history gets what he wants on Good Friday because his wrath gets satisfaction. (See the “In Christ Alone” debate.)
From the Christus Victor atonement narrative Satan gets what he wants on Good Friday which is the Son of God mocked and dead. Easter, of course, will prove a less than happy day for him.
If we drop down and see it from the list of human witnesses to the crucifixion the picture gets more complex. The religious authorities get what they want. Jesus is shamed, stripped naked, spit upon, mocked, and his movement discredited. The sword is the best test of claims of divinity. If it dies it ain’t God.
Jesus’ disciples are horrified, shattered and scattered. This man that they had put their hopes in to set the world right has now fallen victim to the same power that captured God’s chosen people. The cross appears to be the absolute vindication of the power of Rome.
Onlookers are disturbed. Yet another political storm ends in the affirmation that might makes right. There were hopes for Jesus but he failed just like all other messianic aspirants.
What does Good Friday teach us about the context and the complexity of God getting what he wants?
It happens in history, in this world, and its appearance to us is in some ways inscrutable. The irony of the cross was that none of the witnesses on that day could fully grasp what was happening before their very eyes. One of the most ironic scenes of the whole Bible is that of the religious leaders mocking Jesus on the cross “he saved others but he cannot save himself.” The truth is that he was saving others because he won’t save himself and no one, absolutely no one on the ground that day can see it.
Do we need to ponder all kinds of hypothetical after-death scenarios by which God somehow constructs yet another context, another world, another reality in which to impress upon disembodied human souls the niceness of God and their stupidity for not embracing him, or do we dare to imagine that Good Friday is the day in which God in fact gets what he wants and the vehicle for that getting what he wants is the full cup of judgment for our barbarity, rebellion and record of atrocity against this planet and against each other.
Now in fairness Good Friday is only part of the process by which God will get what he wants, Easter will come.
My answer to the question of “Does God Get What He Wants” is yes. He does. I also embrace the lesson of Good Friday that God’s capacity to get what he wants is far beyond my ability to see him getting it in real time and my evidence for that is the cross of Jesus Christ. If we can see God getting what he wants in the seemingly contradictory moment of the execution of an innocent man, perhaps our minds can become open enough to seeing God getting what he wants in the more mundane dramas of our ordinary lives here in ordinary time.