Immoral God?

prosperity-gospelThe title of this reflection is deliberately provocative but it raises an area of concern that should matter to all Christians. The question that I should have asked is not whether God is immoral but whether some of our beliefs about him, our theologies, make him seem immoral.

One of the areas of concern for many people, believers and agnostics, is whether we can talk about God being active in the affairs of our world. Does God cause thunder-storms, to use a crude example? More importantly if God intervenes directly in our lives, by stopping us walking into the road when a lorry rushes past, what do we say about people who are not so protected? Are the people who were killed in Glasgow a few months back by a rubbish collector truck, somehow not worthy of God’s attention. I also have in mind the recent story of the retired GP who leapt on to the railway track in an attempt to save a woman from a train. She survived while he was killed. If we claim to believe in an interventionist God, should not that heroism have been rewarded by God?

The claim to believe in a God who directly intervenes in the detail of our day to day lives raises many problems. And yet it is the staple of the way that many people think about God. It is also the backbone of particular strands of theology that exist among conservative Christians. The particular theology I have in mind at this point is the so called ‘Health and Wealth’ gospel. In brief, as I have explained in previous posts, this teaching tells Christians that it is God’s will that everyone should have wealth and also perfect health. Such teaching raises enormous problems both on a practical level but also in what it implies about the nature of God. Everyone knows that in order for anyone to be considered rich, someone else is going to have less. Wealth is never a fixed category. We use the expression ‘wealthy’ to describe those who have more than the typical resident of a particular society. The wealthy of a society in sub-Saharan Africa are nevertheless likely to be poor when compared to the ‘poor’ of developed countries like those of Western Europe. One particular chilling statistic tells us that the wealth of a country like the States, and the levels of consumption that it engenders, is such that the resources of our planet could not cope if everyone were to be able to live like this.

It is clear that whatever else God can be said to wish for our world, he cannot want the destruction of the planet by a massive increase of consumption of resources that a substantial rise in wealth across the world might involve. And yet Western Christians are apparently proud to take the ‘biblical’ promise of material wealth to countries across African and elsewhere. People are being urged to express their faith in God by giving of their modest resources to the church so that God can ‘bless’ them and pour on them the wealth that he means them to have. In fact the only benefactors of God’s ‘blessing’ are the preachers themselves. They feel it important to drive around in large cars and live in fabulous houses so that they represent the embodiment of God’s bounty. It somehow never occurs to the wealthy preachers that there is in this flamboyance, not a sign of God’s generosity, but an obscenity directed both against his will and the poor people who make these sacrifices of money.

The ‘Health and Wealth’ preaching is not just confined to Africa but is preached by the vast majority of religious broadcasters. I have mentioned in at least two previous posts the begging for money that occurs on God TV and broadcasting in Britain and around the world. I would not able to begin to name the range of Television channels in America dedicated to this kind of broadcasting.

In declaring that God does not want all of us to be wealthy in the style of Wendy on God TV or Jimmy Swaggart in the States, I am not preaching a form of socialism. Somewhere in the future, and it may not be very far off, we are going to discover that any more growth of consumption by the inhabitants of this world is likely to destroy the world. Resources like water, trees and energy need to be conserved carefully if the human race is to survive. Somehow against this background of the depletion of the world’s resources, the pursuit of individual wealth, whether by preachers or by their followers has an obscenity about it. The God of the Health and Wealth gospel seems to care nothing at all for the good of the wider population of the world, but focuses entirely on individuals, each of whom, through their increasing wealth, is doing more than most to consume a disproportionate part of the world resources.

The God of Health and Wealth preaching is an immoral God. He is thought to do the opposite to the God of the Magnificat by exalting the rich and sending the poor empty away. In talking about an immoral God I am not attacking him; rather I am challenging a particular fringe but powerful segment of Christianity to revisit the Bible and find there a God who stands for justice, care for others and concern for the whole of nature. As a Christian individual I feel uncomfortable at the high standard of living we enjoy in Britain. Giving money away may help this discomfort but it will never solve the problem of what in practical terms I and other Christians should be doing about the poverty of so many areas of the world and the inequalities that we see around us. I suspect that were I really wealthy, which I am not, my sense of dissonance in the face of poverty would be far greater. Small things, like being extremely reluctant to throw away food and attempting to recycle as much as possible, helps to relieve conscience but it does not solve the problem of being relatively wealthy in a world of poverty and pain.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

18 thoughts on “Immoral God?

  1. Once we lose belief in a God of absolute moral perfection, the floodgates open to the darkest heresies.
    A god that performs parlour tricks behind the curtains because, ‘We know him better than anyone else,’ is no God, That god is an idol.

    Chris Pitts

  2. I am a little confused by the first part of your blog. are you saying that you don’t believe that God is involved in our lives every day?

  3. This is a theological concept Posey. I would say that Stephen is thinking about ‘Free will’ and the perfection of that gift, as apposed to a God that casts a long demonstrative shadow over our lives. Hope that helps?

    Peace Chris

  4. Answering Posey’s point on my tablet. I believe that God is involved with our lives but not in the crude way that says he is going to intervene at every point. It is more likely that God’s presence and help will be picked up after the event rather than at the to time. I am not a fan of those who pray for parking spot. That seems far too mechanical and close to magic. The idea needs articulating carefully. Not easy when I am away from my computer.

  5. I look forward to reading a more in-depth comment from you because I’m honestly still not quite sure what you’re saying. I know that the Lord is intricately involved in every aspect of my life. I don’t understand why anyone would think that God would count every hair on my head and yet not be a part of everything that touches my life.

  6. You’re right of course. I personally would express it a little differently. We can talk to God about anything and everything, all the time. He’s never impatient, he never runs out of time, he’s always glad to hear from us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is too trivial. That’s fine by him. So we can discuss with him the finer points of decorating our homes, if that’s what’s occupying our thoughts at present, and why not? But if you ask him to choose whether you should decorate your bedroom pink or blue, you may not get an answer. Well, not a clear, “Yellow would be better”, anyway. The other thing I remember from my Bible reading notes many years ago is a simile about soldiers. Which in a way we are. You get your orders. And then you may be expected to proceed in radio silence. Now it ain’t as simple as that! For one thing, you may be unclear whether you’re right about your orders. And sometimes “radio silence” is just depression. But perhaps you see what I mean. I found it helpful, anyway.
    I think Stephen’s right about our worshipping what is in fact an immoral construct of our own. A phrase from a book I’ve read, “We make God responsible for all the evil in the world.” That cannot be right. As to whether those preachers who ride around in big cars are really unaware of how it looks, Stephen, I beg to differ. I’m sure they know. I think they couldn’t care less.

  7. Follow your heart Posey. My journey has been very different to yours.
    I went into the spiritual wastelands for many years, in some ways I’m still there. I was schooled on certainties and cherry picked scriptures that did not work for me when a deep crisis came.
    Yes, Jesus did talk about; “Every hair on your head as being numbered” but, he also felt abandonment and great fear. I have known fear and dread darkness. What Stephen has helped many people to see is the bigger picture. Sometimes there are no scriptures to get us through; I think Jesus would understand that?
    I wish you peace. Chris

  8. Hi Chris and English and David. Thank you for your replies. Chris, I have to ask you why you assume that my experience is different from yours? I don’t think it actually is all that different. I also have to admit that I’m not quite sure what you mean when you said that about God casting a long demonstrative shadow over our lives. I am a simple person. I am not as smart as some people I know but I do know one thing. it doesn’t really matter all the stuff that I went through and all the bad things that happened to me in church. He loves me and He is with me every single moment of every single day. He is my best friend. He really is involved in every bit of my life. maybe you will all laugh at me but I have to say that there have been times when I have asked Him to find me a parking spot or to help traffic not be bad so I can be on time to somewhere. The Bible says he is closer than a brother and that he loves me with a love that never dies and never wavers so why wouldn’t he do those things for me sometimes? I do things for my kids all the time just because I love them so why would God be any different? I hope Stephen can have time to explain what he really means soon because it makes me really sad to think that someone would think that God didn’t love them enough to do stuff like that for them. That’s just what I think though, and like I said there are alot of people alot smarter than me. but I know how much he loves me.

  9. Posey, In order for me to answer you honestly, it may involve me trespassing into your private space. I must guard against that on a blog that is open to misunderstanding by others. However, if you email me we can overcome that risk. Would you like my email address?
    Peace, Chris

  10. Posey, I do appreciate your clear and straightforward way of expressing things. In my heart I too know that God loves me, and all those he created. That is a great way to look at life I think.

    I also appreciate Chris a lot – he and his wife are dear friends!

    I think that the tough times in life are those when we sometimes have to face up with doubt, and call it what it is. I don’t think God has a problem with me when I doubt he exists. One thing I am comfortable with is that even when I may doubt his very existence, (paradoxically), I know he loves me.

    Actually I’m beginning to suspect that admitting to having doubts is a much better place for belief to exist.

    Getting back to the topic – I agree that there is a potential problem when we feel we must always be certain about everything. The Pharisees had that problem I think….

    1. I didn’t mean to sound like I was being a know it all or that I didn’t think Chris had a right to feel the way he does. I would never want to do that! Of course I have times of doubt. I think everybody does and if they say they don’t they are probably lying. I’m real glad that God is so much bigger than my doubts!
      Just so you guys know, I’ve had bad stuff happen in my life too. I was raised in Peniel Atlanta over here in the states. I’ve had more bad stuff happen to me than I really want to think about. One of my dads was a child porn maker so I will just let you use your imagination on that one. I’ve been raped and abused and messed up in the head. It took me a long time to get the truth about God straightened out and I guess I’m probably still not all the way through with that! I don’t know anybody who is! But the idea that God is not involved in the tiniest detail of my life just don’t set well with me. I will wait and see what Stephen has to say about all this. I hope I haven’t stepped on any toes!!!

      1. Well, you haven’t stepped on mine! After all you’ve been through, you certainly don’t need to worry about not being able to say what you believe and speak (or write) honestly about your feelings. I would say, I suppose, that God was with you when those dreadful things were done, and suffering alongside you. Many people don’t find that to be sufficient. They want to know why he didn’t step in and stop it, and small wonder. As long as people understand that God doesn’t always work that miracle, heal that sickness, step in in a miraculous way, that’s ok. But if people are given to expect it, and then it doesn’t happen, it can be devastating. We know that Jesus didn’t heal every sick person in Israel in the first century. And so it goes. Stuff happens. Whatever we believe about God, it has to fit in with our actual experience. I can’t speak for Stephen, but I believe I share some of his concerns. Sometimes it seems that people are prepared to believe as long as bad things don’t happen to them. Or even, as long as good things happen, like wealth or position. You don’t sound at all like one of those, but they do exist. It’s a terribly self-centred view of God. I would believe in a gospel that is firmly outward facing. Which means that you (one) would struggle just as much if bad things happen to anyone, not just yourself (or myself). It is a genuine mystery, I think, that bad things happen when we know it’s not what God wants. But so long as we incorporate that into our world view. I really admire your courage. God be with you.

  11. There are no toes to step upon if we’re followers of Christ. Truth has to be uninhibited and absolutely open. I too have known abuse, but I don’t think it is wise to talk too much about it on an open blog. Truth is a choice but not everyone makes that choice.

    It’s all a mess Posey, your experience has brought you closer to God mine has not. Lets just hope (And Pray) for each other.

    Peace, Chris

  12. As far as I can see Jesus make two promises to his followers:
    1 “I am with you always”
    2. “In the world you will have tribulation”
    Jesus is with us in a suffering.This turns the standards of the world on its head.

    1. Surely he makes lots of promises? The Gospels are full of them. I like seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be given unto you, allelu, alluia. And then there’s, Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. And all that’s on the same page just of Matthew. But maybe you will say that’s simply an unpacking of your first one, which it probably is.

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