Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is God an Angry Ogre?

This article might be funny if it weren't so serious.

It concerns a debate over whether or not a gospel song written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty called "In Christ Alone" goes too far in emphasizing God's wrath over God's love concerning the atonement. Presbyterians want the line in the song that mentions God's wrath to be changed so that it stresses God's love instead. The Baptists chimed in and said let the song lyrics stay the way they are. But one Baptist believes the Presbyterians have a point. Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist newspaper sided with the Presbyterians, which got him a tongue lashing from Baptist leaders.

“Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down,” Terry wrote. In reply, the president of the Alabama Baptists Assembly wrote, “As Alabama Baptists seek to be true to Scripture, we affirm the essential and historic Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement." In other words, sure, God was indeed an angry ogre who needed a human blood sacrifice to settle his nerves.

The song’s original lyrics say that as Jesus died on the cross, “the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian committee wanted to change that to “the love of God was magnified.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville agrees with the Alabama Baptists. He said anyone who thinks that those who want to change the lyrics to remove the line about God's wrath have "bad theology." And therein lies the whole problem. Two leaders of different Christian denominations can't agree on something as fundamental as the character of God. What kind of a god would set us up with such diverse opinions about who God really is and then expect us to all believe the truth or go to hell?

Was God wrathful in the Old Testament and Loving in the New Testament? Was Jesus really God? Was Jesus really just a man? Was he both at the same time but 100 percent so? Was Jesus resurrected in body or just in soul? Was he resurrected at all? Was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher and prophet or was he a political zealot? Did he exist as God's son only after his baptism or from his birth, or perhaps from time eternal? Are the stories of the Exodus, Noah's Ark, and Jonah as told in the Old Testament literally true or allegorical? Did Moses write the Pentateuch? Did Moses even exist?

These are just a few of the questions about God, Jesus, and the bible that Christians - yes, real, believing Christians - disagree about now or have disagreed about throughout Christian history. And everyone who believes a certain way also believes that every other denomination has bad theology. But since God, if he even exists, apparently did not make it clear what we should believe, it is no wonder that people are leaving the Christian cult in droves. What else can a thinking, intelligent person do?

This little scuffle over the lyrics to a Christian song only amplifies what is really wrong with this whole believing-in-ancient-superstitions scenario. Since no one can prove, or even provide empirical evidence, for their side of the belief, there is a considerable divergence of opinion about just what God really wants us to do. The side that most Christians tend to ignore, though, is the side that would settle the whole matter once and for all: God doesn't exist, so why believe anything at all about him?

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