I recently received this letter:
I am a follower of your blog as well as a huge fan of Unfundamentalist Christians.
I was raised in an Evangelical home and was schooled at an Evangelical Christian school for most of my life. I have slowly begun to discover my own faith, as opposed to just simply believing what I had been told all my life.
That being said, I often struggle with particular Biblical verses.
One of the scriptures I have the most difficulty with that is used over and over again is, “God works out all things for the good for those who love him … ” [Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.] This scripture seems to so often be used within the context of one “believer” telling another, “God will work out your problems for you, because you love Him.”
I feel myself tense up whenever I hear that, because of the exclusionary element—as though God will not, and cannot, work things out in people’s lives unless they love him. (The subtext of that message always being “unless they love him the way I believe acceptable and appropriate.”)
I would love it if I could get your take on this scripture and its often used translation.
It goes quite nicely with your “Love me or I will throw you in a lake of fire forever” sentiment. [I believe she’s talking about the meme above, which Dan Wilkinson was recently kind enough to design out of something I wrote somewhere.]
Thank you so very much for being strong enough to voice truth when it is much to easy to tuck our tails and live in our safe little box.
Dear person who wrote me this:
Thanks for those kind final words. I appreciate that.
As a statement of faith, “God works out all things for the good for those who love him” is great: it’s a solid and encouraging affirmation. As advice for anyone facing any particular challenge in their life, however, it’s awful. Here are five reasons why:
1. It turns God into an egomaniacal cretin. “God works out all things for good for those who love him” implies that God contentedly allows for the suffering of all who don’t subscribe to one particular strain of one particular religion. That theological position makes a lot of sense—if you’re a child. For adults it’s ridiculously immature.
2. It’s blaming. The implication is that the person wouldn’t have the problems they do if they loved God the way they’re supposed to. “You’re being punished by God because you deserve it” is a despicable message to send.
3. It absolves the person saying it of personal responsibility. “Don’t worry: God will fix everything” is just another way of saying, “Good luck.” That’s hardly a Good Samaritan’s response to need.
4. It reduces God to being Mr. Goodwrench. Our lives aren’t mechanical; our problems are almost never reducible to a simple cause-and-effect. God doesn’t fix our lives the way Mr. Goodwrench fixes our carburetor.
5. It’s unsympathetic. A suffering person needs an arm put around their shoulder, not a book dropped into their lap.
Again, I do believe that God works for the best of all people; I do not believe that God works towards the peace and happiness of Christians exclusively. God is God. People are people. I believe that, in one way or another, the relationship between God and every person is ultimately resolved. How exactly that happens, or what exactly that looks like, no one on this side of the veil can know. I think God designed it just that way, so that each of us would have to choose to respect the ways of all those who seek only personal growth and harm to none.