Conversatio Divina

Reject Distorted Views of God

Christopher A. Hall

The more one is in one’s right mind . . . the more one is unfettered by distorting misperceptions, deranged passions, and the encumbrances of past mistakes— the more inevitable is one’s surrender to God.

—David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved

I was a professor and administrator at Eastern University for twenty-four years. I regularly taught a course titled Foundations of Christian Spirituality. As I taught Foundations over the years, we often began with the same theme: distorted views of God people were raised with. If we wish to walk daily with Jesus, we need to trust the God who leads us, and we had better be sure we are following the right God.

One common distorted view students struggled with was God as a distant, demanding parent, with a whiny voice that sounds like this: “You know I love you, honey. But I don’t understand why you’re not doing better. Look at how much I’ve given you. When I read your grade report, I see only Bs and Cs. There are even some Fs! Why aren’t you doing better? I’ve given you so much, and this is the best you can do? I want As, not Bs and Cs, and surely not Fs! You know I love you, honey.”

What do we do with a God who sounds like that? We repeatedly attempt to meet the demands of that whiny, demanding, dissatisfied voice. Often, exhausted and discouraged, we try to turn it off. We cover our ears. Or, if things get really bad, we kill that distant, demanding voice. We stop believing. We kiss faith in God good-bye.

I’m reminded of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho.

Even after Norman had murdered his mother, he couldn’t escape her nagging, accusing, disappointed, abusive voice. There she sat, mummified in Norman’s basement but still alive in Norman’s mind. His mother’s voice, her distressing, poisonous words, still tormented Norman. He began to dress like her. Talk like her. Act like her. She drove Norman insane. A Norman Bates god does no one any good.

Quite a few students pictured God as a drill instructor, a divine DI. Have you ever served in the armed forces? If you have, you know what the tough, frightening voice of a military drill instructor sounds like. It’s loud. It’s demanding. It’s unrelenting. Now turn it into the voice of God.

“Yeah, I love you! But we’ve got a lot of work to do around here. You need to get in shape. You are weak, a failure! Can you hear me? No one gets tired around here. Try harder! Do more! You are pathetic. Wake up! When I talk to you, you will address me as ‘sir.’ Do you understand me?”

Some students struggled with a third troubling view, God as a cosmic monster. Students saw the evil and sin constantly occurring in the world—sometimes experiencing it very directly—and struggled to reconcile the enormity of the world’s evil and suffering with the reality of a loving God. They thought this evil and suffering must be God’s will because he is sovereign over everything.

I remember a nighttime talk with my oldest son, Nathan, when he was around eighteen. I was watching the 76ers, and the game was almost over. Nathan had spent most of the evening upstairs, catching up on schoolwork.

He ambled quietly down the stairs as the 76ers game ended, walked over, and sat next to me on the couch. It was around ten in the evening. I noticed his eyes were red. Had he been crying? What was up?

On the edge of tears, Nate asked me quietly, his voice choking, “Dad, where was God at Auschwitz?”

Nate had been upstairs reading about the Holocaust for his history class, and much of what he was learning was new, horrifying, and very difficult for his maturing mind to process. He believed God was loving, good, and powerful. So why did God allow such evil to happen? God loved all human beings. God was good. And God surely had the power to intervene. Yet thousands of people were murdered every day in the gas chambers of that terrible place.

How does one reconcile the existence of a good, loving, powerful God with the fact that seventeen thousand people went up in smoke and ash each day at Auschwitz?

We talked about evil, free will, the story of the Jews, and the wickedness of anti-Semitism. I tried to create a conceptual framework Nate could use to process all the issues involved in answering such a significant, difficult question.

“What’s God like, Dad? What’s God like?”

What a fair question. What an important question. It’s one all human beings ask. I identified with Nate’s sad, tear-filled ponderings. For I, too, have struggled with the goodness of God. You probably have, too. It all comes down to the same bottom-line question: Can we trust God?


We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the first chapter of the book, “Reject Distorted Views of God,” generously provided by Harper One.