Does God love everybody?
Perhaps the greatest appeal of the Christian faith, at least in our time, is the notion of unfettered love. The idea of a God who loves unconditionally, and seeks to empower mankind to do the same is desirable in a seemingly disinterested world. I will admit that still yet I find the idea of an omni-benevolent God to be psychologically alluring. But I am not certain that the Biblical God fits that criteria.
Everyone who has ever attended a Sunday School class knows John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” 1 Timothy 2 states that God wills for “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That is a nice thought, but does God’s track record as recorded by his own followers in the Bible match up to that idea?
The story of Israel is one that is at first glance very beautiful. God chose an unworthy people to be his. In the midst of their suffering, their sin and their imperfections, God chose them. God protected them. He led them out of bondage and into the Promised Land. In the eyes of a contemporary reader, it can be a profound analogue to their own lives: in spite of the readers infirmities and so-called rebellion against God, he chose them and knows their name.
But there is something about the narrative that has always bothered me. The writings of the Old Testament seem to glory in the unworthiness of the Israelites. Upon God choosing them, there doesn’t seem to be any qualifying criteria, they are in no way morally superior to any other people group. In fact, even after God works to save and protect them, they continue to rebel and God continues to reinforce them. That’s great, really, that God is so devoted to the Israelites. But what about the other people groups of the world?
Why would an all-powerful, all-loving God choose only one nation to love? Why did the God who chose the morally defect Israelites choose to reject the morally defect Canaanites? Why is it that the God who revealed himself to Moses chose not to reveal himself to all the nations? Israel was “blessed to be a blessing.” Nice thought. But why did God not simply reveal himself to all the nations? Was he unable? If so, he is impotent. Was he unwilling? If so, then he is cruel.
You see, these are not just abstract groups of people from thousands of years ago. In the Christian conception, those were individuals who had value endowed by their Creator, they were souls made to be in relationship with their God. And yet, seemingly arbitrarily God rejected them. God did not stop at embracing Israel. His love for Israel was not passive in relation to the other nations. God did not simply protect Israel from outside attack. When God embraced Israel, he actively rejected the surrounding nations. Yahweh did not protect Israel from Amalekite aggression, he commanded Israel to commit genocide against the Amalekite people.
So what explanation is there for this duality in God’s treatment of nations in the ancient world? I have heard it argued that the nations commanded destroyed by God were not innocent; that they were decadent cultures that God commanded destroyed for the protection of the world. But surely, the all-powerful, all-loving Yahweh, who radically transformed the Israelites could do the same for the Canaanites? Did he not want to encroach on their ‘free will’? He did with Israel. By divinely intervening in the affairs of Israel while in ‘bondage’ in Egypt, God radically altered their future. So why not do the same with the various nations that God eventually has his beloved people destroy?
If God is in the business of bringing men and women into right relationship with him, with the renewal of his creation, it seems bad strategy to do so through a rebellious, morally defect people. It seems to me that God is either a poor administrator or an arbitrary despot.
The narrative continues in much the same way. Even in times that Israel is punished through exile, God wields nations like the Babylonians as a weapon, using them for his will. In effect, God causes the Babylonians to cause harm to the Israelites, only to blame them for it later and to have them punished by the Israelites. Yahweh’s love for Israel seems to be the blinding affection of an adolescent crush. He will use and hurt anyone in his path to do what he wants for Israel.
Today, evangelical Christians are quick to criticize Mormons. Though there are many areas of Mormon theology that Christians find disconcerting, I would like to focus on the Mormon idea that after Jesus resurrected, he appeared to men and women in the Americas to reveal himself here. Christians scoff at this (obviously, Jesus didn’t appear to people in America, that’s absurd! But he did, of course, rise from the grave and appear as a resurrected ghost to his own followers in Israel, that’s reasonable). But why would Jesus not do so? If a Christian is to be fair to the text, without a “born again” experience, an individual will end up in hell upon their death. If so, why would God reveal the Good News to a small, obscure group of people in a small corner of the world and wait patiently for that Good News to be spread thousands of years later, meanwhile allowing countless individuals to wind up in hell?
It seems to me that if Jesus were truly concerned about the souls of mankind he would have appeared to the Native Americans, to the Chinese, to the Africans, to the Irish, etc. Yet he did not. Instead, God twiddled his thumbs for two thousand years, waiting for his followers to get around to settling the new world and bringing his Gospel through the sword to subdue Native Americans. In some places of the world, God is still waiting for his followers to stop entire cultures from ending up in their hellish destiny.
Yet this God loves all. The God who has the power to appear to the most decadent cultures in a burning bush, the God who once walked side by side with Adam but chooses not to do so with Muslims in Iran, seems incredibly content to allow the narrative of his love to spread incredibly slowly, and by default to condemn millions of souls to eternal damnation.
God’s love, my friends, is presented by his own holy text, as being incredibly arbitrary. If the Christian religion is true, I am deeply concerned by the nature of this God.