Can You Bargain With God?
I wrote this in October of 2005, before I started going back to church. I’m not saying that I’m right or wrong. Just wanted to share it.
It’s seems that my earliest ideas as a child of understanding God’s character are in the end the most true. I’ve come almost full circle back to a child-like view, which is indeed more ‘adult’ than most religious people – I think. Maybe when we enter into this world so fresh from the womb of our mothers and creation’s womb, we are more akin to the spiritual world than the world of flesh and blood. Maybe something deep in us in that youth senses the character of God more clearly than ever again. We leave the nest, the chord stretches as we travel through time further away from the soul-factory. When sensing/looking back we sense/see that we really saw better then. And, that sight is a remembrance. It was uncluttered by the journey of life.
It may seem a little sad if you think God is Santa Clause. You see, you can’t make deals with God. It won’t work. If you grasp that, then you can fully appreciate freewill and all the complications it births. One result is suffering. How can you reconcile Santa Clause with suffering. How can you reconcile a good God with the suffering of good innocent people.Usually to understand this I just think about the mystery of God and I think of the level God is on and the level I’m on and it resolves the matter – for a time.
But, I asked myself, “Why shouldn’t good people suffer?” We often ask “Why do the bad people seem to prosper?” Why not turn it around and think about it? Should a pious person be able to walk among the contagious without getting sick? Should a pious person be exposed to the laws of nature and be unaffected? What about those to keep all of laws of Moses and Christ and still fall victim to the most horrendous deaths and misfortunes?
Many religious folks believe that keeping the Ten Commandments or praying everyday should shield them from all suffering. This is bargaining with God. I know people like this. I’ve been one myself from time to time. You may be this kind of person. I suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune whether I perceive myself to be walking with God or not. But, most religious, IMHO, think they should be able to side step all the calamities suffered by the less faithful, or pious. They believe they can make a deal with God. “God I will do this as long as you do that.” In other words we try to control God.
If true, it sheds light on the problem of unjust suffering. It can be a fatal blow to belief in God, or one’s faith. For many religious people this is proof God has reneged on a deal they had.
I don’t want to accuse all religious people of having a fairytale version of God, but, I think a lot of religious people are religious specifically for this perceived deal between them and God. They want protection from life’s suffering. So, on bended knee they ‘pray’ but it’s really begging and deal-making. Treating God like Santa Clause. “You keep me safe, I’ll be religious.”
However, as with when I was a very young child, I’ve come back to believe there is no connection between my spirituality (how good I am) and God’s granting me anything in this world. I think that religious practice is supposed to affect my behavior; not God’s. If you or I live a religious life, it should be to make us better humans and bring us closer to God, to add a depth of spirituality to our lives and help make a just society. These things are rewards. If you learn a new language your reward is that experience you get speaking to others in that language. The reward of fidelity is fidelity.
Christianity believes God will reward you for good – but that’s in the afterlife as far as I’m concerned. Isn’t it a bit nutty to think God would reward you for doing what you’re supposed to do? “My son, you didn’t rob a bank today. Here’s a the winning lotto numbers. Go forth and prosper.” If strictly observing the Ten Commandments led to a life of no suffering and lotto tickets people would have figured this out a long time ago. We’d all be bible thumpers. Who doesn’t want to be protected from heart disease and cancer?
The converse is true if we get immediately rewarded for doing what we’re supposed to do. If this is true then all suffering is punishment from God. You don’t know how many times I saw this cruelty played out in the charismatic movement as a young adult. “God will remove the tumor if you have enough faith.”
Such thinking is cruel. Instead of offering compassion to the suffering it implies they somehow deserve brain cancer. They earned it. This depicts God as vindictive. “Brother Bob didn’t go to church on Sunday nights on account of the late football games so God gave him a tumor.”
Religious observance can’t protect you from the world. It can make you a better person. But, if you expect reward for your religiosity, I bet you really don’t want to be as religious as you are. If you are truly happy observing religious practices then you wouldn’t be concerned with rewards and protection. Thus you are forcing yourself to be religious like it’s a health and life insurance policies. It could quite possibly be the reason for so much fear and uncertainty. Because you know in your knower this doesn’t work and your present level of anger and fear is tied to a type of God that you’re not sure is vindictive or a Santa Clause. God is neither of these. But, you try to reconciled the un reconcilable to avoid condemnation.