“A loving [god] would protect his [people] if he was able. Anything else would make him a monster,” she said.
Recently, a tree hugging humanist (her words) kindly wrote a public response to my article, 8 Reasons God Allows You to Suffer. I was pleased to find it—for a few reasons. First, it means someone other than my mom is reading my material. Second, she misspelled my last name and ironically used a Lord of the Rings reference, which we privately use to refer to our home, The Shire. Had she said nothing more worthwhile, I would have been satisfied. But, there was more.
Dena Nechama is an unashamed Jewish atheist who argues Christians go to great lengths to make a “cruel god even more cruel.” My writing was exhibit A.
To convey her point—that the Christian God is a monster—she told a rather disturbing story about a husband who wakes from his sleep to the smell of smoke. His house is on fire. He leaps up and darts outside to save himself, but leaves his wife snoozing in bed—intentionally. He knew if his wife survived such a tragedy, it would encourage them to grow closer together.
What a creep.
She thought so, too. Any man who intentionally leaves his wife dormant to possibly roast away in a fire is a monster. And that is her point. You see, the husband is a stand-in for God. The wife represents the Christian.
Good point. Except that it wasn’t.
Dena was unintentionally withholding some of the back story. So let me fill it in and see if we shake our heads at God and call Him a creep in the end.
The Back Story
The wife has a long history of child molestation and serial killing. If not for the police imprisoning her, she would have murdered a whole city. Her rap sheet is extensive. She’s pushed drugs, taken drugs, and made drugs. She’s a scoundrel even by the definition of the worst people. The judge convicted her on just about everything possible. The lady is a danger to society—she has put everyone and everything in jeopardy. Hitler would be frightened in her presence!
She has been sentenced to death when the second character in our story arrives: the soon-to-be husband. He is an upright man; no one has ever found wrong in him. In fact, he is a generous man to whom most attribute good. He is also wildly successful at everything he does because he is so wise.
These two lives intersect when the man decides to graciously put his reputation on the line and bail the wicked woman out. His plan is to give her another chance at life and mysteriously clean her up—make her a doer of good in society.
He is so serious about this that he marries her, giving her his name, inheritance, money, and all the other benefits that come with marriage. As he had hoped, she begins to change, but not without deep pain. She cheats on him, steals from him, and though her trespasses against him are less and less, ultimately she can’t stop. Still, he is longsuffering with her. He endures her struggle for her sake.
Now, as the story goes, the house catches fire. He runs outside to safety and so on. Dena’s story finds the wife in a hospital. She’s fine, but wonders about it all. This is when the husband explains his intentions.
If we use our inner sense of justice, we shouldn’t still think of the husband as a monster. She had been sentenced to death for good reason. Dying in the fire, if it were to happen, would be justice having its way. But still, you might have some reservations about the man who was generally kind in every way except at this moment. Or was he?
God is No Man
The truth is, no man can represent God when His nature is critical to the story. We wouldn’t say the husband knew the future and sovereignly controlled the elements so everything would happen as he planned. That would make our husband more like a god and less like a human and thereby render the illustration moot, wouldn’t it?
Even still, let’s see what happens.
The husband—who knows everything and is never surprised by anything and controls all things—wakes from a sleep which he was never actually in because he needs no rest. Then, he runs outside to safety—although he needs none.
The fire blazes, but never seriously or fatally burns his wife. He controls the flames. He makes her keenly aware of eternity and her need for him. In fact, he goes so far as to make a change in her heart to enable her to love him, love others, and do good. The nearness of death and stirring that comes with suffering gives her a different perspective on life, and she is changed from that moment on.
In the hospital, as the story goes, he explains to her what happened, and she appreciates his kindness and pity. For if he did not save her, marry her, and change her perspective, she would have been doomed to death at the hands of the law.
Monster or Messiah?
With a clearer picture, do you still see the husband as a monster? Dena made an appeal to us on the basis of justice and a sense of right and wrong. I’m glad to see her moral compass is still working. This is Romans 2:15 at work.
With just a few minor adjustments, the husband goes from a creep to a Christ, a monster to a Messiah. It is important that we get the full story when making conclusions about God and how life really is—a step that Dena missed.
The truth is, God is not surprised by fire. Nor is He uncertain of our future. He is sovereignly in control of everything and nothing thwarts His plan (Is. 14:27). Rather, all things, including suffering, are used for His glory and the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
Is this the kind of God you want as a husband?