Last Friday, comedian Bill Maher told his audience that God was a “psychotic mass murderer.” He was discussing the soon to be released Hollywood version of the biblical story of Noah and he had harsh words for the Lord.
“Hey God, you’re a [expletive]!”
Maher was in rare form: “But the thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t the silly, it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God. . .What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean, besides Chris Christie.”
And he wasn’t finished: “Hey God, you know you’re kind of a [expletive] when you’re in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with anger issues. […] Conservatives are always going on about how Americans are losing their values and their morality, well maybe it’s because you worship a guy who drowns babies.”
Bill Maher is considered smart and funny and unafraid to dialogue with those who disagree with him. On his weekly HBO talk show, “Real Time,” he allows his guests to explain and defend their views – although Christians and conservatives are usually few and outnumbered and the heated debates end in a Maher tirade and dismissive humor.
What makes his statements worth response is not merely that he has a large following among the skeptical/atheist/cynical crowd (which he does) but that tucked away in the inner recesses of his observations are frequently genuine substantive questions.
In 2006 Maher admitted that he “believed in a God” although at times he refers to himself as an atheist. So his beef with religion is genuine: “We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it justified crazies.” Maher shakes his head in wonder at Christians whom he thinks are beguiled by the Bible and a misinterpretation of the person of Christ.
What a difference a worldview makes.
If we peel back the expletives and irrationality in Maher’s comments about the biblical story of Noah, he raises a real question that many people have about God.
Maher points his finger at God and asks, “Why do you hold us accountable for moral standards that you routinely ignore? Why can you get away with murder and we can’t?”
Either the flood story is rubbish or believers are idiots for thinking that a “guy who drowns babies” is worth worshipping. Does God hold himself to a different standard?
So, how do we respond?
What if God was one of us?
First, God is not a “guy” or one of us. And he is not merely the administrator of the cosmos; he is the creator and sustainer of everything. It is all his – every bit of it; including us. Is it possible that God can do things that we are not morally allowed to do? Absolutely.
Imagine I was in a downtown convenience store early one morning when the bell on the entrance door rang and a man swooshed in and grabbed a loaf of bread, a jug of milk and a carton of eggs. He strode past the checkout counter and told the clerk to comb his hair and was out the door almost before it closed.
My first thought would be to call the police or at least get the license number of his car.
When I ask the clerk if I can help, he says, “Nah, he’s always like that. He’s the owner. It’s all his stuff anyway.”
Now if I walked into a store and did what the owner did, the police would be on me before I had made the next block. But the owner can do so with no care of the police. It’s all his.
The fact that ethical differentiation occurs based on position and authority is understood by everyone. We can use examples from the business world, the military, education, families. To apply this to God and the universe as a whole is not only logical but required.
So, we say that God is justified in doing anything he wants without asking our opinion or advice. No one will say to him, “Who died and made you . . .”
“OK, God can do what he wants,” Maher may reply. “So why does he want to kill babies?”
None of us can pretend to understand why God does what he does. He is the Lord of life and death. When he acts, we do not know all of the circumstances, both past and future, that contribute to his decision.
Remember, life is not merely a blip on the earthly screen; it is unending. I believe God’s mercy to the children in eternal life will be greater than we can comprehend.
This gets at the heart of the relationship God desires with us. Faith in God is not mindless acceptance of Maher’s psychopathic tyrant. If the universe is his, then the first step in dealing with God’s actions is to acknowledge his sovereignty and respond in awe and humility.
The bottom line is that we trust him. This is the toughest step for most people to take. But “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). I remember how my son would take my hand and go with me in to see the doctor. He had no idea what the doctor was going to do to him but he trusted me. God is the perfect father.
He is the God who “wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). He is patient, longsuffering and merciful (Daniel 9:9) and his kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). So, when God acts in judgment it is usually the culmination of a long string of warnings and second chances.
God’s judgment is a hard truth and I get a pain in my gut when I consider the suffering in our world. I do not understand everything that happens, in fact, I do not like everything that happens. I get angry, upset, confused. I tell God that I am angry, as did David and psalmists. David almost seems to shake his fist at God for not seeming to hear his prayers, not responding when he needed help, and even allowing the wicked to prosper while he suffered (read Psalms 6, 13, 28, 73, etc.). The Bible does not downplay the gut-wrenching reality of our inability to comprehensively know God and his ways.
For the Christian, we know that for a time God did become one of us. The incarnation of Christ who came to die for sin forever answered the question, “What is God like?” Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). He came and suffered with us and for us.
So, Bill Maher, I don’t think that God is psychotic or that Russell Crowe’s anger issues compare to God’s holiness. I do not understand what he does much of the time; but he lets me argue with him. He is faithful, just and merciful. He loves me. And I love him.
I am glad that you are troubled by anyone who would kill babies. Does that mean you’ve changed your position on abortion?