Friday, June 19, 2009

T-shirt philosophy

So I got stuck in the internet vortex for about an hour yesterday browsing some really great artistic, witty t-shirts. I would be up for wearing many of them if I possessed a budget labeled "tongue-in-cheek t-shirts." Alas.
But I ran across this one. At first I thought, "that's hilarious..." then, "wait just a minute!" I think the message here may be reflecting a belief out there about God. Like, God is the couch. He's a source of "comfort," yet he demands that we partake of it, or he'll send "unrelenting wrath" our way. I think the fact that it's a cute-looking couch renders the concept even more absurd. Either making the point that the God that exists and makes such ridiculous demands is more absurd than the couch, or that the very absurdity of a God who would make such demands renders his existence unlikely or impossible. it a valid critique? Is it absurd and cruel for God to demand that we partake of his comfort at the penalty of wrath? Well, I think for the answer to be yes, it would require a massive oversimplification (isn't that clever to use such rhetoric in the succinct art form of a t-shirt?). Before I get into my philosophical argument in response, you may be thinking, "you're calling a T-shirt a critique?" Well, even if I'm wrong about the tee's intent, there is definitely this idea out there that hell renders God a capricious and ridiculous figure. I've met people who are bitter at the idea of God in part because of this concept. I just want to offer a broader perspective, because it's so easy to let an idea--even from a t-shirt, a song lyric or a sound byte--work its way under our skin before we've really thought it through. And by then it's done a lot of damage.
Anyway, the t-shirt is a valid critique, and God and his actions would be absurd if:
  • God and people appeared independently of each other, with no relational history, such as creator/creation, or king/coup participants. In other words, if we had no rightful obligation to God, and he had no legitimate charge to lay at our door.
  • Or worse, if, like the couch, people made God for their own comfort. If that were his only function in the universe.
  • If comfort were all God offered, instead of offering as well freedom from lies, fellowship with deity, moral excellence, enabling of true love for humanity, etc.
  • If God were as worthy of respect as a couch, rather than deserving the respect due the only infinite being in the universe, the mastermind behind all its laws, the author of all beauty, the avenger of all evil, etc.
  • If it were negligible whether enjoying God's comfort were in our best interest. If, like a couch, taking advantage of his presence may not advance one's most important purpose for that moment, may not be necessary or may not serve the best interest of humanity in general at the time.
  • If God wanted us to take advantage of his comfort for any other reason than for our ultimate good. If he were somewhat emotionally deficient and miffed (like the couch, apparently) that we would so hurt his pride, so that he retaliated with wrath.
So, in summary: If God were indeed a person unworthy of much respect and having no claim on our affections, who took little true thought for our best interests, and, while having no real reason to be angry at us, decided to capriciously lash out at us--well, this would be an absurd figure.
But, if God is our creator--worthy of infinite respect and our true source of all love and beauty--and invites humanity into all his joy, yet is infinitely and legitimately wronged by humanity's rebellion, then who are we to say whether he is wrong to choose a punishment that fits this crime?
How do you measure an offense against an infinitely worthy being? Not to mention any offense against the creatures he made? Who can define how much restitution is due when you didn't make the law and can't estimate the value of the victim? Who is qualified to preside as judge over such a matter?
But there's one more reason that for me blows any absurdity or hint of capricious cruelty out of the water: This same God, worthy of all respect and infinitely offended, offered himself as the restitution for the crime. This is what Jesus was doing on the cross as a member of the Godhead--lawfully removing God's claim against us. He didn't just "go through hell" through the physical and emotional pain of crucifixion, he also absorbed God's "unrelenting wrath"* on our behalf.
Why? Because he loves us. Because he knows enjoying his infinite comfort (and MUCH more) is the only we can be genuinely happy or have any hope of really loving each other.
I don't think the couch would be so kind.

*Wait, you say, Jesus rose from the dead. How is that "unrelenting wrath"? Well, if Jesus is part of the Godhead and thus infinite in being, he was able to absorb God's infinite wrath. Or so I've heard. ( :