Tag Archives: Robert Jay Lifton

Into Hell With Our Heads Held High

When I was a child, the question of theodicy, why God allows evil to exist, plagued me.

I read all the books about why God allows bad things to happen to good people. But none of them satisfied me. This is what eventually led me to reading Loraine Boettner’s book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination on Calvinism and predestination (and later made me keenly interested in Jack Crabtree’s book The Most Real Being: A Biblical and Philosophical Defense of Divine Determinism).

It made no sense to me that God was all-powerful and created everything yet evil was a special exception. Evil was like God’s own prodigal child that no one talked about at the dinner table. So I found temporary peace in believing that, if God truly was all-powerful, God must be the origin of evil—but had an ineffable plan to use that evil ultimately for good. All the child abuse, all the rapes, all the wars, all the starvation and plagues and death, they all ultimately worked out somehow for God’s glory. I just couldn’t see the whole picture because God is beyond human understanding.

Now I know this is all bullshit.

All the child abuse, all the rapes, all the wars, all the starvation and plagues and death… none of that is worth an eternity of denim and harps. That is a cruel, unfair trade, and no good, moral God would force conscious beings through all that just to self- pleasure Godself.

Furthermore, I do not believe in this ineffable plan beyond human understanding. We are made in the image of God, the Bible tells us, and we inherited sin specifically because Adam and Eve acquired the knowledge of good and evil. All signs indicate that we as humans are capable of understanding God and consequently loving or hating God. For how can we truly love or hate someone or something if we don’t actually know them? We can’t. That’s not true love or hate. If it is impossible to understand God, it is impossible to be in relationship with God, irregardless of whether that relationship is one of love or hate. No healthy relationship involves one party remaining a mystery to the other party (or parties).

That makes for a great film script, but not for a functional relationship.

Now that I am an adult, I can say confidently that this ineffability business is nothing more than a cop-out. It is a thought-terminating cliche, like Robert Jay Lifton talks about in the book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. It is a phrase meant to shut down doubt before doubt takes root in your mind.

“But Ryan,” you protest, “what about free will?” I am pretty sure God can let us all make our own choices while still not allowing some of us to abuse and harm the rest of us. We have laws and law enforcement and those don’t erase free will. Why can’t God similarly enforce morality on earth? God sent a full-blown flood to wipe out nearly all of mankind at one point. That wasn’t a giant erasure of many human wills? Come on. We can allow people to make choices without allowing them to abuse and harm others. That’s just common sense.

But God seems to have other priorities. So either God is not all-powerful or God won’t raise a finger to stop injustice—and an omnipotent being that won’t raise a finger to stop child abuse or rape or war is not worthy of love or respect. No C.S. Lewis allegory or Josh McDowell argument will convince me otherwise. I’ve read them all and they all fall short. (A less-than-omnipotent deity could certainly still be worthy of love or respect, but that would make God a liar, as the God of the Bible makes abundantly clear that God is indeed Sovereign, the Creator of All, the Alpha and the Omega.)

When I was a child, the question of theodicy plagued me because I was sexually abused as a child. So this is personal. If God is all-powerful, God could have spared me a lifetime of nightmares and suicidal ideation. But God chose not to. If God was a person, we would rightly, consequently, call God an enabler. God knew, God saw, and God was silent.

But we are afraid to say these dark thoughts aloud. Because they challenge God. Because they are sacrilegious. Because they make us into Adam and Eve in Eden again, deciding that knowing what is true is still, after everything we’ve suffered, worth a lifetime of pain. Because if at least we know what is true, we can die with integrity.

And if Hell ends up being real, we can walk into Hell with our heads held high.