I’ve never met Bill Maher, so I don’t know what kind of guy he is. He does say plenty of things that irritate me, and lots of people, but he also says some pretty funny things that make me laugh. On par I’d say he’s probably a good guy with some strong opinions about some things I don’t share. He hates religion, though, saying religion is a bureaucracy between God and man he doesn’t need. I’m on his team for that one. He calls himself an apatheist, saying he doesn’t know what happens when we die and he doesn’t care. I can’t hang with him there. When he got on a jag about the Russell Crowe movie Noah Maher said something very interesting about God:
“It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God”
He also said that God “drowns babies.” Now if you can get past the bravado and sarcasm and hear the basic question Maher is asking, it isn’t so easy to answer. He wants to know how a good God not only allows suffering and pain, but how a good God inflicts suffering and pain. Maher is not saying there is no God. He repeatedly says he doesn’t have the answer to that question and is open to there being a God or gods, but that the God of the Old Testament, which is the same God Christians claim as their God, is not a good God. Maher is saying he doesn’t like the Christian God and he presents his reasoning for not liking Him: God is a mass murdering baby killer who wipes out everyone because He doesn’t like what a few of us are doing. Bill Maher’s personal relationship with God (at least the Christian God) is enmity. He doesn’t want to be friends with this God.
It makes sense to me. If I thought the Christian God was a crazed baby killer who might go off on me at any moment and kill my family or my whole country because I wasn’t acting the way he wants me to act, I wouldn’t want to be his friend either. Who needs friends like that? But I am friends with the Christian God, so I have to take Maher’s accusations seriously and not just be irritated because he said “bad things” about my friend. Christianity is not for lazy people or squeamish people. It takes effort to be in a relationship with real people. They do weird things. They embarrass us. Some times they need to be defended against false accusations. Some times we need to hear an outside opinion of our loved ones because we are too close to see their flaws.
The problem with Bill Maher’s opinion about God is this: we have no concept of a bad God. The name “God” is itself derived from the word “good.” God is simply good writ large. The highest GOOD we can imagine is God. When Maher calls God a psychotic murderer, he calls him “not God” = or = he says this God can’t be real; this God doesn’t exist. So Maher contradicts himself when he says he doesn’t know or care if God or gods are out there and how he might or might not relate to them. He very much does care about at least one God; the God of the Christians and the Jews, and he definitely doesn’t want to have a relationship with him. But what about any other God? How would Bill ever find a God he could agree with? If the standard he sets for an acceptable level of God-ness is only what Bill Maher calls God or what Bill Maher can understand about God’s actions, how would he ever know he had a real God at all? That would mean that Bill himself is perfect and judges perfectly any and all actions of the divine being. It would mean in fact that Bill Maher would have to be that god. And that is precisely what anyone in his position does have – a god of their own manufacture. A God who never contradicts us or confounds us, but only agrees with us and acts in the exact way we think they should act is indistinguishable from our self. A god like that is not worth much when we need help or advice.
I said that relationships with real people are hard, and they are. The Christian God is a real person. He does things that embarrass me. He does things I don’t understand. He does things that make no sense to me that I wish he didn’t do. The problem for me is different though. My problem is that knowing the extent of God’s goodness; his perfect love and wisdom, I can’t lay any fault at his feet for these things. He is good and he doesn’t do bad things. He is wise and he doesn’t make mistakes. The lack of understanding is with me. The misperception is mine. This is not because I’m inferior or stupid or unimportant to God. Its because if I’m going to have a God at all I’m going to have to have a God who is great enough to do things I can’t understand. The Christian God doesn’t leave me without information, however. The Christian God gives me plenty of confidence in his essential goodness. He dies on a cross for me. He enters into our suffering. He is touched by my frailty. In other words the Christian God gives me an overwhelming reason to trust that a God who would go to such lengths to have a real relationship with us would not randomly kill babies. He is not psychotic. He is not a mass murderer. The cross contradicts me when I am angry at him for not acting in a way I find appropriate. He did not withhold Christ from us; why should I believe he would withhold any good thing when he gave the highest thing so freely? I don’t know why my God does what he does. I don’t know why he chose the cross either, but I am sure my God cares and cared about every person ever born more than me or Bill Maher ever did. And so I trust him. He is my friend.