Feeding the Beast

Our latest question comes from Yvette.  She wrote: “Pastor Craig, I have decided to disengage for a while from some social networks due to all of the bullying, hate and controversy.  I also have been encouraged by some to not give up, to let my voice be heard. My question to you is– if there is a God, why does God not intervene? Why there is such a struggle between what is right, and what is wrong? Let me just state, I do not believe in the Garden of Eden story per se; it is a story of temptation and following rules– that is the moral. I want to know why good people are allowed to create hate and fear in others for control. I feel like mankind is basically set up to fail– what kind of God does that?”

Yvette, as you know, I believe very strongly that God is not directly responsible for much of what happens in our world.  Because of the gift of free will, human beings are the ones who are responsible for the choices they make.  These human choices – not God – are responsible for the bulk of the pain and suffering with which we live.

Some would follow that observation up by asking that if God is truly not responsible for causing the pain/brokenness – why doesn’t God at least step in and minimize the pain.  My preferred way of responding to that question is to return to the analogy of parent/child: if the parent (in this case, God) always steps in and rights the wrongs, the child (in this case, us) would never learn.  Sadly, many of us fail to learn from the mistakes.  We human beings either keep repeating the mistakes, or try to get around our work by blaming God for what we did.  I spend a good deal of my time in ministry trying to help people understand this dynamic so they can start assuming more responsibility for the kind of world we humans create.

I do want to say one thing about your decision to disengage from social media for a while.  I wholeheartedly support that decision.  Let me tell you why I say that.

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “If you feed the beast, it will grow.”  I’ve learned over the years just how true that is.  If I spend time paying lots of attention to folks who speak from angry, hateful, and hurtful places – guess what happens to me?  I become increasingly angry, hateful, and hurtful.  If I make conscious choices to minimize contact with those voices, guess what happens?  I become more open, more loving, and am more of a loving presence in the world.

For years and years and years, I spent so much energy lashing out at others who I felt were causing all of the problems.  I don’t do very much of that any more.  Instead, I put as much energy as possible in paying attention to my own thoughts and behaviors.  I try to feed a sense of hope, peace, joy and love in the world – NOT the beast!

It sounds as if social networks were manifestations of the beast for you.  I sounded as if the time you spent there was feeding your sense of anger, frustration, and despair.  That’s why those things have grown in you.  That’s why I’m so thrilled you’ve stepped back and decided to quit feeding the beast.  CONGRATULATIONS!!!  Now, try to spend more time devoted to POSITIVE things that can help you reconnect to your sense of hope, peace, joy, and love: even toward those with whom you disagree!

So how about you?  What do you think about these matters?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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6 Responses to Feeding the Beast

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I have a lot of difficulty with the “God as good parent” explanation for nonintervention. Even a good parent who wants their kids to learn from their mistakes will intervene if the child is doing something harmful to others. No good parent says, “Little Timmy needs to learn that if he hits people, they won’t like him, so I’m just gonna let him go on hitting that younger child so he can learn this valuable lesson.” In the cases where a handful of people are doing great harm to a whole lot more people, I can’t imagine whatever lessons might be learned are worth that level of innocent human suffering—especially when people are doing harm in the name of God when God could just speak to their hearts and say, “You’ve got it wrong; that’s not what I want from you.”

    If there is a God, I would guess there is more to it than wanting us to learn from our mistakes. Perhaps he has rules preventing him from intervening in certain ways. Perhaps he did intervene in ways we can’t detect, and things would be even worse if he hadn’t. Perhaps there are reasons too big and ineffable for mortal brains to comprehend. But if God is a good parent with no restrictions on his ability to intervene, it seems callous and unreasonable to say that he allows stuff like genocide to proceed unhindered merely to teach us a lesson that we don’t seem to be learning anyhow.

  2. Stevie says:

    I love the idea of not feeding the beast..I think the tapes we play in our head should be chosen carefully.
    I believe that there are times when God does let us make our own choices, and doesn’t intervene.
    However, let’s give God credit for the thousands of times he does protect us. Just in my own life there have been so many times.
    As parents we do let kids choose unwisely and fail sometimes, but many more times we protect them. I think God is the same, and I try to remember that.

  3. capete67 says:

    Beverly, while I respect your interpretation of the analogy I used – that was NOT the direction I intended when I used it. The challenge of using language is that any word/analogy/metaphor can be viewed in so many different ways. So what did I intend? Well, I did NOT intend a moralistic interpretation of the notion of consequence. I don’t for a second believe God refuses to intervene in order to punish us for making bad choices. Instead, I believe that the logical extension of free will means that there are consequences that flow naturally from our choices. Just as God gives us space to make our decisions, God then allows space to live into those decisions. I know that many spiritual leaders have spent generations interpreting the notion of consequences largely within a moralistic framework. That’s why so many people hear it that way these days. That’s too bad- for it’s not the only way the analogy can be heard/interpreted.

    • Beverly Marshall Saling says:

      Craig, I’m sorry if I misstated; I never thought you meant God refuses to intervene in order to punish anyone. But you did mean he allows us—and others—to live with the naturally arising consequences of our actions, no? What I’m saying is that yes, that’s often what a good parent does. But not always. When the natural consequences of a child’s actions are too harmful or fall on the heads of innocent others, a good parent intervenes to prevent those consequences. That God does not doesn’t mean that God is a bad parent—only that the parenting analogy doesn’t fully explain what God’s standards for intervention must be like.

      I bring this up because the parent analogy is a popular explanation for why God doesn’t prevent wars or plagues or natural disasters. But that can be really off-putting for non-Christians because it makes God look either neglectful or weirdly mercurial (he’ll intervene to answer prayers about individual personal problems, but not to stop a genocide?). It makes more sense to me to say God is a good parent, yes, but is ALSO constrained by other rules—the need to preserve free will at any cost, perhaps, or the need to keep a steady hand on the laws of nature, or some other, God-sized reason. Then it would be easier for him to intervene in small things than in big ones, because he too has to live with the consequences of his actions, and big interventions have bigger consequence-ripples that might make things worse down the road for some reason he can foresee but we can’t.

  4. Sharon says:

    Does Free Will enter into this conversation?

  5. capete67 says:

    Sharon, you’re right. Free will plays a HUGE role in this conversation. I’ve learned it can be extremely difficult talking about free will because many of us will engage the concept only when it suits our theological purposes. Those on one extreme, for instance, will be quick to give God credit for all the good things that happen, and then do a 180 and blame humanity for all the bad things that happen. Those on the opposite extreme will give humanity credit for all the good things that happen, and then do a 180 and blame God for all the bad things that happen. The challenge – for those of us who believe in free will – is to find a consistent approach in our view regarding God (and humanity).

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