Wednesday, July 23, 2008

why does God get offended?

Have you ever wondered why certain things offend God? I’ve been wondering about this a lot lately. Why do some particular things appear to bother Him and others don’t?

According to apologists, we should know the things that offend God even if we don’t have “The List”. They argue the case for an imbedded code, a moral law that is hardwired in our psyches. The apostle Paul makes the argument himself in the opening chapter of his Roman letter. For instance, we know that taking things from other people is wrong; it’s built in; we simply know it. If there’s a common thread in the ethics of the world’s great religions, it’s the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, treat people the way you would like to be treated in life. Even as I write that I’m reminded that the Church, myself included, has failed miserably in this simple chief moral imperative. Think respect.

But is that how God did it? Did He choose the things that offend Him because they hurt other people? If that’s the case, then the primal moral code of our brave new world is true: “It doesn’t matter what you do in the privacy of your own home as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” But that’s oddly devoid of the supernatural. What if things we do in our privacy—that seemingly don’t hurt others—hurt God somehow?

The question is: Why? Why would it bother God?

Let me start with an extreme example. Stop here if you’re easily offended. But extremes force us to stretch out thought-boundaries.

Suppose there was a man who enjoyed having sex with a sheep. He lives in the country; the nearest house is a quarter mile down the road. He takes good care of the sheep; feeds it well, grazes it, grooms it. The sheep is well-loved. Periodically, he brings the sheep inside and has sex with it. The sheep doesn’t seem to mind. And the man seems truly happy and never abuses his sheep.

No one knows about his fetish. He lives alone. He’s well-liked, has a disarming sense of humor and volunteers with food drives and charities. He’s a good neighbor.

So what’s the problem?

Though bestiality is condemned by the world’s religions and shunned in society, why? As long as it’s done privately and doesn’t hurt anyone else, why should it matter?

We could say it goes against nature, but again, why? If it’s damaging to the species (though cross-species copulation seems to have a built-in failure mechanism in terms of replication), what if the man practiced safe sex and wore protection? Of course, you could say that if everyone did that, the human species would die out. But is God simply the guardian of species, insuring that we propagate and populate the planet? And even if twenty percent of the population had their personal sheep gigolo, would that be enough to offset the balance of births and deaths? I’ll let the statisticians figure that out.

If God’s rationale for morality is simply evolutionary in scale, if He’s only the guardian of the species, then ethics have only a rational, Darwinian purpose. But what happens when technology yanks the rug out from under that? If children can be produced in a test-tube, then our sheep-loving man could have human children in a variety of ways without ever having contact with another human. Who needs a morality beyond “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else”?

If we say, “That’s just not how God designed the human machine to work”, and we don’t want to think this is all purely naturalistic, then we’re implying there are psychological and social elements to consider as well. But suppose the man was given a barrage of psychological tests and was found to be fairly content and functional, at least no more or less than the rest of his neighbors who wrestle with family dysfunctions, social interaction, personal value and worth and everything else use to measure emotional health.

So why would the man and his sheep offend God’s sensibilities?

Take a more common example: pornography. As long as it’s private, doesn’t affect others, and practiced in moderation, what’s the problem? No problem…until we bring God into the picture and we’re forced back to this question: why would a person viewing pornography offend God?

Or go even less extreme: your very own private thought life. What if you never purchased pornography, never entertained the websites, and never mentioned it to your family…but had an active fantasy life? What’s the problem with that? Apparently it’s a problem for God; Jesus said frankly you’re in trouble if you even look at a woman lustfully. Just reminding ourselves that God knows our thoughts is sobering.

But why do those things offend God?

What if our scales are all wrong…and the current standard of “happiness” is not the plumb line for God’s morality? Face it: none of us want to deny anyone else their happiness as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Right? I mean, isn’t the “pursuit of happiness” built into social fabric? Yes, but how do we define “personal happiness”? Maybe Joseph Goebbels had more happy days than unhappy ones. Ah, then we’re back to “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else” and Joe really dropped the ball on that one. But come on: is “not hurting others” the best definition we can come up with for ethics, let alone happiness?

Take any number of private issues that seemingly don’t hurt others.

What if there is more to the spiritual side of morality that goes beyond the naturalistic or emotional components? And what does that mean? I know it sounds noble to simply say, “That’s what the Bible says so I believe it”, but that won’t work as a cultural apologetic. I think we really need to dig into what a “spiritual ethic” means…and go far deeper than “the Bible says so” or conversely, “whatever makes you happy”. I think it will take some theologian smarter than me to clarify this one.

I was talking about this the other day with my oldest daughter Rachel and her boyfriend Tyler. She suggested the idea that God is like an artist, say, a painter. No artist likes someone else to paint over their creative work in whatever style, colors or technique they want; that would be offensive to the creator-artist. Imagine a graffiti artist adding a personal touch to Seurat’s Grande Jatte…perhaps “Pointillism Sucks” spray-painted across the lawn. Maybe the Ultimate Cosmic Artist has created a picture that reflects His glory and imagination, each brush stroke intentional and well placed. Perhaps it’s even a work in progress, and when we add the colors and tones we prefer, we insult the mind, personality and creativity of the artist. Or at least smudge what He considers a masterpiece.

And maybe that’s why some Christian thinkers are calling “beauty” the New Apologetic.


  1. Love it. B T Dub, there is a author named Charlie Peacock who has written one of the most influential books I have read and refers to God as the Creator-Artist throughout the entire book and digs into it deeply. Great read.

  2. Thanks for writing this. So many people (me included) need to be reminded that we are a part of God's creation and here for his glory as a part of his masterpiece.

  3. Ah, Sunday in the Park. Not my definition of beauty, but without that painting we probably don't have pixels, and thus no TV or computer screens. Pointillism rocks.

    Did you know that Stephen Sondheim (best theatre writer in history) wrote a 2-hour-long musical about that painting? Didn't sell well, but it was a pretty amazing thing from an artistic perspective.

    "And a little more RED!"

  4. Oh, and good post Dave. I'll be passing this to a few friends.

  5. of course there is the idea that everything we do, whether in public or private, has some effect on everyone else.

    the sheep example is lacking one other option as to why it offends God. the sheep, although "it doesn't seem to mind" has no ability to give consent. therefore, it is a form of rape. the same reasoning a grown man cannot have sex with a little girl who might not "seem to mind." all of God's creation deserves protection, not just humans. in fact, one could argue that since Jesus came to serve humanity, it gives us the ultimate example of our duty to creation. we are the servants of nature in that sense. (George Bernard Shaw said that man is a dog's picture of God... pretty awesome responsibility).

    the pornography is harmful because it cheapens our view of another person. those thoughts will eventually be lived out through our actions. plus, it furthers the ability for the pornographers to afford more people to objectify.

    the same idea with a fantasy life apart from pornography. it cheapens our thoughts of another person which will eventually be displayed.

    all that to say there is nothing that is done in "private". it just doesn't exist since our thoughts and/or private deeds shape our public words and deeds (or lack thereof) which will affect others.

    but, you are totally right in that God does care beyond what simply doesn't seem to hurt some one else. Thank God that He loves us enough to save us from ourselves.

  6. kind of heavy and much needed. thanks for your post. i had to re-read it to fully get the point. i can't agree enough about your conclusion that the church has a lame (my word) response to the current culture regarding why it matters as long as we aren't hurting anyone. "come on church, let's engage in real dialoge with others and dig deep."

  7. O.K. Dave this is going to drive me crazy. I keep thinking of a quote you used from C.S. Lewis in one of your sermons. It goes something like this: "Every decision/choice we make, makes us more a creature of heaven or hell". If you can think of which C.S. Lewis book you got that from, please reply with the real quote or at least the source.

    Anyway, I think having sex with a sheep, or pornography or whatever secret sin makes us more a creature of hell. It is a choice to move farther from God, rather than closer to Him. A choice to choose pleasure over Relationship.

    Speaking as someone in recovery I can say that things that are "private, doesn’t affect others, and practiced in moderation" don't stay that way for long, they have a way of sprialing out of control. Small things done with great love may change the world, but they also change us. And small things done without great love change us as well.

  8. From "Mere Christianity":

    "People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules, I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."

  9. Dave Workman just wrote a blog about men having sex with sheep. My life is now complete.

  10. All the secret sins described just keep you away from others. I believe all our secret sins just keep us from building relationships with other people.

    sex with sheep = not a relationship that God would honour. Another isolating behavior.
    Porn = keeps you seperated from others. Its another trick to keep you isolated from others.

    God is about relationship with you, not a bunch of rules.

  11. A little late to the party but here is a thought. What are you doing with the time I have given you on this earth? Has it been used for MY glory. How is having sex with a sheep, pornography etc... Can you do these acts and say I am pleased with what you are doing?

    I think Jim was on to something in stating that these types of behavior keep us away from others. They isolate us. They keep us from going to the truth in the Bible. Also, I believe one "knows" when one is doing something that one ought not to do.

    And if one does not know that they are doing wrong then is that considered sin? This goes into the whole what happens to babies when they die but I digress... but it all did happen when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of knowledge...

    Sorry but let's stop making excuses and reasons. I believe God let's us know when things like sex with sheep is just simply not right.

  12. things done in moderation are just that and for some while it may spiral out of control, others can control what they're doing no matter what sort of person makes the argument that it would happen otherwise. that was in response to some earlier comment.

    that being said, i can't completely agree with your daughter/your assertion that the whole "graffiti on a classic work of art" idea is bad news. i don't know exactly what i'm saying here or maybe i do and just don't know how to put it into words, but in most cases or all cases or some cases, seeing graffiti on anything makes something a little more beautiful. i may be taking your idea in the wrong way, but whatever. maybe what i'm trying to say is that humans are capable of making something more perfect, outlandish as it may seem to you--trains look more beautiful with graffiti, walls, even art installations in museums (where something like this actually happens, sort of--check out banksy). i'm rambling and i don't really know what i'm trying to say. anyway.

  13. Dave,
    I believe that when God wanted us to keep our marriages sacred. IF people believe that they are not hurting any one with "private pornography" That is false. Not only is it hurting God but it really opens the couple up to the evil one. Who already tries to lead others to defy God. I believe that in order to Honor our God and savior is that we keep the marriage as God expects us to. We do nothing but damage it and ourselves when we do such things. It only destroys our spirits and the bond couples share within the marriage its self. Nothing good ever comes from straying away from our God.

  14. Do I have just cause to file a complaint against my church, when someone in the VCC/HR department[G. S.], interviews me for a job that I am well qualified for, tells me; “we have a problem hiring you because you are NOT MARRIED to your girlfriend and living under the same roof”, & “because it is standard practice of the our church to hire only individuals that are married to their loved one and not co-habiting with one another…based on the Holy Bible and the honor of marriage” [Greg S. & Dennis B. of Vineyard Community Church of Cincinnati {Sept/02/2008}]. My girlfriend and I honor the Bible and it’s laws for marriage by sleeping separately in two different rooms, and abs cent from sex until our future plans of marriage. And I did indeed inform both parties in my strong Christian standards in which I exercise completely/daily, (based on the laws of the Old Testament). We are under the same roof, but living as roommates do, just like a coeds in a Coed College Dorm.
    Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
    If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
    Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
    Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
    The Bible
    Ecclesiastes 4

    This goes deeper than that…we have an associate (division) pastor for approx. 3-4 years, from England within our church, “Keith”, which this individual has two drug convictions of marijuana(1982), whom is allowed on staff, and this church does background checks, but will allow such individual to be a part of our church, in a leadership position. I have nothing against any person(s) whom choose to better his/her way of life. He was given a chance to prove himself…all I ask for is that same-equal chance to prove myself as well. I have a felony conviction(Jan./2000), myself, and the church will not allow me in any volunteer programs and/or employment within the church. In the scope of these things, the church is exercising a “double standard”. I have applied for several volunteer programs since I started attending VCC in Oct./2007, to say the least for employment within as well.
    When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.
    Richard Nixon