British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton once wrote: “The more I study religions, the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” Or, as my best friend in high school, now the Rev. Vici Derrick, chuckles, “God made man in His image—then man returned the favor.”
We live in a world in which humans have faithfully embraced ancient authors’ portrayals of God as an angry being who vindictively and violently killed humans to solve problems and silence dissent. Thousands of years later, we vigorously defend ancient scribes’ mandates to “put to death” humans who commit sins ranging from being impudent children to murdering a member of the human family.
A human—or a committee of them—declared everything the scribes wrote was the inspired “Word of God.” If we believe that, why are we shocked and repulsed by incidents such as the executions in Tucson and Pakistan? Why do we call these murders “brutal,” “demonic” and “senseless?” Why do we label the killers zealots, sociopaths and terrorists, if we really believe what we say we believe?
Tolerance and forgiveness are divine, not vindictiveness and violence. It is humans who are prone to respond with vitriol and violence. It is humans who must be taught to be civil and accepting of others. It is humans who must be encouraged to love. These virtues are not innate human characteristics.
Have we forgotten the barbaric times in which humans lived? Can we imagine how difficult it must have been for the ancients when they tried to describe God, tried to make sense of their dangerous world and bring some order to it, and when they tried to explain why natural disasters occur and how the world began?
The only context they had was human context. Man at that time solved problems through violence. They may have reasoned that if their world was dangerous and violent, that must be how God is—and how God planned it to be. Or perhaps to justify their behavior, they declared it godly: They were merely mimicking the Huge Human in the sky.
And so they passed down to us a who God is angry, volatile, vindictive, judgmental, violent and mostly unforgiving. They told us—and told us to tell others—that God ordered us to be angry, volatile, vindictive, violent and mostly unforgiving.
Have you ever taken time to count the multitude of reasons that the Word of God says that members of our human family “shall be put to death”? If our ancestors obeyed the word of God, the human race would have been extinct ages ago.
So why do millions of us still believe today that God’s response to human error is brutality: torturing innocent individuals to death so that the guilty could go free or bragging that He drowned “every living thing”? Why do we believe that God would accept an impotent demon’s challenge to inhumanely test a good man’s faith by killing all of his children, drying up his crops and making him suffer untold physical and emotional pain? Why do we believe that God will satanically torture us throughout all eternity for our indisputably finite period of human error? And why do we believe that if humans did any of these horrific things, it would be appalling, unacceptable, deranged—and criminal?
We don’t believe that it’s OK to kill politicians who disagree with us, whether it’s Tucson or Pakistan! Why is it OK, defensible—it’s even worthy to be praised when God commits these inhumane acts? Are we subconsciously holding God to a lower standard than ego-driven humans?
We are accountable for own our double standard. We can’t say that it’s unacceptable for humans to solve problems by killing people, while simultaneously proselytizing that God sinks to such a low, human, and sometimes demonic standard of behavior.
The irony is not lost on us that the youngest victim of the mass murder in Tucson reportedly was born on September 11, 2001—the day when other individuals chose to solve a problem with violence. What was the human response? Claim that God told us to solve that problem with violence. Throughout that child’s lifetime, we tried to solve the problem violently. We inspired support for the violence by fanning the flames of fear.
And how’d that work for us? How many lives did we save? How many families did we destroy? How many young men and women have suffered sustained mental and physical injury?
Historically, the toll for for miscasting God in our vindictive, violent image has been high. Blindly believing in the drama written by ancient scribes has actually breathed life into the demon they created. Every time we treat someone in ways that we would not want to be treated, we feed the demon and share responsibility for its continued destruction around the globe, in homes and parking lots, on city streets and rural countrysides.
Perhaps it’s time to stop worshipping our ego-driven human selves long enough to learn what the murderers and murdered are teaching us: Violence destroys; it is ungodly. True power and true victory come from living as if we were created in God’s true image—as the spirit of Unconditional Love and Forgiveness.