God is not good all the time

God is not good all the time. In fact, God is not good almost all of the time. It is necessary to make this clear because the phrase “God is good all the time” has become a cliché recently. It's everywhere: in stickers, in short videos made for social media, in memes, in tattoos. But not even those who propagate it truly believe in its message. It's just that none of them waste time reflecting on it. And if one does waste time, one creates a series of made up reasons to hide from oneself the fact that when we look at the world and our own lives, God is almost never good; this assuming that He exists and is not just an illusion, of course. I don't believe in the God in the common sense, nor in the sense of complex affirmative theologies like those of Augustine or Aquinas. Even the apophatic theology of the Orthodox and Eastern churches, while more interesting, does little for me in the end. In my view, in apophatic theology, after denying that there is an equivalente or analogy between God and the last particle of existence, there is only emptiness left: God is an immense emptiness, a nothingness.
Whenever I think of austere solitude, I see gray shadows cast in deserts by monasteries, and I try to understand those sad intervals of piety, their mournful boredom. The passion for solitude, which engenders “the monastic absolute” — that all-consuming longing to bury oneself in God — grows in direct proportion to the desolation of the landscape. I see glances broken by walls, untempted hearts, sadness devoid of music. Despair born out of implacable deserts and skies has led to an aggravation of saintliness. The “aridity of consciousness,” about which the saints complain, is the psychic equivalent of external desert. The initial revelation of any monastery: everything is nothing. Thus begin all mysticisms. It is less than one step from nothing to God, for God is the positive expression of nothingness. ¹
I like the Gnostic and Marcionist metaphors, which treat material existence as the imperfect and irredeemable creation of a bastard Demiurge. For the Gnostics, the Demiurge is a monster born of imperfection, generated in secret by one of the eons that inhabit the pleroma, which is emanated (or would it be secreted?) by the divine, profound, unattainable and unfathomable one. In the case of Marcionism, there isn't so much cosmological complexity, nor is there redemption through mystical knowledge, there is only salvation by faith, which takes place through accepting Christ as the messenger of the God who is above the Demiurge, which is identified with the Old Testament God — this identification also occurs in different types of Gnosticism, but with all the complex cosmologies that different Gnostic groups created, with their pleroma and their eons. I like the idea that our essences — be them souls, spirits, or whatever — are imprisoned in material bodies and that we must — through Gnosis or faith or meditation — escape from material existence.
God creating Sun and Moon, by Michelangelo
This idea is also present in different types of Buddhism and in different aspects of Hinduism — although in the case of Buddhism there is no creator deity and, if there was, Siddhartha Gautama made a point of not talking about it. For the Buddha, such a creative force ultimately didn't matter as much as escaping samsara. However, at the end of the day, as much as I admire it and as much as I am tempted by these systems, I can't make myself believe in any of this. They are beautiful metaphors and that's it. But that's not what people mean when they evoke God and say He is good all the time. In today's context, in Brazil and in the United States, this God is almost certainly an image stitched together by pastors of neopentecostal churches, who follow the gospel of prosperity and miracle cures. That is: this deity was incarnated in Jesus, but he wants you, the faithful, to understand that what is truly important in the Bible is the Old Testament. For them, the New Testament ends up being just an appendix where Jesus appears to confirm everything from the Old, to the point where you have preachers in Brazil dressing up as rabbis, which is somewhat hilarious, since in Jesus' time rabbis didn't dress like that, and a few centuries before Jesus they didn't even exist.

But despite my disbelief, this is far from one of those numerous and exhausting atheist attempts to argue against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent creator deity by arguing that such attributes are incompatible with one another. No, it's worse than that. In this essay, I entertain the idea that God exists or could exist, despite my total disbelief, especially in this particular God. Let's be honest for one: the God people are talking about when they say or write “God is good all the time” is a meme, nothing more. Recently, a friend — shout out to Luciano! — pointed to a passage in the Bible in which the Almighty spells out what I'm saying about Him not being good all the time. In Isaiah 45:5-7 we find the following:
I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun men may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other; I form the light, and create the darkness, I make well-being and create woe; I, the LORD, do all these things. ²
That was from The New American Bible, a catholic translation of the Bible. The protestant King James Version is even more forceful:
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. ³
And since only a complete idiot — I write this with the utmost respect for idiots, I'm speaking here of people with very serious cognitive problems — believes that we live in a reality in which there is much more light than darkness, happiness than unhappiness, and peace than evil, it becomes clear that if we take what God says in the Bible literally, then no, God is not good all the time. It gets even worse when we think that we never judge anyone's character just by figuring out the amount of good and bad deeds one does. A man can be charitable for his entire life, but if it turns out he is a serial killer who murdered women and children in grotesque and absurdly painful ways, a lifetime of charity won't change the judgement we will make of him: that man will be seen as evil, and rightly so. But God doesn't even cause good and evil in equal amounts, so it gets a lot worse. Besides, we were all born to die. Most humans die of disease, old age or both — so you wouldn't even be able to blame the violence we do to each other for most deaths, which means God does a whole lot of killing.

A zealot might shout: “But He is the Creator and Lord of all, so He can dispose of us as He pleases!” This excuse doesn't go well for parents who mistreat, torture and even kill their children in cruel ways. That excuse also doesn't work for heads of state or billionaire business executives. Just imagine a president or a constitutional monarch going out into the street and killing indiscriminately. Even absolute monarchies and brutal dictatorships, although they are violent and can last multiple generations, are at risk of one day being overthrown by their people or by the “king's friends”. The British and the French decapitated kings a few centuries ago. A few decades ago, Romanians mercilessly shot bloodthirsty Ceausescu and his malevolent wife in the middle of a dirty alley. There comes a time when many people get tired of despots. Not all people, of course, but many. To say that God created us, that He created the universe, does not justify His wickedness. Yes, there is not much we can do, we are like ants at the hands of a sadistic child. But if He allows us to form a judgement about His character without interfering with what we think, the judgement any thinking person must form is this: God is evil.

You can believe in Him and worship Him. No problem. Even the phrase “I am a God-fearing man” makes a lot more sense when we think of God as a Lovecraftian entity, like Cthulhu, Azathoth or Yog-Sothoth. But the idea of God as a pal who cares tremendously about us is completely fictitious when we use the definition given to us by Him in the Bible itself. It is no use calling it a mystery, as many Christians do when dealing with the divine trinity. There is no mystery. Any other being aware of their actions that treated us the way God treats us would be considered a monster, and this would only be aggravated when such a being said something like: “I treat you badly most of the time, but it's for your own good, try not to understand, it's a mystery. In the end I'm more than benevolent, I am the very definition of goodness!” One can't accept such a thing. I would have to turn off even the weakest parts of my cognition to trust such a person. One day, when I was young, I believed in God. Today, if He unequivocally manifested himself in the middle of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro or Times Square in New York City, the only thing I'd be able to feel would be dread and resentment, nothing more.

by Fernando Olszewski

1. CIORAN, E. Tears and Saints. Translated by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995.