Divorcing God

On August 26 Zach Hoag published a column in the Religion section of The Huffington Post entitled “Divorcing Josh Duggar’s Monster God.” In it, Hoag claims that the God that Josh Duggar, Jim Bob Duggar, Bill Gothard and others worship is a God that creates the behavior Josh Duggar has been in the news for recently–sexual molestation, addiction to pornography and extra-marital affairs. Hoag pulls no punches, writing, “I believe the root cause of Josh’s behavior is unequivocally linked to his faith and belief.” He goes on to say that Duggar worships a Monster God.

Hoag further clarifies the character of this Monster God, writing, “This Monster God promoted by both Gothard and the Duggars is a God for whom absolute power is the ultimate good – power that is uniquely delegated to men, to be especially wielded over women.” He says that this is a God of “unpredictable whim” whose “‘forgiveness’ is less about love and more about submission to his power.” He continues, blaming this Monster God for a courtship approach that “encodes power from the start” and claiming that under Duggar’s God, Josh Duagg’s wife “will exist to submit to Josh, and that is her ultimate good.”

Hoag makes the point that joining the “shame parade” over Duggar’s behavior will not help any, and with that I agree. Side note: no one seems to have any issue with the Ashley Madison site itself, nor have I heard anyone crowing about the site at any time over the last several years since it has been in existence–and it is not as if it was a secret, having been featured in TIME and other publications. Isn’t it interesting that we can “celebrate” a site designed to facilitate extra-marital affairs but then we pillory someone who avails himself of the site’s services… I am not at all suggesting that Duggar should get a free pass for his actions, and I am certainly not suggesting that an extra-marital affair is no big deal. But piling the shame on Duggar likely does more to make those piling on feel better about their own failings than anything else.

Back to the issue at hand, Hoag wants to skip the shame parade and instead initiate a divorce proceeding. Actually, two divorce proceedings would be more accurate. First, he certainly seems to suggest the Josh Duggar’s wife Anna should divorce him. It is unfortunate that there are some reports out there that Anna may be at least in part blaming herself for Josh’s behavior, but it is not unfortunate that her immediate reaction was not divorce. Part of the tearing down of marriage in America, of course, is the establishment of the position that marriage is not worth fighting for, that marriage is disposable and easily ended whenever it is hard, inconvenient or unfair. That the Duggars and Bill Gothard and many others do not take that position is absolutely not something to apologize for or hide from. The other divorce proceeding Hoag has in mind, though, is divorcing the Monster God. Here is what Hoag writes:

An unaccountable God whose unpredictable whim is the omnipotent law and the ultimate good that we worship, pray to, and promote should be promptly served divorce papers, because our freedom and true goodness is to be found beyond the bonds of that unholy marriage.

And in his place, let us join ourselves again to the One True God who is completely accountable to his own character, which is really and truly good, defined by the very character of Jesus and the fruit of Jesus’s Spirit.

To his credit, Hoag is not suggesting we divorce God, nor is he suggesting that the One True God approves of the behavior Duggar has admitted and Gothard has been accused of. Sadly, however, Hoag seems to think that the God that the Duggars and Gothard claim to worship is a different God than the One in the Bible, and I do not believe that is the case. We cannot define God by the behavior of His followers. That Duggar molested his sisters, is addicted to pornography and cheated on his wife tells us nothing about God. It may tell us a lot about Duggar, and certainly Duggar has forfeited the right to take positions of moral leadership, but that is all. There are many different views among many different people about what the Bible teaches about marriage, about gender roles, about leadership and submission. The Bible is abundantly clear and some of those things and less clear on others. That God hates divorce and desires husbands and wives to remain married until death is not in debate. Yes, there are biblical grounds for divorce, but pornography and adultery are not automatically such grounds.

I do not know enough about Hoag to know what he has in mind when he writes about “the One True God who is completely accountable to his own character.” If he means the God of Scripture, then yes, we need to “join ourselves” to Him. That, in fact, is the only thing we should do. We should not join ourselves to individuals or “Christian celebrities.” When we follow a human, regardless of who that human follows or claims to represent, we are necessarily following a fallen, flawed individual–and fallen, flawed individuals will mess up. Of course we are all fallen, flawed individuals, and we all mess up. That is part of the beauty of Scripture–that God loves us and forgives us and wants a relationship with us despite the fact that we are fallen, flawed and messed up. One of the most unique aspects of the Bible is that it tells the entire story, warts and all. Even those individuals who are hailed as champions of the faith are not presented in airbrushed perfection. Instead, Scripture tells us about their mistakes and their sins. We know Abraham lied, we know Moses had a temper, we know David committed both adultery and murder, we know Peter put his foot in his mouth on a regular basis. Those are but four examples among many. That is why we cannot cast our lots with any person; instead, we must devote ourselves to God.

Josh Duggar or Bill Gothard or anyone else messing up does not mean that God messed up. It does not mean that the positions, principles or convictions they stood for are wrong. This is the same kind of thinking that results in blaming the NRA or gun manufacturers for gun violence. I may not agree with the Duggars or Gothard on everything–in fact, I know I do not–but I suspect that if it came down to comparing notes about what we believe the Bible teaches we would probably agree more than we disagree. I do not know Zach Hoag, and perhaps if he and I did the did the same thing we would find we disagree more than we agree. I just do not know. What I do know, though, is that it is possible to believe that the Bible teaches that men and women have unique roles within the church and within marriage, and that God intends for the husband to be the head of the wife, without believing that that same God also gives the male carte blanche to do whatever he wants–pornography, adultery, molestation, or more. In fact, I will go further than that and say that it is possible to believe that God created men and women to have unique roles within marriage and the church, that He intends for the husband to be the head of the wife, and He also does does not approve of adultery, molestation or pornography.

Josh Duggar messed up. No doubt about it. Bill Gothard may have, as well. Neither is a reason to divorce the God those men have claimed to follow and serve. If Hoag or anyone else things there is a god that teaches that the behavior Duggar has admitted to is acceptable, or at least excusable, for a man, then that god should be divorced. He would be a small-g god, though, not the One True God of the Bible. God’s children mess up, but God does not. God’s children may misunderstand or misappropriate His Word, but that reflects an error in them, not in Him. Let us now allow the misbehavior of God’s children to cast aspersion on God.

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