Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Theology of South Park

One of my more cynical friends sent me this week a bit of dialogue from “South Park”. The episode is entitled “Kenny Dies” and contains some dubious theologizing by Chef.

Stan: Why would God let Kenny die, Chef? Kenny’s my friend. Why can’t God take someone else’s friend?

Chef: Stan sometimes God takes those closest to us, because it makes him feel better about himself. He is a very vengeful God, Stan. He’s all pissed off about something we did thousands of years ago. He just can’t get over it, so he doesn’t care who he takes. Children, puppies, it doesn’t matter to him, so long as it makes us sad. Do you understand?

Stan: But then, why does God give us anything to start with?

Chef: Well, look at it this way: if you want to make a baby cry, first you give it a lollipop. Then you take it away. If you never give it a lollipop to begin with, then you would have nothin’ to cry about. That’s like God, who gives us life and love and help just so that he can tear it all away and make us cry, so he can drink the sweet milk of our tears. You see, it’s our tears, Stan, that give God his great power.

This would be simply outrageous and offensive if it didn’t represent exactly the view many people have of God. Perhaps they would not express it as crassly as Chef, but their actual understanding of how God interacts with his creation is practically the same. When people wonder where God was when the earthquake in Haiti struck or the when the towers fell or when a child or spouse or parent died, it is Chef’s God they are wondering about. A god in direct control of every event cannot evade the charge of injustice and even cruelty. This is the god the “new atheists” despise and scorn. And I don’t blame them. I would despise such a god as well. But this is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Recently I was part of a dialogue with an orthodox Rabbi friend. We were discussing what both the Church and the Jews still need to learn from the holocaust. My friend suggested that both Jews and Christians had been seduced by Greek speculative theology. He insisted that the Bible does not try to explain God, it rather tells stories about God. Our attempts at rationality, at explanation, leave us backed into an intellectual corner. Our explanations result in a god that is either ineffectual or a monster. Rather than a God who is “not willing that any should perish” or a God that notices the fall of a sparrow, we have a god that plays random and cruel games with his children. Such a god is more like the vicious, arbitrary, and cruel gods of the Greco-Roman world. My friend said that like most young Jews coming of age after the Second World War he wondered where God was during the murder of Europe’s Jews. In the end he said he realized that God did not build the gas chambers or stoke the fires of the ovens. Those were the cruel actions of human beings.

During holy week we recall that far from causing us pain for the sake of his amusement, our God bore our pain for the sake of  our salvation. This God calls us to join him in his effort to renew and restore his creation. This God calls us to confront evil and suffering. This God looks to his church to be the presence of his kingdom in anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells. The god of Chef and the new atheists is a caricature, a monstrous distortion of the God who forgives, loves, and endures the suffering of his people. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the waiting father who throws a party when his manipulative and wasteful son arrives home. This is the God who with us makes all things new.


  1. Thanks, Jay. Some years ago I read Elie Wiesel's "Night" and was mad at God for months thereafter. Sounds like I was mad at god (as you describe here), not Jesus's Father.

  2. I think the "thing that gets me most" is when when well meaning, wonderful Christians explain about "God's plan" and "taking someone because it was their time". I think that's a copout. There is comfort in that for about a minute, until I realize that means God meant to do it, or had a hand in it happening, which I think is very different from allowing it to happen and grieving with me. God grieving with me is so much more personal and loving, and I think, part of the Easter message.