God doesn’t have a dark side.

1 John 1.5-7.

Gnostic religions have always taught weirdness about Jesus. Some of these ideas leaked into the first-century church; hence John’s first letter, correcting his church. Loads of these ideas are still around. Some are outright heresy.

Others aren’t technically heresy… because heresy is defined by the creeds, and for whatever reason the creeds didn’t get to that particular error. Often because the ancient Christians figured, “Well of course that’s wrong; haven’t you read a bible?” And of course Christians haven’t read their bibles. (Read your bible!) They let their favorite teachers read ’em for them, and blindly follow these teachers without double-checking any of their proof texts. That’s how gnostics have always got away with it.

And one of the more popular errors is about God having dark side.

It’s based on determinism, the belief God is so sovereign, he controls absolutely everything in the cosmos. God’s the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle of Athens, the first cause of everything, and everything in the universe happens because God wants it to happen that way. He’s in control. Really, determinists insist, if he weren’t wielding total control of everything, we couldn’t legitimately call him almighty.

But if God’s in charge, what about sin? Why is evil, chaos, and death part of our universe if God’s pulling every single string of our cosmic puppet show?

If you’re not a determinist—and I’m not, and I would argue the apostle John’s not—there’s a really simple answer: He’s not pulling every single string of the show. He’s not so inept a creator that he built something, but constantly has to fiddle with it lest it go awry. But if it does go wrong, it’s not God’s fault: His creation has free will. It can legitimately make its own decisions—and choose to do what God told it to, or do its own thing. That’s the cause of evil, chaos, and death. Not God.

Determinists insist no, God’d never cede control of his domain like that. (Certainly they never would, were they God.) And since he doesn’t clamp down on the evil (again, not like they would, were they God) it must mean he determined this evil, chaos, and death oughta happen. He wants it to. It’s not the fallout from our bad choices; it’s part of the plan. A plan full of evil, chaos, and death; so much so it’s properly called an evil plan. Which God’ll sort out in the long run, but in the short run, God sovereignly decrees there will be evil, chaos, and death.

You’ve seen this in sitcoms and superhero movies, like The Incredibles: Somebody wants to look like a hero, so he creates a disaster, fully intending to “solve” the problem himself so everybody can laud him as a hero. Well, this is exactly how determinists describe God: He’s gonna solve all the evil in the world, and as a result receive all the glory. But… didn’t he create the problem in the first place?

And y’notice in the sitcoms and superhero movies, the mastermind usually gets exposed as the person who created the crisis in the first place. And universally denounced as a fraud. ’Cause he totally is. Yet for some reason, determinists never get to that part of the plot: They keep insisting no, even though God’s totally behind the evil, he’s not evil. He can’t be; he says he’s not!

Eventually their incredible explanations get a little too incredible for even them to believe. Which is why so many determinists quit Christianity or turn atheist. And y’know, if God really is the way determinists claim, I don’t blame people at all for rejecting him: That’s not a good God!

But I would counter that’s not God. He doesn’t have a secret evil plan. Doesn’t have a dark side. And he’s still sovereign and almighty; just not deterministic.

If God has a dark side, can we have one too?

Here’s a dirty little secret you’re gonna see among many determinists: A lot of ’em legitimately believe the ends justify the means. If something good is gonna come out of it in the long run, it’s okay to sin and commit evil things as part of the plan. After all, in the deterministic worldview, God himself incorporates every last act of evil into his sovereign plan… and turns it into good. So maybe, just maybe, we can do likewise.

Y’might call this a case of “monkey see, monkey do”: If God gets to dabble in evil and not get burnt, maybe we can do it too. At least with small, manageable, non-felonious evils. Only God is mighty enough to mitigate vast evils, like genocide and institutional racism, so we should maybe stick to small evils like white lies and minor frauds. Anything bigger might spin out of control.

And yeah, if you grew up in a church which taught you God has a dark side, this is definitely a case of poisonous fruit taking root. But frequently Christians choose to join deterministic churches. They love the idea God makes all things work together for good, that everything happens for a reason, that nothing in this universe is meaningless. Finally, here’s a church which tells ’em what they want to hear!—what they’ve always suspected or wished was true. And if they’re this willing to choose an interpretation of God which suits ’em best, stands to reason they’re just as willing to embrace a God who dabbles in evil because they kinda think it’s okay to dabble in evil.

Pharisees had a lot of determinists among them, and y’notice they tended to think the very same way. It’s how the head priest’s argument was so able to sway them. (Joseph Caiaphas was Sadducee, not Pharisee, but you don’t become an expert at herding Pharisees without knowing how they tick.)

John 11.47-51 KWL
47 So they gathered the head priests and Pharisees in senate,
and said, “What do we do? This person does many signs.
48 When we let him do them like this, everybody will believe in him—
and the Romans will come and take away us, this place, and the nation.”
49 A certain one of them, Joseph Caiaphas, the head priest that year,
told them, “You don’t know anything.
50 Nor do you realize it’s better for you that one person might die for the people,
instead of the whole nation destroyed.”
51 Caipahas didn’t say this by himself. But as head priest that year,
he prophesied Jesus was about to die for the nation,
52 and not for this nation alone,
but Jesus might gather together all God’s scattered children into one body.

It was okay, Caiaphas figured, to murder one guy than have him trigger a Roman invasion. (Which, y’know, happened anyway.)

Ends-justify-means is a popular mindset among immoral people, ’cause it doesn’t just get them out of tragic moral choices where they don’t think there’s a way out (even though God always grants us one 1Co 10.13): It lets ’em think they’re morally right because they sinned in a way which benefits them or others. They can use the darkness for the greater good. It’s even okay if it quietly, cancerously corrupts them: Other people get to live good, prosperous lives, so it’s okay if they sacrifice their character and soul for others.

Yep, wrong ideas lead to even more wrong ideas. Sometimes much worse ideas.

Christians stay out of the dark.

God is only the source of good in the universe. Not evil.

There are multiple first causes in the universe. Satan, fr’instance, is the first cause of lies. Jn 8.44 Humanity’s the first cause of all the sin in the world. Blaming God for these things, directly or indirectly, may appear to keep all the power in his hands; it gives people comfort to think nothing happens without God’s permission. But God doesn’t permit evil. He forbids it all the time. Not stopping it from happening in the first place, is not the same as permitting it. Inaction isn’t action. (No, not even passive action.)

God’s gonna eventually judge the world for its evil behavior. It’d be pure hypocrisy if he permitted this evil, or suborned it, or manipulated us into committing it for his own purposes. It’d be evil on top of evil. God’d be nothing but darkness.

But as John pointed out, God doesn’t do darkness. At all.

1 John 1.5-7 KWL
5 This is the announcement we heard from the living word and report to you:
God is light. “Darkness in God” is not a thing.
6 When we say we have a relationship with God,
yet would walk in darkness, we lie. We’re not being truthful.
7 When we walk in the light, like God is in the light,
we have a relationship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, God’s son, cleans us from all sin.

My former grad school roommate is legally blind. He can see, but not well. The brighter the lights, the better he sees. Our dorm room was dimly lit by 40-watt bulbs, so one day I went to the hardware store and got a 200-watt bulb. You think a halogen torch is bright: This sucker was so bright, when you opened our door it lit up the entire dorm hallway, and the bathroom down the hall. Of course the sun did the very same thing every day, but we were still mighty impressed with this bulb.

God’s the same way. Light wipes out darkness. God beats evil. Gnostics, other religions, and even many Christians make spiritual warfare sound like a tremendous cosmic battle. A Götterdämmrung, to use the German term: The gods fight, the bad gods fall, but the old gods also fall, to be replaced by new gods. In reality there’s no such thing. At the End, the Almighty says, “Kids, we’re done,” and evil stops. It’s no contest. God wins. The end.

I get paranoid email all the time from Christians who are scared witless of one stupid thing after another. The government’s up to something, the president’s up to something, the media are up to something, the Europeans or Chinese or Iranians or North Koreans are up to something, the devil’s up to something. There’s so much irrational fear, and it’s completely antithetical to people whose faith is supposed to be in God. That’s because it’s not in God. They may trust him to save them from hell, but nothing else.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t stay up on current events, and try to fight evil in our communities and nation. But Christians really need to stop flinching in panic every single time we hear of sinners being sinners. How else should we expect sinners to behave? And just because they behave like the pagans they are, doesn’t mean evil is winning. Our God is still infinitely more powerful than evil. To him, their darkness is nothing.

If we believed this, we wouldn’t freak out over every dark and scary thing. Or every semi-dark thing. We shouldn’t see the fruitless, scaredy-cat mania I see so frequently among Christians. Being in the light should make it quite clear these worries are unfounded.

Assuming we’re actually in the light. John made a fairly obvious point: If God’s light, and we have a valid relationship with him, we shouldn’t see dark behavior.

Gnostics used a lot of twisted logic to justify and cancel out their sins. Christians do it too. We argue the Old Testament commands no longer count, ’cause we’re under grace. We argue the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t matter, ’cause that’s how life in God’s kingdom works… but that kingdom won’t arrive till Jesus returns. We’ve come up with all sorts of reasons why sins are no longer sins, ’cause grace. Which isn’t logical. Grace means God forgives us. If sins aren’t sins anymore, what’s to forgive?

John cut through our crap and made it clear: If we claim any relationship with God, yet act like every other pagan, we have no such relationship. Doesn’t matter what we claim. God’s influence should’ve transformed us and borne fruit. If it hasn’t, we don’t have him. Behavior implies salvation. No, we’re not saved by works, but when we lack the works, we have no evidence of salvation. Faith without works is dead. Jm 2.26

Those of us in relationship with God can’t be involved with the dark. We literally can’t: We’re surrounded by his light, which wipes it out. Our close proximity to God means any temptation the dark used to hold, isn’t there. Our focus is on God, only God. We see sin through his eyes: It’s small, stupid, unnatural, and foul.

Note how it’s not sin which hinders our relationships with God. It’s us. In order to be tempted by darkness, we gotta walk away from light. The light’s still there; God hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’s not leaving. He’s like the friend who still texts you even when you never text back. Even though you’re plotting to do all the things you promised him you’d never. Even after you did a few of ’em.

We need to stop reducing our relationship with God to this contractual “I call you Lord and you get me saved” deal. God doesn’t want a business arrangement. He wants children. He wants a real relationship, not an acquaintanceship with frequent name-dropping, where our testimonies consist of God-trivia instead of something we actually did together. (And not something we did together decades ago, ’cause there’s been nothing since.) That’s no relationship. It’s hardly a relationship worth appealing to at the Last Judgment. Yet many of us will try… and sadly for some it won’t work.