In Volume 15 of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, we have some brutal flashbacks to the war in Ishval. At one point during the conflict, the lead Cleric of the Ishval people goes to the President Bradley and offers his life in exchange for an end to the conflict to save his people. Bradley refuses and then goes on to mock their god. King Bradley says, “What is ‘god’ anyway? Isn’t your god merely an idol created by those too weak to take responsibility for their own fates?” The question to the Christian is – is Bradley right?
First – as a Christian, we believe the Lord existed before everything else. Period. “In the beginning God…” is how Genesis 1:1 starts. Meaning? There was nothing before God. In the first chapter of John, the apostle emphasizes that as well while also calling to the divinity of Christ (John 1:1-5). The Bible points out to us that God is real and not some fictional being we created for ourselves. How do we know? We have examples of gods which are fictional beings and what happened to them.
In Judges 17-18, we see the story of Micah and his priest. Micah is a man who robbed his mother and then gave it back to her with fanfare. He then convinces her to give it back to him so he can make himself a god. He creates his own religion, hires a Levite to stand in and lead worship for his god, and feels pretty good about himself. What happens? A traveling band of Danites come in, steal the god, steal the Levite, and leave Micah with nothing. A man who creates his own god in his image creates something weak, temporal, and unable to defend itself. As the Psalmist says in chapter 115, these gods have eyes but cannot see and mouths but cannot speak (Psalms 115:5-6). In essence – they are nothing and powerless. Our God is all powerful and the Bible points to Him as the only uncreated one.
But what of Bradley’s second point – God is for the weak who cannot handle life or their burdens. Do those who are weak and unable to accept life’s burdens allow themselves to be stoned to death for their faith? Steven did (Acts 7:54-60). James, son of Zebedee, did (Acts 12:1-2). Some would argue that being a martyr is a sign of weakness – they lost the argument one would argue. But, they willingly died. They chose not to escape. Does it take one of weak will, unable to take responsibility for the life they lead to stand before the most powerful man in the land and say you will not worship their god when stating as much was punishable by death? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did just that (Daniel 3). The Bible is filled with stories of courage from men and women willing to stand with God, in spite of great peril to their lives or their families.
Is it a weak person who is willing to accept that God can and does take things away from you as their life seems to collapse around them without warning? Job did just that (Job 1:20-22). Does someone weak who cannot handle their life or fate willingly follow a God who promises their life will be more difficult for doing so? Jesus promises our life will include difficulty. Not says it might happen, but promises it will specifically because we follow Him (Matthew 24:9-14, Mark 13:11-13, John 15:18-25).
Following Christ does not make you weak. Following him will be a struggle your whole life. It will be struggle against sin. It will be struggle against self. It will be struggle against the world. The world will hate you. That becomes more and more apparent every day. Your sin will tempt and try to destroy you. Your old self will try to tempt you, draw you back to your old ways before Christ. These aren’t easy things to battle. Life is a war against self. In his sermon on Romans entitled, “How to Kill Sin Part 2,” John Piper says the following on battling self:
There is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But violence against whom, or what? Not other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It’s a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or caffeine or sugar or chocolate or alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame. It’s violence against the impulses in our own soul toward racism and sluggish indifference to injustice and poverty and abortion.
Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war. On our own sinful impulses.
Christianity is not for the timid. While we are weak, and the Bible acknowledges it – following Christ requires us to be strong. Thankfully, the Lord provides us with that strength as we need it. And we will need it. Over and over again, we will need that strength.
So, is Bradley right? Are we not willing to take responsibility for our life by following God? Absolutely not. By following God we are finally taking that responsibility seriously and finally acknowledging our own weakness, His strength, and our new-found resolve to make it right through the power of Christ. It is an acknowledgement of our guilt, our responsibility for our sin that is where genuine faith is found. We are responsible for our sin. We are responsible for our failings. Thankfully, we have a real, living God who forgives.