Three Christian Gods Missing in Action

The underperformance of the trinity 


In the Methodist church where I grew up, the processional hymn at Sunday morning worship was usually Holy, Holy, Holy, written in 1861 by Anglican bishop Reginald Heber; it includes the words, “Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, God in three persons blessed Trinity.”


Christian theologians have been busy for a long time explaining the roles of these “three persons,” father, son, and holy ghost—or, perhaps, to render it less creepy, holy spirit. This is the gist of it: Creator, Savior, and on-going Meddler in Human Affairs. We have reason—many reasons actually—for suspecting that “merciful and mighty” is an exaggeration. These adjectives are an aspect of the theobabble in which preachers—and hymn writers—usually indulge. I was exposed to this hype from a very early age. But how do these “three persons” rate after careful reflection on history and the human condition?



God the Creator


Of course, since the scientific revolution, the existence of a supreme deity has been increasingly called into question. The reasons have piled on for doubting the existence of God, and atheism has gained fresh momentum in just the last couple of decades. For the folks who are still under the spell of the hype, a last resort argument—a desperate grasping for a reason to believe—is the need for a creator, a first cause. “How did the world, this vast universe get here? Did it just pop into existence? Don’t be silly! Of course God did it.” This is a variation on the apostle Paul’s scathing criticism of those whom he called “wicked suppressers of truth”:


“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse…”  (Romans 1:19-20) 


So just look around you for evidence of God. Even if this were true, however, it cannot be assumed that a creator-god—say, the force that touched off the Big Bang—is the loving, attentive God promoted by Christian apologists. It takes a lot of theological imagination and speculation to come up the church version (versions) of God. Everything you hear in church today derives from carefully selected Bible texts and treatises written by revered theologians over the centuries. But serious thinkers outside this sheltered community want data. If God exists shouldn’t there be incontrovertible evidence, especially since God is presented as a supremely powerful agent who manages creation?  


Victor Stenger stated the problem:


“…God should be detectable by scientific means simply by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to play such a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. Existing scientific models contain no place where God is included as an ingredient in order to describe observations. Thus, if God exists, he must appear somewhere within the gaps or errors of scientific models.” (Victor Stenger, God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, p. 13) 


“….somewhere in the gaps…” Sounds like a major downgrade of all-powerful God! But let’s see if the God advocated by Christian apologists has substance. Does he qualify, for example, as merciful and mighty—or do we find instead major gaps in his performance


What a disappointment there are so many defects in his supposedly perfect creation. One major example is genetic diseases—thousands of them, which have caused excruciating human suffering. Was it an oversight that God included genetic diseases when he invented the human body? Apologists may argue that God uses these to punish people, but this makes no sense at all: they are encoded in our bodies before birth. Which means that glitches in evolution are the cause. What a relief for the faithful! They should embrace evolution, to shift the blame away from God. Well, not really, since believers in almighty God must grant that he invented evolution in the first place. Didn’t he foresee the glitches? There is far too much incoherence here. 


But there are other ways in which God underperforms—well, let’s be honest: he’s missing in action. What’s the point of praising God, Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty, if he does nothing to prevent horrible human calamities? So far I have posted eight articles in my series, Where Was God When This Happened? In these I present examples of suffering that are inexplicable if God is paying attention and able to intervene


How else to put it? This person in the trinity is a disappointment.


Jesus the Savior


“What would Jesus do?” “I belong to Jesus.” “What a friend we have in Jesus.” We have all become so used to this hype as well. But a close examination of New Testament texts results in considerable confusion. The first person to write extensively about Jesus Christ was the apostle Paul, who never met Jesus, but learned everything he needed to know from his visions of Jesus. Devout Christians believe that these were real events, which, if true, doesn’t reflect well on Jesus. The teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, his parables, his miracles, even the major events of his life, are missing in the letters of Paul. If the visions were real, why would Jesus fail to let Paul know about all these things? 


The Jesus everyone is familiar with is based on the gospel accounts. But these are a disappointment as well—certainly professional historians are disappointed—because the gospels were written decades after Jesus died. Are the gospels based on reliable oral traditions or authentic eyewitness accounts? That has been the hope, the speculation, the wishful thinking, with no documentation to provide a solid foundation. New Testament scholars have so far—after decades of contention and controversy—been unable to develop a methodology for figuring out which parts of the gospels may actually be historical. Thus Jesus remains largely unknown, despite the appearance—frankly the illusion—of being a tangible figure. The historical bits—if there are any—are mixed in with a thick fog of folklore, fantasy, miracle lore, and magical thinking. While preachers deny this, and theologians gloss over it, historians cannot.


Could it really be true that Jesus had no power—reigning in heaven in his risen state—to prevent this lamentable situation? The gospels fall so far short of what we need to know. Which raises this question: Why didn’t Jesus write anything himself? Of course, if Mark’s depiction of him as an apocalyptic prophet is anywhere near accurate, then why would he write anything “for posterity” if the Kingdom of God would be arriving soon? But don’t we have to assume that Jesus would have known—being part of God—that history would just keep unfolding…century after century?  


So why didn’t Jesus write down as much of his wisdom as he could, instead of just preaching to the crowds? Was he unaware of how much the wise men of Greece and Rome had written? But he had the example of the Hebrew prophets, who wrote a lot. Indeed there is the massive Hebrew Bible itself—our Old Testament—that could have prompted him to put his knowledge and advice into enduring, permanent form. If he had done so, the gospels might have been more grounded in reality. And the world today would have the benefit of insights provided by the son of God himself. What a missed opportunity. 


By the way, the gospels writers set us up for disappointment with Jesus. Just one example being his wildly bad advice on faith and prayer, e.g.:


“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”   (Matthew 17:20)


“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)


“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”    (Matthew 21:21-22)


Even the most devout folks know that this not how faith and prayer work. Priests and preachers repeat feel-good Jesus verses to make him look good, but there are so many negatives about Jesus on full view in the gospels. The faithful don’t notice these because they are trained not to notice them. But serious students of the gospels know all about them. See especially, Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics


This person in the trinity is a disappointment.   


The Holy Spirit


No matter how hard the theologians work at it, they have a hard time explaining the division of labor in the spiritual realm. For example, just who is it that hears and answers prayers? Would that be God himself, or Jesus, or the holy spirit—or even Mary and hundreds of other saints? The author of John’s gospel had his opinion about the holy spirit’s job, which he presented in this Jesus-script (14:25-26):


“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” 


The author of Acts also described the impact of the holy spirit, in Paul’s encounter with disciples he didn’t know (Acts 19:2-7):


“He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them.”


So it would seem that the holy spirit enables people to babble unintelligibly, i.e., to speak in tongues. We’ve all seen the videos of folks in fringe churches dancing wildly, uttering “prophecies,” and falling down, because they’ve been possessed by the holy spirit. This reminds me of Robert Conner’s observation,


“The holy spirit is flitting around the world whispering into the temporal lobes of billions of people urging them to have their very own close encounters of the crazy kind.” (23 February 2018, Debunking Christianity Blog)


But seriously now folks, the holy spirit as Advocate—according to John—is supposed to be a supreme educator who will “teach everything.” How has that worked out? It would seem he is a Master of Mixed Messages. Devout Christians, who are supposed to be tuned in pretty well to the coaching of the holy spirit, disagree profoundly on important issues, e.g., abortion, birth control, marriage equality, the role of women…and on and on. Add to this confusion, of course, the reality that there are now more than 30,000 different Christian brands, because there is so much disagreement about what God is like, what he wants, how he prefers to be worshipped. Looks like the holy spirit has made a mess of things. It’s as if…he’s not there.


So this person in the trinity is a disappointment as well. 


Our request to theologians: please tell us where we can find reliable, verifiable, objective data about god(s)—we need to dispel all this incoherence. Theologians themselves, I suspect, also wish they had data. Making things up, century after century, is a chore. And it’s such a nuisance that theologians can’t agree: they argue endlessly about what they’ve made up. 




David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 450 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.


Thank you for reading and for your support! We think you'll find a perspective here that you don't usually find elsewhere. Never miss out on future posts by following us. To make a donation please click here. If you buy anything on Amazon [US] through this link we receive a kickback at no cost to you. Thanks again!