Daily Archives: October 1, 2009

Theology of Little House on the Prairie

Evaluate this statement:  “God hates a coward.”

Background:  A friend of mine came to me with a question regarding a statement made in one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when Almanzo was debating about whether to risk ten miles each way in forty-below to bring Laura back to her parents’ for the weekend. He’s looking at the thermometer and hedging. Cap Garland walks by, sees him, says “God hates a coward,” and walks on to where he’s going. Almanzo later says, “I just figured he was right.”

The question was whether the statement is in line with [orthodox Catholic] Church teaching.  I would like to know what your take is on whether or not this is in line with Church teaching, and also to explore what might be meant by the statement, and its implications for how we need to live out our lives in adherence to the Truth as revealed by God.

My first response was to say that God doesn’t ever hate. Then, I made a reference to Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” I was viewing the cowardice as a form of “sitting on the fence.” I also indicated that it would be important, perhaps, to define what is meant by “coward.”

The response from my friend was:

Well, the validity of the statement WOULD have to hinge on what is meant by “hate” and what is meant by “coward”. But in Genesis God says “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” – presumably He doesn’t literally mean that He hates Esau. What does He mean by it, then?

So putting aside whether it would actually have been cowardly for [the character in the book] to have not gone – which is very debatable – let’s assume that an action IS actually cowardly. Does God hate that action? And if so, running on the assumption that God still loves the coward himself but hates his cowardly actions, if those cowardly actions are frequent and consistent, couldn’t we say “God hates a coward”?

I mean, God still doesn’t hate the PERSON. It might be more precise to say “God hates cowardice.” But could it be accurate to say “God hates a coward”, if one understands that it is not a direct literal statement of God’s feelings toward the person being called a coward?

In a quick, sketchy way, I replied:

Coward: lacking courage; very fearful or timid.
Courage: to act in accordance with one’s beliefs

I think this speaks to the core of what God calls us to: integrity.

It is one thing to say, I am afraid of going out into the snow because there are very real dangers in so doing.
It’s another thing to waffle.

You have to have faith in God.
You aren’t supposed to worry.

On these definitions, to be a coward is to not act in accordance with your beliefs.
And God certainly hates this.
Better to be ignorant and thus inadvertantly sin, than to know the truth and deliberately sin. One of the 3 main conditions for mortal sin, right? Knowing that it was wrong.

I think what the character in the book was getting at was that A needed to decide whether he was going to go or not. He either a) thought it was too dangerous or b) thought it was feasible. But his fear and indecision left his sitting on the fence and this was what he should not be doing. He should either decide that it was more prudent to stay at home and tell Laura no, or he should make preparations to go (taking into account preparations for inclement weather and adversity) and trust that God will get them there safely.

At this point, our YA Fiction theological question was sent to our chosen whipping boy AKA Fr. Ignatius, whom I always assume is delighted to have the privilege of answering all of my random questions. While waiting for a response from Fr. Ignatius, I sent another e-mail to him, further detailing some of my thoughts on the issue:

“Does God hate a coward?”
Seems kind of a narrow question, really. You could also ask, “Does God hate a procrastinator, or a nail-biter or someone who talks/e-mails too much (GASP!)” Each is maybe an aspect of a person, or even an aspect of a person at a specific moment, but does not constitute the whole of the person or even really speak to his or her relationship with God. In and of themselves, the actions could be bad or neutral. I think it speaks more to the fact that we have imperfections than our status with God.

My official answer: no. 🙂

Up next, our treatise on why marshmallow fluff is not in heaven. LOL! j/k

So, here we are left still with the initial statement. Please respond with your thoughts. 🙂