An Apologist for Genocide? Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In this post I'd like to address a book that has received high praise and glowing endorsements from a host of conservative professors and pastors—Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? The endorsements from conservative professors and scholars on the back of Copan’s book hail it as “the book I wish I had written myself” and call for it to be “required reading in college and seminary courses.” This praise is not restricted to conservatives however. Several prominent moderate Evangelicals have also come out in support of the book. Two prominent examples are Scot McKnight and Frank Viola.

I can understand the motivation: There is a perceived attack from the New Atheists who accuse the God of the Old Testament of being a moral monster. However I would like to propose that the focus is completely in the wrong place here. That is, the focus is on defending the faith, rather than actually considering where there may be legitimate problems we should address. In other words, our response should be one of listening and where appropriate repentance, not one of seeking to justify things that we would in any other context condemn as being profoundly immoral. This is where I think Christian Apologetics has lost its way. Rather than being about articulating the faith in a thoughtful way, it instead echoes our culture's tendency to set up an us versus them situation where the result is to "win" the argument rather than the person.

More specifically, the assumption behind this all is that the Old Testament contains one single view of God that we can then deem to be good and seek to justify (as the apologists do) or bad and reject (as the New Atheists do), rather than recognizing the rather hard to miss fact that the Old Testament contains many conflicting perspectives of who God is. It is a record of dispute, and when we instead try to harmonize it into a single view, we completely misread it. Yet that misreading seems to be quite common, even among people with a PhD.

I'm all for a nuanced reading of the Bible, and getting away from pedestrian critiques that reflect a Sunday school biblical education (Bill Maher comes to mind here). The answer here however is to face the multi-vocal nature of the OT rather than to try and defend things that are clearly indefensible from a moral and ethical standpoint. The irony that Christians who are supposed to be champions of morality (helping to develop character and compassion) find themselves defending moral atrocity in the Bible reveals something very broken about our faith. We need to shine light on that brokenness.

So much for the preamble. Let's get down to addressing Copan's arguments in the book specifically: Dr. Copan offers a cornucopia of explanations which all seek to either minimize or make sense of the violence described in Scripture. The array of arguments he presents in defense of the Canaanite genocide can be summarized as follows:

Perhaps, Copan argues, the commands to “utterly destroy” foreign nations should not be seen as “ethnic cleansing” because the motivation was not racism, but that the Canaanites were a “wicked” and “morally bankrupt” people, and thus the only proper moral response was to kill them all (p 163–165. It is worth noting too that characterizing another people group as “wicked” and “morally bankrupt”—especially when this is used as a justification for “utterly destroying” them—reflects a casebook example of how ethnic cleansing functions). Then again, Copan's argument continues, perhaps the Bible’s claims that Joshua “left no survivors,” but “totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded” (Joshua 10:40) was simply an exaggerated war rhetoric, typical of the ancient world, and not all of the population were slaughtered, so it was not quite as bad as it seems (pp. 170–173, 182). Perhaps we don’t take sexual sin seriously enough today, and value human life too much. Copan writes,

“We live in a time when we are very alert to racial discrimination and intolerance, but we aren’t as sensitized to sexual sin as past generations were. We live in a time that sees death as the ultimate evil. Perhaps we need to be more attuned to the fact that our moral intuitions are not as fine tuned as they ought to be.” (Is God a Moral  Monster?, 192)

Perhaps, Copan argues, because ancient people did not value life as much as we do, they would not be psychologically traumatized by mass slaughtering women and infants (189). Perhaps there were not any women or children present, and so they were not actually slaughtered as the commands declared (175–177). Even if they were, however, this too, Copan argues, would have been justified because “God is the author of life and has a rightful claim on it as its creator … If infants are killed by God’s command, they aren’t wronged, for they will be compensated in the next life.” (189, 194)

Regardless of one’s evaluation of the relative merit and accuracy of Copan’s above arguments (and from the point of view of scholarship, and in particular the proper application of archeological evidence, there is a great deal that one could dispute here), the above array of diverse arguments all boil down to this basic claim: It probably wasn’t as bad as it seems, and even if it was, it’s okay if God commands it.

Here again we see the profoundly dangerous claim that biblical commands should override our conscience. In other words: We should commit acts that we believe to be profoundly immoral and wrong (like committing mass-murder), simply because we think the Bible tells us to. Stop for a moment, and really let that sink in. As you do, consider that this is not simply theoretical. People have repeatedly throughout history used such thinking to justify mass murder and torture in God's name.

Copan, in fact, sees God’s commands to slaughter the Canaanites as the primary criteria legitimizing what he refers to as “a corporate capital punishment that could be carried out only with the guidance of special, divine revelation” (188) acknowledging that, “without God’s explicit command (and thus his morally sufficient reasons), attacking the Canaanites would not have been justified” (169).

Particularly alarming in this regard is Copan’s statement that “we should ask, what if there were some task that we would shrink from that could even psychologically harm us but that still needed to be done?” (190). This is said directly in the context of discussing the potential psychological damage done to those who were commanded to slaughter noncombatant women and children. So the implication is that even if it would traumatize you to participate in a massacre (he mentions the My Lai Massacre as an example), if God said to do it you still should. Wow.

To his credit, Copan stresses elsewhere that violence cannot legitimately be carried out in God’s name today with appeal to these commands, insisting that they were specific to a particular time and people and thus cannot be generalized (194). However, because Copan bases this on the criteria of God’s explicit command, the possibility is left open that if God were to command us to commit genocide today, we would be obliged to obey. Copan offers here no criteria for evaluating how one knows what God’s authentic voice is—whether today or in biblical times.

Copan further argues that because the ancient Israelites were “morally blunted” they would not have been psychologically damaged in the way U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were from their participation in the Mai Lai massacre. Copan writes,

In the ancient Near East, however, warfare was a way of life and a means of survival. Fighting was a much less grim reality back then. In the ancient Near East, combatants and noncombatants weren’t always easily distinguished. We’ve also observed that the hardness of the human hearts (Matt. 19:8), in conjunction with the existence of fallen, morally blunted social structures in the ancient Near East likely means that such actions would have been considerably less psychologically damaging for the ancient Israelites than for a citizen of Wester culture. There is no evidence that Israelite soldiers were internally damaged by killing Canaanites. (Is God a Moral  Monster?, 189)

There are several problems with the above analysis. First, according to this rationale, in order to carry out God’s commands one must be—in Copan’s own words—fallen, hard hearted, and morally blunted (189). This amounts to an argument against his position, rather than in support of it. Secondly, the fact that violence is common does not diminish the damage it does. If high mortality rates from gang shootings are statistically common in the inner city projects that does not mean that a mother living in the projects is any less heartbroken holding the lifeless body of her infant child caught in the cross fire of a drive-by-shooting. It would have been no different for a Canaanite or Israelite mother in Biblical times witnessing soldiers breaking into their home and slaughtering “everything that breathes” as they watched in helpless terror. No amount of academic subterfuge should harden our hearts to this reality or morally blunt us to the suffering of others. If this is what the result of “defending the Bible” looks like, then we need to seriously re-evaluate our priorities.

In the end, Copan's arguments, from a scholarly and scientific perspective, are filled with holes. If you are at all familiar with biblical scholarship this is very apparent, and I frankly find it a bit shocking that more people have not called him on this. He regularly misapplies evidence in a way that relies on his audience not themselves being familiar with what scholarship is actually saying. Maybe I'll return to this point in more detail later. However, I would say the larger point is the moral and ethical implications of his arguments which I have focused on here.

I do not question Copan’s motivations, which I trust are well meant. As with all apologetics, the motivation seems clear: It reflects an attempt to defend Scripture and defend the faith. The belief is that in doing so we are defending God's honor by defending the Bible—but at what cost? As well intentioned as these defenses may be, we ultimately need to ask what it does to our faith to believe that the very same God we are supposed to love and intimately trust is the one commanding such horrific violence. What does it do to our conscience to call such atrocities “good” or even “holy”?

What if instead of "defending the Bible" we learned how to read it in a way that focused on looking at our selves introspectively, in a way that was focused on cultivating compassion for the other and the enemy? What if we believed that asking hard quesutions motivated by compassion was an essential part of a healthy faith?

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Why Fear is Incompaible with Faith

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A long time ago I wrote a paper called "How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?" I wrote it because I was really struggling with the whole hell thing, and frankly found the way my fellow evangelicals were dealing with it was really insensitive and hurtful. The big issue here is fear, and how Christianity often intentionally cultivates and breeds fear in people.

I recently got a letter from a reader who is struggling with this herself. She tells a story that I'm sure all of us are familiar with,
I recently went to a Campus Crusade event and the guy speaking told a story about how he was in a fraternity. One night his "brother" told him he was feeling down because he had just broke up with his girlfriend, and the man sharing his testimony was saying how he was going to share with his friend about Jesus but was going to wait until later that night. Well long story short his friend died that night in a drunk driving accident. He never said his friend went to hell but he essentially insinuated it by explaining he had the answer and the urgency in sharing the gospel.
The example is actually pretty subtle compared to some of the hellfire presentations many of us I'm sure have heard. The message is only "insinuated" as she says. Yet despite this, it nevertheless plants a seed of fear that has devastating effects, as she goes on to explain, 
"This put me on a trajectory of fear, knowing that my family and most of my friends in my sorority could die in a car accident as well and they could go to hell because I didn't tell them" 
As a result, she says she has "become consumed and scared with the concept of hell." I'm sure that was the intent. After all, if you are consumed with the fear that people are going to hell this will result in a person who is active in evangelizing, right? So why is fear wrong? If the danger is real, shouldn't we cultivate fear?

Absolutely not, and I'll tell you why: If there is one thing I have learned it is that fear is toxic to the soul. Love and fear cannot coexist. Either love will push fear out or fear will push out love. That's why John says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear... The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:8). 

To put it bluntly we have a choice between the way of Jesus which is love or the way of the devil which is fear. Fear leads to violence. Fear shuts out love. Fear kills the soul. Fear debilitates and paralyzes. Because of this, being motivated by fear is never good.

This is true regardless of whether there is a legitimate reason to fear or not. People are afraid they won't have enough, and so they steal and kill and dehumanize. People are afraid so they trust in violence and power and guns. When they do that, they are not trusting in the way of Jesus, they are not trusting in love. Fear is un-faith. Fear is anti-faith, anti-love.

So if that's true, why is it that so many Christians cultivate fear? Their concern is that if we don't stir up fear in people then no one would evangelize. But the opposite is in fact the case.  People stop evangelizing when it is fear-based because that's what fear does, it debilitates. Additionally, fear as a motivation to come to God simply does not work. It plants shallow roots so the person who is with God because of fear does not stay (who wants to stay with someone they are terrified of?). In contrast, when the bond is based on love then it can grow deep roots that will last.

Now let's talk about sin and hell: I don't mean the trivial "did you ever tell a lie" nonsense. I mean real harm, real brokenness, real hurt. Do people do really hurtful and horrible things to each other? Yes, they certainly do. Are people hurt and broken? Yes, more than you know. Abuse is real. Rape is real. Starvation is real. War crimes are real. In short, there is a "hell" right here that many people are in the middle of, and that matters, and we should care.

This idea of hell right now is vital because it means we need to care about people's lives right now, and not just about life after death. I believe in that, too, I hope for heaven with all my heart, I long for eternity. But life here matters. People matter. That's why Jesus spent all his time caring for people and their very real needs. When we have a theology that makes all of that a waste of time then we suck the life right out of life. Your life matters, and the life of others matters, too. If we don't see that then we are not loving.

We therefore do need to help people connect with God's love when we can (and that includes caring for their material needs). But if we really want to do that then we need to do it through real relationships. You can't address those kinds of things by handing out a pamphlet. It needs to be deep and real. And it needs to be motivated by love not fear. Love heals people, it makes them come alive. Fear is what drives people to do all sorts of profoundly hurtful things, it is what makes people shut themselves off from love.

The problem with the whole fear-based "if you don't tell your friend about Jesus they will get hit by a truck tonight" argument is that it puts a pressure on us that is really God's alone to carry. It is not our job to save people, that's God's job. It is our job to simply love them as best we can. We need to trust God to save people. But instead we have this messed-up idea that it is all up to us, and God's hands are tied, and because of some ridiculous technicality (not saying a particular prayer, not formulating the doctrine of the Trinity just right, not being born in the right Christian country) they will be tortured forever and ever in an eternal holocaust camp, and it is 100% up to you to prevent the whole thing. That is completely absurd, and frankly it's abusive. It puts us in God's place, placing an insane burden on our necks. How could you love or trust a God like that?

So let's talk about trusting God. The bottom line is that if we are going to trust God, then we need to be able to trust that God is not going to just shrug while the people we love go to hell. We need to trust that God cares more about this than we do. If we are troubled by the idea of people going to hell, that is not because we are "doubting" but because we have the same heart for the lost that Jesus does. That voice of protest in us is Jesus in us. That is God's love in us. God is not less loving than us, God is unimaginably more loving than we are. Paul prays that we would really get a hold of this.

"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us be the glory." (Eph 3:17-20)
Read that again slowly and really let it sink in. We are to be rooted in love. A love that is so much wider and longer and deeper than we can possibly imagine. And that love is the basis for trusting that God can do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." That is who we are trusting in. That is what our God looks like. That's why Jesus repeatedly said to people "do not be afraid."

Let me conclude with this: People often ask after reading my paper on hell what my "answer" is. First of all, here is NOT what I am saying: I am not saying "God is really loving, and so when people are in hell it will be for their own good." Hell is not good, and God does not want anyone there (whether that means people who are suffering right now or in eternity). Love cannot tolerate hell.

What I want to suggest is that we have a reason for hope. That hope is based on two solid foundations:

First, God's love revealed in Jesus shows that God wants to break everyone out of hell. God loves all of us. As 1 Tim 2:4 says "God wants all people to be saved." That is God's deepest desire.

The second factor is that God is able to save us. The reason I have hope for this is the cross and resurrection. The cross shows God's amazing way of overcoming an unsolvable problem in a crazy upside down way that no one could have imagined. It shows that God can find a way where it seems impossible. It shows that God's love is able to overcome death and hell. It shows that death is not the final word.

So based on those two things together I think we have a solid reason for very real hope. I hope that God is loving enough and creative enough to break through to us in our stupidity. Now, this is a hope, not a certainty. In this life certainty is something we rarely have. What we can do is trust and hope based on the evidence we see. So this is no a baseless hope that amounts to wishful thinking. It is a hope based on he solid ground of who God is in Jesus and what God did in Jesus. In the end it's about trusting God, trusting in love. That hope allows me to love without fear.


Sin, Guilt, and Psychology: What I Wish All Pastors Knew

Saturday, March 08, 2014

(This article originally appeared in Sojourners)

"Whatever happened to sin?" This complaint is one frequently heard from conservative pastors lamenting that no one wants to hear about sin in a society increasingly repelled by the idea of guilt. We have come to associate guilt today with negative ideas like "guilt-trips," and with feelings of shame. As a result, when the subject of guilt and sin are brought up, our defensive walls go up, too.

This is not just true for liberals or progressives, it equally applies to conservatives, and in fact is simply a characteristic of all human beings. When we feel accused, we react defensively. That's simply a fact of human nature across time, and across cultures. So while conservatives bemoan what they have disparagingly labeled a "culture of victimhood" where everyone can identify as being hurt, but not face up to being the cause of hurting others, this in fact equally applies to conservatives just as much as it does to progressives, or anyone else for that matter. The fact is, all of us find it easy to condemn the other, and tend to see ourselves as innocent victims. Consider for instance how often conservatives portray themselves as being marginalized by society (Fox's annual make-believe "war on Christmas" comes to mind here). Again, this reaction of defensiveness is simply a common human defense mechanism that knows no ideological boundaries. We are all (ahem) guilty of it.

Negative feelings surrounding the idea of shame and guilt have thus become something we are acutely aware of today. Mark Galli, in an article in Christianity Today, notes how this shift has also affected the church:
"It is no coincidence in a society where we imagine ourselves mostly as victims of social or biological forces, in a culture increasingly illiterate in the language of guilt, sin, and personal responsibility, that Christus Victor is winning the day in the Christian world ... for some reason, when the Christus Victor theory is extolled by Protestants today, personal sin and guilt take a back seat ... at least for today's Protestants, it has an uncanny tendency to downplay a sense of personal responsibility, which in the end, sabotages grace."
The immediate context here is the subject of the Christus Victor view of the atonement, which is something I have written about extensively. However, the deeper issue that Galli is addressing here is the widespread societal shift away from a focus on guilt, instead seeing this as something negative and threatening. It's an insightful and intelligent article with some very valid observations, but is Galli correct in his claim that our cultural shift away from the language of guilt goes hand in hand with a "downplay of personal responsibility?"

Our culture's shift around its relationship to shame and guilt can be traced to the broad influence that psychology has had on Western culture over the past century. That is, the reason we have become so sensitized to guilt and shame today in our culture comes from the practical insights of psychologists: As they worked to help people face their hurtful and dysfunctional behaviors, psychotherapists observed that their attempts to help were often met with resistance. Early on Freud referred to this phenomenon as "denial," but regardless of the terminology we use, this is a dynamic therapists have recognized over and over and again because it is, quite simply, one of the most basic elements of human psychology: When we feel threatened we get defensive.

As a result of this dynamic, psychotherapists have found that people actually have struggles on two simultaneous fronts: One struggle is with their negative behavior patterns that hurt themselves and others. The other struggle is the feelings of shame and self-hatred that often accompany these. In fact, the two are frequently intertwined in a destructive spiral where feelings of shame lead to doing things to dull that emotional pain, which then lead to more feelings of shame, and round and round it goes.

As a result of these insights, we have become increasingly aware of the harm that shame and self-loathing can do to us. Consequently educators today learn not to tell kids that they are "bad," but to instead say things like "we don't do that," because we understand the damage that comes from shaming people, and in particular small children. In other words, if our culture has become sensitized to shame, this is actually a good and healthy thing, rather than a problem to bemoan. On the contrary, rejecting feelings of shame and worthlessness, while at the same time taking personal responsibility for our lives, is a clear moral advance.

It also must be said that religion — and here I mean in particular my own religion of Christianity — has often been guilty of exacerbating the problem of shame, rather than helping people break free of it. I say this as a confession, as an admission, as one on the inside attempting to humbly and honestly face what we as the church have done that has hurt people. The fact is, the promoting of shame in the name of religion is demonstrably not good and healthy. As shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown explains, "Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, suicide, violence, and bullying." Yet shame — not the idea that we do dumb things, but the idea that we as people are bad and unworthy — is often championed as going hand in hand with defending the faith. How many of us grew up singing the line of Issac Watt's famous hymn "... for such a worm as I" or reciting prayers echoing those of Charles Spurgeon when he exclaims, "I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin, apart from His almighty love?"

The general loss of such sentiment in our culture fuels the frequent lament of many conservative preachers that we are "a culture increasingly illiterate in the language of guilt, sin, and personal responsibility." But again, is it really true that the loss of shame automatically goes hand in hand with a loss of personal responsibility? As far as psychology is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, taking hold of one's life is the very cornerstone of recovery and mental health. However, in the face of people's defensive reactions, the practical question psychotherapists find themselves faced with is this: How can we help people to honestly face the things they do which are hurtful, without adding fuel to the fire of shame and self-hate in the process? How can we get to personal responsibility in the context of acceptance and love, rather than making people worse by promoting condemnation? 

The answer they have discovered is that people can only really open up when they feel safe and accepted. This insight is somewhat counterintuitive. Our fear is that if we unconditionally accept someone, this will be taken to mean we are condoning all their hurtful behavior. Don't we need to make it clear that we reject their sin? If we accept people as they are, wont they take this as a license to do whatever they like?

What psychology has found, however, is that when people feel safe and secure, accepted and loved, it is in that place of acceptance that they are finally able to open up and share their vulnerabilities, their hurts, their fears, and their failures. Ironically, it is when we don't focus on sin and guilt, and instead focus on unconditionally loving and accepting people just as they are, that the stage is set for repentance and remorse to actually take place. Creating that "safe-space" of unconditional acceptance allows us to dare to be real, to really open up, to face our darkness together with courage and honesty.

Understanding this dynamic allows us to get past these walls we all put up, and instead get to a place where grace can truly flow. It means getting to real and deep relationships, to healing, and, yes, to repentance and personal responsibility, too. My prayer therefore is that more pastors would learn about these dynamics of basic human psychology. At the end of the day we find psychology is not at all opposed to a healthy faith or morality; it's simply a tool that allows us to understand what is going on in ourselves and others so we don't get stuck there.

When you get right down to it, what it really takes to practice all of this is faith. Not faith in a particular set of doctrinal or creedal statements, but faith in the original sense of the word — as relational trust. That is, we need to actually trust that love is powerful enough to reach a person in a way that fear or threat or condemnation simply cannot. That's what grace is all about.


Girard, Jesus, and the True Meaning of the Broad & Narrow Roads.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

I read a great post on the cross by Morgan Guyton that I wanted to respond to. In that post Morgan discusses Girardian theory, contrasting it with penal substitution. He writes,
The scapegoat theory’s basic idea is that God the Father doesn’t demand Jesus’ blood as the price for humanity’s sin, but that we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin ... Yes, Jesus’ death is a payment for my sin, but God doesn’t need to see the blood to be okay with me; I need to see the blood to be okay with God.
This sounds very much like the kind of thing I myself said in my essay Penal Substituion vs. Christus Victor that I wrote many years ago. There I write,
God does not need the cross to forgive us or love us. Jesus forgave and loved people before the cross. But some of us needed the cross to be able to really accept that forgiveness. God does not need the cross to love us: God has always loved us. But many of us needed the cross to really grasp that.
My concern with both of these statements (both mine and his) is that they could be interpreted as meaning that God allowed Jesus to die to appease our need for satisfaction, to appease our need for payback justice. If we have a problem with the idea that God would need to be appeased with the blood of an innocent before he could love us (as both Morgan and I both do), it is equally wrong for us to demand the same. It would be profoundly immoral for God to indulge this desire of ours.

That's what I see as a fundamental problem with Abelardian moral influence theory: It is a nice idea that we are moved by the love of God, but if Jesus died a brutal and violent death just so that we could be moved, then frankly that would be really sick.

So then, that brings us to the question: If we should not think of the death of Jesus as appeasing us, how does Girardian theory work exactly? What does it mean to say that "we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin"? How would that liberate us exactly? I think Morgan gets it right when he says,
It was humanity who needed to crucify Jesus so that we could be convicted by seeing our wickedness made plain and naked before us.
Let's unpack that dynamic a bit more: The idea of scapegoating is that the people believe that the person being blamed and condemned and punished is in fact bad and guilty. They deserve it. Roman crucifixion, just like our own practice of capital punishment today, was intended to be the fulfillment of justice. What the cross shows is that the one who has been condemned by the authorities is in fact innocent and good and holy and that those authorities (both religious and political) are in fact not just and not good. It reveals the injustice of our justice system based on retribution. Thus Paul writes, that Christ "having disarmed the powers and authorities, made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col 2:15). Seeing Jesus in the place of the victim, in the place of the accused, of the criminal, unmasks the injustice of the system, and to the extent that we have embraced that system of retribution as good, it unmasks our hurtfulness, too.

When Jesus says "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Mt 7:13) The common Christian interpretation is to associate this with being a Christian vs. a non-Christian. The "broad road" is thus the one of drinking and sex and sin, and the narrow road is for those who have "accepted Jesus." But I don't think this is at all what Jesus had in mind when he said it. 

The context of this statement (the Sermon on the Mount) is one of Jesus presenting his way of enemy love in contrast to the way of an eye for an eye. It is in the context of Jesus' radical message of undeserved forgiveness. The audience for that message is not primarily those who are outsider "sinners" but insider religious folks who believe in and long for hell and wrath, who believe in punishment and payback as being good and want to see the "bad guys" punished. 

The reason that road is wide is because most people believe in payback justice. So the people on that "broad road" are not only the criminals, those who hurt others with their cruelty, those who victimize, but also those who want to see those people suffer for what they have done, those who want to make them pay, those who long for hell. They are on that same broad road because they are swept up in that cycle of violence of hurting and being hurt, that endless spiral of retribution. Our blind-spot is that we think that it's good and we call it "justice." The broad road is thus filled with religious people, with "good" people.

Jesus instead is calling us to the narrow road of compassion and forgiveness and enemy love. He is pleading with us to recognize that blame and payback are killing us. Literally. I saw a documentary recently about how the Russians, when they invaded Berlin in the final days of WWII, had a widespread practice of plundering and raping civilians. Why were they so brutal? One word: Retribution. They had suffered brutality under the Nazis in a way that we Americans had not, and now they wanted retribution. That's a pattern that we see tragically repeated in history over and over again. 

So again, when I say it is "killing us" I really do mean literally. People right now kill other people in the name of justice, whether it's a personal vendetta or a state action. We send drones overseas and those drones rip people into ribbons-- often times killing little kids or other innocent bystanders. That's sin. All sorts of people are abused or raped. That's sin. So we don't need to make up a pretend sin problem. There are very real ones right in our neighborhood, and for many of us in our own past. Perhaps we are perpetrators or perhaps we are victims (to some extent we have all hurt others, and been hurt ourselves), but either way we need to get off that treadmill of hurt, and learn to walk in love. That's a very hard road to walk. That's what those two roads are about. That's what Jesus meant.

When Paul speaks of our declaring that "Jesus is Lord" he means that the crucified one is Lord and the one who crucifies (Caesar) is not Lord. It means that the one who appears as a criminal, a failure, as forsaken, damned, blamed, rejected, as the terrorist, the criminal... that one hanging on the cross is the holy and righteous Son of God. In contrast, the one who stands for justice, who is strong and rich and glorious and right... that one is a sham. The whole system is a sham. That's what Paul was doing in proclaiming the crucified one. That's why he said it was "foolishness" and a scandal. It still is.

Jesus calls us to identify with the "least" and with our enemies. By the "least" he does not mean someone we sympathize with, like Dicken's Tiny Tim or poor Cosette from Les Mis.  No, the "least" are those who we regard as the least and the lowest. Those we are revolted by and find unworthy. To identify with the crucified is to identify with them. The beauty is that when we can make room in our hearts to love the unlovable that also includes an unconditional embrace of ourselves.

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