Violence in the Old Testament

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

There are a lot of really disturbing things in the Old Testament. Genocide, infanticide, slavery, polygamy, objectification of women... all not only occurred but often appear to be sanctioned by God, even commanded. Consider this example:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. (1st Sam 15:2-3)
Most likely you have heard sermons where the pastor would attempt to explain why God would command the slaughter of every "man and women, child and infant". One explanation often given is that God is holy and so could tolerate no "tainting" of Israel. But this begs the question: how is that any different from what the Nazi's said? The website rational Christianity says that the demonstrations of God's faithfulness and justice to Israel "gave them reason to trust God even when he commanded them to do something they might otherwise refuse to do". Again, this statement strikes me as extremely dangerous. Does that mean that when I sense that something goes against my conscience that I should do it anyway of I feel God telling me to? The potential for abuse here is staggering. But on the other hand, if we simply deny this part of the Bible are we not either saying that either God is unjust or that the Bible is unreliable?

In the historical novel "Silence", Shusaku Endo tells the story of a Jesuit missionary in seventeenth-century Japan who is faced with the dilemma of being forced between watching as his peasant flock was tortured and killed before his eyes, or to trample upon an image of Christ placed at his feet as a sign that he had denied Christ. The priest is torn in two between the love for his flock, and faithfulness to his Lord. His foot aches, when he hears Jesus speak to him,
"Trample, trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here."
When we are confronted with difficult passages in the Bible like to one above we are placed in a similar situation. On the one hand we are compelled to condemn the horrific idea of genocide. On the other we want to defend God's justice as well as the infallibility of the Bible. If we do not defend God here, are we not admitting that our God is unjust? We need to remember here the scandalous message of the cross: God came into the world and was falsely declared guilty and condemned on a cross for the sake of the ungodly. He did not seek to defend himself, but was condemned for the sake of the unrighteous. Jesus gave his life for his enemies, God died for the Amalekites just as much as he did for sinners like you and me. Would not that same God call us to care not for his reputation but for the lives of those (not innocent but beloved) lives? When we seek to protect an image (as the priest did) or a book, but in the process need to condone the slaughter of human life we forget that Christ is not found in a book or an icon, but in the least. When we defend the foreigner, the poor, the outcast, the enemy we are defending God, as Jesus says "as you have done it unto these...you have done it unto me".

It is a good thing for us to seek to understand the difficult parts of Scripture and to struggle with them. But when we find ourselves justifying atrocities in our attempt to defend God, then something has gone terribly wrong. God does not need us to defend his honor and reputation, he calls us to follow Jesus in his way of loving so radically that he was accused of blasphemy and unjustly condemned. God came into the world not to defend his honor, but to be trampled for the sake of the lost and sinners. If we wish to follow him up to Golgotha, we must trample. So I will say, with my foot trembling over the image of Christ, that these accounts of genocide, of the slaughter of "children and infants", were not commanded by God and that this account in the Bible when it claims it is wrong. God have mercy, here I stand, trampling.


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106 Comments:

At 7:42 PM, Blogger swills said...

i have often pondered over and struggled with those types of passages you describe. you've done a good job here of articulating a way forward.

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger swills said...

p.s.

have you ever read "god (a biography)" by jack miles? i'm reminded of a passage in that book where he is dealing with the transformation god progressively undergoes in the scripture with regard to his early genocidal tendencies:

"but first there will be a "day of the lord," on which the holy warrior will rage for one last, definitive time over all the earth. only then will men "cast forth their idols of silver and their idols of gold...to the moles and to the bats." (isaiah 2:20) this too is a scarcely believable new departure. even if it must be by warfare that the nations come to the lord, the notion that they can come to him at all is radically new. the deuteronomist warned israel endlessly against worshiping the canaanaites' gods but never entertained the notion that the canaanites would stop worshiping their own gods and start worshiping israel's. the assumption that no such development was possible was precisely what justified genocide: because conversion was impossible, extermination was necessary."

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous jules said...

Derek, so are you also saying then that the Hebrew text is an authentic representation of the Hebrew writers' perceptions of God? I find it interesting how many times God is saying/doing something so that the people may "know" Him.

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous shark said...

"Are you also saying then that the Hebrew text is an authentic representation of the Hebrew writers' perceptions of God?"

Yes, I would say that the whole Bible is about people who have encountered God and convey that encounter though their own perspective in the hopes that we can encounter God too. I'd also say that the Bible reflects a "progressive revelation" where we see a "dim Christ" in the OT and a clearer revelation in the NT.

Howard Yoder has pointed out that in the OT time that the practice of war was pretty much unquestioned, so the point of these passages is not really about whether war is ok or not (which they were not even asking, but more about God's faithfulness as they perceived it. Maybe its comparable to how I used to watch action films and not even question whether the glorification and trivialization of violence in them was bad.

 
At 3:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your interesting blog. It inspired me to do some reading. FYI, it is 1st Samuel 15:2-3.

 
At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the format of pale letters on orange background is difficult to read.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger lealdragon said...

Wow, thank you for having such tremendous courage as to take such a stance! I just posted your article (with link to original site) on a discussion forum called "Why is the God of the Bible so angry? Also - Adam and Eve... come on?" in the self-help section of the discussion forums at amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/tag/self-help/forum/ref=cm_cd_et_up_redir?%5Fencoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx3V6J6V0PF1S41&cdPage=1&cdSort=newest&cdThread=Tx2LY2BRO8HZ4JG&displayType=tagsDetail&newContentID=Mx1ECC7DZE5BY81#Mx2IXYSGNDTY6SS
The discussion has been raging for a couple of weeks in this and several other threads in that section. I have been debating the Christians who say God did these things, and I say God is merciful and would not. Thank you - so nice to hear this from a Christian!

 
At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell you what. I am a born again Christian. I accepted Christ as my savior when I was 13. Now, open your mind and don't bring your ready made for you defenses to bear without thinking about this. I doubt that you can. It's way too disturbing to your comforting beliefs.

If you believe in a loving, all knowing, all powerful God, then answer me this: How can such a God allow an innocent new born baby to die in horrible pain when the house his or her family lives in catches on fire and the infant is consumed into a lump of charred flesh? We cannot know God's plan? Original sin? IF you had the MORAL COURAGE to really think about this, discard the easy answers that the church has seduced you with, then what justification can there possibly be for such a cruel and horrible act?

 
At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

When I wrote in the above blog post "when we find ourselves justifying atrocities in our attempt to defend God, then something has gone terribly wrong." my point here is that I would never want to try to justify evil and tragic suffering. The death of a child is a terrible thing and I would never want to 'justify' it.

I think the only answer we can give in a time like that is to do what Jesus did when he encountered the death of Lazarus and the grief of his family - he wept. In the book of Job we see someone who is very angry with God for all of the suffering and loss he has endured. It is a frightfully honest book. I think one reason it is in the Bible is that God wants us to be real and not whitewash over our pain and doubt and anger.

We live in a world with a tremendous amount of evil and hurt in it. If God knows and loves each of us then he is touched by that suffering more than anyone. All of the pain and anger at the injustice you have seen God knows first hand. The question is how do we see evil like that and not become broken and destroyed ourselves?

If I could recommend a book to you: In “A Grace Disguised” Gerald Sittser tells how his mother, wife, and daughter were all killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. He speaks honestly about how he faced the devastating loss, rage, disbelief, and pain.

 
At 1:13 AM, Blogger RedCoat said...

It's been a while since this what posted...but I'll comment nonetheless.

The position you take is certainly unorthodox. The only thing I can really gather from your interpretation is that, if God did not in fact command these atrocities. Then it seems like the writers of these passages simply used their authoring to mold their "God" into what they wanted in order to legitimize their behavior. They basically put words and actions in God's mouth in order to justify what they did. To me, that seems to leave the Bible on an incredibly shaky foundation. But I guess it's either that, or accepting that God is an abortionist. The latter does seem to be the greater of the evils.

 
At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi RedCoat,

I think you sum up my position well. It's not really intended to be a 'solution' so much as it is about living with a dilemma and in that tension. I think this is really the only way to face questions of suffering and injustice and still retain faith. The two other positions would be to

a) retain the integrity of the Bible, but then deny my own humanity, deny love, and ultimately deny who God is

b) to take an atheist position and deny God and the Bible all together, but again in doing so deny my very self, deny hope, and deny love, since to do so is nihilism.

That leaves me with an uncomfortable tension that I have to live in. And I maintain that this is the only way we can live if we believe in love in the middle of a world dominated by injustice and hurt. Faith means being uncomfortable in that world, but not succumbing to it. It also means living with my own helplessness, uncertainty, and lack of sight, but while believing.

 
At 12:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Derek,

If we call this order from God wrong, then the judgment on Saul in the same chapter was also wrong, and the slaying of Agag by Samuel was also wrong.

This passage is so critical to the understanding of how David succeeded Saul on the throne that to discount it wipes out vast swaths of the Bible.

I've been thinking about these things lately, and the more I think about it, the more I think that we do not fully understand the holiness of God.

If we truly understood how holy God really is, and always will be, I think we would start to marvel at the realization that we are alive at all.

Even the smallest sin is detestable to God. God cannot tolerate sin as we are so often encouraged to do in today's society. For if God tolerated sin, if he overlooked it as inconsequential, then God would not be good anymore. God cannot be love (as the Bible says in 1 John 4:8) if part of him enjoys hate. I'm talking of the sinful hate here, not the abhorrence of sin.

This is hard for us to comprehend, because all we see, from birth until death, is a sinful world. In order to get through this world, we need to tolerate others, we need to show mercy, we need to love. And this is as it should be, not because sin isn't so bad, but because God has shown us mercy.

But God has no requirement to tolerate sin. From God's perspective, sin absolutely must be dealt with. When we see passages of judgment from God in the Bible, we instinctively recoil. We see how weak we are, and we don't dare to be as judgmental as God can be. For if God can be as judgmental as that, what hope is there for us?

The truth is, there is no hope, except what God provides.

(continued below...)

 
At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(continued from "... except what God provides.")

To look at 1 Samuel 15 and criticize God for genocide is to entirely miss the point. Do we really expect God to overlook sin forever? Do we really want to test God and push for even more time before we repent and turn to him? This is what the Amalekites did. I don't want to go down that road.

We get used to our own level of sin. We bend the rules here and there, and we see the rest of the world doing the same thing. We're happy with that. We don't judge others too harshly, because we know we're not perfect. Sure, others are worse than us, but we'll be generous, we think. Certainly it can't be that bad.

Then we turn around and see terrible things going on in the rest of the world, and we cry indignantly to God, asking why he lets these things happen. How can a loving God allow such atrocities, we ask?

But God has to deal with ALL of this sin. There is no sin in God! We forget that in order to purge the atrocities, we ourselves need to be purged. We are all sinful before God.

Yet God is merciful beyond our understanding. He is so merciful, that we look at seemingly uncharacteristic judgment and think it can't possibly be from him. We have gotten so used to his mercy that we've forgotten his wrath.

How can I look at 1 Samuel 15 and claim that God is merciful? I look around. How long has this world been spinning, and sinning, and repenting? Thousands of years. And yet when Adam and Eve sinned, God could have put them to death immediately, before anyone else was even born, and been perfectly justified. That is how holy God is. And yet he lets us all live, for varied lifetimes, and albeit under the Curse, in order to give us a chance to turn to him and repent and be saved.

The sins we have committed are fully paid for in Jesus Christ. God has paid for our sins, and that was his plan before the beginning of the world. How great he is!

What is the remedy for sin? It's always been the same. Repent, believe God, turn to him, and obey. It would have worked for the Amalekites, and it will work for us today if we believe in Jesus Christ, God's son.

God consistently demonstrates in the Bible that he refuses to destroy a nation if there is a remnant of righteous left in it. The link in your original article lists them. From Sodom to Ninevah, God is always looking for those faithful to him.

So I can only understand, from the command in 1 Samuel 15, that there were no righteous men left in the Amalekite camp. Just as wickedness abounded in Noah's time (we haven't even talked about the Flood -- talk about a genocide!) it must have abounded in the Amalekites. I think the clips of history that I can find bear that out.

God is merciful, and God is holy. Please don't focus on the one, to the exclusion of the other.

In Christian love,
- Chris

 
At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

But Chris, you are not describing holiness. You are describing a monster, a tyrant, a beast. I know who God is, both because I have experienced his transforming grace and love first hand, and be cause I see his character perfectly reflected in jesus in the pages of the New Testament. And so I can say with absolute confidence: God is not like that. And looking at Jesus this is not what holiness is either. It is a lie about holiness. Holiness looks like Jesus. Look at Jesus among sinners, loving them, healing them, forgiving them - that is what holiness looks like. Holiness is not a contradiction of love.

 
At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Derek,

Does your vision of Jesus include the Jesus in Revelations 19:11-16? Yes, the Jesus in the gospels is kind, loving, forgiving, and meek. But those are not the only attributes of God.

When Jesus returns, it will not be quietly in a manger. It will be obvious, like lightning in the sky. (Matt. 24:27) And it will be with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30)

I don't know why God decided to let humans deal with justice on earth, but it is clear from Romans 13 that the job of government was ordained by God: justice, punishment for wrongdoing, etc.

If this authority is given to mankind, is it beyond the realm of logic to think that God can and does use the nations themselves to mete out His justice? I think it is very possible, and considering that Israel is God's chosen nation, it would make sense that His decisions would be told to them directly, instead of how He often works through the nations beyond our view.

We as Christians are not called to this kind of nationalistic justice (thankfully!). We are called to the much more difficult task of loving our enemies and doing good to them that hurt us. But I think it is dangerous to ignore some of God's attributes just because they may be inconvenient or they don't match our viewpoint.

Taking only half of the truth turns the truth into a lie. Accepting only half of the Bible is also a lie. We need to balance the entire Word of God, otherwise we set ourselves up in judgment over God and His Word.

In Christian love,
- Chris

 
At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Chris,

I agree that we need to take all of the Bible into account, but I would propose that in addition to that there is another thing we need to take into account as well: our firsthand experience of knowing what love is in a personal transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. The things I am objecting to in my original blog post are not coming from my own personal discomfort, but from knowing who Jesus is, and having his heart move my own, learning through the Spirit to see people as he does, learning to think as he does, "not being conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of my mind".

So it is not simply a matter of taking all of the Bible into account (which I agree we should) but also a matter of making sure that our interpretation of the Bible is in line with what we know first hand from God in a living relationship to be good, loving, and just. Otherwise we risk bowing before a god who is evil, and calling that "good", effectively justifying atrocities. Our understanding of Scripture must always always always be done through the eyes of Jesus. Or to state it differently, ethics must be the guide of exegesis.

Very simply put: no one in the world would ever think that mass slaughter of infants is in any way an example of "justice". It would be clearly seen as an atrocity, as horrific, as profoundly evil. If you heard about this happening anywhere in the world today - in Germany, in Afghanistan, and Darfur - this is exactly what you would think too. And yet here you are explaining why it would be okay, making an argument for the justice of genocide. Why is that? What's going on? I'll tell you: It's because you are turning off your moral conscience as you read the Bible, and thus saying that whatever it says must be good no matter how ghastly. As I have said above, ethics must guide our exegesis. When we turn off our conscience in order to read the Bible, we kill something in our souls, and we end up making statements that seem morally absurd, that sound, quite frankly, horrifying.

I just can't emphasize enough how important this is, because we turn off our conscience in an attempt to defend God we open ourselves up to the potential of all sorts of abuse and toxic faith. So I want to really encourage you to face this with your moral conscience intact, with what you know of Jesus and his love as you have experienced it in your own life intact, and to join me in struggling and wrestling with it.

 
At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Derek,

I do wrestle with it. I struggle to understand the seemingly wild breadth of the Bible.

If I only look at the attributes of Jesus, then I risk discounting a large part of the Old Testament. But Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not abolish them. (Matt. 5:17-20). If Jesus is incompatible with the God of the Old Testament, then who is the Father?

Thankfully, Jesus fulfilled the Law so that I don't have to. Which is good, because I can't. He also called us to a higher standard than the Law. Where the Law demands revenge, Jesus calls us to forgive.

But I think that setting ethics and my personal experience over the Bible is also risky... it lets my deceitful heart lead me down a path that may not be in line with God's Word.

Abraham would never have sacrificed his son Isaac if he had let ethics trump his obedience. But he had faith in God's goodness, even though the command seemed insane. And God stopped him just in time.

Abraham didn't have the Bible as his guide... he had to rely on his personal experience and his faith. We do have the Bible. So today, if "God" told me to commit genocide, I would know that it was not the true voice of God, because I have the Bible to check with, and God does not contradict Himself.

The command to Saul was specific. It was a one time command. It was also before the New Testament. The command we now have is general: to forgive and let God take care of the vengeance side of things (Romans 12:19). Some would even go so far as to believe that Christians should not join the army.

I guess I look at it similar to how Jesus looked at divorce. (Matt. 19:8) Jesus said that divorce was permitted in the law because the hearts of the Israelites were hard. That seems to me that divorce was ok from the point of view of justice, but it wasn't the ideal that God wanted. Similarly, the justice and "revenge" in the Law isn't ideal either. God would much rather we show mercy to one another. So the mercy of the New Testament is better than the judgment of the Old Testament, even though both are good and necessary. "Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (James 2:13)

But somehow I can't let the mercy of the New Testament erase the history of the Old either. There's a reason we should fear God, while loving Him at the same time. Just because we are not supposed to implement the wrath of God today doesn't mean that God won't someday. (Heb. 10:31)

I think I've said my piece, though. Thank you very much for your thoughtful replies. It is definitely a hard passage to handle.

God bless.

In Christian love,
- Chris

 
At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

It's been good talking with you too. Grace to you my brother. Here are some parting thoughts. You write:

"So today, if "God" told me to commit genocide, I would know that it was not the true voice of God, because I have the Bible to check with, and God does not contradict Himself."

Now I don't see how you can make this conclusion since the Bible tells us that God commanded genocide (for example in 1 Sam 15 in the original blog post above). So if we were to go strictly by the precepts laid out in the Bible, we could claim that genocide is justified in God's name based on the Bible. And historically people have done exactly that. It's not just a hypothetical.

The difficulty here is that just as our sinfulness can cloud our own moral judgment, it can also cloud how we read the Bible. The Bible itself may be infallible, but I am not infallible, and my interpretation of it is not infallible. So it is a guide for us, along with personal experience of the holy Spirit, but both must be approached with humility and caution because of the reality of our own fallenness and blinders.

"That seems to me that divorce was ok from the point of view of justice, but it wasn't the ideal that God wanted. Similarly, the justice and "revenge" in the Law isn't ideal either. God would much rather we show mercy to one another. So the mercy of the New Testament is better than the judgment of the Old Testament, even though both are good and necessary. "Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (James 2:13)"

Here I think you hit the nail on the head. What I would like to challenge you to contemplate is that exactly that kind of superior healing, life-giving, regenerating, restorative justice is not only what we are to practice, but also what God will demonstrate when he returns in glory.

 
At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

If there is a god, the OT is slander against him, it. He/she should sue.

 
At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I feel ya

 
At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you considered the idea that YHWH is not the Father of Jesus? That the OT describes the demiurge and not the transcendent God. This is the view of many of the so called "gnostic sects" as well as the Marcionites.

 
At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

yes, I'm familair with that view. I does not seem to be the view Jesus took however.

 
At 7:46 PM, Blogger Rich said...

It's the same old problem. Why is there evil in the world? If God is sovereign, (and HE is), then He could stop it anytime He wanted. Some say that He approves since He does not prevent it.

In the Old Testament, the Jews had no problem with a jealous and vengeful God. Many people are attracted to the kindness of Jesus. They have difficulty reconciling the Son and the Father.

It is an offense to some and a stumbling block to some.

 
At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear everyone,
This is a very interesting blog. All my life I have been given an abusive image of God which resulted in severe full-blown panic attacks for 2 years. That is certainly not: "HE CAME TO GIVE US LIFE AND LIFE TO THE FULL". I am so grateful for people who seek the honest lifegiving truth. Would you like someone you love to suffer from panic attacks? How would it make you feel if your theology damaged someones spirit?

 
At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

I agree. I think it boils down here to who we want to defend. Do we feel the need to defend God's honor by explaining why such things would be justified? Or do we care for those whose faith may be damaged and broken by such a hurtful picture of God. I'd say looking at the example of Jesus, his priority was clearly on caring for the least and the wounded, even at the expense of his own reputation. So if Jesus is God (and I think he is) then we have a model of God not caring about defending himself, but instead of caring about those who are hurt and alienated from religion. In our theology we need to have that same priority of Jesus.

 
At 3:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your comments, I,ve been struggling with this very same passage for days now and the only conclusion I,ve drawn from it that we have to "work out our salvation with fear", not to take the love of God for granted. Although I would hope to bielive that God is merciful and loves us unconditionally, hence Jesus dieing on the cross for us.

 
At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus said that we should fear the God who can cast us into hell -(Matt. 10:28). And the Apostle Paul said that we should live out our Salvation with fear and trembling...(Phil. 2:12)It's only those who stay in step with the Spirit that will enter the Kingdom of heaven because those are the people who do the will of the Father. Matt. 7:21

We cannot pick and choose what we want to accept and leave out what we don't like. Jesus doesn't contradict Himself - He is loving because though we all deserve Hell, He is willing to save the repentant. And He is just because all evil doers will be punished for their sin and rebellion against the God who gave them life.

Derek, the most loving thing I can tell you is that you might be becoming a stumbling block to others by watering down sin's offense against God.

 
At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Dear Anon,

I appreciate you concern and the caring spirit in which you express it. I would like to suggest however that the opposite is the case. For vast majority of people today, the stumbling block is a presentation of God as hateful and violent. This false image of God keeps many from faith and caused others to lose their faith. After all, how can we open our hearts in trust to someone who would do such horrific things?

So my concern and motivation here is pastoral and evangelical. I want to tell people that God is not like that. God is like Jesus. God is about grace, and God welcomes all of us, no matter how messed up we are, or how broken we are, or how hurtful we are. I want to remove the stumbling block so that people can come to God. Once we are there, yes certainly God will lovingly reveal to us not only hurt that needs to be healed in us but also call us to repent of the hurt we do to others. So I do not in any way deny our own human sinfulness nor our need for grace and repentance. I simply deny that God is a sinner like us.

That is not a matter of "picking and chosing" but of recognizing that Jesus is the ultimate and perfect revelation of God's character and then reading my Bible through his eyes. Seeing what he saw there, rejecting and criticizing what he did. It is not a matter of "what I like," but of what is Christ-like.

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 12:30 AM, Anonymous said... "From God's perspective, sin absolutely must be dealt with" This statement contradicts the idea of "Free Will" how can their truly be Free Will if there are known consequences?

The older I become the more I question "Religion" To me the teachings of Christ and Religion are completely separate things. In my opinion Religion focuses on the "Magic/Mystical" side of things, which in my mind are quite irrelevant when compared to the message of Christ. I mean, does it matter that he walked on water, or turned water to wine? Could those possibly be metaphors ie maybe the saying that he walked on water to calm the seas, could simply mean he had the ability to calm the soul of man! - Not saying it is,because I dont know. BUT if I found out today that all of Christs miracles did not occur, it would bother me not, for my Faith is in his message NOT his magic!

I spoke to someone who was very disappointed with the movie "The Davinci Code" where it was suggested that Jesus had children, when they asked me my opinion, I simply said that although I have no idea if it was true (and that it didn't alter the Message of Christ anyway!), that if it was true, in my eyes his Sacrifice was even greater than if he wasn't a father.

And whilst I do believe in God, its pretty hard to take the events and stories of the old testament seriously not to mention all the violence (which is hypocritical when the message is love!) - The Old Testament sounds more like the devil to me, and if you turn of your blind faith for one moment to question it, you will see that its impossible to justify such violence. The old testament is like the adult version of Santa clause!

 
At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Derek,

I will start by saying this. God is God, not Dr. Phil, or Oprah, or Alexander the Great, or Hitler, or a Republican, or a Democrat, and certainly not me. He is an omnipotent being who says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD." - Isaiah 55:8

I have noted some of the language you (and those who agree with you) used in your post and comments, and it has me concerned. I'm afraid you may have joined a club on false pretense. I know you'll probably think, "No! It's a personal relationship with Je..." Yes, I know, but sometimes I use phrases like "joined a club" for satire, not because I mean it literally. Here are a few of the sources for my concern:

1. I want to tell people that God is not like that. - What if he is?
2. I want to remove the stumbling block so that people can come to God - What if it was put there on purpose so it trips people? (Romans 9:33)
3. Would you like someone you love to suffer from panic attacks? - No I wouldn't, but working out my salvation with "fear and trembling" might allow for a few panic attacks.
4. How would it make you feel if your theology damaged someones spirit? - Have you heard of heaven and hell? The latter is very damaging to one's spirit, and the idea to people who don't believe in Christianity.
5. When we turn off our conscience in order to read the Bible, we kill something in our souls. - Your "old" soul/spirit is supposed to be dead already (Romans 6), and you're supposed to die daily to "self", thus there is some precedent. Still, no one turns off their conscience to read the bible....Its supposed to offend you sometimes, because it is supposed to make you both love and fear God.

Those statements above seem to come from a sincere and emotional belief, but not one grounded in actual scripture or the possibility that your emotions/heart/ethics are not the measuring rule to put God on. Forget the Old Testament, they seem to come from someone who hasn't even read the New Testament. God forbid, I come across as arrogant, as that is not my intent, but a majority of "Christians" believe in a book they haven't read. Which is why Jesus himself said he will even cast away many to hell who "think" they believe in him (Matt 7:22-23).

I could sit here and debate, but I suggest you take 10 minutes out of your life and read Romans 9. It's only 33 verses long. The apostle Paul is actually has a mock debate with the reader in that chapter, in order to change the readers mind about what he assumes to be the nature of God. Funny thing is he also assumes the reader agrees with the idea that God is a teddy bear and couldn't possibly ____________(fill in the blank).

Once you read Chapter 9, if you're game, then read the entire book of Romans. Then read the entire New Testament. Then re-read those passages in the Old Testament that you never understood God to be capable of, in light of the New Testament explaining them all for you. You'll find the revelation to be exactly what God wanted it to be......a revelation.

In my personal experience and walk with God, he as been the kindest gentleman, the most loving father, but there has been occasions where I have felt his intense displeasure with sin in my life, and the feeling wasn't "damning", but intense and scary, and convicting, and inspiring, and encouraging.

"Consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off." (Romans 11:22)

You have left the severity of God entirely unconsidered....

Your brother in Christ,
David

 
At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

David,

I have read the New Testament many many times, and in particular the book of Romans. In fact I just finished translating it from the original Greek. So I think it is safe to say that I am familiar with the the New Testament. The fact is, you and I can both read the Bible and come to different conclusions. So the question is: why is that?

I would propose that you in fact are reading the passages of God's "sternness" within the larger context of God's grace and love both as you find it in the Bible and as you have encountered it in your own relationship with God. This larger narrative of grace determines how you understand these "stern" parts.

I am doing the same, but am taking it farther than you have. I being with Jesus as the ultimate revelation of who God is, and observe how he interacts with people. Both those who have been hurt by religion, and with those who were the keepers of religion in his time. There I see that Jesus places a priority on interacting with people in a way that brings them life, even when this is perceived by the religious leaders around him to constitute unfaithfulness to the law. So my approach is not coming from projecting my own sentiments onto the Bible, but rather from being formed by Christ and letting his heart shape how I see others. I need grace, and I try to encounter others with the same grace I need. Believe me, I certainly have considered the severity of God. In fact looking at this blog it becomes quite clear that it is a theme that I deal with repeatedly. But I see this within the larger story of God's action of grace towards all of us in Jesus.

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all. I must say thank you for taking the time to reply me. You seem like a real classy guy, and it brings joy to my heart to know that you're a student of the Word.

I can completely understand how you can come to a different conclusion. I was of the same conclusion as you actually, but as I read the bible more, and had discussions with those more mature in the faith, and experienced God more, I found I had to change my conclusions for the sake of honesty toward God and scripture.

I consider you a brother in Christ, and that this "debate" or "conversation" is in no way critical to your relationship with Jesus. Nor do I presume to have a monopoly on correct biblical doctrine. But I will say that your stance "might" cause you to tread a thin line when it comes to adding to or taking away from the word of God (Rev 22:18-19).

As for your second paragraph in your reply to me, I think you misunderstand me. I am looking at those passages in light of the whole representation of the personality of God. My own experience is merely anecdotal. Given, I believe in the bible (mostly) Jesus says so, not Jesus because the bible says so.

I come to the conclusion that rather than trample, we are to be trampled alongside with Jesus. Did he not say people would hate us because of him (Luke 21:17)? People would persecute us? Was he not murdered himself? Google "buddy Jesus". This is the Jesus I believe modern culture can handle. Anything different, and our morally relativistic, accepting culture would be the first to crucify him again. Is that not the case if you attempt to preach anything other than a pixie fairy dust Jesus with a skateboard, and "Duuuude, where's my car?" tattooed across his chest?

I have great love and ongoing patience with those that are new believers, and have been hurt by religion, but Jesus expects children to grow. We are not supposed to keep Christians in a continual state of breastfeeding (1 Cor 3:2). There are things that we as Christians will have a hard time chewing on, and things the scripture says, we may not be ready to accept.

What I am saying is that there is a great deal to be lost if you trample under foot much of the Old Testament. After all, Jesus offers us the Old Testament to legitimize his claims. Was it not also Jesus who confirmed the story of the destruction of the world by a flood? (Matt 24:37-38) So lets pretend the rest of the Old Testament is hogwash....you still have Jesus himself corroborate that God destroyed all the inhabitants of the earth, save 8 people, with water. That is what we would call "genocide", yet Jesus did not feel the need to make any excuses for it, or "trample" on it for the sake of the weak around him.

We could entirely forget the Old Testament, and still the New Testament itself has enough evidence of God still showing this side of his personality from time to time:

1. Sending an angel to kill King Herod (Acts 12:23)
2. Ananias and Saphira being killed instantly by the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). Apparently this caused the Church great fear when they heard it. Including the baby Christians and people hurt by religion.
3. The existence of hell shows something far worse than any earthly genocide. The bible says not to fear man who can kill the flesh, but to fear God who can kill the body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28). Pretend God never killed on earth, but only in eternity by sending people to hell. Is that not worse than simply taking a life? Are you also going to tell baby Christians hell doesn't exist to cater to their sensitivity? Jesus was loving and sensitive, yet preached hell.
4. The destruction of the world again in the book of Revelation.

The list goes on and on, but I only have so many HTML characters to use...

- David

 
At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

David,

There is a lot to respond to in your post, but let me just address one point: there is a profound difference between someone believing that God will judge people at the end of time, and someone believing God has told them to kill you and your family. The difference is that in the one scenario they actually kill you and your family. In the history of the church this has happened quite a few times on a massive scale. Real people being killed in God's name. So I do not think that God judging humanity is "just as bad" as actual humans committing real genocide for this simple reason: we are not God.

So I'm not really worried about people feeling comfortable, or having a "nice" Jesus. The cross is not nice or comfortable. But let's be clear: this is not about nice, it is about actual human beings killing other human beings - killing infants - because they think God told them to. What I would propose is that what we find in Jesus and Paul is that they frequently questioned Scripture. Take the Sermon on the Mount for starters. So for us to question a passage like that is not being unfaithful to Scripture, it is reading Scripture in the same way Jesus did.

 
At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

PART 1:

People keep talking about "fear and trembling," but no one's mentioned Kierkegaard yet. Weird.

But anyway, I don't mean to defend genocide here, and I also don't like the usual "God's holiness is beyond our holiness" arguments. I don't think they're necessarily illogical; I just think they're basically unconvincing at the end of the day. "It is good to sacrifice your life out of love for others because all life is precious! But God loves to kill babies; he’s just different; don’t question it." It's just kind of...it takes too much squirming to make it feel right, as you pointed out.

All That Said, I feel like you're absolutely not being fair to the New Testament (or Christ) by simply tossing off the verses that make you want to drop the religion altogether. Let me clarify. First of all, Christ would have been Fully aware of the "Old Testament" as it stood. Even if he weren't divine, he would have been Well versed in those works. Not Once does he Not mention the "problems" of the Old Testament. And I do believe this was intentional. If it were so horrendously wrong, as it feels, it seems like he would have at least Mentioned it. Instead he mentions the Current works of the Jews. I think this is important. Not only this, he uses the Old Testament’s argument to make His argument. THIS CANNOT BE IGNORED and you are ignoring this by tossing it off as immoral. His argument is something like "You're not understanding the law good Enough; you admonish others for their sins, but you're way more sinful! So you will be destroyed." And they Were. More on that later.

Let’s start with a basic premise. The whole overall argument of the Bible (BOTH OLD AND NEW) is this: Sin will be punished. Sin against God's people will be Extra punished.

So, if we look at the Old Testament, we have people basically being punished for their sins. For some reason, he gives "Israel" a system that "fixes" their sins, at least temporarily, or at least in a way that is moving in the right direction.

So, any sin (violence, abuse, etc.) brought against the Israelites (in whatever form) is absolutely punished As Long As the Israelites put faith in God. Not only this, God is willing to basically kick out people of a land to give these Israelites their own land. This in itself would be a sin by most human standards. You invade a people to set up your own nation? Not very nice. But God likes these Israelites above all others for some reason. He has people, and anyone who is not his people are punished basically automatically. This whole scenario set up is the Overall argument of the entire Bible. This Israel issue is the groundwork by which Christ preaches. Without it, his argument makes no sense. Let's keep going through the history.

So, over and over again, you have Israel turning away from God. They start to worship other Gods, ignore the law, rule unjustly, etc. etc. All the prophets and judges and kings speak to this problem. And every time (or most) it is God who punishes the Israelites. I mean, read the book of Judges. You have God giving the Israelites over to various enemies because they have betrayed him. And it's not until the Israelites go "Oh no! We need God to survive" that God comes back and destroys the exact people he put in control over the Israelites. Why not just use an earthquake to punish Israel? For some reason, he wants to use real people to punish his people, and then he wants his people to overcome those oppressors. That is his system.

SEE PART 2

 
At 3:24 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

PART 2

This happens over and over and over again. Let’s look at Psalms for a while. It’s considered one of the nicer Old Testament books. But really take a look at it. It’s basically a string of resentful arguments. The basic premise of Most of the psalms is this: “We are holy, and you are sinners. You abuse us because you are sinners. As such, GOD WILL PUNISH YOU, AND YOU DESERVE IT.” It’s true that the Psalms don’t really call the Israelites to kill and punish sin on their own, etc. but they clearly understand that God will eventually punish those who deserve it because that is right.

Now, let’s take a look back at the Old Testament as a whole. We have a lot of premises. One, God punishes people for sins. Two, God punishes anyone who messes with Israel. Three, God will punish Israel if it turns against him. Four, despite all the turning and punishing, God always says he’s going to keep his promise to save Isreal, and from that, the whole world. From all these premises, it can be assumed that there is something special or “holy” about Israel. Or, more accurately, Israel would clearly Think this. I mean, wouldn’t you? You get special treatment just for being Israel.

So, let’s jump to the New Testament. Jews are doing their thing in Israel. They are trying to rule it, gain their power back from Rome, etc. They feel oppressed like they always do. And it can be inferred that they are oppressed because they’ve once again turned away from God. So Jesus shows up and claims to be this savior and says exactly that, that they have to repent and follow him to be saved from the oppressors. But the Jews expect him to violently overtake Rome. This makes sense! That’s what God has always done. But instead Jesus turns against Them for good.

Jesus preaches to them that they will be punished for Their sins. In other words, the argument in the Old Testament, that oppressors of “God’s people” would be punished, is being turned on the Jews in one final sweeping movement.

Jesus (YHWH himself!) makes Isreal the ultimate evil nation. He is saving his people From Israel. This is a complete turn around, and this is the exact reason, I think, Jews rejected Jesus so violently. All that is to say, Jesus is using the Same Argument that the Old Testament had been using all along. God unequivocally punishes those who oppress his people. All Jesus did was say Everyone is “his people” if they believe in him (whatever this means!?) and that Israel is the oppressors. Unprecedented.

So, he tells “his people” (his new followers) to run for the hills because it’s about to hit the fan. This, I believe, is all his apocalyptic speech about the end of the world. Israel would be coming to an end. He was ending Israel forever and rebuilding it as the new church. Is he giving up on his promise? I don’t think so. He’s basically redrawing the map of Israel to include the entire world. But the argument stands. Oppressors of Israel (in whatever form it takes) are punished by any means necessary. So who destroys the oppressors in this scenario? Rome. In 70 AD. Israel is destroyed by the exact people they thought were the oppressors. This is the exact same thing God does in the Old Testament over and over again. He destroys Israel with the enemy to punish them. More than this, though, he makes the enemy his people. Or at least he extends the friend banner to them. “Grafts them in” as it were.

SEE PART 3

 
At 3:25 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

PART 3


But in this case he’s done forever. Israel is gone. Or moved. Forever. He was either fed up with Israel (I don’t think this is the case) or he knew its destruction would be the only way that humankind could be saved. That is, the whole system of punishment and forgiveness was finally solved in Christ. Now, I don’t claim to know how That works, but I do recognize a pattern when I see it. Your Old Testament god hasn’t gone anywhere in the New Testament. He’s the same guy. He absolutely prophesied (through Christ) the fall of Israel, and he absolutely razed it to the ground in 70 AD with real people. This wasn’t a random natural occurrence. This was real people killing real people through God’s will.

I only went through the whole history because I wanted to show that Jesus’ argument (the man and argument you are so close to) is the Same as the Old Testament argument. It’s punishment and forgiveness. God punishes those who oppress his people. He will oppress his Own People if they turn from him. If they repent, he forgives them and destroys the oppressors. This is exactly what he did in Christ. I will admit that Jesus seems a whole lot nicer. And there is something to that. But to toss off the Old Testament in this way is just…it’s not honest.

The Old Testament is Jesus’ argument. It’s the place he started from. It’s Paul’s argument as well. Paul laments having lost the Jews. Why would he do this? Because he knows that they are being (or are going to be) punished. He knows that they will never get back in to God’s favor without Christ, that the final plan to redeem all of mankind had begun and they’d missed the boat. And not only that, they would be punished (once again!) having missed the boat by So Much.

I don’t mean to ignore your anguish. I go through the same problems. “How can God expect me to be fair and just when he seems to just pick the Israelites for no reason!” or “If punishing Sin is his bit, and he is the root of all holiness, how can we have Any idea what sin is when he called people to do things that are clearly sinful!” I don’t think I’ve torn apart your argument here, that the God of the New Testament works through love and peace and joy while the Old seems just plain mean. And that wasn’t my intention. But I do think it’s important to really notice the similarities in form. He’s not changing patterns here.

Incidentally, I think this is exactly what is going to happen at the coming of Christ. This same pattern will be repeated. Those who oppose God’s people will be destroyed forever. Does that mean they will be damned or whatever? Who knows. Does that mean that sin will be erased from the universe? I think that’s the plan. Now, here’s the crux of the whole matter: did God’s people in the Old Testament have the same character requirements of God’s people in the New Testament? I think so. But there does seem to be a difference in the scope. For example, Jews were expected to be like Christ(?) to other Jews, to love, sacrifice, protect, etc. But that didn’t seem to be the case with respect to non-Jews. Or it doesn’t seem that way, anyway. Because all non-Jews basically seem to be Inherent oppressors.

This, I will absolutely agree, seems to be a main difference between the God of Old and the God of New. The God of Old seems to say “You’re not okay but can be okay (at least for a little while), and they are NOT OKAY---INHERENTLY.” The God of New seems to say “You’re not okay but can be okay through Christ, and they’re not okay but can be through Christ as well.” It levels the playing field and requires the person to be super introspective. To fear and tremble, as they say. Either way, it’s always implied through both testaments that the “not okay” are going to get punished. There’s no way around that, and by tossing out verses like that, you are, I think, missing God’s (and Christ’s!) main argument.

 
At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Joe,

You raise a lot of important issues. Since I wrote the above blog post, I have continued to explore the issue of violence in the OT. I agree with you that a) Jesus did not simply reject the OT and thus b) neither should I. What I want to do is figure out how Jesus read his Bible and saw in it a loving God he called "abba" So I've been doing a massive study on how Jesus and Paul read their Bibles which I am currently working into a journal article.

You trace out a narrative of God's interactions with Israel connected to punishment and how this was the view inherited by Jesus (and Paul). While I agree that they certainly were familiar with that particular narrative, I think a careful reading shows that they did not embrace it, and that the NT in fact radically re-frames (or perhaps better: re-forms) that narrative. This is true of both Jesus and Paul, but for sake of space I'll stick to just outlining how this looks in Paul. Paul in Romans quotes a collection of Psalms in Ro 3, and as you say these all in their original context have to do with the “We are holy, and you are sinners, so God punish them!" theme. Paul uses these to make the opposite point: we are all sinner and so we should not call out for punishment but grace.

Paul formally as a Pharisee had adopted the narrative of punitive violence that you outlined, which led him to persecute the church. He now rejects that narrative of "us vs them" and holiness through separation and violence, and instead passionately champions inclusion of those "sinful" gentiles and salvation through taking on suffering. So Paul is aware of the OT narrative you outline and rejects it. It's subtle, but its there.

The thing is, that narrative is just one of many competing narratives in the OT. The OT is not so much a single plot line as it is a record of multiple voices struggling to get in touch with God's way. The narrative of punishment is one voice. There are others, and it is those others that Jesus (and later Paul) identified with. It's subtle because you need to read between the lines. Paul for example while he is completely changing the sense of the Psalms he quotes in Ro 3 does not announce that he is doing this, but he is clearly, and I'm convinced he does this very intentionally. In doing this, he begins with OT texts, but interprets them in a way that radically transforms them. He does not reject the OT, he affirms it, but he insists that it really points to a God who looks like Jesus, that is, a God who does not save through inflicting violence but by bearing it in love.

 
At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

PART 1

Well, here's the real question then: is he reforming the narrative itself, or is simply recasting the characters? I lean much more toward the latter. I'm also not convinced the "us vs them" mentality is ever dropped in the New Testament. I feel like "us vs them" is very much a part of Christian theology. Now, I will agree that the theology is different than the OT in that it gives the "them" a way of becoming the "us," but I don't think the entire structure is changed. It has and will always be the holy vs the unholy. It's simply been remapped. A new cast has been chosen, but the underlying structure is the same. (This is not to say that the plot is identical in every way. I don't think salvation for humankind was possible without Christ, for example.)

I mean, look at the struggles that Paul and the other writers were addressing. The "them" was absolutely oppressing the "us" (a dynamic that modern Christians have trouble understanding, I think). Now, again, I will certainly agree that the New Testament writers and characters require the "us" to look inward, to make sure they are doing everything they can to be the "us" and not unfairly label others as "them," (which is a great message) but at no point is anyone ever arguing "everyone is the 'us!'" or "There isn't a 'them!'" Does that mean God is going to call the "us" to pick up weapons to destroy the "them?" It doesn't seem that way, and that really is the point of contention. Why did God do that in the past on a micro level but now asks us to turn away and "fight" with kindness and love on a macro level?

So, that's the real question. You argue that the message was "reformed," and I think that language is close to what I'm arguing. But what we don't seem to be agreeing on is the origin of that original message. Was the original message in the Old Testament about God's work in destroying evil and commanding the Israelites to do the same FROM YHWH? Or was that all a lie created by the Israelites to justify their evil deeds? You say "reformed" the message, but do you really mean that the message was incorrect and fabricated from the beginning? That someone lied? Or that the YHWH character was being perverted? Did YHWH actually originally say "Love the people who are in the land now and bring no violence against them. Don't drive them out, but keep peace. "Israel" is a metaphor, and you aren't really getting any land. Your enemies will be overcome by love."

If any of the above is True, it really calls a lot of theology into question. I'm not the kind of guy who goes wild over the "absolute inerrancy of the Bible," but I'm not really comfortable dropping a character like YHWH out of the Old Testament. It would simply allow Christians to rip out the front part of their books and move on. And I don't think that was Christ or Paul's intention at all.

You say that he does not reject the OT, but insists that it really points to a god who looks like Jesus. But as you pointed out at the very beginning, the god of the OT does Not look like Jesus (as we understand it). Where is that God that Jesus is pointing to? Is he simply hidden behind a bunch of Israelite lies? How does one overcome that problem? When the whole narrative of the OT is about using God to Overcome evil (often with force!) how can you possibly say "that's not really what he meant, and Jesus straightened it out."

SEE PART 2

 
At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

PART 2 (I write way too much...)

The problem there, of course, is it makes it seem like all the ground Jesus (and every other NT writer) is standing on was very shaky (at best!). How do we determine when the god of the OT is being portrayed accurately? When he matches up with one's morals or one's (often extremely biased) view of Christ? Further, in light of all these issues, how do we determine that the Jesus in the NT is who we think he is? Why assume the OT is basically a shaky fabrication but then put all this faith in this Jesus character (who incidentally put all His faith in that shaky fabrication)?

I'm also a bit uncomfortable with this reading between the lines argument you have here. Not because it's wrong to do that (it's obviously not), but that it requires the reader to make huge jumps. For example, if Jesus and Paul rejected the OT argument, why didn't they just say so? It would have been very simple to; I don't see why they wouldn't considering the importance of it. Were they too scared to? Did they enjoy being so cryptic? And further, how does one lovingly interpret something like 1 Samuel 15:2-3? The Psalms are a bit easier, but what do you do with a huge chunk of the OT? It seems like you'd have to flat out toss those verses out. It's pretty hard to simply interpret a lot of that stuff away.

While I absolutely agree with your interpretation of Romans 3 there, I feel like it kind of misses the point I think I'm trying to make. That is, it had to be reinterpreted, reformed, redone FROM something. What is that something? Was that something Wrong? Was it untrue? That something was what the Jews understood. That something was a God who punished and called his people (in very certain cases) to do his will. What was that something, and why was it what it was in the first place? That seems to be the issue here.

 
At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

Was just reading through what I wrote late last night, and I saw I made a typo. This: "Not Once does he Not mention the "problems" of the Old Testament" should read "Not Once does he mention the "problems" of the Old Testament."

 
At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joe,

"at no point is anyone ever arguing 'everyone is the 'us!' or 'There isn't a 'them!'

I'd say that Paul's statement "we wrestle not against flesh and blood" is arguing exactly that there is no "them". The "them" are no longer humans, but "principalities and powers".

You also ask whether I think the plot changed or just the actors. I would say clearly the plot.Consider passover: it was originally about one ethnic group being freed from another by the children of the enemy group being killed and then the armies of the other being drowned. With Jesus and the "new passover" the enemy is the devil, the liberated are all of humanity, and it is done by nonviolence. That's a very different story line.

Was the OT then a "lie" as you put it. I don't think so. But it is also not as if in the OT someone handed God a microphone and hit "record". Paul says that “to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away” (2 Co 3:14). That means it is hard to see God in the OT. He is obscured by that "veil". What is that veil? Imperfect human perception. Not just ours, but theirs too.

You ask "Where is that God that Jesus is pointing to? Is he simply hidden behind a bunch of Israelite lies?"

As I said, I don't think anyone is "lying" but I do see the OT as reflecting at best a dim Christ. In the NT we have a much fuller revelation. That said I think you are only seeing one narrative in the OT. There are a lot. There is the violent one you see, but there is also a narrative of grace. Jesus and Paul are finding that narrative of grace and embracing it. You might compare this to how we could look at the world we live in and see all sorts of pain, corruption, injustice, and abuse and conclude "see love is not in control, evil is, violence is" ...OR... we could look to find the little glimpses of grace in our world, we could cling to compassion. Maybe it is naieve or unrealistic to see the world like that, but that's what faith is all about: believing in love despite the evidence. With those same eyes Jesus reads the OT and sees in there a God of grace in that very unvarnished book that looks a lot like our world.

You ask "if Jesus and Paul rejected the OT argument, why didn't they just say so? It would have been very simple to; I don't see why they wouldn't considering the importance of it."

Again I don't think they did reject it. You are being too black and white. Think about your own Christian faith: someone might ask you why with all all the bad stuff in Christianity (crusades, angry fundies, pedophile priests, and so on) you don't just toss the whole thing. The way you frame things you would either need to embrace the crusades and the pedophiles, or call it a big lie. But is that only option? What if you could reject that and still call yourself a Christian? What if you could insist that despite how Christianity might look on the outside to your atheist friend that for you it means something very different? For you it is about grace. Well, that's how I think Jesus and Paul are approaching their own (Jewish) faith and the Bible. They do not just accept hook line and sinker everything in the OT any more than you would embrace everything that has been done in the name of Christ for the last 2000 years, instead they related to certain parts of that narrative just like you do.

 
At 1:08 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

But you do accept the New Testament hook, line, and sinker. At least as far as I can tell anyway. The options you present aren't fair when you say "They do not just accept hook line and sinker everything in the OT any more than you would embrace everything that has been done in the name of Christ for the last 2000 years."

Shouldn't it read "They do not just accept hook line and sinker everything in the OT any more than you would embrace everything in the NT?" I'm not really concerned with what's done in the name of God. I'm concerned about 1. the authority of the scripture (both testaments) and 2. if the New Testament can be understood if one extracts the punishment-forgiveness model.

I'm just saying you may be ignoring the most important and most prevalent narrative of the Old Testament, the narrative that is carried on through Christ's message and Paul's argument. I'm not trying to give special attention to any particular part of the narrative. God saves Israel through force an incredible amount of times in the Old Testament. This is the bulk of almost all the action. Am I just supposed to ignore that? Ignore may be too strong. If not ignore, how am I supposed to read that? I'm genuinely asking what you think.

Also, the enemies of God are real enemies. They are real people committing real acts. Yes, the Satan, the one who runs this world, is the great force behind the acts, but God is absolutely focused on the actors as well. Revelation speaks directly to this issue.

And what do you mean exactly when you say grace? For you, what is God providing grace from? What is a Christian being saved from? More importantly perhaps, what was an Israelite being saved from in the Old Testament? Grace is kind of a buzz word, and I'm curious what you mean by it.

Looking over my comments, I feel like I'm being confrontational and disrespectful, and I don't mean to be. We are brothers in Christ, and I am just trying to grow and understand. You've brought a lot of good insights, so I apologize if I come across as flippant or rude.

In Christ,
Joe

 
At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joe,

You say your main concerns are

1) the authority of the scripture (both testaments)
2) if the New Testament can be understood if one extracts the punishment-forgiveness model.

For (1) I would say that the NT has more authority and is a fuller revelation than the OT. That is a very orthodox position. (2) I do not think we should "extract" the punishment-forgiveness model. I think that the NT transforms, reverses, solves, overcomes, annuls the punishment theme of the OT. Again, this is a deeply orthodox view. It is really the heart of what the NT is about. Let me elaborate on both of these...

You write "the enemies of God are real enemies. They are real people committing real acts." Very well, and how does God respond to his enemies in the NT? God loves his enemies. God the Son gives his life for his enemies. Now if "give your life to save your enemies" is not a complete reversal of "annihilate your enemies with genocide" then I can't imagine what would be. It's hard to imagine two things being more polar opposites.

You ask "This is the bulk of almost all the action. Am I just supposed to ignore that? Ignore may be too strong. If not ignore, how am I supposed to read that?"

Not ignore. The NT is fully aware of that theme and then reverses it. Jesus says "You have heard 'and eye for and eye'... but I say to you..." That is how you read. You read it as reversed by Jesus. As if Jesus says "Joe you may have read this in the OT, but I say to you that I love my enemies and have come to save and heal life not to destroy and I want you to do that too" You read it as transformed.

What is grace? Grace is love of enemies, which is at the heart of that reversal above. Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is loving and doing good to those who don't deserve it. What are we saved from? We are saved from Hell and hurt and brokenness. We are saved from all the horrible things we do and that are done to us. We are saved from the path of destruction we were on, because God has a better plan than just "do good or else". He has a way of transforming the bad into the good, a way of mending what is broken, and part of what is broken is the very system of "an eye for an eye", of sewing and reaping. So the system of retributive justice itself is superseded and annulled (and thus fulfilled in the way that 2.0 replaces and improves the old 1.0 software) by the superior system of restorative justice. That is the very heart of the gospel. In fact, that *is* the gospel.

 
At 6:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris 1
Derek 0

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate this dialogue, and some great points have been raised. I think is not only about how Jesus or Paul viewed the writings of the Old Testament, but whether the atrocities in the OT were actually commanded by God. I dont think anyone can claim that Jesus denied the work of God in the OT, so we are left with simply challenging the truth of the OT or reframing our current ideas of Christ’s character. This article I think is trying to simply say that the accounts in the OT were not actually ordained by God (because that doesnt resemble the character of Christ) simply the Israelites acting in his name improperly. I dont see any room for that. As easy and comfortable as it may be to just quickly read through the hell texts of the NT, they are a very disturbing thing to hear from the mouth of Christ, so lets not forget the weight of his words on this subject, which come up more than once. We cant just question the history of the OT because Christ and Paul act in ways that conflict with those things found in OT. Either they are true or not, and if true we cannot pretend that they do not drastically shape how we must see Jesus. Jesus is not only showing how God is changing his way of working in humanity. He IS God and affirms himself as truth and so anything God has done or commanded is part of who he is. I think to say that because Jesus’ actions are so radically different from the God of the OT, that he couldn’t condone such actions makes no sense. How could this be if he is God. I dont understand how you can have it any other way? Jesus either approves the violence of the OT in its time or the writing of the OT is false.
- confused

 
At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Anon,

I’m not sure I will be able to adequately address the issues you raise in a brief forum like this. I’ve just finished a major article that works through these issues. After it is published, I’ll be sure to post it here too. In the meantime, let me try and give an abbreviated response to some of the issues you raise.

First, if Jesus is God’s own self-revelation, then what we see in Jesus has epistemological priority over what we see of God in the Old Testament. As Paul says, “to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.” (2 Cor 3:14). If we take the picture of God in the OT and project that onto Jesus we end up with a false picture of God. That principle is absolutely foundational to orthodox Christian theology, and the theology of the NT. We need to read the OT through the lens of Jesus, and if we do not, we will misunderstand it.

You mention the idea of Hell in the NT. That’s an important issue, but I want to stress that it is a categorically different question from that of humans killing other humans in God’s name. God is God, we are not. So we need to recognize that what we are talking about is real humans committing mass killing of people – genocide of men, women, and even small children, and saying that they are doing this “because God told them to.” If some one claimed that today we would call them criminally insane, a monster, a war criminal. So if we today find ourselves seriously justifying this as legitimate, we need to ask ourselves why we would take such a horrible moral stand? What could the possible motivation be?

Continued...

 
At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

(continued from last post)

The only answer I can see is a desire to defend God and Bible. So we feel we need to take an obviously immoral position in order to defend God. What I am proposing (and this is what I work out in detail in my upcoming article) is that a careful study of the Bible shows that we do not need to make this choice between denying the Bible or denying our humanity. In fact, what we see is that Jesus has a way of understanding the OT that allows him to question and reject parts of it (specifically as it turns out the parts that advocate human violence in God’s name), and that to do so is an act of faithfulness to God. So I am proposing we learn how to read the Bible like Jesus did.

To say that Jesus simply accepted the OT is simply not true. His reading of it is more complex than that. In many places he rejects, contradicts, and changes what the OT says. He does this so much that this is considered to be “blasphemous” to the religious leaders of his time. We need to take that seriously and see what Jesus is criticizing in the OT and why. Paul similarly presents a rigorous critique of the law. We need to look into all of that carefully. Leaning to interpret the Bible like Jesus and Paul did is complex and it deserves a complex treatment. Part of that has to do with understanding the “veil” that is over the OT. It is the veil of sinful humanity. We see God in the OT through the veil of the humans who encountered God in that history, and to that extent we need to recognize that the OT therefore does not give us a perfect infallible picture of who God is, but rather a veiled image of God through the eyes of a sinful people. In Jesus we in contrast have a picture of God that is unveiled. That’s where we need to start, with Jesus as our guide to understanding how to read the Bible.

Through the example of Jesus we see that we do not need to choose between either defending the victims of violence or defending God, rather loving God means caring for the least, the condemned, and for sinners.

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding to a comment on what I later realized is a very old post. I am not sure how taking the picture of God in the OT and projecting that onto Jesus ends up with a false picture of God...I agree it is not a full picture of God and cannot be looked at with priority over the character of Jesus...but obviously this is still God, so Im not sure how we can seperate the two so far as to say that these things were not condoned by God at one time even though they are not in the NT. So, I guess my question simply is this: even though Jesus came and allowed a new reading and better understanding/interpretation of the OT, and created a new fuller way to realize the character of God...the fact is the OT says that God commanded the death of innocent people, even children. So, even though things in the NT are different, I dont see how we can ignore these references in the OT. There are so many that to say they are not true can only mean that the Israelites were delusional and the words they attribute to God in the OT are totally false.
Am I missing something here? Because I just dont understand how we can say that these things in the OT werent condoned by God if we are to believe the infalliability of the bible. It would be a large number of mistakes in scripture if all the times God exercised his judgement in seemingly immoral ways or commanded others to do so were false. Jesus definitely changes things, but in your response I still dont understand how us reading the bible through the lens of Jesus can change whether or not God did those things...Obviously the NT shows that is not how we are supposed to do things now, but does that really change the fact that it happened? We still need to wrestle with the idea that God, DID things that seem unjust to us, if the OT is to be taken at its word.
How is the ordering of people to enact his 'justice' in the OT much different than when we hear of him destroying sodom and gomorrah? Certainly innocent children died then as well...people should not be given the task of enacting God's judgement, but the instances such as S & G show something about God in the OT which I think is also shown in the stories of the wars...a very harsh judgement side of God that completely conflicts with our sense of morality. These things either happend or they didnt, regardless of the way Jesus reshapes things in the NT. Are we supposed to assume that these references to violence are simply untrue? Not trying to discredit your argument (im no expert), but it does confuse me, so Im looking for clarity. Look forward to your next post on the issue.

 
At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something else I was wondering...
Jesus changes the way we are to understand the OT and proclaims that certain parts of the law are no longer the way to do things. However, I dont see him ever denying that these parts of the law were ONCE God's way of doing things. In that same way when he restructures things by saying that Grace, Mercy and caring for the least is the way, I dont think that means that he is necessarily denying that the atrocities of the OT were also ONCE God's way of doing things.

another thing

you say "Through the example of Jesus we see that we do not need to choose between either defending the victims of violence or defending God, rather loving God means caring for the least, the condemned, and for sinners"

This I would agree is what it means to love God for us, but I dont see how that contributes to deciding what once was God's way of handling things in the world. I dont need to defend God or the victims, I would agree...but If we are to doubt the history of the OT that becomes an issue I think. Regardless of defending God's actions or the victims, if He in fact did those things, I think they show us a portion of his character that cannot be entirely ingored/forgotten even once Jesus shows up on the scene.

 
At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

“I am not sure how taking the picture of God in the OT and projecting that onto Jesus ends up with a false picture of God...”

One example of this is how Paul had interpreted scripture before he was encountered by Christ. This led him to persecute the church, that is to act violently in God’s name. We also see in the Gospels how the Pharisees read Scripture in a very different way from Jesus and as a result they see Jesus as being blasphemous and sinful and –again– their response to Jesus is one of violence. They seek to have him killed in the name of God.
So we see that there is more than one way to read the OT. The OT in fact has several different narratives within it. We see for example a narrative of unquestioning obedience. But we also see a parallel narrative of wrestling with God. There is also the narrative of God’s grace and mercy. And alongside it we can also read a narrative of violence. We even see in the OT these various narrative arguing with each other. The prophets for example critique temple ritual worship, and the book of Job in turn critiques the idea in the prophets that suffering is the result of sin. So there is not one story in the OT, there are many stories, and we need to figure out which one is the right one. What we see in the NT is that there is a clear interpretive preference for the narratives of wrestling and grace, and a rejection of the narratives of unquestioning obedience and (lethal) violence committed in God’s name.

Now what are we to make of these other narratives that the NT rejects in the OT? There are a number of ways to approach it. Your position is similar to Jack Miles. There has been a change in how God works. The problem I see with this is that it implies that God used to be immoral and now has changed. Another possibility is the one taken by Greg Boyd. He’s working on a book on violence in the OT called “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God” (you can Google it to read more). He proposes that God in working with a sinful people allowed himself to be misunderstood in order to further some greater purpose (it’s a complex theory which I’m not really doing justice to here so please to check out what he has to say). For myself I tend to go with a much more simple answer: I think that when they say God told them to mass slaughter babies in God’s name that they were just flat out wrong. God never said that.

That means as a result that I do not believe in the infallibility of the Old Testament. That does not mean that I simply discount it though. I see it a true record of how a sinful people tried to understand God the best they could. It is at times beautiful and inspired, and other times... it can be really awful. It’s a lot like the history of the Christian church. There we find folks like St Francis who are really amazing, and then we also find the crusades and the inquisition. That’s the very fallible history of my own faith. Likewise, the OT shows us God through an imperfect "veil" and it is only with Jesus that we are able to pick out the wheat from the chaff--keeping the good narratives in and rejecting the bad ones like Jesus and Paul do.

 
At 7:14 AM, Anonymous David said...

I was here a long time ago. Nice to see the post still going strong. I actually remembered you because of a discussion with a cousin of mine. In reading your comments, I stumbled on a few things that help me understand the way you think a bit better. On one hand you mentioned pedophile priests, crusades and the other you mentioned violence the Old Testament. This is where the lightbulb in my head went off, not because I agree they are an equal comparison, but because now I FINALLY understand where you're coming from. So thanks.

Next you mentioned a theory by some guy that, "He proposes that God in working with a sinful people allowed himself to be misunderstood in order to further some greater purpose". This theory also struck a light build because Romans says that the Law is a "stumbling block" and it's supposed to be a stumbling block. That's the only other thing I could possibly accept, but if I sat down and thought about it long enough, I might get to the point where I asked, "What if he allowed himself to be misunderstood by making us misunderstand the purpose of the original misunderstanding, meaning he really is crazy violent." at which point my head contemplates whether it should explode or not.

Anyways, I wrote a comment answering a question about the holocaust online, and I thought it might explain a bit where I'm coming from. It's more subtle than you think, but I hope you catch it:

 
At 8:19 AM, Anonymous David said...

Holocaust Part 1.

Well it depends who you mean when you say God. The people above "think" they are referring to the Judeo-Christian God, but I'm not sure they really are. If you are a Christian and believe your bible, or a Jew and believe the Tanakh, then I don't think you can rule out the possibility that the Holocaust was judgment on the Israelite people. As all judgments in the Old Testament (Tanakh), it was followed by a blessing and a renewal of the Israelite people. Israel was founded in 1948, and it's consensus among modern Historians that if not for the holocaust, Israel wouldn't exist as a nation today. Israel is the strongest and most stable nation in the middle east. They rival the US in technological breakthroughs and scientific achievement. They accomplished this in roughly 60 years and they're only the size of New Jersey.

Do I condone the Holocaust? Never. I love the Jewish people, and God loves them more. In fact, God loves the whole world. But these people (see above) are answering from an emotional-politically-correct-buddy-jesus standpoint. No one can read the Torah without seeing God's explicit contract with the Israelites. Serve me and you'll be blessed and flourish, turn away from me and you'll be cursed and exterminated. Not only that, but you see God explicitly command the complete extermination (chawram) of 7 Canaanite nations that resided in "the promised land" before the Israelites. Holocausts aren't a "new" thing for the Jewish people. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Catholic Church, Hitler, and now, God forbid, Iran. It just seems new because humans have a short memory. If you read the Old Testament, you'll find that if you don't count Noah's flood, God had a direct hand in killing more Israelites than any other people group. By "direct hand," I mean he literally threw fireballs at them or sent a resident-evil-zombie-plague that could kill 14,700 people is the space of 10 minutes, or use the earth to swallow up dissenters. He even tried to kill Moses once, it was a mere lesson to Moses, cuz God doesn't really "try" to kill people. He either does or doesn't, but read Exodus and you'll see what I mean.

The funny thing is that religious people tend to forget all this ever happened, or that this content is actually in the scriptures. It's so bad that even the stories themselves tell of how even the most hallowed bible characters continually forgot or ignored when God tells them something specific for their own safely.

God: Don't use strange fire for sacrifices to me. If you do, you insult me and I'll have to kill you. Now go tell the Levites.
Moses: Yes sir!
Moses: Hey Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, don't use strange fire for sacrifices, or God will kill you because he is Holy and you can't mess around while doing the Levite jobs. This ain't no joke son! Only use fire that comes from the altar that God himself lit. We'll always keep the fire going and use the coals from the original fire to light all our other fires
Aaron, Nadab, Abihu: Yes Sir!

Several weeks later...

God: I just killed Nadab and Abihu.
Moses: Nooooo! Why???
God: Used strange fire. I thought I told you guys...
Moses: Dang it!
God: Call Aaron.
Moses: Aaron, get over here!
Aaron: (Sob) Yes...
God: Don't drink any alcohol while on the job, it just might save your life.
Aaron: Yes sir...

You're probably thinking what does alcohol have to do with God obliterating two priests...Well the bible is insinuating that Nadab and Abihu were a little inebriated and that's why they messed up with the fire. It's no joke, read Leviticus, that really how the story goes, barring a few details for the sake of brevity.

 
At 9:01 AM, Anonymous David said...

Holocaust Part 2.

So anyways, the only people who really read the Bible these days are Atheists. They see this stuff and it disgusts them. They show it to people who say "God is love" when asked any hard questions, who proceed to shit themselves when forced to read the Old Testament. I was watching a documentary on the holocaust some time ago, and a Jewish woman in the film explained how a Nazi grabbed a small boy and smashed his head against the back of a jeep and his brains and blood oozed out. She said that's when she stopped believing in God. I felt for her, but at the same time I thought, "Exactly what God DID you believe in? Because doesn't King David rejoice about doing the exact same thing in Psalm 18 as part of God's commandment to exterminate the 7 Canaanite nations?"

I'm a Christian and I believe that God is love. But I don't ascribe love to God, rather I ascribe God's character to the definition of love. Love isn't Victorian nicety, or politeness, a wedding on a perfect day, or telling people they can do anything if they just believe in themselves. God is love, love is not God. That means the Judeo-Christian definition of love comes (should come) from the character of God. Love does involve some of the things that make our hearts melt, but it also involves correction, discipline, pain, perseverance, and even suffering at times. Stepping in front of a bullet is a very violent destructive thing to do to yourself, but you might do it out of love for someone else. Love isn't always kosher. In the bible, most of the Israelites were just pagans that feared God, very few actually loved him and followed his law. The difference between someone who reads the entirety of scripture and comes away with a love and healthy fear of God and an atheist who comes away with disgust of why people believe this hate-filled rubbish is the same difference between Moses and the Israelites as a whole. They knew God's acts, but Moses knew his ways. Every character in the bible that actually got to know God, knew him as loving, kind, patient, and merciful, but still knew to respect him and take him seriously. Atheists know his acts (not that they believe them), but some of us know his ways.

So in conclusion, could the God of the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh), who is the same God of the Christian New Testament have been responsible for the holocaust whether directly (as judgement) or indirectly (hiding his face). Yes, he could have been, based on the numerous scriptural examples of Israelite "holocausts" as judgments from God because of disobedience or idolatry. But, you know, maybe he wasn't. It's not like I got a fax out of a burning bush saying, "Holocaust, yea that was me." So "maybe?" is my professional opinion, or my reasoned opinion. In my personal (gut) opinion? Yes. But if you don't even believe in the Hebrew God, this this whole thread is moot, isn't it?

This is as honest an answer as I can give. I'm tired of people who believe in YHWH giving snake oil answers for these types of questions. I don't know who we're trying to impress.

 
At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

David,

I agree with you that "the Judeo-Christian definition of love comes (should come) from the character of God" however I would stress that from a Christians perspective the most direct revelation we have of God's character and being is Jesus Christ. Therefore we need to read the Bible beginning with Jesus. Jesus forms our true picture of God's character. You seem to instead be reading the Bible beginning with the Old Testament and juxtaposing that with a cultural sentimental understanding of love which you reject. What I do not see is a New Testament understanding of God in Christ being presented. Paul writes that there is a "veil" over Moses and the Old Covenant which is "only taken away in Christ" (2 Co 3:13-16). So there is not simply a continuity between YAHWEH and Christ, rather God as perfectly revealed in Christ is in many ways significantly different from the imperfect veiled picture of God in the Old Testament. We can see these conflicting views of God in the Pharisees confrontations with Jesus, including Saul of Tarsus who (before his conversion) initially opposed the Christians and saw them as blasphemous.

I also want to stress that your portrayal of the Old Testament is not reflective of reform Judaism, but is more of a fundamentalist reading of the OT (possibly reflective of Orthodox Judaism). Reform Jews would instead read the Bible as a collection of different and even conflicting human accounts of God, rather than an absolute authoritative account from God. Thus Judaism has long been focused on asking questions (which we see in the Rabbinic debates of the Mishna) rather than on formulating answers in the form of doctrinal statements as Christian theology is. I mention this because you seem to imply that Jews would have no problem with your portrayal of God as violent, when I am pretty sure they would. You might disagree with their reading, but you should at least know that they do not read it as you do.

So not only is your reading of the Old Testament not in line with how Christians, beginning with the early church, have read the OT for centuries, but it is also out of line with how Jews read their Bible.

 
At 12:31 PM, Anonymous David said...

END

So ya, that's that was my reply to an anonymous person asking whether God was responsible for the holocaust. I do have one FINAL question for you. This is all hypothetical, but I'm just want to paint a picture so people (your readers) know your heart, and as a Christian with faith in Jesus such a question shouldn't scare you. Furthermore, you should consider this a favor, because your answer to this question might just save you from future debates with Christians that disagree with your stance. It's long, but I assure you it's a single yes or no question. So here goes:

Let's say I'm wrong about God in the OT. One day I'll die and be judged. Then I'll be asked by Jesus, "Why did you believe all that rubbish about me. I really have never hurt anybody. You knew some of the real me, but you got the rest of my nature so wrong." Then I'll say, "Dear Lord, please be merciful with me, I did the best I could with the scriptures I was given, knowing my heart was evil above all things and who could know it, I chose to trust your word over my personal experience alone. You are the Word of God, and I was just doing my best to honor that Word over my own soul, even as you honor your word over your own Name. Everything I know about salvation was gleaned from the same Word that says you killed Ananias and Saphira, the same Word that said you flooded the earth, the same flood that you corroborated as true in the New Testament when speaking to your disciples "in the days of Noah". Lord, be merciful. Did I at least get the salvation part right? I might not know who you're not, but I got all the parts right about your lovingkindness and mercy, I got right who you are." And God says, "So do you accept me as who I am, 'buddy Jesus' as you jokingly said? Yes or no?" Then my answer would be, "If you truly are the creator of all things, I follow you regardless, my peaceful buddy Jesus. Yes. I accept." Then he'd say, "So you'd love me if I was a serial killer huh?" "Then I'd say, well...you'd love me if I was a serial killer."

Now what I'm worried about is if me, Chris, and Joe are right. Then you think God is a monstrous horrible rapist of a being and you were tricked into salvation, only believing based on what you thought he was, not what he actually is. When you die, if you find out that the OT was completely inerrant and God did in fact do all those things and command his servants to smash babies heads on rocks. He could say something like, "Derek, you called me a monster and trampled on my very nature I was trying to reveal to you. You say you love me, but you don't know the real me." Then you might say, "I only worked with the scripture I had, I really thought there was an inconsistency and that it erred on the side of your wrath." Then he says, "But it's ok my Son, because I'm merciful. I give you another chance to clarify your position. I have done everything the bible says I have done, as have my servants under my strict orders. It was for a higher purpose that you'll slowly understand as we go through eternity together. One of my names really is 'Jealous', I am holy, righteous and frightening. I curse to four generations of those that hate me, but I bless to a thousand those that love me. I am loving and all my attributes, no matter how frightening are aspects of my Love, REAL Love. So now that you know the real me, you you still want anything to do with me. Yes or no?"

 
At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I'd tell God that I never answer complex questions with a simple yes or no.

Did you read my response to you above?

 
At 4:26 PM, Anonymous David said...

Now you're just obfuscating. We're 56 comments in. I'm not trying to argue with you, pretty much everyone who reads the post and comments has all the info they need to make an informed decision now.

Your "answer" to the hypothetical tells us all we need to know. Ladies and Gentlemen, Exhibit A

Here's a link to someone a bit more honest and courageous when given hypotheticals, an Atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZB0lLIcXIA

 
At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

If the moon was made of spare ribs would you eat it? Its a simple yes or no question. Just answer it and we'll move on! (Harry Caray aka Will Ferrell)

People who ask for simple "yes or no" answers to questions are almost always not interested in getting a real answer, but rather in entrapping someone into a false dilemma. I suspected you were likewise baiting me, and I am just not falling for it. Your above response confirms my suspicion. I'm not interested in playing games.

 
At 9:18 PM, Anonymous David said...

I love ribs, yes.

People who don't answer simple questions once they realize that it could "out" them are being deceptive. You just want to run around in circles arguing points other commenters have already easily shot down. You want to believe what you want to believe not because it is rooted in sound reasoning, but because you can't handle any other conclusion. I've showed that I can handle being wrong, you haven't.

People who have nothing to hide don't mind being outed. Like the Christopher Hitchens video, the Christian radio man was making a point that it's not just that Christopher doesn't believe in God. Its that even if he did believe in the Christian God, he would still willfully rebel against Him. Thus viewers know not to waste their time trying to debate with someone like Christopher.

You were called out, and your true colors as of now are ambiguous, which is not the color of someone pursuing truth, rather someone with an agenda. So in not answering, you answered ;-)

 
At 9:55 PM, Anonymous David said...

If I were debating someone who thought that risking your life to save someone else wasn't worth it because of the possibility that you could die trying to save them, and we were at a stalemate, I might decide that changing is mind isn't as important as "seeing his heart" to find out his true character.

"Well if you were invulnerable, like Superman, would you attempt to save them?"

If he says "Yes", then he's telling the truth and he's genuine in his sympathies, though we both disagree. If he says no, then he's proving that his argument point is a facade, he simply doesn't care to help others regardless of if it would never cost him his life. If he refuses to answer, when he knows that answering would easily clear up any ambiguity, it's the same as "no". He's just doesn't want people to KNOW that he doesn't care for others.

When I was very young, I had a discussion with a friend I knew had a flimsy doctrinal belief that she adopted because it was convenient, not because she had any scriptural background. I knew her for years, so I knew this, but getting her to admit was near impossible. So after more friends showed up to see what we were so heatedly discussing about, I pulled out my secret bible verse that I'd been saving, that contradicted her every word. If it wasn't for the small crowd, we would have gone in circles for another hour, with her blowing smoke screens. But every single person in the crowd agreed that the verse was completely clear (even people that had previously agreed with her), allowing for no wavering on the issue. Flustered and angry, she shouted, "I don't care what the bible says!" and stormed off. Literally just walked out of the room. This is a professing Christian by the way, who didn't care what the bible says. I didn't even try to "out" her, I was just trying to reason with her, but she outed herself. We're still friends today and she has since solidified her relationship with God and admitted that she wasn't really a Christian back then. She's a missionary now.

Well, there you have it, Internet.

 
At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see this post is very old and more than likely you won't get this. But, I will try anyway. I did not read all sixty replies so this is directed at the original blog. Really liked it. Theodicy is extremely important and I have spent most of my thirty plus years as a believer wrestling with issues similar to your blog. Until recently many of the answers I had found left me wanting, too many puzzle pieces didn’t fit.

I would really like to leave a healthy commentary but time constraints and the fact you might not even get this stops me. Below I have left a link to an eBook that was extremely important to my journey into God’s goodness, I hope it blesses and challenges you as much as it did me.

http://thegoodnessofgod.com/goodness_part_one.pdf

 
At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hey there Anon,
I do read all the comments on the blog (I get auto-notifcation of them). This post is quite old, and my thinking has progressed quite a bit since then (although the trajectory is pretty much the same). Thanks for the article, I'll check it out.

 
At 9:52 PM, Blogger Temi said...

I found that after, I think, chris' fist comment it was all pretty clear. I feel the post author disagrees with the punishment of sin. Whether you like it or not, sinners will be punished again. Jesus will also be in support of the jugdement.

There also seems to be this assumption that God taking a life is a massive problem. How arrogant of a human is that? Then to go as far as jugde God by your ideea of morals against his dislike of sin.

Anyway. A child killed is not gone forever. What is to say that they aren't saved from the evils of the world (their parents would have lead them into sin against God). I feel like you take an atheistic approach to death even when the bible tells us that eternity is more important than our time here. Does god not even have the right to take you to him early? Is your life here si important that you would reject him? I think it is best to focus on something other than God causing human death on earth

I also agree with the accusation that people dont want to accept that sin will be punished. Love to them means doing whatever they want and getting away with it

 
At 3:52 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

What is so sad about this last comment is that in trying so hard to defend God at ll costs, the poster inadvertently ends up advocating killing babies. Do we really think that God wants us to do that for Him? Does God appreciate being defended like that? Is that what standing up for God looks like? It's like people just shut off all sense of morality in the name of defending their faith. What could be more ironic and tragic?

The issue here is not whether God has the right to take a life, but whether people can kill other people in God's name. This is not just theoretical: Many people have used these verses to justify killing others, using the same type of arguments you have above. So, yes, I do think we should question someone who claims that God told them to mass slaughter infants. Duh. Defending killing in God's name is not a sign of faithfulness, it is a grave sin. Wake up.

Bottom line: questioning injustice, especially injustice and violence done in the name of God is not a sign of doubt or unfaithfulness, it is a sign that we care about the same things Jesus did. It is a sign of faithfulness to the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger Temi said...

I am not "defending" God because I don't think he needs defending. Maybe you don't understand what it means to be God. He is no Chuck Norris and he is not Barney. He has every right to punish sin. I am simply telling you of your shortcoming in thought. You have God on a human level. My point is that, if God did in fact sanction or allow killing, why do YOU think you are right to find it repulsive? You stand on really shaky ground. You are unwilling to consider the possibility that God did indeed tell them to send those peoples to him. Notice what I said. Your thinking is "ok, some people died, gone forever." when that is not the case.

I am not even sure there is a point in this. You don't seem to believe God would kill anyone even though it is obvious in the bible that he would. Of course its not ok to kill for human reasons but that really isn't the point here. The bible says that God sanctioned it, the bible says that God killed many times in the past when he punished sinners. You simply want to throw that side of him out because it doesn't fit well with your human morals and your human love of your human life. This is why I said its an atheistic view. You have put so much importance on this, that a person reading would be right in thinking you believe in nothing past death.

If you want to say the OT never happened then thats just your problem. Again, I am saying that God can and has killed and we should not be trying to pass judgement on him for that. The fact that we are still here as bad as we are is enough proof of his love and before Jesus, he dealt with us harshly.

 
At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

So if God told you to kill all the infants in your town, you would?

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger Temi said...

I should ask you the same thing. If God told you to do that, would you? This is not a trap question like yours. It is saying exactly what it is saying. If GOD HIMSELF, without the shadow of a doubt, told you to send an entire town to him, would you do it?

 
At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I asked you first.

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger Temi said...

Yes. If God told me to. Don't bother twisting it, obviously I mean that if GOD TOLD ME TO, not if I thought God told me to.

 
At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

How would you determine the difference between "GOD TOLD ME TO" and "I thought God told me to"?

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger Temi said...

How I would is not what you asked and you aren't the one to say God did not inform them to do it in the bible. Past chapters had talked about the fact that God intended to wipe that particular peoples off the earth for what they did before it actually happened. Now do you know the details of their sins? Or are u just not happy with a God who is Just as well as loving?

 
At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Let me propose two things to you:

1) Jesus said "no" when he was placed in similar situations. When they told Jesus the law commanded that a woman caught in adultery should be killed, he refused and rescued her from them (Jn 8:2-11). When they asked Jesus if he wanted to call down fire from heaven like Elijah, he rebuked his disciples for asking such a stupid question (Lk 9:51-56)

2) Jesus and Paul both say that we CAN and should say whether God told them to or not. Jesus expected his disciples to know that they should not call down fire. Paul says that we can have the "mind of Christ" and that because of that we can learn to see things as Jesus would.

So I would say "no" because I follow Jesus, and I am basing my decision on Jesus Christ, not on human wisdom or morals.

Your reasoning in contrast is of the devil. That is what Jesus would say to you.

Perhaps I am the first person to tell you this, and I'm sure you will not be able to hear me say this now, but you are in sin, Temi. The position you are taking is profoundly evil. Faith is supposed to make us more moral, not make us become void of all morality and cause us to hold positions that only a psychotic child murder would hold.


Jesus does not want us to stop thinking, or shut off our conscience. He says repeatedly that we should think for ourselves and not just blindly follow religious laws. Following Jesus does not mean becoming an amoral zombie, it means going beyond that and following the way of Jesus. What you are advocating is the opposite of that way.


The fact your religion has lead you to make such morally obscene statements is evidence that there is something deeply wrong with your faith. I pray for you that you will one day be able to see this and follow in the way of Jesus and not in the way of your toxic religion that promotes hate and killing masquerading as morality. I pray that God would shield others from being damaged by your blasphemy.

I realize that this is very strong language, and my objective is not to attack you personally or hurt your feelings, but we are talking about justifying the mass killing of little babies in the name of God. People have used the type of arguments you do to justify things like gassing Jews in the holocaust, and killing people with machetes in the Rwandan genocide. So this kind of evil talk needs to be rebuked and condemned in the strongest terms by the church. There is no sin as damaging than ones involving killing the defenseless in the name of God. It is strait from the pit of hell.

Those parts in the New Testament where Jesus warns of the fires of Hell are aimed at people who say things like you are. Repent.

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger Temi said...

lol. I guess everyone knows where you stand now. Jesus said no to people, not God. A command from God is quite different from a man wanting to do something of his own will. Do you even know what you are saying? Everything you say of me is describing you. God is not your God unless it fits your human moral convictions. You've just confirmed that. You only follow Jesus because his teachings (the ones you choose to listen to) fit with your own morals.

Romans 8:7 That is why the mind that focuses on human nature is hostile toward God. It refuses to submit to the authority of God's law because it is powerless to do so.

Over and over people will put their will and conviction ahead of Gods and think they are right to do so. You are no christian or at least certainly do not desire to follow God. If you were Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac you would have failed miserably. You really don't understand what this all means, do you? You are one fail short of being an atheist.

I don't know why you are refusing to understand that there is punishment for sin. Jesus himself spoke of hell and God has every right to punish. God should never have wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins. Not even when they wished to rape his angels.

 
At 9:46 AM, Blogger Temi said...

The question, again, was what if GOD told you to. Your GOD. Your creator. Without any doubt. You are saying you would refuse because YOUR morals take precedent over his commands even though according to your religion and his words, death is not the end.

No confession from you could be more damning

 
At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Let's make something clear: in our hypothetical scenario the children that you say you would kill for God would all go to Hell forever because they would be under God's judgement. So the fact that you and I both believe in the afterlife is irrelevant. You are saying that you would send them all to Hell in order to save your own neck.

You are saying that you would be willing to kill thousands of children in order to save your own soul. I in contrast would be willing to sacrifice my own salvation in order to save them (as Paul did in Rom 9:3). Yours is a faith rooted in selfishness. Mine is one rooted in sacrifice for the sake of others (the way Jesus demonstrated and called us to follow).

If God really were a monster like you describe who would ask you to kill little children -- infants, then that God would be the devil, and it would be my duty to defy that false god in the name of Jesus and for the sake of agape love. You on the other hand follow that false god out of fear of punishment, and are willing to sacrifice all morality and righteousness in order to do so in order to save your own neck.

I will let readers decide which way looks more like the way of Jesus.

 
At 12:06 PM, Blogger Temi said...

Why would you think children go to hell? Who said it was to save my own neck? At no point did we talk about what would happen if you didn't and I really did not even think about that. Here I thought we were talking about obeying the just commands of your God when you know for a fact that they come from God. you keep passing it on to someone else, first it was man, now its the devil. I am saying, IF A PEOPLE were so evil that God saw it fit to destroy them, what would you do?

http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/babies_who_die.html

http://www.inplainsite.org/html/do_children_go_to_hell_.html

Didn't expect that first paragraph from you at all. Children die all the time and you think a loving God sends them all to hell when they are clueless. Unfortunately parents CAN lead children astray later in life.

Someone made an interesting point once. If the grownups are sinners and god wishes to annihilate them as in S & G, what would you propose to happen to the kids?

Read this about the amalekite situation

http://christianthinktank.com/rbutcher1.html

Do you think no-one will ever be punished btw? I still maintain that a child that did not grow into the sins of his/her parents is saved.

 
At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Sorry that is not the situation. In the hypothetical situation we are discussing, you have been given the role of enacting God's judgment on everyone in a nation -- including infants. You must kill all of them as an act of God's judgment. All of them, being under judgement, will therefore go to hell forever. If you disobey you risk facing God's judgment and hell for yourself.

That is the situation. Would you like to change your answer now that you understand what is being asked, or would you still say "yes"?

It is your choice, but saying they go to heaven after you kill them is not a possible answer here. In this scenario God tells you to kill them and makes sure you understand that when you do they will all be sent to hell.

So what would you do?

 
At 6:40 PM, Blogger Temi said...

Like I said, read the link. It actually addresses what you just said.

Short of it, they weren't all under judgement. That link should at least help you understand what happened to the amalekites. Your point doesn't even make sense since we will all be under judgement in the end anyway

Maybe then you will stop blaspheming.

The answer is yes if its Gods command. Until you change that condition to "maybe not Gods command" the answer will always be yes. I don't have the luxury of choosing my God, unlike you.

One situation you can consider. The reason those Amalekites were killed was that they oppressed the Israelites for centuries. Imagine this, the ones who remained hostile were allowed to live, eventually they attack on last time and kill the ancestors that were designated by God to give rise to Jesus. what then?

Similarly, God says destroy this nation and you don't. Then a few generations later they lay waste to your entire country. Can you claim to even know what those children would have become if they were left in the care of their evil parents instead of being sent to God? That is Gods realm

 
At 6:41 PM, Blogger Temi said...

BtW, if God wants them dead, they die. Whether or not I am in agreement. Your solution is to be condemned with them, not instead of them.

More of you doubting God. As if his will would only be accomplish-able through me

 
At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

"The answer is yes if its Gods command"

How would you determine if it was or not?

 
At 7:26 PM, Blogger Temi said...

How would you determine that what happened in the old testament was not Gods command? Cause you don't like it?

 
At 8:07 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I asked you first.

 
At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Bag-Of-Hammers said...

Great blog. Read the whole thing.I absorb the deity of the Rider in Rev 19, battling against Islam(Satan) online for a few years now. I was getting banned at every turn for just simply speaking the truth about Muhammad, and I got to the point where I said to God "God, just blow them all up at Medine during their God-awful Hadj". God said to me "The people of Medina just don't understand, that is what I need you for". I have since changed my tune. I think I know a little about Jonah.

 
At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Bag-Of-Hammers said...

One of the reasons for reading this blog is tio help me fight against Islam. The contrast in morality is poles apart within the OT. First there is a God that orders his people to kill the blasphjemers, then, with Jonah, God shows great patience, as he is going to show the Islammists. God is fighting peacefully with words using digital bodies. THis is where he wages Armageddon. I just wanted to chime in and confess that I have condemned all of Islam to die and go to Hell, but I lacked.

 
At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Bag-Of-Hammers said...

I think maybe a change of heart is what God has gone through over the years as well? Maybe? I can understand having no patience, and see no other alternative but to push the button to save your own people from a lying, raping, mass-murdering peoples that will not listen to reason, and in fact kills anyone who tries to reason with them. I have defenately felt this having been in battle with the Islammists for the past 4 years now. If God decided to commit genocide against other Islammic-like countries in the distant past, I personally have no room to judge him in the wrong. Thanks for the good reading.

 
At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Temi,

I can answer. If "God" manifested himself physically in front of me and told me to kill all of the _____s in my town, I would say no.

Even if it meant hell. I might even think that the "god" that I thought I knew was not a god a god at all, but a fallen being.

That might not be religion, and it might be blasphemy, but that is ok.

Lots of Christians have been killed for blasphemy and lack of religion.

Justin

 
At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed these exchanges and most have been refreshingly polite and respectful. Modern scholarship and exegesis have outgrown what is sometimes termed 'biblical superstion' - the notion that God can somehow be contained inside the covers of a book (the Islamic model)and be explained only by literal recourse to humanly compiled texts. Whilst the OT authors were divinely inspired and the Bible in its entirety contains all we need for our salvation, the OT books don't claim to be self-attesting and in many instances reflect a natural though primitive human tendency to ascribe to God aspects of our own anthropological frailty and to project into his will a justification for our own behaviour and desires. We all know the dangers of biblical literalism and how it can become the handmaiden of the sort of pugnacious fundamentalism that has fractured the one Church that we Chistians should all aspire to becoming.

 
At 2:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been going through this over and over in my mind for the past few years and keep coming to what can only be a very dangerous conclusion...First of all, I believe Yahushua (Jesus) IS who the Bible says he is. I also think he walked the walk and talked the talk. I also believe in the Ten Commandments. The Bible says that Satan was a liar and murderer from the beginning. We also know that he has always wanted to be worshipped as God. The name of God (YHWH) is controversial as well, depending on which Hebrew root of the word it derives from, it can either mean a form of "to be" OR "calamity, falling, ruin, etc". The Bible also says that NO MAN has seen God, then we have God showing I think it was Moses, only his backside...we also have God one minute requiring flesh sacrifices and savoring the smell and then in another part, saying that he never desired these sacrifices. We know Jesus would never condone stealing, murder and rape, but that is exactly what this God commanded. If vengeance is to be God's alone, there is only one being who has the right to breathing the breath of life into a being and taking it away. If we are to keep his commandments,he would NEVER order people to break them, he would do the dirty work himself. There is only one being who would do that. I do believe the Bible IS telling the truth, that it's a historical retelling of what really did occur, but that the only explanation is that Satan, who is the god of this world, who even had the power to tempt Jesus himself by offering him all the kingdoms of the world, has impersonated the Father. The one Jesus prayed to. This opens a terrible can of worms, leaving us to pick and chose what parts of the Bible to believe. That in itself, could destroy Christianity and shows how good a job that Satan is doing. He is the destroyer.

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

"This opens a terrible can of worms, leaving us to pick and chose what parts of the Bible to believe."

The ting is, whether we admit it or not: we already do pick and choose. For example when you eat a ham sandwich you have decided that the food laws do not apply. When we say that the laws that command the death penalty for being gay or disobeying your parents should not be practiced today, we pick and choose. When we day that when Jesus said "if your right hand causes you to sin then chop it off" he did not mean that literally, we pick and choose. Picking a choosing is something we all already do, and thank God we do!

The question is: how do we know what to pick? If we cannot simply flip open a Bible and do what ever it says on that random page, what is our criteria? Martin Luther suggests that we need to ask: "Does this reflect Christ?" Jesus needs to be the interpretive lens through which we read all of Scripture. If you have not already, check out my Sojourners article (link is above on the right side bar) on "How Paul disarms violence in the Bible (and how we can too)". There I show that this is how Paul learned to read his Bible, and argue that if Paul did this, then we should too.

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I looked at your article on Paul's treatment of old testament scripture. It reminded me again of why after nearly 30 years of faith and pastoral ministry I left the fundamentalist Christian faith in search of the real truth.

One of the things that started to really get to me about the Christian faith and especially about Paul, reared its head when I started to take the time to really study out the NT uses of OT scripture. It becomes clear almost immediately that there is virtually no OT passage used by Paul that is ever in context and used in its plain sense. Actually I don't think there is a single case in the entire NT canon that actually uses any scripture in the OT in an honest way.

In todays world, or in any world really, when you play Chop-Saki with the original meaning of someone else's material, when you take chucks, pieces, words completely out of context and paste them together to form your own theology... what do we call that?

Here is a question, what do any mainstream Christian apologist or bible teacher/pastor call people today who do that to the bible? Truth is not and never will be based on a Lie.

When I began to be braver about asking others questions about my concerns (very hard as I had been a pastor and a bible teacher for a while) the only answer I got was "Paul is an apostle he can do that and its ok because god told him to". Oddly for years before that this was never really an issue for me because even though I had taught Romans and many other epistles I had never done a detailed study of all the references. The problem with there answer is that this kind of thinking would never fly at any other time in history. Also it flies in the face of what the OT actually teaches about God and how he reveals things. It is utter hypocrisy to attack others for your whole religion is based on... taking other peoples scripture and making new ideas out of it.

The 4 Straws that broke the camels back for be were these.

1. The Concept and acceptance of Eternal Torment
2. The complete lack of any evidence for many of the clear promises in the New Testament of power via the Holy spirit and Faith to raise the dead, heal the sick, lame, diseased etc in the "mighty power of Jesus name".
3. The complete failure of the Holy Spirit to teach people with sincere faith the same things.
4. The total scripture twisting that is used to support nearly all forms of Christian theology.

I could add a few more now that I have been examining the Christian Faith from a more rational standpoint and not blind faith alone. (though I still believe in a creator and that there is a mystical element to the world)

5. The absolute atrocities of genocide and violence against others prescribed by Yahweh all through exodus leading into judges and beyond.

6. The realization that given a positive choice or a negative choice in nearly every case (except with a few chosen favorites) Yahweh makes the Negative choice when many other Positive Choices could have been made.

7. The fact that a world wide flood did not happen in 2500 BC nor is the story of Noahs ark even remotely possible in the real world and "miracles" don't magically make it possible for many reasons.

8. The earth and universe are not 6,000 years old and while the theory of evolution is not perfect it is a far more accurate understanding of the real world that anything recorded in the bible.

By and large Christianity survives on Ignorance and Fear. Fear of learning, fear of asking questions and for a specific reason.. because Yahweh is not a positive deity he he a predominately negative deity with an overwhelmingly negative side that dwarfs any mirror positive quality he may occasionally exhibit.






 
At 9:19 PM, Blogger Brian Hyde said...

Hi Derek, I do not know if this thread is dead or not but it has ended on a rather grim note given you have a former pastor who has given up the faith as it were because of the apparent inconsistencies she or he found in the Bible, from its head to its tail. I was rather hoping that somebody would have risen to answer his challenge even though I realise that it may take the post somewhat outside its remit. I think our exPastor has raised some legitimate points-specifically points 2, 5 and possibly 6. Point 1 is, in my opinion, unbiblical.

You also made a point defending "picking and choosing" I am wondering what the consequences will be if we go down that road. The criteria for doing so must be clearly established since it could open a Pandora's box. Do you think this will unite Christians or widen further the already yawning theological divide currently manifest in Christianity?






 
At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hey Brian,

Yes it's a very old thread (2007) so I don't know that the former pastor would see your comments if you were to respond here. But you could offer a response for others if you were so inclined.

Regarding "picking and choosing" this is something I am discussing in my current series of posts, so you might want to check those out. Briefly though: you are correct that we need a criteria for doing this well and in a Jesus-shaped way. But as I said, we all are doing it already. So rather than continuing to do so in an unreflected way, it would be better to do it thoughtfully.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Chris said...

(Part 1) Dear Derek,

Thank you for this blog. Upon committing to read the Bible in entirety this year, I got stuck somewhere around Leviticus or Numbers. The wars, the slavery, and savagery. The New Testament resonates so much with me, but much of my life I have been scared of and not known what to make of the Old Testament, and ignored it.

I spent most of last night awake reading *all* of the posts here as well as a number of other blogs. It is a fascinating and well-argued debate. I think I had settled on a similar conclusion to yours that I cannot accept that God would do such things, and went to bed on that note. I drug myself into church bleary eyed with only a couple hours sleep, to a once in a lifetime, amazing service, as my church had just expanded its building. Perhaps 1,200 people were crammed into a room with only 1,000 seats.

The presentation was spectacular. And I was keenly aware in the focus on the positive aspects of God's love, grace, and healing of a broken world. The light of Jesus Heals the damage we do to our souls in darkness. The creativity involved, the beauty, the choreographed dancers, the children's worship, a house full of passionate worshippers. The image of a world of shattered glass caused by the original sin. And the imaged of these pieces of colourful glass representing the broken world being reassembled around the cross at the front of our church. Beautiful.

The joy from worship was an unexpected contrast, to the fear I had gone to bed with, that I was in for a long hard slog of unpleasant mental contortions to try to hold my Christian faith while figuring out how to make peace with the Old Testament. Let me share with you the verse I was given for my daily devotion.

Isaiah 46:9-10

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is none like me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done. I say: My counsel will stand, and I will do all that I please.

The anguish and turmoil that was in my soul regarding this issue simply melted. One day, of getting on my pedestal and judging God, and going to bed with bitterness in my heart. And the Lord still loves me and is faithful, not making me suffer for months or years, but answering my cries the very next morning. The meaning of this verse to me is this.

The Lord first and foremost is Holy. Remember the things of old. Do not toss out the Old Testament because it is confronting and brutal. For I am God. There is no other. Like Job, I have no right to place judgment on the God of the universe by my feeble human standards. I am God. I will do as I please. Remember this when reading through old scripture through the lens of the love and life of Jesus Christ.

 
At 8:06 AM, Blogger Chris said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger Chris said...

The world changed with the coming of Jesus. Mark 12:28-33

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Somehow it all just seems to fit for me now. The world was a particularly unpleasant place during the time of the Old Testament. Societies ran on slavery. Genocide was normal part of everyday life. Life was often short and brutal. God’s people were warriors. Any sign of weakness might have been taken as encouragement by neighbours to invade and conquer.

I am finding it difficult to explain how I feel peace now, where I once did not. But I think it is approaching the Old Testament from the belief first and foremost that God is Holy. And if He judges a people evil and commands His people to slaughter them and take their women for themselves, then that is His prerogative to do so. This would have been normal and acceptable behaviour in Old Testament days. The original problem that these actions violate my modern day morals has not disappeared, but my perspective seems to changed. The Lord my God is Holy and to be feared, as well as loving.

But I feel like God with the coming of Jesus also said that He will no longer resort to these ways. Love thy neighbour as thyself, love your enemies, and he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword are words of Jesus that are simply not compatible with killing, war, genocide, slavery, or any of the other actions of the Old Testament that upset our modern sensibilities.

 
At 8:09 AM, Blogger Chris said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:13 AM, Blogger Chris said...

(Part 3)

So in answer to the question, if God asked me to kill, would I do so? My answer would be that I do not believe God would ask me to do so in this day and age as it is directly in opposition to the words of God himself through his Son Jesus. I would say that anyone living after Jesus claiming God told them to kill is either simply acting in their own sinful ambitions (and saying it was from God) or has been seduced by a demon.

Matthew 12:25-28

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

For me, when God has done something otherworldly in my life, I know and feel that it was Him, but I am never certain 100%, and never left with definitive proof of God’s existence. That would defeat the purpose of faith. I almost entirely certain that this one verse from Isaiah 46:9-10 that melted away my hardened heart toward the Old Testament the very next day was God’s love and grace in my life, a sinful man. I believe that the Lord may have saved me months or years more anguish, and possibly losing my faith or inappropriately rejecting massive amounts of Old Testament scripture. But there is also a chance being given this verse on this day was a coincidence. I believe this unlikely, but admit there is a chance.

And the same would go with killing. Even if I am 99.99% certain God told me to kill, there is a chance He did not. And even if I were 100% certain it was God, I would still refuse to kill, and would site the verses of Jesus which are in direct opposition to this. God cannot be divided against Himself. God judged and commanded killing in the Old Testament (which does not violate the commandment against murder). But with the coming of Jesus, who is peaceful and loving and commands us to do the same by serving others, I do not believe that ever again will God ask us to kill. And not once since the time of Jesus can I think of anyone who has supposedly killed in the name of God (Jesus) accomplishing anything good in the world.

And lastly, I would close with the issue of slavery that bothered me especially deeply because of its presence in both the Old and New Testament. I do not like it. Part of me wishes Jesus had kicked up a fuss about the evils of slavery. But as someone previously pointed out, the seeds for the abolishment of slavery were sown in the Bible, and Christians were part of the charge to exterminate this plague on humanity. And I think it is also this realisation that the Bible is a journey of progress and God’s people who have grown over time. God does not change. Part of the point of the scriptures seems to be that we are meant to wrestle with them all our lives, and spiritually grow as a result.

I just wanted to share my story as I have really appreciated this debate, in the hope that it might be of blessing to someone else as this sight has been to me. Thank you.

Chris

 
At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Chris,
Coming at this from a perspective of faith, we don't want to question or doubt God, but we do want to question ourselves, and make sure we are not doing hurtful things to others. Lot's of people throughout history have used the Bible to justify terrible atrocities. A recent example is the Rwandan genocide. So my concern is to condemn us humans killing in God's name, not to question God.

You begin by saying that you "have no right to place judgment on the God of the universe by my feeble human standards." but then later on you say "even if I were 100% certain it was God [telling you to kill] I would still refuse to kill, and would site the verses of Jesus which are in direct opposition to this. God cannot be divided against Himself."

First, I'd say I can relate to you wanting to trust God. That's good, don't stop. However part of trusting God can involve questioning ourselves, including our ability to hear and interpret right.

That's why I'm glad to hear you say you would refuse to kill, first suspecting you may have heard wrong, and then because it conflicts of what you know from Jesus.

What's good here is that 1) you are holding to your trust in God and 2) you are holding to the idea that God looks like Jesus and not using religion to justify killing (which a lot of people still do sadly right now today).

Where I want to challenge you a bit is in recognizing that while you say initially that you don't want to question, you in fact do question and refuse to obey a command to kill. What I want to suggest is that you doing this is not an act of unfaithfulness to God, but rather is precisely an act of faithfulness. Jesus all the time questioned things that the Pharasees said the law demanded. In fact one time when they brought the adulterous woman to him, and pointed out the that the law demanded she be killed, he did not kill her. So you in refusing and in questioning are acting like Jesus.

Secondly, the reason you are doing this is not really because of your " feeble human standards" but because of the standards you have learned from Jesus. God reveled in Jesus is a superior revelation to the one in the OT which reflects the sub-Jesus values of a primitive people.

I hope you can continue to question hurtful actions, motivated by compassion, just as Jesus did, and do so knowing that this is an act of faithfulness to God.

With that in mind, I'd also want to remind you that God is not the Bible, and that if we doubt or reject something in the Bible (like slavery or genocide being called "good") that this is not the same as doubting God. What it is doubting is whether the OT gives us a perfect picture of who God is. I think it does not. I think it's pretty clear that it gives us a picture that is very much inferior to the image of God we find in Jesus.

My take here is that the way we have learned to read the Bible, which sees the OT and being the same as the NT is simply not how Jesus interpreted and applied the Bible. Something to think about.

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger Seussian Rhythms said...

I've enjoyed the following blog as a framework to understand the OT portraits of God consistent with the sole revelation of God we have in Jesus Christ:

http://reknew.org/2013/07/the-cruciform-beauty-of-horrific-divine-portraits/

 
At 8:45 PM, Blogger James Moriarty said...

The best translation of the word of God is the incarnation and there is NO other God behind the back of Jesus Christ.

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger Skeet Fletcher said...

It seems much of what you are saying is similar to what this gentleman is saying. Could the conservative - liberal dichotomy be the correct way to understand the bible? http://www.awitness.org/journal/dichotomy_bible.html

 
At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Skeet,
Yes, in my book Disarming Scripture I take the idea further (i.e. getting more specific) and describe the Bible (and in particular the OT) as being
characterized as consisting of an ongoing debate between two key narratives: On the one side is the majority narrative of unquestioning obedience, and on the other is the protesting minority voice of faithful questioning. The NT represents a move towards embracing and expanding that minority voice of faithful questioning against the stream of the majority voice found both in religion and the state which seeks to justify violence. The minority voice in the OT protests against this violence, while the NT takes it a step further offering an alternative vision of radical forgiveness, grace, and enemy love.

I realize that's a mouthful, but that's what happens with you try to cram 200+ pages into a few sentences :)

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Skeet Fletcher said...

Thanks for getting back so quickly and I'm going to order your book!

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger Gary said...

So you believe that the targeted killing of children and babies is, sometimes, under some circumstances, justifiable??

Even in war, the targeted killing of children is considered a war crime. Killing children as “collateral damage” in the act of war is not a war crime, but deliberately targeting children for killing; hunting them down; looking for their hiding places and then running them down as they scream in terror as they see you raise your sword or knife, IS a war crime.

Your god would be arrested, tried, and convicted of the most heinous war crimes if he were put on trial today. He is a monster. How can you teach your children this barbaric nonsense? How can you call yourself a “moral” person and believe this?

There is NEVER any justifiable reason to target children for killing. Never.

 
At 12:06 PM, Blogger Anon said...

This is an old post but I just wanted to let you know how much this has helped me. I started reading the Bible in August 2014 (I know, I'm a slow reader!). I started with the NT first as my earlier attempts started with Genesis 1:1 but I never got very far. I'm in the OT now (Ezekiel). I thought reading the Bible would make my faith grow but it's really made me struggle. The saying "ignorance is bliss" runs through my mind as I wrestle with the questions I now have.

I've always knew Jesus existed (and died for our sins), I believed someone created the universe but I also believe in evolution, I felt our purpose on Earth is to help others and I think there's heaven. All of these things were happily coexisting in my brain until I began reading the Bible. I haven't been able to go to church for about a year because I felt like a fraud as I sat there cynically questioning the pastor with each line of scripture he read.

My biggest stumbling block has been exactly what this article addresses: how can the vengeful God depicted in the OT be the same God Jesus is? I have been combing through podcasts, books, Google searches looking for something that would help me to understand. I finally found it. This. This is exactly what I needed. The way you present it here makes so much sense to me. It doesn't discount anything but puts it in a way that's, for me, reconciles the chasm between the OT and NT.

Thanks again!

 
At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Anon, glad it helped. This post was the early genesis of what eventually became my book Disarming Scripture.

 

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