Grace is more: Why belief in infallibility makes us less moral

Saturday, November 16, 2013

There was a comment left recently on another blog post here that I thought warranted a longer response since it raises some important issues around how we read the Bible in regards to violence. Here's the original comment from Cole:

I've often wondered why God's punishments in the Bible often seem cruel and barbaric. They don't seem to fit the crime. People are commanded to be stoned to death for things like picking up sticks on the Sabbath when Israel was a Theocracy. Some (like Jonathan Edwards) have said that the correct punishment for a crime is proportional to the status of the wronged individual and that the Bible teaches that all sins are against God (which they are). But this principle isn't entirely correct. It's not just to punish a person more severely because of the status of the one he has sinned against.

Part of what determines the severity of the punishment isn't the status of the person one offends but the type of being one offends (after all, a crime against a human merits worse punishment than the same crime against a dog and a crime against a dog merits worse punishment than the same crime against an ant). All sins are against God (analogy: all crimes in Pennsylvania are also crimes against the state of Pennsylvania), who is a different type of being than all. This is why God's punishments can seem so severe. Yet we know that they are just and not abusive because they fit the crime.

Now there are several assumptions going on here that we need to consider: Let's begin with the assumption that punishment is an appropriate and moral response to crime. In the past this was simply assumed, which is why children were beaten all the time. We are, as a society however, increasingly questioning whether this is really a good thing. The first question we need to ask here is: what is the intended purpose of punishment? Is it to avenge the offended party? If so, can we really call revenge moral? I think that most of us would agree that revenge is not moral because it is intended to cause harm to the other.

What if the intent of punishment is instead to reform the offender? If so we would need to ask if this is effective. For example does killing someone for picking up sticks help them reform? That's pretty much ruled out since they are dead. Does it serve as a deterrent to the community? Perhaps, but only in the sense of how the mafia might terrorize people. Again, we need to question whether motivating people through fear is healthy. I think it is pretty clear that this does not lead to a good relationship or healthy development of a person.

Moving on, while it is true that a crime against a human is considered more severe than the same crime against an animal, what is being assumed in both is that they are being harmed, not that they are being "offended." Offending a person is not a crime at all. It might be rude, but it is not a crime because the "harm" is trivial. If we are mature we are able to handle being offended without flying off the handle and reacting in some extreme and hurtful way. Is God less mature than we are?

If God is a higher being, then the assumption really ought to be that God is more mature than we are, not less. However, in the Old Testament the deity we find there frequently appears to be less loving, less mature, and less moral than we are. That's why we struggle when we read the OT, frequently finding it "cruel and barbaric" as Cole says above. What are we to do with this?

A frequent response is to try to make sense of it, as Cole does above, to try to argue why what at first appears to us as barbaric is in fact reasonable and right. I've done this myself... I'm sure we all have. But even if we manage to come up with an argument that demonstrates that the violence in the OT is justified and reasonable, it still cannot touch grace. What we end up with is simply an explanation of why it was okay to hurt, okay to suffer, okay to cause harm. No matter how reasonable that may be, it simply cannot hold a candle to grace.

Grace is not about what is reasonable, or deserved. Grace is about getting a second chance after we have blown it. Grace is about losing something dear to us and then finding it restored. Grace is about being healed, made new. It's what we long for. Grace is amazing. Anyone who has experienced grace will know this. Once you have known grace you are drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Grace is what we were made for. It makes us come alive.

So the bottom line is that no matter how reasonable we may find the violent punishment in the OT (and it is frankly debatable whether it is reasonable at all) it simply is not grace. Grace is better. Grace is superior. 

We can find occasional glimpses of grace in the Old Testament (for example in the stories of Joseph and his brothers or Jonah and God's heart for the enemy Ninevites), but in comparison to the New Testament the Old Testament is... in a word... less

That's something that is really obvious. All of us immediately notice that there is a huge gap between the OT where we find the command "show them no mercy" and the way of Jesus who teaches that mercy, grace, and enemy love are the only way to please God. The difference here is glaring and obvious. Yet we somehow have gotten it in our heads that the OT must be defended as good and right. So I want to ask:

Says who?

The assumption here is that we have a perfect book, and so it all must be right. But the fact is, Jesus did not see the Old Testament that way. That's why he did not teach killing of enemies as the OT does, and instead taught love of enemies. That's why he forgave the woman caught in adultery when the law clearly commanded killing her with zero possibility of forgiveness or mercy allowed. That's why Jesus frequently broke the Sabbath to heal (the same "crime" that got our stick-collector above killed in the OT). 

So we frequently see Jesus both disagreeing with and outright breaking the law, and he does this in order to love, in order to be faithful to God. Jesus did not see the Old Testament as infallible and perfect. He did not defend it, he instead changed it.

We see a similar approach in the OT itself where the prophets for example question the law, question rituals and sacrifice, and question punishment in the name of mercy and justice (which by the way they did not view as opposites like we do). 

So if the prophets and Jesus could question the Bible, why is it that we feel we need to defend it? Why do we need to try so hard to call something good that is clearly not good, to call something moral that is clearly immoral, to call something right that we all know is deeply wrong? Is that what Jesus wants us to do?

Based on the fact that he did the opposite, I think it is safe to assume that he does not. So what we need to do is learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. 

A first step to doing this is facing up to the fact that the assumption of biblical infallibility has the inevitable result of making us less moral because it causes us to seek to accept and justify as good things that we would without question clearly recognize as profoundly immoral in any other context. I'll say it again: belief in the doctrine of infallibility makes us less moral. It leads us to call evil "good" and to justify harm and hurt in God's name. That's how the Pharisees read their Bibles. Why is it that we read our Bible's like them and not like Jesus?




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49 Comments:

At 10:23 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10:45 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

Derek,

I agree with a lot of what you said. But I will say this. It's not necessarily about the harm you do. Let me word it to you this way. Killing an ant (painlessly) doesn't merit as severe punishment than if I killed (painlessly) a cat and killing a cat (painlessly) doesn't merit as severe punishment as killing (painlessly) a human and killing a human (painlessly) doesn't merit as much punishment as killing (painlessly) Jesus Christ. What we are seeing here is that there is more to it than just harm. It's the type of being. What is one of the things about God that places Him in a different category than humans? His glory.

I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. - Isaiah 42:8

God alone is intrinsically glorious. He is uniquely glorious. In an intrinsically sense only God is glorious. No one and nothing else is glorious. This is to be distinguished from His extrinsic glory. This He shares with the creation and His creatures.

The basic meaning of the Hebrew word for glory kabod is heavy in weight. - Holman Bible Dictionary


This is why God's punishments can seem so severe. Yet we know that they are just and not abusive because they fit the crime. I'm not saying that sin is infinite disvalue. I'm saying they carry more weight because they are against God. God is in a category all by Himself. He cannot be compared to anything or anyone. He alone is God. This is where your comparison with God and us breaks down. It's a category mistake. It's about God executing justice. I believe it's both restorative and penal. Those that are destroyed are restored. For the LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up.

Two of the many things Christ was doing at the cross was forgiving my sins and removing God's penal wrath from my vision. God's wrath has been forever lifted off of my vision so that I can love the spiritual beauty of Christ. It's the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This glory is first and foremost the humble love of Christ. As I adore the humble love of Christ I become more and more like it. As Christ humbled Himself under the mighty hand of God I desire to do likewise. I no longer have to worry about God's penal wrath. My faith is in Christ and the Father's sovereign control and holiness. I trust that He will work all my circumstances together for my good. As a result anxiety and frustrations are lifted. I want to follow the example of Christ and love with a humble love. For it pleases me to help others. It glorifies God when I help others and God is pleased when glorified. And it ultimately brings joy to others when they are helped and loved.

 
At 5:57 AM, Blogger cole houx said...

We deserve hell because of what we did to Christ. There is no greater sin than to hate and kill the Son of God. Even if we take away the pain I think we can see that killing Him is the most heinous sin. For Killing an ant (painlessly) doesn't merit as severe punishment than if I killed (painlessly) a cat and killing a cat (painlessly) doesn't merit as severe punishment as killing (painlessly) a human and killing a human (painlessly) doesn't merit as severe punishment as killing (painlessly) Jesus Christ. This was the worse evil humankind has ever done. It is a sin of infinite gravity because it belittles the infinite glory of Christ. Although hell is eternal there are different intensities of hell. Not everyone has the same severity of torment.

 
At 6:07 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Cole, it's hard to follow your argument but I think what you're saying is that since sinning against God, the most valuable being in the Universe, is the worst crime imaginable - it deserves the worst punishment which is death or hell. That logic is reasonable if the assumption is reasonable - the assumption (postulate) that sin requires punishment. I think Derek is getting us to question that fundamental assumption. Who says sin automatically requires punishment? What's the purpose of punishment in the first place? I think you're assuming punishment has intrinsic value or validity. Derek is questioning that and getting us to think why sin needs punishment.

You also speak of our deserving punishment because we killed Christ. I'm sure you know this, but that goes counter to traditional atonement theology - which says that Christ came to die in our place because we deserved to die FOR WHAT WE DID IN EDEN, not what we did to God on the Cross.

But I want us to come down from the theological stratosphere and think in real-life terms. We are told in the Bible that we are to become more and more like God, because we were created in His image. We're also told that the same God ordered the extermination of every man, woman, and child until nothing was left alive. So my question is this: can we imitate God in this action? Under what circumstances do you think we can imitate God in this way? Or if we shouldn't imitate Him in this instance, then by what logic are we to imitate Him in some ways, and not in others? The Bible doesn't make that distinction when we are asked to be more and more like Him.



 
At 6:35 AM, Blogger cole houx said...

You go to hell for rejecting Christ. Not because of Adam. Adam gave us an inclination to sin. It doesn't force us to sin. Justice requires punishment. And God is just. There are ways I'm like God and ways I'm not.

God is infinite in knowledge and wisdom I'm not

God is all powerful I'm not

God is self sufficient I'm not

God is in control I'm not

I'm humbled in knowing there's a God and I'm not like Him in every way.

 
At 7:22 AM, Blogger Judy Gale said...

Thanks for this post, Derek!
Regarding how we read Scripture, I've heard it called 'The Jesus Lens' by some (W. Jacobsen) and others, such as Richard Rohr, call it 'The Jesus Hermeneutic.'
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fr-richard-rohr/the-jesus-hermeneutic_b_3641435.html

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Cole, do you think killing babies is moral or immoral?

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

Samurai,

Before I answer you I need to make a small correction. Christ suffered and died for all. The mystical union is with all. We are buried with Christ as we are resurrected to new life. The mystical union connects Christ to humanity. He took on all our sin and hatefulness, died, and was risen as death was overcome and love was risen as victor. We are all united to Christ as He takes on our sin and suffers with us and for us becoming a curse as He dies and is raised again defeating sin and death. We all make it to heaven even though we all deserve hell for causing the sufferings and death of Christ.

Well God is the only Being who is all-knowing and infinite in wisdom and sees all of reality. If He permits a baby to die then He has morally justifiable reasons for doing so. How do I know? Scripture. Lets take a look at the worst evil ever committed. The murder of Jesus.


for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. - Acts 4:27 - 28


It was part of His plan as the scriptures teach. It's saying it was part of God's plan and ordained by God. When I say that God ordains something I mean: either God directly causes something or that He permits something (evil) to happen. This is a truth taught in scripture. God doesn't directly cause evil. For this would make Him the author of evil. Rather He permits it (for morally sufficient reasons) to bring about His overall plans and purposes. His permitting evil it is a kind of indirect causing. That is, His permission is a kind of secondary causing not a direct causing. For example: Satan gets permission from God to torment Job. God allowed Satan to take Job's family and make Job sick. Yet Job says, "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away" and "Shall we recieve good from God and shall we not recieve evil" - to which the writer responds: "In all this Job did not sin with his lips".

I thank God for His grace. When God allows a terrible tragedy to happen I don't thank Him for it. I thank Him for the good that He's going to bring out of it. It's not the evil and intense suffering in and of itself that I'm thankful for. Granted God is in control of it and will bring beauty out of ashes even if I don't know what He's doing in the present moment. But God's sovereign will is His business alone. My job is to trust Him, clean house, and help others. He has morally justifiable reasons for permitting evil. Just as He did when He permitted the worse evil. The murder of His Son.

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Samurai said...

Thanks for your honest response Cole. I agree with what you said in the first paragraph, which summarizes Christus Victor and the idea of "participation."

You say:
"God doesn't directly cause evil. For this would make Him the author of evil. Rather He permits it (for morally sufficient reasons) to bring about His overall plans and purposes. His permitting evil it is a kind of indirect causing."

That's one possible way of explaining evil, but the testimony of the Hebrew Bible authors indicate otherwise, if they are taken literally or at face value - they claimed that Yahweh directly ordered infanticide (killing of babies) in Canaan. He did not merely permit their death.

 
At 6:01 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

Samurai,

The language allows for exceptions (Rahab); it isn't absolute.

The destruction language of ancient Near Eastern warfare and the Old Testament is exaggerated. Groups of Cannanite people where were apparently "totally destroyed" were still around when all was said and done (Judges 1)

The preservation of Rahab and her family indicates that concecration to the genocide wasn't absolute and irreversible.

Joshua carried out what Moses commanded, which means that Moses' language is also an example of exaggeration. He did not intend a literal, all encompassing extermination of the Canaanites.

See: Is God A Moral Monster by Paul Copan

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

People, including myself, have tried real hard to remove God's wrath from the Bible. But it's clearly there. Especially in the OT. I think what people don't understand is that Christ has already done this for us. He overturned the whole penal/retribution model. There's no more wrath from God because Christ has removed it from us at the cross. Two of the many things Christ was doing at the cross was forgiving our sins and removing God's penal wrath from our vision. God's wrath has been forever lifted off of our vision so that we can see and savor the spiritual beauty of Christ. It's the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This glory is first and foremost the humble love of Christ. We no longer have to worry about God's penal wrath. All that is left now is mercy. God does discipline those He loves but this is just another form of His mercy. It's the corrective discipline of a loving Father.

 
At 5:51 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Cole, are you arguing that, despite the text saying that He did, God did not really kill any babies in Canaan? Or are you arguing that He only killed some babies, but not all?

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

I'm saying that destruction language is exaggerated. The commands weren't carried out to their complete absolute command. Moreover, if you read what I wrote before this you will see that God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge. He sees all of reality (we do not) and knows what is best in each circumstance. Life was created by God's grace. Grace is unmerited favor and never owed. God owes His creation nothing. There is a Creator creature distinction. As the Creator He has rights and prerogatives that His creatures don't. If He has morally justifiable reasons He can take the life of a baby. We however don't have that right. We aren't God. There are ways we are like God and ways we are not. He alone is God.

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Let's be clear on what we are all talking about:
1) We are discussing a passage from the OT where God reportedly commanded human beings to commit genocide, including the merciless slaughter of infants.
2) The text further reports that they carried this out.
3) Cole, who is borrowing an argument from Paul Copan, is making the argument that
a) It was not quite that bad (so maybe they only killed 30 babies, not 10,000? Somehow I don't feel terribly comforted)
b) Even if they did kill 10,000 babies God has a right to do this and we do not.

However, if humans are the ones doing the killing in God's name, it is a moot point to argue that we cannot do this and only God can. Humans are the ones killing here, not God.

So today in Rwanda when Christians feel God told them to kill babies with machetes in Gods name (which actually happened a few years ago as I'm sure you know), was that God's will? How do we know? if not, why was it God's will allegedly in the Old Testament? By what means can they or we evaluate this? If the argument is made that we need to unquestioningly obey God, even if it seems wrong, this becomes a profoundly dangerous argument.

What we have in the end here is an apologetic for genocide and atrocity, and that... to state the obvious... is simply not good news.

It reveals something terribly wrong when our belief in the Bible leads us to justify things that we would clearly recognize as monstrously evil in any other context.
Yet, as we can see, that is precisely where a belief in the infallibility of the Bible leads.

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

Derek,

It was God who did it because He commanded it. Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you (Israel) and given to a people producing it's fruits. (Matt. 21:43) In other words God is turning His primary redemptive focus from Israel to the Gentile nations. The people of God would no longer be defined by ethnicity or participation in the theocratic system of kings and priests and judges and all the ceremonial and civic laws that held that system together. The people would be defined by faith in Jesus and the fruit of love. No longer are God's people to take vengeance in His name on the wicked as in the case of Canaan.

 
At 10:11 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Cole:

Don't you think it's a little odd that, at first, there was a system of retribution and killing people (including babies) in God's name and that was okay with God. Then He decides to overturn the system completely to one of grace, and we're no longer allowed to kill or take vengeance.

And we're supposed to attribute all this to His sovereignty (which amounts to saying that He does all this just because He can)? How do you hang your hat on a God that's so unreliable and fickle? Who's to say that He won't change His mind yet again, and become once again an avenging, violent God who kills babies?

In fact, many Christian teachers believe just that. They say that, according to Revelation, Jesus the suffering servant will come back as an avenging warrior, who comes with a sword sticking out of His mouth to put down His enemies violently.

How do you personally reconcile all this tension in the Scriptures?

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger cole houx said...

Samurai,

The system has been overturned for those who trust in Christ. For those who haven't God's wrath remains on them. They are still in the old system. However:


and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. - Colossians 1:20


Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19


Everyone will eventually be saved through Christ and the blood after they receive their correction in the Lake Of Fire.

 
At 12:01 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

Thank you for pursuing these questions. I, too, am motivated by the pursuit of nonviolence. But I think we've created a false dichotomy: we must either take those "barbaric" passages in the OT at face value and justify them, or we must prove they were written in error/sin and consciously discard them. I strongly agree that the words of Jesus should always be the lens through which we view the entire Bible, but when the grace of Jesus appears to contradict the wrath of the Father in the OT, I believe there is a third alternative that can offer reconciliation.

Operating on the assumption that Jesus did not come into the world to abolish much of the OT, but to bring it to fruition (Luke 4:16-21), I also assume that the grace of Jesus was in fact present in those unpleasant parts of the OT. I do NOT believe that the wholesale slaughter of children was grace. I simply believe that at some point in the story of whichever city the Father chose to destroy, grace was offered, was probably always there for the taking. It just wasn't accepted. Lot (along with the very daughters he offered to the Sodomites) was the only survivor of Sodom because he was the only one who accepted the Father's grace when it was offered.

Yes, those are big assumptions, and definitely a reading-between-the-lines, but I believe it's a better course than declaring much of Scripture to be in conflict with the will and the grace of God.

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Samurai said...

Ryan, what a delightful surprise to see you on here, brother! :)

You have an intriguing take on OT violence - that even there, Jesus' grace was present. I like the Jesus-shaped hermeneutic, but that inevitably brings up the question of how literally you read and/or apply divine acts of violence recorded in the OT.

Historically, conservatives have insisted on literal, face-value interpretation without critique (in fact, to critique is to be unchristian). Liberals have critiqued and deconstructed the universality or even accuracy of Scripture via the historical-critical method. I know, being a non-scholar, that I'm grossly oversimplifying here.

Derek has been slow to show his cards (probably because he's writing a book on this) and I certainly don't want to steal his thunder. But based on what he's offered up so far, I'm interpreting his approach to be a third way that relies not on face-value interpretation or historical-critical approach, but a variation of sorts on the age-old conservative doctrine of "let Scripture interpret Scripture."

That is, Scripture itself is a dialogical tension between dissenting voices, and so - rather than seeing Scripture as a rulebook - Scripture is seen instead as a drama on stage which God uses to bring us the message of His love. Just like a dramatic theater production is not simple to interpret if you just hang on every line as a rule or commandment, but instead have to step back and see it all play out from beginning to end and then reflect on the message as different characters relate to one another sometimes in conflict and sometimes in harmony - so it is with the Story of Scripture.

Have I gotten that at least somewhat right, Derek?

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Good stuff Samurai. Like what you have to say, and agree.

 
At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Judy,
Regarding the "Jesus lens":
Have you listened to the podcast series from Wayne Jacobs you referenced? If so I'd be interested in hearing what in particular you connected with in it. What would you say reading with the Jesus lens entails exactly?

 
At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Ryan,

My concern is to also find a "third way" between either the typical conservative approach of justifying the immoral parts of the Bible on the one hand, and the liberal approach of simply discounting the Bible all together. Instead, I'd propose that we need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did.

What I discovered as a studied how Jesus interpreted and applied Scripture is that his approach to the Bible was radically different from the way I had learned to read it growing up as a conservative evangelical, which has much more in common with how the Pharisees read their Bible than it does with how Jesus did. I believe that if we can get our heads around the hermeneutic of Jesus that this will open up a totally different approach to reading the Bible, allowing us to see the same thing Jesus did read.

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

God stands alone as God. All comparisons between God and humans fail. God is in a category all by Himself. No one creates like God does. He creates out of nothing and by grace. Grace is unmerited favor and never owed. God owes His creation nothing. He alone is the Creator. There is a Creator creature distinction. He has rights and prerogatives His creatures don't. If He has morally justifiable reasons He can take a baby's life. We don't have that right. We are not God. He sees all of reality (we do not) and He knows what is best in each circumstance. He is infinite in wisdom and knowledge. We are not. We are not God. There are ways we are like God and ways we are not. He alone is God.

God is self-sufficient we are not

God is all knowing we are not

God is infinite in wisdom we are not

God is all powerful we are not

God is perfect in holiness we are not

God is everywhere at once we are not

I'm humbled in knowing there is a God and I'm not like Him in every way

 
At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Cole it does not appear that you are responding to anyone conversationally, and instead are just making doctrinal declarations. That is not appropriate here.

 
At 10:27 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

I was trying to clarify my point.

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Cole: you're definitely entitled to your opinion, and even if we disagree, we can stay open to each other's viewpoints.

I'm glad you're able to find comfort in a God who plays by a set of rules different from the ones He applies to human beings - a King who is above the law. If that helps you make sense of your life and faith, who is anyone to say that's wrong?

But for others like me - equally faithful Christians - we take comfort in God who abides by the same truth and order He expects us to live by, because He IS truth and order itself. So it doesn't make sense to me, nor does it bring me any comfort, to contort myself into a belief that God doesn't want humans to kill babies, but He can for reasons He can refuse to share with humanity. A loving Father, in my view, shares His heart freely and doesn't deliberately keep secrets.

So while you may not agree, I hope you can still be able to appreciate and understand the reason why other folks on here are wrestling with violence in the Bible, for whom "sovereignty" is not an adequate explanation.

 
At 12:45 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

I'm curious what your take is on the Psalms, especially those of David. David seems to alternate between praising God for His genocidal wrath, and extolling Him for His loving kindness. I suppose this could be seen in several ways: contradiction (unlikely, in my opinion), literary license (i.e. poetic hyperbole, which I practice on a regular basis), or (in keeping with my previous comment) an assumption that God's loving kindness was first offered but refused by those who were later destroyed by Him. I find Psalm 44 to be particularly interesting in this regard, since David finds himself in the same position as Job. I know C.S. Lewis criticizes David for his imprecatory prayers, but, to be honest, I haven't yet read Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms for myself.

Speaking of what I haven't yet read, I know you've mentioned some insightful books in recent posts, and I was wondering if you could list two or three works that might be helpful for an educated layman to get a better grasp on the subject we've been discussing. Of course, the book you're writing now is at the top of my list, but I'm hoping for something to tide me over.

 
At 10:06 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

Samurai, maybe this will help:

How humble is God?

God is the tree in the forest that
allows itself to die and will not defend itself in front of those
with the axe, not wanting to cause them shame

And God is the earth that will allow itself to
be deformed by man's tools, but He cries; yes, God cries,
but only in front of His closest ones.

And a beautiful animal is being beaten to death,
but nothing can make God break His silence to the masses and say

Stop, please stop, why are you doing this to me?

How humble is God?
Kabir wept when I knew

By Kabir

 
At 1:00 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

Cole:

The difference in viewpoints between you and my good friend Samurai (and Derek) are fascinating to me because I believe they illustrate what I've always thought to be a fundamental difference between the viewpoints from which the Old and New Testaments were written.

The point you are making is exactly the same point the Father Himself made directly to Job from the midst of the whirlwind: Who are you to question Me? And it is a perfectly valid response, because the Father is indeed sovereign. However, I don't believe Job was answered this way because it was the only answer the Father could come up with. I think the Father used the "sovereignty card" because of the relationship He had with His people under the Old Covenant. And I believe the nature of that relationship (with His people has a whole, not necessarily as individuals) was one of parent and child. Or more precisely, parent and infant.

I have three children at home under the age of six, and my oldest asks me difficult questions all the time, questions too deep for her understanding. She wants to know why she has to do a certain thing the way I told her, and I tell her "Because I said so" not because I don't have a good reason for it (most of the time), but because I know she is incapable of understanding the reasons, and if I try to give her the necessary knowledge it will either confuse her and/or corrupt her. However, as she grows older, as she comes of age and becomes capable of handling deep responsibility, my relationship with her will naturally (Lord willing) evolve. The nature of discipline will change, more knowledge will be given to her, and she will -- by the grace of God -- follow Jesus with her own two feet.

Job was a man full of years, and of wisdom. But as a member of the children of God, he was a spiritual child. So not only did he receive his Father's rebuke, but he accepted it as my daughter accepts my rebukes (most of the time).

Under the New Covenant, we are expected to ask questions, to test the spirits, the actively seek God. We are commanded to imitate Jesus as much as possible. And I don't think the Bride of Christ has even begun to scratch the surface.

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger cole houx said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Cole,

I appreciate you sticking with us and remaining in dialog even when we disagree on some things. I also know that we have a LOT really important of things we do share in common and agree on too. I'm glad to have you around and part of the conversation and as part our little community here! I wish you grace and sozo from Jesus my friend.

 
At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Ryan,

Re: Psalms that's a great question, but a bit too long for me to answer in a comment. So I think I'll make that into a new blog post and answer you there where I have more space.

 
At 3:20 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Dear Derek,

I have recently read your series on "Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor", your article "Substitutionary atonement and the Church Fathers", and "The Abolishment of Retribution in the Church Fathers". Thank you.

I, like you am a proponent of the ransom view of atonement. However with regards to this blog entry I would like to make the following comments:

I can understand your first impulse that the OT has less grace in it than the NT but would suggest that that is not really the case. Its just not the same type of grace or not always that obvious, but it is there and much more than you currently think.

One of the problems I think is that we are so used to thinking of grace in individualistic / personal terms, because thats the focus in the NT, that we don't realise that there is also a form of grace on community level.

Also we tend to think of some of the outcomes of the law as punishment on infringements, however they can also be seen as restorative - bringing healing or protection to the community.

Father wanted to establish a holy, righteous and blessed community and the purpose of the law was to bring life and accomplish that. So the exodus and the giving of the law was an act of grace, for example.

Something to ponder, blessings
Jurgen

 
At 5:22 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Dear Derek

You claim that Jesus did not see the Old Testament as all being right and lay out some examples to illustrate. However scripture says that He came to magnify the the law (Is 42:1-6,21), and that's exactly what He did.

For instance you say that Jesus "did not teach killing of enemies as the OT does, and instead taught love of enemies", but this is what Ex 23:4-5 teaches us (He just magnified it).

You say "That's why he forgave the woman caught in adultery" and why she wasn't executed, but that was because there were no witnesses left at the end to testify against her. (Also where was the man, since both were to be put to death.) Again He magnified the law.

You say "That's why Jesus frequently broke the Sabbath", but actually He never broke the Sabbath - He only broke the legalistic man made laws regarding the Sabbath. Why ? To bring back the true spirit of the Sabbath, in other words He magnified it.

You say Jesus "did not defend the OT, he instead changed it.", but He says "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete" (Mt 5:17) Once more He magnifies the law.

The issue Jesus had was not with the law but the way it was being intrepreted, misused, and hedged with additional laws.

I agree totally with you that we need to "read the Bible like Jesus did" and not "how the Pharisees read their Bibles". Absolutely !

The problem is you take issue with things in the OT that you perceive as being immoral, not right, or wrong - from your perspective. Consider that Father wants us to eat from the tree of Life and not from the tree of good and evil. Think about that.

I therefore believe that He is more concerned with what will bring life to a community or an individual than what we think might be good or bad, moral or immoral.

Food for thought (lets eat from the tree of life), blessings
Jurgen

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Dear Derek

Just to let you know that I have read your 4 blog posts on "Rethinking the authority of Scripture" and I agree with the problems that you mention there.

I have also struggled with the concept of saying "This is this particluar writers perspective / opinion - maybe he's mistaken !?" Paul lends himself to this in fact because he sometime says "I say", so one can easily retort with "well that's his opinion" ....

I believe we need to take the sum total of scripture into consideration. This, it would seem is what you are advocating as well.

Blessings
Jurgen

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Jurgen,

First of all, welcome! I'm glad you are joining our conversation :)

I agree that Jesus "magnifies" the law, that he fulfills it. The question is: how exactly? Is it possible to magnify the law by pointing out places where it was not working, where while it was intended to do good, it was in fact not and instead doing harm? I would say that the answer to that question is yes, and that this is exactly what we see Jesus doing. He is not only changing things added to the law, he is making major changes to the law itself. The issue here is not simply with misinterpretation of the law, but with actual deficiencies with the law itself.

Hebrews 8:7 says "If there had been nothing wrong with that first Covenant, no place would have been sought for another." Now this is of course referring to the Old Covenant of the Mosaic Law and contrasting this with the New Covenant in Christ. The clear claim here is that there is indeed something "wrong" with the Law. A few verses later the old covenant law is referred to as "obsolete" and "outdated" and that it will "soon disappear" (v 13).

This is to me a good indication that the New Testament authors did not feel the need to justify everything in the Old Testament. They instead call it "wrong" and "obsolete." What's critical here however is to recognize at the same time that they did not see this as a rejection of their Jewish faith, but as a fulfillment of it. It's version 2.0 if you will. A 2.0 version is not rejecting the 1.0 version, but it does advance beyond it. We need to advance morally beyond the OT, and we need to recognize that when we do this we are actaully being faithful to the law of love which is God's true law.

I do not see any reason why it is necessary to justify everything in the OT as being good when Jesus and the authors of the NT did not feel the need to do this. Their reading of Scripture allowed them to go beyond the text, to wrestle with the text, to disagree with it, to find a better way. I maintain that we need to learn to read the Bible like that too.

The more typical way of reading the OT is to seek to defend it, to show how it is justified and good. However, I maintain again that this is simply not how Jesus or the authors of the NT read Scripture, and because of this they were able to come to a 2.0 version that one can not ever get to if they are busy justifying why the 1.0 version is perfectly fine. If we want to learn to read our Bible like Jesus did then we will need to learn to read it in a way that is very different from how most of us have learned. Until then we will be stuck in 1.0.

 
At 7:49 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Hi Derek

Thank you for the welcome and the reply.

I'm glad we agree that Jesus magnifies the law. So we merely seem to differ on the how / what ?

My understanding is that He showed us how to correctly interpret and apply the law. However you are of the opinion that there are "actual deficiencies with the law itself" and that He made "major changes to the law".

Perhaps as I type this I can agree with you to some extent since Jesus says "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete (top up)." (Mt 5:17) So we could argue that since He completes, it must have been incomplete or deficient in some way.

So then maybe where we actually differ is in those "deficiencies". I see Jesus as expounding on the meaning or intent of the law and thereby topping it up, not changing it - just completing its meaning.

You on the other hand seem to have issues on the morality of certain things in the law and perceive Jesus as addressing these. Can you kindly give further examples of these moral deficiencies and of Jesus changing them, since the ones you previously used seem to be deficient :-)

Unfortunately the translation of Heb 8:7 is misleading and should rather read, together with vs8: "If there was no blame with the first, then no place would have been sought for a second, but finding fault/blame with them ..." So the reason given is actually that it was the people that were to blame, which is confirmed in the next verse from a quotation from Jeremiah. This then does not support the idea that there was something "wrong" with the first covenant.

I agree with your statement that you "do not see any reason why it is necessary to justify everything in the OT as being good". Absolutely, there's some really terrible & distressing things that happen in the OT, plain and simple.

You concluded with: "If we want to learn to read our Bible like Jesus did then we will need to learn to read it in a way that is very different from how most of us have learned" and I agree completely with you here as well.

In this regard then consider that the law is not primarily about morality as such. It is more about holiness & righteousness, about drawing near & loving God, about being His representatives, about community, and about what brings life.

Blessings
Jurgen

 
At 10:50 AM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

Hi Jurgen,

It's great to have another voice in the discussion. I completely agree with your opinion that Jesus is not changing the law, but expounding upon it, topping it up.

I would add that when Jesus butts heads with the Pharisees over issues of the Law, he does not accuse them of following a faulty Law, or a misquoted Law, or a Law created by men (though he does accuse them of adding new laws). What he accuses them of is hypocrisy (Matthew 15:1-10; 23:1-3). But if their guilt lay in dutifully following an existing Law that needed to be rendered obsolete, Jesus pronounced the wrong judgement. However, if the judgement of hypocrisy is true, then it is implied that the foundation of the Law (Mosaic record) is sound. It was the Pharisees who were changing it by adding caveats and loopholes, whereas Jesus was setting the Law back on course and expanding its application.

 
At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hmmm, I don't agree with your interpretations, and as you say you do not agree with mine. So I think we would need to take a step back and see what we do agree on.

"there's some really terrible & distressing things that happen in the OT, plain and simple"

This may be a good place to start. What commands specifically would you describe as "terrible & distressing"?

Also I am a bit puzzled by your statement "the law is not primarily about morality as such. It is more about holiness & righteousness" Does that mean that it can be "holy and righteous" and at the same time profoundly immoral? Some people would say "yes" and that God is amoral and can do evil acts and command evil acts to be done. So I wanted to clarify if you think this or not.

My basic starting point is that if anyone ever killed preschoolers (remember Newtown) and said "God told me to do it" we all ought to agree that this is monstrously evil. There are no cases ever, past or present, for any reason that would justify such an act. That's where I begin.

As I say, everyone would clearly agree with this... except if it applies to the Bible... then suddenly we find people making arguments why it is okay and good to do this. I find that profoundly disturbing and dangerous. The fact is, this kind of thinking has repeatedly lead to people justifying killing in God's name throughout history, right up to today (for example in the Rwandan genocide which was spurred on using these OT verses).

I care about this because I care about those kids. I care more about defending the least than I do about defending a belief in inerrancy. I think in doing that I share the same priority as Jesus who likewise challenged religious laws and calls for violence in God's name for the sake of compassion.

There are many many passages in the OT that teach hatred of enemies, that proclaim it as a godly virtue, and that consequently then command people to commit genocide in God's name (including killing those preschoolers). This is not an isolated incident or verse, it is a major theme of the OT. Jesus directly rejects this ethos of "hate your enemy" and instead teaches us to love our enemies.

 
At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Ryan,
A difficulty with your above interpretation is that it focuses exclusivly on what Jesus said, and ignores other places in the NT (Paul's epistles, the book of Hebrews, etc) that do argue that the Law is obsolete. The fact is, what Jesus says and what Paul and the other writers of the NT say are not exactly the same. We instead see a developing view post crucifixion and resurrection. So we need to take all of that into account to get the full picture of an NT view of things.

 
At 2:34 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Dear Derek

You asked "What commands specifically would you describe as 'terrible & distressing' ?"
Firstly let me point out that in the original context of your first response, you were actually referring to the body of work we call the OT in the relevant paragraph (as you referred to the "authors of the NT did not feel the need to do this"), and not specifically the law. So when I replied with "there's some really terrible & distressing things that happen in the OT" I meant Genesis - Malachi.

To further clarify my position, let me say that we need to distinguish between the law proper as described in the 1st five books and the general narrative of the history of Israel. I agree with you 100% that we cannot and MAY NOT take the latter as license to support some action. The things God commanded in that context are specific to those situations, and the things people did were not always what God commanded or intended. So it is completely unjustifiable to claim support from the Bible based on the general narrative.

You want to achieve this by showing that Jesus changed the law, but this is not necessary and also not true. (Well you have yet to prove it.) The problem it seems to me is not about inerrancy but rather about just plain common sense, not knowing God's law, and discernment.

I agree with you that Jesus "challenged religious laws", with the emphasis on 'religious' (i.e. man made doctrine), but He didn't challenge His Father's law.

I also agree with your statements that "There are many many passages in the OT [not law] that 'teach' hatred of [personal] enemies" and that "Jesus directly rejects this ethos of 'hate your enemy' and instead teaches us to love our enemies". However this is something already taught in God's law as I showed previously, Jesus merely highlighted it.

I hope you understand me better now. I'm all for what you want to achieve but let's do it truthfully without twisting scripture to suit our needs, as I feel you are doing now, otherwise we loose credibility.

Blessings
Jurgen

 
At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I want to stress that for many Christians, myself included, this is not a theoretical or intellectual issue, but one that is deeply personal. The basic question comes down to this: seeing as how the OT repeatedly depicts God as commanding things that can only be described as profoundly immoral, how can I love or trust a God who would command such things?

This is a question that has profound impact. It leads many to justify committing atrocities in Gods name. It shatters the faith of others. I myself struggle with this--both with my own faith, and because I see how others are hurt too.

The impression I get from you is that you do not see this as an issue at all. Perhaps instead your concern is to uphold Jesus as one who was in line with the law of God. That's fine. But as a result I get the impression that you are not hearing me, not acknowledging the gravity of the issue of violence in the OT and instead presenting it as if there really was no problem at all.

The result of these explanations therefore make me feel as if you are not really hearing me or understanding the struggle. Consequently they don't speak to me and are instead simply frustrating. Like I am trying to say that there is a huge problem and you are simply presenting various arguments as to why there is in fact no problem at all rather than recognizing the problem and then engaging it.

I don't think that is your intention. I assume that you have good intentions. However I want to give you the feedback that the way you are approaching this makes me feel like I am not being heard and that is frustrating.

I do not want to debate. I do not think that is fruitful because the purpose of a debate is to win rather than to understand. I would rather have a conversation and the basis for that is understanding. So before I could go on I would need you to demonstrate that you truly understand where I am coming from and so far (again, from my perspective without wanting to imply that this was your intention) I have not seen that.

 
At 1:00 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Hi Derek

I'm sorry that you feel that you are not being heard and that you think that I don't understand where you are coming from.

I have said though:
That I have read your 4 blog posts on "Rethinking the authority of Scripture" and I agree with the problems that you mention there.

I agreed with your statement that you "do not see any reason why it is necessary to justify everything in the OT as being good". Absolutely, there's some really terrible & distressing things that happen in the OT, plain and simple.

I also agreed with your statements that "There are many many passages in the OT [not law] that 'teach' hatred of [personal] enemies" and that "Jesus directly rejects this ethos of 'hate your enemy' and instead teaches us to love our enemies".

And lastly I stated that we cannot and MAY NOT take the general narrative of the OT as license to blindly support some action. The things God commanded in that context are specific to those situations, and the things people did were not always what God commanded or intended. So it is completely unjustifiable to claim support from the Bible based on the general narrative.

This latter is definitly a problem and is what I thought was the main issue that you are trying to address. (Am I wrong here ?)

However from your last response I see now that there is also another issue, namely that "the OT repeatedly depicts God as commanding [and doing?] things that can only be described as profoundly immoral, how [then] can I love or trust a God who would command such things?".

This is certainly a problem, how do you propose to address it ?
You disagree with the "typical way of reading the OT [which] is to seek to defend it [God], to show how it is justified and good", but what other way is there ?

Lastly I'm afraid you have misread my various arguments to mean that there is no problem, that was not there purpose. There is a problem, and I agree with your concerns !

Blessings
Jurgen

 
At 6:02 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Jurgen,

I really enjoyed reading your perspectives. Thank you.

A quick note to add: Jurgen, I don't mean to answer on behalf of Derek since he's more than capable of doing that himself, but just wanted to point out that Derek is writing a whole book on this issue, and I think he's doing an admirable job reading a wide spectrum of authors and carefully doing his research before presenting his ideas in full to the world. Yet I understand that the current discussion, as thorny and complex as it is, requires nothing short of a systematic discussion to clear up these kinds of confusions. In the meantime, may I recommend a couple of resources? I like "Laying Down the Sword" by Phillip Jenkins, and also "Violence in Scripture" by Eric Seibert. It will begin to flesh out some of what Derek is talking about.

Having been in a pretty angry and reactive place myself after a rather bruising faith journey, I want to share a pearl I've learned the hard way. We all carry our personal baggage to the table. I find it helpful to be aware of my own feelings, and where they're coming from, when I'm having discussions like this.

For example, Jurgen you say: "I'm all for what you want to achieve but let's do it truthfully without twisting scripture to suit our needs, as I feel you are doing now, otherwise we loose credibility." I'm not trying to single you out at all, because I can hear myself saying something like this, not intending any harm but simply out of enthusiasm for my own points. But when I say that someone is twisting Scripture, is that really more my own personal assumption about someone's motives or is that really true? Perhaps it would be best to simply say that we see it differently? Otherwise, we can't give space for others to struggle and question things without feeling like they're being excluded for not toeing the party theological line.

I know at one point, Derek talked about Ryan's views reminding him of the "Unquestioning Obedience" camp. Now I knew, just because I was a 3rd person observer, that Derek didn't mean to hurt Ryan or dismiss his views. The whole reason why he has this blog, I think, is to give space for people to question and struggle with questions. But I know words like "unquestioning obedience", while they may have purely theological implications for some, might take on personal terms for others.

If I ever say something that inadvertently hurts someone, please call my attention and let me know. If I disagree with you, I want to do it honestly but sensitively, always keeping in mind that you are a valuable person with good points to make, even if I disagree.


 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

All,

I want to present Numbers 31 for your consideration, as exhibit A of what we're discussing here. Here, we have Moses commanding, allegedly with divine sanction, the slaughter of every man, non-virginal woman, and child among the Midianites. Specific instructions are given on how to divide up plunder taken as spoils of war, including virgins who are spared so that they can be given to the Israeli warriors (implying rape, though not explicitly stated).

Please read the passage and contemplate how we can best apply this passage to today, keeping in mind Jesus' hermeneutical advice that all the Law and the Prophets are to be summarized as love for God and love for the neighbor (and Jesus' reply when asked what neighborly love looked like - aka the Good Samaritan Parable).

 
At 2:01 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Hi Samurai

Thank you for your input.

With regards to Num 31 and "how we can best apply this passage to today" ?

We can't ! The instruction was given to Isarel for a specific situation with regards to the Midianites.

I'd like to know how Derek addresses the other issue that he raised where this "depicts God as commanding things that can only be described as profoundly immoral" ?

Blessings
Jurgen

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

The question with the book of Numbers is what it says about God's character to command this. Saying that it was an instruction for a specific situation does not address this issue of God's character which is the real issue here.

If it was not immoral to do then, why would we have a problem saying God would want us to do it today? However, we clearly all do have a problem with this, and all stress that this would be unacceptable. So if we then do have a problem with the idea that we would carry out something like this today then it was equally wrong back then. After all, under what possible circumstance is rape okay?

Furthermore, if we want to focus on the law specifically as opposed to the broader OT narrative (which, btw I don't agree with, but for sake of argument...) then there are plenty of immoral things in the law proper too. Let's start with slavery, or the death penalty for adultery, homosexuality, and for disobeying parents. Do we want to practice all these today? How about the commands to beat children? If this were carried out today as it is prescribed in the OT it would be considered child abuse. In short: if someone where to attempt to actually follow the law of Moses today, we would put them in prison. So there are plenty of really troubling things in the law proper, as well as in the broader OT narrative.

As to my own take on how to deal with these and similar passages, I decided to address these things in a new blog post as it gave me a little more room to respond.

 
At 7:02 AM, Blogger Judy Gale said...

Derek, it's been several years since I listened to Wayne's podcast/videocast series. This intro content sum's up what connected with me in at the time:
"Confusion abounds about the Bible and what it intends to say about God. Is he a demanding deity, or a tender Abba? How do we reconcile the Old and New Testament depictions of God and come away from reading the Bible inspired to greater trust in the Father...? Many have given up reading Scripture because they are either intimidated by its content or confused about how to interpret it. However, by looking at the whole of Scripture through the revelation of Jesus we can see that it was never intended to be a book of rules, but an unfolding story to show us who God is.... In this series Wayne Jacobsen wants to help you read the Bible through the lens of Jesus that not only makes it easier to understand, but also resolves the seeming inconsistencies in its message and content."

 

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