Facing violence and hate in the imprecatory Psalms

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What are we to make of the violent imprecatory Psalms? One of the first that comes to mind here is the chilling final verse of Psalm 137, "Blessed is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." When we think of praying through the Psalms it's hard to imagine praying that, and yet such sentiment is not at all uncommon in the Psalter. Prayers expressing hatred and death wishes are a prevalent and major theme of the Psalms.

A frequent response is to stress that this is the cry of a person in pain, expressing their raw human grief and anger. Indeed, there is clearly some truth in this. For example Psalm 137 quoted above begins with words of grief, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept." Just as the Psalms frequently express doubt, they likewise express uncensored anger that can be understood as a very natural human response. We might even say that, like Job, the Psalms express a healthy spirituality in the sense that they demonstrate that it is okay for us to express our real feelings of doubt, grief, anger and pain.

As true as all of this is, it is not the whole story. It is one thing to honestly express human emotions. It is another to uphold these as "blessed" and thus to imply that such declarations of hate and death have God's sanction. Yet this is exactly what Psalm 137 declares. While Jesus says "blessed are the peacemakers" Psalm 137 says in contrast "blessed are those who smash in the heads of toddlers." Rather obviously we have here two diametrically opposed understandings of what God blesses.

In Psalm 139, after a breathtaking display of intimacy including such memorable lines as "You knit me together in my mother's womb" and "before a word is on my tongue you know it completely" David holds up his hatred to God, not as an expression of human weakness, but as a sign of his virtue and faithfulness,

"Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Ps 139:21-24)

When Jesus said "you have heard it said 'love your neighbor but hate your enemy..." his audience could very well have thought of this very Psalm which upholds hated of enemies as a virtue. Yet we all know how the words of Jesus continue "...but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." In contrast what we find throughout the Psalms are prayers against persecuters, praying for their death and destruction, never praying for them.

We find prayers that the psalmist's enemies would be killed...

"Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead" (Ps 55:15)

that they would go to hell...

"Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous" (Ps 69:27-28)

and that his enemy's wife and children would suffer, too...

"May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.” (Ps 109:9-12)

Not exactly "Jesus loves the little children" material.

As Christians we need to read the Psalms, and indeed all of Scripture, in the light of Christ, and it is clear that much of what the Psalms uphold as virtuous and good simply does not line up with Jesus. In fact, as we've seen above, much of it directly contradicts Jesus. We find here two diametrically opposed understandings of God's will. In such cases we need to apply the words of Jesus, "You have heard it said... but I say to you."

It is not healthy to meditate on and cultivate hate as a religious virtue. So we surely cannot join David in his prayers of violence and cursing. When we read the Psalms we instead need to take a step back, and read them in the same way that we might read Job when he expresses his unbridled anger at God. When Job accuses God of wronging him, "God has turned me over to the ungodly … He has made me his target … God has wronged me" (Job 16:11-12; 19:6) we do not read this as a true statement of God's character. Likewise, when the Psalmist cries out in hatred, calling for vengeance and death, cursing his enemies, we need to clearly recognize that this is not a prayer that we would ever have heard on Jesus' lips who instead prayed, "Forgive them Father, they don't understand what they are doing."
 Despite David's belief that his hatred was pure and virtuous, and that there was "nothing offensive" in his heart, it's easy to see that his prayer clearly does not reflect God's heart as revealed in Jesus who demonstrated his love for us "While we were yet sinners ... while we God's enemies" (Rom 5:9-10). When the Psalms dehumanize others as "wicked" and call for their judgment and death this does not reflect God's will. When conservative commentators stress that these curses reflect God's righteous judgment, as they typically do, they reveal that they have missed the entire point of the gospel. In contrast, Paul stresses that we are all sinners in need of mercy. We all have been hurt, and we all hurt others. So we need to find ways to mend that hurt, we need to be peacemakers. This is what is truly blessed.

If we can read the Psalms as a raw and uncensored look at the human heart, it can help us to face the pain and dark feelings we have. However, at the same time we need to be clear that such expression of hate and calls for violence do not reflect God's will revealed in Jesus. This is a point that is seldom made, and frankly it needs to be made more often. Our tendency instead is to tiptoe around the Psalms, never daring to criticize them.

We need to have the courage to face them honestly, with the same honesty that they themselves exhibit. Again, there us a huge difference between a healthy expression of emotion on the one hand, and affirming, endorsing and cultivating hate and death wishes as a virtue on the other (including wishing death on someone's kids as Psalm 137 does!). So if we indeed respect honesty, let's read these Psalms with honesty, and have the courage to say that while we can sympathize with the pain the Psalmist must have been going through, it certainly is not "blessed" to murder infants.

What the Psalms reveal is both the beauty and ugliness of our human hearts. If we can learn to read them in this way, honestly facing the Psalms, and honestly facing ourselves, even in our darkest places, then we can make space for God's light to meet us there in the dark.

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At 11:46 AM, Blogger Jeremy Myers said...

Not sure what this means for inspiration and inerrancy. Would you say these Psalms are inspired and inerrant glimpses into the human heart?

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


Yes, this is certainly a question that this raises. If we come at the Psalms with the typical flat understanding of inerrancy and inspiration where we see every statement in the Bible as reflecting unchanging doctrinal statements of God's will then we will find ourselves trying to justify things as "good" that we clearly know are profoundly immoral, and that we would unambiguously reject in any other context.

However, these Psalms indicate that the problem is not so much with the Bible itself, but with how we have come to read it -- in a way that leaves no room for questioning or dialog. This approach is out of line with the nature of the Hebrew canon itself, and in particular with the Psalms which are full of honest questioning and struggle. If we want to read the Psalms right, as they ask to be read, then we need to learn to enter into that struggle... and that means fundamentally re-thinking what inspiration means in the context of what the Bible actually is.

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Psalms 137 The author is using poetry to express his desire for equity.Verses 8 and 9 are an example of a type of Hebrew poetry, parallelism. "He who repays you for what you have done to us" in vs. 8 is simply a parallel to "he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks" of vs. 9. The Psalmist is merely asking God to avenge the evil that the Babylonians had done to them by writing a poem that expresses his desire for equity. This doesn't mean that God approved of it or carried it out. In fact, when Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and Persians, it was done with a night-time raid under the water walls, and even the king didn't know they were being overtaken until it was an accomplished deed. Hence, very little bloodshed and no babies were harmed, so far as anyone knows. The passage is simply a poetic lament, desiring vengeance but not prophesying anything. It's like venting.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Derek - as I wrestle through this, another question came to mind. While intuitively the Jesus hermeneutic makes sense, some counter that by contending that Jesus (or the New Testament) Himself is insufficient to counter the disturbing nature of the Old Testament. That is, Jesus says things like implying that a non-Jewish woman as a "dog" when stating that He had come for the lost sheep of Israel, stating that folks will be rewarded for leaving their homes and families for His sake, commanding that folks cut their limbs off or gouge their eyes out if they are sources of sin, and contradicting Himself by saying "blessed are the peacemakers" on one hand, and also saying that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. I've had my own way of interpreting Jesus when He says these things based on my intuitive big-picture sense of who Jesus is. That is, when I step back from verses like this and take in the whole scene, I can imagine that the Jesus I know from the Gospels can't possibly be saying these things literally. So I take one as hyperbole, another as a tongue-in-cheek statement, and so on. But am I fooling myself here? How would you answer the folks who say Jesus Himself condoned a violent and/or harsh way of being - or is this covered in your book?

Ryan - when you have time, I'd love to hear you elaborate on what you mean by God changing His way of speaking from the Old to the New Covenants. That has been my intuitive sense also, but I'd benefit from how you put that idea together.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


The bigger issue here is not the emotion of Psalm 137, but the ideology behind it expressed in Psalm 139. That is, if this was just about "venting" then the assumption is that after one vents, they have "let off steam" (which is what the "vent" refers to) so that they DO NOT carry out actual violence against someone. Venting thus has a cathartic purpose that allows a person to deal with their anger without harming others.

However in the Psalms we see that actions of vengeance, actions of killing others are presented as good and virtuous acts. These are seen as action that God will assist them in doing. The other nations and tribes are presented as being "wicked" while their race and nation is presented in contrast as being "righteous" and "innocent". So the group dehumanized, painted as evil, and deserving of death. It is then "just" and "good" to kill them, and God is called upon to help in doing this. That is the ideology that runs through these Psalms, and through the majority of the OT. It is not about venting, it is about carrying these acts of killing out in God's name, and that takes the form of ethnic cleansing and genocide -- presented as God's will. These texts act to cultivate and legitimize that view of the other that dehumanizes them, sees them as evil and thus makes it seem good and just to kill them and their children "without mercy."

This ideology is rather obviously
(1) profoundly evil and
(2) the polar opposite of what Jesus taught.

So we need to deal with the fact that the OT teaches an understanding of what is "good" and what God "blesses" that is the complete opposite of what Jesus and the gospel reveals to us about what goodness looks like and who God is.

Facing that reality is where we need to start. Once we can frankly admit that there is a huge clash between the OT and the NT we can begin to try to find a way of dealing with this. But so long as we pretend that there is no clash, and that it all fits together, and continue to deny the problem exists, we will not be able to find a solution, and we will instead spend our time working to justify and legitimize the narrative of dehumanizing others as evil and consequently legitimizing violence in God's name. That needs to stop because in doing this we perpetuate evil and harm. We are not doing God any favors in doing that. We are working against God.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


The quick answer is that I do not think the Jesus hermeneutic really solves the problem. This is a big topic that I won't be able to cover in a comment, but the bottom line is this: If we say that Jesus is the ultimate standard then this begs the question: How do we know which interpretation of Jesus is the right one? You mention several examples of questions of interpretation for the words of Jesus. And in each we need to make a judgement call as to what the right interpretation is. So simply saying "the Jesus way" does not really solve all the questions. It's a good general start (and it allows us to come to some rather obvious conclusions like "Jesus and genocide don't mix") but as you can see it is not enough in itself, as we end up getting stuck on some more subtle issues (like: how are we to practice enemy love exactly?)

What I would propose instead is that we need to learn how to think like Jesus did. That is, we don't need to use the "Jesus hermeneutic" (asking "what would Jesus do?" which already assumes that we know how to interpret Jesus perfectly). Rather we need to learn to use the same hermeneutic that Jesus himself used.

What does that look like? That's a big question. I'd say the place to start is in studying how Jesus interpreted and applied Scripture. So that's what I do in my book. From that I identify some core principles of interpretation he uses, and then propose that we need to adopt these too.

That's the basic outline.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


When is this book coming out?

At 2:11 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


Thanks so much for devoting an entire post to answering my question about the Psalms. You echo many of the thoughts I've long had about the writings of David and Solomon (I believe Ecclesiastes is not a "guide to happiness on earth" as I've often heard preached, but a portrait of life under the Old Covenant, a way of life overturned by Christ's work on the cross). I especially appreciate your comparison of Job's complaint against God to the emotional outpourings of David.

But comparing Job to David raises an interesting question. The book of Job and the book of Psalms are in two separate genres, written in two very different modes. The first is a work of narrative history, and the second is essentially a collection of diary entries set to music, many of which are written in direct address to God (whereas Job was written not to God, but for Man). Do you then see a difference between rejecting the authority of works of confession and theology (David, Solomon, Paul), and that of narrative history (the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, etc.)? Or are they both equally subject to error?

Also, regarding your response to Cole, is it possible to declare particular people(s) as evil without issuing a death warrant? Did Jesus really go so far as to declare our enemies as good and therefore worthy of love, or did he simply command us to love them despite their wickedness? The wording of your response leans toward the former.


I'd love to elaborate on my ideas regarding the change in viewpoints between the Old and New Testaments. But I'd probably have to start my own blog to do it. Hmmm… Maybe I should just send you an email. :-)

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Ryan, I look forward to your email (on your own time - I know three little ones leaves precious little time). A quick response to explore one part of your comment: "Do you then see a difference between rejecting the authority of works of confession and theology (David, Solomon, Paul), and that of narrative history (the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, etc)? Or are they both equally subject to error?"

My sense is that if one makes a case for not interpreting the Bible literally and at face-value, folks assume you're rejecting the Bible's authority.

That brings up the question of what is authoritative: is our assumption that everything is to be taken at face-value in order to be interpreted aright authoritative, or could the Bible be authoritative in another way? If so, how?

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

I should add my personal take on the Bible: it's not that simple. Some things can be taken literally and at face value (love your neighbor) and others clearly not (cut off your right hand if it causes you to sin). It's what makes God's Word beautiful, but also exceedingly (and often frustratingly) difficult.

But in this morass, I suppose we're called to choose a hermeneutic that is ethical, sound, and most consistent with the overall spirit of the Bible. And one that can be applied consistently so that it helps us LIVE and LOVE in a helpful way (let the tree be judged by the fruit). But I doubt there's any hermeneutic that will make the Bible "simple."

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Cole, I don't have a release date yet for the book, but I'll be sure to announce it here when I do.

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I'd like to echo what Samurai said. Everything in the Bible is theological in nature. So history is not just history, it is history with theological import. Same goes for poetry and everything else. Therefore, regardless of the genre we need to evaluate it and think about it on a moral & theological level.

Now when you speak of "rejecting the authority" of certain works in the Bible because they are "subject to error." This seems to imply some assumptions about how the Bible should be read, and about what a faithful reading of Scripture looks like.

This all comes down to how we understand what a faithful reading looks like. There are basically two approaches that we find in the Bible:

The first is the understanding that faithfulness to Scripture means unquestioningly accepting the command no matter how hurtful and wrong it may seem to us. I call that the way of Unquestioning Obedience. The way your have phrased your statement above seems to echo the assumptions of that understanding.

The second way understands faithfulness instead to involve engaging the text morally so we make sure that the command leads to love. I call this the way of Faithful Questioning.

The first was the approach taken by the Pharisees, and the second is the approach taken by Jesus. For some odd reason conservative evangelicals have decided to interpret the Bible like Pharisees instead of like Jesus, which as you can imagine I think is a huge mistake. This leads to upholding and defending things that are hurtful, and doing this in God’s name. I think we should instead interpret Scripture like Jesus did, and that involves questioning in the name of love.

So with that in mind, I think it is our moral duty to question every text, and to do that not because we don’t honor God’s Word, but precisely because we do.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Derek - I would posit that the challenge to "question" a Biblical text is more emotional/psychological than intellectual. To give an analogy: what if suddenly, a prophetic voice in the scientific wilderness told us that we have new evidence that the world is flat? Literally and figuratively, the world as we know it would be turned upside down. There's a lot of emotional energy invested in the idea that everything in the Bible must be taken literally as statements of fact. Of course, there's a long history behind that, because there's fear of inserting human opinion and teaching that as timeless truth, fear of undermining God, etc. So it feels safer for many Christians to have an "objective" standard (i.e. just take the text as is). As you rightfully point out, taking everything literally leads to a lot of problems. In actual practice, even the folks who say they're taking everything literally are actually picking and choosing. This is the point that Scot McKnight demonstrates in his book "The Blue Parakeet." For instance, while some Christians do wear head coverings, many Christians, even those who identify as fundamentalists, choose to ignore Paul's clear command for women to do so. Most of us don't actually cut off our limbs if they cause us to sin. And whatever God says about killing Canaanite infants, we choose to explain away why that's morally repugnant for us to do today. Only a few examples.

So if we're ALL picking and choosing what we apply/interpret literally, should we do it willy-nilly, or should we do it systematically and consciously? And what should guide what approach we intentionally use?

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


Having recently emerged from an abusive church situation -- one in which the pastor had labels for everything, like an aisle of Campbell's Soup -- I admit I'm particularly sensitive to being labeled. And though you may not realized it, you put a label on me when you placed me in the "Unquestioning Obedience" camp.

I'm more in league with you than you know. The only difference between us, I think, is that we view the problem of OT violence and scriptural authority on different spectrums. While I don't believe I currently fall on either side of the dichotomy you've established, I don't believe it'd be entirely accurate to say I'm somewhere in the middle, either. If "Unquestioning Obedience" is to the West, and "Faithful Questioning" is to the East, I'm probably somewhere North by Northeast.

To me, considering something as authoritative is not synonymous with taking it at face value. Instead, I view the Scriptures as having the same paradoxical nature as Christ Himself: both fully inspired (divine) and fully human. I think this puts me in line with Peter Enns, though I have yet to get my hands on his book, Inspiration and Incarnation.

I apologize if the phrase "subject to error" put anyone on the defensive, and I hope no one thinks I've been trying to trap you in your words. This conversation is bearing much fruit for me, and I pray it continues.

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


Christ has always been for the outcast and the loser. When speaking to the elect He tells them that all will be justified because all have died (spiritually) in Adam. Christ came to save those who are sick and in bondage to sin. Not those who have free will. He came for His chosen. The downtrodden and the outcast. In short His elect.

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I appreciate you communicating that you got upset. I can see how you could have gotten that impression from what I wrote. For what it's worth I did not think of you as being in the "unquestioning obedience" camp, but on a more subtle level was simply saying that the vocabulary you were using was evocative of that mindset. I certainly don't want you to feel "labeled." My only concern was to identify assumptions we may default to and get us to consider those.

From what you say about your church background it sounds like you are coming from a conservative Christian background (That is also my background BTW), and in that context the assumption is one of infallibility. In that I think you and I both are wrestling with that, each in our own way. I'm thankful to be in conversation with you and also look forward to continuing it.

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I hear what you are saying, but I don't think the issue is literal/non-literal. For example no one thinks the food laws were anything but literal, and yet no one thinks we as Christians should keep them. There are lots of examples like that where we pick and choose, not based on thinking that it is not intended to be taken literally (like chopping of your hands being hyperbole), but simply of not following it (like your example of head coverings). Just wanted to clarify that.

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


As I recall, you are a universalist, so I'm a bit confused that you would believe in the doctrine of election since the two ideas seem logically incompatible (one says everyone will be saved, the other that only a few will).

Anyway, being very not-Calvinist myself, I don't believe in the doctrine of election.

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I believe in a first fruits and a second fruits. The first will be last and the last will be first sort of thing. Some are saved by grace in this lifetime others by fire in the next.

At 3:25 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Derek how can you not believe in elections? America is really fun on super Tuesdays!

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


I suppose I do come from a background of Biblical infallibility. The first half of my life was mostly Southern Baptist (my grandfather was a preacher with a PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and the second half was hyper-Calvinistic anti-fundamentalist backlash. Both were legalistic, but in opposite directions. And both viewed Scripture as infallible, but for different ends.

Out of curiosity, what is your take on what I said about Scripture being paradoxically fully divine and fully human? The fact that it's a paradox is particularly important to me. (BTW, I also believe in the paradox of election and free will operating simultaneously.)

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Wesley described the paradox of election and free will by coining the term "prevenient grace." I suppose that reinterprets election, not to mean that only a few are saved, but that God had to be working in your heart prior to salvation for you to even think of coming to Him. On the other hand, that doesn't mean we as human beings don't participate. I like that tension.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Perhaps you could explain more what you mean by saying that Scripture is "fully divine and fully human"? What would the practical implications of this be?

FWIW, my take on "election" is that it simply means that God chose us (i.e. all of humanity). It is a statement of God's initiation in love. God first loved us. We are chosen, wanted, desired, valued by God. So I see the word "elect" as a synonym for "beloved."

At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Samurai, LOL

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

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


There are many different types of love and hate in the Bible. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time to love and a time to hate. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. While some of the psalms express hate towards God's enemies. Can we love and hate at the same time? If love is the disposition to seek the good of someone else and hate is opposition to the values and plans of someone then it is possible to both love and hate the same person. I can hate someone like Adolf Hitler for example in the sense of opposing his plans and being disgusted by his character and actions, while at the same time desiring his conversion or change of heart. Thus, I can both love and hate Hitler at the same time. I don't think Jesus wants us to merely hate someone like Hitler. For He tells us to love everyone including our enemies. He speaks against pure hatred by telling us to love.

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can feel two emotions at once. Expect to find paradox in life. This is where I go beyond my rational mind of either/or into the both/and. This opens up the spiritual way of seeing. There is a place that exists outside or beyond positive/negative. Don't be afraid to transcend or go beyond the dual world. Reality is a mixture of both good and bad, living and dying, love and hate. Christ (Ultimate Reality) is the very template of total paradox: human yet Divine, heavenly yet earthly, physical yet spiritual, powerless yet powerful, victim yet victor. Indeed, we admire him for his humility, but even more because his humility is mingled with glory. We admire Him for His justice. But even more because His justice is mingled with mercy.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

So then is God both good and evil?

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, we are

At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

So why does the "paradox" you describe not apply to God being both good and evil? God being Moral and immoral? If we are supposed to go beyond either/or into both/and as you argue then why not say that God is evil and immoral? The reason is simple: because in your logic you are actually viewing hate as good.

I would disagree with the "paradox" and say that hate is always evil. God is not evil, and so does not hate.

Now if that is true, then we must ask why God is described in the OT as hating? In fact God is also described in the OT as the author of evil too. This is because the OT does not have a concept of the devil and so it attributes the acts of the devil to God. The devil is the author of evil. The devil hates. In the OT many things that are scribed to God are really the devil.

By the time of the NT Judaism had developed the concept of the devil and so we see in the NT a differing view where God is not the author of evil. God is love.

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

"So why does the "paradox" you describe not apply to God being both good and evil?"

There's a distinction between us and God - He's morally pure.

" hate is always evil"

This contradicts the Bible

Again, laws of either/or logic are good in some areas like math, areas of science, and day to day life but there are limitations to it when applied to Ultimate Reality (God). The reason why is because God is a mysterious paradox. Paradoxes are both/and not either/or. The nondual paradox and mystery for Christians is a living Person (Christ). He is very God and very human. In Him all cosmic opposites are reconciled. It's about becoming open to the opposites we find in Christ. It is here that we can begin to hold the opposites together in our self.

At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Sorry Cole but that just does not make any sense.
You are trying so hard to say that hate is good, but it's not. Hate sucks.
No amount of mental gymnastics will change that.

At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some forms of hate are good and healthy. I gave you an example above with Hitler. The problem people have in trying to understand emotions is that they are using the rational mind of either/or thinking. Paradoxes are not either/or. This is where you have to go beyond the dualistic mind into the both/and. Reality is full of paradoxes. People are a are a mixed blessing. Paradox is hidden and obvious, everywhere and always - unless you have repressed one side of your very being. Take Christ for instance:

We admire Him for His glory, but even more because His glory is mingled with humility

We admire Him for His transcendence, but even more because His transcendence is accompanied by condescension

We admire Him for His uncompromising justice, but even more because it is mingle with His mercy

We admire Him for His majesty, but even more because it is a majesty in meekness

We admire Him for His equality with God, but even more because as God's equal He nevertheless has a deep reverence for God

We admire Him because of how worthy He was of all good, but even more because this was accompanied by an amazing patience to suffer evil

We admire Him because of His Lordship over the world, but even more because this was clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission

We love the way He stumped the proud scribes with His wisdom, and we love it even more because He could be simple enough to spend time with children

We admire Him because He could still the storm, but even more because He refused to use that power to strike the Samaritans with lightening and He refused to use it to get Himself down from the cross

The list could go on. But this enough to illustrate that beauty and excellency in Christ is complex.

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where love is there is bewilderment and confusion of my either/or mind. Truth deeper than reason begins to permeate my consciousness. The ego which seperates me from God is destroyed through accepting paradox and stopping argument. The more I know about God the less I know. At first this was a shock to me. But the sweetness of love has pulled me through. Divine love has taken hold of my heart and now I belong to love.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. - Romans 12:9

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Samurai said...


You've very poetically highlighted the truth and value of paradox for us.
Thank you!

I note that in order to apply the principle of paradox to hatred, you re-defined hatred to mean hating a person's values or behavior - not hating the person. The Christian evangelical way of stating this is: "Hate the sin, love the sinner."

Theoretically, I think most of us would agree wholeheartedly with the latter statement. Not many of us would profess to "love" sin - in fact, we might feel okay with saying we "hate" sin. But this is where theory and practice can begin to diverge. In actual practice, many people and groups who embrace "hate the sin, love the sinner" actually do a lot more hating of the sin than loving of the sinner. This also raises the question of who gets to decide the boundary between hating the sin, and loving the sinner? For example, many Christians, in their own minds, are merely hating the sin, but not hating the sinner. But the "sinners" who are on the receiving end usually hear the message as ostracism and rejection - thus hatred of who they are. If you hate violence, you can express that hatred by loving peace, and advocating nurturing of relationships. But inevitably, our human minds, when we allow hatred of anything into our minds, draw more on anger and rejection. So in my humble opinion, I just think hatred is a dangerous word/concept, and there may be better words/concepts to describe what you're trying to express. Maybe zeal for restoration? Heck, maybe even love! :)

So in practice, the principle of paradox while helpful in many situations in getting us to think flexibly - may not be the most practical way to conceptualize the particular entity of hatred. I really think it's awesome that you're encouraging us to think outside of "either-or" categories. In that same helpful spirit, might we have room in our minds to conceive that there may be a more helpful way to think about hatred than just applying the principle of paradox?

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


I've been thinking about what you said about God. It seems to make sense to say that both an evil Spirit and a loving Spirit created the universe because of all the love, evil, and suffering we find in the universe from nature and natural disasters as such. There would be One True God that has two coequal Spirits emanating from Him/Her. This would also explain how humanity is a mixture of both good and bad. The battle between good and evil would thus go on for eternity. Maybe people in the past have mistakenly followed the dysfunctional spirit. This would explain those Bible verses about God destroying all life because of the sins of humanity. What kind of Spirit wipes out all of life on earth because of the sins of humanity by drowning them to death? This is clearly cruel and unusual. A Spirit of love and justice wouldn't destroy innocent animals because of the sins of humanity. We can still follow a Higher Power of love and justice and not accept the Old Testament. The scientific facts tell us that creation has always been subject to decay from the beginning. It wasn't sin that brought this about. Even if it was it's still unjust to curse innocent animals because of Adam and Eve's sin.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


You asked about the practical implications of Scripture being both fully divine and fully human. Basically, I think it allows for a fully authoritative text without sacrificing human flexibility (Ta-da!). The easiest example regards whether the rooster crowed once or twice at Peter’s denial of Christ. Critics see it as a fatal contradiction because, ironically, they take the same view as fundamentalists: if Scripture is truly the Word of God, then it must be the direct word of God, whispered in the ear of prophets and apostles and channeled like lightning through their pens. But I believe the Father not only listens to the voices of those who do His will (John 9:31), but He enjoys the sound of those voices, just as I love the distinct voices of my children. The Father loves the differences in voice and perspective so much that he inspired His Gospel in not one voice, but four, and whether the rooster crowed once or twice doesn’t matter – all that matters is that the rooster crowed and Peter wept, and the rest is simply to remind us that Jesus is not only fully God but fully human.

I admit the OT is a bit trickier to view from this perspective. The key is to incorporate my other theory, regarding the process of spiritual maturation that warrants the change in tone between the OT and the NT.

Yes, the books of the OT were written in distinctly human voices, even the books of law and history, and so, yes, I believe there are instances of favoring certain attributes of the Father over others (i.e. physical strength and incomprehensible wisdom over personal love and mercy). However, I don’t see such instances (acts of genocide included) as misinterpretations, distortions, or voices speaking in opposition to the love and mercy of the NT. Instead, I see them as the voices of children trying to understand their Father through a naturally narrow lens.
According to my children (ages 5½ and under), I’m the strongest person in the world, I can fix everything, and I never let them do what they want, all of which is untrue. But if I lift something heavy for them and they declare me a superhero, only their impression of my character is debatable. The fact that I lifted the object is just that – a fact. All that’s missing is perspective.

When I discipline my children, all they remember is the particular act of discipline. They never remember the grace I first offered, the two or three chances I gave them to make things right. But when they’re older, they’ll understand.

At 5:59 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:01 AM, Blogger Samurai said...


Another way of putting what you're saying (I think?) is that it's not God who has changed over time, but it's we who have - and hence, the biblical witness reflects that. I resonate with that.

I still wrestle with the question of how to turn around and apply this principle to whether God really did order genocide and infanticide in Canaan as the Hebrew authors claim, or whether that was their narrow impression from the limited interpretive lens they had at the time. The fundamentalist perspective would say, yes, God did order it because that's what the text says, and it is we who are too limited to understand the reasons. The non-fundamentalist perspective might say, no, God didn't - we have to challenge the perspective of the Hebrew author who interpreted God that way, and that the NT is witness to growth in our ability to incorporate other interpretive lenses.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


A more common way to express what you are saying I think is the idea of a conflict between God and the devil. That is the way Jesus frames it.

At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I agree with your perspective so long as it applies to things that do not matter as you say. For example, exactly how many times the the rooster crowed. The difficulty comes when we have people believing that God had commanded them to kill others as we do in the OT over and over. Then it's not a harmless or cute misunderstanding, it is literally a matter of life and death.

At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let Us Make Man In Our Image"

The plural here may mean that there is more than one person in the One True God. This would fit with what I'm saying.

"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. - 1 John 1:5"

The word for God here can mean a Supreme Deity but it can also mean simply a deity. Jesus could have been referring to the Person Of Light and Love within the Supreme Deity. This would also fit with what I'm saying.

All the barbaric passages in the OT were not done by the Spirit of love and justice but the Spirit of evil and abuse.

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

So you are saying that you have changed your mind and now think God is both good and evil?

I can tell you that biblical scholars would not interpret either of the two passages as you have. If you like I can tell you what they would say.

At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These passages teach that there are two of them:

Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold.
Their bows will slaughter the young men;
they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
their eyes will not pity children.
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them. Isaiah 13:17-19

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven - Genesis 19:24

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil - Genesis 3:22

At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Biblical scholars would say that Israelite monotheism emerged out of paganism, and that this reference to "Let Us Make Man In Our Image" is, like many other passages in the OT, a remnant from the time when they still believed in a Canaanite pantheon where Yahweh was simply one of many other gods they worshiped (he was the Canaanite god of war) under the high God named El (similar to how Mars is under Zeus in the Greek Pantheon). Another example of this is Psalm 82 “God stands in the assembly of El, he renders judgment among the gods.” This is a text that is critical of these other gods, but still sees them as real. In later Judaism this changed, and they came to believe that these were mere idols of metal and wood, but in these earlier texts we can still see traces of the pantheism they developed out of. If you’d like to read more about this, I’d recommend the book “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright.

As to the second quote from the 1 John, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all,” looking at the context of what is being said here, there simply is no way it could be legitimately interpreted as you are to mean “in a particular part of God there is light; in him there is no darkness at all, but in the other part of God there’s pure darkness and sinfulness”. In fact the point is clearly the exact opposite. There is no sin, abuse, evil, darkness in the Godhead at all. Zero. It is rare when one can say that ALL biblical scholars would agree on something, but I dare say that this would be one of those times. No biblical scholar or theologian in the entire world would say that God is 50% evil.

Again, what you are observing in the OT comes from the fact that the OT contains many different views of God that developed over time, rather than one single cohesive view.

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the Bible is wrong then. The laws of physics are based on symmetries and those symmetries are based on mathematical necessity. It's impossible to make metaphysical necessary truths false. It would be like making 1+1=6. It would be impossible for God to have created otherwise since He is a God of truth.

If God was all good then He shouldn't have created at all given the intense suffering and evil we find in the world. The fact that God did create shows that He isn't all good.

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

While I don't agree with your particular conclusions, I do want to validate the legitimacy and importance of your wrestling with how there can be a good God in a hurting world. That's something we all need to face, and doing that is a vital part of a healthy faith.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


Sorry I've been out of the thread for so long, but there's been too much to think about, and I've been struggling to put my thoughts in order.

I have another big question for you, though it's probably too big to answer with a single comment. But I'm a brat, so here it is anyway.

In Matthew 11, we find Jesus denouncing "the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent" (v.20). And in verses 23 and 24, we read this: "And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you it will be more bearable for Sodom in the day of judgement than for you."

I find that passage very interesting in light of our current discussion for two reasons. First, Jesus acknowledges that Sodom was in fact destroyed (or else the phrase "it would have remained to this day" would be meaningless). Second, I believe Jesus acknowledges that Sodom was destroyed per the will of the Father, because he implies that had a ministry such as Jesus' been performed in it, Sodom would have been saved because of its repentance.

I admit I find this passage troublesome even for my own theory that grace was offered to Sodom but was actively refused by all but Job (see my first comment on your previous post). What do you make of it?

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

This is a great question that brings up a challenging and complex issue: how to faithfully interpret the teaching of Jesus. As you say this is huge topic, but I'll see what I can do in the space of a comment here.

Basically I would say that the key here is to differentiate the teaching and way of Jesus from the cultural setting and world view it is situated in. For example Jesus uses examples of tyrannical kings in his parables, describing how they torture their subjects. However elsewhere we hear Jesus telling his disciples not to be like these kings who "Lord it over" others, and instead to imitate his way of servant leadership. Jesus is not a king who tortures others, but one who is willing to endure suffering for the sake of the "least."

So we have Jesus on the one hand using examples in his parables of dictators and violent punishment which were familiar things to his audience in order to make a (very different) point focused on things like forgiveness and compassion for the least, and at the same time we also see him criticizing and subverting these cultural assumptions (the last is first, love your enemies, lose your life to find it, etc).

So in regards to your example of Sodom, while a strait reading would imply that Jesus is simply endorsing this city's destruction as a just punishment from God, I would instead maintain that this is better understood as Jesus adopting the vocabulary and assumptions of his first century religious audience in order to make a point that is not at all about killing and violence, but about being open to the Gospel of God incarnate.

A strait forward reading therefore, while “simple” and thus appealing (simple is nice) leads us to an interpretation that is in conflict with the way of Jesus--suddenly we have Jesus who we know to be loving and grace-focused instead sounding like he is endorsing violence and wrath. I maintain that to read in this “strait-forward” way is to read in a way that misses the heart of what Jesus was all about. So while my reading it is more complex, it ends up in the right place, rather than missing the heart of Jesus.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


So I think what you're saying is that Jesus essentially used the mythology of the people at that time to drive his points home.

But wouldn't that be like telling my children they had better go to sleep or the boogeyman will come out of their closet and eat them? I don't believe Jesus would prey upon the fears of his people in that way. It would be a form of violence that contradicts his message.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I don't think mythology is the right word really. Kings are not myths, they were a political reality. So was torture. So I think it would be more accurate to speak of Jesus speaking using the common cultural and religious values and structures of the time. That's the stage his stories are set in, and the trick of interpretation is to recognize where he goes from there, how he challenges these religious and cultural assumptions. That's what the people of the time would have noticed, and what we need to notice too if we want to understand the point Jesus was trying to make.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...


The problem with Matthew 11:23-24 is that Jesus is not challenging the "religious and cultural assumptions" of the day. By telling his listeners that Capernaum will suffer a fate worse than Sodom, he is reaffirming their assumptions. Jesus' record is pretty clear when it comes to challenging the cultural norms and assumptions of his day. He speaks boldly in the faces of hypocrites. He directly calls out those who use the traditions of men to defeat the spirit of the Law, much to his own peril. Why would he suddenly decide to use the faulty assumptions of the Pharisees without directly overturning them? There is no record of him doing so anywhere else.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I still do not feel that you are understanding my point here. I am not saying that Jesus is challenging the religious and cultural assumptions of the day. It's more complex than that.

However I really don't want to argue with you about this. So if it is not helping you, maybe we should just drop it.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Samurai said...

I'm going to pretend to be Counselor Deanna Troi on the Starship Enterprise (the male version) and be an empath here. :) Please forgive, in advance, my insufferable presumptions. I'm really not trying to be arrogant or intrusive, however I might sound online. No, I'm saying all this with a smile on my face.

No offense guys, but I'd suggest that we're all perhaps getting a bit too serious here. I know theology is a weighty topic, but I'm sure God's getting a pretty good laugh out of all this (Jesus does have a sense of humor, right?). Let's discuss this over an imaginary cup of coffee and sit back a little.

On the other hand, hurt feelings in conversations like this are very real, and do happen. It's just human to have misunderstandings, and we all carry baggage to the table. In that case, perhaps we can address those hurt feelings directly in a sensitive and heartfelt way, instead of talking around them and channeling them into theology.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Samurai said...

And now back to theology. An interesting note: historically allegorical/typological interps of the OT had the upper hand over reading the OT as literal history - from early Christianity to the Middle Ages and Reformation eras.

Now it seems to be the other way around. I'm not advocating one way being superior to the other, but I just thought it was an interesting point to put these discussions into some context/perspective when contemplating the nature of biblical authority!

At 11:26 PM, Blogger pilgrim said...

So if you can't stomach the imprecatory Psalms you probably can't stomach the flood wherein Yahweh wiped out millions and you probably can stomach the eternal punishment of hell and you probably don't believe that Yahweh has a right to crush HIS enemies and you probably believe that Yahweh loves everyone and is saving all. Read Revelation: YAHWEH avenges the blood of His saints that the wicked have martyred. Yahweh can kill anyone he wants to kill because it is not murder if he does it. He has made vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath. You need to stop forcing Yahweh into your idea of who God is or how He should act and conform your thoughts to how he has revealed his character as he revealed it in his actions towards his chosen people the Israelites.

At 3:53 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Yes I do have a problem with all of that, and not only would I reject a god like that, I see it as my moral duty to defy and oppose that kind of god. Because that god would be the devil.

What you are describing is the worship of Satan. The worship of evil. I want you to really consider that and listen to yourself and what you are upholding as God: "wiping out millions... crushing enemies... avenging... killing anyone he wants" you are describing a mass murderer. That's not a description of God revealed in Jesus, that is a description of the devil.

This is the problem with unquestioningly accepting things in the Bible instead of engaging it morally as Jesus does. It leads people to take things that are clearly wrong and evil (like murder) and say things like "it is not wrong if he does it." This has repeatedly lead people to justify committing all sorts of violence and atrocity and promoting hurt and hate. I oppose that, and believe that it is the duty of all of us who follow Christ to stand in opposition to this.


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