Saturday, 31 May 2014

Sinners in the hands of an angry God?

I am currently exploring some of the violent images of God presented in the bible and how best to interpret them in light of the Father that Jesus revealed to us through his own life. First up I want to address the fundamentalist view of God which is um, rather than me trying to explain it, let me just show you an example out of a Jonathan Edwards sermon which I found an excerpt of transcribed over on Jeremy Myers blog

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.

I think you get the idea, so much for the “God desires that none would perish” or “For God so loved the world” scriptures right? Let me also state the obvious here in that the title of this blog is taken from the title of Edwards most famous sermon of all, which is a misquotation (or misrepresentation) of Hebrews 10:31, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. Anyway, I won’t go too much into this but I do want to touch on a few points about the “God who doth smiteth a lot” portrayal of God.

Is God angry?

God is love (1 John 4:16). Unlike love, anger is an emotion, God cannot be defined as an emotion but He nevertheless does experience them. Scripture does speak about Gods anger but it is also quick to highlight that He is slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17). Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that “love is not easily angered”. Scripture continually reveals a God who is longsuffering with his people which we will look at in more detail another day. It is also worth noting that Jesus got angry from time to time with the Pharisees so it is not something that is exclusive to the Old Testament picture of God or inconsistent in scripture. It’s pretty hard; actually it is impossible, for someone who loves not to get angry when they see injustice, or the lowly abused, or children suffering, or religious leaders heaping condemnation on others or teaching nonsense and on and on we could carry on. There is nothing wrong with righteous anger. Let’s not confuse it with someone who is ill tempered and mean natured.

Does God abhor you?

As I sit here I am thinking to myself, really? Do I even need to write about this? Yet if you have ever read the comment section on an article about gay people, Rob Bell or Rick warren you will already know that many people believe that God despises everyone who holds to different beliefs than they do.  What does scripture say?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10

If God is love but love is conditional, then God is not faithful in being God toward those he withholds it from (a). I would suggest that because God is love he abhors the things that destroy us. He loathes our systems and our crutches that lead us into bondage, the things that promise happiness but only bring us death.

The wrath of God

This is a similar thought to what I said about the word abhor, something interesting about the word wrath though is in Hebrew it is the word charon which means “burning”, in Greek it most often the word orge which can mean either “anger, wrath or passion”. When you think of wrath in terms of a burning passion I can see where Wayne Jacobsen gets his definition of wrath from. He describes it as “God bringing the full weight of His being against that which seeks to destroy the object of His affection". Imagine a child playing on the train tracks when you notice him and an oncoming train heading his way. You start running toward and screaming at the child, what would he see on your face and how would he perceive the situation in light of the reality of what was happening?

Will God destroy people in hell?

Scripture is crystal clear that God cares for all of us, yet the one part of Edwards statement above is true, “…yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.” Matthew 10:28 says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” When I get to sharing my own personal view I will explain how I believe that hell and death can be consistent with a God who is all loving. That is however for another day.

In closing though I would like to briefly mention two more things. Number one is regarding all this talk about people being like worms or serpents. Jesus said God we are worth so much more to God than the sparrows which He feeds and takes care of (Matthew 6:26 and 10:31), humility is a virtue but do not let it rob you of the reality of how God sees you. The second thing is that I have noticed that the way we perceive God to be always plays out in how we treat others. You are a greater ambassador for the kingdom than you may realize, our perception of God is vitally important and we need to make sure that we get this right.


(a) that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? - Matthew 5:45-46

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Have we made God too nice?

In my last post I spoke about the peaceful, non violent  nature of Jesus. Isaiah 53:9 tells us that "he had done no violence". Over and above this, Jesus called us as his followers to live in the same manner, to turn the other cheek and not to repay evil with evil. This has caused more than a little bit of confusion over the years as to what the nature of the Father is like. Scripture claims that Jesus is the exact image and likeness of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). So we have this picture of a non violent Jesus in the New Testament while the Old paints a picture of a sometimes fearsome God who commands the killing of entire nations including both woman and children and a God who flooded the world destroying all living things save for what was on the ark. This does to a much lesser extent spill over into the New Testament as well like in Jesus' outburst in the temple (which I have addressed here), the Ananias and Sapphira incident and some of the war imagery found within Revelations (which Greg Boyd did a fantastic job addressing over here).  

So there has been a lot of talk recently about how to reconcile the Old Testament God with the gentler picture that we see in the New Testament. This is a good thing. Atheists have spent a great deal of energy pointing out some of the more nasty and embarrassing scriptures in the bible and we should be able to provide better answers, not to win an argument but because the truth should be important to us. Critics of Christianity love to point out the character of a God who says, at least in their minds, "worship me or I will torture you for all eternity". I have tried to deal with that before which you can see by clicking here and on the related links found in that article. Critics also love to highlight the penal substitutionary view of atonement which I have dealt with as well (look over here). But the third thing that gets brought up is this thing mentioned at the beginning about God destroying or commanding the destruction of people and nations which is what I am going to be exploring over the next few posts.

As far as I can tell there are three major groups of thought that Christians have in interpreting these violent passages and I hope to address each view and then present my own over the next few posts. The first group would be your fundamentalist types that believe that God is angry, wrathful and out for blood, you were spared only because Jesus dived in front of the bullet that was meant for you. The second is probably the view that I grew up with which believes that God is love but then that He also has this completely separate quality that says that He is holy and just and so when someone steps out of line that someone is going to get zapped. This image is slow to anger but when he does get angry all hell breaks loose. Then the third group would be those who believe that because God is loving things like hell probably do not exist and if they do, it is probably a kind of purgatory where people go for a short period of purifying. Some of these people may reject the Old Testament or portions of it entirely or simply conclude that the authors were wrong or speaking from a limited revelation perspective. I guess that it's entirely possible that some people live somewhere in between those boxes as well.

Nevertheless, I think that there is a fourth way of interpreting the violent parts of the bible. I believe that there is a way of maintaining the credibility of all the books of the Canon without putting Father and Son at odds with one another. I believe there is a way of looking at love and justice that does not require that God needs to have a split personality. It may not be the big answer that the whole world has been waiting for but I think that it offers a more consistent reading of scripture.

Until next time, please pray for me that this little study does not err and that it will help people out who are struggling with these questions.  

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Is non violence always an option?

As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism.

The history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament is filled with violence and war. In the New Testament though we see a radical turning away from the former when a Rabbi from Nazareth comes on the scene and starts saying things like “turn the other cheek”, “bless those who persecute you” and “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. The early church took those words seriously and for the next 300 years many of them would follow their masters’ example in life as well as in death. You can read some of the quotes from prominent voices within the early church on non violence by clicking over here.

Unfortunately since about the 4th century the history of Christianity has been just as brutal and bloody as any other religion or empire that has existed. The first notable moment of departure from Christ’s command to love ones enemies comes from Constantine in the year 312 AD. Just before the Battle of Milvian Bridge outside of Rome, Constantine had a vision of a cross in the sky which had an inscription, “Conquer by this”, attached to it. Then in a dream Christ supposedly appeared to him and commanded him to put the image that he had seen on the armies weapons as a safeguard (a) against his enemies. Constantine and his armies went on to win the battle and he took this as a sign to adopt the God of the Christians as his own. The first thing that comes to my own mind here are the Nicolaitans who are mentioned a few times in the book of Revelation. Revelation 2:6 is one example:-

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Scripture does not tell us much about the Nicolaitans but the name itself means “lay conquerors” or “conquerors of the people”, which gives us some insight into who they may have been and why God hated their practices. Isn't it interesting that the first man to slay and conquer in the name of “the Christian God” had received a sign from heaven that said, “Conquer (the people) by this”?

While Constantine gave the power of the state to the church it was Saint Augustine of Hippo who gave the church the backing of the Bishops to fight fire with fire. It was the Donatists  (an early Christian sect) who through violent acts against some of Augustine’s friends and an assassination attempt on Augustine himself eventually persuaded him to retaliate. His writings approved the use of political power to bring sinners into the fold in order that they may be saved (b). While he never came to the point in his beliefs that said heretics should be killed for their beliefs, it is largely believed that his writings and influence laid the foundations for the atrocities that would later be committed by the church in God’s name.

Much of the institutional churches history since could be compared to a woman who was drunk with the blood of the saints (c) as she has persecuted not only unbelievers, but those who did actually bear the true testimony of Christ. There has thankfully always been a thread throughout time though of those who have remained faithful to the peaceful teachings of Jesus. Most notably are the Anabaptist's of the reformation era in the 16th Century. They were heavily persecuted by both the Protestant and Catholic churches of their time for their "heresies". Whether for failing to recognize the authority of the Pope, for practicing adult Baptism or other similar crimes they suffered terrible persecutions for Christ. Yet the leaders of this “third way” remained committed to non violence and enemy love, as Menno Simons said:-

(The regenerated) are the children of peace who have beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and know of no war…Spears and swords of iron we leave to those who, alas, consider human blood and swine’s blood of well-nigh equal value (d).

This remains one of the core values of Anabaptist's today. While others go to war in the name of God against evil nations, and others push for the death penalty to be reinstated and so on. We as Christ followers, are called to live as Jesus did.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. – Isaiah 53:9

Is non violence always an option? For Jesus it was.

a – History (Robert Don Hughes, pg 62-63)
b – History (Robert Don Hughes, pg 92-93)
c – Revelation 17-6
d - The Complete Works of Menno Simons (Elkhart, Indiana, 1871), 1, 170b and 81b. The quotations were revised by comparison with the Dutch editions of 1646 and 1681.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Christians & Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories seem to be all around us these days. If you have a Facebook account you will know exactly what I am talking about. From the plausible to the ridiculous, here are some of the fairly recent ones that come to mind:-

First people were saying that Nelson Mandela was dead (several months before he died), then we had to deal with the “nag van die lang messe” (night of the long knives) prophecies which basically said that when Madiba passed away all the whites in South Africa were going to be attacked. This was a big one that was around for years and it seems like everyone had made plans (just in case), there was places of safety to travel to, escape routes and all sorts of things arranged in case of emergency. The most recent one I heard of was that the Government was going to start taking money straight out of our bank accounts because so many people are refusing to pay their e-Toll bills. Then there were regular and predictable global ones going around as always regarding the Communists, the Masons, climate change and the Illuminati. I wish I could say that it stopped there but Christians often seem to get caught up in these things as well. We had the Four Blood Moons thing and then the Know Your Enemy and the Real roots of the Emergent Church documentaries as well. Plus the ongoing conspiracies associated with the Pope and Jesuits and on and on it goes (Is it just me or do conspiracies and eschatology always seem to be a connected?).

And it is because the church seems to be so inundated with these things (the secular as well as the Christian conspiracies) that I felt a need to explore what the bible has to say on the topic.

I get it

As with a lot of the things that I post on here, I am afraid that many of my friends will not be too pleased with my perspective. Because so many of them love this sort of stuff I run the risk of offending one or some of them. So let me start by saying this. I get it. I really do. I understand the quest for truth. I understand that there really are people and groups out there, who plot, plan, scheme and cover up things. There are people who do harmful things in secret for money and for power. I get that the bible tells us to “love truth” (Zechariah 8:19). I get the desire to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). But to simply leave it there would be to miss the bigger picture and so I hope that you will consider the following texts as well.


I already quoted Ephesians 5:11. I remember it well from those “They sold their souls for Rock n Roll” DVDs that Good Fight Ministries brought out several years back. But look at what it says when you read verse 12 as well:-
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. Ephesians 5:11-12

Here are several other verse that we could consider:-

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed.... - Psalms 2:1-2

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the Lord. - Leviticus 19:16

Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. - Exodus 23:1

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts. - Proverbs 18:8

For out of the heart come evil thoughts... false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'.... - Matthew 15:19

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. - 1 Peter 2:1

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards all men. - Titus 3:1-2

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. – Galatians 5:15

Guard the truths entrusted to you, shunning irreligious and frivolous talk, and controversy with what is falsely called 'knowledge'; of which some have spoken boastfully in connection with the true faith, and have erred. - 1 Timothy 6:20-21

...Love your enemies...bless those who curse you... – Luke 6:26-27 The Greek word translated as “bless” is “eulogia”, the same word we get the English word eulogy from, it literally means to speak well of someone.

Conspiracy theories by their very nature are shaky in that you are dealing with supposedly secret knowledge. Facts are often little more than speculation or half truths delivered from a sole and/or questionable source. The truth bringers often have an agenda and are not afraid to present only what fits in with their ideas. Once again, I do not deny that there are genuine conspiracies out there; we just need to consider that we do not always have the whole story and should be cautious about how quick we are to throw accusations at people, especially when it is not even to their faces but in the form of gossip, video sharing, sermons etc.

The heart behind conspiracy messages

The reason that conspiracy theories thrive is because they breed fear in the listener. The quest for knowledge (outside of Christ) often leads to pride as the enlightened hearer gains this hidden knowledge, the need to share just how enlightened he is often leads to an unchecked tongue, and slander often leads to hatred of persons and people groups who are now considered the enemy.


Conspiracy related predictions have a poor track record and often those who fly the flag for them end up looking silly. But worse than that, when Christians do it  it is God who ultimately gets scoffed at by the world.

A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps. - Proverbs 14:15

If conspiracies have generated fear in you, take comfort in these verses:-

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. - Psalms 33:10

Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both the body and the soul in Gehenna. – Matthew 10:28

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed.” (But) He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. (Psalm 2:2, 4).

We should not to be so concerned with conspiracy theories. Scripture says that God will deal with them. At the very least they are a distraction that causes us to take our eyes off of Jesus. At worst we become partakers in gossip, meaningless conversation, discord, factions and false accusations. Rather than running after these things, pursue Christ and share Him.

Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. - Isaiah 8:12-13