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.