Scary God or Scary People?

One of the toughest problems that I have been wrestling with in the last year is how to match up the God of the Old Testament that engages in so much violence with God as revealed completely in “gentle” Jesus of the New Testament.

jesus-with-rifleAs a follower of Christ, my primary belief is not in the Bible.  My faith is in Jesus.  I follow him, not a book.  However, I choose to read that book because of my belief in Him.  And when it comes to reading that book, I do so through the “lense” of Jesus.  I base all of my theology and understanding of God on the person of Jesus, and through that filter I read the rest of the book.  Which, of course, means that I read those very troubling Old Testament passages through how God has been revealed in Jesus as well.

This has been quite a journey for me over several years.  And yet, as I have re-focused my centrality around Jesus rather than just the Bible, I can only come to one conclusion:  I believe that violence is always wrong and outside of God’s ideal for me personally and humankind generally.  Whether it be in the form of war, personal vengeance or even self-defense, I believe I am always called to “return evil with good” and not claim my right to violence.

However, there is much to still be wrestled with in this arena.  And while I am still quite a work in progress, I think a lot of understanding is falling into place.

For those of you who may have found yourself wrestling with this same topic at some point, allow me to suggest some helpful resources.

First, is an excellent article that I came across this week by Brad Cole that deals with this topic called, “Scary God or Scary People.”  Take a read here, if you are interested.  (Scary God or Scary People)

Also, Greg Boyd (author and preacher) has some very good insights in his book:

themythofachristiannation“The Myth of A Christian Nation”

and in a series of blog entries that he did last year.  Here is a link to those posts as well.

Part I
Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI
Part VII

Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII

Anyway, some of you have been asking about some good resources and hopefully this will help.  Happy thinking!


4 thoughts on “Scary God or Scary People?

  1. thanks nick for the post. i’ve been wrestlling with this lately after reading through “4 views on the Canaanite genocide”.

    hope you are doing well.

    • Hey, Tomo:

      “Show Them No Mercy” is an interesting book. Hopefully some of the resources can be useful to you too. I think it is a pretty important issue to wrestle with. It is certainly a question that our culture is asking. And if i’m honest, it is something that has lead me to be more skeptical of God even as a Christian. I appreciate the hard work of many people who have helped to make some sense of this dilemma.

  2. I’ve found that the notion of revelatory unfolding is particularly helpful. As in all areas of knowledge, the community (in this case, the people of God) is wrestling out its understanding of Who God is and what God wants.

    Like any body of knowledge, learning develops in fits and starts over hundreds of years. Nick, I think you’d like Alisdaire McIntyre, if you haven’t read him yet.

    It seems that understanding the OT God requires paying attention to literary context as well. It’s funny, but many Christians are quite willing to do so in, say, the Psalms. God is not, in fact, a rock, despite the Psalmist’s claim. Of course he isn’t–we all know this is poetry.

    But when we refer to the more historical sounding pieces of scripture, we import a modern lens. Historical writing after the enlightenment is a drastically different genre than the writing of the OT day (a significant shift had occurred even by Jesus’ day, thanks to the Greeks). It seems we should pay attention to the structure, form, intent and idiosyncrasies of this writing.

    And, although it won’t or shouldn’t be a lens to dismiss whatever it is that makes us uncomfortable, it might be helpful for analyzing this very question.

    My instinct is that the OT stories are the perspective of God’s people–not necessarily of God. Even the OT argues constantly that these people are frequently mistaken, frequently outside the will and worship of their God. Even the prophets (think, Jonah). That they might misunderstand God’s intention isn’t all that surprising.

    In fact, was not a significant part of our American population convinced (including the most recent Republican candidate for VP) that the war in Iraq was a holy calling? Imagine reading the words of someone like John Hagee, and reading them as if he has a literal knowledge of God’s intentions in the matter. You’d get a skewed picture.

    But if you understood the nature of those writings as the reflections of man vis a vis his relationship with God, perhaps it would be more instructive and illuminating.

    Fortunately as a Christian, we have Christ, who is supposed to be the ‘exact representation of His being’. We have a (kind of) clarity that can cut through some of these matters and show us the true heart of God.

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