I read the following document at the "Walk Away" site: http://www.berkshire.net/~ifas/wa/godly.html,
and it troubles me very much. I have been a Christian for four years and am pretty intellectual and pretty well-versed in Scripture, but this threw me for a loop. I know that the author is incorrect in a few minor points of Scripture, but the main thrust of his argument is not trivial. Especially the paragraph:
The first thing I need to point out is that the skeptic's response to
the situation (as he understands it) is the only reasonable and humane
response. If the situation were indeed as the skeptic portrays
it, then we all should join him in abject abhorrence and revulsion
toward such a "god". His response is the heart-full response, to a heart-less
situation. (That kind of a sick and twisted God, however, would likely
not be able to even create creatures with hearts sensitive enough to be
morally superior to Him/Her/It/They, of course, but let's leave that alone
for right now.)
But the second thing I need to point out is that the skeptic's position
is one of considerable exaggeration and has most of its emotional force
in innuendo. We will see that he essentially superimposes his theological
'portrait' of God's heart over a passage that has absolutely nothing to
do with the subject. The accusations he makes of God in the piece about
orchestrating the whole thing to get us to fail so that His Son would later
"look good to us" is methodologically naive at best, and "reverse fundamentalism"
There are two distinct 'pieces' to your question above...
The first piece of your question (and the entire thrust of his brief web-work) concerns that author's depiction of the character of the God of the Bible. The author accepts the existence of some good, harmonious, and intelligent Creator (based on his classes in botany, physics, and astronomy), but can find no good reason to identify this Creator with the "manipulative, sadistic, almost psychotic" God of Jesus and the Bible. In fact, he asserts that this sub-human character is manifest throughout the bible, and cites a few of the more vivid examples (e.g., David's census, the Breach against Uzzah, the Hardening of Pharaoh's heart).
His main argumentation, in the piece, comes from the situation into which God placed the First Pair, from Genesis 2-3. On the basis of this understanding, he concludes that the Christian God is unworthy and morally inferior to himself. The issue of prophecy vs. naturalistic explanations of the supernatural are irrelevant to him; he has enough confidence in his exegesis of Genesis and other passages to discount any possible supernatural "proofs" of divine presence before they are even evaluated. The skeptic seems to find no reason to doubt his exegesis and theological understanding of the main proof-texts of his position.
I have dealt with some of the other examples in other places in the
Tank, as well as with other examples he did not mention but would no doubt
advance (such as the wars of Canaan). I will
only make a few summary remarks on these here. In this piece, I want to
focus on his argumentation from Genesis 2-3.
Now, the second question--with implications for God's
character--is one frequently raised. It is different that the first, and
one that generally bothers most believers who both think and feel (!)...
Good Christians are bothered by the related issues of "Why did God go ahead with such a plan?". So someone else, quite in love with God, wrote in:
And, as you might expect, I am no stranger to this problem either--this
piece is not named 'gutripper' for nothing...
Twenty-odd years ago, a Bible college professor spoke of what he called
the "$64,000 question"--why God, in His foreknowledge of all the temporal
and eternal suffering of humans, which He would have known before the beginning
of time, went ahead anyway with the plan. He pointed out that the
bible never answers the question, nor gives us much data concerning it,
nor is the question ever even raised in the bible.
The 'rub' of the question is fairly obvious: would this not imply that
God was cruel, or at least incredibly insensitive to His sentient creatures,
perhaps with a radically different perspective on value than humans? The
world seems full of suffering and misery, with no apparent major 'overrides'
by God, and after even after this life, the prospect of endless torment
awaits many, according to this mainstream view.
In much of traditional orthodoxy, heaven will be populated by a very small minority of the world's population. And, although they will be blessed immeasurably, this doesn't really seem 'heavy enough' to counterbalance the belief that the vast majority of the population is tormented forever in a hell of conscious agony. To make the situation even more grim, this unending torment is often said to be based on events which transpire within a range of a few decades or so of human time. The stakes are incredibly high, and often, it seems these stakes are not even in the awareness of those making them. It is difficult to conceive of any action, decision, or lack thereof, by a mortal being, having that level of impact--and/or "deserving" that severity of repercussion. [Theologians make honest attempts to make 'finite' decisions to reject God, into 'infinite sins' (via rejection of an 'infinite' God) as ways of making sense of the apparent imbalance between cause/effect.]
This, of course, is a standard way of stating the problem, but there are additional problems that can be heaped upon it.
The first is the one raised by your skeptic here--that some would argue
that we were set up for failure to begin with. Not only did
God decide to consign the majority to un-ending suffering, but in this
theory, God also stacked the deck against us, so that we would be forced
to kiss up to Him to avoid this horrible consequence. Allowing the Arch-Deceiver
to prey upon helpless and naïve humans in the garden, while apparently
not letting them know of the Tree of Life alternative early enough to avoid
falling, are telltale signs of God's "inhuman" characteristics, so the
Notice how this problem runs into the theologian's 'free will defense'
at some level. Often, God's alleged respect for free will is said to be
so high, that He cannot/will not override mortals, if they refuse heaven
and choose hell. If we were set up for failure, and placed into such a
diabolical situation, then our free will was basically compromised to begin
with. The temptation of the Serpent was simply over-powering, after all.
An additional problem (alluded to by your author) comes from the linkage
of each human to Adam. In most constructions of "original" sin, each post-Adam
offspring of Adam/Eve inherited Adam's guilt. And so, Adam's single sin
sent us all to hell. In spite of obvious verses to the contrary in Scripture
(e.g., Deut 7.10; 24.16), our eternal future was somehow compromised by
one man/one act, as allegedly described by Romans 5.
There are other problems that can be added, but all in all, the overall
point is to deny the goodness and/or benevolence of God. God is portrayed
as being manipulative (perhaps a megalomaniac addicted to praise of wind-up
toys or the devotion of little pets), and certainly quite pathological
And the implications of this for the Cross are significant as well.
The love of God, shown in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, becomes
a massive effort, but to such little effect. He who 'takes away the sins
of the world' gets so little out of the deal--a small minority of worshippers
(who were somehow manipulated into this worship--not really appreciating
Him for His beauty and character), and an endless cadre of souls who likely
curse Him every moment for their unending torments in hell. And, as the
questioner voices, it at least can be suggested that the Fall is 'staged'
such as to make the Son of God look good...
Now, this articulation of the situation (above) seems to me quite pointed
and indeed disturbing, but I must confess that I find your author's argumentation
quite methodologically confused on several points, containing a significant
number of dangerous oversimplifications, and making some very questionable
assumptions. [In all fairness to him, I need to point out that his article
is a 'popular' piece of only three pages in length, and that he could no
doubt be able to make a stronger case given more time and space. But I
will use his 3-page document as the basis of this critique, while understanding
that his position may be stronger than his smaller piece might indicate.]
This is truly a complex issue, involving the nature of God's knowledge, the nature of hell and death, the very structure of human choice, the relation between independence and authority, the meaning of 'authority', and certainly a host of exegetical issues. The truly godly heart of the Christian finds this abjectly horrible and finds it incredibly difficult to maintain confidence in the goodness, kindness, and fairness of his/her loving Lord. The Christian struggles with this, but in the final hour, finds solace in the assurances of his/her Lord's beautiful character ("Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" and "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.")
But there are two different subjects that I have to deal with here: the problem itself (as posed by the Christian) and the first 'objection' raised by the skeptic.
So, in this piece, I will try to deal with both of these:
There are three pre-analytical observations that I need to make
before I began rambling through the various issues:
One. In the final analysis, we may not have an answer to the (second) question "why?", which means that we will not be warranted in answering it negatively or positively. If we are not able to discover a motive for God's decision to 'go ahead anyway', then we will not be justified in judging that unknown motive to be either adequately good (to warrant a positive 'assessment' of God's character) or to be insufficient (allowing a 'worse-than-us' value judgment of God's heart).
We must be clear on this. Absence of data on "the
motive" will not allow us to assume that the motive is inadequate
to "justify" the choice to "go ahead". We will not be able to jump from
"ignorance" to "certitude" with any level of warrant. Methodologically,
it would be just as inappropriate to assume God's guilt (given this
absence of data) as it would be to assume God's innocence in the
matter. The Christian may be warranted in extrapolating from instances
of God's alleged grace, goodness, and kindness elsewhere to this issue,
and the skeptic may be warranted in extrapolating from instances of God's
alleged cruelty and insensitivity to this issue, but we must be clear that
this is pure extrapolation and extension, and cannot carry nearly the same
force as the content of the motive itself.
Two. We must note that, in the first question, we (somewhat insignificant 'carbon-based life forms') are presuming to judge God's morality and character on the basis of our own! For a human being, with the incredible paucity of data we have about the universe, morality, reality, and complexity, to decide that God is less kind, less noble, less compassionate, less moral, less 'humane' than they, seems quite bizarre, in my opinion.
Think about this for a second. Let's consider two cases: one without
a God (i.e., Materialism of one form or another) and one with.
In the latter case, we have a God that somehow creates a derivative,
"smaller" creature (i.e., human) with a superior morality and better
heart! So, when a person says "I refuse to worship such a heartless god"
we have the absurdly strange situation in which the "effect" is somehow
greater than/superior to the "cause". [If you haven't read Aristotle recently,
perhaps now is a good time to read his discussion on causality, to see
what problems this might include (sardonic smile).] This is pure and naïve
presumption...[Notice that the analog of this--"I have a greater intelligence
than the absolute source of all intelligence" makes the absurdity even
In the former case of materialism (no spirits or deities or 'souls'), we have a creature that has climbed from the slime to some kind of superiority (i.e., "top of the food chain"!) by wholesale application of 'survival of the fittest' (read: "extinguishing" or "subjugating" others). Vast amounts of human evil--the responsibility for which is borne in this scenario solely by the human, since there are no other agents to pin this on or share the blame with--have been perpetrated and are inexorably justified, under the evolutionary leveling of all to 'self-interest'. The elimination of countless species of life in this evolutionary, ceaseless, and random struggle; the very atrocities that are used as examples of 'the problem of evil'(!); and the wholesale failure of the human race to produce anything in the area of human rights at all but the most insignificant scale, makes me question the 'moral superiority' of such a creature...Indeed, since his moral judgments will eventually reduce to thinly-disguised but cosmetically-complex positions of 'self-interest', why should they be taken as 'objective' in any sense? Despite Herculean efforts to construct systems of evolutionary ethics to account for altruism, cooperation, and "animal rights" type of oddities, while attempting to avoid the racist and biological supremacist implications of the early Darwinian exponents, we are stuck with our own bloody and shameful history of action. [Recent studies on advanced forms of cooperation in higher primates(cf. PH:GN) only pushes the problem 'down' and 'early' a little further.]
To agree that a "mudball, with hair and teeth, red in tooth and fang" can transcend this history to the point of making authoritative statements about morality and character, is well beyond my skeptical limits...
The very fact that I believe that I can make moral judgements about my actions and the actions of others, presuppose that my source of origin has at least as good an ethical standard as I. For me to believe that I can make objective moral judgments, and then take the position that my ontological source of ethical abilities is inferior to me, borders on the self-stultifying. [This is not to mention the problem of the Ultimate Reference Point of morality, as noted by the Existentialists. There has to be a "God the Father" for real value to exist, to use Sartre's explication.]
Now, strictly speaking, the skeptic is certainly warranted in raising the question of God's character--on the basis of his individual exegetical and theological construction--I would not fault him in the least for this. We often do this; something strikes us morally 'odd' about a passage or a doctrine, and it forces us to examine it more closely and more carefully and more open-mindedly. Often in this process we discover our 'hidden baggage' that we bring to the text. In the skeptic's case, however, instead of having an independent basis (such as a warm personal experience of God or a careful and informed understanding of the life and character of Jesus Christ) for giving God the "benefit of the doubt" and suspending judgment until he has time to turn all the possible understandings over, he instead hits the "Finish" button and arrives at the conclusion.
The main problem is one of sequence. The skeptic foregoes deciding
about the more 'objective' issues such as "was prophecy fulfilled beyond
reasonable plausibility?" or "did the resurrection really occur?", or "how
did Jesus feel about this God?", and instead starts the process with a
subjective moral judgement of God's character, based on his fundamentalist-like
understanding of Genesis and some of the other texts (some of the stranger
texts in the bible, I might add). In normal life, one generally tries to
move in the opposite direction--from the more-sure to the more-questionable...
Three. This objection sounds strangely like the one advanced by the famous serpent in the very passage under discussion. The serpent in Genesis 2-3 advances two propositions: (1) God is a liar; and (2) God does not desire your best, and His motives cannot accordingly be trusted.
Notice that this 'objection' (at least as worded in most forms) intends the same result. It attempts to get us to say that (1) God is a liar [i.e., He is NOT good, merciful, kind, benevolent, and interested in the welfare of all His creatures, great and small, in spite of all the statements and evidences He adduces to this effect); and (2) God does not desire our best (but His own best) and His motives cannot be trusted. I find this diabolically ironic that the passage describing the first 'attack' on the beauty of God's heart is used so effectively in our time to do exactly the same!
Although this, of course, cannot be used as evidence against the position itself, the similarities might suggest ways of approaching the question.
With this said, what I want to do is to evaluate the skeptic's position
first, and then look at the more general problem of "why did God go ahead
with the program?" in the next installment.
The skeptic's argument is not too difficult to deal with, since it shares
many of the same exegetical and methodological weaknesses of certain types
of fundamentalist approaches (which our skeptic friend has not completely
The first major problem with his construction of the dynamics
of the Garden is that it makes too much of too little.
Making such comprehensive theories of God, volition, human nature,
and evil from such a small and complex passage such as Genesis 3 is not
methodologically sound. The data is way too scarce (e.g., we have only
two remarks by the serpent!), and there is too much missing information.
Think of some of the other data elements we would need to know to make
this scenario plausible (or even, "possible to evaluate with any meaningful
degree of certitude"!):
And when the Tree of Life appears again--in Revelation 22--why is it so obviously symbolic:
"The tree of life spreads all along the great street of the city (v.
2). What was once forfeited by our forebears in Eden and denied to their
succeeding posterity is now fully restored (cf. Gen 3:22-24). In Ezekiel's
vision these are multiple trees on each side of the river that bear fruit
monthly whose leaves are for healing (Ezek 47:12). Therefore, the tree
(xylon) John speaks of may be a collective word for Ezekiel's trees.
So abundant is its vitality that it bears a crop of fruit each month. Its
leaves produce healing for the nations. The imagery of abundant fruit and
medicinal leaves should be understood as symbolic of the far-reaching effects
of the death of Christ in the redeemed community the Holy City. So powerful
is the salvation of God that the effects of sin are completely overcome
The eternal life God gives the redeemed community will be perpetually available,
will sustain, and will cure eternally every former sin.
Genesis 1-3, in historical context, makes no real attempt to explain these things, but rather functions as a counter-thrust to the religious creeds of Israel's neighbors and predecessors in Mesopotamia [cf. BAW]. This is like trying to answer the Problem of Evil from the Book of Ezra, or Christological controversies from Philemon--they just weren't written with those purposes in mind.
We honestly know so very, very little about what really went on in the Garden that we must only take out of the passage what the author put in. The passage speaks about the advent of physical death, of course, but it is much more concerned with how God and man interacted in a couple of dimensions of their relationship. One should be very, very cautious about making sweeping theological systems out of such a limited base of data, especially constructing conspiracy theories about a God who eventually goes to the Cross for us...
[Quite honestly, not only has our skeptic probably done this here, but evangelicals are notorious for treating Genesis in such a way. I often imagine that if the original author of Genesis were to hear some of the grand schemes we have made from Genesis 1-6, that he/she/they would burst out laughing in amusement or be flabbergasted at how we got so much "out" of what little they put "in". It would be like me writing a passage including a sentence like "John wrestled with the beast of his envy all night", only to have one of my readers obsessively press me for details about what the beast looked like, its dietary habits, and its origin!]
Although I can fault the skeptic for being wrong here, I can certainly
understand how he arrived at such a reconstruction of the text. The methods
he was likely taught by his previous sub-culture may have led him to his
conclusion quite logically.
Secondly, the skeptic's position oversimplifies the complexity of choice and influence, between the agents in the story and even relative to us.
For example, somehow, our moral choices don't exist. Some nebulous "wheels set in motion" are the sole active agents in this story. The billions of people referred to later in the argument, somehow do not have any involvement in this process-we have all simply disappeared as persons somehow. Somehow "hell" is not in any way connected with how we decide to treat one another (in spite of God's repeated pleas and warnings to this effect), and all moral choices (good or bad) are simply part of some deterministic, a-personal, Newtonian causal chain. The first domino fell over, hitting the next one, and the next one (hmmm, maybe even Satan was set up to fail?)...The deterministic worldview implied therein is no longer a plausible worldview, and hasn't been so for the last twenty or thirty years. The complex interactions between agents and intentions have gone far beyond some billiard-ball like "causal" and "object" interactions between "faculties" of will, intellect, and emotion. The situation involved in human choice and action is significantly more complex that our skeptic friend seems to be aware of.
The position of "if it happened, then it was inexorable" is good metaphysical determinism, but fails in the light of the reality of agent causation. [Some of you will notice that the skeptic's deterministic position is remarkably close to some schools of theological orthodoxy today.]
The character of conscious choice is quite complex, and it cannot be reduced to such simplicities as these. It is not simply a matter of there being helpless and gullible people in the garden, at the mercy of a superior intellect, while God is somehow arranging the stage so "the right inputs produced the right outputs" in strict Newtonian fashion! Such a shallow picture!
Mind you, I am a "fallen creature", but I say "no" to temptation and hassle and testing every day of my life. I say "yes" sometimes, but I say "no" more often than not. Adam was to cultivate the garden-how long did he obey God in this task before the Fall? Somehow enough to survive the Fall. Although he blamed the woman (and the God who gave her to him) at confrontation, he later expressed his faith and hope by naming his wife "Eve" (i.e., "living"). He looked forward to life. Eve likewise overcame the failure, expressing her faith when she "got a child from the Lord."
But they all shared the responsibility for the failure-the man, the
woman, the serpent. The complexity is real, but the objection paints a
picture in which the play had to unfold in the way God "orchestrated
it". When all will resolves down into one will, then there really is only
one sinner in the universe, because there is only one agent (and the skeptic
and I both disappear from the volitional landscape). And the objection
assumes such a reductionist view of the situation.
Thirdly, also out of whack here is the relationship between the serpent and the humans. Your skeptic seems to believe that the humans were no match for the serpent, and that the outcome was inevitable. And following this, is the conclusion/implications that the God who allowed such a superior maleficent intelligence to have access to the naïve and helpless little humans was setting them up for failure (and therefore 'orchestrating' their failure and subsequent doom of billions of souls, etc.).
But we have no reason (from the bible) to believe that this was overpowering to the humans; indeed, we have evidence to believe that it was entirely within their range of ability to "master".
Although I certainly don't want to minimize the resourcefulness and effectiveness of the adversary, at the same time the evidence seems to indicate that the original Two had considerable ability to deal with the problem, and in all likelihood had a history of resisting before the Fall (there is no indication that Genesis Three was his initial attempt!). Accordingly, I cannot accept the assumption that the deck was stacked and the original Two were put in a situation beyond their ability to endure. If it was stacked somewhat, it was stacked against the adversary.
Fourth, the skeptic has made a rather common error of caricaturing the nature of the afterlife.
In common with much traditional religious thought, the afterlife is somehow characterized in "one-dimension" only.
For example, somehow he has assumed that there is no
correlation between 'hell' and our behavior and/or choices. The popular
stereotypes and caricatures of hell are adequately represented, but these
in themselves fail miserably to represent the biblical position. The biblical
position is very, very explicit that any suffering in hell is exactly
matched to the works done during the earthly life. The whole point
of the "judgment" is justice (although there may be an extra measure,
due to the suffering the evil might have created in the lives of others-cf.
Ex 22.1; 2 Sam 12.6; Lk 19.8). If whatever hell consists of is NOT perfectly
just, then it is not the biblical hell at all. And, if our moral
choices don't exist (a la the scenario), then we wouldn't end up
in hell anyway--there wouldn't be anything to punish us for! The consistent
self-violation of the human race wouldn't be worthy of any response, merciful
or judgmental, if moral choice didn't matter. (In fact, if moral choice
didn't matter, why would we fault this aberrant "god" for making a bad
one anyway?) The Christian position is fundamentally that of the Mosaic
Law-"as you do unto others, so will be done unto you". This can be seen
over and over and over in Scripture. Consider:
Raise your battle cry against her on every side! She has given herself up, her pillars have fallen, Her walls have been torn down. For this is the vengeance of the Lord: Take vengeance on her; As she has done to others, so do to her. (Jer 50.15)
Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. (Matt 7.1f)
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." (Luke 6.36ff)
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows,
this he will also reap (Gal 6.7)
Fifth, the metaphor of the nuclear bomb, although clever and forceful,
is quite backwards. The biblical model is more like God having built
a luxurious garden playground, but the humans in the city tear it down,
pave it, and then they build a nuclear bomb on the site to wield as a power
tactic within the various arrogant factions of the city. Our personal judgment
is created by us-"hell" was not designed for humans, but
for destructive angels (see Mt 25.41). Instead, God builds an alternative
city and welcomes any who are simply honest enough about their need (and
about their danger from their own self-created disaster) to join the new
city. [My alternative metaphor is woefully incomplete, of course, since
it doesn't include the substitutionary work of Christ--sorta like Him taking
the bomb-blast personally, but the metaphor of the nuclear thing is more
difficult to fit into this modification.]
Sixth, the remark about the whole thing being "orchestrated to make us feel dependent upon God" is pure conjecture (and maybe even unjustified paranoia). The bible makes no such claim, so the statement is mere assertion, and in the absence of any evidence offered to support it, need not be taken seriously.
But, in fact, the opening chapters of the book of Job demonstrate that God is interested in a "considered" response. In the interactions between Satan and God, Satan accuses God of the very motif suggested by our skeptic friend--that Job only worships God for selfish reasons (sorta like avoiding a bomb-blast). In the absence of such 'selfish benefits' from God, Satan accuses, Job would cease to value God for His intrinsic worth and therefore cease to honor Him as a Person. (Job, remember, has other relationships [e.g., wife, friends, kids] that include valuing others not only for the 'benefits' they provide, but also for their worth as individuals. Satan is simply suggesting to God that God is only being 'used' by Job to meet his own self-centered ends.)
C.S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, makes the remark that God cannot "overpower," He can only "woo" to achieve His desired responses of non-robotic love (or simply, "love", since expressions of love by a robot would hardly be considered a non-coerced whole-person response, even by the most avid artificial intelligence advocates).
A forced and horribly precipitated "feeling of dependence" could fall much closer to coercion than it would to wooing!
(This is not to say that 'fear' of judgment is not an appropriate reason
to open up to God, but that it is neither the main reason people
come to Christ [the main reasons are the sheer beauty of His character
and the often never-before-experienced warmth of His acceptance, affirmation,
forgiveness, and love], nor is it frequently experienced "purely"
enough to precipitate some sort of turning to God.)
Seventh, the comment about God "staking the future of mankind on this one event" is likewise confused. Each individual experiences life as a series of his or her own events, and the interplay between context, and the events and choices, and the resultant character, is what God uses to judge a person. It is not just occasional lapses of morality, nerve, or judgment, but rather that which proceeds from the very character of a mortal that comprises the evidence. Jesus put it very simply:
First the Tanakh/OT:
"Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deut 24.16)
"then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 'What do you mean
by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel saying, 'The fathers
eat the sour grapes, But the children's teeth are set on edge'? 3 "As I
live," declares the Lord God, "you are surely not going to use this proverb
in Israel anymore. 4 "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father
as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
5 "But if a man is righteous, and practices justice and righteousness,
6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols
of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife, or approach a woman
during her menstrual period- 7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores
to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread
to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing, 8 if he does not lend
money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity,
and executes true justice between man and man, 9 if he walks in My statutes
and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully-he is righteous and will surely
live," declares the Lord God. "Then he may have a violent son who sheds
blood, and who does any of these things to a brother 11 (though he himself
did not do any of these things), that is, he even eats at the mountain
shrines, and defiles his neighbor's wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy,
commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the
idols, and commits abomination, 13 he lends money on interest and takes
increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations,
he will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head. "Now
behold, he has a son who has observed all his father's sins which he committed,
and observing does not do likewise. 15 "He does not eat at the mountain
shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile
his neighbor's wife, 16 or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit
robbery, but he gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with
clothing, 17 he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or
increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will
not die for his father's iniquity, he will surely live. 18 "As for his
father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what
was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity. "Yet
you say, 'Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity?'
When the son has practiced justice and righteousness, and has observed
all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. 20 "The person who
sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity,
nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness
of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked
will be upon himself. .(Ezek 18.1ff)
"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds." (Matt 16.27)
For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done (Col 3.25)
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Rev 20.12)
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are
in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did
the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil
deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5.28)
And I should point out, that where the Fall did affect subsequent humans,
it was met moment-by-moment with God's assistance, from the clothing provided
by God, to the pre-murder coaching of Cain, to the preaching of Noah, to
the warnings to Abimelech...Paul pointed out that "where sin abounded,
grace super-abounded"...The aberration was significant--just as mine are--but
not without God's immediate provision and warmth.
Eight, the scenario commits a rather odd type of blame-shifting. The scenario itself leaves this slightly implicit (even though it is clear that God is to blame for making the scenario into a "no win" one for us), but your sensitive response ("it is hard for me to be glad that Jesus is my Savior, because now it seems like He's saving me from something He started in the first place!") makes this explicit. This mistake assumes (oddly) that we are somehow undeserving of any judgment because there are moral standards in place!
Think about this for a minute.
God makes a social universe in which if you intentionally commit an act of violence upon someone, then the law courts visit some kind of judgment/violence back upon your head. You are held accountable for your actions, and in this way, responsible social communities can be constructed. Boundaries and specific behavior expectations are shared by members of the community in such a way as to create an "operational unity" to (hopefully) facilitate "interpersonal unity" and growth as a culture.
Let's say that I am a member of a tribe, and that we all meet together and decide that it would be against our best interests to allow members of the tribe to sneak up on other members of the tribe while they are asleep and kill them (in order to take all their possessions). And then we decide that if someone does that crime, they will subsequently be whipped and executed in front of the others, to reinforce the seriousness of the need for trustworthy relationships among the tribe.
Now let's say I commit such a crime--I kill my neighbor and move all his belongings into my hut. When I am found out, the tribe's tribunal finds me guilty and sentences me to death for my crime. I weep and wail, beg and plead, and eventually (somehow) convince them to spare my life and that I will never, ever violate the law of tribe and betray the community trust again.
When I accept their pardon for my crime, would it make any sense for me to discount that because "they pardoned me from something they set up in the first place"?! Of course not--the rules that were "set up" were for good. That I was sentenced to punishment was not the "fault" of the rules, but of my disregard for them. I cannot shift the blame to some "system" (or worse, to the system creator) when it simply operates efficiently! Moral codes imply consequences of various types, for positive and negative respect for those codes. Consequences for destructive behavior are simply "responses" of the "necessary-for-good" law, provoked by my actions or inaction. Most of the law codes in the cultures of the world are not arbitrary--they exist in order to facilitate the growth and health of a community. While it is true that God "set up" a system of actions/consequences (and laws that express these in warning fashion), this system is healthy and embedded in reality (e.g., 'do not walk off a cliff--you will likely plunge to your death'), and certainly not arbitrary in the least.
Blame shifting, of course, was part of the original response of Adam
and Eve. God expected Adam and Eve to trust His warning (and to grow thereby).
But when they failed, the man immediately blamed the woman, and then God
("The woman YOU gave me, gave me the fruit to eat and I ate") and the woman
blamed the Serpent ("The serpent tricked me, and I ate"). The Serpent gave
no excuse, since his act was apparently one of deliberate destruction.
(Remember, Jesus called him a "murderer" from the beginning, in John 8.44.)
Nine, the objection fails to appreciate (or take seriously) the nature and value of history.
From the first verses of Genesis 1, God seems to focus on growth, development, unfolding, manifestation of potential. From the "let the earth bring forth plants" to "be fruitful and multiply (after your kind/pattern)", God is involved in historical process. In the case of the garden, for example, the experience of bringing the animals before Adam to find a companion, was not for God's benefit(!), but for Adam's-to pre-build the appreciation that materialized as Eve appeared. God was delivering good to them-through time. Some of the good required choices between competing alternatives, some required action, some required restriction. With every breath, the man and woman manifested more and more of their potential. [This did not stop after sin, by the way; the very birth of Cain and Abel are historical developments that were only implicit in their state of 'innocence'. We (as humans) tend to be impatient; God works at a different pace. We settle for less; He aspires to full robustness of life and event.]
To have created Adam at Time-One and then had him eat of the ToL at
Time-One-Plus-1-Minute may have been acceptable for our skeptic, but to
quick-freeze the development of Adam, and forego the unfolding of humanity
and of nature, and to preclude the myriad of moral choices (some good,
some bad) and the robustness of civilization could easily be considered
a 'lesser good'...
Tenth, the position has the methodological burden-of-proof problem of all conspiracy theories--it takes more data to prove these second-order theories than it does to accept the more simpler first-order theories.
In other words, it is not enough to suggest that God might
have orchestrated such a nefarious plan, but the conspiracy theorist
offer evidence that this is indeed the case. Conspiracy cases are dependent
on disclosures of the guilty party (e.g., 'secret documents' that tell
what the person was really thinking...), that demonstrate the hidden agenda
or the attempt to deceive or the plan to defraud. That someone
have done so only suggests a "motive" at best...
Eleventh, as a predictive model, this view of God's character fails rather significantly.
In other words, IF we construct a model of God's character as being sadistic and/or sycophantic, then our creaturely experience should reflect this. And, although there are aspects of our experience that might be understood to provide evidence for this (e.g., predation in nature? Natural evil?), the fact that our human lives are a mixture of pleasure and pain, with substantial amounts of pleasure counts quite heavily against this model.
Decades ago, a lawyer wrote:
[It might be worth pointing out here we would not even 'bemoan' our free-will, if God were truly manipulative; there simply wouldn't be any...]
Let's stop there and summarize the above. The argument from Genesis
of the skeptic has the following significant problems:
Now, it should be clear at this point, that the skeptical author is guilty of faulty exegesis (and perhaps questionable theological method), and of the type that is commonly done in the worst of 'fundy' groups (not all fundy groups, though). This does NOT mean, however, that his characterization of God as being pathetic is necessarily false; all I have shown is that it cannot be reasonably supported from the passage he tried to use for this. There may be other evidence that he has that might support his case, but Genesis 2-3 simply cannot be so used.
The skeptic author does mention a couple of texts that allegedly are
"other divine injustices", and let me make only the briefest remarks
about these (some of these are dealt with in much more detail in the Tank).
His first quote: "God hardened Pharaoh's heart as an excuse to devastate Egypt. He took away Pharaoh's right to make the right decision and forced him to make the wrong one."
This is an amazing oversimplification of one of the most complex events in biblical history. The interplay between the cruel Pharaoh, the Israelites under his very harsh slavery, the will of Pharaoh, the court magicians, the 'gods' of Egypt, the Israelite leaders, and the 'hardening' (strengthening) of Pharaoh's will by Yahweh is immensely complex, and yet the skeptic has made this sweeping and facile statement.
This was the nation that had oppressed Israel for centuries, using recently infanticide, and whose Pharaoh brutalized Asiatics (not just Israelites) as a matter of course. God's first comment about him was this:
It is well known that Pharaoh hardened his own heart on the first several confrontations (7.13-14; 22-23; 8.15, 19, 32; 9.7) and only then did God begin to "give him what he asked for" (9.12; 10.1, 20, 27; 11.10; 14.8). Even then Pharaoh is still involved in the process (9.34-34).[see more detail on the sequence of events here] There is nothing like God 'taking away his right to make the right decision'! God treated him like He often treats us: He confronts us repeated with opportunity to choose good, and as we consistently say "no, go away" He eventually withdraws His support for our initial "mixed criteria" and gives us over to our then-firmed-up intentions/wills. God just coordinated this judgment with the good-hearted deliverance of two million people from oppressive slavery! His devastation was a judgment on the nation (Ex 6.6; 7.4; 12.12), not an excuse.
There are many, many other theological subtleties here, such as the relation between God and rulers, between the Patriarchs and the Hebrews, and between these events and the 'conversion' of numerous Egyptians (including some of the court magicians, cf. Ex 9.20), and some of this can be found in the Tank discussion of this issue.
Another case of judicial hardening can be found in Joshua 11.20: "For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the LORD had commanded Moses." But note in our analysis of this subject elsewhere that God's purpose was expulsion, not genocide per se.
The commentator for the EBCOT points out in this passage the same themes we see throughout the bible:
His second quote: "God also commanded David not to number the people in order to raise an army. So David didn't - until God came down and stirred up his mind and made him do it, taking away his right to make the right decision and forcing him to do something wrong. Then in order to punish David for doing it, God sends the death angel to kill seven thousand innocent men."
This shows surprising lack of familiarity with the text and the historical event, for someone who knows the Bible "backward and forward". This passage is recorded twice in scripture. The initial account was written in 2 Sam 24, and it starts out with "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.'" In other words, Israel was already under God's judgment to begin with--there were no necessarily 'innocent men'! (For example, the revolt of Israel under Sheba--against David and Yahweh-- had only recently occurred.)
The situation is much more complex than our author would lead us to believe. It is difficult even to reconstruct the order of events between 2 Sam and 1 Chron 21. But one plausible scenario has Satan "standing up against Israel" in the heavenly court, and justly demanding punishment on Israel for some unspecified sin. (They had previously been punished by three years of famine in 2 Sam 21.1, hence "again.") God is judgmentally angry with Israel (which includes David, remember!), and punishes them by allowing Satan to "unleash" David's illegitimate pride to create a rift between them. David is 'incited' against Israel, and acts irresponsibly toward them. (But remember, they are somehow guilty of some unspecified sin.)
[I should also point out that one of the leading exegetes of the passage (Sailhammer) argues that 'Satan' should be taken as 'adversary' (its literal meaning) here, referring to enemies of Israel. This fits the pattern of Judges, of course, and would fit the context of David's semi-forced military enrollment here better than the traditional understanding, which I 'defend' below.]
There was no order from God to David to not count the men (contrary to your skeptic friend's assertion); indeed, the taking of a census was allowed in the law (Ex 30.11):
And, in the light of ancient history and epidemiology, a three-day plague that only killed 70,000 people was incredibly 'light' in itself! Epidemics and plagues in ancient times lasted years and decades and centuries--not days. They killed major fractions of the population, and were never 'contained' like in our example. For samples,
2. In ancient Greece, at a pivotal point in its history, "Disaster struck in 430 B.C. The pestilence is supposed to have started in Ethiopia; from there it traveled to Egypt and was carried across the Mediterranean by ship to the Piraeus and Athens. It raged for only a short time, but caused an enormous mortality. No estimate of the number of deaths can be made; perhaps at least a third and possibly as much as two-thirds of the population died." [ HI:DAH:7]
3. The first great Roman epidemic was after Vesuvius (79 AD), and raged for a century, killing 10,000 people in Campagna alone [HI:DAH:12]
4. The plague of Galen (second century AD) claimed between one quarter and one third of the entire Roman empire [ROC:76].
5. A century later, in the "plague of Cyprian", as many as 5,000 people
died per day in the city of Rome alone. [ROC:77]. It lasted a minimum
of sixteen years [HI:DAH:15].
The passage is essentially useless for our skeptic, largely because
so many more details would be needed to support some kind of 'theory' about
God forcing David to sin 'against his will'(!). Punishing people
by giving them over to their own will (a la Pharoah, a la
Romans 1) is a standard judgment-type throughout the bible, but it is never
done without plenty of prior opportunity to change and to open up to goodness
It must be noted that our author has chosen (as foundational for his
character construction of God) two of the more 'odd' passages in scripture
involving multiple layers of volition. The complex interactions between
'wills' of God, Satan, David, Joab, the census-takers, and sinning Israel
are only glimpsed upon in passages like these. The book of Job is the classic
case of the God-Satan interaction, in which God says that Satan "incited
Him" to ruin Job without reason (Job 2.3). The relation of God's will/intention
and non-divine will is quite mysterious (and that should be a warning to
anyone about making any theories about them, much less basing an entire
understanding of the character/heart of God on them!), and would need to
include the likewise famous passages in which God's goodness was triumphant
over the malice of men. For example, in the case of Joseph being sold by
his brothers into slavery in Egypt, Joseph can credit God with a loving
intent (Gen 50.19 and 45.5):
[This is a basic of theological method, by the way. In constructing
theological statements, you start first with passages in the scripture
which address or involve explicitly the topic under study.
You don't start with oblique passages and try to infer aspects about
the subject from it, and then use these less-certain constructs to 'constrain'
the more-certain and explicit statements in the more germane passages.
His final quote: "Want more? How about the time God struck a man dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant while trying to keep it from falling. Why? Because God didn't want anybody to touch the Ark. One wonders who could have died if the Ark had fallen and broken."
Again, he seems unaware of the dynamics of the text and of the historical situation.
Let's look at the passages:
Consider first the requirements for moving the ark, given in the Law of Moses (which David knew quite well!):
But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. 51 "So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. (Num 1.50)
And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. 15 "The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it (Ex 25.14)
But to the Kohathites he gave none, because they were charged with
the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders.
2. Only the Kohathites (of the Levites) could carry the ark.
3. It was to be carried by humans on their shoulders--not on a cart or a wagon, but by humans carrying the poles.
4. Even if a Kohathite touched it, he would die.
5. Even if a Kohathite looked into the ark, he would die.
6. No non-Levite could even come near, under threat of death.
2. Lay people cannot (as per instructions!)
Now, coming back to the prescribed way of moving the ark...let's compare the list of "should do" with "did do":
2. Only the Kohathites (of the Levites) could carry the ark. [Oops: no indication that Uzzah was a Kohathite, or even a Levite--they were mentioned specifically in the 1 Samuel passage, remember, and David says they were not Levites in 1 Chronicles 15.]
3. It was to be carried by humans on their shoulders--not on a cart or a wagon, but by humans carrying the poles. [Oops: it was carried on a cart, cf. EBCOT:"At the same time, however, his first attempt (to bring the ark up) to do so follows Philistine rather than Levitical procedure",...I bet that really struck a responsive chord with the Lord--cf. Lev 20.23: "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them."]
4. Even if a Kohathite touched it, he would die. [Oops: not only was he not a K-ie, but he touched it.]
5. Even if a Kohathite looked into the ark, he would die. [No reference to looking in this passage.]
6. No non-Levite could even come near, under threat of death. [Oops:
he was probably from Judah, Benjamin, or a Gibeonite, and he walked next
to the ark on the cart, much closer than Levitical priests could come in
the tabernacle setup!]
I can almost feel the decision-tension within God as they start out..."Well, they mean well...I will cut them a lot of slack here...I am a little concerned that they think I am like those pagan gods, who are dead and lifeless...they need to take me seriously, so they obey the rules and I can bless them, according to the promises...I will go along with this unless it gets out of hand..." And, He has the draw the line at violation of the holiest of holies--He must maintain before them that He is different and not their stereotypical god-who-does-not-mean-what-he-says...(Personally, I have had plenty of opportunities to experience this 'tension' myself, in trying to decide when/if to "bring up an issue" with my growing children.)
This passage is accordingly filled with mercy--from start to finish. God allows them to make most of the journey without the legitimate reprisal, and at the end, blesses the home of Obed-Edom the Gittite, definitely a Levite (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:17-18, 21, 24-25; 16:4-5, 38; Jos. Antiq. 7, 83) and quite possibly a Kohathite if he was from Gath Rimmon (Josh 21:20, 24-26; 1 Chronicles 6:66, 69).
David himself admits later that his mistake was very clear (1 Chrn 15):
Again, a closer look at the details and background of the event and
the context reveal more grace than judgment even in this case.
Let me make a personal observation here...I have been digging into these
'divine injustice' passages for several years now, and I consistently come
away (after intense study!) with a new appreciation for the magnitude and
purity of God's kindness and patience, and a new appreciation for the complexity
of the issues of ethical governance. The incredible balancing act that
is required to satisfy a gazillion 'constraints' and 'directives' and 'values',
commands new respect from me each time I review these types of issues.
Issues of household responsibility, representative action, corporate identity,
satisfying multiple value trajectories all in the same event (like that
of Joseph!) are 'too wonderful for me'...I have appreciation for the problem
as a parent, of course, but even trying to balance all the ethical boundaries
in difficult situations of personal choice is exceptionally difficult for
me. I find it so complex at the Miller-microscopic scale(!)--I cannot imagine
the number of variables to deal with in the hand and heart of God...I gladly
yield to the wise and loving Sovereign, who has revealed a trustworthy
heart in His word, in my history, and in my heart.
Let's zoom out for a moment, and look at the big picture here...
Now, we could go round-and-round about different passages here, but
the issue is broader than this. One of the central issues that emerges
from the above discussion is methodological: how does one construct a 'portrait'
of the heart and character of God?
There are a couple of basic methodological issues that emerge when one
is constructing a 'theological doctrine':
In other words, which passages become the 'center' of the doctrine?
These passages will become 'authoritative' (i.e., not subject to question),
and will provide 'implications' and 'assumptions' for use in interpreting
less-clear passages, farther out from the 'center'. Needless to say, it
is critical that the central passage(s) be unambiguous, deal specifically
and centrally with the topic (not peripherally), and not be re-interpreted
or revoked by later passages.
2. How wide and varied is the peripheral supporting data?
In this category, one collects all the supporting, but not central passages. These would include passages which dealt with the subject obliquely, or which made the most sense (contextually) if the doctrinal theory were true, or which lend some support to the theory, but has a higher level of ambiguity than the central passages.
The more of these passages there are, and the more varied they are in
usage and provenance, the more support they lend to the theory.
3. How clear and forceful is the 'competing' center?
This is the mirror image of the first point. If the competing theory(theories)
have central passages that are clearer, more forceful, and more constant,
then the original theory is thereby weakened.
4. How wide and varied is the competing, peripheral, supporting data?
Again, this is the mirror of #2 above. If the data that supports a competing
theory is wide, varied, and fairly clear, then the original theory is weakened.
5. How easily can the competing data be 're-interpreted' to fit the original theory? (Or, how easily can it be judged as irrelevant, extrema, misread, falsified, etc.).
Since a theory is supposed to be able to 'predict' all of the data, this step is essential. The theory that can predict the 'most data' of what we find in Scripture, religious experience, history, etc. is essentially the 'winner'. It must, under this point, be able to predict the contrary data points. It might try to dismiss them as irrelevant, inconsequential, 'false readings' or fabrications (but it must make a case for this--it cannot be taken on 'faith').
Practically speaking, in a 'battle of theories', an original theory must not only have a strong central passage and wide support, but it must be able to provide a plausible explanation of the contrary data. In other words, it must be able to explain how that contrary data 'makes sense' in the original theory. This is essentially an act of re-interpretation. The central passage of the competing theory must be 'interpreted' differently than it was in the competing theory.
As one can imagine, the starting point or central passage can radically
determine how 'successful' a theory will be in dealing with the contrary
data, but any theory must be able to deal with its opposing data--and
all theories have them.
Our skeptic friend has taken a difficult starting point. He has drawn
some amazing (and unsupportable) conclusions from the Garden Story, taken
selected passages from the Exodus story (without 'bounding' them with their
context, like all statements are semantically bound), used a complex judgment
passage on Israel/David (without appreciation for the legal and religious
context of the action), and isolated a single judgment event against Uzzah
(without appreciation for the vast 'slack cutting' that went on in the
passage) to construct a portrait of the biblical God as cruel.
In theory construction and testing, as we have seen above, one of the
next steps would be to study the contrary data and see how it could be
predicted or at least accommodated by/to the theory. It is here that our
friend will have a significant challenge, for any and all passages that
speak of God's goodness, kindness, mercy, benevolence, tender-heartedness
will have to be (1) denied as being some kind of conspiratorial deception
of God; or (2) allowed to be genuine, but used to argue for a radical volatility
of God (even if strictly a construct of human writers, as he asserts at
the end of his article). Our skeptic tries both approaches: (1) he argues
that God's good gift of His Son is 'arranged' to look better than it really
is; and (2) that the biblical God is "too volatile to be the creator of
such a harmonious universe".
Now his first approach (i.e., conspiracy) I have already argued
against above. I have tried to show that the assumptions that are used
to construct the conspiracy theory are not warranted from the four passages
used by the skeptic, and that the conspiracy/sadistic theory itself labors
under a number of debilitating burdens (e.g., non-predictive, second-order
But the second approach (i.e., semi-schizoid) is a bit different. The skeptic can maintain that God has been good on occasion, but that His overall pattern is that of schizoid behavior. How would we evaluate this position?
Well, the first thing is fairly obvious--we just showed that the behavior that allegedly is the 'bad' side of God simply isn't. In the wider context and in the deeper details of the texts themselves, the judgment-in-the-context-of-kindness becomes obvious. So I don't have to allow his alleged polarity in the character of God to begin with.
But in addition to this, I have to allow for a full range of personal actions and reactions on the part of God. I personally respond differently to different attitudes toward me, and I manifest different reactions to different situations. Why would I think God otherwise? He specifically tells us that His behavior is "emotionally" predictable, albeit not symmetric:
With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse. (Ps 18.26-27)
The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his
messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his
dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and
scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against
his people and there was no remedy. (2 Chrn 36.15)
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich
in love. 9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has
made. (Ps 145.8-9)
The skeptic is caught in a methodological no-mans-land, by selecting
such a narrow and questionable starting point. One should always start
with the data that is 'less subject to re-interpretation'. That is, find
those passages that are clearest and which are more difficult to explain
in 'some radically different' way. And, as mentioned above, go for passages
that are (1) explicit and (2) less ambiguous (i.e., more concrete in image
In the case of the heart of God, then, one would be on much safer ground methodologically if one focused on passages that contained (for example):
2. Revelations of His heart embodied in His prescriptive laws;
3. Revelations of His heart manifested in His dealing with people, especially under law;
4. Revelation of His heart in the face and person of His Son.
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (Jas 2.5)
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex 34.6)
The LORD will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free. (Deut 32.36)
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (I John 4.16)
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you. (Is 62.5)
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph 3.17)
When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (2 Sam 24.16) [Referring to the judgment we discussed above! His heart was not in it!]
If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you. (Jer 42.10) [Judgment is never, never His first choice or His 'delight'...]
All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations -- a people who continually provoke me to my very face, (Is 65.2)
"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer 2.13)
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (Is 55.2ff)
I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. "But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. (Ps 81.10f) [Notice the last clause--the same kind of judgment as on Pharaoh.]
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lam 3.32)
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezek 18.32)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to
come to repentance. (2 Peter 3.9)
2. Revelations of His heart embodied in His prescriptive laws;
There are many, many places in the Mosaic law, where the beauty of His
heart and His compassion can be seen, but some of my favorites are:
If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Deut 24.5) [Would this make sense of a sadistic god?]
Do not take a pair of millstones-not even the upper one-as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man's livelihood as security. 7 If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. 10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. 13 Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God. 14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. 15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. 16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. 17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24.6ff)
You shall not watch your neighbor's ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor's donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor's garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help. (Deut 22.1)
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in
the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the
Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat
their fill within your towns, 13 then you shall say before the Lord
your God: "I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have
given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows,
in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me (Deut
Just think about this for a minute...human and
child sacrifice was a religious staple in many cultures, but the biblical
God vehemently forbade it in the OT law (Deut 12.29ff):
3. Revelations of His heart manifested in His dealing with people, especially under law;
First, let me note that every major judgment in the OT was preceded by vast amounts of warning, appeals, clarity, and patience on the part of God.
But even under the mosaic law, God consistently cut His people slack,
and was consistently merciful in forgiving their crimes against His person
and His law. Consider a few of these:
Aaron and the death of his oldest sons (Lev 10.16ff). Aaron was supposed (under penalty of death!) to eat the offering, but he didn't. And God did not judge/destroy him.
Variation in sacrifice costs (e.g., Lev 5). Many sacrifices were 'scaled' to a person's economic condition. In other words, God made allowances for a person's difficulties.
The second-month Passover. God allowed people who missed the regular Passover, a "make up" day for this essential feast!
David and the showbread. This example of a non-priest (David) eating the bread that was only for the priests was used as an example by Jesus, of "I desire mercy and not sacrifice".
Atonement by incense/placement of Aaron in the plague of Korah/Dathan (Num 16). Atonement was always by blood, and Aaron was not supposed to leave the sanctuary. But in this case of major disloyalty, both of these rules were violated by Aaron, and yet God accepted it and stopped the judgment.
The later Passovers (2 Chron 30,35). Some of the later Passovers in Israel were not kept according to the Law, and yet God heard the prayers of the king (and read the hearts of the people) and allowed their celebration to be enjoyed (and not become the subject of judgment).
Ruth, Rahab, etc., etc., etc. So many other examples--Ruth was never supposed to enter the assembly as a Moabite, but became of the royal lineage of Jesus, as was the Canaanite prostitute Rahab.
The 'suspension' of the circumcision requirements during the Wilderness
Wanderings. When Joshua took the Israelites into the Land for the first
time, the men all had to be circumcised. God 'overlooked' this during the
forty years in the wilderness, even though He was about to kill Moses for
it in Exodus 4.24f.
4. Revelation of His heart in the face and person of His Son.
This pre-eminent revelation of His love for us, His provision for us,
and His tender-hearted meekness, gentleness, and loyalty, is exceptionally
"resistant to re-interpretation".
His character, His message, His life, and His death all demonstrate
the immense love of God...
[Also note that most of the material above, with the obvious exception
of Point Four, is from the Tanakh/OT...So much for the "The Old Testament
God was a Wrathful Ogre, but the New Testament God is a God of Love" theory!]
2. The other passages adduced in support of it are either ambiguous, or even provide some data to support a more-mercy-than-judgment portrait of God;
3. From a theological method standpoint, the cruel-or-schizoid god
theory is overcome by an abundance of clear, varied, and relevant data
which support the beneficent God portrait.
Ergo, from a biblical standpoint, "God is good"--not just "great", but good of heart and beautiful of character. No wonder His Son Jesus--the Face of God inside time and history and among us--was full of "grace and truth".
Hopefully we can remember this, as we dive into Part
Nov 2, 1998