Fellow UMC pastor John Meunier tries to make sense of Adam Hamilton’s “Bucket Three,” about which I preached a couple of weeks ago, and is no more successful than I’ve been. To refresh your memory, Hamilton has designated certain scriptures as “never fully reflecting the timeless will of God.” These are what he calls “Bucket Three” scriptures.
Meunier got into a Twitter discussion with Hamilton on the subject recently. One of the scriptures that Hamilton says belongs in Bucket Three is Numbers 31, in which Israel exacts God’s judgment against the Midianites. God commands widespread killing. (Hamilton says 32,000 women and children were killed, although I’m not sure how he arrives at that figure. Unless I’m mistaken, the 32,000 in v. 35 refers to people who were taken captive—not that it affects my point.)
Meunier argues that we can’t separate Jesus from the God of the Old Testament because God is a Trinity: what God the Father wants, God the Son also wants.
I agree. As I posted on Facebook:
Excellent post, John. I’m sure Hamilton would say that the Third Person of the Trinity failed to properly inspire or guide the writers of the Old Testament for those Bucket 3 scriptures. Very unsatisfying answer, to say the least. Moreover, applying the “Jesus filter” (or, as Andrew Wilson put it recently, the “Jesus tea-strainer”) fails to appreciate Jesus’ many endorsements of God’s violent judgment both in the OT and in future judgment. Most of what we know of hell comes from the lips of Jesus, after all—take, for example, the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25, for one example. Is that Bucket 3? Does much of the Book of Revelation get filtered out, too?
And what about God striking poor Ananias and Sapphira dead in Acts 5? Is that Bucket 3? Logically, whether God strikes down 32,000 (through human agents) or 2, the principle is the same: God has the right to take life (or command life to be taken), even when we don’t in most cases. That’s why his ISIS analogy is wrong. Surely Hamilton can see the difference.
Or, to put it another way, if it’s unjust for God to take 32,000 lives, it’s also unjust for God to take 2. Beware of “sum of suffering” arguments, as C.S. Lewis rights warns: no one suffers 32,000 deaths. One person suffers only their own death. The worst suffering in the world is the one person who suffers the most. Everyone else experiences some fraction of that suffering.
Besides, when I read these passages about God’s judgment against sin, I usually think, “That’s what I deserve! That’s what my sins deserve! Thank God that God loved us so much to come to us in Jesus and take away my sins on the cross!”
If it’s unfair for God to judge and punish sin, then what’s left of the gospel? I’m not saying that Hamilton believes this, but I don’t think he’s thought it through.