Is there wiggle room for God’s violence in the Bible?

May 15, 2017

In my sermon yesterday, in which Peter reminds his readers that all of us—including us Christians—will face Final Judgment, I said the following: “Now, when I read a passage like this, I immediately want to find wiggle room: Hmm… How can I interpret this passage so that it’s not saying what it clearly seems to be saying.”

Although in this case I’m speaking of the doctrine of Final Judgment, I could say the same about the many instances in the Bible in which God acts with violence or commands his people Israel to do so. Finding wiggle room is impossible—at least if we believe in the inspiration of scripture. Greg Boyd is another so-called “evangelical” who likely no longer believes in the inspiration of scripture. While I’m sure he wouldn’t put it that way, what sort of exegetical or hermeneutical gymnastics must we do in order to make the Bible say what it clearly doesn’t say, yet still believe that the Holy Spirit guided the Bible’s authors to write what they wrote?

So I’m sympathetic with this commenter, who said the following in response to the above post:

So basically [if Boyd is right] God becomes guilty of either standing by idly while [genocide] happens or delegating it to someone else. Once we agree with the secular critics that it would indeed be evil for God to cause these events, removing him a step in the causal chain, or having him step aside completely, doesnt seem to help one bit, particularly when many of these events are explicitly his expressed will towards judgment being enacted.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

As I said in response to this comment, here are my presuppositions when dealing with the so-called “texts of terror”:

God is the author of life and death. Every moment of life is nothing but sheer gift. We are not entitled to a moment of it. Therefore, when God takes our life (and he will, unless the Second Coming happens first), we have no right to complain that he’s not being fair. We all deserve God’s wrath and hell. Heaven, or our life in the resurrection, more than compensates for our suffering in this life.

I hope that doesn’t sound glib, but (assuming you’re an evangelical Christian like me) how is this not true?

10 Responses to “Is there wiggle room for God’s violence in the Bible?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy of being compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” That sustains God’s “fairness” or “justice” with respect to any Christian suffering. As to the rest, they will prove to have been guilty of “trampling under foot” the sacrifice of Christ and “blaspheming the Holy Spirit,” two incredibly awful offenses, which justifies any and all the bad things that they suffer–even hell itself.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I agree. When and why did these ideas become controversial among the group of Christians who are supposedly most committed to the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of scripture?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I think some people just operate under the misconception that all suffering is intrinsically bad, so God could not be the author or any of it. But Romans 9 (amongst tons of other scriptures) says God intends to show blessings on the saints but wrath against the children of wrath (after first patiently enduring them). In other words, heaven and hell. How anybody can believe in the eternal destiny of mankind and not believe God is capable of, and justified in, visiting “painful” punishments on miscreants is beyond me.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    One need read no further in the Bible than Genesis 6-8 to see God’s righteous wrath. He “killed” every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth save Noah and his family.
    The message was pretty clear to me.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Of course, Grant. So even if you solve the problem of the Canaanite conquest (assuming it’s a problem that needs solving), you’ve got far bigger “problems” in the Bible to solve. A simpler approach is to simply believe the Bible.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    Tom, is this a dispositive motion for dismissal or for summary judgement?

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Summary judgment. That “wraps up the case” because there is “no legitimate dispute of material fact or law.” All the evidence favors only one position, as a matter of law. (We win! 🙂 )

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    “Settled Law” and “Settled Science” have a way of being slippery things, when in the hands of manipulative minds.


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