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    August 23rd, 2012 @ 9:16 am by Kevin

    Traffic to this blog exploded earlier this week after Justin Taylor and I had a bit of a back and forth over an outtake (posted below) from his Hellbound? interview. Today, Patheos blogger David French weighed in with his thoughts. He sided Taylor’s view that God is perfectly justified in using violence against his enemies even though Christ taught us not to use violence against ours. David falls back on two classic proof texts that are often used to justify such a position:

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
    “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

    and

    For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

    Here’s what I don’t get: Both of these guys recognize the outright contradiction between a God who tells us to love our enemies but who goes ahead and smites his enemies–including their children, animals, etc. However, rather than consider the idea that we might be misreading the violent acts and directives attributed to God in the Old Testament, they essentially retreat into mystery. Who can fathom the ways of God? After all, our minds are fallen, our thinking darkened. If Christ’s words and God’s actions appear to contradict each other, that’s our problem, not God’s.

    There’s just one problem with this strategy: Both Justin and David are using those same fallen, darkened minds to arrive at this conclusion. So how can they possibly trust it? As David puts it on his blog, “Simply put, God’s judgment is perfect. Ours is often ridiculous.” And that’s exactly how David and Justin’s conclusions sound–ridiculous!

    This is especially true when you consider the Scripture passages David uses to support his position. When read in context, both of the passages quoted above contradict his position rather than support it. The Isaiah text comes from a passage in which the prophet is extolling God’s mercy upon his enemies, not justifying his violence against them. A brief excerpt so you can see the passage with a bit more context:

    Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
    because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

    Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
    Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
    Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

    For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
        neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
    “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
        so are my ways higher than your ways
        and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    David runs into the same problem with the 1 Corinthians 13 passage, which appears at the tail end of Paul’s magnificent description of love. Again, in context:

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 1For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

    Love is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, never fails… Wait a second, where’s that part about smiting your enemies? Once again, we see that what Paul is unable to fathom is not God’s violence but his incredible love which perseveres in the face of our evil and our outright rejection of that love.

    Violence is easy to understand. But mercy in the face of injustice, an unwillingness to use violence against spiteful, ungrateful creatures who are all but daring God to smite them from the earth, that is the real mystery.

    Does Calvinism make God a moral monster? Justin Taylor says no. What do you think? from Kevin Miller on Vimeo.



leave a comment on this post (30 Comments)

  1. That’s fair. Context is extremely important. It may or may not preclude extended application, beyond what is established by the primary context. But it certainly should first be established. Maybe we need to begin intentionally retraining our proof-texting habits…

    • If the immediate context does not support your interpretation–and, in fact, supports a contrary interpretation–overriding the immediate context with other passages is doing damage to the text. I’m not saying you’re suggesting that; just making the point.

  2. Of course Kevin, you realize that this text in Isaiah is used in context of mercy. It’s saying that God is merciful when we wouldn’t be, which is contrary to their arguments.

    -
    But they also use this argument about human beings having a darkened fallen mind that therefore can’t understand God and his ways and judgments.
    -
    But what they fail to understand or at least mention is that the Bible says that we have consciences that are attuned to God’s law, and therefore his justice. When so many peoples consciences are crying out against this idea of God being a violent, slaughtering smiter, this says a lot. It says mountains, and should be an aspect of the conversation.
    -
    I believe their low view of human nature has blocked them from seeing this.

    • Awesome thoughts, Christopher. Indeed, our consciences ARE attuned to God’s law. Who wouldn’t want eternal torture to be a myth? Therefore, we ought to seek it out and see how and why we may have misunderstood that idea. Part of it, though, begins with a personal revelation from the Father – who He truly is. If we are harboring thoughts about God which are contrary to His nature, our judgment in understanding the Word will be tainted as well.

      I teach my kids that God is like their daddy (me) in that He always disciplines to correct them, but would never forsake them forever.

      • Yes. It starts with understanding God’s nature and love. Once one truly understands the things some of these Christians are saying becomes absurd.
        -
        I believe walking with God in the light of his gentle, kindly, and non-violent nature and understanding his love for us and the world, helps our consciences to become less and less scathed over. This helps to make our consciences more and more troubled by some of this stuff.
        -
        I agree about not forsaking…. In fact Isaiah mentions “not forsaking” in the context of what was happening to them when armies were attacking them.
        -

        Isaiah 42: 15 – 16

        I will lay waster mountains, and hills, And all their vegetation will I wither, – And I will make rivers to be shores, And lakes will I dry up: Thus will I lead the blind, by a way they know not. In paths they know not will I guide them. I will make the place that was dark before them to be light, and crooked ways to be straight. These things have I done unto them, And have NOT FORSAKEN them.
        -
        These terrible things were eventually going to result in God using them to bring his people to a good place….. because he won’t forsake them (or us).
        -
        THIS is God’s character.

  3. “Jewish and Christian scholars alike have both noted that the Old Testament view of God differs SIGNIFICANTLY from the New Testament view in one key aspect– the way Satan is viewed. THE WAY SATAN IS VIEWED explains all discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments.” (From “The Forgotten Key To Understanding The Old Testament,” by Richard K. Murray.)

    God is not violent. Nor does God use Satan as his instrument of wrath. To begin to see through the confusion about God’s true nature, please read this fascinating essay by Richard Murray:

    http://www.thegoodnessofgod.com/forgottenkeytooldtestament.html

    Beloved friends in Christ, I honestly believe this article will truly help us to get to the heart of the matter, and avoid going around in circles.

  4. Agreed Kevin. This has always puzzled me as well. It seems cultic tactics are not utilized by false prophets alone. We as a church often employ such strategies in order to keep people from questioning the system. And our way of validating our words is to point to the great mystery of the unknown? “drink the punch and I’ll show you on the other side that I’m God!” How do I validate that, easy, his ways are higher than ours so our minds can’t fathom such a truth. Some people can’t resist used care salesmen. But I like you know that every time someone can’t validate their words, BEWARE!

  5. Something that I have found in having read so much material by these theologians (as a Calvinist for 30 years) is this concept that Justin also brought up in his interview: that God has one kind of love for a few people and then there is another type of love that God has for the rest. This is very incoherent now that I see that His love must be one because “He is one” (the ‘Shema’). In D. A. Carson’s book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” he tries to make sense of this idea of “two loves.” It has got to be the most confusing and assurance-stealing explanation of the love of God I have ever read. How would you ever know which “love” God has towards you? Here are several articles on Carson and his inadvertent contribution to our understanding of Christian universalism:

    http://www.christianuniversalism.com/category/d-a-carson/

    I still read mainly from Reformed authors such as Keller, Piper, Tchividjian, Carson, Chandler etc.,. They actually make a huge case for the restoration of all if you see the side of the Gospel they are emphasizing. It is really because of these guys that I finally embraced ultimate restoration.

    godslovewins.com

    • Hi Phillip. Yes. It is incoherent.
      -
      On a similar note…. in talking on a previous post I mentioned this book.
      -
      http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Glory-Salvation-through-Judgment/dp/1581349769/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345758012&sr=1-1
      -
      I noticed that John Piper has a rave review of the book.
      -
      “I was riveted. Never do I sit down and read sixty pages of ANY book that I get in the mail. But I could not stop—could not stop reading and could not stop rejoicing over God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. It is the kind of overview of redemptive history Edwards wanted to write. It’s what I hoped would be written.”
      —John Piper, Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Twin Cities, Minnesota
      -
      Of course this brings up something to think about. How is it that God gets his glory from saving people….. and yet also gets his glory from his eternal wrath on the lost when he could save them.

      • Thanks for the link to the book Christopher. I just ordered it. Looks like something we should read. There is so much confusion between the concepts of judgment/justice and that of ECT. Or even b/n a hell and an eternal hell. We are not negating judgment or justice or some kind of “hell” but rather the idea of a purposeless unending punishment that never accomplishes anything. This does not line up with all that is revealed about God. And one that punishes sin by consigning sinners to a cycle of infinite sinning is certainly incoherent!

        Piper’s delight in this book, which I assume equates judgment with ECT, is pretty disturbing. Even believers in ECT note that God “does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked” and cries over their souls as in Jesus over Jerusalem. I wonder what about this book he found so “riveting.” I am anxious to take a look at it.

        • I read one of John Piper’s write-ups where he says that God will get joy of of eternally torturing people….. and that way the Devil won’t be able to steal joy from him.
          I don’t like that kind of talk…. it makes me mad. But the thing is. Piper is addressing a real issue. How would it be possible for God to have eternal joy while human beings are being tortured? As well if eternal hell is real that WOULD mean that demons have stolen some joy from God.
          -
          But of course instead of re-thinking hell he comes up with this other stuff. to me this is coming out of a disturbing mind, to even think of such things.

          -
          I own the book. The book itself equates the judgment with salvation… in that whenever there are people judged it eventually leads to salvation. It’s overall fairly positive, although it does view this judgment through the lense of an active slaughtering punishment at times. The book’s look at what the writers were responsing to in the Psalms is quite interesting.

          -
          I think the book could help an ultimate reconciliatin stance overall. But it IS kind of interesting that the book has a deep study throughout every book in the Bible about how judgment ends in salvation….. and then at the end has a short bit where the author happens to mention ECT.
          -
          Of course it did, he was a good Southern Baptist. I just thought WOW. You’ve probably spent years researching and writing a book about how God judges humans in order to save them…… and you can’t think it through enough to realize that this is inconsistent with God eternal tormenting some of them.
          -
          But it does seem that more and more people are coming to see the truth and exposing some of these guys inconsistent thinking surely helps people to see through some of this stuff.

        • You had touched on something interesting. Some of these guys ARE seeming to get delight out of the idea of ECT, and they seem to be troubled and offended by the idea of God not eternally torturing people.
          -
          I find this stuff to be VERY disturbing. It’s like some sort of thinking from a weird cult.

  6. Has it been addressed that the writer, Kevin, who is talking about contradictions doesn’t understand what a contradiction really is? A contradiction would be God saying to love your enemies and not love your enemies at the same time and in the same context. The whole blog article is based on a misrepresentaiton of logic.

    • You’re splitting hairs, Michelle. It’s semantics. Destroying your enemies naturally contradicts the command to love them.

      • Well, since words have meanings we should make sure we are stating things correctly. If you are saying these are contradictions in God’s Word to us, it has to be demonstrated by using a logical basis. If we don’t have that, we could all say what we wanted and it would be true. So…..if what you are calling contradictions aren’t contradictions, it would be important to call them what they really are, right?

  7. Pingback: God Smites and God is Gracious: A Response to Kevin Miller

    • The article said:
      -
      Put simply, it is this: God imposes one standard on his fallen children who have imperfect knowledge and reserves another standard for Himself, as architect of the universe. He sees all. We see part. He is perfect. We are evil.
      -
      What about the Bliblical fact that our consciences are attuned to the law. Deep down we are tuned into the same standards.
      -
      The article said.
      We all deserve an almighty smite, and it is in the act of grace that His ways are not our ways.
      -
      We deserve to be judged according to the law…. as mentioned in the Old Testament. These judments always were within limits, and in one place it clearly mentions that to judge over and above the limits is to be an UNJUST judge.
      -
      As well. The early Christians called themselves “the Way”. This was fitting with several New Testament texts that say we are supposed to live according to “the Way” (the narrow path). Jesus said “I AM the way the truth and the life”.
      -
      If we are to live according to “the Way” and Jesus IS “the way” …..then our “ways” ARE supposed to line up with “the Way”….. as shown in the bibles directives for our lives.
      As well…. if Jesus (God) IS the Way then he must align with our instructions for “the Way” in order to be “the Way”.
      -
      In this light. If we are told to be Holy….. does that mean that we slaughter people in our holiness like the Calvinist God. Are we supposed to be Holy like God or aren’t we?
      -
      Same thing for the idea of acting Godly. Are we REALLY supposed to act like this God, and then at the same time forgive unconditionally.

      • Christopher, I don’t know if you were addressing my post or someone else’s. If me, here is my response. If not, I apologize for intruding on a conversation you’re having with someone else.
        Anyway, my point is that God judging sinful man is not a contradiction to His loving kind nature. A contradiction would be, for example, if God commanded the Israelites to invade a group of people AT THE SAME TIME AND IN THE SAME CONTEXT while commanding them not to invade them. Most of the alleged “contradictions” noted by unbelievers are not contradictions at all. In order to have a discussion about God’s mercy, kindness, wrath, holiness, etc. (His nature) we first have to agree that we both hold to the laws of logic.
        Acting Godly is another topic, since first His nature (which is non-contradictory) has to be established.

        • Hi Michelle. I actually wasn’t responding to your post. But that’s Okay. I’m happy you wrote.

          It’s simple though…. If God’s wrath is a vengeful slaughtering thing against sinners, connected to his holiness, and we are called to be Holy and Godly like God…. then that opens up the door for us to be able to (or according to some peoples view of God to HAVE TO) act in the same manner…. Even when we are told not to in order to be Godly.
          -
          This is the inconsistency. There is an inconsistency in what holiness means for humanities actions… compared to what it means for Gods actions. Yet there cannot be this inconsistency when one considers that Christ was FULLY human and FULLY God. Christ showed us what holiness should be…. both for humans and for God.
          -
          Thus in Christ we see that the holiness expected of humans is the same that God shows (as Jesus was fully God). Therefore it is inconsistent to say that God would do some of these things when humans can’t
          -
          Add to this the fact that Paul had a very different understanding of wrath… than this Holy wrathful smiter God that is so often being taught (in fact I believe he was deconstructing it), and that the Bible connects God’s holiness with his mercy in several places.
          -

          Thus the New Testament teaches something different. The New Testament writers were interpreting God different. This is of course because of Jesus showing what God was really like. We need to interpret the Old Testament through Jesus’ revelation of God otherwise his new and better revelation is pointless. The Bible says that he is the full representation of God….. so why would we then want to go back to any previous misunderstanding coming from people who God was still trying to teach.
          -
          The very early Christians show that they understood these things in their writings, speaking of God as benevolant, non-violent, and free from wrath. Yet unfortunately as paganism crept into the Roman church (largely after Constantine) this understanding began to get lost and Western Christianity started to misinterpret what Paul was saying about “wrath” in his epistles (not as much in the Eastern church though). This mis-interpretation of the Bible largely came about with Augustine who didn’t know Greek and was reading from (possibly even influenced) Jerome’s new translation of the Greek into the Latin Vulgate Bible. This translation had some very key mistranslations that along with Augustine’s past pagan influences and some would argue a mental illness, led to a drastic change in the Western churches understanding of several elements of the faith.
          -
          Christianity became more and more warped and instead of interpreting the faith through Jesus it started to look to its new traditions to understand God’s nature. But here’s the sad thing…. the Jewish people who have the Torah but not Jesus to help them understand God, view God as being more loving, caring, benevolant and less wrathful than many Christians who believe in Jesus as the full representation of God, who was without the “wrath” that they attibute to God.
          -
          But Christians not undertanding this, didn’t feel that it was improper to burn heretics alive, crusade against their enemies, slaughter people who had mental illness as witches…. the list goes on and on.
          -
          We become like the God we believe in.
          -
          But I don’t believe God is like that. I believe that God is COMPASSIONATE for humanity…. properly transtlated Jesus said “be compassionate as I am compassionate”. This is what God is like and this is what Jesus showed us. This is what Holy Spirit and the creation speaks to those who have ears to hear.
          -
          In this I am not saying that God isn’t just.
          -
          Paul clearly says what wrath is in Romans 1 (God allowing us to go our own ways into darkness), and then clearly says that He (being a Christian) is under this “wrath” a little later on in the epistle. So therefore if we (Christians) are still under this “wrath” then this whole interpretation of this wrath burning eternally against unbelievers, that we Christians escape, is wrong.
          -
          Quite simply a lot of Christians misunderstand what Paul was meaning when he was talking about wrath, and in order to explain their misunderstanding of wrath they say thing like “God’s wrath has to burn against sin because he is Holy”, when the Bible associates God’s holiness with mercy. It’s like many Christian theologians have set a ladder in the wrong place and are trying to climb this ladder, and thus coming up with stuff that is incredibly wrong…. in order to try and make sense of their core beliefs that are wrong.
          -
          It just goes deeper and deeper into wrongness…. and sometimes (if not often) nonsense.
          -
          Add to this the fact that many of the words in a lot of Bibles that are translated as “torments”, “hell”, and “eternal” don’t mean this AT ALL in the original Greek texts (which is why the original Greek Christians had a different understanding of God’s nature).
          -
          So some of the things Christians are saying is terribly inconsistent. But I don’t think the New Testament is inconsistent. Jesus was showing what God was truly like, and Paul was deconstructing they vengefull, wrathful, violent God that he had believed in as a Pharisee, to the loving benevolent diety that he came to understand as part of the Jesus movement, or at that time “the Way”.
          -
          I believe “the Way” understood these things.

  8. Jesus is exactly like the Father. The Father is exactly like Jesus. Jesus came to show us what the Father is like.
    If God is violent- Jesus failed.
    Are we really willing to say that?

    • Yes. If God is violent and full of wrath then Jesus didn’t fully convey the father to humanity.

    • Jesus didn’t fail. We failed, missed the point, and we continue to fail every time we project our own violent fantasies on the face of God. I think what bothers me most, is how often we are willing to attribute to God, acts that are not only unjust, but can be identified as sin. I don’t believe I will ever fully understand Gods ways while I live on this earth- He’s just too beautiful to comprehend. But I have been shown the Father through Jesus’ life on earth, and I’ve never seen Jesus as a sinner. To say that God is violent, in my opinion, is accusing God of sin. If that weren’t so dismal, it would be comical.

  9. Picking up from my last comment: using the defense of the great mystery leaves little room of having to choose between the logic of the jihadist and the logic of the Calvinist.

    If a Muslim extremist argues:
    a) Allah is compassionate
    b) Allah commands us to bomb infidels blowing them to pieces.

    Then we must ask. By what means do they qualify the compassion of Allah? And they if they simply rely upon mystery, then should we agree?

    If Michelle answers no, then by what means does she attack the mystery defense of the Jihadist?

    Shouldn’t Justin find the Jihadist argument compelling since according to the Jihadist, Justin is operating with a darkened mind and therefore should embrace the truth of Islam? I would assume so.

  10. I think what I’m really saying is that it seems to me that sound doctrine is no longer required. Now unsound doctrine is a necessary residual of the darkened mind. Since the darkened mind cannot fathom such things, then it ought to just accept it.

    But as Kevin asks, how then does David French or Justin Taylor know they’re operating within a non-darkened logic?

    Davids response he links to makes this mistake: he uses the mystery his daughter experiences in order to show the mystery he expereiences proves God can hate someone. But the problem of course is that David loves all of his children. But now suppose David hates his son (if he has one) and loves his daughter and asks her to kill her brother while he claims to in fact love him. Now David owes us an explanation of that parallel.

    • I noticed that David used his daughter as an example, but if someone that wants to refute Calvinism uses human relationships with their children to compare with God’s relationships with humanity then all of a sudden, to their mind, this is extra Biblical and shouldn’t be used.
      -
      I believe that their whole understanding of human nature is unsound. We aren’t as darkened as they thing. Their building bad understanding upon bad understanding. Paul’s use of “seeing through a glass darkly” has nothing to do with us being darkened or “depraved”. He’s just saying that we can’t fully understand everything of God’s ways. Well… of course we can’t understand everything of God’s ways, especially in every way that he’s working on the earth, but we can understand the general goodness of his character.
      -
      You had mentioned the logic of the jihadist compared to the logic of the Calvinist. There have been facets of Calvinism that have acted in similar violently illogical ways over the years. When Calvinism entered into Scotland they ended up murdering (probably mostly by burning) over 5,000 people as witches over a span of less than 200 years, and Scotland doesn’t have a large population.
      -
      Then there’s the Salem witch hunts.
      -
      This kind of logic (or illogic) has led to this sort of thing and I see no reason to believe that it isn’t possible in the future. What with guys like John Piper telling Christians to “be happy or something bad will happen to you” because God wants us to be happy. If he even has this view of God’s dealing with Christians, then how much does that open the door to a certain view of God’s dealings with non Christians….. which is a short step from a certain view of how Christians should deal with people.

  11. God shows mercy every day. “The Rain Falls on the Just & the Unjust.” the rain is both a physical & figurative symbol of God’s mercy. God is also Just. One day He will judge the world in Righteousness. The fact that He restrains His hand from destroying the wicked every day until that day is an example of His mercy. The problem with this view being expressed by the author 7 many posters is that it’s unbalanced. The Scripture presents God as complex beyond our understanding. Indeed, even we ourselves can be angry with one we love, but that does not diminish our love for them, We can also be merciful & kind to those deserving of our wrath. A good example is the number of lashes allowed to be given a person in the Old Testament was limited, “Lest your brother become detestable in your eyes.” We show mercy to those deserving justice to preserve ourselves from barbarism & a general hatred even on those who might deserve worse. Is not God capable of at least this much? To show mercy on the condemned in this life, & to chastise those who He Has chosen to become like Him in Character by His Sovereign decree through the redemptive work of Christ. God is, “Both Just, & the Justifier…” He can be both wrathful as Sovereign LORD & Judge, & Kind, Loving, & Merciful at the same time–even to the same person. Heaven in infinitely much more than we deserve. Hell is Exactly the wages we earned, no more, no less. K. Cisco I looked at the article you referenced. I find one major issue with it. The Psalms talk of God visiting Judgement & wrath on the enemies of Israel & David as a means of His deliverance for them as part of the Covenants He made with them. They also tell of His chastisement of the people to bring them to Him. I find it hard to attribute works to Satan when the LORD uses the first person in pronouncing & bestowing blessings, cursings & deliverance upon them. Otherwise, we’d have to say that Satan led Joshua across the Jordan to destroy Jericho. By the way, as a general question, if you have a problem with the Doctrine of Hell, instead of trying to redefine Christianity, why not start your own religion instead of troubling the Saints? It would be a false religion. While I would fear for you, at least it would put a stark contrast between the truth of Christianity, & your error.

    • Christopher Park said: “By the way, as a general question, if you have a problem with the Doctrine of Hell, instead of trying to redefine Christianity, why not start your own religion instead of troubling the Saints? It would be a false religion. While I would fear for you, at least it would put a stark contrast between the truth of Christianity, & your error”.

      -

      Mr. Park. Did you know that a great many, if not most, of the Christians before Augustine believed in, or a least hoped for, the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind. Believing in Ultimate Reconcilation isn’t changing Christianity….. its restoring it.

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