August 12, 2012

God: Fiend or Friend?

We've all heard these before...
God's a hater
God's genocidal
God's cruel
God's mean
God's  ___ place negative adjective here ___*
Blah Blah Blah

This is what everyone should've read from the Bible....
[ John 15:14 ~ "You are my friends if you do what I command." ]

We hear it all the time from folks that do not know their Bible well or read it often:

“How can God supposedly be such a loving God, when He allowed genocides?”

When people read the story of the Amalekites they usually chalk-up the call to eradicate them as an overreaction on God’s part or an overly hostile and angry God, just as the heretic Marcion did in the early second century. This is a telling comparison…that people who think like Marcion think the same way as a heretic did.

Here’s the thing though, the statements about wiping them out comes multiple times and for a while, God's people can't seem to get these people dead enough for God's purposes. As the flawed vessels they are, they continue to fail in this task. As with everything all works out to God's glory. It works out if one actually reads the Bible, understands history and educates themselves about God's so-called "genocidal rages" which are in reality justified retribution for horrific and unspeakable evils to children, the elderly and women. Evils that most people casually glance over as just another difficult to understand passage from the Old Testament.

Exodus 17:14 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Deuteronomy 25:17-18 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God.

1 Samuel 15:3 “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Amalek was the grandson of Esau. The Amalekites themselves were cruel and cowardly. In every story in which an Amalekites participate, we see extraordinarily evil people committing cruel acts and doing so in a cowardly manner. They are not noble in their actions.

In Exodus 17:8-16, we learn that the Lord is particularly peeved at the Amalekites and He swore to (v.16) "have war with Amalek from generation to generation." The real crime here is not because the Amalekites attacked the army of Israel. Oh no, they (Deuteronomy 25:18), “met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God” The Amalekites only attacked those who were unable to defend themselves, the weak (think children and elderly) and those unable to keep pace in the desert with their stronger brothers. They attacked the stragglers, those in Israel who were too ill, too weak, or too young to protect themselves. These are the very people that God as a specific heart for in their weakness and downtrodden lives. After this incident the mass of people were broken into tribes and the weaker ones would from that point on, always be in the main body moving along with their tribe (Numbers 2)

As God promised, He beleaguered the Amalekites. They were never friends of Israel nor God because of their wickedness. In Numbers, they fought the Israelites entrance into Canaan. In Judges, they are mentioned several times as Israel's oppressors. When the Amalekites show up in Scripture it is assured they will act as cowardly skunks.

They are finally done away with in…

1 Chronicles 4:43 ~ “And they defeated the remnant of the Amalekites who had escaped, and they have lived there to this day.”

Had Saul carried out his duty as charged earlier in the Bible, they would’ve been wiped off the face of the Earth sooner but all happens to the glory of God anyway. So who was cruel here? God or the Amalekites? The One seeking to right the wrong with justice or the ones committing the unspeakable atrocities? What we learn from the story and context is that the Amalekites had it coming in terms of justice. What we also learn is that people that are brazen enough to make the aforementioned thoughtless comments need to learn to read the Bible better.

The Amalekites nor other people that God smites did what God told them if they were to be His friend. Obey His commands. They did just the opposite and reaped the reward for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28). They are cursed and inevitably...annihilated for their wickedness. ZAP!

So what we see from God is not monstrous and evil behavior but is actually justice due for an unrepentant people. These are the type of people that remain in their sin and refuse to repent. They are therefore worthy only of death and that is what they receive. It is the eventual destination for all that refuse to turn to God…eternal punishment in death, separated from God forever.

The next idea is usually always missed by those that would make the "mean God" accusations against God. The next statements never occur to these types of people because frankly, those naive enough to make the previous accusations are ignorant of the Bible and the truth of God’s amazing patience in the face of exceptionally abominable practices and disobedience.

As was often the case, God was extraordinarily patient, long-suffering and forbearing when it came to people’s sin. Most often (as they usually do today), they confused God’s silence and patience as His final reaction, judgment or even apathy. Just as people will realize today sooner or later, this prolonged patience and silence was only calm before the storm of judgment. In dealing with evil nations in the OT, God often withheld punishment until their wickedness reached a particularly high level or a fevered pitch. He was abundantly patient until sinners had been given over fully to their reprobate nature and depraved minds and literally began thumbing their noses at God in defiance just was we see in the United States and the world today. Year upon year of wickedness and flaunting of sinful behavior meanwhile they are flipping God the middle-finger.

What we see with the Amalekites is that the violence against the Israelites was not the main mitigating factor for the hammer of justice coming down on their heads. It was the overt rebellion against God and their outrageous insolence. It must also be understood that in a Sovereign God’s universe it is actually God who was avenging the Israelites, not the Israelites themselves. It is God who has perfect knowledge, wisdom, justice and the authority to make this type of judgment call against a people. Mankind on the other hand even on their best day do not have the ethical ground to stand on nor the authority to make this judgment without being hypocrites and mockers of God for they themselves are sinners worthy of death.

This being said we should look closer at God’s wrath in these so-called genocidal situations. They are extreme from our point of view but in reality we are all worthy of the same punishment and it wasn’t for Jesus Christ and God’s forbearance we would’ve gotten it already. If we attempt to fully grasp God’s wrath we must remove ourselves from our myopic human presuppositions and points-of-view. We must look at God’s wrath through a divine lens as much as we can as fallen humanity. We need to see the far-reaching implications of God’s wrath and stop viewing it from our pigeonholed viewpoint.

Other than Jesus Christ, the closest we have in terms of the pathos of God when it comes to wrath and anger is through the shrieks and pronouncements of impending doom from the prophets. No pathos or emotion of God is more vehemently denounced by today’s politically dorky society that God’s anger towards sinners. “We can’t preach God’s wrath, it’ll scare people away and we’ll lose church members!” “We can only talk about a loving and accepting God that has open arms for everybody.” …Even though this perception of God is not the God fully described in the Bible. We as humans always see God’s anger as sinister and, well, evil and something that should be inhibited or repressed. It is rare that those quick to pass judgment on God’s motives rarely ever bother to actually read into the reasons for why He is angry in the first place. They usually just assume they know and then fraudulently jump to conclusions and assert that “God is mean”.

What we do find if we read the Bible is a God who: Accumulates anger through human injustices, sin and disobedience. Instead of judging them immediately and react to them on the spot he forebears and the sin ends up becoming accretions adding to God’s anger. Here we see a key element in God’s wrath. It is not an attribute per se as much as it is a manifestation of reaction to existing sin. Otherwise God is indeed love. Wrath is God’s reaction in justice to sin not an actual attribute of God. It is not His essence it is an outward dynamic. Although anger and wrath in the human context is usually wrong and evil we cannot say the same for God. Anger when associate with immorality and malice which are not of God will always be evil but these descriptions don’t apply to God do they? God does not think like man thinks and that’s exactly why we need to get to where God is. Because where we’re at even makes us think improperly about God’s wrath.

Numbers 23:19 ~ “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

There are no defects in God’s thinking or God’s justice if He is truly omniscient, omnipotent and Sovereign. Therefore, if he is angered, it is justified. If justified His wrath at some point must be expended or absorbed as in the case of Jesus on the Cross for Christians. The wrath of God is not some errant instantaneous “shotgun blast” or emotional outburst. It is never a spontaneous explosion but rather a slow methodical reaction prompted by the sinful behavior of men. God’s wrath is not only systematic and orderly, it is also meticulous, voluntary and purposeful, motivated by concern for right and wrong.

It is therefore horribly wrong and thickheaded to identify God’s wrath with evil. It may be evil by association when related to man but never when in relation to God. Only a sinfully wicked and reprobate mind would make this assumption anyway. A mind far from God and therefore not very well versed in the Scriptures.

The irony is that God’s wrath can often be a blessing as in the case of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion on the Cross. As fire can be harnessed for good to use as a tool to produce positive things when in the right hands, so to it can be used as a weapon and become fatal in the wrong hands. This analogy applies to wrath when wielded by man…it is usually a weapon and evil. When applied to God it is a tool or energy steered for righteousness and holy purpose. Anger in God’s reality is never in isolation either. It is an a homogeneous whole that also includes justice, righteousness, love and all of God’s other infinite attributes. No so for man. To say the least, man is wanton, partial, unbalanced and frankly…scatterbrained and crazy compared to a perfect God. God on the other hand is benevolent, perfectly balanced and orderly.

God’s wrath is always in reaction to wayward man otherwise there would be no divine wrath. Why does God do this? Because He loves and wants what’s best for His creations especially the ones bestowed the greatest honor…of being created in God’s own image.

One last thing that needs to be mentioned is God’s sustained silences in the face of pronounced evils. His silence is not apathy. One of the biggest evils in the world is apathy so this attribute can never be attributed to a holy God. Indifference to evil is even more insidious than evil itself and therefore more evil than evil. It is a silence that makes evil not only possible but allows it to thrive. This is a sin that all people are very guilty of. Most of us are and won’t even acknowledge and admit this fact. God on the other hand is not apathetic in his silence, if anything He is immensely concerned. Him giving is only Son should’ve clued us into this fact. No, this silence is not apathy but rather long-suffering and forbearance at a divine level. Even in the face of the Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge, The Great Leap Forward, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Antiochus Epiphanes, etc.

The patience of God means restraint of justifiable anger. The patience of God means another chance at salvation for a wayward person flirting with damnation. We should be thankful He is so patient.

We should be so thankful that He is forgiving and forgives those that truly repent of their sins. We must never forget that at some point forbearance ceases to be a blessing and switches over to being a curse. This is especially true when God’s patience is so great that we are given over to our sins which in the end…become their own punishments…our own tortures.

In the end God’s expenditure of His wrath is always followed by a call to return to Him. We are never scorched by the heat of God’s wrath without a glimmer of hope that we may return to the fold if we turn around and repent. If people will only turn from their evil and wicked ways and correct their conduct to be in alignment with God and obedient…there is still hope. There is still and avenue of return. If not, once they're dead…its over and they are eternally condemned.

So the next time you see people experiencing what appears to be God’s wrath, or you yourself are, perhaps you should be thankful. The fact is you are still alive and have a chance to repent.

Perhaps that is the main purpose of the wrath to begin with…don’t you think? On the eternal scale of things, sometimes God expending His wrath is good for some people that, up to this point…just haven’t gotten the message. For people like that it could be worse…

Infinitely worse, or should I say eternally worse?

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