Archive for the ‘christian’ Category

Wars are never just about good against evil

March 14, 2022

Judges 21:25 … In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

1 Sam 8:5 …  appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 

Romans 7:18-20 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Since the time of Adam and Eve, human tensions have always had an element of rebellion – against God and against each other. But there is also an element of tension between the good and evil within ourselves – For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Also, since the time of Adam and Eve, whenever problems arise, we tend to attribute the source of solutions to anywhere else but within ourselves. Sometimes we think our solution lies in the type of government, whether it be socialist or capitalist or something else. Sometimes we think our solution is in a political party or the structure of an organization. And sometimes the way we do things can be made better.

But in the end, the problem is that the problem is human – the problem is us. And the problem with political solutions, is that political solutions work by invoking power – but that power does not have the capacity to eliminate the source of evil with human hearts – particularly within the hearts of those who hold that power. Even with the best of intentions, thinking that things will get better if we can control things, we end up going astray by trying to fix what we cannot control. We cannot fix our own hearts, never mind the hearts of others. The result is a human history over-run with examples of our capacity to abuse power.

Our history is a constant mix of good and evil. Some people started thinking that they were better off by leaving a place where governance was a problem and instead finding a place where they could govern themselves. They could even justify their decision with religious reasons. Even in that different place, for what seemed to be good reasons they rebelled against old authority and establish a better system of governance. Then they even found “good” religious and even scientific reasons for eradicating and abusing people that they could classify as less than human. There was some good that came out of all that – but it was a human effort and naturally not all good. Because the best of us is not good enough.

In our current day, we can identify a “clash of civilizations.” The most notable are are the governments of the “West,” the Russian government and the Chinese government. In all those cases, there is a mix of good and evil, a mix of some good intentions and abuse of power. In the current situation, the backstory of Putin includes a yearning to restore an eastern culture with its religious roots …

“We see many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of western civilisation. They are denying the moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual.”  (from a speech Putin gave in 2013) …

But sadly, even with such motives Putin has resorted to using political and military means to try to restore what cannot be restored through such means. The only violence that advanced the cause of Christ was the violence used to execute Him, where He received the penalty for all the violence humans perpetrate.

It is proper to respond with compassion to those who suffer Putin’s unjustified wrath. But it would be well to respond with humility, knowing that the divide of good and evil in Putin’s heart is the divide that goes through ours. It is not through our own doing but only through God’s mercy that He allows the good to triumph over evil and that His righteousness prevails over our unrighteousness.

The solution to our problem is not our governance or Russia’s governance, but in the goodness we can live out through grace of God.

Matthew 24:6-14 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

War is not the final answer

March 4, 2022

Irena has experienced the war in Croatia during the 1990s. Those memories flood her emotions as she now hears of the wars in Ukraine and thinks of her friends there. She knows that the horrors of war are not the final answer. She also knows that the dividing line between war and peace run through the middle of us all.

Excerpts from her essay, War and Peace (Comment Magazine, 3 Mar 2022)

The truth is that all the elements of life that mushroom wildly in times of war are the very same ones we experience in times of peace. War is not as distant, incomprehensible, and otherworldly as many of us who have not experienced it on our own soil think … because we already know the raw material. We are made of that material. It is inside us … If we do not understand this baseline of human reality, we will see those enduring the horrors of war as other than us …   This does not have to be so. We must comprehend the mystery of opposites coexisting in the same moment, in the same sacred space. Joy and sorrow. Pain and healing. Grief and hope. Life and death … The presence of war does not exclude the presence of peace, nor does the presence of peace exclude the presence of war … they always coexist. It is why, miraculously, one can be at peace while in the middle of a war. And it is why a seed of war is never fully absent during a time of peace. Until God’s kingdom comes.

Beauty Calls Us

March 2, 2022

Two things of beauty captured me today.

In Vienna, there was a meeting to remember and transcend awful events of 500 years ago. There was a meeting of Catholics and Anabaptists to “commemorate the martyrs of the Radical Reformation.” The invitation to the meeting was: We no longer address each other as members of two different sides but simply as brothers and sisters. Despite the weight of history and all our theological differences, we come together as Christians who have found each other and want to learn from one another how we can faithfully serve Jesus Christ today.

The Catholic representative, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, read from Psalm 51 and they prayed “We thank you, dear Father, that we can gather today with joyous hearts, but also with broken and contrite hearts. Forgive us, dear Lord, wherever we have harmed your children in the past, those who are our brothers and sisters. Heal the memories of those Christians who were persecuted here in our country. Forgive and redeem the injustice that has taken place here. Grant that we may now, in this country, bear witness to the unity among Christians who belong to different confessions. For your glory and the building up of your kingdom,

The Anabaptist representative, Heinrich Arnold, said “Jesus’ final prayer for unity among his disciples in John 17, “That they may all be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you,” is so vital and important today. Are we all one today? What does Jesus mean by that? How can we be one? What a tragedy that we Christians today are still so divided, not just because we have different traditions and doctrines, or call ourselves Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Anabaptists, but because we don’t have enough love for each other. Why is it that after two thousand years we still have not arrived at the unity Jesus prayed for?

He then quoted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “We cannot bring about unity in the church by diplomatic maneuvers. The result would only be a diplomatic structure based on human principles. Instead, we must open ourselves more and more to our Lord Jesus Christ. The unity he brings about is the only true unity. Anything else is a political construction, which is as transitory as all political constructions are … This is the more difficult way, for in political maneuvers people themselves are active and believe they can achieve something. We must wait on the Lord, that he will give us unity, and of course we must go to meet him by cleansing our hearts. … Together let us allow the Lord to cleanse us and let us learn the truth from him, the truth that is love, so that he can work and so that he brings us together.

A representative of the Hutterites, Eduard Geissler, said, “Spiritually, both groups shared roots in late medieval mysticism and the lay movement Devotio Moderna. They both had the same basic conviction that a personal relationship with God or wholeheartedly following Jesus presupposes a commitment made with a mature faith. For the Anabaptists, this meant believers’ baptism. For the Jesuits, this meant a prayer of total surrender after completing the spiritual exercises. Suddenly Catholicism had a counterpart to believer’s baptism, a factor that probably also contributed to the success of the Counter-Reformation. Moreover, both groups looked to the model of the early church. The Anabaptists wanted to recover this model, founding churches on the principle of “new wines in new wineskins.” The Jesuits wanted to renew the church so that the Catholic Church would be a “genuinely spiritual church with genuinely spiritual Christians.” Neither wished to return to the church that existed before the Reformation. Both emphasized putting faith into practice in everyday life, following the directives in scripture as “doers of the word,” which presupposes knowledge of the Bible. And both sides invested in education, forming their own high-quality schools.

This commemoration not only remembered the great tragedy of persecution, but looked beyond persecuted/persecutor to recognize the commonality of the faith of all those believers – and the healing that can only come from Jesus.

The second thing of beauty was a reflection of how beauty captured the imaginations of the nation of Aztecs. The picture shown here is a modern work done in the style of those Aztecs. While the Aztecs did not have knowledge of Jesus, they still saw in beauty something beyond this life. In one of their ancient songs they said,

Certainly, it is elsewhere in the hereafter where there is true joy …
Truly there is another life in the hereafter.
I wish to go there, I wish to sing amongst
the multitude of precious birds.
I wish to enjoy the holy flowers.
The fragrant flowers, the ones that please the heart
Only their intoxicating fragrance makes one happy, their fragrance intoxicates.

In the midst of all the tragedy around us, hopefully we can pause to see the beauty around us in all its different forms, and remember the author of that Beauty

Beginning and Ending in Waiting

December 8, 2018

sunset-pixabay-SarahRicherArtAs we follow the church calendar, we end 28 weeks of Ordinary Time as we end one year and then begin the 4-week Advent season, which starts another year. One season of waiting followed by another. In the church calendar we spend a full 32 of 52 weeks … waiting. This makes sense. From the time the first image-bearers were created, there would be thousands (if not thousands of thousands) of years waiting for the first coming of the Messiah. The first coming lasted only a few years, and now it has been two thousand years of waiting so far for the Messiah’s return. And here we are waiting again.

It’s hard to blame the world for wanting to focus on the celebration. There was the long time of waiting. And now, in America, we start getting ready for the celebration with longer and longer Christmas shopping seasons. Unfortunately, in all the gift-buying it’s easy to lose sight of the best gift which came free – for us anyway. It’s truly a gift that we can’t repay. It’s the gift from the one who from the riches of love in his own heart paid the price for our gift. It’s a gift from the one who desires to be our Father – and brother – and friend. Even though we can accept the gift right now, the complete gift requires waiting for the final fulfilment. We can have the deposit now, but we have to wait until we finally consummate the gift.

Waiting is hard. From the beginning we had trouble waiting. We wanted access to all the wisdom and knowledge without waiting. We just grabbed for it. We’ve been paying the price ever since, but we never learned the lesson and keep on trying to grab things when we want. We can’t wait. The stores can’t wait for profits and we can’t wait to buy things and some day we will probably start wondering when the Christmas gift-buying season will be 52 weeks.

We desperately need the Advent season to keep us from focusing on all the other gifts and forgetting the most important gift and, more importantly, the One who gives it. Even with our little gifts, the most important part is the relationship of the ones giving and receiving. Stuff can’t replace our need for each other and our need for a relationship with the best gift-giver of all. The stuff is just the icing on the cake.

Relationships never blossom in an instant. Relationships take time as we get to know each other and do things with each other. While we wait for the biggest gift, the biggest gift-giver of them all is giving us the time, right now, to start getting to know him and do things with him. We don’t have to wait to receive the relationship or wait to start building it. We can do that right now – while we are waiting.

Thanksgiving for the Social Order

October 29, 2018
hands-truthseeker08-pixabay Pixabay. Truthseeker08.

In light of recent events, this entry from the Common Book of Prayer seems appropriate …

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Singing to babies

October 26, 2018

beach_zinz25_pixabay

Jeremiah 18:6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

As I was walking down the street, I was privileged to hear a mother singing to her baby – in what language, I do not know. It occurred to me that, in probably every culture, parents must sing to their children. That made me wonder, in what language does God sing to us?

Our language may constrain our ability to understand God, but God is not constrained by our language. He is not constrained by our own lack of words, for he is able to speak to us through his creation – even the stars and children, through the works of the hands of his image-bearers, through our imaginations and dreams, through stories and poetry, through our conscience and sub-conscience. He is able to talk, even sing to us, in all sorts of ways even we are not listening.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 8:2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

Romans 8:26-27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

It is his song that we sing to our children for he gave us the gift of music. It is his love that we show when we take care of our children for he gave us the gift of compassion. It is his provision we give when we provide food and shelter for our children because he is the one who provides for us. Even if the gifts we share are not perfect, they are his gifts. This world may be broken, we may be broken, but God is able to make broken things whole and good things glorious.

Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

The love that we show may seem imperfect, but because it is his love we share then we cannot hide it. Even if we are incompetent or rebellious, we may distort but we cannot hide the glory of God. The lumbering train banging and screeching on ill-maintained railroad tracks cannot hide God’s transcendence made visible through his image-bearers. Even if we mistreat others, our misused gifts are nevertheless the gifts God has given.

2 Corinthians 9:6-9 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If we are aware of our own brokenness, we should not be surprised that our society as a whole is broken. If we can also admit that, within our brokenness, we are poor – that we need each other, that we need to be generous, mutually sharing our gifts with each other then we can all abound. It is within our mutual brokenness that we can be listening for God’s voice. Perhaps when we are listening to each other, particularly to those with whom we cannot understand and with whom we disagree, then we can hear God sing.

1 Corinthians 14:21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.”

Psalm 96:11-13 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in  righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

 

 

The Problem Isn’t Politics

October 12, 2018

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Photo: Pixabay, Victoria Borodinova

1 Samuel 8:4-7 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

 John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

In the times of the prophet Samuel, the nation of Israel looked at the problems they saw and they thought the problem was political – they thought that the answer was to get a king, like everyone else. In the times of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jews looked at the problems they saw and they thought that the problem was political – they thought that the answer was a king, a Messiah, to overthrow the Roman government. In both cases, the real solution was much more personal. The enemy is not “the other” – the enemy as so pithily stated by Pogo is “us.”

Our national political scene is fraught with fear of “the other.” Our major political parties have deep concerns about what will happen if the other side gets their way and both sides have engaged in the politics of fear of what will happen if the other side gets more power. Again, the problem is not “the other,” the problem is us.

For several decades, the combination of politics and technology have combined to increasingly polarize our national and personal discussions. Our increasingly precision political gerrymandering has combined with our social media technology to create a toxic mix. Physically we can isolate our political communities with precision gerrymandering. Electronically we can both isolate ourselves in like-minded online communities while at the same time hide ourselves in online personas where it is safer to criticize “the other” because we don’t have to meet “the other” face-to-face in community and spend the time getting to know “the other” as a neighbor long enough to understand and appreciate “the other” as a person.

As with the problems stated in the first paragraph, we are seeking a solution in the wrong place. Our problem has more to do with our increasingly isolated lives in combination with our human preference to find fault in someone else other than ourselves. If we try to solve the problem through political power, we will find ourselves constantly battling to force our way of thinking onto others who will respond in kind. There will be no peace.

The soluton to our current turmoil is not to be found in politics or power.  The solution is goodness … To Make America Good … without quibbling over whether it has ever been or not. We each must seek the common good, the good of all people, to treat each other, even those with whom we disagree, with respect and dignity.  We must learn to listen respectfully, to seek out the common interest, to make sure that we hear each other and build trust. Once we build trust than we can take actions that transcend politics and power and instead build trust and community. Societies built on community, trust, respect and goodness will not need as many laws.

Politics and power by themselves, not built on a foundation of goodness, decency, respect, and trust is building a house on a sand foundation that will not withstand a storm. If we do not stand together, if we do not mutually support one another, if we do not trust one another, if we cannot be decent with one another, if we do not seek each other’s good then we will ensure the continued destruction of community, creating problems that no government, no laws can fix. If we build walls within our country it matters not what walls are on the border. But a country united by the common good and willing to regard the common good of other nations will be stronger than a divided country with the strongest border walls because we will destroy each other first. Politics and power cannot build community, cannot build trust, cannot build respect, cannot build goodness.

A president once said that we should ask “not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.” If t’s time to revisit that idea. It may be foolish of me, but I would rather be known to be good if not great, than to be great and not good.

 

 

Liturgy of Mobile Devices

November 6, 2017

Most of us struggle in some fashion with the distractions of cell phones/mobile devices. In fact, we can honestly admit that this technology, which has brought us a tsunami of social connectivity, is driving us more than we are driving the technology. Our normal urges for social connection, in a healthy environment, provide the glue to bind us in mutually nurturing relationships, but now, in a changing tecchnological culture which is developing more quickly than our wisdom, we are experiencing advances that are now being used to hijack and manipulate our urges. Furthermore, it is challenging as a society to develop an effective cohesive check on the rapidly developing technologies. So, how do we regain control? How do we change our unhealthy habits?

Usually, we do not just dispose of unhealthy habits, rather we replace the unhealthy ones with new ones. We replace one ritual (or liturgy) with a new one. I am proposing that there are a couple of levels of liturgies that are available for us to replace our unhealthy liturgies.

LITURGY OF THE DAY

While all our days look different from each other’s in many ways, the component of the day that I am looking at right now is the part where we interact with our technology. Various studies, such as the one’s mentioned here (http://www.aish.com/ci/s/Smartphones-Negative-Effects-A-Summary-of-Latest-Comprehensive-Research.html), show the effect of unabated use of cell phones, when we allow ourselves to be slaved to the demands of the device. Part of our task is to realize that we need to confront what has been called the tyranny of the urgent (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6803033-tyranny-of-the-urgent) and thoughtfully consider what things are truly important versus those things we are perceiving as urgent and structure our days appropriately according to our thought out priorities. As we do that, we need to keep in mind the Great Commandments and we also need to humbly consider how we interact with God through the day and confront our perceived need for our control vs. our actual need to recognize God’s control. It is in that context that we may need to let others know that we are not always going to be instantly responding to notifications.

There are a few techniques that are available for cell phone app management. A couple are mentioned in the first article referenced above.

  • Silencing the phone: This can be done in hour before bedtime in order to not have the phone impact our sleep or at other times when we want to focus
  • Putting your cell phone away and out of sight (or in another room) at various times during the day (e.g. mealtimes, while meeting with friends)
  • Controlling your notifications on your apps. This can be done by turning off notification sounds, banners, etc.
  • Putting the notifications with banners on a secondary screen and planning what times of the day you will choose to look at those apps

LITURGY OF THE CALL TO PRAYER

With the liturgy of the day established, we have the context set for the next step. If we are receiving the emails for the daily prayers, we still may have the challenge of handling the very device that is distracting us from what we hold to be important to with things that we are perceiving as urgent. But now if we establish that the email containing the prayer is important compared to what we have perceived as the urgent notifications from the apps, we have the possibility of establishing a liturgy to counteract our old mindset.

There is one technique of managing the mobile device distraction by simply not using it. That is a valid strategy but a purely defensive one. However, we may be able to use the emailed prayer in an offensive strategy, and replace our liturgy of distractedness with a liturgy of focus. To create this new liturgy we can use a centering prayer (https://www.pcusa.org/resource/lectio-and-centering-prayer-conflict/). In the prayer emails sent out by Resurrection Brooklyn, the first two sentences are:

God is near because he loves you. Turn your hearts to him and find new life.

So one option is to use those sentences in our centering prayer. Whatever we decide to use, once we have a prayer set up that we always use then over time we can memorize it and use that prayer anytime, not only when we are intending to open the prayer email but whenever we pick up the phone, causing the phone to now be an object that calls us to prayer instead of being an object that causes distraction.

Remembering who is in control

August 23, 2017

Zech 4:6 – So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Zech 8:10 – Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbor.

I am reading the above passages this week. So now, as I hear the responses to the President’s speeches, I am reminded that the Lord is still in control and orchestrating our affairs. Zechariah was written as Israel was in exile and the Lord was reminding them that there is hope at the end of His discipline – He is able to draw all His people to Himself. Unlike Trump’s claim during the campaign, that he is the answer to all our country’s problems – God is reminding us here that He is the one in control, even if God has ordained Trump’s presidency.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the statements made by the President, it is clear that, despite all our communication tools, there are groups in this country that do not know how to listen to each other. With insulting categorizations, quick responses and blanket statements thrown around, there is precious little communication (listening) actually happening. There are fears and doubts that are not being understood. There is healing of relationships that needs to occur. There is a need to understand that God is more than we can understand and is larger than our biased (whether we acknowledge it or not) agendas.

When “our side” is winning, we can become complacent – not bothering to hear what concerns others my have, and when “our side” is not winning, we can become aggressive – caring more about being heard than listening. In either case, the call is the old prescription, “to love our neighbor as ourself,” whether we don’t want to or need to. And for those of us who consider God to be on “our side,” we need to confess our brokenness, that we have not loved God or neighbor as we should, that we need to ask God how we can be used by Him to help bring healing to the land in which He placed us, and that we need to acknowledge that we need God’s intervention in our own lives as well as in the lives of those we disagree with.

The problems we see are bigger than the President, than Congress, than the Supreme Court, and bigger than the Constitution. The solution to the problems is not ultimately to be found in the laws we make, the culture we make, the schools we build or the walls we build. The problem is all of us – our sin. The solution is love and grace – taking the time to get uncomfortable and listening to those who are different, wrestling together with the messiness of all our situations and acknowledging that the fears and concerns of others are just as real as our own.

That said, the love and grace we need is from God. Once we have fully grasped just how much we ourselves need that love and grace, we can then share that with others in this broken world. Meanwhile we need to patiently wait for the time when He will complete His work in us.

Reconciling the nature of the God in the Old Testament and New Testament

February 23, 2016

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Photo: Flickr.com, Montezuma’s war, Photographer: llpo’s Sojourn

The Old Testament seems full of violence, not just man against man, but violence that God seems to promote and even participate in. This seems so antithetical to the way God seems to be portrayed in the New Testament, there exemplified by Jesus who seemed to focus more on serving and forgiving. How do we make sense of this? I think that there are two issues to be looked at:

1. The initial question comes from the way God initiatiates and commands violence in the Old Testament, particularly against seemingly innocent people, causing many of us to be uncomfortable or confused; how can the God who loves, cares for and nurtures us to the point of dying and suffering for us, be so violent against the people He wants to draw to Himself? Particulary, when the violence seems to be carried out against innocent people, it seems to contradict the sense of fairness and kindness we expect of God.

2. The first question leads to a more fundamental question. How do we reconcile that the God of love and peace in the we are familiar with in the New Testament with the God of wrath and violence we see in the Old Testament – is the nature and character of God the same in both testaments? It is this question we will look at first.

The nature and character of God

One of the first things to do reconcile these two seeming disparate points of view is to be more thorough examination of the revelation of God in both testaments. If we look carefully, we will discover that there is much in common between the two testaments:

The themes of love, grace and mercy run not only through the New Testament but through the Old Testament as well

Ex 34:6-7, Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Hos 11:8-9, My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
2 Samuel 24:14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands
Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Isaiah 55:7 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.
Nehemiah 9:31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The themes of justice and wrath run not only through the Old Testament but through the New Testament as well

Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Matt 10:14-15 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Matt 10:34  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Mark 9:42-48  “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Luke 18:7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Romans 9:22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?

Understanding the context of violence

For those of us who are disposed to relate to God as our Father, our Friend, and our Shepherd, we become uncomfortable with the expressions of wrath and violence displayed by God, particularly in the Old Testament. Part of our discomfort is due to our incomplete understanding of God (which we just addressed and partly due to our lack of understanding of the context of the culture in Biblical times.

Violence is found not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well

⦁ Revelation 19:11-21 Heavenly warrior defeats the beast.
⦁ Rev 16:1-21 seven bowls of wrath
⦁ Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Malachi 2:16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. In this verse, divorce is considered an act of violence. How little do we understand what other violence we commit with any of our sins.
Lex tolionus (Code of Hammurabi) – the concept of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is actually a counter-cultural idea that the MAXIMUM penalty for a transgression should be not greater than the transgression itself
Herem – devotion (to destruction)- The destruction of entire cities was necessary to eliminate the gross sins committed by a city. Part of that elimination of a corrupted culture was so that it wouldn’t contaminate the Israelites (as was proven in the later history of Israel, Deut 20:18) as simply a patient and forbearing God executing his delayed judgement. In the dream where God was informing Abraham of the future (Gen 15:12-16) captivity and release of the nation of his descendants, he also informed Abraham that the time of judgements against the Amalekites had not yet come but would come at the time when Abraham’s descendents would return to the Promised Land.

God gives people up to their sins

  • Genesis 18:20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
  • Pharoah who hardened his heart and then the Lord further hardened the Pharoah’s heart

Throughout scripture, there is a pattern in how judgement is carried out

  • God declares judgement for sin.
  • Warning is giving, and the opportunity to repent and avoid judgement is provided.
  • God’s judgement is carried through.

The deaths of innocents, the children

  • Throughout history, parents have always been the determinators for the welfare of their children – for good or for bad.
  • A declaration of war would have typically provided a warning period with opportunity for women, children and the elderly to flee.
  • The children killed in these episodes lived in a depraved environment with a miserable outlook for the future (a future that they may not have even experienced as a result of the culture of child sacrifice pursued by their parents).
  • Killing by the sword is a more merciful way to die, especially when compared with abandonment and starvation that would have resulted if only the adults were killed.
  • Death is not the end, and we can trust God to do what is right, not least of all with children who are not old enough to know any better

The sovereignty of God and other issues

God’s desire for justice for His children – While we need to be careful about how we ascribe our own feelings to God, there is a scriptural basis for our Heavenly Father’s passion for His childrena and a desire to seek justice on their behalf. Consider how an earthly father would respond if he saw his family being maliciously attacked by people who have no shame and whose intentions are purely evil.

God is God and we need to accept His authority not only when we don’t understand it but when His actions cause us consternation. We have had no voice in why He has chosen us to be His children and not chosen others. His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa 55:8) and we need to have a humble spirit about what we do not understand. Think of the disciples reactions when they were in the boat and saw Jesus command the winds and waves to stop.

References

How could a loving God command acts of violence
Jesus and Old Testament vengeance
Old Testament Killer God


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