Killing Peace?

In the Patriarchs of Israel, we see God’s plan to bring Shalom taking shape. They pursue peace. However, humans continue in their campaign of killing peace in the Old Testament.  Two texts peppered in the stories of the Patriarchs that give us problems. Genesis chapters nine and fourteen. I, and others, have used these two texts as a blank check of violence. Let’s dig a bit, shall we?

Genesis 9:5-6

Proponents use Genesis 9:5-6 in an attempt at killing peace. It says:

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God
has God made mankind.” – Genesis 5:5-6, NIV

Is this a proverb or a command?

Reading through the text seems to give God’s people carte blanche the use of violence.  This text is cited by many as God’s institution of capital punishment. It certainly seems that way. However, let’s take a different angle here.  This verse isn’t focused on the death penalty.  Instead, the text elevates the value of life and condemns murder with death.

There are some textual problems.  Is God making this a general principle or an absolute command?  If it is an absolute command, then we’re forced to say that God is inconsistent.  He doesn’t punish Cain, Moses, or David when they commit murder – at least not with the death penalty. Let’s ask two questions:

  1. Does this text authorize (divinely) the death penalty?

-Or-

  1. Does the text say God punishes instead of man?

Does this text institute the death penalty?

The Hebrew isn’t as clear as many will imply.  Luther wrote, “This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God.” Luther connects the text to Romans 13, as many others do.  We’ll discuss that text in another post.

While I certainly understand the conclusion Luther comes to, there is a giant hole. God warns his people to not set themselves under an earthly kingship/government (c.f. 1 Sam. 8). That is Luther’s “temporal powers.” At this point, at least, we see that God is the power, and no temporal power is exercised over the Hebrews. Luther’s conclusion is an attempt of killing peace.

Don’t skip over Genesis 9:6:

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”  – Genesis 9:6, NIV

The point of God’s statement is His overwhelming condemnation for murder. Why? Because Humans are the only beings in Creation made in God’s image and likeness. He forbids image-bearer murdering image-bearer.

I would allow these questions to caution us against using Genesis 9:5-6 as a proof-text to show that God wants every society and government for all time to institute the death penalty.

Preston Sprinkle rightly concludes, “In any case, know that God will later institute the death penalty in the Law of Moses, so Genesis 9:6 probably anticipates the law.  But let us not ignore the plain meaning in this verse: God fiercely condemns murder, because all people are made in His image.”

Genesis 14:14-15

Perhaps you see my case as busted, but let’s look at another text in Genesis 14. My exceedingly summary is this: some kings kidnap Lot. Abraham goes to get him back.

The text says:

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit…” – Genesis 14:14, NIV

Verse 15 tells us “During the night” Abraham attacks. I’d imagine that violence was used, but the text doesn’t necessarily say that.  However, what I don’t want you to miss is that Genesis 14 doesn’t say God commanded, nor sanctioned Abraham to do this. The text simply informs us what happened and doesn’t comment on whether Abraham was right or wrong in his action.

Ancient literature often tells what happens in a person’s life but doesn’t voice whether it was morally acceptable or not. The Old Testament isn’t exempt from this narrative-style history. Scripture comments on many individuals and their behavior, but it doesn’t urge us to copy their actions.

Returning to whether Genesis 9:5-6 and 14:14-15 are prescribed commands or described events, or what I’ll call in later posts the “ideal” and the “real.” Abraham attacked the kings to spring Lot out of captivity (the real) but that doesn’t infer we should do the same (the ideal).

I would conclude that these two texts do not clearly ratify violence, nor do they celebrate it.  Just because a narrative element in Scripture reports on it, doesn’t mean it’s binding it as a command on every human for all time.  Humanity is not applauded for killing peace. In fact, we are strongly condemned to kill another image-bearer.

Next time we’ll look to more than just a couple verses.  We’re going to look at several facets of the Law of Moses. We’re going to wrestle with some often-cited texts to see what God has to say about it all.  Will God sanction divine violence?  Will we see him killing peace?  See you next time!

In Christ,

Scott

Shalom in the Beginning

recruiting-myths

I love the Bible. I believe it is the authoritative word of God. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grappled with it. I took a course in Bible college that concentrated on the texts of Joshua and Judges. As a new Christian, and a former skeptic, I found these books hard to stomach. How could Jesus, who stood for peace, enemy-love, and sacrifice, be the same God in the Old Testament? The massacre seemed constant, and I struggled to make sense of it.

I no longer battle with those views, but, I think it would be unwise to believe no one else does. I know many folks personally, even Bible-believing Christians, who still do.

I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. When speaking to people of various faiths (or without faith), the second biggest hurdle to Christianity, is the violence in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous quote is Richard Dawkins, when he writes that the God of the Bible is,

jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It’s also quite an allegation. While certainly not a fan of Dawkins’ conclusions, to reject it as unreasonable would be an injustice to both logic and common sense.

How do we prepare to discuss this issue? Is God really as Dawkins and others in their own ways have rendered Him? If He is, how do we reconcile that to Jesus and the New Testament teachings? Teachings like turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and praying for your persecutors? Saying trite things like, “God can do whatever He wants,” or “He’s God. Don’t’ worry about it,” will not suffice. So, we go to the Beginning.

The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) begins with a loaded statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NIV). In the first two chapters of Genesis, we see a Creative God who creates. He creates fish and spiders, the sun and the moon, day and night, plants and trees, galaxies and aardvarks. He speaks, and it happens. On the sixth day, after created everything else we know, God creates people. The text says,

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:26-27, NIV).

He forms us in His “image and likeness,” meaning we are a reverberation, an etching of His eternal self. It sets us apart from everything else in all of creation. We also see the Master comment on His finished masterpiece, “It is very good” (Gen. 1:31a, NIV). He’s pleased. Everything is perfect. All is as it should be. The world is perfect.

The underlying concept of Creation that is necessary to understanding story of God in the BIble from this point on is the word Shalom. This Hebrew term is charged with meaning. It includes the absence of conflict and death, and implies wholeness, fullness, joy, peace, and completeness. Simply put – perfect.

Shalom is paramount to understanding the Bible for two reasons. First, it displays the nature of God. He’s creative, loving, and kind. He provides, helps, and guides. He dwells with Adam and Eve, not apart from them. He is very good. Second, we learn God’s initial purpose for humankind and creation – peace. Not violence, war, hate, racism, sexism, infanticide, and whatever else Dawkins’ or other’s claim.

The foundation of the full Bible rests upon God’s Shalom. As we’ll see, the rest of the Old Testament moves towards that intention. The entirety of Scripture from Genesis 3 forward, is God moving to renew HIs very good creation. In the next post, we’ll see at how things went south, and what God begins to do to bring things back on course.

For now, just know, that the Very Good God has not abandoned His very good creation.

In Christ,
Scott

American Christianity’s Real Problem

Go to your browser and type in “American Christianity’s problem”—I’ll wait. Did you find anything that agreed? I didn’t either. I saw a lot of posts, including a YouTube video pic of John Piper appearing to “dab” from the pulpit.

Things like, too old-fashioned or irrelevant. Fake. Hypocrites. LGBTQ hostile. Hate. Racist. Sexist. The Patriarchy. Yes, those are all problems. We all are learning. Though all these things are absolutely deserving of our attention, there is a more glaring problem we’re not seeing. The American church has a violence problem.

Before I begin, you need to know that I have grown up with violence. I play video games, fire guns, have watched Fight Club, and love The Walking Dead. Yet, as I read the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, I cannot escape being confronted with the most uncomfortable truth: The Bible teaches nonviolence.

I didn’t arrive at this position by choice. If anything, I’ve fought ferociously. I have prayed to come to different conclusions. I have prayed that God would let me ignore it. Yet, God, as He does, has continually turned over the tables in my heart to show me His truth. I wasn’t raised a Quaker. I wasn’t raised by hippies from the Vietnam Era. Truthfully, every part of my upbringing was pretty normal, and it goes against everything I’m going to be writing about.

Like all boys, I grew up with toy soldiers, tanks, NERF guns, paintball, air soft, and slingshots. Mortal Combat was the game of choice for my friends and I.

My grandfathers served proudly in World War 2. My favorite movies of all time are Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. My first news-related memory was Wolf Blitzer announcing the commencement of Operation Desert Storm. I wrote an essay in High School that awarded me a scholarship on my reaction to September 11, 2001. In it, while talking about unity and love, I also spoke kindly about “getting rid” of all terrorists. I was the typical American boy.

I was baptized into Christ at nineteen. At that point, I couldn’t conceive how someone could be a Christian, read the Scriptures, and think that violence and war, and all that goes with them, aren’t compatible with Scripture. You’d have to be biblically ignorant or anti-patriotic to believe that! So I carried on for a year or two until I seriously began to study the Sermon on the Mount in Bible college.

It was there that I was haunted by the idea that Scripture was incompatible with violence and bloodshed. Try as I might to quiet this though, even attributing it to Satan on many occasions, it kept hounding me. So I kept praying, studying Scripture, and researching.

As it stands, today, I do not believe the Bible endorses the use of violence. Not for the church. Not for individuals. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I know a lot of folks who don’t. That’s okay. I’m not asking you to agree. I’m asking you to open your Bible and follow the Spirit’s leading on the subject.

Understand this: I am not–I REPEAT–am not referring to anyone who serves in the military. These discussions somehow always end up there as some kind of trump card. That’s not where this is going. While subjects like militarism, nationalism, and violence are going to come up, my focus is on Scripture. It must be. Our guide must be Scripture. Scripture is our authority. I have no qualms there. To follow the Messiah, we follow His word.

I believe American Christianity’s real problem is violence. I believe a good portion of the American church has been conscripted (knowingly and unknowingly) by the idea that violence, war, and bloodshed are godly virtues. The idea that somehow God is pleased with His people behaving in such manners appears nowhere in Scripture.

Every problem listed on Google related to looming problems in American Christianity hinge on our beliefs on violence. That may seem like a stretch, but if you stick with me, you’ll understand my thoughts. You might not agree with me. That’s ok. Hopefully you will see why I think the way I do. In my next post we’ll begin Bereshit–in the Beginning.

May you be blessed,

Scott