The God of judgement versus the God of love

A much pointed out biblical disagreement is the cruelty of the Old Testament God, his covenant curses and his people opposed to the love of Christ and his Gospel. A host of quotations from the Old Testament and less from the New, mostly Revelation, can be presented to show cruelty. On the plus side, we should also note that the Old Testament does contain evidence of God portrayed in line with the majority descriptions in the New Testament. And let’s be clear we don’t believe in a evil God. We believe in a good God.

While the issue certainly is difficult, I believe there is a better explenation than the usual of turning men into monsters alienated from God which doesn’t include Augustine’s original sin demonizing and lowering mankind far beyond the biblical and reasonable. Marcion was an early heretic who reasoned that the God of the Old Testament had to be another being than the God revealed in the Old Testament. He rejected the Old Testament as a revelation of an evil lower god and removed all references to it in his version of the Bible containing a number of what we call New Testament scriptures. I suggest we recognise he was on to something while we reject his conclusion. Also I suggest we recognise that the Old Testament doesn’t have any relevation of God as a Trinity, except a small and speculative evidence like Genesis 1:26 and Isaiah 48:16. On the other hand, Paul again and again speaks of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and John’s Gospel and the 1st letter of John goes into great detail about the Father and Son relationship. The revelation of God is considerably different. Acts 7:53 says Israel received “the law by the direction of angels”, Galatians 3:19 says it was “appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (Moses). Hosea 12:4 says Jacob struggled with the angel, although Genesis 32:28-31 says he struggled with God. I suggest that when the Old Testament speaks of God, it is very often an angel. I don’t believe the Angel (or angel, no capital letters in Hebrew) of the Lord is a codeword for God, rather God’s angels mostly represent God and rarely (in comparison) are spoken of as the distinct beings they also are.

So how does it help the issue that it is an angel of God saying “go utterly destroy them all”? I believe agency plays a big part in the Bible and God’s dealings with mankind. We can rule out that this world affairs are governed directly by the Almighty all-good being himself. There is indeed reign and authority still to be subjected (1 Corinthians 15:25). Evil could not exist if it was the case. God would walk in the garden of Eden so to speak (Genesis 3:8), not manifest himself through angels (means messenger, the man Jesus Christ is in this regard an angel Malachi 3:1). God is not at present “all in all” as 1 Corinthians 15:28 says God will be one day. But I think we can believe that the Almighty all-good being deals with creation through agencies with a strange / difficult plan and purpose as explained in my previous paper. It was this God, the man of Nazareth revealed and spoke of as his Father. Through faith, we can trust God knows and is in control.

Creation part 3

Suffering in creation.

Some Christians say God wouldn’t use such a raw and brutal system as creation through the agency of evolution. Such an argument never works because all origins explenations contain a great deal of brutality just as eschatology beliefs and just like the historical accounts. But they might base this on the teaching of Augustine, that all death and suffering on earth is man’s fault. When Adam fell in Eden, it not merely the ground he worked with that became cursed, the work with the ground a hardship with thorns and thistles as we read in Genesis 3:17-19, it was the whole World, his descendants and all created Things. But I think the many millions of years of plant and animal evolution was hardly just a constant bloodbath but contained like life today beauty and ugliness, joy and suffering. Also in all recorded human history cruelty along with beauty has abounded. How does the Bible address this? The following is not easy, in fact I would say like John Piper when he try to explain the dark implications of the Calvinist doctrines of double predestination and God’s Sovereign control; this is difficult. But I believe this is what the Bible says.

In no particular order:

1. God is almighty and in control with the World affairs:

Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”

Acts 4:27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

2. There are Desires in man that conflicts with the good will of God, yet it does not stop God’s plan:

Genesis 6:12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!

Revelation 17:17 For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

3. Ultimately, it was not Adam and Eve that subjected the World to suffering. The Bible says:

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

Only God can subject the creation in hope.. God is behind a grand plan we can’t always comprehend but which indeed has a glorious end.

4. In the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Creator became a son subject to suffering. He learned obedience through suffering, as does the saints also, and this on the path to becoming a new creation:

Hebrews 5:7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,

Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

So mankind is to learn from the collected experience of sin and suffering. Creation is subjected for the sake of this plan.

5. Our ignorance when our understanding is compared to God’s. It seems, and that is all you can use philosophy to, that trying to understand God’s ways could be likened to trying to explain a teaching to another animal, whether ant or chimpanzee. However considering Paul’s awareness of God’s love, this is what he must have had well in mind when saying the following that is often interpreted so harshly:

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Spurgeon, at once a preacher of the hard doctrines of Calvinism and a preacher reaching out to many denominations, is famous for saying these Words concerning our limited understanding of the most difficult questions;

God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart.

Our mind is given rest, we rely on our faith, a gift from God.

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: