Weeping for Jerusalem

It’s been a busy few weeks, workwise. In many ways, they have been very rewarding. But the last few weeks have been disillusioning too, and I have found it very difficult to write. I feel like I am beating the same drum, over and over again. But that drum is my heartbeat at the moment, and so in order to write authentically, I suppose I have to keep drumming.

For a brief moment I understood something of what Jesus must have felt when he looked down on Jerusalem in Luke 19 and wept:

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

It was precipitated by the attack in Manchester. People were rightly upset and angry. That is how we should always feel about violence – particularly violence perpetrated in the name of religion. The outrage that ensued was entirely legitimate. But the very next day there followed what I can only imagine was – in some way – a retaliatory reaction. A US-led airstrike in Syria, ostensibly targeting ISIS, but which killed around 80 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. At least half of those were children. I found it utterly heart-breaking. When I heard it on the radio, driving to work, I actually cried. Partially because this kind of thing happens so terribly frequently in the Middle East and Africa but it seems that nobody on social media protests with nearly the same vehemence as they do for tragedies in Europe (and I am not suggesting that African or Middle Eastern devastations are more deserving of our attention; only that they are also worthy of it). Partially because of the flood of hate-filled justifications of these types of atrocities by Christians on social media. It sickens me.

I have said what I am about to say so often in recent weeks that I feel like a broken record, but it bears mentioning again. Not that I feel it will make any difference to the situation. It won’t. But I need to write it to purge the anger and dejection in me. As a result, maybe one or two Christian readers will turn around and acknowledge that it is high time Christian ethics began to reflect the peace-theology of the early church founders, and of the one whose name they so glibly adopt. Maybe some non-Christian readers, legitimately bitter because this type of hypocrisy, so rampant in Christianity, has hurt them deeply, will begin to understand that one cannot conflate Christianity, as it is commonly practised, and Jesus’s theology and ethics. But that would be a side effect. For now, I need to vent.

A part of the reason I feel so disillusioned is that I know that much of why this hatred exists is because of how we read the Bible. Please note that I am not blaming the Bible. That would be like blaming a knife for a murder. It is never the tool, but the one who wields it, that ought to be held responsible. I am convinced that many of the writers of parts of the Bible were irresponsible with their words, promoting violence as a Godly mandate. And for that reason I believe that sticking to the conviction that the Bible speaks with God’s voice is irresponsible too.

I won’t lie – I was incensed by the various Facebook posts and online comments that advocated “giving the bastards what they deserve” after Manchester. I was immeasurably disappointed by Christian commentators who described Islam as the bully on the playground that needed to be put in its place, who simplified a whole belief system into a simple hate-driven story. I was angry with the glaring disparity between the love-oriented ethics of Jesus to which online commentators professed allegiance, and their vitriolic rhetoric. I was disheartened because I knew that, as a result, the detractors of Christianity would similarly simplify the Christian story and place the whole peace theology movement in the same box. And so the profound truth of Jesus’ response to violence would never be heard. And I needed desperately to write – to voice my frustration, my disappointment. But I could not find the words.

I blame the way we have been taught to read the Bible (and I could probably say the same for the way any sacred texts are read, but this is the one I know, and thus the one I have the right to comment on. I will leave you to do the same for your own, whether that is the Q’uran, the Bhagavad Gita, or The God Delusion): without any form of critical engagement, where daring to question is frowned upon, and in a Christian culture that (probably unwittingly in most cases, I will concede) drives young people to be afraid to address their concerns with the dominant ethos and creeds. We have created a culture where the threat of losing heavenly real estate is so pressed onto young dissenters that they are too afraid to allow themselves to question. And worse, where those who follow blindly are heralded as heroes of the faith.

We dare not cling to the idea that the Bible speaks with God’s voice. It is glaringly obvious: how could one God hold, as Paul does in Galatians 3, that in Christ all the lines we have drawn in society to determine who is acceptable and who is not should be erased, while simultaneously demanding the genocide of anyone outside of the Israelite tribe, as He so frequently does in the Old Testament? If God is, as Evangelical theology maintains, unchangeable, how on earth do you reconcile those contradictory statements into a coherent “loving” voice? How do you not link the insistence on the dogmatically defended belief that the scriptures, which legitimise race-based violence, are inerrant to the massacre of thousands of people in US-led airstrikes in the name of Christianity and democracy and – in the bitterest of ironies – peace?! “God” does command genocide in the scriptures. It is legitimised there. And if you cannot see that this stands in stark and irreconcilable contrast to the theology and ethics of both Jesus and Paul, then you are not reading properly. Then again, I think that is precisely the problem.

I am going to take a step back to explain – very briefly and inadequately – a couple of philosophies of reading. First, there is a positivist way of understanding the world. Proponents of this philosophy would argue that the only valid knowledge is that knowledge that can be verified through empirical evidence; that which can be verified through the senses and through logical reasoning. Clearly this would preclude any form of spiritual or emotional experience, and so is not generally a framework through which adherents interpret their sacred texts. It is, as an aside, a very limited way of understanding the world. It is self-defeating, because it is illogical to assume that our senses and reasoning processes are infallible, and that the world is fundamentally knowable through the limited human modes of understanding it. But that is a debate for another time. Suffice it to say that this way of thinking has limited theological application. And so most religious readers today tend to adopt the second model, even while pretending the first.

The second approach is a more solipsistic one. It centres all understanding of the world around the self. There is a long philosophical history behind this way of seeing the world, which is prevalent in the West today – heavily influenced by ideas from the likes of Descartes, Kant, and Nietzsche. Of course, Christians won’t (often don’t know enough to) acknowledge this, because it is a manifestation of an “evil” postmodern mindset that challenges our exclusivity, but this self-oriented approach has come to define how we worship, and how we relate to our faith and the Bible.

It is through this lens of “what-does-it-mean-to-me” that we give expression to the doctrine that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. We make a number of potentially problematic assumptions, most notably that God uses the Bible to speak directly to individuals (specifically, me) today. The message the text contains, therefore, was written not only for the people of the time the writer was transcribing God’s revelation, but was intended for all people everywhere, in all times (most importantly, for me). What was applicable then must therefore be equally applicable (to me) now. It is a reading that completely disregards context, which is why preachers are so happy to expound on only a few verses at a time, developing entire theologies around isolated verses. After all, if the whole thing is God’s word, then each word, each sentence must be granted equal weighting. And God is timeless (and therefore contextless, in a sense), and by extension the decrees in the scriptures must be so too. It is irrelevant in modern popular theology then, almost (certainly it is never seriously considered) that the verses and chapters were added later for ease of reference, and that it would be foolish to preach on any given passage independently of the context of the argument in which the ideas were raised. It is why we have been so blind to what Paul was arguing in his epistles. We can quote the bits where he cites the church in Jerusalem (which he regards as the false teacher), and attribute the ideas to Paul, when in fact he was paraphrasing the beliefs of the Jerusalem church and critiquing them– mocking them, even – not promoting them. We have to decontextualise Paul’s writings if we wish to construct a coherent, unified voice of God in the New Testament, when in fact there are two very sharply contrasting theologies presented.

Anyway, in assuming that God is speaking directly to us through the Bible, we ascribe to the writings a single, universal interpretation, and neglect the fact that reading is a dialogue. That we are always active in making meaning from texts. We forget, or at least disregard as irrelevant, the fact that our own worldviews (ideas underpinning how people of our time and place see the world) and mindsets (how we interpret those worldviews personally) influence what we read. In other words, we tend to regard ourselves as passive recipients of divine revelation rather than active (if unconscious) participants in the creation of it. The danger is this: by refusing to see how we shape our own readings, we refuse to see how the God we find in the texts is a projection of ourselves. To (over)simplify what is undoubtedly a complex phenomenon, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture encourages Christians to worship themselves. That is why we see no problem with God-inspired violence to protect our own self-interests: we have already drawn the conclusion that our own interests are God’s too.

As an interesting aside, in the book of Joshua, Chapter 5, just before the battle for Jericho, there is an interesting cameo appearance by “the commander of the army of the Lord”, presumably an angel. When Joshua asks him whether he is on Joshua’s side or the enemy’s, the angel responds by saying neither. That is all we hear from this angel. Thereafter, the writer recounts how the Lord delivered the city into Joshua’s hands and commanded a wholesale slaughter of its inhabitants. I often wondered why that pretext was included at all. It seems in stark contrast to what follows. Did a later writer include it to suggest that the writer’s interpretation of what was God’s will in describing the fall of Jericho might be misleading? I don’t know. But it is an intriguing (and suspiciously overlooked) little piece.

Maybe what we need to learn to do is adopt what Tom Wright calls a hermeneutic of love. “Love”, he states, “ is the deepest mode of knowing because it is love that, while completely engaging with reality other than itself, affirms and celebrates that other-than-self reality” (Surprised by Hope, 73). In, The New Testament and the People of God he states: “In love, at least in the idea of agape as we find it in some parts of the New Testament, the lover affirms the reality and the otherness of the beloved. Love does not seek to collapse the beloved into terms of itself: and, even though it may speak of losing itself in the beloved, such a loss always turns out to be a true finding. In the familiar paradox, one becomes fully oneself to another. In the fact of love, in short, both parties are simultaneously affirmed…[With respect to texts] this means that the text can be listened to on its own terms, without being reduced to the scale of what the reader can or cannot understand at the moment. If it is puzzling, the good reader will pay it the complement of struggling to understand it, of living with it and continuing to listen. But however close the reader gets to understanding the text, the reading will be peculiarly that reader’s reading: the subjective is never lost, nor is it necessary or desirable that it should be. At this level, ‘love’ will mean ‘attention’: the readiness to let the other be the other, the willingness to grow and change in oneself in relation to the other.” (p. 64)”. We do not read the Bible through a lens of love. Instead, we read to find ourselves. And, tragically, we do.

It is only by responding in love that we can end the cycle of violence. Forgiveness or tragedy are the only possible endings. And we must choose. It is, I believe, why Jesus capitulated to the cross. It was the lived expression of his teachings, as captured in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and all of his parables. But we have refused to listen. That cross is too difficult to carry. We cannot deny ourselves the right to vengeance, to “justice”. To tragedy. How I wish we would choose the way of love for a change. The alternate doesn’t seem to have served us too well. But we won’t, of course. We like the concept of love more than the practical reality of it. Love is too hard, it asks too much. The sacrifice that love demands, and which Jesus warned us about repeatedly, is just so inconvenient. And so history repeats itself: the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, British and Spanish imperialism, slavery, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Idi Amin, Apartheid, Orlando, Manchester, Syria. As I watch the chaos that dominates the news headlines, I recognise the patterns. There is an awful familiarity about our responses to that chaos. I can see where it is all going, and I suddenly have no more words.

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13 thoughts on “Weeping for Jerusalem

  1. I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with you about love, but love to me is a very concrete term. It’s not the mushy Western idea that we think it is. Love, in the Eastern mindset that Jesus preached in, means to meet needs. If we act against someone, we hate them, whether we say that we do or not. We cannot claim to love them if we do not prove it by our actions.

    As far as the inerrancy of scripture, let me remind you that the Bereans searched the scriptures daily to see if Paul’s doctrine was true. They were commended for doing so. I don’t believe that the OT God and the NT God are two different entities. I know that you don’t either.

    However, I do believe in the perfection of scripture.

    So did Paul: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16.

    So did Christ: “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4.

    We cannot know God at all apart from His revelation to us.

    I want to comment on one of your statements, to see if I can shed a little light on things:

    “…while simultaneously demanding the genocide of anyone outside of the Israelite tribe, as He so frequently does in the Old Testament?”

    God did not demand the genocide of just anyone outside of the Israelite tribe. Read Deuteronomy 20 in its entirety. Here is part of it:

    “10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.

    11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.

    12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:

    13 And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:

    14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.

    15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.

    16 But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:

    17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:

    18 That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the Lord your God.”

    The reason that they had to exterminate the people groups listed in verse 17 is because they were committing human sacrifices – sacrificing their own children to appease false gods – and other abominations. Look at Deuteronomy 12:

    “29 When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;

    30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.

    31 Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.”

    To get the whole picture, read all of Deuteronomy. That way we can’t accidentally take things out of context.

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    • Thank you for taking the time to respond so fully, Amy. I always appreciate that people take the time to engage meaningfully. I agree with you 100% that love is an act of the will, not a feeling, and that it proves itself in action. That, I think, is why we avoid loving our enemies – the sacrifice of acting is too much to ask, generally.

      I cannot agree with much of the rest of your comment, though. Please don’t take anything I say personally here. You have every right to hold the position you do, and I regard all who hold such positions as sisters and brothers in Christ. I need to add this because I am told that I often come across as emotive and even angry when I debate. I assure you, this is not that. I am ony passionate about God. Please don’t think I have anything against you.

      I am not arguing against God. I am questioning our theologies, our understandings of Her. I certainly do not believe that there are two Gods – an Old testament one and New Testament one. God is God. But I do believe that the Bible presents different theologies, different understandings of God. The one is premised on violence and wrath, and the other on grace and forgiveness. They are not compatible. I don’t want this comment to go on too long, so I would encourage you to read my previous posts, particularly Towards a Christ-Centred Theology and Peaches, to get a fuller justification for my stance.

      I do not believe that Paul saw Scripture as the inerrant word of God. Certainly, the Timothy passage does not offer proof of that. First, because most Biblical scholars, including very prominent Christian theologians, dispute that Paul was the author of that text. For a discourse on Pauline theology, one would have to confine oneself to the texts that are indisputably his: Romans, Galatians, both epistles to the Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. Second, the argument is circular: essentially that argument says that the Bible is inerrant because it says it is. That is hardly convincing, even were it true. I do not think it claims to be inerrant though. The writer was almost certainly not referring to his own letter. When he wrote, there was no collection of texts known as the Bible. He was probably referring to a collection of Old Testament texts. And then a text being inspired by God is not the same thing as having divine authorship. Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” or any of Benny Hinn’s work was inspired by the concept of God, but that does not make them infallible. This quote only claims that they are useful. I do not dispute that.

      I do not believe Jesus believed that either. In fact, if you go to any place where he quotes scripture, and then go back to read the quote’s original source, you will see that he has changed it in some way, either by adding something in or leaving something out. An example is found in one of my previous posts: Rejecting the Inerrancy of Scripture.

      I agree that we cannot know God apart from His revelation to us. But I see that revelation as Jesus, not as the Bible. Jesus is the only word of God, and I believe he was referring to himself when he said that we needed more than bread, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (on other occasions he refers to himself as ‘living water’ and ‘the bread of life’). I do not think this statement from Jesus is to be read as a defence of the inerrancy of Scripture at all, but rather as a comment on the necessity of knowing god for the sustenance of life.

      Last, regarding the Deuteronomic passage, this would be one of the occasions where I would argue that the theology is questionable, to say the least. Even if God is commanding that they only wipe out certain nations, He is still commanding violence. But then I would argue that this is not God speaking, it is the writer putting words in God’s mouth. If, as is a central Christian doctrine, Jesus and God are One, and – as Jesus himself claimed – to see Jesus is to see the Father, and the fullness (ie everything) of God is in Jesus, then any teaching that looks different from Jesus is not of God. Jesus renounced violence. It is the one thing that every commentator on Jesus agrees on, even those from outside the faith. If a teaching portays God as violent, it is incompatibel with the teachings and ethics of Jesus, and should be rejected. Many of those teachings are in the Biblical texts, not because God put them there, but because people did. Commanding people to kill entire races because they sacrifice children is hardly a justification. Kill their children in case they kill their children themselves? Anyway, “God” has a proud history of demanding human sacrifice too: Genesis 22:1-18; Exodus 13:2; Leviticus 27:28-29; Judges 11:29-40; 1 Kings 13:1-2; 2 Kings 23: 20-25. I could go on. The point is that a violent God is a human construct and if one wants to understand the nature of God, Jesus is that picture, not the Bible.

      The context, when attempting to understand God, ought to be Jesus. The Bible is easier, because it requires less of us in many ways. When we use the Bible as guidance, we are often using our own fallible human nature as guidance, because any reading of any text is based on the reader’s interpretation of what the text says. It is substantially harder to filter out Jesus’ nonviolence than it is to justify violence based on the Bible. I love the Bible, but it is a dangerous book in the wrong hands.

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      • You did not come across harshly at all. I too get emotional sometimes when I debate, lol. These things are important to us, as they should be.

        You do not believe that wrath and grace are not compatible? Wrath and against evil seems legit to me, even in the most loving of all Beings. Do you believe that justice is wrong? Out of curiosity, would you support capital punishment for the unrepentant murderer?

        “The writer was almost certainly not referring to his own letter. When he wrote, there was no collection of texts known as the Bible. He was probably referring to a collection of Old Testament texts. ” I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. Referring to the OT then, when the writer of Timothy says that all scripture is profitable for reproof, that implies that people not agreeing with it are wrong. The OT is a means of setting them straight.

        Re: inspiration.Remember that God spoke the Law himself, so I would assume that you would believe that we could trust that much. Unless you think parts of it are made up.

        How do you go about deciding what the true nature of God/Jesus is? Do you like the idea of love the most, so you decide that any part of the Bible not supporting your idea of love must have been tampered with? Sorry, not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to understand how you chose one aspect of God above the rest.

        Jesus misquoting the OT probably has more to do with the fact that He was speaking in Hebrew, which got translated into Greek, and then translated into English.

        I agree that Jesus is the only Word of God. However, if you read the first chapter of John, you will see that He existed in the world as the Word before He was born as a man. He is completely compatible with the Word because He is it, and it is He. They are one and the same. That’s one of the major reasons why I believe that the Law is infallible – because it is the spoken Word of God, and as you said, there is only one Word.

        Regarding violence: Do you think it is never, ever justified? If so, you have taken up a position that is supported by neither testament. We know that in the last days, God will pour His wrath out on the evil.

        “Kill their children in case they kill their children themselves?” I understand the point you’re making here, and I don’t have an answer. I assume that he was wiping out the whole race so that no inclination to worship God through human sacrifice would survive. I imagine He knew the hearts and souls of everyone who died. For instance, if he’d have chosen to kill off Hitler as a two-year-old, I’d have no problem with it. I know this sounds like a cop-out, but it’s really what I believe – God knows each individual person, and what they are capable of, even before they’re old enough to know themselves.

        Re: Genesis 22:1-18: I assume you know that God knew that a human sacrifice would never result from this test.

        Re: Exodus 13:2: You need to read the whole book. All of the firstborn humans were redeemed.

        Re: Leviticus 27:28-29: Okay, I had to figure that one out. I found this: “Devoted thing – The primary meaning of the Heb. word חרם chērem is something cut off, or shut up. Its specific meaning in the Law is, that which is cut off from common use and given up in some sense to Yahweh, without the right of recal or commutation. It is applied to a field wholly appropriated to the sanctuary Leviticus 27:21, and to whatever was doomed to destruction 1 Samuel 15:21; 1 Kings 20:42. Our translators have often rendered the word by “cursed,” or “a curse,” which in some places may convey the right sense, but it should be remembered that the terms are not identical in their compass of meaning (Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 6:17-18; Joshua 7:1; Isaiah 34:5; Isaiah 43:28, etc. Compare Galatians 3:13).
        Of man and beast – This passage does not permit human sacrifices. Man is elsewhere clearly recognized as one of the creatures which were not to be offered in sacrifice Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20; Numbers 18:15.

        Therefore the application of the word חרם chērem to man is made exclusively in reference to one rightly doomed to death and, in that sense alone, given up to Yahweh. The man who, in a right spirit, either carries out a sentence of just doom on an offender, or who, with a single eye to duty, slays an enemy in battle, must regard himself as God’s servant rendering up a life to the claim of the divine justice (compare Romans 13:4). It was in this way that Israel was required to destroy the Canaanites at Hormah (Numbers 21:2-3; compare Deuteronomy 13:12-18), and that Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord 1 Samuel 15:33. In all such instances, a moral obligation rests upon him whose office it is to take the life: he has to look upon the object of his stroke as under a ban to the Lord (compare Deuteronomy 20:4; Galatians 3:13). Therefore, there can be neither redemption nor commutation.” http://biblehub.com/commentaries/leviticus/27-29.htm

        I have also noticed that things devoted to destruction were things like the nations we were discussing earlier – the evil ones that were doomed to die. The nation of Israel was not to pity or spare them – they were devoted to destruction. Deuteronomy 7:16. In the same manner, if a man has a friend or a child or a servant who is worthy of death, he is not allowed to redeem them. Deuteronomy 13:6-9. Others worthy of severe or capital punishment are not to be redeemed. Deuteronomy 19:17-21. This is not human sacrifice. It is not a lack of love. It is justice. Our God is always just. That’s why Christ died for us. Because the penalty had to be paid. His perfect righteousness will not allow Him to let us “off the hook” just because He loves us so much. That’s the reason He had to jump through hoops to save us. He had to do it righteously, justly.

        Re: Judges 11:29-40 – God never commanded Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. He made that mistake on his own.
        Re: 1 Kings 13:1-2 and 2 Kings 23:20-25, see my response to Leviticus. This is not a case of human sacrifice. It is the death penalty.

        If you do not use the Bible as your guide, where do you get your information? Do you know how dangerous it is to each do what is right in his own eyes?

        Anyway, hope I didn’t come across sarcastic at any point. My questions are meant to provoke thought, not to annoy, lol. And thank you for responding to me at length. Not many folks are up for the time investment.

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        • Again, Amy, I need to thank you for taking the time and making the effort to engage meaningfully. I really do appreciate that. As you say, it doesn’t happen a lot. And certainly I will not read any ill intentions into your writing (I know it is not intended) if you will do the same for mine (for teh same reason).

          I do not believe that grace and wrath are compatible, no. If grace means complete forgiveness of sin, then demanding that those same sins be punished is not grace at all. IN other words, if Jesus has taken care of sin compeltely, there is no more room for wrath, even in a loving God. Especially in a loving God.

          I do not support the death penalty ever. My uncle is an unrepentant murderer, serving a life sentence for killing my aunt. I do not – nor have ever – desired the death penalty. It robs him of the opportunity of knowing God’s love and it means his children lose two parents. I so believe in justice, though. I just question the interpretation of justice we have adopted in most of the world. Justice, in its truest sense, serves the entire community, not merely the victims. The court needs to serve not only the victims. It serves the perpetrators too, and the community ant large, and must make decisions in that context. If the victim’s being assuaged is the only goal of justice, then it is not justice but vengeance. Justice is never merely retributive, but must be restorative. However, the model of justice we ascribe to God is a retributive one, and if God is perfectly just, then this cannot be. I have written on this more fully elsewhere. I believe that what Jesus did at the cross was not the completion of justice; rather, he exposed human justice for the violent injustice that it actually is. The truth is that by Mosaic law, the Pharisees were doing what was right in demanding his death. He had shown a blatant disregard for the laws by, for instance, healing on the Sabbath. He had claimed to be God. The Pharisees were not the bad guys. They did what the law demanded. And his trial with Pilate was a damning criticism of systems that rely on violence to cement their power. See Stephen Zahnd’s excellent sermon on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRtfKrbC4tQ

          In terms of my understanding of who God is, I look only to Jesus. If Jesus is God incarnate, then by looking at him – exploring his ethics – we can see something of God’s nature. It is certainly not cherry-picking evidence to deduce that God is love. The Bible (which you regard as inerrant – and I do not mean that sarcastically) makes only two axiomatic statements about God: that He is light, and that He is love. That does not mean that he possesses those qualities, but essentially is those things. Love is at the heart of all of Jesus’ teachings and his interactions with others. When he interprets the law, his argument, to paraphrase him, is that by loving God and others we fulfil the law. I certainly do not think that is cherry-picking evidence.

          When Jesus quotes the Bible, it is not merely mistranslations that account for the changes. When he quotes Isaiah in Luke Chapter 4, in the context of speaking about his mission, and in the jubilee year, he deliberately omits the verse that speaks about the wrath of God, and this is what incenses the crowd to the point that they want to kill him (please read my post on this: Rejecting the Inerrancy of SCripture). Elsewhere, he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 when he says that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27), but he adds “all your mind”. It is not there in the original. Jesus, very frequently when he quotes scripture, either deliberately leaves out the bits that speak about wrath, or adds bits. It is his hermeneutic that gets him killed.

          The notion of the inerrancy of scripture is not a belief that either he nor Paul held. It was a recent doctrine – Luther introduced it only 500 years ago. But we have started to read the Bible through that filter, and so we interpret the texts in that light. It is not how Jesus used it.

          Jesus’ ethics are entirely peaceful. Always, and without exception. At no point ever does he advocate violence. Even at his arrest, when his disciples are keen, he renounces it and forgives instead. And if Jesus is a picture of God, then the way of Jesus is God’s way. They are not inseparable. If they are capable of holding vastly different ethics, then Jesus is not God. That means that much of the Bible, wherever it advocates violence, cannot be of God, because Jesus – who is God – renounces all violence.

          And yes, it is dangerous not to have a common external benchmark against which to test our beliefs and actions. But that benchmark ought to be Jesus, not the Bible. Either way we are doing interpretive work. When we read the Bible, we are not doing so neutrally. We are also making decisions based on what we see with our own eyes. Only now, we read what we want to read or see what we think is there, unquestioningly, because we think we are ding so neutrally. We do not see how our post-Enlightenment and postmodern worldviews (over which we have no control, so this is not an accusation) influence our readings. If we were to look at the New Testament through the lens of 1st Century Judaic beliefs, we would realise that our understandings of concepts like the “kingdom of God” and “resurrection”, or evel “law”, had very different meanings then. We may have the same words but we do not understand them in the same way, and hence we have developed different theologies. Lutheran ones mostly, and Luther was a lawyer, so much of what we believe can be better understood in that light. The point I am making is that we are never neutral or infallible as readers, and since reading is such an indispensible part of negotiating meaning with a text – even the Bible – even if the text was infallible, we would still always have our thrologies tainted by ourselves. How much more if what I am reading is my interpretation of a translator’s interpretation of what a human being in an entirely different cultural contaxt and a different time though about the God who is already beyond human comprehension? No. I will trust the ethics of Jesus, as evident in the documentation of his life, before I trust a book that demands violence.

          Even if I have not understood the passages about violence correctly – and I concede that might well be – I do not speak Aramaic or Hebrew – still, they provide divinely mandated violence, which is completely at odds with the lived ethic of Jesus, God’s true word. How could I possibly choose to trust that over Jesus? And I am not arguing from a dualistic perspective: I am not saying that the Bible is either infallible or to be rejected. I agree with the writer in Timothy that it is useful for reproof etc. I just don’t think that usefulness makes it infallible. I do think that by choosing to believe it is infallible, we are faced with how to make sense of Jesus’ pacifism. And I have not seen an argument in current Calvinistic or Lutheran theology, which form the basis of modern Western Christian belief, that satisfactorily answers that question.

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          • Wow, thank you for your answer! I love talking about this stuff, but most people shy away from lengthy discussions. Life is so busy, lol.

            I want to state that Christ never broke the actual laws found in the Torah, only the extra ones that the Pharisees had made up. His trial was very unfair. Number one, bc He had not broken God’s Law. Number two, bc tje Pharisees threw due process out the window.

            If you do not believe that Christ’s death justly met the requirements ofthe Law, then why do you think He died that way? Could not God have invented a different way for Christ to save the world?

            He is light, and He is love, but I will only serve a righteous God. Righteousness is…right. I believe that the Law is just one example of the way He loves us. He informed us of righteousness to give us the ability to choose it. You may not have realized this yet, but the Law is life. The psalmist certainly knew it (review Psalm 119).

            I agree that Jesus deliberately omitted a verse from Isaiah. His first coming was as the suffering servant. The prophecies about His kingdom and the wrath that will be poured out on evil have yet to be fulfilled. Interesting thing: if you look at ancient Jewish beliefs concering the Messiah, you will discover that they believed there would be 2 Messiahs. Now we know that there would be 2 comings, but of the same Messiah.

            Jesus does instruct his disciples to buy a sword. Not saying he is advocating violence, but it’s worth a mention. I imagine the sword was for self-defence. Funny how self-defence is a violent way of preventing violence against tje innocent.

            I believe that Jesus and God are not inseparable. I just don’t follow the conclusions you have made. It seems you are inventing your own religion, throwing out any ideas that don’t conform to your way of thinking. Please don’t take that the wrong way. It is merely an observation. I don’t try to change the Bible to fit my doctrines; I am constantly trying to allow the Word of God to change my preconceived ideas. Not that I am good at that, but I do want to seek to discover the truth.

            Jesus is the Word, so holding our beliefs to the Word is the same as lining them up with what He taught. He said that His doctrine was not His own, but the Father’s. We already know the Father’s doctrine from the Torah.

            I agree with you in that our modern interpretations of ancient ideas are doing us no favors. I am striving to learn more about the Eastern mindset. Learning Torah, and not rejecting it, has been truly helpful to me in this area. Also, you can learn Hebrew for free on Duolingo. It would be well worth your time and effort!

            I can answer the pacifist question for you. Humans are to abhor violence. Only God knows the intents of any man’s heart. Ultimately, justice is His job, not man’s.

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          • Thanks for your response, Amy.

            I disagree with you. I think Jesus’ death was justifiable under the law the Pharisees were following. I think the point is that even this legitimised death was a travesty of true justice, and in dying like this, God shows us just how abominable retributive and violent human “justice” is.

            And while parts of the Bible might well equate the law with life, Paul does not. Read the argument he posits in Galatians, and particularly in Galatians 3. His argument is that the law is there to “increase sin”, and that if the law could bring life, righteousness would have come through the law. His argument is that it does not. Your point actually serves to strengthen mine, which is that the Bible contains different and contradictory theologies, and asks us to choose.

            And while I might well be only seeing that which reinforces my opinion, I think you do so too, without realising it. we all do. that is the natural result of trying to use the limited evidence to make sense of a God who is beyond our comprehension. We HAVE to sort evidence, interpret it and choose what makes the most sense. I would argue that my stance is a Scripturally accurate one, based on Paul’s theology and that of many of the prophetic theologies rather than the priestly ones, which advocate sacrifice. Yours is really rooted in a 16th Century reformer interpretation of the Scriptures, not on what the early church practised. If justice requires violence, and injustice should be answered with such, why did Jesus not resist his enormously unjust death? Why did the early church – under vicious persecution – go to their deaths with out any form of retaliation? While Jesus may have mentioned swords, the ethic that he practised in his interaction with people (as a norm, not an exception) was invariably peaceful. That was the teaching and practice of the early church too. There is nowhere anywhere in the New Testament writings that justice and Christian ethics promote violence. I really do not think your stance is rooted in an understanding of the Scriptures, but in an understanding of a Lutheran theology.While you are using (and this is not an accusation; it is the nature of your theology) the Bible as the Word of God to challenge your preconceived ideas, I am using Jesus as the Word of God to challenge my preconceived ideas. I am familiar with your arguments. Until reasonably recently, I held your position too. i used those arguments. But they are not Jesus-based.

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          • Thank you for your challenge. This type of interaction is what keeps us sharp.

            The Law the Pharisees were “following” was the Torah. Specifically, this statute was tripping them up: “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.”

            However, they decided to crucify Jesus anyway. They broke the Law to do it.

            “55 And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.

            56 For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.

            57 And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying,

            58 We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.

            59 But neither so did their witness agree together.

            60 And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?

            61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?

            62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

            63 Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?

            64 Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.” Mark 14

            True, if righteousness could have been through the law, it would have. The problem is not with the Law however, but man’s sinful nature. The law makes no provision for erasing sin. One must live a perfect life to earn life. If you sin even once, you have forfeited life. That is Paul’s point. Jesus earned that life, and by taking our sins, He imputed His righteousness to us. Now we have eternal life.

            The Law increases sin in that it makes us aware of sin, which in turn makes us guilty when we do it anyway. There is no sin in a child picking his nose until his parent says, Don’t do that. If the child continues to do what is only natural, suddenly it is sin.

            I used to think that the testaments did not harmonize very well. But looking at all of it through Torah has enabled me to understand it more clearly.

            And you’re right. To some degree, we all see what we want to see or what we expect to see. Which is why I appreciate dialogue such as this.

            I am not intentionally basing my theology on 16th century reformist or Lutheran philosophies. I have formed my beliefs by what I believe to be the Big Picture, taken from persistent Bible study. I believe you have to read the whole Bible to even begin to understand it, and that you have to reread it any time you have a new theory. To see if it stands up to the whole Word of God.

            Yes, I know I was grasping at straws when I mentioned the sword. My husband believes strongly in self-defense, and that is his argument. It did not belong in this conversation.

            Instead, I will reiterate what I believe to be the truth, and that is that vengeance belongs to God, not man. He is just and won’t make any mistakes. He doesn’t desire that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

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          • I also appreciate conversations like this. Outside of those who more or less agree with me (and I am very grateful for that interaction, too, or I would feel very alone), most people don’t engage with me at all. So thank you. I think we hold a lot in common, actually.

            I do not dismiss the Bible. Far from it. I simply subordinate it to Jesus. If I can sum up my questions around the inerrancy of scripture doctrine, they would go something like this:
            1) It tries to make the whole canon of Scripture speak one cohesive and coherent theology. This is simply not the case.I am not simply talking of separating Old from New Testaments. I am separating some voices in both from other voices. Various prophetic statements (for example, Hosea 6:6; Psalm 40:6-8; Jeremiah 7: 22-23; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6: 6-8; Matthew 9:13)express theological and practical ideals that are blatantly contradictory to and incompatible with statements made in the Torah. Both Jesus and Paul insist that love underpins proper understanding of the law. The sacrificial system and the penal substitution theories are incompatible with an interpretation of a loving God, however. One would also need to account for the sharp theological differences between Paul and the Jerusalem church, and somehow make them say the same thing. This is not possible without resorting to dubious logic.
            2) For scripture to be inerrant, one would have to believe that those who penned the canon could receive the revelation without having their understandings influenced by cultural beliefs, current worldviews, prejudices, expectations, human limitations in understanding of any sort. One would also have to believe that it was possible for later readers to receive their writings in the same way. In other words, the reader can read neutrally and comprehend fully. I cannot believe that to be possible.
            3) Violence and love would have to be compatible. There would be no other way to make sense of the overall story as a cohesive theology. That would be out of line with Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and in the way Jesus modeled love, both in his lifestyle choices and in his teachings.
            4) The ideal model of justice would have to be a retributive one.
            5) One would need to explain why this doctrine was not introduced until the 16th Century. The oldest churches in the world (for example the Eastern orthodox churches and the Catholic church, although I am not saying their theologies are flawless) do not hold this view of Scripture. Only the protestants and Evangelicals (relatively modern movements) do.

            And that is not a condemnation of you. I am not trying to win you over. I know you are Christian and fully God’s child. I do not in any way desire to shake your faith in God, nor question the legitimacy of your faith because we differ. I do not expect my questions to be relevant to you. But these were the questions that made me ask whether my faith was in my own version of God, my own theology (and therefore my own understanding of God – faith as intellectual assent to a creed), in my own reading of a book, or in Jesus. And I was forced to admit – when I read through a lens of love – that many of my beliefs would not be endorsed by Jesus, as presented in the gospels. I had trusted my (and therefore Luther’s) understanding of the biblical texts. But that is not the same as trusting Jesus. For me, making a theory stand up against the “whole Word of God” means testing it against Jesus, not the Bible. This post was a result of seeing that so many ills in the world are as a result of trusting our own interpretations of that book over trusting Jesus. I am so grateful that you are challenging me, though. I know my ways of understanding are not orthodox, and that sometimes leaves me feeling quite lonely.

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          • Thanks for your response. Also thank you for being so polite and reminding me all the time that we are NOT each other’s enemy. It’s all too easy to allow debates to become unpleasant, but I’m glad that’s not the case here.
            Hmmm, I think that because God is 100% just and 100% love, His substitution for us (dying for our sins) is the only possible way of salvation. The sacrificial system in the OT is an object lesson – foreshadowing the real thing.

            I also believe that the Law is love because it is life. The Law tells us how to live and be perfectly happy and successful, only our human natures prevent us from obeying perfectly, which means that we can never achieve the blessings of the law. In fact, our disobedience has earned us the curse of the law. Christ walked out the Torah perfectly, earning eternal life for Himself. During His death, He paid for our sins and imputed His righteousness to us. That’s why we have eternal life – because God is still keeping His covenant that He made on Sinai.

            “One would need to explain why this doctrine was not introduced until the 16th Century.” Paul himself said that he only ever preached what the prophets foretold. Acts 26.

            You keep mentioning Luther. Were you Lutheran before?

            Don’t feel lonely – there’s lots of debate to be found in the blogosphere – you just have to sort of stumble upon the right people!

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          • Thanks, Amy. You are right – there are a lot of good people in the blogosphere 🙂

            I am not Lutheran, no. But Luther’s and Calvin’s ideas have formed the basis of Protestant and Evangelical theology. I am from a Protestant background. I need to reiterate the point because when one is arguing the inerrancy of Scripture, or for God punishing Jesus on the cross, it is important to note that these doctrines were not introduced into Christian theology before Luther. The older churches do not hold these beliefs. They only enter Christian doctrine comparatively recently. Thus one is not arguing for a universal Christian doctrine, but for a very specific and recent theological stance.

            I hear your point that Paul preached what the prophets foretold, but for me the priestly voices and the prophetic voices in the Old Testament have different theologies. It is the prophetic voices, as I mentioned in my earlier comment, that denounce the sacrificial system.

            I think you would have a hard time arguing that the law is life from a purely Scriptural perspective. in Paul’s writings, the law is set in opposition to life, and I don’t think it is just because we cannot keep it. For Paul, I think, the Law is part of the problem, not of the solution.

            Regarding sin, I do not think that what happened at the cross was a crime-and-punishment event. I do believe that at the cross Christ dealt with sin, but I do not believe taht God’s biggest problem with sin is that it needs to be punished. I think it needs taking care of because it robs us of life. I certainly do not believe that God was punishing Jesus on the cross for our sins. That would be no justice at all. First, because there is no grace there: God is still demanding full payment. And the nature of that payment is that an innocent party must die to carry that cost. That is not pure justice. Not for Jesus. I have a problem with sin being transferable. That is not justice at all, nor love. No, I think what Jesus did on the cross was not take our punishment, but to restore life, and to end the awfulness of the sacrificial system that humanity (I don’t believe God desired this – see aforementioned prophetic quotes – but that humans instituted it) had come come to regard as instrumental in interacting with God. James Alison has written an excellent article on this, which I have paraphrased in The Cross as Liturgy. I would also recommend looking up Brad Jersak’s excellent sermon on this. It is easy to find on youtube and is called “The Beautiful Gospel”. I have no problem with God being just, but justice that is purely retributive instead of restorative, which is what you seem to be arguing for, is really no justice at all. If God is just, we need to find a better understanding of justice through which to frame our theologies.

            I do not believe the Bible equates righteousness with perfect observance of a holiness code either. Figures that are labeled righteous in the Bible are not deemed so because of their purity – see David, for example, or Noah, or Moses, or Abraham. They are sometimes quite despicable. But they are jusged righteous for their faith. It is not the law that brings life, but faith. That, I believe is the consistent message of Paul and the prophets.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. “I believe that Jesus and God are not inseparable.” — I accidentally used a double negative there. I meant to say that I agree with you and believe that Jesus and God ARE inseparable, that they are the same God. I hate it when I make mistakes like that! Also, tje=the. I typed my last response on my phone, so it’s a wonder that I only made as many errors as I did, lol.

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