If it’s the case that I will be speaking the truth or at least some truth that will point in the direction where fuller truth is to be found, it will benefit those who are blessed with patience, sensitivity and openness and I suppose, above everything else, a hunger for truth that enriches and energizes us for life and service. I read some authors whose meaning I currently can’t quite grasp but I know that they are speaking to issues that matter greatly so I’m encouraged to go the distance, to pay the price required to learn from them. Since I’m not a specialist in anything, most of what I write is well within the grasp of any eager amateur like myself. But in some areas we have to invest the time and mental energy in prayerful reflection to get the blessing of renewed vision, a greater sense of assurance, freedom in truth and a greater capacity for happy life and service for the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do enjoy reading material that immediately makes me “soar” but there are times when I need patient instruction (when it’s there to be had) on fundamental and massive truth so I can “soar” with assurance.
It might help if you looked at the October piece before reading this one.
It’s because we believe that God’s power and knowledge is unlimited that generates the questions about truly awful suffering. Why don’t we just accept that God is heartless and creates us to watch us writhe? We can’t do that because we have a Bible with a message that culminates with Jesus Christ. He taught, “When you see and hear Me you’re seeing and hearing God.” More on that shortly.
Allowing GOD to say what He says and believing Him when He says it
There are too many texts in the Holy Scriptures in which God takes the responsibility for awful suffering for us to push Him out the side door so He doesn’t get bad press. Before we lay the blame elsewhere we need to acknowledge that in the Bible God says He is responsible for its existence! Do please see and read carefully passages like Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7; Deuteronomy 32:23-30; Ezekiel 5:5-17 and Exodus 20:5. passim Read them unafraid because the Spirit of God has seen to it that we have them to read and they are profitable to fully equip us for life and service (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We know that a ton of explanation (even if it’s sensible and plausible) doesn’t obliterate a pound of prolonged anguish. Nevertheless someone(s) must address the issue with wisdom and assurance if there’s any to be had.
Jesus: An Interpreter and Guide
Jesus claimed the God of the Old Testament is His Holy Father.
Jesus said He is the revelation of the God of the Old Testament.
Jesus read the same Old Testament we read.
Jesus knew the OT texts that greatly trouble us and still said God is the ever-loving God of the human family.
Jesus did not see God as a monster. He didn’t see Him as heartless or as someone who held a divine grudge or raged in unbridled anger at a human family., He purposed to bless us with fullness of life now, and then in a coming day of His own knowing to transform us into currently unimaginable glory as He did with the man, Jesus of Nazareth. who knew that was what His Father eternally had in mind. (See Luke 24:25-27, 44-49 and compare Paul’s 2 Timothy 1:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49.)
What then are we to do with what Phyllis Trible (in another context) would call “texts of terror”? Once more! Whatever we make of them Jesus was well aware of them and construed them not as texts about a God who would be our worst nightmare but a sovereign Lover of His creation. If we cannot believe that then the Christian Faith faces what appear to be insurmountable difficulties. But if we can trust the Lord Jesus not only as the Savior from Sin but as the interpreter of God, His words and ways, then we are free to face any and all texts of terror and understand them as texts of assurance in the face of unspeakable evil and mesmerizing suffering. Texts of assurance? Yes!
God as the God of all Gods & Lord of all Lords
The loving and glorious purpose of the Father Creator never changed but the human family did and as the Holy Scriptures tell it God chose to allow humankind to go their own way and choose alienation from Him in moral derangement with the consequences that follow (Acts 14:16; Romans 1:24, 26), making themselves unworthy of “life” (1:32). This is the “wrath” of God that is being revealed against all unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The wrath of God is God “giving them up” to their choice of alienation that expresses itself in idolatry, reprobate minds and mental blindness, pride and ingratitude, sexual perversion, uncleanness, envy, hatred, slander, war-mongering…and shut themselves out from life with God (Romans 1:18-32).
What historian Will Durant said of Egypt is true of the entire ancient world in which Israel lived and in which the Bible was written. “Far beneath and above everything in Egypt was religion. We find it in every stage and form from totemism to theology…in literature, in government, in art…We cannot understand the Egyptian—or man—until we study his gods.” Hammurapi, Babylonian king (around 1792 B.C.) claimed he got his code from Shamash, son of the supreme Anu and from Bel, “Lord of Heaven and Earth…who determines the destiny of the land, committed rule of all mankind to Marduk…”
The arrival of the gods and the worship of these human creations, the deepening corruption that leads to murder, polygamy, slavery, war and success in war and the expansion of territory and domination is credited to the gods that divided the earth among themselves and fought one another for preeminence. In all this the gods were praised and their armies were rewarded with riches, the best land or more land if they needed it due to their prospering, The gods made their favorites kings and queens and emperors. Were the Philistines successful in battle—Dagon was to be praised. Did Assyria rule the Mid-eastern world by force of arms? Depending on the era and the location it was because Ashur, Ishtar or Nergal gave the success. Did Canaan have great harvests and blessings in population and health? Baal was to be thanked. A loss in battle, a failure in harvest, a pestilence that destroyed crops occurred because the god was angry, wasn’t respected sufficiently or was beaten by a stronger god or goddess. The gods warred against each other out of envy or resentment or in retaliation for an injury inflicted. There were gods that ruled the skies or the seas or the rivers and lakes, the wind and the rain and storms. Some gods/goddesses were bringers of life and other of death, some of fertile land and others lords of wilderness. They were identified as patrons of this nation or that and took credit for the establishment and sustenance of this kingdom or that or the bringing of justice here and there. There are songs and inscriptions, shrines, temples and feasts dedicated to the gods, celebrations and sacrifices as memorials to great past victories and stories told of heroes like Gilgamesh, servants of the gods—everywhere air and earth, sky and sea, mountains and plains, palaces and “cemeteries” wildernesses and gardens, there they were the gods!
Whatever else Genesis 1 & 2 is about it carried this message to Israel as they left Egypt and headed for Canaan: The gods are not to be feared or worshipped, the sun, moon and stars, the dry land the sea and all that in them is, the earth and the human family are all the creation of the one true GOD who gave His name as Yahweh! The gods are nothing, they were created and sustained by the blind and stumbling human family that rejected their Creator Father. They were nothing and could do nothing—nothing, good or evil. In the beginning they were created out of a felt need and sense of helplessness and then anything that brought pleasure became a god (trees that gave fruit and shade, rivers that gave fish…) but shrewd seekers of power learned in a hurry that the gods were a powerful support to a throne and in some areas the king represented the god and in Egypt the Pharaoh reigned not only by divine right but by divine birth and was the embodiment of the god. You see hints of that kind of thing in the book of Daniel 6:7. Read again Romans 1:19-23.
Israel lived in a world peopled by the gods, with a world that worshiped the gods and gave thanks to the gods, taught their children in schools about the gods, utterly dependent on belief in the gods. So, when we read of God taking responsibility for things such as drought and famine or success in war or for physical disability what we’re hearing is God’s trenchant (and risky) denial that the gods created and controlled the creation, the nations and history. It wasn’t Marduk that gives Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand—it was God (Daniel 1:1-2). It wasn’t Marduk that gave Nebuchadnezzar kingly authority—it was GOD (2:37) and if he didn’t believe that GOD would prove it to him (4:28-27). When God saves the 3 Jewish believers (3:1-7) who refused to worship Babylonian gods or brought Belshazzar down for insulting Him (5:3-4) it is GOD against the gods. Isaiah 36 & 37 is an education in this regard. It is the gods against GOD. A thoughtful reading of the two chapters, noting 36:18-20 and 37:11-13, 15-20, 37-38, is an education.
When again and again and again we hear God say, “It was Me!” we’re not hearing Him say He was a heavenly “hit-man” who loved His work! He is announcing Himself as the only and the one true GOD. 74 times in Ezekiel He repeats, in judgment or in blessing, that He does it “That you/they will know that I AM YAHWEH!” In Deuteronomy 32, speaking of the armies led by their gods and goddesses that devastate Israel, He says, “It wasn’t them, IT WAS ME!” In Isaiah 42:6-8 He has this to say: “I the LORD have called you in righteousness…I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Nations, to open blind eyes. To bring out prisoners, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am THE LORD , that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another, nor my praise to carved images.”
In calamity or prosperity, in pursuit of His purpose to redeem not only His chosen instrument, Israel, but the nations of the world GOD will not tolerate the belief that chance or the gods or powerful kings or skilled and ruthless armies rule the world. It doesn’t matter to Him (it does!) that people believe in all these other things or realities, God claims It’s Me!
GOD could obliterate sinful humanity, GOD could put an end to suffering, GOD could end the world and then there’d be no hate, cruelty, torture or greed, immorality, disease or predatory power. But He won’t! He takes full responsibility for the existence of humans that exercise free-will and skill and wisdom and creative brilliance that He has given them and gives to them that they use for evil purposes instead of wondrous discovery and the promotion of joy and peace and prosperity in righteousness on earth! Why create us in free-will in the first place when He knew what we would choose to do? Why did He ALLOW us (Acts 14:16) to do all this? Why doesn’t He obliterate us all and end it? He could but He won’t! He has a spellbinding end up ahead!
(I purpose another piece looking at several “texts of terror.” In the meantime I for one hear GOD saying, “It’s Me! I’m in control. Not chance, not evil powers, not warmongering power-brokers, not the shrewd worshipers of the new ‘gods’. Trust Me and tell others to trust Me.”)