I am currently exploring some of the violent images of God presented in the bible and how best to interpret them in light of the Father that Jesus revealed to us through his own life. First up I want to address the fundamentalist view of God which is um, rather than me trying to explain it, let me just show you an example out of a Jonathan Edwards sermon which I found an excerpt of transcribed over on Jeremy Myers blog
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.
I think you get the idea, so much for the “God desires that none would perish” or “For God so loved the world” scriptures right? Let me also state the obvious here in that the title of this blog is taken from the title of Edwards most famous sermon of all, which is a misquotation (or misrepresentation) of Hebrews 10:31, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. Anyway, I won’t go too much into this but I do want to touch on a few points about the “God who doth smiteth a lot” portrayal of God.
Is God angry?
God is love (1 John 4:16). Unlike love, anger is an emotion, God cannot be defined as an emotion but He nevertheless does experience them. Scripture does speak about Gods anger but it is also quick to highlight that He is slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17). Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that “love is not easily angered”. Scripture continually reveals a God who is longsuffering with his people which we will look at in more detail another day. It is also worth noting that Jesus got angry from time to time with the Pharisees so it is not something that is exclusive to the Old Testament picture of God or inconsistent in scripture. It’s pretty hard; actually it is impossible, for someone who loves not to get angry when they see injustice, or the lowly abused, or children suffering, or religious leaders heaping condemnation on others or teaching nonsense and on and on we could carry on. There is nothing wrong with righteous anger. Let’s not confuse it with someone who is ill tempered and mean natured.
Does God abhor you?
As I sit here I am thinking to myself, really? Do I even need to write about this? Yet if you have ever read the comment section on an article about gay people, Rob Bell or Rick warren you will already know that many people believe that God despises everyone who holds to different beliefs than they do. What does scripture say?
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
If God is love but love is conditional, then God is not faithful in being God toward those he withholds it from (a). I would suggest that because God is love he abhors the things that destroy us. He loathes our systems and our crutches that lead us into bondage, the things that promise happiness but only bring us death.
The wrath of God
This is a similar thought to what I said about the word abhor, something interesting about the word wrath though is in Hebrew it is the word charon which means “burning”, in Greek it most often the word orge which can mean either “anger, wrath or passion”. When you think of wrath in terms of a burning passion I can see where Wayne Jacobsen gets his definition of wrath from. He describes it as “God bringing the full weight of His being against that which seeks to destroy the object of His affection". Imagine a child playing on the train tracks when you notice him and an oncoming train heading his way. You start running toward and screaming at the child, what would he see on your face and how would he perceive the situation in light of the reality of what was happening?
Will God destroy people in hell?
Scripture is crystal clear that God cares for all of us, yet the one part of Edwards statement above is true, “…yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.” Matthew 10:28 says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” When I get to sharing my own personal view I will explain how I believe that hell and death can be consistent with a God who is all loving. That is however for another day.
In closing though I would like to briefly mention two more things. Number one is regarding all this talk about people being like worms or serpents. Jesus said God we are worth so much more to God than the sparrows which He feeds and takes care of (Matthew 6:26 and 10:31), humility is a virtue but do not let it rob you of the reality of how God sees you. The second thing is that I have noticed that the way we perceive God to be always plays out in how we treat others. You are a greater ambassador for the kingdom than you may realize, our perception of God is vitally important and we need to make sure that we get this right.
(a) ...so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? - Matthew 5:45-46