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I have been struggling with the issue of the violence of God in the Old Testament for a very long time. Probably since my teen years. I have read scores and scores of books on the topic, and have spent countless hours thinking about the various passages in the Bible which present God as violent.
Humans are inherently violent, and so many people do not struggle at all with the violent portrayals of God in the Bible. Some people sort of like having a violent God, because we can then use God as a way to justify our own violence. We think that just as God’s violence was only directed against wicked people and evildoers, we too can engage in violence if it is directed at sinful, horrible, and violent people.
I have always had a problem with this, however, because Jesus seems to be adamantly opposed to all violence. Rather than encourage us to kill our enemies, Jesus tells us to love and forgive them. And when the disciples want to incinerate the people of various towns who rejected Him, Jesus rebukes His disciples for having such thoughts. And whenever the issues of murder, violence, bloodshed come up in the Gospels, Jesus attributes such behaviors as coming from the devil and having nothing whatsoever to do with God.
And then there is the cross. If there was ever anyone who deserved to be murdered and slaughtered, it was the people who put Jesus on the cross. But Jesus does not call down legions of angels, nor does He call His followers to rise up in rebellion. Instead, on the cross, Jesus forgives His murderers and dies for them.
So how can we reconcile the teachings and example of Jesus with the bloody and violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament?
Some people just say that the Old Testament was wrong. I’m not comfortable with that.
Other say that Jesus truly is violent, just like God, and that this violence was only hidden in his first coming, but it will be unleashed in full force at His second coming. “Just read Revelation,” they say. For lots of reasons, I am not comfortable with that either. And in fact, when Revelation is rightly understood, I believe it actually subverts and condemns violence. But that topic will have to be saved for a future time.
So about five years ago I set out to solve this dilemma. I think I have come up with a solution that allows us to retain the inerrancy of Scripture while also allowing us to see the actions of God in the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus dying on the cross. I have been writing on this for many years, and am getting close to publishing something on it, but a few months back, one of my blog readers sent me a link to a sermon by Greg Boyd in which he was tackling the same issue, and had come up with an explanation of his own.
My explanation is not the same as Greg Boyd’s explanation, but they have some similarities, and so I decided to include his sermon here to get you thinking in the right direction on this topic. Greg does a good job introducing the issue of the violence of God, and presents a unique solution to it.
After listening to this message from Greg Boyd, I would love your input in the comment section below.
Did you understand his view? It seems he is basically arguing that the violence of God is actually the shadow of God, and we must not confuse the God as revealed in Jesus with the shadow of God in the Old Testament. In this way, he says the violent portrayals of God point beyond Himself to something better, which is what is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I am not sure I fully understand Greg’s view, but he is coming out with a book in 2016 called The Crucifixion of the Warrior God where this view will be better explained and defended.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what Greg said, or even how you reconcile the violence of God in the Bible with the portrait of God in Jesus Christ on the cross.
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12 responses to “Greg Boyd – God’s Shadow Activity”
Great message, heard it last year and listened to both parts several times.
Greg’s work on this area over the past few years is what eventually toppled the dominos for me…his upcoming “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” promises to be a comprehensive treatment of this premise.
Yes, I am quite excited about this book of his. The more I hear of it, the more I wonder if I will agree with his conclusion, but no matter what, I know his book will make me think!
I wish people would stop differentiating between the OT God and the NT God. They are the same. The violence of God in the OT has no more to do with hating people than removing a gangrenous limb is do to hating limbs. God is love, but He is also truth and justice. He always has the interests of those who can be saved in mind. If I refused to amputate a unsavable arm out of love for that arm, I condemn my entire body to death.
I think that analogy works in the context of a Christian Universalist message. But it doesn’t do so well when 95% of humanity is damned to a life of eternal torment and suffering.
I am not convinced that they are. They will not get to experience the new Heaven and Earth, of course. But there is a verse in Revelations that refers to a second death and I wonder if terms like ‘eternal’ in reference to afterlife punishment might be better translated as ‘uninterupted’ or ‘irrevocable’. Not sure.
Matthew, I could go with that. I think that view is more loving than some of the views I hear in the pulpits today. But I just struggle because I don’t see any of this sort of language or actions from Jesus during His ministry. Since it is not there, how can He be the full revelation of God? It seems He is hiding the “sin surgeon” side of God, which is fairly prominent in the OT.
One thought about why people often differentiate between OT and NT portraits of God, using the gangrene example –
When Jesus comes, He touches those with gangrene and heals…makes the person whole…and asks us to follow His example.
The religious leaders “cut them off” and leave them for dead.
Jeremy Myers How about this. It’s not Jesus saying it, but it is one of His students (disciples). Romans 11:22.
Not sure what you are referring to with that text. Nobody denies that God disciplines those He loves. But there is a big difference between discipline and genocide. Romans 11:22 is referring to the discipline of God.
Thought you were commenting on my amputation analogy.
I’m having a hard time understanding the message here. Is he saying that God ordered the execution of entire nations so that he could seem more appealing to a violent people? This doesn’t seem right to me. Could God have not had a better way of doing this? What made humanity ready at the times of Jesus? It just seems contradictory to me for God to kill others in order to tell us not to kill. Certainly God could have taught us the right way without conforming to our evil ways.
No, I don’t think he is saying that. Something closer to the opposite of that. His recent arguments seem to be closer that God withdrew His hand of protection…
But I think that there is not much difference between doing the bad deed and withdrawing the protection that keeps the bad deed from happening… We will see if his forthcoming book will clarify anything…