I’ve been thinking about the God of the Bible. Particularly
God as he is revealed in the Old Testament.
Who is this God? What is he like? No, what is he really like?
I’ve done my homework here. I understand that the right place
to establish my foundational theology of who God is comes from the clearest
revelation of God’s nature and character in the Bible: we always interpret the
less articulate passages from the more articulate ones. And of course, the best
revelation of who God is and what he’s like is in the person and the teachings
of the incarnate second Person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ.
Jesus taught, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
In other words, “I’m like him. He’s just like me.” The author of Hebrews
describes Jesus as “the express image of His person.” In other words: this is
the best picture of who God is that we’ve ever had. And Jesus is undeniably,
relentlessly, unswervingly good. He never once hurt anybody, never smote
anybody, never spoke harshly to his mommy, never stepped on an ant. He didn’t
even damage the guy that he knew was
stealing from him and his friends, the guy who was the direct cause of his own
The only people he did speak harshly to were the religiously
self-righteous, but he didn’t even smite them. He just got in their face about
their stubbornness, hypocrisy, and inability to see the answer to their prayers
who was right there in their faces.
The lesson is clear: God is undeniably, relentlessly,
unswervingly good. The Bible is remarkably clear about that. God doesn’t,
according to the stunningly clear revelation of God-in-the-flesh, hurt, maim or
He clearly has no patience for religiously self-righteous
people, but he doesn’t even smite them.
So I take this understanding, this clear knowledge, that God
is good, and I go look at the God of the Old Testament, the guy with the Bad
People tell me over and over about this God’s judgments,
generally describing him in vocabulary that justifies their particular vitriol against
their particularly hated sin. When God’s people sin, they tell me – forget
that; when anybody sins – they can
expect a good smiting. (I have to admit, some
(not all) of the people telling these horror stories sound a lot like the
Pharisees that Jesus was so consistent about castigating; but perhaps that’s
not the real issue here.)
One of their favorite stories is Sodom
for example. There was a particularly bad night in Sodom (Genesis 19) that gave the town a
justifiably nasty reputation. But a thinking person, while acknowledging that
it was a serious sin, could not reasonably justify destroying two cities in
fire and brimstone.
I don’t throw out a doctrine, any doctrine, just because it
doesn’t make sense. But in this case, the Scriptures don’t actually describe
that particularly sinful night as the cause for the destruction. God himself,
talking with Abraham (Genesis 18:20) declares the reason for the visit to the
place: the second reason: they have a reputation for sin, but the first reason:
“Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great…”
Somebody has been crying out about the cities: this
destruction did not start with God getting fed up with sin, as I’ve been taught
repeatedly. It started with someone, presumably a human someone, crying out to
God. This is the result of humans speaking against the city, not the result of
an angry God.
In fact, the biggest judgment that God proposes as he’s
talking with Abe: “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether
according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will
That’s it. “I’ll know about it.” That’s the judgment
proposed. That’s all the “smiting” that God proposed for the city with the
great reputation for sin.
And we all know about Abe’s negotiation with God over their
sin: Abe assumes a greater judgment, and tries to talk God out of it, but
chickens out before he finishes the job. That passages teaches well about
prayer, but most of the time, people are either implying, or outright declaring
that God was out to kill ’em all! No! That’s not what the Book says!
We build our theology on the clear passages, not on our
assumptions from the very earliest understanding of God’s nature. God says the
judgment comes from someone’s outcry, not from his own “righteous anger.” (I’m
not saying there’s no such thing as righteous anger. I’m saying that’s not what
went on in Genesis 18!)
There are indeed other passages, stories told later, where
God is named as the source of that destruction, in contradistinction to God’s
own declaration in Genesis 18. I have heard the argument that “The people of
that day didn’t understand that God & Satan were different, so they
attributed Satan’s actions to God!” and frankly, I find that to be quite the
Change of venue: By now, most people know about the parallel
accounts that describe David’s numbering of Israel (found in 2 Samuel 24 and 1
Chronicles 21). There’s a serious problem here. We have to ask, “Why does 2
Samuel 24:1 state that God ‘moved’ David against Israel,
while 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan who ‘stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel’.”?
It’s the same thing. In our day, we understand a decent bit
about the creature, Lucifer, sometimes called Satan. Our greatest source for that
knowledge is found primarily in the gospels and epistles that were unknown in
earlier times, and so the one event is described by one author as from Satan,
and from the other author, not knowing any better, as from God, who ignorantly
equates the two.
But we know better. We have the revelation of the life of
Christ. We’re smarter than that! God is not, as demonstrated by “the exact
representation of God,” in the smiting business.
But some people still go there. “What about Ananias and
Sapphira! [Acts 5] God killed them! And that’s New Testament!”
That shows me how little some people actually read their
Bible. Read that passage again. Yes, the passage is in the New Testament. But nowhere
does it even hint that God did this. From the text, it’s possible that they
were killed by the power of Peter’s curse against them. It could be that Satan
did the deed, having gained access to their lives through their sin. Only if
you haven’t done your homework, only if you believe God is a killer, could it be
God who did it. The passage is anything
but clear! And unclear passages are not
what we build theology out of.
But you and I have
done our homework. We come to this unclear passage, having already settled
ourselves on the matter of God’s goodness, which we’ve gotten from the clear
passages, from the example of Jesus: God is good. Therefore, their murderer
couldn’t be God. So do your best with your guesses, inventions, imaginations
and assumptions: the Bible doesn’t actually identify the murderer, but we know
from previous study that it ain’t God!
Then someone will bring up the story of Elymas the sorcerer
who was smitten blind in Acts 13. Again, I suggest people actually read the
passage, and read it remembering what we already know about God’s good
character from the unmistakable revelation of the Son of God. The passage says, “Paul said” and then it
happened. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit when he said it, so some people
assume that it must not have really been Paul who said it, because when you’re
full of the Holy Spirit, you can’t say anything on your own. Really? That’s
kind of a stretch, isn’t it?
But the reality is that the text never says that God did
this; it says Paul did this. And we, having done our homework, already know
that God is good, because Jesus, who was revealing God’s nature, was always good, know that this unclear
passage is not consistent with the clear passages, and therefore must be
representing something other than an
angry, vengeful God, because we know that God is not angry or vengeful.
We could go on for hours. Let’s not do that. Let’s learn the
lesson: Jesus is the best representation of what God is like, and Jesus always
did good; the worst he did was get in the face of the religiously
self-righteous. So God, who presumably is also not pleased with the religiously
self-righteous, is nonetheless, consistently good.
It’s the enemy who is consistently accusing God’s nature
before us. Let’s not fall for his accusations. We know better. We know Jesus.