A question about God and violence

March 21, 2014

It was my great privilege to speak to the Growing in Grace (GIG) addiction recovery group at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock about a week ago. I write the messages to be applicable both to people dealing with this huge problem and folks in the mainstream that have similar difficulties. This talk concerned how we often feel lonely and confused in times of trial. You can listen here.

I went to the flood story in Genesis as my starting point. By way of background, it was observed that the catastrophe was provoked by mankind’s rampant corruption, especially violence. It seems straightforward to note that God hates violence. In fact, one of my most perceptive listeners had a serous question about my casual observation.

If God hates violence, why does he use it so much? Darn. I just hate it when that happens. Let’s see if it is possible to make sense of this apparent contradiction.

What follows here is not an original idea. In fact, I am partially borrowing from Jonathan Edwards and I hope that what follows is stated correctly. God has certain preferences, like peace. God wants humanity to get along. God demands that we not kill, or, as Jesus proposed in the Sermon on the Mount, not even be angry. Jesus was silent before his accusers, and did not retaliate, God forbids us from taking vengeance.

But God killed untold numbers in the flood. He slaughtered the first-born of Egypt. The Almighty stirred up all kinds of military enemies to do harm to Israel. And there was the directive to kill all the residents of the promised land – every man, woman, child, and animal. That is a nasty rap sheet for the Somebody who claims to oppose violence.

The long-term plan for mankind is an unending time of peace. Isiah has a view of old men leaning on their staffs and sitting under trees, and children playing in the streets. Scripture tells us that even the animals will be reconciled with mankind. (Isiah 65:17-25) What could be more wonderful than the vision of the river that flows past the Tree of Life, and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? This is the future.

In the present, it would seem that God is content to use human institutions to subdue human nature. This is why God seems not to worry about a little war here and there, God knows that tanks are rolling in the Ukraine. That is the way of the world.

A candidate for congress in the Chicago area believes that God is angry about America’s moral condition and is doing something about it.

Susanne Atanus, of Niles, Ill., garnered 54 percent of the vote in her Tuesday win over David Earl Williams III.

“I am not in favor of abortions, I am not in favor of gay rights,” Atanus told the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, in January.

She blamed natural disasters and mental disorders on recent advances in LGBT equality and legal abortions.

“God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she said. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military, it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

I am not exactly sure what the candidate has in mind here, but I do know that God does not get angry in the same way as humans. There is a reference to this in my latest talk to GIG noted above. The Almighty does control everything, his general rule seems to be allowing people to make their own grief. God is very much opposed to many aspects of American life, including rampant individualism and the worship of material goods. We worship consumption and ignore the poor. You bet God is against that! I tend to think that if God was messing with the weather, we would get the message pretty darned quick. Could the candidate possibly be referring to climate change?

While the creation groans in expectation of ultimate restoration (Rm 8), God allows his human creation to use violence. It is part of our free will and, it must be admitted, sometimes part of God’s plan. In the end, when we see God face-to-face, there will be no place for coercion or any type of force among the holy people.

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