Green Leaf Press Quarterly Newsletter, October 2010
Part of our responsibility is to recognize and respond to question like these—
"Why did God kill thousands of people in Old Testament times?"
"I don’t like to read the Old Testament, it has so many awful things in it."
"How can God be loving and yet condemn so many to eternal separation from him?"
Questions like the above are on the minds of many; both with people who affirm faith in Jesus Christ, and also with people who show interest, but are put off by, what appears to them to be an image of an angry God. I believe that we need to do the best that we can to respond to these concerns. This is not an issue to be ignored or "swept under the rug." This issue has many aspects and could easily demand extended answers. Fortunately, I am limited to two pages in this quarterly newsletter.
Janis and I just returned from two weeks in the Black Forest area of Germany, and we enjoyed short excursions into Switzerland and France. We spent a delightful day in Strasbourg, France, and visited the great Notre Dame Cathedral that took more than two hundred years to build in the 13th to 15th centuries. Its incredible spire reaches 466 feet into the air. In addition to viewing the interior of the cathedral, I wanted to see the wonderfully complex astronomical clock. There was a video narrative to watch as we waited for the clock to go through its 12:30 p.m. processes. The narrator, in the video, described many of the symbols of the clock, including one representing the judgment of God. She went on to say something like this, "God does not judge. He is perfect love." I found myself wondering what Bible she reads, and how a statement like that could be forthcoming in a Roman Catholic church!
The truth is, that the judgment of God is a difficult subject for many people, and there is a strong tendency to skirt around it. But if we do that—we, fail to deal with a matter that may be important to many. The default is that God is difficult, which is quite contrary to what the Bible really says. So let us do our best with this issue, and I hope that what I have to say will be of some help. Let us review some of the incidents from the Old Testament that people may have in mind:
1. The Flood. Genesis 6:5,6, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." (NRSV) The flood came, and God preserved Noah and his family and representatives of the animals. God took note of the people whom he had created, and that they had failed to achieve the life that God had intended for them. Though they knew of him, they had chosen to go their own way. God was their creator. He is sovereign. Because he had given them the gift of life, he had the authority to withdraw that gift. For God to allow their rebellion against him to continue would only produce increasing evil and grief.
2. God’s judgment upon the Egyptians. Due to a severe famine, Jacob and his family had migrated to Egypt with Joseph’s help. During a period of about four hundred years that family had grown to several hundred thousand people. Due to their increasing numbers, they had ceased to be guests in Egypt, and out of fear of their increasing power, the Egyptians had made them slaves to work on some of their great building projects. But God had another plan for these people: that they be set free by the Egyptians and established as a free nation in Canaan. He sent Moses and Aaron before the Pharaoh to request that the will of God be done. Pharaoh was obstinate, and at times appeared to agree only to end up refusing the request. God sent plague upon plague upon the Egyptians that they might recognize his power. Instead of recognizing that they were contending with God, they became more obstinate. Finally, God sent the last plague, the death of the first born of every family in Egypt. They had ample opportunity to accede to the will of God, but they did not.
3. God’s judgment upon the Canaanites. Hundreds of years before the exodus, God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac. Jacob, and their descendants. Many of the Canaanite rulers may have had knowledge of that promise. They knew of the demonstration of the powers of God in the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt (Joshua 9:9,10). They were idol worshipers, their religious practices were corrupt, and their hardness of heart was an offense to God. Three things were accomplished through the wars of conquest by the armies of Israel: 1) they occupied the land that God had promised to them 2) Israel was an instrument of God’s judgment upon their waywardness and immorality. 3) Their idolatrous influence upon God’s people would be reduced, possibly extinguished. Many of them, including women and children, were killed. The Philistines remained in Gaza. The Gibeonites made peace with the Hebrews. Presumably others fled to Phoenicia, Syria, and Arabia. We should not assume that the Canaanites were innocent and uninformed. Joshua 11:19,20 indicates that terms of peace would have been possible. This act of judgment by God and his ensuing judgments upon the people of Israel for about a thousand years become a warning to the rest of the world throughout history that God means what he says.
Our God is indeed a God of mercy, immeasurable love, compassion, and salvation. But his immense and gracious love must be responded to. Indifference toward God and rejection of God have severe consequences. God seeks us with an intensity that we cannot fathom. He loves us as only God can love. He invites us to believe in him and to find the forgiveness and acceptance that he offers. If we reject God’s offer of forgiveness and acceptance, how do we think that God should respond?
a. This is really disappointing!
b. Well, I just wish that things could have been better.
c. I suppose we will just let bygones be bygones.
d. It doesn’t matter what they believe. I will bring them into my eternal presence anyway.
Is not his condemnation of the guilty as strong as his love? Is not God’s judgment the other side of his love? At some point, the door of opportunity is closed and God recognizes that people don’t care about him—don’t respond to his will—choose to go their own way. There are only two results: the one is wonderful; the other is exceedingly severe.
Foster H. Shannon, President
Green Leaf Press is a non-profit Christian publishing company. We welcome contributions from those who are in sympathy with our ministry. Contributions are tax deductible under IRS Code 501 (c) (3) and the Franchise Tax Board of the State of California. Green Leaf Press, Inc., P.O. Box 880, Alhambra, CA 91802-0880 Phone: 626-281-7221; FAX:323-221-4334 E-mail: email@example.com Web Page: www.gogreenleaf.com
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