Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?

“Recovering? Who said I was recovering?”

I was recently watching some sessions from 2004’s Emerging Theological Conversation that I attended at All Souls PCA Church in Decatur with Jasmin and Seth in the fall of 2004 – some eight years ago. Walter Brueggemann was the presenting scholar, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink and others were emceeing the dialogues with him (Yes, ladies, there were lots of dudes on stage back in 2004…we got better).

It was the first time I’d met Troy; the second time I’d met Chris Seay I believe, and the third time I’d met Brian – I got up the courage to approach Brian afterward and ask him if he needed editorial feedback on any of his work; to my grateful surprise I got to informally work on The Last Word and the Word After That. Good times.

Soo, yeah. It was at this conference that Brueggemann presented his 19 Theses:

1.     Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script.

2.     We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3.      The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.

4.     That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5.     That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6.     Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7.     It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

8.     The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.

9.     The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.

10.  That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature, its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.

11.  That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.

12.  The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless. [I think the writer of Psalm 119 would probably like too try, to make it seamless]. Because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated. [This is my polemic against systematic theology]. The script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must betaken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

13.  The ragged, disjunctive character of the counter-script to which we testify invites its adherents to quarrel among themselves – liberals and conservatives – in ways that detract from the main claims of the script and so too debilitate the focus of the script.

14.  The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?”

15.  The nurture, formation, and socialization into the counter-script with this illusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do that work of nurture, formation, and socialization by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighboring of all kinds.

16.  Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.

17.  This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit. So that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.

18.  Ministry is to manage that ambivalence that isequally present among liberals and conservatives in generative faithful ways in order to permit relinquishment of [the] old script and embrace of the new script.

19.  The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one [see if that’s an overstatement]; there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it. I think often; I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if youtook all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

Want to hear the talk for yourself? Tune in here.

It’s interesting that what disturbs us sometimes the first time we hear it ends up comforting us the next time we hear it. More explosively than even his challenging theses, it was at this conference that Brueggemann wonders out loud if  “God is a recovering practitioner of violence.” As Geoff Holsclaw summarizes – “By this he means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

Of course this is potentially disconcerting, as we don’t like to imagine the repentance of God – and yet, this is precisely what is suggested in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (thanks, Jack Miles!). Incarnation inaugurates a genuine new-ness in God’s new covenant with humanity & cosmos. As Geoff continues, “Concerning faith and knowledge, Brueggemann says: “We all have a craving for certitude, but the gospel is all about fidelity.” By this he means that certitude is an epistemological category while fidelity is a relational one. And the way of the Cross is to depart from our certitude, to die to our answers/desires/scripts.”

Part of the ‘inner reflex’ is Centering Prayer is letting go. For 20 minutes twice a day, it’s a continuous letting go of thoughts and emotions that well up inside – kind of like a fisherman catching fish, but not to eat – just for fun. She’s sitting in a boat (the mind) and her pole rests in the water (the field of consciousness). Little fish (thoughts, ideas, emotions) come up and nibble on the line (ordinary awareness) – the fisherman doesn’t shoot the fish with a revolver or cut the line. Instead, she pulls the little fish up, but doesn’t keep them in the boat – it’s catch & release.

Catch and release, catch and release, gently, graciously – because you recognize that even the lake is situated in a much larger ecosystem (God). You can let go because the earth is abundant; you will be fed. Centering Prayer is a journey of trust in God, even on the unconscious level, where all kind of mis-trustful thoughts bubble up to the surface. The life centered in surrender to & trust in God is a life of profound peace and productivity – and our Scriptures attest, in a myriad of ways, that such trust (faith) ‘pleases God.’

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions according to revealed Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. It’s the route of “trusting” God via suppression of the more unseemly parts of our sacred canons and sacred canopies.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years, including:

(Did you read that list, Ken Silva? Its semantic relations were practically tailor-written for you, LOL. If you don’t write about me, Discernmentalist Mafia will!)

And this is the path: As Grubb and Bill Volkman propose in a substantially panentheistic reading of Holy Writ: There is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross to subtle to causal (see Integral theory) – meaning that God, our our sacred history, once walked around and acted, anthropomorphically, as a human being. Gradually across the narrative shape of the Hebrew Bible, God began to withdraw God’s conscious presence in this way – “I will hide My face from them, and see what their fate may be.” God goes from walking around earth to appearing via angelic intermediaries; to public miracles, to dreams and visions and prophets, to private subjective experiences to interpretations written out in a Book. In Ruth and Esther, God is scarcely mentioned at all. (God then repeats this process again in Jesus – but the same progression from overt to subtle takes place on the pages of the New Testament and in Church history)

We could lament this move as somehow connected to God punishing us; withheld manifest presence as a result of our sin or some such thing. On the other hand, what if we as a human race are growing up, maturing, and therefore God appears to us in more mature ways? In this way, God is very actively involved in our history as a parent, but then gives us space to get older – not becoming more distant, but in fact closer than our very breath. God’s presence moves from the obvious to the sublime. (Which would explain, to me, why Monotheistic Western religion – in the form of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – starts out very concrete-operational in orientation and almost inevitably move to the mystical, with increasing circles of empathy for God, self, world, and others. The majority adherents might not make that leap, but it undeniably does seem like a leap forward.)

Now, here’s the same thought from another trajectory: God influences us, that we’ve always known; but what if we – the sum total of we, human and non-human life alike – influence God? If we’re bound up in God, marked off in God before our conception, our learning and growing is God’s learning and growing – what if? I don’t mean to rehash the entire Open Theism vs. Calvinism debate of the 1990s here, but I think that it’s possible to simultaneously hold that God is good, wise, and powerful while also affirming the ability of God to learn and (even) change God’s mind – we see so many examples of this in the narrative of Scripture, that it seems fool-hardy to deny this in order to preserve our cherished Greco-Roman structured systematic theologies.

So, today, in a secular age, we affirm that God is true and real, but we wrestle with what this means. We stake our lives on the goodness of God, but we recognize that ‘goodness’ might be different today, as it truly seems to be if you’re looking at Covenantal unfolding in Scripture. This simply seems developmentally apparent: If you’re someone who, like me, is committed to peace and justice work today but grew up watching the 700 Club approvingly as a kid, you’ve experienced the dissonance that God, just possibly, has experienced: What made perfect sense in the 1980s seems cruel and inhuman today. And this is precisely what Abraham and Moses are recorded as having argued to YHWH some 4,000+ years ago: “Don’t wipe out this-or-that people, LORD; it’s bad PR. It does not magnify the glory of Your Name; it does not add to the praise of Your reputation.” Sometimes, YHWH did what he was going to do anyway; sometimes, he listened and changed course.

What does this have to do with our lives today? Is this a wildly unstable theology of God? Is such a changeable God not worthy of worship? I don’t know about that. I think that, if the evangelical mantra is true, and we can indeed have ‘a personal relationship with G-D, then this relationship is a genuine one with real give-and-take, real learning on both sides. I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God, within God. And that we recognize this unfolding, and respond to it, and even initiate its furtherance of it, on a deep, nourishing level when we learn to trust the God Who Is – as opposed to the fantasy God whom we fondly wish Would Be. This path is more difficult – but this is real trust.

Watch or listen to the complete 2004 Emergent Theological Conversation with Walter B. here.

This post originally debuted on November 21, 2009.

Walter Brueggemann

141 Responses to Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?

  1. John 14:6 November 22, 2009 at 1:24 am #

    Your blasphemy and those of your ilk apparently knows no bounds.

    “By this he means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it.”

    Are you people serious? What God is this that you claim to follow? A fallible deity who learns from his own mistakes!

    Repent of these heretic, man-centered imaginations!

    An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, — Proverbs 6:18

    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; — 2 Cor 10:5

  2. Ira November 22, 2009 at 1:48 am #

    John 14:6 — your arrogance and that of your ilk apparently knows no bounds. You alone have the line on God? You alone have the one true interpretation of scripture? You alone are pure enough in your ontological certainty to go casting the first stone and hurling accusations of blasphemy and heresy?


    • John 14:6 November 22, 2009 at 10:11 pm #

      Strawman do not position make. Funny how quoting the Bible leads heretics to the accusation that “you alone know blah blah blah”.

      It has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with Holy Scripture. To even entertain the idea that God is a “recovering” anything promotes a position of fallibility to the INFALLIBLE. That is heresy.

      You are the created, lest you forget. And you are seeking to assign human frailties and shortcomings to the Creator. That is, also, heresy. God is not like you, get over it.

      For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. – Isa 55:8

      Holy God recovers from nothing. His ways are not our ways. Humble yourself and repent for this heretical thinking.

      How many more times will emergents, liberals, and progressive hid behind “cast the first stone”. Are you to utter this to Holy God when you stand before Him? What will you say then, when all your noble thinking, philosophy, and bludgeoning of God’s Holy Word are laid before you and you are found guilty?

      I pray for all of you amazing lost people. You truly are promoting high things that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Does Scripture tells us God “recovered” from violence? It does not, so put this thought away and repent.

      • Ira November 22, 2009 at 10:26 pm #


        That’s not a straw man. I was questioning your epistemology.

        And I’m afraid this has an awful lot to do with you. You have to do the reading. You have to do the interpreting. You have to decide, consciously or unconsciously, which lenses you’re looking through as you read.

        If God does not change, then does this mean God is still the vengeful tribal deity who ordered the outright genocide of entire peoples simply for living in the wrong place at the wrong time? ‘Cause that’s one crazy mofo and I’m not bowing to worship, thank you very much. Talk about assigning human frailties to the creator — the OT is rife with this stuff.

        That sort of God is definitely not like me, nor anything I would aspire to be. Not to go all Marcionite on you or anything (which would be an actual heresy, in the historical sense, instead of just a position you don’t like).

  3. mike duran November 22, 2009 at 2:09 am #

    Sorry, but this is very, very, disturbing. God is a recovering practitioner of violence? Anything else God needs to recover from? Maybe egocentricity, impulsive creating, or childhood trauma? Hmm. Guess I just haven’t been “de-scripted” yet…

  4. zoecarnate November 22, 2009 at 5:32 am #

    Mike (and even Mr. John 14:6), I don’t blame anyone for finding this idea disturbing. It messes with our Greek/static notions of God’s perfection. It really messed with me when I heard it live five years ago.

    I find the question impossible to answer affirmatively one way or another. On the one hand (of course), who am I to judge God? On the other hand, I have it on the authority of holy Scripture that people of God have wrestled with God, and argued with God…and apparently God isn’t offended by that. The very word ‘Israel’ can mean ‘Wrestles with God.’ So I’m thankful that our faith is big enough where arguers like Abraham, Moses, Jacob and David are considered our heroes. Of course, I also want to model the submission (‘Islam’) to God that Jesus embodies so well…I think the life of faith is a blend of Israel and Islam. 🙂

  5. tripp fuller November 22, 2009 at 6:03 am #

    I know we are planning a skype convo soon or maybe wednesday night while in NC, but let me say one thing…

    An “Orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology” would not be able to write the post. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a possible Christian reading, but the orthodox Trinity asserts that we cannot speak of God’s essence (as God is in Godself) except through God’s self-revelation, primarily in the person of Jesus, the incarnation of the Second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, and resurrected lord. The essence of God is not something any orthodox theologian thought was up for grabs in history. It could be revealed more thoroughly in and through history, but God in God’s own self is Triune love.

    The character or essence of God does not change, but how it is understood in history does. There needs to be a distinction between any conception of God, in scripture or tradition or on a blog post, and God as God is in God’s essence. We can have an evolving and changing concept of God, but that is different than saying that the reality itself is changing.

    The Openness theologians and most Process theologians would say the nature of God’s involvement in a situation can change, God’s feelings towards a personpeople’s current state of being can change, and other relational modes of communication BUT God’s character and ultimate desire for the world does not change. God was, is, and will always be the one revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How that God is conceptualized and how that interacts with different circumstances changes, but God’s essence does not.

    Back to a paper. Let’s talk.

  6. zoecarnate November 22, 2009 at 6:24 am #

    Whoa. If MR. UP-AND-COMING PROCESS THEOLOGIAN thinks I’m off-base, I’m well willing to listen and admit it. Let’s talk indeed.

    You heard it here first, folks – this post is the wet-cement, first-iteration version of something I’m attempting to articulate; that God’s learning and acting within history is very real (and not just an anthropomorphic ‘put on’), but that God is also consistent and loving and powerful and strong. Mebbe we can’t have both…but I’m sure Tripp will tell me… 🙂

    • ~Katherine December 8, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

      I felt pretty jerked around by this post even though I think I understood and think I can consider the implications for me and humanity. Such is our god-like spin on everything’s.

      One of the primary things going on is we can read in scripture that humans are made in God’s image. Something that has only recently actually been a thought I can focus on. Obviously this is about being like God or what I think of as expressing, reflecting, perhaps even “thinking” God. God is sovereign and perhaps we are too? That’s a question up for grabs, in Tripp-phrasery. Perhaps it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for us to countenance what’s up.

      If we’re made in God’s image to such an extent that God shares freedom of choice with us, then perhaps that explains a whole lot more about who WE are and could begin to explain a bunch more about just exactly who God is.

      Religion is disturbing… very disturbing business. Most people I think would rather be atheists or agnostics or ignorants than bother with such things. I like Gardner’s new intelligences category: Spiritual Ability. I definitely think people have widely varying degrees of development in spiritual intelligence. Spirituality makes most of us feel stupid many times and awkward with each other because we want a more uniform consensus to mark our way along the path and it’s just not there. However I think we’re collectively developing a loosely defined array of ideas to inform a burgeoning, intentionally diversified group of consensuses.

  7. tripp fuller November 22, 2009 at 8:55 am #

    Ohh Mike I just was making sure you knew the line orthodox trinitarian wouldn’t work. Maybe the rest would.

    Don’t worry. I will witness to you soon!

  8. Ira November 22, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    From an historical perspective, orthodoxy is notoriously squishy. The negotiation between God’s immutability and God’s ability and willingness to change — even to repent — is inscribed in the holy text itself. If theology is a conversation, it’s one that’s been going on for a long time before any of us showed up on the scene.

    Tripp is right to point that our understanding of God changes, and on solid theological footing to suggest that nevertheless there is some essence of God that never changes. Equally solid, I think, is the assertion that it is God’s self-revelation in Jesus that nails down (sorry!) the bits that don’t change.

    But we don’t agree on this, either — I mean, historically. We have not always assumed that Christ is the complete revelation of God (indeed some would probably suggest that such a claim gives trinitarian theology short shrift), nor is there widespread agreement as to what the revelation means for us on the ground. Jesus is , in that sense, kind of a shifty bastard.

    It feels good and sounds good to draw a line in the sand, whether it’s Jesus or the eschatological community or a favorite scripture verse or Aristotelian telos or Hegelian dialectic or Whiteheadian process or Wilberian integrality or what have you, and the act of drawing such lines (especially the Jesus one) may be a necessary part of the discourse of Christian theology.

    But at the end of the day, no matter how necessary and vital the process is, can we really say we’re doing more than rubbing differing versions of human (mis)understanding against each other in an effort to see which are fruit-bearing? Aren’t we constantly in danger of realizing that our current line in the sand is just another artifact of our scriptedness?

    I’m not saying the endeavor is pointless and should be abandoned — as I pointed out, it may well be necessary and unavoidable. Nor am I suggesting that either Mike or Tripp lack the philosophical nuance to see our contingency or the epistemic humility to take it to heart. The payoff, for me, is what our theological speculations do for our own formation, personally and spiritually. I don’t know about getting God right, and can do without metaphysical speculation. But I’m willing to listen to stories of resurrection.

  9. Jim November 22, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Two thoughts:

    These theo-sociological mantras are worthless on your death bed.

    God and Violence? This is a mockery of the judgement, wrath and mercy of God and His Holiness and Righteousness.

    Open your Bible and test your teaching.

  10. mike duran November 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    Ira said, “I don’t know about getting God right, and can do without metaphysical speculation. But I’m willing to listen to stories of resurrection.”

    What elevates the import of “stories of resurrection” over “getting God right”? It’s conceivable that unless we “get God right,” we’ll never be able to accurately evaluate / appreciate “stories of resurrection.” Does “conversion” to atheism count as a “story of resurrection”? It might to the individual involved. Or how about conversion to pantheism — is that also to be hailed? In other words, Isn’t there a line to be drawn with “stories of resurrection”? Are all “resurrections” equally legit? And, if so, then what is the purpose of even categorizing them as “resurrections”? Isn’t that label too absolute?

    Will we ever “get God right”? How could we? But Scripture seems to suggest we can know enough about Him, know what His followers basically look like, how He wants His children to act, and the intended arc of history. So while I agree that “orthodoxy is notoriously squishy,” I don’t think we should take that to mean nothing / everything is orthodox. For if nothing / everything is orthodox, the “stories of resurrection” are relatively pointless.

  11. mattdabbs November 22, 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    I have a hard time with this sort of thinking. I am sure most do at least at first. Who would argue that making sense of the violence in the OT and its consistency with the NT is an easy task? It isn’t. I am not able to go as far as to say God is following the same type learning process in this thing as we are because that makes God way to anthropomorphic for me. That is what mankind tends to do to God/the gods is make them like us.

    The whole point in scripture is that God is other than us. Jesus didn’t need any sins washed away in the Jordan. The point here seems to assert Jesus was being forgiven of the conquest of the promised land or some such thing and that he was submitting to John’s baptism of repentance. But let the text speak for itself. John admits that he is unworthy to baptize Jesus. If Jesus were in need of repenting for all those past, violent wrongs, why then would John take this approach? John would rather say, come over here you scoundrel, you need dunked more than the rest of these vipers. But he didn’t.

    To say Jesus on the cross might have been a relapse is to undue much of the positive Christology by the works of N.T. Wright and the rest that I think better sums up the redeeming work of Christ in the world, on the cross, and out of the tomb rather than to say God went “oops, I did it again! Better repent!” This doesn’t really sit well at all with me. Not just because I don’t agree with it but because it just doesn’t make a very good theology, Christology, or anthropology (for that matter). It seems all this is being messed with to make these three things better and make sense of them but, to me, in the end it just makes them more goofed up than before and we end up with a God no better than the gods of the Greeks, Romans, or the Canaanites.

    Not bashing you here. Just trying to make some valid points. On a lighter note…hope your facebook is back up and running 😉

    • ~Katherine December 8, 2009 at 9:02 pm #

      Oops!! Did it again. I agree about Christ being crucified. God didn’t do that but people did… I mean, that’s what it looks like to me. I realize there are other ways to see that story. Lots more ways. I know the arguments that say God created messy humanity and then pinned the blame on the Jews after blinding them to spiritual truth for not recognizing Christ as God. It just seems roundabout in a way that no one’s yet articulated a clear motive for. I say the butler did it.

      A huge assumption:
      “The whole point in scripture is that God is other than us.”

      Is God separate or outside humanity? Another potentially insupportable assumption, more of those dangerous thoughts.

  12. Ira November 22, 2009 at 7:59 pm #

    Of course, Mike (Duran), you’ve got my number. “Resurrection” is no less squishy, and you’ve rightly sussed out that I’m using it in a mostly literary sense — squishier still. I’ll happily concede all that. I don’t think that everything is orthodox, or that nothing is orthodox, or that the designation is a worthless one. But when we use it, we automatically raise the question: whose orthodoxy are we talking about?

    Ditto Jim’s admonition above for Mike (Morrell) to open his Bible and test his teaching. Great. Which interpretation should he privilege? Which hermeneutic lens should he look through? I would guess that Jim would expect Mike to use Jim’s, but then that would just mean that Mike was converted to Jim’s way of thinking. The Bible might not have anything to do with it.

    What we say about God matters, not because we’re likely to get any closer to whatever God really is (or what really is at all) when we say it, but because these speculations often have ramifications for praxis. This, for me, is the pudding. How does a given group’s theology help to form them as a people willing to embody justice? How does it lead them to greater mercy? How does does it serve to delimit the kinds of violence (including rhetorical violence) they are willing to commit against others?

    There’s an unavoidable circularity here: the things I’m privileging are things I’ve learned through the Christian tradition, though of course they exist elsewhere. I also don’t claim my perspective to be normative, in the sense that I recognize that most people are only going to have “stories of resurrection” to tell on the basis of a stronger God-concept than I’m willing to concede to. But I’m not claiming to avoid this circularity.

    I am willing to celebrate “stories of resurrection” because such stories are visceral, and — to me — real. And yes, I’m willing to recognize a wide berth of such stories, wide enough that resurrection as a metaphor is dangerously stretched. Truth is, I’ve seen people become far more loving, and kind, and sane, by embracing atheism (which, for the record, is also too metaphysically certain for my taste), and I’m happy to read that as grace.

  13. Ira November 23, 2009 at 12:57 am #

    Let me clarify: I meant that I’ve seen people become more loving and sane than they used to be upon embracing atheism — and I only picked atheism because the example came up as (I think) a reductio ad absurdum. I just ran with it.

  14. Jeff Kursonis November 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    Mike, I’m all for this kind of forward-wrestling-thinking, especially when it comes to understanding God ordered genocide. One of the big kind of global social discoveries of the last century is of our penchant for genocide and how horrible it is, and you could argue the end of modernity was caused by all the genocide and thus the clear failure of a utopia vision.

    But I’ve never understood why theologians for various issues will move toward a view of God as, “learning” or “less than perfect, and thus moving toward perfect”…not because I want to have some religious security that my imagined God is perfect, but simply because as I look at creation – the big universe, and the small atoms – I see such mind numbingly amazing complexity of design, that it just seems kind of strange that the person who created sub-atomic stuff in all it’s amazingness, and billions of galaxies in all their massiveness, would kind of try violence, stumble a bit, decide it’s not working as well as imagined, and then move toward something else.

    Why not imagine that somehow God knew man would committ violence – both primitive man and us now – and that as part of his planned evolution of our ability to know and understand him, God would take us on a journey of understanding violence, leading of course one day to a time of no violence?

    I’m spending a lot of time thinking about power. And I’m thinking power is this core relational thing that stands between good relationship and bad relationship. That when we choose to exert power towards another, we close off love. But when we seek to give and serve the other, to love them, we relinquish power in those acts. That opens up a big interpretation of the cross as a great moment of the all-powerful giving up power as the ultimate statement and act of love.

    So to apply that to God’s violent past…the most basic form of power is to reach over and strike another. So from that very simple basic beginning, we begin a long journey of understanding power – and God doesn’t use power to teach us about power. So he enters into our violence…we’ve already killed whole people’s in past wars, so God joins with us. We enslave people, so God joins with us. We colonize people and God joins with us. But all along he is working somehow to show us another way. He spends thousands of years slowly evolving our understanding and behavior.

    A big corollary of this is group. We start in small groups – all against one another, and we slowly join together in mutually beneficial ways and create bigger groups. The violence continues, but instead of my village killing yours, now it’s my military kills yours – I don’t know if it’s actually working, but…when I look at our view toward slavery, we now get it’s wrong, yet it morphs and we still have slavery that is unseen…now a big movement has started towards uncovering that unseen slavery. We are just beginning to get racial rejection, and still have a long way to go on that. But slowly, the God who created qwarks moves us toward an understanding of relationship that will one day allow us to live in communion together as is the ultimate goal.

    So, why not have this kind of intelligent process of God view, rather than a sort of dumbing-God-down view? Figuring out the grand process is, of course, the big challenge, but I’d rather start on that basis.

    And I think one of the motives of your experimenting with a God learning view is to be more human yourself and find a way to understand God through that less rigid human way – which is also huge in my thinking about God – and I don’t think it suffers at all to imagine God as perfect and drawing us ever so slowly through all our human imperfection toward perfection.


  15. Mark Van Steenwyk November 23, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    Thanks for raising the question. I understand why traditionalists would freak out about what you’re saying here. Personally, my understanding of God (which is, of course, limited and skewed) makes it difficult to believe that God, over the course of a few thousand years, decided to give up on violence like a drunk decides to give up the booze. Would that make the trinity some sort of AA group? Is Jesus the sponsor…nevermind. 🙂

    My own struggles with the issue of divine violence has let me down some interesting lines of thought:

    1) There is the well-worn perspective that the folks in the OT simply got things wrong. As more was revealed, our image of God has become more accurate. This raises big problems for the infallibility of the OT, but also for the icky liberal tendency of saying that we, today, understand God better than Jesus did 2000 years ago, since today we have folks like Ken Wilbur to enlighten us. 😉

    2) Jeff points to the perspective that God was willing to get dirty with creation by entering into our violence. God slowly taught us, every step of the way, towards a time when Christ would inaugurate the Kingdom. This is similar to the first perspective in that there is a progress of revelation, but it allows for some sort of high view of the OT canon. Unfortunately, it means that our understanding of God’s holiness would need to be challenged.

    3) Sometimes I feel like a Marcionite. Some times I don’t. 🙂

    Usually, I waver back between 1 and 2 here. I see the violence of Yahweh as a sort of imperfect history of people’s grappling with a perfect God who either condescended to dwell amongst our violence or, perhaps, was simply patient with our violence. The story is still illustrative–we get glimmers of God in the pages of the OT, but Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God. In Christ, we see a serving God (not a dominating God), a loving God (not a vindictive God), etc. But everything before led up to the great revelation.

    For those who say “what about the Apocalypse of John?” I personally believe that almost all of what we read in John’s Apocalypse is actually telling the same story as we read in the Gospels. Military imagery is used by Paul as well–but I don’t believe either Paul or John are necessarily advocating violence or making war on the Earth.

    P.S. I don’t know if Mike (or anyone else commenting here) is interested, but I would LOVE to have some submissions at Jesus Manifesto exploring divine violence. You can submit here:

    • ~Katherine December 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm #

      I see no link, Mark, so I guess that means I’ll search around on your blog. 🙂

      And also:
      “There is the well-worn perspective that the folks in the OT simply got things wrong. As more was revealed, our image of God has become more accurate. This raises big problems for the infallibility of the OT, but also for the icky liberal tendency of saying that we, today, understand God better than Jesus did 2000 years ago, since today we have folks like Ken Wilbur to enlighten us.”

      I love Ken Wilber’s contributions very much.. wowerific. Not to critique but just point out that it seems to me that Ken’s approach would be highly cerebral … and Christ’s approach is on a whole nother level beyond (IMO).

      On the liberal tendency: I personally think the further we get from the original story, the more likely we are to be out of the loop of what was really going on. Which is ok, since it was for that day and time to know what was going on in that day, not for us today (although we would surely like to know, and not just for spiritually voyeuristic or vicarious reasons). The same goes for the Old Testament, to an even greater degree.

      So my personal preference/perspective is hardly geared for taking scriptures very literally even though I DO believe that they’re premised on objective reality and that scriptures are not simply one long string of parables. But I can still read them very much to the advantage of my growth in understanding God (again, IMO).


  16. Jonathan Brink November 23, 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    This reminded me of a cohort the night a fundamentalist arrived. Someone asked a question, intentional processing out loud, and the fundamentalist jumped all over him for having such thoughts.

    Mike is thinking out loud people. Come on.

  17. Mark Van Steenwyk November 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    How dare he think outloud in such a way that he asks others to speak into his thought processes! How DARE he!

    All kidding aside. This is dangerously threatening to many–probably most–Christians. I think it is ok for them to be angry about it. But I’m not sure that they should attack Mike for it. Rather, like all good debate, they should give reasoned push back. The last time I checked, throwing out the “heretic” label at someone only strengthened their resolve. Even if I were an arch-fundamentalist, I would encourage folks to use calm reasonability as a weapon rather than the “h” word and angry blathering.

  18. Truman November 23, 2009 at 7:35 pm #

    Yahweh learned everything he knows from Chemosh, Baal and Ishtar. He is just like all the other ancient deities. I don’t think he learned anything, either. Jesus didn’t reject Yahweh’s violence. He just very pragmatically told his people not to wake the sleeping giant of Rome, until the day of Yahweh’s vengeance. “Vengeance is mine,” says Yahweh!

    Jesus wasn’t baptized because Yahweh was repenting. He was baptized because he began as a disciple of John and splintered off.

    Trying to salvage Yahweh from the ancient neareastern worldview that gave birth to him is a complete waste of time. I differ from Ira in that respect. I think all this theological posturing can be avoided. Just shut up about it and tell us what YOU really think.

    And to all the fundies tempted to chastise me as an heretic or apostate or whatever, “orthodox Christianity” is heresy and apostasy, just as much as anything else.

    If your Yahweh commanded you to kill my daughter because I’m raising her not to worship him, would you do it? And don’t say Yahweh wouldn’t command that. Because he’s done it a thousand times before. Thousands upon thousands of four year old girls, decapitated because they weren’t Yahweh worshipers.

    Oh, I know. That was justice somehow, you’re just not sure how yet.

    • zoecarnate November 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

      Ah, Truman – I did not see your post whilst writing my meta-reply. I can understand (and even sometimes, relate to) the visceral sense of revulsion you feel toward some of the actions you see attributed to YHWH in the Bible. Even so, I don’t think that YHWH is ‘just like’ the other ancient near-eastern deities. I think he shows more restraint; I think there is a binding up in love, unfolding slowly in the pages of the Hebrew bible.

      As for ‘the vengeance of our God’ in Isaiah, I recall that Jesus doesn’t quote this portion of the scroll when he opens it at the opening of his ministry. Is he simply holding off on this portion until his parousia, as you’re suggesting, or might there be a more playful factor at work, where ‘vengeance is mine’ could mean that God doesn’t use the ‘vengeance option’ that is rightly his? In my biding & loosing of meaning, I choose the latter.

      Decapitated four year old girls? I must’ve missed that one. Scripture reference, please.

      • Truman November 23, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

        “Even so, I don’t think that YHWH is ‘just like’ the other ancient near-eastern deities. I think he shows more restraint.”

        lol. That just displays an ignorance about ancient neareastern deities. No offense. But Yahweh tends to show less restraint than a lot of them.

        “I think there is a binding up in love, unfolding slowly in the pages of the Hebrew bible.”

        All ancient deities loved their people and were concerned for the broader world.

        “I recall that Jesus doesn’t quote this portion of the scroll when he opens it at the opening of his ministry. Is he simply holding off on this portion until his parousia, as you’re suggesting, or might there be a more playful factor at work, where ‘vengeance is mine’ could mean that God doesn’t use the ‘vengeance option’ that is rightly his? In my biding & loosing of meaning, I choose the latter.”

        Well, that’s a poor choice. Jesus didn’t quote the rest because it was implied. That’s called intertextuality, and part of the implication was that the day of the Lord would mete out vengeance against unbelieving Israel, as well as the unrighteous gentiles. That’s why they got pissed at him.

        And yes, Jesus explicitly spells out the coming of Yahweh in vengeance against the nations (who mourn on that day) in more than one place. And Paul doesn’t use vengeance is mine to say God won’t take vengeance. He uses it to justify why the taking of vengeance at that moment could be delayed without foregoing justice in the longrun. Verses 11 and 12 of Romans 13 make that clear, as do verses 2-3 of 1 Thess 5.

        I understand why you take the reading you do, but it’s very naive.

    • Ira November 23, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

      It may be a waste of time to you but summarily dismissing it like that fails to recognize and respect the history of Christian theology. This is what theology does, and we need to recognize the felt need for a coherent story.

      Being a non-realist is not a pass to be a complete prick. You’re worse than I am!

      • Truman November 23, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

        That’s what I was telling you earlier!

      • Ira November 23, 2009 at 9:56 pm #

        Then I must have been paying attention.

  19. zoecarnate November 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    Thanks for the discussion, all. (And thanks for the publicity, Ken!) I’m going to try & reply to each of you…

    Mr. 14:6, I never said God was fallible. It’s a consistent mistake to confuse God’s (possible) changeability and ability to learn with fallibility. Something or someone in motion isn’t necessarily inferior simply because they’ve learned something. You seem to know your bible, so I don’t need to tell you that there are several key times in Scripture where God changes his mind, expresses regret, etc… These passages are often sidelined as God playing ‘make-believe,’ but I wonder where these exegetes (who seem to have a lot of confidence in the ‘plain sense’ of Holy Writ otherwise) get the chutzpah to make such claims.

    Tripp…to be continued, eh? We should do a separate Q&R blog post about this, where I interview you, and you tell me what Process Theology would say to This, That, or the Other. I’d also like your take on the tensions between process and orthodoxy as you see them.

    Ira, I agree that ‘orthodoxy’ is notoriously squishy, especially in our Internet age. Who’s gotten to arbitrate between orthodoxy and heresy since the Protestant Reformation? What used to be heretics simply go and form their own brands of faith. And I’m not saying this is a bad thing; it certainly beats the people with swords calling the shots. But on the other hand, it’s brutal on unity and promotes the endless nicheification of faith. If only we can find a higher catholicity, beyond belief…

    Jim…death bed? Are you threatening me? Don’t go praying Psalm 109 on me. 🙂

    Mike D, I agree – while we can’t ‘get God right,’ Christian ideas of ‘revelation’ and ‘incarnation’ affirm that God communicates Godself intelligibly. That’s why, while I’m very drawn to the apophatic and the Mystery, I am also drawn to the particularity of the revelation of God in Christ. So we keep on conversating…

    Oh, Matt! I agree. “Jesus didn’t need any sins washed away in the Jordan.” I realize that in my two-sentence summary of Jack Miles’ magisterial 400-page tome, I made it sound like that when mentioning the possibility of the ‘repentance’ of God in the Jordan. Miles, a former Jesuit, takes Scripture very seriously. He’s forging a close literary reading of the Old & New Testament while also taking the doctrine of Incarnation very seriously. Taking all of this into account, he asks – ‘Why has God changed his modus operandi with Israel?’ Namely, why is God a God of glory, victory, and conquest in his Old Covenant, but switching to a programme of peacemaking and non-retaliation in the New? An honest reading of the Text makes this discontinuity astonishingly clear: God seems to be changing course, changing directions, ‘repenting’ if you will. I’m not sure that ‘sin’ is a meaningful category when applied to God, so Miles isn’t saying (and I’m not summarizing) God as sinning in any sense.

    As far as the cross being a potential relapse, that’s not the best choice of words. And – this is significant – I don’t think that Brueggemann said that; this was Geoff Holsclaw’s summary. And Geoff’s not a huge Bruggie fan, I don’t think, so take that language with a grain of salt.

    Ira, I chuckled when you mentioned Marcionism being ‘actual’ heresy, versus whatever it is that we’re talking about. In all fairness to the John 14:6’s of the world, we shouldn’t rule out my being a heretic too easily: After all, don’t think it was people like 14:6 who determined ‘heresy’ charges back in the day? Or was there a wiser process at work? I agree with the heresy-hunters that beliefs matter, and unhealthy beliefs (I prefer that to ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ beliefs) can lead to unhealhty living. But the question is, what process do we use to determine orthodoxy, if any? Is consensus dead?

    Jeff, you bring up an excellent point: If YHWH is smart enough to design (or evolve, or what have you) a universe, wouldn’t he be smart enough to know, from the very beginning of our relatively finite existence, that violence is dumb? Why would God need us to learn from in the span of 10,000 years one way or another? This is a fruitful vein of further conversation; it sounds like you’re nuancing the discussion a bit from the classic liberal Protestant disassociation of “God didn’t say or do those violent things; that was God’s followers’ distorted perception.” You’re instead saying that God really did do and say those things, as a kind of gracious condescension, joining us in our messiness for the purpose of bringing us out of it.

    There are two possible objections to this though; one pragmatic and the other theological. The pragmatic first: If God was patiently and deliberately ‘schooling’ us via violence for thousands of years only to want us to repudiate violence once we came around to Jesus, he should’ve realized that we don’t learn like that. We’re far more likely to sideline Jesus’ very clear commitment to nonviolent peacemaking in favor of a much more time-honored and deeply-ingrained retribution tradition, that, after all, he himself schooled us in for all those years.

    The theological objection is just what Mark voiced: What does this do to God’s holiness?

    Mark, are you saying that Ken Wilber doesn’t know more about God than Jesus? I’m going to need you to back that up, brother, using both chapter and verse and AQAL. 🙂

    In all seriousness, you summarize this conversation well. Either God screwed up, we screwed up in our perception of God, God condescends to us in grace to reveal more fully in Jesus, or YHWH is the Demiurge and Jesus is the Good God of Spirit. 🙂

    I probably gravitate most toward #3 (divine condescension), but please know that even in my Brueggemann ponderings I’m not suggesting that God messed up; only that God might be able to learn and change. Anthropocentrism is the major weak spot in this way of relating to God, but I think that Classical Theism has a major weak spot to – the equating of all change with fallibility, and all stasis with holiness.

    In this entire exercise, my heart is to affirm a good and trust-worthy God, with a fully-adult, second-naivete embrace. If I wanted to couch this project in the nomenclature of ancient heresies, I’m looking to avoid the twin ditches of Marcionism and Judaizing. The Marcionites thought that only what Paul wrote about Jesus was correct, marginalizing even the Gospels but also the Old Testament as sub-par, unreliable revelation. They over-emphasized the discontinuity between the disclosure of God and God’s relationship with us in the Old & New Covenants. The Judaizers, on the other hand, wanted to obliterate any distinction between the covenants, with the newness of the New Covenant (and Jesus’ clear difference between the practiced religion of his day) bulldozed over in favor of seamless continuity with YHWH is all his law-giving, vengeful actions toward Gentiles & wayward Jews. I see the Marcionte tendency in contemporary mainline Protestant scholarship, and the Judaizing tendency in contemporary evangelicalism. What Brueggemann, Jack Miles and others are proposing – however uncomfortable – is a way to both take Scripture seriously and take the newness of the New Covenant seriously. It is this that I too am working toward, both theologically and devotionally.

    • Ira November 23, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

      Mike, the joke is that heresy-hunting has always been about villifying a position that someone doesn’t like. And actually my joke falls flat because I don’t think Marcion was officially declared a heretic by a church council or synod, since he was around before they started all that.

      I think consensus is possible at the community level, particularly in terms of praxis. I’m perfectly willing to put up with a lot of theology I’m not particularly interested in so that I might participate in a faith community that is doing work I think is valuable.

      I simply don’t see the possibility of consensus — certainly not on theological details — on a widespread level. So while I still wouldn’t say that “orthodox” has no meaning or function in theological discourse, when every group thinks they’re the orthodox ones whilst the rest of us are heretics, the distinction fails to retain a coherent generalizable meaning.

      • ~Katherine December 8, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

        Your last paragraph explains why I’m going to a Universalist Unitarian church. Theological diversity is built in and so is a common praxis in a variety of local community outlets for social justice: which I define as totally nonviolent. It’s hardly the only denomination just one I’m very comfortable with at this time of my life (and really I’d like to settle in for a nice long while here). I believe ALL denominations will eventually become more socially minded as some of the more blatant involvements (Uganda death bill agreement) with violence are rejected by some in many congregations.


  20. Jonathan Brink November 23, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    Mike, in order to affirm a trust-worthy God, it means we have to consider God as untrustworthy. Stepping into that space, as you have done, immediately brings to mind lightning and damnation. But if I read the story correctly, it is those who seem to be willing to wrestle with God who end up discovering God is actually trustworthy.

    Well done.

    • Ira November 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm #

      They also walk with a limp. 🙂

  21. Jared November 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm #

    What utter and complete blasphemy. May the Lord reveal Himself to you and open your eyes to the idol you have created and now worship. May He remove the veil of ignorance that you blissfully revel in but that holds your soul in condemnation.

  22. Truman November 23, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    Hey, Jared: you’re an idiot. May Yahweh not kill you for it, though, or your children for that matter.

    • ~Katherine December 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm #

      A blessing in return for what could easily be read as a kind of curse, Truman. 🙂 Glad to read it.

  23. Julie November 23, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    As someone more in the Open Theist camp than any other, I’m certainly not uncomfortable with the changeability of God. I think that God uses all the available and real information in the cosmos and always does the appropriate thing with that available and real information – but that the available and real information may not contain the not-yet-real future and so God may change His mind or operate differently once the future becomes real. It’s interesting to apply this line of reasoning to how we see violence unfold in the biblical narrative. Why, for, example, is the story of Jonah the opposite of the story of Noah?

    I wouldn’t, though, say that God is a “recovering” practitioner of violence. “Recovering” sounds as though God is addicted to something. And, as anyone who has struggled with an addiction can note, operating out of an addiction is far different than operating out of a lack of information. Operating out of an addiction is being enslaved to an addiction, being left powerless by it.

    And I don’t think God is addicted to anything in that way, which leaves Him powerless to violence.

    But I don’t mean that to be an “attacking” critique. Good thoughts to ponder here!

  24. Ken Bussell November 23, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    I liked a lot of the thoughts here. But when I think about myself learning about myself and life and the world, I imagine that I am discovering the things that God already knows. In prayer I ask God to teach me, to reveal things to me… things about Him, things about me, things about others. I am trusting that He knows these things. If God is learning them as I learn them, that is not very comforting.

    Then again, what I find comforting might not actually be accurate at all. But the question of violence is subject to this as well.

    I think there are only three options to consider regarding violence (simplified here as genocide) in the Bible:

    1. God was wrong.
    2. The authors were wrong.
    3. God was right.

    All three options create massive problems for us. And yes, there is a lot of nuance around these options, including much of this article and the comment thread. In fact, I really respect you Mike for jumping out there and clearly calling option one what it is: God was wrong, so let’s figure out how and why… Personally, I tend to go with option two for the time being (again, with much nuance). But I don’t think assenting to option three is equivalent to denying its troublesomeness. Even if dismissing option three is what begins the conversation around options one and two, the discussion cannot remain objective for long if option three remains off the table.

  25. zoecarnate November 23, 2009 at 10:27 pm #

    Great thoughts, Ken. I like your three distillations – they’re better than my four. (Though I do like leaving an option for God’s progressive revelation, culminating in Christ but still emanating in its impact) And you make an excellent practical point about our going to God for wisdom and insight – can we do that in an open theist or process view? I’m not (technically) open theist or process, but I’d like to think we can. I’m assuming that God is infinitely wiser and more knowledgeable than I am, even if God ‘knows’ more during this epoch than God did during the last. It doesn’t reduce my utter contingency with relation to God. Even so, the Bible (especially the Hebrew Bible) audaciously proposes that even one human life has the power to change God’s mind.

    Hopefully we’ll be discussing this for years to come, bathed in prayer, fellowship, and action.

    • Ken Bussell November 24, 2009 at 8:28 am #

      Agreed. As a “recovering” Calvinist, I used to pray only for God’s will to be done. I still pray for that, in the sense that I believe that God’s will and kingdom must be carried out by us. But when I pray for God to act in a situation (mercy, protection, healing, etc.), I believe my prayers can sometimes make a difference. Of course sometimes God won’t change His mind, but hopefully sometimes He will. Otherwise why pray for action at all? You’re right that the Bible recounts several examples of this. Then again, you are right to emphasize that these examples occur primarily at a much earlier point in process. Perhaps God has learned from the mistake of listening to us?? 🙂

      I have not done much recent reading on open theism. I’m sure it has been evolving over the last several years. But I found it to be most applicable to questions of sovereignty and freewill, and instrumental in my current thinking on those issues. Hence my ongoing recovery from Calvinism. I will have to think some more on how it relates to process and the question of violence.

      No doubt this discussion will continue.

  26. mountainguy November 24, 2009 at 3:42 am #

    Off course, it is very posible to see this post as an awful heresy. It is really dificult to get rid of hellenistic thought that lies behind of many many christian asumptions. But I wonder if the responses of people like Jared and John14:6 are driven by political reasons, and not just theological. Are they afraid of losing their tribalistic/jingoist/nationalistic god that supports USA sponsored international bombings?

    Even in the OT (when israelites were supposed to be the only God’s people) God showed mercy and love for others (i.e. “non-jews)… but we westerns (for the record, I’m colombian, not usamerican) are full of fears.

    Take care

  27. brambonius November 24, 2009 at 9:00 am #

    wow… I think it’s going too far for me, but it surely is interesting… And I would say if this is heretic, then double predestination surely is too… Don’t have much more reaction right now…

  28. velocityvortx November 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    This has been touched upon but I am not sure adequately enough. If the bible is written by people in a mythic cultural stage of development (think Gebser here archaic magic mythic etc…) Then the fact that “God is into violence in the OT” isn’t really a statement about God but about people’s understanding of God and the gods at that stage of human and cultural development. This is the only way that I know of (unless we are comfortable with God arbitrarily changing value sets) that can account for God “telling Abraham to sacrifice Issac” In the old conservative wrongheaded model the inspired text said it there for that is in fact what happened. But what if that is what Abraham heard because his cultural ears in the bronze age know that to get the attention of the god’s you engage in child sacrifice? So yes “he heard this” but God really didn’t request it. This is a magic/mythic worldview totally appropriate to the context. This says little about God and quite a bit about the cultural evolutionary space that story inhabits. This is in fact what I deal with in my fourth book coming out with Zondervan in Feb called The Bible as Improv.

    • tripp fuller November 24, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

      I agree with your reading of the text, but it reminds me of when the Southern Baptist Convention got rid of the first commentary on Genesis in the Broadman series (their series) because it took such a reading. It was ‘revised’ to a more violent reading. Watch out or lifeway may not sell your book! Maybe they are making progress.

    • Ira November 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm #

      An interesting thesis, VV, and I’m generally sympathetic, but wouldn’t Gebser (and/or others) also suggest that Jesus, likewise, offered a view of God appropriate to his context (though, like other Axial Age figures, ahead of the curve a bit) that tells us less about God than it does the cultural evolutionary space inhabited by the Gospel stories? Ditto our own speculations.

      In fact, the construction of developmental theories shows up at a particular point in Western history and is really only apprehended at and understood from particular developmental worldspaces. Later generations will understand things differently, appropriate to their time and place. And so it goes.

    • ~Katherine December 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

      Well and if Lifeway won’t sell your book, you could self-publish online perhaps.

      I find this idea of culturally reading scripture very compelling. I know *I* engaged in that kind of magical/mythic thinking and “lived” my dreams when I was a small child. I don’t *think* I do that to the extent I once did, though I’m just a bigger child now. 🙂 A view of humanity as evolving, which supposes that each coming age is more advanced, or mature. I think that makes some sense, even though it may not make sense to everybody, the advancement being rather patchy.

  29. JC49735 November 24, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    What wonderful and inspirational thought! This is precisely the thinking that compels me to seek Quakerism (and other progressive Christian thinkers)! I love talking about God-stuff. So many thoughts and so many directions to consider from the many posts. I type pretty fast, so I hope I don’t get too tangential, but I want to chime in.

    I am no expert in theology, and my formal education is limited. What I see is that our problems and irreconcilable differences stem completely from traditional “religion” and the prescribed “religious mode of thinking” – Our solution is in trying to draw closer to God and have an intimate relationship with God through this creation around us, even when their thoughts differ from my thoughts.

    If in the Judeo-Christan tradition/thinking of the old covenant needed to change – God, because He made a mistake and created a human flaw called “free will”, then He had to provide a “new covenant” to cover His mistake, what’s to say the new covenent doesn’t need to be updated for God’s people today, too? Why do we insist on limiting the endless possiblities of an infinite God?

    Our collective knowledge is limited to our collective experiences. Therefore, as our collective experience of God unfolds, so will our collective understanding. In essence, and for me, God just keeps getting bigger and bigger!

    Reason only deduces that if the Universe is unfolding and expanding – God is also unfolding and expanding. Christianity today, based on ancient credos affirm belief in all that is “seen and unseen”. Even Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians emphasizes “God is all and in all”. If God is Light, as the Light expands darkness is dispelled and more Truth is exposed as it unfolds. Therefore, this Divine Revelation is not finished. God also continues to reveal Truth to us, through us, and around us in this time. If I pause long enough to be aware of this, I am amazed and only desire more. What wonders will be revealed for the generations to come!

    Our responsibility is to permit the next generation any and all liberties to allow the God of their time to manifest for them, whatever God’s will is to be for them – through them – and as God reveals it to them.

    To the seeker, “sola scriptura” might suffice, but I cannot accept (for me) that any ancient conception of this god is already complete or perfect. It may have been sufficient for many before, but in an ever changing world, I tend to see the manifestation of the Divine would logically change to meet our needs, here and now. Our ancestors were simply doing what they were shown to do. When they knew better, they did better.

    Personally, I worry about those who blindly follow every wind of emotionally driven doctrine without reason, and those who are elevated by massive congregations to any professional position of authority to “speak for God”. God guides and affirms me as the Divine Breath/Spirit bears witness with my spirit. Anyone who proclaims they (or their brand of religion) know Who, or even What God is, or those who believe they know everything that is to be known about God based on any collective ancient manuscripts, probably don’t. The elitism and self-righteousness of organized religion only imposes predetermined limitations on God and justifies the learned hatred and violence toward anything different – all “in the name of God”. Just as the in the past, we need to consider the long history of the extremists of high “Orthodox Christology” (or the orthodoxies of any other religion for that matter) authorities who throughout the ages waged wars and executed any who were free thinking (“liberal”) or questioned the religious hierarchy (“authority”). Such intolerance and pre-boxed-Ideal of this god-thing they perceived is clearly not this Supreme Being we seek to understand today. Their primitive ideas of the gods were due to their limited understanding of their physical world, so they used spiritual (“mystic”) language to attempt to explain the unknown, which was literally everything material around them.

    To any genuine theologian, as the philosophy of god evolved into what it is today, we understand the god of Abraham is clearly not the same understanding of god the Jewish people or even evangelical Christians claim to worship in their congregations today. It seems the only ones who don’t know this yet are the people who passionately follow the mainstream evangelical sects.

    As many already mentioned, Abraham was a polytheist. El (actually two forms of the word throughout ancient semitic tribes and cultures, one generic meaning “god” and one proper noun that became the “Eli” of the Canaanites) who had a god-wife, Asherah ,who together begat many god/demigod-children. To Abraham, El was the father of many gods and creator of mankind. Simply, the Semitic equivalent (name) of Zeus or any other polytheistic culture’s list of deities. El was one of the many gods, each over an assigned/certain material and natural realm. Abraham was merely a devotee of El. The Hebrew children merely did what they were shown and worshipped the god of their ancestor, but even their understanding of El eventually evolved and unfolded. It wasn’t until the establishment of a geographical Kingdom and Judaism that El became a monotheistic god and “divorced” from Asherah and thier divine offspring.

    If the collective understandings of the god(s) of the Hebrew children grew and changed as the people collectively grew in their own identity as a people, why would this god change and evolve/unfold for them, but not for us? If God is constant – then we must allow for God to “unfolding” for us, and keep our understandings open to new revelation, as well.

    As Quakerism and other protestant-forms were born from questioning the common religious doctrine/thought of their day – by the collective actions of passive resistance and silent protest – we are to be able to question the authoritative thoughts about God for our day. We do more harm and less good when we passively acquiese the ability to reason to those we elevate above us to “authorities” or assumed to be “more qualified”, or when we feel inadequate to discuss our experiences of God’s power in our lives.

    To understand that science emerged from philosophy, our various theologies also evolved as we began understanding this material world and the Cosmos. Thus, the human thoughts of God – the Ideal – also transformed with an ever unfolding expansion of available knowledge.

    As our collective understanding of our Cosmos continues to unfold – the understanding of God unfolds and expands. Organized religion seems to depend heavily on those who are susceptible to following authoritative personalities and unaccustomed to formulating original thoughts for themselves. Thereby, organized (“professional”) religions propagate themselves and ensure their future through fear and elitist ideations, which sadly inevitably result in keeping the Unlimited in a box – and usually for sale. Today, more than ever, religion is big business ($)!

    It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about what I do. My soul is thirsting for something gentler and less of the “my god is bigger than your god” mentality. I hope someone will see Goodness and Love through my actions. However, it all depends on the opportunity to discuss and share my experience of this God-stuff and the Divine Ideals/Principles with others.

    My experience has been to be content with someone elses concept of God from the evangelical verbal plenarism and apostolic dispensationalism didn’t work. Not for me, anyway. The legalistic “holiness codes” kept me apart from those “Samaritan” friends and the others God would have me living a richer and fuller life among. Instead, I lived in constant fear of death and the punishment of sin. Today, I try to do better – I don’t do this God-stuff perfect all the time, but I’m giving others freedom to express their own understanding and experiences with God. It’s when we get together and share what God is doing around us, or even through us, God manages to mysteriously manifest and materialize (produces “tangible evidence”) in our midst.

    What I have learned is that religion tells me God is outside wanting to get in. I was taught that at my best, I am but an abomination, and any good I do would never be enough, which is only in conflict with my innate desire to Love and serve God. What I am learning is that God is already within me, fighting like hell to come out (through my actions).

    Those of us from traditions steeped in high orthodox Christologies, there is a tale of when even the Master once tried explaining to a certain Samaritan woman that God is Spirit, and there will come a day when God will be worshiped not on this mountain, or that mountain, but true believers will worship God in spirit and Truth. What I understand that passage of John 4 to mean was that “Salvation” (her freedom from pre-boxed and preconceived notions about God) was there talking to her. I would guess she was never quite the same because of that experience with the Truth revealed to her that day.

    Personally, the critical thought of God that I try to focus on today is this unfolding God within me and my increasing awareness of God’s power around me, then what to do about it. The vital thought is my struggle to become more aware of the Light Within me. Not the God of someone else’s limited misunderstanding that feels the need to be above any other, or more right, or divisive, or legalistic, or able to justify every wind of doctrine by extrapolating strings of plenary scriptures completely out of context.

    My thought is – anything I think about God only restricts That Which Is to my limited personal experiences of seeking a relationship with God. So, I must concede that I will never know all there is to know about God and I am not qualified to judge what God reveals to others. However, from my experience comes an understanding that if the Divine abides in me – divine actions will be the result – witnesses such as peace, integrity, equality, patience, kindness, compassion, gentleness, forbearance/tolerance, understanding (which requires listening), forgiveness, and the like.

    To say any thought about God is wrong, I have given myself authority over God and denies another’s experience of seeking God. While true in progressive Chritian theologies today, the Quaker Witness of Equality provides room enough for all varieties of theologies and human thoughts about God. It is in our ever vigilant seeking, the actions brought about by the genuine desire to know God, that we find our unique and individual understandings of God that will work for us and help us live the lives we are called to live. The understanding that causes us to act more like living witnesses of Light is what God reveals to me, if I am open enough to what God might reveal and genuinely desire/seek it.

    What is important to me is in my ever-growing tolerance of others’ understandings, and in continuing to seek God in my personal understanding. As my personal understanding expands, I believe God unfolds in my life. Then, my actions improve as this God-Thing reveals more Light and Truth to me through my experiences.

    As long as we are challenged to live by spiritual Truth and Principles, there is only one thing for which there is no law – Love, and “perfect Love casts out all fear”. It is from God’s perfect Love we see humility and respect in the actions of those who truly strive to become more aware of God, which only again alludes to something that is incomplete/imperfect within ourselves.

    To consider something different from what we were told is merely God moving us into more Truth. The proof/evidence of any God-consciousness is in our actions toward God’s other children and better stewardship of God’s creation around us.
    To say God is unlimited, yet to stop seeking to increase our collective understandings of any possibilities of God through our personal experiences and growth, we are placing definitive absolutes and finite limitations on the Eternal and Indefinite. By our actions to not even consider new and unfolding possibilities, we impose our will and demands on God and on those who will follow us.

    I might be wrong and completely off the mark. However, I don’t want to think of the repercussions or impact my self-righteous actions (manifestations of my self-righteous thinking) might have to hinder any individuals from thinking about God. They just may be responding to a personal invitation from their Light Within themselves to draw even nearer.

    Beautiful expression of thoughts and thanks for sharing more of God with me!

  30. Jeff Kursonis November 24, 2009 at 9:58 pm #

    Hey thanks Mike and Mark for the analysis and how it brings up the question of God’s holiness.

    So, I wonder if you can get away with some old school thinking there; as creator of life God can give and take away as God wishes?

    The potter and the clay.

    That, for God to make or end life is not a moral issue. It is only moral for created beings to exercise power over another created life. It could be the smallest little exercise of power, or the ultimate act of killing.

    And then to Mike’s idea – that it seems kind of counter productive to teach us through killing for centuries and then try to turn on a dime and go a different direction…I agree, and that’s why all the OT killing and the fact that we even have to wrestle with all this pisses me off. It would make our life today so much easier to preach non-violence if that were a consistent biblical message.

    And here’s the only thought I have of why God might have gone this way – so that we couldn’t claim our religion was better than anyone else’s.


    Yeah, I mean (as this and other of Mike’s posts and comments have noted) if we Americans were even half-way honest, we wouldn’t think we were God’s gift to humanity and the lowly violent Muslim’s were obviously following some imperfect violent religion. When we look at our scriptures and see our God commanding us to chop off 4 year old girl’s heads because they aren’t in the right group, then it ends our ability to be religiously arrogant.

    I think God is trying to evolve us toward a no-religion future. And I think he might have purposefully made the one only actual God sponsored religion – Judaism – the parent of Islam and Christianity – a really messed up thing in order to show us the flawed nature of religion.

    Evangelical’s think someday their religion will triumph and every knee will bow to it. Right now all we have to do is be faithful and keep sending missionaries and one day every tribe, tongue and people will join it. Muslim’s feel the same way. The result is assured antagonism.

    So what if the covenants are like this; Old Covenant – God starts a religion to show us what’s it’s all about and how flawed it is. New Covenant – the future of humans in communion with one another and not being divided by any grouping (race, religion, etc.) is inaugurated through God’s entering our human-ness in person.

    I mean, if you think about it, my shared human-ness with a human in Iraq and with the human Jesus means the three of us have in our core essence more in common – really, everything in common, than our various cultural/religious behaviors. It would be like saying, even though you wear black fur and I wear white leather making us very different on the surface, our naked bodies underneath are really what makes us exactly the same.

    This connects to a lot of my thinking about power. Any successful cultural expression can be used to create power. If I write a great song that sells millions I can use it to gather power, just as if I create a great church that gathers 5,000 people every week, just as if I have a religion with millions worldwide. Our groupings always produce culture, we use those expressions to gain power. Individual humans are in a constant drama in their small daily lives of creating power over others and negotiating with others to limit power over them, and then we do the same in our bigger collectives. Religion is just one more of these larger collective cultural expressions that always ends up exercising power.

    But what if the New Covenant is the inauguration of a new Kingdom where the King himself let’s the paupers kill him? Thus, inaugurating a no-power world, and thus, the end of all groupings and their cultural expressions of power? If this was the case it wouldn’t make sense that one group gets the winning cultural expression. All attempts to produce power are indicted and discarded.

    • Ira November 25, 2009 at 2:48 am #

      I appreciate the call to humility, but it seems to me that a God willing to lob off the heads of four-year-old girls as an object lesson for later generations is actually worse than one who does so out of caprice.

      • Truman November 25, 2009 at 3:19 am #


  31. Jeff Kursonis November 29, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    Yes, I understand that sounds horrible, it is what I would call a stupid waypoint – but let’s be honest – really there would be no difference in terribleness between a God who lopped off heads for object lessons or caprice – I mean, would you prefer someone who was torturing you to be doing it for one motive or the other? You wouldn’t care, you would just want it to stop.

    So, we have to have this conversation of the core terrible ugly fact that all of our human religions have involved theologically condoned violence with some recognition of the stupid waypoints we will have on our way to wrangle some insight – the only other response with any value, one that I highly honor and respect – is Atheism.

    I wish I could be an atheist. When you get into the gymnastics of, “Did God lop off a child’s head for this reason or that reason” it’s all just horribly ugly and no reason is better than another…so either just be an atheist and walk away from this really useless discussion – or, as I have, wade into it knowing that most of what you come up with will be fairly stupid.

    But then if I can gain an insight that has a chance of producing something that brings peace between humans on earth living today – then there is value in spite of the stupid waypoints.

    The main reason I’m not an Atheist is that there is a little bit of non-pragmatism to saying, “I’m going to reject the way of life of 90% of the humans on the earth”. In other words, most people are religious and will be for a long time, and so if you really want to create peace on earth you have to face the reality of what exists – people are religious. I think opting out and being Atheist is a good thing for those able to do so – it sends the wise message that, “Hey, a lot of that is crap and there’s no need to bother with it”. Amen.

    But for those not able to do so – someone like me that has seen religion create peace and has this inner experience they just can’t shake – then we must enter the discussion of the lopping off of heads – and just try to minimalize our stupid-ness-es on the journey toward some type of peace. And so what I would really like is for you to see past the stupid bit about the “head lopping motive” that you commented on and get to the bigger (and possibly stupid) point about Christians not getting to have their religion triumph and thus in getting away from that end goal, maybe we’ll find some better stuff.

    • Ira November 29, 2009 at 8:47 pm #


      What a great reply. I resonate with a lot of what you say here. I especially like your assertion that doing away with religion, or expecting that we’re going to shed it like an old skin as we “outgrow” it, is not terribly pragmatic. In fact, I’d say it’s actually kind of naive. Like you, I have a deep respect for atheism and those who are able to embrace it in a robust and healthy way. There are healthy and unhealthy version of belief and unbelief both, but I confess I’ve had soft spot for atheists.

      Like you, though, I have chosen not to identify as an atheist. And we would seem to agree that religion is too deeply a part of human experience, and too rife with potential for meaning-making to simply abandon outright. For myself, I’ve ended up in a place that’s often called theological non-realism, which basically means that I reject any definitive metaphysical claims; the theist’s speculations about the Divine, and the atheist’s rejection of it, along with any number of points in between, are all suspect. The theist who says we must believe in God or lose our moral footing and the atheist who refused to believe in God because God seems cruel (or, in a nod to Woody Allen, an underachiever) are both making non-realist arguments — their belief/unbelief is not really based on a privileged purchase on the “really real” (which no one has) but on the practical ramifications of believing or not believing. In both cases the ontology is kind of placebo — it works, but not for the reasons they think it should.

      If, by saying that “we must enter the discussion of the lopping off of heads,” you mean that we cannot avoid theologizing, then I am with you. But I think we must take responsibility for that theologizing, and the ramifications of the picture of God we paint when we do so. I think there are really good reasons for rejecting a head-lopping God of any sort — and ways to reconcile that with texts that invoke such a God — without necessarily abandoning the idea of God altogether. My friend Thom Stark suggests we approach such texts as “condemned texts,” texts that should be retained in the canon as a cautionary tale of the perils of misconstruing (or misconstructing) God. There are other ways; my point is that I think we have options that can help us see beyond divine violence — and violence in general.

  32. Wileem Kooijman December 1, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    Though I am not a professional theologian and English is not my native language I will add some thoughts to the discussion (encouraged by the fact that I thought I read some more Dutch names in the comments above).
    As regards the question how often and how harshly JHWH punishes individuals and even entire nations ( think of the Israelites themselves)in the Hebrew Scriptures and the question whether JHWH changes his way of treating sinners in the course of time a few remarks:
    1 There can be no doubt about it that in the Hebrew Scriptures one of the main themes is that JHWH punishes individuals and nations that do not obey his laws in terrible ways. Not by sending them to hell after their death but by making them suffer horribly during their life on earth.
    2 This aspect of punishment is not a theme any more in the Greek Scriptures. The Greek Scriptures emphasize the ability that all humans have to profit by Jesus’ransom sacrifice to get forgiveness of their sins in an eternal perfect life in God’s future Kingdom.
    The possiblity of punishment is seldom mentioned. Whenever it is mentioned it does not refer to terrible suffering on this earth, but it refers to being destroyed after death and being denied entrance into the Kingdom of God.

    To sum it all up: I think there is an undeniable difference in the tone and the message between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Scriptures. But I do not dare to go so far as to say that all this points to the idea that JHWH can change his personality or his attitude towards people and the behaviour of people.

    3 There is a great difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant has more than 700 laws and no Israelite has ever been able to obey them all. You can explain the New Covenant in a number of ways and say that it only has one law( love God and love your fellow men) or three laws or ten laws (the ten Commandments)but in any case: the New Covenant is a lot simpler than the old one. And what is more important: people who do their best to follow the laws of the New Covenant but fail now and then can…….escape any form of punishment for their sins and still be admitted into to Kingdom of God if they make use of Jesus’ransom sacrifice.
    4 The idea of forgiveness of sins and not getting any punishment for sins at all is hardly mentioned or simply not mentiooned at all in the Hebrew Scriptures.
    Also the idea of the possiblity for people to get a second life in God’s Kingdom after their earthy death is hardly mentioned or simply not mentioned at all in the Hebrew Scriptures.
    5 The Bible itself contains quite a number of texts in which the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are compared. In all cases in which this is done the New Covenant is described as far superior to the Old Covenant and a tremendous improvement as regards the possibilty for humans to escape punishment for their sins and be admitted into a Kinfdom of God where they can live for ever in perfect happiness.

    If JHWH is the maker of both the Old Covenannt and the New Covenant and the latter is so much better than the former,people might think that JHWH changes. That in the course of time he begins to behave differently towards people and the behaviour of people.
    But let us not forget that there are many passages in the Bible which say that JHWH never changes and is the same, thinks in the same manner and behaves in the same way for all eternity.

    I do not think that my knowledge of the Bible and my knowledge of theology and my thinker power are sufficient to solve the dilemma that is discussed in this forum. I just enjoyed reading the many contributions to the didscussion and thought I might add a few thoughts of my own.

  33. Jim P. December 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    Hi there,

    I thought I would throw my two cents in, especially as a clergy person. I’ve read through this blog as well as all of the subsequent comments, and it seems that in many instances here we’re throwing out the baby with the bath water. In other words, how adequately can we really discuss the nature of God? I harken back to Thomas Aquinas who states that the only adequate way of talking about God would be through analogy. God is “like”, instead of the definitive “God Is.” Any other conception would be placing God upon human grounds, hence God is no longer “God.” Perhaps more importantly, I think that we are trying to view God through a ton of different metaphysical frameworks, and admittedly enough, the Bible was written through the lenses of several metaphysical lenses. Naturally the 21st century post-modernist will see God in quite a different way than the logic-infused “modernist” who has to either wholesale reject God (atheism), or believe it all (fundamentalism.) My argument has been that our conception of God does indeed “Evolve”. Violence in the ancient near-east was commonplace. It was like getting up and brushing your teeth in the morning. It was part of the culture. It’s hard to see it that way in the 21st century, especially since our views are colored now by Hellenistic thought and dualistic views of humanity that the Hebrew culture never had. Throughout the scriptural tradition the metaphysical framework changed. It’s like the shift from Newtonian physics to Einstein. Our thought evolved as God continues to revealed Godself to us. The earliest Hebrew writings were henotheistic. The conception becomes clearer, but with every one answer that is revealed 1,000 more questions will arise. It is absolutely worthwhile to have this discussion, because it does indeed affect our praxis. Ultimately, what I think we should realize is that we can’t merely look at this argument through 21st century eyes. We must see it within the culture and context it was written. Our perception of God and cultural taboos and metaphysic evolve. Perhaps it’s not God that changes, but our revelation of God that does. We do indeed, “See through a mirror dimly.” It is through humble obedience and humility that I serve a God of love and hope.

  34. Heather W December 4, 2009 at 5:29 am #

    Well, how long has God been dealing with this “problem” anyway? Was it the cause of the Big Bang? When He yelled, “Let their be light” was it some sort of tantrim He was throwing in His violence, thus smacking quarks against one another and then shortly thereafter, entire star systems?

    I mean, from the major stories of the Old Testament (for instance, Moses) until the New was what, 2 or 3 thousand years? And in this amount of time, with the Jews no less as His personal focal group, He was able to somehow start to work through all of these violence issues?

    I guess the cross wasn’t the only relapse. There was that Ananias and Saphirra incident..a bit out of place in the “new” version of God’s covenant, right? Not to mention the whip in the temple deal… or the poor fig tree or the knocking Saul off his horse and blinding him (ok, sure, the fig tree and blinding incidents I guess are much more restrained than some of the other outbreaks…) But maybe the cross isn’t even a relapse as much as simply a manifestation of something that had already happened…wasn’t Jesus crucified from before the foundation of the world? Maybe we can call that a loophole of some sort…it was simply old violence that had happened millenia before, so it didn’t really count as a relapse at all when it finally showed up in space/time, probably….maybe…

    I do say though it is sheer genius to figure out of all the things God might have been repenting for at His baptism, that violence was really what was on His mind. I can’t see anything at all hinting at that in the narrative of the event, but maybe that’s what John really meant when he remarked he was unworthy to untie the Christ’s sandals…. the Christ He knew pre-baptism probably would have kicked him in the face had he bent down to unloose those shoes. It’s a euphemism then, that John was making…and Jesus carefully restrained Himself from reacting in his typically violent way to the slight, being determined to turn over this new leaf of God/human history, simply managing instead to firmly growl, “It must be done to fulfill all righteousness…”

    Yes, I think I’m starting to get it… 😉

  35. zoecarnate December 4, 2009 at 2:19 pm #

    Well you’re in a rare mood this morning. 🙂

    I forget where it was, but at one point you said “The violence of God doesn’t bother me.” That’s going to probably limit how much we can hear each other in this discussion – as we’re coming from fundamentally different starting points on this one. Violence is a fundamental fact of life, but I think that peace and peacemaking is a fundamental fact of the Gospel. In the mood to read something? Covenant of Peace is a meaty tome that recounts just what a big deal peace is to the biblical writers – and could be construed as the central theme of the New Covenant. As you might be quick to note, peace is not the absence of conflict – that’s a peace garnered too quickly. While passages like Annais and Sapphira puzzle me, I’m with Jeff Kursonis (and probably with you) in saying that God can kill anyone God wants – in a certain sense (perhaps this is my Inner Calvinist coming out), God kills everyone! So God directly taking the life of these two in Acts is bizarre, but ‘understandable’ in light of the larger point about integrity being made in this account.

    The difficulty comes when God starts ‘telling’ us to take part in the taking of life – or when we interpret, say, David’s rejoicing at his enemies babies’ heads being dashed against rocks as God’s rejoicing instead of the dark rantings of an f-ed up man. I’m not going to give any fancy biblical justification for my revulsion of such passages – only to say that if I blow up a building today because ‘God told me to,’ society will consider me deluded or a terrorist – and rightly so. Of course, many of the past mystics of love who heard from God continuously would also be considered mentally ill, so I’m not saying that our current secular age isn’t a mixed bag – but I’m glad I’m alive now and not 4,000 years ago.

    I can understand your revulsion to this conversation thread. You think that most of us here are imposing an alien rubric onto the story of God (“God shouldn’t be violent, therefore He really isn’t, or perhaps He was but isn’t now”) and then we’re setting ourselves up as God’s judges to arbitrate whether or not God is living up to our standards. The height of arrogance, and exactly what Mike Bickle fears! And I don’t really know what I can say at this juncture to allay these concerns…except that the violence in the world today concerns a lot of us, and we trace its roots almost exclusively into religious forms of violence, divinely ‘justified’ violence be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, or Jain…and we’re soul-searching our own tradition to see what it is that’s led us to think that this kind of behavior toward our fellow human being (which in Judeo-Christian theology is a sacred image-bearer of G-D) is OK…and we’re discovering its a case of ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ on our part. It’s mimetic violence, pure and simple. I personally see Jesus’ at-one-ment as being emblematic of God’s once-and-for all condemnation of mimetic violence, taking it into himself rather than choosing to retaliate against his oppressors in kind. (And I don’t think there were any ‘relapses’ from this action; that’s an unfortunate summary of Brueggemann’s work, and not something that he himself said.) Jesus absorbed the violence rather than transmitting back by calling down his angels. And he calls us to do likewise – not to become passive victims, but to live lives of radical peacemaking so someone would want to kill us to protect their interests!

    And you’re right to sense that this view of the cross as God’s absorption of senseless tragedy and victory over this violence in resurrection as being fundamentally different than the idea of the cross as being a mechanism to satisfy God’s sense of wounded honor, “being beaten and put upon a cross for me…” The view of a nonviolent, Christlike God is incompatible (or quite nearly so) with the penal substitutionary model of atonement, for the simple reason that a God without malice wouldn’t require that somebody die to appease a sense of wrath. This is something I’ve written about quite extensively before. Hey, I know I’ve suggested a ton of books to read even in this comment, but could I strongly suggest one in particular? It’s called Stricken By God?, and its an anthology of different writers grappling with Jesus’ atonement. I’d love for you to read this and get your thoughts. If you do this, I will in turn read any book or listen to any message series you’d like on why I need to repent of my wicked ways. 🙂

    Here’s the irony Heather: I think we both believe that God changed His mind! I think God might’ve changed his mind about violence in the incarnation, and you believe (I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth; you might’ve not thought about it this way before) that God changed His mind about humanity at the Cross. In other words, pre-Cross, all we deserved was condemnation; post-Cross, God could love us. Personally, I’d rather believe that God always loved humanity but maybe altered His divine perception in how love-in-action looked.

    That’s a big “maybe,” and I hope you can see this entire post as my (and many others) ‘thinking out loud’ rather than making definitive statements. I agree with you, and Jeff, and others, that it’d be mighty odd to assume a billions-of-years-old universe (and I’m not sure what you think about the age of the cosmos?) in which God was one way, only to change God’s mind after a few thousand years of working with a “Jewish support group” (LOL – a dozen Jewish-told jokes about Jews, God and therapy come to mind…if God needed a support group, Jewish people would be it, wouldn’t you??)…while I don’t wish to detract from what Brueggemann names “the irascibility of God” (what others might call God’s ‘sovereignty,’ which would be manifested either as changelessness or change-as-much-as-He-darn-well-pleases), nor the Biblically-honored place of arguing with God when we feel God’s ethics are out of line (!! – it’s there, right in the Text, in numerous places), I’m far more comfortable saying that we’ve grown & changed rather than God. But this still means that where our ancestors once perceived God as ordering and/or ordaining plunder, murder, and virgin sex parties, we now wrestle with this depiction of God in light of the greater revelation of God’s character in Christ. Either God’s repudiated such violence, or we have – either way, violence has no place in the ecology of New Creation.

  36. Ira December 4, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    First, after Heather’s post I can no longer call myself a smartass in good conscience. I have been in the presence of a master, and found wanting. I say that with awe and reverence.

    So are we moving from an era of “My God can beat up your God” to “My God-concept is less violent than your God-concept”? I’m not opposed to the project, mind you, but I think we’re in a kind of quandary; there are no unassailable answers here, but most of us need some working set of answers to make sense of our world and our faith.

    I appreciate modern amenities as much as the next bourgeois liberal, and think a certain kind of “progress” has been made (measured, of course, by our own standards), but I get a little leery of language that suggests the ancients were, like, so violent back in the day and we’re totally over that.


    We have more clever and subtle ways to displace, repress, or sublimate our violence, but we are hardly over it. The fact that we seem (in some circles) to be increasingly uncomfortable with violence and the legacy of violence in our faith communities is a good sign. We have a long way to go, presuming that there’s even a destination we are able to reach (it’s more like we are reaching for something we are constantly redefining).

    Sure, there’s the arrogance of thinking that we can hold God accountable for divine violence that doesn’t comport with our contemporary sensibilities — but there’s also the arrogance of thinking that what any of us is critiquing is God in Godself. What we are critiquing is a previous conception of God, and we are doing so from our contemporary conception(s) of God which has/have no inherent claim to rightness except by virtue more appropriate for our time and place. God, as such, might be staying out of it.

    I appreciate the observation that “the violence in the world today concerns a lot of us, and we trace its roots almost exclusively into religious forms of violence, divinely ‘justified’ violence be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, or Jain…” but I’m tempted to the same reaction I have when people like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens point out that most violence is or has been religious in nature: Duh.

    Being irreligious in any meaningful sense has only recently (in the scope of human history) become a viable option, and even then I’d be hard-pressed to characterize the violence of even the most “secular” of nations as not being of a religious or mythic nature.

    Or to put it differently: there are no secular sources for the genesis of violence because violence precedes the secular by several thousand years, and the idea of the secular is itself both parasitic upon the construction of religion and a necessary condition for concepts of democracy that are already possessive of the shape and ethos of religious expression. We are irredeemably religious.

    Whether or not we are irredeemably violent is a different question, and also story fodder for about half a dozen Star Trek episodes, but I digress. In terms of relationship, however, I might suggest that we are not violent because we subscribe to stories that justify that violence, but that we began to inhabit those stories to justify violence in the first place.

    I do think this has something to do with settling down and growing all our own food, though I’m not buying the anarcho-primitivist critique as enthusiastically as I used to. I think there are genuine goods that come from civilization, but we have always had these goods at some kind of price, to our human and non-human neighbors. Each season of this journey (which some narrate as progress and others as descent) has addressed some forms of injustice while creating new forms.

    These new forms of injustice get inscribed into the new stories, until there is a rupture and new stories (or new versions of the old stories) emerge to challenge them. Religion, like the arts and politics and other forms of human meaning-making (I suppose I just tipped my hand if it wasn’t obvious already) seek at various times to justify or challenge the status quo, to legitimate or delegitimate the prevailing forms of discourse. And so it goes.

    • Ira December 4, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

      Correction from above:

      …except by virtue of being more appropriate for our time and place…

      • Ira December 4, 2009 at 5:57 pm #

        And I seem to have biffed a close-tag, resulting in all those italics above. Why doesn’t WordPress have a preview function? 🙂

  37. Jeff Kursonis December 4, 2009 at 7:30 pm #

    Wileem, thanks for that great re-stating of the differences between the covenants, that helps to focus some thoughts

    …and Jim P, I agree with a lot of what you are saying, it’s trying to figure out who we are and how that affects our reading of these things – but I’d like to hear more on what you think of the specific of God condoned/commanded violence. ie. regardless of how we approach the text well, and regardless of the facts of ancient world violence being so basic in their culture in a different way from us – God could have stood up against that norm and proclaimed a non-violent way, yet that didn’t happen. But he did stand against all sorts of other things and proclaim a new way…why did violence get a free pass?

    Thanks Ira for the kind words. I really like what you’ve said. And yes, that we can’t avoid theologizing is what I was getting at – and I like how you’ve taken the next step and said that we must take responsibility for the ramifications of what we come up with – which fits with my efforts to remain humble as we stumble forward – I really want to make sure I’m ready to take responsibility when I get somewhere that I might be willing to stand at for a while, and if I have responsibilities which involve teaching/mentoring etc. to be able to do that with integrity. (not that I’ll ever get there with this issue in this lifetime)

    When you get to Thom Stark’s idea of “condemned texts”, which is new to me, then it kind of remind’s me of Mike’s original idea of God “growing past” his previous immaturities. God put those texts in there as a record of his past violence which he’s now recovered from. As well as this idea, “I think there are really good reasons for rejecting a head-lopping God of any sort — and ways to reconcile that with texts that invoke such a God — without necessarily abandoning the idea of God altogether.”…on all three of these there seems to me to be a skirting around, rather than going straight through. Which is fine of course. But I am trying to go straight through.

    To further explain – a lot of ways of understanding this horrible God violence involve some thoughtful loopholes – starting at the base point that if God actually did command horrible violence, than of course, that God should be rejected. But instead let’s find a way to discover that actually God didn’t do that – or at least a fully mature God wouldn’t have done it. So with Mike, God did that when he was an immature teenager and now he’s grown past it, or with Thom Stark, these are cautionary tales, or, “what not to do”, or with your quoted idea, finding a way to reconcile the text so that somehow God didn’t actually do it, it’s just us misconstruing, or mis-constructing our interpretation of the text (if that’s what you mean, I know that short quote might not actually capture what you’re saying, but if not you, others have said it:)…and with all these great waypoint attempts to understand this difficult thing, I find them a little unsatisfying – a skirting around the edge a bit – I want to go straight through and start with the very worst we could imagine, that God indeed both commits violence directly and orders humans to commit violence and try to figure out the mystery of how and why God could have chosen that path.

    Even the covenants to a degree are a skirting around – oh, God only did that in the old, lesser covenant, but now in the new better covenant God wouldn’t do that anymore. That would be similar to the logic of saying, there would be no murder if you just made killing other people legal. God still did it regardless of the legal constructions at the time.

    I find this discussion very important to me right now and I really appreciate how we are working through some things together. (Thanks Mike!) I’d almost like to see a dedicated blog/discussion group of this one question. For me as a publicly known “emergence” North American White Male post-evangelical possibly post-Christian theology thinker, it is the one question I don’t see an emergence theology really finding a way to answer yet, and therefore really requiring this discussion. Anyone want to start one? Would you support it if I did? I’d be glad to share the responsibility with another…

    • Jeff Kursonis December 4, 2009 at 8:30 pm #

      Oh, and while I was writing Ira and Mike both posted big replies I didn’t see…Mike you are definitely “skirting” less in that post, and sorry if that characterization sounds slightly put-down-ish…

      Ira, I agree with you on the Bullshit. I stake the whole development of post-modernity on the fact that we just lived through the most violent century in human history – and the recognition of that fact crushes the dreams of the enlightenment project…but I would also say that does present some evidence that violence is not always religiously motivated – not that that in any way gives religionists a break, for their own history assuredly indicts them. I think it just equally indicts the arrival of the new big available option of being secular.

      I personally believe God is playing out a plan and that he institutes “eras” in order to get somewhere – I think he brought about secular humanism as an antidote to the horrible excesses of religious wars in post-reformation Europe. We needed to get past Christendom – smart and good people were ready to move on from all the violence (why I respect Atheists so much, in my opinion at that time and now they have played a necessary and heroic role). Christendom was a huge failure in many areas, while wildly successful in others (the dynamic of all eras).

      So then modernity comes and removes a lot of the ugly power plays of religion, produces the scientific revolution, introduces the concept of the individual with rights…and then all our best progress produces a century of 200 million murders…thus preparing us for the next era.

      So every era moves us forward, but also produces horrible failures and the road continues.

      But, here’s where I would put one new thought concerning the notion which produced your bullshit comment – that we are becoming less violent…

      I wonder if in fact we are turning a corner toward becoming less violent? – I could imagine that we are just beginning to turn that corner, and the turn will take a good number of years – but still, all the real giant numbers of 20th Century deaths took place closer to mid-century than the end. South East Asian communism in the 70’s was the last big one. Rwanda and the former Yugoslavian areas in the 90’s was a last sputter, with much smaller numbers at least…and now our war is taking place in a rapidly changing USA, one that I think has changed tremendously since the war started in 2003. With almost a decade after 9/11 I think there’s been time enough to see real change, and Obama’s election is a manifestation of that.

      Not that we won’t have lot’s of old school resurgences, a step forward, two step’s back over the coming years. But I think the emergence discussion taking place on this blog and many others (whether you identify with that word or not) could be a historical moment of the religious part of humanity evolving forward a big step…and that’s why I think this question is worthy of a dedicated discussion blog/Ning/whatever…

      I would posit that secular culture has lead the way toward less violence in recent times – the average secular youth is far less violent in their views than the average Christian youth. But then I think what might be happening is that in order to shore up this progress, we need the religious people to come on board.

      Secular sources have lead the way, but I don’t think they can deliver to the final destination – partly because 90% of the world is still religious and isn’t going to buy the secular solutions. So I think what’s happening now, is that religious people are now catching up, and I think when we fully digest and put our energies toward a vision of peace, that religion will again lead toward a real workable solution. And of course I understand skeptics will not buy that, but I believe it is the future.

      • Ira December 4, 2009 at 10:13 pm #


        I appreciate your thoughtfulness. There’s a certain admirable quality to wanting to go “straight through,” as you call it. But that’s just it — going straight through means affirming a universe run by a non-human (but curiously anthropomorphic) entity who at one time thought it perfectly acceptable to kill humans at will and/or demand that they kill each other upon request. This might be a way of affirming a universe in which strange and horrible things sometimes happen, with God, however capricious, as a hedge against nihilism; great and terrible is the coming Day of the Lord, but at least there’s a plan. I suppose that could work, but it seems to me that as long as we keep such a vision of God around, we leave open the temptation of assuming that this or that particular act of violence is divinely justified or even mandated.

        It only by rejecting such a God, whether this rejection comes in the form of atheism or an alternative view of God, that we close that particular loophole. What you gain by not skirting the issue you would seem to lose by leaving the barn door open. (I suppose it could turn out that there really is such a God, but I have no idea how we would know such a thing.)

        I agree that our postmodern condition is contingent on the crippling blows the 20th century dealt to the Enlightenment vision of peace and prosperity. And I think I hinted pretty strongly above that I see signs that we are slowly turning a corner. But “the average secular youth is far less violent in their views than the average Christian youth”? I guess that depends a lot on which youth you know. It’s not a statement I’d be comfortable making.

        I can affirm the general dialectical shape of something like “So every era moves us forward, but also produces horrible failures and the road continues” — I wrote almost the same thing — but I’m uncomfortable with the implicit teleology. Does God have a plan that involves the various epochs? Well, maybe. The difficulty here (for me) is that it also implies that the poor or marginalized or left behind of a given epoch are the collateral damage of progress, the “middle children of history.” I’m sure you’re not saying this at all, of course, but it would seem to be the implication of assigning moral agency to the unfolding of human history.

  38. Jeff Kursonis December 5, 2009 at 4:45 am #

    Yes Ira, I understand what you are saying on almost all counts (not sure I totally understand the barn door – but that’s because you are far more logical than me…I know because I just read your guest post on Thom Stark’s great blog).

    So I guess we are quite close but will tend to think and view differently on a few details because your theological non-realism, and my “as yet not fully able to describe” beliefs in God that do include as essential to me a human incarnate Jesus, who’s activities being so important, are described by humans full of errors, but capturing the essential issues with accuracy in the biblical (so called) canon (not that we have ever fully learned how to understand and interpret them).

    And I really cling to Paul’s vision of all things coming together in Christ, because I believe communion is God’s ultimate goal, and that God becoming man is how God draws non-God humans into communion with God – and that this “drawing” is the whole of human history that we are playing out – and so I do cling to a view of a real God that is intentionally revealing Gods self to us, and part of our learning how to live in peace is learning how to handle God revelation (religion) without using it as a power club. (club could be used here as both a blunt wooden thing and an elite social group:)

    Today I overheard in the background some USA Christian speaker saying, “To me there are two types of people in the world, those that know Christ, and those that don’t”. This is what many of us post-evangelical’s have come out of, here she is saying that her religion causes her to find ways to divide herself from others. And of course many other forms of religion do the same thing. The whole notion of “Evangelical distinctiveness” should be re-named, “Evangelical dividedness” – the very opposite of God’s ultimate goal of bring all together. I think God is going to lead us to a new way of non-conceptual religion that is based in love actions toward others and that one day it’s possible no religious person will ever think this way again.

    But, to me, the path to get there keeps me ensconced in daily mystical activity to try to let God unfold revelation to me that will help me overcome my USA Christian background that caused me to say the same sort of dividing language a few years back – and here to me is the key – that we humans need this God connection to gain the miraculous ability to shed our old dividing, other despising ways…that the only way to communion (the opposite of dividing) is the direct presence of God unfolding spiritual stuff to us by this mystical thing called faith – and that we need to learn to do that without imposing our particular ways of accessing God on others – but that doesn’t mean abandoning “God accessing culture”, also called religion.

    And that also this means, that the horrible violence of God in our holy writings for me has to be dealt with by going “straight through” simply because what I cling to in my spiritual experiences doesn’t allow me to imagine that if in fact God actually did do such violence that that God is rejectable.

    It would be like discovering someone you love is a serial pedophile – but in spite of that horror you still love them.

    Now, in human terms, you would have to step in and stop that pedophile from their behavior – but we don’t have that option with God – we can’t impose upon God and make God stop violence – so really all we can do is refuse to any longer have relations with God, which we do by not believing in God.

    But what I’m saying is that I can’t reject God at this point in my life – I have at times, and almost permanently – but now I’m going down with the ship – ie. if God is in fact violent, as it appears God may be, I want to know why God is that way and I’m hoping there’s some amazing deep answer that our finite little minds just haven’t been able to fully grasp yet.

    In fact, we are asking this question more truthfully now than we’ve ever asked it (I think). Before, we were pretty much OK with the violence, just accepted it as normal, and were more than happy to emulate it. But the rise of Atheism is us getting honest finally and saying, OK, if this is the way you are God, I’m outta here. But for me I’m saying, OK, if this is the way you are God, I’m going to stick around long enough to see if I can make sense of it, and even if I can’t make sense of it I’m still going to stick around in hopes that peace will grow…and if peace doesn’t grow by me and my friends religious activities, then maybe someday I’ll change my mind and become Atheist.

    And I refer to what I mentioned in my first comment on this post, that maybe it is something very old school, but that we will learn to understand in a new way – that God being creator is allowed to do what God will with human creations – God giveth and he taketh away…the potter and the clay…

    But somehow we have to access this in a way that leads to peace. Unfortunately before we said, God taketh away, and so do I!

    Another way to put this, is I don’t know how I can access God in a way that makes me more peace creating if I don’t have an ability to imagine my experience is real. I don’t want to have to say every human notion of God/religion is suspect, but rather, any behavior that is claimed to be religiously motivated but which divides or hurts is not only suspect, but automatically condemned. It’s not about our personal subjective experience, but what manifests out of that toward others.

    Anyways, I don’t know if I’m contributing more to this conversation or just rambling, but thanks for allowing it.

    What do others think of the notion of the potter and the clay?

    • Ira December 5, 2009 at 3:42 pm #

      Jeff, I appreciate your honesty and your humility. I can be quite snarky to those who seem to have it all figured out and downright nasty to those whose belief leads to bigotry, and I like to poke and prod at belief systems. But I am not opposed to belief, nor do I find it unimportant. In fact, it’s because belief is important that find it necessary for us to take responsibility for our beliefs. I think we agree on that, so I won’t belabor it.

      You are candid about needing to, or at least preferring to, believe that certain things are true. And I respect that. My schtick, if you will, is not that your belief is contingent whereas my belief (or lack thereof) is not, but to push us to the recognition that all beliefs, as well as our rejections of belief, are contingent and therefore should be open to scrutiny. At the very least, we should be willing to own them. I am a non-realist not because non-realism is closer to the “really real” (such a claim would be contradictory, of course), but because I need to be.

      But let me push back on a couple of things, one minor, one possibly more significant. The minor one is mostly just an observation: if you can write “…and if peace doesn’t grow by me and my friends’ religious activities, then maybe someday I’ll change my mind and become Atheist,” you are ultimately a pragmatist. I say this approvingly. Being an atheist because you are convinced there can’t possibly be a God and being an atheist because you’ve given up on the project of believing in God are not exactly the same thing.

      Atheism can be a destination, for some a necessary one, but it can also be a waystation, a purgative, an emetic that allows us to vomit up our unhealthy visions of God. Sounds like it might have already served this purpose for you in some way, and you seem to think it does this in the culture at large as well. I’m not quite willing to go there, but that doesn’t make it untenable.

      The more significant push-back has to do with the importance of mystical experience in constructing your faith. Mike and I go ’round and ’round about this, actually (those of you think I’m one of Mike’s uncritically loyal minions, take note). I think the mystical/contemplative path is vital. I think mystical experience is real experience. But the content of that experience is just as contingent as anything else.

      For the sake of argument, let’s say that your mystical experience is generally one of the deep, abiding presence of God. Some have direct revelations that lead them to violence. Mine is of a vast, velvety Nothingness, a palpable Void, one which I liken to the Abyss that stared back at Nietzsche. Or it’s just Narcissus’ pool. Who knows?

      I have sought the will of God in my life and retain a sense that there is path unfolding before me that I do well to follow. But at one point in my life I would have had to narrate this path as God leading me to be an atheist. All the usual serendipities presented themselves, but they led away from God (and maybe God could have done that, but I have also seen this fail in ways that deeply question whether any kind of “God” has anything to do with it at all). My most profound mystical experience is one in which I saw, as if by direct revelation, that there is no afterlife.

      But on some level, that’s exactly what I expected to find. It seemed epiphanic at the time, but it was probably just the next step in a path I needed (or wanted) to be on. It grounds my vision of the world but is itself contingent. So, I submit, is your mystical experience, profound though it might be. It’s important; I would submit that it somehow reveals who you genuinely wish to be. So I ain’t dissin’. I’m just sayin’.

      I like this: “I don’t want to have to say every human notion of God/religion is suspect, but rather, any behavior that is claimed to be religiously motivated but which divides or hurts is not only suspect, but automatically condemned.”

      I think that’s a fantastic criterion. But you can’t really escape the charge that it’s a criterion that you made up, based on a sense of justice and value rooted in who, when, and where you are. I’m not suggesting that’s bad; I’m suggesting that it is unavoidable.

    • Ira December 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

      By the way, leaving the barn door open just means that the cows can get out. It’s a metaphor for vulnerability. That’s all.

  39. zoecarnate December 5, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

    You’re not one of my uncritically loyal minions?

    Damn. Back to the drawing board.

    • Ira December 5, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

      You had to find out sometime.

    • Ira December 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm #

      Actually, I’m going rogue.

  40. interestingenglish December 6, 2009 at 12:51 am #

    Ira, I just love this exchange, I am really gaining some stuff.

    I guess I believe the barn door is always open – to think we can close it would be, I think, what you are trying to avoid.

    I love how you get what I am and know how that relates to who you are.

    As for my statement about one day if no peace is produced maybe becoming an atheist – I would hold that because the barn door is open, but I seriously doubt it will happen because I have set my chin towards a path of peace – and I’m willing to make that the top criteria – which is, I think, a way to synthesize some of our differences, and a way that will lead to peace. Actually I’m not sure if how I said that about myself is true, but I feel humility should cause me to keep that as an option – to be able to face the ultimate failure of my beliefs and experiences if facing that failure is beneficial to peace.

    I have created a little dictum that I’m trying out, something like – “never let that which you cannot see cause withdrawal from, or harm to, those you can see”

    We only know anything of God by faith, and Paul says, “No one has ever seen God”, I believe meaning, “you can’t know if the stuff you come up with by faith is “really real”.

    And so I totally agree with you in this statement, “I think the mystical/contemplative path is vital. I think mystical experience is real experience. But the content of that experience is just as contingent as anything else.”

    That is the crux of the problem with religion – everyone has a different experience and everyone thinks there’s is “truth” and the other’s is crap. There’s an OT prophetic moment where the prophet criticizes Israel, in Peterson’s wonderful translation, for thinking others are, “religiously stupid”. I love that. That’s what we do, we think others are religiously stupid.

    And it seems hard to imagine that it’s taken us this long to begin to understand, that to do that, is to betray your very own religion, because it is an inherently unloving thing to do, as well as prideful.

    So my whole project is to try to discover how we live fully embracing our spiritual experience while fully embracing the other, whose experience is different.

    And I think modernity and concept are key culprits for us today. We have a concept based faith, where the content of concepts is more important to us than other humans. Evangelical distinctiveness creates the automatic rejection of humans who hold different concepts. Yet I believe that “coming together” is the direction that the end point of communion demands, making anything that divides condemnable.

    I imagine this graphic image of two thick arrows facing each other and thus coming together (like the kind in graphic uses for pointing you in a certain direction, not like bow and arrow), and another two arrows facing apart and thus going away from each other. And under the two arrows facing each other it says “good”, and under the two arrows facing apart it says “bad”. So this simple graphic, the direction of coming together is good and the direction of going apart is bad, and that pretty much sums up my whole theology.

    So, anything that causes you to reject others is bad. And you can immediately imagine the Evangelical standing up and waving his hand, “Oh oh, but what about truth!?”…”are you saying unity at any cost”?…and the reason that is so ingrained, that we can’t be in communion with those that have “false beliefs” is because of hundreds of years of modernity training our brains to live in a concept world.

    Even when I write about theology I constantly find myself starting to say, “and so such and such leads me to the idea of such and such”, and I have to stop and rethink and ask myself, “How can I move beyond framing this or that as idea, and instead experience meaning and experience, as something that connects more to behavior”? Or in the mindset of Pete Rollins experience God not as an idea in my head, but be held by God in a way I have no control over…and I would add to that in a way that causes me to be drawn to others, to behave toward them in ways THEY would interpret as loving.

    OK, so I think we are in total agreement on each of our unique experiences being contingent – you expected to find what you found, and so did I.

    And then you go on to say that you like my criteria (which I have expanded upon in this post) about religious notions not being suspect, but rather the behaviors that are produced…and then you put that “criteria idea” of mine in your frame thus…

    “I think that’s a fantastic criterion. But you can’t really escape the charge that it’s a criterion that you made up, based on a sense of justice and value rooted in who, when, and where you are. I’m not suggesting that’s bad; I’m suggesting that it is unavoidable.”

    Which I totally agree with – Yes, I made this up and it is my idea/experience of God based in who I am and is contingent. No problem.

    And here is where I’d like to add something – that I imagine this kind of basis for religion could be a way forward – that what is important is how we behave toward one another – which is based in my contingent view that God is drawing us toward communion…BUT…the reason I think this might be an important way forward is because of what I call, “The Only-ness of Community”

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what amazing ethereal mystical experiences any number of people have and how they then go on to systematize them into beliefs and attach cultural behaviors that are repeated weekly forming religions – and some are cool and some are crap and some are boring and some are more interesting – in the end the only thing that really matters is how they affect all the other people around you, because other humans is all we’ve got.

    The only thing we know for sure is that we’re all stuck here together. We’re here on this earth, and we have to produce enough food to eat and homes to live in and have the security to be able to go out the door without being attacked, so we can be about producing the food and the homes.

    Forget the future, forget the past, forget science fiction imaginations or metaphysical imaginations – the one thing we know we have for sure – THAT WE MUST CONTEND WITH – is each other.

    So the Only-ness of Community is this abiding awareness that the only “really real” we have is that we are here together and need one another to survive.

    And so if we do want to believe in a God that we cannot see, the God that, if in fact, that God is there has chosen to remain invisible to us, then the one Great Golden Command that we might adopt is that we should never let imaginations of an unseen God cause us to do anything harmful to the One and Only thing we do know we have – each other.

    And of course some people will respond – “Yeah, but I’d rather be faithful to God, than to the human I can see”…but my response would be, “What if God is trying to teach us that we can’t be faithful to God if we reject and harm others”, and so God is saying, “the only way you can love me is to love others” (sounds like I John).

    And I would add that rejecting others is a harm. Because we need each other to survive, so the act of rejection is essentially murder because you are saying, “I don’t care to be involved in your survival”, or, “I remove from you the energies I bring to the table, which could be the difference between survival and demise for you”.

    And so beyond the many permutations we can have of how we hold our religion, there stands this reality that we have “each other only” – so if we can find a way for religion to bring benefit to our mutual community, that seems to me to be the one criteria concerning religion that matters. And so if we each build whatever religion we want, if we all hold to that one criteria, things will go well and we’ll all survive and maybe thrive.

    So, of course we have veered a bit from the discussion of violence and God, but I think this is a fruitful veering that ultimately wraps back around to that discussion.

    Anybody want to interject into the Ira and Jeff exchange:)?

    • Ira December 6, 2009 at 7:43 pm #

      “I guess I believe the barn door is always open – to think we can close it would be, I think, what you are trying to avoid.”

      Touché — but I meant the particular barn door of religiously sanctioned violence. Nevertheless, your observation is correct; there’s always a barn door open somewhere, and this moves us towards the philosophical ramifications of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, but I don’t want to sound nerdy.

      What you call “the Only-ness of Community” I would call a genuinely incarnational theology. I explore that a little bit here, but
      Peter Laarman puts it this way

      What we do know-and all we can know-is that God is present when we share bread with our neighbor; God is present when we make room for the stranger; God is present when we set the prisoner free; God is present when we tear down barriers of prejudice and privilege and when we unmask the hypocrisy of unworthy rulers.

      What could be more breathtaking than to meet the living God in the face of the other? What could be more compelling than a lively faith, a saving faith, forged in the actual daily work of making a little bit more room in the world for the peace of God?

      Anyway, Jeff, we speak different languages or at least different dialects, but it would seem we have some important things in common. I appreciate the opportunity to have conversation on Mike’s blog where I don’t just sound like a crotchety old bastard. 🙂

  41. Jeff Kursonis December 6, 2009 at 1:06 am #

    interestingenglish above is Jeff Kursonis, it changed my name to interestingenglish because of a technical thing.

    And…to those who would immediately respond to what I said toward the end of the comment – “Well, this just opens the door to Universalism”…I would say, Yes that’s true, but also, for me there’s much more to this that I don’t have the space to cover, so though it looks that way, it’s not quite…but somewhat:)

  42. Heather W December 8, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    Can’t get this thread out of my mind. And my mind took an interesting path this afternoon that I thought I’d meander down with you.

    Specifically, the Akedat Yitzchak – the binding of Isaac. Here we meet again the violent God, asking Abraham to kill his son, and the story becomes the high point of Jewish virtue.

    Of course God spared Isaac, but He was still more than willing to reward the man who loved Him in all His violence and violent suggestions – praising Abraham with: “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

    What happens in the NT with this story? Abraham is still lauded for his faith – in fact, all NT believers are called his rightful descendants. Hebrews 11 refers to the story of God asking a man to murder his son, and says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son….”

    I guess the heart of the story comes down to this – A man was willing to love a really violent seeming God. God’s response was to be a little less violent than He initially seemed…but the fact was He still rewarded a man who would choose a murderous God over protecting his child from innocent bloodshed. Both the Old and New Testaments still honor this guy for this. And so I guess the question is, what do you do with this God? If God told Abraham to slaughter his child, do you believe such a God should be honored? Yet wasn’t the test of Abraham’s faith really crucial right here, at the point of God’s violence?

    Of course Abraham believed God would raise up Isaac, but no where are we told He believed God wouldn’t actually have him kill him. The violence was still going to happen in his mind, either way. What do you do with this? Because the question here isn’t, “Is God really violent?” The question is, “How do YOU relate to a God who is more violent than is savory for you?”

    Some thoughts…

    • Jeff Kursonis December 8, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

      Wonderful Heather.

      And then there is another level for a post-evangelical like me – how do you understand yourself and God, when in my past God was not more violent than is savory for me – because I had embraced a violent script and had quite a savor for violence, so that all the stories of violence didn’t bother me at all? (a place where many of my past friends and family remain)…but now I have changed – in a way that I credit to a maturing in things of God, in understanding more deeply the call to peace – and so now I am at the similar place as you, where God is more violent than is savory for me.

      But, and a big but, I can only credit the Holy writings, other wonderful holy humans writings and the historical legacy of Dr. King as being the influences that brought me from the bestial excitement of watching the green tinted night vision video of tracer bullet and rocket attacks by my countries forces on Iraq in the first gulf war, to somewhat torn but still mildly excited in the 2003 attack on Afghanistan, to today where I march in the streets against such horrors.

      All these influences have this same previously violent God as their inspiration, and it is they who have helped me see the light – so I still stand now confused and trying to understand because I find the record of this same God to be more violent than is savory for me.

      So that paradox causes me to imagine that there is somehow someway some as yet undiscovered meandering wisdom to God’s plan to enter human violence and yet deliver us from it ultimately. And that’s why I love this blog exchange so much because I hope we can discover it together.

      I should also add, because someone might say, “Well, it’s only because you found yourself in the religious community and there heard those voices that influenced you – but if you had been in another community, maybe more secular, you could have found the same voices from that source”…Absolutely, I believe that is true. But I would add, I lived in Manhattan for 13 years during the primary time of my journey, and it was there surrounded by a profusion of sources both sacred and secular that my journey took place, and though I would credit secular sources as being the bigger influence in my journey on other issues like homosexuality and social justice in general, it was definitely religious sources that influenced me on violence.

      And how I mean to express this is not that it just happened to be religious sources in that case, but rather, I found them to be the most compelling. I was totally exposed to the same secular voices that did influence me in the other areas mentioned, but I didn’t find there a compelling case for non-violence, even though those voices were marching in the streets and truly passionate. It was the religious voices that went deeper in their case and that really inspired my imagination and truly converted a war monger’er into a peace marcher.

  43. zoecarnate December 8, 2009 at 6:33 pm #

    That resonates with me, Jeff, even though I’m not a veteran. I was certainly all about the ’91 war, and by 2003 was marching against war. My picture of God-as-violent made me comfortable with war in ’91; my picture of God-as-Jesus (love enemies, pray for those who persecute you) is what changed things for me.

    Heather, imagine you had a child. Now imagine God told you to (say) tie your child down to your car battery, and drive 100 miles. Would you interpret this a.) As a test of faith in God, or b.) As a delusion and serious unconscious cry for help?

    Knowing you – you’re pretty level-headed – my guess is you’d choose ‘B.’ (Some of our fellow ‘Spirit-filled’ friends, I’m not so sure!) Now imagine you’re Abraham. YHWH has already condemned human sacrifice, so we can’t say he was merely following the culture of his day in being okay with this. What’s up with Abraham?

    “If you don’t believe in a violent God, you don’t believe in the God of the Bible,” you seem to be saying.

    But what if (I’m just talking out loud here – nobody stone me yet!) we need to see “God” as a character in the text, not necessarily with a 1:1 correspondence to the living God. This is very evident, for example, in Job. The whole story, it seems to me, is allegory…so in a allegorical tale, God is allegorical character. (This isn’t a very controversial point BTW; even conservative Bible scholars tend to view Job as a non-historical event – an early play, if you will)

    The Bible could be seen as a collection of tales – whether allegory or nonfiction, it doesn’t really matter – that record the evolution/development of a character named God, reflecting changes in the concepts of God held by various Hebrews (and later, Gentile Christians) over time.

    So – we could say that the Jewish mind is recovering from violence … as reflected in its characterization of God. Taken in this way …

    Abraham has two concepts of God in his mind. One requires human sacrifice. The other doesn’t. The latter (less-violent) image wins.

    In this regard, Genesis becomes a tract for nonviolence. All the violent ways of dealing with evil fail in Gen. 1 – 11. Then, in Gen 12 a new method arises … blessing all nations through one nation. This nonviolence then is epitomized in Joseph, who, like Jesus, is hated by his brothers and is mistreated, but rejects violence as an alternative.

    So … for what it’s worth…if I may revise my provocative blog-title above, it might more faithful to talk about the evolution/maturation of the concept of God in the Scriptures instead of talking about the evolution of Godself. (I think Dr. Brueggemann might agree; he wouldn’t feel as obligated as an Evangelical would to say that just because the text says “God said” or “God killed,” that means that the real, living God really did those things as reported. As Bill Johnson says, “It is theologically immoral to allow anything, any revelation about God, that contradicts what you see in the person of Jesus to trump your concept of what God is like.”) We have a succession of images of God proposed, debated, rejected, replaced … until (for us as Christians) we come to Jesus, and in him, we find a fulfillment, a fullness, a radical upheaval and opening and revelation … and the God who emerges is – viola! – nonviolent.

  44. Heather W December 8, 2009 at 10:14 pm #

    How is God in Jesus any less violent? I mean, even if you don’t believe God spilled “wrath” per se on Jesus, He still thought it a good idea for Him to be killed and even sent Him for this purpose…did He not?

    Anyway, if God told me to tie my child to a car battery of course I’d think I was delusional. But we don’t have that luxury of a way out in Abraham’s tale. Abraham isn’t commended for choosing nonviolence as much as he’s commended for believing that he could go ahead and kill his kid and everything would still work out ok….it’s the fact that he was willing to be violent if necessary that is counted as faith and obedience – EVEN IN THE NT WRITINGS. What do you do with that?

  45. Heather W December 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm #

    In fact, here’s another one to reckon with:

    1 Kings 20 (CEV)
    35 About this time the LORD commanded a prophet to say to a friend, “Hit me!” But the friend refused,
    36 and the prophet told him, “You disobeyed the LORD, and as soon as you walk away, a lion will kill you.” The friend left, and suddenly a lion killed him.
    37 The prophet found someone else and said, “Hit me!” So this man beat him up.
    38 The prophet left and put a bandage over his face to disguise himself. Then he went and stood beside the road, waiting for Ahab to pass by.

    Case in point? The nonviolent dude dies for his disobedience, the violent bastard keeps his life and his obedience becomes a prophecy against evil.

    What do you do with this? 🙂

  46. Jeff Kursonis December 9, 2009 at 3:23 am #

    Wow Mike, in thinking of a modern version of Abraham & Isaac, you really got the creepy imagination going, huh – driving 100 miles on a car battery!!? What kind of mind came up with that!:)…I’m sorry, but with this heavy topic I found some comic relief in your post which just when I was getting over that first bit, at then end you misspell “voila!” and I did a double take to see how you were quoting Frank Viola.

    Mike, whenever I hear certain “gymnastic” attempts to get around certain things (not refering to you yet) it always reminds me of liberals in the last century kind of “gutting” the heart and soul of things and presenting a tepid bunch of moral vignettes – which is what lead to their decline. So when we emergents wrestle with these things now, I always have this radar for, “How is this different from a former lame liberal attempt to work through this same problem”…while it’s true that sometimes emergents find themselves at similar destinations as the described liberals, I always stress that we get there for very different reasons, and I think often on deeper examination we aren’t actually at the same point. (Note: I am now liberal in many categories, but not the same as those former lame theological liberals)

    So I bring that up with your idea to see if you similarly process your ideas and how the idea you’ve presented of an evolution of the Jewish concept of God rather than Godself would do under such a described radar (if you have a similar radar)…knowing of course that you are experimenting with the idea…

    And, just to prime your pump, how does such an idea not reduce God as presented to just an idea in some ancient near Eastern mind? What Israelite writer is kind of floating above the scene both noting Israel commit genocide and making up a “God revelation story” to go with it and at the same time write it as such so that thousands of years later we’ll get the “secret code” embedded to know, “Oh, this is not really God, but dah dah dah…”…You know?…or just some “Wisdom writer” totally making up the story… I mean if it wasn’t actually that God told them to do it, and then they did it, and someone recorded it (with no irony or code), then where does the story come from? And how do we end up with it and think it’s anything special?

    (I know I sound like a fundamentalist, but I’m just working through this stuff)…of course Job is different because it’s an isolated story in a mysterious place without a historical narrative of a people involved.

    Anyways, yeah Heather those stories are very troubling, and this comment is another example of me trying to work straight through them.

  47. Heather W December 9, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    I guess in all of what I’m saying, what the script SEEMS to be saying to me is that violence and nonviolence doesn’t seem to be the issue here – God seems to able to use violence and ask His followers to use violence, while at the same time He does seem to be pretty clear that He’d prefer to use less violent methods and ask His kids to do the same – but none of this is “the script.” The overall script seems to be whether or not we value God highly enough to roll with Him through the punches, pun intended… will we choose Him when He’s violent, and choose Him when He’s nonviolent…do we acknowledge and choose Him no matter how He wants to present Himself in that era or day or mood or whatever it is that He’s ultimately up to?

    • Ira December 9, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

      I suppose there’s a certain nobility in being able to say you accept God even if he’s a capricious bastard. Maybe he’s just misunderstood. But this sounds a lot like a person who stays with an abusive spouse. Noble? Yes — in a way. But it’s not something I’m going to applaud.

      On one hand, God is whatever God is. Or the universe is whatever it is, whether this includes something we’re likely to call “God” or not. The problem is, we don’t really know. So if God is a capricious bastard, then God is a capricious bastard and there’s nothing we can do about it except make nice and hope we don’t get zapped, which does sound an awful lot like living with an abusive spouse or parent.

      There’s no way to know, however — we just have testimonies as to what God is like, of which there are many, some contradictory. And that’s just the Bible. We’re not talking about what God is — only those possessed of a remarkable epistemological hubris claim to know that for certain — we’re talking about how God is conceptualized, and that’s always a moving target.

      Changing the script is part of the script itself. The deuteronomist(s) changed the script. The prophets changed the script. Jesus changed the script. Paul changed the script. The Johannine and Lucan communities changed the script. Nicea changed the script. The Tridentine Council changed the script. Luther…you get the idea. My list is hardly exhaustive.

      So if you feel like it’s better to come to terms with a violent God because an ancient tribal warrior culture conceptualized God that way, then of course that’s your prerogative. I’m just not sure what that needs to be the case.

  48. Heather W December 9, 2009 at 3:14 pm #

    I do think of God saying things that do hint that violence is not His ultimate goal or choice:

    Isaiah1:5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
    Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.

    [Violence didn’t really get us anywhere anyway….]

    Jonah 4:11
    [God on His reasons for sparing Ninevah: ] But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

    [Reluctance to even kill cows that had repented in sackcloth and ashes….]

    1 Cor 4:21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?….. 2 Cor 1:23 I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.
    [Reluctance to use violence…if even metaphorical…]

  49. zoecarnate December 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    So if I hear you right, Heather, your challenge to us is to ‘not put God in a box,’ even a nonviolence-box. You’re wishing us to respect the integrity of Godself, God having a full range of emotions, able to express those in righteousness that should not be questioned. Further, your ethical implications for us as friends and followers of this God is not to develop an ethical stance of violence or nonviolence, but rather to cultivate a sensitivity to the leading of God in any particular moment.

    Is this accurate?

  50. Heather W December 9, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

    Mike wrote:
    >>>>So if I hear you right, Heather, your challenge to us is to ‘not put God in a box,’ even a nonviolence-box. You’re wishing us to respect the integrity of Godself,<<<<>>>> God having a full range of emotions, able to express those in righteousness that should not be questioned. <<<>>>>Further, your ethical implications for us as friends and followers of this God is not to develop an ethical stance of violence or nonviolence, but rather to cultivate a sensitivity to the leading of God in any particular moment.

    Me: Hmmm…no, not exactly. First of all, I think we need to realize that we are proceeding into this discussion about standing against violence without even having a working definition of what "violence" or "nonviolence" even is. For instance, in Malachi, divorce is passionately condemned as being "violence." The questions would build from there – was Obama killing a fly an act of violence? Is correcting a child by taking away a favorite toy an act of violence? Is publishing a news report exposing a politician's misuse of funds an act of violence? Is destroying a prairie biome in order to plant wheat an act of violence? I mean, we could go on and on – what is violence? Is driving my car and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere an act of violence? Giving students failing grades in school? Is fighting against "principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in Heavenly places" not violent, or is it ok to harm invisible beings? Is causing someone to live on for years with a terminal and incredibly painful illness an act of violence, or is euthanasia the real act of violence? And while we're answering that, when is killing violent and when is it part of preserving life – and when do we start deciding if God's violence is ok or not – does not he who gives life have every right to take it when He decides?

    Life is violent – when is violence ok and even positive, and when isn't it? It goes so beyond the discussion of "just wars." We have a God who loves violence – "Think not that I came to bring peace on the Earth, but I have come to bring a sword," the avatar of a supposedly repentant God declared…. and, "the Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.." Are we not, as NT believers, called soldiers and swordbearers more than once? The question isn't whether or not violence is acceptable..the question is somewhere Else…


  51. Heather W December 9, 2009 at 9:34 pm #

    Mike wrote:
    So if I hear you right, Heather, your challenge to us is to ‘not put God in a box,’ even a nonviolence-box. You’re wishing us to respect the integrity of Godself,

    Me: Hey, I like the way you put that…. Yes. 🙂

    Mike: God having a full range of emotions, able to express those in righteousness that should not be questioned.

    Me: Actually, I think questioning God is totally acceptable and in many situations, appropriate. It’s *indicting* God that is off-base. Questioning, negotiating, and other forms of expression that reflect the fact that WE are also invested with a “full range of emotions” and reasoning powers, are all totally appropriate to the relationship. But the relationship IS one of a subject to a sovereign, a creation to a Creator, and any access to an audience with the “King of the Universe” is by virtue not of right, but by that of grace extended unmerited, and as such appropriate humility, respectfulness, and honor should always be evident in the midst of whatever disagreements or negotiations or pained questions we would wish to bring into dialogue with God. At least among those known in “the script” for having had such bold assertions towards God, whether Abraham negotiating with God, Moses interceding, Ezekiel protesting eating over dung, Jesus objecting to the planned events of His death; the honor for who God is was still intact in the midst of questioning His decisions – and where it bordered on disrespect or impugning God (such as Job, Jonah, other Moses instances, Peter, etc) it was replied to with various shades of rebuke from Him at the impertinence. The relationship of son/daughter to Father, of friend to Friend, of bride to Groom, and so forth, which suggest less emphasis on majesty, austerity, and honor, are still relationships that proceed from grace and are extended as privileges and kindnesses, not places in which we are to assume a right of entitlement to “try” God and impugn him upon our own moral framework.

    Mike wrote:
    Further, your ethical implications for us as friends and followers of this God is not to develop an ethical stance of violence or nonviolence, but rather to cultivate a sensitivity to the leading of God in any particular moment.

    Me: Hmmm…no, not exactly. First of all, I think we need to realize that we are proceeding into this discussion about standing against violence without even having a working definition of what “violence” or “nonviolence” even is. For instance, in Malachi, divorce is passionately condemned as being “violence.” The questions would build from there – was Obama killing a fly an act of violence? Is correcting a child by taking away a favorite toy an act of violence? Is publishing a news report exposing a politician’s misuse of funds an act of violence? Is destroying a prairie biome in order to plant wheat an act of violence? I mean, we could go on and on – what is violence? Is driving my car and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere an act of violence? Giving students failing grades in school? Is fighting against “principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in Heavenly places” not violent, or is it ok to harm invisible beings? Is causing someone to live on for years with a terminal and incredibly painful illness an act of violence, or is euthanasia the real act of violence? And while we’re answering that, when is killing violent and when is it part of preserving life – and when do we start deciding if God’s violence is ok or not – does not he who gives life have every right to take it when He decides?

    Life is violent – when is violence ok and even positive, and when isn’t it? It goes so beyond the discussion of “just wars.” We have a God who loves violence – “Think not that I came to bring peace on the Earth, but I have come to bring a sword,” the avatar of a supposedly repentant God declared…. and, “the Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force..” Are we not, as NT believers, called soldiers and swordbearers more than once? The question isn’t whether or not violence is acceptable..the question is somewhere Else…


    • Ira December 9, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

      I demur. We could limit the definition of “violence” to “genocide” and still be having this conversation. The range of possible construals of “violence” is red herring. It’s a cop-out, and so is the “life is violent” meme. It still comes down to defending a God who ordered the destruction of entire people groups for being in the wrong place.

  52. Heather W December 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Hmmm…the first time it posted it got all mangled in the formatting and half of it didn’t show up… the second one, not the first.

    • Jeff Kursonis December 9, 2009 at 11:31 pm #

      Heather I’d like to pay you for the amount of good thinking I’m getting from you – and you’ve confounded where I thought you might be coming from.

      I would like to take Ira’s comment on the red herring and mediate it a bit, and say maybe we could split that into two valuable discussions…genocide of course is the big one, the most pressing one that I am struggling with, and obviously because of it’s moral size the most to the heart of the issue (if God had only done small, or isolated acts of violence the discussion would be different). And so I think it is valuable to not lump it in with the rest of Heather’s scenario’s – because that waters it down a bit, ie. claiming them together does, I think, produce a red herring.

      But then secondly, the rest of the scenario’s are a very necessary second level question. There is this “cultural tone”, you might say, of violence in a lot of God’s words. What’s that all about? I find that unsavory as well. Of course, if there had been no genocide, and only the second level I wouldn’t mind it as much, but going back to an earlier discussed meme…does it make sense to teach us one way and then turn on a dime and go another way? It would seem if God were leading us toward a non-violent future, God would at least tone down the rhetoric in the meantime.

      And so all these other very interesting scenario’s that Heather mentions would be part of another secondary question…but of course the big first question still looms…

      I like how Heather says…”Are we not, as NT believers, called soldiers and swordbearers more than once? The question isn’t whether or not violence is acceptable..the question is somewhere Else…”

      And that’s the kind of thing I was referring to when I said maybe there is this meandering wisdom – it doesn’t go straight and linear, it curves in strange directions our finite minds have not been able to get to yet – but that as we start to come together more in community, begin to have less violence and more peace, together in our communion we will make breakthroughs and begin to make some of the curves needed to see this wisdom – and that is why I think standing now in the seat of judgement on God and rejecting God is premature – I want to have enough faith and patience for mystery to maybe get around that curve some.

      And I personally believe that the only way to get around that curve is in our coming together. That those we are divided from are the very ones that upon embrace will help us begin to see. And of course, it’s not just emotional/intellectual barriers between us, it’s power, so I’m on the path of trying to find where me and my people have power over others that’s keeping us divided, and do my part to break down that power so we can be equal enough to embrace.

  53. Heather W December 10, 2009 at 4:54 am #

    @Ira –
    Red Herring! Hmph. I will come back to this in a bit and irritate you further 😉

    @Jeff –
    I really like this: “maybe there is this meandering wisdom – it doesn’t go straight and linear, it curves in strange directions our finite minds have not been able to get to yet – but that as we start to come together more in community, begin to have less violence and more peace, together in our communion we will make breakthroughs and begin to make some of the curves needed to see this wisdom…” Really well put 🙂

    @Mike –
    something in this whole thing about accepting that violence is in the script reminds me of this moment from the Silver Chair by CS Lewis in the Narnia series:

    “Do you eat girls?” she said.
    “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
    “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
    “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
    “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
    “There is no other stream,” said the Lion…

  54. Heather W December 10, 2009 at 5:17 am #

    Random other thoughts:

    It’s amazing how many random things you can think of when you read a blog on your cellphone while waiting at a gas station, have an hour’s drive home, and now way to write a reply in the meantime. The thoughts just keep coming…

    So here are two others, just to through into the conversation stream as we consider this topic (forgive me if I’m overburdening the stream here without as many direct replies to your replies, which unfortunately takes considerable more precision and processing than I am going to be able to do before passing out and sleeping tonight…)

    So here are my last two things on the topic for the evening, and I will reply in better form tomorrow I hope –

    The first thing that swam around in my head for a bit (relative to Ira’s more focused point about genocide) was thinking not so much about Joshua’s campaign but rather all the ethnic battles that David fought in… and how David’s battles were seemingly led by, supported by, and endorsed by God. And yet – maybe not completely, or at least maybe there’s a nuance here as to how God sees these things which He Himself seemed to bless, yet also seems to express some disapproval of – “1Ch 28:3 But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou [hast been] a man of war, and hast shed blood.” What is in the mind of this God? 15:3 The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.

    But also on another stream of thought, I considered the verse, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Why would He be feared if He had never done anything frightening?

    G’nite ye blogpals,

  55. Truman December 11, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Probably what’s really going on is God is acting like a complete bastard on purpose, and on judgment day anybody who defended his bullshit gets sent to hell. Everybody who rejected him gets eternal life. But none of them want anything to do with it. “Thanks but no thanks.” But of course God is God so he already accounted for that. Thus the “thanks but no thanks” room is the real heaven; it’s just that nobody there realizes it, otherwise they’d leave.

  56. Mark December 10, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    Hey everybody, I know I’m reading this a year after the fact so maybe nobody will see this. But if so, I’ve just got a question or two.

    I listened to the Brueggemann talks a couple of years ago. He’s one of my favorite authors/speakers. However, the more I’ve thought about his ‘God as a recovering practitioner of violence’, the more I’ve been disturbed (I guess that was his purpose, so that’s fine). I’m o.k. with being disturbed.

    The main thing I’m wanting to ask everybody who was posting here toward the end is do you pray? If so, what do you say to a God who may be capricious, violent, arbitrary, etc.? What do you say, good and bad?

    The other comment I have is that I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s NTPG, JVG, and RSG books. Actually, as he says, ‘as a matter of history’ it does seem to be highly likely that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead. For me, this means atheism is not a viable option. How does everyone feel about this? Have you read these books?

    Also, I ask many of these tough questions that you are asking very regularly but also wonder what moral high ground I can stand on to put God on trial. Is this reasonable?

    Thanks for the discussion!

  57. Mike Morrell December 10, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    Hi Mark,

    I dunno if anyone else reads these, but as the posts author I get email notifications, so here goes:

    Yours is an excellent question that really brings things home: How, and to whom, do we pray (if we pray)? I think that all of us, regardless of what we’ve argued about on here, want to say we’re praying to an unambiguously good God. Even Walter B. would probably affirm this. Now, I think that questioning God’s goodness is one of the deepest struggles of faith for many, especially in contemporary times – I mean, theodicy is a b!tc#, right? But if we’ve settled God’s goodness in our hearts, it seems to me that there are several options to settle this in our heads:

    1.) What Brueggemann and others (notably Jack Miles) seem to be advocating for, at least here: An evolutionary understanding of God. God develops, God grows, God changes. This idea is at the heart of the debate between Greco-Roman Theism and Open (or Process) theology – too much to hash through here. Suffice it to say for these considerations, just because God may have ordered genocide at one point in time (as the text says he did) and prohibits even ethnic judgement at a future time (as Jesus seems to in the later text), one can say that God grows without implying that earlier stages of development were sinful – for God or humanity. To put it another way: Sin, like Covenant, is not a static absolute, but rather a moving target based on increasing spheres of empathy and maturity.

    2.) Another angle to come at this would be to posit a changeless God who nonetheless accommodated himself to immature-but-developing cultural mores. This is difficult to apply in actual practice – when in the text God insists that people wipe out women and children, or (perhaps more disturbing) to save virgins for mating…really? But one can do some comparative analysis with nearby cultures and conclude that God is gradually pushing his chosen people out of the nest of violent ethnocentrism by fully entering into & communicating from that world. Hence John Calvin wrote that ‘crude’ images of God are “often ascribed to him in Scripture, are easily refuted. For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.

    3.) A variation on this theme would be to apply the apostle Paul’s “we see in part, we prophesy in part” to the writings of Scripture itself. When looking for traces of God’s presence and speaking in our lives, “we see through a glass darkly” – a glass colored by our history, culture, and indeed prejudices. So the children of Israel and various biblical redactors ‘heard’ God say some atrocious things that God could not have said if we is the Father of Jesus Christ who loves indiscrimately and forgives enemies. One can in this way read Scripture as a conversation – yea, an argument – with itself over which interpretation of God will prevail: a vision of God-as-power that serves the interests of the already-powerful, or God-as-Love who empties himself and serves the lowly? (Brian McLaren develops this Scripture-as-conversation perspective in his A New Kind of Christianity. This view is appealing in that it posits an all-good, changeless God and let’s God off the hook for any of the unsavory stuff we see in the Old Testament – and presumably, the New as well. But then, critics will assert, Where does this stop? Do we simply edit out everything that makes us uncomfortable? Does this make us better than 21st century Marcionites? But proponents of this perspective would be quick to suggest a New Covenant hermenutic, starting with Jesus’ own “Moses said to you _____, but I say to you…”

    So there we have it. Either 1.) God changes for God’s sake, 2.) God changes for humanity’s sake, or 3.) God is changeless but humanity is increasingly adept at apprehending a fuller revelation of God’s character. To me any of these visions can be held with integrity, and would result in a good God worthy of trust and worship.

    What strikes me, further, is that all of these are valid options, and that all of these are problematic. I think as the Church we ought not micro-manage people’s opinions about these different ways of processing the goodness and character of God; rather, we should be places that can hold all of these images of God in abeyance, as we worship and pray together.

    • Jeff Kursonis December 10, 2010 at 4:45 am #

      I get notices when people reply to this thread, so I was glad to see a new comment by Mark, and the great summary by Mike. This was such a good conversation when it took place last year, and amazingly Mark’s new comment comes one day short of exactly a year ago in December ’09 when it took place. It’s good to go back and read through some of this – thanks Mike for inspiring it!

      • Mark December 11, 2010 at 2:09 am #

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comments. I haven’t read that particular book by McLaren yet but I’m a little bit familiar with that tact. Again, I don’t know how McLaren goes about it, but it seems to me that there is a lot of ‘voices in tension’ in the various texts. I don’t know about a play off of old vs new testament though if that’s what he’s doing.

        Thanks for the thoughts on prayer. I’m very interested in thinking and talking about that aspect more because these hard questions about God tend to cause paralysis in me, not least in prayer. I kind of don’t know what to say sometimes.

        I am part of a fairly conservative church (that actually is having a positive impact in the world), but there are a pretty good handful of people in it who are interested in wrestling with difficult questions which definitely helps.

        I think also one of the hardest things for me is learning to love, respect, and work along side brothers and sisters who have not come to a place where they’re able to ask difficult questions or that think things are simple and think that the main point of church is to figure out what we need to do to ‘get to heaven’ and get other to do that too. I can easily fall into an arrogance that says I am better than these people and actually don’t need them.

        And yes, theodicy is a b!t(h!

        Anyone have any comments about how the historical question of the resurrection of Jesus relates to this discussion?


  58. Kimberly July 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm #


    I do love me some process theology! A great, thought-provoking piece. Some really good questions too, well some of them 😉 I really like this response you offered to one of your readers a while back…

    “So there we have it. Either 1.) God changes for God’s sake, 2.) God changes for humanity’s sake, or 3.) God is changeless but humanity is increasingly adept at apprehending a fuller revelation of God’s character. To me any of these visions can be held with integrity, and would result in a good God worthy of trust and worship.”

    • zoecarnate July 24, 2012 at 12:27 am #

      Some of them?! Wha – ? 🙂 What are the least-good-questions, I’m curious.

  59. Roger Wolsey July 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I don’t think of God as “static,” but I don’t think that God “used to be violent but has since repented.” Rather, God isn’t violent at all, and yet some of God’s people (including the ancient Hebrews) have engaged in violence and then justified it after the fact via saying that God told them to do it.

    As you can tell, I don’t take all of the Bible literally. That doesn’t mean that I don’t respect it and grant it authority. Part of why I value the Bible is seeing how God can work through it in spite of the very human waywardness that we’ve written into it.

  60. John Stonecypher (aka, ShackBibleGuy) July 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Is it possible for genocide to be an expression of Love? Like quarantining a city infected with the Plague–condemning its innocent inhabitants to death in order to save the rest of the world? Could Canaan have become so rancid and cancerous that God’s love for the world demanded the wholesale annihilation of their whole civilization? If so, might the same God ever issue the same command today? Would you, in the light of Christ, obey such a command?

    For the record, I don’t have answers to the above questions.

    • Roger Wolsey July 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

      Nineveh was that bad – but they repented. I refuse to write off any of God’s children.

  61. Travis July 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    (VIDEO) Walter talking about this very subject…

    • zoecarnate July 24, 2012 at 12:25 am #

      Right on, Travis. Thanks!

  62. Elizabeth Chapin July 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    I missed this post back in 2009. I’m not going to offer a deep theological reflection as so many already have, but I was interested in the post because of the image of Jesus with a gun. In a youth group I led, I asked students to draw something that represented their image of God. The most artistic of the bunch sketched a peace-loving-hippie Jesus holding a gun. When asked why he imagined that, he said, “Because it’s like Jesus has a gun but he refuses to use it.”

    • John Stonecypher (aka, ShackBibleGuy) July 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      >>”it’s like Jesus has a gun
      >>but he refuses to use it.”

      I like that. It has occurred to me that if anybody has the “right” to kill people, it’s God. I think what Brueggemann is observing is that our Scriptures depict a God who used to exercise that right, but doesn’t anymore.

      • zoecarnate July 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

        I like it too, Elizabeth!

  63. bruce sanguin July 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Hey Mike,

    I’m you aren’t able to keep up with this thread, but thought I’d add my 2 cents. First, thanks for being willing to stir it up. Good on ya.

    I suspect that the reason that you’ve stirred up so many emotions here relates to biblical authority. The Biblical literalism/inerrancy camp must contend with the fact that in scripture, God does evolve from a practitioner and sanctioner of terrible violence to the non-violence portrayed in the NT in Jesus and the disciples.

    I’m not a process theologian, like Tripp, but I do know that these folks differentiate between the primordial nature and the consequent nature of G_d. The consequent nature of G_d evolves, in loving, empathic attunement with creation, including humans. That makes sense to me.

    As an evolutionary theologian, I contend that G_d’s consequent nature (active in history) must deal with humans as they are in the evolutionary wave of development. So, for me, scripture is an account of the evolution of perspective/consciousness and culture—of the Mind and Heart of G_d honouring our development of our biological inheritance toward a species capable of consciously manifesting the divine mind and heart (and in a way that transcends, but includes our instinctual inheritance).

    Humans naturally and inevitably interpret the nature and activity of G_d according to their own structure of consciousness and worldview. If that is a tribal or a warrior consciousness, G_d obviously will be a Great Chief or the Strongest Warrior (and this is, in fact, how G_d is portrayed in much of the collection of writings we call the Bible).

    But G_d also functions as the allurement of Love inviting, persuasively (to use Whitehead’s term), to take our next best step in and toward the divine project of manifesting and completing G_d’s dream for creation. As Christians we look to Jesus for what that looks like in the relative world of becoming. As our consciousness and worldview expands, by responding to this allurement of love, beauty, truth, and goodness, deeper dimensions of G_d’s nature are revealed to us.

    It seems to me that scripture is, in part, a record of our evolving capacity to know and reflect the Mind and Heart of G_d. But I am persuaded, with Paul, that creation is advancing and a new humanity (new creation) is always in the process of emerging.

    • John Stonecypher (aka, ShackBibleGuy) July 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

      I find my own thinking moving in similar directions, Bruce. The way the Bible implicates God in genocide–it is similar to the way God is implicated in all the “bad” things that happen in the development of life on our planet. When I see predation and disease and starvation–all very natural and effective means of natural selection–I sometimes wonder: “What kind of God would make a world like this?” Whatever the answer is, it’s the same kind of God that would make a world where tribes get genocidal on each other’s asses. It makes clear our difficulty in *trusting* this God who has presented himself to us, and who has little interest in defending himself against our accusations.

    • zoecarnate July 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

      Wow, Bruce – well said! I love it.

      And I’m curious: Where do you part ways with Process Theology?

      • bruce sanguin July 23, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

        It’s not that I part ways with process theology so much as I haven’t actually read a ton of process. It wasn’t a big influencer in my life. But much of it I resonate with…and I know enough to know that there are many different expressions of process.

        Having said that, my hunch is that process folk are more than a little suspicious of the assumption that “culture/consciousness/systems” are not just developing but biased toward an increase in goodness, truth, beauty, love, freedom. I’d have to ask Tripp about this. There is an in-bred suspicion in postmodernity of anything that hints of hierarchy, and often an unwillingness to distinguish between dominator hierarchies (bad) and natural hierarchies (the way of evolution).

        Koestler called the latter holarchies, atoms are wholes in themselves, but parts of a larger whole called a molecule, all the way up and all the way down, on the inside (consciousness and worldviews), and on the outside (the physical realm). But notions of development elicit the liberal “myth of progress”, understandably, along with social Darwinism, etc. I once had lunch with John Cobb, who was convinced that we had devolved as a species and maybe we’d be better off returning to an earlier time. I disagreed with him then, and now, but I can appreciate his sense of disillusionment.

        I think that it is possible to empirically support the notion of actual progress, and ground this in a credible theology. See, for example, Steve McIntosh’s great new book, Evolution’s Purpose, or Carter Phipp’s excellent new book, Evolutionaries.

        But, as I say, most the so-called called “progressive” Christian community , ironically, don’t actually believe in progress, and have a strong reaction whenever I mention it. It’s a strange kind of prison, though, claiming to be strongly for the progress of civilization, but seeing no actual support for it in the evolutionary process itself, or in G_d, who is not allowed to intervene supernaturally in any way, shape, or form.

        G_d can’t do anything, and there is no natural impulse built into the universe to develop/progress, so we’re basically hooped. It’s as though we need to heroically pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but we’re very cynical about have the collective will to do that. We don’t even have the default position of having our fallen nature redeemed by the blood of Christ, because the atonement is a non-starter.

        So where does that leave the progressive Christian? Anyway, I’ve taken to developing an evolutionary theology, that assumes G_d to be found within a sacred impulse to realize deeper and broader expressions of love, justice, freedom, etc.

        Thanks for your work.

        • Jesus Benyosef July 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

          My current intuition on this is that a lot of these issues unravel themselves as we learn to grasp “time” differently. The model of time as a one-way line is less and less credible in the physics community these days. When we can start talking about things like “backwards causality” (Wheeler, Feynman, Cramer, etc), we can start taking the Holy Spirit seriously, particularly her penchant for affecting the present/past from the Future.

          • bruce sanguin July 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

            I like that a lot. John Haught has some interesting things to say about future causality.

          • Jesus Benyosef July 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

            John Haught does good stuff. I’ve also appreciated Leron Shults’ work in this area.

  64. Roger Wolsey July 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    Again, IMO, no.
    However, according to the, non-canonical, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, as a child, Jesus killed birds and resurrected them. : P

    • bruce sanguin July 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks Roger,

      Well, I don’t have any problem seeing Jesus as having to evolve through all the waves of human development en route to manifesting the fullness of the divine heart and mind. I killed frogs and gophers growing up, and then stopped. Jesus evolved.

      • John Stonecypher (aka, ShackBibleGuy) July 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

        God incarnated himself within the continually-evolving population we call Homo sapiens. To not evolve (e.g., ‘growing in wisdom and statute in the eyes of God and men’) would be to not be fully human.

        I also notice Jesus never repented of his carnivorism. 😉

  65. Joanne K McPortland July 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Your #3 vision in response to a commenter above, Mike, is one I’m most comfortable with: that God does not change, but our understanding of the revelation of God does deepen and change. That #3 is quite in line with traditional Catholic theology, too. One can profess that revelation is unchanging without having to say my understanding–all our understanding–of that revelation cannot deepen. But that’s not to say that your visions #1 and #2—that God changes, either for God’s sake or for ours—are offensive, either to me or to God. We are always speaking in analogies in any case. Rather than being a prideful stance, as some commenters above have accused, I think it’s actually humble to admit our minds and our language aren’t capacious or stretchy enough to accommodate God without sometimes using analogies that shock—God as the husband of a harlot, God as a baby in a manger, God as a criminal on a cross . . . God as a recovering practitioner of violence.

    • zoecarnate July 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      Wow, Joanne. Thanks for reminding us of these other shockingly powerful images, that show up in the pages of Holy Writ itself.

    • Jesus Benyosef July 23, 2012 at 4:49 pm #


  66. Joel Stephens July 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    LOVE what you wrote here:
    ” I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God, within God. And that we recognize this unfolding, and respond to it, and even initiate its furtherance of it, on a deep, nourishing level when we learn to trust the God Who Is – as opposed to the fantasy God whom we fondly wish Would Be. This path is more difficult – but this is real trust.”

    Makes me think of John 17:3, that eternal life is knowing the Father and His Son, and what Paul wrote about forsaking everything just to “know”. But that journey is, as you say, one of real trust, where we have to throw out the programs and the rituals (though I have some rituals I love!) and just rest, sometimes speaking, sometimes being silent, but always resting. Not the rest of sleep or inaction, but the kind of rest that knows who He is, and in knowing His character and nature, knowing Whose we are—sons and daughters meant for a glorious existence.

    • zoecarnate July 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Beautiful, Joel. And I have some rituals I love too. I don’t think Jesus minds. 🙂

  67. Jesus Benyosef July 23, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    In the context of this question (and so many others), all I can do sometimes is cry “My God, why have you forsaken me?” God is my Father and I know he is good and wonderful and trustworthy. I know there is not one iota of darkness in him, or in the life he shares with us in the Spirit. But MAN, he has created something that produces such horrors, and he indicates zero interest in persuading us to let him off the hook for any of it (See Job for details).

    I feel like I, of all people, should be able to give ya’ll a neat answer for this. But your confusion is also mine. But good news: My faith is also yours.

    • zoecarnate July 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      That You wrestle with this too, Jesus, is of great comfort to me. I will join with your mate Paul from Turkey who says he lives by Your faith!

    • John Stonecypher (aka, ShackBibleGuy) July 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Thank you Jesus for validating my confundity

  68. Mary July 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    thanks for posting this again… it never gets old to be stretched… eh?
    The “violent” aspect of God has never been an issue for me because I’m not that literal in my scriptural stance. On board with the thoughts of Kimberly & Roger. I see the world/universe God made (& is the prime aspect of) as too dynamic to classify as violent or even classify at all. I also don’t see any problem with God changing as in God is continually becoming. So, his creation is taking after its creator and continually becoming.
    I learned something profound during Lent this year when contemplating atonement and Jesus’ sacrifice. Christ magnified the “Father’ in his crucifixion because the Creator manifested all that is from all that the Creator is. Finally the creation was ready to see that magnified in the broken, the opposite of “consumer militarism” – Jesus completely magnified God for us to find our eyes. This was epiphany-like for me.
    Why would I judge events that happen in this world as violent, not worthy of God, not good, “created something that produces such horrors” as the final word, when creation is continually unfolding? I understand why we are confused by things we perceive as violent but comprehending G-d is not a requirement to love & find peace in Him (& all that is), …what I think our friend Jesus B. was getting at, above.
    long-winded but thanks for the opportunity to think

  69. Kevin Perez July 24, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    Re: “19 […] there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it.” I suppose this must be a true statement for a world in which religion, specifically Judeo-Christian religion, is the only means by which people engage the Spirit. It feels just as shallow as prideful responses to completely rational criticism of what is clearly a culture of “hero worship and winning at any cost” as NCAA president Mark Emmert put it yesterday in his description of sanctions against the Penn State football program. Is the institutional church really any different?

  70. Johnboy July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    It does seem to me that there has always been enough evidence to INDICT God, implicating Him in violence based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” but that there has never been enough evidence to CONVICT God, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    The vast majority of humankind, not exactly a jury of God’s peers (one take-away from the Book of Job?), has thus prudently (in my view) acquitted God. In doing so, we have not really declared Her guilty or not guilty, but have rendered, instead, the Scottish verdict, “not proven,” which some (such as those who’d call God a recovering practitioner of violence?) have translated as “not guilty and don’t do it again!”

    Why this doubt (regarding God’s “guilt”)? Is it reasonable?

    Well, even as we properly resist the urge to claim absolute certainty (mystery will remain), at the same time, it’s not like reality has provided us no clues whatsoever?

    Indeed, down through the ages, the philosophers, poets and prophets have provided enough clues to thus acquit God, fallibly of course. (For a concise and accessible inventory of these clues, see Peter Kreeft’s _Making Sense Out of Suffering_, Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1986). From an epistemic angle, while science correctly observes the emergence of meaning from matter, human philosophy, culture and religion, through time-honored tradition, have found it – not only evidentially plausible, but – existentially actionable for us to live our lives as if matter first emerged from meaning (without denying that matter has subsequently returned the favor, albeit on a lesser scale). The relational angle then asks: “To Whom (else) shall we go?” And we answer by living in truth, beauty, goodness and love, mystery perduring and our doubts and sufferings notwithstanding. So, the existential or performative significance of the clues provided by the philosophers, poets, prophets and people of God (simply) comes from placing suffering in the context of ultimate meaning rather than vice versa. For many of us, these clues have converged -even if to a limited extent, as a fallible as a case holding – to a greater extent, in the person of Jesus and they have been further authenticated in the community of His followers and by the Spirit, wherever love is found. (For an engaging and immediately relevant account of such authentications, see Ronda De Sola Chervin’s _Saints for Every Kind of Suffering_, Servant Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1994).

    Some theodicy problems (If there’s an all knowing, all good and all powerful God, why is there, also, evil and suffering?) have arisen in the context of general revelation or from a natural theology (mis)informed by metaphysics. Others have presented in the context of special revelation vis a vis the scriptures and
    traditions of the world’s religions. Some of these problems are pseudo-problems, such as might derive from attempts to prove too much from metaphysics, where general revelation is concerned, or such as might result from poor scriptural exegesis, where special revelation is concerned. Historically, then, much of the discussion regarding the problem of evil has been poorly framed.

    While I believe there are ways to frame the issue in a manner that is both philosophically rigorous and theologically meaningful, being neither a philosopher nor a theologian, I’m not sure how to best articulate the problem. My heart resonates, though, with such questions as those you have raised in the context of various theologies of nature, which are launched from poetic vantage points already positioned within the faith (unlike natural theology, which is mere philosophy and, too often, poor philosophy).

    In summary, I am willing to say that common sense suggests that reality is far too ambiguous for us and far too ambivalent toward us for us to draw any coercively compelling conclusions regarding the precise nature (e.g. friendly or unfriendly?) of its origins. I’m not sure one could get more philosophically rigorous than that, anyway, although I’ve seen some attempts that, in my view, say way more than we could possibly know. The most theologically meaningful attempts that I’ve seen do not aspire to be exhaustively informative (epistemic angle), as they wisely resist the urge to tell untellable stories, but approach the problem of suffering and evil in a way that is robustly performative (relational angle), as they turn our focus to a new question: “What are WE going to do about it?”

  71. Robert July 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    I have not been engaged in these kind of theological discussions before, so I am intrigued and also a little bewildered. My first impression is that most of the viewpoints expressed by references in Mike’s article stem from a scenario that goes like this: Christian ministers all woke up one day from a deep sleep and discovered their bible, God Image and ministry are all lies. But they are ministers and somehow they have to keep ministering, what else is there to do. Sell cars? After all, they were on a mission. Maybe they can fix bible, God Image and ministry so they can have faith again. But it is difficult. The more they try, the more diffuse the mission becomes. Once they were happy beating people over the head with guilt to “save them”, but that didn’t work too well … all those people with lumps on their heads started beating each other up with guilt. Then somebody ducked, got clear headed, and began to ask why we are doing this. So now we ministers are revisiting the value and definition of “saving them”. We can’t agree on anything except that the old hen don’t fly, maybe it never did, but it ain’t never gonna no more, but we’re still ministers of something who have to minister something, so we better come up with something. Some are on the verge of freaking out from the shock of learning they have been deceived all these years and so are reacting with satire and wit in order to do something, anything but nothing, even if it is confusing and destructive. Others seem to be quickly and desperately trying to sew patch quilts on a blanket that seems to always be unraveling with no end in sight … except, as many fear, the end of Christianity in any remotely recognizable form. But Christ can’t die; he already did. Or did he? And so the argument goes back and forth, each side treading on the others’ sacred cows. There are now schools of treading. We are all stuck in fight or flight mode, carrying theological Jedi swords. Lock and load. Maybe this is theological Armageddon, where a conqueror comes back to save the day, but in a form we didn’t expect. Sound familiar? Are we the 21 century Pharisees and Sadducees being visited by something special but we don’t know what it is? The next wave of redemption. Maybe learning to do nothing is the answer. Be still and know IAM. But its so darn hard to sit still. If I can master just that, I will enter in. But it is a habit and entertaining hobby to keep focusing on saving the unraveling blanket.

    • Jesus Benyosef July 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      What I see going on is merely the process of ongoing repentance/re-thinking. I am learning to not begrudge the process. The Pharisees are just the ones who think their process is done.

  72. Kevin Perez July 25, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Hello Mike. “Is God a recovering [addict]?” Yes. God is involved and engaged in the healing of broken and suffering people and their relationships. It often happens that a brutally honest confession of a recovering addict is the spark that opens hearts and changes lives.


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