Then, Let Me Make an Atheist or Two

August 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink


Jeff, you’ve responded with ridicule. Allow me to do the same, not because I feel contempt for you, but because we are men, we have minds, we think, and we speak. Let’s respect each other enough for that.

If this is what makes atheists and agnostics, then allow me to make some more atheists and agnostics. For too long the church has been filled with cultural Christians who belong to a country-club community, not followers of Christ who know who their God is. There has been a considerable amount of hot air spent considering what it is that is causing Millenials (among others) to leave the church. Let me propose one more reason: so many of them never believed in the God of the Bible to begin with, and as soon as they come into contact with Him, they flee in disgust. Frankly, they are welcome to flee, not because I despise them and want them out of my church, but because it is honest, and it affords me an honest opportunity to talk about who this God really is. When we relate truthfully, then my opportunity to love them is only greater. So let them become atheists and agnostics.

Perhaps, after all, today’s church is not so unlike the mob in Jerusalem, one week welcoming their coming king, the next calling out for his death, when they see he is not what they wanted. Jesus died so that those, too, could see salvation, but let’s not pretend they were ever following Christ truly.

But that only leads me back to the beginning dispute, the issue of the grand injustice of the genocide of the Amalekites in I Samuel. Frankly, I’m astonished that people get their underpants so twisted about this particular passage. It seems like such a minor incident, at least against the range of Biblical smitings. Allow me to make an argument from the greater to the lesser. This incident is a “lesser.”

Surely we’re all familiar with the flood of Noah. If the Amalekite genocide is unjust for being too broad, the God of the flood makes the God of I Samuel look like a infant throwing a tantrum. Why is this not argued? Or, let’s consider when God threatened to wipe out Israel (Ex. 32). God seems to believe this would be just. Would it have been so? (Though God did not actually wipe them out here, the question is of legitimate significance for assessing the justness of God.)

Honestly, the Amalekites are a people who have tried to wipe out the Israelites, they have remained opposed to God’s plan to bless the nations (which would ironically, include the Amalekites), they are a culture steeped in brutality, and now, above all the examples of in the Old Testament, we shall single them out as the paradigm case of the injustice of God, even when they’re given a chance to repent and escape? Really? (Where is SNL’s Weekend Update when you need ’em?)

Granted, I recall an argument that this was no legitimate opportunity to escape. I quote, “Also we’re not just talking about a country club membership. We’re talking about clan and family ties in the ancient near east. Giving someone an ultimatum of leaving their clan or being killed by yours is the same as not giving them a choice at all. Maybe 1 in 1000 people would take that offer.”

I see your argument, and I’ll raise you this: Isn’t that exactly what Jesus asked of his followers? As we read in Matthew 10, we must love Jesus more than our father or mother. And this isn’t just, well, we love our parents a lot, but we love Jesus even more (!!!), no this is a radical love that makes love for our parents look like nothing at all, indeed like hate (Luke 14:26). Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword, to turn a man against is father and a woman against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, so that a man’s enemies will be in his own house. We think it radical that God would require someone to sever their ties to clan and kin? That this is the cost of salvation? Perhaps we are surprised because we have neglected to read enough of the New Testament, where soft, fuzzy Jesus bids us be happy and warm. You say that I Samuel can make an atheist? Then watch Jesus make an atheist, I say.

But let us raise the stakes higher still. God’s justice has been impugned? Let me add fuel to the fire.

In the first book of the Bible, in the first family, where, if anywhere, the earth was least corrupted, where oppression had not yet had a chance to be institutionalized, where the politicians, the mob, the petty criminals, the slave traders and the sex traffickers had never existed, when language did not even have words for such things, there we see our first murder. When Cain killed Abel, God spoke true: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Blood called for blood. Please consider, who, in all of creation has deserved to die more than Cain, who acted against reason, without all of the typical environmental influences we might consider to be mitigating in today’s world of school shootings and drug-addled neighborhoods? Who has killed for less reason? Cain, when disapproved of by God, rather took out his anger at God on the undeserving Abel, who had done him no wrong. Here, I say, we see injustice.

Then, when we get to the New Testament, we see the one being in all the universe who ever did not deserve to die, who alone embodied innocence, whose very righteousness—not unlike Abel’s—arouses the hatred and jealousy of his enemies. It seems ironic: were he less righteous, he would not have had such enemies. But instead here he is, more innocent than any of the Amalekites, for sure, and it is God who crushes him. Nay, here we see God Almighty, creator of all the universe, the cosmic sadist—He was pleased to crush him! You want injustice? I have found a God who is unjust, a God who lets the guilty free and punishes the innocent, who unleashes the full torrent of his own wrath on his own innocent son, but protects the life the first murderer. Am I afraid that the story of the Amalekites will make an atheist? No, but I am afraid that the story of God just might make a few.

Indeed, this is a God who makes a mockery of justice, and I worship him for it.

I acknowledge that I have not addressed every argument made in the facebook comment. Rather, I’ve attempted to set the character of God in a deeper context. The event with the Amalekites is no minor thing. It is vast, difficult, and problematic. I will not pretend otherwise. But I do believe it is in the Bible, and I believe God meant it to be there. It is there primarily to glorify God—to reveal Him to us, so that we may know Him as He really is. He is not (as C.S. Lewis said) a “safe” God. Not all will love Him when they see Him as He is. It is not mine to cause love; I only hope to present Him as He is, as He has presented Himself.

I hope that we have not lost too many teeth in this discussion, but I think we both agree that some things are more important than a few teeth. Jesus, and knowing Him as He is, is more important than that to both of us, or we would not be throwing our fists about so.


My First Sermon

August 7th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Ezekiel 36

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