Quote for the Day

Is God violent? Nearly all religions—and certainly all monotheistic religions—seem at times hell-bent on inspiring people to kill each other, making atheism sometimes seem a more ethical alternative to conventional violence-prone belief. So we ask: Why does God seem so violent and genocidal in many Bible passages? Does God play favorites? Does God choose some and reject others? Does God sanction elitism, prejudice, violence, or even genocide? Is God incurably violent and is faith capable of becoming a stronger force for peace and reconciliation than it has been for violence in the past?

— Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions
That Are Transforming the Faith

In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Simplicity and Silence
Concerning Sheep, Goats, and the Unconditional Love of God
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    What a delicious quote :)

  • Kate


  • Don

    If we believe God to be all-loving, in order for God to be violent, violence would have to be an aspect of love. But if violence is defined as verbal or physical force against another with the intent to inflict harm, then this can’t be so. Believers in God sometimes mistakenly attribute violence to God, and sometimes do so in order to justify their own violence. But it seems to me that if God can be violent, then either God is not all-loving or love includes inflicting intentional pain on another. Neither conclusion is in line with a Christian definition of God.

  • Gary Snead

    The wrath of God is no lie. God willingly proclaims it and demonstrates the effects of that wrath – destruction, death. This is not capricious, arbitrary or harm of innocents. The Biblical story clearly describes the recipients of that wrath as experiencing the natural consequences of their own choices, which led to turning their backs on God, going their own way, sinning against Him and against each other. The consequence of sin is death, and sometimes there is pain on the way to death.
    There are times when people suffer and die and God does not claim that as a consequence of sin but as something that just happened. Like when the tower fell and Jesus just used it as an illustration that we don’t always have all the time we plan to have, each moment gives us the chance to believe Him or to not believe. The story also shows how humans who say they follow God can claim that wrathful power for themselves and harm others. That, too is sin. God does not try to inspire us to destroy each other, although some people were used at times to, under God’s direction, express His wrath. We do capriciously, arbitrarily try out our wrath and call it God’s.
    I think a clear example of God’s expectation of righteous control of our wrath, of not harming others, is when David snuck up on Saul as he relieved himself in the cave, and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe instead of killing him, out of deference for Saul as king appointed by God. If we each realized we each are created by God and thus appointed by God to be here (we are sacred by His grace), we would, hopefully, be less likely to exercise our wrath on one another.
    God loves us and wants us to love each other. He loves us enough to take only the love we give of our free will. Releasing us to free will is love; inflicting control on us so we never could choose to love, but just had to love, is I think even more cruel; it inflicts more spiritual, emotional, mental, and eventually physical pain and a hope for a death that fully ends existence. Pain is an alarm, and can save, redirect, reawaken someone; pain is not always bad.
    As a physician I sometimes inflict pain on others, to open an infected sore so it drains, to give a vaccination or intravenous fluids or medicine, to destroy part of a nail bed on an ingrown toenail, to kill a wart, to adjust a tight vertebrae or muscle. I feel called to be an osteopathic physician, it is my vocation, not just a job. I have compassion and sometimes strong empathy for those in pain, inflicted or not. If I had no love for them, I’d likely not bother to do any of the above, or I’d do it for enough money, praise, worldly power, all stuff that disintegrates in eternity.
    I love you who post here for having the courage and concern that guides you to speak up. I love those that come and read. I love those who don’t know this is here. Still, sometimes what I say may feel hurtful to someone else, although I don’t want it to hurt. We can help each other learn in our hurts and perhaps help each other heal with the help of the Great Physician.

  • Gary Snead

    I heard in a sermon at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Lansing, MI, several years ago, like 20 or so, about a butcher. He retired and found a young man to replace him. The young man was physically and mentally skilled as a butcher. The townspeople tolerated him. But he could tell there was something he wasn’t doing, and he tried to figure it out. Finally, a town elder explained: Every day the butcher would prepare the meat like you now do, every day he would sell the meat at a fair price, like you do, and was friendly and cheerful to all the customers, like you are to everyone. Every night he would sit on his porch with his knives, like you do, and sharpen them, like you do, on his stone. But he wet the stone with his own tears, not with well water like you do. We knew his heart, you have yet to show us yours.

  • http://cometobeasyoupassaway.blogspot.com Tomasis Marie

    Hope you are feeling better Carl. I for one would love to know how the author responds to his investigation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Gary, you raise a number of important points, and I certainly don’t claim to have much in the way of definitive knowledge on this contentious issue. But I find a few more questions bubbling up in me as I read your first comment. If some people engaging in acts of war or violence are doing the will of God by carrying out his sovereign wrath, but others are merely acting out their own sin, how do we tell the difference? Do we merely trust that, in the end, history will judge fairly? Must we assume that the consensus of the entire Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim communities will be able to sort out the wrath-carrier-outers from the sinners? Or, dare we consider that God’s judgment on the violence carried out in God’s name may best be spoken to us not by the consensus of the community of faith, but by the consensus of the global community? But if we insist that only Christians can judge the behavior of Christians, only Jews can judge the behavior of Jews, etc., then who will give voice to those who have been oppressed by the sins of the Christians, Jews, etc.? Or… especially in regard to Biblical accounts of the wrath of God: is this a case where history is written by the winners? If we believe this, isn’t that just another example of “might makes right”, and is that truly a Gospel value?

    I know this cuts straight to the heart of how we approach the Bible, what we understand the Bible’s overarching narrative to be (if there is one), and how we relate the Biblical record to the geopolitical realities of our day. McLaren takes on those issues in his book as well. I’ve just begun the book, so I can’t say whether or to what extent, I agree with him. But I do think these are the kinds of questions we need to be asking.

  • http://www.librarything.com/catalog/theophila elizabeth

    “the Scriptures speak chiefly under three heads; first, when they call men just as they are, that is to say, living, rational, mortal; but secondly, above what they are, when they call us gods ; and thirdly, below what they are, when they call us reptiles and worms and dust, and wolves, and foxes; but God is only named in two ways, either as He is, as I AM THAT I AM, or as Father and Son and Spirit, or below that which He is, as fire, or as being angry or in a rage, or that He repented, or that He was a lion, etc.”
    Isho’dad of Merv (Bishop of Hadatha of Assyria) c. 850
    tr. Margaret Dunlop Gibson

  • Gary Snead

    Thanks for your comments Carl, elizabeth and Tomasis. I tried not to claim any judgment we could bring forth for current actions. I tried not to project to today, or any time after the time within scripture (aside from prophesies) even the opportunity for any of us to claim to be the actor of God’s righteous wrath. I did try to raise the struggle, as you mentioned Carl, about approaching Scripture. It is, it has been written, it has been reviewed, discussed, voted into the current canon. There are words there about God and His wrath. I’m not real sure what to do with that, but there they are.
    I think the whole argument based on ‘the story or the history is written by winners’ is a separate journey in that it seems to be used a lot but just to devalue, and there is too much to discuss about it to tie up this.
    To use the Bishop’s picture elizabeth gave us, the heart I see is to live as we are, being with God to get above who we are, seeing others always first as above who they are to the world, keeping God as I Am, as Father Son Spirit. The basic milk of spiritual life is a bit of understanding of and faith in God that comes from squeezing God into less than who He fully is by using comparators or analogies or word pictures or parables as ways to know Him. That is what He did, especially as Jesus, to help us know Him and the Father and to prepare us to recognize the Spirit. But the goal is, as Paul said, to get on to the meat, we strive to get there and He covers us in His grace and mercy in that struggle.

  • Don

    Gary, I just can’t agree with your interpretation of God’s action, especially using Scripture as the basis for “God’s wrath”. I think the biggest problem you have with your contention that God “willingly proclaims it and demonstrates the effect of that wrath”. You claim that it is not capricious, and yet, it would have to be capricious unless everyone deserving God’s wrath was, indeed, punished. Otherwise, God could not be called “just”. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that while the prophets of the first covenant often proclaimed God’s righteous wrath, Jesus proclaimed the mercy of God. I think sometimes we confuse natural consequences with some “punishment” or wrathful vengeance of God. And, just in case you were going to assert that God’s wrath is not capricious because we cannot know the mind of God, that seems to me to be an argument that is rather weak. I just do not beleive that God EVER wishes ill for people, or metes out punishment in this world. Wasn’t that one of the biggest problems that the Sadducees had with Jesus? It seems to me that that thinking leads to all sorts of problems – very much a Pat Robertson mentality that would assert, for example, that the people of Haiti were being punished for consorting with the devil. Thoughts?

  • Gary Snead

    I begin with the view that the scriptures are God’s word, inspired by God, a window into God’s mind because He wants us to know Him, so they are God speaking to us. Without entering the arguments about how much or how little influence have individuals, groups, cultures, previous myths or histories had on what is in the scriptures, I think it is solid to say God’s voice, character, intent on how He wants to interact with people and have people interact with God comes through the words in the scriptures. I defer to what I consider the prayer filled work of whoever the original writers were, the compilers, the members of the councils who chose what we now call the Bible.
    I don’t presume to know all the meanings of the words or all of God’s intentions within the words. I am simply trying to point out that I see words of God’s wrath there. After that, you’re right, we need to check what that means relative to other parts of the scriptures.
    ‘proclaims and demonstrates’ – again, simply that the wrath is stated, linked with significant destructive consequences, and there is no apparent effort to hide it, and my thought is God willingly lets it be there for many, including us, to gnaw on and wonder at.
    ‘not capricious’ – I think it does not require an all-or-nothing environment, not because we can’t know the mind of God, although we can’t fully know it, but because I read the actions as not a whim, not ‘just because’ or ‘I need to be entertained at people’s expense’, like Satan I think is portrayed in Job, but stated within scripture as specific, planned; when some tried to do it (wrathful actions, revenge, etc.) on their own, God called them out and said no, that’s not your job, and then with Jesus used that behavior against such ‘self-righteous’ people, which could be any of us at times, to clearly point out we are to be covered in mercy so we do not all suffer the just consequences of our sins, because as the just God judges He sees Jesus, not us, and we are blessed with grace, receiving what we cannot earn.
    As mentioned in the story about the people who died when a tower fell and Jesus said not to worry about it as some sign of judgment, I’m not trying to just label natural events as God’s judgment. Here I’ll even go so far as to say we probably should never claim such powerful spiritual discernment, particularly to separate people from God. As Paul admonished about speaking in tongues, if it doesn’t edify the body, keep it to yourself. I’m trying hard to stay away from the path that Pat Robertson took.
    About God never wishing ill, I agree. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem comes to mind.
    I’ll defer to you about the Sadducees. I am not up on which group had which specific problem with Jesus.
    A gentle Christian radio personality, I think of KeyLife ministry, reminds me we all are beggars showing other beggars how to find bread, the Bread of Life. Of course, I then think of the paradox that by proclaiming my intent to be humble I am perhaps being prideful.
    I look forward to begging with you, Don.

  • Don

    Gary – if nothing else, I am grateful for your insights and your openness. It is an honor to be a beggar alongside you. God bless you.

  • Infinite Warrior

    The wrath of God is no lie…. The Biblical story clearly describes the recipients of that wrath as experiencing the natural consequences of their own choices.

    I have to admit, you lost me a little there, too. Is it “God’s wrath” or the natural consequences of our own choices?

    Hefty word, “own”. In fact, the two implications of it that immediately pop to mind are the illusory “self” and “possession” in the sense of “possessiveness”. That may, in fact, shed some light on the subject for us.

    It’s nice to see someone in the church has asked the question, “Is God violent?” I hope it eventually resonates throughout all of “Christendom” as I find myself drawn to Kate’s answer on the subject. Aside from the ‘Christianity has something no other religion has’ claim contained in the video linked a few posts hence (and this is, of course, not a sentiment confined to Christianity), Fr. Barron’s comments do contain a reiteration of the most important conclusion at which Christianity ever has arrived, imho: that “God is Love”. Not does love, but is Love. There’s another that has made it at least as far as bumper stickers as I recall: “God is Life”.

    the members of the councils who chose what we now call the Bible…

    {Deep breath.}

    Christians have their own language. For example, Christians don’t gossip, they “share” and if they really want to get nasty about it, they share “in love”. You know, I always get worried when someone says to me, “I want to tell you this “in love”, because if the next thing someone is going to do to me is love me, if they do it, I’ll know that they did it, and if they don’t do it, I’ll know that they didn’t, too. ~ Mike Warnke

    :) The following is not addressed to you, Gary, nor anyone in particular, but is a heart-felt criticism of those very councils that I feel strongly compelled to put out there and hope it’s taken in the spirit intended.

    Some members of the councils who chose the texts that comprise what we now call the Bible obviously had their own, crystal clear agenda. It is not my intention to upset anyone here, but if Christianity is ever to lose its unfortunate connection to the Roman Empire and this characterization of God as, frankly, Zeus, it disturbs me deeply that members of the church are so willing to “defer” to the decisions these councils made as if the men who held them were being “prayerfully” democratic. They weren’t. At least, not entirely. And the ongoing discovery of forcibly suppressed texts bears continuous witness to the fact.

    Those councils were knowingly and unknowingly being as Authoritarian as Authoritarian gets, which is precisely why I strongly feel Christianity is experiencing the “natural consequences” of those actions to this day and will continue to experience them as long as members of the church are unwilling to engage in their own prayerful questioning of such institutional “authority”.

    I don’t wish to imply that these councils had some entirely nefarious conspiracy in mind, but the simple fact is that even the choice to turn those texts into an overarching story has obscured their more “mystical” teachings on subjects as important as the nature of time itself.

    Someone once characterized the Christian arm of the emergent movement as “a burgeoning Johannine Christianity”. I hope he was right because the Pauline Church is sitting on a foundation that desperately needs to be dug up and retrofitted, imho. In contrast to Paul’s largely legalistic epistles, John’s gospel holds encrypted keys to the essential meaning of many of Jesus’ teachings — meanings to be found nowhere else but in such texts as the Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary Magdalene. There is a partial reason these texts were excluded: they are inherently subversive of human “authority”.

    In fairness, the other part of the reason may well be that the members of the councils in question were also selecting texts (especially the Gospels) on the basis of their literary value. In other words, those texts that were written in an allegorical fashion fit nicely into the “overarching” story the Bible obviously attempts to produce. Others, such as the notebook of Jesus’ sayings that is the Gospel of Thomas, don’t fit quite as neatly into the storybook and, in many cases, merely echo the text of other gospels, so one can see why a few of them may have been left out for something other than selfish reasons.

    It warms my heart that books other than “sacred texts” find their way into the spiritual practice of adherents of the various religions. The emergent movement does encompass far more with professionals in fields as diverse as biology, ecology, and quantum physics, et al, all converging on the reintegration of awareness/consciousness into our collectively lopsided, three-dimensional view of reality.

    Yours in Love. (Mark 12:30-31)