Is God a moral monster? The book of Revelation and wrath #2

Is God a moral monster? The book of Revelation and wrath #2 May 29, 2023

In my last post, “Is God a moral monster?”, I asked the question: “How come we approach the book of Revelation as though it were about God inflicting suffering on others in order to let those who survive know that they better repent?”

I responded to this question by asking. “do we really think a non-Christian with any common sense will want to believe in a God that just blitzed one-fourth of humanity, but was ‘kind’ enough to spare them? Do we really suppose that they don’t see the radical inconsistency in the message: ‘God loves you so much he struck your daughter with demonic locusts and painful boils so that you might learn to fear Him’?”

This raises my second point in response to the popular understandings of the book of Revelation. Namely, there is a radical disconnect between the notion that God is love, yet He will bring wrath upon the world as means of bringing them to repentance.

Now, I know what you are going to say (after all, I used to believe this myself).

“Doesn’t God bring wrath at the final judgment? Are you (Rob) saying that there is no judgment Day?”

No, I am not saying that. There is indeed a final day of judgment when God brings justice and when all who refuse to acknowledge that He is Lord will be damned.

What I am addressing is the notion that God brings wrath such as plagues, boils, and famine, and that He even turns the seas into blood in order to compel people to repent before the return of Christ.

The idea that God drives or compels people to believe in Him by means of wrath simply does not make any sense.

After all, this is the way the world works.

This is not the way God works!

To suggest that this is God’s M.O. makes a mockery of the Gospel.

And the world knows it. Here is what one writer says about God and Christianity in light of the popular understanding of the book of Revelation:

“But little by little the bitterness increases until in the last book of the New Testament, its poor distracted author represents that all the time Christ was talking about having come to save the world, the secret design was to catch the entire human race, with the exception of a paltry 144,000, and souse them all in a brimstone lake, and as the smoke of their torment went up for ever and ever, to turn and remark, “There is no curse anymore.” Would it be an insensible smirk or a fiendish grin that should accompany such an utterance? I wish I could believe St. John did not write it.”[1]

David Barr, one of the biblical scholars that I have great respect for, adds:

“Setting aside for the moment the larger issues of theology and focusing on only the morality of the actions portrayed, we come to a harsh conclusion. This god who threatens death, and eventually enacts it on all who do not submit, is immoral. It is like an abusive marriage in which the stronger partner beats the weaker till the weaker surrenders, or else eventually dies at the hands of the one who claims to love them. I am not persuaded by the argument that it was for their own good.”[2]

In another work, Barr says,

“The . . . moral issue I face concerns the use of overwhelming power to coerce obedience. If God triumphs over evil only because God has more power than evil, then power—not love or freedom or goodness or truth—is the ultimate value of the universe.”[3]

I would add to Barr’s comments by noting that the idea that God uses violence upon people in order to coerce them to worship Him makes God no better than the Beast (who represents empire).

In fact, the book of Revelation even says that this is how the world works: The second Beast causes “whoever does not worship the image of the Beast to be killed” (13:15).

The popular understanding of the book of Revelation makes God no different than the Beast (or Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Nero, or . . .).

God is not a moral monster! And the Cross proves it!

Jesus does not inflict violence to coerce obedience. He suffers violence!

Why, then, is the popular view of the book of Revelation and the end times so prevalent?

Well, there are a lot of reasons.

At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the fact that, as I noted in my last post, one of the reasons why we don’t like hearing that God is love and that He suffers violence, and that He calls us to do so also (this is what it means to “take up your cross”) is because we don’t like the call to cross-bearing love. After all, it is hard!

I would also suggest that we like the idea that we are the good people and others are the bad people. It feeds our sense of, “We are right and you are wrong.”

Furthermore, I think we need to wrestle with the fact that the Gospel message is not attractive.

So much of the prosperity movement and the mega-church movement is about how Jesus had thousands of followers and so should we! (I just watched an expose on the megachurch scene last night and this was the repeated message of these pastors[4] and leaders).

Well I hate to tell ya, but Jesus had very few around when it mattered most.

The reason why Jesus had throngs of people following Him was that they liked what He was doing (you’d like Him too if he restored your withered hand or raised your only son from the dead) and what He was saying.

That is until they figured out what He really meant.

Then, some fell away because they wanted the comforts and securities in life that come from a “me-first” mentality (this is the seed that fell among the “thorns” in the Parable of the Sower—Mark 4:18-19).

And others fell away because those in power did not like Jesus’ message. That is, they realized that if those in power could crucify Jesus, what would they do to His followers? (this is the seed that fell among the “stones” in the Parable of the Sower—Mark 4:16-17).

You see if we are going to use Jesus as the model of defining “success,” then I suggest that we start with the end of the His story and see how many followers He had. And all I can say is that it wasn’t millions, or tens of thousands, or thousands. It was a few hundred (Acts 1:15 says “120”)—Jesus would not have been a good megachurch pastor.

How could someone who did so many miracles and who taught such wonderful things only have a hundred or so followers?

Because they either didn’t like His message or they were afraid to proclaim it.

What then is the message of the book of Revelation?

NB: we are doing an extensive study on the book of Revelation on the determinetruth Podcast.

You might ask, “What is Revelation’s message, and if God is not the source of the devastation, destruction, and death in the book of Revelation, then who is?

This will be the subject of my next few posts.

Oh. And I hope you like what I am saying—then again maybe I hope you don’t like it.

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[1] Peirce, Charles S. “‘Evolutionary Love.” In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Klossel, pp. 365–66. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1992). Cited in Barr, Oxford Handbook, 398.

[2] Barr, Oxford Handbook of the Book of Revelation, 409.

[3] Barr, Tales of the End, loc 4924.

[4] I am using italic here because I am really not convinced that most of these people are actually pastors. They may be in title. But I question if they are by biblical standards.

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, and two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 33 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications. He is currently completing a commentary on the book of Revelation titled, “Revelation: a Love Story” (Cascade Books, pending 2024). You can read more about the author here.

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