I get questions from people on a regular basis via social media. People reach out and ask me to help them sort out difficult Bible passages, or just to understand some of the more confusing doctrines taught by their pastors from the pulpit.
Today, I received a question from someone whose husband was wrestling with the cruelty and bloodthirst of the God they were reading about in the Bible and trying to reconcile that image with the idea that God is a loving Father.
With her permission, I’m sharing our conversation here in the hopes that it might help others who may have similar struggles with this issue.
PJ: Hoping you can help me. My husband has always struggled with a retributive God. I know that it appears the Bible teaches that, but I know that because of love God‘s love and grace that is not true. It doesn’t seem congruent to me, but many verses would lead you to believe that as he kills women and children and all groups of people.
My thought has always been that it is the people doing that as they think God told them to, but that is not enough of an explanation. My husband sent these verses to me from his reading this morning and asked me, “what do I make of this?” he wants to believe that God is good, but the Bible appears to continue to point out that God is retributive. He kills women and children and although I don’t believe those things are true, I don’t know how to explain it to him in a more accurate way, any help you can give me would be appreciated:
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matthew 13:40-43 NIV
KG: The short answer is: Fire in the Bible is a metaphor for purification, not death or torture. For example: Malachi 3:2-6 says”But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
Jesus also says that everyone will be salted with fire and Paul says that those who pass through the fire will either reveal gold, silver and precious stones OR have “everything burned up and yet they will be saved, even as those who pass through the fire.” 1 cor. 3:12-14
Hebrews 12 also reveals to us what the goal and purpose of God’s correction is “so we can share in the Holiness of God” [vs. 5-11], not to torture or kill or destroy but to restore and transform.
My book Jesus Undefeated goes through much more of this in greater detail.
PJ: I have Jesus Undefeated in my kindle library. I will have him look at that.
I really appreciate you getting back to me. I guess he just doesn’t understand how God could be so cruel because even though it could’ve been the culture of the time, he still sees God, commanding the people to kill others, or God wanting to hurt us because we have sinned.
KG: That’s the difference between what is “Biblical” and what is “Christlike”. The Bible presents God in some pretty horrible ways. But the Gospel of John says in Chapter 1 that “no one has EVER seen God at any time except for the Son who came to reveal the Father to us.”
If we already had a clear picture of who God was in the OT, then why would Jesus need to reveal the Father to us?
Because we did NOT have a clear picture. That picture was painted by people who had never really seen God. Jesus came to show us what the Father was like: “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.”
Remember: God didn’t write the Bible. We did.
That’s why until Jesus came we had no clue what God was really like.
PJ: That’s a good point. Is it valid to say then that a lot of the thoughts when people had of killing people were actually their thoughts about what God wanted but are not from God. Such as when we go to war, we feel God telling us to do so, but yet I think that’s our own opinion
KG: Yes! We still do that today. We claim that it’s God’s will and especially if we win the war we say God blessed it.
PJ: That’s a really good point about why Jesus came. Yes thank you so much for your help.
KG: Would you be okay if I shared this conversation in a blog post? I won’t reveal your actual name, but the questions you ask are quite common ones and I think posting this conversation as a blog post would help a lot of people with the same questions.
PJ: Oh, that would be wonderful. Before I contacted you, I was trying to look through the blog post to see if anybody talked about this. I so want him to see the God of love not the God that we have been taught about all our lives.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE?
Join me as I lead a 3-week online course on the Scripture starting Monday, Feb. 6th, 2023. Based on my book, Jesus Unbound, this course will answer questions about how the Bible was Canonized, explore how the Bible was changed over the centuries, and examine the various translation errors that make it nearly impossible for most of us to simply read the Scriptures and understand them at face value.
Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” His latest book, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything is available now on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.