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An Interpretive principle less used: Whatever is attributed to God must square with his total nature

Updated on October 19, 2012

An Interpretive principle less used: Whatever is attributed to God must square with his total nature

During my later years, when I listen to some preachers and politicians, read some books, and take note of many Christians speaking about God, my flesh quivers. They seem to paint a picture of God that is vindictive, prejudice, malicious, cruel, vengeful, and merciless. Is the true God a God who kills people because they disobey his will, who destroys people who are involved in sinful practices, or who curses people who violate his laws?

I suggest testing what is said about God by squaring what is said with his total nature. My very mention of such principle will, no doubt, bring down the wrath of the Christian community on my “unholy” head. Those who say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” will say I don’t believe in the Bible. Or I don’t believe the Bible was “written by men divinely inspired.” But that is far from the case. I do believe in the Bible, and I do believe it is a divinely inspired book. But I also believe, as Paul said, the Bible must be “rightly divided” or rightly interpreted. And in terms of inspiration, I do not subscribe to the mechanical theory of inspiration that God spoke and man wrote. I believe in the dynamic theory that says God inspired people to write and left their intellects, beliefs, and backgrounds intact and allowed them to write out of their own ability, faith, personal circumstances, and experiences.

If anybody is a Christian, I am certainly one. I believe in the real God in the real world, and I am committed to that God, committed to live holy, committed to obedience to the Holy Spirit.

When I consider God’s attributes, I cannot imagine God killing people because they are living in sin, or cursing people because they disobey his will, or destroying other nations because they are our enemies.

Two types of characteristics make up the total nature of God: Characteristics he does not share with us and characteristics he shares with us. The characteristics he does not share with us are his all powerfulness, his all knowledgeableness, and his unchangeableness. In theology, these are usually called his natural attributes. The characteristic he shares with us are goodness, love, mercy, holiness, righteousness, and so on. These are usually called his moral attributes. On the one hand God has the power to do what he wants; but on the other, he cannot violate his moral attributes and still remain the true God. In his total nature, God cannot do evil, be hateful, be unforgiving, and be unrighteous.

And yet God is so often portrayed as such. Some few years ago, one of my Mastery of Divinity students shared with the class an experience she had at her church as a Sunday-School teacher. A hurricane had struck the Gulf Coast and many people were left dead. Children in her Sunday-School class were disturbed and asked her why God would do such a thing. She told us how she took the little children in her arms and told them that God is sovereign and that he does what he wants. God sometimes does this, she said, to call attention to sin in the area. Pat Robertson on the 700 Club very often voices the same idea. Many preachers make the same kind of statement from the pulpit. In voicing such opinion, they are, in essence, picturing God as being vindictive, prejudice, and even cruel.

Why do they voice such opinion? They do so, I believe, because they think they are biblically correct. For example, in I Samuel 15:3 Samuel tells Saul that God is ordering him to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, and camel and ass” because he had fought against the children of Israel when they came out of Egyptian bondage. Another example is Malachi 1:2-3. Here Malachi puts in the mouth of God these words: “I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” And still another example is Malachi 3:9 that says, “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” And finally I Corinthians 11:29-30, which indicated that God made people sick and even killed them because they abused the Lord’s Supper. Does any of this represent the true nature of God? Anyone who truly knows God knows that it does not.

How, then, could divinely inspired writers have said such? One answer among many is that they wrote out of their own belief about God (It would take a book-length manuscript to fully explore this subject). The Jews honestly believed everything that happened in their lives and in their nation did so because God either ordered it or God did it. That’s why the scripture has to be interpreted. It is a God/human book.

The interpretive principle I have suggested, here, could be the first step in interpreting the scriptures that show God as being prejudice toward nations, hateful, or vindictive. And yet only a few people have the courage to use it. Pastors are afraid that they will lose their jobs, politicians are afraid they will not get elected, and church members are afraid of being demonized—and rightly so.

What’s behind the decline in Church affiliation and the growth in atheism could very well be the idea that God is against equal rights of gays, against the free agency of mankind, against equality of women, and against other nations and their religions. This is vaguely indicated by a recent study by the Pew Research Center. The study found that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion has risen to 19.6 percent, of which 6 percent are self-described atheists and agnostics, and that, according to exit polls, this group has become the most reliable Democratic segments of the electorate, with 61 percent voting for Al Gore in 2000, 67 percent voting for John Kerry in 2004, and 75 percent voting for Barack Obama in 2008. These people believe that abortion should be legal, women should be equal to men, and same-sex couples should be able to marry.

If we continue to picture God as being vindictive, prejudice, tyrannical, and malicious, we will continue to turn people away from God because, they say, “If this is the kind of God that God is, I don’t need God.”


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