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One of my atheist friends warned me that, once I started asking honest questions of my Bible, it was sure to be a slippery slope into agnosticism or atheism. He’s absolutely right! I’m way more agnostic (unknowing, anti-dogmatic) about God and matters of faith than I’ve ever been. This is a little unsettling when I’ve spent most of my life thinking I had God (and the Bible) neatly wrapped up in a little box. Secondly, I’m definitely atheistic about the god I used to know. Let’s recap. My old god…
- …was too weak, indifferent, or angry to save/deliver/heal/reconcile with all his children, pitiful blind, deaf, fragile, broken (clay) creatures though he apparently made them to be.
- …had hidden “The Path” from most people who ever lived, giving them pretty much a zero chance to find it before dangling them over a never-ending human bbq. Hide and seek anyone?
- …denied most people who ever lived a level playing field. Today’s great example: 145 million orphans who scrounge out of garbage cans are supposed to find the same God as upper middle class kids growing up in the Bible Belt, donning iphones, designer jeans, Krispy Kreme donuts and mocha lattes on Sunday mornings? Both are obligated to “choose the right God” before they die…or else. Ironically, this same god repeatedly tells his followers how important it is to be fair and merciful towards those less fortunate while not allowing for the same when it really counts for all of eternity.
- …sanctioned killing (according to his devout followers) like half the planet, yet said “do not kill (Ex. 20:13). As I think about it, I guess my beef isn’t with a God who might require “a life for a life,” as He did in the OT, but rather a god who goes into a city and wipes out men, women, and children “just because” or “to make room for his chosen few.” This god is supposedly quoted as saying things like, “my kindness leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4), I’m kind to the unthankful and evil people, so you should be too” (Luke 6:35), yet behaves nothing like that himself.
- …said we should not repay evil for evil so we can be like him (Luke 6:35), yet that god repays evil on steroids.
- …hates his enemies with vengeance and will never, ever forgive them, but tells everyone else to love and forgive all their enemies, as many times as necessary.
- …can only be in certain restricted locations in his own creation at any given time lest he happen upon any evil, which he cannot endure for any length of time…which pretty much means that he is currently stuck in Texas, Florida, or Tennessee most of the time, where most of his mega-churches are located.
- …is clearly weak, short-sighted, hypocritical, unfair, a mass murderer, and frequently displays bouts of schizophrenia and other personality disorders.
Yes, I reject and am definitely atheistic about that god. So now what are my options?
Recently one night upon my pillow, while contemplating the age-old dilemma of all the questionable violence and bloodshed in the Bible—all in the name of God—I thought I heard a whisper. Do you really think that’s who I am? Do you think genocide and vengeful killings match the character that you are coming to understand about me? Is it like me to force anyone to love me or even to “be good”? Is it like me to mercilessly punish or even blame people who can’t find me? Can the mother heart of God forget the baby at her breast?
At that moment, a plethora of verses speeded through my head in a ray of light. I thought of the more likely version of God, especially as revealed by his son.
- The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.
- Forgive your friends, enemies, and everyone in between 70 times 7 (perfectly).
- Put the sword away (Peter). …All those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
- Forgive them (all) Father for they know not what they are doing.
- I am the resurrection and the LIFE.
- I did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.
People have been misapplying, mistranslating, misinterpreting Scriptures for thousands of years…why would I expect any different in the case of god-killing? Could it be…I wondered…that all the killing recorded in the OT is the result of man’s desire to rule by the flesh and strong-arm the Kingdom of God into existence. Could it be that the freedom, love, forgiveness, and invitation portrayed throughout a lot of Scripture is only and actually God?
Yes, God is sovereign. Perhaps He allowed Himself to be misrepresented in Scriptures to teach deeper truths, or to separate the sheep and the goats in this age—those with ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the called-out will discover a much different God than the unjust and unbelieving.
As I pondered this topic further, the elephant in the room presented itself. “The LETTER KILLS, but the SPIRIT gives LIFE” (2 Cor. 3:6). The letter kills. Hmmm. Whenever people and religions have tried to apply the “letter” of Scriptures (what is actually written on paper), it has resulted in misinterpretation, bigotry, pride, killing, and war. Think Crusades. Think modern Muslim and Jewish zealots. Think modern day Israel. Think pastors who beat their congregations into submission to rules and church interpretations. Think church and denominational statements of faith. Think 38,000 Christian denominations that try to outdo each other. Think of husbands and pastors who shame women into silence and death of human validation. Think of the lie of hell, blatantly and erroneously printed in almost every modern Bible translation and all the death and destruction associated on every level of society and human interaction.
For those of us who believe in Ultimate Restoration…think about this. Who, in future ages, is going to be won over by a god that struck them dead in an unjustly manner? How could they ever feel truly loved by a god who rejected them so heartlessly when he had hidden himself from them? How could they ever trust him?
Sons of Cain. Cain is iconic in Scriptures. As quite likely a son of the Serpent (not Adam—there are two seeds introduced through Cain and Abel), he introduces murder and becomes the “bad seed” that interweaves throughout Scriptures. It is his “offspring” who are the murderers. It is his offspring who have infiltrated and perhaps devised religion. John exhorts the aspiring overcomer to leave behind the legacy of Cain.
“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was out of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were just” (1 John 3:11-13).
In John 8:39-47, Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they want to KILL him and they do not LOVE him. He refers to them as sons of the murderer, sons and brothers of Cain out of the evil one, who “speaks from his own nature.”
A lot has happened over the course of 4,000-6,000 years of oral and written traditions in what has resulted in today’s Christian Scriptures (quite different than what comprises Jewish Scriptures), copied and translated by hundreds if not thousands of (good or bad, honest or dishonest) scribes in at least five different languages, of which there are no originals. These same Scriptures have been lost (many burned during Roman conquests), narrowed down (canon), translated, and interpreted over the last 2,000 years by people who had very little, if any, understanding of the language, audience, intent, traditions, and history to whom it was written. Yet we all think—all 38,000 of us—that we have arrived at “truth,” end of discussion.
For those of us who realize it’s more complicated than that, we need an “interpreter.” This is not a pastor, a self-proclaimed prophet or modern apostle. This is the Living Word, anointed with the Spirit of the Loving God, who must be followed even at the expense, sometimes, of the written word. They are not the same. The Living Word must explain the written word in a way that is in line with God’s plan and character.
When people live by the Spirit of the teachings or the intent by design, the result is: LIFE= LOVE. JOY. PEACE. PATIENCE. KINDNESS. GOODNESS. BELIEF. GENTLENESS. EMPOWERMENT. Does any of that sound like “go kill your heathen neighbor” to you?
Maybe it was in front of us the whole time; we just didn’t see it. Yes, the letter KILLS but the Spirit gives LIFE. K. Let me leave you with this. Read this carefully…
“They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me” (John 16:2-3).