Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why does God kill people in the Old Testament?

While I'm into answering hard questions (see earlier post) I might as well tackle another one. With our current overview of the Bible on Sundays you can't help but notice a few people dying as a result of God's anger. Most people quietly ignore this and hope that nobody notices or dares to ask but, come on... something's not right here. At least that's the first thought.

So, what's up? Well, there are some easy answers that many people quickly opt for.
  1. The Bible is wrong. God never did this. So forget the Bible. If you must believe in it, believe the good parts that work with your spirituality.
  2. The Bible is right and therefore God is crazy, angry and hates people.

Forgive me if I don't go down those roads. I try to see the Bible through the eyes of Jesus. He didn't jettison the Old Testament and I think he had a little clearer picture on things than any of us. So that leads me to believe that we must be missing something. Now, what we are missing...I'm not sure. I can only speculate. So that's what I'll do here just a bit...
  1. God kills people to make a point in a very barbaric culture to very barbaric people. This is a culture that killed people over a donkey. If you were going to communicate to people that you were holy and not to be messed with, how would you communicate that? With note cards? God tends to relate to people throughout history in different ways based on the context. Note how in the New Testament this only happened with Ananias and Saphira. It just happened once in a limited way...just enough to remind people of his holiness but not willing to "go there" as a regular practice.
  2. Judging God's actions through the eyes of our culture is impossible. We have no idea the context of the times. We can only guess. It's interesting to watch Moses have a change of heart in Exodus. God tells Moses to get down from the mountain because his people were worshipping a golden calf. God wants to wipe them out and start over. So Moses begs for their forgiveness. He even offers to die on their behalf. So God forgives them. But what does Moses do when he actually gets down to the pagan party? He gets angry enough to break the Ten Commandment tablets. My point is that even Moses had a change of heart when he saw what was really going on. He got angry just like God did. My guess is that if we were there we would see things differently.
  3. As I mentioned in my post below, I don't think the death of people necessitates them going to hell. God is making more of a point about himself than he is of the people. He is holy and blatant sinfulness cannot stand in his presence.

As I said, I don't really have the answer. But I think we have to be careful before we are quick to assume that the Bible is wrong or God is crazy. It is just possible that we don't see the full picture. The Bible's overall message is consistent enough that when I see something that I don't understand that I simply put a question mark by it and trust that someday things will be made clear.

Sin, the Ten Commandments and Hell

In our study of the Ten Commandments recently one small group had questions about what I said about breaking them. I said that breaking the Ten Commandments doesn't disqualify you from heaven. It disqualifies you as God's agent on earth, being his representative. I said this in reference to the 3000 people that were killed by the Levites who worshipped Aaron's golden calf. I guess that this thought was so foreign to some people's previous understanding that it threw them for a bit of a loop. They had always assumed these people, and others like them, were destined for hell.

The simple answer is to look at Aaron himself. Not only did he worship other gods but he was responsible for creating a graven image that led people astray. But not only was Aaron not killed in Moses' assault but Aaron became the high priest. So, if Aaron didn't die and became high priest I'm guessing that the 3000 that died that day didn't go to hell. They were just taken "out of the game". This is a testimony to God's mercy.

This is all predicated on Abraham's covenant with God. God's covenant was "one-way", meaning that even if Abraham (or his people) failed God that God would not fail him." As Paul said to Timothy...though we are faithless He remains faithful.

Now, if Aaron absolutely rejected God, then I can't be so confident of his arrival in heaven. God won't drag anyone there who doesn't want to be there. But clearly God forgave him and gave him another chance.

On a similar note and larger scale...people often misread the teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven in the New Testament. People often assume that to not be included in the Kingdom of Heaven means someone will not go to heaven. In some cases this might be true but primarily it means that a person has not embraced the moral teaching of Jesus on earth. We too often think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place apart from earth. But Jesus and the apostles spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven as the place on earth where people are obeying God. This might throw you for another loop but you can be a believer and not be in the Kingdom of Heaven. You can be "saved" (that is, you'll be with Jesus when you die) but not be living out the Kingdom lifestyle on earth. They are two different things just like Abraham and Moses' covenants were both different. You could be a Jew who didn't live out the Ten Commandments but you are still God's child.

I realize that these thoughts might be brand new to some. But that's just because the Kingdom has not been taught well in most evangelical churches. Nor has salvation. Salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven have been seen as being in the next life. But Jesus said that they both start now. Eternal life starts the moment you believe. We bring the kingdom of heaven to earth to the degree that we obey Jesus' teaching. But just because we fail to live out the teaching doesn't mean we'll miss out on heaven. And the opposite is true, just because we obey his teachings doesn't mean we'll make it to heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is more than a moral code. It's a relationship defined by a moral code.

My point in bringing this up is that it equates well to living out the Ten Commandments. The better we live them out the better we represent God and bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. But failing to live them out doesn't send us to hell! You and I can be glad for that!

I hope I haven't only muddied the waters. But if nothing else I've pointed out that things aren't as simplistic as the church has often painted them. Let's be careful with our assumptions about hell and who goes there.