Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

As hinted at, the last downloads from World Science were just too juicy not to post more than one response. So let us consider how finding that God is angry makes us angry- it causes us to sin.

I sent in an unposted letter to World Science, complaining about the nature of this study, and a number of errors. The study authors seemed to be rather uninformed of the Bible in their own right, thinking this passage was a parable (as if that genre was invented at that point in time) rather than part of the historical genre. They used what they claimed was an obscure passage, the end of Judges. It is horrific, for certain. But if you study the Bible at all, hardly obscure. They had students from BYU and secular Amsterdam read the passage, and half of each group read an addition saying God had sanctioned the violence. Half of each of those groups were also told that the passage was from the Bible, and the other half that it was a newly unearthed manuscript. Then they had them blast noise at another. Those that had religious background, thought the story came from the Bible, or thought God had encouraged the violence, all were more aggressive with the noisemaking.

Some of these results may be flawed because of the errors in the study, such as BYU students potentially being more aware of what the authors of the study think is an obscure passage, and therefore knowing the passage comes from the Bible even though they are told it was a new manuscript. It would be interesting were this study attempted among Christians, or Quakers for that matter, as the Mormons are arguably a religion that focuses less on grace and pacifism. Additionally, of course, LDS values the Book of Mormon much higher than the Bible- a book that is filled with a great deal of violence- the same as the Old Testament.

But for all these caveats, I think there are still some valuable lessons we can pull out here. You become that which you dwell on. It is possible to focus on the God of wrath, and on the Old Testament, at the expense of the New, and of Grace. We've all been in churches like that; the lucky ones have only visited. I'm not one of the lucky ones. And what I've noticed is that, those churches that focus on the Old Testament over the New, do have a greater propensity to aggressive interactions with adults, and corporal punishment towards children. Nothing scientific in this; just my experience.

But of course, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. God is working the same way at all times, but in different cultures, and within the Schoolhouse of Faith, building humans up to a point where they can accept Christ, working in them to the extent that they can understand, in the way each culture can understand. So then, how do we explain this passage?

One wonders if the author of the study included the last line. After multiple genocides, ethnic cleansings, and rapes, it says, "In those days there is no king in Israel; each did that which is right in his own eyes." Text must always be read in context- cultural and that of the text itself. The authors of the text clearly don't condone what has happened, but blame it on the lack of a king. Read in the context of the book shortly following, Samuel, one comes to understand that they refuse to have God as their king. (While each book stands alone, I'm referring here to the Hebrew understanding of theology once the books are both part of cannon.) So when we read the passage, we come to understand that this is the state of humanity, when we are not lead by God.

It is often stated that violence on TV and in the movies will lead people to be more violent. I agree with that, but this study might suggest something different. That violence in the movies is only going to be most prescriptive if we treat what is happening there as coming from an authority. Now it may well be that many see Arnold Schwarzenegger as an authority (even outside the State of California). But it is possible that shows like 24 and Alias aren't near as harmful as the Left Behind series, for such a film combines violence with God, the ultimate authority figure, and posits that He is behind some of this violence. (Indeed, there is a large wing of the Church that believes that God will bring on the End Times with violence, and even a segment of that wing that believes that Christians should hasten that coming with violence of their own. And thus we have blind American support for Israel.) When God is behind the violence, we begin to believe that we can be behind it to.

This study suggests also that there is a larger problem than that of the movies. Even when we are reading a text, if it is an authority that is coming out and advocating violence, or if we see that as such, we tend to turn to violence. Thus it becomes incumbent on us to teach Truth from the pulpit. This passage, as awful it is, and surely it is the most awful in the Bible, needs to be taught, and from the pulpit. For if people were understanding the true message of the passage, they would not be lead astray into thinking that there is a God who advocates this kind of thing. Passages of Christ's love of enemies and giving up His life for His enemies need to be taught as well. And overall, contemplating God's great love for us- for all of us, each one of us. What is taught to the flock will be put out by the flock. What a great responsibility is on those who would presume to be teachers.


Stacy said...

I agree the left behind theology is dangerous but I hope you know thats not a biblical teaching. My blogger will help you see truth about real christianity, evolution, and other religions.(
I will keep reading your blogs andd yes I do believe in a creator who is interested in us. He made everything and came to show us himself...hes Christ Jesus.

@bdul muHib said...

Thank you Stacy. But due to low interest on this blog, I am no longer publishing here. I invite you to come to if you want to read my current regular blog. And since I often talk about evolution and Christianity there as well, you should enjoy it.

Courageous COWARD said...

interesting post. very informative...

@bdul muHib said...

Stacy, if you're still there, I wanted to let you know I have, at long last, begun to work on this blog again.

Pastor Nar said...

I was raised on the premise of Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" - and it took its toll.

Now I'm learning to live Jesus' message: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God!

This is the discussion of the World Science updates as they become available.
Your thoughts are most welcome here.