3. Is God violent?
In my previous two posts, I looked at violence in the Old and New Testaments. My conclusion: there is violence in the world and God hasn’t been completely unaffected or uninvolved. However violence is not a core quality of God nor how he prefers to work. God’s plan has always been to have a relationship with people and for people to love each other. In Exodus 19-20 we see that God is intending to have a relationship with all the Israelites. He set up strict rules and displayed his power so that the people would respect him and not do wrong. However the people feared and did not want to be close to God. All along God has had a plan, but people have often not been very cooperative. Therefore God has had to deal with less than ideal circumstances. For example, Moses made allowance for divorce, though Jesus says that this wasn’t God’s original intention (Matt. 19, Mark 10). Similarly, violence sometimes became a part of the less than ideal plan. Yet God clearly states, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11, see also 18:23). I think it’s also important to remember that, though God may have worked through violence at times, God wasn’t immune from being on the receiving end of violence either. He allowed himself (in Jesus) to be tortured and killed.
So what is the present day application? Since God never changes, he naturally works just the same way today that he did back in the Old Testament. God punishes both us individually and nations collectively. He is set against all those who do wrong and who make him angry. Hurricane Katrina came because of the immorality during Mardi Gras, 9/11 was punishment for abortion, the earthquake in Haiti was due to the fact they made a deal with the devil, and AIDS is a punishment for homosexuals. Furthermore God wants those who follow him to stand up against evildoers, even using violence if necessary. Just like Phinehas (Numbers 25), God wants us to be zealous for his name by killing sinners….
Um, wait a minute, does this sound right to you? It doesn’t sound quite right to me. And yet there are people who believe this. On one hand you can kind of see places in the Old Testament where they’re getting these ideas from, but on the other I think it demonstrates how you can make the bible say about whatever you want it to. However you explain God’s involvement with violence in the Old Testament, I believe it’s clear that things have changed by the New Testament (and our present application follows from the New Testament). I can’t think of any instructions in the New Testament to behave violently. If anything our instructions seem to be to not resist violence (Matt. 5:39). This is because God has revealed that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, other people aren’t the enemy. It’s not “us verses them”. Furthermore, there is a more fully developed plan of salvation now, so that we are supposed try and win people over rather than to violently oppose those who do wrong and who don’t follow God.