When God Kills People III

Ok so the sausages were really good. We have a fantastic butcher here in Yanchep who creates some really interesting varieties – not your standard ‘meat paste’ rolled in plastic – but some really funky types like ‘cheesy-mite & bacon’ (bacon, vegemite and cheese) or ‘hot hot hot’ – so hot in fact I could only eat one before my mouth was on fire – and I’m a hot food lover!

But back to Boyd’s book…

He describes his idea as like one of those magic eye pictures that if you stare at it long enough it comes into view. Of course some people stare aimlessly for a very long time and just see blurry lines and he acknowledges that this may happen with the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ for OT violence.. Right now I’m having rare moments of glimpsing the picture (you know that feeling?) but mostly its blurry lines and long periods of wondering if I’ve actually been conned… There is no picture after all…

I finished volume 1 earlier this week so it seems time for an update before I forget what I read. I appreciate that Boyd is unwilling to just dismiss what is inconvenient and that he takes a high view of scripture so obviously he needs a different plan for articulating the violence passages.

He is looking at possible solutions now and his next one is the Synthesis Solution where ‘the OT’s violent portraits of God must be accepted as accurate revelations alongside of Christ’. He acknowledges this as the broadest of the views with 4 main strands.

  1. The ‘Beyond Our Categories’ Defense ie. he is God and subject to our ethical constraints and he sees the bigger picture so he can do what we might find abhorrent without failing to be good. Think ‘potter and clay’ and ‘will not the Lord of the whole earth do what is right’ type scenarios. The end of this thinking means that we have to somehow see that ‘barbaric and atrocious-appearing behaviour is in fact ‘good” While I think there is an element of truth in this explanation he goes on to argue well that we simply cannot accept that good is simply defined by what God calls it at the time otherwise our understanding of morality has no north point.
  2. The ‘Divine Punishment’ Defense – this speaks to the violence being an ‘expression of God’s holy wrath against sin.’ Boyd rejects this on the basis that much of the violent behaviour in the OT seems unjust. eg being stoned to death for picking uo sticks on the sabbath (fairly harsh…)
  3. The ‘Greater Good’ Defense – the idea is fairly obvious – God is at work doing something bigger than we see, but Boyd suggests it comes unstuck when we look at an example like the complete wiping out of the Canaanites as being ‘necessary’ yet ‘subsequent to the invasion of Canaan the Israelites continued to live side by side with – and when in exile even in the midst of – wicked and idolatrous neighbours.’
  4. The ‘Progressive Revelation’ Defense – which he sees as the most tenable outside of this own ideas. This idea suggests that God interacts with his people in ways that are in keeping with their development. ‘In short God meets people where they are at, not where he wishes they were’. This view suggests ‘Yahweh acquiesed to violence as much as he had to but moved his people in the direction of peace as much as possible. He argues that if this were the correct view then why does God not minimalise violence rather than (as some times happens) allowing maximal violence. He maintains that this view means that under certain circumstances God’s character is such that he is willing to command and engage in horrific even genocidal violence.

These are very brief overviews and I’m not trying to argue for or against any of them. I’m just trying to keep my head above water and stay with his thinking.

He spends the rest of this volume in his ‘reinterpretation solution’ which he calls the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’. If I were to sum this approach up in as simple language as possible then it would be saying ‘If Jesus crucified is the ultimate revelation of God then when we read the violence texts we must assume something else is going on that bears witness to the crucified Christ and we need to ‘keep digging’ till we find that truth.

He cites Origen as an inspiration for this methodology and while he doesn’t agree with his conclusions he states that he was headed in the right direction by ‘digging deeper’. Boyd writes ‘Origen’s incarnational model of inspiration ld him to believe that there could never be anything superfluous in scripture’, so there has to be a way of understanding the difficult stuff and locate the ‘spiritual meaning’.

‘The method of the spirit’ he notes ‘is to conceal these truths and to hide them deeply underneath narratives which appear to be records of actual events.’

So this is where Boyd finds his ground to stand. Its a long spiel from here on and I’m no sure I will do it justice in this post, but perhaps Boyd’s summary of his path forward is enough:

I will argue that as we interpret these violent portraits through the lens of the cross, we can discern what God was doing when he ‘breathed’ these violent portraits through ancient authors anticipates, participates in and thereby bears witness to what God did in a decisive manner, and for all humanity on the cross. We can in a word, discern in these violent portraits that God was bearing the sins of his people and was thereby taking on an ugly literary semblance that reflected that sin, just as he did in a historical way for all humanity on Calvary p.457

I got to this point and then realised that the subsequent chapters in this first volume must have ‘gone in one ear and out the other’ so to speak, so I may need to re-read them to make sense of what’s ahead. (Don’t ya hate that?…)

I appreciate some folks are reading and commenting – and I’m not replying much – largely because I am yet to form any opinions on this subject and I am not writing this as an advocate for Boyd or to negate his ideas. I’m just curious… So if I don’t reply its largely because I don’t have a lot to say at this point.

I’m hoping to get into Volume 2 shortly, but the work of reviewing it is more than I anticipated – a bit like an ungraded essay for a theology class – so don’t be surprised if my next posts are thinner and more of a ‘good book’ / ‘bad book’ scenario!

(And I have stared at that ‘magic eye’ pic above for 5 minutes now and still can’t make out what it is so that might be indicative of my capacity for new ideas…)

5 thoughts on “When God Kills People III

  1. These Old Testament scriptures look more consistent with Muhammed’s behaviour at the Battle of the Trench than anything of Jesus.
    I remember a Lutheran Pastor once remarking that he (sometimes thinks) that he could easily throw out the Old Testament.
    I am wondering why has it taken up until 2017 for someone to come up with a framework for addressing these issues?

    Surely there should be a ‘stock-standard’ orthodox response from a Seminary 201 unit as to why God’s OT Character is so different to that of Jesus?
    Especially in response to the earlier “heresies” of Marcion who believed the Hebrew God was a wrathful ‘lower’ God than the all forgiving God of the New Testament. I understand that Tertullian and others refuted this thinking.

    At the very least I am surprised that Phillip Yancey has not written an easy to read best seller on this same topic.

  2. Andrew, you’re reading the wrong book if you want to make sense of the OT. If you want to make sense of the OT you need to read the NT. Start with Romans – do a sermon series on it over a year. It spells out very clearly the state of humankind before God – 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

    5:12 Death came to all men because all sinned. 6:23 for the wages of sin is death.

    3:25 But God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrated his justice – so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

    The OT is full of God’s justice. As well as full of his acts of mercy, and salvation. All of these acts of justice and mercy are seen and magnified in the cross.

    Boyd is correct that we should view the OT through the lens of the cross – but the lens of the cross includes – justice, sin, punishment, mercy, grace and love. You can’t leave out the justice, sin and punishment side of the cross when looking into the OT, which is what he seems to be doing.

    The OT and the NT are completely and utterly consistent in their portrayal of God. Inconsistencies only occur when we pick and choose parts of the NT to accept and parts to reject.

    • I dunno Waz. I’ve read Romans and we are preaching thru it again soon, but that doesn’t address the wide disagreement on how to deal with these issues

  3. Interesting Hamo, and thanks for condensing/ploughing through.

    I wonder if the 4 theories each have a little bit of truth, but aren’t the whole picture in themselves – I’ve certainly thought each of them at various times (without having them laid out like this) when reading some scriptures. The Origen reference is also interesting, not least because he was a bit of a fruitbat at times, seeming to rely on mysticism instead of clarity and suggesting that only more gifted or spiritual individuals should be able to understand the deeper truths, rather than making truth plain to everyone.

    There’s a tension even in the NT, between a God who comforts and heals and a God who calls His people to suffer for Him, but maybe this work will explain that too. In the end I suspect that if the explanation can’t be condensed into a paragraph that most people can understand then it’s probably just philosophy. 😉

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