When God Kills People?

Its been said that ‘where you stand determines what you see’, which is why theology in a western context often looks very different to perspectives from other more impoverished or persecuted parts of the world.

Equally the lens you read the Bible through determines what you see and how you understand what you see. I recently ordered Greg Boyd’s new book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, a 1492 page tome looking at how we reconcile the violence in the OT with the non-violent Jesus – assuming that we hold a strong view of biblical inspiration and don’t just toss out the hard bits.

Boyd’s lens seems to be the ‘God who is revealed in the crucified Christ’ and after watching this youtube clip I get a sense of what he means by that. Essentially he is saying that if we now have this revelation – this information on who God is – whereas those before Jesus time didn’t then we have a lens for looking back on that historical information and interpreting it more intelligently. He suggests the violence attributed to God by the biblical writers is not actually God at work, but may be God allowing others to act in that way. (Watch the clip for fuller explanation).

I’m curious to see how he develops this thinking – and also why he stops at the ‘crucified Christ’ rather than ‘ the crucified and resurrected Christ’.

In recent years my own primary lens for approaching the difficult passages of scripture has been via the premise that ‘God is good’. Its the foundation stone of all of my theological thinking. If God is good then I have to be able to understand various events in light of that truth – or I can live with them as mystery knowing that God is good. (And if God isn’t good then we’re in some pretty deep poo…)

Lately I’ve pondered some difficult questions that don’t have any easy answers and without a strong primary lens I imagine a thinking person’s faith could unravel. I have just come back from my brother in law’s funeral, where a good, faithful man suffered for 9 years with motor neurone disease and then eventually died. You have to ask questions of God’s character in those situations. People were praying for his healing to the end. He didn’t ‘curse God’ and walk away, but when all was said and done he suffered and died. So maybe God is a heartless jerk?…

Or maybe God doesn’t see, doesn’t care, doesn’t care enough?… These are all very fair questions. Maybe God is ‘working all things together for good’?… Well… yeah… but really? He couldn’t have found a better plan? Is he God or not?

If God isn’t good then Graham’s death was a senseless waste of life and a tragic loss for his family, but if God is good then there must be another way of looking at that situation – not to minimise the pain, or trivialise it, but to ask ‘what is going on that we can’t see?’ The answer may be that ‘we just can’t see it’ and we have to live with that.










At the funeral one of the images shared in a eulogy was Graham’s own take on life as a bit like a ‘cross-stitch’ ie. what looks like a complete mess of fabric and knots from one side is actually a coherent and beautiful picture from another side. With limited perspective we can only see part of the picture.

I can sit pretty well with mystery, but I have always found the OT slaughter passages a bit of struggle because even the best answers have left me somewhat ‘meh’. So here’s hoping Boyd has a take that allows me to put that one to bed and in the process gives a lens for viewing the dark times of life.


8 thoughts on “When God Kills People?

  1. After watching the video, I’d say we probably come to different conclusions as to certain parts of the discussion, such as the need for all of the stories in the Bible to be historically factual rather than “true” – see Joseph Campbell for the concepts of how myth can be more true than reality.

    And I would concur with your question above regarding the stopping point being the crucifixion rather than life, death AND resurrection of Jesus – it is in the resurrection that we see the final chapter of how the true nature of God is seen in all of Jesus’ story. Rene Girard and James Alison draw heavily on the resurrection to complete their understanding of God being fully revealed in the Jesus story – a God who is not vindictive beyond the grave, but One who breaks through our human ‘game’ of violence for violence and asks us to “come follow him” into a Spirit-led new Way (heaven on earth). Enjoy playing in the open fields of this conversation.

  2. I think that my lens of living in a relatively peaceful, reasonably civilized nation poisons my ability to access the violence of the Old Testament impartially. I would love to know how the fathers of the kidnapped daughters in Nigeria interpret God’s slaying the sons of Egypt for the sins of their fathers. Further more, Jesus resurrected is the Jesus of the book of Revelation. Jesus is seriously just in parts of that text. If God is not just, God is not loving. I still hold that the violence of the Old Testament is predicated on God’s justice and his ability to see to the very bottom of each scenario. We simply will never know how dark people were and what affect on history they would have wielded if God did not remove them violently. If I trust that God is good, mustn’t I also by extension believe that God is just? Well….that’s where I’m at currently. But I’m gunna look through the content carefully.

  3. Walter Wink has some very useful and evidence-based thinking on how the OT descriptions of God developed. Particularly in the second of his “Powers” trilogy, “Naming the Powers”

  4. I’ve always reckoned that God doesn’t really care if we’re happy. There are few characters in the Bible who lived happy, comfortable lives. And if you rely on the fact that “God is good” that’s fine but make sure you aren’t really thinking “God is good (to us)”.

    The story of the Bible doesn’t end at the crucifixion. It doesn’t end at the resurrection. Not at the ascension. Not at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not at the second coming. It begins at creation and it ends at re-creation. And that process involves destroying all that ever was and “making all things new”. Destruction is never a pleasant affair. At the same time, it is unavoidable.

    I think you set up a false dichotomy and teeter on pitting the “angry God” of the OT against the “loving God” of the NT. But really…how many NT characters (or fathers in the church-era) have happy lives at the feet of this loving God?

    God is good. He is True. (and He better be or all faith is a complete waste of time.) We are the manifestation of his creative (and re-creative) love. As such, we can look forward to death and destruction in the hope of rebirth.

  5. Bob matches my thoughts a little more on this area – happiness isn’t a spiritual gift, ease isn’t one, nor laughter, nor enough to eat, nor a place of shelter, nor freedom from persecution. We may have to think about what we mean when we say “God is good” when speaking with a western cultural background to other fat, comfy westerners.

    I need to watch the video sometime.

    The stitching metaphore feels like a cop-out to me “it’s all too wonderful and glorious and complicated and my poor little man-brain can’t cope”. It may be legitimate as a reflection of how God deals with people (cf Job and the complete non-answer he gets) but it’s not a satisfactory answer.

    We had a young friend die last year, leaving her husband and children. It’s not the first or even most important death I’ve dealt with, but it was gradual, and the non-answers to prayer make me ask why we pray. If inshAllah is how life actually pans out then why were things apparently different in the early church? And if they were just stories then why isn’t the rest of it stories? Lo & behold the slippery slope, just as described.

    Yes, the lens is important. I would also go along somewhat with the idea that God’s behaviour as recorded in the OT is reflection of mankind’s theological development as much as actual history. Certainly the events described happened, but the attribution may not be reliable. We get an interesting insight with the rejection of David to build the temple because of the blood he shed, yet it seems that there were times God directed genocide. And IF heaven exists, will I give a wet slap about any of this when I get there.

  6. Hi Toni

    Thanks for the thoughts. To respond:

    I don’t equate God is good with God will give me a pony. Simply that it is in his nature to do what is right and ‘good’. I think that is a lens that is essential and when we let it go we can enter some difficult terrain.

    The crosstitch is simply a metaphor for saying we can’t see everything – or God sees the clearest picture. I can live with that. I’d say it is a satisfactory answer for issues of mystery and absence of clarity.

    The books haven’t arrived yet so nothing more to say from me 🙂

  7. Thanks for coming back Hamo, possibly the first time on a comment I’ve left.

    What I should have said was that we want to see God as being our idea of good, which doesn’t mean we expect to have a Porsche in the drive, but that we think he works like a person. For example, reading a little church history tells us that He seems not to have a problem with people suffering, and possibly even encourages it – we need to considerably recalibrate our thinking IF that is correct.

    I wasn’t taking a pop at you particularly over the cross-stitch – much more my frustrations coming over – but it’s so often an example popped up in churches by people too lazy or dumb to think that it’s a red rag to me.

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