Does God Kill?

You might have heard a Christian complain that other Christians share a “gospel” of bad news rather than good news, but that criticism (though well intended) could be like telling an ambassador not to talk about the war but only of terms for its resolution. It is not an either-or issue, but an issue of overall emphasis. It is also a moral issue of whether we are true to sharing with rebels God’s terms of peace.

Throughout history many nations have thought that the moral high ground was to kill those labeled morally inferior. Today we think the high ground is not to kill anyone at all for any immorality, and even the concept of moral high ground is sometimes offensive. We have hit the opposite extreme, so that talk of judging this or that person for this or that action can be considered “hate speech” or “harmful talk.” But what does God’s Word say about how we should think of immorality and his judgements? Is God a pacifist? Or, on the other extreme, does he always seek justice by punishing sins with plagues? Isn’t the answer somewhere in between? When discussing sin and God’s judgements (the bad news), we have to remember one thing: it is the Creator’s prerogative to kill or not to kill. Only God gets to play God. Scripture says God judges and puts people to death, but it also says that often the judgement a person might receive for sin is that God might just hand us over to the wicked desires which we crave. In the end, that judgement is far more frightening than a disaster, because there may be no opportunity for turning back to God. At least, that ought to frighten us.

Sin earns us death (Rom 6:23), but the Way to eternal life is forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ, the coming king and judge (Acts 14:38-43; 17:30-31). While Jesus did not approve of followers who would do violence for his sake, Jesus also never asserted pacifism as the only way to live. He wasn’t against judgement (John 7:24). He was against judging hypocritically. Jesus asserted that having faith in him, and in his death on the cross for sin, was the only way to live. God the Father killed his willing Son as a substitute for the judgement on our sin (Isa 53:10-12). Jesus taught that the wages of sin—death and hell—would be paid in full to the disobedient, and that by his hands (Luke 19:27). Then he rose again on the third day.

And behold, a man came up to [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
(Matthew 19:16-22 ESV, emphasis added)
But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:24b-27)

Jesus revealed the man’s lack of following the first four commandments having to do with love for God. His love for money occupied the spot of God to him, thus breaking the very first command of God which Moses wrote of in the second of his five books:
And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
(Exodus 20:1-3, the first of the Ten Commandments)

Jesus said, “…if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
(John 5:46-47)
“…for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
The young man didn’t believe and went away sad. Trying to be good yet excluding God reveals your idol. Jesus revealed that you aren’t basically good. Thus, salvation is by faith in his goodness instead.

God’s Wonders and Promises

You might be surprised that the Bible actually does not contain a miracle for every page, or even every book. There are even centuries after centuries where we read no miracle or prophet was given. Why then is it the case that we (this writer included) too often expect a miracle to rescue us from every trouble?

Certainly, God does still rescue people in answer to our prayers, and there are people in the Bible whom God rescues from physical dangers and maladies. But wait. Are the written promises made to one group the same as promises which all groups may claim? If we read carefully, we will read of even faithful believers who suffered and who died without a rescue. These apparently did not receive such a promise and chief among them is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Therefore, it becomes important for us to understand just what the Scriptures do promise and to whom.

Jesus promises all believers, for example, the exact opposite of a rescue from physical trials:
“The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God [but] they have not known the Father, nor me . . . when their hour comes . . . remember that I told this to you. . . . I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:2-4, 33)

These promises should radically change a believer’s thinking toward their own suffering. If we aren’t promised a rescue from every enemy, but rather are promised that some armies will indeed slay some of us, then we are battle-ready. Terrors, though felt just as sharply, could never shake a believer thus equipped, because the false expectation of guaranteed rescue or healing would not only be absent, but replaced by an expectation of danger for ambassadors in a foreign land. Using struggles as reasons to accuse God, the only sure object for faith, would seem like insanity.

The Hebrew slaves of Egypt were promised deliverance and saw wonders, yet they still despair that Pharaoh will win. We have God’s promise that we will, in fact, struggle, and yet there is still the tendency to twist struggling into a reason to doubt God’s words, the very words which are proven by the struggle itself. So expect a greater rescue, from death itself, for Jesus also promises a reward for suffering.

. . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)

There are two essential similarities between atheists and adherents of religions besides Christianity. They all deny the God described in the Bible. Some may sound as though they affirm Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but from the Bible’s perspective they deny him by accepting too many gods or a false version of God. If we examine the point of view of the Bible’s God, then we see that there is even a category of believer who confesses God precisely and calls Jesus Lord and Savior, yet deny him by their lives (Titus 1:16; Matt 7:21-23; Matt 15:8-9).

Jesus of Nazareth said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

There is an opposite truth as well, that people deny God with their lips, but by their deeds they reveal that they actually know he exists. This is a second similarity between atheists and theists, that both know that God exists. Atheists have convinced themselves otherwise because they are morally opposed to God, yet they still live as though God-dependent things like moral obligations exist, even if they don’t see the connection. A few candid atheists even admit to this, coming into full agreement with Romans chapter one. Philosopher Dr. Thomas Nagel writes, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God!” The Bible’s God responds that there exists such accessible proof that even atheists will be without excuse when face-to-face with Jesus at the Judgement (Rom 1:18-24; Acts 17:31).

Ultimately, whether someone has a belief in God (or gods) or lives a “good life” (by their own standard) is not the measure of a person’s life. What matters more than that is a true faith in the real God leading to the right actions. However, none of us do this naturally. We are all “practical atheists” denying Jesus Christ by either our deeds or words. Who will save us from this spiritual grave? Jesus—is not only the Way to God. He saves us from these denials for faith in him (Col 1:12).

Who is God? This neglected question is more important than any other. Why? Because the answer to the question of who God is (or who you think he is and even including whether you think he is not) is the foundation for how you live your whole life. If you believe God is unimportant or does not even exist, then something else takes the place of God so that all of your priorities will reflect this belief. But if you believe God is the God of the Bible, then all of your priorities will reflect that belief. Now, I am not suggesting that we are all so very consistent as to live perfectly in line with our beliefs all the time, rather I am pointing out how the logical priority of our beliefs about God affect our driving passions. That is why it is vitally important that we not neglect this question, because neglecting it is actually an admission of guilt.

A question which goes unanswered is a question answered implicitly. If I asked you a “yes or no” question, such as “Do you want to take this job?” but you refused to answer or even to think about an answer, then your answer implicitly becomes a “no” answer. The same is true about the question of who is God. If we fail to consider it deeply, or cling to a never-ending agnosticism, then we have answered the question with a wrong answer and have shown by our lives that we don’t think the “God who is” (who is the answer to the question) matters very much. If we have believed an answer which is false, then our lives are lived for a false god who truly is unimportant since it does not, in fact, exist. Now, we may never know God exhaustively, but we can know him by what he has revealed about himself. Yet, if we never put prayer in our schedule to ask the questions which he has graciously answered in his Word, then what hope do we have left? A false one.
(John 6:56-69; Luke 11:9-13)

I don’t need forgiveness.

Many people still believe that some kind of hell after death is reserved for the most cruel among us, but almost nobody thinks that they will end up there themselves. Consequently, any talk of a hero who saves sinners from hellish punishments falls on deaf ears. Many people don’t believe that they need forgiveness. “I’m not perfect, but I’m no murderer” is the common self-examination. Their assumed expectation is that God should have the same easy-going standard as they have. They depend on the kindness of God to let them into heaven (Rom 2:4-5), but they never truly seek him. The trouble is, their standard isn’t God’s standard.

We all need the sort of big forgiveness which only Jesus offered through the cross, because by God’s standard the ugliness of the cross displays the ugliness of our sins. By Jesus’ standard, simply hating someone is not unlike the thought of murdering them. The thought of having sex with someone to whom you’re not married, nearly as bad as having actually done it. It is fantasizing about and admiring what God calls evil.

If we only looked to God’s pure standard of good and evil, we’d see our own disgraceful condition much clearer. This is not a pessimistic self-loathing, but simply acknowledging an objective standard which exposes the gravity of our true condition. God’s idea of good is that we love him with all our body and soul, and by extention that we love our neighbors. But none of us have loved him that much for a single day of our lives. Our God-hatred, sometimes expressed by neglect, coupled with pride of assessing ourselves by our own standards in place of God’s, is great sin in need of great forgiveness. The good news is, there is a savior who offers just that to just such a person as you or I.

Yes and No. Not the answer you expected? Jesus frequently surprised his hearers by his view of reality, but it was always a better view than what his hearers had in mind. Jesus knew that the world did not originate as a place of suffering and death and meant to fix it. Some spoke to Jesus about a tragic news event, that the Roman governor had brutally murdered a group of people. The popular view among the crowd was that perhaps the victims had been judged by God for hidden sins. Jesus defended the victims with the same words which condemned the hidden sins of those speaking to him.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5 ESV)

Jesus knew that all humanity had fallen into sin. He alone was without sin because he was God incarnate, and he was warning them that the only reasonable way to deal with their sins was to ask him for forgiveness. However, Jesus did not only use suffering as a warning. He said suffering can be good for us and glorify God. When speaking about the suffering of a man born blind he gave suffering objective meaning. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

Christians can actually rejoice in sufferings (Rom 5:3) because we know that it is only temporary and not as meaningless as it seems. God promises that suffering is somehow shaping us to be more like Jesus (Rom 8:28-29).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.


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