Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This is War

Christopher Hitchens died this past week. May God have mercy.

I could wish that he had reconsidered in his last hours and had repented of his unbelief. If this was the case, God alone knows. But what I know is that his anti-theistic attacks on Christianity and Christ continue in his books and Internet debates. I wish to address one of his more regular arguments, that God is unworthy of our worship.

God, the God of the Bible, is unworthy of worship because God, as Hitchens oft wrote, ordered the mass murder of hundreds and thousands of innocent people, including women and children.

To that accusation Christians from Marcion onward to the liberals and some evangelicals of today have replied with various philosophical and theological sophistries in attempts to soften the force of Hitchens' point. In so doing they have both misrepresented God and have failed to give a biblical response.

So let me be clear. God did order the destruction of whole cities and societies. Why? Because God is at war, and God at war is a fierce God. God is at war with evil, with Satan, and with those who are caught up in evil or choose to identify with the enemy Satan.

This war is first of all in the spiritual realm. It is between Satan with his angels and God, who Satan desires to dethrone and to replace with himself. See Ezekiel 28 for an Old Testament description of the conflict and Revelation 12 for a New Testament example. But it extends to the realm of this earth and human history. See Ephesians 6 for Paul's description of the spiritual battle that extends in the the realm of flesh and blood.

At stake is the whole moral fabric of the universe and our eternal destiny. Satan would destroy both. God prevailing in this battle assures both.

In this war when men or nations take the part of evil, God has and will destroy them for the sake of those yet to be saved. In this way God judges nations and societies. Individuals, however, will face judgment in the future, at the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20.

Hitchens is right about the fierceness of God.

But Hitchens is wrong about the murder of innocents. Hitchens is judging God on the false premises that in God's wrath innocents perish and that death is the greatest of all evils. But God judges men on the basis of what they did with the truth of God they knew. Children do not know, therefore they can not reject God, and we are confident that the mercy of God in Christ Jesus covers them.

Hitchens' final error is that death is the greatest of all evils. However, he judges so from a purely temporal point of view. The Bible tells us that all are appointed to die. It is the common experience of every person. But the passage goes on to the more serious issue: "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27). It is this judgment that is rightly feared, not death. But, thank God, the passage goes on: "so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation (Hebrews 9:28)."

It is upon that promise that innocent babes and sinners such as myself and Christopher Hitchens hope. I pray that even as the thief on the cross cried out for mercy with his last breath so Hitchens may have cried, and did he so, God, who is faithful and who in Christ Jesus provided forgiveness to all who call upon him, shall certainly have forgiven Hitchens.


Anonymous said...

Atheists wouldn't have nearly so much ammunition against Christianity if it would use a little common sense the way Judaism does. Why is it that Christianity is always the target? Jews and Deists are more or less left alone.

The answer is the Christian doctrine of the infallibility/inerrancy of the Bible. Jews (aside from a few fundamentalist nuts in Israel) don't take the commands to wipe out the Canaanites seriously. Christians on the other hand preach about how those Canaanites got what they deserved! [Don't tell me that for the last 30 years I imagined all that preaching I heard at church in this regard.] Jews don't take the story of Adam and Eve eating an 'apple' at the instigation of a snake seriously [they see it as an allegory] -- Christians base their whole theology on the belief that it is 100% historical! Seriously, you set yourself up for ridicule here. Jews recognize that the Bible is tradition -- that it was put together by men who didn't always know what the hell they were talking about. Christians pretend that scripture is not a tradition but something above tradition, something wholly divine and not at all human. As a result, they make themselves ridiculous.

How is it, pray tell, that Jesus called his disciples AFTER John Baptist was cast in prison, and by the Sea of Galilee in the Synoptic Gospels -- yet in John he called his disciples BEFORE John Baptist was cast into prison and by the River Jordan?

How is it, pray tell, that Peter is told by Jesus in Matthew "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you [i.e. that I am the Christ] but my Father in heaven" whereas in John's gospel, Jesus himself doesn't even call Peter to be a disciple but Peter's brother Andrew calls him saying "We have found the Christ" -- thus he was told by his FLESH AND BLOOD and not by God according to John, whereas to Matthew he was told by God not by flesh and blood.

These sorts of contradictions are insurmountable -- yet you insist that the Bible never contradicts itself. The Jews don't have this problem (Reform anyway, maybe the 'Orthodox' Jews do since they imitate Christianity) because they are willing to admit contradictions in the Torah. For example, Jacob Milgrom in his commentary on Leviticus points out how that

In Leviticus the farmer gives his tithe to God (27:30) -- in Numbers to the Levites (18:21) -- in Deuteronomy to himself (14:23).

He freely admits the existence of a contradiction but goes on to explain why this is not a problem for Judaism. But for Christianity, which pretends like the Muslims pretend, to posses a perfect text, every little blemish is the end of the world. Just admit that God didn't command the Caananite genocides, and that atheist argument is gone -- DUH. But then you would have a hard time propping up the dead doctrine of 'original sin' around which everything in fundamentalist 'evangelicalism' revolves, so you choose to keep on lying because you need that demonic doctrine for your nefarious purposes.

Anonymous said...

"In this war when men or nations take the part of evil, God has and will destroy them for the sake of those yet to be saved."

By coming up with this sort of answer you just involve yourself in more trouble and open yourself up to more ridicule. For if God really was exterminating all evil doers to make a nice clean world for the 'orthodoxy' -- why the hell are the atheists still here? Epic fail.

Don Camp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Camp said...

beowulf, interesting name. Monster slayer, rigtht?

RE: the Canaanites. The Bible explains the reason for God's command for total annihilation. But it is instructive that this command follows 400 years of grace and one notable example of God's incredible mercy - Rahab.

God gave the Canaanites wonderful witness to himself through Abraham and his sons. None of the doings between Genesis 12 and, say, 47 happened in a corner. The Canaanites of what would become the Promised Land were well aware of God's presence and power. They had in addition another 400 years to repent. But they did not.

Instead they chose to fight against God. And, yes, they received what they deserved - according to the Bible.

When we come to Joshua and the conquest of Canaan, they knew well the reports of God's protection of the Israelites and the destruction of the Egyptians, as well as the success over the kings on the east side of the Jordan. Only Rahab responded in surrender to this God and was saved though any could have done so.

Did God actually destroy the Canaanites? Archaeology indicates that the story of Jericho is historically accurate. And archaeology tells us Jericho was utterly destroyed, nothing taken as plunder, even as God directed. (The exception being Achan.)

So, yes, I'll go with the Bible's accurancy and explanmations.

Anonymous said...

If archeology does indicate 'the story of Jericho is accurate' it can only do so in the sense of demonstrating that the walls fells down, not that they fell down as the result of a 7 day march and some shouting. But be that as it may, everything I've read about archeology of recent suggests that the Caananite genocide never took place which makes it all the worse that the priests blamed it on God. I mean if the greedy priests had the people kill off the other nations to steal their land and decided to say 'God told us to do it' that's one thing, but if it never even happened and the priests blame it on God it smacks of psychosis on the part of the priests.

Don Camp said...

You're right. The total destruction of the Canaanites did not happen. But that is the record of the books of Joshua and Judges long before the observation of historians.

However, the same books tell the Israelites that failure to do as God directed would come back to bite them, and it did, as the history of Israel in the next few centuries illustrates. These Canaanites who remained sowed seeds of idolatry and immorality that often infected the Israelite community to their ruin. (I see this as part of the war going on between good and evil, God and Satan. Israel was intended to be God's showpiece of mercy and salvation/spiritual health to all nations. Satan tries to deface this picture. Sometimes he was successful. That is the metanarrative.)

It seems that the battle for the territory was won by the end of Joshua's life, but the spiritual war continued.

RE: inerrancy.

Inerrancy and infalibility are theological constructs, not biblical ideas. The Bible claims for itself not inerrancy but power, the power to change lives and the power to probe the heart.

The biblical authors, for example, quote earlier scripture without concern for getting it right word for word. That seems to imply that inerrancy in the sense that we use it was not a concern.

But the power. Neither you nor I can escape the the power of the Word of God. It is a watershed, and those who read it or hear it find themselves trending toward faith, trust, commitment, repentance, and obedience or toward skepticism, rejection, and rebellion. I know of no one who walks away from the Word of God untouched by it.

Don Camp said...

A word about the tithes - and reading the Bible. The Leviticus passage is not in conflict with the Deuteronomy passage. Though the tithe belonged to the Lord it was given to the Levites, who were the clan of priests. It was used by them for their food because they were not given a portion of the land as the other tribes had been given. Some tithes were given to the Lord at the place of the Tabernacle and consumed before the Lord by the giver as a celebration of thanks.

When you study the Bible you must do more than skip from topic to topic using a concordance - or following the passages preselected for you on a skeptic website. You must read the context, which often means reading the whole book, and you must look for the differences in passages such as these selected. That is called inductive Bible study. What you are doing is deductive (or destructive) Bible study. Even someone predisposed to accept the Bible will find that kind of study confusing.

Anonymous said...

You mean according to one book the tithe is given to the Lord, according to another to the Levites, and to another it is to be eaten in a drunken party by the worshipers in Jerusalem. There are three different notions of the tithe -- not 3 types of tithes -- if you really think so then explain in what cased which one was to be performed. Clearly the original one was for the tithe to be given to the Levites. The other two were reforms that sought to cut the Levites out for some reason or another.

Don Camp said...

Leviticus 27. The tithe belongs to the Lord.

But where or to whom shall it be presented?

Numbers 18.To the Levites because they did not receive a portion of the land.

I can see no problem so far.

Deuteronomy 14. This is looking forward to a time when there would be a place of worship to which Israel would make a pilgrimage at least once a year. There, as an act of worship, they would eat the tithe they brought. They would eat it along with the Levites who lived among them. (See Deuteronomy 12: 12, 18)

The tithe of one year would be considerable. Let's say today if I brought the tithe of one year to the Lord it might be $5,000. That is a lot to be consumed. Impossible, in fact, at one time. And that is not what is in mind here.

The head of a family along with his family perhaps would make the trip to Shiloh where the tabernacle was. He would make that trek once a year. Along with him and others in his community would come the Levites who lived among them.

There at Shiloh they would eat a meal together, including the Levites who lived among them. The meal was a celebration of thanksgiving. It is not likely they consumed the whole tithe. (I don't imagine as you do that this was a drunken party. Drunkeness was considered a sin.)

They would then go home. The remainder of the tithe would belong to the Levites.

I don't see a conflict between the instructions in Leviticus and Numbers with Deuteronomy. I do see a change of circumstance. In the first the Levites and the other tribes lived all together. Worship took place in the center of the community.

Later the people were dispersed across the land of Israel and the Levites among them. Formal worship took place at a central location - Shiloh or Jerusalem.

There was no attempt to cut the Levites out. The meal they ate together was like Thanksgiving for us. It was a group celebration. Since it was eaten together, people and Levites, it included the Levites rather than excluded them.

The problem for you seems to be that you expect the traditions and the instructions to remain the same through history. That is not what we see in the Bible. Circumstances changed, and the instructions God gave changed with them.

The biggest change, of course, was the new covenant given through Jesus. Among other things, the Levitical priesthood was superseded by the priesthood of all believers with Jesus as high priest. The sacrifices required under the Law were replaced by the single sacrifice of Jesus himself. The people of God as a nation among the community of nations becomes the people of God dispersed among the nations.

My point is that things do change through time.

Anonymous said...

"The tithe of one year would be considerable. Let's say today if I brought the tithe of one year to the Lord it might be $5,000. That is a lot to be consumed. Impossible, in fact, at one time."

The passage explicitly allows for the monetization of the tithe and for the money to be spent on booze. I could see the whole 5k being spent on one bottle of really overpriced wine.

Yet its all beside the point. You claim to not believe in infallibility or inerrancy, yet you defend the false notion that God commanded the Caananite genocides. Your position is so laughable that it would be a travesty for me to waste any more time on you.

Don Camp said...

Beowulf, your vision of the ancient world is truly unique.

By the way, I said that inerrancy was not explicitly declared in the Bible. But that does not mean everything is up for grabs or up for individual interpretation.

As a a Jesus follower who takes the Bible seriously, I cannot side-step the commands given by God to destroy certain groups of people, even if it is not a politically correct idea today. The simple truth which I derive from the Bible is that God is gracious and wants all to come to repentance. But when there are those who not only refuse to repent but actively oppose God, there is a point of no return for those people. At some point God ends their influence.

In the Bible we see those moments of judgment clearly. But it is my conviction that God judges nations today when they become a danger to his eternal purpose of offering salvation to all. Since there is no nation that is God's nation in the sense that Israel was, God uses other nations. For example, God used the United States in WWII to contain and destroy the evil of the Nazis and Japan. (You don't imagine, do you, that conflict was not as brutal as any described in the Old Testament? Whole cities were put to flame, men women and children. But in the end, the world was made safer and, more important from a theological point of view, more open to proclaiming the everlasting gospel of grace.)

Anonymous said...

"By the way, I said that inerrancy was not explicitly declared in the Bible. But that does not mean everything is up for grabs or up for individual interpretation."

Yet what's 'individual interpretation' is up to individual interpretation. To the Catholic the Protestant view is 'individual interpretation' despite being supported by the whole corpus of the Protestant churches -- and to the Protestant the Jewish view is individual interpretation despite being believed by all Jews.