Why do some of our neighbors doubt the God of the Bible and what responsibility do we have toward them in this doubt? In response to a thoughtful inquiry regarding my post on how we think about the violence of God, I tried to answer this question. How would you answer?
Here is the inquiry: I had said that the violence of God in Genesis 6 challenged me. “It challenged me because I know that two dear friends of mine reject the God of the Bible because of this very passage and others like it.”
The good question then came:
Do you think that they reject the God of the Bible because of passages like this or is it because God is holy? Perhaps it has more to do with the fact that had they lived in this time, they would have been judged too.
Here is my response, what do you think?
Thank you for your good question. I would offer “both” as an answer and then take that answer to Jesus for further consideration. Here is what I mean.
First, these friends and others who feel similarly do actually reject these passages and the god they see in them, exactly because, as they see it, this god isn’t holy at all. They intellectually assert and morally feel that if God is God then He would be the most moral and holy. So, when they see the text present god in this violent manner and they also doubt the credibility of the historical accuracy of the text to begin with, they make the following conclusion: Why follow a mythical text and the violent, cruel, tantrum-like god it presents? They then turn away from this “god” and from the bible and search for another answer to the longing they deeply feel for what is true, noble and good. (a longing that we would say comes from having been made in God’s image). Therefore, the first side of answering your question is, “yes” they do reject what they interpret as the “god” of the Bible because of how they understand these passages. On this side of it, we Jesus-followers have only added to this misconception about God by our own lack of handling these passages well and by our own willingness to appear giddy or lustful with the thought of damnation in the way we relate to our neighbors. Our commitment to reducing a trite approach to such texts and to increasing our capacity to love even our enemies as Jesus taught us and purchased for us, will go along way to remove this kind of objection. We need Jesus’ grace for this.
Secondly, that being said, ultimately, we do believe that within each of us is a bent-desire to resist the knowledge of God and to exchange serving Him with “gods” of our own making (Romans 1:18-23). This deeper hardness will reveal itself when true answers are given, misconceptions are cleared away, and God as He truly is is set before them. Sometimes we do not believe because we do not know. Sometimes we know and yet still do not believe. That is, sometimes knowledge of truth, rather than softening us toward it, exposes how we want to harden against it. When this second reality emerges, then we are seeing the true rebellion of our hearts and the arrogance within us that assumes that we are more moral than God and that even if He is who He is truly, we still resist surrender to Him. It is like Pilate who asked Jesus what appeared to be a genuine question about who Jesus was. Then when Jesus answered credibly about himself and what is true, Pilate dodged the answer and his original question. “What is truth?” he asked. He responded to truth not by softening toward it but by shifting to a different philosophical question, content to leave both unanswered. For this reason, the second side of your question warrants a “yes”.
Now let’s consider this two-sided coin in Jesus and see what we learn. Both, yesses, reveal a tension that Jesus guides us through. Some say that all we need is to show credible clarity and our neighbors will believe. Others say that because people will not naturally believe there is no point in showing credible love and truth to our neighbors. Jesus’ way seems to confound both assumptions. No one communicated more clearly or truthfully than Jesus, yet some of those with full clarity and knowledge only hardened all the more and crucified Him. This fact, however, did not stop our Lord from calling us into a radical love for our neighbors and a thorough proclamation of His grace for them. Therefore, our direction here seems clear.
Finally, I used to believe when I watched a war movie (because I am not a veteran of war) that I would have been like the character who survived. Likewise, I can identify myself with Noah in the passage and assume that I would not have been outside of the boat. Truth be told, I am no soldier. If I was in war the reality that veterans tell us about would apply equally to me and I too would unlikely survive. Similarly, I now know that had I been there at the time of Noah, there was only one Noah. Likely, I would have been judged along with everyone else. Thanks be to God, that in Jesus I have been shown mercy and the judgment I would otherwise warrant has been paid for and removed. This is my prayer for my friends too. I pray that they too receive what I myself have not and could never have earned. Thanks again for writing!