Christian Halloween: Scary God

  • Read Genesis 15:12-21 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (November 1) you can listen to it here.

I’m running a week behind with my posts, which is why I’m talking about Halloween toward the middle of November.

This sermon was not actually about Halloween.  We used our Trunk-or Treat the night before to advertise Sunday’s sermon.  I titled the sermon “What if God Scares Me?”.  Christians, understandably, have a way of only seeing God’s endearing character traits, eg. Jn 3:16 “God loves the world.”  But for many people in our society, the God that Christians present is scary, vindictive, and unattractive.

The Exodus presents a couple of events that cause many people to question God’s goodness.  First, we should not quickly pass over the deaths of Egypt’s firstborn.  Tens of thousands of families lost sons, fathers and brothers.  These families had apparently done nothing wrong beyond having the misfortune to live in Egypt at the time.

Second, It’s all well and good to get excited about the Hebrews leaving for a Promised Land, but that land already belonged to someone else.  In order for God to honour this promise thousands of men, women and children would die as God’s people destroyed cities and plundered the countryside.

That sure sounds like a scary God! I’m sympathetic with those who read Scripture this way, but would encourage them to continue their study to see the bigger picture.

In defense of God, I’d like to make a couple of points.  Obviously, this could be a lengthy, complicated discussion, but I hope the simple suggestions I make here provide a context that at least prompts readers to think further and not run with their first impression.

First, there is no denying the tragedy of the Egyptian deaths that motivated Pharaoh to allow the Exodus.  However, I believe that God gave Pharaoh fair opportunity to hear his demands and release the Hebrews.  The visit from the angel of death came after 9 other plagues: 9 other opportunities to obey God.  (Read more on Pharaoh’s hard heart here.) I understand that even this demand for obedience can make God seem self-centred, authoritarian, and heavy-handed, but we also need to remember that He’s God, so it’s not unreasonable to expect humans to obey Him.

Also, God’s demand for obedience had a context.  The book of Genesis records how God had used a Hebrew, Joseph, to save the lives of the Egyptians during a 7 year famine.  Then, even though hundreds of years later, the Egyptians repay that kindness by enslaving the Hebrews.  Was God’s demand really that unreasonable?

Second, we need to understand the context of time.  If we just read the Bible straight through it’s very difficult to get a clear picture of the time frame.  God first promised the land of Canaan to Abram in Genesis 12:7.  Later in Gen. 15:12-21 God provides more details.  Abraham would not personally take possession of the land himself.  Rather, 500 or so years would pass before his descendants would claim ownership.

If God wanted to bless His people, why would he wait 500 years?  We find the answer in 15:16 “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”  As much as God loved Abraham and his descendants, he also loved the Amorites.  Although they worshiped other gods, their sins were not grievous enough to warrant the destruction that would occur when the Israelites conquered the land.  So God gave the Amorites 500 years to repent, to worship Him, to make things right, and they didn’t.  Only after 500 years was God prepared to punish them.

In both these examples I believe that we can see God’s patience, and in that His love, toward ungodly people and nations.  I admit that I do not understand the extremity of the punishment meted out, but through this and other examples I trust that God is just and fair.  These punishments were not snap decisions or immediate angry reactions to an insult, they only came after many lifetimes of insult and disregard.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

  • Do you generally think of God’s commitment to justice as an endearing, or frightening, attribute?
  • Do you struggle to reconcile some of God’s actions with the God of love, grace, and mercy most churches routinely present?
  • Would it make a difference if  Christians emphasised the patience of God more?
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2 comments

  1. rob

    I often think about why I am a Christian and why I obeyed the Gospel and why I asked GOD to restore me to his TRUE church when I came back after falling away.

    I also think about how God has said from the very beginning that vengeance is His and that he will punish the sinners of this world. After the resurrection that all the sinners of this world who did not obey all of God’s commands will be thrown in the lake of fire which is Hell.

    I think about how we as the One and only Church have gone from the one extreme of preaching about the fire and brimstone to the other extreme of grace. As the True Church it seems to me that we have gotten away preaching all the Gospel and have “watered it down” to the preaching that we have in most of the churches today. It seems today, we are no longer allowed to preach that if someone does not obey the Gospel that they will be condemned to Hell. We need to find a medium and preach both the Grace of God but also the vengeful side as well. I do not hear the invitation being offered after every sermon for the lost sheep that maybe in the worship service, even if the sermon does not seem appropriate at the time we should always offer one.

    To answer the first question: Do you generally think of God’s commitment to justice as an endearing, or frightening, attribute?

    The answer is both.

    Being raised in the One True Church, I was taught the love of God by the sacrifice that he gave by sending his only begotten son to be crucified on the tree so that all of mankind could have a chance at eternal life (god’s Love for us), by following all of God’s commands. I was taught not to add to the worship service, not to celebrate pagan holidays as through they are indeed Christian (just because some church/ Satan that tried to destroy the True Church, made these holidays). I was taught that if I did not Obey all things that in the end that God would destroy me. I was taught that the Old Testament was in the Bible as to be the Teacher and the New Testament is the Law. I was taught of the ultimate authority of God and that His will always must be done. I was taught and fully believe all the above and that God is very, very serious when it comes to what He wants (to follow all of His commands and not to add to them or take away from them).

    I look at all the examples of nations/ cities that God destroyed for their sinful natures in the Old Testament, IE: Jericho, Sodom and Gomorrah,Edom, Philistia, Cush and all the other countries that God Destroyed. I also see in the New Testament where Herod, Ananias and Sapphira who were destroyed for sinning against God. The book of Revelation is very clear as to what will happen to all who are not Baptized for the remission of their sins and lead a good Christian life. I do not want to be one of the ones who will have gnashing of teeth and eternal torment. So I am fearful of God (what He will do to His bad children) and grateful of His grace as well (what He has promised to His good children).

    I also look at the O.T. for examples of forgiveness that God had bestrode on nations/ cities; IE: the book of Jonah for the city of Nineveh which repented of their sins, the book of Hosea where God told Hosea to marry an adulterous woman and children of unfaithfulness to so that God will show Israel that he would forgive as Hosea forgave his family. How when ever Israel would repent that God would restore them (throughout the O.T.). How even with the original covenant with Abraham that it was also his plan to offer salvation to all people.

    In the N.T>: Christ’s death, Burial and (the most important part) the Resurrection. The New Covenant we have with God today from that simple but most loving act that God did for all of his children.
    To answer the Second question: No I do not struggle with the way God is portrayed today in the churches.

    But I do think that we have gone from one extreme to another and neither are the correct approach. Jesus for example only used the word Grace once in his lifetime. Jesus used the word hypocrite 14 times just in Matthew when addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees and that certainly was not full of Grace. I think we need as the Church need to get back to preaching the Brimstone and Fire and the damnation side of Christianity. I think that any preacher who/ Christian who does not want to preach the Fire and Brimstone is doing a disservice to both God and saving His lost sheep. If we do not preach the consequences of not Repenting and being Baptized for the remission of their sins and they will be condemned to Hell for not accepting the Gospel of Christ, then we are not doing what we are commanded to do, Love everyone, the greatest gift we can give someone who is lost is the GOSPEL of Christ (that includes all of it, not just the grace). We know that God so loved the world that He sent his only son to die for the World, but there are conditions to get that salvation that we need to make sure are preached and followed. I recently had the opportunity to worship at the Manassass church of Christ, where the preacher very clearly stated that he can not understand why someone would claim to be a Christian but not submit to God’s commands and would want to risk Hell in the process, as that is what will happen if you do not submit to all the commands.

    We need make sure that our friends (non-members of the true Church; (churches of Christ)) who claim to be Christians that have not followed all of God’s commands are rebuked with LOVE and corrected. Just as Priscilla and Aquila and the apostle Paul (members of the church of Christ) did for Apollos and his followers in the book ACTS of the apostles.

    Acts 18:24-28; 19:1-7 both show how this can be done.

    To answer the third question, I do think that it would make a difference if we emphasized the patience of God. examples of what God says: Nahum: 1:2-3 (the message) God is serious business. He won’t be trifled with. He avenges his foes. He stands up against his enemies, fierce and raging.But God doesn’t lose his temper. He’s powerful, but it’s a patient power.Still, no one gets by with anything. Sooner or later, everyone pays.

    Deuteronomy 11:1 So love God, your God; guard well his rules and regulations; obey his commandments for the rest of time.

    Exodus 34:6 (NIV) And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,

    Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV) Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

    Ephesians 1:3-6 (The Message)
    The God of Glory
    3-6How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

    Notice that in most scriptures God says: we have to keep His commands both in the Old and New Testaments, that is one of the running themes through out the entire Bible. That is part of our salvation, just as much as the Baptism, repentance, worshiping and not adding to what God says or following Human traditions (do not do it) Col 2:8.

    This I think shows the patience of God. I think that he can be very forgiving (When we ask). He only wants us to follow all of His commands, it can not get any simpler than that. I know that I am not there yet, but the Lord knows that I am trying my best to get it. All I can do is keep trying and striving to be like Jesus and that is what he really wants. To Love everyone, by preaching the True Gospel. To save one person at a time.

    • ozziepete

      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and respond Rob. In my opening paragraph I said that, “Christians have a way of only seeing God’s endearing character traits.” I guess that’s an over simplification as I’ve certainly heard my share of sermons that leave the congregation waiting for lightening bolts because they forgot to confess and repent of jaywalking the week before.

      But I do believe that most evangelical and mainline denominations/churches present the predominant message that “God is love”, and I don’t have a problem with that. However, my next blog post make the point that throughout history “God acts, and we respond”. The church does have to send a clear message that how we respond to God’s action has consequences, but I believe our primary message should be that God acts out of love.

      Jesus may not have used the word “Grace” very much, but his life exemplified it. John 1:14-17 tells us that Jesus was “full of grace and truth“. It also tells us that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus was hard on the religious leaders who were leading people away from God, or binding them up in legalism. But to those who were seeking him he demonstrated only grace. Eg. Nicodemus (John 3), Samaritan woman (John 4), woman caught in adultery (John 8), thief on the cross (Luke 23).

      God seeks a loving relationship with us, not a fearful one. It’s why God could say in 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out fear.” If Christians have a fearful relationship with God, either God’s love isn’t perfect, or our understanding of his love is incomplete.

      So to answer Question 1. I appreciate and respect God’s commitment to justice. While I don’t always understand the punishments, I also don’t want to live in a world without consequences. Just as I don’t view anarchy as a desirable form of society, I’m glad God values justice, not anarchy.

      I discussed the issues related to Question 2 quite a bit in the original post, so just a short comment here.

      We live in a world filled with violence, suffering, and uncertainty, with momentary glimpses of peace and happiness. If churches only present a picture of a peaceful, loving God, we might present an attractive alternative, but it’s disconnected from people’s experience of life. When people hear the message “God loves” but they experience suffering, the inconsistency often results in them rejecting the message that God really loves.

      Scripture does not give us the authority to tell people that their suffering is directly related to their lifestyle. The people starving in Africa are no more sinful than the well fed in the US.

      The church has a responsibility to proclaim that “God loves and forgives”, but we also have to address the question of reconciling our life experiences with this message. Our message has to be more complicated than “God loves, repent”. We have to explain how a loving God can exist in a world of suffering.

      I believe that the answer to Question 3 relates to Question 2. God’s patience goes someway to explain why evil and suffering exists. God doesn’t instantly exterminate everyone that hurts another person, because he’s patient enough to give them a chance to turn their life around.

      Just as “the sins of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure” God is still patient with our society. Despite the suffering, God continues to give people the opportunity to turn to Him for rescue. In discussing when God will put an end to the world and its suffering and evilness, 2 Peter 3:9 says of God, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

      Although not a complete answer (it doesn’t address floods and famines etc.) understanding God’s patience provides a helpful response to understanding the world around us.

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