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?