By Dr. Ron Galloway
Many critics of the Bible, such as Richard Dawkins, declare the God of the Old Testament to be an angry God of vengeance. In one sense, neither the critics or Dawkins are entirely wrong. When God sees sufficient evil, he does become angry and he does avenge the oppressed (Psalm 94:1; Isa.34:8, 35:4, 61:2).
God is also a jealous God. But for people who take the time to understand the Old Testament, and the context, they will come to understand that God is jealous, not because of some irrational possessiveness, but for our sake. For God, as portrayed in both Testaments, is life and peace, and those without him are dead in their sins, cut off from the life God so deeply wants to give them, if only they will turn from evil and walk towards him (Isa. 1). At times God commanded Israel to destroy entire nations, but only because those nations had steeped themselves in collective evil (Gen. 18:19, 15:13-15). Samples of their collective evils are cited in Deuteronomy 18.[i] They include practices such as sorcery, consulting mediums, fortune telling, real witchcraft, and other forms of divination. In both the New and the Old Testament, the pathology of collective evil always begins with the nations tuning from their Creator, worshipping and deifying themselves, or the formative energies of nature, or both. The next step in collective evil is contact with the spirit world and drawing on the energies, powers, and benefits such evil grants, but only at the expense of the very mind, heart and soul (personality) of the practitioners. In Scripture these practices are referred to as forms of idolatry (Deut. 32:16; Ps. 78:8; Ezek. 23:39).
Romans 1 describes this pathology in marked clarity. Romans declares that as an integral consequence of turning from their Creator, the personalities of people undergo radical change. For a time there may be lip service to God, but whether or not the lip service lasts, the hearts of such people eventually become so distorted that they begin to view evil as good and good as evil, or entirely deny the existence of either. Eventually such a nation defines oppression or injustice as any law that gets in the way of their preferred lifestyle, however perverted. The chapter then describes ranges of collective evil that eventually lead God himself to give these people up to their own self-destructive pursuits. They then begin to commit every imaginable kind of injustice. Lying becomes a lifestyle, as do cheating, stealing, wife-swapping, sleeping around, sexual orgies, men sleeping with men, and women with women. Thinking themselves wise, these people become senseless in their reasoning, never giving thanks to the God of Israel, who even amidst their evil, still sends his rain upon the just and the unjust (Romans 1).
However, both Old and New Testament Scriptures warn that when collective evil reaches the point of no return, when injustice and human cruelty and corporate selfishness move beyond that point, God will bring that nation and that people down. For God, despite his wondrous longsuffering, will not allow evil to go on indefinitely. Indeed, what thinking person would ever expect that a God of genuine love would? Ironically, that point-of-no-return evil eventually becomes an inevitability for every nation, and every individual, if they cut themselves off from God. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Christian writer and thinker, warned us may years ago about how great collective evil becomes when a nation rejects its creator. Without God, Dostoevsky’s antagonists assert in The Brothers Karamazov, everything is permitted.
In 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Israel. The prophets of Israel warned of this many times, and the destruction finally came when the collective evil of Israel was full-blown. On more than one occasion, the prophets of Israel, such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, declared that the evils of Israel exceeded those of any Gentile nation. Eventually, however, the collective evil of Babylon, too, grew to such an extent that the Prophets declared that Cyrus the Persian would be sent by God to bring an end to the pride of Babylon, and so Babylon was also brought down.
Disregarding the claims of naturalistic critics who suppose that everything the prophets predicted came after the fact, the prophets themselves speak of what they see in visions of the future. In their visions, the prophets describe the atrocities that are part of war, whether then or now. The prophet Amos makes clear that God will punish methods and devices used in war that exhibit abnormal cruelty on the part of conquering nations. Even a cursory reading of the book of Amos makes it clear that God takes account of every inhuman atrocity one nation forces upon another. People who never tire of renouncing the God of vengeance of the Old Testament are, as a rule, individuals who never take the time to seriously examine the historical context of the writings of any of the books of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the historic books, the books of wisdom, or any Old or New Testament book for that matter. Those who take the time will find that compared to Gods pervasive concern for justice, we are all like shadows longing to become concrete.
People who ask why God doesn’t prevent the evils of the present are really asking for God to judge all evil and end all oppression right now. The Judaeo-Christian answer to that is as follows. If people, who continue to shun Gods offer of love, mercy and pardon, take time to examine their own hearts, they will be grateful that it hasnt happened yet. The New Testament letter 2 Peter teaches that God does not want any human being to experience eternal separation from his love and presence. Biblically understood, that is what it is to perish: to be cut off from the life of God. In the New Testament and the Old, such a state equals a living death (Eph. 2:1-6). That is why, the letter continues, God has not yet brought an end to this world. There is still a little time before God sets in motion the power and movement that will end all evil, pain, and suffering forever (Rev. 21).
In both the Old and New Testaments, God is viewed as the judge of the living and the dead. No one escapes. No evil in history ever remains hidden. In the imagery of the book of Revelation, the Holy City of God (the New Jerusalem) is portrayed as coming down from God (Rev. 21). Collective humanity set apart from God is the Beast; it cannot create the Holy City it seeks to create. The cities of men are all viewed in Revelation as part of the whore Babylon (Rev. 17). The builder and maker of the Holy City is portrayed as God himself (Heb. 11:10). The city coming down from heaven announces the end of all evil and all tears. From that time on there will never be oppression again. Humanity will no longer bring tears to the heart of God, or to each other. At last, God will come for the bride he loves, all those who love the appearing of Jesus Christ when he returns, or who longed for his coming while they lived.[ii]
When we read about the actions of the God of Israel, it’s important that we understand the context around them. When we take the time to examine the circumstances and motives that God himself has revealed for his actions, we can see that they are not motivated by blind vengeance or a juvenile temperament, as Richard Dawkins and his disciples portray him. Rather, they are motivated by divine love and justice.
[i] Amidst such horrid collective no evil is missed. In the Noah account, God sees the human heart has become only evil continually. This means parents abusing children, child sacrifice, and incest with children would also be universal. What parent with a conscience would want a child raised amidst such monstrous parents and relatives in a nation where iniquity has reached its fullness? People are horrified that all the children died in the flood with the parents and relatives. But this is surely a far better state than the former. It should always be borne in mind that death is not a problem for God . God can bring anyone back to life when he wants. The great sorrow for God is the evil of the human heart.
As for the fate of children who die only short hours or months after tasting mortal life, we have the words of Jesus, the same God made incarnate, that great “I Am” who delivered Israel out of bondage to Egypt and us out of bondage to sin: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14 KJV). Besides this, there is a warning to proud arrogant hearts: “lest you become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
[ii] See the masterful work on the city by Jaques Ellul, The Meaning of the City (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970).