Last time we looked at some thoughts from Greg Boyd regarding the apparent contradiction in Christ's "love" nature in the New Testament and God's "warrior" nature in the Old Testament. I gave two reasons why I feel Boyd is struggling: his knowledge of Christ's qualities is incomplete, and he is mistaken on the scope to which we are to imitate Christ. I got going on the problem of reducing our view of Christ to unconditionals instead of viewing him as God, a being. And God is big. So I guess another way to formulate this first mistake is that we need to view God (and Jesus) as a being instead of reducing Him to qualities. Let me elaborate on this.
Here is how I would instead formulate the problem presented by Boyd:
- God commanded, "Thou shalt not kill," Deu. 5:17.
- Then God commanded, "You shall kill him," Deu. 13:9.
- God also said, "I kill," Deu. 32:39.
So we see contradictory commands from God to the Israelites, and that God is somehow above the law that he instituted. If the command is not to kill, then killing must be sin. But if God commands to kill, He is commanding sin. And if God kills, He would be sinning. What's going on here?
If there is a moral law over-arched by a principle of love, then why is God a killer?
(In my formulation of the problem, I didn't even present Christ as part of it. I don't think we need to. If we understand Christ's full nature and the proper scope of his teachings, the problem is the same. The fullness of the problem is in the OT, just as I believe God's full nature is seen in the OT.)
The problem, again, is that we tend to try to reduce God to a set of qualities instead of seeing Him as a being. It is important to see the inherent asymmetry when comparing humans to God. He is the Creator; we are the created. He seeks His own glory; we seek not our own glory, but His. Not my will, but His will be done. This helps us understand why it seems that God is above the law. If there is a moral law over-arched by a principle of love, to require God to abide by that law puts God under it. God, by definition, is not under anything. We would need to worship that law as the highest, not God. This is the distinction between God as being and God as mere qualities. As Arthur Pink wrote:
We affirm that he is under no rule or law outside of his own will and nature, that God is a law unto himself, and that he is under no obligation to give an account of his matters to any... In the final analysis, the exercise of God's love must be traced back to his sovereignty, or, otherwise, he would love by rule; and if he loved by rule, then is he under a law of love, and if he is under law of love then is he not supreme, but is himself ruled by law.
So I suggest a different approach. Let's start with the principle that God, being the Creator, is owner of all things and all people (Ps. 24:1, Exo. 19:5, Job 41:11, etc.). All is His. Then, He can kill because life is His to give and His to take. We cannot kill because life is not ours to take. God can command us to kill in specific instances if that is what He desires. After all, it's His stuff. This requires us to understand God as an active being whose ways are higher than ours, instead of reducing him to abstract qualities or unconditionals. It requires us to trust Him.
If this is the case, does God just do whatever He pleases for no reasons at all? I don't think so. His ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:9), but that alone says that He has ways. And Scripture helps us grasp those ways. So while we should not demand of God a reason for all He does (but understand that He does have a reason), we can seek to understand God's reasons through His qualities as Scripture describes.
What's more in dealing specifically with killing is that man is made in God's image: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image," Gen 9:6. So for a man to kill another man is a stab at not only God's stuff, but also God's nature. But for God to kill a man is not a stab at Himself because we now bear a tainted image, one stained with sin. We know that God is just, so for God to take life from a sinful being is entirely proper for Him to do.
So to seek understanding for why God kills and commands the Israelites to kill so brutally, I suggest considering three qualities, or attributes, of God: faithfulness, justice, and love. To proceed we can look directly at the reason God Himself gave:
Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deu 9:5
God says the Canaanites are to be destroyed because of their wickedness: this is His justice. God says He made a promise and He will fulfill it: this is His faithfulness. God says He will do this despite the stubbornness of His own people: this is His love.
So we see God's qualities showing through His actions, even those actions we might find terrible. We should not turn this on its head by starting with simplified qualities and then force God to adhere. Let's remember the asymmetry, that He is Creator and we are created. And if we ever think that we can reduce the Creator's being to fit in created heads, it is only by His love as shown ultimately in Jesus that we may be humbled to our proper place.
This includes me.