Friday, January 26, 2007

Ten Questions: Number Three

Third question: Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible? Look up these verses:

    - Exodus 35:2 – God demands that we kill everyone who works on the Sabbath day.

    - Deuteronomy 21:18-21 – God demands that we kill disobedient teenagers.

    - Leviticus 20:13 – God demands the death of homosexuals.

    - Deuteronomy 22:13-21 – God demands that we kill girls who are not virgins when they marry.

And so on… There are lots of verses like these.

It doesn't make any sense, does it? Why would a loving God want us to murder our fellow human beings over such trivial matters? Just because you work on the wrong day of the week, you must die? That makes no sense, does it? In fact, if you think about it, you realize that it is insane. So you create some kind of rationalization to explain these verses.

As discussed in the previous question, this question also errs in its presumption of innocence. God demands the death penalty of so many guilty people. But for the sake of argument, we'll accept that these are very minor sins, and wholly unworthy of death. What kinds of sins are worthy of death? Think back to the first sin, the sin that brought death, in Genesis 3:1-6:

"He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."

Like all of Scripture, a child's reading is sufficient to understand it, but no matter how much you study it, there is always more meaning; it is always possible to have a greater understanding of God. Yet it is impossible to truly understand it, for to do so would require the wisdom of God. A child's reading of the fall of man sees the obvious problem: God told them not to take it and they did, thus they sinned. However, we can see that, that does not nearly exhaust the list of sins committed. For example:

1. Eve misquoted God. God actually said in Genesis 2:15-16, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Eve added her own "and you must not touch it" to God's commands. Why is this important? God is His word. As we see in John 1:1-5 "1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning." Since His Word is God, to change His Word is a form of idolatry, to put the creature above the creator.

2. Eve placed the word of the serpent above the Word of God. God said, "You will surely die." The serpent said, "You will not die." Who did she believe? Once again, it is a form of idolatry.

3. Eve also was not content with the perfect love and blessing of God. In this manner she was judging God. She was placing herseslf in the position of God, making her the judge of Him. Idolatry, yet again.

4. Adam also sinned. He committed a sin of omission in that he did not immediately call out to the Lord when the temptation began, but relied on his strength, not the strength of God. He also placed the word of Eve above the Word of God, committing idolatry also. (However, Adam thought he was an innocent bystander, as Genesis 3:17 says: "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.") He could have prayed at any point throughout the temptation. He could even have prayed for forgiveness immediately after sinning, but as we saw in the verse above, he compounded, and tried to cover, his sins with other sins.

So how does all this relate to whether we are working on the wrong day of the week? A "simple" sin, like "working on the wrong day of the week", involves much more than simply having a very full schedule. It involves a willful defiance of God. A willful defiance of God is a sin which is punishable by eternal separation from God, i.e., death and damnation.

The most obvious objection to the above answer is, "Why doesn't God demand that we kill people now?" The response to that is that there are three types of Law found in the Bible. The distinction being the difference between "What does God say," and "What does God say TO ME"? It reminds me of the pastor who illustrated this distinction, and why you can't take things out of context, with the passages Matthew 27:5, Luke 10:37, and John 13:28: "Judas went away and hanged himself." "Go and do likewise." "What you are about to do, do quickly." The three kinds of law, addressed to three groups of people, are commonly referred to as the civil, ceremonial, and moral law. The civil law was addressed to the ancient state of Israel, for the purpose of regulating their government and societal affairs. The ceremonial law, involving the sacrifice of so many animals, was addressed to the Jews prior to the coming of Christ, the last and perfect sacrifice. Finally, the moral law was addressed to all people for all time, and is summed up by the Ten Commandments.

The command to stone people for the myriad sins listed in the question was a civil law command, addressed to the state of ancient Israel. And of course, the next objection would be, "You haven't answered the original question: why did God demand their death?" Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of how he has "set apart" the Israelites, for example in Leviticus 20:22-23, 24b, and 26:

"22 'Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. 24 I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. 26 You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own."

The admittedly draconian laws of the Old Testament were to serve God's clearly stated purpose: he did not want the Israelites to mix with the peoples around them, for whenever they did (as seen throughout the Old Testament), His Word would be lost among them, and if His Word were lost, then we all would be lost. Thus God commanded the state of Israel to kill those who deliberately and openly defied Him, (and who, we have been promised, would not have repented--as Isaiah 42:3 says, "3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." In other words, He will not destroy those who are weak in faith, no matter how weak they are.) so that there would be witnesses to the truth. In other words, God killed those who would not repent so that those would repent would hear the truth--He did it that He might be merciful to every Christian who will ever live.

The need for stoning has since been overturned, because believers are no longer set apart. In fact, we are commanded to go out into the world. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15). Once again, the importance of making the distinction between what God says, and what God says to me makes all the difference.

Back to the Ten Questions



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