Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sadism - what kind of God kills his son and condemns his creation to hell (script)

This was given as a 15 minute talk for about 100 students at Exeter. I didn't choose the title and I think I'd have preferred something slightly more positive, but an attention grabbing title does help to draw a crowd I suppose. It's also basically two topics pushed together, but they're closely related so that probably works.

After speaking, questions were invited and 3 people asked questions which I attempted to answer - we had time for many more but you can't make people ask!

Elsewhere it's being discussed by some people on the Exeter forums.
A few replies to my fanclub... I suspect I'll be slated for responding but here goes...


  • The event was apparently advertised as "with knowledgable speakers" - I'd not realised that was the claim. I did what I could to present a view. The forum poster complains that the event excluded other views, but it was hosted by the Evangelical Christian Union so that tells you were the talk is coming from. I tried to present an Evangelial answer to the question. I beg the ECU never to pimp up their posters with that tag-line ever again.
  • I'm accused there of turning off contributions from non-bloggers here as a reponse to some apparent questions by one of them to stop them commenting. Not so, the blog has been set like that for years to stop spam. Anyone can register a blogger account fairly easily at no cost (about as easily as you can register for the X-Media forums). This post currently has 9 comments hence there is the possibility of interaction, and at least as long as this is recent I'm happy to interact. UPDATE: An apology for this allegation has now been offered. Accepted.
  • They report that I closed a facebook discussion board. This is true. But hey - I created the group I can do that, can't I?? Sorry to have annoyed but I just decided to do it. No malice intended. Some people read oppression into everything Evangelicals do...
  • Someone notes that the winepress is a metaphor. Which is what I said.
  • The blog I cite as found by google is by someone I think is an atheist with an interest in Christianity, who I was citing not approving of. It's an odd article but helped raise the issue. Citing the 2 million statistic was meant to catch attention which I guess it did.
  • Someone suggests hell is used as a weapon to instill fear - the very thing I was keen (and I thought, clear) to say it isn't. I don't want people to become Christians out of fear, though you could argue Jesus did use that method sometimes.
  • Spurious stats are cited about people quitting Christianity after Uni. They're often cited, but as I've written here previously (like here) - no research has been done and I seriously doubt both the cited attrition rate or it's supposed causes. But sometimes people do say careless things. Myself included.
  • Apparently I made one of the people there very angry. I wish they'd come and talked to me so we could have discussed it. And the offer is open to that. I'll gladly have my views examined here or face to face. Using violence on me wouldn't have been fun (I'll bring security next time I speak on this subject!), but we could have talked. Talking would have been good. Another said they didn't come because they didn't want to get angry, but then complained that they're not allowed to express their view. Hard to have it both ways.
  • One cites from my conclusion: "The kind of God who kills the Son and who condemns the people he made - is the God we see revealed in the life and death of Jesus. Perhaps that is the God the ECU/UCCF see revealed in the life and death of Jesus, but it is not the God the majority of Christians see, most Christians see a God infinitely more loving and merciful than that!" (italics me, non-italics their comment).
    The first half of my statement is the question I was asked to speak on, the second is my essential answer to the question. I suppose it might have been more palatable for me to say "The kind of God who kills the Son and who condemns the people he made - is not the God of the Bible, because he does neither of those things and saves everyone.... Sadly I don't think I can demonstrate that from the Bible.
  • I get repeatedly slated in the discussion for talking about God's anger... but the question I was asked to speak on what about whether God is a Sadism... killer... condemner. I actually think I talked a lot about God's love too.
  • "The problem is that if you go to/read an average UCCF talk on salvation the problem of God's anger is the only thing which is argued. You may believe that there is more to it, I don't know, but when the UCCF talks about salvation, God's anger is the only thing which is ever emphasised. The doctrinal basis, for example, goes on and on about God's anger and our punishment/condemnation, but does not mention God's mercy and loving kindness." - The doctrinal basis in question talks about the guilt & penalty of sin and the undeserved mercy we received. One of each.... Caricature and exaggeration come easy to all of us I suppose. As for talks - as stated above, the talk was on the subject of God's anger and the nature of that... I'd have happily given a talk on God's love but that wasn't the topic I was given. Any 'UCCF' (CU) talk that talks about wrath must talk about love at least as much - that's the whole point of propitiation - God lavishing his love on us and turning his anger away from us. No-one enjoys talking about wrath, and as I said I only know how to do with shuddering and tears and a broken-heart, how else can we speak of such things.
Anyways, here's the rough outline of what I said. It's no doubt a flawed argument (which is at least one of the reasons to have Q&A) and I'll undoubtedly review and revise it before any future use. The updates marked are interactions with ongoing critique at X-Forums.






Have you ever totally misunderstood something? Sometimes it’s harmless. After Christmas I was shopping and my wife sent me a text saying “bring me back something nice” – she meant flowers I bought her the Heroes boxset. No real problem with that so long as I get some flowers next time. No blood spilt.

Other times misunderstanding is more tragic. Like that of Briony Tallis in Ian McEwan’s Atonement. A child adds up what she thinks she knows and unwittingly ruins the lives of Cecilia and Robbie.

Not every misunderstanding is tragic though. Sometimes we misunderstand because we don’t want to understand. Like X-Factor contestants who submit to the judges but wont accept their verdict despite the fact that they have as little vocal talent as me.

The potential to get things wrong doesn’t mean we sink into postmodern mire and give up on trying. Normally it’s very possible.

When we come to this question of “what kind of God kills his son and condemns his creation to hell?” we’re facing two big questions which I’ll try to tackle. They’re vitally important but often misunderstood. The topics belong together well but I'll address them separately.

First – God killing his son.



a) The event. The crucifixion of a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth just under 2000 years ago outside of Jerusalem. A fact of history. But who did it and why? His death was plotted by Jewish and Roman authorities but the Bible says it is accurate to say God killed his son. [update - I'm not arguing this point, just stating that I agree with the statement in the question, i.e. I'm prepared to say the question is talking about the God of the Bible. I could have unpacked that but in 15-20mins you can't say everything. it should also be noted that the things I cover in points a through e were the subject of the previous talk of the week, the previous evening. Whilst there was no guarentee that those at this talk would have attended that, they may have done and if interested could have enquired further in the Q&A or conversationally.]

b) Who is this God? The Bible tells us that God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in perfect loving unity. What we’re not talking about is the first person killing the second. But the Three planning for the 2nd to die. An imperfect anlogy is to think of how my wife and I might decide for me to do something, like cook dinner. We’re not pitted against one another in this. [Update - this is the answer to critique of point e - the when we say God killed Jesus to bear the punishment of our sins we mean something like, God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit willingly send the Son to die to bear the wrath of God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit for the purpose of bringing us to himself in his new creation - see Point 2 i). This point about Trinity is abosultely essential]

c) Even in the first century people misread the cross of Christ. There were three main views. Some said it was outstandingly unimpressive. Some said it was simply absurd. And Christians would sing of love divine all loves excelling. [Update - this is 1 Corinthians 1 - 1st Century Jews & Greeks saying it was weak and foolish]

d) Context is key. Read G.K. Chesterton’s book The Man who was Thursday and you think he’s advocating anarchy. Re-read the title page and you see that the subtitle is a nightmare. The meaning then looks very different. [update - i.e. look at the cross in the context of the rest of the Bible]

e) The Bible famously says God is love. We imagine love can’t kill. But God gives us the definition of love. THIS IS LOVE [updated - the reference here is 1 John 4v10, and I'm unpacking the meaning of propitiation (ESV) / sacrifice of atonement (NIV - see footnote)]: that God sent his son to die in our place so we wouldn’t be condemned to hell. Our problem is we presume he would just forgive us without taking any action to achieve it. Isn’t that what a loving God would do? No. Christians look at the cross and see love so amazing that they can’t help but sing of it. But at the same time there is the problem of hell. A matter for unceasing anguish and sorrow. [ref. Romans 9v1-5]
Second – condemning his creation to hell.



a) When we read the Bible we often think God is too angry. God does, after all, kill a lot of people in the Bible. I googled it. Someone has researched it – and estimated over 2 million. And he missed Jesus off his list. I think we should find that hard to swallow. I do.

b) But, we’re also told that these aren’t innocent people dying – except Jesus – God justly punishes people. The real scandal is that he lets so many people live. [Ref - Romans 3... God is required to show his justice at the cross because of his excessive forebearance]

c) What? Human beings are witnessed in the Bible committing great atrocities against God. We reject his authority over us. Our maker tells us how to live and we decide we know better. Worse, the most evocative image in the Bible is of God as the perfect husband to humanity, a scorned husband whose wife constantly wanders off and commits appalling idolatry. [This Hosea or Ezekiel 16. I should/could have spent more time exploring this]

d) Yet, he is called “Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” – how can he defend his claim that sin is bad if he keeps saving people. The question remains unanswered until the sins of all the forgiven people are punished in the death of Jesus.

e) The cross of Jesus shows us the love of God and the justice of God. It shows us that he will punish wrongs – either by punishing the people who commit crimes against him, which we all do. Or by taking the punishment upon himself. This is an effective act of love – not just flinging himself in front of a bus to say he loves us, but throwing himself into danger to save us. Like a father rescuing a child.

f) Nonetheless, how is hell just? We ask this because we assume people are good. If we consider the punishment of sin we can see how serious it is. Punishments help us see how serious crimes are.

g) The Bible uses many images – of fire, darkness, a rubbish heap. They are metaphors. Not for a lesser reality but a greater reality. One that is much worse. Much worse. To me, the most horrific image in the Bible is of the winepress of God’s wrath. I shudder at this picture, given to help us understand. I'd love a nicer picture. Grapes were gathered into an ancient winepress to be trodden. The difference here is that there are not grapes in the press. Out of the press flows blood, high as a horses bridle for many miles. In the winepress are people. Who treads the winepress? Jesus. The same Jesus who died on a roman cross to show us God’s love and save us is the one who treads the winepress full of rebels. Not quite the Christmas card Jesus but this is the Jesus the Bible tells us about.

h) But, know this - hell isn’t a stick to scare us back to God. This isn't about scaring people to believe. Don't believe because of fear. It is a warning of imminent danger. You’d think that’d be enough. Any one with concern for their own life would want to avoid it. But it’s clearly not very persuasive because we just refuse to believe it. Likewise, heaven would appear not to be enough of an incentive. Though you’d think people would like the idea of a painless future.

i) Nonetheless we’re like cows. We stick our heads through the fence and eat from the side of the road when God is offering us the lush green pastures behind us.

We deserve the abbatoir but he offers us a full share in his new creation with Jesus.

A renewed world where he will be centrestage, not us. Where we're reconciled to him. Knowing and known. Loved and loving.

A physical eternal world pictured as a glorious city, a perfect garden. Jesus our judge and our rescuer. He is the one to reckon with. He is the one to know.

The kind of God who kills the Son and who condemns the people he made - is the God we see revealed in the life and death of Jesus. This same Jesus should rightly throw me in his winepress but he freely welcomes me on the basis of his effective loving death. Not on the basis of performance, class or education. Don't imagine hell is for the bad and heaven is for you. Wrong scale of measuring things. We’d rather misunderstand and imagine that the cross didn’t happen and that hell isn’t real – but that would be to risk sure danger and miss amazing life.

9 comments:

  1. what about the argument that the sin nature is inherited, so it's unfair that everyone is born destined to hell since they had no say in the matter. (ie we are born with a tendency toward doing evil, noone has to teach a child to lie etc. )

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  2. I sympathise with that. But, it's not Bible-logic to say that we had no say in the matter of our sin. We're sinful because we're related to Adam, but we also all sin and in doing so are very much responsible and accountable for our actions. We're not free to say it wasn't my fault, though even from the beginning that was the defence humanity used. It was no excuse for Adam, nor for us. We're all accountable to God.

    That said, we who all sin are all offered rescue, the opportunity for a fresh start to break our relationship to Adam and live under Christ instead. And it's freely offered - so why not take up the offer?

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  3. but we're condemned from birth really, regardless of whether we follow that up with sin or not. The way we are built means we will always find sinning easier than being holy.

    Being born already knowing how to steal, lie, cheat is also an unfair 'advantage' that Adam did not have.

    Having said that, salvation is often not seen as a gift but as something that God had to offer to be fair.

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  4. "regardless of whether"

    ...that's playing with hypotheticals isn't it? Since everyone does.

    The way we can be rebuilt can change things so sinning is no longer natural for us. That's what happens when people become Christians.

    Fair by God isn't offering salvation, fair would have been to kill us all. Offering salvation puts God way past fair in abundant kindness.

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  5. hmm, but the sin nature is inherited, ie you had no choice but to receive it. That's the way God organised the system.

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  6. Well yeah, but I didn't really get any conscious choice in existing either? My parents hardly involved me in the discussion... Neither do I get a choice about where I'm born, the context I grow up in etc. But that doesn't allow me to absolve responsibility for my life.

    Being born sinful I then get shown the glory of God in creation, and can gain the oppportunity to hear of Jesus. And through that I can be born again without being enslaved to sin.

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  7. Dear Eva / Dave,
    Phil Johnson tends to assume that most references to sinfulness in the bible are dogmatic sentences. Having recently spent time studying Genesis and "sin" generally I think that the references are far more descriptive in nature.

    The idea of inherited guilt from Adam is based upon a particular interpretation of Romans 5:12ff as you know. This interpretation has often then been read into Genesis. Closer attention to Rom 5:12 tells me that the reason for the guiltiness of humans before God ("death") is "because all sinned". The bible teaches that people everywhere are responsible to God for what they have done. You will not find a verse saying that they are guilty "because of Adam", apart from a misreading of Rom 5,12.

    As to being "condemned from birth", while it is true that David cannot think of himself not being sinful from his infancy in the Psalms, there is a clear assumption in Isaiah 7:15f that young children do not have the same measure of responsibility as adults. The three words "know, good, evil" in Isaiah are the same words used to describe Adam and Eve in Gen 3:5, which is food for thought!

    Eva, your problems with the traditions lead IMO to a better understanding of Scripture. Questioning isn't always bad.

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  8. "Questioning isn't always bad."

    I'd go fruther, it's almost always a good thing.

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