Dialing Back the Ministry of Division

ChurchDividedCan’t wait until my “loving Christian brothers and sisters” weigh in on this issue and trash our president. They’ll no doubt refer to those pardoned as “scum of the earth who deserve to rot in jail.”

This zinger caught my worship minister’s eye in a recent Facebook conversation. She was initially shocked by the words. Her shock turned to sorrow, however, when she realized they came from one of our church’s precious college students.

It came in response to a potentially controversial post. Any post can seem controversial, given current polarization over politics, gay rights, Caitlyn Jenner, Supreme Court rulings, and so forth. This particular Facebook post had to do with President Obama’s clemency of 46 non-violent drug offenders. The young adult who posted it was already anticipating a backwash of angry comments. He said, “Please keep comments civil. I will moderate if need be.”

Fortunately for him, remarks were civil. Until, that is, our college student unleashed his stinging comment. Why his cynical oracle of impending conflict? Why did our college student expect the worst from his fellow Christians?

I believe it’s because too many church members in recent years have fostered a ministry of division. I’m going to briefly explain why this has happened. But before you conclude that this is just another hopeless commentary on the polarization in our society and in our church, I want to quickly qualify that I am offering this article as a message of hope. I believe young people—like the one above who expressed cynicism—can teach us to live out the ministry of reconciliation.

Churches of Christ are not unique in the story of American Protestantism. We don’t get a big mention in most books. We sometimes think of our story as an extraordinarily impressive one, but most outside observers don’t agree. Almost every Christian sect or denomination has a similar period in its history.

Our movement flourished through a potent form of sectarian group-think. We were the only ones going to heaven. If you cared about people’s souls, then you did something to get outsiders into our churches. Didn’t matter if people already had a faith or were active in a different church. If you didn’t do things our way, you were lost.

Surprisingly, this worked better than you would think. We were very good at guilt trips. We scared many people into becoming Christians the Church-of-Christ way.

Whether you grew up in it or were converted into it, this pattern of “outreach” wrote itself deeply onto our psyche. Many of us are still overcoming it. Scare tactics aren’t the MO for many of us anymore, but they still surface as occasional, nagging feelings: “You aren’t good enough.” “God doesn’t really love you.” Although most of us no longer believe that our church brand contains the only saved ones, the mentality of “us vs. them” won’t let us go.

But it’s not just our people. This is a plague that visits members of most other Christian churches as well. They have comparable, judgmental pasts (and presents). Evangelicals believe that only the “born again” are going to heaven. Liberals believe that fundamentalists don’t know the heart of God. Conservatives think liberals have lost their moorings and their salvation. Charismatics doubt the legitimacy of non-charismatic faith. On and on it goes. Christian doctrine and Christian leaders have sadly taught us to divide, judge and condemn.

It’s a legacy we shouldn’t be proud of. Yet this is our inheritance in American Protestantism. We have learned how to shame and belittle those who aren’t like us. This is hardly the way of Jesus. But it’s the way of Jesus’ followers here in the U.S.

Even though some of us are learning a more generous orthodoxy in questions about who is and who isn’t saved, we can’t shake the fighting mentality. Some have transferred this way of thinking straight over to politics. Which is odd for a movement like ours that was deeply suspicious of human institutions. Yet some now believe that those human institutions—the presidency, Congress, the courts—are our potential salvation or downfall.

Some who learned to be gracious about faith are unable to be gracious about politics. Did they transfer their primary allegiance to the nation-state rather than to Jesus and his church? I find it deeply disturbing when otherwise grace-filled Christians have no trouble trashing fellow Christians over matters of politics. In conservative churches like mine, it’s mostly those favoring a particular flavor of the Republican Party who sometimes rip into anyone espousing love or appreciation for the other party or for policies that strike them as “liberal,” “socialist” or other related transgressions.

This is why the afore-mentioned college student despairingly awaited a torrent of criticism for someone else’s post that showed support for presidential pardons. He had seen people’s comments get torn apart for exhibiting the wrong political leaning. He had been personally excoriated by fellow Christians for what they perceived as wrong stances on immigration, gender issues and so forth. He’d seen it before. Figured he’d see it again.

But here’s where hope is. When my worship minister saw this, she reached out privately with love. She said, “I know you have reason to be skeptical. But you’re bigger than that. Think about how your words portray the community of faith.” There was silence for several hours. Then finally he replied, “Sigh. I know you’re right. Thanks for caring enough to say something.” And he took down the comment.

There is hope for the future because young people are open to learning a new way. There is hope that the peace-loving people among us can turn the tide by loving and investing in a new generation. Young people may not be perfect, but they are thankfully tired of our judgmental ways. And with just a little coaxing, I think they are the ones who can guide the church back onto the non-judgmental path of Jesus that leads to reconciliation rather than division.

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  1. I wish we still didn’t teach that we are the one true church and that our MO wasn’t still scare tactics but my elders never got that memo. To them, one instrument or one woman speaking and the whole congregation is going to hell. I suffered many personal insults when I let it be known that I supported President Obama. Liking Wineskins articles on Facebook has caused some to doubt my Christianity. In my area our sectarianism is increasing which can only hurt our efforts in evangelism.

  2. You said, “We scared many people into becoming Christians the Church-of-Christ way.”
    “Scare tactics aren’t the MO for many of us anymore.”

    Really? You think that scaring someone into believing something is wrong?

    Mark 16:16: “…whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

    Doesn’t the bible and specifically the New Testament use scare tactics throughout? According to the NT, if you don’t believe in your particular messiah and your religion you will burn in hell for all eternity. And yet you complain that people who believe those words to be the word of God are using scare tactics?

    You accuse your fellow Christians of using these tactics: “divide, judge and condemn”. You say, “It’s a legacy we shouldn’t be proud of.”

    Are you familiar with the recorded words of Jesus from Luke 14:26?
    “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

    Jesus says that you can only be his disciple if you hate your entire family and yourself and yet you complain that his followers have “fostered a ministry of division.”?? Of course they have. Just like their messiah did!

    You complain that Jesus’ followers “judge and condemn”.

    1 Cor 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

    The NT lists people who will be condemned and you criticize the people who believe this to be the word of God for pointing out that the bible condemns anyone who commits these “sins”? I bet if a Christian were to tell a gay person that they’re going to hell or tell a person who “parties” and gets drunk on occasion that they’re going to hell that you would be all upset with them for judging and condemning, right? Have you not read your own bible?! If you want to blame someone, blame the one who has supposedly divinely inspired it – the God of the Bible!

    You complain that some Christians say things like, “God doesn’t really love you” when that same God is recorded to have murdered innocent women and children and the elderly and created a law that called for the execution of gay people for engaging in homosexuality. Did God love these people that he ruthlessly murdered? I bet you’d like to argue that he did, wouldn’t you? Please don’t be so absurd as to actually argue that.

    Apparently God doesn’t love a lot of people since he butchered so many of them without mercy. It’s obvious that God doesn’t really love a lot of people so why are you so bent on blaming his followers for repeating this instead of blaming God! It’s like blaming Nazi soldiers for terrible crimes while maintaining that Hitler is a great guy.

    You say “peace-loving people among us can turn the tide by loving”. Are you kidding me? Surely you’re not a Christian, right? Exodus 15:3, “The Lord is a man of war.” Your God slaughtered millions, committed genocide, created laws that called for the execution of people for minor crimes, and commanded that women and children of the people he conquered be kept as war booty for his warriors:

    “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.” (Deut 20:14)

    Your article here is one giant contradiction. If you want to be taken seriously when you claim that you think that creating division, condemning others, using scare tactics, and judging others are all bad things then you should start by blaming the source of all of these things: your imaginary god who is reported to have done all of these things in the most egregious and disgusting way imaginable.

    • Two thoughts: First, if you truly believe what you are saying, then it makes no sense that you are wasting your time by reading and commenting on these kinds of articles. “Thou protesteth too much!” It’s like a guy who goes around trying to convince everyone that he’s no longer in love with his old girlfriend. But the more he talks about it, the more people wonder.

      Second, in the midst of your rant, you do raise some questions that are entirely valid. Christian thinkers and apologists do well to wrestle with them on deep levels. The following link is an excellent example of someone who is doing some heavy lifting in this area. I would like to think that you are actually open to new information and to rational conversation, but you do not come across that way, at least in this instance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulCbh_1SlwEbut

      • I’ve commented on your article because I enjoy exposing the absurdity of your religion and I think it helps a lot of people who have been brainwashed by church leaders and insulated from critical points of view to see just how easily your religion and holy book can be picked apart and exposed as the fraud that it is. So it makes sense now why I’m here, doesn’t it?

        Do I not seem to be open to new information to you because I have presented arguments that you are unable to counter? I’m confident that I listen to and consider more information and arguments from people who disagree with me on this topic than you do. I’m open to the possibility that I might be wrong about the bible and your religion and that your God might be real. Are you open to the possibility that you might be wrong about the bible and your religion and that your God might not be real? If you don’t answer any other question of mine I ask that you answer that one.But you won’t answer it because we both know that you are the close-minded one here.

        You haven’t responded to any of my challenges. Why don’t you explain why you think I’m not open to rational conversation instead of just claiming that I’m not? And instead of pointing me to a source where apologists come up with carefully crafted counter arguments to explain the absurdity of the bible how about you present those counter arguments here in response to my arguments so that we can see if they actually make sense under scrutiny.

    • Jay,

      Hell is scary…of course. There is a reason to be afraid, even wise to be afraid of some things…even fearing the Lord.

      BUT, what Jason is talking about is approach and intent. The approach Jason is talking about is one that fails to even grasp the core of the Gospel and takes the “easy way out” approach that is about getting a response rather than actual transformation.

      So sure, you are right. There are things that we should fear. There is a place for that. But you are talking about right past Jason’s article, missing what he is talking about here. Hope that helps and hope you have a good day.

      • The “conservatives” in the Church of Christ just take the bible more seriously than the “liberals” like Jason. If you thought, without a shadow of a doubt, that God was going to condemn most people to be tortured in hell for all eternity, as Jesus himself claimed, the most important thing to you would be to avoid hell for yourself and your family and then as many other people as you can possibly convince and you would be frantically trying to do so. Your entire approach would be a scare tactic: avoid hell at all costs! Because absolutely nothing matters in comparison to avoiding burning in hell for all eternity. Not even the heaven part.

        No one takes it that seriously though but the people who do take it more seriously naturally focus more on using scare tactics than those who take it less seriously. Because conservatives take it more seriously they’re terrified of God and that causes them to focus more on his condemning nature and trying to make sure that they avoid his condemnation.

        So when they find people who are doing things that are specifically listed in the NT as guaranteeing condemnation in hell they tell them and they don’t sugar coat it. You say that Jason is saying that these conservatives fail “to even grasp the core of the Gospel” but isn’t the core of the gospel the good news that Jesus died to save people from hell damnation? The gospel therefore is primarily about avoiding hell damnation and it is one giant scare tactic.

        The Apostle Paul said that certain types of people will not avoid hell: drunks, thieves, greedy people, gays, adulterers, etc. When a conservative tells these people that they are going to hell unless they repent and that Jesus came to save them from hell they are preaching the gospel!

        You and Jason have a problem with the gospel and the bible which is why my whole point is: target the source of your criticism which is the bible itself if you want to be sincere in your criticism.

        • Jesus dying to save mankind is “part” of the Gospel. It is just one part. The Gospel is much larger than that. I am glad to talk more about that if you don’t know what I mean by that. If you don’t know the Gospel is more than individual salvation from sin to avoid hell and get to heaven then you don’t really understand the Gospel very well.

          Here is where you have it all wrong Jay. You say I am unwilling to call that out. Ok. I am calling you out. You have it wrong on this. First, you have no idea what I believe. It is arrogant to say that I have a problem with the Gospel and the Bible. That is your own sin problem. The proud and the arrogant are on the same lists you are quoting. 2 Tim 3:2 tells me to not even have this conversation with you. But, I am concerned for you…but no, according to you…I couldn’t or wouldn’t ever speak the truth if it hurts feelings. You have ZERO credibility to say what you have said about me and about Jason. So stop it. Second, you don’t seem to understand the Gospel so well yourself. What ends up happening is that you say I have a problem with the Gospel when the reality is you are missing the boat yourself.

          So there you have it.

          • Matt: “If you don’t know the Gospel is more than individual salvation from sin to avoid hell and get to heaven then you don’t really understand the Gospel very well.”

            I didn’t say that there wasn’t anything else to the Gospel than what I claimed. There may or may not be. I said that the “core of the Gospel” was the good news that Jesus died to save people from hell damnation. Isn’t that the core of the Gospel? Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The core of the gospel is about salvation; being saved from hell, is it not?

            Matt: “You say I am unwilling to call that out.”

            And then you call me out. Great. Will you also call out drunks, thieves, greedy people, gays, and adulterers. They’re all going to hell according to the verse I quoted earlier. You say that you’re not unwilling to call people out, so go ahead.

            Matt: “you have no idea what I believe”

            You just told me what you believe. You described the people who use scare tactics – the people that Jason was talking about – as failing “to even grasp the core of the Gospel and takes the ‘easy way out’ approach that is about getting a response rather than actual transformation.” The people who you and Jason are criticizing are using the scare tactic found in the bible: the Gospel.

            Remember my mafia example from several months ago? Some mafia thugs walk into a business establishment and tell the owner, “We’ve got good news!”

            The owner replies, “Oh yeah, what’s that?”

            “Our boss has decided to not kill you if you give us 10% of your profits. We call it the Gospel of the Godfather.”

            The Gospel of Jesus is the same thing.

            The Gospel of Jesus: Believe in Jesus and follow his commandments and his boss won’t torture you in hell for all eternity and will instead let you live in Heaven.

            The Gospel of the Godfather: Give the boss 10% of your profits and his boss won’t kill you and will instead let you live.

            Both are scare tactics. You and Jason have a problem with scare tactics so direct your criticism at the source if you are sincere.

        • I talk with people about sin in their lives. That is what I am called to do. I also call people heavenward, help people with their faith and their struggles. Yep. That is the work I do. I am blessed to be able to do it. It has led to some hard conversations. It has led to a few people who didn’t like that I would say that to them and aren’t my friend any more. I get it.

          It is interesting that you say the Gospel is about not going to hell and then quote Rom 1:16 which talks about the power of God to salvation. That is more on point than what you are saying…still not ALL of the Gospel. But you are missing the simple point Paul makes there. Salvation is “to” something not just “from” something. Jesus spent a lot of time preaching on the kingdom and eternal life. This is about transformed, restored, and redeemed living. You are caught up on avoiding hell. Well, Jesus certainly preached on that and so can we. But it wasn’t the main point of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t make avoiding hell the main point of the Gospel. But you seem to be hung up on that. I think you are missing the point.

          Your mafia example is absurd.

          That is all I have to say. Wish you all the best.

          • I asked if you would also call out drunks, thieves, greedy people, gays, and adulterers and tell them that they’re going to hell if they don’t repent and you refused to do that yet still maintain that you’re not afraid to call people out. “I talk with people about sin in their lives” does not answer the question. What sin? I asked you about those specific sins mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Did you mention that hell is the consequence or did you just talk about calling them “heavenward”? Your simple line about talking to people about sin doesn’t specify any of this. You’re avoiding the question.

            The word ‘salvation’ means to be saved from something. That something in the case of the Gospel is hell and yet you still maintain that being saved from hell “wasn’t the main point of the Gospel”. That’s not logical.

            Why do you think my mafia example is absurd? If you can’t explain why then I am left to assume that it’s because you cannot explain why it’s absurd.

            The mafia boss creates a situation where a person will be killed. Then he offers salvation to a person from this death if that person agrees to the conditions set forth by the mafia boss.

            God creates a situation where a person will be killed. Actually, in this case it’s even more extreme – it’s torture in hell for all eternity. He then offers salvation to a person from this torture and death if that person agrees to the conditions set forth by God.

            Both are scare tactics. It’s logically sound. Prove me wrong.

          • My original question was, “Will you also call out drunks, thieves, greedy people, gays, and adulterers? They’re all going to hell according to the verse I quoted earlier. You say that you’re not unwilling to call people out, so go ahead.”

            Your answer was, “I talk with people about sin in their lives. That is what I am called to do. I also call people heavenward, help people with their faith and their struggles. Yep. That is the work I do. I am blessed to be able to do it. It has led to some hard conversations. It has led to a few people who didn’t like that I would say that to them and aren’t my friend any more. I get it.”

            I didn’t ask about sin in general. I asked about these specific sins because they’re specifically mentioned as sins that will condemn a person to hell. You didn’t respond to that specific question.

            You refuse to respond to that specific question because you know that if you repeat the condemnation from the bible in 1 Cor 6:9-10 that you will be using a scare tactic and you can’t do that because you and Jason think that using scare tactics is a bad thing.

            If you do not inherit the kingdom of God you are condemned to hell, according to the bible. Therefore, the bible makes these claims in 1 Cor 6:9-10:

            “Drunkards” will go to hell.
            “Thieves” will go to hell.
            “The greedy” will go to hell.
            “The sexually immoral” will go to hell.
            “Idolaters” will go to hell.
            “Adulterers” will go to hell.
            “Men who have sex with men” will go to hell.
            “Slanderers” will go to hell.
            “Swindlers” will go to hell.

            You refuse to acknowledge these uncomfortable claims from the bible because you know that to tell someone who is one of these things that they are going to hell is a scare tactic that you and Jason accuse conservative Christians as resorting to. If you think the nine claims above that I got straight out of the bible are not true then tell me why.

        • The answer is yes. My answer that you even quoted was the same – yes. What is so hard to understand about that?

          It is interesting to me that you can tell me why I do what I do. Guess what, that is arrogant. You are arrogant. Sorry but I am done playing your game.

          I agree all of those things are sin. Happy now? I know you don’t think I can say that or something. Sorry to burst your bubble. I affirm what the Bible affirms. This conversation is far from productive as long as you read motives into what people say and make ridiculous claims that have no backing. Good day.

          • I think we’re actually making some slight progress now. By the way, if you repeatedly refuse to answer simple questions I think it’s reasonable for me to suggest why you might be doing so especially when the whole reason I have asked those questions is to try to force you to recognize the fallacy in your logic.

            You claim that you will “affirm what the Bible affirms”. Great! You believe that all of those nine things are sins. Great! Now the final step in affirming what the Bible affirms is to agree with all nine of these statements straight from the Bible that I challenged you on in my previous comment and that you have not responded to yet but here it is again! Do you agree with all nine of these statements taken directly from the bible?

            “Drunkards” will go to hell.
            “Thieves” will go to hell.
            “The greedy” will go to hell.
            “The sexually immoral” will go to hell.
            “Idolaters” will go to hell.
            “Adulterers” will go to hell.
            “Men who have sex with men” will go to hell.
            “Slanderers” will go to hell.
            “Swindlers” will go to hell.

            If not, why not?

        • If you aren’t catching my answer that isn’t on me at this point. I have answered you directly across the board. Then you asked me the exact same question again. I cannot help you read my comments. Now I am moving along.

          • It’s a simple question. A yes or no answer will work fine or you can offer more of an explanation but a non-answer as you keep giving is a dodge – plain and simple.

            Do you agree with all nine of these statements taken directly from the bible?

            “Drunkards” will go to hell.
            “Thieves” will go to hell.
            “The greedy” will go to hell.
            “The sexually immoral” will go to hell.
            “Idolaters” will go to hell.
            “Adulterers” will go to hell.
            “Men who have sex with men” will go to hell.
            “Slanderers” will go to hell.
            “Swindlers” will go to hell.

          • I must have missed your answer then. Please quote your answer or provide an answer now.

            Again my question is:

            Do you agree with all nine of these statements taken directly from the bible?

            “Drunkards” will go to hell.
            “Thieves” will go to hell.
            “The greedy” will go to hell.
            “The sexually immoral” will go to hell.
            “Idolaters” will go to hell.
            “Adulterers” will go to hell.
            “Men who have sex with men” will go to hell.
            “Slanderers” will go to hell.
            “Swindlers” will go to hell.

    • The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Life apart from Christ is death, eternal death. If someone turns from any of that to faith in Christ they can and will be forgiven and won’t face hell. But life without Christ with that list or a number of other lists of sin will result in hell, certainly.

      Now move on to the next domino in your equation so you can continue your logical trap that you just cannot wait to pull on me.

      • lol.

        Your carefully crafted statement here agrees with all nine of the statements I made about the types of people who will go to hell but you’ve added a caveat that is not found in these verses. You said, “life without Christ with that list or a number of other lists of sin will result in hell, certainly.” What about life with Christ with that list? Will that result in hell as well or can only non-Christians be considered drunkards and thieves and homosexuals?

        • Carefully crafted? All I did was quote Romans 3…so I guess Paul was careful, yes. I already answered your question…if anyone repents and turns to the Lord be they a Christian (repentance) or not (conversion) then God will grant them eternal life through Christ. A Christian can certainly fall away.

          • Ok, so it applies to anyone regardless of whether they are a Christian.

            “Drunkards” will go to hell.
            “Thieves” will go to hell.
            “The greedy” will go to hell.
            “The sexually immoral” will go to hell.
            “Idolaters” will go to hell.
            “Adulterers” will go to hell.
            “Men who have sex with men” will go to hell.
            “Slanderers” will go to hell.
            “Swindlers” will go to hell.

            You agree that all of these people will go to hell regardless of whether or not they are a Christian unless they repent and turn to the Lord. I would’ve much preferred to have gotten Jason’s opinion on this since he’s the one who wrote the article and accused people of being judgmental and condemning but I guess your opinion will suffice. You think that thieves deserve to be tortured in hell. You think that homosexuals deserve to be tortured in hell. You think that drunks deserve to be tortured in hell. And on and on…

            That is extremely judgmental and condemning of you and you are that way because the bible is your guide to morality. To tell someone that they will receive such an extremely disproportionate-to-the-crime and cruel punishment as being tortured in hell for all eternity for being gay or for liking liquor too much is morally reprehensible and you and your fellow Christians would never support such punishment in our society today because you know that it’s unjust. Thank you for being honest about this though.

          • No, I do not believe that the god of the bible exists if that’s what you’re asking specifically which I assume it is. Not only do I simply just not believe, I also think that it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he does not exist.

            I do, however, believe that it’s reasonably possible that a higher power of some sort exists, just not the god of the bible or any god of any religion that I have examined so far.

        • So you believe that the God of the Bible is demonstrably proven to not exist but you are open to the possibility that some sort of infinite, eternal power is out there? What do you know about the “higher power” you think is possible?

          • I really have no idea. There are too many unknown unknowns as Rumsfeld used to say. To comprehend this higher power, if it exists, might be beyond human capability but I remain receptive to any information that might indicate its existence.

        • So you are uncertain about pretty much everything except that the God of the Bible cannot possibly exist. You are 100% sure on that but not 100% sure about anything else. You already said you are not entirely sure a higher power does exist…just that it is possible. So some things can be known for certain.

          • I’m not “uncertain about pretty much everything” and I never said that I was “100% sure” that the god of the bible cannot possibly exist. I said, “I do not believe that the god of the bible exists”. To not believe something doesn’t mean that you are claiming that it doesn’t exist. That’s what an atheist is: they simply lack belief. Being an atheist doesn’t mean that you are claiming that no higher power exists. But I took it a step further and said, “Not only do I simply just not believe, I also think that it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he does not exist.” Believing that it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt is not the same thing as “100% sure”. I’m not 100% sure of anything.

            It’s possible that the god of the bible does exist, just not reasonably so, because I think it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he doesn’t. I do think that it’s “reasonably possible that a higher power of some sort exists”, meaning, it has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a higher power doesn’t exist like it has with the god of the bible.

            No, nothing can be known for certain because absolute certainty is an impossibility as far as I can tell. I have to accept the possibility that I could be delusional about everything that I think I know. People who do not consider this possibility are usually, ironically, the delusional ones because they do not know how to escape their delusions because they’ve never considered that they might be delusional.

        • Thanks for the clarification…that is why I am asking because I am trying to understand where you are coming from. I find irony in the statement, “No, nothing can be known for certain because absolute certainly is an impossibility.” The word impossible is an absolute statement.

          I was thrown by the word “proven” once you said that, it sounded to me like certainty.

          • C’mon now, you quoted me but left out the last six words of the sentence. I added those six words for the specific purpose of not giving you the justification to play that ‘domino’. I said, “No, nothing can be known for certain because absolute certainty is an impossibility as far as I can tell.” I added “as far as I can tell” to make it clear that this is simply my current understanding and is not a statement of absolute certainty that absolute certainty is an impossibility.

          • By the way, I used the phrase “proven beyond a reasonable doubt”, because, just like in a court of law, it is not a statement of absolute certainty.

        • I see your point…sorry for leaving that out and thank you for pointing that out. That is perfectly valid.

          So it isn’t really “nothing” and “impossible” isn’t correct either…oh…and neither is the word “proven” (in reality/absolutely) so basically you didn’t really say much there that had any real meaning to it since you cannot really know. In fact, since we cannot really know none of your words mean anything since I cannot absolutely know what you mean by them nor can you express yourself in absolute terms about what you feel or believe. You can’t even be an authority over your own words since there are no absolutes. What I just read you saying was then something about fruit salad and cheese…since I cannot absolutely know what you meant anyway.

          It is also interesting that you demand that I commit to absolutes, which I am more than willing to do, and then get tied up in knots over how I am wrong…seems to you.

          That doesn’t leave us with much to talk about now does it?

          So why do you go to such great lengths in these conversations if you really don’t think you can get to the bottom of it…when it seems to me by the way you present yourself you act as if you have gotten to the bottom of it.

          I don’t really see a need to continue or to ever converse about anything since it is all just guess work anyway.

          Instead, thought…I think you know that there is a conversation worth having here or else you wouldn’t waste your time on it. And if that is the case, the only way that can be the case is if we actually can say things that actually do have meaning that can be expressed and understood…and you have said yourself that I have understood your perspective here and there. Go figure. Not sure how I did that given lack of perfect knowledge or absolutes!

          • That’s what you got out of what I said?

            To prove means to “demonstrate the truth or existence of (something) by evidence or argument”, according to the dictionary. Proving something is simply the act of providing enough evidence that a person can feel confident in claiming that something is true. It doesn’t require absolute certainty. Ask a scientist if he’s absolutely certain about any of the hypotheses that he has proven with evidence and he is very likely to say no.

            You’re suggesting that if we can’t know anything with absolute certainty then words suddenly have no meaning and we can’t know anything. That’s simply not true. We can know enough about ourselves and our environment and the reality that we live in to operate in it effectively and we’ve proven that through the advancement of human civilization. We couldn’t do that if words didn’t have meaning and if we didn’t know anything.

            Your bible claims absolutes about who goes to hell and a lot of other things. I’m just repeating what it says and asking if you agree with that. I’m not demanding that you commit to any absolutes, I’m asking if you do and you did.

            I have “gotten to the bottom of it” concerning the existence of Yahweh. Proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as I’ve said. That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the possibility that I could still be wrong. I could be.

            Matt: “…and you have said yourself that I have understood your perspective here and there. Go figure. Not sure how I did that given lack of perfect knowledge or absolutes!”

            I don’t know why you would think that you would not be able to understand another person without having “perfect knowledge or absolutes”. That type of thinking just doesn’t reflect the reality we live in.

        • Thanks for clarifying your thoughts. So we agree on a few things:
          1 – That something can be known (meaning of words, etc) basically with certainty even without absolute knowledge. As in there are things you know and are certain of even without perfect knowledge.
          2 – That one of the things that falls under that umbrella is the existence of God…that one can form a conclusion about his existence one way or the other…even prove it…without absolute knowledge. You have demonstrated that by saying you have proven He doesn’t exist. I would love to hear your proof, by the way.
          3 – Words do mean something and can accurately describe something and communicate that something to someone else in an intelligible way.

          So we have some common ground and I am happy about that. So let’s get back to proving God doesn’t exist. How do you go about doing that? Second, how can you feel certain about your conclusion and simultaneously say you don’t really know? I guess I am still struggling with having “impossible” and “seems” in the same sentence. If it is just “seems” then it isn’t really impossible? Get my point?

          Sorry if I am misreading you on anything here…this is just how it seems to me based on what you said.

          • Yes, I agree with all three of those points.

            I never said I don’t really know. I just said that I can’t be absolutely certain. It’s no different than my belief that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I’m extremely confident that he doesn’t and I think it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt but I can’t say the he doesn’t exist with absolute certainty.

            Concerning demonstrating that Yahweh doesn’t exist I could go on and on about this but I’ll give just a few examples. First of all, the lack of any evidence for the existence of Yahweh outside of accounts in the bible – if you want to call that evidence – should be a huge red flag. There is no more evidence for Yahweh then there is for any other “god”.

            The bible makes a lot of claims that current evidence shows likely never happened.

            1. Exodus claims that there were about 600,000 males who left Egypt after 400 years in slavery. That would mean that at least 2 million people left and wandered in the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years. However, there is zero evidence in Egypt that the Israelites were ever there. The Egyptians never mentioned them even though they kept lots of records.

            There were only about 3 to 3.5 million people living in all of Egypt during this time and yet 2 to 2.5 million slaves left abruptly and there’s no record of the Egyptian economy collapsing. There’s no evidence in the DNA of modern humans that shows any interbreeding between Egyptians and Israelites from this time period. Surely there would have been over a period of 400 years. The technique they use to determine this is the same technique they have used to track the migration patterns of humans throughout our history.

            There’s absolutely no evidence that 2 million people wandered in the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years. There should be lots of evidence if that had actually happened. The truth is, the Israelites never left Canaan. They used to be polygamists just like all of the other tribes in that region but eventually created Yahweh out of the king of gods named El who they also worshiped. The Exodus was likely a foundation myth just like the foundation myths of other civilizations and religions.

            2. The earth is not roughly 6,000 years old as calculated from the genealogies in the bible or anything close to 6,000 years old. There are ice cores in Antarctica with over 600,000 annual layers. We know how mountains form. It takes a very long time, often millions of years. We know that the Hawaiian islands formed from the movement of the Pacific tectonic plate over a stationary hot spot that formed volcanoes that became each island. We know how fast this plate moves (it’s very slow) and can calculate how old each island is. The youngest island is the Big Island at about 500,000 years. They get older the further west you go and you can see the evidence for yourself by noticing how Kauai (about 5 million years old) has very lush jungle but the Big Island has far less trees.

            The universe wasn’t created in 6 literal days as the bible describes (“evening and morning was the X day”). The animals didn’t exist one day before humans. Humans are animals. We are apes. We evolved from an ape like ancestor millions of years ago. Chimpanzees and Bonobos and Gorillas are our cousins. We share 98% of our DNA with Chimps. Scientists can trace our lineages through our DNA back to that original ape ancestor. In fact, all life shares some DNA. We have common ancestry, AKA common descent. We don’t even need fossil records to prove this now that we know the makeup of human DNA and other animals. We can analyze the similarities and differences in our DNA to determine when our ancestors diverged from modern day orangutans and chimps. There is abundant evidence that we evolved from other animals.

            3. The bible is absurd and contradictory. God is described as loving, just, merciful and yet his purported actions are just the opposite. He told them they could buy slaves and keep them as property:

            Leviticus 25:44-46
            “44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have [a]produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 46 You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your [b]countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.”

            He told them they could keep women and children as war booty:

            “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.” (Deut 20:14)

            It advocates the raping of women:

            “10 When you go to war against your enemies, the Lord will help you defeat them so that you will take them captive. 11 If you see a beautiful woman among the captives and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.”

            God demanded that a man be killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath:

            “While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. 34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. 35 And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.”

            Yahweh’s behavior, as described in his own bible, is unmerciful, unloving, and unjust, just the opposite of what he is claimed to be. That alone disproves his existence because it’s completely contradictory.

            I think that’s enough for now.

          • I just realized that I used polygamist when I meant to type polytheists, lol. But they were actually both back then, polygamists and polytheists.

        • Thanks for making a partial case. What is interesting to me is that one can agree with you on several of these points and still maintain God exists. In other words, your arguments do not all lead automatically and unequivocally to a God who is not there…even a “God of the Bible” who is not there. For instance,

          1. We may have a translation issue going on here that has been obscured over time. Since we are 3300 years removed from that event and the terms that are used in the exodus narrative it is entirely possible that the Bible is actually telling us there were less people than the millions that are projected from one translation of the text. If instead of “thousand” (for instance) the word means something more like clan then we have a few hundred clans leaving Egypt, which is far more plausible. This “evidence” is based on lexicography, which is something we learn more and more about as time progresses as more and more discoveries are made does not rule out God’s existence in the least. At the end of the 1800s there were nearly 1000 words solely found in the Bible that we had no other examples of in extra-biblical literature. I think the number was around 780 but that is off the top of my head. Today we have less than 50 words. Why? Archaeology. Our understanding of the words improves which leads to more accurate translation. So God isn’t “killed” or disproven by your numbers.

          2. There are many God-believing Christians, including myself, who do not believe the earth is 6000 years old. The creation story also does not require 7, 24 hour periods. Even the first day is called a “day” (yom) before there is even a sun or a moon…how long was that day? This doesn’t prove anything about God’s nature…it does show that one particular line of interpretation may not be accurate or plausible and I would agree. The text does not demand a 6000 year old earth. That number is also based on genealogies which we know based on comparing genealogies that it was standard practice to skip people and get to the “main players” in the family tree. So that doesn’t require 6000 years either. So that doesn’t prove anything. The Bible can support an old earth without any problem.

          3. Probably your best argument but still beset with plenty of holes. I am going to lunch but can return to that point later.

          Thanks for taking the time to type that out. I know it took some effort.

          • That’s why I used the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” because I knew that you would bring up a number of unreasonable doubts in response to my claims.

            1. For example, you claim that the word translated into “thousand” in Exodus could mean “clans” even though the word is translated as “thousand” in every translation that I have seen. Do you know of one that translates it as “clans”? It’s also interesting to note that this idea that the Hebrew word means “clans” has only come about recently after science discovered that there is no evidence for the Exodus. Clearly your doubt is an unreasonable one.

            Even if the Hebrew word translated into “thousand” actually meant “clans” and it can be proven today, which it can’t, then what do you have to say to the poor schlubs from the 1800’s who recognized that the foundational story of the bible couldn’t have possibly happened with 2 million Israelites and justifiably so rejected the bible as being the word of a higher power? Guess he’s just going to hell because he didn’t live long enough to become enlightened by modern day lexicography, right?

            Your contention leads to an important question that also strongly suggests that the bible is not the word of God and that is: Why would a super intelligent higher power have chosen to record his inerrant message using such a primitive language with a limited vocabulary of words that often have multiple meanings and to have it recorded in a collection of books with many unknown authors and to leave no original copies of the text? It’s absurd.

            2.) You bring up an absurdity in the bible – that there could be an evening and a morning without a sun – to show that these weren’t literal days to dismiss the obvious interpretation that these are literal days as evidenced by the phrase “There was evening and there was morning, a ‘X’ day.” Well, if there can’t be an evening and a morning without a sun then maybe it shouldn’t have that phrase in there. The Genesis account is absurd using either interpretation:
            a.) The most obvious interpretation is that “There was evening and there was morning, a ‘X’ day” means one literal day but the sun supposedly wasn’t created yet so it’s absurd.
            b.) Because 1 is an absurdity you claim that “There was evening and there was morning, a ‘X’ day” cannot be interpreted as one literal day. If that interpretation is accurate, which it’s not, then the author used “There was evening and there was morning, a ‘X’ day” but didn’t actually mean it which means this interpretation is absurd as well.

            What’s also absurd is that God creates light on the first day and calls the light day and the darkness night but apparently he hadn’t even created the sun yet until the fourth day even though he had already created plants which all require the sun to even “sprout fourth”.

            What’s also absurd is that he created the earth before the sun because every planetary scientist knows that planets form after their stars have formed. When do you think people started coming up with this idea that the six literal days of creation actually aren’t six literal days and that the earth is way older than 6,000 years? What a surprise, it happened right around the time science was showing that the earth could not possibly be that young. At first the religious establishment resisted it but over the last 150 years they’ve slowly started to accept it and have also suddenly changed their interpretation of Genesis to fit with what everyone knows to be the truth.

            Of course you don’t believe that the earth and the universe were created in six literal days. It’s absurd. But whether you like it or not, your bible claims that it was created in six literal days and the vast majority of Christians have believed that for nearly the past 2,000 years. “There was evening and there was morning, a ‘X’ day.” The most honest and accurate interpretation is that it was a literal day. You can deny that all you want but to do so is unreasonable.

            I said, “The earth is not roughly 6,000 years old as calculated from the genealogies in the bible or anything close to 6,000 years old.” Notice that I didn’t say that the text says the earth is 6,000 years old, I said “roughly 6,000 years” and “anything close to 6,000 years” because I knew you would throw out that irrelevant possibility that they might have skipped some generations. It’s irrelevant because even if they did skip some generations then what age of the earth are we talking about now? 8,000 years? 10,000 years? Those numbers are all irrelevant to the actual age of 4.5 billion years. Even if the genealogy did skip over some generations and we found out that the bible thinks the earth is 10,000 years old the island of Hawaii is still proven to be roughly 500,000 years old, that’s 50 times that number, just for the youngest island of Hawaii! Clearly, your dismissal of my objection to the bible in this case is completely unreasonable.

            I’ll await your response to my third contention.

        • I am having a hard time getting to the correct “reply” button since it is so far back as your replies are pretty far nested in under my responses…so hope this shows up in the right spot.

          1 – First, it is reasonable to say that our understanding of ancient languages improves over time. It is reasonable because it is fact. That makes my point reasonable because we see this work out in lexicography all the time. What also makes my point reasonable is that archaeology, like lexicography (the two really go together since new discoveries in one is directly tied to the other) gives us more information over time that help us understand the situation. We realize that our knowledge of their world will be incomplete and often later discoveries show that what one generation had said there was ZERO evidence for in a biblical story later turns out to not be the case. Look up Solomon’s collonade if you want an example of exactly that happening.

          So my point that our understanding of the words improves over time is perfectly valid. No reason to toss that out. You may not agree with my point. It is not a definitive answer to your question but it is one possibility.

          Next, your conclusion that people are going to hell over the understanding of a Hebrew word is preposterous at best. You can do better than that…I just know you can!

          Last on point 1, my contention doesn’t prove anything about the Bible not being the word of God. God used the language of the people he revealed it to in their day, in their way. That is called communication and divine revelation. Words have multiple meanings in all languages. By your logic God should have limited himself to a special language where words only have 1 definition. It doesn’t exist. Sorry. Point dismissed!

          2 – I don’t think you missed my point. You are smarter than that. You ignored my point. My point is that the word day (yom) in Hebrew does not necessitate a 24 hour period. Take the “day of the Lord” for instance…it doesn’t necessitate 1 24 hour period. It just doesn’t. So your point doesn’t work out at all because we have all kinds of instances of the word “day” (yom) in Hebrew where it doesn’t require 24 hours. Evening and morning is very much a Hebrew way of thinking. It is how they organize time. Days start in the evening and move to and through the morning. It is just saying that time is passing on to the next movement of God. You don’t have to agree with it. I am just answering your question in a way that is entirely consistent with Scripture. No one is forcing you to accept it.

          Last on point 2, it is funny that you say that it is absurd for God to make the sun when he did. You said it is possible God exists even though you don’t think He does. Let’s say he does…if he truly is God then he can do it in whatever order he wants. That is no trouble to him. That is the definition of omnipotence and omniscience. So that point is moot.

          On skipping generations. I didn’t say they skipped billions of years of generations. Do you believe humans have existed billions of years?

          3 – I am going to come back to this when I can sit down and type a decent response. Your first two are pretty easily dismissed. The third one isn’t problematic to my faith but I do want to very intentionally answer that and it honestly may take me a few days as I am spending the next few days with extended family. But I will get back to it. Until then, keep on digging and searching because God is not far from you. I am praying for you that God will help you see things clearly as I pray he helps me do the same. I don’t claim to know everything but I do have faith and I believe God is faithful. Have a great day.

          • 1. I agree with almost everything you’ve said here. The natural conclusion therefore is that we will have a better understanding of ancient languages and archaeology over time. And my question is: What about the people who were sincere in their attempts to understand whether a historical event happened but were wrong? You dismiss that concern by saying that it is preposterous to think that a person could go to hell over the understanding of a Hebrew word but the understanding of that word, in this case, either makes the Exodus story plausible or implausible.

            If it’s implausible a person is justified in not believing in the Exodus. If it’s plausible then they are not justified in claiming that it didn’t happen. So yes, their eternal destiny could rest on the translation of that one word.

            So let’s imagine that the Hebrew word should be translated as “clans” but we only know that now because “our understanding of ancient languages improves over time” as you correctly stated. However, if 150 years ago everyone translated it as “thousands” and that made the most sense at the time wouldn’t it have been reasonable for them to conclude that the Exodus was an implausibility as they currently understood it?

            I asked you to name a translation of the bible that translates it as “clans” and you didn’t give me one. I’m left to assume that you don’t know of one either. Since the biblical scholars who created all of the biblical translations that we know of translate it as “thousands” isn’t it more reasonable to conclude that it is accurately translated into the English word “thousands” and that because of that the Exodus story is more likely to be myth than fact?

            My point is that a higher power who is even halfway intelligent would have found a better way of communicating his inerrant message; one that wouldn’t require translations and interpretations. He wouldn’t have used written communication at all, in any human language, let alone a primitive language like Hebrew.

            2. Yes, I agree that “day” can have a meaning other than a literal 24 hour day but when the phrase, “There was evening and there was morning, a ‘X’ day” is added, it strongly suggests a literal day. Your interpretation is not “entirely consistent with Scripture”. Where in the bible was the word ‘day’ clearly used to describe an epoch and then they added “Evening and morning” to describe the flow of time across this epoch? Even if the author had added “The sun went down and the sun came up, the ‘X’ day” you would still claim that it was just figurative speech. It’s beyond ridiculous.

            Matt: “Do you believe humans have existed billions of years?”

            Clearly not but even if they skipped some generations the time of Adam and Eve’s existence is not going to be anything close to the actual time of the first humans which was roughly 200,000 years ago.

          • Matt: “Do you believe humans have existed billions of years?”

            By the way, I made those comments about Hawaii only being 500,000 years old because I had forgotten that you were not arguing that humans were around during the first 99.999999% of the earth’s existence.

        • Quick response here…won’t cover every single point but I will as I can. It has been an interesting conversation. Thank you for your contribution.

          1 – People are never said to be going to hell in scripture because they misunderstood something like this. On the flip side, salvation is never dependent on things like this. I think you understanding of our role in salvation may need some help on the biblical end. It doesn’t work out biblically to say that someone is lost because they misunderstood one of these points. So that is a moot point. You cannot pin something like that on God, calling him unfair for sending people for hell because (if it is the case) the translators missed it on a word somewhere. Just doesn’t work out. Just so you know, I am saying it is possible the word can mean clan. I am not saying it must. It is entirely possible it means thousand and I am fine with that. I think it accurately makes the point the biblical author was intending to make.

          That takes us to Genesis. When you do biblical interpretation (exegesis) the point is to try to understand the point they were trying to make when it was written. We can make all sorts of points from a text but not all of them are valid. We can make all sorts of points from a text that aren’t even close to what the original authors had in mind. The way you get closer and closer to original intended meaning is through study. Study their words (lexicography). Study their history and their culture (anthropology) and study biblical theology as a whole to see the consistent message. There are more things that go into it than that (genre for one) but you get the idea.

          When you study the creation account a few things jump out. First, the writers were not 21st century Western scientists or even historians in the sense that we use the term. I highly recommend you read John Walton’s work on Genesis at this point. I am not saying it isn’t history. It is. I am not saying it isn’t accurate. It is. I am saying that they didn’t intend to give us all the things we are looking for in this text because our culture and background are not the same as theirs and the things they were interested in recording were written for a theological purpose, not as a science or geology or astronomy text. Second, the writing is highly poetic (genre). Third, the text is theological. If you read other ancient texts and creation accounts particularly of the Egyptians and the Canaanites (Ugarit and elsewhere) you can see that the Genesis creation account is very much written against what the other nations were saying is how the world was created. I can go into a lot of detail here if you like. I have written on this before:

          http://mattdabbs.com/2009/05/28/what-can-we-learn-false-gods-bible/
          http://mattdabbs.com/2007/10/23/ugarit-and-the-old-testament/
          http://mattdabbs.com/2007/10/08/how-archaeology-helps-us-understand-scripture/
          http://mattdabbs.com/2007/01/30/ancient-texts-part-2-enuma-elish-atrahasis/
          http://mattdabbs.com/2007/01/27/what-can-we-learn-from-ancient-religious-texts/

          Will be back later…thanks for your patience!

          • 1. I don’t think you understood anything that I said in my previous comment or you deliberately misunderstood it. Matt: “People are never said to be going to hell in scripture because they misunderstood something like this.” That’s not the point, clearly. I said,

            “You dismiss that concern by saying that it is preposterous to think that a person could go to hell over the understanding of a Hebrew word but the understanding of that word, in this case, either makes the Exodus story plausible or implausible.

            If it’s implausible a person is justified in not believing in the Exodus. If it’s plausible then they are not justified in claiming that it didn’t happen. So yes, their eternal destiny could rest on the translation of that one word.”

            The translation of that one word does, in this instance, determine whether a person would find the story of Exodus plausible or implausible and that determination could easily and justifiably cause them to not believe in the bible as the word of God.

            I asked you a question in my previous comment that you didn’t answer. I would appreciate an answer:

            “So let’s imagine that the Hebrew word should be translated as “clans” but we only know that now because “our understanding of ancient languages improves over time” as you correctly stated. However, if 150 years ago everyone translated it as “thousands” and that made the most sense at the time wouldn’t it have been reasonable for them to conclude that the Exodus was an implausibility as they currently understood it?”

            2. I asked you, “Where in the bible was the word ‘day’ clearly used to describe an epoch and then they added “Evening and morning” to describe the flow of time across this epoch?”

            You didn’t answer. I have to assume it’s because there isn’t an instance where this is the case.

            How do you respond after I’ve exposed some of the absurdity of Genesis? You give me this: “culture and background are not the same as theirs”, “not as a science or geology or astronomy text”, “the writing is highly poetic”. In your mind that excuses every absurdity. By the way, if a book attempts to explain the origin of the universe, the earth, and all life then it is making claims about science, geology, and astronomy and saying that it’s not a book about any of those things is just an obvious excuse to dismiss any arguments that challenge its claims.

            We have no reason to believe that the Genesis account was not meant to be taken literally or that it’s poetic. You’re simply making that up to excuse it’s absurd claims.

        • Ok, let me address your 3rd point. Here it is just for a reminder:

          “The bible is absurd and contradictory. God is described as loving, just, merciful and yet his purported actions are just the opposite. He told them they could buy slaves and keep them as property…”

          Then you reference three examples from the Old Testament:
          1 – Leviticus 25:44-46 – which you said is God telling them to buy and keep slaves as property.
          2 – Deut 20:14 & 21:10-11 – prescription on what to do with women and children from defeated nations which you say is God telling them to rape the women of the land.
          3 – Number 15:32-36 – a man is killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

          Your conclusion based on these four examples: “Yahweh’s behavior, as described in his own bible, is unmerciful, unloving, and unjust, just the opposite of what he is claimed to be. That alone disproves his existence because it’s completely contradictory.”

          So that is your proposition…God is unmerciful, unloving and unjust because of these four stories. Is that the case? Do these four stories prove that? Or is there a possibility that God can maintain his justness, love and mercy in light of the four stories you just mentioned. Correct me if I am wrong but you have a problem with the existence of God based on what you would say are stories in His very own word that would seem to contradict His very nature. Am I understanding you correctly on that?

          So the bottom line question is, is there an explanation that is possible that maintains God’s character and still holds these stories to be true? Or said another way, is it possible there are reasons God said these things, allowed these things, etc that are perfectly in line with God’s love, mercy and justice?

          If so, then you cannot maintain that it isn’t possible or reasonable to say God exists based on these examples. That is what I believe. Help me out if you think I am wrong in my assumptions going into this.

          First, you have just referenced 4 stories from 1500 pages of scripture. You are basing your conclusion (at least here) on 11 verses out of 31,100+ verses in the Bible. Before even giving explanation to the stories in question you have to see on the front end that your argument is one made out of weak evidence. Even if you accept your interpretation of these stories pointing against the nature and character of God (which I don’t) you still have the preponderance of the evidence is in support of a God who is loving, kind, merciful and just. The preponderance of the evidence is that God is loving, merciful and just particularly as demonstrated in the incarnation, and atonement we find in God taking on the punishment for our sins on himself. Even in the first sin…going back to an earlier point we discussed on the word yom/day…God told them that in the “yom” they eat of it they will surely die. They didn’t die that very instant on that very day (again, yom as not a 24 hour period) reminding us that God is a God of mercy who allows them to live in spite of their disobedience to His command. We see God’s mercy in Gen 15 where God cuts a covenant with Abraham. Abraham cuts animals in half and creates a aisle. Traditionally both parties of the covenant walk the aisle saying that if they break the covenant what has happened to these animals will happen to them. In Gen 15, only God goes through the pieces showing his covenant faithfulness but also not holding Abraham to the punishment if he failed. I could cite a thousand more examples of evidence for God’s love, mercy, etc. Making a case for something has to consider the whole picture rather than pull 4 stories out of thousands.

          Second, we view these events in light of God’s broader purpose. Is there a scenario in which it makes sense for God to do these things in light of a bigger purpose that is actually loving, kind, merciful, etc? There are two levels we can view this from. 1 – our 21st century Western, individualistic perspective that values the value and autonomy of the individual against the community or 2 – the 13th century BC Hebrew world view that values community and the collective over and against the individual & attributes value to honor and takes away value based on shame (honor/shame culture). Reading these stories through our contemporary cultural filters make it hard for us to find anything good about God in these stories. The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t let us hear the stories as they were intended to be heard. Good interpretation means doing your best to enter into their world to try to ascertain the point of the text as it was intended in their day. Reading it from their worldview results in a different outcome.

          Let’s start with the guy picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Seems harmless 3000 years later, living in a different time under different rules and with different value systems. Here God is protecting the future of the community at the expense of the one who broke the command and knew the punishment (he would have known this was the punishment as it has already been stated and explained to the people (Exo 31:14). So this is more than picking up sticks…the death penalty for picking up sticks is insanely stupid. This man is dishonoring God, breaking Sabbath and violating a specific command of the Lord even knowing the penalty it was supposed to produce. There was also a principle in the Sabbath commandment that God wanted them to honor, respect and keep holy (remember, the Sabbath is holy – set apart) and to dishonor that day is to dishonor God who commanded them to honor it and keep it holy. There is more to this story than picking up sticks. So the problem is bigger than it seems at first glance. Second, allowing this man to violate the specific command regarding the Sabbath would have devastating community impact in regard to how people see God and His word…it would make God unbelievable, inconsistent, etc which leads to more and more problems. This action was a wanton disregard for God, his commands and the well being of the community at large. That was his error. He didn’t care if the community paid for his action. He didn’t care if he paid for his action. He cared more about sticks than about God or his fellow Hebrews. In their world that is shameful and in their world social shame was as good as death. Look up honor and shame culture or try reading “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” if you want to learn more about their world and about how our biases often lead to misunderstanding the text.

          How can God maintain his character of being loving, kind, etc and allow or call for the stoning of this man? God was upholding his word, the purity of the community, etc by punishing this man exactly as he had been warned he would be punished. In doing so, God was caring for the community at large and teaching them about sin, holiness, etc. In the end/long run (for the community/whole) this was an act of justice and showed God’s love for his people at large.

          That takes us to your other ttwo examples (again, 3 examples out of thousands but even still nothing to trip over). In your view God is not loving is that you said he condoned rape in Deut 21:11. What would have been a better case study for your point was that God told them to kill everyone in those cities except the women and the children. Remember, the inhabitants of the land (Canaanites) were ruthless people who sacrificed their babies to the gods, etc. These were not docile people who were the epitome of virtue but we could make a case the women and children were the innocent ones in all of this – to your point.

          First, God did command them to destroy the inhabitants of the land but if you read all of what God said there are provisions and protections in certain areas. First, a city is offered surrender which would ensure their survival. Second, God does provide a way out for women and children to be spared. Third, women are to be married to Israelites which brings them under the umbrella of being the children of God and salvation…receiving the full benefit for being a wife. If you read the context of the verses you quoted you will see this. This is actually a protective measure and isn’t rape as they are married. This is protection and provision for the least of these in their world. You might not see forced marriage as that and you did call it rape but that is not what God is setting up here. He is allowing them to marry and in doing so the men had obligations to their wives. If things didn’t work out God also made provision for that – to let them go free and not be enslaved, again ensuring they aren’t destroyed as the Israelites inhabit the land.

          Last is your point from Leviticus 25:44-46 about the Hebrews taking slaves for themselves from other nations. It seems to me that this chapter is about the land and then about the inhabitants of the land starting with the Israelite inhabitants and then to the Canaanites. This chapter is about maintaining possession of the land for the Israelites and how to deal with those who must give up their portion of the land due to debt. This was part of the covenant promise to Abraham back in Genesis 12, 15,& 17. So first God was making provisions within Israel for people to not become destitute via the year of Jubilee.

          Then it deals with non-Israelites who become slaves to them. First, I assume you would agree that slavery is better than death although that doesn’t condone the practice. Second, we must understand slavery in the Torah (Gen-Deut) as a whole and third we must understanding slavery in the broader context of their world. The Torah gave other instructions regarding slaves and put limits and protections on them to ensure their safety and provide them freedom if they underwent abuse. First, kidnapping was illegal and reason for the death penalty especially in regard to kidnapping to put someone into slavery (Exo 21:16). If slaves are injured, marked, scared, impaired in any way they are to be released (Exo 21:20-21, 26-27). Once again, the law made provision for freedom for those in these situations that they were to either A) work out in a peaceable way for a slave in Israel which like the women taken in war put them under the umbrella of Israel’s community of faith or B) mistreatment only ensured their freedom from all obligations. Compared to the cultures around them in their day this was much more gracious than it sounds to our ears today.

          Last, being a part of Israel was being a part of the covenant community with rights and access to the covenant blessings. As slaves, women and children were incorporated into the people of God one cannot imagine a greater blessing than salvation. That is what God promised them and that is what these people were participating in. In effect it was a “way out” of their former paganism, idolatry, divination, child sacrifice (remember, these kids weren’t even safe under their own parents), etc. In the case of the women and children, they are being provided for and with provisions made for abuse guaranteeing their well being within the families of the Israelites in marriage/parents. In the case of the slaves they are also being included in the family of God and having provision made for them in the case of abuse that leads to and ensures their further well being.

          So is there a way to view these stories in a way that is consistent with a God who is loving, merciful, kind, etc? I believe the answer is yes.

          I think I have addressed point 3 well enough here but let me know what questions you have. We have a difference in perspectives here that is going to be hard to bridge. I do think it would be good to spend more time on the other 99% of scripture if we are going to paint a picture of who God is and what God is all about.

          • Just because I only gave you four stories from the bible doesn’t mean that there are only four stories that make my point. I just thought it would be a better idea to focus on a few rather then bombard you with all of them at once. We’ll get nowhere if we do that. Also, your point about this only being “11 verses out of 31,100+ verses” and “you still have the preponderance of the evidence is in support of a God who is loving, kind, merciful and just” could just as easily be made by a supporter of any other bloodthirsty despot. For all of the terrible things Saddam Hussein did I’m sure his supporters could have given you more examples of how nice he was to them and other people providing a preponderance of evidence in support of a Saddam who is loving, kind, merciful and just. But was Saddam a good guy? No, and neither was your favorite despot, Yahweh – a fictional character in the bible.

            Furthermore, Yahweh is supposed to be a perfect being therefore any instance of him acting unmerciful, unloving, or unjust proves that he is not a perfect being and is therefore not God.

            I would like to address every single argument you’ve made here because I think they’re all terrible arguments but if I do that then it’s going to turn into an even larger essay than what you’ve just written and I’d rather not do that though it will probably be fairly lengthy regardless. I’d rather focus our attention on just a few points.

            Earlier I made the claim that God “told them they could buy slaves and keep them as property.” Nothing you’ve said here refutes that point. You made these points in response:

            1. “put limits and protections on them to ensure their safety and provide them freedom if they underwent abuse.”
            2. Being a slave to Israelites “put them under the umbrella of Israel’s community of faith” and gave them salvation from their false religions.

            Concerning your first point, in Exodus 21:20-21, it reads, “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.”

            And yet you claim that God “put limits and protections on them to ensure their safety”. How is beating someone so bad that they die after a day or two ensuring their safety?

            To sum it up, your argument against my point on slavery is that because the Israelites weren’t as harsh a slavemaster as others and their slaves supposedly received eternal salvation that it is therefore justified that God told them they could buy slaves and keep them as property. If that’s not your position please explain why it isn’t.

            Matt: “First, a city is offered surrender which would ensure their survival.”

            Deut 20:10-11
            “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you.”

            You missed something vitally important here. Yes, the city is offered a chance to surrender but only if they agree to become their slaves.

            You said that because the Israelite men forced these women captives to marry them that it “isn’t rape as they are married” and that they were given “protection and provision”. Rape is defined as “forcible sexual relations with a person against that person’s will”. If a person kills a girl’s parents or husband and enslaves her and then forces her to marry him how is that not “forcible sexual relations with a person against that person’s will”?

            Do you have a different definition of rape?

            By the way, it’s not “If things didn’t work out” that they could get a divorce and she could go free, it’s only if her husband didn’t want her anymore. It’s not like she had a choice in any of it like you’re suggesting.

            Concerning the guy picking up sticks on the Sabbath, I think the core problem here is that God would have a law that called for the execution of anyone who “does any work on the Sabbath”. First of all, “work” is a very generic word. What if someone picked up trash off their kitchen floor and threw it outside? Well, that’s cleaning which is a form of work so let’s all stone them to death, right?

            So a guy picks up sticks and they stone him. You justify it by turning it into this: “He cared more about sticks than about God or his fellow Hebrews”. How absurd. You could do that with any petty crime but of course there is no such thing as a petty crime with God, right? The punishment for just about anything is death. Hardly merciful or just.

            Would you have joined them in stoning this man to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath? Would you have joined them in stoning gay people as well? Yahweh commanded all of these things.

            Does it not disturb you that you are justifying acts in the bible that are extremely similar to that of ISIS today?

            You and ISIS both justify genocide and brutality by claiming that the entire targeted ethnic group is composed of evil people:

            A.) Matt: “the inhabitants of the land (Canaanites) were ruthless people who sacrificed their babies to the gods, etc.”

            “…Yazidis are described as “devil-worshippers” by ISIS.” [1]

            I find it terribly ironic that you complain that the Canaanites sacrificed their babies so God punishes them by killing them and their babies. Wow.

            B.) “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.” (Deut 20:14)

            “After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharia amongst the fighters of the Islamic State,” [1]

            “ISIS forced tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee their homes in August when the extremists stormed many of the community’s towns and cities in Iraqi Kurdistan. Displaced families and monitoring groups reported jihadists kidnapped hundreds of Yazidi women and girls, and many were sold or given away to militants as “spoils of war.” [3]

            C.) “When you go to war against your enemies, the Lord will help you defeat them so that you will take them captive. If you see a beautiful woman among the captives and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.” Deut 21:10-11

            “In every place where Yazidi women or families are held, jihadists come and randomly select women that they take away.” [1]

            ““Seve,” a 19-year-old Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS, described how she was coerced into marriage with a militant after her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law were killed before her eyes.”
            ““We heard shocking stories of forced religious conversions, forced marriage, and even sexual assault and slavery — and some of the victims were children,” [2]

            Do you believe that Seve was not raped because she was coerced into marriage?

            References:

            [1] http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/israel-middle-east/isis-jihadists-offer-islamic-justification-for-taking-thousands-of-yazidi-women-as-sex-slaves
            [2] http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/isis-says-it-is-reviving-slavery-of-women-to-prevent-men-fro#.ddJPxVJJz
            [3] http://pamelageller.com/2014/10/islamic-state-isis-states-its-quranic-justification-for-the-enslavement-of-women-and-sex-slavery.html/

          • Just because I only gave you four stories from the bible doesn’t mean that there are only four stories that make my point. I just thought it would be a better idea to focus on a few rather than bombard you with all of them at once. We’ll get nowhere if we do that. Also, your point about this only being “11 verses out of 31,100+ verses” and “you still have the preponderance of the evidence is in support of a God who is loving, kind, merciful and just” could just as easily be made by a supporter of any other bloodthirsty despot. For all of the terrible things Saddam Hussein did I’m sure his supporters could have given you more examples of how nice he was to them and other people providing a preponderance of evidence in support of a Saddam who is loving, kind, merciful and just. But was Saddam a good guy? No, and neither was your favorite despot, Yahweh – a fictional character in the bible.

            Furthermore, Yahweh is supposed to be a perfect being therefore any instance of him acting unmerciful, unloving, or unjust proves that he is not a perfect being and is therefore not God.

            I would like to address every single argument you’ve made here because I think they’re all terrible arguments but if I do that then it’s going to turn into an even larger essay than what you’ve just written and I’d rather not do that though it will probably be fairly lengthy regardless. I’d rather focus our attention on just a few points.

            Earlier I made the claim that God “told them they could buy slaves and keep them as property.” Nothing you’ve said here refutes that point. You made these points in response:

            1. “put limits and protections on them to ensure their safety and provide them freedom if they underwent abuse.”
            2. Being a slave to Israelites “put them under the umbrella of Israel’s community of faith” and gave them salvation from their false religions.

            Concerning your first point, in Exodus 21:20-21, it reads, “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.”

            And yet you claim that God “put limits and protections on them to ensure their safety”. How is beating someone so bad that they die after a day or two ensuring their safety?

            To sum it up, your argument against my point on slavery is that because the Israelites weren’t as harsh a slavemaster as others and their slaves supposedly received eternal salvation that it is therefore justified that God told them they could buy slaves and keep them as property. If that’s not your position please explain why it isn’t.

            Matt: “First, a city is offered surrender which would ensure their survival.”

            Deut 20:10-11
            “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you.”

            You missed something vitally important here. Yes, the city is offered a chance to surrender but only if they agree to become their slaves.

            You said that because the Israelite men forced these women captives to marry them that it “isn’t rape as they are married” and that they were given “protection and provision”. Rape is defined as “forcible sexual relations with a person against that person’s will”. If a person kills a girl’s parents or husband and enslaves her and then forces her to marry him how is that not “forcible sexual relations with a person against that person’s will”?

            Do you have a different definition of rape?

            By the way, it’s not “If things didn’t work out” that they could get a divorce and she could go free, it’s only if her husband didn’t want her anymore. It’s not like she had a choice in any of it like you’re suggesting.

            Concerning the guy picking up sticks on the Sabbath, I think the core problem here is that God would have a law that called for the execution of anyone who “does any work on the Sabbath”. First of all, “work” is a very generic word. What if someone picked up trash off their kitchen floor and threw it outside? Well, that’s cleaning which is a form of work so let’s all stone them to death, right?

            So a guy picks up sticks and they stone him. You justify it by turning it into this: “He cared more about sticks than about God or his fellow Hebrews”. How absurd. You could do that with any petty crime but of course there is no such thing as a petty crime with God, right? The punishment for just about anything is death. Hardly merciful or just.

            Would you have joined them in stoning this man to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath? Would you have joined them in stoning gay people as well? Yahweh commanded all of these things.

            Does it not disturb you that you are justifying acts in the bible that are extremely similar to that of ISIS today?

            You and ISIS both justify genocide and brutality by claiming that the entire targeted ethnic group is composed of evil people:

            A.) Matt: “the inhabitants of the land (Canaanites) were ruthless people who sacrificed their babies to the gods, etc.”

            “…Yazidis are described as “devil-worshippers” by ISIS.” [1]

            I find it terribly ironic that you complain that the Canaanites sacrificed their babies so God punishes them by killing them and their babies. Wow.

            B.) “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.” (Deut 20:14)

            “After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharia amongst the fighters of the Islamic State,” [1]

            “ISIS forced tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee their homes in August when the extremists stormed many of the community’s towns and cities in Iraqi Kurdistan. Displaced families and monitoring groups reported jihadists kidnapped hundreds of Yazidi women and girls, and many were sold or given away to militants as “spoils of war.” [3]

            C.) “When you go to war against your enemies, the Lord will help you defeat them so that you will take them captive. If you see a beautiful woman among the captives and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.” Deut 21:10-11

            “In every place where Yazidi women or families are held, jihadists come and randomly select women that they take away.” [1]

            ““Seve,” a 19-year-old Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS, described how she was coerced into marriage with a militant after her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law were killed before her eyes.”
            ““We heard shocking stories of forced religious conversions, forced marriage, and even sexual assault and slavery — and some of the victims were children,” [2]

            Do you believe that Seve was not raped because she was coerced into marriage?

            References:

            [1] news[dot]nationalpost[dot]com/news/world/israel-middle-east/isis-jihadists-offer-islamic-justification-for-taking-thousands-of-yazidi-women-as-sex-slaves
            [2] buzzfeed[dot]com/tasneemnashrulla/isis-says-it-is-reviving-slavery-of-women-to-prevent-men-fro#[dot]ddJPxVJJz
            [3] pamelageller[dot]com/2014/10/islamic-state-isis-states-its-quranic-justification-for-the-enslavement-of-women-and-sex-slavery[dot]html/

        • You are completely ignoring and denying the scriptures that I have quoted you. God made provision for women and children. He told them not to kill them. Then you claim he did. I guess you aren’t really interested in what the bible has to say…so why are we even discussing this? You are repeating things the text denies. If you are interested in what it says then you wouldn’t do that, seems to me.

          The question is not whether or not God appears to be unloving but if God actually was unloving or whether or not there is another explanation that maintains God’s love while also allowing room for things like God’s justice. In other words, someone can be perfectly loving while also exhibiting things like justice.

          • That can hardly be considered a response to my latest comments. You didn’t answer any of questions, again.

            Matt: “God made provision for women and children. He told them not to kill them. Then you claim he did.”

            In my original #3 contention I never claimed that God killed women and children in the verses I provided. There are other instances of him killing women and children but not in these verses. The only thing I can think of that would make you think that I was claiming that he killed women and children is this:

            “A.) Matt: “the inhabitants of the land (Canaanites) were ruthless people who sacrificed their babies to the gods, etc.”
            “…Yazidis are described as “devil-worshippers” by ISIS.” [1]
            I find it terribly ironic that you complain that the Canaanites sacrificed their babies so God punishes them by killing them and their babies. Wow.”

            But here I’m clearly responding to your general statement about the Canaanites when I said that God killed Canaanite women and children. This doesn’t have anything to do with contention #3 but if you want to claim that God didn’t kill women and children then we can talk about that too.

            For example, Numbers 31:14-18:
            14″Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
            “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16“They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

            There you go, God commanded the killing of women and children. Now will you respond to my previous comment and answer my questions? If you want to just focus on one or two of my questions I’m fine with that. I know these comments are getting quite long.

        • It wasn’t intended to answer all your questions. If I had intended to do that I would have done it. The reason I did that “again” (not sure of the other time) was because you were ignoring the very content of the verses we are discussing as you continue to make your points and I wanted to make sure we were interested in pursuing the answers the right way. It seemed to me it was off track and I wasn’t going to pursue tracking down your answers if you are just going to ignore verses that completely destroy your argument…like you going on and on about killing babies and women when God told them not to. That is why I didn’t answer your questions. I can when I find some time.

          • You’re accusing me of ignoring the content of the verses we are discussing? You’re arguing a point that I never even made in my third contention. The only time I even mentioned that God killed women and children was in response to your general statement about the Canaanite people being terrible people who apparently deserved genocide.

  3. I grew up in another tradition and walked away from it in the 80’s because of similar issues that COC has been facing these last few years. When my life started falling apart, God put a wonderful family in my path to guide me back to him. In that process, I joined their congregation. For a long time, I was oblivious to the conflict, other than when an occasional older person would comment how such and such was going to a denominational church and shake their head. But over time, the younger adults started leaving this small congregation and the balance of progressive thinkers and conversative thinkers shifted. By this time I had started teaching an adult class. Got LOTS of first hand experience of that way of thinking attacking me for my “liberal” thinking. It has frustrated me. Now, after three years and a bad experience with an elder and a new preacher, my wife and I have decided to move elsewhere. It has been painful, as I still love those people. Even the ones I don’t see eye to eye with. However, if we stay, I feel our spiritual life will suffer. We have found a more progressive congregation, closer to where we live. We feel much more at home, but I still miss the deep friendships that I had formed. It saddens me when people are so narrow minded that they worry more about tradition than forgiveness.

    • I’m really sorry to hear about your story. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is our peace. This should allow us to accept and bear with one another, even to enjoy one another’s differences. Sadly, a few too many people haven’t yet understood the message! Thanks for sharing.