How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

Through Jesus we can discover our response to violence and oppression

Seldom a day goes by when we don’t hear of terrorists who commit violence and murder in the name of their faith. These religious zealots believe a higher calling gives them the right to kill others in order to elevate their beliefs.

This seems barbaric, ignorant, and misguided. We, as followers of Jesus, would never do that. But Christians have. In the name of religion they killed. And we only need look at the Old Testament for a precedence that seems to give permission.

Old Testament Violence

As the nation of Israel leaves Egypt and comes to reclaim the territory God gave them, he tells them to annihilate the inhabiting people, to utterly destroy them and their pagan practices. As I read these accounts in the Old Testament, I struggle with the violence I encounter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem justified, and it’s not fair.

Yet, I see four things that somewhat help me reconcile the violence we read about in the Old Testament.

It Was Specific: God does not give a universal command for his people to kill all their enemies, regardless of geography or situation. He directs this instruction only at the people living in the Promised Land, occupying the territory he gave his people. To apply this to any other circumstances is inappropriate and a misuse of scripture.

It Was For One Season: God’s command to wipe out the inhabiting peoples only applies to one period of time: as his people take back the territory he gave them. He never says this instruction to kill and destroy applies for all time or extends indefinitely into the future.

It Was an Anomaly: In a general command, one without limits, God tells his people to treat the foreigners living among them as one of them, as native born (Leviticus 19:34). This is far different than his one-time instruction to kill.

It Was Fulfilled: Even if we disregard that the command to kill was specific and for a limited time, remember that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). It is over, in the past. The old ways are gone.

Still, these seem to me as poor justifications for the Israelites to kill. Though I’m content to accept God as sovereign and freely admit that I can’t begin to understand him or his ways, I still struggle with the Old Testament’s slaughter of people. (By the way, it’s hard to convert people to your way of thinking when they’re dead.)God says we are to love our enemies, pray for them, and live in peace. Click To Tweet

New Testament Nonviolence

I am, however, comforted by the New Testament, which doesn’t perpetuate God’s people inflicting violence on others. I’m encouraged by what Jesus and his followers say to counter the Old Testament’s accounts of violence:

Love Your Enemies: Jesus says we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we love people, we want the best for them. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 for details of what love entails.

Pray For Those Who Persecute You: Right after Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he adds that we should pray for those who intend us harm (Matthew 5:44). By the way, this includes the terrorists who today kill people in the name of their religion.

I’ve never thought to do that until right now. It’s going to be hard. Will you join me?

Live in Peace: Paul writes to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome, instructing them to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). In the book of Hebrews we read the same thing, along with the kicker to be holy as we do (Hebrews 12:14). Our holiness points others to God, allowing them to see him for who he is.

Though the violence in the Old Testament perplexes me, what applies to us today comes from the New Testament: Love our enemies, pray for those who intend us harm, and strive to live in peace with everyone.

That is how we are to respond to the violence around us today.

Does It Ever Seem Like God Hates You?

What we may perceive as a lack of love may actually be the embodiment of it

In the book of Revelation, John shares a grand vision with an epic scope, far reaching and future focused. But before we get to that, God has some first-century messages for seven area churches. Three of these messages appear in the third chapter.

In John’s supernatural dream, amid the seventh message to the seventh church, the one in Laodicea, Jesus says “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent,” (Revelation 3:19, NIV).

We know Jesus and his Father are all about love. They love us. That’s why they made a way for us to hang out with them forever. Love sent Jesus to earth. Love sacrificed him for us. Love ushers us into heaven.

When I think of God’s love, I think of his mercy (not getting the bad things we do deserve) and his grace (getting the good things we don’t deserve). I like grace and mercy.

However, two things I don’t think about when I consider God’s love are rebuke and discipline. Yuck. Yet correction is part of love, too. Parents, discipline their children to keep them safe and healthy and to prepare them for adulthood.

So discipline, from both God and our parents, is a good thing. It’s an act of love.When God disciplines us, it’s because he loves us. Click To Tweet

When God rebukes and disciplines us, it’s because he loves us, not because he hates us, has given up on us, or is ignoring us. Correction is one way he expresses his love to us.

How should we respond to his discipline?

Jesus explains that, too. With all sincerity (earnestness) we need to change our ways (repent).

I think this might be one way we can show God we love him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Revelation 3, and today’s post is on Revelation 3:19.]

Save

Do You Have Life?

Whoever has the Son has life

In the first of John’s three letters, he writes to the early followers of Jesus, reminding them of God’s essential message about Jesus, light, and life. Jesus, by the way, is the light and he gives life. So amid John’s poetic flare, his words all revolve around Jesus.

As John winds down his letter, he writes, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” He makes it so simple.

We take this word life to mean eternal life, that is, our future life in heaven.

Yes, it is that. But this future begins today, not later after we die. The life Jesus gives us is physical life, too. And this might be just as important. Really.

Too many Christians plod through this life, placing all their hopes in a future life in heaven. Their exclusive future focus robs them of what God wants to give them today.

We need to make the most of this life that Jesus gives us. Live for him. Love others as he does. Point them to Jesus, the Son of God.Seek Jesus and you will have him. It’s that simple. Click To Tweet

John makes it clear: Whoever has the Son has life.

Do you have the Son?

If so, the life he gives starts here, now.

If not, seek Jesus and you will have him. It’s that simple.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 John 5, and today’s post is on 1 John 5:12.]

Save

What Is Your Path?

When we focus on other people, we may lose sight of our own calling

As Jesus wraps up his stint on earth, he spends some time with his disciples, the core group he trained for three years. They will need to carry on without him, and he wants to make sure they’re ready.

First, he must deal with Peter, who, a few days earlier, denied he even knew Jesus. Jesus is gentle but sure. To counter Peter’s three denials, Jesus has his wayward disciple give three affirmations of love. After each one, Jesus tells Peter to “Care for those who follow me.”

Then Jesus tells Peter what his future will entail. It ends with execution. But Jesus tells Peter to follow him, regardless.

Likely squirming and wanting to change the subject, Peter notices John and asks Jesus what the future holds for this disciple, “What are your plans for him?”

Jesus won’t play along. He basically says, “It doesn’t matter. You must do what I told you to do: follow me.”

It’s easy to become distracted by other people: People who seem to have more success, at least by the world’s standards; people who radiate God’s love in a way we fear we never will; or people who pray with a faith that eludes us.God says, “It doesn’t matter what others do, you must follow me. Click To Tweet

Frustrated and discouraged, we may ask God, “What are your plans for them?”

To which God says, “It doesn’t matter what others do, you must follow me.”

Look straight ahead and follow Jesus. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with what others are doing.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 21, and today’s post is on John 21:15-22.]

Don’t Fight Against God

Too many people fail to see God at work and instead oppose those who follow him into his new ways

Jesus warns his followers what awaits them. First, they’ll get kicked out of their church and then people will kill them. Their opponents will do so in the name of religion, thinking they’re acting in service to God. This means the killers aren’t coming from the world but from within the family of God.

Historically this happens whenever a new move of God occurs. The biggest movement of God was Jesus coming to fulfill the Old Testament Law. Most people miss this, and so they oppose him.

There is also Moses who leads the people from slavery to freedom. He gives them instructions on how to live as a free people. They oppose him—for forty years. Though they don’t kill him, they provoke him so much that sometimes he wishes he was dead (Exodus 32:32 and Numbers 11:15).

The Old Testament prophets likewise suffer opposition and death. It seldom goes well for them.

The pattern of religious conflict continues since the time of Jesus. Most notably the Reformation. Christians oppose other Christians. Christians hate other Christians. And Christians kill other Christians. Another momentous time of Christian versus Christian hostility happens at the birth of the Charismatic movement in the early 1900s and again at its rebirth in the 1960s.Instead of arguing, let’s listen. Click To Tweet

Each time God is at work doing a new thing. Each time, many of his people mount a significant opposition. And God’s messengers usually suffer for it.

Don’t label the people who follow God into his new way of doing things as heretics and oppose them. Instead, we would be better off heeding the words of Gamaliel who told the religious leaders, “Don’t bother with them. If they’re doing this on their own, they will fail. But if it’s of God, we can’t stop them—and could end up fighting against God himself,” (see Acts 5:38-39).

Instead of kicking the people we disagree with out of church, we would be better off seeing if God is at work. Instead of arguing, let’s listen.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 16, and today’s post is on John 16:2-3.]

Save

Put God First: Don’t Lose Sight of What Matters Most

Too often we place our personal needs over what God is at work doing

When Jesus’s friend Lazarus dies, Jesus goes to were the man is interred and, with a dramatic flair, raises him from the dead. When the people see this miracle of miracles, many believe in Jesus.

Bringing someone back to life is an amazing feat, and surely everyone should be happy. But not everyone is. Do you know who’s upset? The religious leaders, the very people who claim to represent the God who sent Jesus in the first place. But they miss it.

They can’t see God’s hand at work. Or maybe they’re not willing to. All they can think about is themselves. Though under Roman occupation, they still managed to carve out a comfy situation for themselves. And they want to keep it. They enjoy their standing as religious leaders and the admiration of the people. Selfishly, they want to preserve what they have, to maintain the status quo. In their self-centered ambition, they lose sight of the God they portend to serve. They fail to realize that God is present.The religious leaders plot to kill Jesus in order to maintain the status quo. Click To Tweet

These religious leaders fear losing their position, their power, and their prestige. Their solution? Kill Jesus. Yep, they become so focused on protecting their current situation that they plot against their God.

It’s easy to criticize them. Yet this same thing still happens now.

How many religious leaders today have become so focused on preserving their job, maintaining their paycheck, and keeping their followers that they oppose the work of God, things contrary to their faith and what God has called them to do?

It happens too often, and it’s wrong. We must always put God first, even if we might lose something in the process.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 11, and today’s post is on John 11:43-53.]

Save

Does Jesus Offend You?

Though many people like an easy Jesus, not everyone accepts what he says

Jesus normally teaches the masses in parables. Though most don’t really understand what he means, they like his stories because they’re so countercultural. Plus, he sometimes gives them food and heals them. He’s a cool speaker who does nice things for them. What’s not to like?

Then one day he speaks to them directly. He’s blunt. There’s no compelling story, just some weird message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s not talking about actual cannibalism; it’s a metaphor—of some sorts. It’s about life and death, sacrifice and reward.

The people grumble. They complain he’s hard to understand and say no one can accept his message. Many of his followers become ex-followers. They reject him and go in search for something else, but the disciples stick around; they’re all in.When things get tough, Jesus’s disciples stick around. They’re all in. Click To Tweet

Yes, the main message of Jesus is easy. He loves everyone and opens his arms to accept us. But sometimes he’s hard to understand, too. Sometimes his message offends people. Their response is to give up on Jesus.

But I’m all in. I hope you are, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 6, and today’s post is on John 6:53-68.]

Save

John Calls Jesus the Word; Does that Make Him the Word of God?

Considering Jesus as the Word of God shines new light on some verses in the Bible

The book of John, which is a biography of Jesus, opens with a most poetic passage. It calls Jesus the Word. It confirms Jesus’s presence at creation and that he took part in it. In fact without Jesus creation wouldn’t have happened.

Life came through Jesus. His life gives us light, a light that shines for us in darkness. And, best of all, the light of Jesus overcomes the darkness (John 1:5).

While you may think I’m taking liberties with the text by claiming the Word refers to Jesus, keep reading the passage. Later on John writes that this Word became human and joined us on earth. The Word showed us his glory as the one and only son from Father God (John 1:14).

It’s easy to see from the above passage that Jesus is the Word, life, and light, as well as creator. But what if Jesus is the Word of God?

We commonly think of the word of God as the Bible, but remember that the New Testament of the Bible didn’t exist until several centuries after Jesus’s death and resurrection. In light of this, I prefer to think of the word of God as the spoken word of God, more so than the written word.

But let’s take this one additional step. What if Jesus is more than the Word? What if he’s actually the Word of God?What if Jesus is actually the Word of God? Click To Tweet

This thought isn’t mine alone. John thought it too. In another of his writings he, in fact, calls Jesus the Word of God (Revelation 20:4). Curious.

The Bible contains 39 mentions of the word of God. Though it doesn’t flow smoothly in all cases, as a thought-provoking exercise, let’s reword some of these verses to say Jesus instead of word of God.

Here we go:

  • “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6) becomes “You nullify Jesus for the sake of your tradition.”
  • “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11) becomes “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is Jesus.”
  • “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28) becomes “Blessed rather are those who hear Jesus and obey him.”
  • “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2) becomes “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of Jesus in order to wait on tables.”
  • “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John” (Acts 8:14) becomes “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted Jesus, they sent Peter and John.”
  • “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God” (Acts 11:1) becomes “The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received Jesus.
  • “So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God” (Acts 18:11) becomes “So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them Jesus.”
  • “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17) becomes “Unlike so many, we do not peddle Jesus for profit.”

There are many more interesting examples, but you get the point. Considering Jesus as the word of God and inserting his name into these verses elevates their impact for me. I hope it does for you, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 1, and today’s post is on John 1:1-5, 14.]

Save

Save

Let Us Draw Near to God

4 insights in how we are to approach God

Draw near to God.Because of who Jesus is and what he did for us, our relationship with God the Father changes. Through Jesus we have a new connection with Papa that we didn’t have before. We can now approach him.

In fact the writer of Hebrews encourages us to do just that. He says, “let us draw near to God.” Then he builds on this instruction by listing four aspects of our approach as we draw near to him (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Sincere Heart: Having a sincere heart suggests a proper motivation. While we can approach God when we’re in a jam, if that’s the only time we seek him, I don’t think this pleases him too much. And although we can, and should, come to him with our worries, that misses the point of drawing near to God.

The purpose of approaching God is to just hang out. This means we seek to enjoy community with him and want to worship him. We do this best when we go to him without selfish motivation or a self-centered agenda. Sincerity of heart best sums this up.

Full of Faith: Having faith in him and through him should fill us with assurance. We are his child. We can trust in this reality as we go to see Daddy. We grasp onto this by having faith in him, a belief we can’t manufacture, but accept in confidence of who he is and our right standing with him. This is the assurance faith provides.

Cleansed of Guilt: A guilty conscience robs us of our joy. It takes away our peace. Can we rightly approach God when we lack joy and have no peace? Of course we can, but it’s better when we can draw near to him with a clear conscience, with our hearts made clean. Shame loads us down, but through Jesus our hearts are sprinkled clean. The guilt is gone. Our conscience is clear.

Washed Pure: Jesus not only appeases the guilty conscience of our hearts, but he also washes our whole bodies clean. He makes us pure, both inside and out. It’s all so good.Because of Jesus and through him, we can draw near to God. Click To Tweet

The question in all of this becomes, are these four conditions we must meet before we can approach God or four realities we realize because we are able to approach him?

The answer is both. Jesus makes these things possible, and our job is to cling to them when we approach God.

Because of Jesus and through him, we can draw near to God. Thank you Jesus.

Is Being a Christian Easy or Hard?

Regardless of circumstances, God walks with us

In Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, he warns them not to deceive others or distort God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2). That is, don’t misrepresent God’s character or intent to the world.

Yet, this happens. Some people, in their zeal for Jesus, promise those on the outside that if they just say “yes” to Jesus, then all their problems will go away and life will become easy.

It doesn’t work that way.

Jesus says to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28), that his followers may pay a price for their commitment to him.

Paul details this heavy cost. But along with each threat he gives assurance of God’s provision (2 Corinthians 4:8-9):

  • Hard pressed from every direction, but not crushed
  • Perplexed, but not in despair.
  • Persecuted, but not
  • Struck down, but not

God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined. Click To TweetSo when we follow Jesus we can expect to be harassed, mystified, attacked, and hurt. Yet in this, God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined.

We must count the cost before we follow Jesus, because committing ourselves to him may bring about hardship, but take courage knowing that God will prevail and help us through these trying situations.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4, and today’s post is on 2 Corinthians 4:2, 8-9.]