Thursday, November 12, 2009

An interesting take on incarnation and God's chacter

I just came across an interesting article by Greg Boyd at Christus Victor during my lunch break.  In it, Greg outlines several points that he is finding helpful in an attempt to reconcile the peaceful, self-giving portrait of God painted in Jesus Christ, with the violent and even nationalistic God portrayed in the Old Testament.  I was particularly struck with Greg's first point, which I quote here:

The Principle of Incarnational Flexibility. If Jesus reveals what God has always been like, then God didn’t start being “incarnational” with the Incarnation. Rather, God has always been willing to humbly “embody” himself within our fallen humanity and has always “borne our sin.” The portrait of Yahweh as a nationalistic, law-oriented, violent-tending warrior god is the result of God condescending to “embody” himself within our barbaric and deceived views of him in order to work toward freeing us from them.

That rings true to me, at least in part.  I'm not sure it fully grasps the times in the O.T. where God appears to command violence, however.  I still tend to see those more as the result of humans (whether cynically or ignorantly) co-opting God's mantle to promote their own objectives.  What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Yeah Dan, you seem to have great difficult time with the concept of the Trinity and I have the same with the Good God/Bad God of the Old vs. New Testaments. I just don't know how to reconcile those two almost opposite characters! Greg's comment is a little helpful but is still pretty weak as far as I am concerned.

See my latest post which is a review of a book by Phillys Tickle about the words of Jesus. She mentions and rightly so that the Gospels are the very center of the Bible and Jesus is the center of the Gospels and anything that goes against the words of Jesus is to be questioned. In that regard I question all of the violence that is attributed to God in the OT.

Dan Martin said...

I agree with you, RJ, that Greg's idea doesn't go far enough, and I further agree with you that Jesus is the absolute filter through which any other claims about God must be evaluated (Greg would agree too; he makes this clear in his article).

My take on the O.T. violence is somewhat the same as my take on the American church...just as American Christians blindly--and idolatrously--saw God's hand and blessing in our invasion of Iraq, so Israelite Jews back in the day laid their own murderous impulses on God.

jaigner said...

Dan, I think that's probably the best explanation possible. Furthermore, I've found that the clearest picture one gets of the God of the Old Testament is one of mercy and loving-kindness. The violence must be accommodation of humanity on God's part making up a chapter in salvation history.

brettact2 said...

So, how do you see the violence of God in the NT? God kills Ananias and Saphira; harms those who oppose the spread of the Gospel into their area, slaughters billions in the end time judgements, and creates a vast pool of blood several feet deep and miles wide at Armeggedon. Jesus personally carries out the Armeggedon one. Greg Boyd's other material on his site pictures a God who is doing good by waging war against chaos and all who choose to continue to stay aligned with it's evil. I don't see a contradiction between violence and good. Historically, humanity has understood good is maintained by destroying unrepentant evil. It's only in Western post-modern utopianism that such strict absolutes are drawn as to make reality untenable.

Dan Martin said...

Brett, I don't have an explanation for Ananias and Saphira; that's a unique case that I really don't claim to understand.

But what do you mean by saying God "harms those who oppose the spread of the Gospel into their area?" I can't think what you're referring to there; help me out.

As for Armageddon, that's the apocalyptic writing of Revelation, a book that the canonical council argued whether it even belonged in the canon. So much of that writing is symbolic, that to take it as literal evidence of God's action is a stretch IMO.

Our model, of course, is neither of those things. It's Jesus who neither did nor advocated any such behavior. I'm not sure I buy the logic, but I remember Vernard Eller once saying that it wasn't inconsistent for God to expect us to behave peacefully even as he (God himself) waged war.

In any case, even if (in the instances you mention and/or others), God may still do what we could describe as violence, the teaching of the NT is clear that he never commanded his people to do violence in the NT. That, after all, is what must drive our own obedience.

Thanks for stopping by. . .come again!


brettact2 said...

Hi Dan.

In Reference to: But what do you mean by saying God "harms those who oppose the spread of the Gospel into their area?" I can't think what you're referring to there; help me out.

I'm thinking of incidents we see in Acts chapter 12: we have Herod's violent death, and Paul's cursing of the sorcerer (so he goes blind). Missionaries on the front line of Gospel expansion have reported similar instances.

I appreciate your quote from Vernard Eller, which is in keeping with one of the opening comment of this discussion, the issue if God's bad behavior. God does have the right to exercise vengeance, which He reminds us several times to leave in His hands. It is good to trust His judgement.

Josh said...

I share Boyd's struggle with questions about God and violence. Helpful to me has been the hermeneutical idea of progressive or unfolding revelation--in other words, the witness of Scripture becomes clearer over time. On the subject of violence, the OT witness is mixed; yes, there are passages in which God sanctions violence (even genocide), but there are also passages that promote non-violence (including powerful words from Isaiah that are commonly heard during this season of Advent). The NT witness, however, consistently opposes the use of violence (by Christians, at least). The biblical trajectory is toward less violence; insofar as we act non-violently, we continue this trajectory, witnessing to the coming peacable kingdom in the present.

The story of God striking down A. and S. makes clear that the early church believed sovereign God is free to take human life. There is no indication, though, that these followers of Jesus thought they had the same freedom. Human life is given by and belongs to God; it is not ours to take.

To say that God is free to act violently and free to act non-violently is not to say that God is violent. Jesus reveals that God is not violent. Jesus teaches his followers to practice non-violence. OT stories that depict God sanctioning holy war are trumped by the story of Jesus; in Jesus, God is seen most clearly.