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The Non-Violent Warrior

• Greg Boyd

If we read the Old Testament assuming that it all is about the cross of Christ, then we can see how God stooped to the level of the cultural conditioning of the Old Testament authors to allow himself to be portrayed as violent. In addition, when we read carefully, we can actually see, within the passages of violence themselves, the nonviolent character of God breaking through.

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If we read the Old Testament assuming that it all is about the cross of Christ, then we can see how God stooped to the level of the cultural conditioning of the Old Testament authors to allow himself to be portrayed as violent. In addition, when we read carefully, we can actually see, within the passages of violence themselves, the nonviolent character of God breaking through.

Extended Summary

In the third sermon in this series where Greg is introducing his proposal about how to re-interpret the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament, we see what is actually going on when we look beneath the surface of these passages. This is all based on the understanding of the cross where God reveals his beauty by stooping to bear the ugly sin in the world. Since we know God’s true character through the revelation of the crucified Christ, we can see when God’s true character is shining through in the Old Testament and when God is stooping to accommodate the sin of his people.

But we must ask if this reinterpretation of these passages means that God does not judge sin. The answer is, of course, no! If we base our understanding on the cross, it is clear that God judges sin. Therefore, the question now is ‘How does God judge sin’? People most often assume that God must act violently to bring judgment because earthly rulers have to act violently to judge wrongdoing, and we tend to make God in exactly our own image. The cross challenges this notion. While the judgment on sin that took place on Calvary was extremely violent, all the violence that was done to Jesus came from wicked humans operating under the influence of Satan and other fallen powers. God simply withdrew his protective presence and turned Jesus over to wicked humans and fallen powers to do what they wanted to do. We can see the same thing going on in Old Testament portraits of violence.

When we read the Old Testament as pointing to the cross, we actually find that while biblical authors ascribe horrendous violence to God, their own accounts make it clear that God didn’t do the violence that they ascribe to him. While the biblical authors say God engaged in violence, it actually was something that he merely allowed, and within the passages themselves there are clues that point to this fact.

Examples of this include the story of the Passover (Exodus 12) where we read that the Lord will “strike down every firstborn.” However we are told in Exodus 12:23 that it is actually a “destroyer” who does the striking. While the destroyer (Satan) wanted to kill whomever he could, the Lord was restraining it. Since all scripture points to the cross, we should read it with the assumption that at least parts of it may not be clear unless we frame it in the context of cosmic conflict. When the violent dimension of a divine judgment can’t be accounted for by appealing to violent humans, what we see is that it can be accounted for by appealing to violent fallen powers.

Another example includes the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16. We are told by Paul in 1 Cor 10:10 that the “grumblers” of this rebellion were killed by the destroying angel. A final example is found in the crossing of the Red Sea, as the waters were actually viewed in the Ancient Near East as forces of evil that overwhelmed the Egyptian army.

These examples illustrate how the Old Testament authors attributed violence to God when in actuality God merely allowed it. Because the authors did not have the full revelation of the cross, they could not see what was truly going on. But today we can see who God is and also how God was willing to stoop to their level and allow himself to be portrayed as being violent when in fact he is not.

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Topics: Judgment, Non-Violence, Problem of Evil

Sermon Series: Cross Centered


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Focus Scripture:

  • Romans 8:32

    He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

  • Romans 4:25

    He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

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4 thoughts on “The Non-Violent Warrior

    Russell Minick says: Tuesday April 4, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Your approach is intriguing and hopeful.

    Andy Crouch encapsulated what many speakers at BioLogos2017 addressed, which is related to what you are doing here. He used a quadrant of Order & Abundance related to Genesis creation (Abundance referring to the teeming multiplication of species, etc.)

    1. Both absent = void, nothing
    2. Order only = machine
    3. Abundance only = chaos
    4. Order & Abundance in tandem = Life

    #2 is rigid apologetics which try to explain everything without mystery.
    #3 is heretical acquiescence to every wind of thought.

    #4 is where we look for stability to guide us through the dynamism such that we stay on course moving forward.

    I look forward to these ideas being developed in conversation with others who also want to be faithful to what is revealed in Christ, while being open to risk engaging uncertainties which stretch us to think and experience beyond what is simple and familiar.

    thanks!

    Reply
    Dave PRITCHARD says: Tuesday April 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Russell,

    Absolutely love your website! Your presentation of the ‘Greatest News Ever’ is super refreshing and graphically smooth & concise. Mega-Kudos to Chris Sinclair as well.

    Cheers

    Reply
    Brenda Kumornik says: Wednesday August 9, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    awesome explanation cause i was struggling with this topic of old testament violence and it doesnt feel uncondition love and unchanging God but your videos helped a lot. At same time it doesnt cover flooding of the world, all human kind accept Noah and family and two each animal. And we know it was God cause we have the rainbow as a promise that He will never flood the world again. That still is in the back of my head when trying to remember God’s character as loving and unchanging and unconditional love. I get stumped now only on this last situation. I also feel bad question the Almighty Father cause it feels wrong but at same time how else are we gonna learn.

    Reply
      Esteban Solis says: Monday October 16, 2017 at 6:19 pm

      Hi Brenda,

      What happens in the flood is exactly was is explained in this video regarding how ancient Near Easterns understood the world. Is an anti-creation narrative, YWHW draws back resulting in the waters coming in from up and down.

      Reply

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