Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.


Why I’m Not a Pacifist: Part Four

Are Christians required to be pacifists? One of the key verses that must be considered is:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

This would seem to answer the question. If we are to love our enemies, surely that means we cannot use any force or violence against them.

I read in one book on Christian pacifism an argument based on this verse about why Christians shouldn’t call the police when a crime is being committed, even a violent crime. It was argued that by calling the police, you may be setting up the criminal to be receiving violence from the police. That would not be the loving thing to do to the criminal. Even if it is done to protect the victim, the author suggested that this verse is teaching that we cannot choose the victim over the criminal as deserving the more loving response.

However, I think we need to dig a little deeper. Reading it in context, does Jesus’ aim really seem to be teaching pacifism in all situations?

I believe that Jesus is teaching about who we are to love. Although the Old Testament taught the importance of loving neighbours, many interpreted that as being your own community, ethnic/religious group and people that seem to deserve love. Jesus is arguing that love should be shown to everyone. The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) would be a good commentary on this passage. The Samaritan showed love toward the Jew, even though in their society, they were considered enemies.

What does this mean in terms of loving enemies in difficult situations?

Let me begin with the example of the violent criminal. Should such a person be arrested by the use of force? Is that the loving thing to do? Being loving is not necessarily about making one feel comfortable or giving them what they want. I would suggest that the loving thing to do is stop the criminal from committing more crimes, especially violent crimes. Not only is it loving toward the criminal, I believe that the Bible does provide a distinction between the abuser and the victim and that we need to protect the victim.

What about in a military context? If there was a Christian in the army in a combat situation, would it be possible for that soldier to love their enemy? I believe that there is. We have seen many examples of terrible things that take place when soldiers hate their enemies. But a Christian soldier can follow the ethical guidelines for how to treat the enemy. They can seek to take prisoners and not to abuse or hurt the prisoners. They can provide medical care to the injured enemy. They can focus on achieving the tactical victory over trying to kill as many of the enemy as possible.

While there are times when people are forced to serve in the military against their will, most often the people who are serving in the military go into it understanding that they may lose their life in combat. Considering this, the way a soldier who loved their enemy will look much different from one who hates their enemy. This is why we should fight against propaganda that seeks to dehumanize the enemy.

I believe that if armies follow the rules of Just War, that it is possible to love our enemies and still be involved in military activity.

What do you think?


Why I’m Not a Pacifist: Part Three

Having looked at some Old Testament reasons for why I’m not a pacifist, It is time to move on to the New Testament. It is possible to see the Old Testament as allowing the use of force but that things may have changed with the coming of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus has called us to a higher standard.

Turn the Other Cheek

For some, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is clear evidence that Christians are called to be pacifists. Here is one of the main passages:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. (Matthew 5:38-39)

Being commanded to turn the other cheek seems to point toward a posture of nonresistance. If someone tries to harm us, we are to allow them.

The concern I have is that it is not at all clear that striking the cheek is speaking of a life-threatening situation. I have been punched in the face before and it was not an attempt on my life. It was someone trying to prove he was a tough guy. He was hoping I would retaliate so he could put me in my place (I didn’t).

In fact, I believe that this passage is speaking specifically about retaliation. Jesus is saying that if someone tries to provoke us to further violence, we are not to retaliate.

Pacifists might agree with that but I would say that this does not prevent any use of force. I believe that Jesus is speaking specifically of use of force as revenge against someone who dishonoured us in word or deed.

How can I say that?

This teaching by Jesus includes a response to an Old Testament teaching that was given to limit revenge. The eye for an eye and tooth for tooth teaching was meant to prevent insults or attacks from turning into blood feuds. The furthest revenge could go is the act that was originally done against us.

So Jesus does call us to a higher standard, but a higher standard when it comes to our desire for revenge. It might be helpful to quote Paul.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Revenge is clearly prohibited for the Christian. I will return in a later post to how Paul calls us to treat our enemies when I look at the command to love our enemies.

But I can think of plenty of uses of force that are not done with the motivation of revenge. Ideally, all actions by police, even when using force, should be done without an element of revenge. As a student of military history, I can see specific incidents when force was used as revenge and when it was not. For example, while the topic is more complicated than this, there are some that approved of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not just because of the potential saving of military lives in an invasion, but as revenge for what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbour. Such revenge is not supported by the Bible (not even the eye for an eye teaching).

But there is more.

It is not at all clear how Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek fits with what we do when we see violence being used against another person. Jesus is not addressing that situation at all here, which is surprising if his purpose was to prohibit the use of force in all cases.

We may choose to allow someone to use force on us, but does Jesus really command us to allow people to use force on others? Perhaps, but it is not clear in this teaching.

One of the most powerful parables ever taught be Jesus was the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). I once heard someone ask about what would have been appropriate for the Samaritan to do if he arrived during the attack on the Jew and not after.

Something to think about.

I do not believe that Jesus’ teaching on turning the other cheek prohibits all use of force by Christians. Next time, I will look at the command to love our enemies.


Terrorism, Muslims and Christians

This is a difficult time in our world with terrorist attacks taking place in many countries. These terrorist attacks are being undertaken by those who identify as Muslims. This is fuelling a very strong anti-Muslim sentiment, something that I think is unfortunate.


Image by pixaby

Let me make a few things clear. I do not take terrorism lightly. I am a member of the Canadian Forces, a group that has been targeted by some terrorists. I am also not saying that I believe that all religions are the same. I am a Christian because I believe that Christianity is true.

Having said that, it is not the time to paint all Muslims with one terrorist brush. I have seen too many Christians claiming that we are seeing Islam’s true colours and this is just about some Muslims being honest about their beliefs. I know too many Muslims to accept that as true.

If you talked to the average Muslim, they would say that these terrorists, including ISIS and other groups, are not being true to Islam. Critics would say that these moderates are wrong and that the terrorists are the ones being true to Islam. These critics would point to certain violent passages in the Qur’an. Muslims would argue that those passages are being misinterpreted.

In case you think that such moderates are being dishonest, consider the following situation where Christians are criticized for acts of violence by those claiming to be Christian, both recently and in past generations.

If you talked to the average Christian, they would say that those violent Christians were not being true to Christianity. Critics would say that these moderates are wrong and that the others were the ones being true to Christianity. These critics would point to certain violent passages in the Old Testament. Christians would argue that those passages were being misinterpreted.

What I want you to see is that Christians would not want to be judged the way we judge Muslims. The church is no better than the mosque. All of the things that we hate about what Muslim extremists are doing now are the same things that the church did, the only difference being we were more active in doing it a couple of centuries ago. Forced conversions, death to those of other faiths, killing of those who left the faith, the church has done it all.

Why am I saying all of this?

I believe that the world has to come down hard on terrorism. We need to stop groups and individuals who are attacking and killing innocents. There is no excuse for such acts.

At the same time, we should not blame the average Muslim man or woman for what terrorists are doing. Islam is not responsible for terrorism, sinful humanity is.


Religion and Violence Again

On the weekend I heard another claim that religion is responsible for most of the violence in the world.

Battle of the Crusaders and Saracens from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although my initial reaction was, “Come on!” in another way I can see why people think that. Look at what is happening in Israel and Iraq. In one you have Jews vs Muslims (mostly) and in the other you have Sunni Muslims vs everyone else. It is obvious that this is all about religion. Or is it?

Even a superficial look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will show that it has very little to do with religion. Israel is really a secular state and I doubt many of the Israelis involved are particularly observant Jews. The Palestinians want independence whether they are Muslim, Christian or atheist. It is a land dispute with heavy ethnic issues but it has very little to do with religion.

What about IS in Iraq? Is that a religious war? Obviously it has some some religious elements. But is it really about religion? For some it may be, but it is more likely about one group attempting to take advantage of the power vacuum with the American military presence gone. Yes the leadership is using religion as a rallying point but I am sure they are more excited about victory than religion. Do you think the average member of IS really cares about the different religious shades? Not likely. It is more about finally being on a winning side.

When looking at the role of religion with war, a good case study is the Nazis under Hitler. Hitler peppered his speeches with a lot of religious phrases and he knew how to use the German church. Yet when you look at his private correspondences you see how much he detested Christianity. Instead of trying to abolish the Church as Stalin attempted, Hitler tried to use religion as a tool.

John Lennon in his song Imagine suggested that a world without religion would be a world of peace. Many people today still believe it and yet is far from truth. If scientists came up with a serum today that would banish all religious thoughts from the human brain, war would continue, perhaps even with more cruelty. Ethic divisions, land disputes, desire for resources, financial greed, all of these things have more than enough power to fuel war.

Religion may be a tool used by some military leaders, but it is far from the essential ingredient.