In our last post we hired a Chinese exchange student with a PhD in engineering to devote a year to studying the Bible so that we could compare his findings with contemporary perspectives. In other words, we are seeking to determine the extent to which our views come directly from an unbiased reading of Scripture and how much is derived from church culture past and present and secular culture.
God Is Love
What would our Chinese student include regarding God’s love? If we asked him specifically to address this issue, what would he come up with?
He no doubt would identify the passages in 1 John that state, “God is love.” (1John 4:8; 4:16) He would think of verses speaking of God’s love related to our salvation such as John 3:16 and Romans 5:8. He would probably also identify the assertion of the Sermon on the Mount that God displays His love for the just and the unjust by sending the rain and sunshine. (Matthew 5:45)
Is That the Whole Picture?
However, he would probably start to wonder how this portrayal of God syncs with some of the other statements regarding the nature of God in Scripture and many of the acts of God recorded there.
In a previous post we catalogued some of the judgments of God throughout history such as the flood (which drown all humanity except for eight people), the incineration of the population of Sodom and Gomorrah, the command to kill off the Canaanites, the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem with its attendant rape, murder, and enslavement, the judgment of Israel in 70 A.D. that was accompanied by horrific carnage, and the coming Tribulation Period ending with the Battle of Armageddon, all followed by an eternal hell. These and more are all found in Scripture, all attributed to God, and some of the worst even coming after the cross. Our Chinese engineer, who has a keen and well-trained analytical mind, would recognize that these activities need somehow to be integrated with the assertions of Scripture that God is love.
He would probably also reflect on various statements of Scripture regarding God that seem to be antithetical to the assertions that God is love such as in Psalm 5:5, “…You hate all workers of iniquity,” and that found in Psalm 11:5, “… But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”
Wondering Whether He Can Tone This down
Might these statements be understood in a way that makes them less harsh than they appear to be at first blush?
He might reflect on whether hatred here simply means to love less or possesses some other less acrimonious connotation. However, in reading the context he quickly concludes that this hatred is the full-bore, undiluted variety. The verse following the assertion of Psalm 5:5 states, “You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:6) Likewise, the verse following Psalm 11:5 also conveys the hostility of God toward the wicked: “Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.” (Psalm 11:6)
He might also speculate on whether he can sync these verses with God’s love by applying the formula, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” Perhaps this animus is not directed toward the person but only his deeds. However, a second look at these passages quickly reveals that God’s animosity and the resulting behaviors are directed not merely at the sin but also at the sinner. For example, Psalm 5:5 explicitly identifies the “workers of iniquity” as the objects of God’s wrath. So also with Psalm 11:5. Consequently, he is forced to conclude that at least in some cases God not only hates sin but also sinners. The fact that Scripture explicitly states so makes this conclusion hard to get around.
His mind might also travel to the teaching of Christ regarding the identification of the fruit and the tree in Matthew 12:33, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.” In this verse Christ is insisting that if the fruit, the sin, is bad, then the tree, the sinner, must be bad also. This would explain why the hostility of God is expressed not just toward sin but also toward sinners.
Unscrewing the Inscrutable
These truths seem to be irreconcilable. However, our Chinese engineer has concluded that since the entirety of Scripture is inspired by God it must all fit together somehow. He spends considerable time in study of Scripture and thought to determine how these truths can possibly be reconciled. Then one day it occurs to him. Tomorrow’s post will reveal how he integrates these seemingly conflicting truths regarding the nature of God.