Friday, 19 March 2010

Filey Parish-40 days and nights, Day 31

If his sons forsake my law
       and do not follow my statutes,
if they violate my decrees
       and fail to keep my commands,
I will punish their sin with the rod,
       their iniquity with flogging;

but I will not take my love from him,
       nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.

Psalm 89:30-33

Hmm, would I flog my own children if they failed to keep my commands? That may have been the way things were done until quite recently, but society has now decided that this is no longer acceptable. So what do we do with verses like this which rattle our 21st century sensibilities? How do Christians deal with them, never mind people searching for faith in a God who is supposed to be all forgiving and loving?  Yes, we have to be prepared to take the consequence of our actions, forgiveness or no forgiveness, but flogging? Is this really God speaking? Do we conveniently edit out verse 32 and pretend it never existed? Or maybe we look up a standard commentary and learn some pat answers to this kind of thing that we can reel off when  challenged to explain God's apparent brutality? The fact is, I don't know how we are supposed to react to passages like this. Every explanation I have heard has always sounded hollow or somewhat dishonest. 'It's a figure of speech', 'God was using the language that people understood in those days', 'It's a cultural thing!' No! it is saying that God will take a rod and hit his sons with it and then flog them! That's what it says. This is either God talking or it isn't. Let's not pretend otherwise. All I know is that, when faced with an angry mob intent on stoning one of God's daughters who had violated His decrees, Jesus talked them out of it. He didn't hand the stones out and get them to take careful aim. Isn't this a case of God saying one thing and then doing another, maybe because that's what parents do, out of love? I don't know. I like the last verse though!

1 comment:

  1. The Old testament is full of violent imagery and statements about God which modern sensibilities find difficult to understand. Throughout history life has generally beem, nasty, brutish and short. For one brief moment in time and for a very small percentage of the World's population in the West, we have it easy (probably not for long). Our senses rebel at the very thought of violence, the individuals rights are paramount. Surely within this cosy existence we don't really need God much less 'fear him' as the early Christians did.

    How could a loving God be that brutal? I used to struggle, but the key thing that helped is that te entire old testament points to God's plan. Every bit of the Old Testament, including hundreds of prophecies points us to Jesus. From the disobedience of Adam and Eve onwards we have all disobeyed God. We have all done wrong things that deserve punishment. Out of love he sent his only son to be punished for our wrong doings. To understand this Psalm you need to first realise that God is Spirit, so this verse is not talking about him physically punishing the wrongdoer. Now read:

    2 Samuel 7 specifically verse 14:

    I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men

    My understanding is that this prophetic verse is about Jesus. God so loved us that he allowed his perfect Only Son to suffer on our behalf, even to being tortured and killed. The idea of a sacrificial victim is still difficult for us ephemeral Westerners to understand, we balk at it, it's not nice. But stop, wait and consider. The bible also claims that Jesus was resurrected and is back in a loving relationship with his Father. As Christians we can share the same oondition.

    Let's look at the Old Testament in this light. See how many times God grieves as his people go their own way, see how time and time again He promises to love and protect them. See throughout horrendous stories of the very depths of human depravity, God is searching for us, setting out the Grand Plan to send his Son to die for us. What Glory, what Majesty, what Love.



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