Seven Theses on Eternal Perspective

  1. Eternal perspective isn’t seeing the world through some transcendental eye, unfettered by human limitations; rather, our limited perspectives have eternal value because they ground our our struggles to see the transcendental in each other, and those are what teach us to see as God sees.
  2. We often talk as though an eternal perspective will clear everything up, but what if an eternal perspective means perceiving people in their full messiness and finding beauty and glory in that?
  3. The idea of eternal perspective as clearing everything up depends on the wrong concept of justice, as one in which everything that seemed wrong in this life has now been brought in line with the ideal, but maybe justice means instead that everything painful has finally been met with overabundant kindness.
  4. This kind of justice is not at odds with mercy; rather, it suggests that injustice is a deficit of mercy.
  5. An eternal perspective means learning to see how badly the world thirsts for kindness and mercy.
  6. An eternal perspective means trying to sate that thirst, however and whenever you can—including when your failures to have parched your own mouth. Be kind to everyone, especially yourself.
  7. An eternal perspective is quiet, because kindness and mercy are manifest in silent presence at least as often as they are in speech.

Comments

  1. If injustice is a deficit of mercy/kindness, then justice is a fulfillment of mercy/kindness? I’m suspect.

    I think of this verse from the BoM found in Alma 14: “and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”

    Alma and Amulek are witnessing the martyrdom by fire of the believers. Amulek suggests that they stretch forth their hands and use the priesthood power to stop it. Alma says that they cannot, being constrained by the Spirit. He says that God is allowing this to happen, because He has judgements (presumably harsh ones?) that he wants to exercise upon these murderous people, but that those judgments must be “just.” He needs the blood of these innocents to “cry mightily against them” so that his punishments will be just. He will be enacting Justice. Reading this story I cannot imagine in any way that those punishments will be kind.

    God wants witnesses against this people. He wants to unleash His wrath upon them. But because he is the embodiment of Justice, his punishment must be just, and so He lets the wickedness continue, constraining his prophets from stopping it, so that He could justly have an army of Lamanites come and slaughter or enslave the entire city. Justice is not necessarily kind.

    I believe God IS Justice. I also believe God IS Love. I think that having a lack of mercy or kindness toward others will bring about justice upon you, but that such a justice doesn’t look much like what we would consider mercy or kindness. I think an eternal perspective means understanding that justice will happen, and with that understanding it should lead us to have mercy and kindness for others.

  2. Jax, I think skepticism is a reasonable response here. I mean, this is a pretty radical redefinition of Justice. On the other hand, I’m not sure the picture of Divine Justice in this interpretation of the story is super appealing to me, either. The idea of a loving Father is hard to square with a being just itching to unload His worst punishments on people. The idea of Him allowing his children to commit atrocities for the sole purpose of making that punishments “just” seems to imagine God as Dirty Harry, telling the wicked “Go ahead, make my day.”

    But I don’t know. There’s a lot to think about in this post, and a lot of ways to think about it. I appreciate your thoughts.

  3. But could not Alma’s explanation in chapter 14 be simply his best shot at an explanatory theodicy rather than an accurate, revealed account of what God wants and does? It wouldn’t be the only speculative philosophical musings by a prophet that were later deemed incorrect by that same prophet or others.

  4. Nice Deepities.

  5. JR, I suppose it could be, but the fact that God does then follow up the statement by having the city slaughtered suggests to me that Alma was mistaking the spirit impressions he was getting.

    harpchil, I’m sorry that seems like an unpleasant way to view God/Christ/both for you. I’m not sure that it is inaccurate though. He describes Himself as wrathful, full of vengeance, says we should fear Him, has unleashed a “destroying angel” and “angel of death”, He wiped out an entire generation of 1st borns (Egypt) and proudly takes all the credit for the death and destruction just proceeding His appearance in the land Bountiful, etc. But He also comforts those who mourn, sends angels to lift and sustain, gives love liberally, and is the source of all good things.

    For me it makes Him more approachable; more like me. Tells me I can be like Him. He has passions and moods. He controls them better than I, and is always Just and Merciful, and IMO it is that control that makes Him perfect. But for me it tells me I can be like Him because He is already similar to what I’m like. I don’t have to have a radical change of nature, I just need to control it all better. While He is perfect and beyond me, it makes His perfection reachable because it won’t require a drastic change of character or desires.

    Jos. Smith said to have faith in Him we need to understand fully what He is like; his traits and personality. I think we fail to do that if we only acknowledge his love and kindness, but ignore His wrath and anger.

  6. Sorry… should say that Alma **wasn’t** mistaking the spirit

  7. I really like the perspective of this post–it’s is the kind of message I can stand behind. I agree with others that some scriptural references don’t appear to support the perspective, but I like JR’s musing about alternative explanations for Alma’s description. I don’t think Jaxjensen’s claim that God is described as violent, wrathful, and punishing in the scriptures can be disputed–but I’m still not convinced God IS those things. I think mortals speak for God all the time without conveying anything godly. I don’t feel like I am in a position to say He isn’t, but my heart resists such claims, so I’m holding out until (if ever) I do believe God is vengeful and destructive. I find great meaning in studying and pondering the scriptures, but I don’t feel obligated to take them at face-value–I feel a responsibility to read them (as well everything else I read) with an open heart and ready mind–to digest what I can discern to be nourishing, and abstain from that which I am unable to feel a witness of.

  8. Jason’s recasting the meaning of justice resonates with me because it appeals to my personal experience of God. I have difficulty with the idea of a vengeful God meting out retributive justice. My problem with it is not that it seems unpleasant or that it violates some abstract principle. I have a problem with it because in my most convincing encounters with spiritual things, I have experienced God as always loving and never vengeful. I don’t claim to elevate my own experiences above those of others, and I acknowledge that I might be missing something here. But as a Latter-day Saint, I have to rely on my own spiritual impressions above all.

    As a practical matter in this fallen world, I’m not sure that there’s any way around the need for retributive justice to some extent. In an eternal perspective, though, I don’t see any space for retribution. Love eventually makes retribution irrelevant. In the long run, retributive justice is for those who insist on having it; Christ’s mercy is available to everyone else.

  9. This is lovely. I’m sharing it with my FHE group and hope that isn’t a violation of copy write or anything. The concept is complex and in my opinion, you’ve provided some simpler ways to discuss eternal perspective. Thank you.

  10. Whether any or all of these theses are objectively “right,” I’m willing to think about them and try them out in my mind — if for no other reason (and it isn’t really the only reason) because Jason asks us to consider that we may not know all that we think we know. We regularly cast our expectations for a future life as being little more than a golden version of the 20th/21st century American life that we know now, or God as a more consistently heroic version of ourselves, or anything else as just what we know now only cleaner, brighter, and with less housework. That’s a failure of our imagination — so why not sit with other ideas a while and see how they might expand the possibilities?

  11. Thanks, Ardis.

  12. Chad Curtis says:

    I liked this redefinition of the role of justice. I have been reading a book by a Jewish author, “The Prophets” by Abraham Heschel, in which he explains justice in a similar manner:

    “Justice is not important for its own sake: the validity of justice and its motivation for its exercise lie in the blessings it brings to man. For justice as stated above, it is not an abstraction, a value. Justice exists in relation to a person, and is something done to a person. An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law is broken, but because a person has been hurt. What is the image of a person? A person is a being whose anguish may reach the heart of God. ‘You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry… if he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.’ (Exod 22:22-23, 27)”

    In Mormonism, we get more of an abstract version of justice from Alma 42, the whole “do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? Nay, not one whit.” It seems like a force outside of God even that needs to be appeased. I like this redefinition, because it makes justice and mercy not inherent opposites, but really one and the same thing. Justice is only valuable because it is to man’s benefit.

  13. Yes, Heschel’s way of thinking resonates powerfully with my own.

  14. I agree with Heschel and with Jason. Modern notions of justice often focus on the abstract idea of a broken law needing punishment to be set right. But the biblical concept of justice, as I understand it, was less about legalism and more about ending oppression. Less “every infraction demands punishment” and more “the spirit of the Lord in upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” I think describing this as a problem of a deficit of mercy is well put.

    Re Alma, I think it’s an insight into Alma’s humanness that when he’s just barely been imprisoned, and he’s watching the believers burn, he’s all stoic, “the Lord receives them, etc.” but then when he and Amulek have been imprisoned for “many days,” then he’s all “how long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord?” Maybe Alma’s first reaction was a revealed explanation. Or maybe this is a progression on Alma’s part.

  15. Joe Spencer’s dialogue between Alma and Amulek on justice and mercy and the Atonement’s role in their reconciliation in Julie Smith’s As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture (Greg Kofford, 2016), is instructive. Don’t have time to summarize at the moment — maybe Joe will chime in. But it’s well worth taking a look, especially for those who find either Alma 14, Alma 42, or even Abinadi’s reference to these principles as the final word.

  16. I’ll second John’s recommendation.

  17. Every violent tyrant in history thinks god is on his side. Sorry folks, Alma was speculating (not that he’s a violent tyrant). He wants to believe these people are going to “get what’s coming to them.”

  18. Lily… Why do you think he is speculating? Given that Christ claimed full credit (announcing it like a loud speaker to every left alive) that HE was responsible for the death and destruction just prior to His appearance, and that He did it to satisfy the blood of the righteous that was crying unto Him, why do you think it is wrong for Alma to state the He wants the blood of those righteous to cry unto Him so that He can justly wipe out that city?

    The very same loving God that came down and blessed the children and healed all maladies is the very same one who drowned entire cities (including their children), burned others, dropped others into pits and buried them up, etc etc etc. Those chapters just prior to 3Nephi 11 show us the character and nature of God just as much as those afterward do. There is no reason whatsoever to think that Alma is speculating or misunderstanding the intentions of the spirit. We do ourselves, and those around us, a very great disservice if we choose to only recognize 1/2 of God attributes and character.

  19. Jax: I cannot understand what service we possibly do anyone by remembering that God drowns children for no other reason than that they happen to be in the line of fire while he’s busy taking out wicked adults. God as Dirty Harry indeed.

  20. Jason, because the topic of the post dealt with justice, and this relates to the topic. What possible service does it do anyone to ignore half of God’s nature and thus willingly blind ourselves of what He is really like? I’m happy you at least call it “remembering” rather than claiming it didn’t happen. Willful ignorance seems to be the most common response to being presented with a God with passions such as anger and jealousy. But since He describes Himself that way, I suggest we seriously take those things into consideration when discussing Him or the way He interacts with us.

    What service does it do? It helps people obtain a true and right understanding of the character of God. I think that having such an understanding is important. Don’t you? Perhaps you find it reprehensible that He did it, and thus label Him “Dirty Harry”, but that doesn’t change that He DID DO IT. Again, Kudos to you for at least acknowledging it.

  21. Jax, you’re only making half of an argument here. You interpret various scriptural references to mean that God can be angry and drown entire cities and so forth. So what are we to make of that? It’s a problem. In fact, it’s this very problem—the tension between justice and mercy—that Jason is grappling with. But you’re not engaging with the problem, you’re just restating it again. And again.

  22. Jax, you and I seem also to have divergent views of scripture. You say “He describes himself that way,” which implies a view of scripture as the unmediated word of God. I accept scripture as the word of God, but it comes to us mediated by humans, and that means that the divinity appears in a glass, darkly, and that we must bear the burden of interpretation and discernment. We humans love having God on our side, especially when supernatural justice requires smiting people we don’t like, but there’s an evident tension between Jesus telling us to love our enemies and scriptural accounts that depict God himself delighting in roasting his enemies alive or commanding their wholesale slaughter. I value the “terror texts” as part of the scriptural tradition, but not because they tell me anything about God. Rather, to me, they stand as potent warnings against precisely the sort of theology you’re trafficking here, which I find hard to distinguish from Stephen Marshall’s blood-curdling sermon “Meroz Cursed.” Honestly, the ethical implications of what you’re arguing frighten me, but maybe not as much as the sense that they don’t seem to frighten you.

  23. I like this entry.

    I’ve noticed a lot of “let’s just love each other” here at BCC.

    But if you’ve had a troubled past or been enmeshed in toxic relationships, you learn that love can be dangerous, if practiced without wisdom or restraint

    Having an “eternal perspective” has come to mean, for me, walking away from people I loved. My “eternal perspective” is that one day their impact on me–the ways they hurt me and I just ate it–the ways I tried to set my boundaries and they just ridiculed them–one day it will all be clear to them…that I was a precious spirit inside a broken body.

    That is eternal perspective for me…that there will be justice one day…when a futile attempt to defend ourselves will be made right.

    So, yes, we love…but not everyone. With some, we recognize the Satan will use them to try to damage our spirits.

    So enough with love all the time. God is love because those who need justice will not be forgotten.

  24. glasscluster: FWIW, I’m entirely on board with your comment. I read “love your neighbor as yourself” to suggest that loving others at the expense of yourself results in injustice. The loving choice for people in abusive relationships is to get out of them. Deidre Green’s theological work on this point is excellent.

  25. At the risk of completely missing the point, and of making this all about me, let me make it explicitly about me, my reflections:
    1. Maybe to see the transcendental in each other is the whole, the beginning and the end.
    2. Replacing justice with kindness and mercy does important work. Justice is too often about squaring up what happened to me and mine. Taking me and mine out of primary position and returning me to a rightful place as part of the whole can feel like deserting justice and replacing it with mercy.
    3. Yet mercy and kindness are probably way points, not end points. For if I stop there I begin to fill them with distinctions andpriorities, with rights and privileges, and too soon I am back into retributive and restorative objectives.
    4. Another road sign on the path is self-abnegation. The place where it feels like self is gone and other is all. But that is also a way point, not the end. For I matter too. Not more. But not less.
    5. Query whether seeing the transcendental in each other is an end or yet another way point? Do the wild geese and the foundations of the earth, does the leviathan, also have a place in the family of things, the sum of all creation?

  26. ” I accept scripture as the word of God, but it comes to us mediated by humans, and that means that the divinity appears in a glass, darkly, ” Jason, I agree with this, but this applies equally to the scriptures about God’s goodness and love as they do to the passages about his anger and wrath. We could just as easily be misinterpreting the one as the other. And since both seem to appear with equal frequency, why would it be good to wholly accept the one, but entirely question or dismiss the other?

    You seem to be appalled at a God who would drown children to further His ends, but that is where we should get back to the “eternal perspective.” I think that death in God’s eyes is not nearly as terrible/horrible/”Dirty Harry”-like as we view it. Is it worse that they drown young, or suffer starvation in mid age, or die slowly and painfully from colon cancer, or any other more common death? They were going to die eventually, and so will we. So why view it as abhorrent that God would cause a death to carry out His objectives? Do you know enough to know that their deaths (or any other persons) wasn’t a kindness? I don’t presume to know anything of the sort. I suggest that none of us do, because we all lack the true eternal perspective that God has. So please refrain from impugning his actions or motives… He is what He is. If you believe He is all love and no vengeance, then view those deaths and destructions as acts of love.

  27. “Why view it as abhorrent that God would cause a death to carry out His objectives?”

    Basically, because this belief about God opens the door for humans to start thinking that they have divine authorization to start doing other people the favor of sending them to their eternal reward: “At least you aren’t dying of colon cancer, and death isn’t as big a deal to God as it is to us, so off you go!” In all your talk of kindness, you don’t register the loss of the lives those children might have lived—which would have been mixed bags, surely, but they would have been lives. Killing as kindness implies that some forms of life are not worth living, not worthy of life, and deciding that about someone else’s life is dangerously reminiscent of Raskolnikov, who thought that he could do evil without being or becoming evil himself. (The idea that God chooses when we die opens the problem of theodicy up just about as wide as it will go; I think that death is just a structural feature of our existence that doesn’t need God to pull the trigger.) Your view trivializes the innate preciousness of human life, and it uses theology to justify that trivialization. I do not understand how you can speak as glibly of human suffering as you do. People need balm in Gilead, and you’re here offering the comforting reassurance that God loves the children he drowns.

    Now, I assume (I hope!) that you wouldn’t personally think of using this theology to justify such actions as Raskolnikov’s. What, then, is its practical import? If the issue here is merely the abstract one of “getting God’s character right,” whatever that means, then fine, but I’m wary of thinking about abstractions without considering their potential lived consequences. Put another way, I privilege pastoral theology above dogmatics, and I feel that morally I can do no other. Theology that doesn’t speak to life—or, worse, believes it doesn’t have to—has a dark and horrifying legacy.

  28. “Basically, because this belief about God opens the door for humans to start thinking that they have divine authorization to start doing other people the favor of sending them to their eternal reward:” This would be problematic if everyone believed this, because it isn’t the case. But it is true at times, for some people. Nephi would be a good example in dealing with Laban. Or the previously mentioned Alma.

    Or what about the other Nephi from the book of Helaman? God describes Nephi like this:

    4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
    5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

    All Nephi has ever done is seek God’s will, he has proven to God that he will always keep His commandments, and has proven to God that he will never do anything contrary to God’s will. And so God gives him “power over this people” (v 6) and what does this man of righteous, who has proven his faith and worthiness, who only ever carries out God’s will, do with this power? He summons a famine that kills countless people across the land, killing them slowly over a period of years.

    This widespread death was NOT contrary to God’s will. It was the precise manifestation of His will. And rather than do it himself, God commands Nephi to be the instrument that causes it. Nephi has proven to God that He is worthy to hold his power, and God in essence says, “You are good and faithful. You are worthy to be like me, here is my power. Now, see what it is like to BE like me, and curse this people with famine and death.” This death and destruction side of God is an integral part of His nature. After having proven himself in other respects, it is the next step that Nephi had to take to be like God, to be God-like, to be Christ-like.

    Now I have no illusion that this gives me ANY leeway in doing likewise. I’m perfectly confident that if I called for a famine that nothing would happen. God giving Nephi power doesn’t mean I am entitled to anything, nor to curse anyone, and definitely not to send them ” to their eternal reward”.

    The pattern of God’s behavior toward man is consistent throughout scripture. From the flood, to Egypt, to Israel claiming the promised land, to Alma and Amulek, to 1st Nephi, to his Helaman’s son Nephi, to Christ himself declaring it was He who caused the death and destruction of multiple cities, to the promises of destruction to come. The attitudes of people today that God is ONLY loving and merciful are not grounded in scripture or in truth. He blesses AND He curses. He comforts and brings sorrow. He giveth and He taketh away. He is patient and loving and kind, and has anger, full of wrath, and is jealous. He should be loved, and He should be feared. To some He offers a Balm in Gilead, and others he drowns.

    I think it is impossible to have an “Eternal perspective” without knowing the true nature of Him who is “Eternal”. We can’t possibly view things the way He would, if we willingfully ignore 1/2 of his characteristics, or reason away 1/2 of the scriptures given us to help understand Him. Even though these scriptural passages are plainly written and easy to understand, you (and many others) are choosing to disregard this aspect of God entirely because, why? You don’t like that side of Him? To your understanding it seems mean? Dirty Harry-ish? When God speaks in scripture about His wrath, anger, fury… what is it that you imagine in your mind? Do you just disregard all of those and only focus on those about love and mercy? Are passages about love all to be read plainly and easily understood, but the others are all some obscure code that is indecipherable? I think not.

  29. “I have no illusion that this gives me ANY leeway in doing likewise. I’m perfectly confident that if I called for a famine nothing would happen. God giving Nephi power doesn’t mean I am entitled to anything, nor to curse anyone, and definitely not to send them ‘to their eternal reward’.”

    I think scriptural references asserting mortals are given God’s power to destroy influence Mormon destruction all the time. Men in authority don’t have to send a flood or perform a miracle of any kind to destroy others when they can simply bar (with God’s authority of course) individuals from receiving or retaining ordinances. The structure of the church today allows thousands of men, not just prophets, to exact judgment on other people that is akin to spiritual death…which of course is considered much worse than physical death. I understand you probably believe that authority to be Divine, but whether it is or isn’t–it appears to definitely be destructive and presently active on a large scale.

    “The pattern of God’s behavior toward man is consistent through scripture . . . He should be loved, and He should be feared.”

    I agree there is an unmistakable pattern of God being described as destructive and as permitting (and even commanding) mortals to destroy in His name. However, everything ever written about God and the Divine was described by mortals, just as it is today. Since we all have inner light–a Divine soul, we are tasked with discerning what is offered to us as best we can–to faithfully follow that light rather than rely solely on second-hand descriptions. I agree that “it is impossible to have an ‘Eternal perspective’ without knowing the true nature of Him who is ‘Eternal’,” and that scriptures and people are valuable resources for learning about Divine nature, but I consider them to be supplemental to personal discovery.

    “[Y]ou are choosing to disregard this aspect of God entirely because, why?”

    Because I don’t currently have adequate evidence of the soul to support the notion of a destructive God, and because I don’t assume everything people wrote or write about God is accurate–I think it’s likely that people have tried and continue to try to give as accurate accounts as possible, but I believe each person is blessed to be able to learn directly from the Divine.

  30. CJ, I find that perfectly reasonable. I have no issue with anyone wanting to have their own witnesses. I’m pretty sure that is encouraged. I think that questioning is good. What I don’t like is that it seems that the “God is Love” verses are held as inviolate and must be taken as truth without question, and that the “God is Vengeful” verses seem to be the only ones ever questioned.

    For instance, this post has people questioning Alma’s interpretation of a spiritual impression, and saying perhaps the scriptural author didn’t convey that right. And it could be and it would be good to know if that were the case. But I’ve never heard anyone ask the question for the author of “love your neighbor as yourself.” What if that is wrong as well? Perhaps God doesn’t want us to love everyone and it is THOSE scriptures that are wrong. IF that were true, it would be good for us to know that as well. Now, that would be hard to believe because there are so many scriptures that talk of His love, kindness and mercy. But there are equally as many that speak of His wrath, fury, and vengeance. If we’re going to question, then question them all, or none.

    Personally I think God is both loving and vengeful. .

  31. How’s this for a question Jax? Tribes of Israelites massacred people living in certain countries so they could seize their land for their own. But even ancient peoples know that’s pretty horrendous. So centuries later, as they begin to write about their nation and why it’s the best around and chosen by God, they describe their ancestors’ genocide as required by God. 2,600 years later, Jaxjensen goes on blogs to say God loves genocide because the urban priestly elite descendants of those nomadic tribesmen wrote the terror texts to justify their national identity and superiority during a time of exile after an ignominious defeat of their supposedly blessed and chosen city/country.

  32. “Perhaps God doesn’t want us to love everyone and it is THOSE scriptures that are wrong.”

    This is actually false. Jesus says love everyone (NT, D&C). Treat them kindly too (Primary songs).

  33. Jesus’ two central commandments are loving God and loving our neighbor (both derived from the Torah). On these hang all the Law and the Prophets. For Paul in Romans 13, love is the fulfilling of the law. I’m following Jesus and Paul by putting my central focus on love. I’d even argue that love is central to Paul’s sense of dikaiosyne (justice/righteousness). Jesus even told us to love our enemies (at some tension with the Psalms, which provide all kinds of ways for us to pray that God will destroy them or crack their teeth).

    I wrestle mightily with love. My posts here attest abundantly to that wrestle. Maybe when I have love figured out, I’ll move on to attempting to justify a God who delights in drowning children. Or, just maybe, figuring out love will obviate the need for that labor. In the meantime, I’m not particularly interested in trying to see if I can drown someone out of love. Still working on basic kindness here, so I’ll leave the advanced stuff to the enlightened Raskolnikovs.

  34. “Tribes of Israelites massacred people living in certain countries so they could seize their land for their own. But even ancient peoples know that’s pretty horrendous. So centuries later, as they begin to write about their nation and why it’s the best around and chosen by God, they describe their ancestors’ genocide as required by God. 2,600 years later, Jaxjensen goes on blogs to say God loves genocide because the urban priestly elite descendants of those nomadic tribesmen wrote the terror texts to justify their national identity and superiority during a time of exile after an ignominious defeat of their supposedly blessed and chosen city/country.”

    My point exactly.

  35. Jason K.

    I just read “Not a Tame Lion” that posted on BCC today. I’m commenting here (because I don’t want a tangent on that post) to see what your thoughts are regarding God not being a tame lion, yet still being good, in context of our discussion. Because that phrasing is pretty close to how I see it. God isn’t safe, he isn’t tame, and he isn’t gentle all the time. But He is good, and I trust in that goodness. So I don’t have a problem with the times He isn’t gentle or safe, because I trust that He knows more than I, and can do good while being a bit wild.

    Thoughts?

  36. I don’t see God as a tame lion, either. I just don’t think that God’s lack of tameness involves drowning children or ordering the occasional genocide. This post of mine from a year ago gets at my sense of God’s wildness: https://bycommonconsent.com/2017/02/12/risky-religion-or-the-terrors-of-love/

  37. Would you agree with this:

    We both think God is good. We both think God is loving. You think goodness and love aren’t compatible with the destructions of 3rd Nephi (or Alma, Helaman, Egypt, Noah) and so those accounts must be wrong or tainted by the authors in some way. I think it is not those accounts that are wrong, but our understanding of God’s love. I think He can be good and destructive.

    Recap/rephrased: you think our mortal understanding of what Love/Kindness/Mercy look like is correct and therefore we’ve (me) misunderstood some scriptures, I think the scriptures are correct and that we misunderstand what Love/Kindness/Mercy look like from God’s “Eternal Perspective” (meaning it is God that is misunderstood, not the scriptures talking about Him). But both of us think God is good.

    You think Love must look a certain way (based on certain scriptures), and so are trying to interpret/limit God’s actions into fitting that description/look. I think God looks/IS a certain way (based on scripture as well), and try to stretch my understanding of Love to fit God’s actions because I believe He is good. In your view Love is the constant and unchangeable thing, and our view of God must conform. In mine, God is the constant and unchangeable thing, and it is our view of Love that must conform.

    Is that a fair breakdown of where our disagreement lies?

  38. Mostly, except that I refuse your conception of your view as expansive and mine as limited. I think that my conception of a loving God is more expansive. Jesus called us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. If we can “love our enemies” and still commit genocide against them (or any lesser form of violence, really), I think that fundamentally blunts the challenge of Jesus’ call. Ditto with “love one another as I have loved you.” If God loves us in a way that allows for the arbitrary drowning of children, then Jesus’ call is compatible with sociopathy: I can drown a child and love it as God does. Jesus’ statement ceases to present us with a real moral challenge.

    I assume that “God is love” as a statement exceeds my comprehension, so I don’t think that I’m trying to fit God into some Procrustean bed. As I wrote in my other post (and many other posts here), I expect the call to love to challenge me in all kinds of deeply uncomfortable ways, and that has indeed been my experience. Mostly, that has challenged me to try to understand people better than I do, not challenged me to murder them in the name of love. I do think, though, that Jesus invited us to see God in a new way (albeit a way more profoundly present in the Hebrew scriptures that caricatures of the “Old Testament God” typically allow). “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” for instance.

    Again, you seem primarily concerned with preserving the truth of some abstract conception without much concern for how that conception of God invites people to act, ethically and morally, whereas I think that doing theology without concern for its implications on moral action is dangerous and irresponsible–a fundamental refusal of the obligation to take responsibility for how one interprets the text. I value the scriptures to wrestle with them, not submit to them. Because God-talk properly ought to involve the interplay of apophatic and cataphatic, that’s more of a process than a restricting of the text to fit some foregone conclusion. Personally, though, I feel no obligation to reconcile myself to a God who commands genocide or wreaks destruction on innocent children and calls it love. I feel that Jesus calls me to reject such a God and imagine something bigger. I strain to do so, but straining after that simply feels like the right thing to do. Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders.

  39. “Personally, though, I feel no obligation to reconcile myself to a God who commands genocide or wreaks destruction on innocent children and calls it love.” How then do you reconcile the Bom or Bible at all? Perhaps the greatest moment of destruction ever recorded is in 3 Nephi when Christ claims credit for all of it himself. He details the destruction He wrought and gives explanation for why He did it. If the author and/or translation of that was wrong, then how can you trust that everything from chapter 11 and on is correct?

    Doesn’t it have to all be right, or all suspect, together? I can’t think of any reason to think that chapters 1-10 need to be doubted but 11-30 are taken at face value. Doesn’t the questioning/doubtful attitude have to be applied equally? If the author wrongly misquoted Christ when He claimed being responsible for the death and destruction, shouldn’t we consider that he could have wrongly misquoted Christ when He said to love one another as I have loved you? If one of them is a mistranslation, couldn’t they both be?

    This is the part of the discussion that nobody has yet addressed. Can you tell me why I must not question God’s love, but I must question His vengeance, when both are equally represented in the same book, by the same author, claiming the same divine source?

  40. Jaxjensen, I don’t that see it has to be all “right”or all “suspect.” People are not that way, writing is not that way, thinking is not that way—at least they don’t have to be. You are free to question God’s love and not his vengeance, though, as Jason has pointed out, there are very real dangers in doing so.

  41. I’ve been reading this discussion with interest, and I appreciate all the thought-provoking observations. Jax, in response to your question, I would say that if scripture were our sole source for learning about God’s nature, I could see your point—what sense does it make to accept what it says about God’s love, and ignore the vengeance parts? But I don’t think scared texts are all we’ve got—I believe that God has also given us things like reason, the writings of inspired people through the centuries, personal spiritual impressions, and the ability to discern the divine in our own life experience. Because all these sources of revelation are fallible, I think it’s important to continually put them in dialogue with one another. And for me, it’s in the interplay of these multiple sources that I find myself with serious questions about the vengeance passages.

    Going back to Jason’s point about the importance of considering these questions pastorally, and looking at these effects these beliefs might have in a person’s life, I can only speak of my own experience. But I grew up believing in the sort of God you describe, who was sometimes loving but sometimes vengeful, who might respond patiently but who might also decide his patience had run out and he was going to smite you. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this belief nearly destroyed me spiritually. I simply found it impossible to have a trusting relationship with someone who behaved this way, who couldn’t be counted on to respond lovingly (or conveyed his love in a manner that felt like abuse). We talk sometimes about considering the fruits of particular teachings—I can say that this view led to very negative fruits in my life. Or in the language of Alma 32, it turned out to be an extremely bad seed. It did not cause me to grow and flourish, but rather to distance myself from God.

    I do think it can be all too easy to ignore scriptures that make us uncomfortable, and I would certainly agree that it’s vital that scripture sometimes challenge our preconceptions. I want to be open to that. But I’ve also had to conclude that some ideas are simply toxic, whether or not they’re scripturally supported. The idea that God is loving, by contrast, is supported by every source of revelation I’ve encountered, and I’m therefore willing to privilege it.

  42. Lynette, wonderful response. Thank you.

    Let me ask about this phrase, “I simply found it impossible to have a trusting relationship with someone who behaved this way, who couldn’t be counted on to respond lovingly (or conveyed his love in a manner that felt like abuse)” So what are your thoughts then on unanswered prayers? When you come to Him with some burning question, needing some guidance, and all you get is silence and NOT a loving response? You’ve come to Him and asked Him something, for some blessing or an answer to a question, and He simply ignores you.. Yet the oft repeated response is that He still loves us (even though if a spouse refused to talk to their companion we’d likely call that emotional abuse, no?), we just need to trust Him to do what is best, and trust in His timing. We just don’t understand Him ways, right?

    All I am doing is applying that beyond unanswered prayers. I don’t doubt His love, but I also don’t doubt His wrath. So when He claims the credit for massive destruction, I believe Him. And because I know He loves us, I assume that for reasons and in ways I don’t understand, that the destruction was a good and needed thing – just like so many assume that having a prayer ignored is, in some way they don’t understand, what was best for them. And so we carry on hoping and trusting that He loves us and that the silent treatment (or destruction) is what is best.

  43. I’ll second Brian’s comment. I have never yet encountered a human being who consistently gets everything either right or wrong. Like Milton wrote in Areopagitica, good and evil come into the world so mixed up that sorting out Psyche’s seeds is easier than distinguishing them.

    Lynnette’s appeal to the Methodist quadrilateral shows why an equal skepticism isn’t justified. My personal experience of God is overwhelmingly one of love. All through this conversation, your insistence on a wrathful God has made me think of The Backslider, in which Frank pictures God looking down at him through rifle sights—until Cowboy Jesus shows up and changes his perception. Similarly, I feel that the God of Love has released me from needing to believe in the God of wrath. The fruits of this in my own life (to invoke Alma 32 and Galatians 5) have been greater peace and more space in my life for loving others.

    Your own comments have consistently refused to engage with the ethical consequences of your theology. And, again, you admit that the scriptures are the product of human encounters with the divine, but nothing about your exegetical practice reflects that belief: you keep using phrases like “God himself tells us.” I think that by now you’ve made your point that we should take the terror texts seriously. My response, then and now, is that sometimes taking something seriously results in concluding that it’s neither true nor useful. I’m not disregarding these passages; I’m moving on from them. You won’t like that, to which I can only say: oh well.