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Reflection September 17, 2017
Who Can I Kill in Jesus’ Name?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, September 10, I abandoned the sermon I’d prepared and spoke instead about how we might understand God’s activity in the midst of natural (as well as man-made) disasters. Such a topic is among the most difficult a pastor/preacher can undertake.
Where is God in the midst of all the suffering and all the sorrow bedeviling us? Let’s not be too quick to answer this perennial theological problem! There are way too many preachers and pastors who leap at the chance to proclaim what God is doing in the midst of disasters.
I know there are people who have a relatively easy life - devoid of major difficulties. These folk might rightly say they’ve been “blessed.” But I cannot believe God “blesses” some people with “easy street” while others wind up wading thru an alligator-infested, snake-swamp.
I find it hard to trust people who have had an easy time of life when it comes to sharing “God-talk.” For the great majority of us suffering is deeply enmeshed with the experience of life. Life beats us up!
Yet God does not “punish” some of us with hardship and suffering. God did not decide to flood parts of Texas and Louisiana with Hurricane Harvey and then slam Hurricane Irma into the Caribbean islands and Florida. Who could worship such a capricious and mean-spirited Divinity?
And yet there are many, many, places in the Bible where we see God portrayed as a “Destroyer-God.” Does God regularly disobey the divinely-mandated Ten Commandments by personally murdering people? Or if God kills someone, is it no longer murder but divine justice? Is God the ultimate executioner?
We, Christians, are deeply divided among those who say “Yes” to these questions and those who say “No.” Does God send us hurricanes, earthquakes, as well as all manner of human violence? Is God leading us/them into battle? The Old Testament answer might seem to be a resounding “Yes.” But a caveat must be sounded in light of the Four Gospels of Jesus Christ.
For me, the four Gospels of Jesus Christ trump every other piece of Scripture. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ - we have the clearest portrait of who God is and how God works among us. The heart of the Bible must be the Gospels of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing else in the Bible carries as much weight and authority.
The One and True Word of God is not the Bible, per se, but the Son of God Incarnate: Jesus Christ. Jesus is THE Word of God Made Flesh (see chapter one of John’s Gospel). I see Jesus Christ as the Word of God. I see the Bible as the word of God. They are not identical.
Yet we, Christians, continually and aggressively beat each other up because of our views of Scripture. God the Destroyer is championed from a staggering array of pulpits and within a multitude of proffered prayers. God will destroy those people. God will assassinate all who are seen as God’s enemies. God is on my side against whoever I perceive to be my enemies. (One must first disregard Jesus’ teaching: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …” Matthew 5:44)
Our time is a time of uncertainty and confusion. Great upheavals have occurred in every stratum of our society. Almost everyone finds it troubling to live in such a fluctuating and unsettled era.
As Anthony Gilles notes in his book, Fundamentalism: “Today we live like people in a tropical storm; we are hit by questions and problems reported ceaselessly by the media; we live at the heart of the storm with winds coming from all directions … This is precisely why fundamentalism is so appealing today. It offers quick and easy solutions to all of life’s insecurities and uncertainties. Simply ‘be saved,’ ‘accept Jesus’ and then wait for Jesus to come and punish all the sinners who are causing all these great evils.”
We, Christians, are deeply divided by what to expect when Jesus comes again. Will Jesus bring war and destruction? Armageddon? Or will Jesus bring healing and restoration? How one answers this question has a profound impact on one’s approach to God and to our wounded world. I opt for (and embrace) “healing and restoration.”
There are, no doubt, many passages in the Bible pointing to a fiery destruction coming with Jesus’ return. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be unleashed. Death and destruction will be everywhere. The world itself will be convulsed and destroyed. Too many believers gleefully await this horrifying scenario.
I cannot - will not - accept such a bleak future when Jesus returns. Jesus is the Prince of Peace - not the slayer of the majority of humanity. God the Creator LOVES the world as we know from the famous passage - John 3:16.
I hopefully await that incredible time when God will “wipe every tear from (our) eyes (and) Death will be no more.” (Revelation 21:4) How could the Creator of All There Is - the One Who Made our beautiful world and all creatures great and small disdain and destroy such a godly gift?
Where is God in all the destruction and death we see around us? God is with us in the midst of it. We need only look to the Cross of Jesus Christ to see this profound and primary truth.
But we also must be brought, like Jesus, to Gethsemane. Every prayer we ever offer must include: “Not my will but your will be done.” We wait with Jesus throughout every dark night, washed in the healing waters of our own tears.
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister