Divine Wrath: An Open Theist Affirmation
Today, I want to give a few rejoinders to what’s been going around about the book of Joshua, with the New Atheists and New Calvinists walking hand in hand, sharing the same interpretation.
It was last year that Mark Driscoll preached a sermon why God hates you, and you, and especially you. Anyone who disagreed with him was accused of “not really believing in God’s wrath” i.e., your God isn’t manly enough. Unfortunately, that sermon is no longer available to us on youtube (I can only be left to speculate). Recently, John Piper joined in on the God Is Hate movement with the not so shocking Why It’s Right For God to Slaughter Women And Children Any Time He Pleases. Bible scholar Peter Enns had an excellent response, especially dealing with Piper’s proof-texting.
From a theological perspective, here is my take:
First things first, no where in Scripture does it say that God “objectively hates” groups of people. In fact, it is an impossibility to “objectively hate” anything, because hatred is a very subjective feeling. Simply put and understood in scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, God’s wrath is him moving his presence away from us, and allowing us to experience the consequences of our sinful actions. From what happened to King Saul and his lineage to when the Hebrews were exiled to Romans 1, God leaves us to our own undoing. God’s wrath. This removal of God’s presence is an acknowledgement of our free will and God’s dynmaic sovereignty. God’s power works relationally, what we might call covenant. God chooses to limit Godself in covenant. Where are examples of this; the two most well known are found in Ezekiel (Ezekiel and Judaens must repent, or perish) and in Genesis, with the story of Noah, where at the end, God promises never to destroy the Earth as Noah knew it the same way again. God is bound by God’s word of promise. This is a form of God’s self-limitation contra Piper Calvinism’s god who is free to break the very rules He sets up. Of course the latter idea (Piper’s god above the rules) leads to a very bad human behavior, where people, the lawmakers who set the rules for us in society, put themselves above the law.
Now, to get to the Canaanites. God does not objectively set himself against people out of hate. It is out of love, since God wants all people to know him. If YHWH’s and therefore Moses’ mission was for all of the nations to know YHWH (this knowing can be understood militaristically and religiously), then God has to provide a way for the nations to respond to YHWH’s actions in freeing the desecendent of Jacob. If the Gentile nations fail to respond the way YHWH desires, there are consequences. What literalists like John Piper fail to take into consideration is the fact that #1, history and archaeology show that much of this slaughtering did not take place, and #2, archaeological evidence shows that in fact the ancient Hebrews used Conquering rhetoric out of revolutionary self-defense as a migrant community. I think the difference is crucial, because first of all, this means that war and violence are not necessary, but free choices made by human beings. Narratively, most of the “Divine War stories include the celestial being we call the Angel of YHWH, so in a sense, the Hebrews theologically did not see themselves as depending on the sword entirely. In other words, warfaring nowadays as a human endeavor of self-reliance has more to do with our own violence and prejudices than any reliance on a higher power. Of course, it’s this dependence on God later that leads to Ezra’s Jewish Pacifism [see my post linked here. There are a few more episodes in the Hebrew bible where instead of going to war, God leads Israel break bred with its enemies. Violence towards the Nations is not THE SOLE response by YHWH. The problem with Piper’s reading is that VIOLENCE IS THE ONLY WAY.
God responds to our choices, and the Nations’ choices, just as God does to God’s own people. Take King Saul for instance, Saul loves God at one point, even as one among the prophets, but then Saul sins and disobeys God, and God responds to Saul’s choice wrathfully, but in love. By wrathfully, God’s spirit of prophecy leaves Saul (Is even Saul among the prophets? and a darker spirit enters). Pharaoh faces God’s wrath not because God hates him, but because God wants Pharaoh to know YHWH. In Romans, God “hates” Esau (the Gentiles) because God first loves Jacob (the Jews). But it is not anything that the Jews did to deserve God’s favor, nor the color of their skin, but God’s own freedom to love. That’s the story of Israel in a nutshell.
God’s character never changes. Yes, God’s hates sinners, but only out of his holines and love. God’s wrath spouts forth from God’s love. That is why so many times in the Hebrew Bible God relents YHWH’s punishment, like in Exodus 33 or we can go with his openness to receive our repentance. Based on this, hate is not an attribute of God. The idea of repentance refudiates God “objectively” hating anyone. Violences is not a part of God’s plan, but penance is. It’s God’s will that all will use their free will to repent (thats in Acts), and we should keep it that way.