Deep down we all want to know, really know that God is good and kind and patient and loving and understanding. We want to believe that God is not angry and doesn’t need to punish people and isn’t waiting like a judge to send most of the human race into eternal conscious torment. At least most normal people, who haven’t been brainwashed by religion, need to have a Father they would call Abba. Deep in all of us is our union with our Creator. At the root of who we are is our oneness with the divine. In all of us dwells the Spirit of God who holds all things together. In every person is the divine Father of all mankind that in whom we move and have our being. Even that truth is in the Bible.
Jesus proves that God is not angry and cannot be offended. The g.o.d. of religion would have killed us all from the cross just to make a point. The g.o.d. of fear would have punished every person after he came out of the tomb. The g.o.d. of our imagination would have wiped out mankind for an offense much less severe than…lets say…killing him. This is why Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. He is the way to see God. He is the truth of mankind’s union with God and He is the life that holds us all together. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness ready to reveal the Father if only we would step out of our darkness. If we would give up our religious fears and embrace a loving and good Father, we would see the light. Jesus reveals that good Father and more. He demonstrates the humility of God to serve mankind and let us reject Him to death only to forgive us in the act. That is Jesus. That is why we call ourselves Jesus followers. That revelation of truth sets us free to be free indeed of all the wrong and hurtful images of g.o.d. we carry in our heads and are taught by some of our religious traditions.
So when you find “one of those passages” in our Bibles we ponder and wonder and ask the questions. When we see “an angry God” in the words on the paper, we have to stop and say “that doesn’t sound like Jesus.” Then we pursue and seek and knock and He is found. Every time we will find the Jesus answer. Sadly our religious traditions teach us something different. Our religious fears have us balancing a good God with an evil g.o.d. That isn’t possible and it isn’t what Jesus died to show us. He is good, really good. He is done with judgment. His judgment is no judgment. Jesus said so. We should believe it. Still there are “those passages.”
Instead of ignoring them how about we take on one of the big ones and see what we see? Are you willing? First some background.
Have you ever disagreed with someone, ever? I bet you have. Did you take debate in school? There they teach the civil way to disagree. You get to present your argument and a panel usually decides “who won.” There are some techniques in debate that are actually ancient. These same techniques have been literary tools for thousands of years. Actually one of these techniques dates back to 2000 B.C or so. The technique I am talking about is called rhetoric. We all know rhetoric but may not have been formally trained. For the ancient Greeks they taught the concepts in school just like reading and writing and arithmetic.
Rhetoric is when you find some common ground where both parties agree. From this place a skillful debater will lead the opponent down a path where the opponent is suddenly ambushed by a truth that can’t be denied. The common ground comes in categories like the pathos or emotional agreement. You can say “how about those Packers (assuming both are Packer fans) and then move on in agreement. Or you could say “I can’t believe what THOSE people did, can you?” The next might be ethos or the authority or charismatic agreement. This would be like saying “you know Abraham Lincoln when he said…” Then you would move on from there. Both parties agree about something Lincoln said. The next might be logos which is wisdom. You might bring up something that both would agree is wisdom like Solomon and the baby story. The last one is kairos. This is an eternal truth. The sun rises in the East or children will grow up or the certainty of first love. In all these you find some common ground and then lead the opponent or audience down a path with a surprise ending.
The guy that wrote most of the New Testament, Paul, was a classically trained and taught Pharisee. Paul knew Greek and the Greek way of debate. He understood the classic forms of literary prose and techniques to achieve a desired effect. He knew how to lead the reader and audience down a path and then pop the surprise ending. He was a master of the dramatic and had a flair for rhetoric. I bet you didn’t know that about Paul. Yes, he used rhetoric to introduce a concept and then insert a fundamental truth that could no longer be debated since the audience found themselves confronted with a conclusion that was indisputable. Paul does that all throughout the book of Romans. Yes Romans.
The Roman citizens that Paul was writing to were mostly Jews who had found themselves in a dilemma. They were now “followers of Christ” but they couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the gentiles they lived amongst. Jesus told us that judgment of anyone was not OK for any reason ever. We are to forgive and pray for our enemies. We are to unconditionally love our neighbor who could have been our most hated and despised enemy. We are to accept all peoples of all nations of all races of all religions always. That is who Jesus was. That is who we are to be. That is what it means to be a Christian. These Romans weren’t getting it.
In chapter one of Romans there is a passage that starts and ends this way:
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (ESV)
I have heard this passage used to describe an angry and vengeful g.o.d. of mythology who will burn us all forever and ever while he feels good about what he has done because it must be done. That ain’t Jesus. Sorry. If we would only listen to Jesus in us and actually study the original intent of the passage, then we might really change our tune.
Paul is using rhetoric. He has been using the pronouns of I and you. He then transitions to “them.” He is jumping into the heads of his audience and mimicking what they had been saying about their gentile neighbors. They of course would agree and be cheering and saying “preach it Paul” then only to be surprised by these verses:
Rom 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. (ESV)
Paul is showing them what they SHOULDN’T be doing. Paul is using a common argument that was understood by the condemning Jews against the gentiles to sucker them into the ambush. He is telling them IT IS NOT OK TO JUDGE. He says clearly that when they judge others they are condemning themselves.
Think about it. When you point the finger at another person and in your self-righteous exuberance condemn them for their behavior (no matter what it is) you are a giant hypocrite. Sorry if that stings. It should. We should not be judges for any reason. Yes we want to help people out of destructive behaviors but to threaten them with g.o.d. is not OK, ever. God has judged us all and found us all worthy, worthy enough to die at our “sinful” hands. This is our Father and He is that good. That g.o.d. is what Jesus came to set us free from. He even tells the Pharisees of the time that the g.o.d. that they are worshiping is the diablos (the slanderer).
I hope you can “see” differently a passage that maybe made you wince in the past. It is really good news. You winced because it wasn’t God. It was Paul telling people what not to do. It was Paul revealing the error of our judgment against others. It was not a discourse on God’s anger against us sinners. He forgot our sin on the cross. He forgave our sin on the cross. He was raised again to reveal His presence inside us. So Yay! Freedom. So now you can tell your friends about the Roman Rhetoric that Paul used to make a point. I suggest you “get on their good side in agreement” before you drop the bomb. That would be using rhetoric to make a point.