Struggling with a Violent God

Photo credit: Image by me, Getty Museum, January 2011

I've been struggling of late with my knowledge of the violent God who exists in the Old Testament. I am a follower of Jesus, and in the pages of the New Testament, I discover God walking around on earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

In this Jesus, I discover the fullness of love. I discover a God who teaches and embodies peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I discover a God who bears burdens gladly. I discover a God who forgives all enemies.

But in the pages of the Old Testament, I discover a different kind of God. Here, I find a God who chooses favorites. I find a God who chose Israel and no one else. I find a God who decimated whole cities and countries because they lived lawlessly or opposed God's chosen nation.

One God exhibiting quite different attributes between each testament.

I don't say any of this to be flippant or disrespect my God. I truly want to understand what this means and why it is, and I've been asking God to help me understand. I'm writing about it here for two reasons:

  1. To continue chronicling the reality of this very real journey I keep walking into nonviolence, including all its questions and difficulties.
  2. To learn what you might say. Have you ever struggled with this subject?

I've wrestled with this question for over two years. Quite early in my journey, actually, I wrote a piece called "What About the Violent God of the Old Testament?" on another online space I maintain, and I continue to wonder if the place I landed at the end of that piece isn't the most orthodox place to land: that perhaps in the death of Jesus, the full justice of God was truly satisfied. This means God no longer has reason to administer justice in the ways he used to do.

As I share at the end of that piece, this brings with it its own fair share of new questions, and there are questions I have about that which weren't even raised in that article.

But even if it is true that this is what happened to make God "change" when it came to Jesus, that still left thousands upon thousands of people in the hands of an angry God. All those people who lived and died before Jesus walked the earth  lived under the wrath of a God who administered such grave justice.

I get that God is just. I get that such a supreme being bears the high standards of perfection. And yet still, my heart breaks at the reality of what that means.

A couple weeks ago, for instance, I read the Passover account in the book of Exodus. This is where God "passes over" those houses of the people of Israel when he comes in wrath against the citizens of Egypt and all their first-born sons. In one night, all the first-born sons in the houses of Egypt died.

That same day, I read the following psalm:

What a stack of blessing you have piled up for those who worship you, Ready and waiting for all who run to you to escape an unkind world. You hide them safely away from the opposition. As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces, you silence the poisonous gossip . . . Love God, all you saints; God takes care of all who stay close to him. But he pays back in full those arrogant enough to go it alone. -- Psalm 31:19-20, 23 (The Message)

Earlier in my faith journey, I used to read these kinds of passages and find great comfort and solace in them. They told me of a God who cares for those who love and follow him. They told me that those who mocked and scorned me for my faith wouldn't keep their days of herald forever.

But today, it's not like that at all.

Today, I read these passages and weep. I weep for those God killed in the Passover. I weep for those parents who lost those sons. I weep for all the people who lost their lives because of the anger and judgment of the God I serve. Such weeping for those I would normally deem my enemies just won't seem to go away.

Lately, I've been sitting here in a struggle with this violent God. I don't fully know how to reconcile him with the Jesus I've come to know and dearly love -- the Jesus whom I believe is the incarnation of this same exact God -- who tells me I am wholly precious and cherished.

I know that I didn't choose God. I did nothing to merit the love of God, and yet here I stand, utterly steadfast in it, unable to lose it at all. Why me, yet not those?

These questions trouble me, and I ask God to teach me. I hold these questions, and I wonder. Will you wonder with me?