Reflection #37: Divine Violence/ A.J. Hendry

Reading: Genesis 3-10

As I read this passage I had to take a moment to allow myself to sit with the brutality of it. It begins with Cains murder of Abel, and continues to reveal humanities descent into violence and lust for power. A lust that becomes so unsatiable that God decides to massacre the entire human race with the exception of one man and his family.

This is brutal.

I used to rush past this obvious and uncomfortable violence, focus on the salvation of Noah, and God’s promise for the future, yet I’ve come to understand that to fully appreciate the Divine revelation in Jesus, we need to allow ourselves to hear this.

In this story, the writer of this account, conditioned by his own cultural lens and understanding of the divine, believes that god brutally murders – not solely evil men – but women, children, and infants. He annilates not simply humanity, but almost all life on earth.

It is important that we name and reject this image of a God that would so brutally punish its own creation.

If God really personally directed the flood to murder men, women and children, to annihilate all human life, than when we face our own suffering and struggles in our lives the question of “did God do this to me?” is only natural.

If God could destroy babies and children for the sins of their fathers, did God take my child’s life as a result of my own sinfulness? These questions echoe through the Scriptures into our very lives today.

This image of God also enables us to think theological in order to justify violence within society, or at the hands of the state. Just War theory, responsible for much modern Christian acceptance of state endorsed violence, relies on this image of God to justify atrocities on behalf of the state, we would never accept on behalf of an individual.

Yet, the understanding of God which we recieve in Jesus through the New Testament critiques the Old. Reading the Scriptures through the lens of the Crucified One we see how repugnant and vulgar our ancient ideals of Divine Violence really are.

Jesus fully reveals God, in Jesus we see a Divine Being who is filled to the brim with Love and compassion, whose grace and forgiveness knows no bounds, whose ability to Love extravagantly does not so easily give up, or give in.

I’ve heard it said that the Scriptures are like the journal of a people coming to know God. As the Divine becomes more fully revealed to them, they must wade through the muck and grim of their own false understandings of the Divine.

It is important that we dont simply gloss over the horrorific Divine Violence in the Old Testament, we must face it head on, and in doing so confront our own desire for violence and revenge we find within our selves.

And then we must look to the cross, for it is there that we are reminded of the cost that such unbridled lust for power brings.

A.J. Hendry

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