How Christians can read Old Testament horror | Genesis 34.25-31

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”
Genesis 34:25-31

On one hand, I am glad that the story does not leave itself as a justification of this woman’s rape as long as the individuals were circumcised (as the verses before this segment seemed to suggest–it was a ploy to trick the rapists into being in pain). On the other hand, the other women in the story, the wives of the men killed, are not treated much better (although admittedly, it doesn’t seem like Jacob’s sons rape them like Dinah was raped).

Okay, so what can Christians pull from this story? Mainly, we should be shocked that these people are “the circumcised”. These are the covenantal people. They have the covenant of God carved into their bodies. And yet, they receive the full judgement of God. They did not escape judgement. In fact, they perhaps received a harsher one than most other people in the Old Testament. I don’t think ancient Israelites would have taken circumcision so lightly as to just chuckle at that having been a deceitful turn that the sons of Jacob did. Rather I think they would have taken it very seriously that this people were a circumcised people that God’s people destroyed.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.


I just don’t get it sometimes | Matthew 24.46-51

Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24.46-51

Good lord, really? That’s unnecessarily over-the-top. I don’t like when I come across lines like this.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Crazy thought of the day: God Died. [QUOTE]

“The task of witnessing to the gospel is to vitalize the astonishing fact of the gospel. The message “the Son of God has died” is indeed most astonishing…. God has died! If this does not startle us, what will? The church must keep this astonishment alive. The church ceases to exist when she loses this astonishment. Theology, the precise understanding of the gospel, must be seized by this astonishment more than anyone else. It is said that philosophy begins with wonder; so theology begins with wonder. The wonder of philosophy pales before the wonder of theology. The person astonished by the tidings “God has died” can no longer be astonished at anything else.”

Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God

Some random, contradictory thoughts on Hell. Discuss.

Rothko-untitled-2Below, you’ll find a random assortment of 30 completely disjointed musings on Hell. Each paragraph is its own statement, in no particular order. This is not meant to be a discussion of where I currently land on this issue. I’d love to just get your thoughts. Respond as you like, below.

(1) In the past 10 to 15 years, the American Church saw a new emphasis on Idolatry as the foundation of sinfulness, rather than “Law-breaking”. I’m starting to see a new re-emphasis on Law-Breaking and Hell as punishment for this. And yet, the “Law” is always connected to God’s Image and Character, and so Law-Breaking is living by a wrong law, or image, and therefore is idolatry. We have an analogy for how a Judge responds to breaking the law, and this leads to the popular view of Hell since Medieval times. But what is the analogy for the response to transgressing an image?

(2) Can any Universalist tell me what the point of missions or Evangelism is in this life, if their perspective is true?
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Housing = Dignity. And this is how your politicians are robbing people of it.

A client quote I heard yesterday:

“When I was homeless, I felt like an animal, stuck in a concrete jungle. I only came out to eat and survive. Now that I have housing, though, I feel like a human again. It feels good to be human.”

And here’s the client quote I posted last week:

“I haven’t been homeless my whole life, but I’ve always been a human being.”

Below is a letter sent to our Governor from Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of HUD, about how the sequestration cuts will affect most of the programs that our clients depend on for housing (and, of far lesser importance, what I depend on for my job). Ladies and gentlemen, your representatives!

(You can read the original letter at the Housing Alliance of PA.) Continue reading

Prodigal, Let’s Go Home {pt.2} [GUEST POST]

Yesterday, I posted Austin’s first part to this final(?) reply to a series of discussions we’ve been having on the place of suffering and Evil in the world and the Nature of God. See that post for more background and links to the previous posts. I’ll have a few disparate thoughts about this whole exchange to share with all of you next week to close us out. Here, in this post, Austin sees right through much of my thinking to get at the root assumptions behind it. He also responds to five premises to my thinking that I laid out in my own last post.


In all that I’ve written in all of these posts, it should be obvious that I believe stories to be of the utmost value. But I have to be clear that Story, if it is a metaphor for God, is but one metaphor among many. And I thank Paul for mentioning something along these lines. I’m not quite sure that I understand Paul’s notion of Story in enough detail. There are a few things that I do think need to be critiqued, if I have understood them correctly.
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Prodigal, Let’s Go Home {pt.1} [GUEST POST]

This is Austin’s final response to a conversation we’ve been having on the blog concerning the Nature of God and Evil in the world–I know: light stuff, right? Here are the relavant links, if you’re interested: I wrote a post mentioning God taking death onto his own self; Austin took issue with this; I replied with a full-on development of the idea that God’s Nature is like an unfolding narrative–one in which there is Evil and Death; Austin responded by critiquing some of my Bible interpretation; I then wrote two posts, one responding to his response, and one telling of my fears that I’m wrong (where I also quote the James Joyce book Austin references below, as well as list out my 5 main premises for my thoughts he responds to here). This post is Austin’s final words on this (or part 1 of those words, at least). I’ll have a few concluding thoughts next week.


Is then the whole of life only a contradiction; can love not explain it, but only make it more difficult? That thought he could not endure; he must seek a way out. There must be something wrong with his love.

—Kierkegaard, The Expectation of Faith

I, like Paul, am one who has been deeply affected by Joyce’s story. That story, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is really the central struggle of my life: Artist or Theologian? Much in that book, including the scene that Paul elaborated in his response, continues to resonate in the sometimes hollow-feeling caverns of my mind. “I shall never swing the thurible…the oils of ordination shall never touch my head.” Those words wounded me and have stayed with me like a scar, long after their initial cut. I, too, am often much afraid.

Like Jacob, I wrestle with God. Israel indeed.
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Evil & God {2}: I’m a Heretic, I Fear

This is my final post in a discussion I’ve been having with a very good friend of mine, Austin Ricketts, about the relation of Evil to the Nature of God. For more on the background of this discussion, see  Part 1 of this reply, although you should be able to gather a good idea of the conversation from this post. After this, I’ll let Austin have the last word, if he’d like.

Pressing into the Story of God’s Nature

I’ve been saying that God’s Nature is not static, but, just like us humans, it’s like a Story, unfolding in time (click here for more). Further, it’s a Story that includes Evil and Death within in. Hopefully I can clarify some points all the more by drawing out the “Story” metaphor further (because, at the end of the day, that’s all this whole “Narrative” framework is).

When I write a story about redemption and healing, I include evil in that story–evil that ends up being resolved and healed in the end. The thought of that evil (whatever it may be) is borne from my mind and existence. Just because the thought of that evil has “existed” in my mind, does not, however, make me evil.
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Evil & God {1}: a refutation’s refute

Update: Part 2 of this post is up.

Last week, I wrote a post about being overwhelmed by God’s beauty in Western Pennsylvania. In it, I talked of the beautiful paradox of a God who would incorporate within his own divine life both Beauty and Suffering. My good friend (and huge theological influence) Austin Ricketts (who’s written on this blog beforetook issue with these statements, saying that he fears that they lead to making God the author of Sin and Evil. I wrote a reply to his comments in which I asked whether the very nature of God might be “narratival” and unfold over the course of history, and perhaps suffering and even Evil itself are “motifs” or “themes” in that “Storied Essence” of God–a story that eventually does away with these things. He wrote a reply in which he countered some of my views on revelation and some biblical texts.

Here, in the two parts of this post, I plan on (1) responding to Austin’s refutation, and (2) writing up some final thoughts (and fears) on my end. I’ll leave the final word to Austin if he so desires. Feel free to also chime in with your own thoughts if you like!
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God is Light: A Refutation [GUEST POST]

I love when I get to do some back-and-forths on the blog. My good friend (and blog contributor) Austin Ricketts wrote a comment on my post earlier this week about beauty and suffering in the world. I posted his comments, and then I wrote a reply to them. Well, as is the nature of these sorts of things, here is Austin’s “refutation” of my post. You will see he has a great mind and sensitivity to these weighty issues. Usually, I let the other person have the last word in these things, and I’d usually end this exchange here, but I actually have some thoughts I’ll spend the weekend pondering and writing; I’ll post it on Monday.

Update: my response to this post is now up.

First things first, I always enjoy a spirited debate among brothers and friends.  Iron sharpens iron.  Paul is a very good friend of mine, one of my best friends.  And I love that he and I can disagree deeply and yet remain quite close.  I know my friend Paul’s logic quite well.  I was once in a similar position as he.  Previously, I wrote an article entitled, “Love—The Beginning and End of Divine Suffering”.  I set forth an argument to state that there is a notion of death entailed in God’s being.  I write now officially to recant that position.  A new assessment of the Trinity will have to be written.  For now, I write in refutation of the notion that there is evil in God, by writing a refutation of Paul’s most recent article.
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Evil & the Essence of God {2}: a storied solution?

Updates: Austin has replied to this post with his own thoughts. I have also edited this post to correct some of my incorrect Hebrew grammar Austin pointed out.

Earlier, I posted some comments that my good friend (and occasional contributor to this blog) Austin Ricketts wrote on my post yesterday about the relationship between evil, beauty, and the nature of God. Read those words if you would like his beautiful and articulate wrestling with this idea. Here is my response.

At some point in their lives, most people face the question: Can God stop this suffering? If not, is he God? If he can, but doesn’t, what kind of God is he?

Most of the time, attempts to push this question to a solid conclusion lead to unfortunate results. Many have abandoned God altogether over this, and still others, who maintain their faith, end up doing the mental gymnastics only to end up in positions entirely foreign to the Bible or that are even more illogical than when you began.

Here’s my attempt at a response, fully aware of the dangers that come with doing so. Please be gracious. Please reply. Point out my heresies, And please allow me the room to change my mind later on.

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Evil & the Essence of God {1}: the discussion

Update: Part 2 is now up.

Yesterday, I wrote some meditations on the world’s suffering and evil in light of the incredible Beauty I saw this past weekend on a trip to western Pennsylvania. One of my very best friends, Austin (who’s written for this site before), appreciated the post but had some thoughts on some of the theological implications of my thinking, and talked about where/how he differed. I love his mind (and his heart), and I see where he’s coming from, but it’s a place I can’t go. I want to offer you all his comment, and then my perspective on all of this, hoping to offer all of you some things to think about and a space to discuss anything that strikes you as off.

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The Hope of Gethsemane (of Lent, Mortality, & Ashes)

I always have high and lofty hopes for Lent. Each year I have visions in my head of those amazing “spiritual” things I will do over these 40 days that will result in life-long and generational sins merely falling away from my life; my heart finally unburdened of the weights and yokes it has borne for so long.

And alas, God consistently and assuredly meets me in this season, but the time is rather marked by a sharp sense and sting of failure in these things I have dreamt of doing.

And so, I find myself here, five days into Lent, having already felt this weight of my own shortcomings and self-deception: dearest brothers confronting me in the facades I present to the world out of my own fears and insecurities, telling me how hard it is to love me; finding my heart wander to those old idolatries that I thought only marked my youth and immaturity; my social anxieties paralyzing me in my greatest opportunities of worship; falling short of the fast I have offered to God in this season; etc., etc., etc., etc….

And it’s right then in these moments that my greatest love–my Bridegroom, my Lover, my Hope, and my Healer: the Lord–meets me. Continue reading