Friday, March 26, 2010

judgment as justice in the flood


In his book, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom describes his experience teaching a college class at the University of Chicago. Bloom once asked his undergraduate students to identify an evil person. After a long silence it was clear that not one student could do so. These intelligent students could not identify evil. Perhaps the inability to define good and evil is a result of an unclear picture of justice.

The flood narrative of Genesis (chapters 6‒9) is about justice. Approaching the story asking, "Why would a good God destroy so flippantly?" or "What about all the innocent people?" is to approach the text from the wrong perspective. It's not that these questions are inherently wrong, but they aren't asked from the perspective implied by the text itself. The Genesis narrative is clear that the evil of humanity had become all-consuming (6.5‒7, 11‒13). So, God is not destroying flippantly or capriciously. Instead, God is brining justice to the earth. While God's retributive justice is at work so is his gracious mercy in the person of Noah (6.8).

It is important to notice that God's judgment is an outworking of humanity's corruption. The earth was "corrupt" and filled with violence (Gen 6.11‒12). So God determines to "destroy" all flesh (6.13, 17; cf. 9.11, 15). The word for "corrupt" in 6.11‒12 is the same word for "destroy" in 6.13 and 17. The word has an admittedly broad meaning describing everything from the corruption of morality (Gen 6.11‒12; Deut 32.5; Ezek 20.44), "destruction" of semen (Gen 38.9), "corrupting" priestly covenant (Mal 2.8) or even the destruction of a city (Gen 18.28) or king (1 Sam 26.15). Furthermore, the word it is descriptive of God's judgment upon: all flesh (Gen 6.13, 17; 9.11, 15), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 13.10; 19.13, 29), Babylon (Jer 51.11) and Tyre (Ezek 26.4). So while the word can be broad, it seems clear that the Genesis narrative is showing God's judgment as the divine response to humanity's already destructive corruption. Basically, God determines destruction as the way humans have already chosen for themselves.

God's redemption, however, is a reversal of this corruption that leads to destruction. The earth is described as being "full" of violence prior to the flood (6.11, 13). The same word is used in the divine command to "fill" the earth in 9.1 which precedes the command for humanity to forsake its violent ways (9.5‒6). Even in light of coming judgment God promises to establish a covenant (6.18) which then becomes the dominant theme of God's blessing to Noah (9.9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17). So prior to the flood the world is due for destruction via humanity's corruption, but after God's judgment has run its course the earth is poised for production reminiscent of initial creation (1.28‒30) and preservation is divinely assured.

Genesis 6‒9 identifies evil and justice. Evil is humanity gone wrong in violence and destructive living. Justice is God's intention for humanity. Justice requires forsaking the violent corruption of evil and embracing a covenantal relationship with Yahweh. Living justly in a world where evil is rampant isn't easy or simple. It requires a thoughtful engagement with God's revelation. That engagement can be quite difficult. Still, living justly must always be rooted in the covenantal relationship with Yahweh. Otherwise, we will have no idea what justice means. We'll have no idea how to identify evil.

26 comments:

Thom Stark said...

"It's not that these questions are inherently wrong, but they aren't asked from the perspective implied by the text itself. The Genesis narrative is clear that the evil of humanity had become all-consuming. So, God is not destroying flippantly or capriciously. Instead, God is brining justice to the earth."

Right. Similarly, it's not that questions about the evil of the Holocaust are inherently wrong, but they aren't asked from the perspective implied by the Nazis themselves. The Nazis were clear that the evil of Jews had become all-consuming. So, Nazis are not destroying flippantly or capriciously. Instead, Nazis are brining justice to the earth.

In other words, we have as much reason to accept the biblical characterization of all humanity as "thoroughly corrupt" as we do the Nazi characterization of all Jews. Such condemnation of evil strikes us as more evil itself than righteous or even close to accurate. The people who try to convince me that God was righteous in killing babies because those babies were corrupt and wicked is first going to have to convince me that they themselves aren't corrupt and wicked. It's much easier to conclude that believers in such stories are evil than to believe the babies who died in the flood were evil.

Tyler Stewart said...

So how then would you describe evil?

You want to critique the narrative itself. I'm asking how to read the narrative from within a tradition that accepts it as scripture.

The comparison to the holocaust is, I think, unfair. I believe that God has the right to bring judgment in a way that human beings don't. Maybe that's too simplistic, but I think there is a difference. Nazis killing people is not the same as God judging people. You can tell me that it is because killing is killing. But I can tell you that it isn't because God is God. I don't know where to go from there.

To be honest, the thought of babies dying in the flood appalls me. I won't say that it doesn't but does my trust of the God implied in the narrative make me evil?

Do you believe in any form of retributive justice?

I'm honestly asking these questions. I understand your critique and I don't have an easy answer. This obviously wasn't the direction I intended to go here, but you asked.

Thom Stark said...

"You want to critique the narrative itself. I'm asking how to read the narrative from within a tradition that accepts it as scripture."

If by accepting it as scripture you mean that you have to find some way to accept its claims and terms, then you can't read it as scripture without throwing morality and justice out the window.

"Do you believe in any form of retributive justice?"

Yes, just not the kind that kills babies and calls is "justice." "Retributive justice" isn't the issue here.

"The comparison to the holocaust is, I think, unfair. I believe that God has the right to bring judgment in a way that human beings don't."

No, it's not unfair. The Nazis believed in a God too, and their God wanted the Jews dead. The issue isn't what "God" has permission to do versus what "mere humans" have permission to do. The issue is, you're reading one set of texts as though it's "God" speaking, and any other rival claims to "God" speaking as false claims. Genesis is wrong: God did not kill babies because humanity was utterly corrupt. It's a lie, or it's a legend, or it's whatever it is. But the last thing it is is true. If, however, God did intentionally kill babies because God saw them as corrupt, then God is corrupt.

Of course, I don't believe God is corrupt. I think the Scriptures you're taking at face value are wrong. They've taken a tradition that predates them and have given it their own spin—and it's a really morally grotesque spin.

It is not unfair to compare the flood narratives to Nazi genocides, because in both cases it is what corrupt people are claiming about God, about what is right and what is evil. The people are wrong.

Whether "God" has the "right" to kill babies is another question.

The problem, in other words, is with the way you approach Genesis. Given your approach, it is much easier to believe that you are evil than that ancient infants were somehow evil. I'm not calling you evil: I'm saying, if I had to choose, I'd side with the ancient babies, not with you.

Alex said...

What does it mean by this comment: "If by accepting it as scripture you mean that you have to find some way to accept its claims and terms."

Thom Stark said...

I mean to imply that there are other approaches to "scripture" than the approach that says, "What Scripture says is true because it's Scripture." That seems to be Tyler's approach, at least in this case. And I'm implying that you don't have to forfeit the category of Scripture in order to deny that killing infants can in anyway be construed as "justice." "Scripture" does not necessarily equal plain "truth," but that doesn't mean it ceases to be useful to the believing community.

But I am arguing that adopting the perspective of Scripture in this case, and trying to make the case that God was somehow justified in killing babies for the sins of their parents, or (worse) the case that these babies were somehow ontologically corrupt and evil—that is straining hard against credulity. You've let your concept of Scripture go too far. Tyler would disagree with the Christians who said that Katrina was God's judgment against people, and that the children that died in the flood in New Orleans got what they deserved. But Tyler's view of Scripture forces him to say the same thing about an ancient flood that was interpreted by an ancient Pat Robertson, handed down through tradition, and inscribed in a book that Tyler now holds as GOD's voice (as opposed to a mere human voice).

Thom Stark said...

In sum, there may be other alternatives, but my alternative is this: Let God speak through the mere human voice. Let God speak through the stories that are morally exemplary, and through the stories you have to condemn unless you want to undermine the very notion of morality itself. Scripture is that through which God speaks to the community—that doesn't mean everything Scripture says is what God wants to say. But God uses it, just as he uses imperfect human beings. Unless Tyler wants to claim that God can't use him unless he's perfect, then I don't see why he has to hold the scriptures to a different standard.

Thom Stark said...

Incidentally, I also find (and always have found) Bloom's claim that his students couldn't identify a single evil person to be absolutely incredible, as in, not credible. If there's any truth to the anecdote, I suspect they must have thought it was a trick question.

Tyler Stewart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler Stewart said...

Thom I have a lot of questions for you on this because I'm struggling to see how scripture can be used in the way your suggesting. If I'm reading you correctly, you're suggesting that scripture is scripture in so far is it is useful for the church to hear the voice of God. This "scriptural truth" can subvert the plain sense of the text and be authoritative scripture. So scripture is authoritative as the canonical document of the church regardless of whether its contents are praiseworthy or repugnant to the church?

How do we define what is morally exemplary apart from scripture on its terms? Or what canon within the canon do we use for hearing the voice of God?

When does our critique of scripture cease to be hearing God's voice in human voices and become making God in our image?

In a somewhat different direction, does the flood narrative about human corruption need to be addressed in terms of drowning infants? Is it possible that we're asking a question that this text as scripture doesn't address here? Is it okay to sidestep the question for the time being and return to it from elsewhere in the canon?

Thom Stark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thom Stark said...

"How do we define what is morally exemplary apart from scripture on its terms? Or what canon do we use for hearing the voice of God?"

I've addressed these questions at length in the conclusion and appendix (interview with Solomon) to my series on inerrancy.

"When does our critique of scripture cease to be hearing God's voice in human voices and become making God in our image?"

Why do you presuppose that the biblical texts aren't also making God in our image? Your presupposition makes your objection to me intelligible, but your presupposition is fundamentally flawed, making your objection to me hypocritical.

"In a somewhat different direction, does the flood narrative about human corruption need to be addressed in terms of drowning infants? Is it possible that we're asking a question that this text as scripture doesn't address here?"

That it doesn't address it is part of the reason it needs to be addressed and part of the reason the text needs to be challenged and critiqued.

"Is it okay to sidestep the question for the time being and return to it from elsewhere in the canon?"

Whatev.

michaeldefazio said...

"Whatev"

Is this a Latin term for "even if you do that, you still have to ask (at some point) how this part of the canon relates to or is affirmed or questioned by that part of the canon, so we can push pause but eventually the question must be asked of this text"? If it is, okay. Otherwise, it's kind of a lame response. :)

I still would go back to Tyler's comment that comparing this to Nazis is unfair. I agree (with Tyler). There is a difference between a group saying that God was responsible for killing people and saying that God has told us to kill people. Maybe other parts of Scripture are comparable to the Nazis in this way, but not this one. Incidentally, your example about Katrina and how it is interpreted by some Christians is comparable. In the end all the questions need to be asked so I'm not sure it changes a great deal, but so long as we're talking about this text, the Nazi example may be strong rhetorically but it is a different kind of theological/revelational claim.

You do raise the (to my mind) proper parallel of something like Katrina, and you rightly ask, What's the difference? And of course the difference, as we would put it given our doctrine of Scripture (in my case, fairly under-thoroughly thought through), is that Genesis is Scripture whereas Robertson is not. Of course neither medium is perfect (whatever that means), and of course God is more than happy to work through imperfect mediums, but that doesn't mean all mediums are equally imperfect. And we believe that God was (and is) doing something different with regard to Scripture than he is with regard to ourselves.

Of course none of this is new and doesn't really move the conversation forward except to name where exactly it would need to go before any sort of resolution is found (that is, a clarification of our view or doctrine of Scripture, your critique, etc, etc).

As for the conversation Tyler had intended to begin, the profitable direction would be for you to lay out your own understanding of retributive justice and how it relates to what you do or don't call evil. That is the issue here, or at least that's the issue Tyler wants to raise with this post.

Thom Stark said...

Whatev = It's Tyler's blog, he can do what he wants.

If you'll read my original comparison to the Nazis again, it revolved around the totalizing characterizing of one (righteous) group to another (wicked) group. It was the totalizing characterizations in both cases that justified the indiscriminate killing. That it's God doing the killing in the one case, and Nazis in the other, is irrelevant because that wasn't the point of comparison. The point of comparison was the way the totalizing rhetoric serves to legitimate indiscriminate killing (whoever is doing the killing is irrelevant; what is relevant is who is doing the justifying, and in the case of the flood, the ones doing the justifying are the ones who told the story the way they told it).

"You rightly ask, What's the difference? And of course the difference, as we would put it given our doctrine of Scripture (in my case, fairly under-thoroughly thought through), is that Genesis is Scripture whereas Robertson is not."

In other words, special pleading. You don't just relate to Robertson as an agnostic. You don't say, "Maybe he's right. Maybe it was God." You reject his interpretation, because you know better. Thus, the difference is not that one is scripture (therefore right) and the other is not (therefore not 100% reliable). The difference is, what you (rightly) reject coming from Robinson, you embrace coming from ancient Hebrew campfire tales, because one is "scripture," and thus, you are forced by your construct of "scripture" to accept what you would otherwise reject in less than a heartbeat. Special pleading.

"Of course neither medium is perfect (whatever that means), and of course God is more than happy to work through imperfect mediums, but that doesn't mean all mediums are equally imperfect. And we believe that God was (and is) doing something different with regard to Scripture than he is with regard to ourselves."

Yes you do. Based on what do you believe that? A human construct that proves problematic and dangerously false at a large number of turns. Muslims believe the same thing about the Qur'an, and on precisely the same grounds: for the Qur'an tells me so. So you choose to believe that a book that says God was righteous when he killed babies is "God-breathed" because the same book that said God was righteous when he killed babies calls itself "God-breathed." In other words, you believe in the Bible on the same grounds Nazis believed in Hitler's rhetoric: because Hitler said he was telling the truth about the babies he was killing. Hitler said it, I believe it, that settles it. It's the same insider's "logic" that brings true believers (in both cases) hard up against what everybody ordinarily recognizes as basic morality: you don't kill innocents and cite guilt by association. If you have to concede that God can do that (which is what the Bible claims God does), then you have undermined the principle by which you denounce genocide, murder, etc. You've lost the ability to denounce people who kill innocents in the name of their God, unless you're somehow able to prove that their God is false. But then, by what standards? Not by the standard that a true God wouldn't kill innocents.

(continued...)

Thom Stark said...

"As for the conversation Tyler had intended to begin, the profitable direction would be for you to lay out your own understanding of retributive justice and how it relates to what you do or don't call evil. That is the issue here, or at least that's the issue Tyler wants to raise with this post."

I disagree. Tyler brought up the problem in his original post. He said, "Approaching the story asking . . . 'What about all the innocent people?' is to approach the text from the wrong perspective. It's not that these questions are inherently wrong, but they aren't asked by the text itself."

Tyler opened that can of worms, and in response I pointed out that his logic is going to get him into a lot of trouble. The Nazis didn't approach Hitler's claims about the Jews from "that perspective" either. Does that mean we're justified in having a discussion as if the Nazis' perspective is right? Of course not. And neither are we justified in having a conversation as though the question of innocents isn't relevant to the text just by virtue of the fact that it isn't an issue within the text. That's precisely what we need to point out! That's precisely what's horribly wrong with the text.

DeFazio is about to have a baby. I have an almost three year old girl. The text is saying that God killed babies still in their mothers' wombs, and almost three year old girls who are really starting to talk a lot. The text is saying that God killed them because they were corrupt, morally. Or at the very least, the text is saying that God killed them because their parents were corrupt (every last one of them). In the latter case, God killed babies because of something their parents did (something God would later denounce as evil). In the former case, God decided that my Ela was morally corrupt enough that she had to die, a horrible death by drowning, trembling with fear until her lungs collapsed. (My Ela's lungs did collapse, the day she was born. Everyone's instinct was to pray to God to fill them with air, and you're telling me that we should trust the Bible when it tells us that God intentionally collapsed the lungs of thousands upon thousands of children, and that God was good and right to do so.)

Let's do what Tyler suggests: let's take the text on its own terms. As it is, I'm inclined to believe that the story is a legend, based on a broad ancient near eastern memory of a local flood that covered the known world for them, and killed many people. Their primitive understanding attributed that flood to divine wrath rather than natural causes, and that story got handed down and embellished and became what it is today (a composite of two separate Hebrew flood traditions). But let's take the text on its own terms, as Tyler suggests. On its own terms, it says that God was so displeased with humanity (his own creation) that he decided to kill everybody, save a few people who were the only righteous people in the whole world. The world's children weren't righteous. Just Noah and his family—Noah, who immediately after the flood got drunk, and Noah's son, who took advantage of his drunken father and molested him. These are the righteous people that God saw fit to save; thousands of almost three year old children be damned to die alone.

(continued...)

Thom Stark said...

This is (apparently) the same God who could send an angel of death into Egypt and kill (somewhat more discriminately) only the firstborn sons of Egypt. God could do that, but he couldn't discriminate between wicked parents and innocent almost three year old children at the time of Noah. No, God had to use a flood. He had to kill all the little Elas too.

That's taking the text at face value.

But Tyler wants to have a conversation about "retributive justice." Fair enough, but this is his problem. He picked a text that has nothing to do with retributive justice. The fact that the text makes some semblance of a claim to be about retributive justice doesn't make it so. There is nothing of retributive justice in the act of killing an Ela. Ela has done nothing to anyone, least of all God. And neither had the thousands upon thousands of little Elas that the Bible says God killed that day. That is not retributive justice. If Tyler only wants to talk about retributive justice, I suggest he look at a different text. Maybe, Matthew 25, or Revelation 19.

But don't take a text that is patently about killing innocent children in the name of justice and say that it should be treated as a text about justice just because that's what it claims to be. To do so is to abandon sanity in the name of an ideology called "scripture."

If I have to choose between "scripture" (whatever that may be) and even just one Ela, I choose Ela. Why should I trust these words over the beating heart of a tiny, beautiful, innocent human being? There is no reason why I should, and there is no reason why Tyler or Michael should either.

In short, let's be honest about these texts, because the moment we allow ourselves to be dishonest (and Tyler is being dishonest), the moment we allow ourselves our double standards, the moment we substitute special pleading for sound reason—that's the moment God has ceased to speak to us, through scripture or otherwise.

Tyler Stewart said...

Thom,

I've thought about your comments quite a bit. I've imagined how you might respond to whatever I write and I think we're at an impasse.

I don't want to give up on scripture as a truthful representation of God. I don't want to because I am a part of a community that has always upheld scripture as truthful. To wrestle with this text as a Christian means to wrestle with it as authoritative scripture. As I mention below, Jesus himself saw the flood as a picture of God's justice (Mt 24.37‒39; Lk 17.26‒30).

Furthermore, I simply cannot see how subverting the text of scripture for my purposes ends with a picture of God that doesn't look just like me. I know me well enough to know that won't end well. I trust the writers of scripture and the church to help me hear this text as scripture even when it grates against whatever "sound reason" might say.

Do I want to give up on Ela? No, of course not. I remember visiting your beautiful daughter in the hospital those first few days of her life. I prayed and trusted that God would heal her. I believe he did. But if he hadn't, I wouldn't have considered him capricious. I believe God works beyond this life. I believe in resurrection and so while I shudder at the thought of a dying child I trust in a God who raises the dead. I also trust that God is wise and just to sort it out. Pat Robertson, we can agree, is not. Neither am I.

You'll no doubt accuse me of special pleading, of being dishonest, of being barbaric. I think I'm trying to be faithful to the text that shapes my identity as a Christian. Does this passage give licence to kill? No. Maybe it's too simple, but I believe that God has the right to do things that humans do not.

Most important to me is Jesus as the truest picture of God. He too read this narrative as a picture of God's retributive justice (Mt 24.37-39). The later NT writers also take the flood as a picture of God's righteous and retributive justice (2 Pet 2.6). Peter, or whoever you think wrote 1 Peter, also maintains that Jesus offered those who died in the flood a measure of grace in his own death (1 Pet 3.18-22). I believe these witnesses to be more insightful than me, or you for that matter.

I love you and the Elas. I believe Yahweh does too. He loves enough to die. He's powerful enough to rise and raise. I even believe that he's just enough to kill. You might think it quaint, or even wrong, to trust a book like the Bible the way I do, but I think it's faith. Not blind faith, but Christian faith. A faith that reads Christian scripture through the lens of the Christ.

Thom Stark said...

That's some fancy writing.

The fact of the matter is, your commitment to a human construct forces you to reconceptualize and smarten up texts that if they were found in any other context than your Bible, you yourself would say reflects the condemnable theologies and mythologies of ancient people. If Yahweh is just enough to kill babies, then so is Chemosh, so is Baal, so Marduk, so is Qaus and Ishtar. They're all just enough to kill, because all their followers say they are.

That's your logic and you're sticking to it.

Thom Stark said...

And Tyler, the fact that the NT sees something of retributive justice in the flood isn't like some magic trick automatically making the flood about retributive justice. The fact that Jesus is depicted as sharing the view of everybody else in his ethnic group about an ancient flood tradition: that's problematic for Jesus. That Jesus would affirm that God was right to kill thousands of babies for the sins of their parents, but then for you to affirm that in Jesus we see the fullest picture of God which is self-sacrificial love—that's problematic. I can't bring myself to believe that your brain is on autopilot like this—allowing "Jesus" to be a trump card in your argument.

Tyler, describing why you hold the text to be "authoritative scripture" is all well and good. You know full well that I'm fully aware of all that communitarian stuff. One of us introduced the other to their Hauerwas and MacIntyre if I recall (ambiguously).

But you say, "To wrestle with this text as a Christian means to wrestle with it as authoritative scripture."

That's precisely what I'm contesting. I'm offering an alternative way to wrestle with the text as a Christian. Are you saying anybody who wrestles with the text in a way similar to me is not a Christian? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're ecumenical perspective isn't narrowing rapidly. Here's what I'll assume you must mean:

I, Tyler Stewart, am in a community in which "wrestling" with the text as a Christian means "wrestling" with it as authoritative Scripture. And by "wrestling" with the text, my community means "accepting" what it says even when it contradicts everything about us that makes us moral human beings. Because I, Tyler Stewart, am in such a community, that puts limits on the approaches to Scripture I myself can accept. My ministry, and my income, and my future as presently conceived depend on it.

If that's what you're saying, that's an answer I can accept, and I think it's perfectly legitimate. So send me a PM and say so if that's what you mean.

But what I can't accept, and what I can't bring myself to believe you accept, is that a text in which a deity kills thousands of innocent children for the sins of their parents can be rightly described as a depiction of praiseworthy retributive justice, and that the strongest evidence for that is that other people who were cultically committed to that deity say that's what the text means.

On those grounds, every religious cult in history would be rendered legitimate. Thus, for you to turn around and say, but they're wrong and ours is right, well, that's, yes, special pleading. The very definition of it.

I can't bring myself to believe that you actually think this way, because I know you're much smarter than this. So I'll just assume that you're just doing your best to give the best possible representation of somebody else's views.

Thom Stark said...

Let me put it this way:

If you were Noah and God told you he was going to kill every one and that it was going to be retributive justice, how would you ask God how he could construe drowning babies as retributive justice? And what kind of answer could God give that would convince you it was justice?

Or, if you were walking with Jesus and he made mention of the flood under the assumption that it represented God's retributive justice, how would you ask Jesus how he could think such a thing about the killing of so many thousands of children, and what kind of answer could Jesus give that would convince you that God's killing those babies was just?

Come up with a real answer to these questions and I'll know you're not on autopilot, at the very least.

So far, you've only shirked the issue. I know you love Elas. That's not the issue.

michaeldefazio said...

Fancy, as well.

I'm going to go ahead and apologize because I likely won't follow-up on your response to the comments I'm making here. I'd like to say I'll try?

You are addressing one of the two salient points Tyler made here. He talked about belonging to a community who reads this text a certain way, and you responded to that. But you didn't respond to his other point, which relies on the fact that we read this as part of a narrative that culminates in Jesus, whose life culminates in resurrection. We believe in a God who raises the dead. That's probably the most important theological proposition of all. And we read that back into every story in the Old Testament, revealing something else (deeper? truer?) that can't be understood apart from this Christ-centered narrative re-reading of each of them individually and the story as a whole.

Is it special pleading (or whatever) to say that God can raise from the dead those who died in this display of retributive justice (to put it crassly) innocently? I guess maybe it is, but from within the narrative within which we've chosen to live (primarily because of the resurrection), it makes sense.

Resurrection is at the center of our narrative, which means we believe that God will RE-claim as his own and restore much about this world (certainly those parts that are "innocent").

Thom Stark said...

I already responded to DeFazio over the phone, so my response here will be superfluous to him. But anyway:

"Fancy, as well."

Bah!

"But you didn't respond to his other point, which relies on the fact that we read this as part of a narrative that culminates in Jesus, whose life culminates in resurrection."

Yes, I did. I said his use of Jesus as a trump card made his preferred understanding of Jesus problematic. If Jesus fully reveals God and God is nonviolent, self-sacrificial love, then a Jesus who affirms the justice of baby-killing is immediately at odds with Tyler's Jesus. Which is why I posed the question to Tyler: How would you ask Jesus how such a thing could be just, and what response could he give that would convince you?

"We believe in a God who raises the dead. That's probably the most important theological proposition of all."

Yeah, I didn't respond to this part because I find it ghastly and I was hoping it would go away or that Tyler didn't actually mean it. This is the most dangerous and scary use of "resurrection" Christians have produced, and it saddens me to see Tyler resorting to it when backed into a corner. To say that it's okay that God killed babies in the past because we know that God has the power to raise them from the dead is to represent a psychopathic theology. First of all, that exposes a lack of understanding of second temple ideas about resurrection. Despite Peter's obscure reference to the flood (which really just functions as a baptism typology in his argument), the reality is: resurrection was for the righteous and punishment for the wicked. If the babies were killed because they were corrupt, then resurrection isn't for them. If resurrection is for them, then they weren't killed because they were corrupt, and therefore their deaths were unjust.

Besides that obvious point, to say that it's OK for God to kill babies because he'll fix it later with a resurrection is probably one of the most nihilistic ideas a "Christian" could represent. It completely devalues the meaning of this life, as well as the meaning of resurrection. It says what happens to the body doesn't matter—isn't an issue of justice—because there's a "fix all" switch at the "end of time." It's so absurd I hardly think it worthy of comment, were it not such a poisonous ideology. Tyler would really do well never to think about heading that direction again. It undermines his whole project.

But as I said, it also devalues the resurrection. Resurrection is for martyrs and those who died faithful deaths in the Lord.

(con'd)

Thom Stark said...

"Is it special pleading (or whatever) to say that God can raise from the dead those who died in this display of retributive justice (to put it crassly) innocently? I guess maybe it is, but from within the narrative within which we've chosen to live (primarily because of the resurrection), it makes sense."

But here you go: in saying this you're conceding my position: God killed innocents. Thus, their deaths were not "retributive justice." In which case, these children have a legitimate beef against Yahweh and Tyler should not be defending him. If the martyrs can stand around the throne crying out, when O when will our blood be avenged, so can the babies in the flood. Except in the latter case, who is going to exact vengeance upon Yahweh? Who is going to make Yahweh pay for his misdeeds?

"Resurrection is at the center of our narrative, which means we believe that God will RE-claim as his own and restore much about this world (certainly those parts that are "innocent")."

Don't put quotes around "innocent" as if you want to qualify the innocence of a two month old baby.

The way you are defending resurrection here makes it a way for Yahweh to fix his former mistakes. That's not, I dare say, how it's used in the New Testament. It's like the flood was Yahweh painting with too broad a brush and the resurrection is Yahweh coming back and peeling off excess paint to make his painting more precise.

Why can't either of you just admit that the flood was an ancient tradition that predated its Hebrew versions (spliced together in Genesis) and that it represented an archaic view of divinity that we don't accept anymore. Tyler needs to drop this "I trust Scripture more than Thom or Pat Robertson" cop out. I'm glad Tyler trusts "Jesus's" and "Peter's" insights more than my own. Good for Tyler. But that's not an argument as to how killing babies can be considered just. It's just a trump card in a game I refuse to play.

Alex said...

Why should Tyler or Michael admit something that they do not believe (I'm assuming they don't believe it, otherwise, I believe, they probably would have by now admitted that they do believe it)?

Thom Stark said...

Tyler and Michael have both given me reason to think they should be able to admit this. Sorry you're not privy to every conversation I've ever had with Tyler and Michael.

Alex said...

Oh, no need to be sorry. That doesn't seem like anything I ought to be privy to. Or would need to be privy to, really, when asking in a public conversation about something that Tyler and Michael's public discourses do not make clear.

Thom Stark said...

Fair enough, friend.

Let me restate my appeal to them then: Please explain to me what is preventing you from seeing the flood narrative as the product of a standard ancient way of explaining natural phenomena, and as the product of a standard ancient way of thinking about divine retribution and human suffering. And, to Tyler again, let me reiterate my question: How would you ask God about the "justice" of baby-killing and what kind of response could he give that would convince you the killing of babies in the flood was just?