Monday, May 10, 2010

247: God is Unjust, According to God

Ezekiel 18-20
"He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people." - Ezekiel 18:17-18

In chapter 18 God objects to the Israelites using the proverb "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." This proverb is used to mean that when a father sins, his children (as well as he) will receive God's punishment. So what's God's objection? He clearly states that he will punish children for their father's sin in Exodus:
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me - Exodus 20:5
Fast forward to now, and God spends a whole chapter explaining why punishing children for their father's sins would be unjust. Which is it, God? Are you punishing the kids to the third and fourth generation, or just the fathers?

Chapter 19 compares Israel to a lioness and a vine (again). The lioness has all her cubs killed or imprisoned, and the vine is burned and transplanted into the desert. I'm really getting sick of God's metaphor fetish.

In chapter 20, the elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to inquire of God. God says (through Ezekiel) that he will not allow them to inquire. God explains why he won't let them inquire by going on a long rant about how the Israelites defiled him in the desert. As in, on the way to the promised land? What happened to not punishing the children/descendants of bad people. By not letting these Israelites (distant descendants of the Israelites in the desert) inquire of him, he is punishing them for their forefather's sins. God is again unjust, according to his own standards.

At the end of the chapter God says, "Go and serve your idols, every one of you! But afterward you will listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols." Could God possibly be any more whiny and immature? I've had middle school squabbles with similar endings. "Fine! Do it, I don't care!" I can appreciate God's frustration, Israel won't follow his ridiculous laws, but that's no excuse for an all powerful being to devolve into a bratty tween. Unfortunately, God's immature frustration usually ends with the murder of thousands.

This is a short letter to the editor today, but it's full of idiocy.
The 13th chapter of Romans tells us what we must do about the immigration law: "We must obey the law." The Bible says, "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers (governments) for they are servants of God to punish evil doers. If you resist the governments, you resist an ordinance of God; and will receive damnation, for they do not bear God's sword in vain."
This is cherry picking if I've ever seen it. There are also passages that say the edges of everyone's field should be left for the alien and the poor. Most illegal immigrants fall under both of these categories. What if the government declared that everyone was to be an atheist? Would Christians be bound by that law as it says in the bible? Oh right, I've forgotten the first rule of Christianity, only be a biblical literalist when it furthers your political/economic goals. Silly me.

In his last paragraph he gets a little off track (i.e. not about the bible) but the stupid is too great to not comment on:
If an officer stops you and asks to see your driver's license and car insurance, he is just doing his job. But if he asks if you are a citizen, he profiled you. That is really, really dumb. He is still just doing his job. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say any different.
This is, of course, in reference to Arizona's new ridiculous law allowing officers to search or even detain people that look like illegals. Unfortunately for this writer, he forgot to actually read his Constitution before commenting on it. I'll quote the fourth amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Skin color or appearance is not probable cause, and it's certainly not an oath or affirmation that the person in question is an illegal immigrant. Sorry, the Constitution clearly states otherwise.

(via Yuma Sun)


  1. You have an interesting blog. I commend you on your study of the scriptures. However, are you aware that theologians have taken issues like these very seriously throughout the ages? If you would like to study the so-called contradictions of the Bible, then I think studying the writings of these greats would be appropriate – if only to understand a perspective you disagree with.

    Your understanding of Christian soteriology will affect your ability to make sense of these passages. Here are a few thoughts you can mull over on the particular problem you raised in this post:

    First, Exodus 20: 5 refers to the just penalties passed down from generation to generation “of those who hate” God. Ezekiel 18 argues that a man receives judgment for his own actions and not the works of his father – whether for good or ill. Some questions, then, that must be raised if these passages are not immediately rejected after a cursory reading:

    1. Is the type of “judgment” mentioned in these passages and other similar verses (i.e. Deuteronomy 5 and 24, Leviticus 26, 2 Kings 14, and Jeremiah 31) always the same, or sometimes different?
    2. How does the biblical concept of grace color the meaning of these passages? In other words, what is grace and what does the Bible say about those who do not receive grace? See Psalm 10: 4 and Romans 8: 7
    3. Could God’s judgment in some of these passages be the withholding of common grace?
    4. Was the audience Ezekiel addressing righteous? Was Ezekiel arguing that they would not be judged because they were sinless?

    Also, for an understanding of why God refused the inquiry of the elders in chapter 20, read chapter 14 verse 3.

  2. In Exodus 20:5, the language is a little contradictory. If God is only punishing to the 3rd and 4th generation those who "hate" him, in other words, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren are being punished for their own sins, then why does he state that he is "punishing the children for the sin of the fathers"? Which is it? Is he punishing them for the sins of their fathers or their own sins? Moreover, the grammar is ambiguous in English in the phrase "of those who hate me"? Does he mean that the 3rd and 4th generations hate him (too) or that the fathers hate him? If the latter, then your apology is without substance; if the former, then we merely have an inconsistency, without that verse alone.

    Of course this is not the only place where God says he will punish to the 3rd and 4th generation, and I doubt that there is this qualification ("of those who hate me") every time, but we can check.

    Moreover, we don't need to look at his words, because by his actions we can quite clearly see that he DOES punish children for the sins of their fathers, repeatedly. How many times does he command that a town or people be wiped out, usually for worshiping idols, or just not being his people? And when he orders then killed, he means everyone - man, woman, child, even their animals! Do infants worship idols? How about making people eat their children? Collective punishment is clearly God's modus operandi in the OT, so it's way too late (and grossly hypocritical) for him to try to claim that it would be unjust to punish children for the sins of their fathers.

    As for grace - that is a Christian concept introduced in the NT. The Jewish writers of the OT did not have such a concept when they wrote this, and I'm sure they wouldn't appreciate you reading into their sacred texts like that, anymore than Muslims do with the Bible. Whoever wrote Ezekiel was not thinking of grace.

    But let's play along for the sake of argument and pretend that grace has anything to do with this. Choosing to "withhold grace" is still the same thing as choosing to inflict punishment, especially for an omnipotent being who chooses to bestow that grace anyway. Moreover, if he is "withholding grace" because of some actions of the Israelites of which he doesn't approve, then clearly this is just a punishment for their actions by another name, since if they really received grace not by anything that they did to deserve it then they shouldn't lose it by their actions either. And that still doesn't explain why he chose to "withhold grace" for the children who will suffer either.

  3. Ezekiel 18:
    "5 Suppose there is a righteous man
    who does what is just and right.

    6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
    He does not defile his neighbor's wife
    or lie with a woman during her period."

    Apparently having sex with (any) woman during her period is a crime worthy of the death penalty. Just once I'd love to see someone introduce a bill in some State legislature or even Congress that lists all the crimes in, say, Deuteronomy with their punishments as designated in the Bible. That debate would be priceless.

    Ezekiel 18 talks a lot about how a righteous man will live but one who is not will die. Presumably God is talking about the near term, since eventually everyone will die. But then he says that if a wicked man turns away from his sin he will live. So does this mean God will wait a while to give him a chance to repent? Then how come he is so often depicted in earlier books as striking people down immediately for their crimes?

  4. The Ezekiel passage actually illuminates and clarifies the meaning of the Exodus one. What is the context of the message in Ezekiel? The Israelites were complaining they were in exile because of the faults of their ancestors. They believed they had done nothing to merit their hopeless circumstances. They thought they were thoroughly innocent, and a heavy-handed God was forcing them to pay for the sins of their fathers.

    The prophets reminded the people that God does not mete out punishment to the innocent. Yet the Israelites were not blameless. Thus, through Ezekiel, God declared that just as they could not be punished for the sins of their father, they also could not expect to live off the good acts of their fathers. Instead, “The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself” (v 20).

    In Exodus, God makes it very clear that his punishment is deserved since He only penalizes those who hate him. So in what sense is God actually punishing for the sins of the fathers – and is such an act unjust?

    I suggested that the idea of grace would be helpful in understanding these verses. By the way, the concept of grace is definitely in the Old Testament. See Genesis 6: 8, Genesis 39: 4, Exodus 33: 13, Numbers 6: 24-26, Psalm 23: 6, Psalm 45: 2, Psalm 84: 11, Isaiah 13: 18, Micah 7: 18-20, Esther 2: 17, and Jonah 4: 2. This list is in no way exhaustive. But what exactly is grace?

    Webster defines it as “an unmerited divine assistance given to humans.” If you study the concept of grace further, you will find that theologians further distinguish between common grace and saving grace.

    Grace is a gift, and it is undeserved (Romans 11: 6 and Ephesians 2: 8-9). God is hardly unjust for withholding a gift – and if denying common grace results in hate for God, the person who is deprived of grace is still responsible for his hate. He cannot lay claim to or pretend to deserve a gift of God.

    Why would God destroy children? Does sin not affect children? Whatever you decide on this issue personally, you should at least be aware of what the Bible says on this matter. See Psalm 51: 5

    Concerning the detailed crimes of the Old Testament, theologians differentiate between ceremonial law and moral law. Familiarization of these concepts is necessary to understanding the Bible and giving it a fair, unbiased reading. Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading the thoughts of Christian scholars throughout the history of the Christian religion. I am not qualified to answer all of these questions, but I know that someone – often many people, has answered all the difficult problems that are raised. I may not accept the responses I read, but I must at least consider them. Very learned men have taken very seriously the charge that the Bible is contradictory. You cannot claim to have studied the Bible in an impartial way if you have not consulted these thinkers.

  5. "You cannot claim to have studied the Bible in an impartial way if you have not consulted these thinkers."

    This is an important point, but we do have to be careful of scope all the same.
    In terms of the writer of this blog, I believe Bryan has pretty much admitted that his agenda is quite small and definitely not impartial-- to read the Bible and point out that there are glaring contradictions, and little beyond that. He is just taking the Bible 'as is' and demonstrating the very real difficulty in finding the spiritual/religious value in the book. To quote a few others, "the book condemns itself."

    As to the Christian scholars, study and time may make an expert but they do not necessarily make an authority. The game here is not to come up with the best excuses for the Bible or for God for that matter. The game is being honest with our values and our beliefs.

  6. Thanks for the comment. I agree with you when you say we should not make excuses for the Bible. My point was to show that the Bible is not so obviously a self-defeating work. Contractions seem to exist when approached with an anti-religious point of view, but are they there? You, Bryan, or I may decide that the Bible does condemn itself, but before we make this conclusion, we must first get inside the perspective of those scholars who have argued for the rational integrity of scripture. Levelheaded open-mindedness is very difficult – if not altogether impossible. All men tend to view a topic through the lens of their underlying worldview, so the only way we can pretend to be objective and unprejudiced is if we force ourselves to adopt temporatily the mindset of others – in this case, the ideas of the great Christian thinkers.

  7. "Levelheaded open-mindedness is very difficult – if not altogether impossible."

    Amen, bro, Amen. I'm so with you. Well,except maybe towards apologetics. I admit that I have a prejudice against apologetics. :-)

    I've been occasionally harping here with my comments that the Bible does have some incredible insights and lessons to share if it is treated as literature. The running themes of human attitudes towards sacrifice, submission, morality and responsibility do have strange merit. Often they are worth more thought because of the glaring contradictory natures of the God(s) represented in the stories. Unfortunately, well, serious and deep study is just not as easy or fun as bashing the glaring flaws...

    But yea, any book that has been around for thousands of years, and been through thousands of editing jobs, deserves a little respect and patience. It may not necessarily be TRUTH, but it sure paints a picture of some of the changes humanity has gone through (or still needs to go through...)

  8. "All men tend to view a topic through the lens of their underlying worldview, so the only way we can pretend to be objective and unprejudiced is if we force ourselves to adopt temporarily the mindset of others – in this case, the ideas of the great Christian thinkers."

    Why adopt the view of "great Christian thinkers"? After all, they're NOT the ones who wrote the OT? You should start by viewing it from the prospective of the Jewish people who actually wrote this, and see what they were trying to say, without reading into the text based upon the rationalizations of other people hundreds of years later.

    And moreover, it's not like Christians are unbiased. By all means, look at what Christians have to say, and then look at what non-Christians have to say. And even more important, use your own judgment and think about what the book is actually saying, not what someone else claims it is saying.

    It is often claimed that this book is God's word to man. If so, then it shouldn't need the interpretation of "great thinkers" to understand the message.

  9. You haven't really addressed the fundamental point I was making. Let's start with Ezekiel. In the first 20 chapters, God so far has stated that he will "punish" the Israelites for their actions, in particular, worshiping other God's and otherwise defying his laws. He then explains in chapter 18 that this is because of their own actions, not those of previous generations. Moreover, he concedes that to punish children for the actions of their fathers would be unjust. But within even this book, God is depicted as exterminating the children of the Israelites (to the point that they will be "childless," an expression he uses twice, with the meaning that the children will be killed, not that the Israelites will be infertile). Why did he have them killed? He repeatedly emphasizes that this punishment is for worshiping other Gods and idols, etc., which is not behavior that one could accuse an infant of engaging in. (There's no mention of anyone "hating" God in this book, but it doesn't matter since infants could hardly be guilty of that, either.) Thus by God's own standard he is unjust.

    This is hardly surprising. Throughout the OT whole towns are wiped out for the actions of the adults there without any recognition on the parts of the author of the injustice of this treatment of the young children. And it's not like this is justified by appealing to any "original sin" (the most egregious example of punishing someone for the sins of previous generations if ever there was one); rather, it just never seems to have occurred to the authors b/c children are just not treated in the OT as if they are humans fulling deserving of having their wishes respected. Look at Job for another example of children being treated like objects.

  10. @bzaffini
    "Grace is a gift, and it is undeserved. God is hardly unjust for withholding a gift"

    Instead of me refuting you, I'll just have God handle it:

    1. Ezekiel 5:11: "Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor"

    So, since this favor is the same favor that appears in those Genesis verses you cited as examples of Grace, here God is talking about "withholding his Grace," as you like to put it. [Moreover, the reason for withholding it is because of the Israelites' practices and images in God's temple, not something that infants could be accused of.]

    2. Ezekiel 5:8: "Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations."
    Ezekiel 5:10: "I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds."

    Therefore, the punishment in this case in the same as the withholding of grace, or at least, the withholding of grace is part of that punishment.

    3. Ezekiel 18: The whole point of this chapter is that God claims that he is just since he only punishes people for their own sins, not those of others. The implication is the punishment he is inflicting would be unjust if it is for someone else's sins. But since this punishment included the withholding of grace, apparently withholding of grace under certain circumstances would be unjust; otherwise, there would be no need for God to be so defensive - he could just say, "I'll punish anyone I want, since I created the world, and who cares what your opinion is," like he did in Job.

    So there you have it, straight from the horse (or is it donkey's?) mouth - it could be unjust under some circumstances for God to withhold his grace.



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