Self-Worth, Ministry, and Misery—6

Who Will Be Greatest in God’s Kingdom?

Yesterday I gave the second reason as to why we can’t know who will be greatest in God’s kingdom. Today, I finish this series. We can’t know who will be greatest in God’s Kingdom because Jesus’ criterion for greatness in God’s Kingdom isn’t obvious.

In Matthew 20:21 we read that Jesus was asked if two of his disciples could sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand in his Kingdom. Jesus could have replied a lot of things. One thing he could have replied was “It doesn’t work like that! Everyone is going to be equal in the Kingdom. You’ll all get to take turns sitting at my right and left hand.”

But Jesus didn’t say that.

Instead Jesus said in v. 23, “to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” In other words, some will have honors that others don’t. Does this make you want to get more Twitter followers? That’s not the criterion. Then in vv. 26-28 Jesus tells us the criterion for who will be great in His Kingdom: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

So there it is! Who will be greatest in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on academic accolades, audience size, book sales, blog numbers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. Rather, if you want to be great in God’s kingdom, then be a loving servant!

Again, I am by no means perfect at this. Not even close! But I’ve learned that getting myself off the fool’s gold standard of ministry success has diminished my lusts generated from feeling the need to compare myself to others. It’s freeing!

I encourage you to memorize 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

Jean E. and I quote these verses to each other regularly. Sometimes to drive the point home we even reverse the intent: “I care very much if I’m judged by you or any human court. In fact, I even judge myself by your opinion of me.” These verses help us remember that we must be faithful over what God has entrusted us, and that, at The End of All Things, only His opinion matters.

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Self-Worth, Ministry, and Misery—5

We All Have Different Gifting

In yesterday’s post I gave the first reason we can’t know who will be greatest in God’s Kingdom. The second reason we can’t know who will be greatest in God’s Kingdom is because we all have different gifting. Here’s one of the biggest ministry follies: we think that the one that speaks to the most people or sells the most books must be the greatest. That’s not God’s system! That’s the fool’s gold standard of what’s spiritually valuable.

Boasting about the number of books published or accolades received is inherently worldly (the joke at pastor’s conferences is that the first question asked is “how many people attend your church?”). Basing our self-worth on numbers is no more spiritual than thinking someone is great because they are the CEO of a Fortune 500. Of course, by that logic, the CEO of the biggest Fortune 500 is greater than the CEO of the second largest, and so on. Similarly, the guy who teaches 30 people in his Sunday school class is by that standard more valuable than the guy who teaches 25.

The Lord doesn’t judge our performance as if we were all on a single ladder with Tim Keller, William Lane Craig, or ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________ on the highest rungs, then other leaders on rungs lower than them but higher than us, based on their audience size (or whatever we value), then there’s us, then there are all the people that, in our minds, have accomplished less than us down the ladder. If we base our self-worth on that then we will never feel good about ourselves because there’s always someone who is doing better, or at least perceived to be doing better. If we think  our self-worth is based on how we compare to ­­­­­­­­­____________ then we’ll get very lustful and go a little crazy. Thankfully, we don’t have to do that.

Also, even if you do make it to the very top, that won’t last long and others will certainly try to knock you off. Although some ministry criticism is warranted, sadly, a lot of criticism of this or that ministry springs from jealously—“Yeah, he’s got a big following but I’m not compromising the Gospel like he is!”

In fact, basing your self-worth on your audience size is no more spiritual than basing your self-worth on the size of your bank account or, for that matter, the size of your bicepts or breasts. Now, I’m not suggesting that Christians can’t publish their bios. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what others have spent their lives working on or specializing in. The folly is thinking that we can judge the Lord’s impression of His servants by those accomplishments. We can’t. As Paul said in Galatians 6:3-5,

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

I’ve been given advantages that some others might not have been given, and others have been given more advantages than I’ve been given. Our Lord doesn’t compare us with each other. The Lord doesn’t grade on a curve. The Lord knows what load He gave each of us, knows what advantages He gave each of us, and He is going to judge us based on how far we go with what we He gave us. Thus the Lord might be more pleased with the convalescent home worker who is faithful over what she has been given than the most famous minister.

Frankly, this thought humbles me (and that’s always good). It’s humbling because I know God has given me certain opportunities that others might not enjoy and that means I will be judged more strictly.

Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Get it? If someone has been given more talents then that person will be more severely judged. Similarly, James 3:1 warns us that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Some Christians have been given advantages that I haven’t (for example, some have towering IQs) but I’m not going to be judged by their gifts! Also, I’ve been given some advantages that others haven’t—if I don’t use these gifts humbly and wisely then I will be judged for not doing so. We’re going to be judged by how far we got with what He has given us.

After all, who is the bigger business success? The guy who came from rich parents, went to the best schools, and then succeeded in growing a 100 million dollar business into a billion dollar business or the guy who started from poverty, attended the JC, and started his own company which grew a 100 million dollar business? There’s no simple answer to that.

When it comes to ministry, we have each been given advantages and disadvantages. Some of us are smarter, more creative, more connected, more __________ than others. But we are all going to stand before the Judgment and give an account of ourselves based on what God had given us and no worldly calculation will tell us what the Lord will conclude. Thankfully, if we truly are Christians, we can do a cruddy job with what God has given us and still be saved (1 Cor. 3:15), but who wants that?

I’ll finish this series tomorrow.

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Self-Worth, Ministry, and Misery—4

God Judges the Heart

In my last post I said there were three reasons we can’t know who will be greatest in God’s Kingdom. The first is because God judges the heart and we’re no good at that. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

Notice our motives for what we did will be exposed. Also, notice we are not to judge other people’s motives (many Christians commit this sin). Paul even says that he doesn’t even judge himself. You see, God judges the heart and in the Lord’s considered opinion your motive for doing what you do can be more important than what you do. Remember 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Doesn’t this passage tell us that we can deliver the best sermons, teach the best apologetics lectures, or write the most respected books but if we don’t do it from love, then from God’s perspective, we “gain nothing”? That is what it says, right?

There are, after all, a lot of outward rewards for doing well in public ministry. There can be fame, respect, travel, and honorariums. That’s a lot of worldly stuff and we are naturally attracted to that stuff. This can motivate Christians to seek public ministry and then to work very hard to make their ministries ever bigger. It can also lead to a lot of worldly pride: “I have more respected degrees from better schools, teach bigger crowds, write more books, have more Twitter followers than he/she does.”

When we build our self-worth on our ministry success slights are hard. When I was at Simon Greenleaf University a 30 something prof came into my office and ranted on about how Talbot should have hired him for a theology post. He said he was eminently more qualified than the person they hired. When he left my office I thought he just might be academically more qualified but the Lord tends to resist those who vaunt themselves.

Sadly, “I’m more qualified than they are” tempts all of us. Benjamin Franklin’s saying “if you want to know a person’s faults, praise him to his peers” is all too true. We are tempted to bring others down a notch (or ten) to make ourselves look better. I’ve done this. Haven’t you? Thankfully, I’m not perfect at this but I’ve learned that when I feel slighted, when I’ve been passed over for an opportunity, my mental refrain has become, “I work for you, Father. I work for you.” After all, if He is pleased with us, the value of what others think isn’t very important. On the other hand, if He is displeased, then standing ovations are dangerous. God judges our hearts and if we’re not great in God’s eyes, then it doesn’t matter what our mother thinks or even what a million other Christians might think. So, as Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart.”

I find this thought comforting and humbling. It is comforting because our praise from God won’t be based on my one-upping other ministers or their one-upping me. It is humbling because I know that too often my motives aren’t what they should be. By the way, sometimes I’ve heard Christians say that they aren’t going to minister in this way or that because their motives aren’t pure. That’s mistaken: We need to be of service and employ the gifts God has given us even when we don’t run on pure fuel.

So who is greatest by this standard? Only God knows and soon we will all receive our praise from Him.

I find this freeing.

Tomorrow–another reason why we can’t say who’s greatest.

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Self-Worth, Ministry, and Misery—3

In my prior post I talked about how the Lord humbled me and I quit my ministry position. Well, when I was just finishing up my M.Div. (this was 1980), I was hired as an associate pastor by a church which soon had an average attendance of about 5,000. But I didn’t say “Check!” this time. I had learned that I must not climb the ministerial fame latter, that I needed to please the Lord.

I began to dread communion services at that church because it seemed like every time we had communion some guy would come up and confess the sin of hating me for my getting the position he wanted! I’m not kidding. A senior pastor later half-kidded that when he brought me on staff “half the guys in the church just about lost their salvation.”

Thankfully, during my time there, the Lord began to reveal to me the glory that awaits us in heaven for ever. What we all need is to learn to lust after God and His Kingdom. After all, I know something about you (and by that I mean everyone in the world including those reading these words): we are all going to lust after something and we’re either going to lust after God and His Kingdom or we’re going to lust after people, possessions, positions, or pleasures. But no matter what, we are going to lust. I’ve posted on this.

My position in the church of 5,000 only lasted about three-and-one-half years (we were going in different theological directions), and I was again out of ministry and a job.

I decided I was going to start a church but that didn’t materialize and I spent years working in the insurance industry and teaching a Bible study to only about ten people (the Lord loves His servants enduring long periods of obscurity but that’s a topic for another time). Now I wish I could tell you that from then on I built my identity only on who I was in Christ. I was doing much, much better but it’s still a struggle. Thankfully, I’ve learned some major truths that have helped immensely (the Lord also beat the crud out of me through many trials like bone cancer but that’s also a topic for another time).

Who Is Going to Be Greatest in God’s Kingdom?

Here’s a realization that helps me build my identity on who I am in Jesus. I ask students all the time, who is going to be greater in the Kingdom of God: Tim Keller, William Lane Craig, _____________, or the Christian woman who was abused as a child, who wasn’t able to go to college, who isn’t brilliant, who isn’t particularly good looking, and who works in a convalescent home? But in this convalescent home she loves the people she cares for. She cares for them like she was caring for Christ Himself. She cares for them because she sincerely loves them, and she shares Christ with them as she has the opportunity.

Then I ask

Who’s going be greater in the Kingdom of God?

There is always silence.

Then I say: “there is only one possible answer.”

Students always laugh but I’m not kidding.

There is only one possible answer.

The only possible answer is, “I don’t know!”

But I know for sure that the answer isn’t necessarily Tim Keller, William Lane Craig, or _____________. It might be one of them but that’s not a given.

There are three major reasons that we can’t say who will be greatest in the Kingdom of God.

I’ll continue this Monday.

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Self-Worth, Ministry, and Misery—2

I ended yesterday’s post telling about my ministerial jealousy and how I became very tired.

In fact, I got so tired that I would wake up, have breakfast, and take a nap. Then I’d wake up, have lunch, and take a nap. Then I’d wake up, have dinner, and take a nap. And so on. I decided to self-diagnose “extreme tiredness” and the first thing I stumbled upon was leukemia and now I had another thing to worry about.

Finally I went to the doctor and he ran some tests and told me that I was hypoglycemic. He told me to eat only protein and to start exercising hard on a daily basis. This did help but only so much. Even so, I really did want to please the Lord and I was reading my Bible daily. I even apologized to a youth guy for being jealous of him!

But I was still a bitter, tired, frustrated mess, and I did so poorly in school that semester that I got put on academic probation even though I dropped everything but one class!

Then one evening I was in a pool playing Marco Polo with some high school students and, while underwater, I suddenly felt a sharp twang in my left shoulder. Two thoughts occurred almost simultaneously: “I’ve just dislocated my shoulder” and “Do not be a mule without understanding!” (Psalm 32:9). That later thought struck me harder than the former.

When I surfaced I announced, “I’ve just dislocated my shoulder!” One of the high school students said he knew how to reset my shoulder, so standing on the deck while I was still in the water, he started yanking my arm upward. We soon realized that he actually had no idea how to reset a shoulder. It got reset in the emergency room and I was given a shoulder immobilizer which meant that I couldn’t run or do any other kind of meaningful exercise. So now I had hypoglycemia and was constantly tired, was getting Big Macs but throwing away the buns, couldn’t exercise, couldn’t sleep comfortably because of my shoulder, was jealous, bitter, and felt like a ministry failure.

I was broken.

I knew I had been building my self-worth on my ministry success and I now realized that this not only displeased the Lord—He wasn’t going to put up with it! I appreciated that! Really. I felt loved. A day or two later I resigned from being a youth minister—effective immediately (sorry CE director—I could have handled that better!). I took stock of my life and I repented for loving this world and for looking for glory from other humans.

I don’t think I recited my “youth pastor of a mega-church, associate pastor of a mega-church, pastor of a mega-church…” mantra thingy ever again.

I was changed. Not even remotely perfect, but different. And I started getting better but there was still more to learn. You see, you can’t just stop lusting after the wrong things: you need to start lusting after the right things and that was still to come.

But now I was out of ministry and out of a job.

More tomorrow.

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Self-Worth, Ministry, and Misery-1

Most people get their self-worth from their vocations and this is no less true for those in Christian ministry. Most Christians in ministry—whether apologetics or other Christian ministry—want to become renowned, or at least more well-known, more respected than they are. We see other renowned ministers and we wish we could have the renown they have and we strive to get it because we base our self-worth on our ministry success. Many of us Christians realize that we will never be Tim Keller, William Lane Craig, or [fill in the blank of your favorite minister or apologist] _____________, but we are trying to get as close to famous as we possibly can.

Obviously this temptation is greater for full-time ministers but this temptation also occurs when people vie to be the most respected Sunday school teacher in their church, or the best worship leader, etc.

Some of us in ministry may never have consciously realized that this is what we are doing. All we know is that we lust to be more renowned, more respected. The majority of Christians in public ministry struggle with this because it is so easy to base self-worth on ministry success. And this is disastrously destructive to disciples of Jesus.

The reason this is destructive to discipleship is that basing our self-worth on ministry success fosters selfish ambition, jealousy, and every kind of lust. As we read in James 3:16: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” We should not be surprised, then, that so many famous and not so famous ministers supernova in a sex scandal. Lust is lust.

In the last couple of years I’ve had some candid conversations with famous apologists about self-worth and ministry and they’ve confessed that they struggle not to base their self-worth on their ministry success.

I’ve certainly struggled with it! Thankfully, however, this has diminished  over the years (but not disappeared—I’m working on that!) as I’ve internalized several Scriptural truths.

My Self-Worth Story

I became a Christian in 1969 and by 1970 I was devouring the New Testament (I didn’t get to the OT for quite some time). By 1972 I was the 16-year-old co-leader of a high school ministry on my campus that met for several years. We had about 65 high school students meeting in my parents’ house every Saturday night. The head ministry honcho was 19 and I was second in charge. I taught Bible studies to those students, and (I know this is bizarre, but it was during the Jesus movement) many of them called me “pastor.” Frankly, mentioning this is embarrassing.

This early success fed a lust for human acclamation but I really did also want to please the Lord.

Soon I set my ministry goal of being the pastor of a mega, mega-church. It was going to work like this: I was going to become the youth minister at a mega-church, then I was going to be the associate pastor of a mega-church, then I was going to be the senior pastor of a mega-church, and then I was going to be the senior pastor of an even bigger mega-church. Those were conscious thoughts. I had those thoughts all the time. I repeated them like a mantra; they ran through my head regularly (by the way, I never desired being on TV).

Well, as soon as I graduated from college I started my M.Div. and I became a high school youth minister in a church with about 10,000 in regular attendance.

Check!

I was on my way! God’s man of power in the hour!

Sadly, however, the Christian education director didn’t see in me the glory that was there. The CE director was holding me back from the recognition I deserved! He liked another youth guy better!

Although my position was secure, I became jealous over the lack of recognition and boy was I working at making it big. Let me say again that I really did want to please the Lord in spite of this worldly lust.

One day the college pastor passed me as he was walking up the stairs to the church office and pronounced, “You’re just trying to build your own little kingdom!”

I could have said a lot of things. I could have replied that he got me wrong, that I just wanted to please the Lord (that would have been a lie). I could have said that I knew I had those lusts in my heart but that was something I was working on (that wasn’t exactly true either).

So, being very, very spiritual, I shot back: “So are you!”

I’d like to claim that at least I was being honest but I’m not sure he was trying to build his own little kingdom! I paid little attention to him, after all, as I was totally focused on my ministry.

Soon my jealously turned into bitterness and then I got tired. Very tired.

Continued tomorrow.

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Why Did God Let That Child Die?

Perhaps the most difficult and emotionally charged question ever asked the pastor or apologist is why God let a particular child suffer or die. The question is rarely abstract. I’ve never been asked why God lets children die. I’m asked why God let six-year-old Ethan get killed by a car while he was skateboarding or why God let four-year-old Kaylee die of leukemia. The typical Christian answer is, “We won’t know until we get to heaven.” Of course, we will certainly know more when we get to heaven, but is that all we can answer? I suggest we know more than that. We may not know all of God’s reasons for letting a particular child die at a particular moment, but we can answer why God allows children to die.

Note that this article isn’t directed toward those who have just lost a child. My wife, Jean, and I experienced five miscarriages, which led to our never having children and we know firsthand what it is like to have Christians try to “solve” grief.1  Those who grieve rarely search for explanations of how God works in the universe. Instead, they need hugs and maybe meals. The Scripture tells us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). But there comes a time, when the initial anguish subsides, that people seek the larger picture of what God is doing in the universe.

WHAT CAUSES CHILDREN TO SUFFER AND DIE?

Children suffer and die due to three main causes. First, children suffer and die due to pestilence and disease enabled when the Lord cursed the ground after Adam and Eve sinned. He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, thus barring humans from the rejuvenating power of the Tree of Life. God warned Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17), and He didn’t add “at a ripe old age of natural causes.” He just said, “You will surely die,” and we’ve been attending funerals ever since. Second, children also suffer and die because of the mistakes and sins of others, such as leaving a pool gate unsecured, drunk driving, murder, and so on. Third, children suffer and die because natural laws work in regular ways: the gravity that keeps us on planet Earth also enables fatal falls; the fire that warms also burns; the water in which we swim can also drown.

Disease, sins, and consistent natural laws, then, are the main reasons that children die. That brings us to the question, why doesn’t God afford children special protection?

Keep reading my article in the Christian Research Journal.

  1. Jean has written about her experience: Jean E. Jones, “The Journey of Childlessness,” Today’s Christian Woman, April 2010, available at http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/ articles/2010/april/journeychildlessness.html. []
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Misunderstanding the Canaanite Hyperbole Argument

One thing every professor knows firsthand is that too many of students either don’t read the assigned material at all (shocking!) or, if they do “read” it, they don’t read it carefully. Instead these students think they know enough about the book or article to discuss it intelligently (or not!). As I’ve said in previous posts, I really like Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan’s, Did God Really Command Genocide?, and I’ve learned much from it, but I’ve also found that a lot of people have misunderstood exactly how far they take the warfare hyperbole argument. It’s my experience that some Christians either haven’t read their book carefully, or they haven’t read their book at all, but they’ve heard their book uses the words “Canaanite” and “hyperbole” in the same sentence, and so assume they can waive away the killing of Canaanite non-combatants as hyperbolic.

That’s mistaken.

Copan and Flannagan rightly do agree that Scripture reveals that sometimes God has commanded the killing of noncombatants. Pay close attention to these words: “Hence, even if God does not command us with these texts to kill innocent people, and even if the texts don’t envision genocide, they still seem to suggest that a loving and just God did command killing the innocent on a particular occasion. This would mean that God on at least one occasion endorsed violations of the principle of noncombatant immunity.”[1] A “noncombatant” would largely mean women and children (and perhaps the elderly), right? So, in other words, they agree that it has occurred that God has ordered the killing of women and children. As I said, I find that for some not-so-careful readers that this will come as a surprise.

Copan and Flannagan continue,

William Lane Craig similarly concedes that “it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated.” So even if we accept that God did not command the extermination of all the Canaanites, and even if we grant the types of warfare involved, then it still seems to involve the killing of the innocent in the sense of killing non-combatants. Even if the phrases “they completely destroyed everyone in it” and “left no survivors” are obviously hyperbole, where does that leave us? How many women and children is it acceptable to slaughter before it becomes morally problematic? Raymond Bradley rejoins, “Does this make God any less guilty? What sort of perverted morality would lead one to conclude: ‘not all of them? Oh! I suppose that’s OK then’?”[2]

So, again, Copan and Flannagan do not argue that God never ordered the killing of innocents. They approvingly quote William Lane Craig who writes that “In very unusual circumstances in the past, God commanded people to kill the innocent for the sake of some greater good.”[3] I completely agree!

Elsewhere Copan and Flannagan summarize where they are going in their book, “Then in chapters 15-17, we will defend the thesis that in very unusual circumstances, God commanded people to kill the innocent for the sake of some greater good.”[4] And finally: “We can conclude then that one can coherently and defensibly attribute to God commands to kill innocent human beings under certain conditions.”[5] I completely agree.

Now, all this being said, why are we so concerned about the killing of Canaanite non-combatants anyway? After all, if the evidence I’ve adduced in previous posts is correct, then this wasn’t the traditional human war over land or treasure. Instead, God’s commands to kill the Canaanites that remained were about capital punishment. Sure, God gave the Canaanites ample opportunity to flee (as Copan and Flannagan rightly emphasize) but in God’s considered opinion, those of the age of accountability who refused to flee were in no sense innocent and that certainly includes all the females. Yes, the killing of children is a different issue but I’ve dealt with that previously.

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Amen.

[1] Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 142-143. Emphasis theirs.

[2] Ibid., 143.

[3] Ibid., 145.

[4] Ibid., 146.

[5] Ibid., 207.

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Canaanite Hyperbole Interpretation Inconsistent

In my last post I suggested that appealing to hyperbole doesn’t offset the charge of divine genocide as there are two other Biblical events where God did kill every man, woman, and childNoah’s flood and the destruction of the Canaanite cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this post I want to examine what I think is a serious problem with the Canaanite hyperbole interpretation: Scripture reveals that God meted out precisely and literally the punishment He said he would inflict on Israel when Israel committed the same Canaanite sins. I call this the non-parallel problem.

The Not-Parallel Problem

One of the biggest problems with calling the command to destroy everything that breaths among the Canaanites “warfare hyperbole” is that God threatened Israel with similar destruction and we know those threats weren’t hyperbole. God told Israel that if they let the Canaanites live among them that they would soon commit the sins of the Canaanites, and when they did, He said, “I will do to you what I plan to do to them” (Number 33:56).[1] Thus my argument is that if God did exactly, literally what He said He would do to the Israelites—that is, if He wasn’t using hyperbole—then it is inconsistent to claim that God used hyperbole to describe what He said He wanted done to the Canaanites.

So let’s look at what God threatened would happen to Israel if they committed the sins of the Canaanites and lost His protection.

Rape

In Deuteronomy 28:30, the Lord warned that in disobedient Israel, a man “will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her.” Lamentations 5:11 tells what happened when the Babylonians seized Jerusalem: “Women are raped in Zion, young women in the towns of Judah.”[2] No hyperbole there. Continue reading

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Hyperbole Interpretation Not Helpful for Canaanite Conquest

Arguably the most difficult story in the Old Testament is the killing of the Canaanites. Some have attempted to soften this hard story by saying that certain passages are hyperbole. Perhaps the most prolific purveyors of this theory are Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan in their book, Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.[1] In that work, Copan and Flannagan write that some of the more difficult passages should not be read in a “straightforward, literal way.”[2] Instead, the “commands to ‘utterly destroy’ and ‘leave nothing alive that breathes,’” are “hyperbolic (using exaggerated language).”[3] Now, I greatly respect Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, I consider them friends, and I find their work extremely helpful. In fact, I employed their arguments in my last post. But, I see problems with the hyperbole interpretation.

First, the biggest problem with the hyperbole interpretation is that I don’t think Scripture allows for it. Rather, the unforced reading of the text is that God did intend that Israel should kill every man, woman, and child who didn’t flee the land that God had given Israel. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Second, I don’t think the hyperbole interpretation accomplishes much because we are still left with two other examples of God killing every man, woman, and child in a particular Continue reading

Posted in Apologetics, Canaanites, Why God Allows Evil | Tagged , , | 6 Comments