Support us on Paypal
Contact Us
Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Meehan » James Meehan - Difficult Parts of the Bible - Part 2

James Meehan - Difficult Parts of the Bible - Part 2

  • Watch
  • Audio
  • Get involved
    James Meehan - Difficult Parts of the Bible - Part 2
TOPICS: Culture Makers

James Meehan: Well, welcome back to Switch Uncut. We are going to be continuing our series of conversations about the difficult parts of the Bible. Because if you are familiar with the Bible, you will know that there are difficult parts in it. And we are, on Wednesday nights, actually going through a series titled, "The Bible: Fake News or Good News" where we're exploring, what is the Bible? What makes it special? What are some of the questions that we have about it? And how do we allow the Bible to actually change how we live? And so in conjunction with that on Switch Uncut throughout this month, what we wanna do is dive deeper into some of those questions that are a little bit bigger and more difficult to handle. Last week we talked about who created God and how old is the earth. And it was, I think, a really helpful conversation where we just talked about, how to read the Bible wisely. Now this week we're diving into another topic that I'm sure, if you're anything like me, a living, breathing, human being, this question has come up for you at some point. And hopefully our conversation will help you think a little bit more wisely about it. And so with that being said, intro out of the way, I'm heading it off to Caitlyn Caffrey, our other host of the show and she's going to introduce the question for this week's conversation.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: Yup. So last week we started at the very beginning, page one. What are some of the difficult questions that arise from literally page one, verse one of the Bible. And we're going to continue kind of chronologically through as we wrestle with some of these big questions. So the next one that kind of comes up is, did God kill people in the Old Testament? Like why is he so violent and what is happening in the old Testament that kind of can paint God in a violent, more bully-like way. So we're going to look at two primary examples or stories to talk through this question. And the first one is also found in Genesis and it's the story of Noah and the flood. So we're going to talk through that. And then we're going to move a little further down the narrative and we're going to talk about the taking of the Promised Land, where the Israelites have come out of slavery in Egypt. They have wandered the wilderness for many years and now they're going into the Promised Land. And some of the language that's used is like, wait, you want me to kill everyone and everything? Why? So we're going to talk through both of those starting with Noah and the floods. So kick us off. What are we supposed to learn about God and about people from this story?

James Meehan: Yeah. Well, I think that's exactly the right question to start with. What are we supposed to learn about God and people in these stories? Because what we are continuing to reinforce is the idea that the Bible is a story that leads to Jesus, invites us to become like Jesus. And this is really important for us to keep in mind when we enter into the difficult questions about the Bible and the things that God did in the Old Testament. Because if we don't remember what the Bible is, what it's for and who it's really about, then we're going to get really caught up on some of the things that are a little bit more challenging to wrap our minds around. And so when it comes to the Bible, we've got to remember it is a story. It leads us to Jesus and invites us to become like Jesus. So every part of the Bible, we believe, is intended to accomplish that purpose. Now, in the beginning of the biblical story, we begin with a good beginning with God creating everything and calling it good. And then on Genesis chapter 3, that's when everything takes a turn for the worst when human beings rebel against God. And from that moment on what was a good creation has become a fallen world where the effects of sin are felt everywhere. And this is where the story of Noah and the flood and the ark shows up is in this process of seeing the damage of sin continue to wreak havoc on God's world. And so that is a really, really important thing to keep in mind is that this is a part of the story that is not the way that God wanted things to go, because what God wanted, where he desired, was for human beings to live in harmony with him and creation for eternity. But what we wanted was power. We wanted to rule. We wanted to push God out so that we could be the ones that were in charge and thus sin, evil, death, suffering entered the world. I think that's the first thing to remember is that's where this falls in the story, is after the fall. The second thing to remember is that through this story, we are being introduced to aspects of God that are revolutionary to the original audience. Now it's important to take a step back and recognize that most of us have been introduced to the story of Noah and the flood like as kids with these little picture books, with these cute little cartoons of Noah and these animals going on the Ark two by two, but, bro, here's the deal, this is not a kid's story. Okay? This story is absolutely meant to challenge us, to confront our assumptions, to unsettle us with the horrors of sin and how sin, unrestrained, wreaks havoc on creation. Those are some of the things that we've got to keep in mind before we even get to God's response to that sin, it's that this story takes place after the fall, after everything goes wrong. And it's meant to illustrate how far human beings have fallen and how broken our world has become.

Kaitlyn Caffrey: That's a really helpful framework to start to look at this story. And so, as I read through, it starts in Genesis 6, I believe, we start to hear about the state of the world in that literally every thought of the human heart was only wickedness all the time. That sounds really dramatic and like hyperbole. But then we get to this verse in verse 7, God's talking and he says, "I'm going to wipe from the face of the earth, the human race I've created, them and the animals and the birds and all the creatures that move on the ground for, I regret that I have made them". What does that mean, that God regretted making people and living creatures? Did he really regret it? Like what is being communicated here?

James Meehan: Yeah, I think this is one of those things that, again, can trip people up because we read those words and we're like, well, wait if he's God and he's all good, and he's all powerful, he's all knowing, all of those different things, then how can he have regrets? Does that mean that he made a mistake? And I don't think that that's what this has meant to communicate. I think what this means to communicate is that when God looks at the state of the world, his heart breaks, because he knows that this is not the way things are supposed to be. That what God desires is for human beings to be flourishing in relationship with him, ruling on his behalf, bringing goodness and justice to every corner of the world. But instead of goodness and justice, what they have is abuse and violence. And so I think this is what we're trying to be invited into is this perspective that when God looks at the world, his heart breaks because of how broken things have gotten, and then what God is doing is he's sort of helping us see that things have gotten really, really badly to the point where the good loving Creator who began everything as an act of love just a few chapters ago is now showing us that from his perspective, the right solution is to basically like clean house. It's almost as if he's helping us understand that the cancer of sin has grown so deep into the hearts of human beings, that the only solution is to wipe it out. And while that language can be really, really harsh to us, I think what we have to do is put ourselves in the shoes of the original audience, as they're hearing this, what is the truth that they're meant to be grabbing onto about who God is and what it means to be human. That this loving Creator found himself in a situation where he looked on his creation, his heart broke because he saw how far things had fallen. And yet he didn't allow things to stay in this state of chaos and violence. Instead God intervenes, he acts so that he can get things in motion to be going in the direction that they should have been going in from the very beginning.

Yup. What I think is super beautiful is that when you look at the original meaning of some of these words used in that verse, the word that's translated is, "I'm going to wipe them out, I'm going to blot them out," actually means "to touch," "to reach out to," and God is saying, I am not abandoning you. This is not my absence. This is actually me reaching out and touching my creation again. And what I think is so cool is that Jesus, when he healed people, literally like 99.9% of the time he healed someone, he actually touched them. And so it's that same concept of God is not being like evil and malicious. He's actually being compassionate. And he's saying, "I'm going to touch my creation again and bring healing to something that has been really, really broken".

I think that that image of God stepping in as a healer, as a great physician, is the way that we should view this story. Because what we know is that sin is a disease that has infected all of creation. It has rooted itself in the hearts of human beings. And so what God is doing is he's basically performing surgery on his group, but he's not like putting his creation down. He's not pulling the plug and saying, Hey, life support is over. What he's doing is he's removing the cancer of sin. And it's one of those things that again, is hard for us to wrap our minds around because the language that's being used here is a meant to provoke us. It's meant to challenge us. It's meant to confront us, to help us be unsettled, just like God was unsettled at the horrors that were taking place in the world. And so it's not supposed to be a feel good story. It's supposed to challenge us because this is a part of the story that's meant to lead us to Jesus and to help us become more like Jesus. To show that even when things are at their worst, God doesn't turn his back on us.

That's good. So basically what I'm hearing is this is not an overreaction on God's part. It was actually an appropriate response to the disease, to the cancer of sin that was infecting the creation that he loved and had called very good. And he just wasn't okay with that. So, so now that we've kind of set up this framework for how to view this story and what is really going on, can you bring like some concrete, now that we have the framework, how do we understand what happened at the flood?

Yup, I think the thing that's important to acknowledge is, in the story of the flood, it starts with the world is super messed up. God makes a decision that he's got to basically bring a fresh start to his creation because of how bad things have gotten. God finds one person who is upright, who's righteous, blameless, and chooses that person. That person is Noah. And God says, Hey, I don't want to give up on my creation. I want to partner with you. Will you work with me in rebuilding this broken world? So God chooses to work alongside Noah. He forms a covenant, a partnership with him and his family. Noah a builds this ark, all of these animals come onto it. The floods come, all of the world is wiped out. And then at the end of the story, as the land is made available, because now it's dry enough for people to occupy once again, we see God forming and signifying this covenant by placing a rainbow in the clouds. And God says, Hey, this is the sign of my covenant for you. That I will never wipe out the earth in this way again. And so what's interesting is we get through the story of a number of really ridiculous things that take place. And the question becomes okay, like, but did it really happen that way? And that's not the point of the story. There are wise, Bible-believing Christians who would say, yes, that's exactly what happened and how it happened. And there are wise Bible-believing Christians who would say, actually, I think that this is more of a local flood, not a global flood, or maybe this is the biblical authors adapting the myths of the surrounding nations and cultures and replacing those myths and the bad ideas about the God that they had with good ideas about God. Maybe it's this, that, or the other. What we don't know for sure is exactly what happened or how it happened because we weren't there. But what we can trust is that what's contained within those chapters of Genesis is it's good, it's true, and it's faithful to lead us, to help us become more like Jesus. And so I want to come back to that idea of this sign of the covenant, where after all of this takes place, God is promising his creation that he's never going to wipe out the earth in that way again. And he forms this partnership with Noah, basically saying, Hey, I want to work with you and your family to start over and do it better this time. I think that's what's so important for us to recognize is that every step of the way in this story, it has God reaching out to his fallen creation and working with them to undo the damage of sin, to start over better so that God can continue his plan of bringing all of humanity back to him, to rescue us from sin and restore creation. That's what all of this is pointing to. What God is up to and how he is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his mission.

I think it's so powerful, again, remembering to think about who the original audience is, which as we talked about last week, the original audience is this group of freed slaves that has just come out of Egypt. And what this story is communicating, over-archingly, is God's complete unwillingness to turn his back on his creation, to give up on them. And that is the message that's being communicated to a bunch of freed slaves. It's, hey, guess what? the God who freed you is the same God who will never, ever give up on you.

Come on.

That's pretty exciting to me.

That's so good. Last thing on this before we move on to the next one, here's what's so cool, is the rainbow that God puts in the sky, the Hebrew word for this, isn't like a rainbow, like we tend to think of it. It's bow like a bow and arrow. And so think for a second, if you think about a rainbow and you replace that in your mind with a bow and arrow, what direction is the arrow pointing? If that bow and arrow is fired, where's it pointing? It's pointing up, it's pointing to the heavens, it's pointing at God. And so there are a lot of Christians who have seen this in the light of Jesus, of who he is and what he did. And they see this as foreshadowing that the next time God chose to deal with sin on that level, that instead of wiping out the earth with a flood, God would take on the violence of creation in himself, on the cross, as this person that we know as Jesus. And so, as we are reading the story of Noah and the flood, when we get caught up in all of the questions about, okay, but did God really do that? Like, what's wrong with him? How did this happen? Should I even believe it? It's missing the greater point that this story has meant to show us: who God is and who we are because of Jesus. It's meant to show us that things had gotten so bad because of sin that God felt like the best solution was to bring this flood, to start over new, not to give up, but to start over. But the next time God deals with sin, he's going to do it by taking the violence and the horrors of sin on himself, in the person of Jesus on the cross. And that's why he put a bow in the clouds with the arrow pointed at himself.

Wow. So the story of Noah and the flood, instead of being a story of overreaction and immense violence, is actually previewing the work of Jesus on the cross and the new creation that is going to come. That's really exciting. So the next thing that we're going to talk about, moving down the line, is the taking of the Promised Land. So again, just to recap, this group of freed slaves that has just come out of Egypt, wanders in the desert for 40 years, and then they're on the edge of the Promised Land and God has given them this land, but there's other people occupying it, currently. And we get to this point in Joshua where they are committed to go and take the land and it's pretty messy. Like it's pretty scary. The kind of like violent talk that surrounds the taking of the Promised Land and these wars that ensue, so speak to that. Is God condoning genocide in these chapters?

And that's like, that's the question that comes up from this. What's interesting is this question of the violence of God in the Old Testament and the stark contrast, when you look at the grace of Jesus in the new Testament, literally caused some early Christians to believe that they were two different entities. That the God of the Old Testament was different than the God of the new Testament. But as followers of Jesus, we believe that God, the Father, God, the Son, God, the Spirit are three and one. And we believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever that the same God who died on a cross for our sins is the same God who was guiding these freed slaves as they were entering into the Promised Land. And so what that should force us to do is ask the question, okay, what's really going on here? Is God actually pro-genocide, or is there more to the story that we're missing? Because we are reading this from our context and our perspective instead of putting ourselves in the shoes of the original audience. And so what I want to do is pretty quickly tackle three questions that I think will help us think more wisely about the taking of the Promised Land, the Israelites taking it from the Canaanites. So the first question is who's who? Who is who? Because sometimes when we imagine this story, we can kind of think of the Israelites as these bad to the bone warriors, stepping into the Promised Land to push out the friendly native indigenous peoples. But that is not at all what is going on here. Okay? Like the Israelites are not like, you know, the USA invading some third world country. It is way more like a bunch of freed slaves beating down an empire that has been oppressing and abusing people for hundreds of years. Like literally imagine in this scenario, Israel is your fifth grade brother. Canaan is the seniors like varsity football team. A whole team a varsity football players going up against a fifth grade boy. And that's what is going on here. The Israelite people are completely out-matched by the armies, the technology, the fortresses, the castles of Canaan. And so that first and foremost has to be in our minds is, it is not God's sending this army of trained up fighters to beat up on these defenseless people. It is actually the entire opposite. It is God taking a group of freed slaves and using them to end the violence, oppression, and abuse that were being inflicted by this dominant empire at the time. So first of all, who is who? It's not a story of God using the Israelites to bully a bunch of peaceful people. It's a story of God using a band of slaves to push out this evil empire. Second thing is, what's actually going on here? What is actually going on here? Now, again, like you mentioned and like we've kind of already talked about when we read this story in the book of Joshua, it can be easy to read the language and assume that God is actually condoning genocide because there is really harsh language. Like, as I'm looking at this, there are things like in Joshua 11, how the Israelites "utterly destroyed the enemy armies" that they "showed no mercy," that they "didn't spare anyone who breathed". Okay? And that all of this was done at the commands of God. And so what it looks like at surface level, face value, is that God was literally telling the Israelite people to kill everyone and that the Israelite people literally killed everyone. But what we've talked about before, and it's important to bring back up here, is that the Bible is meant to be read literately and not just literally. And there are many really brilliant people who argue that this text, the book of Joshua, was written in the literary genre of ancient warfare biographies. Like there would be these cultures where, when they would talk about wars that they had won, they would use this very extreme language. And the thing is, is like this isn't actually unfamiliar to us. If you think about your favorite sports team, if they went out, you know, maybe it's the NBA finals, your team against the other team and your team beats them 120 to 100 in game seven, you would say like, "oh man, we slaughtered them".


But you don't mean that literally.


"We absolutely mopped the floor with them," but you didn't actually use them to mop the floor. "We tore them to pieces," but they're still whole living humans. Now, again, we kind of miss this because it becomes really easy to just always assume that what the Bible is saying should be interpreted based off of face value and what we think that it's saying. And again, it could actually be true that maybe God did use the Israelites to completely wipe out the Canaanites and maybe that's what he meant. But here's the problem with that idea: The rest of the book of Joshua. Because later on in the book of Joshua, those people, the Canaanites, the people that were inhabiting the Promised Land that the people of Israel were supposed to push out, they keep showing up throughout the book of Joshua and then all throughout the Old Testament. And they keep causing problems for the people of Israel. And so if this was meant to be taken literally, then why would they show up later in the story? And so I think that's another good piece of evidence that shows maybe what's happening here is ancient trash-talk. And again, like, I think this is one of those things where this does not at all undermine the power and the truth of the story. What it does is it invites us to use wisdom, to read these stories through the perspective of the original audience. Because while the Bible is God's word for us, it wasn't originally written to us. And so, as we are reading the Bible, as we are navigating these questions, we've got to always remember: who's the author, who was the audience and what does the author want the audience to know? And I think what the author is trying to communicate to their audience is that when God is for you, it doesn't matter how big the enemy is that is against you because with God, all things are possible.

That's good. I think this also reinforces the point that we were making last week as well of, sometimes you're gonna have to do some work to understand the biblical texts.

Come on. Yes!

We don't get to approach it lazily or apathetically. It's an active process of partnering with the Holy Spirit, because the same Spirit who was active in inspiring these words, is active in living in us. And so we get to join in, in that process, but it requires our participation. Just like we're talking about through these stories, like God's heart is to partner with us. And I think that that's something that we get to see played out in these biblical stories we're talking through. And it's something that we get to see played out, you know, our reading and engaging with the scripture on a daily basis, which is so cool.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

So we talked through who's who in this story, we talked through, what's really going on, but why is this happening?

Right. Because it's one of those questions where it's like, couldn't God have just put them somewhere else.


Why here? Why is God dealing with the Canaanite people so harshly? And here's what's crazy, is when we actually learn the answer to this question, what we discover is that God was being ridiculously, and honestly from our perspective, unreasonably patient with the Canaanite people. And the cruelty, if we want to call it that, that God was showing, I don't think we can actually say was directed towards the Canaanites. I actually think that the people that got the short end of the stick were the Israelites, the people of God, and here's why I say that. Because in Genesis chapter 15, shortly after God forms this partnership with Abraham and tells him, Hey, I want to bless all the world through you. God tells Abraham that in the fourth generation, "your descendants will come back here to the Promised Land for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure". The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. Who are the Amorites? The Amorites was the name of one of the groups of people that were inhabiting the Promised Land. So when we say Canaanites, Amorites are in that bucket of groups of people. And the thing is, is that the Amorites were the founders of Babylon. Babylon is infamous throughout the biblical story for violently conquering their neighbors and stomping all over the poor and the marginalized in their communities. And so what God is saying is, the people that are living in the Promised Land right now, the evil, the injustice, the sin that they are committing has not yet reached its full measure. So it's not going to be until the fourth generation that I liberate your descendants from slavery and bring them here to deal with the sin of the Amorites. Why was God waiting so long? Why would God allow the descendants of Abraham, his chosen partner, to be in enslaved so that the Amorites could just keep on sinning? I think it's because that God is patient, that God doesn't want anyone to perish, but he wants everyone to come to repentance. And so when I read this story, what I see is that God is a giving the Amorites, the Canaanites, the people inhabiting the Promised Land, 400 years to repent from their sins, to turn to him, to stop oppressing the poor and marginalized in their communities and starting to living in a way that is good and true and life giving. But God isn't going to wait forever because God is going to deal with injustice. God is going to bring healing. He's going to bring restoration. And sometimes the way that God brings justice is by stopping the wrongdoers who are inflicting injustice, right? God's primary way of bringing justice is through restoration. But sometimes the way that justice has to be brought is by basically making sure the bad guys can't keep hurting the innocent. And that's what it is that God is doing. God is using this band of freed slaves who had spent hundreds of years in Egypt, that he delivered in a miraculous way, that he's forming into a nation that he is going to partner with, that they are going to represent him his goodness, his love, his grace, his mercy, and his justice to all of the world. And he is using them to show the Amorites that the time has come for them to experience the consequences of their sins, because God is not going to allow them to continue to harm, to murder and to stomp on those who cannot defend themselves. And so when we look at the story of the Israelites taking the Promised Land, it is so much more and it is so much more good than the way that so many of us have understood it. It's not God commanding genocide. It is God doing what God does. He's being patient with sinners. But eventually what he's saying is, Hey, judgment will come, right? I would much rather you repent and receive forgiveness, but if you don't, I will put an end to the injustice in the same way that he did with Noah and the flood. God is dealing with the injustice and the violence because God will not allow it to go on forever because he hears the cries of his people. His heart breaks when his people are stomped on and he is going to intervene at the right time to bring about his good and true and loving plans.

That's good. I think God's patience is one of the most beautiful through lines throughout the biblical story. Like you just mentioned, it's present in Noah and the flood because the way that the story is set up is God gives Noah this command, this plan to build this ark. And then the dude takes like 120 years to build it. And all that time is opportunity after opportunity for more people than just Noah and his family to get on the freaking boat. And then again, in this story, we're only seeing a blip on the overarching timeline of 400 years of, again, opportunity after opportunity for the people in the land of Canaan to turn from the horrific things that they were doing and turn towards God. And they don't. And we continue to see this theme of patience play out, even in the new Testament, which I love that, again, the consistency, it's the same guy. He's the same yesterday, today and forever. And in 2 Peter, 3, it talks about how God's not slow in keeping his promises, as some people understand slowness. It's his patience because he doesn't want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. And this is Peter talking to a persecuted church. Early on, they're like, why isn't Jesus coming back yet? Why is he not coming back yet? Because this is hard. And this sucks. And we're doing all the things, trying to stay faithful, but Jesus isn't coming back yet. What's going on? And this is Peter's response. God's not being slow. He's being patient because his heart is for restoration. But sometimes there is retribution. And I think that that again is a beautiful through line throughout the story of scripture and what these stories might be teaching us about God is that he is patient with us.

Yeah. And I think that's a great place to kind of land the plane on this conversation, is when we look at the Bible, every single story in it is meant to lead us to Jesus and help us become more like Jesus. Every story in the Bible is meant to reveal to us more and more about who God is and who we're meant to be as his people and these stories, these difficult parts, where God is dealing with the evil and sin and injustice in the world in ways that can seem really harsh, at first glance, are stories meant to show us that sin wreaks havoc on creation, but God is patient. And he's giving us every opportunity to receive his mercy. But when we deny it, eventually justice will come. The way that God brings about that justice is the most loving and merciful way imaginable. And that is most clearly revealed when Jesus allowed himself to be the perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. As you are navigating all of your questions about the Bible, make sure that you leave those in the comments down below, because we want to continue to engage in this dialogue with you as we navigate, for the next few episodes of the series, all things, the difficult parts of the Bible. So if you have thoughts, if you have questions, if there's things where you're like, "man, I don't know if I agree. I've got a trouble with that," then let us know because we'd love to continue the conversation in the comments. So all that being said, make sure you like the video if you haven't already. Subscribe and stay tuned for further conversations on this topic. Thank you so much for spending time with us. And we can't wait to see you next week. See ya.

See you guys.
Are you Human?:*