Tag Archives: God

People God Killed: Nadab & Abihu

Every Tuesday-Friday that classes meet at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, its professors gather at 7:45 AM for a brief time of faculty-led devotion and prayer. I am grateful for the opportunity to begin those days by meeting with colleagues to focus our hearts and minds on the Lord. I was asked to lead devotions this week. Tuesday’s devotion is below:

The idea for the week’s theme first occurred to me more than twenty years ago, but I have never taught on this topic. The title of the series is “People God Killed.”

My aim isn’t to be sensational. The Bible contains many instances in which a person dies, and the text indicates—implicitly or explicitly—that God killed the person for his sinful actions. In each case, we can learn things both about God and to apply to our lives.

Not everyone in Scripture who sins will die immediately, not every death is attributed to a person’s sinful actions, and it would be unwise to speculate about divine causes behind deaths today. Nevertheless, the Bible includes stories of people God killed, and those accounts are worth considering.

Our first example is Nadab and Abihu. Addressing the text in full would require reading all of Leviticus 10. For our purposes, I’ll read only verses 1-3. This is from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). Lev 10:1-3,

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own firepan, put fire in it, placed incense on it, and presented unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them to do. Then fire came from the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has spoken: I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people.’ And Aaron remained silent.

Nadab and Abihu presented “unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them to do.” It’s not entirely clear what they did wrong procedurally. What is clear is they had important roles in ministry and they failed to obey God. The fire consumed them and the Lord declared he will demonstrate his holiness to those near him and his glory to the people. What does this story teach us about God, and how can we apply it to our lives?

Early each semester in theology, I warn students of the dangers of studying theology. One of the dangers of studying God academically is familiarity. At seminary, we handle holy things. We study the holy Word of a holy God with a holy name—and we are called to live holy lives. 

Students and professors can be lulled into approaching the things of God casually because of the frequency with which we read and preach the Word, approach God in prayer, or serve others in his name. For Nadab and Abihu, familiarity with holy things led them to let down their guard and disobey God. It cost them their lives. May we guard against becoming so familiar with God that we disobey his commands.

Andy Stanley on Wrong Views of God

On August 21, 2016, Andy Stanley delivered a message which I hope gains a wide audience. Stanley is the son of Dr. Charles Stanley and is the founder and pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia. I listen to Andy Stanley’s messages occasionally and have benefitted from reading a couple of his books. This message “Gods of the No Testament” is the second in a series titled “Who Needs God.” The message is interesting because rather than presenting an explanation, illustration, and application of a particular text, Stanley attempts to overturn false ideas about God that are sometimes cited by critics of Christianity. Such criticisms of these views of God when coupled with personal tragedy sometimes results in people walking away from the Christian faith. In this message, Stanley makes the case that these views of God should be abandoned because they are not biblical views.

These wrong views of God which should be abandoned include:

The Bodyguard God – The God who never allows bad things to happen to good people. (In response, Stanley reminds listeners that Christianity is founded on the events of the cross of Christ, in which “bad things” happened to a perfect person.)

The On-Demand God – The God who responds to fair and selfless requests like we would. (Instead, God answers our requests with infinite wisdom.)

The Boyfriend/Girlfriend God – The God whose presence is always felt. (Stanley reminds us that we are least aware of what is most constant.)

The Guilt God – The God who controls people through guilt and fear; he loves but does not like people. (Stanely does not reply to this view in the message, but it might be stated that God desires repentance rather than guilt.)

The Anti-Science God – The God who requires us to live by undeniable science or unreliable religion. (Stanley explains that Christianity is based on more than simply faith; also the choice between faith and science is a false alternative.)

The Gap God – The God who is the explanation for everything we can’t explain. (Rather, God is the explanation for much in the universe that can be explained, such as design and order.)

For every view above, Stanley encourages people to stop believing in that kind of God. And he asks: Who told you God is like this? This is not the God of the Bible. Also, your life is better without belief in this type of God. Below are some brief observations on this message.

This sermon challenging weak or false views of God is needed for at least two reasons. First, these wrong views of God are held by many people who were raised in Christian homes. Such basic views of God might have been affirmed as children, but as adults these charicatures of God are wholly inadequate to deal with the complexities and challenges of the “real world.” Stanley’s criticism of these views reminds me of the classic work by J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small.

Second, dismissing Christianity as a fool’s system is growing in popularity. Whether in the books and YouTube presentations by New Atheists or through the cable shows and night club routines of mainstream comedians, Christians are regularly portrayed as flat-earth, gullible fools. But frequently, the views which are lampooned deserve to be ridiculed as warped and foolish; most of those views do not accurately represent the Christian faith. For these reasons, Stanley’s message needs to be heard.

Although I encourage people to listen to the message, I cannot recommend two specific choices Stanley made in his Sunday morning sermon. First, he failed to draw attention to and explain a biblical text. He mentions this omission in his sermon, explaining that this is the second of two sermons which serve to introduce the series. In my observation, Stanley typically deals skillfully with one or more biblical texts in a message. Because faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:13) and God’s people are fed by God’s Word (1 Pet 2:2), it is important that Sunday morning messages always involve the reading and teaching of Scripture. Second, Stanley quoted from prominent critics of Christianity, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. It can be effective to cite prominent critics in order to respond to their views. However, when a pastor quotes a person from the pulpit, some listeners will explore that person’s writings, thinking, “Well, the pastor reads this author and mentioned him in church.” Listeners who are easily swayed could be persuaded by the very arguments against the faith that the pastor is trying to challenge. With those two points of concern noted, I still recommend that people listen to this message and I look forward to hearing the other messages in the series.

(Image from the website of North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia.)

Is God Like the Terrorists?

For those who form opinions about blog posts after reading only the title and opening sentence, my answer is no.

Yesterday, I read a comment on social media which compared the actions of God, who casts some into hell, with the actions of ISIS terrorists, who burn their victims. The Tweet states, “I hope you won’t watch the ISIS burning video, but if you do, ask yourself: is God like the terrorists, or is God like the victim?”

I do not have a relationship with the author of that comment, but I follow him on Twitter because I appreciate his writings at Patheos. Since he is a doctoral student at a respected, evangelical seminary, I wondered if I misunderstood his comment. I asked for clarification, “Are you referring to the doctrine of hell?”

He replied: “Yes, but ECT (eternal, conscious torment) in particular.”

So, his comparison is:

  1. Terrorists burn people.
  2. In the traditional view of hell, God burns people.
  3. Therefore, in the traditional view of hell, God acts like a terrorist.

I have not identified the author of the comment, because I have no desire to engage in an online dispute. Instead, I simply want to reflect on the comparison he suggested.

I am aware of objections to the traditional view of hell, and present and critique the arguments of evangelical Universalists and Annihilationists in the Systematic Theology courses I teach at NOBTS. Universalists teach that God eventually saves all through Christ, and Annihilationists teach that God eventually annihilates the unrepentant. Although I have exegetical and theological reasons for rejecting their conclusions, I will not attempt to present those arguments in this post. Rather, I will simply identify with the traditional view of hell, which affirms that God’s final judgment entails the eternal, conscious torment of the unrepentant.[1] My goal in this post is to explain how it is consistent to simultaneously affirm hell as eternal conscious torment and to deny that in such a view, God acts like a terrorist.

First, all reasonable people (whether or not they affirm any major world religion) should regard the actions of ISIS terrorists burning humans alive to be morally repugnant. It is just and right to label the actions of the terrorists as evil and as sin for which they should repent and can be forgiven by God through Christ.

Second, comparing God to the terrorists fails to account for the radical differences between a holy and loving creator who exacts just judgment upon the unrepentant, and sinful and fallen people who inflict unjust punishment upon innocent victims. Affirming both God’s holiness and the authority of Scripture can lead us to affirm certain views which offend our sensibilities.

In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord.” The next verse states, “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (verses 1-2, ESV). The deaths of these two sons of Aaron might seem harsh by our standards. But a reasonable interpretation of that story is that those men had weighty responsibilities in representing the people before a holy God, and God took their lives because of their sinful actions. Was this the action of a terrorist? No. This was the action of a holy God.

Consider also holy war in the Old Testament, when the Hebrew army was commanded to destroy certain groups. As examples, see Deut 13:15–17 and Joshua 6:2. Although Christians do not affirm holy wars or genocide, we also do not accuse God of acting like Hitler.[2]

Even in our legal system, the same action can be considered right when committed by one person but wrong when committed by another person. If I shoot a man without cause, that action would be wrong. But if a police officer shoots a man with cause, then the action would be regarded as justified. The same action is judged differently when it is carried out by different actors in different circumstances. Similarly, God and ISIS terrorists are different actors in different circumstances. God is holy and His ways are always just. Terrorists, like the rest of us, are not holy and their ways are sometimes corrupt. Christians affirm that God’s actions are just, whether we consider His taking the lives of Aaron’s sons, commanding the extermination of a group who lived in the Promised Land, or judging the unrepentant by consigning them to eternal conscious torment. None of those affirmations are pleasant, but they are all consistent with affirming both the holiness of God and the authority of His Word.

Many of us who read the Bible are persuaded that the parables and warnings of Jesus, along with other statements by New Testament writers, portray this future judgment of sin, death, and Satan, as including eternal conscious torment. And Jesus, who gave Himself for us, will one day justly judge the unrepentant. The comparison between the God of the traditional view of hell and the actions of ISIS terrorists confuses holiness and justice with sin and injustice.

The proper image of holiness and justice portrays Jesus, who died on the cross for our sin. Out of love, God provided for us what His holiness demanded, a perfect and human sacrifice for our sin. In this way, the God of the traditional view of hell is not like terrorists. Instead, He is the God of love, holiness, and justice.

[1] For a biblical-theological case for the traditional view of hell, see Hell Under Fire, ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).

[2] See Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011) and Heath Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan, eds. Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013).

Does God hate sinners?


Does God hate sinners? Certain biblical texts in the poetic sections contain those statements. Consider, as examples (quotations from the NASB, emphasis in bold is mine):

Psalm 5:5-6, “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.”

Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.”

Hosea 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal; Indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels.”

Consider also the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Do we read Luke 14:26 as a command to hate our parents, wife, children, and ourselves? No. Instead, proper hermeneutical methods lead us to an interpretation which is more faithful to the meaning intended by the original author. In this case, a command to hate our parents would contradict clear commands by God to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12). Similarly, a command for a husband to hate his wife would contradict clear commands to love her (Ephesians 5:25-33). Similar texts could be cited which contradict the notion of hating one’s children and yourself.

When seeking a faithful interpretation of any biblical text, it is necessary to recognize literary devices and types of literature. In this case, we understand hating our family to be a literary device which makes a statement of comparison—a call to be more devoted to God than to our family. This is the view of Darrell Bock on Luke 14:26, “Here ‘hate’ is a rhetorical term. It means that a person’s loyalty to following Jesus has priority over family or acceptance by them.”[1] Bock affirms that the word “hate” is used in this verse as a literary device. If Luke 14:26, which states that we are to hate people, is better understood another way, then is it possible that the statements about God hating sinners in the poetic material is better understood another way?

The poetic material in the Bible is a type of literature which is a gift from God because in those texts, God accurately portrays human emotion. This gives us permission to be honest with God. In the poetic material, however, some statements occur which were not intended to be doctrinal affirmations or commands to obey. That is not the nature of this type of literature. For example, David asks in Psalm 13:1 how long God will forget him. Do we think David despaired because God had literally forgotten him? No. David closes Psalm 13 with praises to the God who saves him and has dealt bountifully with him (verses 5-6). Instead, we understand Psalm 13:1 to be David’s declaration that he felt as if he had been forgotten by God.

Similarly, the Psalmist prays a blessing on the one who dashes Babylonian infants on the rocks (Psalm 137:9, “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.”). Do we read this as a command to be followed? Do we regard this to be a proposition concerning the nature of God? In answer to both questions, no. The poetic material includes community laments or imprecatory psalms, of which Psalm 137 is an example. This material captures the community’s grief expressed to God, but this text would not justify killing our enemies’ infants because of the many New Testament commands to love our enemies.
These examples are not meant to imply that there are errors or that we cannot trust the Bible. Instead, these examples remind us that the Bible is comprised of a variety of literary devices and types of literature. We must recognize different types of literature and literary devices in the Bible and interpret them accordingly.

Rather than reading the statements of God’s hatred for sinners literally, they are better understood as instances of anthropopathism, a figure of speech denoting analogically a truth about God. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology explains, “Anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms are figures of speech that transmit theological truths about God to humankind. Only when taken literally are they misconstrued.”[2] The statements that God hates sinners are rare in the Bible, occur only in the poetic sections, and are misunderstood when they are interpreted literally.

It is necessary, however, to take seriously God’s righteous indignation against sin and sinners. Millard Erickson writes, “Although God is not the enemy of sinners nor does he hate them, it is also quite clear that God is angered by sin.”[3] God’s wrath (orgē) is “revealed from heaven against godlessness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18, ESV). Notice that His wrath in these verses is not against godless and unrighteous people, but against their godlessness and unrighteousness. In this way, it would be accurate to say that God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

According to Romans 3:25-26, the Cross of Christ demonstrates God’s righteousness. According to Romans 5:8, the Cross of Christ demonstrates God’s love, not His hatred, for sinners. In John 3, we learn that God sent His Son into the world to save the world, not to condemn the world (v. 17). God’s wrath is already on all people because of their sin; and only those who believe in the Son will have eternal life (v. 36). But God’s wrath should be distinguished from this idea that He hates sinners. Wrath is God’s settled disposition against sin, which flows from His righteousness and holiness. In this way, our condemnation is already set because of our sin. But out of love for these objects of wrath, God acted to rescue those who were already perishing and under His condemnation.

At the Cross, God judged His only Son, one who had no sin. He did so out of love for sinful people. These are the actions of one who loves sinners, not one who hates them.

[1]Darrell Bock, Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 279.

[2]Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, s. v. “Anthropomorphism.”

[3]Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 552.