As always, Jay, thanks for the thoughtful responses. Here is what I’d say back, not to argue but to advance the dialog:
My response to your second answer is this: Nadab and Abihu may well have been intoxicated (which impaired their judgement and prompted Moses to stipulate that priests are not to imbibe of fermented drink on such occasions) but I think you overstate the case by calling them “spoiled frat boys” who were “slobbering drunk”. If both of the wind up in heaven (a possibility allowed for in your seventh answer), then perhaps there is no real harm – it was more of an object lesson for Israel that sin does indeed lead to death.
But there is little doubt in my mind that what David did – treacherously committing adultery with the wife of one of his mighty men (and his friend) and then murdering him – was far worse, because it was planned, deliberate and acted out over months. Yet he lived. So did the woman caught in adultery.
My point was that mercy did NOT triumph over justice for Nabab and Abihu if they are not in heaven (unless God knows with certainty each of our fates, knows each and every choice we will make throughout our entire lives and strategically takes the lives those who will never choose to serve Him solely to advance His own ends – which, perhaps, follows along with your fourth answer).
My response to your fifth answer is this: until God knows what it is like to suffer each and every possible affliction and harm that humans suffer (and Jesus certainly did NOT do that – he was not sexually or physically abused as a child, he did not contract some horrible fatal disease, he did not tragically lose members of his immediate family, he was not permanently maimed by another human being and so on), He has no right to subject people to seemingly senseless and lengthy harm without a good explanation.
In the first part of your response, you do a great job of explaining God’s love in relational terms. Let me diverge from that. I was sexually abused as a child for 3 years. Would you, as a loving father, have allowed a person to do that to me had you been my dad? Yet that seems exactly what God does in allowing Satan – a far stronger and more powerful being – to possess, kill, maim (as the woman bent over for 19 years healed by Jesus) and otherwise greatly harm what are essentially children. It is hard enough to suffer the evil done to us by our fellow man. Must we also be abused by a supernatural power we cannot see or fight?
My response to your sixth answer is this: God has the right to destroy what he created – even capriciously or cruelly, but He has no right to to claim He is just or loving or perfectly good if He does so. It is astonishing to me that authors (especially Paul – who was highly educated) of the scriptures time and again seem oblivious to the import of their words. I mean, the worst part of Calvinism arose from reading Romans 9 at face value. It is the very way things are often put in the scriptures that causes us so many problems (which was really the point of my previous post). It is almost as if God is communicating with us through idiot savants (despite the presence of the Holy Spirit).
This touches on your third answer. It seems that the writing skills of God’s people in past ages were deficient. I have an M.A. in English and have, for years, been distressed by the way things are not often laid out in a systematic way, but in a piecemeal fashion. Indeed, that – more than any other thing – seems the cause of so many varied interpretations of the scriptures. Or, at least, it is the ammo for people with “itchy ears” to do what they will. I have for decades taken the scriptures very seriously. But (in regards to your third and fourth answers) I would be lying if I said it has not bothered me to have to figure out that Elisha didn’t really mean all he said. THAT makes intrepretaion VERY difficult because you are dealing with the inerrant word of God and not a play by Shakespeare.
First, I need to add:
Ninth answer expanded:
God is under no obligation to be more than just. To be more precise, he may offer grace to some and not to all and not be unjust or unrighteous. The Western, American worldview is that everyone should be treated the same, but obviously God did not do this before the coming of the gospel — only the Jews had Torah, the Spirit, the covenants with God, and God’s promises of salvation etc. They were his elect, chosen people. Sons of God.
Even after the coming of the gospel, only those who’ve heard and responded to the gospel have the opportunity to be saved. Everyone else receives justice, not grace. But no one has any claim on God for more than justice.
This sounds almost Calvinist, but it’s not. People have a choice whether to come to faith and follow Jesus. But only those who’ve heard the gospel. Hence, mission work matters.
For whatever reason, God has chosen to attack Satan, the principalities, and powers like Eisenhower attacked the Nazis. He has established a beachhead and then expanded his reach mile by mile, hedge row by hedge row.
While we want to imagine God as having powers to change the world with a magic wand and fairy godmother, in fact, God only transforms the world as he transforms people, which is solely by the gospel, which comes solely by person to person conversion. Hence, it’s a slow, painful, difficult process that wins some and loses some. It’s war.
Thus, God wants all to be saved, but he’s only going to save as he teaches in Rom 10 — missionaries teach gospel, people hear, believe, confess, and calling on the name of the Lord, they are saved. That’s the process. There is no other. And it’s not magic.
(Rom. 10:13-18 ESV) 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
(which is very much like the Ninth Answer).
This leads to —
Tenth answer expanded
God fights a war against the principalities and powers only by the preaching of the gospel. He does many things other than preaching the gospel, but ultimately, unless the gospel is preached, salvation is not spread. And it’s through saved people and the coming of the Spirit that God transforms the world and restores it to his original intent.
This is a very limited method, but has reached about 1/3 of the world at this point, and Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world today, despite losing ground in Europe and suffering vigorous attacks in the US (where it’s still holding its own, if not growing).
But this means that Satan still controls a lot of territory, and the world is still a very messed up place. (I confess: this is really the Tenth Answer expanded.]
A couple of thoughts re David —
You should read Misreading Scriptures through Western Eyes — a very important book on how to read the Bible through an honor-culture perspective. Their chapter on David is astonishing. It’s hardly a complete answer to the questions you raise, but it’s part of a complete answer (if there’s one to be found).
David lost four sons to death before his own death, had his sons attempt to overthrow him (twice), lost his throne, suffered seeing one of his sons enter his harem to sleep with his wives before the entire nation, and lost his honor. He probably would have preferred death.
There’s also the fact that David repented. Both Saul and David had the Spirit. Saul committed two sins that we’d consider foot faults, but he was not penitent. He was defensive. And God took His Spirit from Saul. Saul was probably damned.
David committed far worse sins, but when rebuked by God’s prophet, he immediately repented — and it seems to have been very sincere.
God seems to have judged his kings, not based on their egregiousness of their sins, but the softness of their hearts.
Mercy does not always prevail over justice with God, nor has he so promised. Whether it does depends on whether someone has faith and whether someone’s heart is tender — penitent — which is more than a little redundant.
The sufferings experienced by Jesus
Jesus probably did lose a member of his immediate family. Commentators believe Joseph died before Jesus began his mission. And who knows who else among his relatives died or had illness. In that age, doubtlessly many.
God’s (lack of) care for people
He has no right to subject people to seemingly senseless and lengthy harm without a good explanation.
As we lawyers say, you assume a fact not in evidence. Who says that God himself subjects people to the kinds of harm you mention, such as abuse. Perhaps it’s more fair to God to see him as attacking that very problem (and many others) by sending Jesus, the gospel, and attempting to win people to the way of the cross?
We assume that it’s within God’s power to make all bad things go away with a wave of his magic wand — and then we argue against the Calvinists, insisting on free will. We can’t have it both ways.
In a Calvinist universe, yes, God has to answer for everything, and the supposed answer is: “God has a plan for everything.” I don’t buy it. I don’t buy Calvinism. And I do buy free will. Therefore, I’m stuck believing that people can choose to sin and God is not going to stop them contrary to his commitment to free weill. It’s up to God’s people to convert others and bring them God’s Spirit and change the world — to join the Mission of God (missio Dei) to restore humanity to the image of God.
We see God changing the world, but we don’t see him ridding the world of sin except through people. It’s through the Israelites or through Jesus in human form or the church. God may send visions, do miracles, and send missionaries, but people have to choose to change. That’s the plan.
And until the plan is fulfilled, there will be horrible things in this world, because sin is truly horrible.
We can declare God not good enough because he hasn’t defeated sin yet. Or we can decide that God wants our help because he needs our help, admit that we’re not carrying out our part of God’s war on sin, and that it’s ultimately the fault of the church for not being the church God called us to be. God was willing to die on a cross to defeat sin. What are we willing to do?