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MK forum • View topic - Picky, picky, picky: A thread for theological pedants

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:16 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:33 pm 
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2010 5:50 am 
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:28 am 
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Way back on the second page of this thread I raised the topic of "sin." I asked a number of questions regarding how our view of sin may have affected decisions that were made regarding child abuse. I asked the questions because I did not have answers, and they are questions that plague me! In working through the maze, I've stumbled upon some related thoughts, thoughts that may be at home here on the "Picky, picky, picky" thread.

"Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." We all acknowledge that sin is awful, that it is shameful. Our natural inclination is to deny it, to hide it or to blame someone else for it. By and large, we are relatively successful in these efforts, since none of us appears as reprehensible as we would if we had no secrets. And, what sin is to us in our private lives, it is to our corporate associations as well - a source of shame, an object of derision, something we are loath to admit or have exposed.

It is doubly humiliating for us to have the good name of our organization, our friends, our relatives or our religion besmirched by the base actions of ourselves or our fellows. In fact, it is a recurring theme in both the Old and New Testaments that God's Name can be dishonored by the actions of His people. Not by the sins and disreputable acts of those who reject Him, but by those who own His Name.

How many people have heard someone express the desire to handle the awful topics addressed on this forum out of the glare of publicity? Wouldn't it be better to take care of this quietly, lest the Lord's Name suffer loss? These things are shameful to even speak about; let's not bring attention to them in front of the world. Think of the Lord's reputation!

Such thinking is diametrically opposed to what He instructs us to do! The repeated exhortations to righteous living lest the Lord's Name be blasphemed are difficult to interpret as justification for dissimulation. Please note: God does not tell us to hide our sinful ways lest He be slandered; He tells us to live righteously, so that He will not be slandered. We are commanded to live righteously in reality, not merely to pretend to do so.

The time to think about our reputation, and the Lord's, is before such acts are committed, not afterwards, as any survey of the passages dealing with this will reveal. Yet this mendacious excuse has been elevated almost to an article of faith - "What will people think?!" has displaced the Mercy Seat, the only place where God has promised to meet His people!

The failure to see our doctrinal teaching as practical, touching our everyday life, coupled with the practice of slipshod application and interpretation of God's Word, will take a toll. It takes a toll on us as individuals, and it takes a toll on us in our corporate dealings, even (especially) when we are leaders.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 7:32 am 
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Revenge, vengeance, and avenge. . . Three related words, but how many ideas? What does the Bible teach us about these concepts?

What about vindictiveness? Is this an emotional feeling? Does it require action? Is it forbidden by Scripture?

What is the Christian point of view on vindication?

And, where does bitterness fit into this puzzle?

These words crop up regularly when such hideous subjects as those that are the subject of this forum are discussed. Many comments assume that the Bible condemns them all, with no distinctions, no exceptions. Maybe it would pay us to review what the Bible says. . .


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 09, 2010 5:10 am 
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Words do not always mean what the dictionary says they mean. Their meanings are certainly not always a reflection of their origins. Meanings are more often determined by usage, and the meaning of words in the Bible need to be considered and constrained by their use in context rather than their usage in popular speech. "Sin" is a good example of such a word, but there are hundreds of others.

The account of Cain and Abel, the first recorded instance of killing in the history of the human race, is a good place to start when considering the general topic of "vengeance."

The brothers are often pictured as strapping youths in their twenties; they are more likely to have been strapping youths in their hundred and twenties! After all, Adam was in his 130th year when Seth was born "in place of Abel." I suppose, had the fatal altercation taken place when Adam and Eve were in their fifties, and the boys in their late twenties, that close to another century could have rolled by before another male was born, but that seems to stretch the odds a bit.

In any case, Cain killed Abel in what the text indicates was the final escalation of an interpersonal conflict between them.

Following the slaying, God punished, but did not execute, Cain. Yet Cain was concerned lest he be killed by "whoever" found him. For this to be a legitimate concern, a couple of conclusions can be made:

1.) There must have been quite a few people around. If only Cain, Adam and Eve were alive, it shouldn't have been difficult to avoid them. Or, at their age, outrun them.

2.) A common, if not universal, concept of retributory, reciprocal justice must have prevailed. In other words, the idea that a person who has been wronged has a right to compensation, to an evening of the score, either by themselves or by their kin. This is the first inkling of the "eye for an eye, life for a life" principle that would later be enshrined in the Law.

God allayed Cain's fears by promising seven-fold vengeance on anyone who killed Cain. Theologians call this "getting even with a vengeance." Not really, just seeing if you are still reading. One thing it does show, of course, is that vengeance is a part of God's system of justice. And, although this justice does not always demand an exact one for one retribution, it does entail punishment. Cain didn't get the death penalty, but he certainly received more than the proverbial "slap on the wrist." And, had anyone taken it upon themselves to kill Cain, they could expect vengeance.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 5:21 am 
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We know that not all killing is murder. So, it's significant that the word "murder" is never used in the account of Cain and Abel. Cain "slew" Abel (KJV) or "killed" Abel (almost everyone else). Without going into all the implications of this, it should be borne in mind that the Hebrew word translated "kill" (KJV) or "murder" (almost everyone else) in Exodus 20.13 is a different word than that used for what Cain did to Abel. It was wrong, and it was punished. But, it isn't described as "murder."

Of course, there are a number of ways to talk about killing, and the significance of the use or absence of a particular word has to be evaluated in each case. In this case, we're going to avoid it! The subject at hand is vengeance, not killing, but the two topics intersect when we consider how God himself exacts vengeance in the case of killing. We won't be surprised to find that it is often through the agency of people. God's word to Noah after the flood waters receded was specific, even though the word "murder" was again not used: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." (Genesis 9.6) Two instances of killing, one which displeased God, and one which was done at his command. God required that vengeance be taken, that accounts be settled.

"The Avenger of Blood" is an unnamed person who appears frequently in the Bible. He is, evidently, the person who is designated, by virtue of kinship or appointment, as the one to shed the blood of the man-slayer. An awful duty, but one that God imposed.

Cities of Refuge were established for the protection of those who killed without malice aforethought, those who killed by accident. These cities were spaced out more or less evenly in order that the perpetrator could reach them before the avenger of blood, in a rage, slew them (Deuteronomy 19.6).

God did not outlaw the avenger of blood; he appointed him. Indeed, he (she) was a part of God's plan, a part of God's provision and had a God-given responsibility to avenge. The land could only be purged from the guilt of shed blood by shedding the blood of the guilty.

God did not upbraid the avenger of blood for his (her) rage. God did not tell them to cool it, let's see how this turns out. Rage was no doubt an essential part of the avenger of blood carrying out his (her) duty; it is not easy to kill anyone, under any circumstances. God himself, the Ultimate Avenger, takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, not even the guilty (Ezekiel 18.32). Rage probably helps overcome the avenger of blood's natural, and commendable, reluctance to carry out the deed.

The man-slayer who killed without malice was given shelter in the City of Refuge until the death of the High Priest. If, however, he left the refuge, violating the terms of his parole/ house arrest, the avenger of blood could kill him without being guilty of murder. Again, note that God did not tell the avenger to let bygones be bygones.

I Kings 3.16-28 illustrates the idea of justice as a balancing of accounts. The two prostitutes had gone to King Solomon for justice. Not having DNA technology at hand, he made the wise choice to split the difference, and the baby. We all know the outcome. Justice was done.

The Bible does not record that Solomon lectured the women on the evils of their profession. To our knowledge, he did not blame them for their own situation. He did not encourage them to forgive and move on. He did, however, seek justice for them. He sought to balance the books, as it were.

Our confidence in God's justice is based on the assurance that he will pay back evil for evil. Paul says it this way: "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you." (II Thessalonians 1.6) He goes on to speak about ". . . in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished. . . " (vss. 8-9)

All that to say this: Paying back, vengeance, punishment and getting even are part of the system of justice that God instituted, and through which he works. God requires justice. Vengeance, as used in the Bible, is part of that system. It is not wrong. On the contrary, it is holy.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 6:44 am 
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I realize and acknowledge that the image of "revenge" or "vengeance" as popularly used is a poor one, a deservedly poor one. And, I am not advocating for the use or avoidance of any word. What I am trying to do is look at how particular concepts are presented in God's Word. You can choose to use whichever word is used in the translation of your choice, or substitute an entirely different word. Or, if you prefer, you can do like the King James Version translators did and use cognates of "revenge" and "avenge" interchangeably! (Numbers 35.12, 19 and similar passages)

Regardless of the word/s used, there is a scriptural mandate for punishing crimes, for taking vengeance. So, what are we to think about the passages that clearly deny us that prerogative?

Romans 12.19 "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.'" (NIV)

This verse equates vengeance with wrath and repayment, and assures us that revenge of this sort is good. After all, God himself is going to undertake to do it. The only prohibition is on our doing it ourselves; in the words of many translations: "Avenge not yourselves."

Unlike Old Testament instructions to the avenger of blood, we are to respond to those who have committed acts deserving of wrathful repayment by doing good, heaping burning coals on the head of the offender, and overcoming evil with good. We are to leave the role of Avenger to God.

Yet, in the same context, we are told to hate that which is evil. Does this entail any action on our part, or is it to be accomplished only in our minds? Do we do anything, or do we wait for fire to fall from heaven? Is justice held in abeyance until all men stand before the Throne?

Our not avenging ourselves does not mean that vengeance should not be taken. The fact that God will repay does not rule out his using human agents to accomplish his vengeance. In fact, Romans 13 tells us that this is exactly what should happen.

The civil authorities are the ones now ordained of God to exact the just penalty from the disobedient; civil authorities are the Avenger of Blood. They exist for our good, they exist to execute wrath on evil people. They are to be a terror to those who do wrong. And, everyone is to submit to them.

Doing good does not mean that we should not report crimes to the police. Reporting crimes to the police is not "avenging ourselves"; it is being submissive to the powers that God has ordained and through which he himself seeks to work wrath. These authorities exist for our good. We ignore them and overlook them and avoid them at our peril. We do not insult the police when we fail to report crimes, we insult the One who gave them the responsibility to punish.

I am indebted to Sir Ornery of Thornery for this comment: "When crimes have been committed, whether you are in Iceland, Poland or NTM land, the first, best and right thing to do is to call the police." Spot on, Sir Ornery!


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 16, 2010 4:56 am 
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