Brian Zahnd is a pastor in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, and he is about the same age as me. In his newest book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Brian takes on some issues that have been mysterious and troubling for me, and countless others.
The violence of God in the Old Testament and the stark contrast to the Jesus of the New Testament, along with how we understand the Bible are things that have been concerns for conscientious followers of Christ for long, long time.
Zahnd compares the role of the Bible to that of John the Baptist, as sent by God, inspired by God, but not God. It tells the story of Israel coming to know their God, and it’s a process. It’s a layered puzzle beginning with the Pentateuch, and furthered by the prophets, gospels, and epistles.
Historically, assumptions were made along the way. One was that God was like the other deities that demanded blood sacrifice and genocide; but that doesn’t at all fit with its revelation of Jesus who called for us to love our enemies. Did God change? Or did Jesus reveal him more completely?
The author goes on to say that the Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Theology is not a system. It is a person. It is not found in abstract thought or in a book. Perfect theology is found in Jesus.
So, someone has at last put into print what so many of us have believed in our hearts, but perhaps could not find the right words to express. For me, reading these words was a relief. Belief in a God who encouraged genocide was distasteful as is those who cherry pick scripture to condone violence are equally distasteful. An even greater relief is that, as Steve Brown is fond of saying, “God is not mad at us.”
This understanding helps the pieces to fit together a bit better for me as I keep looking to for the pieces of a faith that is real and fits into everyday life, a faith that is beautiful, and not something I have to make excuses for.
I recommend, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, and look forward to finishing it.