Love and Wrath of the Lamb: A God who would rather die than kill his enemies?

Revelation 6:15-17
The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

In James White’s Dividing line. 18 November, 2014, 64th minute, he discusses the debate “Old debate new day’ (The video of the debate can be found here).

(I have added words in square brackets to link selected chunks of discourse together. My comments appear in italics)

White – Zahnd doesn’t believe in the plain reading of Paul.

Zahnd – If we are going to understand Jesus, scripture plays a secondary role. Jesus plays the primary role.

White – This is epistemologically schizophrenic. You cannot know Jesus apart from what has been revealed by him… the idea that you can know Jesus and ignore everything the Lord says about Jesus [himself]. [If this is true] You got to credit your own personal Jesus. like designer jeans for religion.

Zahnd – Scripture has a high and authoritative role, but it is to bear witness to Christ who is the true word of God… Let’s be honest: pervasive interpretative pluralism is a reality, and it’s a reality not only because we are limited in our capacity to interpret scripture [but also] because the argument is internal to the text.”

Not sure what Zahnd means by “the argument is internal to the text.” Does he mean that there is no way of penetrating the text to get at the meaning? If so, that would be a bizarre comment. Indeed, if there is no univocal (single) meaning of any text, there would be no justification in calling anything bizarre or bazaar or basar (Hebrew “meat’).

White – Why are there so many interpretations in the Bible? Because [Zahnd says] the Bible is unclear; it’s a bunch of babble.

Zahnd – If I bring Moses and Aaron and Hosea and the writer of psalm 40 to the room and ask does God want sacrifice, they’re going to have a big hairy debate.

[One topic I’m sure, being given such a great opportunity, they would debate is whether Moses’ toeses are roses].

White = No they’re not [going to have a debate] if you’re going to read them in any meaningful fashion.

For Zahn, “meaning” is a fashion parade, catwalk semantics.

Zahnd – Calvin wrote that the reprobate, that is, damned from before birth, are raised up [to be cast into hell]…that through them God’s glory may be revealed.

White – In Exodus [there are] key historical events where God glorifies himself. His glory is demonstrated in the despoiling of the Egyptian gods…Don’t you think the description of the Egyptian army in the Red sea.. the world’s power versus God’s power, you don’t see God glorified in that?

Zahn – God’s beauty, according to Calvin, is displayed in that before birth..I’ll say something that will get me in…you will see that I’m quite bold…[See the rest of Zahn’s statement after White’s interruption below]

White [interrupts] No, we will see that you’re quite twisted in your detestation of Reformed theology.

Zahnd [continues] – God said, I’m going to create one being and I’m going to damn this being to conscious eternal torment before their birth; they’re not going to have any choice but to be damned.

White – Remember they don’t have any choice – [I’m] speaking from the perspective of eternity – ignoring the daily, hourly, momentary, wilful choices of the individuals to love self and not love God…the synergist flattens it all out…there’s not enough in it [the Bible] according to the synergist] to reveal a three dimensional reality of this matter.

Synergism (Arminianism) – Grace and salvation are God’s gift to man; faith is man’s gift to God. This is how many synergists – for example, William Lane Craig – parse Ephesians 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this [grace and salvation; monergists (Calvinists) say faith as well)] is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (See The Calvinist robot and the Arminian zombie: grammars of coming to faith).

Zahn – I will create them with the capacity to experience and live eternally under my wrath, I would say to that God, you’re wrong, you’re immoral. You say, “how can you talk back to God like that, he will throw you in his hell.” And I will comfort myself in the ceaseless ages of torment with this one solace that I told the truth.”

Judaism speaks of the good inclination and the evil inclination (yetser “inclination” hara “the evil”). God created both. God created the inclination/capacity to evil. Satan was created with this capacity, Adam was created with this capacity, and so were all mankind. Yet God does not have any evil in himself. Zahnd rejects this. And must, if consistent reject Isaiah 45:7: “Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil [Hebrew ra, I am Jehovah, doing all these things” (Young’s literal translation). Zahnd maintains, elsewhere, that the Old Testament is not what is saying, but what the Hebrews thought he was saying. In contrast, the New Testament, for Zahnd, is what Jesus is saying – because, according to Zahnd, Jesus is all about love, not wrath. (See Can a perfect God create the potential for imperfection?).

White – You just think you’re so hot with that one don’t you? You’ve decided that you’re going to put yourself in the position of the objector in Romans 9 and say you’re really cool in your leather jacket and your emergent shoes because “I told the truth’” that you now think you can know separately from God….We realize the picture you painted of this point was not exactly accurate.

Who is the objector in Romans 9? The one who says it is not fair that God has mercy on some, and unleashes his wrath on others, and, worse, simply because he wills it so. I underline the parts in Romans 9 that Zahnd, and all Arminians/synergists hate:

Romans 9

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
 and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire [will] or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? [It’s not fair]. For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Verses 22-23 contradicts what Zahnd says next.

Zahnd – He’s (God is) not all glorious under Calvin’s system, he’s terrifying. but if he is to be all glorious he must save all if it’s completely under his control.

White – Why? We’re not told. What if his glory is revealed in the manifestation of all of his attributes? A lot of non-clean thinking on Brian Zahnd’s part.

Like all Arminians, Zahnd believes that God tries to save all but fails miserably, because relatively few from each generation are saved. He fails, according to Arminians, because in salvation he has sovereignly handed over his sovereignty to man by giving him the free will to choose him. White points out that God does not have sovereignty, he is sovereignty; it is, like all of his attributes, part of his nature. I am reminded of Isaiah 46:9 Remember former things of old, For I [am] Mighty, and there is none else, God — and there is none like Me.

10 Declaring from the beginning the latter end, And from of old that which hath not been done, Saying, `My counsel doth stand, And all My delight I do.’ 11 Calling from the east a ravenous bird, From a far land the man of My counsel, Yea, I have spoken, yea, I bring it in, I have formed [it], yea, I do it.” (Young’s literal translation).

a ravenous bird” – destruction; by Nebuchadnezzar who is called “an eagle,” both by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:22) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:3).

For the Arminian/synergist. God’s counsel does indeed stand, and he delights in all he does. One of his delights is to sacrifice his sovereignty, to be terribly disappointed – heaven is flooded with his frantic tears – not to save all, but that is the price he has to pay for limiting his freedom so that he can grant man the greatest gift of all time and eternity – freedom to decide his eternal destiny. This view is, of course,contrary, as discussed above, to Romans 9.

Zahnd – So instead of saying the reprobate are raised up… [for eternal damnation] that God’s glory may be revealed, I’d rather say being “under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the greatest revelation of who God is, because when we look at what God revealed in Christ we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies.

Rather die than kill his enemies! No, no, no; not on your nelly.

Isaiah 6

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
 without inhabitant,
and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 And though a tenth remain in it,
 it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

Jeremiah 44:26-30

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’

Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them.

And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs.

This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm:

Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.”

White – Fundamental problem with Zahnd’s presentation. Biblical downgrade.

With regard to Zahnd’s “biblical downgrade” (White above), I now turn to Chris Rosebrough’s Lutheran teaching on Law and Gospel. Towards the end of the interview:

Interviewer – There is obviously no doubt that people will continue to object [to the Lutheran view of Law and Gospel]. They will say there are other ways to read the bible…What’s your response?

The Lutheran view of Law and Gospel, in a nutshell, is that it is grace that saves, not works, but works is the natural fruit of faith, and only in that sense, can we speak of works being “necessary” – like breathing is to life. This is the Calvinist view as well.

Rosebrough – My question would immediately be, “Why are you trying somehow to make space for a way of reading scripture that scripture does not give us to read it? The idea here is that if I am reading scripture the way scripture tells me to read scripture…yeah there are tons of different interpretations, and that’s the postmodernism we live in. There’s a Marxist way, a feminist way, etc. of reading scripture. We are approaching scripture with our own lenses, yet scripture is itself giving us the interpretive keys and lens to rightly understand God’s word. Why are you trying to add to this…[by saying] we’ve got these other interpretive lenses as well. No, no, no, no. Be satisfied with what we have received. And that’s the wonderful thing about this; the law-gospel distinctive is something we actually received from God in his word. All these other interpretative schemes, many of them are mixed with philosophy and man-mixed opinions…Why would I want to change or add to it? I’m just a creature…Why should I have so much hubris to think that I have a better way of understanding God’s word than God’s word tells me to understand it?

Interviewer – If someone says “Look, I’m going to study and preach holy scripture, but I’m going to try and find a different way to law and gospel, or maybe invent a new one, or I’m going to try and come out completely with a tabula rasa [clean slate, open mind]. I’m not going to allow any of the preconceptions influence how I read the bible. What are they going to find? What will the Bible be to them?

Rosebrough – At that point you are going to start erroring in wrongly understanding how to use the law, and at that point the Bible will turn into Aesop’s fables, stories with moral imperatives… Like David, you slay your own Goliaths… The Bible becomes a handbook for right living. At that point you end up losing the Gospel….When you make that switch, think of the railroads… down the line there are tracks that have been switched, the destination changes. And so you might be travelling along a particular stretch of track and not notice anything significantly different, but keep travelling down that track, you’re going to find yourself on a different set of tracks altogether, at end up at a completely different destination.

And that’s exactly what Zahn, and his ilk, I suggest, are doing.

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