Monday, May 12, 2014

Amos's fire and brimstone

This is a particularly impressive passage describing God's judgment upon a sinful Israel:

Though they dig into Sheol,
from there shall my hand take them.

Though they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
from there I will search out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies,
there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix m eyes on the for harm and not for good (Amos 9.2-4).

Not too long ago I had a post about applied divine omniscience; this text might be an exercise in applied divine omnipresence. No matter where Israel runs to hide from the judgment of YHWH -- whether in Sheol or in heaven, on the mountains or at the bottom of the ocean -- there the Lord will be to execute his judgment upon them. There is no escaping him: the repeated use of "there" and "from there" communicates his extension over every square inch of the universe.

The description of judgment here is disturbing, to be sure. It would be a mistake, however, to infer from this passage that YHWH is an angry god, waiting for the slightest slip-up in order to burn sinners in hell for an eternity. Nothing could be further from the truth! As a matter of fact, this passage comes up at a point in Israel's history after God had been merciful to them in numerous ways, and yet they persisted in their grave sinfulness and injustices despite God's mercy, despite God's warning against them, etc. Israel had reached a point in its history in which its immoralities were numerous and heinous:

For three transgressions of Israel and for our, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals -- they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go into the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed (2.6-8).

Many secular objectors to Old Testament depictions of God may be hypocritical; they don't have anywhere near the patience with wrongdoers and the immoral that God has with Israel. Evidence of this is public moral outrage at the slightest "racist" remarks by athletes, enough to ruin a person's reputation forever despite there being next to no actual harm done to anyone. Another example is the association of traditional views on marriage with racism and sexism, despite the fact that many proponents of traditional marriage will insist, over and over, that they do not hate homosexuals and that they want good for them. But God puts up with corruption, the persecution of the poor, and more, all in the hopes that people will eventually turn and repent. But when they do not, he is just -- he can't allow the evil to go on indefinitely. Secular objectors can't complain about this when they lay down the hammer without an initial waiting period at all.