Bloodlust and God as a Cosmic Cop

God as a Cosmic Cop
‘Toxic authority, police brutality…’ Click image for Morgan Guyton’s article.

Our Cosmic Cop

God sees and knows all our thoughts and deeds. And in IFB culture, he also judges them. Every moment. Like the stars in the night sky that God showed Abraham, sermons on that theme are beyond number.

Morgan Guyton often addresses public spirituality. But his recent piece on a string of police killings holds insights that are singularly brilliant. He postulates that there is a strain of Christianity which:

has a toxic conception of authority that shapes how we respond to incidents in which authority figures do evil.

Beginning with the cross, Mr. Guyton asks exactly where God’s authority lies in Jesus’ crucifixion. Then he offers this:

How we answer that question determines where we see God in these police shootings and how we understand the way forward.

After making observations about Peter’s Pentecost Day sermon, Morgan notes two responses to the proclamation of Jesus. One was from Jews in the Temple on Pentecost. The other was the Sanhedrin’s response to Stephen’s address. In that order, we read:

‘Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do”‘ [Acts 2:37]?

‘But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them’ [Acts 5:33].

So Jesus’ blood proclaimed either dissolves our resistance or hardens it.

Morton says the church must consider whether it today responds as did the 3000 in the temple, or as did the Sanhedrin. In other words he asks:

‘Are we softened or hardened by Jesus’ blood?’

Bloodlust or Gospel

Here, Guyton gives the church a great gift. Police kill daily, and courts grant them immunity to do so. As we face the fact Violence as Normalthat this more and more will be the norm, Guyton gives us words and imagery to preach the gospel in today’s context. He writes:

‘It makes sense that Christians have been unable to let a crucified man be our God. It’s far too disruptive to the logic of our worldly systems of power to kneel before a bloody, convicted criminal who couldn’t breathe.’

This aligns a ‘bloodthirsty God hellbent on self-vindication’ theology with the same worldly systems of power that crucified Jesus. It sees Jesus in lifeless, unarmed bodies of the poor, gunned down by the same worldly systems of power which also convicted and crucified Jesus.

Shaping the Gospel for Today

Morton’s alignment of an angry, IFB god with earthly systems of power, and his identification of Jesus with poor and helpless people killed by militarized police is a profound contradiction established theology and social policy. It is a radical proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the church frames and preaches Jesus Christ in such terms in this present context, the upheaval in faith and socio-political discourse could be unlike anything seen since the Revolutionary War.

The truth is, the gospel of Jesus Christ is always revolutionary and radical because it always stands in utter contradiction of the principalities and powers of this age. But not every generation perceives HOW to shape the timeless, changeless gospel such scandalous ways that it becomes truly good and truly news in that time and place.

So long as Fundamentalism retains the theology of God as a cosmic cop, it cannot preach the gospel. Nor can it in any way be ‘separated,’ because it remains thoroughly aligned with the principalities and powers of this age.

A Church of Fundamental Faithlessness

A clear demonstration of the meaning and power of God's kingdom intention.
A clear demonstration of the meaning, power and soteriological intent of the kingdom of God.

If we see Kingdom justice and Gospel righteousness as an ‘either/or,’ we might want to rethink a few things. More easily said than done. Why?

Luke 4x18-19

Whenever justice is mentioned, panic erupts. Accusations of heresy follow. Could the intention be to retain earthly systems of power and authority intact? Recall the uproar caused by Jesus’ birth:

‘When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’ [Mt 2:3].

What produced Herod’s distress if not his deep reliance ON Caesar’s authority? And Jerusalem’s distress: why did good Jewish believers react the same way to Jesus’ birth unless it was because they as much as Herod were deeply invested in that earthly power system called imperial Rome?

Another GospelPreaching, teaching, reinterpreting the law and the prophets, miracles and healing, exorcisms, raising Lazarus, controversies with temple bosses, lawyers and pharisees — Jesus continually resisted the powers of this age! That was his agenda, which makes it our agenda. We can sympathize with council’s exasperation with Jesus:

“If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place [jobs, status] and our nation.” [Jo 11:48].

The kingdom that Jesus embodied evoked a faith incompatible with the powers of this age. That’s the thing. We know where Jesus’ agenda took him; we know where it will take us. An exasperated Thomas put it best:

‘”Let us also go, so that we may die with him”‘ [Jo 11:16]!

And what of us?

Do not we separate kingdom and Gospel in order to avoid confronting the earthly powers of War, Famine, Pestilence and Death in Jesus’ Name? Is that not why no less than Jerusalem, Herod, the council or Thomas, many of us are dismayed by a mere mention of kingdom or justice?

What if Gospel fidelity isn’t at issue at all? What if it is a frantic desire to escape the potentially lethal consequences OF faithfulness to the King?

What if the issue is that our devotion and loyalty to Caesar runs deeper than our commitment to the risen Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ?

What if the interest is to preserve our deep investment in that earthly power system called ‘Capitalism’ or the ‘United States of America?’

What if the issue is that we have confidence in the United States military than in the promises of God to keep and preserve us?

What if it is that the narrative of American Exceptionalism of Manifest Destiny is more compelling for us than Jesus’ death and resurrection?

What if our ‘trust’ is invested in our political system and its functionary head of state, in our national economy, in our military, in our stories of and belief in American greatness? What if these are the idols to which we cling bow down in reverence? What if that is our de facto religion and all that remains of our ‘faith’ are platitudes about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a gospel offer of forgiveness, and future blessedness?

Such a ‘faith’ incarnates nothing, disturbs nothing, challenges nothing. Since this ‘kingdom’ has no earthly implications [for the present at least], there is no reason it should cause an uproar.

Perhaps Caesar, Herod, the Jerusalem city and council, scribes and pharisees understood better than many fundies and evangelicals the import of Christ’s presence. That may be a good reason to ponder the view of kingdom and of Christian/nation relations in another post.

A World Fit for Prayer II

Angels and Demons

Some classical artwork portrays strange worlds where angels and demons pull people toward their destiny. But at the time, that wasn’t strange at all. We are more affected by the scientific worldview than we suspect.

Generations ago, we believed that spiritual forces caused crises. If crops failed, there was a spiritual reason for it. Suppose an extraordinarily cold winter froze a lake solid. In spring, the lake liquefied. Dead fish rotted everywhere. But blame the fish for polluted waters? Nope! Fish don’t curse waters; those fish died because those waters were cursed already!

Challenge those ideas and you might well hear Paul’s word on ‘earthly powers’ and ‘world forces of this darkness’ and ‘spiritual wickedness’ [Ep 6:12]. Or you could get a reference to the four horsemen of the apocalypse — war, famine, pestilence and death [Re 6:2-8].

Rubens, The_Consequences_of_War
The Consequences of War [1638] by Peter Paul Rubens depicted the horrors of the Thirty Year War. Marked also by pestilence and famine, this protracted conflict drew most European states into its orbit between 1618 and 1648. It was concluded by the Peace of Westphalia.
The previous post saw 1Co 15:3-4 used to sum the Gospel in terms of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Peter harmonizes kingdom action with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. So does Paul, but his strategy differs. Paul relates Jesus’ resurrection to our own; this in turn leads toward the kingdom consummation [1Co 15:24-28]. Then, Jesus will:

  • Deliver the kingdom to his Father
  • Bring all rule/power/authority to an end
  • Reign to the extent of subduing his enemies
  • Abolish death itself.

Or as 1 John 3:8 puts it:

‘The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.’

Gospel word and kingdom life serve together and interpret each other. Word explains life; and life reveals the power of the word. Whenever Jesus appears, illness, demonic oppression [Ac 10:38] and demonic powers [1Co 15:24-28] must fall. For if the devil’s power and works are not broken and destroyed, then there is no deliverance from sin.

“Pray, then, in this way …’And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ [Mt 6:9, 12-13].

Pray for the World