An infuriated and vindictive God?
The importance and relevance of Biblical Creation for understanding a fallen world, the character of God and the Gospel.
Creation Ministries International has long pointed out where abandoning the straightforward historical reading of Genesis can lead in relation to the understanding of other Biblical doctrines. Unfortunately, a post on a popular social media website by Presbyterian Minister Jim Rigby highlights this point all too well. Rigby, Minister of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas, posted the following comments under the title of “MY BAD NEWS”:1
“I received some bad news this week. Apparently, because I don’t believe in a literal resurrection, I’m not really Christian…
As I share meals with my family, I have to face the fact that while they are enjoying the heavenly banquet, I will be screaming in unending torment along with Jews and Democrats and the evil college professors who teach evolution…
My accusers explained to me that I had it all wrong. They said I did not understand the gospel. You see, the earth was once a paradise. The dinosaurs were actually gentle and friendly. But then Adam and Eve stole a piece of fruit. God got very angry. So God invented cancer and hemorrhoids to punish human beings for our treachery…
And God’s righteousness is infinite, so God couldn’t just forgive us or teach us how to do better. What might seem to some like a first time misdemeanor of shoplifting fruit, was actually an irreversible irredeemable sin…
So God decided to barbecue us eternally for the mistakes of our ancestors. But God has a son named Jesus who asked God to abuse him instead. And so God killed Jesus in our place. And we call this story, the “good news.”
Oh, and we have to LITERALLY believe Jesus’ corpse got up…”
For many Bible believing Christians such a post prompts an immediate reaction of shock and horror, which is quite probably the author’s intention. But, as time is taken to break down the content of the post, this should quickly change to dismay and despair as Rigby, who holds the title of ‘minister’ in a ‘Christian church’ is denying essentials of the faith and trying to portray God as an infuriated and vindictive monster instead of our loving heavenly father. Rather than seriously engaging with the biblical text, he rather relies on his ‘golden calf’—his own intellect and reasoning—elevating these above Scripture, making emotionally charged and demonstrably false statements. In what follows, we’ll take his main points one at a time.
“My accusers explained to me that I had it all wrong. They said I did not understand the gospel. You see, the earth was once a paradise. The dinosaurs were actually gentle and friendly.”
Rigby, a believer in and promoter of the doctrines of evolution, does not read Genesis as a historical text, and attempts to mock those who do. However, even in his mocking, he admits the clear teaching of Genesis, that there was an originally perfect ‘paradise’; God could look upon it and declare, “It was very good” (Genesis 1:31). And, while popular images of dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex show them ‘red in tooth and claw’, it is clear that dinosaurs, and for that matter, every other animal God created on days five and six, ‘were actually gentle and friendly’, certainly herbivores (Genesis 1:30). In addition, there would have been none of the diseases, such as cancer, that are found later in their fossilised bones in Noahic flood sediments.
So what happened?
“But then Adam and Eve stole a piece of fruit. God got very angry.”
Again, Rigby has the general gist but twists and distorts the teaching of Genesis 3. Elsewhere Rigby refers to this event as, “The myth of original sin”.2 Adam and Eve had full communion with God in the Garden of Eden. Their relationship with Him was perfect and unbroken and their total needs were met already. Their taking of the fruit was outright rebellion against Him, so it meant that they reaped the full consequences of their actions. Sin now disrupted the Paradise that they had known, prompting God’s curse upon creation. They violated the only command that had been given by God. The fuller out-workings of the Curse are outlined in Genesis 3:14–19.
However, even here, God displayed grace, not anger as Rigby would have people believe. He outlined His plan of redemption for humanity, which was now needed as Adam was, “The representative of man at the beginning of the human race. In sinning, he implicated the whole race that was to come after him”.3 Genesis 3:15 gives what is referred to as the ‘proto-evangelium’, the first mention of the Gospel, or good news. God was already pointing to a future time when the descendent of the woman (Jesus) would crush the head of Satan and defeat the Curse.
God highlighted the separation now faced by Adam and Eve by driving them out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Communion with God was now broken and this has been mankind’s position ever since. We are separated from God in our natural state due to sin. From the moment of birth the countdown timer starts as we begin to die. Adam, as our federal head and as the forefather and progenitor of the human race has passed this separation and death onto us all.
Is God a monster?
“So God invented cancer and hemorrhoids to punish human beings for our treachery…”
Rigby is directly accusing God of being a moral monster whose curse is some sort of nasty retaliation. Rigby is not a sole voice on this charge; in fact, it is an old accusation which has also recently been slung at God by many of the “New Atheists” such as Dawkins, Dennett and Harris. They have also brought accusations against God in relation to his actions throughout the Old Testament, sometimes called atrocity lists, claiming God’s actions are evil, those of a moral monster and inconsistent with his ‘god’ nature. In this vein, Stephen Fry, a well-known UK TV presenter and atheist, recently gave this response to the question of what he would say if he ever did meet God: “I would say bone cancer in children. What’s that about? How dare you, how dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”4
There are problems with these kinds of accusations which try to make God out to be a monster. History, as recorded in the Bible, has a very clear historical timeline, something that accusers deliberately seem to ignore, as in the case of Stephen Fry, or warp, like Rigby. The world as we now know it is not in the same perfect state as when God created it; we now live in a fallen and cursed universe. The Bible is clear that since the time of the Curse “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22–23). The monster God they are imagining simply does not exist. The death-filled evolutionary timeline does not exist. There was no ‘evil creator God’ who created this world with all the horrible diseases as we see it today.
However, in correcting the fallacies put forward by such men we must remember that answering questions on this topic is not some dry dispassionate theological discourse! Real people, their relatives and their friends struggle with the effects of some horrifically painful and degenerative diseases. This kind of thing is happening every single day, so our answers should be filled with compassion.
All diseases—whether caused by harmful genetic mutations such as the many forms of cancer, or those caused by pathogenic viruses and bacteria such as the Ebola virus and bubonic plague, and so on—are the inevitable consequence of a cursed world, now fallen through human rebellion against God’s goodness and perfect will. None of these diseases was present in the original creation and they are only now in existence as a result of corrupted and broken-down versions of what was originally made. For example, most strains of the rod-shaped E. coli bacteria are not pathogenic (disease causing) for humans, with many strains residing in your gut, helping your body to break down and digest the food you eat, and even display magnificent design features such as the motorised flagellum. “But the grotesque imagery of E. coli infections tells a different story: After eating food contaminated with pathogenic strains [such as the Escherichia coli O157:H7 strain], people can experience vomiting, diarrhea, and dysentery. And in rare cases, the bacteria can lead to kidney failure and even death”.5 The Escherichia coli O157:H7 strain has been a major concern to the food industry since its discovery in 1982. It is thought ultimately to have come from a nonpathogenic E. coli bacteria through a combination of genomic reduction and the acquiring of genes from a bacteriophage; i.e. a virus that infected the bacteria.6 It is these ‘new’ genes, among other putative virulence factors, that produce a poisonous substance called Shiga toxin, causing the various symptoms.
Seeing such aberrations of God’s perfect originally created organisms should be a sober reminder of the monstrous sins of human beings against God. The gulf, between our present experience of a fallen world and what Christian believers will experience beyond this mortal life, is so immense that it is beyond our comprehension. For those prepared to acknowledge the truth of Scripture, there are good answers to Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?
By what standards do human beings presume to judge God?
When people such as Rigby insinuate that the literal understanding of Genesis 3 makes God the vindictive dispenser of arbitrary punishments, there are a number of questions that need to be asked:
- By what standard(s) are they making this judgment?
- Are they using their own subjective view of truth to set the standard?
- If the latter, how do they determine what is right and what is wrong in the first place? What moral law are they using (if any) and how can they impose this on anyone else?
If, as consistent naturalistic evolutionists or atheists are forced to concede, there is ultimately no right or wrong, how could they ever pronounce God’s morals unethical, immoral or monstrous? Many such writers either fail to see (or to acknowledge) this very obvious problem.
However, people are inconsistent (often ‘blessedly inconsistent’) and even the most committed atheist can be emotionally charged, speaking with deep pain and anger in response to death and suffering. The reality is that they cannot help acknowledging that humanity does have inherit value compared to mere animals (indeed, since we are made in the image of God), and that death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). What an awkward and inconsolable position to be in! They want to weep, but do not want to admit why they weep, as they must force themselves to stick to their mantra.
On what standards does God judge us?
And God’s righteousness is infinite, so God couldn’t just forgive us or teach us how to do better. What might seem to some like a first time misdemeanor of shoplifting fruit, was actually an irreversible irredeemable sin…
So God decided to barbecue us eternally for the mistakes of our ancestors.
Such irreverent language reveals Rigby’s lack of the fear of God, appropriate for any professing Christian (see Jeremiah 2:19, Romans 3:18). His distortion of the biblical facts shows no appreciation for the holiness of God, or the reverence that we should have towards him. We ought to keep in mind the status and holiness of the One that was offended. The level of punishment corresponds to the infinite holiness of the One who was offended. In the case of the Fall, it was the eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and wholly pure God who was able to create the universe by the power of his word! Our sinful nature, inherited from our ancestor Adam, means that we are now naturally pre-disposed towards continually offending God. We exist in a sinful state, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12).
Hence, God cannot just teach, ‘us how to do better’, as, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). So it’s not a matter of God deciding to eternally punish sinners in Hell “for the mistakes of [their] ancestors”; we are each responsible to God for our own sin. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), debtors and hell-deserving. Tommy Clayton puts it exceptionally well when he asks, “So, how could someone who claims to be faithful to Scripture ridicule the idea of eternal punishment? What is at the heart of their rejection of a never-ending hell? It’s simple, really—they minimize the seriousness of human sin and guilt, and they distort the perfection of divine justice. That’s the crime of Protestant Liberalism and every false religion”.7 To read more about ‘why a loving God would send people to hell’, see here.
Divine justice—The Good News!
But God has a son named Jesus who asked God to abuse him instead. And so God killed Jesus in our place. And we call this story, the “good news.”
In contrast to these appalling, blasphemous comments from Rigby, we answer with: “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:16). Rigby, although sarcastically, recognises this message as the good news. And it is good news! Jesus became the propitiation for our sins! Propitiation simply means that by the shedding of His blood on the Cross, making an atonement for sin, Jesus turned aside God’s wrath from guilty sinners—a penal substitution. God could then declare those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice as justified: a legal term which means to be declared guiltless. Jesus became the Substitute.
As the ‘last Adam’, (1 Corinthians 15:45), Jesus dealt with the curse that was brought on us by the first man Adam. By allowing this transaction God showed His perfect justice (Romans 3:26). “The believer is [then] treated as though he were Christ and is made the righteousness of God. This is not because of what the believer is in himself, but solely because of his position in Christ.”8 This means that being sinful is not, as Rigby states, an irreversible or irredeemable state. Rather, “all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12), being redeemed by His shed blood.
Rigby calls this good news ‘abuse’, following in the line of an increasing number of other modern writers, some of whom are professing evangelicals. For example Steve Chalke, a British Baptist Minister, caused a furore when he stated that penal substitution (Jesus bearing our iniquities for us), reduces “God to a ‘cosmic child abuser’.”9 But the Bible, something that Rigby has forgotten to reference during his rant, makes it clear that, “The Lord Jesus [equal with the Father in the Godhead], was not an ‘abused child’ or unwilling participant in our redemption. He willingly went to the Cross and offered Himself in our place (John 10:15–17; Galatians 1:4; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 12:2)”.10 Praise God that he did!
Was the resurrection physical?
Oh, and we have to LITERALLY believe Jesus’ corpse got up…
What the bible teaches about the physical reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is very clear (bold emphases added):
And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (1 John 4:1–3).
Now I would remind you, brothers of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:1–7)
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19).
These verses (and the many others that could be quoted) are abundantly clear on the physical nature of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, even offering the names and groups of people that he appeared to. Because Rigby denies the historical truth of creation he fails to grasp the reality of why Jesus physically died on the cross. 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 goes on to explain the obvious comparisons and contrasts between the physical death that Adam brought into creation because of sin (hence why we all physically die today, as well as being spiritually dead), and Jesus’ physical death and resurrection. That Christ rose again is the proof that His sacrifice was accepted. It also means that, one day, believers can be physically resurrected and dwell with God on the new earth. Jesus really lived and died in history which is why you can really be saved at this moment and time in history. What the Bible tells us about Jesus were real historical events, in spite of the jibes of ‘minister’ Rigby. The Bible’s rich theology is outworked through historical events. The historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus means that, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9–10).
How does this relate to the character of God?
Rigby and many others will continue to rail against God as some sort of infuriated, vindictive monster; in so doing, they seem to consider themselves morally superior and are adding to their own fearful condemnation. Rather, the Bible clearly demonstrates God’s love towards us and the goodness of his character. While there are many components to the character of God outlined in the Bible, the following summary table of some of God’s attributes (His character) is something that His haters and detractors would do well to consider soberly:
|Good||“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The original creation that God intended us to live in had no sin, suffering or death, demonstrating the goodness of God’s character in his creative acts.|
|Holy||“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). God is wholly pure and in him is no evil. God calls us to be a holy people.|
|Love||“God is love” (1 John 4:8). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16–17).|
|Patient||“Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).|
|Merciful||“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’ ” (Exodus 34:6–7).|
|Just||“[B]ut now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).|
When the Bible is sincerely and carefully studied, each passage in context, and as a whole, the inescapable conclusion is that God is one worthy of our praise, worship and adoration. So what is the real nature of the accusations against God, whether of Jim Rigby, Stephen Fry or anyone else? Chris Sinkinson surely hits that nail on the head when he says, “Perhaps this is the real reason many people rail against the God of the Bible? It is not that they think he is a moral monster, but that they are afraid he is a moral judge, and that has implications for our behaviour now.”11 The reality is that people often use evolution12 to try and rid themselves of God as Creator and owner of this universe because they wish to live as they please and are uncomfortable with the idea of judgment.
Having abandoned the historicity of Genesis and many of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, Rigby has tried to give a counterfeit version of the truth by using Christian terminology in what he teaches. Wisdom that is truly from above always acts in obedience to the Word of God, which Rigby has demonstrably not done. As we have considered the true history of mankind and its necessity for the Gospel, we do well to heed the advice of godly John C. Ryle (Bishop of Liverpool in the 19th century) in fulfilling the great commission given to Christians. We must be “very careful on this point. It is no real kindness to keep back the terrors of the Lord: it is good for us all to be taught that it is possible to be lost forever, and that all unconverted people are hanging on the brink of the pit.”13
References and notes
- Rigby, J., My bad news, facebook.com, 25 December 2015; accessed 20 February 2016. For brevity, only the relevant and salient portions of the post have been quoted in this article. Return to text.
- Rigby, J., facebook.com, 19 January 2016; accessed 20 February 2016. Return to text.
- Grieve, P., Leviticus; Richie Old Testament Commentaries, Eds: Stevely, W.S. & West, D.E., John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, Scotland, p. 65, 2010. Return to text.
- Stephen Fry on God: The meaning of Life with Gay Byrne, RTE One, 1 February 2015. Return to text.
- Buckley, C., How E. coli cells work in the human gut, today.uconn.edu, 24 July 2012; accessed 21 February 2016. Return to text.
- Lim, J.Y., Yoon, J.-W., & Hovde, C.J., A brief overview of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and its plasmid O157, Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, 20(1):5–14, 2010; jmb.or.kr, accessed 21 February 2016. Return to text.
- Clayton, T., Is God a Monster? 18 May 2011; gty.org.uk, accessed 19 April 2016. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 59. Return to text.
- Chalke, S., Redeeming the Cross: The Lost Message of Jesus & the cross of Christ, 24 November 2005; oasistrust.org, accessed 20 February 2016. Return to text.
- Anon, Christ’s Substitutionary Sacrifice: a brief study of the atonement, Trinitarian Bible Society, Tyndale House, London p. 5, 2006. Return to text.
- Sinkinson, C., Unapologetic Christianity – Is God a Monster?, bethinking.org, accessed 20 February 2016. Return to text.
- Refer back to the second paragraph of Rigby’s comments that headed this article. Return to text.
- Ryle, J.C., Expository thoughts on Matthew, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, Scotland, p. 20, 1986. Return to text.