From time to time, I find some sermons upsetting, for not living up to my subjective (hence not necessarily reasonable) expectations. This was one of them.
Firstly, I really appreciated the speaker teaching about how some Psalms with hateful-sounding content (i.e. asking God to do seemingly morally reprehensible stuff) should be treated as merely describing the Psalmist’s own imperfect and sinful attitudes, and hence care should be taken not to interpret such sinful attitudes as something for Christians to follow (i.e. some Psalms are “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive”).
Regarding books of the bible that claim that God commanded the cruel murder of enemy nations’ babies (this is just one of many seemingly morally reprehensible events the bible attributes to God’s decree), I find it similarly plausible that God may not have actually given such a command. It may have been that whoever ordered such cruelties simply misappropriated God’s name for their own evil purposes, just like how religious groups throughout history have committed all kinds of moral atrocities “in God’s name”. (Conservative Christians are understandably wary of such an approach, insisting that if the bible says God did it, then he must have done it. But for truth’s sake, perhaps we should at least consider the possibility that God may have intended that the bible be first-and-foremost a historical document describing the imperfect thoughts of its authors, which is why the bible has to be “spiritually discerned” anyway.)
The sermon was about the judgement / punishment that awaits evildoers, and that it is God’s prerogative, so that Christians should not take it upon themselves to exact vengeance.
Throughout the sermon, the speaker described how one way or another, “we” (i.e. the speaker and audience collectively) continually suffer from the injustice committed by evil people. But the speaker failed to mention that, because we are all sinners too, “we” are also continually committing injustice! E.g. whenever we spend money on some “first-world problem”, we deprive third-world-problem sufferers from the much needed financial help that could have given them simple things like clean drinking water, or prevent them from suffering gruesome deaths to cheaply preventable diseases. Me: “Dear God, thank you for blessing me with this delicious gourmet burger.” God: “Hey, were you even listening? I gave you that money to help the poor …” (cf. parable of the talents). Of course, the present writer is also guilty of such. (Related: https://caveat1ector.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/law-and-love/)
Furthermore, amidst all the talk about letting God do the punishment, there was no mention that we should not even be desiring vengeance to be inflicted upon our enemies (cf. parable of the unforgiving debtor). It was also ironic that right after the sermon, everyone commemorated “The Lord’s Supper”, which was supposed to have symbolised the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ to forgive everyone of their sin. (“God, please punish the evildoers, but thank you for letting me off the hook.”)
A fundamental problem with the sermon was that it represented the part of human nature that readily identifies himself as The Good Guy™, so that the bad guy is always that guy over there, and seldom the guy I see every day in the mirror (cf. Matthew 7:1-5). Thus, people learn much less than they would from the bible, especially when they read about people like the self-righteous and close-minded Pharisees who rejected Jesus’s at-the-time “new and dangerous” ideas, thinking they were the ones who got everything right. (The Pharisees were too proud of strictly following their own traditions, i.e. their own man-made laws. Jesus’s teachings happened to contradict their own laws so, to them, obviously Jesus’s teachings were wrong.) The take-home message usually amounts to, “don’t be like the Pharisees”, instead of “we are often just like the Pharisees”.
On a related note, does anyone realise that the bible itself is a man-made object? Once upon a time, a bunch of people picked and chose which books they personally felt represented what they thought was God’s word, and assembled them into what’s now known as “the bible”. Also, they voted on it, and there was plenty of disagreement on which books “belonged” in the bible. (One example is how Catholics and Protestants recognise different sets of books as “the bible”.) Also, does it even make sense for “truth” to be decided by majority opinion?
(Matthew 7:13-14 NRSV) 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Truth is seldom easily-obtained, especially not by popular opinion. Wouldn’t it be nice if some “truth” were conveniently packaged in a human-written and human-assembled book called “the bible”, a book that some people insist is 100% error free, whatever that may mean? Maybe then people wouldn’t have to argue about what “truth” really is. Oh wait, people still argue over what’s the correct way to interpret “the bible” anyway…
Interestingly, one verse prior to the above-quoted Mathew 7:13-14, says
Matthew 7:12 (NRSV)
The Golden Rule
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
So maybe if we’re so quick to see other people as “the bad guy”, we should be equally quick to see ourselves as “the bad guy” too. If we’re so quick to ask God to forgive us, we should also be quick to ask God to forgive others (yes, even those evildoers over there whom we’d gleefully watch as God inflicts all kinds of nasties upon them.)
And if we expect non-Christians to be open to the fact that they are wrong about religion, we should also expect ourselves to be open to the fact that our own religion is at least less than perfect, if not completely wrong.