|"The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" John Martin, 1852|
Question: Some of this non-violent God stuff is relatively new to me, and just curious how it would relate to stories like the flood or Sodom and Gomorrah? Would this be explained in any of your books?
Response: A good question and yes, we do 'go there' in A More Christlike God (in the section entitled "Unwrathing God") though not with the specific instance of Sodom and Gomorrah. Let's begin generally and work our way there.
If we start with the premise that God is only finally revealed exactly in Jesus (John 1:18, Hebrews 1:1-3), as perfect love seen most clearly on the cross (1 John 4:7-21), then everything else is filtered through that.
That Christ-centered theological filter requires us to reread stories like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in some cases, we can no longer receive the original telling as straightforward face-value propositions. Happily, we actually see both Jesus and Paul modeling this for us.
Derek Flood demonstrates Paul's approach beautifully in an article entitled "The Way of Peace and Grace: How Paul Wrestled with Violent Passages in the Old Testament." You can download the pdf here.
I also recommend his book, Disarming Scripture, the premise of which is that the Bible requires, invites and trains us to be faithful to Scripture by faithfully questioning it. Here is Brian Zahnd's review.
As for specifics, on a story like the flood, there's also a lot going on in the OT context that points this direction. Here's a great short video we did with Matt Lynch that addresses that.
In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the 10 plagues in Egypt, or the snake plague in Numbers, we have to take into account how the Jewish theology of the destroyer/Satan developed through the centuries within the Hebrew Scriptures.
In their earliest understanding, the destruction inflicted by the destroyer (or 'destroying angel') is synonymous with destruction by God himself. The stories sometimes use destroying angel and God interchangeably.
But there's also a development where the destroyer and God are distinguished, probably to keep God's hands clean from doing violence personally. So the destroyer comes to be seen as God's hitman, sent from the courts of heaven to punish evildoers.
Then by John 10:10, God himself (in the flesh) clarifies: "It is the thief who steals, kills and destroys. I come to bring life to the fullest." He's drawing a hard line of opposition. When you see destruction and death-dealing, that's the thief. When you see human flourishing and life-giving, that's the Lord.
Note well: The Father and Son are one. The Son reveals and serves the Father. And the destroyer is the enemy, not the servant, of God. Through the Cross, the destroyer is vanquished and driven out.
To remove any final doubts, you get to the book of Revelation chapter 9. Verse 2 tells us that a star had fallen from heaven to earth (traditionally Satan). It opens the pit of the abyss, a great smoking furnace, and horrifying demonic locusts emerge from the smoke (vs. 3). And then we read in verse 11:
"They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abandon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer)."
Who is the fallen angelic star, the king of the demonic hoards? Whether you read this narrative and its characters literally, prophetically or mythologically, could we agree on this: God is not the destroyer.
Satan (however you understand it) is the destroyer. And Satan is not God's servant or hitman. Satan is the defeated enemy of Christ. For those who'd like to dig into this a little deeper, I recommend these articles by Richard Murray here and here.
So, that's quite a development over about 1500 years of theology. That means we need to read those original stories in light of the fresh revelation of Christ and his apostolic spokesmen. Here's a fine example:
Paul gives his commentary on the subtlety Old Testament destruction in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 (NASB):