Why is God vindictive

Vengeance - the god of vengeance in the Old and New Testaments
by Klaus-Peter Lehmann

The prejudiced tradition of the Old Testament god of vengeance

The Old Testament is a book full of vengeance and violence and its God, the God of Israel, a vengeful despot who legitimizes oppression and injustice. This opinion pervades church history.
Marcion (85–160) was the first Christian theologian who systematically opposed a good God of the New Testament to an evil God of the old. Against the ideological background of Gnosis, he saw in the latter a cruel demiurge, (1) the creator of a material and evil world, which Christ, the representative of God of love, had overcome in order to lead the redeemed into their purely spiritual home of a spiritual life. As a result, he reduced the biblical canon to the so-called Marcionite Gospel (10 Pauline letters and a Gospel of Luke cleared of Jewish references). The church had cast out Marcion as a heretic, but his opinion of the Torah as the law of punishment and vengeance, his hostility to Jews and his ideological dualism have continued to this day.
Throughout the Church there was an ambivalent attitude towards the Old Testament. On the one hand, it was valued as a separate document of faith, on the other hand, attempts were made to separate Judaism from it (> doctrine of disinheritance). In addition, the delusion developed that the Jews were in league with the devil and blind to the words of the Bible. Anti-Judaism did not primarily oppose the creditworthiness of the Old Testament. But it was inevitable that the hatred of the Jews would also hit their documents of faith. That is why there have always been devaluations of the Old compared to the New Testament. (2) A sharp cut and a general rejection of the Hebrew Bible did not occur until the 20th century.
Adolf von Harnack was prominent 1851-1930). He said that Jesus' mercy had replaced the rule of vengeance, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. For in the New Testament the cruel Jewish God, “the warlike and unpredictable Jehovah, would become a holy being.” (3) He regarded it as a “consequence of a religious and ecclesiastical paralysis” to preserve the Old Testament “as a canonical document in Protestantism. "(4)
This opinion was perfected under National Socialism. Alfred Rosenberg spoke of the "hatred" of "murderous messianism", which, sparked by the Old Testament, was the highest Jewish endeavor, in contrast to the Nordic ideals of honor and freedom. (5) The theologian Emanuel Hirsch seconded that “the Old Testament in its entirety was broken through faith in Jesus.” Like everything Jewish, it is characterized by the lack of national will to sacrifice. (6) The German Christians spoke of the fact that with the New Testament “the deadly opposition between this Jesus and Judaism had broken out”. (7) They expected the church to "get rid of the Old Testament and its Jewish wage ethics." (8)
Today church theology has fundamentally overcome this dualism.
But pacifists who assume the sanctity of life in itself; a theology that condemns the prophets' criticism of prevailing injustice as a rebellion against God's order of creation; Dualists who contrast the wrath of God with his love; and a theology that speaks of God's development from violent in the Old to the peace-loving in the New Testament tend to separate the former (with his Jewish god of war) from the latter (with Jesus and his god of love).
This form of anti-Judaism survives today in the voices of individuals and in the media. Franz Alt wrote that the Old Testament God was a god of revenge, the God of Jesus a god of love. (9) An example for many from the German press:> "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth seemed to have clearly determined Israel's policy so far." (10)

The vengeance of the God of Israel is called mercy and justice

A careful interpretation of the Scriptures is the decisive requirement in order to overcome the prejudice of the Jewish god of vengeance.

 The prohibition of human vengeance
The commandment to love one's neighbor and the prohibition to seek vengeance can be found in the middle of the Torah: You should not take revenge or hold your own against the children of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbis and apostles regard this instruction as the central expression of God's will (Mk 12: 28-34; Rom 13: 8-10; Bereshit Rabba on Genesis 5: 1). The rabbis tried to find a comprehensive interpretation for everyday life: What does vindictive mean and what does resentful mean? If someone asks someone to lend him his sickle and he refuses, the next day he asks that person to lend him his ax, and the other replies: I will not lend you, just as you did not lend me. This is called 'vengeful'. What does 'resentful' mean? If someone asks someone to lend him his ax and he refuses, the next day he asks him to lend him his robe, and the other replies: There you have it; I'm not like you who didn't lend me This means 'resentful' (Joma 23a).

Human and Divine Vengeance
The prophet Jeremiah laments under the burden of his calling (20: 8). The call for justice plunges him into common and threatening hostility (v.1). His enemies want to take hold of him, themselves take revenge on him (V.10). Although it has become the mockery of many (v.7), he hopes confidently, the God of Israel, who saved the life of the poor from the hands of evildoers (V.13), will prove in him. Then the eternal shame of those who think evil would come to light. This is your vengeance on them, which the prophet hopes to see (v.12).

God's vengeance is the establishment of righteousness
The prayer of Psalm 94 asks the God of Israel, the God of vengeance, that he should appear (v.1). He describes the rage of the evildoers (v.3ff). They trample down the people of God Israel (v.5), behave inhumanly, murder widows, strangers and orphans (v.6). The prayer hopes that God will rise up against the wicked (v.16). He will remain loyal to his people (v.14), he will raise them up in fidelity to the Torah (v.12), he will push back wickedness and see to it that perfect justice prevails in the land: Yes, the judgment will be turned towards righteousness (V.15). This is God's vengeance: the establishment of justice. On the other hand, the malevolent will not stand. They will perish in God's struggle for righteousness (v.22).

Justice and violence
Because the malevolent have no insight and do not give up their rule of tyranny, the coming of justice can only be imagined as a struggle, as a struggle of subversive violence (1Sam 2,1-10; Lk 1,46-55). The Lord helps the bowed down, He humbles the wicked to the dust (Ps 147: 6).
Does this violence violate the sanctity of life? In the biblical testimony, Israel confesses YHWH, the ruler of righteousness, as Lord over life and death and recognizes his righteous instructions as the way into the sanctified life (Leviticus 19: 1-3; Deuteronomy 4: 8; 16:20). Life in itself is not sacred. "It is wrong to say that existence is higher than just existence." (11)
The Bible forbids human vengeance and hopes for the day of God's vengeance, which brings righteousness and consolation (Isa. 61: 2). She confronts her reader with the problem of avenging violence in bringing about social justice by letting the righteous wrath of God speak against unjust people and confronting the unjust life of the world of nations with the morally justified possibility of its violent elimination (prophetic judgment announcements). The day of God's vengeance brings final justice, the kingdom of God, earthquake-like, amid war and human upheavals (2Chr 15.6f; Mi 7.6; Luke 21.9f).
The Old Testament poses the problem of violence in the announced revolutionization of man and his social conditions by the God of Israel. The apostle Paul also faces this problem.

Messianic ethics of martyrdom in the New Testament
Paul writes his letter to the Romans under the horizon of the new messianic time, started by the one who is appointed to the Son of God full of power according to the spirit of holiness by virtue of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ (= Messiah), our Lord (Rom 1,4). Our Lord i.e., according to Jesus' interpretation of the Torah, the community that Body of Christ (Rom 12: 4f), live, charity in the heart. As Paul shows in Romans 12: 17-21, this is Old Testament instruction.
Do not return evil for evil to anyone (V.17) interprets Prov 24:29. In: Do not avenge yourselves (V.19a) we hear Leviticus 19:18 and Prov 20:22. Vengeance is mine, I will repay (V.19b), like Moses, emphasizes the hope of the day of God's vengeance (Ps 90: 1; 94: 1ff). Correspondingly urgent the interpretation of the commandment to love one's neighbor as a commandment to unconditional love for one's enemies from Prov 25: 21f: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for if you do this you will gather coals of fire on your head. Hope for the day of God's vengeance corresponds to the ethic of love for one's enemies. An ethic of renouncing retaliatory, evil violence: rather suffer than be vengeful or resentful.
Apostolic ethics is instruction in the anticipation of the kingdom of God, the preferred practice of what was hoped for in the end times: Reconciliation of peoples through the fulfillment of the Torah (Mt 5: 16f). Since the apostles know about the suffering under the coming wars and rulers of tyranny (Lk 21: 9-12) and hold fast to the required charity under all circumstances, these are instructions for the persecuted, for possible martyrs who fight against overpowering wickedness hope to endure with the love that has already overcome death (John 17:15, 26). He who does not carry his cross and walk with me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27).
The New Testament expects wars and violence in the messianic labor pangs and pleads for a certain behavior: for the steadfast (Lk 21:19) anticipation of the promised human society in love or justice (Col 3:10), defying all conditions, so that these as God's goal of all historical struggles and sufferings for people and peoples, pointing to the day of God's vengeance, remain in mind.

  1. Dualistic secret teachings of the 1st-3rd centuries Century AD An unauthorized god created the material world. A spark, however, connects people with spiritual eternity, so that in the Christian version Jesus redeems people from the creation of the Old Testament demiurge (= master builder of the material cosmos).
  2. The Old Testament writings do not have "the inspiration of the New Testament." (F. Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, § 132)
  3. Adolf v. Harnack, Das Wesen des Christianentums, Munich 1964, p. 55
  4. Ders., The Gospel of Strange God, 1924, p. 217; s.a.a.O., chap. 3, p. 31: the terrible countenance of the cruel Jewish god and creator of the world.
  5. A. Rosenberg, The Myth of the 20th Century
  6. W. Schottroff, Theology and Politics in E. Hirsch, Church and Israel 1.87, p. 33.38
  7. V. Herntrich, Völkische Religiosität und Old Testament, 1933, p. 26
  8. Resolution of the Sports Palace rally of the German Christians on November 13, 1933. Wage morality and revenge morality do not differ here, because wages are considered retribution in a positive sense and revenge in a negative sense.
  9. Ms. Alt, Peace is Possible! 983, p. 26
  10. From a comment of the FR on the Gulf War 1990, in: Table texts: Shavuot-Talmud-Rache, Ev. AK Church and Israel in Hessen-Nassau
  11. Walter Benjamin, On the Critique of Violence, GS II / 1, p. 201

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