In Response to Jean Sheldon's 'Vengeful God' Reflections

I really appreciated most of the thoughtful, honest answers Jean Sheldon gave during her Spectrum interview, "Making Sense of a Vengeful God," just as I appreciate Jean herself. I know her to be an excellent teacher and a wise, loving, caring, and thoughtful person. I live in the same community as she does. The other day I offered a ride to a college student escaping campus for an afternoon. When I found out he was a senior theology student, I asked him who his favorite teacher was. Without hesitation, he replied “Jean Sheldon.” He then began a long list of the many reasons he felt that way.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Douglas, thank you for your thoughts…simple superb.

Thank you Douglas Cooper! I agree most of the controversies in this denomination are the result of how we view inspiration. And yet we have the prophet’s words,“the writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not his pen.” If we as a church could only grasp this concept! Perhaps we need a weekend about the nature of inspiration that is not confined to how to prove Ellen was a prophet, but actually studies out why and how the Bible came to be written.

PS I met you once and spoke with you at a Prayer Weekend at North Cascade SDA Church over ten years ago, but I was glad to meet you because as a teenager I discovered God’s grace through your book, “Living God’s Love.” That book changed my life and so did Jean’s book “No Longer Naked and Ashamed.”

May we all seek the TRUTH–not just proclaim to have the truth.


Douglas Cooper—your books were a lifesaver for me 35 years ago. Still have them—Thank you for your thoughts here.


Professor Sheldon has brought into open public discussion a matter which was even regarded as taboo to argue about in the Adventist community in which I grew up. In fact I hated my father for his simplistic inconsistent explanations and threats to take me to the woodshed for questioning the total beneficence of the God he believed in.Fortunately I was always of independent mind and did my own private research. I did not go to his deathbed or funeral. This vengeful god question has to be faced squarely. In my opinion, large parts of the OT reflect Sumerian antecedents , to the extents where we adopt the Babylonian custom of starting a holy day(holiday?)or significant day on the preceding eve as in Genesis, instead of at sunrise as indicated in the fourth commandment. There in the first commandment God is said to himself have threatened retribution for many generations for the worship of other Gods. If this is not an unauthorized addition by the scribe Moses , what can we make of it?Furthermore when Moses descended Sinai with sacred commands not to “kill”(commit murder) he proceeded forthwith to organise the murder of thousands of his fellowmen for practicing a fertility orgy they perhaps learned in Egypt. To get to the root of so-called “vengeful acts of God” we have to scrutinize and make certain decisions. We now know what caused the deluge, for example and it was a natural cause, NOT due to an act of God. I refuse to believe that the veracity of the story of Job in the slightest way. Would God be making a bet with an entity who is said to have attempted to destroy the Godhead and caused havoc in heaven, on the life of an ardent supporter of his laws ? Impossible. There are some instances where I believe God acted severely, but this is not one of them. In all, despite everything, I say “In God we trust”


Ricky Gervais, who self describes as a comedian and “Godless Ape” wrote on Twitter, “There have been nearly 3000 Gods so far but only yours actually exists.The others are silly made up nonsense. But not yours. Yours is real.”

For all his acerbic wit (sarcasm, mockery, whatever), he makes another uncomfortable point: when we deny the reality of just about all deities but affirm the reality of one, it puts us in the sometimes uncomfortable position of then either saying what reason we have for denying the realness of other deities or saying what reason we have for affirming the realness of this one particular deity, or both.

If the “astonishing difference between the angry, vengeful God portrayed many places in the Old Testament and the merciful, compassionate God presented by Jesus in the New Testament” is “one of the greatest problems to face Christian believers,” I feel as though Ricky Gervais’ sardonic tweet is another, when its premise is taken seriously.

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Jesus’ view of God’s character vs Fundamentalist’s view of God’s character. The battle has been going on for years and the streets are lined with dead bodies. Of course, it’s the fundamentalist killing Jesus first and then his followers. Jesus’ true followers never killed anyone in His name . . . and never have. One would think that having a prophet for over 60 years and watching her theology change, grow, and mature throughout her lifetime everyone could see how the prophetic gift works. But, alas, instead of learning how inspiration works from an inspired person many, instead, deified her writings. Much like they did the scriptures! Thank you, Douglas!! You are an inspiration to those of us who are battle worn! Peace!


even Luther was not free from vindictive urgings. What we should be reading in the OT is God’s forbearance. he could have struck Adam and Eve dead. He even forebear on Cain. I think one must study Job. What He permits does not mean He endorses. I find great comfort in the Psalms, Job, Micah, John, Romans, Phil., and Hebrews and others. I think this nation is about to be tested as never before. How is the time to find comfort in the Cross. Though He slay me, yet will I trustHim! TZ


“The last message of mercy to be given to the world, is the revelation of His character of love.” Great comfort can be found in Christ’s crucifixion when we grasp the primary reality of what it reveals about God. For it is in this particular moment in Christ’s ministry, the Satanic influence has made counterfeit, that which is most meaningful. James Carroll in “A History Constantine’s Sword The Church and The Jews” wrote: , “…the idea of the Father of Jesus callously presiding over his son’s death, willed by the Father as a means of salvation, takes root in the Christian imagination only with the emperor Constantine, at a time when he had compelling political and personal reasons for embracing such an ideology. It is equally important to know, as Part Four describes that this idea takes lasting root in Christian theology only with Saint Anselm, who saw in the mortal obedience of the Son of God a courtly adjudication proper to the violent eleventh century. God is the offended Lord who must be appeased by an offering commensurate with the offense, and the only such offering the Son of God could make was his death. What if Constantine and Anselm and all those who, following them, have gilded the cross, turning it into a symbol of triumphalism, are in understandable but mistaken flight from the more evident meaning of the cross – that the world remains unredeemed?


Let me take a stab at it (not promoting violence!). Claiming that there are false gods opens up the possibility that a true God exists. I’ll use currency as an example. When you have counterfeit currency, doesn’t that mean that there is a genuine version?


Having just pulled James Carrol’s book from my library shelves, the thought returns that had the early church continually focused on the Resurrection, rather than Jesus’ death and Resurrection, how different would the church have become?

Crosses adorn church spires, paintings and statues throughout the churches portray the crucifixion, and how many sermons have we heard listing in great detail all the gruesome particulars of a Roman crucifixion?

But the Resurrection, which was celebrated on the first day of the week by the first century Christians has been eclipsed by the crucifixion. There is no reason to extol or explain the Crucifixion. It was a very common form of execution at the time. But recalling his day in the tomb on Sabbath is meaningless without the Resurrection. Had Adventists not been so squeamish about celebrating Easter, but recognized with all Christians, that without the Resurrection there would have been no Christian church how different might Adventism have been viewed by other Christians? Sabbath was given the Jews to remember the Creation and their deliverance from slavery. but Christ’s Resurrection is the Christian’s delivery from death; without it there would be no hope beyond the grave. Observing Sabbath has no such promise.

But what does the official Adventist church teach: Anselm’s or Abelard’s theories? or ?


There is a simple explanation for the mean God of the OT and the nice God of the NT. After Adam’s fall, his authority over the earth was usurped by Satan. Satan thus claimed the entire world as his lawful domain and its inhabitants as his subjects. In the eyes of most of the universe, his claims were valid which is why he was allowed to enter into God’s throne room as earth’s ruler. Only the Israelites and other righteous non-Israelites like Job were claimed by God as His subjects as long as they showed by their obedience their faith in God. However, by choosing to reject God and His covenant with them, they chose to place themselves under the suzerainty of Satan again. Thus, legally, God was unable to protect them. Satan, as ruler of the world, had the right to set certain rules and God, due to His sense of fairness and justice, chose to follow them, as well. Satan has always said that God was unfair and has demanded that God immediately punish sinners since, in his own mind, God was unfair and unmerciful to him by not allowing him back into heaven. God has always wanted to delay punishment and show mercy to sinners but since the world was not His, He was not able to do so and be fair to Satan and his claims.
Jesus came to show the universe that God is love, just, merciful, and fair. He came to win back the rulership of this world from Satan by overcoming as the second Adam. Satan tried to tempt Him by offering to give Him the rulership of the world the easy way with no effort and sacrifice. Jesus rejected this temptation and redeemed the world from Satan the proper way. By His death and resurrection, He exposed Satan as a liar and murderer and bought the world and humanity back. Jesus was now the legitimate ruler of earth in the eyes of the universe and Satan was no longer allowed to enter heaven. As the the rightful ruler of the earth, Jesus was now able to institute the rules that He had always wanted to institute from the beginning. That is why, since Jesus’ resurrection, punishment is now delayed because the world is no longer under Satan’s laws but is now under God’s laws.

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I see the vengeful Yahweh of the OT as almost a twin of the Allah of Islam. Maybe they are one and the same?

Should the Israelites of Biblical times suddenly resurrect en masse, surely they would be practicing Sharia law— throwing gays off ten story buildings and stoning adulterers, among other barbarities.

While we like to think the New Testament softened the image of the vengeful God, we have to contend with the anthology of atrocities which EGW documents for us in her Great Controversy, all occurring in the modern post-Christ era.

We also have to contend with our own Adventist eschatology:

The anticipated “TIME OF TROUBLE SUCH AS NEVER WAS” sounds horrific particularly when juxtaposed with images of the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, ISIS, and inumerable other atrocities.

The havoc and horror of the last century with multiple genocides – Armenian, Stalin’s Gulag, the Holocaust, the Pol Pot, the Bosnian, the Rwandan, will be outdone by later events!

God will strike with a fury as never before. Even Christ predicted that His coming, of necessity, had to be preceded by wars, famines, earthquakes. ((Mathew 24:7).

Apparently mass casualties are needed to herald in the glorious return of our Savior!

It seems that human suffering and misery, agony and anguish are the recipe meted out for the failure of poor naive Eve, a female, created “lower than the Angels” to outwit her adversary, a MALE Angel, a higher order of being, whom EGW tells us had a GIANT INTELLECT.

It is like a fight promoter pitting a female bantam weight against a male heavyweight!

God’s retribution and retaliation for Eve’s failure to thwart a far superior adversary, have resulted in a vindictive vengeance which though venomous in the past, will be even more vicious as the last days unfold!


To me, the realization that the writers of the OT did not fully understand God, is the answer. Perhaps I do not have a “high view” of Scripture, but I sometimes think that such a high view is a form of idolatry. It makes much more sense to realize that, like Islam today that promotes violence, the Israelites of the OT were by their very culture, unable to understand God as a God of love. Yet, there are a number of verses in the OT which do express his tender love: Ps. 23, 145:8, Isa. 11:6-9, 30:19, 40:1-2. 40:28-31, 41:9-10, 42;3-4,44:22, 46:3-4, 49:15-16, 51:11, 53:4-6, 58:6-7,10, Jer. 29:11, Hos. 11:3-4, just to mention a few. Isaiah is one of my favorite books in the Bible. If one can see that the biblical writers often portrayed God as responsible for everything that happened, good or bad, and read them in this context, it is easier to deal with the problem of the violence in the OT. When God says, “Vengeance is mine,” I believe he does not see vengeance as we do. I believe he wants to take away our focus on vengeance, so we can learn to be merciful and forgiving.


I have never really understood why, by definition, I am an inherently evil person with the death penalty hanging over my head and it was necessary for Jesus to die, to remove that threat. I know I will die someday, but that is not a threat, but a part of life.

I have asked good friends who have studied theology all their lives to explain it in down-to-earth terms that someone with no religious background could understand. They couldn’t give me simple, satisfying answers that didn’t resort to theological gymnastics and contortions.

After reading the above article, a few pieces in the puzzle started dropping into place.

The Old Testament describes a violent, vindictive culture that mistakenly viewed God as such. Jesus by his death demonstrated how this culture ultimately results in taking totally innocent lives, His innocent life. With His dramatic example he drew a line in the sand: Stop the insanity of sacrifices, stop the gore and violence, stop the fear, stop the guilt, stop the finger pointing.

A society that follows His teachings would be free from all of the above. And replace it with listening, loving, helping, healing and understanding. That is a concrete near-term “salvation” that I can understand and communicate to others.

Maybe it will take me the rest of my life to understand the parts of Jesus’ teaching that include fire and brimstone. My first simple stab at it is if we don’t follow His example of love, society will revert to Old Testament brutal barbarianism.

But I still need some help in understanding why God ultimately wipes out all the “bad guys”. As allegories, I’m fine. But read more literally, the second coming with its final judgment and punishment, although with a “sin and punishment” logic, doesn’t really jibe with the story of love and redemption also told by Jesus. I don’t yet see the logic in God showing His love by killing millions of people.

So in my current spiritual journey, I see the second coming as a picture of the freedom experienced by every person and me when His teaching comes into our lives. In the meantime I hope to continue to be inspired by Jesus’ example of love and understanding.



Just a marginal remark : There we have J. S. Bachs St. Matthews Passion, one of thge great masterpieces in Protestant music. When I first had heard it I was disappointed - What, that is all ? : “Wir setzen uns mit Traenen nieder - - sanfte ruh`- -” !!!

And I love to hear RC masses with the Credo : " - et resurrexit - - !!! -"

Something we should consider and discuss.

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In reading this article, one has to assume that God gave in to the OT social norms and described himself in terms of what this violent society was accustomed to respecting. Then, along comes Jesus to correct the character of God, revealing his actual character of love. It has been my personal sense, for a long time, that the Old Testament message is basically a description of a collosal mistake - as a description of God, and as a record of “how to relate to Him” - with sporadic failed attempts through Hebrew history to correct these relationships.

The Hebrew people, just like their neighbours, were extremely nationalistic, with there same objectives for power and control of territory they declared to be theirs. In the process, their God was on their side in their territorial conquests. Prophets, ahead of their times, would herald warnings about these national assumptions of God’s blessings, to no avail. In the end, all their hopes for Israel’s place as the centre of the world ended and the prophets fell silent as well.

Jesus did not come to continue the Hebrew legacy; instead, Jesus, as a Jew, referred to the Hebrew history and legacy to introduce God, the Father of all nations. This is why Paul insisted that one did not have to become a Jew in order to be a faithful Christian. this makes the entire Old Testament a history of a people who misunderstood God and His character and relationship to His creation.

We, today, as we read the history of this Hebrew people, have much to learn from their mistakes. Instead of legitimizing and excusing the way the OT related to their God, we need to understand how NOT to relate to God, making Him in our image, filled with our cultural and psychological characteristics of anger, revenge and punishment.

Having said that, we also have to admit that we’re not as sophisticated as we think ourselves to be. Some of us are able to process abstract concepts like redemption and love, but most of us need concrete displayes of the abstract. The Hebrew culture is based on the concrete - love is displayed in acts of love; displeasure is defined by acts of displeasure. The God of the OT is defined by His ACTS, hence the Sanctuary service and the sacrificing. True to this cultural characteristic, Jesus demonstrated with his acts of healing, suffering, and dying, the character of God as being one of love and forgiveness - within the parameters of Hebrew culture. This can be difficult to process in this 21st century western culture. One thing is clear, we can’t make the OT Hebrew views of God over-ride the character displayed by Christ’s ministry. Christianity is not a justification of OT religion.


Thank you, Douglas, for your candor. You have demonstrated so clearly the direction so-called “progressive” Adventism is tending—toward the absolute elevation of human judgment over the inspired Word and the resulting obliteration of the Christian message.

As is obvious from some of the posts here, the wrath of the Old Testament God won’t be the last casualty to this sort of reasoning. The sword was not at all absent from Jesus’ own message (Matt. 10:34), nor were the fires of hell (Matt. 13:40-42). Indeed, it is Christ Himself who will tread “the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” at His second coming (Rev. 19:15). Warm, fuzzy, postmodern “inclusiveness” is as foreign to the message of Jesus as to that of Moses.

What is so instructive about candor of the kind seen in this article is that it enables the church to put all current controversies in their rightful perspective. The disputing of Biblical gender role distinctions and Biblical sexual morality is not occurring in a vacuum. Nor is the debate over creation or the doctrine of salvation. All of these are taking place in the context of an all-out assault on the authority of Scripture in matters spiritual. Once one barricade is toppled, the others will follow in time.

This is infidelity, pure and simple. And it has no place in the fellowship of persons who claim to simply to be Christians, let alone Seventh-day Adventists awaiting the consummation of history.


To live in a world where everyone would respond to soft conversation regarding kindness, gentleness and genuine concern would be wonderful. But we do not. Nor does God.

Loving teachers and parents have often had to “raise their voice” – talking very tough language, presenting extremely strong threats - before children would listen. Manasseh didn’t listen until consequences fell. Yet God longed for Manasseh’s spiritual healing and was willing to present threats and let consequences fall in order to restore him. I agree with E. White – “All His [Christ’s] promises, His [Christ’s] warnings, are but the breathing of unutterable love.” {Steps to Christ 35.3 - italics mine}

Rhetoric such as “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” pervades the scriptures – even in the New Testament. Christ’s statement, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” - sounds absolutely torturous – like an “I’ll get you for what you did and didn’t do” repayment for evil. Jesus had no advantage over us – He had no direct pipeline to God. Jesus had to learn everything He knew about God from scripture, just as we can. He uses the same fear tactics God always has if the situation demands it.

Revelation, written by John who said, “God is love, and in Him there is no darkness at all,” is full of fierce language. _One of the messages Christ asked John to relay – the 3rd angel’s message – is one of the strongest “threats” eve_r – “If anyone worships the beast and his image . . . he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night . . . “ – Rev. 14.9-11. Fierce, vengeful-sounding “threats,” to be sure.

I use quotation marks with the word “threats,” because I believe it’s the adversary’s intent that God’s statements be anthropomorphized, and scripture be cast aside as irrelevant as a result. Scripture, read as a whole, makes it crystal clear that God’s “vengeance” is not man’s vengeance – His “threats” are not man’s threats – His “retributions” are not man’s retributions. They are pervaded by concern for what may rescue and restore His children. Statements concerning God’s “vengeance” need to be read in the context of scripture as a whole – scripture which clearly depicts a Father who will do anything to rescue His children from ruin, and weeps violently over them when He can not – Jer. 9.10-18, Hosea 11.8.

I believe Jean Sheldon is right – God met people where they were – “within their preferred context of violence.” We hear God say, “I will fight for you while you keep silent” – Exodus 14.14 (NAS) and “ . . . I will send the pestilence in front of you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you” – Exodus 23.27 (NRSV). Yet people fought their way into the promised land. Perhaps Joshua 8.1-3 indicates why - we see the people of Ephraim furious with Gideon that he hadn’t given them the chance to go to war with him. The “glory of the fight” is ageless.

God is a pragmatist. He’s always presented His ideals – the way of life He loves - to His children: “Do not bear a grudge against others, but settle your differences with them, so that you will not commit a sin because of them. Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19.17-18 (GNT). Yet God won’t force anyone. His heart of love can’t stand to abandon His children either. So God constantly reaches out to them “where they are,” speaking a language they may pay attention to, in the chance that He can lead them to the richest of pleasures – His ways of love.

I see many rationalizations here.
Men writing the OT are the problem. But the NT is just fine. Sort of an inside Ricky Gervais viewpoint. Also the idea that God had to deal with mans bad nature and interacted in that same way and other rationalizations. Each one trying to meld the seeming inconsistencies in a way that just happens to support their own views.

There are 2 viewpoints that I haven’t seen referenced.

  1. One is where the God of the OT and the NT are the same. Neither part a repudiation of the other. A puny human thinking person would see that as contradictory but it doesn’t allow for mans limited understanding of God.
    And 2. that God is so infinitely more complex and higher that the dumbing down of any action or verbiage to a level we can begin to grasp is bound to produce incomplete and seemingly contradictory factors.

There could also be an additional one where #1 is true because of #3.