The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Q&A with Derek Flood- author of "Healing the Gospel"



You are moving way to quickly from all the stuff I said about how we humans have understood the idea of punishment and from it done incredible harm to people for centuries, using it to justify horrific acts in God’s name. That is really important, so I don’t think it is good to just skip over it.

Let’s stay on the down to earth, how-humans-treat-other-humans part first. Once we get that we can move on to how this may or may not metaphorically apply to God.



The only reason I quote the OT here is because I am trying to form an argument (not necessarily for anyone here) but mostly for the Charismatic / Evangelical Christians that I know and are in my church.

As you might guess, they mostly have a view that it would be unjust for God to forgive without there being a punishment (His justice demands it). I agree with you that this view of God is harmful and a hindrance. It is also clearly nowhere to be found in scripture, even if the OT authors are at time wrong. I would also argue that it is blasphemous since it maligns God’s character. I use the OT because:

a) If I quote NT instances of forgiveness, people will just claim that there was punishment and it was put on Jesus.

b) My target audience mostly believe that all scripture including the OT is infallible. So what better means to persuade them than using their own infallible source?

Melchizedek, Derek

I would add to a) that it is not that God isn’t in control because he can’t be, it is because the evidence seems to indicate that he has chosen to take a very hands-off approach in dealing with the universe. Sure God intervenes at key points and also brings about miracles every now and then, but for some reason he has chosen to hold back for the most part.

Mel, this is no reason to assume that God will always choose this hands-off approach. Perhaps there is a reason why in this life we are allowed to experience what a universe that is for the most part without God’s constant intervention would be like. If you want to teach your children responsibility, you will have to eventually allow them to walk to the shops on their own. If you want to teach your children (when they’re older) to not take you for granted, perhaps it would be best to allow them to try and get by on their own for a while.

When this is done, it would seem that Derek’s A would be equivalent to Mel’s B(1)


When I read the Bible, I get the impression God **uses **evil as well as allows evil. An example I would cite is the O.T law of stoning to death. Stoning someone to death is surely an evil act? :open_mouth: Unless we’re going to say that the mosaic law is lies and throw out a huge part of the bible, then it would seem God uses evil. :confused:

When I was 4, I remember one day very well. I’d got up early with my little sister of 3, and we’d had fun eating some ‘sweets’ which I’d remember seeing my mum put on the top of a cupboard in the kitchen. I got a stool and moved it over to the counter, climbed up onto the counter and reached up to get the orange ‘sweets’. I ‘shared’ them out and not long afterwards, my dad came down and started shouting and looked really upset. Next thing, we’re having a nice car ride with my grandad to a strange building where some strangers took me into a strange room and forcibly held me down on a bed. I struggled to get free but they were too strong. They forced a rubber tube into my mouth and down my throat and I remember struggling and crying afterwards. They could have put me to sleep, but then an anesthetic comes with risks and so they acted quickly to get the asprin tablets out of my stomach fast. The terror I experienced was the same terror that surely a child who is being abused would suffer? Only they meant good, not harm even though they had to harm me in a very real sense in order to achieve the good. All through the Bible, God seems to use ‘harming’ methods to get supposedly good results e.g the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, stoning people, killing people in battles (I’m struggling to see the ‘good’). God could have healed the ‘wicked’ in an instant without all the suffering and death, and yet He lets evil run its course and seems to use evil all the time. Just as my experience had a happy ending, and I can look back and understand why I had to undergo that suffering and the memory of the actual pain is now gone, I trust that God is allowing evil and using certain methods of punishment/consequences to ultimately correct and heal creation.


Catherine… Jesus certainly didn’t affirm the command to stone people to death. In a number of places Jesus turns over a number of the OT commands. He also says that the essence of the law is that we love God and love others. He also says in the parable of the sheep and the goats that the way to love God is by loving others (Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison… whatever we do for these we do for God) and then he reiterates in one final place that all of the law is summed up by loving others.

In the sermon on the mount, he uses the expression: “You have heard that… But I tell you…”. He uses this to overturn OT writings on: Anger, Reconciliation, Lust, Divorce, Making promises, Revenge and enemy love.

He challenges the law on things such as healing on the Sabbath, picking wheat on the Sabbath. He used other OT passages to justify this such as Hosea 6: 6.

And most importantly, he challenged the death penalty by refusing to stone an adulterous woman even though he should have been the one to do it since he was without sin.

The Old Testament contains plenty of horrific accounts that don’t gel at all with the character of God as portrayed by Jesus. In one passage God supposedly commands that a man be stoned to death for collecting sticks on the Sabbath! In another, a curse in the name of the Lord causes 2 bears to maul 42 children to death for teasing Elisha. There are plenty of other such accounts and ultimately we need to decide what kind of God, God is.

Do we believe Jesus, that God desires reconciliation, forgiveness and enemy love; that God is like the father waiting for the return of the prodigal son, or do we trust the OT accounts to give a clear indication of God’s character. As best as I can tell, there is a clear conflict here.


For me, it seems that these views are not much different from my own except mine view entails the “crazy” notion that God actually might punish people in order to crush their arrogance and bring about a rational they lacked. However, I view the opposing view as naive that all people who receive punishment result in a hardened position. That to me is simply false.

Here would be an example: It seems absurd that God would actually punish someone by having them raped because, in a given scenario, it seems to us that this lady has done no harm. But now suppose this lady is involved in the sex trade business kidnapping women from their homes to sell to foreign lands causing HORRIFIC destruction. Could it be that God might save her by having her become the victim she forces on others? I don’t find it so absurd. And would it be evil of God to even allow that? The problem is evil is still there.

This leads me to a fundamental difference - I view evil in terms of what’s not good. As an example - when is it good to lie?

I wonder if God would lie in order to save Jews from the Nazi ovens. I suppose everyone would say he wouldn’t since it’s impossible for God to lie or do evil.

It seems to me the point in lying is not about telling jokes or kidding around - it’s about deceit. It’s about doing evil. So Rahab can lie and be commended for her faith (which produced a lie). I too would hold you should lie in order to do what is right (desecrate the day and yet remain blameless). My question is then - did you do evil?

On these same grounds I would add that not all killing is murder. To argue that God cannot kill, seems to me to argue that God cannot murder. I would agree with the latter, but not the former, for the two are not synonyms. Similarly I’ve argued that punishment is not a synonym of violence.

So for me conditions change things, I find that if God chooses to punish people in order to save them, it’s good not evil. I have no quarrel with God killing myself in order to save my children – I’d hardly call him a murderer. I suppose for that I’m crazy? And if God should punish me with death which somehow saves my children, I still would thank him - not curse him.

I think the approach you guys take is too simple and thus leads to as many problems as it solves. I realize my view entails God exacting apparent evil in order to resolve evil, something Paul says don’t do. I’m not ignoring that, I’m simply saying Paul is talking about pure retribution not restorative.


Isn’t that just another version of ‘an eye for an eye…’?


Yes, I don’t disclaim an eye for an eye and I don’t think Jesus was either. What I think he was doing was showing them that their literal interpretation did not lead them to justice. For example some may have thought, like today’s Christians, that justice simply REQUIRED you to poke out the other eye – and thus justice is served. I don’t believe that. I understand that it was outlining a subtext that to take a head for a tooth was unjust. That punishment was to be appropriate for the crime. So two things come to mind:

[size=85]Lev 26:
18 “‘If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. 20 Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit.[/size]

[size=85]Matt 5:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.[/size]

In one case God is willing to over-balance the scales in order to break Israel of their arrogance. But if an eye for an eye is about “balancing the scales” then it seem God is thus being unjust.

In another case God is willing to unbalance the scales in the other direction – forgive people and have no punishment at all - which appears unjust.

For me these indicators tell me that justice is not about balancing the scales on either end. It isn’t that turning the other cheek achieves justice any more than poking out an eye. I believe God is telling us in the subtext, achieving justice is about love and restoring people as God was telling Israel. In some cases God gives us exactly what we deserve, in some cases (due to our arrogance) he multiplies it – in order to save us. Some people are harder than others and thus incur more punishment. What I’m not willing to say is that God is absent from the bad things altogether, otherwise, he’s also absent from the good things too.


To note also, I’m totally agreeing with Derek on the grounds that justice is not about retribution or punishment. I totally agree that justice is about restoration or as Derek calls it “restorative justice” vs. “retributive justice”. I support the former.

All I’m saying is that the verbs re-tribute and punish are actions that can support justice (restoration). It seems God can use painful methods in order to cure us of our arrogance.

So I believe Derek’s only concern (albeit an important one) is that I might baptize evil punishment and say that God is behind it ;that is God is doing evil to resolve evil. It certainly deserves our time to explore.


They may not prove that conclusion, but they at least point in that direction

I sense from this comment that you’re implying a view that God is not in complete control because bad things happen. But I just don’t see that notion supported from scripture.

Take the example given in the book of Job. Satan wants to do all this bad stuff to Job, and God allows it, but sets parameters on what he can do to him. Satan had to request permission from God to do anything to Job though. Now, regardless of whether we believe the story of Job actually happened or not, the point of the book is still the same; God is completely in control even when (even disastrously) bad stuff happens.

In my own life, I have seen this very same type of scenario play out. In other words, my own experiences have confirmed the witness of scripture.


Catherine, Auggie,

If we want to argue that something is moral then the real test is whether we would advocate this being done by people. After all, let’s be real: people stone other people to death. People rape other people. We are talking about things people do here.

So Catherine, you need to ask yourself: Do you really want to claim that it is moral for people to stone other people to death now? Or for that matter that it is moral to do anything at all no matter how horrible just because the Bible said to? Psalm 137 says “blessed is he who smashes the heads of your infant children against the rock.” Is it okay for you or me to do that? Is it okay for anyone to ever do that?

Of course it isn’t.

As Ace says, we see that Jesus frequently contradicted and broke OT laws including the one about stoning people to death you metion. So if Jesus does not blindly obey laws that hurt people, why should we? Shouldn’t we learn to read the Bible like Jesus did?

Genocide is evil. The OT says to commit genocide. So should we do that now? If it’s okay to do, then I guess we can, right?
If you know your church history, you will know that this is exactly what the church did for exactly the reasons you are proposing. It has committed acts of genocide in the name of the Bible.

We cannot simply shut off our conscience and blindly follow a book. That leads to people doing unspeakable evil.

Now Auggie, let’s think about what you are advocating: You said that it is moral to have someone raped who was a criminal because it might make them see that their crime was wrong. So I ask: are you now advocating that we institute this policy in our prisons? If you were elected Governor would you propose a new law that mandates that if a person is convicted of human trafficking that part of their sentencing would stipulate that they be raped in the hope that this will promote empathy in them?

You both need to really take a step back and think about what you are advocating. It sounds really dangerous and crazy. So both of you please hear me:
You may think that you are defending God here, but you are in fact advocating for sinful acts. God does not want us to try so hard to justify him that we end up being advocates for evil acts. You are making a horrible mistake that has lead people in the past to do horrible things in God’s name. Repent. Turn around. Don’t go down that road.

I’m sorry to be so blunt here, and sound like a preacher, but this way is the way of sin. It has lead to horrific acts in the past, and it is a particularly deceptive sin because it cloaks itself in the language of following the Bible and defending God. But it is nevertheless a grave sin.

This is not the way of Jesus. This is not how Jesus read his Bible. As Ace has pointed out, in fact we see that Jesus does the opposite. Jesus should be our model. We need to read the Bible like he did.



You seem to be saying that God punishes people into submission in order for them to recognize his love which will then allow them to be restored, and that this is all in accordance with God’s sense of justice.

Is this what you are saying or am I missing the point?


This does sound like an event that could be considered as traumatic. The logic here as you say is that the doctors (and your parents) weighed the choice of you being traumatized vs. you dying, and decided that even if it was traumatic this would be preferable over death. However doctors also now recognize that trauma caused in these types of situations is genuinely harmful, and should therefore be avoided whenever possible. So the way medicine is being practiced is evolving, and doctors are taking more time to help their patients understand what it going on, to reassure them, to care not about the physical only but also the psychological. They call this “bedside manner”

It would have been possible to say to you “it’s okay honey, don’t be scared” and to have your granddad holding you hand and looking you in the eyes during the procedure. Because trauma, even when it is not intended, even when it is justified, is real and can do real damage. More and more we are realizing this and adapting how we do medicine to take this into account. One major step in this direction is the patient’s bill of rights.



You asserted that Jesus "never" harshly “curses” anyone. I cited Gospel examples that seem to contradict that. You respond that most people would not welcome such passages as any comfort, as if citing them to you makes me a mean person. If citing the historical sources is ruled out, I’d agree that there is nothing that opposes what you prefer.


Would you describe a mother nursing her infant as a controlling relationship or as a giving, nurturing one?

So is the creator’s relationship with his creation. He gives himself to it and nourishes it so that it can be healed and thrive. El Shaddai, “Mighty Breasts”-- and that is biblical.



Hi Derek,

We’ve agreed, ‘trauma’ = injury. I only objected to insisting it all must mean injury “with no potential to bring good.” When you tell Mel surgical injury that heals doesn’t count as unacceptable trauma, that’s all that I argued.

More at the crux, you (rightly!) emphasize “evil” things happen, yet say this leaves two options: a. "God’s not in control or b. God causes the evil (=he endorses it). So you argue (1) b makes us call evil good. (2) #a (no control) fits the NT (tho many actually see God’s sovereign ability & control as an OT & NT theme).

I think what’s felt to best preserve God’s character & comfort varies. My ethics prof, Lew Smedes (from Calvin!) lost a child and changed his theology. He added, “On 9-11, God was sadly wishing he could prevent it!” But in 40 years of pastoring, I find many are ‘traumatized’ by any thot than God had no meaningul purpose in their excruciating losses, or is just helpless as evil strikes us.

I think many reject a & b, and seek a third option. Contra a, they think God is in control, in having ability to prevent evils (& also to achieve his purposes). Contra b, such things need not be directly ‘caused’ by God, can remain truly evil, and would never justify us doing what God calls evil. In some views of human ‘freedom,’ it’s assumed that God permits evil or pain, because it can enable a worthwhile purpose, & ultimately be redeemed. Must it necessarily be only “either” a or b**?**

My impression is that the sensibilities of personalities differ, as to whether a,b, or c feels more desireable to them.


Thanks Bob, that echoes my thoughts on it precisely, and from a slightly different angle than I had presented.


Hi Dave,

In some senses, I’d say it’s both. There needn’t be an either/ or dichotomy; a giving, nurturing relationship must involve some element of control, even if it’s manifested as a gentle guidance. Even in your example above, the mother has to control the infant enough to guide it to her breast so that it can eat and be nourished!

I love the “mighty breasts” thing by the way. :mrgreen: I first encountered that the other day on Richard’s blog (Experimental Theology).


To clarify, I have not said that God is “not in control” nor have I said that God has “no control.” I don’t believe either of those. What I have said is that God does not have meticulous control, but that God *does *have ultimate control.

This is basically the difference between classic Calvinism and Open Theism. Both claim biblical support. Both have proponents within evangelicalism.

I would say that God can work good *despite *evil, and even in the midst of evil, making good come out of it. So thus God is ultimately in control and can be trusted, even if evil happens. But evil is not good. God is good. God is in control. Good overcomes evil.

It’s fine if we have differing views on this point, I just wanted to clarify what those views of mine are.


Derek, I appreciate your clarification! I must admit that I wrongly over-simplified your “not having complete (or now “meticulous”) control” to mean essentially, “not having control.” In my mind, the only meaning of “control” that’s reassuring, is if it means one can ‘control’ what happens, in the sense of doing what one intends. So my point was that many find it ‘traumatic’ to try to trust in a God with some degree of control, if that means not able to prevent evils. The classic reservation about an openess God who is unable to know what will happen, is that it seems to imply that God then cannot be sure what will ultimately happen. When one faces traumatic losses, it can seem to some folk most comforting to believe in a God who has greater control than that. But I certainly agree that many believe that the Bible does not teach that God has sovereign ability, and I’m glad to embrace Open Theists as brothers who hold an acceptable option. I simply would like them to affirm that more traditional views about evil and God’s working are also legitimate.


Thanks for this clarification Derek; it’s helpful to me (as well as, I hope, Bob). It would seem that we really only disagree somewhat on the finer points of this.
This is also essentially my view, except that I think of ultimate control as some level of “meticulous” control as well; although I would also agree with you that God does not cause evil, per se.

We do seem to have some level of disagreement on how this walks out in real life; but I think in the main we have more agreement than otherwise.