The Evangelical Universalist Forum

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




It certainly is harmful to be told that abuse (physical and sexual) is “deserved” and “good for them”. And this is often done by abusers towards their victims.

I do not believe it is harmful to tell my son that he deserved his appropriate punishment, and that I was punishing him because I love him.

Here we are getting back to the distinction Auggy is making between abuse and punishment. We all agree that abuse is bad. And we all agree that some punishment is abusive. But does this mean that all punishment is abusive? I would say that not all punishment is abusive, as I tried to illustrate in the story about my son.

Sidebar, To put more of my cards on the table, and to show some areas I believe we may have in common:

I disagree with penal substitution, and am in the beginning stages of trying to sort out what I believe about the atonement.

I have a very difficult time with Old Testament passages where God commands his people to murder others. I am not and have never been an inerrantist, but in the past have said that scripture is Inspired (capital I)and Authoritative. Now I am leaning further in the direction of scripture being inspired (with a lower case i). Capital “I” Inspiration would be limited to the scriptures. Lower case “i” inspiration would be something that happened with the scriptures in the same way that it happens when you wrote your book, or when Matt, or Dave, or Ruth or Bob or I write things that come from the Spirit. And so our Spirit-led writings would have some dross in them as well. So I’m trying to sort out my doctrine of Scripture and Epistemology, too.

End sidebar



I think I can agree (as far as I can see) with the ‘punishment’ part (Fear has to do with punishment).

I’m not so sure about judgment though. The reason is that I firmly believe that we have misunderstood biblical judgment and what that really is, because righteous judgment’s purpose (judgment from God, not from each other) is to bring about righteousness (daikaiosune).

Isn’t it?



I agree with John 14:9, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”. Love that verse. But it doesn’t logically entail that if Jesus did it the Father did it, or if Jesus didn’t do it the Father doesn’t do it. Jesus was crucified on a cross and rose again, the Father did not. There were many things that Jesus did not do in his earthly existence because he was limited to 33 years and to a small geographical location, and so I don’t believe we can’t limit the actions of the Father to only those actions Jesus did in his earthly ministry. I do believe that Jesus and the Father will not do things which are at cross purposes, though.

But more to the point, do you believe that God can use the pain of my son’s punishment to lead him to repentance?


Actually, the latest findings of Koine Greek scholarship based on decades of study of the Egyptian Koine papyri found a century ago are saying that a more accurate rendering of the meaning of *dikaiosune *is equitableness or fairness, quite a different meaning then what is usually conveyed by the word righteousness. But yes, biblical judgment is not about condemnation and carrying out a sentence on the guilty party. That is the Roman law sense of judgment, it is not the judgment of YHWH.


Yes, of course I meant daikaiosune as discussed in the appendix of Derek’s book.



Thanks for your continued patience. Let’s be careful not to jump to any conclusions before we are done.


Yes, as you defined abuse, the consequence you gave your son was certainly not abusive.
I never claimed it was, (and to tip my hand, I wont be claiming that later).

I would however like to continue to ask a few more questions, building on what we have established. You write:

Based on your earlier definition of abuse, I think it is safe to assume that rape would be considered abuse.

Given that, and what you say here above, how might it effect a person who was violently raped (which we could classify and physical and sexual abuse) to be told that they “deserved this” as a “punishment from God” and that they should view their rape as “for their good”? If a person believed and internalized this, how might that effect their self-image, as well their ability to love and trust the God who (as they have come to believe) “caused this to happen to them as a punishment”?


I appreciate what you say, the thoughtful way you say it, where you are coming from, and the places that we are having parallel goals. Thank you for all of that.

You mention that your goal is to appeal to/convince evangelicals. If that is the goal, then perhaps it does make sense to begin where they are at and take baby steps in a positive direction. Perhaps a difference in our two approaches then is that this is not my primary goal.

I am writing not only for one particular group with a particular set of preconceptions. Rather, I am writing for a wider audience that do not necessarily begin with this starting point. Many, in fact, have big problems with that particular starting point, myself included. So rather than building on top of a structure that I believe is built in a faulty way, I am starting from the ground up. My concern is that to do less would ultimately not really solve the structural problems, but instead only offer a patchwork solution.


So yes, if a person was raped and it was told them it was a “deserved punishment from God”, it would harm their self-image and make it difficult to love and trust the God who supposedly “caused it to happen as a form of punishment.”


I think Paul would say no.

Paul would argue that judgement, or more specifically the system of reward and punishment at the heart of the law is powerless to produce righteousness (i.e. loving moral goodness) because it cannot produce “life” (Gal 2:21;3:21). That is, it can give us negative consequences, but it cannot actually make us good. It cannot make us vivified from within with the life of God, which Jesus living in us. That is why Paul says the law has failed to produce righteousness, and why we need the promise which is in Jesus. Through that promise we have something new: the righteousness of/from God which is* set apart from/as opposed to *the law, but witnessed to in the prophets.



Thanks! Your approach may be best for reaching those to whom your book is aimmed. But are you sure that those who will be motivated to purchase and pursue its topics won’t be those who already value religion, and perhaps mainly Bible-thumpers at that? My sense is that those wary of Christianty will never think it affirms a truly loving or non-violent God, as long as Christendom is perceived as largely embracing the traditional paradigm where God will torture most people forever for not accepting his formula. This may be why I perhaps superficially focus on what will effectively introduce a conception of Christianity where God’s love never quits.


I think those are some great questions david.

You are correct that punishments and rewards, I think, do affect mostly behavior and do not solely cause a change in the underlying cause of the behavior. We see this in animals as well as in humans. Basic behavorist psychology.

Another great question. I do believe that he has shown growth in compassion and empathy and have seen that at times. In this situation, his behavior towards her improved, his feelings and mannerisms towards her were softened. Did he completely get the inappropriateness of his behavior? No. He is a work in progress.

Loving discipline, while essential, is necessary, but not sufficient for heart transformation. There must be loving relational engagement as well.

Interestingly, loving relational engagement without loving discipline is not sufficient either. You see this in spoiled children, who are given much materially, or given much attention and time, but not corrected for their bad behaviors become rotten little buggers.

Another important point is 3 influences we can have on our children are through 1. discipline, 2.* Teaching* (the intrinsic goodness and health of loving behavior and attitudes, and self-destructivenss of selfish behavior and attitudes, and 3. Modeling that good character to our children in our own lives.


Okay, so we are on the same page now.

I would like to note that people have on this thread have specifically stated that God might “punish” someone “for their good” via having them raped. Other things that folks have validated here as ways that God could acceptably punish are murder (i.e. witnessing a loved one being murdered) and torture (presumably their own).

Along these lines, let’s look at Deuteronomy 28: Go give that chapter a read. Notice that it mentions famine, child abduction, rape, slavery, and even cannibalism. Notice that all of these horrific things are all framed in terms of what God will do as a punishment for those who disobey.

This is not some obscure passage, it is central. It outlines the basic way the law works through its system of blessings and curses.

*That *is what we are talking about when we affirm that God is “punishing” from a biblical perspective Caleb. *That *is why people who affirm penal substitution can take someone who was beaten, mocked, humiliated, and killed on a Roman torture device and then say “God wanted to do that to me, but he did it to Jesus instead.” That is the kind of “punishment” from God we are talking about. We are talking about abuse here.

There is nothing abusive about a parent taking away TV privileges from their child. On the contrary, it is loving and responsible to set boundaries that lead to a child’s developing thoughtfulness and responsibility.

But that is categorically different from* intentionally causing* someone to be raped, abducted, starve to death, etc. all of which are abuse. That is what passages like Deuteronomy 28 claim God is doing. That is apparently what some people here also believe God is doing. So let’s be clear: when we talk about God doing this to people, we are saying that God is abusive, and calling that “good.”

I don’t think that is a perspective that we should be defending. I think its is something we need to repent of.


Thank you Derek. Great post. I think I’m getting your drift. Even before reading Deut 28, but after reading it, wow. Wonder why we don’t get more sermons on that chapter, huh?

So if we look at the vast majority of times we read of punishment in the Old Testament, we come to a very different God than the God of Jesus. Its fascinating to see the polyphony of voices wrestling with this in the Old Testament. So in Job, for example, the big question mark is whether ill fortune in this life is punishment from God, and concludes that Job’s misfortunes were not punishments by God. And when Jesus talks about the 18 people who died in the Tower of Siloam, it wasn’t because they were more sinful. So in other words Jesus is saying God is not like that.

So I would say that parts of the Bible present a form of punishment that I’m talking about, a godly loving discipline, but you are correct, much of what they Bible presents a punishment that is traumatic and abusive. And humanity is often told to be the deliverers of this punishment.

Obviously, we end up reading scripture a whole different way from your perspective. I think you are probably on to something with all of this. Then I think what about the Exodus and the plagues. Not from God? Did it happen at all? What parts of the Bible are historical and what are not? I’m hurrying to get typed this so I can get to bed, so my thoughts are a bit jumbled, but thanks again.



Thanks Caleb, agreed.


I think I’m confused. Doesn’t Isaiah say that “When Your (God’s) judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness”?
I mean I get that Paul is clearly all about how the law has failed to produce righteousness; but I thought condemnation was part of the law, not judgment, per se There is now no condemnation for those in Christ, but it doesn’t say that about judgment. The NT says that judgment begins with the house of God (and rolls out from there).
What about its use in 1Cor 4:5, and 2Cor. 5:10?

Now, I know 2 Peter has some pretty strong things to say about judgment and punishment, but if Peter actually wrote this epistle, it would have had to be before his death, which was pre-AD70, and so would be fairly easy for a preterist to dismiss as before the end of the world as it was known then. But even more disturbing is the evidence that Peter didn’t write it at all. It certainly sounds very old-testament-y/ old covenant to me.


Just to clarify: We’ve covered a lot of territory here in this discussion that has gone well beyond what is covered in the book. I think the book itself would be something a person with an evangelical background could read, beginning with that background, and move from there to a nonviolent understanding of the cross.


That’s Isaiah, not Paul. Paul disagrees with the OT view quite frequently.

Well in this context judgement just means “evaluation” rather than "punishment"or “bad consequence” so you need to note how the term is being used. In these places it is just saying that we will be evaluated, and because of Christ in us that evaluation will show that we are righteous.

But Paul never says that judgement makes us righteous. Nor does the law. Nor does punishment. Christ does that.

I guess I’d have to look at that in detail. But again, Paul is not Peter. Paul disagrees with Peter at times.
Not sure if that’s the case here without really studying it in detail. Maybe later…


Uh that would be me.

Perhaps you both are right, and I think I’m the only one who endorsed such a view with Cathrine being a close second. However, like I said, so long as you frame it that God doesn’t punish people who abduct children to sell into the sex trade business, or Nazi’s who throw families into ovens and gas chambers, or Cartels in Jaurez who take familes and cut their heads off by the droves, then it looks like God’s just a mean guy.

It’s hard for me to baptize the righteousness of cartels as if God can’t deal severely with them. Of course I don’t think God just sends out a hit man to knock off some homeless guy on the street. But if that homeless man is about to murder a family that God has plans for, I doubt God’s going to think twice about protecting that family. Then again, God doesn’t do such things. And now we come full circle asking the same question - Can God NOT protect someone from evil if he in fact can? But to avoid the road Cathrine and I have taken, the only answer I’ve received is that God doesn’t protect people from evil FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON, as if that escapes the problem. And when asked if God CANNOT stop the evil, we’re answered he can??? What are we supposed to believe? That it’s pastorally acceptable to tell someone, well sorry but God could have stopped it but he chose not to? That we don’t know why he doesn’t prevent the harm?(we all say that!)

For me much of this is because the scenarios are simply framed with broad conditions which supply the argument with a necessary foundation. However, when those conditions change I find little reason to believe that God is not retributive and that God does not punish - or that God cannot harden whom he pleases to accomplish his good purpose - ROM 9.

So if someone is to object to the Calvinist notion that God hardens whom he pleases, that he hardened Israel that mercy might come to the gentiles, then it will take an alternative explanation of Romans 9. And to date, I myself have not read a good response (Talbott being the exception - but he’s close to Calvinism himself).

So I’ll ask Caleb, tell me what you’re willing to do if you come home with a couple of cartel thugs who threaten to cut off the head of your wife in your living room? Will you kill in order to accomplish a good purpose? Or will you call it evil to shoot them? I doubt you would say it’s as easy as some people make it out to be. For sure it’s awful, but these are real and serious issues that do occur and I hardly blame Americans for driving tanks into Germany from stopping the insane slaughter of the Jewish people. And if American’s can do it, why can’t God cause or use it to stop evil? Why can’t God cause or do it to promote good? And I believe stopping the Nazis was good - for it was life for the remaining prisoners.

I simply don’t think these issues are solved by drawing simple syllogisms - they’re far more complex.

** addendum ** of course I don’t believe God is doing evil by doing such things.


Also, Derek you can use my name, like saying “well auggy says or thinks” I won’t get upset. I realize we’re trying to state our views and you might feel like you may offend. I’m trying to be totally upfront and honest as crass and awful as it may seem.

How else will I change if I’m not honest about what I think. We all need to be challenged for sure.


To clarify my position: it is stated all through the bible that God punishes or deals with people in ways that I certainly would call ‘evil’. (I’ve never really thought about whether it was ‘good’ for these people to be ‘taken out’ prematurely, but thought it must be for the benefit of those left alive, like auggybendoggy’s example of a thug about to take out your wife, but you take him out first.) As far as acts like rape are concerned, I read the text to mean God is allowing these acts rather than inspiring or causing the perpetrators to do such evil things (and thus we have the problem of God allowing evil when He could stop it, as Auggy also notes) but then when it comes to the command to stone someone to death, I can’t use the same reasoning- the text clearly says that God commands His people to do such an evil act and so I’m grappling with the possibility that the text is wrong. I’d like it to be wrong and for them to find some really old OT manuscripts in a cave that don’t include these verses. :sunglasses:

Derek- can I clarify the ‘wrath’ in 1 Thess 1: 10, and the other NT references to God’s wrath or judgment e.g the day of the Lord? Do you see this wrath as coming from God or as something that is going to happen that God allows? From what you’ve said in your previous posts, you do not allow (ever) God to act or be able to act in a violent way (the way we normally imagine Armaggedon to be - people being zapped to death, plagues, wars, etc. You are saying that God only ever acts to heal, not to harm. So a verse like Hosea 6:1 would surely have to mean that God **allows **us to be injured and causes us to be healed. Have I understood you correctly?

Edit- I’ve just checked on your blog an lo and behold 1 Thess 1 is discussed on the front page. :slight_smile: I’m off to read the article. Many thanks.