Sunday was my dad’s birthday. He’d be 105 if he hadn’t died 20 years ago.

Forty years ago, in downtown Denver, some men assaulted him with knives, broke his sternum and several ribs, knocking him unconscious and taking a huge sum of money. He almost died. In those types of situations, we naturally ask God, “Why do you allow such violence?”

A few years before, I had watched my dad be slandered, publicly tried, and removed from his church for preaching from Scripture. I think it gave him a heart attack. I ask, “God, why do you let people kill other people?”

Twenty years ago, I was with my dad just before he died. It wasn’t his heart that got him but his lungs — more specifically, “interstitial lung disease” from growing up on a farm in the Dust Bowl. Who caused the Dust Bowl? I blame God. “God, why did you kill my dad?”

Liberals will say, “God doesn’t kill people.” Conservatives will say, “Well, he only kills some people.” In Deuteronomy 32:39, through Moses, God says, “I kill, and I make alive.” So, He at least kills some people.

He killed all the antediluvians, except Moses and seven others, with a flood of water. He killed all the folks in Sodom, except Lot and his two daughters, with a flood of fire. He even commanded Israel to “devote” entire people groups…. So for instance, as commanded, Israel slaughtered everyone in Jericho, except a harlot named Rahab who turns out to be Jesus’ grandmother, and yet she was also “devoted.” The ESV often translates “cherem” as “devoted to destruction,” but that which was “cherem” was devoted TO God NOT destruction — for it was always considered “holy.”

In the New Testament, Jesus has one requirement for disciples: “Pick up a cross and follow.” In Acts 5, the Holy Spirit certainly appears to kill Ananias and Saphira. In Revelation 19, “The Word of God” on a white horse rides out to smite the nations.

In 2 Peter, we read such beautiful things in chapter one: God has given us His Divine Nature like an imperishable seed; all are forgiven; and those who sin are simply unaware that they’ve been forgiven. So, Peter is eager to lose his “tent,” for we are all destined to be one living temple. Such beautiful things. But then in chapter two, he goes on a long-winded rant about God killing people —lots of people: antediluvians, the people of Sodom, and even guys like Balaam the magician who finally died at the end of an Israelite sword. Apparently, in some way, they’ve all “denied the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1).

Soren Kierkegaard argued that we all operate in one of three stages, through which we must pass in becoming who it is that we truly are. I’ve heard people compare this process to climbing a ladder. So, I moved the communion table and set up a ladder in front of the tree that we call the cross.

The first stage (I stood on the first step of the ladder as if picking fruit from the tree) is called the “aesthetic stage.” In this stage, we see the Good and the Life and just take it to consume it, like the antediluvians and the people of Sodom, or any little child who happens to see that “the fruit is good for food and a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6a). Very “pious” people can be operating continually in this stage, unaware that there are any others; all their devotion is about acquiring things from God, like health, wealth, and religious experiences. They’re not so much devoted to Jesus as devoting Jesus to themselves. “The day you eat of it, dying you will die,” said God.

The second stage (I stood on the second step of the ladder as if picking more fruit from the tree) is called the “ethical stage.” In this stage, we seek to make ourselves the Good and the Life by taking “knowledge of Good” and applying that knowledge to ourselves with our choices — our judgment. We do what every child does when they see that Dad is good: They ask themselves if He thinks that they are good and so take knowledge of Dad to make themselves Dad, and then start resenting Dad or maybe even crucifying Dad. It wasn’t the “harlots and sinners” that lead the chant to crucify the Messiah; it was the pastors, preachers, scribes, and Pharisees. I suspect they saw what Eve also saw: “… and the Fruit was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6b). They took “the Life,” trying to make themselves “the Good,” and everything died. “The day you eat it dying you will die.” That’s the sixth day, for on the seventh day, “everything is good” and “it is finished.”

In both the first and second stage, we deny the one who bought us, for we obviously assume that we must buy ourselves, redeem ourselves, and create ourselves in the image of God.
Didn’t Peter “deny the one who bought him” and suffer a “swift destruction”?

There is a third stage, but you don’t get there by climbing a ladder….

In 2 Peter 3, Peter reminds us of “the Day of the Lord,” when the “heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be burned up and dissolved with fire.”

Maybe God kills some people because God kills all people.

Your baptism corresponds to this — it “corresponds” to the flood (1 Peter 3:21); you die with Christ and rise with Christ. And Jesus came to baptize us with (immerse us in) fire. And it’s not just Jericho and the Canaanites that are “cherem” (devoted). Through the prophets, God reveals that Israel is also to be devoted (remember what happens to Jerusalem?) And not just Israel — indeed, all the nations of the world are “cherem.” We are the King’s Harem (same semitic root as “cherem”).

The Word on the white horse doesn’t just cut the flesh from some men, but “all men.” He doesn’t torture; we torture. But He will deliver us from these “bodies of sin and death.” It’s called the second death, the death of death: eternal life. It’s called Faith.

The third stage, according to Kierkegaard, is Faith. “The highest is realized only when a person is fully convinced that he is capable of nothing, nothing at all…” writes Kierkegaard. “But someone who is conscious that he is capable of nothing has every day and every moment the precious opportunity to experience that God lives.”

To enter the third stage, God knocks over the ladder (I did, too), and He gives us himself (I slid the communion table back into place.) He is our Righteousness, not a law but a living presence.
He is our Wisdom, not objective knowledge in a book but living Wisdom on the throne in the sanctuary of the soul. He is our Life, our Faith, our Hope, our Love — the Divine Nature in us.

Why does God kill people? Because He has compassion on all people; because all people are dead and don’t know it; because all people are trapped in a prison that they think is themselves, an indestructible spirit in a body of death; because all people are destined to be One; because He’s making all people in His image, and He’s not dead; because He’s filling all people with Himself — He is our Righteousness, the thing that makes us right, and now we “know.”

“According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth (that’s everything) in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

In Acts 1, Peter, the disciples, and the women devote themselves to prayer.
In Acts 2, the fire falls, and they are all devoted; they do what they had been commanded to do but didn’t want to do but now want to do, for it is absolute joy; Eternal Life is absolute joy

Forty years ago, my dad actually devoted himself — he drove himself downtown — for he trusted the men with knives. They were doctors, and they gave him a new heart. God is a doctor, and He’s giving you a new heart.

Six years before, I watched religious people take my father’s life. But I also watched my father give his life. I watched Jesus make my father in his own image. I believe that they meant it for evil, but God intends everything (including the nothing) for Good.

And 20 years ago, it wasn’t the Dust Bowl, lung disease, or the devil that got my dad. Jesus came and got my dad. My niece even claims that she saw Him do so. And take another look at Revelation 14: The Reaper isn’t grim. I’m convinced the Reaper is Jesus, and we are the harvest of this earth. The only way to get yourself stuck in “hell” is to run from the Reaper.

I said to my dad, “You don’t have to breathe this air anymore; you can breathe God.” And the last thing he said to me, just barely, was “Thank you.” He had pneumonia and couldn’t expire. I think Jesus “expired” him and then inspired him with Himself and all things.

May you be devoted to Him.

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