Torture, Part 4

Suspecting that my antipathy (and objections) to Jonathan Edwards’ contention that God is the Superlative Torturer are rooted in my personal history, I need to revisit the long name of God for perspective.

The Long Name of God

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.

Exodus 34:6, 7a (NET)

But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.

Exodus 34:7b (NET)

Intellectually, I can see that the things I’ve been looking into in Revelation fall under the heading of not leaving the guilty unpunished.  Rationally, I can see that this long name is an accurate description of who God is, one unified God.  But I don’t know the One who by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation, not experientially.  I deserve to know Him that way.  I’ve earned the right, so to speak.  But I don’t know Him like that.  I know the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.

Asaph[1] apparently knew God as the One who by no means leaves the guilty unpunishedI suffer all day long, he wrote, and am punished every morning.[2]  Of course he acknowledged that he felt that way when: my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me.  For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked.[3]  And I most felt like Asaph as “a philosophical and legalistic young man fighting my way back from atheism,”[4] obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.[5]

I don’t think I was particularly obsessed with money.  I was giving money and continually amazed that I always had enough.  I wanted some fame or power or prestige or position, and thought that “obeying” God by striving to keep the law, or the love that is the fulfillment of the law[6] as if Paul’s definition were a list of laws, was a means to that end.  I was “punished” constantly then.  But all I really meant by God’s “punishment,” or his “blessing” for that matter, was how things worked out according to my hopes, my dreams, my plans or my schemes.  When things went my way I was “blessed,” and I was “punished” when they didn’t.

This wasn’t always the case, however.  Though I didn’t think in these terms then, at seventeen He who by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation was the One I worshiped and loved as much as it is possible to love such a One.  Punishment is the currency of childhood.  It’s how one pays for what he wants.  I didn’t actually know this God in any experiential way.  I believed in Him.  He made sense to me.  I claimed to believe in Jesus’ salvation.  And I suppose I did to some degree, but that was heaven.  Heaven was as far away as Disneyland.  And my family couldn’t afford Disneyland either.

I don’t recall knowing the long name of God, but I knew the Ten Commandments: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.[7]  I had no clue that the ones who loved Him and kept his commandments were the ones He had shown mercy.  If you had told me it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy,[8] I wouldn’t have believed you, not by seventeen.  I “knew” I didn’t love God enough or keep his commandments enough to “earn” his mercy.  That’s why I trusted Jesus for a place in heaven rather than in hell.  But as for the rest of it, I “knew” I would pay in punishment.

At seventeen I don’t think I knew the law that reads, If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife.  If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.[9]  I would be hard-pressed to confirm that anyone I knew had ever heard of this law.  We believed in the sin of premarital sex.  I knew the law about rape (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29 NKJV).

If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.

This law was impossible to avoid.  I read it on different occasions in anti-God and antinomian polemics.  I even checked the reference in the Bible to see if it was true; that is, that it was actually in the Bible as the polemicists claimed.  One might argue that I should have inferred the former law from the latter.  I can’t disagree.  I wrote[10] that I had a “philosophical bent of mind.”  While true, it doesn’t mean that I was any good necessarily at doing philosophy.  I was embarrassed and frustrated by this law.  Why did God force women to marry their rapists?!  But neither my embarrassment nor my frustration raised a single question in my mind regarding the validity of the sin of premarital sex.  I believed in the sin of premarital sex with all my heart, the laws of God notwithstanding.

Such was the state of my “faith” when my highschool girlfriend and I fucked[11] for the first time.  I don’t use the term fucked to be insulting, demeaning or derogatory but in the hope of finding a word in English that will carry the weight of eros in Greek.  Sexual intercourse is about inserting an erect penis into a vagina and thrusting and relaxing to stimulate the nerves in the head of the penis and the clitoris until an explosive pleasure sensation called an orgasm is achieved.  What I mean by fuck, fucked or fucking has everything to do with sexual intercourse, and nothing to do with it except as an entry portal or an ongoing celebration of a wondrous and unimaginable relationship with another person of the opposite sex, a relationship that artists have spent their lifetimes attempting to capture, celebrate or recreate in music, dance, art, sculpture, poetry and drama.

Before we fucked, my girlfriend and I were two teenagers too shy to remove our underwear as we crawled under the covers.  Afterward in the bath together a Bible verse came to mind, And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.[12]  I felt like I understood that verse for the first time.  But it didn’t dissuade me that I would be punished for the sin of premarital sex.

I had some very specific punishments in mind.  Pregnancy was top of that list.  Obviously children were God’s primary punishment for fucking.  My Dad had warned me to watch out for women who would trick me into caring for their children.[13]  Protestants were a little wishy-washy on the sin of birth control as a way to avoid God’s punishment for fucking, but Catholics were strong and on target on this issue.  My girlfriend and I were well-versed in the “Brave New World[14] and had our Malthusian drill[15] down pat.  We never fucked without at least one method of contraception, and often two.  The idea that a couple might become so impassioned they forgot their Malthusian drill was inconceivable to us.

Venereal disease was number two on God’s list of punishments for fucking.  But we were both virgins when we started fucking.  I had the desire to expand this fucking relationship to others, until I actually tried to initiate it.  Though I didn’t know the law about seducing virgins intellectually, I felt that law written in my heart when I attempted to fuck another virgin.  “I returned to [my girlfriend] quite contrite actually, confessed my sin and asked for her hand in a much more traditional marriage.”[16]  But even that didn’t alert me that I might not be punished for the sin of premarital sex.  I really don’t think I recognized my aversion to committing adultery as God’s law written in my heart anyway.  I probably just thought it was my idea, or that I “loved” my first girlfriend more.

Finally, death was the punishment I thought most likely for the sin of premarital sex, given that we had outsmarted God twice before.  I didn’t think God would, or maybe could, kill me outright.  Miracles, God breaking the laws of science, were kind of a sketchy issue in my thinking at the time.  But Vietnam was a very real possibility.  And it would be quite easy for Him to kill me there.  When the draft lottery all but guaranteed that I would never be drafted, I still didn’t suspect that God had no intention of punishing me for the sin of premarital sex.

One more opportunity comes to mind.  Every time we fucked in my girlfriend’s bedroom she put three albums on the stereo: Every Picture Tells a Story,[17] Rod Stewart; Who’s Next,[18] The Who; and Aqualung,[19] Jethro Tull.  I tolerated Rod Stewart because I loved her.  Secretly, I called the album “Every Picture Tells a Story Donut,” after the repeated line in the title track.  Who’s Next became more important after she left me for someone else.  Aqualung made a deep and immediate impression.

The song “Wind-Up” spoke particularly to me.  I learned years later that the only required subject in English public schools was the Bible.  That explained why British progressive rock was obsessed with biblical themes.  It also made more sense to me why Ian Anderson[20] left school with “their God tucked underneath my arm.”[21]

So I left there in the morning
with their God tucked underneath my arm —
their half-assed smiles and the book of rules.
So I asked this God a question
and by way of firm reply,
He said — I’m not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.
So to my old headmaster (and to anyone who cares):
before I’m through I’d like to say my prayers —
I don’t believe you:
you had the whole damn thing all wrong —
He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.

Looking back now, I clearly had everything “all wrong.”  I remember entertaining the notion that God was trying to communicate to me through the words of this song.  I even went back to the Bible to see if I could find what I had gotten “all wrong.”  But the Bible said the same thing to me it always said: “God’ll getcha if you don’t watch out!”  I decided that there was no way anyone who looked like Ian Anderson could possibly know anything that could stand up to two thousand years of Christian theology (no matter how catchy the tune).  And there was no way I was going to get out of being punished for the sin of premarital sex.

Nothing could persuade me otherwise.  Even when I wasn’t punished for the sin of premarital sex, nothing clicked, no light bulbs went off.  Instead, I felt rationally obligated to become an atheist because God would have punished me for the sin of premarital sex.

[2] Psalm 73:14 (NET)

[3] Psalm 73:2, 3 (NET)

[5] 1 Timothy 6:4b, 5 (NKJV)

[6] Romans 13:10b (NET)

[7] Exodus 20:5b, 6 (NKJV)

[8] Romans 9:16 (NET)

[9] Exodus 22:16, 17 (NKJV)

[12] Genesis 2:25 (NKJV)