What Christians Can Learn from Game of Thrones

Many years ago I attempted to give Game of Thrones a try. It was at the release of season three in 2013. As a promotion for the highly acclaimed show, HBO offered people to watch the first episode for free. I didn’t know anything much about the show at all, and decided to give it a try. I couldn’t make it through the episode as it featured nudity unlike anything I had ever seen before. And it seemed particularly accustomed to violence in a way that was disturbing. As it turned out, many Christians had come to the conclusion that the show is unhealthy for a Christian to watch, and I agreed wholeheartedly.

Still, however, I found the plot of the story interesting, and it was a great shame that the overall concept was ruined by the graphic nature of the show. I maintained what I like to call a distant interest in the development of the story. I frequent some video game/television media and fan sites, and my YouTube recommendation circulations include a lot of the recent gaming and TV show news. Game of Thrones came up especially during pre-season release periods and during the season, and YouTube would have clips of episodes released.

Without watching the whole series, and rather only some key moments, I was able to essentially put together the basic plot points without going into the detailed stuff. I heard enough rumors, theories and so forth about some of the most horrific moments of the show, such as the live burning of a little girl, a boy pushed out of a window (I did see the clip of that anyway), incest, the sexual affairs, the brutal rape of Sansa and all that other stuff I really don’t need to see to believe. I don’t need to see Ramsey being a complete psychopathic nutjob. Everyone’s talking about it, I’ll take their word for it.

A Question of Purpose

But as I took in all of this information over the years, I was brought back to that episode I tried to force myself to watch in order to get to the other side, and asking myself, “Is there a point to all of this?” I never finished the episode to get an answer to the question. I lost all interest in such a pursuit because the graphic nature outweighed the desire for an answer. It didn’t seem like the show was lessening its graphic nature as it went on, and hence what was the ultimate goal? What was it about this show that drew people so much to the senseless violence? It was like a soap opera, only far more adult in content.

There was simply something truly disturbing about this show that went beyond the simple graphic content. It honestly felt filthy to watch it. Returning to Ramsey one more time, and hearing about the sadistic things he did, I remember asking myself, okay, he’s obviously insane… What’s the point of all of this? It was almost as if the show made a monster and was enjoying the reality of that monster. It was glorifying his sadism.

I realize antagonists are necessary for conflict in a story, and I love a complex, more-than-one-dimensional bad guy. But there comes a point where the writers are indulging the antagonist to a point that one has to sit back and say, “Okay, I get it, he’s a loon. Do I need to see more of this?” It’s like someone who watches a documentary about Charles Manson, and after that looks for another one, and then another and begins to take an unsettling fascination with his character. At a certain point, it honestly gets very uncomfortable, and again one must ask, where is this all going to?

The show begins with one interesting character, and I say interesting because he is the only one of his kind throughout the entire show. That is, Ned Stark. He is king of the realm at the beginning of the season. One thing I have to give the show credit for is that it begins on a high note, with a seemingly functioning, peaceful kingdom. But as the Bible says, there are wars and rumors of wars. All is not well in King’s Landing, as it seems.

Ned was the one good guy of the whole show. He was what you wanted in a strong, lead protagonist. The show seems to set Ned up as the main hero of the whole story, and it does a good job of that. But there is a purpose in doing this. The purpose is to cut that hero’s head off. Literally. When Ned is betrayed and then executed, all hell, as it were, breaks loose. That begins what one might really say the Game of Thrones.

We might go a little farther and take this into a biblical perspective. When Ned is executed, God’s judgment on a wicked land began. When all virtue, salt and light is removed from a land, you can be sure as the Bible demonstrates that this is God judging a land. From that point on, there was nothing but evil, wicked, vile debauchery having its way. The only real good character was removed.

When I say good, I intentionally leave out some of the more noble ones (most of whom die because they won’t play the game). I even leave out Sansa, who later seems to harden up, but it might be too little too late at that point. But even during the middle of the show, what amount of leadership was Sansa showing? Not much. And what about Jon Snow? Who seemed to be the only character in the show incorruptible by evil? Likewise, Snow lacks the leadership trait.

When I say “leadership” I don’t mean a kind of humble and modest attitude he seems to demonstrate in the show. At a certain point, quite frankly, all that humility becomes cowardice, and I think that’s what his character shows ultimately. He was far more fit as a person to be king and he wouldn’t do it. When the Night King threatened the land, instead of seeking the throne, he knew what had to be done. That’s the quality of an admirable man; he was willing to toss aside the game of thrones for a more pressing evil to be stopped. No one showed more qualities for that throne than him, and yet he’s not asserting his leadership in the end. And why is this? Because it’s not convenient for the show. We can’t really be having good, admirable men as models of virtue for our story. It ended with Ned Stark all the way back in season one, and it was intended to stay that way.

The Tragedy of Daenerys

When I heard about how people hated the way this show ended, I had to somewhat chuckle at the irony of it. As I stated before, while not watching the show, I did see a few clips here and there on YouTube, and some of those clips involved one of the main characters, if not the main character, Daenerys. Commercials when the show was starting, made her to appear as very innocent. But that’s not who I saw in the clips. I saw a girl gain power and order the merciless and rather inhuman execution of certain people. I didn’t know the background of these sorry individuals, but whatever it was, it was hard to tell who was the good guy and the bad guy.

So when the end was approaching in season seven, when I saw the clip of Danny and Jon Snow meeting for the first time, I saw a spoiled little brat, not very different than Joffrey. I saw someone who was getting so obviously lost in power that it was pretty clear where this was going. You can’t let someone like that on the Iron Throne. So by the end, when Daenerys cooks the entirety of King’s Landing, I was honestly not very surprised. I do understand many of the criticisms of how it led to this, but to those so naively disliking the wicked tyranny of Daenerys showing its true form, how could you not have seen this coming at all? Debate on its execution all you want, it was inevitable nonetheless.

Of course, then I began to learn about some details here and there, particularly about Danny’s parents and her “Mad King” father. So what we have in traditional storytelling formula is a child who comes from a history of evil men who can, as it were, redeem that history by not being what her father was, or what her brother was turning out to be. While she seemed to start out well, history itself shows that even noble intentions don’t always end in noble victories. In fact, rarely ever they do.

In the end, the potential foreshadowing that Daenerys could “break the cycle” of a mad ruler went up in flames with King’s Landing as she destroyed it with her last remaining dragon, killing more people in one episode than any of the vile characters in the whole series put together, and Daenerys was not able to break the cycle. For many, following Danny through all her pain for the past decade or so, to see her blow it all away here at the end was too much. I again hearken back to the fact that the signs of this were seen a mile away.

In reality, the demise of Daenerys was really an ingenious move, whether the writers intended it or not. What does it show us? Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. What the end shows, right up to the point that her last dragon burns the Iron Throne, is that all this throne has brought was death and destruction. No one person is fit to rule it, because no one is beyond the corruption that exists within them. Every single one of us is corrupt to the core with our sinfulness, born of the seed of Adam, inheriting the sin nature he induced upon us all (Romans 5).

For this reason (that mankind is inherently corrupt with sin) the founders of the United States chose to go a different path than that of a monarchy, than that of one ruler over many. Instead we would be a constitutional republic, a federal government, where power was distributed to three different branches (two of which are themselves a plurality). No one branch can exist without the other. Since absolute power corrupts absolutely, then the one thing no man could ever, ever have, was absolute power. No one is able as mere men, to hold and maintain such authority without it driving them mad. Daenerys demonstrates this. A young girl who began innocent and noble, still showed that deep down, she was as corruptible as the rest. The lure of the Iron Throne, like that of the Ring of Power, was too great for a mere mortal, even of her hardship, to grasp and resist its temptation. In the end, what difference was there between Daenerys and the Night King? In the end, what was the show trying to prove, if not that fallen man cannot save himself?

The Vicious Cycle of Nihilism

Watching it end like this also reminds me of the Walking Dead. I was listening to Steve Deace talk about this on his show (which inspired this article, by the way) the other day and it was so absolutely true what he was talking about. He hit the nail right on the head about what Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead are all about. But going back to the Walking Dead for a moment, Steve said he realized the show was going nowhere when Neagan showed up and bashed in Abraham’s and the other dude’s head (forgot his name because I honestly didn’t care for his character at all).

I would disagree slightly with Steve and say that I caught the hint that the show was going nowhere at the end of season one (if I am recalling correctly) when the group of survivors found the laboratory with a doctor who was experimenting on his undead wife. It seemed then and there like the show was giving us a direction for the team to go in on how to redeem all of this, but the doctor blew up the whole lab, committing suicide, and taking all his research with it. At that point, it was clear to me that the show was closing the door and locking it shut, with no way out. Neagan’s introduction was simply the nail in the coffin for me, the catalyst for me giving up the ghost and leaving the show to become quite literally a walking, dead show.

The only difference between the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones is that at least Game of Thrones manages to end its existence by connecting the infinite, vicious cycle back to where it all starts to go round and round again. For the Walking Dead, it seems like they are going to carry this entire endeavor as far as they possibly can, which, as it seems now, it has finally run out of life.

The question here to ask at the very end is, what was the purpose of it all? What was the goal? What message were the creators trying to convey? I bring things back to that question I asked myself when I tried to watch that one episode in the opening of season three: Is there a point to all of this? After everything that happened, even with the Iron Throne being destroyed, one might think that this was a time where there had to be a better way to do things. Instead, all they do is convene in a counsel in the end, and make preparations to rebuild and to crown a new king.

It seemingly ends right back to the way it all began, minus an Iron Throne and a functioning King’s Landing. But you see the point of it all; it goes back full circle. The throne has a new ruler, Bran, and whether he will be good or bad, no one knows, but either way, it starts over again. The betrayals, the politics, the lust, violence, sex, wars and all that wicked mankind has to offer. The cycle is not broken. Even the mighty Daenerys falls to the lure of power upon the throne.

If there is anything to grasp out of the entire drama of Game of Thrones, its that humans have an inherent sinful problem, and it leads them to do the most vile things that you see in this show. On that, I can certainly agree. To me, the greatest irony of this entire show is that it depicts the wickedness of mankind without God and His grace, and what a godless society leads to; a vicious cycle of endless misery, and the most amazing thing is that secular people all across the world who love their sin hated the way this ended. It goes to show that even indulging in the sin they love, the imago dei shows forth amidst all that suppression of the truth, and they know that in the heart of hearts, they yearn for something more than what this world has to offer.

Because all this world has to offer you is death. I am reminded of the book of Ecclesiastes and what the great takeaway of it was. Over and over again the author’s great complaint is summarized as grasping for the wind. He is trying to find in this life something to satisfy the longing in his heart. He has all he could ever want. He has women, a great palace, riches and was a god among men. He was wiser than all, a library in and of himself. Yet he was not happy. He had no joy.

Fredrick Nietzsche is often known for his famous saying “God is dead” and it’s said as a chant and cheer. Most people don’t realize that Nietzsche uttered the words in great despair. As the father of nihilism himself, Nietzsche did not find the idea comforting. And towards the end of his life, he expressed a deep longing for eternity. He would die in insanity.

Of course, what can you expect from someone who sees the future only as more of what we have now? When your entire worldview has nothing to look forward to beyond this world, when you have no redemptive element, there is nothing else to do but repeat the cycle we all know in this world. How can a man who creates a world like Game of Thrones give you anything more than what the show started and proceeded with when he has no redemptive element, no doctrine of fallen man, no God, holy, righteous and awesome, to have the power to redeem?

A Desire for Eternity

All mankind, being made in the image of God, thus shares a common truth, and that truth is redemption. That truth is eternity. It’s why we contemplate the abstract, purpose, love and life. It’s why we write music, it’s why we love to travel, it’s why we desire in and from each other a deep love. But what we carry with that common desire is a corrupt sin nature. That sin nature, as the Bible teaches, clouds and distorts these natural desires. The desires are part of who and what we are. The sin twists it.

Hence, while we may desire purpose, redemption, and fulfillment, our clouded hearts and mind, not looking to the God who provides these things, will seek their fulfillment in something other than Him. It’s why progressives do what they do. They, like us, want a Utopian dream of peace, prosperity, and justice. But you need God to make this real, you need one to rule as the unifying truth to bring order to that. This the progressives will not tolerate, and hence someone has to fill that position of “God”. And so the government becomes the god. Twisted mankind must be the supreme, just ruler of twisted humans. And twisted man will be anything but just.

Game of Thrones gives us a picture of this vicious cycle. When the established order of fallen, sinful man proves itself unworthy of such power as the Iron Throne, what do they decide to do next? To repeat the cycle, because while Game of Thrones, intentionally or not, shows you the reality of fallen man, it doesn’t give you anything to fix it. Because as we have seen, when you don’t have a God who has a purpose in all things, who transcends all time and space, who holds the universe in His hands, who is righteous, glorious and true in all ways, who is sovereign and absolutely supreme, you can offer image bearers of that God nothing to satisfy the longing in their hearts.

[He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.] -Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV).

What was the great difference between Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings? There are many, many differences we can point to, but if we can sum it up in one, it would be as what I alluded to previously. It is the Iron Throne and the Ring of Power. Both are very much alike in many ways. They are the objects of absolute power in their respective worlds. The difference was that in the Game of Thrones, everyone wants it, and kills for it. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear that the great power is far too great for anyone to wield. The difference is that in the former, the power is being sought, in the ladder, they are trying to get rid of it. Because in the former, it operates on the will for power, without any warnings against it, and in the ladder, it operates on the recognition of what that power does to even good men. It is the difference between a man-centered story, and a God-centered story, in essence.

And so you see how the Lord of the Rings offers a very important message to its audience about absolute power in the hands of men. Game of Thrones may do this, but it never destroys it, because it cannot, because the worldview of its creators do not have anything else to offer. If man as we see him today is all that we have, then a warning about absolute power in his hands is a foolish endeavor. Of course, the alternative then is nihilism. No purpose, no redemption, only death.

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” -Augustine of Hippo

A King Worthy to Rule

In Christianity, and in truth, there is indeed a great and wonderful future and answer to all of this. I said earlier that Daenerys proves that even someone who seemed to start so innocent, with such a noble cause, can turn to madness in the end with the lust for power. It proved that no man, no mortal, corrupted with sin, can truly hold a throne. And I criticized the fact that after this is so clearly proven in the show (whether intended or not) that perhaps it is best we have no monarchy at all. It seemed as though I was criticizing the entire idea of a kingdom.

But I did no such thing, of course. A mere man, mortal and corrupted with sin cannot bare the reality of a throne. What about one who was not a mortal, was more than a man, and was not tainted with the corruption of sin? Imagine a great king who had none of these fatal flaws. Ned Stark was the best we had in Game of Thrones, but he was just a man, and he was mortal. What about a king who could not be slain, could not be fooled, and ruled with a righteousness so pure, no shadow of turning was in him?

After God had secured a home for David and Israel in 2 Samuel 7, David, the chosen king of Israel, declares that he wishes to give the Lord a temple to dwell in. In response, God tells David through Nathan that He had asked for nothing in return, because David could not give God anything that was not already His.

Instead, God gives David a promise through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. That promise was to establish David’s house forever. David’s line would not perish, hence. Israel would have a king that would never be removed. Ever since, Israel has been looking forward to that great promise, for that wonderful king who would fulfill the promise of God to David.

But how can anyone fulfill this promise? As Game of Thrones shows us, everyone dies, even the king. In the Bible, and in reality, it is no different. Old covenant Israel is replete with kings who lived and then died, and however good they may have been, their dynasty and legacy died with them. Generations to come would soon forget all the good deeds they may have done for Israel. Surely, then, God’s promise to David had to go beyond mere mortality. If in the end, death always wins over a great king, how can anyone truly fulfill God’s promise?

In the psalms, we have particular “royalty psalms” that speak specifically to this picture of a great king over Israel. Psalm 2 is one of these, and it speaks of a mighty king, who is almost a kind of divine figure; holding a very close relationship to God. In fact, in verse 6-8, the king in this picture is said to have been “begotten” by God. This king therefore bears a very unique relationship to Him, and to him, God gives the nations, indicating this king is sovereign over the world under the authority of God.

In Psalm 72, another picture of a great and wonderful king is given. He is a righteous king, who is merciful to the oppressed, and absolutely righteous and just against all evil-doers. In the midst of the psalm, in verse 5, one might almost say that this king’s rule is eternal. Psalm 102 may perhaps be the most telling of all our examples here of the character of this king. It begins with a mysterious saying:

[The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”] -Psalm 110:1 (ESV)

The construction of the words are strange. “The Lord says to my Lord” is what we find most peculiar. There seems to be some form of conflation going on. Two Lords are in view here. If we connect all of this with Psalms 2 and 72, we might say here that Yahweh says to David’s Lord (since in each psalm, Yahweh appears to exalt a king, and particularly in 72, one whom He calls a son) to sit at His right hand. The first Lord is capitalized in the text, which is the translator’s way of telling you that you are reading the tetragrammaton for Yahweh (YHVH), the covenant name of the God of Israel.

The use of the phrase “sit at My right hand” is to show absolute power and honor in the Bible. It signifies that the King of Israel is the ruler on behalf of Yahweh. Later in Psalm 110, another fascinating statement is made:

[The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.] -Psalm 110:4-5 (ESV)

Verse 4 is the tetragrammaton once more, and so God is speaking to David’s Lord that he shall be a priest, but not only a priest, he shall be a priest forever. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh. What do we make of this? Three things. (1) He is a king; (2) He is a priest; and (3) He is eternal.

The Bible hence gives us a picture of what Israel was to look forward to as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. But as you might see, who could possibly fit this description? It’s a tall order to fill, to say the least. Firstly, the king has to be a perfectly good and righteous ruler. That means he cannot have the taint of sin. The king has to be eternal, as well; his reign is forever.

That great King, the Bible says, came over two-thousand years ago, and told the world that he was the King of the Jews, descended from the line of David, and fulfilled the promise of God to establish that throne forever. That King was Jesus Christ. The New Testament connects Jesus to the line of David (Matthew 1:17, Romans 1:3). Jesus is also declared to be divine and eternal in his nature (John 1:1-4, John 8:58, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8-12).

The book of Hebrews declares that in Jesus was the fulfillment of Psalm 2. Notice in Hebrews 1:3, Jesus is declared to have sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (or of God the Father). This is said right after Jesus “makes purification for sins”, something the High Priest does, and Jesus, in Hebrews 5:6, is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:4.

Jesus then is that great King that Israel had been waiting for, who would fulfill the promises of an eternal King. He is King because He is man, and He is eternal because He is God. As we have said earlier, corrupt, mortal men cannot truly rule the throne of the world. What about someone who is immortal, incorruptible, and is more than a man, and by his very nature alone has the right to rule the world? All of this, Jesus Christ is. Corruption cannot take hold of him, as it is shown in the gospels, such as Matthew 8:1-3. Leprosy was a form of extreme, physical disfigurement that infected anyone it touched. When Jesus touches the leper, rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is cleansed. The power of Jesus and his divine origin is demonstrated here. He has the power over sin, death, and corruption.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Old Testament was looking forward to a pivotal moment in the future for a figure to appear by divine appointment who was going to bring an end to Israel’s great suffering. That moment came in the person of Jesus Christ. If you read Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s great desire is to show a Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. The Messianic figure of Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 9:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 1:23).

In Matthew 3:2-3, the prophecy of the one who prepares the way of the Lord from Isaiah 40:3 is fulfilled in John the Baptist. Consequentially, this fulfills the prophecy in Malachi 3-4. In those prophecies is a description of the coming Lord and a great judgment that then follows after the Lord comes to His people. The coming of Elijah in Malachi 4:5 is also fulfilled in John the Baptist, and therefore this prophecy was being fulfilled at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

It is the prophecy that would lead to the ultimate judgment on the nation of Israel, leading to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70A.D. Before that time came, however, Jesus’s ministry and message was summed up into one phrase. He went about telling people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. The call was a call to turn away from sin, because the kingdom of God was in their midst. God had come, and He “tabernacled” among His people (John 1:14). The King had finally arrived, and hence proclaims a warning to surrender to His reign and rule, or perish (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 3:2).

Jesus is always speaking among the people in such a way that the kingdom of God was here and now (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 5:19). After Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead, He gives the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. He says that all authority had been given to him, and to therefore make disciples of the nations. The kingdom of God was here, and now the message of the gospel, of the risen King, who will rule with righteousness and justice commands us all to come to him in repentance and faith and service to his Lordship, bringing all nations into his subjection.

As we have said, it is the Gospel of the Kingdom. So far what we have given was the gospel of the King, however. He is the most central figure of that role, but there is good news for us as well. As I had mentioned before, we have a great sin problem, and how can a holy God allow sin to dwell in His kingdom? He cannot. What then must the just King do with us? He must destroy us. All corruption must end. But God has done something wonderful to answer this problem.

The Gospel of Salvation: A Story of Redemption

First let’s remember what happened in the garden. Adam had not sinned yet, and hence he had no corruption. But once he committed the sin, he forever doomed his seed. Romans 5 is a great descriptor of what we call in theology the Federal Headship of Adam. All born under Adam’s seed inherit the sin nature at birth (Psalm 51:5). After Adam had sinned, God had the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24) so that no one may enter paradise (Eden) again.

The story of redemption in the Bible is the story of being able to enter Eden once more, where God dwells, in His paradise with Him. During the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, Bezalel made upon it two golden statues of cherubim (Exodus 37:7). This was the mercy seat. When the high priest offers the blood of the sacrifice, he splatters the blood on the mercy seat as an atonement. A life for a life, as it were.

As the book of Hebrews shows us, all the constructions of the old covenant artifacts were a picture of the real ones, the heavenly ones (Hebrews 7:4-5). The symbolism was the return to Eden, to remove the angels guarding the way by a sacrifice. No one could do this, which we will see why as we explain how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Jesus fulfills the role of the High Priest. The high priest in the Old Testament was to atone for the sins of the people of Israel. He offered a sacrifice in their place for Yahweh on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. But as the Book of Hebrews tells us, the high priest himself was sinful, had to offer sacrifices for himself, and did not live forever to be a perpetual mediator for the people of God. As Hebrews 10:1-4 sums up so well, the sacrifices of bulls and goats could never truly take away the sins of people. Man owed the debt. Only man could pay it. But for me to pay my debt means for me to die and perish. Then my salvation is hopeless in me. There is only doom.

Now we read on into Hebrews 10, in verse 5, where the Son speaks to the Father and says that a body had been prepared for Him. Now the Son, as a man, can pay the debt man owed, and He could pay the debt eternally because His life was of eternal value. In verse 11, the author again elaborates that the ordinary high priest could not truly fulfill all righteousness, being a sinner himself. Christ, who lives forever as High Priest, with an everlasting sacrifice in His own blood, offers one sacrifice, once for all who believe, purging their sins in eternity, becoming their Priest and King, and saving them fully and completely for the coming kingdom.

[For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.] -2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV).

Notice here that the Scriptures declare Jesus to be sinless. It was because he was a spotless lamb, his atonement was pure. When I trust in Christ, my sins have been forgiven in his blood, and now his righteousness becomes my own before God. Hence it is through Jesus Christ, the Bridge, the Doorway that I may enter Eden again. As Jesus himself says, no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). All of my sin, therefore, has been dealt with on the cross. Does this mean I no longer sin? Not so. John says in 1 John 1:8 that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How do we make sense of this, then?

From Death to Life

In the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord will make a new covenant with Israel, and in this new covenant, God will put His law in their hearts and remember their sins no more. This the author of Hebrews declares is fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 10:17.

In a similar prophecy, Ezekiel in chapter 36:25, Yahweh says that He will cleanse His people of all their idols. In verse 26, He declares that He will remove our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that He will cause to obey Him. He will give us a new heart. This we call regeneration. A dead man comes to life (Ephesians 2). The point here is that something takes place when my sins are forgiven. The Spirit of God dwells in me. To put this all together, once I am saved, God begins to work life in me. Sin dwells in my current body, but as Scripture tells us, we are to be killing this flesh daily. Only regenerate Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will begin this process.

In Romans 6, after explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul asks a rhetorical question, which is that if I have been forgiven of all sin, doesn’t that mean we can just live our lives in sin and continually say we are forgiven since all our sin is forgiven? Not so. Paul’s answer is that if you have been truly born again, something has happened to you. What is that? That you were buried and raised with Christ. Your sin is killed with him. Hence sin here means more than just bad actions–your corrupt state under Adam’s headship has been dealt with, though it still lives in this world. Now begins the new creation in the New Adam, born from eternity, that shows forth into this world.

This is what baptism represents. Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:5-8. He speaks of dying with Christ and being raised with him. Baptism symbolizes the going down under (the grave), and coming up alive, anew, and washed of sin. Hence the story of redemption, if we can sum it all up, is a story of how God conquers death through it. Through dying in Christ, we shall live (John 11:25-26). He says that he who believes in him [the Christ] and that he has been sent by the Father, has eternal life; they will not face the judgment but have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

An Eternal Hope

Thus in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have that great hope, that great redemption that was fulfilled in Christ when he came over two-thousand years ago, and will one day, at the end of time, be fully consummated in a new heaven and new earth, and for us who hold onto him, follow him in faith and repentance, restoration unto a new, pure and sinless life.

He is all that man was supposed to be, but couldn’t be and more. Like Game of Thrones, the Bible tells us of a great story. In the story is great evil, great pain, destruction, sacrifice, betrayal and loyalty. There are epic battles, and history-defining moments. But unlike Game of Thrones, the God who has written this story, who is telling this story always has a divine purpose; He is telling not simply a story of the reality of where we are now, but of a coming reality beyond this, where He will redeem all the evil, and all the pain, in something far greater than what we have.

The progressives, as we have said, desire a great Utopia. But their Utopia is built on this world, which is passing away. Like the story of Noah, it mattered little how big your house was in the world before the flood. It was going to be destroyed in the judgment. Only those who rest in the Ark will be saved. Only those who cling to the cross of Jesus Christ will be saved, and will exit the Ark of Christ into a new and restored world. Only, unlike Noah, this world will remain new every day. It never ends. It is an eternity of love, an eternity of music, an eternity of joy, an eternity of traveling, an eternity human relationships, an eternity of learning and grasping hold of an eternal, never-ending God.

There will be no sin that corrupts, corrodes and destroys. There will be no factions, no need to take sides. For all there are neighbors, all there are reconciled children of a great and merciful God. And they will serve a King whose reign never ends, whose glory is their light in the day, whose justice will never, ever fade away.

Reformed Theology and Antisemitism

By now we’ve all heard about the California Synagogue shooting carried out, allegedly by a young 19-year-old white male which happened Saturday, April 27th, a week from today. I heard about the story while taking a break from social media, i.e., Facebook when my phone’s news alert rang it in. I didn’t spend too much time on it, to be honest, and normally if a reported shooting doesn’t get up to about three alerts, with multiple fatalities from three different sources, I tend to consider it an incident, while no less terrible, as thankfully not a horrific slaughter.

This left one dead and multiple others wounded. It appears that the shooter (his name will not be mentioned) had a weapon malfunction. I suppose I should also be thankful that the shallow brain matter of these individuals tends to also mean they don’t know much about firearms and that unlike the Hollywood movies, they can in fact jam or have various other malfunctions. Californians aren’t typically known for their stellar firearm knowledge. Thank God for that too.

An Attack on Reformed Theology

But with the dark humor aside, what I want to do here is to really address the problem of the blame game at play by media outlets and people who are using this terrible event to attack what is known in Christianity as Reformed Theology. I thought it particularly useful for myself to address it, being among that denomination myself. I am a Reformed Christian of the baptist persuasion and a full-blown, five-point Calvinist. A Washington Post article has gotten a lot of attention recently on its attempt to expose the gunman’s theological beliefs, and tie his actions to that belief.

It doesn’t really surprise me that people who don’t know anything meaningful about Christian theology would commit a genetic fallacy here, and to straw man a particular aspect of Reformed theology, which is covenant theology (I will get to this later). What surprises me is how much I am seeing Christians, yes, Christians promoting and affirming this kind of cheap shot at the reformed community. And for that, I felt particularly compelled to respond to the claims of this article from the Washington Post and address this error.

As I said before, I didn’t give a lot of attention to this shooting at first. That was until I learned that the alleged shooter belonged to an OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church). That is a reformed church community. When I learned this, I became interested in the shooting, and especially because it was being politicized to shine a light on the reformed community as a whole.

As always, the attempt is made, by the Washington Post article, not to directly point a finger at a worldview, but to make it possible to do so. It’s a subtle form of the genetic fallacy, which is to falsify a perspective based on bad examples, or inconsistent examples of that perspective. That’s just what this whole thing is. It is an attempt to paint reformed theology as an extremist version of Christianity, and that its fullest form can lead to what this alleged gunman arrived at: antisemitism and white supremacy. But of course, the fullest form of reformed theology recognizes no such sinful ideologies. This is an utterly deficient view of reformed theology. It’s an insult to even say this is a subset, deficient view; it is not recognizable as reformed theology at all.

This straw man is what I will expose in this article, and then I will deal with the need to stop with this blame game exercise and instead be consistent (I certainly will be consistent with reformed theology) in rightly putting the blame where it belongs. Unlike the progressive think tanks out there who try real hard not to make socialist Venezuela real socialism by slapping “democratic” on the front to put lipstick on the pig as a way to create the false narrative of addressing straw men against socialism, we in the reformed community know what we believe, and are so confident in it, that we can truly defend it against these kinds of false attacks on our theology.

Calvinism as Justified Murder?

Evidently, the shooter was Calvinistic in his theology and used that to justify his shooting. According to sources, in his manifesto, he sums up Calvinism and how it views the triune work of God. He says that he was chosen by the Father, saved by the Son and is kept by the Holy Spirit. That is, in a nutshell, what Calvinism is teaching. Calvinism is the soteriological doctrine that salvation is a work of God, predestined before the world began.

It has a strong emphasis on God’s absolute sovereignty over all time and space, which means that the future is not simply a thing God knows about, but that it’s entire reality is decreed by God. Consequentially, that means that the ultimate destiny of all human beings has already been divinely predestined. For a further explanation of Calvinism, see my article here.

It would appear, then, that the shooter used predestination as a scapegoat to the shooting, and presumes on his own eternal security that, no matter what he does, he will not die in his sins, because he is elect. This of course is a gross violation of not only Calvinism, but a crucial element of Reformed Theology–dare I even say plain Christian theology. But particularly in the realm of Calvinism, you are hard pressed, browsing through reformed teachers for a few minutes, not to find one of them criticizing strongly the idea that because you were born in a Christian home, and even an orthodox Presbyterian home, baptized as a baby into the covenant, that you’re saved.

I’m not Presbyterian, as I said (I am reformed baptist), but even I will defend my Presbyterian brothers here fervently that what it seems like is this young man used his baptism into the covenant as a means to presume he is saved. That is absolutely not what the paedobaptist position believes for a second. It is, as I said, a gross and serious misunderstanding of the position. The paedobaptist position is rather a means of grace, a sign of the covenant, and a faithful covenantal father fulfills his duties as the head of a house to initiate his children into the new covenant as they did with circumcision in the old covenant. It was not to declare the child saved, it was rather the duty of a father, faithful to the covenant to baptize his children.

The kicker, of course, is that we all know that Scripture teaches clearly that just because a boy was circumcised, did not mean he got his ticket to heaven punched. Just as the concept of the sign of the covenant continues into the new, so does the concept of reprobation (even being within the covenant community) carry over.

Election Unto Repentance: True Faith

Furthermore, if you read Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin spends laborious time on the doctrine of faith and repentance to explain what it does to a genuine, elect believer, and as an antithesis, what it does not do. Yes, salvation is a work of God, but the consequence of this is that God will begin to work in the heart of His elect to a degree that brings repentance, stronger faith, and servant-hood to God and to others. If the opposite is happening, that’s a sign of reprobation, not a sign of salvific election.

The elect of God are known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). The good fruit we are speaking of is the growing in holiness, the obedience to God’s laws (Psalm 1, 19) and increasing faith and knowledge in Him. As Jesus says, if you love him, keep his commandments (John 14:15). One of those commandments is that you shall not commit murder (Exodus 20:13). If someone is not heeding to any of this, they can spout their election all they want, it’s a false profession.

Paul, in Ephesians 2, also says that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We are elected unto good works, righteous deeds, love, kindness, forgiveness and gentleness towards others. Not to murder others. Vengeance is absolutely forbidden for a Christian. Paul prohibits this idea strongly in Romans 12:19, declaring by the Holy Spirit that it is God who takes vengeance. So even if one makes the argument that the Jews of today are responsible for the death of Jesus, to kill them in response is vengeance, strictly forbidden by God.

Hence, the shooter evidently shows a massive deficiency in understanding what the doctrine of election means, and proves the contrary, that he is under the judgment of God, not under His grace. Using God’s predestination as a license to sin is also another symptom of reprobation. The author of the Hebrews warns his audience in a similar context:

[26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.] -Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV).

If you are familiar with Hebrews, what is most striking about its totality is that contextually, the author is exhorting, rebuking and warning, not pagan idolaters, but professing covenanters of God. Yes, that is professing believers.

A true child of God, elected and regenerated by the Spirit (and the Spirit does not entice anyone to sin) desires to obey Him, to put off their own sin, and they do not use God’s sovereign provision of forgiveness, justification and eternal security in Christ as a means to sin, and sin so deliberately as to commit murder. This is a fundamental teaching of Calvinistic doctrine. Election is not based on our presumption, it’s based on the God-breathed testimony of Scripture as to what a true, regenerate sinner acts like.

Replacement Theology

I’ve dealt with this accusation already in another article here, where I write a more extensive and detailed argument for covenant theology. So I will not waste time here going through what anyone can find easily on my blog, and all over YouTube with a simple search. But, it’s worth while to make brief comments on this straw man against covenant theology.

The section in which the Washington Post article criticizes (and therefore tries to make a connection to antisemitism) begins by articulating a dispensational position:

“Evangelical leaders often point to the strong support of Israel by conservative Christians in the United States as evidence that evangelicals today embrace Jews. That support of Israel is based in part on Christian theology that claims Jewish people must be in their homeland of Israel to bring about the eventual second coming of Jesus.”

That is what dispensationalism believes. It believes that the land promises God made to Abraham have to be fulfilled. It goes on from there to say this:

“But the branch of Christianity that [the shooter] comes from does not share that belief, Messiah College historian John Fea pointed out. In Reformed denominations, including [the shooter’s] Presbyterian tradition, “replacement theology” teaches that the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people in God’s biblical promises to Israel.”

That there is the straw man. Reformed theology does not teach that the church has replaced Israel. Again, for a fuller explanation, either go look at covenant theology explained by reputable teachers, or read my article on the subject. Covenant theology argues that God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham when He brought Israel, led by Joshua, to the promised land (Joshua 1, 4). That promise to Abraham had already been fulfilled. But even the author of Hebrews says that the land promise was not the true promise of God that we were to look for (Hebrews 4:8).

Paul, in Romans 4, takes that very promise, looks forward to a greater fulfillment that is in Christ, and that promise is to inherit the world (Romans 4:13). The idea that God still has a land promise to fulfill to ethnic Israel is not taught in Scripture. Does this mean that ethnic Israel is cut off and now can be condemned by God? Not at all. The whole point of the nation of Israel was to be the catalyst for God’s greater and ultimate purpose for Jew and Gentile to be redeemed in Christ (Galatians 3:28) and hence, being such, we inherit the world–the world is the promised land, not Palestine.

Paying Penance to Society

The title to this section is, I know, somewhat out of place. But there’s a purpose to the dramatic nature of it. The other day, in a Facebook group, I stumbled across a post from someone who appeared to be trying to use the shooting as a means to justify criticism of Calvinism. This was not posted by a secularist, but by a Christian. That, I think, is very significant. In the Washington Post article, it cites a Reverend Duke Kwon who appears to have made the audacious claim that while many people rejected the idea that the shooter was espousing genuine Christian beliefs, he believed differently.

The person in that Facebook group I just mentioned had a history of using genetic fallacy argumentation to connect Calvinism to slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Now they are using this shooting to connect Calvinism to antisemitism and an evident desire for mass shootings. I think any Calvinist, and reasonable person outside Calvinism can and ought to see how absolutely offensive this is, not to mention absurd. This is the first time in modern history of a shooting done by a professed Calvinist, and now suddenly Calvinism is treated as if it is causing mass shootings? This was, at best, an anomaly.

I made sure this person knew how offensive that is, and what I get in response is the accusation that I, as a Calvinist, am trying to downplay this man’s sin. The Washington Post article pulls a similar move:

But while some said [the shooter’s] background in the church has nothing to do with his alleged crime, and the church shouldn’t have to answer for him, others called for a moment of reckoning.

That’s a huge problem right there. As I told this individual, I as a Calvinist am not responsible for the utter abuse of its theological system by another sinner, and I refuse to apologize for it. I have nothing to apologize for. That man is responsible for his own sin, and he will answer for it. The reformed worldview is not responsible for this twisted version that I have shown here to be a twisted, unbiblical view of reformed theology. The article attempts to expose a double standard (again, all of this ultimately is to attack biblical, conservative Christianity) on evangelicalism:

“When there’s an act of ‘radical Islamic terror’ — somebody claiming they’re motivated by their Islamic faith — if we’re going to call upon moderates in Muslim communities to condemn those things, we should do the same. I wholeheartedly, full stop, condemn white nationalism,” said Chad Woolf, an evangelical pastor in Fort Myers

I don’t know who pastor Chad Woolf is, but I can tell him that I too condemn white nationalism, or white supremacy, but I don’t do that as some form of penance that I owe to society for the actions of a man who happens to claim for himself, not simply the religious worldview I adhere to, but to a theology within that worldview that I also adhere to.

Additionally, I do not, nor have I ever, after an Islamic terrorist attack condemned the religion of Islam for it. I don’t ask or demand Muslims around the world to separate themselves from these radicals or be accused of aiding and abiding them. That’s virtue signalling and I refuse to engage in such mob-like tactics. Instead, I will do what all Christians ought to do, and hold the evil-doers accountable before God, and that they will answer for their actions.

The sinful depravity of fallen, corrupted man leads evil men to do evil things. Yes, that is a reformed doctrine. There is nothing reformed about holding a group of people accountable for the sins of their ancestors. Religion doesn’t lead men to commit vile acts of sin. Religion becomes a catalyst, a gateway to act upon what is already deep inside the very core of their being. Sinners sin. Hence, the removal or shaming of a religion doesn’t do anything to end the disease.

The Bible teaches that man is desperately wicked (Romans 3) and that he uses any means he can to suppress the truth (Romans 1), and that comes in the form of religion, even. So what is the solution? The solution is that men need a new heart, not a new lifestyle, nor a new religion. The doctrine of regeneration (a reformed doctrine, by the way) teaches that no man will ever truly change, repent and be restored unless he is given a new heart.

[ 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.] -Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV).

The prophet Ezekiel declares on behalf of the LORD that God, in the new covenant, will cleanse His people, and give them a new heart. That’s what we need–a new heart. This Jesus taught consistently, and especially in the gospel of John, where Jesus talks about the very heart and core of a person, and that it was because of this that we did not need new life lessons, or moral reminders–we all knew about it clearly. What we needed was a rebirth in such a way, into such a new life that we would be able to obey that which God commands of us.

But until that happens, a person will always run off into sin and love the sin. They will never see the world in the way God does, and hence never seek to reconcile His creation to Him as He seeks to do. The reprobate never desire any of this. And since this man saw fit to murder image-bearers of God in such cold blood, how can it be said he is one of God’s children?

This idea that Christians and most especially Calvinists have a special penance to pay as a result of the wicked heart of this young man is truly offensive, and as I said, I won’t be doing any such thing. Instead, as a consistent Christian and Calvinist, I will point to the real, biblical problem of his heart. He is evil and wicked at the core, and needs a rebirth of the heart that would cause true Christian living. That goes for everyone. The answer is, and always will be the gospel.

It’s one thing for the secularists and the progressives to harp onto this idea of a group or sect paying penance for the sins of one who allegedly belongs to their group, it’s another for Christians to be calling for it from others. That is not a biblical idea by any stretch of the imagination. One might try and say that it is taught clearly in the fall and headship of Adam, but the argument demonstrates further a misunderstanding of this fundamental Christian doctrine.

We are not punished for Adam’s particular sin of eating the fruit. That is not accounted to me in Original Sin. What is mine to bear is the corruption that Adam passes down to me as being under his federal headship. That corrupt nature that affects every aspect of my being is what leads me to sin, and what brings me under the righteous judgment of God. That isn’t the same thing as the racial, or cultural concept of original sin. That is unbiblical. The truth of Scripture is that every single one of us, all on an equal level, stand condemned and in need of mercy before a holy God, and hence the gospel of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation is the answer, through and through for all sin and pain.

Antisemitism, Predestination and Reconciliation

I saved this section for last because what I wish to say here I think is a fitting end to this article I have written in response to the Washington Post article, and to those, particularly Christians, who wish to use this tragedy to score political points against reformed theology.

Here I will tackle the notion that the shooter believed he was justified in his targeting of Jews because it was the Jews who murdered Jesus. That’s actually not entirely true. It is true, particularly at Pentecost, Peter rebukes the Jews, charges them with murder against their own Messiah (Acts 2:23). But later, the Bible says it was also the Romans and the cowardly governor Pilate who were held accountable for the murder of Jesus too:

[27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.] -Acts 4:27-28 (ESV).

That is, Jews and Gentiles were responsible for the death of Jesus. So if the shooter were to really take his argument to its conclusion, he should be killing anyone on sight. Antisemitism based off of biblical language is absolute foolishness, evil, and utterly senseless. It has to take Scripture and twist it. As I said, it is a subset, sub-biblical concept. It takes bits and pieces here and there and ignores everything else. No one who is truly desiring to honor God, and thereby honor His word by basing their theology off a full understanding of all of Scripture would ever come to this debase, disgusting idea of antisemitism.

Notice again that this event was indeed predestined by God. Yes, it was God’s plan all along that the Messiah would be crucified. That is, God used the men involved in the crucifixion to fulfill His own purposes, which are always good.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” -Genesis 50:20 (ESV).

This right here is crystallized in the gospel. What men mean for evil, God always, always means for good. The same is in the crucifixion, which is the apex of this verse. What the evil Jewish leaders meant for evil, what the Gentiles meant for evil, to murder their God, God always intended it to save many who yet live, who will live eternally, to inherit that promise. That day was evil and wicked, but God, as He always does, redeemed it in the person of Christ because He is able, He is God, He is unstoppable. He is that good.

That is what God does for all of us who believe in Christ. All our pain, all our suffering has a purpose. As Paul says, God works all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He knows more than anything your pain and suffering, because He predestined it. Why? Because He has a purpose in it. Ephesians 1 gives glory in our election to God and God alone because He is merciful (Ephesians 1:3-5).

Therefore I would like to submit here to all those who have suffered as a result of this terrible tragedy and the wicked sins of an individual who used God’s sovereign decree by which that man had no right to use for sin, and he will be judged for it, to all of those affected by this, as a Calvinist, I propose to you the God of the Bible, who holds your destiny in His hand. He knows you deeper than you ever could, because He formed you. I would submit to you that your suffering, being under His divine authority, and Him always having a good purpose in all that He decrees, has a good purpose for you in that suffering. He can redeem your pain if you trust in Him. I don’t know how He will, as I am today still seeing my own pain being reconciled.

But my great comfort in knowing all the pain I endure daily is that God has a purpose in all of it. I know that whatever happens to me is for my good, and God knows that better than anyone. I rest in that sovereignty and that God I propose to you. Be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ. Jesus is that Messiah that the Jews were waiting for–the Scriptures declare it. And now you need a God who can reconcile the pain you feel. So be reconciled to Him, and repent and believe in Jesus Christ today.