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Is God a Moral Monster?

I am teaching on this at the Credo House in just a bit. Here are my notes. I have this in PowerPoint as well if anyone is interested (forgive the typos as usual).

Email Question I received Oct 26th 10:14pm

“If God’s truth does not change, why is Jesus (presumably God in the flesh) so radically different than the Old Testament god?”

Case Study: You are a clinical psychologist who is asked to make an assessment of the following cases. What is your assessment?

1. A woman on the news who just killed her five children by drowning them all. In her defense she claimed that she was not a bad person, but she was only doing what God told her to do to prove her devotion to him.

2. A man is creating a model airplane with his son. After a full week creating it together, spending night and day working on the details, the propeller will not stay on. On the last day, one of them goes into a fit of rage and destroys the whole thing in seconds. Which one went into this rage? Was this right?

3. There is a rally in Washington of people who say that the moral decay of our country is due to the allowance and tolerance of sinful behavior that starts with a child’s disobedience to their parents. Children who exhibit any disrespectful behavior toward their parents, therefore, should be killed immediately without a trial. It will be harsh at first, but soon people will learn and things will change. Tough love?

4. There is a proposition put forward by a presidential candidate that all criminals (including gays), along with their families, should be moved to an island isolated from the rest of society and be nuked. This will purify the world of evil.

The Basic Problem:

God, in the Old Testament, seems to act in ways that are out of character for someone we would normally consider as emotionally stable, mature, and morally excusable. Therefore, some people stay away from the Old Testament while others will deny the Christian God due to such acts.

Modern Day Marcionism

Marcion (A.D. 85-160)
Believed that the differences in the Old Testament and the New necessitated a belief in two gods, one who created the world (Yahweh) and the God of the New Testament (Heavenly Father). Yahweh was legalistic while the Heavenly Father is gracious. Marcion rejected the Old Testament and any association of Christianity with Judaism.

Four Primary Lines of Evidence that God is A Monster

1. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which is tantamount to child abuse that would be prosecuted as evil by modern standards of morality.

Genesis 22:1-2
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.

2. God’s has massive mood swings and internal conflicts, resulting in fits of anger and rage that can only be satiated by man’s pleading.

Genesis 6:6-7
The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Genesis 8:20-21
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.

After the people had made a golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, God said:

Exodus 32:9-10
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

Then Moses pled with him, reasoning about how it would make God’s reputation tarnished and God relented.

Exodus 32:13-14
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”
So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Genesis 18:23-26
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.”

3. God commanded the death penalty for “crimes” that are not deserving of such a severe penalty. He shows himself to be morally capricious at best, a jealous sadistic dictator at worst.

  • Murder (Ex. 21:11; Num. 35:30)
  • Cursing or striking parent (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9)
  • Kidnapping (Ex. 21:16)
  • Witchcraft (Ex. 22:18)
  • Bestiality (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:16)
  • Idolatry (Ex. 22:20; Lev. 20:2)
  • Negligent Homicide (Ex. 21:29)
  • Work on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2; Num. 15:32-35)
  • Homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13)
  • Adultery (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:24)
  • Incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14)
  • Prostitution (Lev.21:9)
  • Blasphemy (Lev. 24:16)
  • False Prophecy (Deut. 13:1-5)
  • Rape (Deut. 22:25)

Leviticus 24:16
Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

Exodus 22:18
You shall not allow a sorceress to live.

Exodus 22:20
He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

Leviticus 20:13
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Exodus 21:15
He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 21:17
He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 35:2
For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

4. God’s sanction of ethnic cleansing is morally indistinguishable from the acts of Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and others of their ilk.

Deuteronomy 7:1-5
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.

Deuteronomy 7:16
You must kill all the people whom the LORD your God is about to deliver over to you; you must not pity them or worship their gods, for that will be a snare to you.

Deuteronomy 20 16-18
In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

Joshua 6:21
They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.
“What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh—and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us.” – Richard Dawkins

How do we respond to this?

1. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which is tantamount to child abuse that would be prosecuted as evil by modern standards of morality (Gen. 22:2).

Response:

This event must be understood against the background of the larger ANE (Ancient Near East) context. This would not have been an odd thing to do in service to a god. God was testing Abraham in a way that was culturally acceptable. One has to allow for progressive revelation and for God to work in an accommodating way. God, however, does not sanction the death of Isaac and later repudiates the practice so that the Israelite culture would not be associated with such abominations in the surrounding cultures.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire…Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.

2. God’s has massive mood swings and internal conflicts, resulting in fits of anger and rage that can only be satiated by man’s pleading.

Response:
When God changes his mind God actually does go through the situation but, in his timeless existence, he also knows the outcome. While there is tension here, we must not let that tension tempt us to believe that God is working in ignorance.

These instances of apparent regret and changes of mind reveal the grace of God as much as anything else. When God destroys humanity, he restores it and promises that he will never do it again in such a way. When Moses pleads with God, this event is used to demonstrate God’s commitment to his character more than to his “emotions” regarding the rebellion of the people. God is always acting in a way that prevents the total destruction of humanity, something that humanity has deserved from the beginning. The first curse is a microcosm in which God’s character can be seen.

3. God commands the death penalty for “crimes” that are not deserving of such a severe penalty. He shows himself to be morally capricious at best, a jealous sadistic dictator at worst.

Response:

Israel lived under a theocracy (God-ruled government). The purpose of this theocracy was not necessarily to show God’s ideal for all governments with regard to the penal code, but to show the seriousness of certain sins that would corrupt the society.

The situation, more than anything else, is tragically illustrative of man’s need for mercy. Because of this, we are better able to seek grace. Otherwise, self-sufficiency (the very antinomy of Christianity) would be the norm. These moral sins are still hideous in God’s sight today.

However, it must not be overlooked how much God’s mercy is in play with regard to the law. (God Behaving Badly, David Lamb)

4. God’s sanction of ethnic cleansing is morally indistinguishable from the acts of Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and others of their ilk.

Response:

God is the ultimate judge, Saddam and Hitler are not. Humans are never able to make such determinations.

This may have been hyperbolic language, especially since God does tell the Israelites to be good to the “foreigners” in their land, remembering how they were treated in Egypt. (Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan)

God killed the society to prevent the corruption of the Israelites. One must not discount how evil and perverse these societies were. They sacrificed their children to their gods, were sexually corrupt, and had no sense of human rights. The Israelites would not have survived were they to intermingle.

We cannot judge what God was doing with these people corporately. We only have this account to tell us what God commanded the Israelites to do. Remember that the Bible is redemptive history, not exhaustive history. It does not seek to leave all questions answered.

Genesis 15:13-16
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

Amos 9:7
Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the LORD. “Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?

We cannot judge what God was doing with these people individually either. The slaughter of the children, if true, while hideous, was also hideous to God. But it could also be seen as God’s act of mercy upon the youngest of this society.

Ezekiel 18:23
Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?

The New Testament accepts the Old Testament’s testimony without confusion of the two. Far from treating the destruction of the Canaanites as excess cruelty, Paul summarizes it as the work of God. God “bore with them in the wilderness,” says the apostle, “and when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance” (Acts 13: 18). There is no trace of embarrassment about those events. Jesus refers to the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the destruction of the world at the flood. Hebrews chapter 11 summons a string of warriors to join the patriarchs and martyrs, men whose exploits were in battle: “who through faith conquered king­doms . . . became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Heb. 11: 32-34).

Most importantly, we need to gain some perspective. The sensitivity toward killing in such a way needs to be tempered against the problem of hell which represents a much more troubling aspect of Christian belief and theology. In hell, death will not be an escape from suffering. The New Testament speaks much more about this “genocide” than the Old Testament.

Rev. 19:15
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

Rev. 20:7-9
When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

Are the pictures of Christ in the New Testament really so much tamer? Christ is the one who will have a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth (Rev. 1:16; 19:15), the avenger of blood (Rev. 6:10), the one who sends an angel to kill so many that the blood is said to reach the bridles of the horses (Rev. 14:20), and the king who returns to “slay” his enemies in front of him (Lk. 19:27).

Rev. 20:12-15
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

  • We need to recognize the difficulty of this issue to gain an ear of relevance.
  • We need to recognice God’s grace and mercy in the Old Testament.
  • We need to realize that God is a judge who will not let evil sustain itself, ultimately bringing about universal “genocide” to those that reject him.
  • We need to realize that the entire Bible is an account of our failure and need of grace.
  • Our goal is not to find a palatable version of truth, but to find the truth without regard to palatability.

34 Responses to “Is God a Moral Monster?”

  1. This is a hard topic. Depending on who you are presenting to will determine whether or not your arguments are effective.

    To the person who already believes that God is a good God, what you have here will help bolster them in their belief that God, in spite of the things listed, is still Good. I believe you. :)

    To the person that believes that God is, in fact, a monster, there is no argument you can make that will be compelling to the contrary. This, in my opinion, is an argument that cannot be won.

    The only way a person can go from believing God is a monster to believing he is good, is through a spiritual heart change, and then come to the realization on their own (rather than a compelling argument). That is, they would first have to be compelled some other way to consider that God might worth following. And then sort of “come to the conclusion” on their own that God must not be a monster after all.

    Your argument would be helpful for a person in the process of “working out” whether God is a monster. But to the person who doesn’t at least wonder if God is good, any argument will come across as weak, as someone trying to concoct a way to support what he already believes. And in the final analysis, isn’t that what we’re doing? The fact that we’re doesn’t right doesn’t change the fact that we’re building a case to support what we already believe. And such arguments, by their very nature, are weak. Correct? Sure. But weak and unconvincing.

  2. Stated very simply, from an eastern view, the Old Testament should primarily be interpreted in light of Jesus Christ and the New Testament.

    For example, ethnic cleansing= exterminating sin from our life. Abraham’s life = always obey God. Jonah = 3 days in grave then resurrection. Noah = baptism. Old Testament Eve = New Testament Mary. Circumcise = Baptism/Chrismation. Moses, David, et al = arch-types of Christ. etc etc.

    We do not approach the scriptures as “fundamentalists”, so understanding the OT as primarily paving the way for the NT is not an issue.

    Not a revolutionary idea at all…Origin of Alexandria could have summed it up must more eloquently than I just did.

  3. I’m not going to go so far as to make a full-fledged critique here, but I’d like to point out a couple of places where I think you may have missed the point of the objections:

    Regarding the (near)sacrifice of Isaac: It is obviously recognized that the passage stops short of actually encouraging child sacrifice. There are really two objections usually made to this passage. First of all, the whole test seems like a horrifically cruel thing to put someone through, even without Abraham actually carrying out the killing. Second, and more importantly, Abraham is criticized for going along with it. Abraham is praised in the passage and elsewhere for having been willing to slaughter his own son in obedience to God. Unquestioning obedience to a deity (whose character is rather in question at that particular moment) is held up as a virtue beyond compassion and love for one’s children. So to summarize: God’s test is cruel, and Abraham’s priorities are messed up.

    “When God destroys humanity, he restores it and promises that he will never do it again in such a way.”

    But of course, he doesn’t restore the humans he destroys. He replaces them with other humans. Repopulating the earth doesn’t make up for mass slaughter.

    As for your third point, I’ll only ask this question. Would you rather live in a theocracy like the one described in the Old Testament, or in a free liberal society much like the one you do live in?

    No room for the last point. Might say more as more…

  4. Pete, very interesting. I am not sure that I would say that there is one Eastern way to interpret these passages as if it were official. Can you point me to such a place. Also, are you saying that the official position of the Orthodox church is that the Conquest of Canaan was not historical?

  5. Dan, one thing that notes do not bring out is the relative merit which I see in these responses. However, the Abraham and Isaac story is, to me, not disturbing. Neither is the “genocide” of the canaanites when we understand that we don’t have the whole story and, most importantly, the bigger issue of worldwide judgement that is coming. Once we can swallow Christ slaying his enemies in front of him and throwing them into eternal fire, the rest is soft-ball. That is, for me it is soft-ball. But we need to have wrestled with this either way. But I am much more disturbed about the eternal stuff.

  6. While I think most of the above has already been dealt with appropriately within the article, I’d like to make the argument that Christians today have too soft a view on God. The ‘God is Love’ view ignores some of the realities of God’s divine and sovereign nature and judgement.

    Christ’s death resulted in God’s wrath upon Jerusalem;
    Luke 19:24 If only you knew Jerusalem
    Luke 21:20 Jerusalem surrounded by enemies (the romans)
    Luke 23:28 Daughters of Jerusalem – weep for yourselves – destruction is coming.
    Matt 26:63 Chielf priest will witness God/Christ wrath. (See this page for a good brief explanation

    With the woman caught in adultery – Christ didn’t repeal the death for adultery law (I will note it was only applicable for ancient Israel however). People misinterpret what Christ said as if he repealed that law. The people who were REQUIRED to throw the first stones HAD to be the witnesses (who’s only requirement had to be that they were witnesses (e.g: ‘innocent bystanders’) – not that they were generally sinless – otherwise stoning becomes impossible to implement). Jesus realised that as only the woman was ‘caught’ – that the male seducer was being protected by the witnesses (and he may have even been present as a/the ‘witness’ perhaps). So when Christ says ‘let he who is without sin – cast the first stone’ – he challenges the witness(es) that they need to be an innocent witness – not…

  7. It was under the limit I promise! (Maybe the link stuffed up the count?)

    ‘…perpetrators.’ is how that ended above. ;)

    Anyway – main point – Jerusalem’s destruction came many years after Christ’s death. So – God didn’t ‘change’ post Christ’s Death to become all ‘lovey dovey’ – he can still invoke broad scale destruction that impacts the innocent along with the guilty… Jerusalem’s 70AD destruction as a case in point.

    Also – I believe he created carnivores in the Garden of Eden… thought it took me a while to reason around to that – it makes greater sense than carnivores eating ‘hay’.

  8. You mentioned that you have a powerpoint available, how would I be able to access it?

  9. Fair enough, I suppose, but I don’t know if that’s really a solution. Perhaps it is enough to quiet those who think that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster while the God of the New Testament is not. But all you’ve really shown is that is that Jesus has a dark side too. So much the worse.

    Perhaps you can elaborate on what precisely you find disturbing about the eternal stuff.

    When you say that the Abraham and Isaac story is not disturbing, have you actually tried putting yourself in the shoes of the characters? Or when you defend the regulations of the Torah, have you imagined yourself living in such a society (would you be willing to personally drag your disobedient child before the elders to have him executed in the interest of communal “purity?”)? When you say that the genocides are not disturbing, would you be okay with it if you were a Canaanite? Would you be okay with God punishing you by slaughtering your children? Not to mention the irony of punishing a nation for child sacrifice by – well – killing their children.

    You might defend these things, but I find it hard to believe that you don’t find them at all disturbing.

  10. Hi Michael,

    Thanks again for this excellent blog.

    The “OT points toward Christ” theme is a constant with EO theology. I’ll try to look through my library tonight, in the meantime, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon here in Chicago has several papers on OT prophets & EO/patristic interpretations: http://www.allsaintsorthodox.org/pastor/pastoral_ponderings.php

    Also, Dr. Constantinou does a nice job of communicating the ancient biblical interpretations of the OT:
    http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/searchthescriptures/introduction_to_the_bible_lesson_15_patristic_interpretation

    As we have seen, an individual literal translation of the OT can to a “creation museum” in Kentucky that claims that the world is only 6000 years old, and humans and dinosaurs lived together.

  11. My gut tells me that these are just self-satisfying answers.

  12. Your excuses for Yahweh’s behavior and temperament have been thoroughly refuted: http://religionatthemargins.com/2011/07/the-real-second-edition-is-god-a-moral-compromiser-a-critical-review-of-paul-copans-is-god-a-moral-monster/.

    A successful apologetic for Biblical morality needs to address what Thom Stark has already written – something that Paul Copan has been working on or putting off for more than 6 months now.

  13. I often used to ask the same question. Then I read the Old Testament, and realized that as I was reading, I was rooting for God to smote a lot of these people. It was then that I realized God had a lot more patience than I do – even in the Old Testament.

    I think when we read through some of the stuff in the Old Testament, we skip over the lines where God shows more patience than anyone in Israel (or surrounding countries) deserved. And he shows us more than we deserve today.

  14. One of the great challenges of theology, as I see it, is how to reconcile divine love with divine righteousness. We know that God’s knowledge extends to the end of time, and to the edges of the universe, and beyond. With this perspective, He will undoubtedly do things that don’t currently make sense to us.
    I suppose it might be like onions. I love onions, but I always peel the inedible skin off before I can enjoy them. Mankind is spoiled with sin, and for God to enjoy us, He had to do some major peeling. Before the age of grace, this usually was deadly. Before the flood, human genetics were spoiled with Nephilim DNA, causing luciferian hybrids to dominate the earth. Before Israel possessed the land, it was polluted with the idolatry and inhumanities of the pagan nations. Time to peel.
    But now, in the age of grace, it means death to the old self, but being alive in spirit in Christ. I like the new way much better. And so does God: In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that He won’t have to plead over and over again with the Father to spare us, but that God Himself loves us, and will pardon us and answer our prayers.
    In the final analysis, even if I don’t understand why God does what He does, I can acknowledge my utter failure before Him and submit to Him, knowing that the major theme of all history is His incarnation and redemption of us all. Love wins.
    He is the potter, I am the clay!

  15. As an Eastern Orthodox I do not believe that we as Orthodox have a standard view of OT interpretation. It is certainly not to be understood from an allegorical perspective only. Orthodox theology is too flexible to allow something that narrow. Yes, it is true that we see most, if not all, texts through a Christological lens, but not necessarily. We do this because Christ the Messiah is the the person who the OT saints looked forward to meeting and seeing.

    As far as why God does what he does…who are we to presume that we can answer for him, or that we should defend him? He is God and to call him moral or immoral goes beyond our capacity. He Is…that’s his name. His precepts and judgments are right…why? I don’t know, but that is faith. Though he may slay me daily, it is him whom I wait for (Job).

  16. One thing I forgot, in Hosea God says that he struggles in his heart between love and justice. He struggles friends, God. He is fighting too against evil and his love for us…don’t question his actions, trust that he loves and that he is justified in all his deeds.

  17. A close study of the OT shows a lot of pragmatic and realistic behavior that many could relate to today.

    While I will never be a king of the Ancient World, I can understand him going up onto his roof to look at naked women bathing. A lot of the OT is very realistic.

  18. Erico L. Rempel March 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Is God a moral monster? No, we are. So what, if God kills monsters? What I don’t understand is why He saves some of us.

  19. Ryan,

    Note that I said “primarily” viewed, not entirely.

    Michael,

    Sorry, forgot to answer you before, yes, the understanding is that Canaan was actually conquered.

  20. Ryan – What’s the scripture for your reference? I would love to look it up.

  21. Job 13:15; Hosea 11:8

    Hosea will probably not read in your translation like I paraphrased it, but note that God indicates an inner struggle. My Hebrew professor, who has dedicated his scholarly life to the book of Hosea tells me all the time that this is God struggling between His love for Israel in His heart, and the justice that Israel deserves. Hosea is an amazing window into God’s “heart.”

  22. Thank you for your reference and your reply, Ryan.

  23. Michael, Ryan,
    Michael,
    You said “one thing that notes do not bring out is the relative merit which I see in these responses”. Why do you offer these particular responses if any fall short of what you seem to have merit? To me that seems slightly unhelpful…

    Ryan,
    Thank you for the insights you have posted.
    (I am not Eastern Orthodox, but have some questions for you if you would be willing to discuss through email. It would be a great help to me, if you are willing: AaronFrankWalton@gmail.com. If not, that is fine too.)

  24. I am finding the discourse quite interesting. However, I would like to ask if it is advisable to use the example of Christ and the woman in adultery. Apparently, the account was not part of the original but added later by a scribe. Second, although I find the explanations for individual issues interesting, I do not find them compelling. I have heard one speaker point out that we need to filter all of the OT accounts through the lens of what the role of Israel as a ‘womb’ for the coming Christ and the absolute necessity to produce a cultural environment where He COULD lead a sinless life. Basically, the whole plan of salvation hinged on the nurturing of a righteous nation. Thoughts?

  25. Pat, Ryan,
    Pat,
    I was not completely compelled by the reasoning either. Through I am more compelled by it than the idea that God needed to produce an environment for Christ to lead a sinless life; because it would seem that there would have been a better route to that than the conquests and everything, and the seeming failure of Israel to be righteous for so long would then be “God’s failure” to raise the people rightly.
    While I believe Jesus was able to sin, and did not sin by means of his ability, there is still a degree in which God supported him and gave him strength to do so (“whom I uphold” Is 42:1).
    I myself recourse to God’s character more readily. I myself may not be able to discern from what I observe that God acted justly, but God claims that he judges justly (Jer 17:10) who then am I to question if he is or if he is not? I cannot search the heart of men, nor search out a matter fully; God forbid I say God failed to and judged wrongly.

    Ryan,
    I tried to reply to your email, but it prohibits me from doing so. It tells me the email-address doesn’t exist. The questions I had were not all that important, so it is okay. However, I wanted you to know lest you have more difficulty with the email address.

  26. “My ways are not your ways says the Lord.”

    Aaron, very weird about the e-mail. I received a few e-mails in that account today. Try again if you like.

  27. Hi, Pat!

    Your explanation is somewhat close to mine although I don’t think the preservation of Israel had to do with preventing an environment conducive to sinlessness. Jesus was God Incarnate. Therefore, he couldn’t sin, although tempted to do so.

    Rather, God had to protect Israel because he was implementing his plan of salvation through it. That meant dealing harshly with all threats to it. After Christ came, there was no longer that need to deal with Israel’s enemies in the same manner. Hence the difference in violence between the Old and the New Testaments.

  28. I think another reason for the difference between the Old and New is that through Jesus’ blood we entered into an age of Grace, in which God is waiting patiently for as many to come to salvation as possible. Israel will receive the Messiah eventually, so Israel is still an issue for God. First shall be last, last shall be first . . .
    Part of the Revelation of Jesus is his anger and wrath against his enemies, including “Treading the winepress of his indignation . . .”, which sounds pretty Old-T style, too!
    One of the reasons for Jesus’ return, then is to deal with the enemies of Israel, who have divided God’s land, etc., and in fact mankind finally will have destroyed himself and the earth without divine intervention.

  29. Here’s the problem I have with both of the arguments you raised regarding the passage about God telling the Israelites to kill a whole race. First, even if hyperbole was involved, even killing just a handful of babies is horrifying. Secondly, you can say that the people did terrible things, but that doesn’t justify killing the innocent.

    I’m not saying I flatly disbelieve the accounts either. I don’t know what to think either way. But those two arguments have never struck me as convincing.

  30. yankeegospelgirl,

    keeping the thread alive ;)

    I don’t believe the hyperbole theory is compatible with how the the Hebrews understood the text anyway – so I’ll rule out hyperbole.

    But true – the alternative option as you’ve stated it is even worse – but can’t be ignored.

    Here’s my attempt to wrestle through one aspect of it;

    The innocent can and do suffer the consequences of the guilty party’s actions. Generally we consider this unfair – but it is unfortunately a fact of life – albeit one we should remedy if at all possible.

    So one perspective is to take that those innocent children as having suffered the consequences of their guilty parents. The Israelites were acting on divine command. The children would have lived had their parents not been depraved (and all evidence points to them being very depraved – you can’t compare them to any culture alive today basically). You can even take the Israelites out of the equation and for example look at Egypt’s first born being killed by God – some of them would have been innocents as well.

    A human equivalent is also readily available in the bombing of cities at war. The innocent pay the price for decisions made by their leaders – but most of humanity consider that an acceptable (again – to be avoided whenever possible) cost of freedom from oppression.

    Sometimes God involves himself and saves the innocent – but certainly not in all cases (most even). It seems that just being innocent is insufficient to warrant God’s divine intervention. But also note his broader picture on life (in that death is not the end). And also note that God wants us, expects us even, to deny our right to life in this world, for the greater good – as per our example in Christ.

    So for me at least, that goes some way to mitigating the apparent cruelty of said actions. Israel’s laws were also ahead of their counterparts for general fairness – so they weren’t given to be a ‘cruel’ nation by any stretch…

  31. It seems to me that the most important topic to address when speaking about God being a moral monster is the topic of hell. Though some Christians assume that anyone could deserve eternal punishment, I don’t see how it’s really possible for anyone earn their place in hell. How can infinite punishment for finite crimes ever be just or good? When you think about it punishment isn’t inextricably linked to any action. It is a choice. There are a number of important questions that arise when you deconstruct the text. Some of them follow.

    So here are a few things to think about:

    A story that’s not really dwelled on in the Bible is the hell creation story. Whether it was for a nanosecond or a few hours or days God crafted hell out of His own imagination, made the blueprints as it were. Then He built it. Whether that’s with a snap of his fingers or ‘brick by brick’. As we all well know hell isn’t just a part of the Old Testament.

    How could a good God wait so long to send Jesus for salvation? Humans have been on the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. Jesus came (to one isolated community) only a few thousand years ago, after we had spread all over the earth and after hundreds of millions of people never had the chance to even hear about Jesus, because he hadn’t come yet. Though some people find it easy to let God off the hook here, it doesn’t really look good when you think about it.

    Hell does not HAVE to be eternal. God makes it so. Even 5 years in hell would be an incredible punishment, try 5 days even … But forever!? What’s the point? One must ask why he lets that suffering go on? And why create it in the first place?

    I could go on but I’ll just add one more thought. God in the NT still require blood sacrifice for redemption of sins. Jesus is the final blood sacrifice that is our only option for salvation. Why not genuine forgiveness? God gives power to sacrifice (of innocent life) as a cleanser. Why? Is that in…

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