Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Isn't the God of the Old Testament genocidal and bigoted? (or, Is the God of the Bible a monster?)

I'm speaking at the lunchbar at Lancaster University on the very tricky and emotionally engaging question above. This has been hard work to prepare.

I've decided to look at the slaughter of the Canaanites in Joshua 6 (which is often what people have in mind - at least implicitly - when they ask this question). The incident, which occurs with the invasion of Jericho, is thought to demonstrate God's lack of moral standards, that don't even seem to match up to our own. Nor can Christians just pass off these incidents as being inapplicable because they are recorded in the Old Testament. God is unchanging. And so a whole load of fears emerge... fears that God isn't good, fears that the Bible might stirs its readers to religious violence and so on.

Here's an outline of the path I'm going to take in responding to the charges against God from Joshua 6:

1. God's actions in judging the Canaanites as he did were unique because what he was doing in the world at the time was unique.

The land of Canaan was the backdrop for God’s model; an arena where the nations could see the blessing of a relationship with God, and a real-life picture pointing to forward to the Messiah, ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Because the reality to which the model pointed has come, Christians are never called to take up arms and kill people in the name of God or Christianity today.

2. God alone has the right to demand the end of another’s life.

3. The Canaanites were not innocent.

As illustrated in Deuteronomy 18:9-12 and so on. Child sacrifices were amongst the detestable practices that God was judging.

4. God was not impatient in judging the Canaanites, but had given them many years to change their ways.

As shown in Genesis 15:16, and echoed for us today in 2 Peter 3:8-9. God's justice will still be done - and eventually he will bring a final judgement.

5. Escape was not impossible.

... As illustrated in the example of Rahab and her family (Joshua 6:17, 22-23). This illustrates the Lord's kindness, and points us forward towards the ultimate rescue he made for us through the cross.


Dave K said...

Very difficult to prepare for I imagine.

I think you have done well though.

The crazy thing is that although the Canaanites deserved it, so did the Israelites, and so do we. The one person who didn't but received it is the same person who wielded the sword in Josh 6 and will do again to complete his victory.

... who can fathom?

Chris said...

"are you for us or for our enemies?"

"neither, but as commander of the LORD's armies I have now come"

something unique, not nationalistic was happening then - God himself stepping onto the stage to take responsibility for bringing about his promises and destroying evil.

seems to me there's only one other time that happens, only much bigger - Jesus on the cross. It struck me studying Revelation 1 with a girl struggling with this question that

1) before revelation/God's purposes get going & get scary, you get "come up here, I need you to see something first" - we have to see the eternal throne & the someone sitting on it.

2) before that you've got rev. 2-3, Jesus saying "I know..."

3) before that you've got revelation 1, and I think the point is: "you mean Jesus is the God of the old testament?!?" - the ancient of days before whom we fall down in fear but who puts his hand on us and says "don't be afraid - I died, and now am alive, I hold the keys to death and can bring you through it."

Chris said...

also Deuteronomy 7-9 is the context for the conquest...

peterdray said...

Yes those comments are helpful, thanks. The thing that really came out from the lunchbar and the questions afterwards was the way in which the whole OT models and prefgiures what ultimately happens through Christ. In fact all of the questions bar one were on this theme. What an amazing God we have.

bencyjohn said...

i have my own views on god and i am trying to express it in my blog
pls feel free to come and comment