We lie when we pretend like the Bible doesn’t say some really nasty things when in fact it does. For instance, God commands genocide. He just does … at least from a clear and honest reading of the Bible. There is also a verse that says, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalms 137:9).” If we want the Bible to be our document, we need to own the whole thing. The same thing can be said for the atrocities in the story of the church, past and present. Tony Kriss
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentor’s mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, “Raze it, raze it to its very foundation.” O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Psalm 137
We don’t know the whole story – When we see holiness and judgment at work we cannot presume to know what is in the mind of God. We are driving down the street and two cars zoom past us. The second one goes to pass the first and then cuts it off instead, so they grind to a halt. The driver of the second car jumps out with a gun and starts yelling at the driver of the first car and then shoots. We think, “road rage gone crazy!” and we couldn’t be more wrong. It turns out that the second guy was an off duty police officer, and he had been present when a guy high on drugs had walked into a school with a gun and started shooting. He was able to track the guy in the car, cut him off to stop Him, but then had to shoot when the guy on drugs pulled a handgun that we couldn’t see. When you only observe a part of the story, you don’t understand. And while my made up story was just that – made up – we read in the OT stories with much more violence that from our vantage point look way out of line. We do see God wanting the people in the Promised Land annihilated. It has been understood it the people who inhabited it followed the worst kinds of pagan religion which included child sacrifice. We see God several times move in judgment against a peoples – Noah, Lot Israel in the Promised Land.
God is not mocked, and He has said He will deal with sin, with evil doers, with all who are against Him. If we grew up in a violent culture, such as the Middle east, or in dictator run states where human life is not worth much to those in power, we perhaps could better understand the Psalmist who asked that the Babylonians be dealt the same justice as they gave the Israelites, which included the execution of children in front of parents, and the execution of parents in front of children. There was no Geneva code – war was brutal and violent, and to the victors they could do anything.
We need to trust God’s character instead of jumping to conclusions from our distant perspective, because everything else we read about God reveals He is love! God provides warning and grace consistently (cf. Jonah). And who is God? Is he just some Warm Fuzzy in the sky? Or is He a King that has ethics and judges those who break the Law, meting out punishment to those who take advantage of others, who murder and leave destruction in their wake in their selfishness? Who are we to say when it is time for judgment, when it is time for grace? Often people who point at the violence of the Old Testament are simply looking for excuses for turning their back on God and the faith that Jesus calls then to. If you really want to talk about what people view as the “negative” aspects of God, put it in perspective of the whole character of God.
In my studies of God I have understood Him to be two things: Holy and Love. It is out of holiness we find Law and judgment; and out of love we find forgiveness and grace. If we studied God character we would understand how those two things provide balance. We know as parents that we cannot let our children do anything they want, there must be boundaries, for safety and learning. If there are boundaries, there must be Law and consequences. If laws and consequences, there must be love, for we are in relationship and teaching them how to handle free will and independence; we are not just controlling. Everything comes back to understanding the whole nature of God, not just one part. Anything taken out of context can be hard to understand or explain.
We need to consider context, and not just the context of who God is, but what was going on in the world at that time – child sacrifice (cf. Isaac and Abraham). Our sanitized Western culture has little tolerance for real life violence in some ways, but the reality is we are just fooling ourselves. We gloss over the violence of the drugs and human trafficking that is here even in our city. We gloss over the violence that happens halfway around the world where having a Bible can get you executed, and becoming a Christian at best makes you a social outcast from even your own family. We think we have a safe and cultured society when the reality is it takes very little to scratch that veneer so we can see the ugliness of humanity just below the surface. We get so caught up in the right words and right theology of church and our faith instead of hitting the streets with the love of Christ. What is justice, and who has a right to demand it? The people who have the privilege of questioning Christianity because of the violence in the Scripture are those who have never experienced violence in their life. Those who have experienced violence need to see beyond the commonality of the human condition to the fact that God is calling us out of that place, away from that violence. We have a new commandment, a commandment of love.
Actions reveal belief. People may say they do things in the name of Christ, but that does not mean they are doing Christ’s work, nor that they are accurately representing Christ and the church! The lie is in the people who commit atrocities in the name of Christ, not those who proclaim the Good News. The lie is in the mind of the unbeliever who refuses to believe the claims of Christ because all he sees is violence – he has been deceived and believed the lie. Listen to 2 Corinthians 4:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.