Friday, January 24, 2014

In Defense of God's Violence

I'm reading a lot these days that judges God's apparent actions in the Old Testament as 'violent' and 'genocidal.' One of my earlier posts was in response to an article that did surgery on the whole of the OT by suggesting that, event by confusing event, if you didn't think it could be God, it was actually Satan in disguise and the writers were mistaken.

I'm finding the whole thing a bit strange. There used to be stuff we would intuit about God that meant that he could be what he was and not be judged by us. And we just accepted what we read. I thought I would rehash them here and see how they look.

Firstly, we seem to be losing the concept of God's rights as creator. And I'm not capitalizing 'creator' on purpose, because what I refer to are rights that every creator 'enjoys.' If you've ever made anything that didn't quite measure up or that wasn't working the way you wanted or just needed tweaking, you know what I mean. It's yours. You can axe it and start afresh. You can strip it down to essentials, You can make it whatever you want. And whether we like it or not, among all the relationships we have with God, we have to include this one. If he sees the need to wipe out whole continents of people for some big-picture reason of his own, he's in his rights to do so. And "no one can stay his hand or ask 'what are you doing?'"

Secondly, using an "argumentum ad narnium," (I picked this phrase up from some comments on Rachel Held Evan's blog -- someone was disgusted by an appeal to C.S. Lewis as an irrefutable authority -- I loved it.) it used to be completely acceptable that God is "not a tame lion." This doesn't mean that he is capricious or not to be trusted. It just means that whatever we see, he sees way more-- which means that he can do stuff that we don't like. Many's the time I've had to make parental decisions that upset my kids. Many's the time they could not understand or agree with me on something. And as they grew closer to adulthood they naturally started to question these. And still I treasure the future moment when they will be in the exact same situation and actually understand from the inside why things were done they way they were done. But we are in the same situation. We are growing up and starting to question our Father. "Why would you do such and such a thing? Was that really you...?" And still we really don't have the right to judge.

Thirdly, when it comes to some of the more bloody acts by the Israelites, apparently divinely sanctioned, they were always read with the understanding that that was that time, and this is this time. Final, temporal, physical judgement was exercised in the absence of the work of Jesus which has now changed everything. I always thought that there was a future purpose as well. It occurred and was written so that we would understand how serious sin is and from that understanding we would gain a deep appreciation for the forgiveness and mercy that has come to us via the Incarnation.

So when I approach the Old Testament, this is the sort of background I have in mind while I read. I don't think it all normative. And when God's using human instruments to exercise his judgements, they can be very blunt instruments indeed -- they can go too far. And later be chastised for it. There's nothing idyllic there. And we need to be in the habit of asking questions about everything. It's a helpful process. But here's my contribution. I think we do the narrative damage by bringing our this-era values and horrifications to the text, judging the events of the Old Testament by our worldview in a way that the original experiencers never would have done. So don't give up. Read on, it gets way better, later...

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