Guest post by Daniel Skillman, author of “Following the Rabbi.”
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Is This the God that You Love and Worship?
As you read the verses that I’ve used to divide the sections of this paper, I want you to ask yourself, “Is this the God that I love and worship?” I think you will find the exercise instructive and insightful. Beware, however. You may not always like what you see.
- “The LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you” (Deuteronomy 28:63).
Is the God you love and worship delightfully vindictive? I mean, even earthly parents, when they feel they must punish their children, say, “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” You don’t take any delight in putting your child in a corner, giving them a time out, taking away their favorite TV program, or God-forbid, giving them a spanking. Do you?
Then, there is the fact that, in another place, the Scriptures say, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God?…I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declared the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). And in another place, they say, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11).
Do you see the glaring contradiction? Don’t reach for your big book of Bible difficulties. I have it. I’ve read it. It is entirely unconvincing, and a prime example of ad hoc reasoning. The only reason someone would seek to smooth such a blatant contradiction is because they already have a prior commitment to a particular form of Biblical inerrancy. This comes across as special pleading.
It would be better, and more honest (honesty is a Christian ethic, afterall) to say, these passages are saying different and contradictory things. Then go the extra step. Make your choice between them. It isn’t difficult to decide. Is it? If it is, then maybe the Bible is doing a good work revealing where your heart is, and how much more work you need.
The choice is simple. God does not take delight in the destruction of the wicked. You should know this. This is common moral sense. You know this when you deal with your own children. You should know this even when you deal with adults.
If you need some textual reason to make the right choice, you could cite Ezekiel. I would offer you one better than that. You could cite Jesus who did not rejoice, but wept over Jerusalem when He say the destruction that was coming her way because of her wicked choices (Luke 19:41-44).
But, none of this should be necessary. You should simply know that it is wrong to gloat. Even the NFL gives excessive celebration in the end zone after your team scores a touchdown over the opposing team’s defense a penalty. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him” (Proverbs 24:17-18)
- “Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:14-15).
Is the God you love the kind of God who would kill a child because of the sin of his parent? I mean, even mobsters find this kind of vindictiveness cruel and unusual. It’s one thing to come after me for my crimes, it’s another thing to come after my children. We all know that hurting someone’s innocent family to get back at the person who harmed us is a bridge too far. Don’t you know that?
Then there is the fact that, in another place, the Scriptures say, “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel” (Ezekiel 18:2-3; see also Jeremiah 31:29-30). And a little further on, the Scriptures say, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Do you see the glaring contradiction? Again, please, set the big book of Bible difficulties down. Ad Hoc reasoning and special pleading will get you nowhere. Nothing can get the god envisioned in 2 Samuel off the hook for killing a child for the sins of his parent.
The contradiction in Scripture is obvious, and *deliberate. Ezekiel is clearly challenging the notion of punishing the children for the sins of the parents. The prophet is directly opposing the theology of Deuteronomy (at least as that theology is understood in 2 Samuel) which says, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Deuteronomy 5:9). Actually witnessing children being born in captivity, punished, and enslaved for the sins of their fathers tends to soften one’s heart, no matter what a sacred book might say. So, Ezekiel speaks out.
Can’t you see, at the very least, that there are two opinions about God presented here? On the one hand, you have a vision of a God who kills a child because his father sinned. On the other hand, you have a vision of a God who would *never kill a child because of the sin of his father.
Is it that difficult to decide between the two visions? If it is, you might consider the image you see of yourself in the mirror of the Bible. Are you the kind of person who would kill a child because of the evil of his parents? You might just be.
The choice really should be easy. God does not kill children for the sins of their parents. You should know this. This isn’t a difficult ethical conundrum. It’s a fat pitch right over the plate. We all recoil in horror at the gangster who kills the innocent children of his rival.
If you need a Bible verse in front of you to make the right choice, you could use the one’s I’ve shown you from Ezekiel. Or you could cite Jesus, who, when confronted with the assumption that a man was born blind because of the sin of his parents, said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents” (John 9:3).
But, none of this should be necessary. You should simply know that it is wrong to kill a child because of the evil of his parents, no matter how wicked they are. Even Deuteronomy, in clearer moments, knows as much, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers” (Deuteronomy 24:16).
- Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (1 Samuel 15:3).
Is the God you love the kind of God who commands genocide? Is He the kind of God who commands the wholesale slaughter of not only soldiers and combatants, but of the men and women of the village, and even the children? The babies?
The entire civilized word is agreement that genocide is a horrible crime that we should never let happen again. On the 9th of December 1948, the United Nations in General Assembly passed a revolution that defined genocide as any acts committed, “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” and roundly condemned it. Living in the fresh historical shadow of the Jewish genocide perpetrated by the Nazi’s had a way of galvanizing the world into making a universal declaration against genocide. It is to humanity’s shame that it took so long to come to this realization.
Yet, there are Christians who are not yet ready to join with the rest of the world in this declaration. There are some who continue to find the genocides of the Old Testament acceptable, and therefore the notion that there is nothing wrong with genocide in principle, but only in particular application. That is to say, there are some Christians who are not ready to say that genocide is *always wrong.
It is difficult to imagine a more widespread and insidious version of psychopathy than that instilled in people by a belief in a certain type of inerrancy of a particular set of books that condone genocide. The person who can say, without any pangs of conscience, that, at times, it is not only acceptable, but morally praiseworthy to kill whole cities of men, women, and children, is an ethical invalid. Whether standing at the gates of Auschwitz or the edge of Hiroshima, only the deranged could say, “This is good.” The same is true of Amalek, and Canaan, and any of the other cities and nations “devoted to destruction” supposedly at the command of God. Indeed, it is also true when looking into the waters over the rails of Noah’s ark.
Do you really need a Bible verse telling you not to kill innocent men, women, and children? How about, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). It’s one of the ten commandments. The big ones. Killing a tent maker is murder. Killing a woman washing her clothes is murder. Killing a an infant child is murder. Genocide is murder. There is no way around it.
Can you see the contradiction? Kill them all. Don’t murder. It’s obvious. Israel did not always live up to her higher ideals. She did not always live up even to her lower ones. You shall not murder is not exactly a high bar.
The only way to justify the command of genocide is to say that somehow, all of the people who were killed deserved it. That is, one can wiggle out of it by saying, “Well, it wasn’t ‘murder.’” Now, that’s convenient. More ad hoc reasoning. More special pleading. I’m sure Hitler thought the Jews deserved it. He said as much. He didn’t see himself as a murderer. But give me a break. Of course the authors of genocide are going to say that their victims deserved it. This doesn’t mean that they actually did deserve it. Look into the eyes of a child. Is there anything, anything, that child could do to deserve having its throat cut, its skull bashed in, or it body burnt in flames? The correct answer that should have already flown out of your mouth is, NO! Genocide is *always murder. Always.
But maybe you need to hear it from Jesus. In Matthew 15, the evangelist tells us that a Canaanite woman came to Jesus. Of course, by the time of Jesus, the Canaanites were long since extinct. So, Mark’s reference to the same woman as a Syrophoenician is more accurate. But Matthew’s reference is deliberate. How does Jesus respond to a “Canaanite”? “God’s” instructions are clear: Kill them all. But what does Jesus do? Does He kill the “Canaanite”? No. He grants her request and praises her faith. According to Jesus, that prior vision of God was wrong. God does not sanction the genocide of the Canaanites. He never did. God loves the Canaanites. He always has. That is what Jesus says.
But do you really need a word from Jesus to tell you that genocide is wrong? Do you really need a bunch of dusty old books to tell you that bludgeoning babies is wrong? My God, I hope not. But here you go anyway. “Do not kill the innocent” (Exodus 23:7). Cursed is the one who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person” (Deuteronomy 27:25). “You shall not murder” (Jesus in Matthew 18:18).
- Is this the God that you love and worship?
I think I could go on all day. But I won’t. I’ve shown you enough. You can take it from here.
When reading the Bible, you need to ask yourself, “Is this the God that I love and worship?” Think about that question. Really think about it.
Don’t read the Bible passively, accepting everything on the page as “God’s own truth.” It clearly isn’t. I’ve just given you three examples. Those examples could be multiplied. Is God merciful (Exodus 34:6), or does God kill without mercy (1 Samuel15:2)? Can God change His mind (Jeremiah 18:7-10) or not (1 Samuel 15:29)? Did God incite David to take a census (2 Samuel 24:1) or was it Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1)? Do I need to go on?
You *have to be a discerning reader of the Bible. You *have to make choices about which vision of God you will love and worship. You *can’t avoid it. The texts themselves *demand that you decide between competing options.
Because of papers like this one, I am sometimes accused of being a Bible denier. I would like to address that charge directly. I plead not guilty.
In fact, I would suggest that those who claim that the Scriptures present a unified picture of God are the ones who are speaking heresy and flirting with unbelief. Noting contradictions in the Bible is an exercise in honesty, and making informed, ethical, Jesus-based choices between the competing claims of the Bible is what honoring the Scriptures looks like. It is a very *low opinion of the Bible that requires people to twist their logic, impale their reason, and sear their consciences in order “to accept all of it,” and to make everything fit. You *shouldn’t accept all of it, because not all of it fits, and frankly, some of it is utter garbage.
Unbelief calls evil, good, and good, evil. Faith throws the trash on the heap and lets it burn. When reading the Bible, one would do well to heed the words of Paul: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). One would do better to hear the words of Jesus who said, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Or, in case, you haven’t caught on yet, consider the voice of the Father, who from the glorious cloud of heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).