How could God command genocide?
Why does God endorse slavery?
God is a sexist monster, isn’t he?
These are the sorts of questions that frequently come up in discussions about the Bible, whether those discussions are with skeptics or sincere Christians working through the Bible for the first time. Such questions have always been there, the first Christians had to spend much time, and spilled much ink, seeking to answer them. But it seems such questions are becoming continuously louder in our culture as more people move away from faith. At the most extreme, the fact that God in the Old Testament commands such barbaric actions is proof such God, any God, does not exist.
I think this question is much more challenging then issues related to science, for example. Whether Darwinian evolution is true or not seems, to me, irrelevant to the question of God’s existence. But a God who commands the extermination of whole people groups or institutes laws that make women second class citizens? Such a God as portrayed in the Bible makes us question the validity of the Bible and its God.
That said, there are many great books out there that provide answers to these questions. I think “answers” is better then “answer” because the seriousness of these questions shows there is no easy answer that simply takes all questions away. This is one thing I most appreciated about David Lamb’s book God Behaving Badly – he takes the question seriously and though he offers many answers, in the end he admits this remains a difficult issue. Lamb’s book tackles many of the common questions such books address, such as the genocide of the Canaanites and the apparent sexism of the Old Testament God. But he goes on to address other issues, such as whether God is near or distant, which are not always addressed.
There are a lot of books out there on this subject. Lamb’s is a welcome addition and a must-read for any who have questions on these topics.
The only problem I found in the book is when Lamb refers to another scholar, Eric Seibert. Apparently Seibert argued that if the Bible says God committed such atrocities we can simply say God did not do such things for the God revealed in Jesus would not do such things. I have not read Seibert, but his argument reminded me of Peter Enns whose recent book I did read. Lamb says he is not comfortable with “rejecting” the Old Testament accounts. This does not seem fair of Enns (or Seibert) for I do not think they would say they are rejecting anything. Reinterpreting? Yes. Enns emphasizes the human aspect and says that God wants such stories in scripture even if they portray him wrongly. A minor issue to be sure, but it seemed to misrepresent those who hold such positions.
Finally, If you are interested in this topic, definitely check out Peter Enns’ recent book that takes a slightly different take on the issue – The Bible Tells Me So: How Defending the Bible Has Made Us Unable to Read it.