I can’t believe that … (4) God’s word would be so violent

The Bible has sometimes been known as the “Good Book”. But really the Bible should come with a health warning. Because for all the stories of love and compassion, there are also stories featuring truly horrific behaviour. Particularly in the Old Testament (the first part of the Bible) you will find stories about murder, violence, mutilation, adultery, incest and gang rape. The worst of humanity is on display. So it is reasonable to ask in what sense is this a “good” book?

The truth is that this idea of the Bible as the “Good Book” misleads people into thinking it is just going to be a collection of spiritual sayings or moral tales. But this isn’t the case at all. “Bible” means library or collection of books, and that’s what the Bible is, it is a collection of books, each with its own style and own topic. The Bible contains books of history, of poetry, of songs, of prophecies, of visions, of stories and even some letters. And given all these different types of books, we should not be surprised to find certain things. So if someone is writing history, they will write about the stuff that actually happened not just the pleasant stuff. And if someone is describing the reaction of their people to times of trial and hardship they are not going to sugar coat it, even if their reaction doesn’t seem very Christian. Since the Bible isn’t just words straight from the mouth of God, but is words written down by men that are drawn together to form God’s book, then we shouldn’t expect the Bible to read like a heavenly voice. We should expect the Bible to sound, in places at least, very human. And humans can be pretty rubbish, at times.

A page from the Wenzel Bible From the caption:...

A page from the Wenzel Bible From the caption: Printed by the Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig. From the Manuscript (c. 1400) in the Imperial Library at Vienna. —- The passage is described there as being from the Book of Moses, ch. IV., v.4–15 (=Exodus 4:4-15). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bible certainly isn’t a book of moral fables, where each story has a clear moral lesson. Many of the stories have no moral commentary at all. Those stories that are particularly troubling, with violent and evil deeds, do not come with a command “you should behave like this”. If they did then we should be really worried. But the Bible isn’t like that. When the Bible does contain moral direction it makes plain that acts like murder and rape are absolutely wrong. So we shouldn’t try and read moral lessons from bits of the Bible that aren’t intended for moral teaching.

But these violent and unpleasant passages have a point. Take for example Judges 19-21. It is story that includes betrayal, abuse, gang rape, mutilation of corpses and pointless warfare. This is one of the most unpleasant stories that you could read. But its not there to be pleasant. It is there to provide an answer to a historical, that is, how did the tribe of Benjamin become so small. And that might not seem like a terribly important historical question – and in the grand scheme of God’s message to mankind, it isn’t – but it is one of those details from which the sweep of biblical history is composed. That’s probably the best way to regard these stories. They are there as background detail, they are not big picture stuff.

Yet this isn’t the whole answer. Because some of this violence comes direct from God. God judging people. God condemning people. God requiring death for evil men. And that can be difficult to swallow. That seems harsh, that seems cruel, that seems unforgiving – very different from the character of God as often presented. So what’s going on? Why does God kill people?

Now I don’t support the death penalty when implemented by human governments. Why? Because human justice can make mistakes. Human judges might condemn an innocent person, but they can’t take back the death penalty. In addition, the death penalty admits no second chances – no chance of repentance and a clean slate. Yet these problems are problems for God. If God is all knowing then he cannot make mistakes, he cannot condemn an innocent person, if God says someone is guilty then that person is guilty. And God also knows the heart of men, he knows if they are likely to repent or whether they are beyond reaching. So, it seems to me, the only appropriate person to administer the death penalty is God.

God is justified in putting people to death if he knows they deserve it. And it doesn’t matter whether God puts people to death individually or in a group, because he is able to ensure that only those who deserve to die will die. Take the example of God’s destruction of Sodom (you’ll find the story in Genesis 18). Abraham asks God if he would destroy Sodom if there were fifty righteous people in Sodom? And God says no, he would spare all those wicked people so that he wouldn’t kill any righteous people. What about forty-five? Or forty? Or thirty? Or twenty? Or ten? Abraham keeps asking and in every case God says that he would not destroy the city if there were righteous people in it. In the event God sends angels to rescue the only four righteous people in Sodom (and let’s face it, some of them weren’t particularly righteous). So when God destroys Sodom, we can be sure that the only people who died were those who deserved to die. And if that is the way God works then these violent passages of the Bible turn out to be demonstrations of God’s justice.

Now that doesn’t answer every problem. Some passages of the Bible are still confusing. But these ideas give the broad principles for providing an answer.

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Preceding articles in this series:

I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell

I Can’t Believe That … (2) God would allow children to suffer

I can’t believe that … (3) miracles can happen

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Additional reading:

  1. Never making mistakes because never doing anything
  2. We are ourselves responsible

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  • The Battle Among Us (signsofthetimes.org.au)
    Those in power are not immune to such degeneration. Politicians lie and cheat, while rich businessmen move their money into overseas tax havens to avoid paying their dues to the country that protects them.
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    Society floats in a moral vacuum. We might have an amoral, “feral” culture that ignores decency and morality. But just as evil are the cultured rich and powerful who also ignore laws.

    Society today is at war. The battle-front is not in Israel, Palestine or Ukraine. It is here in our midst: it is our own inability to distinguish between right and wrong.

    Under the cloak of freedom and tolerance, we have abandoned morality grounded in Judeo-Christian ethics, replacing it with a concept of moral relativism. 

  • Does God Let His Kids Lie About Him? A Thought (or Two) on the Enns/Bell Interview (derekzrishmawy.com)

    The Israelites lived at a rough time, the Iron Age, when nations fought tooth and nail over land and resources and the gods fought right along side of them, leading the charge

    The nations that won had the mightier gods, and victory (slaughter, pillaging) gave gods honor. Losing meant your god was either a wimp or he was mad at your people for some reason and wanted to teach them a lesson in obedience. 

    The Israelites were part of this ancient Iron Age world of warring, land acquisition, and destroying the enemy. They fit right in, and to expect their God-talk to be on a totally different page is to start off on the wrong foot.
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    For God to deliver commands to us about not falsely representing him and taking his name in vain, through narratives that falsely represent him and take his name in vain? What kind of confusing father is that? A little exaggeration here and there is one thing, but to fundamentally miss a key component like that is kind of a big deal. I mean, especially when God seems particularly picky about the “no false images” thing (Ex. 32-33).

  • What has convinced many believers to not believe? … the bible did. (skeptical-science.com)
    EA Hanks, a writer based in Los Angeles, has written a very personal article in the Guardian that takes us on her journey from Fundamentalist born again Christian to atheist. In it we find two rather common answers to some truly fascinating questions. Why do people convert and become “born again”?
  • Unfortunately this happens to me all the time (thei535project.wordpress.com)
    Using your standard of morality that states that things that do no emotional or physical harm are good, is raping someone who is in a coma morally wrong?If it does no harm yet it’s still morally wrong then it’s morally wrong by a standard other than your own. This means that your standard is illogical.If you maintain that your standard is logical, then you cannot assert that raping a person in a coma is wrong.
  • The Abrahamic dilemma (jeremystyron.com)
    Doesn’t a believer’s response to what I will call the Abrahamic dilemma really cut to the core of a person’s faith? If, for instance, a believer says he would, in fact, sacrifice his child, or otherwise commit some violent act against another human being, for God, this indicts him as a hideous person, at least based on our set of moral principles. If a Christian says he would not raise the knife and sacrifice his child for God, then the person is not a true believer.
  • PZ Myers Has This Problem With My Post About the Terrorist Who Lost His Head (patheos.com)

    Indiscriminate cruelty and slaughter has long been a way of life for these types. I guess I’m supposed to be sad when it becomes a way of death for them too, but for once I’ll nod along in agreement with Jesus, who is said to have stated the inevitability of violence begetting violence pretty succinctly: “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.”

    Mohammed Fares was another Islamist boil on the ass of humanity. It’s an unpleasant procedure, but boils need to be lanced. Or beheaded — same thing.

  • If ISIS Is Not Islamic, then the Inquisition Was Not Catholic (newrepublic.com)
    As ISIS slaughters its way though Syria and Iraq, it became inevitable that we’d hear from apologists who claim that ISIS is not in fact “true Islam,” and that its depredations are due to something other than religious motivation.
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    Reply:Not true or True Catholicism and True Islam
  • Is there such a thing as “Biblical” marriage? (lotharlorraine.wordpress.com)
    Rachel Ford recently published an article on the website of the “Friendly” Atheist arguing that the Bible is a morally consistent evil book presenting marriage coherently as a man possessing several wifes as objects to be used and maltreated.
  • What is a “true” religion? (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
    As ISIS slaughters its way though Syria and Iraq, it became inevitable that we’d hear from the apologists who claim that ISIS is not in fact “true Islam,” and that its depredations are due to something other than religious motivation. Those motivations, say the apologists, are political (usually Western colonialism that engendered resentment),…

 

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23 thoughts on “I can’t believe that … (4) God’s word would be so violent

  1. I think it’s Lot, not Abraham in Sodom. Same Lot who offers up his daughters for rape, then gets RAPED BY THEM!

    Do you seriously believe there weren’t 5 babies in Sodom – are you really postulating that these 5 babies were not innocent & deserved to die? I doubt this is what you mean, I hope it’s simply a perspective you’ve not considered.

    While I agree that “If God is all knowing then he cannot make mistakes” he has made some, per the bible. Gen 6:6 tells us he had regrets – this is essentially stating he made mistakes

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    • I don’t quite understand your objection since we seem to be agreeing. Yes, killing innocent people would be wrong. So either there were no innocent people in Sodom when it was destroyed or the destruction of Sodom cannot be ascribed to God. Those are the choices.

      And yes Lot was a jerk to his daughters. And his daughters were very confused or horribly immoral. All of that is true. So how bad must the people of Sodom been if Lot and his daughters were the one’s that we were saved.

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      • Appreciate the reply.

        You ascribe the destroying of Sodom to God. This is what the bible teaches. It is completely inconceivable that NO babies existed in Sodom. If God destroyed the town, he also destroyed babies.

        This leaves you with 2 choices (or others that I’ve not thought of possibly):
        1. Babies deserved to be destroyed by God
        2. The act was immoral

        I believe it’s wrong to respect anyone or anything who acts so immorally.

        The argument that this repulsive character of Lot was best of a bad bunch doesn’t hold weight when compared to other bible stories. Lot offers his girls to be raped by a mob & is saved, but 42 kids are killed by she bears for calling Elisha a ‘bald head’ – that’s seriously flawed judgement

        Look forward to your reply

        Kind regards

        Scott

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        • You say it is inconceivable that there were no babies in Sodom. I’m not sure what you base that on. Perhaps you have historical or archaeological evidence that I’m not aware of.

          Anyway, as I say, there options are either only wicked people were killed with Sodom or it was an immoral act. And yes, if it was an immoral act then the author of Genesis was wrong to ascribe that to God.

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          • My assertion that it’s inconceivable that no babies were in Sodom is based upon reason, not specific evidence. Let’s not even call it babies – perhaps kids under 10 – we should agree that they shouldn’t be killed for sins, right?

            Now Sodom was a city, but let’s even call it a town. Has there EVER been a town without a single child/baby? It’s COMPLETELY unreasonable to suggest no babies/children lived in Sodom. To assume as such, you’d need to asssert that the population bred, bred, bred, bred, then everyone stopped breeding suddenly for 10 odd years, whilst still being sinners (presumably committing fornication & adultery with no buirth control). It doesn’t add up.

            Didn’t the angels say god would destroy the town? Didn’t fire & brimstone reign down from heaven? I thought it’s pretty clear god is taking credit for destroying the town because of its wickedness. He sure takes responsibility for turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. Please don’t argue that god didn’t destroy the town – it’s special pleading.

            I’m genuinely interested in your reply – appreciate the conversation

            Kind regards

            Scott

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            • I’m not sure what I can add to what I have said previously. Sure, most towns have children in. But some don’t. Military outposts, trading posts, workers villagers, etc. So it is just possible that Sodom had no children in it, though we don’t seem to have any evidence either way.

              The real question is: can we take Genesis at its word? If we take Genesis as written then it says there weren’t any righteous people in Sodom when it was destroyed. Hence, if we take Genesis at its word, then there were no babies killed.

              The alternative is that we can’t take Genesis at its word. But if that’s the case then we have no reason to think that Sodom was destroyed by God. And so there is no problem. I guess our choices are that either Genesis is correct (Sodom was destroyed but only wicked people were destroyed) or Genesis is mistaken (Sodom was not destroyed by God).

              If archaeologists every manage to properly investigate the site of Sodom, and if they find the bones of a child amidst the destruction, then I will have to acknowledge that Genesis got it wrong.

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              • Thanks for the reply, but I think your logic is quite flawed – let me explain

                I agree we don’t have ‘biblical evidence’ or bible writings stating that children either lived or didn’t live in Sodom & Gomorrah. We then need to consider which position is more likely – that children either DID or DID NOT live there. I agree that some towns may not have children, but the liklihood of this being the case is surely EXTREMELY remote. Surely if this was a distinguishing feature of the cities, SURELY it would have been mentioned in the bible in anticipation of these sorts of criticisms!?

                Arguing that these towns didn’t have children has no foundation in logic, reason, nor from the bible. There is absolutely no reason to believe this is the case. If I was to be rude, I’d assert you’re just making things up to justify the horrible story.

                You mention that if we can’t take Genesis at its word, we’ve no reason to believe god did it, therefore no problem. I must say the truth of the story has little to do with the issue at hand – that otherwise kind & moral people think that a disgusting story of whole cities destroyed by a god is a reason to worship said god. The same applies to Noah’s flood – dispite zero evidence of a world wide flood, you still worship the god that, according to the story, drowned babies and little kids – please don’t argue that kids wouldn’t have been around for the flood!

                You mention archeology, but the truth is that there is much conjecture over whether Sodom & Gomorrah actually existed – I doubt we’ll find childrens skeletons if we’re not sure if they even existed

                Again, appreciate your replies

                Scott

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                • If Genesis is wrong, if God didn’t command the destruction of Sodom, then the God that I worship wouldn’t have destroyed innocent people. I certainly don’t think killing innocent people is a reason to worship God. I don’t believe God has killed innocent people. If the evidence and logic lead to the conclusion that Genesis is false (in this part at least) then so be it.

                  As I say, either Genesis can be taken at its word that there were no innocent people in Sodom in it when it was destroyed. Or Genesis is wrong. Its really not that complicated.

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                  • I addressed this point in my last post – you seem to have ignored it:
                    “You mention that if we can’t take Genesis at its word, we’ve no reason to believe god did it, therefore no problem. I must say the truth of the story has little to do with the issue at hand – that otherwise kind & moral people think that a disgusting story of whole cities destroyed by a god is a reason to worship said god. The same applies to Noah’s flood – dispite zero evidence of a world wide flood, you still worship the god that, according to the story, drowned babies and little kids – please don’t argue that kids wouldn’t have been around for the flood!”
                    In some respects it’s unimportant whether or not the events ACTUALLY happened – the fact that you can reconcile such heanous acts is the cause of most disturbance.
                    The greatest liklihood is that children DID exist in the towns – if they had not existed, surely the bible would have mentioned it.
                    Looking forward to you considering these points
                    Scott

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                    • I think we’re just going round in circles. either the bible story is ALL true or it is false. I don’t see any point in the suggestion that the Bible might be right about there being no innocent people in Sodom but wrong about there being children in Sodom.

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                    • You’re presenting a false dichotomy – that either everything in bible is true or everything is false! This position excludes possibility that bible may be right about some things and wrong about others. For example, bible claims bats are birds and rabbits chew cud – both of which are obviously wrong. The bible also tells contradictory stories, which by definition cannot all be correct eg who discovered Jesus was raised from dead.
                      The bible is no doubt important to many people, but claiming that there are either 0% or 100% mistakes in its content is fallacious.
                      What I am simply proposing is that the MOST REASONABLE reading by any rational person is that it would be extremely rare for a town to not have children. If no children lived there, it would have been noted. To say otherwise is to simply make things up, for which you have no evidence.
                      How about the Flood – I imagine you’d concede kids MUST have existed at that time, and were killed by God? Is THAT moral?

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                    • Hi
                      Just wondering what your thoughts are?
                      Do you agree that it’s possible that the bible might be between 1% and 99% correct, instead of either being 0% or 100% correct?
                      Do you think that kids being killed in the flood is moral?
                      Genuinely interested in your thoughts
                      Kind regards
                      Scott

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                    • Hi
                      Just wanted to touch base to see what your thoughts were. I’m genuinely interested in truth, and wonder how you reconcile flood with your position?
                      Hope that you will reply soon, and I’m happy to correct my views if wrong
                      Kind regards
                      Scott

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                    • Again, I’m just trying to reconcile your view of the flood. Do you advocate that no children died in the flood, or perhaps envoke a Divine Command theory, where the killing of children was intrinsically good, as God did it?

                      I sincerely hope you reply, and not simply ignore difficult questions, as most Christadelphians tend to do

                      Kind regards

                      Scott

                      Like

  2. I am appealing once more for you to be honest and give answers to the questions I have posed. It may be uncomfortable to acknowledge some answers, but surely you can have the integrity to address?

    Kind regards

    Scott

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    • Dear Scott, we think the writer of the article tried to give reasonable answers to your questions.

      Children are a product of their parents. With the flood, the Creator made an end to the first system He had created. Because the world was so invested the Creator thought it more appropriate to start with a clean slate. He had given everybody the opportunity to come back again to God. But from the Biblical stories we got to know the world was not interested in the Divine Creator and His wishes. They had their change but did not take it, so the got damnation over themselves by themselves. when children are too small to decide or to do an action for themselves, it are the parents which are responsible for them. You seem to take God to be the responsible One for this. But as we explained already in previous postings it was man who doubted the right for God to reign the world, so God gave it in the hands of man.

      You do not know the position God may have given or prepared for those children, in case they were innocent. We are still not yet at the End-times where all dead shall be taken out of the grave. Of some of them (Sodom and Gomorrah) we do know the outcome, but for others having lived in the past the Bible does not say everything is lost for them.

      Have you ever thought it can have been a good task to make sure those children had not to suffer under the hands of bad people. Perhaps their death was also a protection from the evil world. Often death can be an end to suffering and also be a good thing coming over man. Do not forget that.

      Like

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