This week’s hashtag game for my favorite podcast “The Moonshine Jesus Show” is #BadGod (with extra points if you can double hashtag it with #BadDog). As I’ve been contemplating possible entries for the game, I felt inspired to talk a little bit about one of my biggest struggles with the Bible, in particular with the Old Testament. I think primarily (though certainly not exclusively) about the book of Joshua and the descriptions of the conquest of Canaan. Since the very first time I read those ancient words, I felt conflicted. How could the God that I’ve come to know in Jesus Christ be a God who, not only allows, but orders his people to slaughter thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children for the sheer purpose of gaining land for themselves? I don’t know how to reconcile that. So, about a month ago I posted this quote on my Facebook page:
“If the bible be true, God commanded his chosen people to destroy men simply for the crime of defending their native land. They were not allowed to spare trembling and white-haired age, nor dimpled babes clasped in the mothers’ arms. They were ordered to kill women, and to pierce, with the sword of war, the unborn child. ‘Our heavenly Father’ commanded the Hebrews to kill the men and women, the fathers, sons and brothers, but to preserve the girls alive. Why were not the maidens also killed? Why were they spared? Read the thirty-first chapter of Numbers, and you will find that the maidens were given to the soldiers and the priests. Is there, in all the history of war, a more infamous thing than this? Is it possible that God permitted the violets of modesty, that grow and shed their perfume in the maiden’s heart, to be trampled beneath the brutal feet of lust? If this was the order of God, what, under the same circumstances, would have been the command of a devil? When, in this age of the world, a woman, a wife, a mother, reads this record, she should, with scorn and loathing, throw the book away. A general, who now should make such an order, giving over to massacre and rapine a conquered people, would be held in execration by the whole civilized world. Yet, if the bible be true, the supreme and infinite God was once a savage.”
― Robert G. Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses
And I commented to my friends, “I have to admit that I feel a bit this way when I read much of the Old Testament, too. How do other believers reconcile this?” The responses, while many, were not remarkably helpful to me. They left me with more questions than answers…questions like these:
1. Did God really order his people to slaughter other people?
2. If God did order his people to slaughter other people, what would stop God from doing the same today?
3. If God did that same things today, how would Christians know for sure that the slaughter was “from God”?
4. If the above are true, how can we criticize the radical Islamists who kill people in the name of their god?
5. How do we reconcile all of that with Jesus’ words about “loving your enemies” and “turning the other cheek?”
6. If we believe that God is a perpetrator of violence and nothing happens outside of God’s will, does that mean that God not only sent Jesus to die but actually killed Jesus?
Now, maybe I am taking all of this too far. That is entirely possible. But that is precisely what critics of Christianity are going to do. And I for one want to be able to answer those questions. So, what do we do with the holy wars in the Bible? How can we condone violence in the name of God in the Old Testament and still proclaim that “Blessed are the peacemakers?” I don’t feel comfortable simply dismissing it. So, tell me, “How do you reconcile this?”
My hope is to take the responses I get and formulate a follow-up piece with responses to some of these struggles.