Following on from my previous post, I have been thinking about what more recent theologians have made of these darker passages in the Bible- how have they been explained or discounted?
(N.B. Some of the themes echo previous discussions on this blog about suffering- see here for example.)
As far as I can see it, the apologetics have gone along these lines;
Firstly, there are those folk who seem to see God as red in tooth and claw-
God is a wrathful God, whose justice is sometimes swift and unpredictable.
His purposes and his focus are on eternal matters, not temporal ones- therefore any God-action (no matter how brutal) has to be understood in this context. Suffering is temporary- this life, for all of us, is all to short- but eternity is for ever. Therefore, some shock tactics in the cause of higher spiritual causes are a price worth paying.
Some people, regimes and religions are evil, and deserving of wrath. We only escape by the skin of our teeth- because of Jesus.
After all- he made us all. He designed the Universe about us- we belong to him, and he can do whatever he likes with us.
It is easy to dismiss these kind of theological statements out of hand. It is this sort of mindset that allows people to justify all sorts of activities in the name of God- wars, pogroms, ethnic cleansing. Then there are those who suggest that tsunami’s are Gods way of sorting out Islamic nations, or that AIDS is a God-plague on homosexuality.
All of this was smashed forever (or should have been) by the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapter 5.
But then perhaps it is still for those of us that pendulum swing too far towards the ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ to remember that the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion…
The next set of explanations people reach for are the spiritual/mystical ones-
There can be no good without the presence of evil- in the same way that there can be no light without darkness. How else can we make choices for good?
‘My ways are not your ways’ declares the Lord- how can we ever understand the mind of God?
We must focus on the big picture- the great cosmic clash of Angels and Demons that are at war in these, the last days.
The light and darkness bit makes sense I think- the choices we make are sometimes murky and ambiguous in their morality- but many others are much clearer in terms of what is right, and what is wrong. But many of the passages referred to in my earlier post appear to suggest that God himself is commanding, or assisting, acts that to our modern eyes appear evil. Almost as if God is himself capable of both good and evil?
I have little patience with the end times theorising of the ‘Left Behind‘ sort. But that is a whole different issue…
Next we have the structural/dispensational arguments-
Most of the passages described in in the first ‘Bible nasties’ post are from the Old Testament- at which point God was dealing with his people according to the old covenant– when God worked with and through his Chosen People, the Israelites. This covenant was swept aside by the coming of a new one- brought by Jesus not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone.
What this argument seems to suggest is that God used to be angry, vengeful and violent, but then he cleaned up his act. He used to act out of anger, but now he favours mercy. He used to be jealous, but now he relaxes into love.
Is this the same God? This argument does not hang together for me.
Then there is the liberal/ intellectualist excuse-
God is simply not an interventionist God at all. Sure, he started it all off in Creation, but then pretty much he stepped back and let the whole thing unfold, with a few nudges here and there from the prophets, and finally by sending Jesus as a last gasp hope to sort out his errant creation. The Bible itself is mostly myth and manipulation by previous religious leaders- and it’s application now has to be understood through our own intellect and understanding.
But what sort of faithless faith is this? And what of our experience of a God who is present, and incarnated in us, almost despite what we often are?
Here was see for the first time an attack on our primary theological source material- the Bible itself. Is it ‘true’? What does truth mean when applied to such ancient scriptures? More on this later…
Ponder onwards friends.