Friday, 20 April 2018

What about Old Testament Violence? Part 1 - Is God schizophrenic?

I am convinced that God is good, but I'll admit there are times when I wonder, "What about the time when?..."

I've realised I spend quite a large portion of my thought life asking, 'Yes, but what about...?" I test my opinions and observations by trying to find exceptions.

If you've spent any significant amount of time reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you'll have a lot of those, "Yes, but what about...?" questions, I'm sure!
Moments where God does something that doesn't look 'good', things that I wouldn't consider morally good, or things that don't seem to match up with God's own definitions of what is 'good'.

Many people reject Christianity outright because they don't feel they can serve or worship or love God as he is represented in the Old Testament. To be honest, I've had my moments where I've wondered aloud how on earth (or in heaven!) this all fits together.

A. A. Milne, the author of the Winnie the Pooh books wrote:
'The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief, call it what you will, than any other book ever written.'
It’s a strong statement but frankly, I can see where he is coming from. What makes it more complex is that we can’t dismiss the Old Testament by saying, 'It’s just not like anymore.'Yes, we are in a new dispensation, but our new dispensation is on the foundation of the Old Testament - we can’t dismiss that foundation. But then again, these Old Testament portraits are so very different from the portrait of God we find in Jesus.

These differences can seem quite stark. There were times when Yahweh, I’ll refer to him as Yahweh as distinct from Jesus even though we know they are God, where Yahweh commands his followers to slaughter every man, woman, child and animal as they were entering regions of Canaan - their Promised Land, where Jesus comes and says, 'If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek.'

Yahweh threatened curses on those who showed mercy to their enemies, Jesus comes and says we are to forgive our enemies - and when his disciples ask how many times - he says seventy times seven times. Jesus also prayed for those who persecuted them and taught forgiveness.

Yahweh even brought judgment on a group of people by causing them to cannibalise their children. Yes, that's in the Bible. But Jesus praised the faith of children and said that for anyone who harms children 'it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.' (Matthew 18:6)

These are very different pictures of God we're getting from the Old and New Testaments - I trust I can bring some clarity to this seeming contradiction.

Those of us who have known God's love, we have enough experience of him to say, 'I know there's an explanation for this.' If you are not yet in that place - please don't panic - there is an explanation.
For those who haven't ever met Jesus, who haven't experienced his presence, often there isn't enough for them to go on to trust that there is an explanation for the contradictions they find - and so they reject Christianity outright.

I'd love for this post, and the posts following, to give you confidence that he is good, more good than you could ever imagine. You may have seen some ugly pictures of him, but he is good!

In case you're worried, I am absolutely not going to tell you that God is good in some creepy abusive partner kind of way. You’ve all heard of the guy who gives his wife a black eye and tells her it's for own good and he only hits her because he loves her. We’re not going down that road. Promise!

But why spend the energy on finding an explanation? Well, I agree with this guy called Aiden Wilson Tozer who stated that 'The Image that comes to mind when you think of God is the most important thing about you.'

It affects absolutely every moment of how we live our lives: what we think about ourselves, about other people, how we read the circumstances around us - they determine the direction we move in, who we become - what we believe about God really is the most important thing about us. How did the serpent get Eve to eat the fruit? He attacked her mental image of God.

Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

'And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image.' (2 Corinthians 3:18)

What we see is what we become.

So I'm trusting that as you join me in this journey of discovering how good God really is, your life would be transformed as have the lives of many believers before us.

If you'd like to 'read ahead' then I'd recommend one of the books linked below. They are two different versions of the same material written researched and written over the course of a decade by Pastor-Theologian Greg Boyd - a man I believe may go down in history as one of the most influential but underrated theologians of our time.

(Note: If you do end up buying from one of these links, I'll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Full Disclosure)

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 is the more academic version, clocking in at over 1500 pages. Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence is written for a more general audience. Both are very readable and wonderfully unstuffy. (I have copies of both and have been reading them again in parallel. #theologynerd) I found myself in tears often as my understanding of the goodness of God was stretched in all directions.

So, how do you usually resolve your, 'Yes, but what about?' moments?

Share below!

Click on the Soundcloud link below to listen to an original recording of this post - recorded in May 2017 at Dwell Church in Durban, South Africa.

The most certain way to make sure you get the next post in the series is to subscribe via email, second best would be to follow us on Facebook, but if you missed either of those, here it is: Part 2: How do we reconcile contradictory pictures of God?


  1. I love to hear religious views. I was born Jewish and my husband is Catholic but we live believe their is simply a higher power and to be kind. Very simple. We are already confused souls.

  2. I grew up Catholic and consider myself to be very devout, and even I have thoughts like you. I think the fact that you are constantly reading and learning about something you already believe in is a great thing.

  3. I think there are many things about God that we cannot understand, but that is part of what makes it a walk of faith. We have to believe, even when we don't get it. God is good, and I choose to believe that. I'll be interested to hear more of your thoughts. Thanks for sharing. - Amy

  4. I'm glad this is a topic you are tackling because I agree so many people get turned off by the seemingly senseless violence of the Old Testament. But there is so much history and context that needs to be understood and recognized before being thrown out.

  5. What a great read to start my morning!