Monday, April 14, 2008

The God of Atrocities

Dan Trabue attempts to understand the loving character of God in the light of divinely-mandated atrocities in the Old Testament:

Now, I don’t think that God is atrocious. I think those OT passages that have God committing or commanding acts that are elsewhere condemned in the Bible (and indeed, are condemned by our own conscience – I think that it is within our own reasoning and soul that SOME acts are just wrong – killing children, kidnapping girls/young women to make them your wives – some actions are just wrong. Period.) need to be understood as a representation of God as the author understood God. NOT as a perfect understanding of God to be taken literally.

Clearly, I think, God is not in the atrocity business. I find it amazing that some would defend such actions. How can you do so?

How do you reconcile the character of God with these Old Testament commands?

17 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

How do you reconcile the character of God with these Old Testament commands?

It's a tough - nigh unto impossible - thang to do. I recommend against it.

Thanks for the link, sorry no one has bitten thus far. It's a good question.

Brett said...

yeah, I think I bit. I'm sure he's fuming after my comment. I think I agree with you - shoulda stayed away. Thanks for the link.

Michael said...

"As the author understood ..." is about as reasonable as one can get, but notice the parallel between these writers (assuming that the premise is true) and modern-day Islamic terrorists. "As they understand ..." could be the same claim.

I think, though, that there is an element that perhaps too many of us attempt to gloss over, and that is the facet of the "judgmental" God. We don't like that idea, so we reject it out of hand without considering the possibility that He is doing something radical - creating a people - that might require radical action. Who's to say not?

Larry B said...

How do you reconcile the character of God with these Old Testament commands?

Simply by realizing that my conception of God's character is no less imperfect than the Old Testament writers imperfection. For me to assume, as Dan's post seems to indicate, that my conception of morality and my character assessment of God is somehow better than previous understandings is arrogance.

For the argument Dan makes to be valid, there assumes a perfect interpretation of God's character can and does exist, and that that interpretation is the one chosen by Dan and not the old testament writer.

There are too many assumptions implicit in the judgement made by Dan here, that I frankly have no way to validate. Assumptions like:

Extension of human life is a morally superior position than any form of premature death.

Social systems where people are given equal rights produce morally superior persons to those who provide unequal rights to others.

Morality, at it's base, can be measured by our own reasoning and souls direction.


Those are some assumptions that seem to be necessary to postulate that the Old Testament characterization of God is wrong. For me, I'm not ready to accept those assumptions as valid in all contexts.

Michael said...

I also meant to add: how can we say that these stories are not true but the NT stories are? Simply because NT suits our ideal does not make one trump the other. My reconciliation is in the fact that the Lord has many facets and faces, and they all seek justice but not as we understand it.

Dan Trabue said...

Do any of you think (and are prepared to state) that sometimes, God commands people to commit what can only be described as atrocities? Do you think that God STILL does this or that God used to do it but does not any more?

Do you think that sometimes, killing children is NOT an atrocity? That genocide is not always an atrocity? That killing a family and "sparing" the virgin daughters so that they can be forcibly taken and wed is not always a horrifying moral wrong?

I find it amazing that people are not willing to give black and white answers to some fairly basic human assumptions. And that the only ones willing to take a stand (when it comes to these matters) and say "Some things are ALWAYS wrong," are the so-called wishy-washy relativistic liberals.

Dan Trabue said...

larry said:

For the argument Dan makes to be valid, there assumes a perfect interpretation of God's character can and does exist, and that that interpretation is the one chosen by Dan and not the old testament writer.

To be sure, I'm not one of those that claim to have perfect knowledge of God. That my interpretation is right in every way.

What I'm saying, instead, is that SOME actions are clearly wrong - that from the text of the Bible and from God's Word written upon our hearts (as the Bible testifies to) and from our God-given reasoning - we can know that some actions are just wrong.

Are we not all prepared to say that child-rape is always, always, always, always wrong? Can you conceive some possible set of circumstances where that would be a possibly GOOD thing??

Are we not all prepared to say that bashing in the heads of babies is always, always wrong?

I'm not claiming perfect knowledge of God. I'm saying that there are some things that are so clearly wrong that to assign such behavior to God approaches blasphemy.

Dan Trabue said...

Brett, I think you misunderstood my first comment here. Dan Trabue IS payne hollow.

And why would I fume about what you wrote? I merely think you are wrong if you think that sometimes God will tell us to commit atrocities.

Boxman said...

Dan,

I don't want to derail this thread into something else, but you are asking for specific situations under which specific atrocities that you list (child rape, baby killing etc) would be considered good.

Let me start with a counter example. As I read scripture there are specific prohibitions of homosexual sex, and in my own hearts understanding, homosexuality in any form is a sin against God. There is now a very vocal portion of the Christian community that asserts that in the case of romantic monogamous love that it is no longer a sin, but that it is celebrated by God and that their homosexuality is gift from God.

Too me assigning this behavior to God is near blasphemy. But well intentioned rational thinking people draw the opposite conclusion.

It may be difficult for you to imagine a situation where the events in the old testament could be described as good, but each persons heart and understanding of love is different. That's how different interpretations come about. I can't speak to specifics, but that in my mind is how someone could commit what appears to be an atrocity to us with a completely internalized conviction that what they are doing is not wrong.

Dan Trabue said...

Oh, I certainly understand that some people can and do rationalize atrocities. I'm just saying that, at least the way I read the Bible and understand God, there are some things that are always wrong.

I mean, if we want to say that there are some actions that are always wrong, BUT maybe sometimes God tells people to do them anyway and then it's okay... if we do this, where do we draw the line? Is there ANY action that can't be ascribed to God?

Brett said...

sorry for the confusion, Dan. I thought that first comment was from John, wasn't paying attention.

I think the word atrocity can be used to describe events that you have have characterized when not of God.
The word cannot be used to describe the actions of God. As our creator, He has every right to do with us as He pleases, especially with our own rebellion. It is not His acts that our atrocious, but our sinfulness.

My uneducated opinion (without research, subject to change) is that the Israelites could perform such actions in the name of God up until Saul became king.

Dan Trabue said...

My uneducated opinion (without research, subject to change) is that the Israelites could perform such actions in the name of God up until Saul became king.

So do you think that God changes? That 4500 years ago, God MIGHT sometimes tell people to kill children and commit genocide but 4490 years ago, God changed God's mind? Decided God was wrong?

I am glad, at least, to hear you say that your hunch is that God no longer tells us to commit infanticide or genocide.

But I wonder: What do you base that on? Where do you find in the Bible the teaching that God USED to say genocide was sometimes okay but then that changed?

For instance, eating shellfish USED to be an "abomination." But then, the bible clearly tells us that it is no longer an abomination to eat shellfish. You would think for such an even GREATER abomination (genocide, infanticide) that it would have been made clear that there's been a change of policy.

MethoDeist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

I think this discussion has gotten off track. I don't think anyone is trying to justify rape on any level. The challenge is to reconcile the OT God to the NT God. Gnosticism and Docetism both attempt to separate one from the other, believing that the OT God is the harsher of the two. Orthodox Christianity says they are one and the same. So the question is: is there a conflict?

The conflict, I believe, lies with man alone. We read an account that seems to suggest that the Lord ok's genocide and when they failed to follow through, they faced His wrath. Undeniable as written, but there is still a human element in what is written just as surely as there is a human element in the Revelation, a completely incomprehensible book to me.

We try to make the Lord to be something we can comprehend within our human capacity. In my humble opinion, the result is a lack of awe and wonder. Human arrogance, more than inaccurate biblical interpretation, will be our downfall especially when we attempt to label those who disagree with us with disdainful names or make accusations as ridiculous as, "so you think child rape is ok?".

Dan Trabue said...

To be clear, I am in the camp that says there are NOT two Gods presented in the Bible - a mean OT God and a loving NT God. That God is faithfully represented throughout the Bible as the God of love and justice. As the God who would always be opposed to genocide. It's just that we can't take each word of the whole as a literally perfect representation of God.

And asking "Do you think God sometimes commands infanticide?" to the person who says that OT passages must all be taken literally - even passages that suggest that God sometimes commands infanticide is not ridiculous, but a logical clarifying question.

It's important to know: Do you REALLY mean what it sounds like you're saying?

Seems to me an entirely fair and logical question.

Dan Trabue said...

Michael said:

especially when we attempt to label those who disagree with us with disdainful names or make accusations as ridiculous as, "so you think child rape is ok?".

A question, Michael: Do you think anyone here has done any of this in these comments? I don't see any disdainful names or accusations as you've suggested?

Brett said...

No, I don't think God changes his mind. I can't make that statement when scripture explicitly states that He doesn't. It is implicit in some other passages, but I will interpret the implicit by the explicit. IOW, the Bible says He doesn't, so if He appears to in other passages (it is implied) then the implication is wrong.

I'm going to do some research and thinking more about this topic this weekend, but here's what I meant in my previous comment. I'm paraphrasing without looking up passages, so let me know if I'm wrong. The people of Israel continually asked for a king. God finally allowed them to have a king (Saul being the first). When this happened, Israel was no longer a theocracy, but a monarchy. Israel split up, and some kings were good and some were evil.
Perhaps when Saul was anointed, these atrocities you speak of were no longer appropriate because they were not truly in the name of God.
Again, I don't think this is God saying "Oh, I was wrong. You can have a king now" I think it was God getting fed up with the Israelites (again - it's a pattern) and finally giving them what they wanted.

I'm going to do some research to see if I'm even close. I'll follow up on my blog.