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The God I Don't Understand - Reflections on Ch. 4

Categories Theology

On Friday evening my wife and I settled into comfortable seats in a darkened movie theatre to watch a new release set in some of the Asian and European cities we have visited. After a fast-paced and stressful week at the publishing office I was ready for some escapism. But the comfort of the cushy seats was soon forgotten because of my increasing discomfort at some of the graphic violence whose images filled the high definition screen and whose haunting sounds echoed from the THX sound system. I winced at the violence and looked away, quickly dismissing it, "After all, it's not real."

Likewise I sometimes wince when I read Christianity's critics such as Richard Dawkins who calls the God of the Old Testament a "bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser" and "genocidal." I wince when I see some use the violence of the Old Testament attacks destroying the Canaanites as justification for the ethnic cleansings that occurred in Bosnia, on the continent of Africa, and even with the Native Americans in North America. I confess I don't like to read those sections of the Old Testament that countenance violence as whole groups were wiped out, seemingly with the blessing and at the command of God. I'm embarrassed. Do I want to be identified with that? Have you struggled with this issue and do you think it keeps some from embracing the God of the Scriptures?

I'm so glad that the author I recently sat across from at a linen-covered table in a nice California restaurant has thoughtfully tackled this not-so-nice issue beginning in chapter 4 of his "The God I Don't Understand." While in the following chapter Chris Wright gives some answers, this current chapter eliminates some unsatisfactory solutions to this issue of God's Old Testament violence. In fact, in the past I've used some of these solutions myself, because they come rather easily when trying to remove the embarrassment.

GIDU For example, one dead-end solution is to conclude this is an OT problem, which is solved in the NT. But can we dismiss the OT so quickly? What do you think? Chris Wright gives some solid critiques of this position.

Or you can get God off the hook by saying the Israelites were mistaken in thinking that God wanted them to commit genocide and destroy whole groups of people. Certainly God really didn't want that. Will this solution hold up to Scripture?

Some say these violent problem texts in the OT are merely allegories to teach us lessons about spiritual warfare. It's similar to how I handled the movie violence the other night. "This didn't really happen." But you can't so easily dismiss the OT, can you? How would you answer this? I'd encourage you to check out the way Chris handles the issue in chapter 4 of "The God I Don't Understand." Are there other "dead-end" solutions you've seen people give to this OT violence issue?

--Paul E. Engle, VP and Publisher, Zondervan Academic

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