A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Dark Side of the Bible

From a post by Greg Boyd:
While most of the Bible exhibits a "God-breathed" quality, reflecting a magnificently beautiful God that is consistent with God's definitive revelation on the cross, we must honestly acknowledge that some depictions of God in Scripture are simply horrific. They are included in what is sometimes called "the dark side of the Bible." To give just a small sampling, we find God portrayed as doing things such as:

* …causing parents to cannibalize their own children (Lev. 26:29; Jer. 19:9; Lam. 2:20; Ezek. 5:10)

* …causing pregnant women to having their wombs ripped open and their children dashed on the ground (Hos. 13: 16)

* …refusing to allow any compassion to keep him from smashing parents and children together (Jer. 13:16)

* …commanding the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, child, infant and even animals – "everything that breathes" – though they are not to harm trees, for "trees are not your enemy" (though babies are?) (e.g. Deut. 7:1-2; 20:16-20)

* …telling Israelite men that, while everyone else in a region is to be mercilessly slaughtered, they may spare women they find attractive and marry them. However, if they later "find no delight in her," they may turn them out on the street (Deut. 21:10-14)

* …commanding parents and others to stone to death children who are stubborn or who strike a parent (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18-21)

In my forthcoming book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, I have an entire chapter of material such this. It is not easy reading! Now, out of obedience to Christ, who consistently spoke of the Hebrew Bible as divinely inspired, and in solidarity with the historic orthodox Church, I feel obliged to confess all Scripture, including horrific material such as this, is "God-breathed" (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16). At the same time, I believe it is also vitally important that we remain ruthlessly honest with ourselves and others and God about this material. How else can we describe material such as this as anything other than horrific, macabre, grotesque, and even revolting? If a portrait of God commanding people to slaughter babies and causing mothers to eat them doesn't qualify as revolting, what would? If you found material like this in any other ancient or modern text, would you hesitate for a moment from labeling it as macabre, revolting, or some such phrase? If we are honest, we cannot deny it. So how does horrific material like what I just reviewed suddenly become less revolting by virtue of being found in our sacred text rather than someone else's?

I will say more about this in blogs to come, and much more to say in my forthcoming book. For right now I will just leave you with this. I only began to discern a way to understand how horrific depictions of God in Scripture bear witness to the crucified Christ when I finally stopped trying to deny these depictions were horrific. So long as we try to tidy up, sanitize, minimize and piously gloss over material that we honestly know in our hearts is macabre and revolting, the best case scenario is that we will succeed at finding a slightly less revolting deity in these portraits than we initially found. This is what standard evangelical apologetic approaches accomplish, on a good day. It is in essence the approach I adopted five years ago when I began this present project. But I came to see that even the very best of these approaches are of no value when it comes to disclosing how this material bears witness to the self-sacrificial, enemy-loving, non-violent love of God on Calvary. And to make matters worse, all the while we are tidying up our macabre depictions of God, we are bearing some responsibility for the way this material continues to serve as a precedent for people to appeal to in order to justify their hatred and violence, as it has served throughout history.

To be clear, in obedience to Jesus, I adamantly affirm that all this material is inspired by God. In my book I argue against the many scholars today who try to resolve the problem this material poses by dismissing the text, whether on historical or theological grounds. But to say it is God-breathed says nothing about how it is God-breathed. Nor does it say anything about how this material is to be interpreted such that it bears witness to God’s unfathomable love revealed on Calvary.

As with all matters of faith, the place to start is by getting honest with ourselves, each other, and God by admitting the obvious.
The entire post, "Getting Honest About the Dark Side of the Bible," can be read here.

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