Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fighting words

One of the current dividing lines between the evangelical right and the evangelical left (for want of a better term) is "divine violence" in Scripture. Where Scripture, especially the OT, depicts God committing, commanding, or otherwise sanctioning "violence." 
The critics deny that God said and did the violent things imputed to him in Scripture. A God who said and did those things would be morally monstrous. 
Critics also justify their complaint by saying this isn't just an academic issue. If we defend OT "genocide," we forfeit the right to condemn modern atrocities. 
Moreover, they contend that OT "genocide" has actually inspired some medieval massacres and modern atrocities. And it's been used to rationalize that action.
However, this generates a dilemma for the evangelical left. For it simply relocates the problem of evil. If God accommodated influential portrayals of himself in Scripture which have been used to justify or even inspire real-world atrocities, then how can the critics (who still claim to be Christian) exempt God from complicity in the outcome? 
And this isn't just a misinterpretation of Scripture. Many critics admit that Scripture does, in fact, representing God saying or doing those things. So you can't shift blame to the reader. It goes right back to the text. 
Having inculpated Scripture, how do they exculpate God for the real-world consequences of accommodating a "genocidal" portrait of himself in Scripture? 


  1. I've always felt the main problem is how some Christians implicitly hold Enlightenment assumptions about human nature and goodness. If you assume that people are basically good, and that some education and the provision of sufficient material goods are all you need to reform those who do terrible acts, all instances of intended violence by those who could have taken alternative courses of (non-violent) action are going to be viewed as gratuitous, disproportionate or excessive. But no one seems willing to question this basic premise. Perhaps because doing so would require admitting the realty of sin and objective moral standards--and the reality of a judgment that will be worse than what the Canaanites suffered.

  2. Unless one believes that God is not in control of the world, God kills people all the time:
    (1) natural disasters
    (2) using human agents of judgement: Israelites on Canaan, Assyrians on Israel
    (3) aging and the corruption of sin on human life

    One needs to make a distinction between God causing human death and God using human agents to explicitly bring about human death. The second only seems morally ghastly if you wilfully ignore the first. I'm not saying there aren't tough questions with respect to human agency in God's judgement, but they are a lot less morally hideous than denying God's hand of judgement on all mankind.