Title: Making Sense of God’s Violent Actions in the Old Testament
Publisher: The Thoughtful Christian (www.thethoughtfulchristian.com)
Length: 5 Lessons
Recommendation status: Not Recommended
Once again, The Thoughtful Christian disappoints. Its most recent adult study, Making Sense of God’s Violent Actions in the Old Testament, is filled with misguided advice based on non-Christian theology.
The study centers on the violence found in the pages of the Old Testament: the military conquest of the land of Canaan; the numerous prophetic pronouncements against nations who do not bow before YHWH (God); and the equally strong prophetic pronouncements and judgments against Israel for her disobedience to her God. No doubt these are serious matters. But this study begins in the wrong place.
Lesson 1 opens like this: “YHWH is presented as a lively and effective character who is embedded in the history of the world.” There are several wrong-headed issues here.
1) God is “presented,” implying that this might be the human authors’ point of view but might not actually be the case. The authority of Scripture is called into question.
2) God is not spoken of as “majestic” or “holy” or “perfect in his righteousness,” but rather as a “lively and effective character.” It’s trite and cute, but not descriptive of the great and living God.
3) God is said to be “embedded in history.” But aren’t we humans also embedded in history? What’s the difference between God and us?
4) Nowhere is God spoken of as the Creator and Sovereign Lord of history, as one who has a plan for His people.
God is also described in this study as emotionally unstable. Here is how God is seen by The Thoughtful Christian: “Being embedded in the history of the world, it is not surprising that YHWH’s ‘time’ (history) is characterized by all kinds of surprises, uncertainties, and contradictions. In parallel fashion YHWH’s ‘space’ (the realm ruled by YHWH) is an arena of intense dispute. That range of surprises and uncertainties evokes in YHWH a spectrum of emotional extremities . . .”
In other words, God is a fickle player in history who runs the gamut from gushy love to out-of-control temper tantrums. Such a view of God denies, again, the majesty and holiness of the Creator. The prophets of God are no better. They are simply the human mouthpieces that deliver the violent message of a violent (and seemingly petty) God. The Thoughtful Christian re-creates God into the image of a broken mortal, albeit one with great power to exact revenge.
How is this violent conduct to be explained? The author highlights the two major streams of interpretation:
1) Humans have projected their own violent thoughts onto God. God, therefore, was not involved in any violent actions. Humans used God as an excuse to do violence. Here, we move from theology to pop psychology.
2) Evolution. Israelite religion evolved over time from a violent God to a benevolent, merciful deity. Here social evolution is the explanation.
In both cases, God is not active. Rather, humans are busy either rationalizing their violent conduct (blaming God) or “evolving” into more sophisticated people whose religion became more sophisticated (that is, less violent) over time.
The study states that we must take these two streams of interpretation seriously, declaring, “they both have considerable merit,” but then says they are too easy (not sure how the two go together). We should not deny that God has been violent, but instead of letting God be God, the study goes further afield.
God’s violence, it says, is like growing up in an abusive family. We must acknowledge the abuse, process the memories, ask forgiveness for our part of the abuse and then live into who we are now. We find healing.
We are also to repent of God’s violent behavior and apologize to those affected by it. This misinterpretation of Scripture is egregious. God is the abuser and we are the victims who must get over the bad memories.
Such an approach is non-Biblical on its face. God is not holy, majestic, royal and sovereign. God is not permitted to do with the clay what He will (see Romans 9). God is a recovering abuser.
We believe we have highlighted enough to support our rejection of this study and, we believe, of The Thoughtful Christian as a resource for study materials.
Wayne Bogue is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and the ministry director of www.GodEquips.org.