When people seek to defend the idea that God is violent “because the Bible says so,” what they are really doing is allowing the violent portrayals of God in the Bible to override and trump the loving and merciful portrayals of God elsewhere in Scripture, even when both portrayals are talking about the same historical event.
Though both depictions of God are equally inspired, many biblical interpreters choose to let the violent depiction of God override and trump the loving depiction. In this way, it is not a matter of just believing the Bible; it is a matter of choosing which passages take precedence.
This practice is especially shocking when it comes to the revelation in Jesus Christ. Although Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God—the Word of God incarnate—many Bible teachers and writers allow the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament to override and trump the completely non-violent revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
When people want to defend a violent and vengeful God, they typically jump right over Jesus and go straight to Old Testament texts.
But isn’t this backwards?
If a basic rule of hermeneutics is that the simpler and clearer texts should override the more difficult and troubling texts, and if Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God so that He can say “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,” why do we choose to let the more troubling, difficult, and violent texts override and trump the loving, merciful, and Christlike texts?
It is not a matter of one approach considering the whole counsel of God while the other approach neglects certain portions. No, both approaches consider the whole counsel of God. It’s a matter of choosing which parts of Scripture trump, interact with, and explain the other parts of Scripture.
As I continue to seek to understand the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament, my approach has been to see Jesus Christ as the interpretive principle, the guiding ethic, the hermeneutical trump card of all of the Word of God.
Because Jesus is the Word of God.
No matter which text we consider, the basic questions are these: Does it look like Jesus? If not, how can we understand this text in light of Jesus? Or, how can we explain and apply this text in a way that looks more like Jesus? And ultimately, how can we apply this text so that it inspires us to love and live like Jesus?