So as I work on my Commentary on Jonah, I have run into a question which is raised by the text, and I want to ask it here.
The question is this:
What kind of God do we serve?
How is it that the “God of the Old Testament” can have the same values and goals as Jesus in the Gospels? How is it that Jesus can tell us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, while God in the Old Testament tells Israel to kill their enemies, men, women, children, and animals, and leave none of them alive?
I know that this is an age-old question, and I sincerely doubt that I am going to solve it on this blog, but I want to raise the question anyway.
As far as I can tell, there are four main solutions offered by Bible scholars and teachers.
1. God was Wrong
This first option is that God is a monster. We cannot explain away this despicable behavior by saying that God can do what He wants, or that there is a mystery to God’s actions which we will never know this side of heaven. God commanded things which would get Him condemned in almost any court of law in history.
Many atheists have come to just this conclusion about the God of the Bible, but for bible-believing followers of Jesus, this option is not the best. There are better, more reasonable answers for what the Bible says about God.
2. The Bible is Wrong
A second possible explanation is that the Bible is full of errors. Some people argue that although the Bible says God commanded these atrocities, He didn’t actually command them. The Bible is wrong in what it says about God.
One of the problems with believing this is that it leads to a slippery slope. If the Bible is wrong in these areas, where else might it be wrong, and who can know what is true and what is false? So again, for people who believe that the Bible is without error, this option is not desirable either.
3. God and Jesus are not One
The third view is kind of a combination of the first two. Those who hold this third view argue that the God of the Old Testament is not actually “God” but is a false god. Only in Jesus do we see the reflection of what God is really like, and in any way that the God of the Old Testament is at odds with the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the God of the Old Testament is wrong, and/or the Bible wrongly attributes actions and behavior to God.
Again, since this view is somewhat a combination of the first two, it is often rejected on similar grounds as the first two.
When theologians and Bible teachers cannot answer difficult questions about God and the Bible, they often resort to “mystery.” They talk about “the inscrutable will of God” and say that “His ways are not our ways” and that “all will be made clear once we are free of this mortal flesh.”
This is all no doubt true, but it is hardly a satisfying answer.
So what is my solution?
I plead the fifth.
I mean that both ways.
I mean that there is a fifth option, and that I am not going to state what my view is, mainly because it is not well thought out.
But since that is such a boring way to end a blog post, I suppose a brief summary of my current thinking in this area is not out of line. Again, this is NOT my position, but is simply the direction I am headed in my thinking. If I think further down this path, I may see how foolish it is, and end up somewhere else entirely. So for what its worth, here are some of the bullet points of my current line of thought:
- Jesus truly does reflect the character and nature of God. He is the theological trump card, the grid through which we must sift our theology.
- The Bible is an accurate and inerrant record of what people thought about God (which is different than being an accurate record about God).
- Some people truly did need to be destroyed because of their great wickedness. In some cases, death might be merciful.
- Most of these questions we ask are only the result of a modern, scientific, post-Enlightenment worldview. When we read the Bible through this lens, we read it wrongly.
- The Bible is not written to tell us how to live, but rather, to tell us how others lived. So whatever we see people in Scripture doing (or not doing), this does not give us license or liberty to treat others the same way today.
How about you? When it comes to God commanding Israel to go destroy other nations, how do you solve this dilemma? What do you think of my non-answer above?