Ironic Faith: The God of the Old Testament

McKnight now delves into even tougher territory —

Sixth, emergents sometimes exercise a deconstructive critique of the Bible’s view of God. Sometimes I hear it in ways that are no more interesting that Marcion’s old (and heretical) critique of the violent God of the Old Testament. Yet upon close inspection, the rumblings are subtler and more sophisticated, and the struggle is palpable and genuine. For some emergents, the Bible includes portrayals of God that cannot be squared with their understanding of a God of love. For a group less concerned about traditional understandings of inerrancy, such portrayals are interpreted as the way ancients talked about God, with later biblical revelation seen as clearly presenting a God who is altogether gracious and loving.

It’s an old argument — that the God of the New Testament is more loving than the God of the Old Testament. After all, the Old Testament God wanted the Canaanites killed — men, women, and children.

Sorry, but I disagree. It’s the same God, working different parts of his plan. Consider this — 

First, the God of the Old Testament is repeatedly shown as a God of great love and compassion. This God forgave David’s sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. This God suffered the sins of Israel for hundreds of years before running out of patience. 

But, then again, this is the same God who wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah and who killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. This is the same God who ordered the Jews to commit genocide, killing the Canaanites, men, women, and children. We do have to honestly face up to the moral question.

Second (and here’s the deep thought for today), life is not nearly so sacrosanct as we’d like to believe. While it’s wrong for us to kill others (with some exceptions), God isn’t bound by the same rule. It’s not that God is above his own law so much as the reasons for the law don’t apply to God.

We’ve developed this talk of a “culture of life” and the “sanctity of life,” and speak as though the preservation of human life is the very highest good. But the Bible doesn’t say this. Indeed, there are many cases where God tells his people to kill someone — obviously for a higher reason. 

Here’s where I think the distinction lies. Why is it so wrong to kill? Well, because we don’t have the wisdom to kill wisely. If we abort a child, for all we know, we’re killing the next Alexander Campbell or Billy Graham. We may be killing the inventor of the next penicillin. We may be killing someone who will figure a way to end war. We just don’t know and can’t know.

Worse yet, when we kill an adult, we may be sending someone to hell who would have found Jesus but for our actions. We may preventing him from fathering the missionary who will bring salvation to the Muslims. Who knows?

Well, God knows. God knows exactly how things will turn out when he commands the death of person or even a people — even the extermination of the Canaanites. And he knows how things will turn out if he doesn’t.

Who knows? If God hadn’t commanded the genocide of the Canaanites by the Israelites, we might all be Baal worshippers today, burning our infants alive to curry his favor — as they did back in the Old Testament days

You see, God is capable of knowing that the suffering caused by a given battle will prevent much greater suffering later.

And I should add that God is able to give eternal comfort and bliss to the innocent who died at the hands of the Israelites or the children who died in Sodom. God can much more than make up for the loss people suffer from his commands. We can’t.

You see, we tend to arrogantly suppose that God can be judged by us — and that’s just as wrong as can be. It’s like a 12-year old girl judging her parents as hateful for having grounded her. She simply doesn’t have the maturity yet to judge such things. Of course, the gap between us and God is far, far greater.

It was, after all, God who asked Jesus to suffer and die on the cross. But God knew the consequences of Jesus’ sacrifices — and what the consequences would have been had he not paid that price for us. Does this make God cruel? or loving?

Just so, as the oldest son in my family, I’m thankful that God exterminated Baal worship from the planet. You see, the Canaanites routinely sacrificed their oldest son to Baal — burning him alive on an altar.

Does that justify genocide? The killing of innocents? Not if we did it. We can’t do the calculus to know the outcome. God can. You see, ultimately it’s about giving God his just due as, well, God — and trusting him.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Ironic Faith: The God of the Old Testament

  1. Tim Archer says:

    I read some comments on one blog that were headed that way, saying that the Old Testament couldn't be taken at face value because it conflicts with what we know of Jesus. I couldn't figure out why they took the gospels at face value, but not the Old Testament.

    To me it's a show of arrogance to say: "God can't act that way, so that scripture isn't inspired." I place myself under the Bible's authority, not vice versa. I seek to understand what it says, not make its sayings fit my understanding.

    Grace and peace,

  2. Todd says:

    Not to be overly simplistic but anyone who thinks the God of the NT is different from the God of the OT hasn't read the end of the NT. The way God operates is the same. Peter says God is patient wanting all to be saved (while also knowing all will not choose to be) while in the OT the Lord states that Israel will not enter the land until the sin of the Amorites has reached its full measure. Rahab told the spies that the people of the land knew the Israelites were coming as judgment. They could have repented (Nineveh) but they did not and judgment came. This world knows judgment is coming, will it turn?

    As it was so it will be – yesterday, today and forever.

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