I love the Bible. I believe it is the authoritative word of God. That doesn’t mean I haven’t grappled with it. I took a course in Bible college that concentrated on the texts of Joshua and Judges. As a new Christian, and a former skeptic, I found these books hard to stomach. How could Jesus, who stood for peace, enemy-love, and sacrifice, be the same God in the Old Testament? The massacre seemed constant, and I struggled to make sense of it.
I no longer battle with those views, but, I think it would be unwise to believe no one else does. I know many folks personally, even Bible-believing Christians, who still do.
I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. When speaking to people of various faiths (or without faith), the second biggest hurdle to Christianity, is the violence in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous quote is Richard Dawkins, when he writes that the God of the Bible is,
jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It’s also quite an allegation. While certainly not a fan of Dawkins’ conclusions, to reject it as unreasonable would be an injustice to both logic and common sense.
How do we prepare to discuss this issue? Is God really as Dawkins and others in their own ways have rendered Him? If He is, how do we reconcile that to Jesus and the New Testament teachings? Teachings like turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and praying for your persecutors? Saying trite things like, “God can do whatever He wants,” or “He’s God. Don’t’ worry about it,” will not suffice. So, we go to the Beginning.
The Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) begins with a loaded statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NIV). In the first two chapters of Genesis, we see a Creative God who creates. He creates fish and spiders, the sun and the moon, day and night, plants and trees, galaxies and aardvarks. He speaks, and it happens. On the sixth day, after created everything else we know, God creates people. The text says,
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” (Gen. 1:26-27, NIV).
He forms us in His “image and likeness,” meaning we are a reverberation, an etching of His eternal self. It sets us apart from everything else in all of creation. We also see the Master comment on His finished masterpiece, “It is very good” (Gen. 1:31a, NIV). He’s pleased. Everything is perfect. All is as it should be. The world is perfect.
The underlying concept of Creation that is necessary to understanding story of God in the BIble from this point on is the word Shalom. This Hebrew term is charged with meaning. It includes the absence of conflict and death, and implies wholeness, fullness, joy, peace, and completeness. Simply put – perfect.
Shalom is paramount to understanding the Bible for two reasons. First, it displays the nature of God. He’s creative, loving, and kind. He provides, helps, and guides. He dwells with Adam and Eve, not apart from them. He is very good. Second, we learn God’s initial purpose for humankind and creation – peace. Not violence, war, hate, racism, sexism, infanticide, and whatever else Dawkins’ or other’s claim.
The foundation of the full Bible rests upon God’s Shalom. As we’ll see, the rest of the Old Testament moves towards that intention. The entirety of Scripture from Genesis 3 forward, is God moving to renew HIs very good creation. In the next post, we’ll see at how things went south, and what God begins to do to bring things back on course.
For now, just know, that the Very Good God has not abandoned His very good creation.