“The God I don’t understand”, for many people, is easily identified. It’s the God of the Old Testament. Those who wish to deride the Christian faith in general find their sharpest ammunition ready made here. Richard Dawkins, for example, atheism’s most prolific televangelist, minces no words in his assessment of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filiacidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

For Dawkins and other atheists, of course, there is no problem of understanding involved. They have no desire at all to understand God as portrayed in the Bible since they consider him to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination anyway, and a warped imagination at that. Their only problem lies in understanding people who claim to believe in such a God.

But for Christians who do trust in God and have been taught essential truths about God’s nature and character, there is a real problem. Some of us wince when we read Dawkins’ words, not just because we find them offensive (which they are), but because, if we are honest, we sometimes find ourselves thinking the same thing when we read the Old Testament. Frankly, we find it embarrassing to be challenged about our belief in the Bible because we are embarrassed by the Bible’s longest plot line (the story of Old Testament Israel) and by the Bible’s most prominent character (Yahweh, the God of Old Testament Israel) – most prominent at least after Jesus (and all the more embarrassing because of Jesus).

What are we to make of texts that speak of God meting out horrific punishments on whole families, like Achan or Korah? Or a God who smites a man dead for touching a sacred object, like Uzzah, or for offering the wrong kind of sacrificial fire, like the sons of Aaron? How are we to understand the language of God’s anger, jealousy, or vengeance alongside what we have been taught about God’s love, mercy, and compassion? And what kind of God did the Israelites understand him to be when they cried out for him to curse people and avenge them on their enemies?

And most of all, what about the Canaanites? Is there any way to describe the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites other than religious genocide or ethnic cleansing? What possible connection can such violence have with the God we long to love, trust, and understand?

We are right to find such questions disturbing.

We are particularly disturbed by the violence of the Old Testament when we contemplate the way it has been used to justify violence down through the ages since. The centuries of Christendom have witnessed professing Christian leaders right up to modern times using the methods of conquest, torture, execution, horrifying punishments, and racist genocide – and claiming theological justification from their reading of the Old Testament. Crusades against Muslims, genocide of North American Indians or Aboriginal Australians, apartheid against black South Africans, discrimination and violence against African Americans, expropriation of land from Palestinians – even attitudes toward Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland: in all these cases the first step is to declare the “enemy” to be cursed by God, just like the Canaanites. After that, it becomes OK to just wipe them out (or to want to).

Now we cannot blame the Old Testament itself for such terribly deluded misuse of the Bible (for that is what it has been). But even if we exclude horrors that have been perpetrated by Christians with claimed sanction from the Old Testament, there are horrors enough within its own pages to disturb us. What kind of response can we make as we struggle to understand the God whom we believe we find self-revealed in the Scriptures?

The first thing we must do is to take a look at some of the ways people have tried to make this less of a problem than it seems at first sight. Unfortunately, I think we will find that some of the popular answers are dead ends that don’t really help us find a way out. Still, when there are things you don’t understand, it is at least helpful to remove the things that only make the problem worse!



Add yours

  1. My personal favorite is when God saves a man who just offered to let an angry mob brutally rape, and most likely kill his two (probably) pre-teen daughters, but then turns his wife into a pillar of salt (seriously salt?) for looking over her shoulder at the wrong time.

    I am looking forward to reading how you try to rationalize the OT.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm, true talk. i also do imagine all that and got to know that, it doesn’t mean that the whole violence and all that which was discovered in the old testament means that God is not merciful. Back then, it was mandatory that if anyone who sinned the penalty is death. That was the main reason why Christ died just to change some of those old testament practice. But still God is God and He is the only one who knows and judge rightly.This is just my opinion. Good write-up that calls for deep deliberation from you. Weldon.


    1. I don’t know Bursh. I don’t think we should just throw up our hands and say God is the only one who judges rightly, or that he he judges rightly at all. He makes some really questionable calls in the OT. For instance beating your slave within an inch of his/her life is okay, but picking up sticks on the wrong day is an offense worthy of death. Don’t boil a baby goat in its mothers milk made the Ten Commandments (the second set, after Moses broke the first set) but selling your daughter into slavery is A-OK. It seems strange that those are things we should just accept. But that’s just my opinion.

      I’m not sure why you would think Christ died to change those practices. I mean if they were good and just practices (and they have to be right? Or can God condone bad practices?) then why did they need to be changed? Why would an all powerful God need to die to change them? And if they needed to be changed why institute them in the first place at all. The whole thing just leaves a lot of questions if you ask me.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. you have some very astute observations… I think you want answers, but are challenged by the alleged hypocrisy. I would encourage you to keep asking and challenging others until you get an answer… if not, you could at-least get some people of their perch


      2. Yeah, I understand where you’re going, but that was why I said, it’s only God that knows most of things like that, because to our own human understanding, we sees it as something odd, but who knows the reason why God Left those principles like that. He is so wise and He knows the best. Let’s just ask him to open our eyes and understanding in order to enrich us with the knowledge of things that are unclear to us….

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Bursh, I’m curious as to why you think God is “so wise” is it because you have evaluated his actions and were able to determine he always made really good and just decisions, or do you assume he is wise because that’s what the Bible tells you you have to believe, and therefore all of his really questionable decisions where you or I look at them go, well that was dumb, or malicious, or fickle, have to be wise decisions and its just that “we don’t understand.” Take a second to think about the fact that this is the book where God takes pains to tell men they can’t sit in the same spot where a menstruating woman has sat because that would make them unclean, but Jesus the great healer doesn’t think you need to wash your hands before you eat (seriously its in the Bible, Mark 7). So when you say God knows best and that I should just accept him and let him open my eyes so he can enrich me with knowledge and understanding, I have to really question that decision.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Well, my dear, the decision is really yours, I didn’t impose anything on you, you can make your own decision and then consider what you have to do or believe. That’s my opinion. Good luck my dear.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. That it is Bursh, that it is. I wasn’t accusing you of imposing anything on me. But you didn’t answer my question, did you come to the belief that God was very wise by evaluating his actions, or is that what you believe because the Bible tells you that you have to believe. You obviously don’t have to answer, I’m not trying to impose anything on you, I’m just curious if you intentionally deflected or if it was more of an automatic defense mechanism.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. I believe that God is the creator of the whole universe and it’s not about what I read from the Bible. God who with his Wisdom and power created the world, He brought life to mankind, without the air He created, we living things won’t survive. So my dear, He has given me Wisdom to understand some of those things without second thoughts, or without taking too long to understand some of the reasons behind his actions. You know I can’t say more than my understanding because He is the author and finisher of our faith….

        Liked by 1 person

      7. That was really quite beautiful, but if you break down it down it, it actually strikes me as quite troubling.

        First, God giving you the wisdom to understand without a second thought sounds more like gullibility than wisdom. It also implies god is, and you are comfortable with, God picking his favorites to go to heaven. I mean it was bad enough when you had to be born in the right geographic position at the right moment in time to go to heaven, but now that has to be true, and god has to give you special wisdom. The playing field is not level my friend.

        Also is there a reason why you are calling me dear? It comes across as fairly diminutive, it strikes me as another defense mechanism, or perhaps you are just tone deaf as to why that might not present you in the best light. Either way, you might want to reconsider your continued use of that particular epithet. Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Bible’s definition of faith: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
        Faith according to the dictionary: Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.


      9. I remember one sermon on faith where the pastor brought up one of those cliche analogies, about how when you came into church that morning and sat down you didn’t first test the chair/pew to make sure it was safe to sit. My pastor said you had faith the chair was going to hold you up.

        It was one of those analogies that made sense at the time, but the more you think about it the less sense it makes. I didn’t have faith the chair would hold me up, what I had was years of demonstrable evidence that not only chairs in general, but that pew in particular would adequately fulfill its function.

        If we choose to ignore the part of Christianity that insists the Bible must be perfect and true and approach the Bible as any other text we are trying to ascertain the validity of what I have is demonstrable evidence, from errors and contradictions in the text, historical inaccuracies and depictions of God’s malicious, capricious, and fickle behavior, that the Bible is not perfect and true.

        People devote their whole lives to the faith in this book, it seems to be a disservice to them to not try to enlighten them to its flaws.

        Liked by 2 people

      10. I remember studying for an exam and questioning myself daily wondering if it was time & money well spend in preparing for the test. In the end I passed because I believed in my heart that I would pass the exam one way or the other. That is faith. People sometimes give poor examples, that doesn’t mean you can’t look else where to find a better explanation. Saying that the christian should not believe in the bible is like saying that one doesn’t believe in the laws of physics and thermodynamics. Sure, you can jump of a cliff and refuse to cooperate with the law of gravity and you can very well expect to fly off… but will you? I can believe in nothing and become nothing when I die, or I can believe in something and potentially become something when I die. Either way, I have nothing to loose. By the way, if you are a atheist, why pick bones with just the bible? what about all the religions? Is it because the Bible claims exclusivity while others don’t? You are entitled to your questions, because faith without doubt is moral arrogance. On the same not I have respect for Bursh, because Jesus himself said ““Truly I tell you, He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

        We can argue about the flaws in the Bible, but for every argument, there will be a counter argument. It really doesn’t profit anyone in the end other than a squabble to establish dominance and puffed up egos. Sadly this is hardly a place for such overtures. You might want to take it up in a forum.. maybe. Just a thought.. because you have lots of questions that needs to be answered or you may educate others.


      11. Mmm, calling you dear does not mean anything special to me, I use it to express my comfortability with the interaction between both of us, and also for you not to think that am offended or not comfortable with some of your questions and the way you imagined how I believe and trust in God totally. And also am kind of a happy person who always try to understand everyone, and patiently reason with the person and extract and analyze the whole thing I got into my head and the way I see things.


      12. Just as a country has a constitution to govern it, so also Christianity hinges itself on the Bible. I guess it’s more like , take it or leave it. no one is holding a gun to your head.


      13. Bursh is saying I can’t “take it” because God didn’t give me the special wisdom needed to understand it, the special wisdom he so graciously gave to Bursh.

        The point of my “questions” are to demonstrate that perhaps the Bible is not the best thing for Christianity to hinge on.

        Funny enough where I live people keep trying to pass laws because of what the Bible does or does not say. So it seems vitally important to help people along in that realization that perhaps we should ignore that part of the Bible that says the Bible/god is perfect and true, and see if the actual bible leads us to that conclusion.

        even poor Bursh, when defending the “wisdom of God” had to forego any conversation on coming to that conclusion because of the Bible, so it seems, even among Christian circles, the Bible may be found lacking.


  3. I wish more people were willing to tackle the hard questions with integrity rather than simply to try and rationalize them away or to use them to push forward an anti-religious agenda. I am curious to see your take in future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes people do give poor examples, for instance you didn’t pass the exam because you had faith, you passed the exam because you studied and knew the material. God wasn’t beaming the test answers into your head during the exam, and what would that say about him if he did?

    Here is the difference between the laws of physics and, we’ll call it, the laws of religion. I could very well jump off that cliff and I’m going to fall every time, because the law of gravity is going to work every time, unless I jump off with a wingsuit, this time I don’t fall, but I didn’t “defy” the law of gravity, I’m just evoking other laws of physics that counteract gravity but gravity is still there still working. Anytime I want I can take off the wingsuit and prove the law of gravity again. Let’s take prayer for example. John 15:7 says if you abide in god whatever you wish will be done for you. Of course that isn’t what they tell you in church these days. Yeah, God always “answers” prayers he says “yes” “no” or “not now” which is exactly what happens if you don’t pray at all, if God doesn’t exist at all. We don’t “believe” in the laws of physics. The laws of physics are demonstrable.

    You have all kinds of things to lose, you could waste your life following a false doctrine, you could be reincarnated into something undesirable, you could spend eternity in another deity’s equivalent of hell. All religions can’t all be right so how do you know you have the right one? But all religions can be wrong.

    Who says I only pick bones with the Bible? Yes, I write almost exclusively about the Bible. The primary reason is because the Bible impacts me daily. Where I live I can’t buy beer on sundays, I can buy beer 6 days a week, but not on sundays, why not? #god. Yes, this is a trivial thing but that is how ubiquitous the Bible impact is on my life. That is to say nothing about women’s healthcare, or marriage rights, sexuality, or what is taught in public schools. On top of that I didn’t go to mosque 3 times a week for 18 years and build a good foundational knowledge of the Koran for additional study. So i write what I know and I write about what impacts me.

    “You have to be like a little child” doesn’t that infuriate you? That would infuriate me. Jesus is essentially saying you have to be, well let’s not say “stupid,” let’s say “lacking critical thinking skills” to go to heaven. If I allow myself to believe in Christianity as a small child would why wouldn’t I approach Islam or Mormonism in the same way? With the same child-like faith? Why would Jesus expect me to use critical thinking skills when evaluating every other religion, but then turn them off when it comes to Christianity? That makes no sense.

    Curry, if I’m starting to become aggravating, I can back off. I understand I can be a little pushy so-to-speak. i do try to maintain good relationships and you’ve been nothing but polite.


  5. Sharing a thought from the Bible that touches on this post.

    Job 34:10 – So listen to me, you men of understanding: It is unthinkable for the true God to act wickedly, For the Almighty to do wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

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