How Do We Explain Violence By God In The Bible?
by Mike Edwards
If you read the Bible closely enough, who blames those who challenge God morally. Did God really kill all but eight in the world by a global flood because God couldn’t handle rejection? We condemn people drowning a litter of puppies in the river. Other ancient literature spoke of local floods. Perhaps the writers use hyperbole to make a point, but that doesn’t explain all of the OT.
I Sam. 15:3 is only one of many passages that reports God commanded the destruction of innocent women and children in war: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them…put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” God orders killing non-virgin women but not virgins: “save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Num. 31:18). Really God! Exodus 12 claims God intends to kill firstborns without lamb’s blood on their doorframes (Passover).
How one views the Bible leads to different explanations.
Did God control or guide the writers’ thoughts to perfectly represent God which then requires explaining certain actions by God, or did God not interfere with writers misrepresenting God at times? OT writers could have been influenced by surrounding cultures as to what an all-powerful God should look like. When the OT records “God said,” this isn’t audible speech but could be a figure of speech conveying figuratively an inner impression felt from God — right or wrong.
We can’t prove God did or didn’t inspire the Bible. The Bible can be viewed as recorded experiences of beginnings with God and Israel culminating with the life of Jesus that we don’t possess in other documents. God didn’t necessarily have in mind recordings wouldn’t be questioned. Writers may have contributed actions to God that weren’t true. This explanation can help Scriptures not being used blindly to justify violence God supposedly approved.
Is violence explained because God can do whatever the Hell God wants?
It is normal to feel compelled to justify passages above because God’s actions in the OT don’t always seem moral from a human perspective. So, it is suggested God’s ways don’t have to be fair because God is God. Yet, the Bible encourages us to be perfect like God or imitate God (Mt. 5:48, Eph. 5:1). If God’s actions don’t seem fair at times, should we imitate such actions? If human and God’s perfection are different, how can we know how to be perfect like God? We don’t always know what perfect love is, but I doubt God is the parent that says “do as I say not what I do.”
Is violence by God simply warfare exaggeration?
Warfare rhetoric was common in ancient literature to induce fear and victory. A US leader may say we will completely destroy ISIS. But, even if God didn’t mean to be taken literally, why would God inspire such violent metaphors in I Sam 15 to include women, children, infants, and animals? Humans leaders don’t even use such language against terrorists. I question if the writers heard God correctly.
Did God approve certain violence to bring the Israelites freely along to the truth?
It is argued that Israelites laws were a step up from other ancient near eastern laws. At times maybe they were, but it is rational to question many of the laws set forth. Did God really approve a woman being required to marry her rapist (Deut. 22: 28–29) as if this was a step up to protecting victims from a life of shun? Did God walk on eggshells because the Israelites couldn’t handle the truth that requiring a woman to marry their rapist is just further victimization? I am convinced only humans, not God, thought this was a good law at that time.
I know, I know. If you can’t trust the Bible what can you trust!
Who doesn’t know God hates murder, sexual abuse, stealing, adultery, even not treating others like you want to be treated? Terrorists rationalize forcing beliefs about God on others, or be killed, because God supposedly inspired such thoughts recorded in a Book. Total certainty about God according to the Bible is an illusion. Biblical scholars, who respect Scriptures, don’t agree what the Bible says about hell, women, gays, etc. Different opinions standing side by side, as we continually evaluate the most loving approach, is better than claiming certainty and being wrong.
It matters if the Bible is viewed as inspired by God or not.
The idea of an infallible Book has led to assuming God’s view on morality only come from a Book such as the Bible or Quran. It is seldom admitted interpretations of a supposed infallible book could be wrong which has led to justifying slavery, killing infidels, and other atrocities in the name of God. Fallible books can’t hide behind assumed infallible interpretations, which lead to misunderstanding or rejecting God for the wrong reasons. We can’t prove when the Bible records “God says” that God really inspired such words. Questioning leads to less justification of violence.