Objections to the Bible: God does "bad" stuff

by Kyle
published August 15, 2015


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As I teach the Bible lately, I’ve been interested in examining perspectives not traditionally examined in a text.

For instance, when Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, people often look closely at Jesus’ perspective on the story because Jesus is the named character. They look at the way he draws the woman into a conversation and how he broke down her guard to share the gospel with her.

People don’t often consider her perspective, though. I shocked a group of teenagers recently by describing what she saw and experienced. Here’s a dirty, sweaty, hairy, tired, unattractive man who she is just praying would not speak to her as she approaches, probably thinking of how to defend herself should he prove to be the threat he looks like he could be.

Another perspective Christians don’t often examine is that of the people living in the promised land during the time of the conquest in the book of Joshua. Here’s all these people who have done the best they could to build a life for themselves, and they’ve done a good job. Sure there are some things wrong with their culture, but the average Canaanite would say they were a good people.

All the sudden, here comes this enormous army that, beginning with one of the best-defended cities in the region, starts annihilating everyone. They fight like no one else and kill even the women and children. They even kill most of the livestock instead of taking it for themselves. And on top of that, they say they not only want the land, but their god has given it to them and that the Canaanites have offended their god just by living the best way they know how.

Perhaps Christians don’t consider this perspective often, but people who object to the truth of the Bible often do. “God doing bad things” is one of the most common reasons people refuse to believe what the Bible says. Prominent atheist and evolutionary biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins goes so far as to describe God as revealed in the Bible as “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, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

If the Canaanite perspective were objective, Dawkins would be absolutely accurate. If “good” and “decent” meant the same thing to God as it does to us, I would not be able to argue with Dawkins.

People, after all, do bad things, and people in the Bible doing bad things should be expected. When we become convinced of the truth that people do bad things, finding people in scripture who do bad things becomes less and less of a problem. However, God is supposed to do good things. But when we look at the Bible, we see God doing and saying some rather shocking and unpleasant things.

God himself kills numerous people in both the Old and New Testaments for seemingly small offenses. He orders the death of whole people groups: men, women and children. He creates an incredibly strict code of laws and prescribes astoundingly severe punishments for their violating the same. His view of sexuality is narrow and limiting his focus on himself and his own holiness seems to trump all other issues.

But please notice that I describe these as “shocking and unpleasant,” and not as “bad.” As adept as objectors to the Bible are at examining multiple perspectives to a text, the one they leave out is God’s.

Often, people will use the story of the three blind men examining an elephant. The first man confuses the elephant for a large snake because he feels the trunk. The second confuses it for a barn because he feels the elephant’s broad side. The third is convinced it’s a tall tree because he feels the elephant’s large leg. The fourth guy is usually left out of the story, though. He’s the narrator. He’s the one watching the blind men fumble around and knows they’re wrong and that the animal is in fact an elephant.

The fourth character is God. There are so many things we simply don’t see, namely the thoughts and intentions of the hearts of other people. But God sees them. He’s not only the one who sees the elephant in the room everyone seems to miss, but he invented the elephant in the first place. “Good” is something that God invented. He decides what it is and is alone in his ability to judge what is objectively good.

Take the Canaanites, for example. They thought they were doing OK, but according to God’s standard, they were living an objectively evil lifestyle. Their worship included prostitutes and child sacrifices. Their practices and culture persisted for more than four centuries before God decided to put an end to it. It might not seem that way to us, but the men and women who were killed deserved death as all of us do. The children who died before being old enough to be accountable for their actions were spared a life of sin and immediately taken to a better place. So the “shocking and unpleasant” things God did were actually objectively fair at worst and actually merciful at best.

What isn’t fair is that God does not do the same to the rest of us. Pastor Voddie Baucham points out that the question needs to be turned on it’s head. The question shouldn’t be asked, “Why does God do all these bad things to people.” The question should be, “Why does God allow the rest of us to continue to live when we have so seriously sinned against him?”

When we ask the right question, the Bible becomes not only unobjectionable, it becomes the only place to find the answer. God doesn’t actually like it when even bad people die (Ezekiel 33:11). He does everything he can to persuade people to change while still honoring their free will (2 Peter 3:9). God even provided a way to escape judgment by punishing his own son in our place to give us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The unpleasantness of God’s judgment is the same as the unpleasantness of our own legal system. The criminals get what they deserve. We recognize it as unpleasant, but rarely do we call a murderer on death row “bad.” The only difference is that we have a way of being forgiven by God for free through Jesus. Instead of being so bothered by God’s objective fairness in the Bible, let’s be amazed by his overwhelming grace and patience with us whom he has not judged.

What do you think?

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