Objections to the Bible: People do bad stuff

by Kyle
published August 8, 2015


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In the throes of preparing for battle against enemies attacking Israel, Jephthah began to do what many people do in times of stress: He started making promises to God that he could not or should not keep. In this case, Jephthah promised to make a burnt sacrifice to God out of the first thing to come out of his house to meet him if God granted him victory (Judges 11:30-31).

After he won the battle, Jephthah returned home. As Jephthah approached his house, his daughter came out dancing to celebrate his victory and return. The text seems to indicate that Jephthah, being a man of his word, killed his daughter and offered her as a burnt sacrifice.

How could a man kill his own daughter? How could the Bible condone such a thing by including it?

But wait, there’s more.

Abraham and Jacob were both liars and polygamists. David was an adulterer. Solomon was an idolater. Samuel was a bad father. Rahab was a prostitute. Simeon and Levi committed mass murder. Why is it that God worked through such bad people? How could he show favor to people who did such bad things?

People in the Bible do remarkably objectionable things. Some view their inclusion the Bible narrative as the Bible’s tacit approval for what they’ve done. They look at the way God loved them anyway as God’s support for their actions. If that’s true, the Bible is contradictory at best. At worst, it describes a God who proves his evil character by loving people who seem to fit the same description.

I would like to offer some perspective on this objection, however.

In America, it seems like the prevailing sentiment links our identity with our performance. This is why Christians who speak out against abortion are “haters” and the ones who speak out against homosexuality are “homophobic bigots.” If you do not approve of and support what someone does, the culture says, you do not love them. According to much of western culture, you are what you do. So if you do not love what someone does, you do not love them.

This way of thinking is wholly false.

God loved Jephthah. God loved him so much that God’s law released Jephthah from the oath he made. Leviticus 5:4-13 describes making such a vow as sinful and provides a way for Jephthah to have been faithful to his vow and yet not kill his daughter. He could have substituted a lamb. God’s own law not only condemns human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:10), but it also condemns the kind of oath Jephthah took and provides a way to escape it. Jephthah was completely wrong, and yet God used him for his purposes and loved him anyway.

The common wisdom has long held that only death and taxes are certain. However, 1 Corinthians 15:51 reveals that not everyone will physically die, and the tax code is so arbitrary that it can hardly be called “certain.” The real certain things in life are God’s goodness and man’s badness.

In short, people sin. It is impossible to write about people without writing about people doing bad things. The whole point of the Bible is that we are evil and that God’s goodness and love compels him to work to fix an evil world and restore it back to perfection. In fact, the main point of the book of Judges where we find Jephthah’s story is to document the way the people Israel became more and more evil despite God’s faithfulness. Compare Jephthah’s story to Judges 19-21. Jephthah’s story in the middle of Judges becomes a G-rated Disney movie compared to the way the book of Judges ends. Things get worse, but God still proves faithful. He hates what they do, but loves them anyway.

Maybe the evil things people do in the Bible should help us see the evil things we do more clearly. Maybe it should show us the evil that we are. All the failures, sins, evil deeds and evil hearts in the Bible are there to show us the failures, sins, evil deeds and evil hearts in our own lives. James 1 describes the Bible as a mirror to present our own condition to us.

This is why the Bible climaxes with the most despicable treatment of a person by other people imaginable. Evil men took Jesus and whipped him, beat him, spit on him, mocked him, nailed him to a board and hung him up until he died. God simultaneously presented mankind’s evil and God’s faithfulness. Through this evil treatment, God provided the answer to our condition. Justice was done on our behalf. Through Christ, all the evil of the world — including the evil done by people in the Bible — is mitigated. Your own sin and heart problems can be corrected as well by trusting in Christ.

The Bible is not unique because it describes people doing evil things. So does the 10 o’clock news. The Bible is unique because it describes the solution to people doing evil things. When we read the bad stuff bad people do, it is unfair to forget the good things a good God does. It is even more unfair to forget the solution to the bad stuff, which is only found in God’s Word.

What do you think?

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