I have been guilty of skipping over the Old Testament but am reading it now with renewed vigor. I love that I can now search for Jesus in the old testament as well. My problem comes in with Jesus’ teaching about the greatest commandment being that we must “love God with all our hearts”. I get that God reigns over everything and is infinitely wiser than me, but the more I dig into the Old Testament, the more I come across His character and the less I like what I see. How can an all powerful God create such a messed up world, give people the green light for things like raping and plundering [Deuteronomy 20:10-14, and some more] and expect us to love Him? Am I missing something? I get Jesus, and want to follow as best I can… How can I start on the path to loving God as well? Sorry for the heavy topic, but it is something that I am really struggling with at the moment.
This is a very important question. I have already answered this question in various forms and at various times. I believe the best answer I have given is available in an outline on “Answering the Hard Questions” which is available in the power point section of the web site. http://evidenceforchristianity.org/answering-the-hard-questions-power-point/
What you are really asking is sometimes simplified as “The Question of Evil.” If God is a loving, just and holy God and if he created everything, and if everything he creates is good (Genesis 1:31), then why is there evil in the world? Why would a good, loving and just God create a world with unspeakable evil in it? This is really a rather obvious question and, at first glance, it certainly seems to be a legitimate challenge to the Christian World View.
Here is my response. God did not create a messed up world. The world he created was, in fact, as God said in Genesis 1:31 “very good.” However, in that very good world, the very best of the creation was human beings, created with the image of God. Being in the image of God, we are capable of receiving and giving love. We also have sovereign free will, at least in our own realm. This free will is real. It is not a mere artifact. The free will was symbolized (and a reality) in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When both Adam and Eve chose, of their own free will, to reject God’s will and to reject his love by eating of the fruit, they brought all kinds of evil and suffering into the world. By the time we get to Cain, things are rapidly going downhill. Why did this happen? Because God loved us enough and because he gave us a choice as a result of that love, and because we rebelled. Without rebellion, there would be none of the evil in the world. I suppose we can blame God for this, as, ultimately, he is the source of everything. However, personally, I do not fault God for creating me and for allowing me to choose. To me, this is a good not an evil thing. If we were all puppets on strings, then there would be no evil. The source of evil is God’s love and his giving of us a choice, and our choice to do the opposite of what his love calls us to do. Free will is the answer to your question.
This, in very brief, is my answer to your first question. The second question is perhaps even harder to answer. First of all, there is a rather large error implied in your question. You say that the Jews were given free reign to rape and plunder. This could not be more untrue. Nowhere (including Deuteronomy 20:10-14) is there any permission from God to rape anyone or to willy-nilly plunder people for personal enrichment either. Both are totally banned in the Mosaic Covenant. In the outline available at the web site (http://evidenceforchristianity.org/answering-the-hard-questions-a-power-point/), there is an outline which explains why God allowed a very limited form of warfare to the Israelites. I will take that outline out of context and copy it here:
1. If you are not bothered by this on some level, I am worried about you!
2. The argument assumes that physical death is bad/evil. This is a false assumption. Sin is evil but death is not. Death is a transition, hopefully, to something better.
3. This is the Creator talking here. Like the father said to his kid: I brought you into the world, and I can take you out! God has every right to do as he wills.
4. God has a perfect right to judge.
5. There is the issue of the religion of the Amelekites. Sacrificing of children, worshipping gods by having sex with a prostitute in the temple, etc.
6. The situation for the children in this situation was hopeless.
7. In the case of Amelek and other Canaanites, both God’s love and his justice demanded
that something be done.
8. Either God was going to create a nation or he was not. If God is going to have a “people,” then such people must have a physical land and must have an army.
a. God’s plan is to choose a man, then a nation, through whom to send a savior.
God’s plan to bless humanity through Jesus trumps all else.
b. It is sinful to take the life of another in anger, out of greed or selfishness, but it
is not necessarily sinful to take a life in war.
9. Everything God did to Israel as a nation was to limit their ability to wage war.
a. No authority to establish an empire.
b. No standing army.
c. No cruelty, no abuse, no rape
Some of the same points apply.
1. First, let us acknowledge that, on some level, God legislating slavery is troubling.
2. God accommodated rather than approved slavery.
3. All of God’s regulations with regard to slavery were to limit it. (Eph 6:9)
a. Slaves could not be bought and sold.
b. Humane treatment. Deuteronomy 23:15, Leviticus 25:14
c. All slaves were eventually given their freedom at the Jubilee year.
4. God is not concerned with physical slavery nearly so much as spiritual slavery.
5. Nevertheless, Paul asked Philemon to free his slave Onesimus in an inspired passage.
6. William Wilberforce. It was Christian influence which ended the slave trade world
Your question is a difficult one and finding answers that are fully congruent with the love and goodness of God require careful consideration, but I believe that God is entirely good and just and I believe a careful study of the Bible will be consistent with this conclusion.
Please let me know if there is any aspect of your question I did not address.