Why would non-Israelites want to take Yahweh seriously? He’s the god of Israel, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each nation had its own god: Dagon, Chemosh,Molech, the Baals and Astartes etc. Yahweh is just one among many gods. A local god. A God of War. Because victory in battle was what they were preoccupied with in those days. The words “angry” and jealous” are used throughout the OT to describe him. He appears really insecure when he keeps reminding the Israelites that he is the Lord, the one who brought them out of Egypt. And very harsh. He commands them to stone a guy to death for picking up firewood on Sunday. That’s worse than the Taliban. And whenever they raid a city they are supposed to kill everyone, man, woman, child, infants, cattle, sheep, and burn down the whole city. That’s worse than the Islamic State. He punishes Saul for not completing the genocide. Why did he even choose Saul to be king if he was going to regret it later? SAul didn’t want to be kin g, he was just a regular guy looking for his donkeys. The Bible says god doesn’t change his mind, but he did change his mind about Saul. And also when Moses pleads to him to calm down, he changes his mind about killing his people. And his bloodthirsty nature also extends to his chosen people, he kills thousands of Israelites. And the whole thing about the sacrifices, pages and pages detailing the rituals for burnt offerings, and offerings of wellbeing and on and on, how the priests are to sprinkle the blood on the alter etc. Is this God talking or is it men? To me, it seems obvious that it is Moses and the priests putting words into God’s mouth (literally, when they say “Thus spoke the Lord”) so they can control the masses who were a superstitious people in those days. And why the emphasis on real estate and boundary lines and driving out the Canaanites? It’s okay to give them the Promised Land but why invade other people and not respect their sovereignty? No wonder the Pales tinians want to get rid of Israel. Those days, there wasn’t a population problem and there was plenty of land that was never occupied. Why couldn’t Israel get their own land instead of stealing someone else’s land? I would read the OT just for its entertainment value and wouldn’t take Yahweh seriously if the NT also did the same. But Jesus makes many references to the OT and to Yahweh, so I can’t just disassociate the OT. At the same time I find it very difficult to be inspired by Yahweh. He inspires fear but not love and trust. And he does come across like a petty, local, insecure warlord, harsh, unforgiving, egotistical. There isn’t much to indicate he is a universal, spiritual God. Are there any resources or books that give a reasonable intelligent explanation besides the usual apologetics?
I am glad you are not asking me to address every single question you raise. About 80% of your questions are “good” questions in my opinion (a couple are really mostly just rhetoric, but most of them are quite reasonable). I want to do two things for you.
1. Can you distill your concerns down to one or at most two of the most burning issues so that I can personally address it or them.
2. As to your last question, which says to me that you have an honest and sincere heart about these matters, I suggest a book by Paul Copan: “Is God a moral monster?” Believe it or not, in a roughly 230 page book, he addresses essentially every question you raise here. Much of what you ask involves a misconception of what the Bible teaches, but not all of it! Some of the questions you ask are difficult, even if you fully understand what the Bible writer is saying in its context.
In order to do justice to your long list of very important questions, I would have to put about a 25 page paper down, which I simply do not have time for now, so if you take my first suggestion and let me use another Christian apologist for the other questions, I think your request can be met. It may not resolve all your concerns, and you may end up more or less where you began. In the end you may still feel that the Old Testament and, as you say, by implication, the New Testament, is a religious document you cannot take as a serious one you should allow to influence your life. Even if that is the case, you would have done what a responsible person does, which is investigate more fully and listen to those with whom you do not agree. Personally, I respect such behavior.
In the meantime, I do have an outline for a class I have taught titled Christianity: Answering the Hard Questions. This outline provides at least a tentative response to some (but not all) of your questions. I am both attaching the outline and copying and pasting it below. Hard Questions
A Defense of Christian Theology
Most of the hard questions about Christianity are of a theological nature.
Archaeological evidence, miracles, prophecy, the historical Jesus, the resurrection, supposed contradictions/inconsistencies are all fairly easily answered.
There are a few questions/problems with Christianity which are truly hard to answer:
1. The trinity.
2. The problem of evil
a. Free will vs determinism/Predestination 3. The problem of suffering (we will not spend significant time on this) 4. The problem of violence authorized by God in the Old Testament
5. The problem of hell
This is our topic.
Many skeptics, agnostics and the like enjoy criticizing Christianity on these points. We should not be shy. We should push back. What are the alternatives? Do they provide better answers?
By way of introduction (so that we can consider the alternative answers) Let us very briefly look at the topic of World View:
What is a “Worldview”?
Quite simply, one’s world view is the perspective one uses to process and interpret information received about the world. James W. Sire put it this way, “A world view is a set of presuppositions (ie. assumptions) which we hold about the basic makeup of our world.”
- Worldview definition: “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” (James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th ed., 2004)
Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. 4th ed. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 2004.
Copan, Paul. True for You, But Not for Me. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998.
N. T. Wright. Simply Christian. HarperOne 2006.
Alister McGrath. Theology: The Basics, Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.
My criteria for a “good” world view.
A. It is true. In other words, this world view is consistent with reality. It is consistent with what we know to be true based on our own experience. (It matches what we know about human beings, what we know from science, it works)
B. It answers satisfactorily the questions people really want answered.
Does a supernatural presence exist and if so what is its nature?
What is the nature of external reality—the world around us?
What is my value as a human being?
What happens to a person at death?
How do we know what is right and wrong?
What is my purpose?
What is the nature of my relationship, with the “prime reality?”
C. It causes those who hold to it to be better people than they would otherwise have been if they held to competing alternative world views.
How do we define better? We can probably use those criteria that most world religions have in common, at least in theory.
So, what is the Christian world view? I will attempt to describe it by a series of propositions, each of which will be expanded somewhat, using biblical passages by way of support.
1. The physical world is: a. real b. created out of nothing (ex nihilo) and c. essentially good.
Genesis chapters 1-3 is in my opinion the most brilliant little piece of philosophy I have ever read. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). As the Hebrew writer put it, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” If this statement is true, then animism, polytheism, pantheism, dualism, naturalism, nihilism, and postmodernism are all proved untrue. Just as significant to the Christian world view is this: not only did God create the physical universe, but this creation was essentially good. The way God puts it in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Eastern philosophy has the physical world to be an ephemeral illusion. Greek philosophy agrees, adding that the physical world is decaying and essentially evil. Naturalism agrees that it is real, but denies that there is a supernatural reality which created it. It certainly is not “good,” as such a description in meaningless in a random accidental universe. When God says his creation was good in its entirety, this does not deny the existence of evil. The question of evil will be addressed below.
2. There exists a parallel unseen spiritual reality which is not limited to or defined by the physical reality. Human beings have a spiritual aspect to their nature.
The fact that God, one who is “invisible,” created the universe establishes that there is a non-physical reality which is at least in some sense greater than the physical. The physical universe is real, but it is not all there is. Jesus confirmed this idea. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) Acknowledging that there is a spiritual reality is not the same as dualism. Dualism has the world being governed by more or less evenly matched forces of good and evil. It is also not naturalistic monism, which denies the existence of spiritual reality entirely. We have a soul and a spirit. That we are created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) is a spiritual rather than a physical claim. It is not a statement of our equality with God, but rather a description of our spiritual nature. I have a body, but I am not a body. “I” exist, and “I” am not defined by the chemicals which compose my body. Consciousness is not a mere epiphenomenon as naturalism requires. Our God-likeness has to do with our spiritual nature, our possession of a soul, our inherent understanding of good and evil, our ability to create and to love.
3. The creator of both the physical and spiritual realm is the God who is revealed and who reveals himself in the Bible.
Not only did God create the physical universe (Genesis 1), he also created the spiritual—the heavenly realms. In Colossians 1:15-16 Paul says of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers of rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. God has made himself known to his people “from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20), but he has also revealed himself and his will in the Hebrew and Greek scripture. Most particularly, he has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ; the image of God. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son who is at the Father’s side, has made him know.” (John 1:18) God has revealed himself to us through creation, through the Old and New Testaments and through the person Jesus Christ.
4. Human beings have both a physical and a spiritual nature, but the spiritual nature is more essential as it is eternal.
Our physical nature is obviously more apparent to us than our spiritual nature, but this fact is deceptive when compared to our ultimate reality. Like Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” (Luke 12:4-5) As Paul put it, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) 5. God cannot be easily defined but he can be characterized by certain qualities. God is love, God is just, God is holy, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.
What God is he is fully and infinitely. God is not merely loving: he is love. Love defines and determines all his actions toward us. From a human perspective, this seems to conflict with his justice and his holiness. God is not merely just: he is justice. He is incapable of an unjust act, even if we feel his love and his justice are in apparent conflict. God is holy, in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). These are facts about God. How does this affect our world view? In every way. Every act in our life and in the lives of our neighgors is subject to the justice of God. This has a profound effect of how we view our own lives and how we should respond to injustice. “Do not take revenge,… ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” If God really is love, then this has an unfathomable effect on how we understand the events which surround our lives. All of them are either caused or permitted by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who acts toward all out of love.
6. Although all God’s creation, including the physical world is good, evil does exist. Such evil is the result of freedom of will given to created beings and their subsequent decision to use that freedom to “sin” (defined as transgressing the will of God).
This brings us back to Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of us. God gave us everything for our pleasure and enjoyment. Why? Because he loves us and because he wants us to love him. But what did we all do? We rebelled and chose to do things which are unholy. As Augustine put it, evil is not a thing in and of itself. If it were, that would be dualism. Rather evil is good which has been corrupted by free moral agents. Something which was created for good purposes is turned for evil. Nothing God created is evil, but some of what God created is capable of doing evil. God gave us a choice. He asks us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19), but many of us choose rebellion. The physical laws which are discoverable by science are not the only “natural laws.” There are moral laws as well, and they are as inescapable as the law of gravity. Rebellion against God’s holiness produces suffering in this world (Exodus 20:5-6), both on those who sin and on those around them. This is the answer to the “problem” of pain, suffering and evil.
7. Because of God’s justice and his holiness, those who choose to rebel against him will ultimately be judged and separated from God for eternity.
Not only does our choice to rebel and to sin bring on temporary physical and emotional suffering in this life, it also brings judgment in the world to come. “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10) “’The Lord will judge his people.’” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31). God cannot be mocked. He is patient and kind, and he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), but “the wages of sin is death.” Again, as with all the qualities of God, this fact is unavoidable. God does not change or compromise his holiness. It has been said that God does not send people to hell, but he accepts their choice to rebel and be eternally separated from him.
8. The solution to evil and its eternal consequences is provided by God through the atoning substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This is the essence of the gospel. As was prophesied, “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) “By his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God’s holiness and justice were not superseded or violated in this substitutionary death. “He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26). Biblically, this is a theological fact. How does this affect one’s world view? If this is true, then everything is different. Suffering makes sense. The existence of evil makes sense. Our innate and universal sense of justice makes sense as well. Yet, we can live as free men and women, not using our freedom as an excuse to do evil, but using this gift of freedom to love and serve others (paraphrasing Galatians 5:13-15) without living in constant fear of judgment when we fall short, as we inevitably will do.
Christianity offers answers to the big human questions:
n The Problem of Sin (the substitutionary death of Jesus)
n Romans 7:24,25
n The Problem of Suffering (compassion)
n Matthew 9:35-36
n The Problem of Death
n 1 Corinthians 15:54-56
Other World Views:
Maya. The physical world is an illusion.
Brahman. Universal soul.
The goal: Nirvana; oneness with the universal soul which is within yourself.
The Hindu world view has man looking inward, not outward.
Evil is the denial of Atman—of God in you
The Four Noble Truths of Siddhartha:
Suffering is not getting what one wants.
The cause of suffering is desire which leads to rebirth.
The way to end suffering is to end desire.
The way to the end of desire and of suffering is the eight-fold path.
(Right viewpoint (the four noble truths), Right values, Right speech, Right actions, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right meditation
Buddhism encourages dispassion, not compassion.
God is very distant from mankind
In Islam, Allah determines everything, even who will choose to follow him. Sura 2:142, 6:39 6:125
Inshallah God willing. It is God’s will that people suffer.
Islam: Salvation is earned through the efforts of those who were pre-selected by Allah to inhabit a very sensual paradise.
Christianity: Salvation is granted by the grace of a loving God to those who, through faith and repentance and baptism accept that love.
The belief that the only reliable or valid instrument to deciding the truth or even the value of any proposition is the scientific method.
No basis for ethics or morality, no supernatural, no God, no truth (except that found by science), no consciousness, no “I.” Justice is a figment of our imagination.
Scientific Materialism accepts only one reality: the physical universe, composed as it is of matter and energy. Everything that is not physical, measurable, or deducible from scientific observations, is considered unreal. Life is explained in purely mechanical terms, and phenomena such as Mind and Consciousness are considered nothing but epiphenomena – curious by-products, of certain complex physical processes (such as brain metabolism)
Postmodernism: The end of truth. There is no truth. Truth, if it exists, is determined by those who accept it. No basis for morality, ethics, objective good and evil.
I The Trinity.
This was, arguably, the biggest apologetic problem for the church in the first three centuries.
A special problem with Muslims!!!! We are accused of being polytheists or tritheists. To the Muslim, the Christian idea of Trinity is a scandal! Is this true?
Let me be honest here, I believe we as Christians are vulnerable on this front. Let me share why.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. 1:14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us.
This became the Logos theology of Justin Martyr.
Logos = Word, Wisdom, Expression
To the Greeks, the idea that God would become flesh was outrageous. Their God was distant, removed, unchangeable, incapable of emotion, etc
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and tabernacled (feast of booths) among us.
Tertullian AD 160-220
The Father and the Son are different “not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect”
All other religions in the world have us groping toward God and a distant God sending emanations toward us.
Who reaches out to whom?
Works salvation: Man reaches out to a distant “god.” Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jain, Sikhism, Islam, etc.
Grace salvation: God reaches out to man: (Judaism) Christianity
The Trinity: God reaches out to us.
Apologetics of the Trinity:
Bottom line, the trinity is a mystery. We cannot defend it as a logical concept.
The “apologetics” of the trinity is that God became a man so that he could reach out to us—so that we could know Him.
II. The Problem of Evil. If God is good, if God is loving and if God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent,… why is there evil in the world?
Is evil just the absence of good?
Is evil a thing
Did God create evil?
Augustine: When accordingly it is inquired, whence is evil, it must first be inquired what is evil, which is nothing else than corruption, either of the measure, or the form or the order, that belong to nature. Nature therefore which has been corrupted, is called evil, for assuredly when incorrupt it is good; but even when corrupt, so far as it is nature, it is good, so far as it is corrupted it is evil.
Sin is not the striving after an evil nature, but the desertion of a better, and so the deed itself is evil, not the nature which the sinner uses amiss. For it is evil to use amiss that which is good.
About Augustine: “Evil arises from the corruption of a nature which is essentially good. What is called evil is good corrupted; if it were not corrupted it would be wholly good; but even when it is corrupted, it is good in so far as it remains a natural thing, and bad only in so far as it is corrupted.”
Augustine: “A man’s free will avails for nothing except to sin.”
The problem with Calvinism: If we accept double predestination then we accept that God creates evil or at the very least that God chooses evil.
Q: What is the nature of “the Fall” of mankind? What happened in the garden?
Puritans: “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.”
Romans 5:12-19 What “death” is this in v. 12
The City of God Sovereignty
Monoergism (only God)
Infant baptism required for salvation
City and State
Martin Luther 1483-1541
Augustinian Monk (no coincidence!)
Ulrich Zwingli 1484-1531
Opposed baptismal regeneration
“Those individuals who end up damned forever in hell are also eternally determined by God for that fate.”
John Calvin 1509-1564
Institutes of Christian Religion
His emphasis: the sovereignty of God
Perseverance of the saint (once saved, always saved)
The problem with TULIP is that God is seen as the author of evil.
The biblical/Christian view:
Free Will: Because God loves us he gives us a choice. Live gives a choice. We chose to sin. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of us. Do we blame God for bringing evil into the world?
Pelagius (AD 354-430)
Affirmed the existence of free will. “Evil is not born with us, and we are procreated without fault.” Rejected infant baptism. Taught that we become holy through our own effort?
“God, therefore, is the first cause, who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their actions from being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary; but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them, for He operates in each thing according to his own nature.”
In other words, Aquinas believed in free will and not a strict monergism.
The Problem of Evil and Christian Apologetics: What are the alternative views?
Dualism: Good and Evil in an unending more or less equal balance
Pantheism: The physical world is evil. Evil is being tied down to the physical—it is missing the god-likeness in you.
Naturalism: There is no evil.
Postmodernism: Evil??? What is that? The only evil is making judgmental discrimination between truths.
Determinism/Fate God is the cause of evil. (Islam, Calvinism)
The Christian solution to “The Problem of Evil.”
Evil is very much real. Quite indirectly, it is the product of God’s love. God loved us so much that he loved us and that he gave us a choice. We chose to abuse what is good, we chose to do evil, and thus evil came into the world.
Remember your alternatives:
Predestination/Determinism God is the cause of evil.
Deny evil exists
Physical creation is evil, but you are God
An unending battle/balance between good and evil.
III The Problem of Suffering.
We are more or less skipping this question because it is being covered quite ably by others at this conference. In extreme brief:
The critic of Christianity:
If the God of Christianity is all-powerful and all loving, then, in view of the suffering in the world, clearly that God does not exist.
a. He is powerless to relive suffering or
b. He does not care.
Makes two wrong assumptions:
1. That suffering is evil/something which a loving God would completely prevent.
2. Assumes that a loving God would not create beings with free will who can therefore do evil and bring suffering into the world.
IV. The problem of violence and slavery in the OT
First of all, it is not completely clear that this is a problem of theology, but it certainly is related to the problem of evil.
Claim of the skeptic:
The God of the Old Testament is a sadistic ethnic cleanser.
We have to admit that, on some level, this seems to be a fair charge.
Ex: 1 Samuel 15:2-3 “This is what the Lord of Hosts says: ‘I witnessed what the Amalekites did to the Israelites when they opposed them along the way as they were coming out of Egypt. Now, go and attach the Amalekites, and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
That is tough stuff!
A few points on the subject:
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 Amalekites. 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
V. The problem of hell.
Question: How could a loving God send those he created to hell where there is eternal suffering? This is not discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11), this is punishment.
This is, arguably, the or certainly one of the most difficult questions about Christianity.
There is part of us which seeks and appreciates justice, but isn’t Hell over the top?
n Romans 3:10f There is no one righteous, not even one.
n Revelation 20:15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Rev 21:8 …the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Rev 20:10 … They will be tormented day and night for even and ever.
n Does God choose to send us to hell? No! We choose hell and God, in his justice, accepts our decision.
n Is suffering in hell literally eternal? Is joy in heaven literally eternal?
Attributes of God:
n Righteous, Holy
God is not merely loving, he is love
God does not merely act justly, he is justice.
God’s justice is as complete and awesome as his love.
God, in his awesomeness is fully love and fully just
Love and Justice
For God so loved the world…
The wages of sin is death Rom 6:23
The law of sin and death Rom 8:2
We like God’s love, but we are not so fired up about his justice.
When we reach heaven, we will understand and fully appreciate, on an emotional level, God’s justice. Rev 11:17-18 Rev 16:5-6 The elders are thankful that God’s judgment has finally come. You are just, O God.
Psalm 94:1-3 David How long, O Lord
But, there is good news:
God’s love met God’s justice at the cross. As far as we are concerned, love won.