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The OT may cause more disbelief in God than we care to admit. I have been slow to accept the awfulness of the OT because it has been easy up to this point in my life to simply trust God. But, I believe we have every right to expect a rational, moral explanation of God. Most if not all claim the only God worth believing in is a perfect or good God.

I Sam. 15:3 says: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them: put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” There are hundreds of OT passages that seem to advocate evil behaviors in the name of God. I have written about OT crazy laws elsewhere. How is one to think of God must less explain God when the Bible portrays God as lacking rational or loving feelings?

There are several possible explanations to passages such as the above:

  • Warfare rhetoric was common in ancient literature to induce fear and victory. A US leader may say we will destroy ISIS and anything having to do with ISIS. This doesn’t mean women and children will not be spared when possible. It can also mean innocent lives may not be spared when necessary to destroy evil. Terrorists often used civilians as human shields to carry out their wicked goals.
  • Exaggerative language may be going on in several passages. For example, Deut. 7:1 talks of driving out the enemy, 7:2 talks about not making treaties with the enemy, while 7:3 says you must destroy the enemy totally. Why mention not making treaties if the only goal is to annihilate the enemy. Extermination passages maybe are meant to be understood within the context of initially driving out the enemy.
  • Some passages are elliptical in nature – speaking on a subject without stating exceptions. Is the Bible advocating domestic violence when says to turn the other cheek? Joshua speaks of utter destruction in Debir and returning to camp (10:39-43), yet the writer in the same breath speaks of survivors from Debir being destroyed (11:21). Writers either mindlessly contradicted themselves, or didn’t always mean to be taken literally or unconditionally.
  • God obviously did not verbally dictate the entire Bible. We cannot be certain when God allowed the writers the freedom to misunderstand and express their understandings of God. Some declarations claimed to be the mind of God may be instead the writer’s beliefs of God at the time, explaining many violent passages supposedly in the name of God.
  • God’s uncontrolling rather than controlling love may explain many practices in the OT. God may have accepted animal sacrifices to guard against the use of child sacrifices common in OT cultures. Humans are always seeking a scapegoat to lessen their guilt. I doubt polygamy, concubines, or divorce for frivolous reasons were God’s ideal. God doesn’t control but works within societies as freedom is necessary for authentic, lasting change. God’s interference or dictatorship can prevent a superior world because of moral improvement of free creatures.

We don’t have to throw out the Bible but read reflectively, just because a writer may be expressing an erroneous opinion of God at that time in their spiritual journey. God never intended a Book to take the place of a relationship with God and others. God wishes to influence our heart to make choices in the interest of ourselves and others in the long-run. We can always consider Jesus’ perspective when OT passages confuse us of what God thinks.

Universal moral intuitions exist, making some opinions wrong. God prefers peaceful alternatives to violence when possible. God never intended women and children to be hunted down and killed. God doesn’t condone rape and beheading of enemies. God surely never violates one’s freedom to obey God or not, or I would be dead. A God who creates freedom doesn’t control choices when such choices don’t violate the rights of others.

God can be misunderstood depending on why we think God punishes and how we think God feels about punishment. God surely would not depend only on a Book, the Bible, to convey their nature. Many have never had a Bible and ancient literature is always subject to interpretation thus misunderstanding. We can also know God based on how we think loving, perfect friends or parents should act when wrongdoing has taken place. How does God view punishment?

An angry Deity who delights in punishment comes to mind for some when reading the Bible. But, many passages suggest God threatened punishment only as a last resort. Fear seeks to deter evil but doesn’t lead to life transformations. Changes comes within one’s heart. Parents threaten punishment to steer their children from self-destruction and destruction of others. Tough love is simply another side of genuine love.

God or parents don’t relish or seek to pile on. Wrongdoing has its own punishment due to regrets or loss of relationships.

Repentance isn’t about somehow restoring God’s honor as if God can lose it. Regrets are for our own good, leading to healing and restoration. God hates when punishment is necessary (Jonah 4:2) and does so with a grieving heart (Gen. 6:6). God doesn’t seek fear but wishes to encourage in battles against self-centeredness or habitual sins in our lives.

God’s punishment is described in the Bible as withdrawing their influence in our lives because of resistance.

This best explains passages such as: “But I (God) will harden Pharaoh’s heart…” (Ex. 7:3).  It also says: “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go” (Ex 8:32). Only a mindless writer would contradict themselves in practically the same breath. Paul says about Pharaoh’s instances: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Rm. 11:32). God is hoping freedom to carry out evil desires may lead Pharaoh and us to hit bottom and desire change.

God punishment in the Bible is also depicted as delivering us over to our own desires.

How else can we explain passages such as Romans 1:24: “Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” The Bible as a whole doesn’t suggest God makes us commit evil. God created freedom so we can make choices leading to real, lasting changes. Controlling love as opposed to uncontrolling love can simply lead to further or deeper rebellion.

God hates withdrawing or delivering us up to evil as any loving parent would. Such love by God or a parent though may benefit us in the long-run. Jesus’ death wasn’t to placate a blood-thirsty God who needed their child murdered to satisfy their need for punishment. God prefers much more a contrite heart then sacrifices (Ps. 51: 16-17). God as any loving parent desires to empower us to reflect such love back to others. A relationship, not fear of punishment, leads to becoming more the person we desire to be.

 

One could rightly question whether God is rational or worth following if approving of some of the OT laws recorded. Why even consider the Bible as having any wisdom based on some of the OT laws? Who advocates stoning rebellious children (Deut. 21:18-21) or men having sex with men (Lev. 20:13).

Some laws may be God accommodating the hearts of the Israelites. For example, why didn’t God simply outlaw slavery. Perhaps, the Israelites perhaps were close-minded to abolishing slavery. These are people who had to be told to not sacrifice babies and don’t have sex with animals (Lev. 18: 21, 23). Some laws were attempts to at least make improvements.

Many OT Laws were surely not God’s ideal. I doubt polygamy and concubines were God’s idea. But, God doesn’t overthrow but works within societies for freedom is necessary for authentic, lasting change. Loving control is an oxymoron. God’s interference or dictatorship can prevent a superior world from developing because of the moral improvement of free creatures.

Some laws recorded in the Bible could have been from the minds of fallible human beings though claiming to be from God.

God didn’t verbally dictate the entire Bible. We cannot be certain when God did or didn’t allow the writers the freedom to misunderstand and express their understandings of God. God’s uncontrolling love surely can explain some laws claimed to be approved by God. Some of the crazy OT laws obviously didn’t meet with God’s approval.

Does this mean we can never know what God thinks are good versus bad laws?

The Bible was never meant to take one’s mind and heart out of what are loving actions in one’s personal circumstances. And, what better person to look to for wisdom than one who sacrifices their life to convince that God loves and desires to help us be the kind of person we want to be deep down. Consider Jesus’ perspective when OT laws contradict common and loving sense.

Laws are not even necessary in a society when humans always treat others like they want to be treated. Laws are only necessary when love is lacking. Laws were never God’s ideal. All the laws in the world don’t change hearts. Lifelong transformation result from a relationship with one’s Creator. The existence of universal moral intuitions suggest a communicative God exists.

 

 

It can be helpful to encourage forgiveness when the guilty confess wrongdoing and desire to make amends when possible. Bitterness and revenge seeking can worsen a victim’s circumstances. How though should we react when the guilty refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing and show no remorse or regrets of their actions?

People can be confused by a God who demands forgiveness according to the Bible no matter what? What is there to forgive if one doesn’t admit wrongdoing? Easy forgiveness can allow a husband’s abusive behavior to continue. When a sexual abuser doesn’t acknowledge their actions, secret behaviors continue. Are we helping one by forgiving when they have no regrets?

To one’s surprise the Bible can be interpreted more often to suggest forgiveness requires regret. God is said to forgive if we forgive others (Mt. 6:14-15). Forgive if they repent (Lk. 17:3). God in the OT is often said to not forgive the rebellious (i.e. Josh. 24:19). Why would God ask us to do something God doesn’t – forgive the unrepentant? Then, there are circumstances when Jesus forgives while on the Cross for “they don’t know what they do” (Lk. 23:34).

My point is not to insist one should or shouldn’t forgive in their circumstances. Besides, ancient literature such as the Bible is always subject to interpretation. Usually, there are different opinions on meaning and application of the same passage. The Bible was never meant to be a rules book; the Bible was meant for reflection in one circumstances. The Bible is valuable because it suggests not always handling our circumstances naturally, humanly-speaking.

Friends can make a victim’s situation worse by pretending the know the mind of God in one’s individual circumstances. God is capable of guiding individuals. For some forgiving can cause feelings of further victimization and bitterness; for others forgiveness can control bitterness and possible acts of revenge. Many may be haunted with thoughts whether they must forgive their violator at the urging of others.

Not forgiving doesn’t mean you are full of bitterness or you wouldn’t forgive if one acknowledges what they have done and seem to truly regret their action. Whether a future relationship is possible depends. Seek the mind of God what actions in relationship difficulties lead to your best interest in the long-run in a world full of disappointments. God may not be as irrational or non-empathetic as thought.

The truth is we cannot know when a biblical writer is recording their own beliefs about God or somehow God has communicated what exactly to write down from God. How would that work anyway? Did God really direct “Now go, attack the Amalekites…put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys” (I Sam. 15:3), or was that the writer’s understanding of God at that time?

Sometimes there may be plausible explanations to OT passages that contradict the view of God in the NT, but the solution may not be to always rationalize confusing passages. We know God didn’t verbally dictate the entire Bible. We simply cannot be certain when God did or didn’t allow the writers the freedom to misunderstand and grow in their understandings of God. God has proven to not be controlling by accepting decisions made contrary to God’s wishes.

Insisting the Bible is somehow magically infallible often leads to not acknowledging that an author’s meaning in ancient literature is always subject to interpretation thus error. Clearly, different opinions of the same biblical passage exist. God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), which could only mean the OT since the NT had not been formed when Timothy was written, can mean God intended the Bible for reflection upon what God is really like with the help of the Spirit (Jn. 14:16).

Oh, so everyone’s opinion is right!

Some interpretations are clearly wrong. God, unlike religious extremists, would never violate one’s freedom to force belief in God. Certainty often leads to dogmatism and unloving behaviors. The presence of universal moral sensitivities, suggesting the existence of a personal Creator, provide enough certainty. We may be better off without the Bible when used as a rules book rather than consideration for wisdom depending on individual circumstances.

How can we interpret difficult OT passages if we don’t think a moral explanation exist?

We can interpret all of Scriptures through the voice of Jesus and the lens of the Cross. Most biblical scholars accept the Gospels were written within at least 40-60 years when Jesus lived, so eyewitnesses could dispute claims made. I would consider Jesus’ view when your understanding of an OT passage contradicts what you believe Jesus taught and lived out. What kind of person who claims to be God sacrifices their life, when they have the power to prevent it, to convince others that God loves and desires to help us be the kind of person we want to be deep down.

The Bible doesn’t really say Jesus came to die for our sins to keep us from going to Hell. The only place one would get such an irrational idea is from a Book. Who cares to get close to, much less try to explain, a God who is a sadistic torturer who has to be appeased by killing their child?

The reason the Bible doesn’t say Jesus saved us from Hell is because the traditional understanding of Hell simply doesn’t exist in the Bible.

Gehenna is the Greek word translated as Hell in the NT. Gehenna was the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history of terrible slaughter. Jesus used Gehenna to illustrate that spiritual death can be as tragic as horrendous physical death. The Apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament never refers to Hell. Noah, or any prophet in the OT, never warned of Hell as a consequence for behaviors here on earth.

Hell seems an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. A loving God isn’t going to sadistically torture people forever for their beliefs influenced by many factors such as poor role models or misinformation while here on earth a short time.

The word “heaven” appears the most in the Gospel of Matthew. The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t talking about going to a place after death. Jesus speaks of bringing heavenly love to earth – “on earth as in heaven.” Jesus said nothing about dropping to your knees and repenting of sins to avoid Hell and go to Heaven after death when asked about having eternal life (Mt. 19; Lk. 10).

But, didn’t Paul who wrote most of the New Testaments letters says “the wages of sin is death (Rm. 6:23)? Paul is speaking of spiritual death because Paul is still alive after sin has killed him (Rm. 7:11). Romans is Paul’s longest and most theological letter and when Paul mentions Heaven twice, he says nothing about Jesus dying so we can go to Heaven (Rm. 1:18, 10:6).

God know what we know. Fear only leads to concealing or doing what should be expected. Fear may deter evil for our own good, but encouragement from God, parents, and friends is what leads to life transformations. The focus on obedience and not a relationship with God often just leads to doing what is required by law rather than going the extra mile which is so necessary in a world of people who lapse into selfishness from time to time.

So, what was Jesus trying to save us from if not Hell? God only cares about saving us from ourselves.

Jesus didn’t die in our place to appease God’s wrath and help God save face. Is earthly parental love more holy than God’s love? When our children disobey our guidance we aren’t most concern how their actions make us look but that our child is heading down a path of destruction. God isn’t offended because we simply disobey. God hurts because we are hurting ourselves and those around us. All God’s actions are about trying to convince us that God’s unselfish ways are in our best interest in the long-run.

Jesus came to earth to convey God seeks to empower us, by knowing God is merciful and forgiving, so we can be constantly encouraged to shun evil and do good.

It was this message Jesus was willing to die, rather than save Himself, in hopes to inspire following in His footsteps through expressions of radical love. As God loves us, Jesus encouraged mercy, forgiveness, and going the extra mile in our relationships. Jesus sought changes of the heart for the good of the world.

I don’t know what to say to those who believe a life of not loving others like you want to be loved isn’t worth living. I am convinced when we know God the way Jesus knew God, we will sense God’s love and support and pursue God’s desires for us that lead to less regrets while here on earth. Striving to love family and friends in such a way can inspire them to live lives worth living. A perfect God knows loving God is loving others to the fullest.

 

Most friends listen respectfully to one another’s point of view and accept their differences or agree to disagree. At least we know we should act that way. Many who sincerely desire to model God’s goodness often converse as if they know with certainty what God thinks about issues that impact others deeply.

Caring for people is far more important than arguing about God.

We cannot always know for certain what the Bible claims about God. Scholars versed in Hebrew and Greek differ in interpretations of the Bible. Jesus only fought with religious folks who proclaimed to others wrongly what God is like. Jesus was guided by the law of love where when one’s freedom is not being violated, relationships are far more important than certain beliefs.

The law of love guides in deeply personal issues such as homosexuality or women in the pastorate or priesthood. Love is the higher calling than being right or wrong about God. I do not think it is enough to agree to disagree with those personally involved. Love demands we cannot claim to always know God’s views, thus judging or condemning others.

We must not suggest God condemns women for using gifts they feel endowed by their Creator. There are many negative consequences denying women serving in the same roles as men if having the same gifts. Not all who hold this view of women’s roles are controlling, but we must recognize how we handle our personal beliefs damages souls if not living by the spirit of love.

Supposed truth is not more important than love.  

Don’t turn people away from God. We must not let our certainty lead to possibly misrepresenting God. Common or loving sense tells us certain actions are immoral such as murder or stealing; otherwise, we must love others if we were in their skins and felt absolutely no control over feelings toward those of the same sex or feeling born to represent God publically.

 

 

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