“The God of the Old Testament is 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, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
– Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”
“There is one fundamental difference between God allowing death when he has the power to restore life and my taking a life when I don’t have the power to restore it. The story of evil is one part of a greater narrative. To ignore the greater narrative is to continue to raise particulars without accepting the general.”
– Ravi Zacharias, “Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend”
There are a number of reasons that men hate God (even those who claim not to believe in God). However, these reasons typically boil down to one of two actual objections, which are essentially moral and emotional objections:
1) They hate God as they see Him portrayed in religious texts and traditions, or
2) They hate the claim He makes on their lives.
I will focus here on the former, while leaving the latter for another time. I am not doing this because I feel the former is the sturdier argument (quite the contrary, actually), but because it is more likely to serve as an obstacle to consideration of the latter. The more simplistic argument is that made by Dawkins above, and yet it is the most often expressed. I also believe it to be a smokescreen against the greater fear of God claiming ownership of our lives, and that is why it must be dispelled first.
A confession is in order first: there are many aspects of God’s nature and historical “behavior” that I find difficult to deal with. There are stories whose greater meaning I cannot comprehend and statements that seem contrary to my expectations and understanding of His character. Unlike many skeptics, however, I do not hold the a priori determination that a lack of understanding or comprehension on my part demands that its inherent truth be discounted. As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
– Isaiah 55:9-10
“His ways” are exactly what so infuriate Dawkins and his band of devotees. More often than the faith vs. science, evolution vs. creationism, or even reason vs. religion debates, I find arguments against the goodness of God used as the basis for not believing in Christianity. Of course, our agreement with God’s behavior has little to do with the probability of His existence, but it is a complaint that must regardless be met head-on.
I will certainly explain, but first I have to say that any investigations deep into matters like this may be important, but tend to obscure the true message of the Bible, which is displayed from the expulsion out of the garden, through the almost-sacrifice of Isaac and the escape from Egypt, through the exile to Babylon and ultimately to the cross and resurrection. The message is love, freedom, mercy and grace. These are important questions, but they offer an unfortunate opportunity to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. God is love, and if you are able at any point to grasp that truth, then your life will be opened to a greater array of joy and strength than previously imaginable. When Obi Wan Kenobi said, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” he very well could have been quoting any of the early Christian martyrs.
While there are numerous objections – and I am more than willing to answer any or all of them to the best of my ability (or point to those who have greater ability) at my AJFITS Facebook page – I will here focus on two chosen arbitrarily by their proximity in recent discussions: the history of violence from the Old Testament through the Spanish Inquisition, and the “rape” law in Deuteronomy 22:28-29.
As far as the violence aspect, I cannot speak more clearly or eloquently than John Dickson did on a recent Ravi Zacharias podcast (Part I and Part II), also partially transcripted here, but I will make a few comments. First, as Dickson states, while “one death in the name of Christ is a blasphemy… the violence of Christendom is dwarfed by that of non-religious causes.” He also makes what I see as an undeniable point: “While it is obvious that only one way of life is logically compatible with Christianity (the Messiah’s way of humility and love), any kind of life is logically compatible with atheism.” Again, this is not a claim that those worldviews create particular actions, but rather encourage or allow them.
I have been accused of claiming that only Christians can be moral, in direct refutation of my claims here. Also, I have discussed the evil that we can find within each of us here. Furthermore, there is no violence propagated by an individual Christian or a supposedly Christian regime that has a basis in Christian doctrine. In the case of poor Christian behavior, it is surely more Christianity that is the solution, rather than less. Secularism has shown no propensity to change a defective character or morality for the better, while there is an immense collection of testimony to support the claim that Christ can and, indeed, does.
It is important for anyone reading the Bible to understand two ideas. No story in the Bible can be understood without placing it within its proper context within the entire Scriptures, and what is recorded is not necessarily condoned (and often is explicitly not). Abraham and Isaac must be seen in the narrative of God providing an escape from the responsibility of self-salvation and atonement for sins committed. (In the historical context, the first-born was accepted as the “property” of God, and therefore His claim to the life of Isaac would have been viewed as acceptable.) God’s actions in spite of Jonah’s overt racism against the Ninevites must be interpreted as indicative of His love and forgiveness towards all people. Dickson, in the podcast, also points us to Deuteronomy 9:4-6, where the conquest Israel recounted in the Book of Joshua and so vociferously attacked by Dawkins is seen not to be resultant from the righteousness or value of Israel, but rather the evil of the Canaanites. And while this is the only time that Israel even tried to conquer any land (in contrast to each and every other group in that age), the same – and worse – was done to them repeatedly by other nations, allowed by God in response to the obvious wickedness into which the nation repeatedly fell.
It would be unfortunate – not to mention unwise – to define the morality of the William Wallace character in Braveheart only from the fight scenes, completely ignoring the justification. And while Wicked is by all accounts a marvelous and entertaining play, it is a complete extrapolation from characters in The Wizard of Oz, based purely on the conjecture and fantasy of the author; nobody would try to argue that the evidence for the supposed prequel can be found in the original. Yet there is little hesitance to take stories from the Bible out of their historical and scriptural context in order to make an unsupported objection. Wallace’s character – flawed though it may be – must be viewed in light of both the cultural and personal foundation upon which it was built. The story of Elphaba is pure fiction, even when viewed from within the “reality” of the book that inspired it. We understand these ideas in literature and entertainment, but skeptics tend to conveniently forget them when it comes to actuality.
An example of historical context is Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which states:
“If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.”
An understanding of ancient civilizations is important here, an so I must provide some detail about the cultural milieu into which the law was inserted. First of all, there was no such thing as a “single adult.” A family was the most important thing to all people at this time, and the only source of honor and production in society. An unmarried woman was, by definition, a harlot, since all women were not only married, but were betrothed early on in life, regardless of family station or situation. A young woman – girl, in fact – was expected to be a virgin upon marriage (as was a man, by obvious extrapolation), and if she was not, then she was not welcomed into marriage by any man; her only possible recourse was to become a harlot. (There was no concept of an independent or self-sufficient woman in the world at this time.) This is also evidenced in Joseph wanting to “put Mary away quietly” upon realizing that she was pregnant with Jesus almost two thousand years after Moses. A girl who was raped was still no longer a virgin, and was unlikely to find a husband, which left her outside society, with her needs left unmet except by charitable alms.
The man who “humbled her” was forced by law to tend to and care for her the rest of her days, as well as provide the standard dowry to her family for his “indiscretion.” Even were he to be stoned – a common punishment in that day – she would still be left to beg for the rest of her days, and would never gain the coveted family that was so important for survival. Although not perfect by God’s standards, this was the best way to ensure that the woman still had full availability of comfort and protection for the rest of her life. You have to remember that love was not the reason for marriage at this time (and possibly shouldn’t be today, either, but that is another topic), and so the marriage to an obviously horrid man wasn’t the death knell to happiness that we would imagine it to be today. This was an imperfect solution for an obviously wicked and imperfect culture.
Men hate God, in much the same way that xenophobes hate foreigners: they have not taken the time to learn about Him or expose themselves to the reality of who He is. It is ignorance, not wisdom and reason, that underlies their assumptions and conclusions. Unfortunately, so much time is spent defending God against unjust accusations that many times His grace and mercy are never discussed. The trees become such distractions that the beauty of the forest remains untouched. We want a loving God, and we have one. He does not love us because of who we are, but because of who He is. This is a relief, because we have demonstrated that if it was our goodness that was required then we could not possibly be loved. There is also consolation in the fact the He is truly and intrinsically Good, and also the basis for all of the good that is within us. We can rest comfortably in His love once we are willing to understand that His ways are not our ways. And thank God for that.