God of War

Anthony Weber —  July 13, 2012 — 5 Comments
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The entire concept of a God of justice and mercy ordering the slaughter of thousands of people  on many occasions I find abhorrent.This is an issue I have always had profound trouble with and one I suspended judgment on when I began to believe.. The responses to this problem I have seen so far (God did them a favor, they were like cancer, or God’s justice is beyond ours) seem to me to be lame or inappropriate.”   – from a letter to Timothy Keller

Let’s be honest: The Old Testament God sometimes seems cranky and eager to smash something.  That is a daunting image of God, especially when compared to the mild and humble picture of Jesus. If the New Testament God is Mr. Rogers, the Old Testament God is Randy Couture. However, neither of these caricatures is accurate. This post is the first part of a series on an often uncomfortable topic:  God of War.

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Growing up Mennonite, we never talked about God and war.  We read the story about David and Goliath with as much detachment and inner condemnation as we could.  We wondered how much we should cheer for David’s mighty men, who were the elite forces of their day. We cheered when Sampson brought the temple down, but with some guilt.  (Plus he had long hair, and that was a problem for us too.) So what do you think we did with all the God-ordained wars in the Old Testament?

Nothing.

We loved Jesus when he said “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek,” but God?  God in the Old Testament was sometimes treated like the crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions.  Nobody really knows how to interact with him or explain him to others.

A number of years ago I decided I could not avoid that part of the Bible any longer.  The Bible is supposed to reveal something about God’s nature and his purpose for the world, and as such needs to be understood, not avoided.  I can’t say I was excited about the task, but I have found that a careful reading of the texts reveals a God very different from the image I had before.

From a Christian apologetics standpoint,  this is important. I think many Christians remain as confused as I was. But this is an crucial topic to address because those outside the faith aren’t letting this one slide – and rightly so. How could God be “good” if he commanded so much evil? This is the question we must be prepared to answer.

This series is not the definitive answer. This series is meant to be an entry level presentation, and as such I hope it can at least bring about a sincere re-thinking of God as He is often portrayed. This is also a separate topic from the difficulties of understanding Old Testament Law or some of the more gruesome Old Testament stories. (I will get to those eventually…)

Here’s a question before I move on to the actual war texts:  Have you ever struggled to reconcile biblical portrayals of God’s actions with the Biblical description of God’s nature?  And if so, has there been resolution to your conflict?

 

Anthony Weber

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Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.
  • phiclub

    Anthony – I’d recommend reading Paul Copan’s book _Is God a Moral Monster?_ and Thom Stark’s review _Is God a Moral Compromiser?_.

    thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf

    -Chris

    • Anthonyweber

      Chris, I’ve read Copan (and listened to some debates), and I just read the chapters on war from Mr. Stark. They are certainly challenging to Copan’s conclusions!  I often tell my kids at school how hard it is to sort through all the different voices coming at us through the internet, and this is no exception. If you are interested, Copan has a response to Thom posted on his blog (http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/06/is-god-a-moral-monster-revisited-preliminary-replies-to-thom-stark/).  There are also some links at the bottom of Copan’s response to some other biblical historians who have engaged with Mr. Stark about these issues.

      • phiclub

        Great!

        Being able to think critically is so important in this “information age.”

        Yeah, I’ve read Copan’s “response.”  But it isn’t so much a response as an explanation for why he isn’t going to respond.

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